Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The dangers of kidspace

You’ve heard of MySpace, right? That huge, frighteningly addictive website that contains excruciating details (many of which are lies, I might add) about millions of people? Well, today I’m inventing the word kidspace. It’s not even remotely related to MySpace. Or perhaps it is, since the wide availability of kidspace opens up countless hours of time dedicated to MySpace…among other pursuits.

Kidspace is the alarming amount of space given to young people who not so long ago were considered to be children. And I’m not talking about literal space here—I’m talking about the amount of time these kids spend unsupervised or, worse, alone in a home or apartment.

I grew up during the end of a different era; my mom stayed home with us when we were tots, and then after we were all safely ensconced in school, my mom picked up part-time work; the stipulation was that the work must always allow her to be home with us after school and in evenings. It was wonderful when I was small, and frankly, it probably kept me out of trouble when I was bigger. We didn’t eat out much but we ate well, we had plenty of acres and hobbies and pets to keep us busy, and I am thankful to this day that my childhood was so idyllic.

Too often, this is not the case nowadays. A lot of folks have lots of new stuff, take big yearly vacations, are involved in more activities than you can count…and their children are first reared by strangers, and then when of age, are abandoned to their own pursuits for many hours each day. Summertime brings this situation to a head. I’ve heard many parents long out loud for the start of school, not so they can send the kids back to classes for education, but so they don’t have to pay the sitter every day. You can see Mom or Dad counting the years until their darlings will be self sufficient enough to stay home unsupervised for hours at a time.

Case in point: We have neighbors, a couple, and they have kids. The youngest is in high school. She’s 16; her boyfriend is in college. Both of her parents work. All day. Every day. This gal’s the only one still living at home. And nearly every morning this summer, her boyfriend’s car has been parked outside the house from 9 or 10 a.m. through lunchtime or beyond. Now, I want to believe the best about this young lady. But I dimly recall being 16, and I clearly recall the goal of just about every boy between the ages of 14 and 35.

No one has ever checked with me about what goes on there during the day, even though they’ve commented more than once about my being “home all day.” I don’t go out of my way to notice, but there’s that car, morning after morning. What’s going on? And I can’t help but wonder: wasn’t there some way to get that girl out of the house? A job? Day camp? Something? And if not, then why isn’t there any level of curiosity from her folks? I’d be curious. It seems they’re more concerned about buying the girl her own car, a plan they’ve shared with us a few times, than they are about whether said car can accommodate a baby seat. They both work, a lot, the mom more than one job… Is it worth it? I’m sure they know more than I do about this young lady, about the situation. Right?

I want to trust, but I don’t want to be a fool. I will do everything in my power to keep my son from ever having an empty house at his disposal when he’s a teen. At least that’s my plan now. Perhaps I, too, will someday be lulled into a comfort zone where I feel perfectly okay about leaving him unwatched, unchecked, for hours each day. I hope not. It’s no accident that America’s insatiable desire for “things,” and how it’s come to outweigh family time, also coincides with the increasing baby boom among our teens. If you take an alcoholic to a bar, he or she is likely to fall off the wagon. If you give a shopaholic a credit card and drop him or her at the mall, that person is likely to spend. And if you leave a teenager alone, free to entertain members of the opposite sex, they are likely to delve deeper than they should into a world that has some pretty heavy consequences. And pregnancy isn’t necessarily the most heavy of those consequences. Think about it.

Too much kidspace is not good. This neighborly example is one of many—and I’d guess a lot of the kids in question are younger than this particular chica. Even if these kids emerge, unscathed by pregnancy or disease, from this premature freedom, I’d venture to guess they are scarred anyway. Kids are not adults. We shouldn’t confuse them with adults. And even when it’s easier for us as parents to grant freedoms, that doesn’t necessarily make it the best thing for those youngsters. I pray that this nation will open its eyes wider and start shouldering the responsibility they accepted when the burden was new and squalling and smelled like baby powder.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Am I?


Facie said...

I was thinking about this last night during some of the five hours I was lying awake. Personally, I think that 16 is old enough to be alone. You'd like to think if you raised your kids right, they would do the correct thing, but no guarantee.

You have to also remember that a lot of kids start babysitting around 13 to 15, so it seems a bit overprotective for a 16 year old to need supervision.

We were allowed to be on our own at around 14/soon after I entered high school. It helped that my older brother was a near saint, and I was a skinny kid with braces and glasses, so no real danger of my bringing boys home! I think fall of 9th grade was my last year of going to Grandma's for the 1 hour after school before Mom got home; once track started in the spring, I don't think I was ever watched during the day again.

