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.

Posted on April 10, 2008 at 1:00 PM • 204 Comments

Comments

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 1:27 PM

@Schneier

Your great graphic depicts the English countryside, where there is 1 child predator per every 300 square miles.

That may be a slightly higher ratio in NYC.

DamonApril 10, 2008 1:40 PM

Okay, so I've got three kids of my own (5yr, 3yr, & 2mo) and I admit that I am the "hovering" kind of parent.

I think two things are going on here:

1. The cost of surveilence of our kids is going down. Technology and societal pressures make it easier to spy.

2. Parent/child relationships are shifting to an increased value of the child. Parents see their kids futures as more valuable than their own. This has always been true to a certain extent, but with modern rates of change, our kids can expect an order of magnitude more change (and longer life) than we do.

I applaud Skenazy for her position and hope that I'll have the restraint to follow her example.

timApril 10, 2008 1:43 PM

When I was 7 (late 70s) - I walked to school 3 miles away. I spent hours and hours away from home on bikes with friends 5, 10, 15 miles away in parks and downtown areas. They way kids are treated like dogs that need to be on a leash today disturbs me greatly.

j0nner_caApril 10, 2008 1:46 PM

While I applaud the fact that she's teaching her kid independence and also that she's not jumping on the paranoia parenting bandwagon... 9 in New York City strikes me as perhaps a bit extreme. It's New York City.

TamasApril 10, 2008 1:48 PM

I would imagine that parents acting as if the "real world" was an extremely dangerous place where children are routinely killed, abducted or abused are raising future neurotics.

Also, come adolescence, the child may realize that the parent's fears have no rational basis and rebel by going to the other extreme, ie by engaging in activities which rational people would consider dangerous.

I live in Princeton, NJ, possibly one of the safest places on Earth. But I see ads in the newspaper from parents who want to hire someone to walk their 12 year old child home from school (in the afternoon). I can't understand their reasons.

EponymousApril 10, 2008 1:48 PM

I'm not even a parent, and I find the pretentious idea of a "parenting expert" inherently offensive to the individuality of children.

Michael AshApril 10, 2008 1:53 PM

Amazing, even the naysayers on this blog can't be rational. Don't talk to us about "that may be slightly higher in NYC" or "It's New York City". Those are irrational, emotional responses. If you want to discuss this properly, come up with statistics and actual risk, not appeals to emotion that since it's New York City it must be dangerous just because of the name.

IsaoApril 10, 2008 1:53 PM

I support this kind of rational thinking, but I have a newborn, and propose this paranoid thought:

What if abduction/etc. statistics are going down BECAUSE parents constrain their kids more. Would that mean that "free-range" kids :) are at higher risk, because they're in a smaller pool of exposed targets?

In InfoSec terms, the threat is constant, but the overall attack space is reduced?

Mark O.April 10, 2008 1:58 PM

I don't have children yet, but I have two sisters who are two and five years younger. My parents let me pretty much roam free, but my sisters were always more restricted. When I was in high school, I became really protective of them. Looking back, I'm not sure why I was so protective.

Today, I feel being overly-protective is counter-productive. Eventually, kids have to figure out how to get around and be independent adults.

I have a friend who grew up with hovering parents. He is deathly afraid of venturing into Chicago past sundown, including "safer" areas like Wrigleyville and Lincoln Park. He has not been mugged or otherwise has any reason to fear the city, except that his parents ingrained in him that the city is dangerous, and even more so when it's dark. I don't want my future children to grow up that way. Hopefully I can follow Skenazy's example.

JacobMApril 10, 2008 1:59 PM

When I was 9 my mom would let me ride my bike downtown (a mile or so) to go to the library. This was in a small-to-medium size city. But she grew up in New York City, so our city seemed bucolic, I'm sure.

The fact is that every time I've been to NYC and have had some kind of trouble (lost, not sure how to navigate subway, not sure which sandwich is the best one to buy) some New Yorker has invariably noticed and pointed me in the right direction. There are many measures of "friendliness" but in terms of people helping each other out NYC is one of the best places I've ever been.

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 2:06 PM

@ Michael Ash

Did you read Isao's comment? Interesting idea.

Separately, do we really need to do a study to conclude that there are more child predators in NYC than in the English countryside?

Is everyone too afraid to make decisions based at least somewhat on common sense? Or must we have a study proving that the sidewalk outside actually is solid enough to support our weight without falling through?

