Is our culture too overprotective of children?

Grandparents in West El Paso, Texas left their five grandchildren home alone while they ran into town to “take care of some business.”  The eldest was thirteen, the youngest four.  They never expected to receive a call there at the IRS from the fire department telling them they had to come home.

They never expected their house to catch on fire.  Fortunately, all five children were rescued, with the eldest being taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.  She was upstairs, where the fire began, but is expected to recover fully.

Hopefully we can all agree that the fact that this couple was homeschooling these children is fully irrelevant, but it does bring up the question of supervision.  At least to the local news channel reporting on the story.

But some may say that 13 years old is too young to be a babysitter for four other kids.

According to Texas law, there is no specific age said to be too young to be left home, and each child and situation should be taken into consideration.There is a law, however, that defines something called neglectful supervision. A law that states a child should not be put in a situation that a reasonable person would realize requires better judgment and maturity than the child has. KFOX14 (link no longer available)

I’ll play that “reasonable person,” but there are too many other questions in my mind that would need to be answered before I could definitively say that this thirteen year old lacked the judgment and maturity to be put into this situation.

  1. How long were the adults intending on being away? An hour or two?  Most of the day?
  2. How old were the other children? We know the youngest was four, but a twelve year old could help and a ten year old could be responsible more or less for him or herself.  Just knowing the age of the eldest and the youngest leaves me a tad suspicious that the reporter is trying to stir controversy where perhaps none need be.  But I’m just suspicious that way.
  3. How mature is the thirteen year old? I’ve known thirteen year olds who were quite capable and responsible and full grown adults I wouldn’t trust with my puppy.  I would hope that the grandparents would be better judges of her maturity level than any arbitrary age level.
  4. What are the relationships between the children like? I wouldn’t leave my ten year old with any of them just yet, but I’d sooner leave her alone with her two sisters and baby brother than with just her six year old brother.  He is “active” and they do not get along very well.
  5. What about the neighbors? If you know your neighbors and your children have some place to go in an emergency, the situation looks a lot different.  Especially if those neighbors know the children are home alone and are keeping an eye out on the house.

Here in Nebraska, you can send your eleven year old to the Y or to the American Red Cross to earn their babysitter’s certificate, even though I have a hard time imagining leaving my daughter responsible for another child at that age.  But just because I wouldn’t do it doesn’t mean it constitutes neglect.  It reminds me a bit of the discussion last spring surrounding the columnist who allowed her nine year old son to navigate the Subway system to get home.  Alone.  In New York City!  My first reaction to that story was a resounding “She did what?!”  But I was born and raised in the Midwest and I would be uncomfortable navigating the NYC Subway system alone.  This child, on the other hand, has grown up with it.

There was a time when a thirteen year old girl could expect to marry soon, have children and raise her own family.  This, in fact, still happens in parts of the world.  And young Sarah Noble was but eight when she left with her father to explore the wilderness and cook for him.  Granted, these children had/have a far different upbringing than most of our suburban youth.  Today, they would probably be placed in protective custody.

But I still wonder.  Was this couple neglectful in leaving their grandchildren home alone?  Or has our culture artificially extended childhood by becoming too overprotective of children?


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33 Comments on "Is our culture too overprotective of children?"

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JJ Ross
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Just to add a danger I didn’t know until it happened to a dear homeschooling friend’s family. Their house caught fire because of dryer lint, while they were all in another room watching a television special.

Her recommendation to us all, after talking with fire fighters in the tragic aftermath, was: don’t ever run your clothes dryer when a responsible adult isn’t alert and nearby. This includes leaving one or more youngsters home during the day with laundry in process, and everyone going to bed at night while it’s still running (with or without adults home.)

suburbancorrespondent
Guest
Oh, Lord, this is my nightmare. I leave my very responsible 12-year-old home with his 8, 6, and almost 4-year-old siblings while I run quick errands. But, being phobic, the last thing I say as I walk out the door is, “In case of fire, get everyone out. First.” If I’ll be gone longer than half an hour or so, I take the youngest – everyone else is old enough to know to get out. Oh, and no one is allowed to eat anything while I’m gone (even though the 12-year-old knows the Heimlich maneuver). Also, we have very close… Read more »
Life On The Planet
Guest

In this case, I would want to know why the fire started before I passed judgement.

I leave my younger two alone from time to time(twelve and ten)while I run to the local grocery. We have good neighbors who are retired and are usually home. I have to admit I call them so often (“Are you alive?” “Don’t answer the door!” “Be nice to your brother.”) that they are in contact with me most of the time.

The majority of the time my fifteen year old is home. He is a trusted sibling sitter.

Mary
Guest

I realize it was 20 years ago, but I used to watch my 3-4 younger siblings for a couple hours when I was 11. It wasn’t long after that other people had me babysit for their children.

Last I checked, fires and injury from fires happened when parents and grandparents were home too, so I’m not sure the children would have been better off in this case with adult supervision.

Dana
Guest

Yes, well, if she was upstairs smoking and that is how the fire started, perhaps she isn’t quite the one to be in charge. Hopefully that isn’t the case.

I had heard that, JJ Ross. Actually, I read about it while number three was in her car seat enjoying a dryer induced nap. Needless to say, we stopped doing that.

