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If We Took a Page out of Our Parents' Rule Book

Photograph by Getty Images

The park. Kids playing.

Just as many parents swarm the perimeter of the playground like bees around a hive pretending to Watch! Mom! Mom! Watch! Watch me! Mom! Mom? Mom! Mom? Mom! Watch! Head cocked toward the demander, eyes straining down at the ever-present iPhone.

There is no iPhone shaming here, though. Take a breath for yourself anytime you can get it, I say. Because even when we send our kids out into the backyard to play we circle back to the window every few minutes to make sure no one is hanging over the fence offering them candy or trying to entice them into helping find a lost puppy.

And it makes me really sad.

Gone are the days of my youth when I would disappear all day. “Mom, I’m going outside to play,” is all I said. Or she yelled it at me after one too many couch forts, bathtub adventures or "mystery drinks" created from all the condiments in the fridge.

“Go outside and play!” She’d yell. “Unless you want to help me clean.”

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You didn’t have to tell us more than once. Hell, you barely had to tell us the first time because the greatest joy of youth is exploring, expanding your horizons, stumbling into awesomeness around every corner whether it’s riding bikes through neighborhoods not your own, tunneling through weeds in a field, building forts in an orchard or just hanging at the park. A park, I might add, where the kids outnumbered adults 10:1, children of 7 or 8 years old dragging along toddler siblings, nary a parent in site.

But our kids will never know this. If we parented our kids the way our parents raised us, child services would be all up in our business. What happened?

I have an inkling. It's something we let inside our homes. Every day.

The news.

It’s not the child predators that rock our modern world; they’ve always been here. It's the news. It’s like an anxiety-filled mother-in-law who, if she's not smugly explaining how you're doing it wrong or how you can do it better, she's pointing out all the other parents who have done it wrong and providing you with excruciatingly painful details about what happened to their children. Do you want that? Huh? Do you?

We can take normal precautions, raising children without the specter of fear haunting our lives, or we can let the fear take over, dictating our every move.

Are more kids being kidnapped today than in yesteryear? Maybe, but probably not. Most likely we're just hearing about it more because CNN has endless hours of time to kill. Not only are we hearing about it more, but we're also forced to confront every single detail that we don’t need to know via charts, graphs, photos and maps. Very soon, instead of the newspaper articles accompanied by the blurry black-and-white photographs that informed our parents, holograms will be leaping from TVs right into our living rooms to shame us for doing it wrong, so we all lock ourselves and our children behind closed doors and nobody will ever go outside again because of "The Fear."

Did you see the surveillance video of the man try to molest the girl in the Wal-Mart aisle? You can't let your kid out of your sight for two seconds, I don't care if she is 10-years-old. Yeah, I make my daughter keep one hand on the shopping cart at all times.

Did you see the last images of those poor girls whose neighbor abducted them while riding their bikes? Yeah. I don't let my kids ride their bikes off our driveway.

Did you hear about that driver all high on meth who jumped the sidewalk and hit those boys? Yeah, I don't let my kid out of the house anymore.

Where does it end?

Will we all be hunkered down in tree houses with our kids, periodically checking our iPhones while we pretend to drink tea? Guarding the front yard like a sentry as our kids run through the sprinklers? We’re pretty much already there.

There will be no kids only neighborhood games of kick the can taking place in the gloaming, when the only way you’re able to see the can from your vantage point in the bushes is when the rising moon cuts you a break and lights up the action. No delicious thrill of being out in the night with your friends, slightly scared yet confident because you can see your mom and dad moving around behind the front window that slices a buttery square of comforting light into the darkness.

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Now, if a night game somehow sparks up after everyone gets home from all the organized baseball practice, soccer practice, dance class, gymnastics, play dates; the zombie parents brigade will insist on being present because what if, what if, what if?

So the groups of parents hover around the action, make small talk, the spectral glare of iPhones clicking on and off like robotic fireflies, revealing the same bored faces that line the parks during daylight hours.

We can take normal precautions, raising children without the specter of fear haunting our lives, or we can let the fear take over, dictating our every move. Inmates in a prison of our own making; constantly expecting the worst because we watch it every day on the endless cycle of news. But explicit, detailed knowledge of the horror that lurks among us doesn’t help.

Tune out. Turn it off. Live your life.

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