While traveling a bit lately, I've been observing the otherwise invisible nuclear families of today, now that they have to leave their lock-down compounds to go to the airport, or leave their hotel room to grab breakfast.
It's probably too early to tell, but I'm getting a hunch about how small children these days are, or are not, going to internalize the paranoia of their helicopter parents. These are children in early elementary school or younger.
When helicopter parenting paranoia began with new births in the late '80s, there was plenty for parents to be concerned about (which doesn't excuse their over-reaction). Violent and property crime rates were nearing their peak, and for the previous several decades, it had seemed like the world would only continue on in that direction.
Hence, when the parents sealed off their nuclear family from the outside world and began ordering their kids not to do this and not to do that, there was an honest sense of concern coming through in their voice and mannerisms (however overblown this concern may have been). Moreover, this was the only message about the outside world that the parents allowed to get through to their children — primarily by shutting out all other sources of input, but also by choosing only those external sources that would provide a consistent paranoid message to their little dears. "Parental control."
These children, the Millennials, have grown up to be the most frightened and insecure generation in living memory — how else could they have turned out? Everybody who offered them input, or who their parents allowed them to observe, sent the message that the world is too scary and random to venture out into on your own. And their tone of voice was consistently frightened for your safety, not as though they were just making shit up or just trying to spoil your fun. I guess you might as well hunker down in your room and interact with others at most through virtual channels (texting, internet, online video games, etc.).
Now, what's going to happen when these people become parents? They don't have any first-hand experience with real life, let alone the dangerous, topsy-turvy, and humbling parts of it, let alone decades of such experience. When they try to pass on the message of how scary the world is, it will start to ring hollow. Kids aren't stupid, and they can tell what your tone of voice and mannerisms reveal, aside from whatever you claimed in words. At the least, they can tell when you're being sincere and honest, or when you're joking around and teasing them.
Can children also sense which grown-ups have more experience, and which are more naive? If so, they'd react to the dire warnings of their Millennial parents with, "Yeah, and how would you now, you big wuss?" Whereas if they sensed the parent was more seasoned, they'd take it to heart — "Damn, even this been-there, done-that kind of grown-up sounds scared. It must really be dangerous."
However, when the child steps on the other side of the paranoid "do not cross" line, Millennial parents sound more annoyed and upset than they sound concerned and afraid. This may also be going on with later Gen X parents, who are more experienced, but whose memories of how tumultuous the world can be are fading more and more every year. It's harder and harder for 1992 to exert that kind of gut influence that would shake up the parents, when the world has gotten as safe, stale, and antiseptic as it has by 2014.
Thus little kids today are not going to take parental paranoia to heart like the Millennials did. It's just the mean old grown-ups trying to boss us around and spoil our fun, not looking out for our greater long-term welfare. By the time they're in high school, cocooning will have bottomed out, and they'll be able to enjoy a more unsupervised adolescence. And given how low the crime rate will be by then, they'll conclude that all their parents' warnings were either clueless and out-of-touch, or knowingly wrong and intended to shelter them from real life. See, nothing to worry about in venturing off into unsupervised places!
What was the last generation that had this naive attitude toward breaking free from parents, who they callously dismissed as either out-of-touch or as hypocrites? Yep, we're about to see the rebirth of the Baby Boomers, whose defining impulse is calling the bluff of authority figures.*
It's odd how small children these days are more annoying in public places, running around and making noise, despite their helicopter parents trying to make them behave. When the Millennials were that age, they were either not to be seen at all, or were frozen in place. Today's rugrats and ankle-biters seem more appropriate for the 1950s (see any Saturday Evening Post cover showing their frazzled parents, or a crowd of kids running around the house at a birthday party on Mad Men).
We're not into that late '50s environment yet, but you can sense things creeping up to that turning point. For now, we're still waiting for Elvis.
* Gen X has a similar but more practical and mature attitude. Breaking free from parents is good, but you do have to be cautious out there. Yes, parents are out-of-touch, but that's to be expected given what a different world they grew up in. Authority should not be blindly followed, but blithely romping around calling the bluff of every older person who offers you advice, especially if it comes from the wisdom of tradition, is likely to get you killed.