Blinded by Mother Love.
by Leslie Morgan Steiner
At times our cultural angst reveals itself on the front pages of our national newspapers. Last Friday, USA Today presented its 3.3 million daily readers with a front page story about tween girls titled “Growing Up Fast, But With Less Independence” as part of its week-long, dramatically-titled “Saving Childhood” series.
The article profiled daughters of moms so overprotective they monitor their daughters’ bike rides, backpacks and cell phones, and don’t let them take the bus, go to the corner store, the movies or the mall without an adult to serve as chaperone-cum-bodyguard.
I’m talking moms in suburban America – not downtown Beirut.
American parents have become far more protective of our children, despite the fact that America is significantly safer today than it was 30 to 40 years ago. There are nearly 25 million children between the ages of 12-17 in the US today. Only 400 of them are abducted by strangers every year – 400 too many, but at .002% not imminent enough to make any individual parent fret. The 2009 National Crime Victimization Survey found that kids ages 12-17 experienced violent assaults at the rate of 33.5 per 1000 in 2009 vs. 83 per 1000 in 1975 when we were growing up (and the concept of a “tween” had yet to be invented). Child poverty and lack of health insurance, not crime, are the biggest threats to kids today. Our children are twice as safe against violent crime today as we were in the 1970s – although the vivid impression left by 24 hour cable news networks and the Internet is that malevolent strangers lurk on every urban and suburban street corner.
I understand the dilemmas facing parents of tweens. Recently three girls from my daughter’s sixth grade class lined up in front of an acquaintance who’d never met them. Asked to guess their ages, he said “9, 12 and 15.” They are all 12 years old. How do we set rules for a group of girls when some look 15 and some look 9? Especially when subjected to endless mandates from the media and other parents that moms need to shield our daughters from abusive strangers, Internet pedophiles, mean girl bullies -- from life itself. It’s hard to develop one-size-fits-all parenting rules for such a diverse and apparently vulnerable bunch, especially when we are confettied with alarmist reports of stranger danger and impending peril.
However, one of the risks of the next phase of our girls’ lives as teenagers and young adults is too much innocence. There comes a time – and it’s coming quickly for our daughters – when naivete becomes a liability. Girls 16-24 are three times more likely to be victims of domestic violence, stalking and teen dating violence than other women. Between 20-25% college women experience rape or attempted rape. Over three-quarters (76%) of all unplanned pregnancies occur to women in their teens and twenties.