When I first went back to work after Jordan was born, she was in daycare only 2 days. When Bri left the restaurant and started a M-F job, Jordan went to daycare 4 days. I cried, b/c I thought someone else would be raising my kid, but most of the time, it is really not like that. I try to make the most of my time with her most evenings (I do work late some to save money on daycare and Bri is with her then) and on my days off, and that is why I end up not doing some fun things.

I just don't think I could be a SAHM, and I am in awe of those who can. But if our situation were different, I am sure I would make it work.

I do agree that in some families both parents probably don't need to work, but I can also understand that people get used to a certain lifestyle. If you make 55k-65k a year, it is going to be tough to lose that/get used to life without that income. For me and Bri, we have pretty much always made the same amount. And b/c neither of us makes a lot of money, we never had the luxury of one of us quitting. If one spouse makes 2x as much as the other, I imagine that is more doable (or at least you would not miss the smaller paycheck so much), but what do I know.

I also believe that many Americans live off credit. We have only 1 kid and are able to save money every month plus pay for private school on our salaries. I often wonder how parents of three kids manage to take yearly vacations, buy their kids the latest gizmos, sign them up for expensive sports. Can they really be making 3x what we are?! Probably not.

And speaking of slackers (well, maybe you were not) Jordan is having a b'day swim party next month at my mom's complex (the small pool is free to those who live there). Not only have I requested no gifts on the invite, I refuse to buy little treat bags for her cousins. No one gets anything, but cake and ice cream and hopefully a good time swimming.

You can probably imagine my disappointment that we are unable to go to a bday party for one of Jordan's classmates and miss out on a moonwalk (jumping thing), water slide, etc.

I am done now.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. I agree on both sides. I see facie's point about 16 being old enough to (supposedly) be trusted. I figure if they can't be trusted in the house, they can't be trusted anywhere. Young people will find a way to do what they want. Yes, we as parents can make it more difficult, but we can't really stop it all together.

That said, I have to say I was also a SAHM for a long time when my kids were small and I got very tired of all the reasons working moms gave for working. I read somewhere that once you factor in the cost of baby-sitter, work clothes, lunch and travel (ie gas and wear and tear on car) the average "working" mom is actually "working" for about $1.90 an hour. Surely a little budget cutting could trim that and the kids could enjoy a full time mom.

As for those who "just can't stay home" - Why not? what's so great about work? Yes, staying at home can be boring and mind-numbing. It can also be rich and fulfilling. And it's part of the deal with kids - you make 'em, you raise 'em. You cannot PAY someone to love, no matter how good a babysitter they are. And that "quality" time at the end of the day, those few exhausted hours when mom is home from work and baby is home from daycare and kids are home from school? Are those REALLY "quality" hours? I've seen too many monster children whose parents won't discipline because they "don't want to fight" those last few hours of the day that they have with their little darlings.

Of course, kids grow up and you can't do a thing about it. My oldest right now is 20, and cheerfully hosting beer parties at college. What can I do? Not a thing. He's technically an adult, and I'm pretty much done parenting. I can tsk tsk and shake my finger and that's it.

So. Kidspace - there's probably too much of it for the younger ones, and you can't do anything about the older ones anyway.

As for working moms. Well, at the risk of p'ing people off - ladies, you've been sold a bill of goods. Time spent with your child is priceless and "having a career" is just another word for working your ass off, low pay and losing what might be some of the most precious memories of your life.

Mel said...

Well, I will leave these good comments alone because many valid points are made in them and I don't feel I can add anything, really. I guess I didn't think much about this post and all the aspects of it and how it's kind of a touchy subject, b/c I was worried about the girl next door and what will happen to her... and I was hoping those neighbors never find out that I blog and read this! I do get frustrated with her parents, esp. her mom, a competitive type who has made snide comments about what I do all day (I'm guessing her assumption is "nothing.") But I also am just surprised when people don't learn from experience--b/c the part I didn't mention is that this couple's older daughter already went down the "pregnant early, kid out of wedlock" thing and they've complained about how hard it was/is and that's partly why I just shake my head at them. Perhaps they just don't have a choice. But I see how they throw money at unnecessary things and it just seems kind of screwed up. But we all make our own choices and none of them are perfect. There are days when working again sounds pretty good to me, truly. I guess what it comes to at the end of the day is this: you just do the best you can.