"Why don't you go outside your house?"

"Because I haven't seen a study proving I'm even in a house. I'll need to see the stats first."

UroxApril 10, 2008 2:07 PM

I'm all for not letting fear rule life, but it really isn't safe for kids to be out alone without some safety guidance. Many crimes are opportunistic. In the SF bay area in the past year, there has been an incident of a man forcing a girl into his car. (http://cbs5.com/local/san.mateo.abduction.2.682225.html)
I can recall once walking home as a kid where an unfamiliar car was slowly tailing me. I instantly turned to a house and began knocking on the door at which point the car drove off.

Key things to teach your children:
Don't talk to strangers except ones identified as officials.
Don't go anywhere without letting someone else know where you are.
Be aware of your surroundings.

++DonApril 10, 2008 2:11 PM

I find it interesting that she trusted her son with his own safety in an urban environment, not to mention $20 and a fare card, but didn't trust him not to lose a cell phone. While I applaud her letting a kid be a kid, it seems to me that she also has some risk assessment problems.

I wonder if she made her son demonstrate that he had the requisite skills before letting him go solo? I would hope so. Sounds like they at least rehearsed the route beforehand.

UroxApril 10, 2008 2:13 PM

'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."'

I think this falls under people who aren't security experts not thinking like the criminals would and not understanding that there *are* malicious opportunistic people out there.

Skenazy's ChoiceApril 10, 2008 2:18 PM

@++Don
> she trusted her son with his own
> safety ... but didn't trust him not
> to lose a cell phone.

My thoughts exactly. I'm ok with everything she did except for that.

Either she loves the cell phone more than her child, or she is mentally challenged.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 2:20 PM

@Urox

"I can recall once walking home as a kid where an unfamiliar car was slowly tailing me."

Probably some do-goody control-freak, looking to "save" a child from the big-bad world, and, best of all, immerse your parents in a world of shit.

twiceApril 10, 2008 2:21 PM

So nine is too young to get yourself home again? Wait, I did that when I was six, every day after school. In a not very good city neighborhood and with no "crosswalk guards", thank you very much.

Nine is too young to be wandering around without supervision? Wait, I did that when I was nine. We called it a "paper route". It's one of those old-fashioned things you may have forgotten about.

Nine is too young to be running errands without an adult right there? Wait, I did that when I was eight. I figured out how to get to and from the grocery store by myself, including crossing major city streets.

Nobody killed me. Nobody ran over me. Nobody stole me. Really, nobody even seemed to notice that I existed. What's the big deal here? Why are these people freaking out?

More pointfully, if this were a black or Latino kid on welfare, would anyone have noticed? If you can't afford a cell phone in the first place, are you likely to have people threatening you for not giving your kid a cell phone?

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 2:22 PM

@Skenazy's Choice

"Either she loves the cell phone more than her child, or she is mentally challenged."

... or you have selectively quoted from the narrative. Go ahead and re-read it.

matt aApril 10, 2008 2:23 PM

I agree that kids need to learn independence but they also need to learn to balance a checkbook, drive a car and file taxes but I'm not handing my checkbook, car keys and my w2's to my 8 yr old son anytime soon. Its not because he doesn't know how to add or drive or cheat (allegedly) but that as a child he doesn't have enough life experiences to make mature decisions.

I agree that each generation seems to be more protective, but I'll go one step further than Isao and state that parents today are way more informed about their community than was the case decades ago. Don't believe me, ask your parents/grandparents where the sex preds were when they were growing up. They probably didn't know. Today there are websites showing every arrest, sexual predator and worst in your neighborhood. The communities as a whole were alot more ignorant of the what lurked out there back then.

The woman was irresponsible and lucky.

twiceApril 10, 2008 2:24 PM

About the cell phone: So she hands him her cell phone. She's staying at the store. Now how's he going to call her?

This doesn't sound like an event that was planned in advance, and very few people carry a spare cell phone just in case they might need to lend it to someone.

JehiahApril 10, 2008 2:25 PM

I remember during a trip to japan marveling about how society their accepts children riding mass transit to and from school on their own; in much the same way we accept children riding school buses. Except the difference is they have no school buses, it's just mass transit.

