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Do We Expect Too Much from Parents Today?

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article on The Perils of Texting While Parenting. The point it was trying to make was simple. Parents are spending too much time on their mobile devices and not enough time paying attention to their children. Also, while there is only anecdotal evidence, it is believed that this trend is contributing to an increase in child injuries. There has been a three year increase in the number of injuries after several years of declines.

While acknowledging that there could be other reasons for these increases, the article goes on to offer several very sad examples of children being badly injured while their parents were engaged in media use. At least one was charged with reckless endangerment in the second degree and risk of injury to a minor.

I definitely agree that in many cases parents should put away their electronic gadgets and pay attention to their children. However, I think that this article raises an even bigger issue. What does society expect of parents today? Adults of previous generations frequently speak fondly of having a very free childhood – whole days spent without parental supervision. While certainly not the ideal, many children of my own generation growing up in the 1980s were latch-key kids, left to fend for themselves after school. Compare this with today when parents are expected to provide 24/7 supervision.

There are those who advocate “free-range parenting,” a return to the largely unsupervised childhoods of yesterday, but they are in the minority. Instead, the majority of us do try to supervise our children as much as reasonably possible and are accused of being “helicopter parents” as a result. Yet, it seems even that level of supervision is not enough as far as society is concerned. If a child gets hurt in any way, it is automatically our fault. Someone must be to blame and that blame falls squarely on the shoulders of the parents.

It is virtually impossible for a parent to raise a child with the type of vigilance that society seems to expect, especially if a parent has more than one child. Even if one is not using an electronic device, who among us has not taken her eyes off a child for a minute or two to tend to another child, put a batch of laundry in the washing machine, start dinner, or to have a quick conversation with another mother at a park? In that minute or two, unfortunate things can and do happen.

Not to mention there are times when we simply can’t guard our child’s every move. I still remember the first time my older son rode his bike alone. I was near him, following behind, but all I could do was hold my breath and pray to his guardian angel to protect him. A great deal of parenting involves letting go and that means that we are not always able to keep our children safe, no matter how much we might like to.

There is no such thing as 100% safe parenting. Accidents do happen. Children do get hurt, sometimes badly. In those sad cases, parents live with the guilt of “what could I have done to stop it?” the rest of their lives. We as a society do not need to condemn them as well.


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has a Master of Arts degree in Applied Theology from Elms College. A former Senior Editor at Catholic Lane, she is now the editor of Today's Catholic Homeschooling. She is also the author of The Catholic Baby Name Book and Letters to Mary from a Young Mother. She has two biological sons and one adopted daughter. Visit her blog at http://spiritualwomanthoughts.blogspot.com.


  • Katherine Andes

    Patrice, you are absolutely right. I remember back in the early 90s reading a comment by then Sugeon General Stoop … something to the effect that “100% of childhood accidents are preventable.” Oh, yeah, sure, if you leave your child in a padded room 24/7. Society is very harsh on parents. D’d if you do, D’d if you don’t.

  • Claire

    This is so true! i have at time felt like I was being viewed as a helicopter parent, and other times where I have felt that I was viewed as being too laid back. You can’t win!

  • CDville

    When my SIL was a caseworker for Child Protective Services, I asked her what age could a child be left home alone. She said Texas had no legally-determined age, but that if anything happened, the parent should have known better and the full legal system asserts its authority.

  • It’s not fair to moms to expect them to be the caregiver 100% of the time. My Grandfather, a farmer, was always home for lunch and always had some of his boys with him when they weren’t at school. I think the whole structure of society works against moms and kids. Maybe there’s no good solution – unless we’re going to return to a simpler time.

  • Terri K

    Physical accidents are all the parents’ fault, but we’re obligated to stand back and allow moral assaults on our kids’ innocence. Society has it all turned around.
    My husband is a scout master for the Boy Scouts of America. Core to their program is letting the boys do things themselves, to include things like building fires and handling sharp knives. It’s hard for some of the parents to graps that the objective is to let the boys learn by doing, even if that means making mistakes. It is so deeply ingrained in us as parents that we have to prevent accidents and injuries at all costs. My husband handles it all very well. (He is also a military officer.) As for Mom (me), I don’t go to campouts or regular meetings with the boys. It makes me nervous as a cat! :0)