September 26th, 2021


'Freaky Friday': Coronavirus Edition

Lenore Skenazy

By Lenore Skenazy

Published March 27, 2020

'Freaky Friday': Coronavirus Edition
Everyone's noticing that the roles are reversed at the moment: Those over 50 or so are being hectored by their protective progeny to stop going out to have lunch with friends or play cards or stroll the neighborhood.

"Wash all the clothes you went out in today — including Daddy's jeans ... Bring Clorox wipes ... Use baggies for gloves ... "

And, frankly, I'm fine with that. Hectoring is where it's at these days. Hector on! But it does feel just the tiniest bit like Freaky Free-Range Friday.

In "Freaky Friday," 16-year-old Lindsay Lohan and her "mom," Jamie Lee Curtis, switch bodies for one freaky day of role reversal. Hilarity and empathy ensue.

And there's something to that idea. For the longest time, I have been contemplating a notion sent to me by Emily Adams, a Free-Range Kids/Let Grow enthusiast, who said that parents would stop micromanaging their kids' lives if they had to live for a day the way today's kids live.

They'd get up, and instead of being able to get themselves to work, they'd be strapped into the backseat in a five-point harness and driven there, even if they work just three blocks away. When they got to their job, their kid would stand next to them until the very last minute when they entered their office building. And even then, their child would peer through the window to make sure they were walking safely down the hall.

After work, the parents wouldn't have time to unwind or go for a drink. Their child would pick them up from work and take them to something enriching, like a two-hour chess lesson. But they couldn't go into the lesson until the child signed them in at the front desk.

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If the parents were wiped out after chess and REALLY ready for that drink, they would first need to spend 20 minutes reading something at their current vocabulary level or just a smidge above — maybe a chapter of Tolstoy. Then they'd have to write what they thought would happen next to Natasha and Prince Andrei, and the child would read what they'd written and initial it.

(Younger kids could swap out the Tolstoy for a trip to the park, where the kids would stand under the jungle gym, arms outstretched, while their parents climbed.)

Come evening, the child would prepare the parent a meal and cut it into tiny pieces so the parent wouldn't choke and also wouldn't hurt themselves with a sharp knife. Then it would be time for more reading and a homework project that the child would tell them how to do while saying, "This is YOUR project." And then lights out.

Today's young adults were recently kids, which means they spent a whole lot of time being micromanaged. They also spent a whole lot of time being told that very safe things — like waiting in a car for five minutes or crossing a quiet street — were risky indeed. Every danger, from miniscule to mammoth, was considered a threat to be mitigated by any means necessary. That's why parents bought baby kneepads and stood next to their kids at the bus stop in supersafe neighborhoods.

Faced today with a real, gigantic, life-threatening risk, overprotection seems like a totally appropriate response. I have no problems with it. The fact that young people want their parents safe and are prescribing precautions is heartening.

But it's also a chance to think back on all that overprotection we parents did in those halcyon previrus days and wonder: Did we really have to be that way when kids were so extremely safe?