I'm glad to see that one parent is comfortable doing that here. I hope that encourages other parents to make the same step because i believe in the end it will be for the best.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 2:31 PM

@twice: No, *he* stayed in the store. She left, presumably to go home. He could have called her at home if he had gotten lost (assuming they have a land line), although he might have needed to wait for her to get there.

As for whether or not it was planned in advance, her column strongly implies that it was. He had been asking for weeks to be allowed a subway solo, so that's what she did.

BloodnokApril 10, 2008 2:33 PM

@City versus countryside:

That map that you keep referring to as "English Countryside" is, in fact, a major conurbation in the north of England, famed for its steel mills and other heavy industry (albeit that the works are nowadays often derelict - e.g. the defunct coking works and colliery at Orgreave in the dead centre of the map).

The bulk of what's on that map is urban industrial sprawl with a high population density.

Michael AshApril 10, 2008 2:33 PM

@City versus countryside

I did read Isao's comment. I don't believe it's true. There's still plenty of opportunity out there. Lots of parents are like the one that is the subject of this story, just not getting so much press for it.

The trouble with common sense is that it's either uncommon or unsensible. Common sense tells you that you're safer taking a bus than a plane. Common sense tells you that you'll be healthier if you constantly wash your hands and always avoid dirty. Common sense tells us a lot of things that simply aren't true. Common sense tells us that New York City is dangerous and that it's not safe for a child to be alone in it. Reality tells us that New York City is in the bottom 10th percentile for overall crime in cities over 100,000, with a slightly higher homicide rate and much lower rape rate than the national average. New York City today is the safest city out of the ten largest in the US, and violent crime has dropped by 75% over the past dozen years. Common sense is only worth listening to when it's actually correct.

As far as more child predators in NYC than in the English countryside, I have to wonder why this question even arises. The chances of any child being attacked by a child predator are so miniscule that changes in that risk are essentially irrelevant. The dangers to a child in New York City, small as they are, are mostly not due to child predators.

In any case, even if you do want to worry about child predators, your question is the wrong one. The right question is how likely a child is to encounter one in a situation where he is able to do something nasty. New York City may well have more simply because it has vastly more people, but the quantity per population could vary widely. What's more, a child who is willing to scream and make a scene when someone does something bad to him will be perfectly safe in NYC in daytime because there will always be crowds of people to see and rescue him. The same is not true in the countryside, where a noisy child can be abducted without any undue attention.

jonathan millettApril 10, 2008 2:38 PM

My 10 year old has lost 4 cell phones in the past year, but navigates all around our town without a problem. Now I have a rule where he only gets a new phone every 6 months so spends 75% of the time without one. Maybe here kid is like that too.

Incidentally, my kid has been to New York and Chicago and leads my mother in law around on the street, subway, and in taxi's with no problems and he speaks only basic english (grew up in Chile).

jonny sApril 10, 2008 2:40 PM

@city

I doubt the *ratio* is any different. The number may be higher in NYC, because there are more people there, and that's how ratios work. But given the choice to my child being approached in the country or the city, I'd say the city, since there would be people around that could be witnesses or (admittedly less likely) step up and help.

JohnApril 10, 2008 2:41 PM

You're ringing my bell.

In the late 40s, early 50s I traveled alone across New Haven by public buses every day for school. Nobody thought anything of it.

We boys hiked and romped all over East Rock Park, a large forested trap rock formation with miles of trails. We walked from our homes (or flats) several miles to the park.

By 11, I could lead my younger sister from New Haven by train to Grand Central, take the subway to Penn Station for a connection to Pittsburgh. That was probably unusual, but I had the train schedules to go by, and I could read them.

I had no difficulties getting around all over the place. Nobody thought anything of it.

We hitchhiked miles away to our favorite swimming hole. This was at nine or ten. We always tried to be the first one in for the season, which meant swimming in late March. Brrr.

We (me and my friends) were aware of dangers of course. We had a bogeyman we called Piccolo Pete (it was an Italian neighborhood, thus "piccolo". Non-Italian kids often misheard it as "Pickeled Ol' Pete".) Nobody ever saw him because he did not exist, but he did bad things to boys, meaning we were aware of dangers.

