Child Superprotection as a Self-Reinforcing Norm

In Illinois, it is illegal to leave a child under 14 unsupervised for an
“unreasonable period of time”
Thank god I didn't grow up in Illinois! The quote is from p. 9 of a new working paper by David Pimentel (via), which looks at legal aspects of the current U.S. fashion of superprotective child rearing. The paper's author apparently is a proponent of the recent "Free Range Kids" countermovement and expresses hopes that this movement will succeed in the portions of the paper I've read. I doubt it. The reason is that this seems to be a self-reinforcing norm. Consider the following two aspects:

1. As Michael Chabon pointed out in an interview I've seen on YouTube, if all of the other parents won't let their children play outside, there's no point in letting yours play outside: There's no one else to play with.

2. Other parents' target hardening may put your children at a higher risk. (a) If car drivers in your neighbourhood are not used to children being on the street unsupervised, they'll probably be less on the lookout for sudden, stupid movements by small people. Hence, your own free range kid is at a higher risk of being hit by a car. (b) Suppose there actually is a child abductor at large in your neighbourhood. If your kid is the only one available, that's what he'll take.

That does not even take into account legal aspects and parent-to-parent peer pressure. The only reason I can think of for a countertrend is the continually low crime rates in the U.S.


While I'm at it, I might as well make a different parenting-related point: Parenting seems to be the only area for which the norm is widely held that you may only criticize someone's performance if you regularly perform that activity yourself.

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