The other day, during my daily quality time with Dear Abby, I came across a piece of advice concerning how to keep our children safer. The essence of it was this: every day, before leaving the house, parents should whip out their cell phones and take a picture of their children. Not so we can have a visual record of the last time that day our children were clean. And not so we can alibi them later for the cops. (“You see, Jr. was at home like a good boy when those mail boxes were knocked down. Yes, I know that the time stamp says eight am, and that the boxes were knocked down around midnight, but this is a Nokia—it tells you what time it is in Finland.”)
No, according to experts, the reason parents should take a picture of their children every day is so that the police will have a current photo (including the correct clothes) to work from when you file the missing person’s report. (And make sure you don’t forget to get the latest iPhone app—the iDentist. Now you can have up-to-date dental records to go along with that daily mug shot.)
Welcome to the 21st century—the era of fear-based parenting. Remember how it was when we were growing up? Remember how our parents didn’t tell us to “be home by dark,” but rather, “and don’t come back home until it’s dark”? Or maybe that was just my neighborhood, where all the moms drank their coffee black, could hook up a horse trailer on the first try and chopped up rattlesnakes with hoes without once dropping their cigarettes. When one of those moms turned to you and said, “If you’re that bored I can find you something to do,” you took off running. In fact, it’s hard to imagine one of those moms ever taking your picture with their cell phone; it’s much easier to imagine them using that same phone Russell Crowe/Naomi Campbell-style to chase you out the door.
And yes, I know what you’re going to say. “But things are different now. Sure, when we were kids we ran all over the place. We played unsupervised in the woods (desert, fields, vacant lots) all the time, and nothing ever happened to us—but it was a different world back then.” And the funny part is: you’re right. It was a different world back then.
It was more dangerous.
Here’s the thing. Violent crime in this country peaked in the 1970s and ’80s. By the time 1990 rolled around it was starting on a downturn that has continued to this day. Who knows exactly why this happened—everybody likes to take credit for it—but the fact is, a child growing up today is statistically safer than a child of the ’70s. That means that our kids are safer playing outside then we ever were.
Or, at least that means they’re safer from violence. At the same time that the average American child’s environment has been getting safer and safer, the average American child themselves has been getting fatter and fatter—probably from sitting on nice “safe” couches and being driven to nice “safe” play dates. (And don’t forget “snack time.”) Sure, we sucked down plenty of “suicide slurpees” back in our day—but we had to ride our bikes to the 7-11to get them. In twenty years we have gone from “stranger danger” to “manger danger.”
I even read somewhere that laundry detergent manufacturers have had to change their formulas to keep pace with their changing customer base: where they used to formulate their products to remove grass and blood stains, they now formulate them to remove ketchup and grease.
I sure hope they make those cell phone cameras with wide angle lenses.