The sneaky message behind all these safety and educational products is this: Whatever you and your baby were born with isn't enough. Sure, your baby was born with adorably chubby knees. But are these safe enough to crawl on? Sure, you can test the bath water yourself, but are you smart enough to tell if it's hot?

Of course you are! But when you're surrounded by products insisting you're not, it's hard not to worry that you're not doing the best for baby. The helicopter parenting this encourages is a radically new childrearing notion, and it isn't working very well.

Consider the fact that when Sesame Street first debuted in 1969, it was designed by a battery of child psychologists to model the ideal childhood. So if you get the DVD set Sesame Street: Old School, and you watch the highlights from back then, you see giddy kids playing follow the leader, by themselves. You see kids playing in a vacant lot, by themselves. You see happy kids actually entertaining themselves. (Without a GameBoy!) But first, this warning appears on the screen:

"These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups."

Oh, come on! Since when?

Since what was considered a fun, wholesome and educational childhood just a generation ago is now considered insanely risky. See-you-on-local-news risky! And so parents are getting the message: Anytime your kids do anything on their own, something terrible could happen and it's all your fault.

The fear for our kids mingles with the fear of blame, and so we lock them inside, where they snack and play video games. Or we chauffeur them to supervised activities and then chauffeur them back home. Is it any wonder our kids are getting fat? Any wonder so many of them seem depressed? Any wonder that our kids can fill out a standardized test but don't know how to organize their own game of Mother, May I?


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