The “Age of Fear” in the “Land of Surveillance”

The "Age of Fear" in the "Land of Surveillance"

It’s one of the toughest balancing acts you face as a parent: how to teach your child independence and self-reliance while keeping them safe in a dangerous and interconnected world.

I say “interconnected” because, as wonderful as connection is, in some instances it can cause more harm than good. A key example: anonymous reporting.

You may have had one of those balancing moments yourself: you know your child is mature enough to be left home alone while you run those errands this afternoon. But what if your neighbor disagrees? One anonymous phone call could result in you losing your child.

Last week, the New York Times published “Motherhood in the Age of Fear,” an article by Kim Brooks tackling this phenomenon. (Those of you on Facebook may have seen it linked there.)

Brooks points out,

“When a person intimidates, insults or demeans a woman on the street for the way she is dressed, or on social media for the way she speaks out, it’s harassment. But when a mother is intimidated, insulted or demeaned because of her parenting choices, we call it concern or, at worst, nosiness. A mother, apparently, cannot be harassed. A mother can only be corrected.”

(Though Brooks’ focus is on moms, as a dad I know this applies to us, too. To say it is statistically just a mom problem ignores the truth: it shouldn’t happen to any of us. As parents, we are all in this together.)

Brooks herself was forced to perform 100 hours of community service because she dared to leave her son in the car long enough to run a quick errand. She writes of another mom who left her three children in the car–within her direct line of sight through the window–while she ran into Starbucks to get a coffee. (Check the details in the article; neither mom was putting her kids in any great danger.)

Neither mother had committed a crime. The second mom, a senior public defender, pointed that out to the police who were called on her that day. Still, child protective services opened investigations on both; Brooks even faced a warrant for her arrest (though, again, she had broken no law).

In this age of fear no one loses more than the children, who can no longer develop a sense of independence because they aren’t allowed outside alone. Brooks sums it up nicely: “I worry about all the ways our country seems to be at war with children, even as we insist our greatest responsibility is to protect them.”

But Americans are not alone in realizing there is something wrong in our nation.

The Times followed Brooks’ article the next day with responses from all over the globe, and they are truly eye-opening. A small sampling follows (emphasis added):

Kids in primary school [here] go shopping at the bakery and the supermarket by themselves, proud of their independence. We’re afraid too, of course. We just don’t want fear to ruin our–and our children’s–lives.

–Katrin, Germany

My daughters, ages 10, 8, and 5 walk (together) from our apartment to the nearby park, play there, and come back, all by themselves…. No one seems to mind, and I like this initiation to freedom and responsibility that it brings them.

–Xavier Marchand, Paris

I have now lived in Mexico for 14 years, a society in which kids are ever-present. My last trip to New Jersey, I was riding a bike around my friend’s dense suburban neighborhood and kept wondering, “Why does this feel so weird?”

Finally figured out it was 4 pm in the summer and eerily silent. No kids. No basketball hoops…. No playing and screaming and laughing….

–P. Wilkinson, Guadalajara

I’m living in a family-friendly society, where children have much more freedom. They are independent at much younger ages than in the U.S. The hovering doesn’t happen here, not at parks or birthday parties. Moms seem much less stressed, too. I’m not looking forward to returning to the land of surveillance.

–Carrie, Germany

(All above quotes taken from the New York Times.)

What Can We Do?

The Age of Fear. The Land of Surveillance. These phrases should not describe America. We certainly don’t want them defining how we raise our children.

That’s why we support efforts like the “Child Neglect Amendments” passed in Utah this year which aim to allow parents the right to make these decisions for themselves. And it’s why we encourage bipartisan efforts to amend federal law to end this disastrous era of “anonymous reporting.”

You can help with these efforts by inviting your friends to sign up to receive updates like this one from the Parental Rights Foundation. Our aim is to keep parents informed and working together to put family-friendly models and policies in the hands of good lawmakers to bring positive change for our families.

You can also help by spreading the word, and by standing with other parents who come under attack for minor disagreements in “how to parent.” Our legal system is based on the presumption that parents have their child’s best interests at heart; we need to extend that same presumption to one another.

If you can, please partner with us financially, too. Our work is completely dependent on the contribution of donors just like you, and donations are tax-deductible.

Thank you for standing with us to support parental rights. Together, let us end the age of fear in the land of surveillance!


Michael Ramey
Director of Communications & Research