mikolay_headshot_2011_120The American people have always liked to be frightened; viewers flock to horror movies in droves, consumers gobble up stories of the latest grizzly tragedies in supermarket tabloids, and gory crime-related television shows have consistently drawn stellar ratings. As Americans become increasingly exposed to the darker side of human nature, however, their own paranoia has begun to manifest in society as a whole.

As a result, the American childhood experience has become obsolete. No longer are children allowed to walk to their friends’ homes without parental supervision. Plastic toys, once utilized by imaginative children around the country during harmless games, are now considered taboo. Dodge ball, most likely the only fun game ever played in gym class, is almost universally banned in American schools because it “encourages violence.”

Video games are labeled with an age rating, restricting the amount of “questionable content” that any individual child can be exposed to.  Music is branded with ugly “Parental Advisory” labels to assure that innocent ears won’t be corrupted by the lyrics of artists like Nine Inch Nails or Marilyn Manson. After-all, it doesn’t matter how loving a home they come from, any child could be one song or one game away from becoming the next Dylan Klebold.

The once immortal bus stop has also fallen victim to such over-reaching parental controls. School buses now deliver children directly to their homes, lest a predator or degenerate come in contact with them during their commute. The morning conversations between young peers waiting for the bus are now a thing of the past, as are metal lunch boxes (deadly weapons), Halloween masks (sinister disguises), and playgrounds (death traps).

The daily lives of modern children are certainly less exciting than those experienced by the youth of the past. 

Over the past two decades, American parents have climbed to frighteningly high levels of paranoia. Not even during the 1990s, at the height of the so-called “Satanic Panic,” when far-right evangelists convinced the mainstream media that Lucifer’s disciples were hiding behind every corner, were parents so overly protective of their children.   

There are those, however, that rationalize these newfound precautions as being vital to the survival of our young. There are parents who argue that murderers, drug dealers, and child predators are a recent phenomena, one that was alien during the innocent age extolled by nostalgic grandparents across the country.

Thus, while the children in years gone by could live their lives to the fullest, wholly unafraid of their neighbors, contemporary children must be protected from the dozens of faceless bogeymen who seek to destroy their innocence.

The truth of the matter is there is no viable justification for this increase in paranoia.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t evil people in the world; however, such individuals have existed since the dawn of time. These folks certainly walked the streets when our grandparents and their offspring came of age (simply research “Albert Fish” for proof of that fact). The difference was the media didn’t exploit them to the same degree they do today.

Thus, whereas there were various perils out there, parents were not led to believe that such actions were widespread. If a murder was committed in the 1920s, it was merely reported; today it is romanticized, published, and marketed. All of a sudden, parents are led to believe that murders are sweeping across their neighborhoods; the fences go up, window shades go down, and the front door is locked.

Parents should obviously watch their children and nurture them so they grow to their fullest potential in a safe and loving environment. The problem is that by taking these protective instincts to drastic extremes parents have begun hindering the social development of their young.

Our high schools and colleges are already full of students who lack any real world experience, street smarts, or sound judgment. Since the role of assessing the dangers of various situations and the intentions of the personalities involved had always fallen explicitly on the shoulders of the parents, these students are constantly unable to handle themselves. They may be biological adults, but their upbringing has rendered them cognitive children.

It is time for a return to sanity. Parents need to reflect on the Golden Age of the American childhood and examine the events, trials, and tribulations that helped characterize their formative years.  They must realize that children have to operate within a real-world environment if they are ever to mature into adults. Consistent societal protectionism will only deter their natural development.

Too many potentially brilliant children have been lost amidst this sea of paranoia. It is time for parents to open the front door and allow their children to go play.