Tuesday, May 5, 2009

keeping our kids safe

A friend (who is currently childless, incidentally) sent me this link: Stop worrying about your children! Maybe she thinks I worry too much? It's an article on Salon.com by Katharine Mieszkowski, profiling Lenore Skenazy. Here's the summary:

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.
I tweeted this link (that's twitterspeak. if confused, see this post) and set off a really active and passionate discussion about how best to keep our kids safe.

What we all seemed to agree on was this: we must strike a balance between raising our kids in a bubble and letting them run wild without constraint. But the space between those two extremes is vast, and enough to leave this parent scratching his bald head wondering what to do.

I don't know the answer, but of course I have some thoughts. Here are a few that came up during the discussion, and after.

I had a lot of freedom as a kid, and spent a lot of time hanging out unsupervised with my friends. My parents worked when I was young. I don't remember exactly how old I was when I started getting myself to and home from school on my own, but I think it was around 10. Well before that I was riding my bike or walking all over the place with my parents not really knowing where I was.

My wife grew up in New York City. She was riding buses alone by age 8 and subways by 11. This was when the crime rate in NYC was much higher than it is today (she'd rather I didn't say EXACTLY when this was), yet many people who read the article thought it was crazy for her to let her 9-yr old ride the train alone.

The subject of sex offenders came up. Are we better off knowing about registered sex offenders in our neighborhoods? At least the ones that have been a) convicted and b) honest about their current location? It is probably better to know than not know, but it's also hard to know exactly what to do with the information. I also suspect it's more important to teach our children how to behave with people they don't know (and those they do) than it is to keep a constant watch on this house or that apartment building.

I want to be logical and level headed about how I raise my children. But I'm terrified that anything bad might happen to them, and want to do whatever I can to prevent that. At the same time, I want them to be self-reliant, independent, and not live in fear.

And that's really the biggest issue here: fear. I think we're much more afraid of all the horrible things that might happen now than our parents were, yet I think the chances of those things happening are generally no higher. In some cases they're actually lower. But what are odds when it's your own kids in question? The chances of getting attacked by a shark are ridiculously low. They're even lower if you never go in the ocean.

Are we more realistic and better educated about the dangers of life, and protecting our kids accordingly? Or are we irrationally influenced by the scare tactics of the media (swine flu, anyone?) into sheltering our kids beyond reason?

I don't know the answer. I'd love to hear your thoughts. Please comment.

Edit: After I posted this last night I spotted this story about a mom in New York who spent the night in jail after dropping her kids on the side of the road for misbehaving in the car. It reminds me that in addition to the moral, ethical, and just general right-minded parenting questions this issue raises, there are also legal issues to consider. Jeez, as if we didn't have enough to worry about!



  1. I don't have kids either, but I think your right with this post. Fear is a crazy motivator and can be used to justify all sorts of different behaviour. A friend of mine (a new Mum, even) has this mantra about doing what feels best for you and your child/ren. Perhaps that could be applied here?

  2. That's the beauty of being a parent - you can never be 100% committed to anything ever again in your life. You want your kids to be free, but you want them to be safe. Never again, can we feel an emotion completely because there's too many other emotions standing in line behind the previous one. I don't know what to do - and I'm not sure I ever will. But I'll be damned if I'm going to let my fears take away from giving my daughter a full and happy life.

  3. I try to balance out my fears with the fact that I raised my kids well, and they gotta grow up sometime. Eventually, bad situation will happen, I just hope that I've taught them enough to know how handle it if I'm not around to protect them.

  4. Great Post ....I totally agree keeping a balance is hard.. You just want your kids to be safe and confident..

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  6. My mom goes for crazy hikes in the woods. Her friends call her crazy. "You're alone out there," they say. "You're crazy."
    "Yes, something could happen," she answers. "But I'm not letting anyone, letting fear, take my hikes away. I'm going to enjoy the freedom."
    And while I'm not taking crazy hikes in the woods- cause I get spooked by the wind when I'm back on the trails, I try to hold her sense of strength. In fear, we can give away a lot. Like you say, it's all about balance.

  7. Wow... I have been thinking about this all morning since you tweeted your post and the thing is I am no closer to an answer.

    There has to be a fine line between sensible caution and fear...

  8. I think there is a bit too much fear nowadays, and it probably isn't too healthy for kids. Parents pull their kids away if I happen to say hello to them in McDonald's. I remember going bicycling from Queens over the bridge into Manhattan. Now parents don't let their kids leave their sight. But like you say, it is all balance.

  9. I heard that story about the mom who went to jail for dropping off her kids. The parents telling the story were criticizing the woman, but I was secretly thinking about all the moms I know who did that once or twice when I was a kid (including my own mom, to my brother) and frankly, the kids usually deserved it! I guess the where and when would matter. And I don't think I'd ever drop off a girl.

    Anyway, I do try to keep a balance with my kids. I hate that I have to worry as much about what other parents will think (and whether they'll let their kids hang out at my house) as anything else.

  10. It's so hard to figure out what is safe versus unsafe these days. Even with my son being 8, I still feel like he is too young to do some of the things he wants to do, like walk to school. Still feels like he's my little baby you know?

  11. I think every generation of parents can remember a bygone era when things were easier, more simple, safer . . . but we don't live in technicolor. I feel that we should not be afraid to go against the flow by protecting our kids even if it means not being the "cool" parents. Let them grow up strong, let them be independent, give them the tools to deal life's situations, but let us protect them. They'll encounter the real world on their own soon enough.

  12. Three French Toasts: Couldn't email you, so thought I'd respond here. You're right that we're all guilty of getting lost in nostalgia now and then. But I don't think this is about thinking back to a bygone era when life was simpler. I see this more as asking whether life might actually be just as simple, but we've all been conditioned to think it's more complicated. I don't know if that's true, I just want to explore the question, because I think it's important. I don't think any of us has "be a cool parent" as our top priority. Rather, I think most of us are shooting for exactly what you are: raising strong, independent kids who can deal with life's situations, while also protecting them. Well said.

  13. I have no children, so I don't really have the first hand experience necessary to fully understand the fear. I am quite a bit older than my little sister, though, and I do know the paranoia I have felt about her. Hell, she's slowly creeping towards 18 this year and I still get paranoid. If we are out and about, and I lose sight of her, it freaks me out. I've gotten better as she has gotten older, but still.. I can only imagine that is so much worse as a parent. I don't know what the answer is. I think you are right, keep them safe without making them afraid. How do you do that? I don't know. There is one thing I DO know, as do all other people who are irrationally terrified of sharks... the risk goes down even further if you stay out of swimming pools as well. In fact, I shower rather than take a bath, for that reason as well. Zero chance of a shark attack for this girl. ;)


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