JJ Ross
Guest
Overall, I agree with suburbancorrespondent. Yes, and yes! And that the best we can do is to prepare even children to watch out for each other, and to know the ways out, and to get help. I am an older mom with bad knees. I worry about slipping in the shower, or having a stroke/heart attack and needing help myself but being home alone. And vice versa, about 13-year-old Young Son being home alone and slipping in the shower or getting bitten by the dog next door, or a fire starting or a tornado or lightning strike or snake in… Read more »
Amanda
Guest
I think #3 question is the most important in regards to not only the 13 year but also the 10 year old. I have seen 10, 11, and 12 year olds that are mature enough to be fully trusted and than in another light I have seen a 13 year old I wouldn’t leave alone without my supervision. I do believe in a light that our society is too protective over children. So protective in a manner that it has put up several barriers to what is considered “proper” parenting. This is for sure a debateable topic because somethings our… Read more »
Renae
Guest

It’s interesting that we try to protect our children from physical harm in an almost paranoid way (myself included, I still don’t like to leave my 11-year-old home when going two blocks away to the neighbors). Yet so many allow children to be subject to all kinds of blatant messages about sexuality, violence, etc. That does not extend childhood, but robs it of its innocence.

Andrea_R
Guest
I’m quick to say no, it’s not too young – but I also need more answers. Totally think the reporter is stirring things up though. (the law is a little weird here. You can babysit at 12, but not be alone with a sibling at 12…) For my own kids – if the oldest was 13, I wouldn’t leave then with anyone younger than maybe 6. 4 is pushing it, and then I’m just running down the street, maybe to get the mail. I can see a grandma and grandpa thinking it was perfectly reasonable. When I was a youngun’… Read more »
Beth
Guest

I’m always conflicted about this. I had a good babysitting business going by the time I was ten years old, but the times were different then. I don’t know if I would be willing to leave my kids with a ten year old now.

I don’t know if we were just more responsible then or if something else has happened.

Dana Hanley
Guest

We are all affected by the cultural norms. If everyone left their ten year olds alone, none of us would think about it, even when something bad happened.

And I think in general, we baby children more so perhaps a lot of kids aren’t ready for such responsibility like maybe they could be if it were expected of them.

JJ Ross
Guest

To Renae’s point, yes and then too, there are endless mitigating circumstances and so many questions to consider — some people feel that way about the Bible! 😉

For example, from the BrickTestament site (books of the bible rendered in Legos)
– CONTENT NOTICE –
The Bible contains material some may consider morally objectionable and/or inappropriate for children. These labels identify stories containing:

N = nudity S = sexual content V = violence C = cursing

Dana Hanley
Guest

Yes, well, you see Lego and think kids. And then you have a graphic depiction of circumcision. But yes, there is an awful lot of sinning going on in the Bible.

Melisa H.
Guest
Okay, I will give on my age – I am 41. Almost 30 years ago (has it really been that long?), when I was 12, I babysat 3 boys on a regular basis. Yes, it was a relatively closeknit subdivision in rural IN. And my mom was only a couple of streets over. But, I tell you what, those boys made my annoying brother look like an angel, lol! Shortly thereafter, we relocated to OK. Mom regularly left me in charge of annoying brother (no biggie – I was was bigger than him and he knew if I had to… Read more »
Shawna
Guest
Personally I feel that we not only over-protect children and extend childhood, but we place them on a pedestal… with things like birthday parties in the $200 and $300 range, at Chuck E. Cheese or some other children’s facility; with denying jobs to teens until specific ages even when they truly want a job; weddings that cost almost as much as a mortgage; etc. I read about the mother in New York and at first was shocked–I have been on the NY subway a few times LOL But when I read her credentials and her statistical research and began to… Read more »
Dana Hanley
Guest

Note on the weirdo’s:

In Last Child in the Woods, the author points to some studies which indicate that there are no more kidnappings etc. now than there were in the fifty’s. Maybe that is because vigilance has increased proportional to the danger. But it could also be because you see news reports every time a stranger talks to a child.

We have amber alerts on the radio, our cell phones and in the sidebars of blogs. That isn’t bad, but does it make us more paranoid than we need to be?

Dana Hanley
Guest

Hey, Shawna! We’re having the same thoughts and the same source it appears. 🙂 And I’m sorry you deleted your blog, but glad you chose to save at least part of it for yourself. 🙂

Renae
Guest
JJ Ross, Point taken. We do read the Bible in our home. 😉 I was thinking about all the visual messages in our society when I left my comment. So many things bombarding subconscious, at the mall, on television, in the movies. Ideas grown-ups wrestle with and pass onto our kids before they even know who they are. I was thinking of little girls who think they are fat wearing clothes to look like grown women. Dana, I realize all that is a bit off topic, but I’m questioning our view of children as a whole, I guess. Shawna has… Read more »
Dana
Guest

That is what bothers me, too, Amanda. The assumption of wrongdoing.

Renae, I agree. I think our view of children is becoming skewed. Even our whole notion of “accident” is skewed. Dump your coffee in your lap and sue. Slip on a wet floor and sue. Someone has to be responsible and someone has to be sued, jailed or fined if anything bad happens.

Here in Nebraska, we may lose public playgrounds because municipalities can not afford the potential lawsuits if a kid falls and breaks and arm.

JJ Ross
Guest

I knew what you meant, Renae, and I wasn’t arguing. Just extending the perspectives from which we can see the same cause for concern. 🙂

Again, what you legitimately worry about in secular culture is seen (also legisltimately?) from an opposing POV in children homeschooled through Biblical literalism, their every academic and life lesson wrapped tight in sexual, violent and very adult stories: “So many things bombarding subconscious . . . Ideas grown-ups wrestle with and pass onto our kids before they even know who they are.”