When I was young we would ride our bikes everywhere, go walking to school by ourselves. I have to admit though Im not sure I would let my son do the same. All the scary stuff you hear! And Parents are not doing the same anymore. My friend would watch her ten year old son while he was riding his bike! I know back in the days noone watched us and even before our generation ten year olds would go to the stores and trains by themselves to pick up groceries and stuff
Stop worrying about your children!
Kids today are just as safe as they were in the '70s, says "Free-Range Kids" author Lenore Skenazy, and what's really distressing is an alarmist culture that refuses to let them grow up.
By Katharine Mieszkowski
Salon Conversations Listen to Katharine Mieszkowski speaking with Lenore Skenazy
May 4, 2009 | Over the past year, syndicated columnist Lenore Skenazy, 49, has become something of a heretic. She's an American mother of two boys, now 11 and 13, who dares to suggest that today's kids aren't growing up in constant state of near peril.
Amid the cacophony of terrifying Amber Alerts and safety tips for every holiday, Skenazy is a chipper alternative, arguing that raising children in the United States now isn't more dangerous than it was when today's generation of parents were young. And back then, it was reasonably safe, too. So why does shooing the kids outside and telling them to have fun and be home by dark seem irresponsible to so many middle-class parents today?
Skenazy first instigated a kerfuffle about contemporary parenting mores when she and her husband allowed their then 9-year-old son Izzy to ride the subway alone in April 2008. After she wrote a column about Izzy's independent excursion, she and the little subway veteran made the rounds on TV morning shows and cable news, where Skenazy fielded heated questions about her common sense, if not her outright sanity. The tsk-tsking wasn't limited to the TV talking heads, either. This year, a train conductor on the Long Island Rail Road called the police after then 10-year-old Izzy took a train ride by himself. (For the record, it's entirely legal.)
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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.
Salon spoke with Skenazy from her apartment in Manhattan, where she lives with her husband and sons.
I grew up in the Houston suburbs in the '70s and '80s. Back then, we kids waited for the school bus without our parents. Now, in that exact same neighborhood, parents always wait at the school bus stop with their kids, although the neighborhood has not changed significantly.
This was a shock to me. Now, parents wait at the bus stop. They wait in the morning to make sure their kid gets on safely, and sometimes they wait at the bus stop in the afternoon to drive the kid home, even if it's on the same block, even if it's in a gated community. Sometimes they wait with those little golf carts. It's the new social norm.
What do you think are the reasons that change has taken place?
When I was growing up, my parents were not watching those horrific television shows that are on now like "CSI" and "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." They were watching "Dallas," "Dynasty," stuff with maybe big hair, but that was the biggest crime. It wasn't all these shows with really graphic, horrifying consequences for kids.
And then, you didn't have cable, and cable has to fill 24 hours with the worst possible stories, because if they filled it with stories about kids getting home safely, you wouldn't watch. What's the most compelling story that anyone has come up with so far? It's something terrible happening to a child.
Just today before our conversation, I looked at the CNN.com homepage, and there was a story about a 17-year-old disappearing while on spring break, and then another story about a teen vanishing after arguing with a teacher.
And if there isn't some teen disappearing just today, they'll say: "Cold case! Remember when?" And then they'll go back a few years, "So-and-so still not found." So, these incidents seem like they're happening every second of every day. News crews have no compunction about spending months hanging out in Aruba or Portugal when there is a case of a young white girl stolen, and they'll beat that story to death.
It's not like I don't feel tremendous sympathy for the families and for the victims, but it makes it seem like we are living in a world where children are in constant, utter peril, and the statistics actually don't prove that.
What are the statistics about crimes against children? What is the news that we're not hearing?
The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the '70s and '80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it's been going down.
If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were.
But it feels so completely different, and we're told that it's completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it's the same, nobody believes me. We're living in really safe times, and it's hard to believe.
But if crimes against kids have fallen, now that we're keeping them cloistered, won't some people think, "Great! It must be working!"?
Crime stats are falling across the board. It's not just because children are inside, because [crime stats] are falling inside, too. Crimes against children, even by family members and acquaintances, are falling, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
We don't tolerate sex crimes. There's just much less tolerance of any kind of abuse of kids. Those people are prosecuted very aggressively, to the point where a lot of them are behind bars now.
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?
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.
Rationally, why aren't cars the bogeyman instead of stranger abduction?
It would change our entire lifestyle if we couldn't drive our kids in a car, and it's a danger that we just willingly accept without examining it too much, because we know that the chances are very slim that we're going to have a fatal car accident. But the chances are 40 times slimmer that your kid walking to school, whether or not she's the only one, is going to be hurt by a stranger.
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