Nothing to fear but fear itself.
This Momo hoax has confirmed my thoughts on fear and childhood, and how parents are being led to believe their children are in imminent danger. Momo was a lie started by one person about a virus that hacks children's YouTube videos and asks them to harm themselves or to harm others; and what happened next – someone reads it on Facebook, doesn't fact check, just comments “this is so worrying”, clicks share and on and on it goes.
This is parenting in the 21st century. Parenting led by fear based on stories heard, rumours whispered, sensationalist headlines and click bait. Kidnappings by strangers are spoken about as if they happen daily, the risks of your child choking on any amount of foods are flashed before your eyes on a newsreel, parents speak about the dangers of walking to school alone, walking to the shops, getting the bus or train without an adult by your side. I read comment after comment telling me what a dangerous world we live in now, that things have "gone mad", children are "not safe anymore", there are so many "weirdos" out there. When in fact, we are safer now than we've ever been.
Children are not allowed to do any of the things I took for granted as a child. They can't leave their road, many can't walk to or from school alone, they can't go to the shop, cross a road, or take public transport until they are teenagers. And the problem is that when they finally are allowed to do these things there has been so much anxiety created around this independence that children cannot cope when given it. Instead of slowly introducing our children to responsibility we expect them to have none until they are teens - and then it's thrown at them, and it can be a case of sink or swim. And too many are sinking. They cannot cope with this level of independence after a life of being completely dependent on their parents.
And who is to blame? It's so easy to point the finger at individual parents and tell them they have mollycoddled their little one. But really this is a societal issue. When children are alone on a bus we now think "where are their parents?" We are all sharing the stories on Facebook, the neighbourhood watch WhatsApp groups are filled with warnings of "strange men" walking around housing estates or "suspicious vans" circling areas. Teenagers are constantly being berated for simply “hanging around” and are now referred to as “gangs” as if we live in the ghettos of New York City.
There is simply too much information out there. And we are soaking it up like sponges and feeding it to our children., Telling them not to play outside, stay indoors; the bogeyman is on the prowl again. At Halloween I noticed how parents accompanied all the children on their rounds; from the smallest babes to the oldest kids. I cannot remember my parents ever walking me around for trick or treating. Wasn’t that the job of older brothers and sisters? Or when you hit six or seven you went around with your own group of friends? The annual Facebook posts doing the rounds about how everyone should check their children’s Halloween collections to make sure there were no class A drugs in them or sweets with blades imbedded in them – I mean, who makes this crap up? And why are we believing it? And If you do decide to let your child go out and have a bit of independence you then must deal with the gossip from other parents about how you don’t care about your kids and are basically neglecting them.
So how do change the status quo? We need to begin at home; change it for our own families. And hope that it spreads. Begin by fostering independence from a young age. Follow a Hands Off Parenting approach. Ignore those who scoff at you or make nasty comments about your parenting style. Let your children know that you trust them to make positive life decisions. Give them small responsibilities at first and build on that as they get older. Maybe others will see how these steps have helped your child be a little more resilient than their children, a little more mature, more responsible and a lot more independent. When they see how powerful and effective it is they might adopt this lifestyle too.