IMO, we are being overly protective of kids. It has caused a complete breakdown in the street games of kids. Who plays Ring O'Leevio anymore? Kick the Can? Splits? Stickball? Mumblety Peg? There is a painting by Brueghel of country kids in the Middle Ages playing. I can recognize the games we played. A continuous line of kids's activities stretching back to pre-history, now broken and gone forever. Any boy who brought a jacknife to school for Mumblety Peg today would surely scandalize the school administration, and be in deep trouble. I would dread to see the evening news account.

I had a wonderful time in the Childhood Republic, and regret its destruction.

tommApril 10, 2008 2:43 PM

"I trusted him to ask a stranger" - When my son started to go by public transport alone, I advised him to ask or address a woman in case of any problems. This definitely makes a difference - Don't tell your kids just to ask a stranger, please!

The BordererApril 10, 2008 2:49 PM

@ City versus countryside

That image also shows urban areas of Sheffield and Rotherham. They might not be as big as NYC but the area is a large industrial centre in the UK.

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 3:02 PM

@Michael Ash

"a child who is willing to scream and make a scene when someone does something bad to him will be perfectly safe in NYC in daytime because there will always be crowds of people to see and rescue him."

Well, substitute 'child abductor' for 'child predator'. In a child abduction, don't we often hear that the child didn't scream, yell, or attract any attention at all? We hear later, when the child is recovered and asked why he didn't yell out at the moment of abduction, he says "Because the guy said he had my family kidnapped and would kill them if I yelled.", and that seems sensible to 8 year olds. Don't we? Teaching children independence and good judgment doesn't require risking their lives and wellbeing unnecessarily, does it?

The bottom line is child abduction is, amont other things, a crime of opportunity, is it not? Do these guys roam the countryside (BTW looks like Sheffield is not even close to 'countryside', and hasn't been for a long time--my mistake) where there are relatively few children compared to a densely populated city? Or do they prowl where many children congregate?

I don't know the answer, and it's a good question for the statistics of a study to help answer. Whether or not more crime happens in a city compared to the countryside is a question that requires nothing more than common sense to answer correctly. The answer is 'yes'.

ProhiasApril 10, 2008 3:02 PM

A small GPS transmitter on a bracelet / chain of the kid (optional: letting the kid know) and a receiving interface that periodically records the coordinates of the signal. A parental commitment to consult the data only in the extremely rare event that the kid is missing. Will not work in subways and other 'dark' areas.

EdApril 10, 2008 3:03 PM

We have twins, boy and a girl. My daughter is normal and we let her pretty much roam within a four block radius of our small town. Lots of kids here get that privilege. Our son is autistic and we keep him in sight but he has some friends who we trust to have him over who know how he is and their kids are super people who help him along.

You should parent to need, not societies view.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 3:09 PM

@City versus countryside

"BTW looks like Sheffield is not even close to 'countryside', and hasn't been for a long time--my mistake"

Looks like you are making a lot of mistakes lately, @City versus countryside. That and many statements unsupported by fact or argument.

Maybe we should bring back the death penalty ... but only for trolls.

HeatherApril 10, 2008 3:10 PM

I am happy this subject is getting attention. As many other commenters have pointed out here, they did similar things when they were children and nothing bad happened. My personal pet peeve is parents who insist their children wear bike helmets while riding on their driveway. When I was a child, no one wore a helmet and I don't know anyone who died or suffered severe injures because they weren't wearing a helmet. I do know people, however, who have died because they fell asleep at the wheel while driving or who fell down the stairs while drunk, both of which people do little to nothing to protect against.

The world is a remarkable place and we loose something when we fear it. I think the balance has tipped too far and needs to be corrected, which this mother is bringing to the attention of people.

RoyApril 10, 2008 3:11 PM

From kindergarten through fourth grade we lived in an old suburb and I walked to school alone. I did everything I was told to, and I would have made the perfect victim because I never had to do any thinking for myself.

From 7th through 12th grade, we lived in the country and I walked to school alone, with most of my route through fields and woods. It was there I learned some survival sense: if you see or hear big kids coming, go hide.

I also got sent on errands after dark, so I learned the dark hides me as well as anyone who might be lurking around. I learned to skirt around lighted areas because they would reveal me to anyone hiding in the dark.

Thanks to personal experience, I've come to develop a keenly honed reflex: the moment trouble appears, vanish.

