Note to parents: trust your instincts, lest you end up like one of the anxiety-ridden helicopter parents on new TV show Bubble Wrap Kids.
“I just want to do things for myself.” – Sammy, age 10, Bubble Wrap Kids
The parenting industry is not unlike the military-industrial complex—it is primarily a moneymaking scheme fostered by fear and prone to collateral damage. But it wasn’t always so.
In 1946, Dr. Spock published Babies and Child Care which boldly told new parents: “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” Thing is, his book sold 50 million copies in the ensuing decades and with that kind of money to be made, eventually the profiteers would pile on.
In recent years, the parenting industry has ballooned to take advantage of older parents and their rampant insecurities. Think of them as mature students—remember in university how your middle-age classmates were always super stressed and worked twice as hard for the same result? Basically, they over-thought everything while the young ones intuitively trusted their ability to learn.
Mature parents don’t trust themselves, and so they turn to books, blogs, magazines and TV which proceed to inform them everything they’re doing is wrong and that their child is in constant danger from chemicals, kidnappers and everything in between. This leads to anxiety-ridden helicopter parents who hover around their kids desperately trying to protect them from the big bad world.
Debunking those fears has become the life’s work of New York blogger, columnist and author Leonore Skenazy via her Free-Range Kids movement which has now transcended the internet and printed page to fuel her new TV show Bubble Wrap Kids.
It begins with Skenazy gloating over a brief media storm from a few years back that declared her “America’s Worst Mom” after she wrote a column about letting her nine-year-old take the subway alone. Her son was fine, but that didn’t stop Law & Order: Special Victims Unit from partially ripping it from the headlines for a recent episode about a subway-riding fourth-grader who was, of course, brutally murdered—thus proving her whole point about media fear-mongering.
Now, I fully support the philosophy of the show. I’m appalled at how the anxiety-inducing industry encourages parents to deny their kids the basic rites of childhood that I got to experience in the 1970s which, as Skenazy regularly points out, is no safer than today. I may feed my two-year-old Emile organic food, avoid BPA-infested plastics and walk near him as he goes up and down the stairs, but E’s been using a (dull) knife for months now, got a micro-bike for Christmas and we do our best to honour his incessant declaration of independence: “I do it!”
That a self-reliant child is a safer child is a belief I share with Skenazy. Unfortunately, parenting makes for pretty mundane reality TV in a post-Hoarders world, so Bubble Wrap Kids fixates on the freak shows.
The first episode, “Ten-Year-Old or Toddler,” filmed right here in Toronto, features a certifiable mom who won’t let her kid Sammy use a knife, ride a bike or even eat bacon—the latter for fear of his future clogged arteries! Both parents are equally crazy in the second ep, with a prison guard dad who won’t let his kids play outside alone because he believes the world is populated by pedophiles while the mom won’t let the five kids cook or climb step-ladders or, in the case of the 20-year-old, even ride a bus alone much less drive.
By picking people so over-the-top, it allows run-of-the-mill helicopter parents to excuse their own behaviour as comparatively normal. It doesn’t help that Skenazy is an unappealing TV presence. While a strong writer, she can be grating and condescending onscreen—the opposite of that nice British lady from Supernanny—which doesn’t help promote her sound advice.
And it is sound, even if she is arguably one more “expert” trying to make a buck. (Heck, I’m part of the parent-industrial complex, too.) While Googling a particular problem, perusing What to Expect: The Toddler Years or trying out the Sleep-Easy Solution is often helpful, parents can become overly reliant on industry advice from people who do not know your kid (and may be more interested in your pocketbook). There are literally tens of thousands of books and websites all offering completely contradictory advice—and none may apply.
Well, except maybe Dr Spock’s decades-old reminder that you know more than you think you know.
Bubble Wrap Kids airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. (among many other times) on SLICE.