Overestimating Threats Against Children
This is a great essay by a mom who let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone:
No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn’t want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn’t do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”
Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.
Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating—for us and for them.
It’s amazing how our fears blind us. The mother and son appeared on The Today Show, where they both continued to explain why it wasn’t an unreasonable thing to do:
And that was Skenazy’s point in her column: The era is long past when Times Square was a fetid sump and taking a walk in Central Park after dark was tantamount to committing suicide. Recent federal statistics show New York to be one of the safest cities in the nation—right up there with Provo, Utah, in fact.
“Times are back to 1963,” Skenzay said. “It’s safe. It’s a great time to be a kid in the city.”
The problem is that people read about children who are abducted and murdered and fear takes over, she said. And she doesn’t think fear should rule our lives.
Of course, The Today Show interviewer didn’t get it:
Dr. Ruth Peters, a parenting expert and TODAY Show contributor, agreed that children should be allowed independent experiences, but felt there are better—and safer—ways to have them than the one Skenazy chose.
“I’m not so much concerned that he’s going to be abducted, but there’s a lot of people who would rough him up,” she said. “There’s some bullies and things like that. He could have gotten the same experience in a safer manner.”
“It’s safe to go on the subway,” Skenazy replied. “It’s safe to be a kid. It’s safe to ride your bike on the streets. We’re like brainwashed because of all the stories we hear that it isn’t safe. But those are the exceptions. That’s why they make it to the news. This is like, ‘Boy boils egg.’ He did something that any 9-year-old could do.”
Here’s an audio interview with Skenazy.
I am reminded of this great graphic depicting childhood independence diminishing over four generations.