Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Driving me distracted

The federal government is considering whether to force states to outlaw all cell phone use while driving.  While I understand that driving distracted is dangerous, I am not comfortable with this sort of legislation.  I am reasonably comfortable with texting, web-surfing, and typing being outlawed... all of these tasks require both hands and eyes.  But, mental distraction, as in hands-free cell phone use, is not something that legislation can control.

Sure I talk on my phone while driving, but I don't begin to consider that as dangerous or distracting as the other things that I have to do.  If they really want to make me safer on the road, it is time to implement the car-top kid carrier.  The kids really drive me nuts in the car.  They fight, they throw stuff, they moan, and they cry.  They pee in their seats, eat, ask me to look at stuff ("um, no, I'll look at the road instead"), and they drop things.

What else do I do while driving?  I sometimes eat. I almost always drink soda.  I reach for a tissue and blow my nose.  I keep my dog out of my lap, she weighs 70 pounds.  I reach for my sunglasses.

What don't I do behind the wheel?  I never text or read email or websurf.  I don't apply make-up or do my hair.  I don't apply nail polish.  Should we also address the legality of all of these things?  I see people applying make-up behind the wheel all the time.

How about instead of legislation to outlaw distractions, we make people more culpable for damage they inflict by being irresponsible? 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


I have a student signed up for a course.  This course is a study abroad offering.  Thus, there is a lot of paperwork and planning required.  Most of this rests on me.  But, there is a substantial amount of planning and preparation that I have to require of the students.

This year, one of my students has, thus far, failed to complete a single piece of this preparation on their own.  His mother has been the main point person on every piece of paperwork, documentation, and meeting.  His mother has finished the papers, sent the emails, contacted me, and sent apologies. 

What will this child do when he gets his first job?  Will she serve as a go-between for his boss?  Will she wake him up so he can get to work on time? 

Kid.  You are in your 20s.  You are a college student.  You want to live "independently".  With that kind of power comes responsibility.

Kid.  It is time to buck up, grow up, and do the right thing.

Mom.  It is time to back off, let your kid face his own consequences, and force your kid to grow up.

I hope that I am never this mom and that my child is never this child.

Friday, December 9, 2011

New technology.

Z is working on a science project that covers innovations.  While discussing the advent of mobile phones, texting, the internet, and email - he suddenly froze.

"How did people communicate before mobile phones?"

"We waited until we got to our destination."

Wow.  Maybe someday I'll blow his mind and tell him about tv that you can't pause (and came only in black and white - with three channels and a roof antenna), phones that all have cords, and music spinning on a big black vinyl record.

Suddenly it makes more sense that I need reading glasses.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dear Abby thinks "Worst First"

A "working mom in Kansas" asked Dear Abby this morning how old her child needs to be before she can leave them alone at all.  Abby's response can be found here:

Essentially, her answer is never, because something could happen.

Here is my response...

Dear Abby,

On 8 December, you responded to a working mom that wanted to know at what age a child can be left in the house alone. You responded “I don’t think children should be left alone if there is any alternative…” because “Too many things can go wrong…” This is a classic example of what Lenore Skenazy ( refers to as “worst-first” thinking. Because of rare tragic things that could happen, we will handicap our children’s ability to gain from the many positives associated with this kind of independence. Further, we will handicap this parent’s finances and their ability to shop alone for brief periods of time.

Can you really not imagine any age where a child is capable of being left alone in their home? Not at 8? Or 11? Or 14? Or 17? How is it that these children will learn to be capable adults if they don’t get to practice gaining increments of independence under the (sometimes remote) supervision of their parents or guardians? Is this why, as a professor, I see college students today that are incapable of facing the regular bumps and glitches of daily life without calling on their parents to fix their problems for them?

Perhaps instead of “never”, we can look for indicators that a child is capable of short time periods home alone. In that each child develops differently, the right age for gaining responsibility and freedom will be different. Here is one article highlighting the signs of readiness: After experimenting with leaving them home during short errands, children can gain confidence and earn additional freedoms. Practice can help children gain confidence in solving their own problems on the road to becoming capable adults.

Instead of infantilizing our children due to remote risks, we need to empower them. If you will recall, just a few decades ago, we did that very thing. I was a latch-key kid at nine and babysitting at 11. In the 70’s, this was regular practice. Before you argue that the world was safer then, note that the crime statistics show that life is safer today than it has been since 1970 or earlier. In that time on my own, I learned how to feed myself when I was hungry, how to clean up after myself, how to take care of others, who to call when you need help, and I developed the confidence that I could take care of myself. That experience was invaluable.