In Japan, 6-year-old children are not only allowed to ride the train by themselves, but are eligible for a special fare. Not so in America, where Amtrak has now raised the age that children can ride the train by themselves from age 8 to age 13, effectively barring many working-class children from seeing their father (or non-custodial parent) after a divorce or parental break-up (or visiting their grandma). In America, unlike Japan, children are expected to be chained to their parents to prevent the one-in-a-million chance that something bad will happen to them if they are allowed a little freedom. Could the greater Japanese belief in children’s individual responsibility have something to do with how much better Japanese kids do on tests?
Amtrak admits that it had no experiences with anything bad happening to unaccompanied 8- to 12-year-olds who rode it, it just banned them out of an “abundance of concern” — that is, a baseless fear about safety. But taking away children’s mobility and independence is not “safe,” but deadly. Kids are getting obese as they are kept inside playing video games by busy parents, rather than being allowed to roam the neighborhood unaccompanied, which society used to permit. When I was in second grade, I and my twin brother would play outside for hours unsupervised, walking miles from our home in the woods and on our street, and getting lots of good exercise. Today, this would be considered child neglect by our parents, even though my father was depicted in a front-page obituary in the local paper as a model citizen. The home-habitat of the average child — the area in which they are allowed to travel on their own — has shrunken to one-ninth of its former size as parents are expected to be helicopter parents (and even rewarded for it with sole custody when fighting over custody of a child in the aftermath of a divorce).
In the politically-correct county where I live, parents are expected to watch their elementary school children even when the children are playing in their parents’ own front yard. Given the increasing legal burdens of being a law-abiding parent, it may come as no surprise that the middle-class birth rate is falling, resulting in increasing projected shortfalls in Social Security in the future, as there will be fewer and fewer productive young workers to pay the pensions of older people. (By contrast, jail and prison inmates continue to have large numbers of offspring.)
As Lenore Skenazy notes:
Ten is the new two. We live in a society that insists on infantilizing our children, treating them as helpless babies who can’t do a thing safely or successfully without an adult hovering nearby. Consider the schools around the country that no longer allow kids to be dropped off at the bus stop unless there’s a guardian waiting to walk them home—even if home is two doors down. Or how about all the libraries I’m hearing about that forbid children under age eight or 10 or 12 to be there without an adult—including in the children’s room? God forbid a kid wants to spend the afternoon reading books by herself. Over in Europe (where I guess they’ve got nothing else to worry about), the European Union just ruled that children under age eight should always be supervised when . . . wait for it . . . blowing up a balloon. It’s just too darn dangerous. A child could choke! And those little whistle things that uncurl when you blow into them? Those have been classified “unsuitable” for children under age 14.
Children are now viewed as such fragile little china dolls that schools define even “eye rolling” and “staring” as “bullying” to shield their fragile self-esteem. Big Brother must watch over them at all times, lest they exhibit a little independence and self-reliance.