Monday, May 4, 2009

Irrational Fear And Rational Thought

I remember as a child I could go practically anywhere by myself. Nowadays I see so many parents extremely and overly concerned about their child's safety. And it's not just parents that contribute to unnecessary fear.

A couple months ago, BiketoWork Barb mentioned the concept of free range kids and how that applied to the way she raises her children. She linked to a very interesting blog written by Lenore Skenazy.

In her new book, "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry," Skenazy suggests that many American parents are in the grips of a national hysteria about child safety, which is fed by sensationalistic media coverage of child abductions, safety tips from alarmist parenting mags, and companies marketing products that promise to protect tykes from every possible danger. She by no means recommends that mom and dad chuck the car seats, but says that trying to fend off every possible risk, however remote, holds its own unfortunate, unintended consequences.

Skenazy was recently interviewed by Salon.

Q: But if other parents aren't letting their kids walk to school, or wait at the bus stop by themselves, if you buck the trend, doesn't that make your kid more vulnerable, because other kids aren't doing it, too? If everyone was doing it, wouldn't there be safety in numbers?

A: There would be safety in numbers, and I wish everybody would do it. My big idea is: "Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day." I think that would be a great thing for our country.

Maybe the 7-year-old will walk the 5-year-old home, and nobody would say: "Oh my God, where are the parents? Let's arrest them." Perhaps your child is in .00007 percent more danger, but the danger is so minute to begin with. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance that your kid would be abducted and killed by a stranger. It is hard to wrap your mind around those numbers, and everybody always assumes: What if it's my 1 in 1.5 million?

If you don't want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really can't do anything. You certainly couldn't drive them in a car, because that's the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.

Q: What message do you think that [it's an unsafe world] sends to the kids themselves? That they're incompetent?

Not only that they're incompetent. It says to them that they're in danger.

You want kids to feel like the world isn't so dangerous. You want to teach them how to cross the street safely. You want to teach them that you never go off with a stranger. You teach them what to do in an emergency, and then you assume that generally emergencies don't happen, but they're prepared if they do. Then, you let them go out.

The fun of childhood is not holding your mom's hand. The fun of childhood is when you don't have to hold your mom's hand, when you've done something that you can feel proud of. To take all those possibilities away from our kids seems like saying: "I'm giving you the greatest gift of all, I'm giving you safety. Oh, and by the way I'm taking away your childhood and any sense of self-confidence or pride. I hope you don't mind."

Unfortunately in America, all it takes is one parent allowing their child to do something on their own only to fall victim in that small percentage of danger and so many will say, "See? I told you it was dangerous."


BiketoWork Barb said...

Thanks for linking to my post, Hank.

I look at--and admire--how much more self-confidence my daughters have than I did at their age. I attribute that partly to having a lot of exposure to the grown-up world through spending time with a working mom in a variety of settings, which I didn't have.

I also attribute it to my expectation that they develop the ability to do things for themselves, rather than always having me taking care of things for them. They can get themselves across town using Spokane Transit to go shopping or visit friends, when at their age I was tied to my mom's willingness and availability to drive me places. That shackled HER as well as ME. As a working mom I simply don't have that kind of time and flexibility, so why wouldn't I want them to develop these self-management skills?

Yes, they might have an occasional comment directed their way by a stranger (they're both exceedingly cute). And they know how to handle it.

I remember a wise parent once saying to me, "It's better to have your kids make their mistakes while they're still living with you and you can step in if it's really out of hand, rather than after they're out of the house." Well, if they're going to be ABLE to make mistakes, they have to be living an actual life in the real world. That means without cotton wool.


Hank Greer said...

I have great respect for parents who allow their children the freedom they need to become self sufficient. I was a free range kid but only because there were so many of us it was impossible to rein us in. Consequently, some mistakes did not result in any "stepping in" until the authorities were involved.

My wife and I have had to compromise while raising our children and finding a balance has worked out well.