Home and Away

In olden days (i.e. when I was less than ten years old) I felt infinitely proud that I was allowed to walk all the way up from where I lived (the Grand Harbour area) to the Valletta bus terminus, and then board a bus, which would take me to my grandparents’ house at Zabbar. It was an extra when the driver came from a particular family – because then the trip was guaranteed to be far faster, and smoother.

My grandma and grandpa had no telephone; and it never occurred to us that I could cross the square and use the one at my Uncle Laurie’s house to indicate that I had arrived safely. I grew up – and occasionally, as a bonus to good behaviour of the kids in my catechism class, I took them on outings.

Not one parent baulked at the idea of having 30 kids and one teenager traipse again all the way up to the terminus, to spend the day swimming, or hiking, or picnicking, returning home just in time for a quick wash before supper and bed.

Life was so simpler – and safer – then.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Sun and Advertising Age. She recently raised a stink when, in one of her columns, she “confessed” that she had allowed her nine-year-old son to ride the subway and bus alone, in a bid to grant him a little of the independence he craved. The boy was armed with a Metro Card (a scheme that allows one discounted travel, similar to a bus pass or Kartanzjan), $20 in change, and a subway map.

Please note that he did not have a cellular phone, and that Ms Skenazy actually went home, rather than tailing him.

The child was elated that he managed to tackle the journey – and that he had justified his mother’s trust and the assumption that he would, in fact, cope. But the aftermath of this adventure was such that Ms Skenazy found herself dubbed America’s Worst Mother – nicking the title off 33-year-old Shannell Monique Mosley.

This particular parent had made the headlines in February, when she left six children (aged 16, 15, 9, 8, 7 and 1) in the house, with no food or money to get it… while she flitted off to Nigeria to marry a man whom she had met on the Internet.

So, having robbed Ms Mosley of her title, Ms Skenazy found herself on Fix News, MSNBC, and other media, where the caption accompanying her photo was always her new-found designation.

There was a torrent of abusive correspondence – and some people even wanted to have her turned in for child abuse. Nobody even mentioned whether or not it was worse to keep children toed to their chairs, in front of any type of monitor, because “at least they were in the house”.The issue, for all those who had been taken aback was the perennial “what if”. Think Maddy. Is it, in fact, this attitude that makes abductors, and abusers, or anyone prone to irrational behaviour, feel an exhilarating, bizarre, sense of power? Knowing that your potential actions strike actual fear in someone would be quite a tonic to anyone who is a few cards short of a pack.

The extreme alternative to allowing a child a modicum of freedom would be to molly-coddle him and make him wear a radio-controlled GSM bracelet at all times. And to ferry him to and from private lessons, even if they are at a house at the end of the street. It is keeping a child under your watchful eye – or that of a webcam – at all times… so that the minute she gets a taste of it, she ruins wild. Don’t children deserve to be allowed to fight their own battles, and to learn how to manage their own lives?

This argument hinges upon basically the same silly, unwarranted advice that new mothers are given. “Make sure you remove every item from the top of your furniture, because the child will; break it…” Ah, but does not each item then acquire novelty value when it is replaced?

And, by the way… at which age, precisely, must a child be allowed the sensation of seeing a home pleasantly decorated, rather than as a series of rooms with bare furniture plunked here and there? And as usual, there is the middle-of-the-road way of common sense. Taking gratuitous risks is one thing, but is it “nice” for the child to be forbidden to go to school outings “just in case” he injures himself? Will this not make him the brunt of jokes with his peers – and the teachers? The good news is that Ms Skenazy received a lot of support from people whose views coincide with hers- “There were more of these, in fact, than the naysayers.” she was quoted as saying.

I’m with her. Are you?

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