DanApril 10, 2008 3:11 PM

@Michael Ash, safety of country -vs- city -- this has been the case in the past, too:

From Sherlock Holmes, _The Adventure of the Copper Beeches_

"The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish. There is no lane so vile that the scream of a tortured child, or the thud of a drunkard's blow, does not beget sympathy and indignation among
the neighbours, and then the whole machinery of justice is ever so close that a word of complaint can set it going, and there is but a step between the crime and the dock. But look at these lonely houses, each in its own fields, filled for the most part with poor ignorant folk who know little of the law. Think of the deeds of hellish cruelty, the hidden wickedness which may go on, year in, year out, in such places, and none the wiser. Had this lady who appeals to us for help gone to live in Winchester, I should never have had a fear for her. It is the five miles of
country which makes the danger. "


I'd suspect modern suburbia of being closer to country than city in this respect.

++DonApril 10, 2008 3:19 PM

@jonathan millett: How long is your son usually in possession of a cell phone before losing it? Long enough to ride mass transit across town? I'm not suggesting that the kid be given his own cell phone, just that the chance of him losing it on a crosstown subway/bus trip was pretty slim. Like I said, it sounds like a risk assessment problem to me.

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 3:20 PM

@jonny

"But given the choice to my child being approached in the country or the city, I'd say the city, since there would be people around that could be witnesses or (admittedly less likely) step up and help."

Who really wants to be the parent who gets to be the exception, the parent whose child does get abducted? It takes only a few seconds of imagining the pain in your gut you'd feel if your child got taken, compared to the benefit the child gets from feeling "ecstatic with independence". From there, two seconds of thought mulling "Is this a risk/reward tradeoff I want to make?", and the answer becomes clear.

Perhaps a better question is, is it possible that if we installed surveillance cameras all along the route our children would walk to and from school, would the cameras deter the child abductors?

Petréa MitchellApril 10, 2008 3:22 PM

My data point: I don't remember exactly when I was allowed to start roaming long-distance (i.e., more than a couple blocks) without adult supervision, but I do remember that when I was 11, I was trusted to do that and bring my little brother along with me. This was in a smallish city that was part of a major metropolitan area.

RandyApril 10, 2008 3:26 PM

@tomm -- Re: Only ask women for directions.

While I agree with your premise, I have taught my children that asking any stranger is safe. In other words, what are the odds that the person they ask for directions or help is a child molester or abductor?

However...If the *adult* is asking them for help (to find a puppy or play a game) then RUN AWAY FAST.

The boy on the subway was likely safe from predators, but possibly not safe from hooligans.

++DonApril 10, 2008 3:33 PM

@Heather: I'm a cyclist myself. I wear a helmet every time I get on the bike, as do all the other cyclists I know. It's like wearing a helmet on a motorcycle or seat belts in a car: accidents are rare, but the potential for serious head and neck trauma is quite real. Helmets are a cheap and easy protection. My son is too young to ride a bike yet (he's only 2, and still has trouble reaching the peddles on his trike). But once he's old enough, he'll definitely wear a helmet whenever he gets on the bike. There might not be any threats in the driveway, but that's not what it's about. It's about setting the habit of always wearing a helmet, because sooner or later he's going to outgrow the driveway.

Rionn Fears MalechemApril 10, 2008 3:34 PM

@Skenazy's Choice
Not giving the child a cell phone decreased the number of reasons to rob the child. His shoes would probably have been worth it alone, however.

There are a lot of irrational reasons people keep their kids safer. But, I think the roads are more numerous and car-filled than they were 40 years ago.

FredApril 10, 2008 3:45 PM

My seven-year-old is not ready to go out on her own. Note, I'm just assessing my daughter here, not all seven-year-olds. But she can't even be trusted to get herself to sleep at a reasonable time.

I don't think that there is any doubt that children are different than they were when I was one. I think in many ways they are more mature earlier than they used to be, but less independant. ('Why?' is a completely different question, of course.)

I'll continue to be the final arbiter on what my child is ready for, regardless of her age. Just as the parent in the article did. Which is as it should be.

NickApril 10, 2008 3:56 PM

Interestingly there is a documentary on UK TV this very evening about "Cotton Wool Kids".

