We parents can be such a smug bunch, and the Internet only makes it that much easier for us to lob our judgments wherever we see fit:
How dare you take your two young children on a treacherous deep-sea voyage!! - from the New York Times.
What kind of mother are you to allow your 8-year-old son travel to school alone in dangerous New York City???? - from the New York Sun.
You're traumatizing your kid by demanding that your school change its field trip from going to Marineland! -From MetroNews.ca
You must be a child abuser to bring your kids to a public protest!! - from YouTube.
These are only a few of the types of comments that have been brewing on the Internet in recent times. The stories they come from are viral because they make people so angry that they can't help but unleash their bile onto their keyboards.
As a filmmaker who is interested in parenting issues, I have come to respect these extreme points of view even though I may not necessarily agree with them, or choose to follow them with regard to my own kids.
Like all good rebels, rebel parents challenge our hyper-protective, fear-ingrained, consumer-driven lives, and frankly, I think we are a lot better off with them throwing caution to the wind than we are with the more pervasive absentee or "helicopter" parents.
Just last night as I was tucking my eldest son into bed, he kept asking me about what it was like when I was a child and I told him stories of my wandering the neighborhood, biking in back alleys, digging for treasure in the nearby woods and occasionally getting my knees scraped up, my elbows bruised or my feelings hurt.
"I wish I could do all the things you did, Dad," he moaned.
If my wife and I allowed him the same sense of freedom that I had, you can only imagine what the backlash would be from others about it -- whether from the community where we live or on the web. For better or worse, this is now the world we live in and, while monitoring our kids every second keeps them safer for the moment, in the long run I'm very concerned that they are going to be somewhat handicapped in terms of self-resilience. The idea of letting our children run free as we did in the '70s is something I often ponder -- and then I'm put in check by my wife saying, "You know, all it takes is that one incident and they could be gone forever."
As a parent, I have to admit that I often err on the side of caution when it comes to my kid's safety. We make sure they are all wearing their bike helmets and the correct seatbelt harnesses in the car, drink only organic milk from BPA-free sippy cups, and have minimized television exposure until the age of three, along with a plethora of other things that are deemed 'safe.' Forget about boating into unchartered waters; taking our kids on an airplane to Disney is the extent of our world travels together these days.
And yet, I don't begrudge the parents who are more adventurous with their kids, who drag them across the world, who take their children out of school due to a class trip or a standardized test with which they fundamentally disagree, or other off-the-beaten path choices. I may not always like how they go about expressing their rebellion, but truthfully I'd rather be around these parents than the ones who can't set limits on their kids or who compensate for a lack of attentiveness by buying their children expensive things.
So, what can be gained from these rebels? Speaking from my personal experience, after making a documentary film about activist parents who bring their kids to protests, I have certainly been influenced. I didn't always agree with the choices the parents in my film made, but I respect their convictions, and as a result I have become more open to engaging my own children in different forms of social activism. Likewise, I have become more involved with what's going on politically in my own town. I may not necessarily be strolling my kids into the heart of an Occupy Wall Street protest, but I now see the value of teaching my kids to be more civic-minded. Rebel parents like the ones in my film opened my eyes to new possibilities.
Comment as you will, but I'd pick all of these rebel parents over a thousand parents who follow the rules and who are grooming their kids for the "Little boxes made of ticky-tacky" that Pete Seeger once sang about.
As for the parents who had recently taken their family out on a disastrous sea voyage, let me end with a comment from their blog:
"How dare you subject your children to a full life with adventure, travel and education? Babies should be kept in a padded room with no exposure to the scary things outside. And just how do you expect them to deal with narrow-minded, bigoted people who spend their own lives hiding from the world and criticizing others? You have set those poor kids up for a life of frustration and eye-rolling."