by Sarah Michaelis Tuesday September 25, 2007

My daughter just turned twelve. When I was twelve, I was pretty independent. I did everything by myself.

I walked to and from school (a forty-five minute walk), took the city bus to the library, prepared my own meals, went out with my friends and babysat the neighbours’ kids. But twelve is different today. I won’t let my daughter do any of the above by herself.

Why is that? The truth is, I don’t know. We all hear things are different today—there are scary predators, drunk drivers, gangs, kiddie porn rings and fanatical religious cults. But I’m sure all of those existed when I was twelve. So why am I so scared to let her fend for herself?

Maybe it has something to do with the fact that although bad things have always existed, we didn’t know about them before. With the advent of 24-hour newscasts providing blow-by-blow coverage of the latest kidnapping or gang shooting, YouTube videos depicting kids beating each other up and courtroom cameras detailing the charges against raging pedophiles, parents can’t help but feel that our kids aren’t safe anywhere. Maybe this is a case of too much information.

Even though I’m aware that my overprotectiveness may be depriving my daughter of a sense of independence and the ability to deal with issues on her own, I still act on it. There’s always that ‘what if’ in the back of my mind.

What if someone grabs her off the street like that poor little girl walking home from a friend’s house? What if she gets on the wrong bus, ends up on the other side of the city and forgets her phone number? What if she gets beaten up by someone who likes her shoes/bike/sweater? What if I say yes and the worst happens?

I know I’m not alone. Even if I take a few tentative steps outside of my bubble other parents are there to reel me back in. My daughter’s proposal of a bike ride to the park alone with a friend becomes a long discussion with the parent of the friend to negotiate the limits of their ride, the use of monitoring technology like walkie-talkies and cell phones, and check-in points along the bike path. I often find that my own fear is nothing compared to that of other parents. In fact, sometimes I might be viewed as too permissive.

As a result of this collective parental paranoia, kids don’t play outside until the street lights come on, ‘Nicky Nicky Nine Doors’ is a thing of the past and late-night meetings of top secret clubs must be conducted under the watchful eyes of designated parents. The question is, when will this come back to bite us on the collective bum?