This is from the guide write-up for the show (which I didn't watch) on Channel 4 (part of the Cutting Edge series)

Adel, Sam and Toni believe Britain has never been more dangerous. They fear teenagers allowed out on their own will be stabbed or mugged, and younger kids abducted. So they keep their offspring under close supervision. And with terrible stories in the newspapers every day, perhaps it's not surprising. But is Adel right to ban his 13-year-old son from going out with his friends, and should Toni tell her nine-year-old daughter that everyone they pass on the street is a potential kidnapper?

jtApril 10, 2008 3:56 PM

@++don

Helmets on bikes certainly don't protect against neck trauma, and it's very possible they contribute to it

The almost certainly protect against bruises and scrapes to the head if you hit your head, but it's very unclear if they protect against serious injuries to the head

++DonApril 10, 2008 3:57 PM

The URL attached to my name below links to an article in the NY Times about the creative uses to which people are putting inexpensive GPS tracking devices. The very last sentence talks about parents using it to monitor their children's driving habits. *Sigh*...

alanApril 10, 2008 3:58 PM

We don't just protect hypothetical children against physical threats, we protect them against information and metaphysical threats as well.

In the US we protect children from information deemed "harmful to minors". The information is usually things that make some of the more repressed adults uncomfortable. (Usually dealing with the more pleasurable aspects of biology or other adult pleasures.) When they can't find actual children harmed by these things, they create hypothetical children. These "children" are so infirm and fragile that the single viewing of a nipple for a fraction of a second will scar them for life. Words that are deemed "naughty" will cause them to become dope fiends and renounce Jesus.

Instead of the media pointing out that the people yelling "protect the children" are a bunch of neurotic wankers, they just join in on the bandwagon. What it does is make for a country filled with the most unstable and irrational armed loonies on the planet.

The whole country needs to be sectioned, starting at the top down.

xApril 10, 2008 3:59 PM

"It's about setting the habit of always wearing a helmet, because sooner or later he's going to outgrow the driveway."

"It's about setting the habit of always wearing a helmet, because sooner or later he's going to outgrow the driveway."

Always? I'll assume you mean "always on a bike", in which case I have to ask what evidence you have that cycling is particularly dangerous to the head.

On the other hand, if by "always" you really mean always, then I salute your consistency in recognizing that helmets could be useful walking, in cars, running, etc. Climbing ladders. In lots of places.

alanApril 10, 2008 4:07 PM

Anyone who believes that things have "never been more dangerous for kids" need to watch the movie "M". Same problems, different year. We are just a bit more twigged out over what is going on.

Grant BugherApril 10, 2008 4:09 PM

The controversy over this is rather absurd; I had a post about it on my blog last week. There are a host of cognitive biases that make us overestimate threats against children, and also to overestimate threats from other people (i.e. due to evil intent) vs. from our environment (due to simple accident.) The media plays a large part in this, with sensational fear-mongering taking up half of every news report. On the other hand, the media is just telling us what we want to hear -- and we want to hear it because it was in our evolutionary interest to during the hundreds of thousands of years before there was a media.

There's no clear solution on a societal scale, but we still have to try our best to get people to assess risk rationally, and not via emotion and bias.

Jeremy BrooksApril 10, 2008 4:13 PM

This is a great article. It's about time people started to make unpopular decisions based on observations of the FACTS, and not based on popular fears.

To j0nner_ca and others who say "But it's New York!". Where do you live? Do you live in New York City? Have you ridden the subway line that this child knows how to ride? If not, I suggest you shut up and keep your opinions to yourself. You are only showing yourselves to be victims of fear.


SynonymousApril 10, 2008 4:16 PM

@x

"what evidence you have that cycling is particularly dangerous to the head."

I'm not ++Don, but here are a couple of ideas:

"what evidence": Seeing a person with a cracked skull from a bike crash taken to the hospital. Anecdotal, so useless, right?

"cycling is particularly dangerous to the head"

Cycling isn't. Crashing while cycling is.

"particularly dangerous to the head":

You're more likely to lose a finger in a bike crash than to have a head injury. So unless you're gonna wear 'finger helmets', because it's more rational, I don't want to see you wearing a helmut on your head, either. Regarding serious head injury, there's no function that the internals of the head perform that fingers can't do just as well.

At least not in my case.


AnonymousApril 10, 2008 4:24 PM

@++Don

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bike_helmet#The_helmet_debate

Long story short: if you are free riding, BMX'ing, or generally a-fixin' to wipe-out, a helmet might -- probably not, but might -- do you some good. I'd recommend body armor first though.

Otherwise, there no definitive benefit to bike helmets has been conclusively observed.

