Monday, November 23, 2009

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water

I am a big fan of Free-Range Kids, a blog hosted by Lenore Skenazy, who reminds us that children have been self-sufficient and inquisitive since the beginning of time. They are also much more capable than we usually give them credit for.

Anyway, despite my fondness for her anecdotes, and despite how much her descriptions of hysterical, stranger-danger-addled do-gooders sound suspiciously like my mother-in-law, I have always thought that the aforementioned addled ones were outliers, or at least confined to my parent's generation.

Not so. I was at a party on Saturday, where one of the guests was discussing having driven past his old house, and how shocked he was to see a three-year-old child walk out the front door, grab a ball and head toward his back yard.

"Would YOU let your little kid walk out the front door without standing there watching him???"

I mentioned that it sounded like the child wasn't in any danger: the street was not heavily traveled, the front yard was sufficiently large that there was probably not imminent danger he'd wander into the street. He had grabbed a ball and headed for the back yard. I thought that, for a few minutes, it was probably OK.

One of the other guests piped up: "But someone could have snatched him! Kids get snatched all the time now! Perverts are everywhere!"

I casually mentioned that the incidence of child abductions by strangers was at its lowest level in 50 years. My husband, the History and Urban Studies scholar, concurred. "Besides," I said, "if you've ever had a three-year-old, you sure as hell don't want to take on someone else's !!"
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OK, Mom! I'll have fun!

"Yeah," said my husband, "we've been leaving K parked out front with the keys in her ignition for almost five years, and nobody's ever taken HER."

This, predictably, had the effect of making everyone in the room scoot their chairs about six inches away from us both.

In any event, having been regarded like I was insane, I actually started to wonder if I might be. But I don't think so. I think of all the hours that K hung out in our front yard, playing in the leaves and picking flowers, kicking her ball and riding her tricycle up and down the driveway, while I was shuttling back and forth inside and outside, keeping half an eye on her, but not sharp-eyed on her every move.

I think that our children will end up victims, most likely, because we raise them to be victims. Because we don't ever trust them to do the right thing. Because we hover and watch and make them afraid. Because we don't let them take risks and get dirty.

I just hope they treat our grandchildren with more respect.


bhd said...

Seems to me that our access to the media is driving the hysteria that many parents feel, and it's got to be hard to not get caught up in it. What might have been local news in the past is national news now - and while I want to believe that violence against children isn't on the rise, it sure doesn't seem like that in the media.

You chose your surroundings wisely. You're raising your daughters wisely. They'll treat your grandchildren appropriately.

Sue said...

My kiddos have only played in the front, but I do have one eye open, the other is in the garden!!

Alison said...


Allan said...

Proof positive why we do not need multiple 24/7 news channels.

Our society has no sense of proportion anymore. Everything is made to seem a crisis.

winter said...

I'm not a parent, but I agree with you. People learn by falling down and making the occasional mistake. Total safety is ultimately an illusion.

Mike Carter said...

I am real curious what the TRUE rate of stranger abduction is. Not the stories we see on Oprah. And put it in proportion to the real number of children out there.

I think this is all blown so ridiculously out of proportion - just like the FALSE idea that children get poisoned from halloween candy - it has NEVER happened.

Sure some kids have been abducted by strangers (of course everyone knows about Adam Walsh), but I would venture that their actual number are so low as to be insignificant.

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Ellie Creek Ellis said...

happy thanksgiving beanie, i'm thankful for your friendship!

Anonymous said...


Lisse said...

When I was a child it was Etan Patz whose case seemed to change the landscape of parenting.

I live in one of the safest towns going, but still parents drive their kids to the bus stop every morning.

Having grown up with a heli-parent of my own, I can tell you that it did me no favors once I got to college.

And how often have I wondered about that person driving by who may feel that my kids are not being supervised closely enough? How long until someone picks up the phone?