Which, at this point in the data collection process, is excellent evidence there is no benefit. Any positive effect, if present, will be minuscule.

But of course, if your kid crashes, and isn't wearing a helmet, you will be pilloried ... much like how if a 9 year old boy was kidnapped from the subway in New York City, the neck of a certain woman would be, right now, forced onto the chopping block for public execution, with FUD-sters like @City versus countryside cheering wildly.

Jonadab the Unsightly OneApril 10, 2008 4:33 PM

I don't know about NYC. Haven't been there.

But around here (city of about twelve thousand or so in Ohio) the idea that letting a nine-year-old cross town by himself is dangerous would come across as extremely kooky. The kid's nine for crying out loud, he'll be fine, as far as getting across town goes. Sane parents are concerned about things like what the kid is going to do and particularly who he's going to spend time with when he gets there, not whether he's going to arrive. Is he really going to the library to do homework? (Choke, hahaha, yeah, right, maybe it's time to have a talk with him about telling his parents the truth.) Is he going to the library to hang out with other kids his age and maybe get on MySpace? (And what kinds of kids are hanging out there these days?) Is he actually going somewhere else entirely and the library is just what he wants you to believe? These are the rational fears, not "can he get to the library all by himself".

alanApril 10, 2008 4:36 PM

When I was a kid I got into a number of bike wrecks. (At least 20, maybe more.) I landed on my head once out of all of those crashes. A helmet would not have helped in that case. (Landed in a field head first. Head was fine. I still have back problems to this day because of it.) Most of the damage I took was knees and arm scrapes. Never broke a bone. Never needed stitches. (Little brothers are another story.)

The problems that helmets solve are few and far between. Of course, since we have covered pretty much every square inch of our lives in concrete, maybe they happen more often.

SynonymousApril 10, 2008 4:51 PM

@Anonymous

"there no definitive benefit to bike helmets has been conclusively observed."

So what? There's no conclusive evidence that the food you ate today is not poisonous, or that your spouse is not a space alien. Yet you conclude both are not true. How?

How does a person get out of bed in the morning without a conclusive study proving it's wise to do so?

What the Wikipedia studies show is that better helmets work better, and that you have to wear the helmet correctly. Since common sense can be too much to ask for, here's some evidence, inconclusive as it is:

http://blogs.consumerreports.org/safety/2006/09/bike_helmets_no.html

http://www.metrokc.gov/health/news/04051501.htm

http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/481959/skull_study_proves_bike_helmets_work/index.html?source=r_health

http://www.redorbit.com/news/health/481959/skull_study_proves_bike_helmets_work/index.html?source=r_health

Reader XApril 10, 2008 4:57 PM

'More pointfully, if this were a black or Latino kid on welfare, would anyone have noticed? If you can't afford a cell phone in the first place, are you likely to have people threatening you for not giving your kid a cell phone?'

This bears repeating. The segment of the mass media that serves helicopter parents appears laughably ignorant of the fact that their idea of 'normal' behavior is not even a possibility for many people in the US and most people globally, for economic reasons as well as cultural differences.

Whatever; affluent American suburbanites always seem to think they're the whole world, and the mass media in this country seem sometimes to have been set up for the exclusive purpose of frightening them. Which is sort of the purpose of advertising, now that I think of it.

@heather, x et al,

I personally knew two people who died of head injuries incurred in bicycle accidents. One wiped out in the rain and his head struck the curb. The other was hit by a drunk driver and hit his head on a nearby tree. Personally, I have been in one bicycle accident where I sustained head lacerations that a helmet would have prevented (sideswipe in traffic), and another where I was wearing a helmet and it very likely prevented head injury (blowout on gravel). So, for all of you offering your personal anecdotes as the norm, here's some to the contrary.

I always wear my helmet when I ride, and I make my kids do it too, just like I always wear my seat belt in the car.

@jt, perhaps you could present some evidence of your claims on helmets.

GLKApril 10, 2008 5:00 PM

The real problem isn't whether people should wear bicycle helmets or let their 9 year-olds ride subways. The problem is that the people opposed to these views think its perfectly rational to bully into submission those who do not share their penchant for hysteria. The self-righteous among us cause a far bigger problem for society than those who are perceived to push the envelope of risk.

askme233April 10, 2008 5:11 PM

This is great.

When I was about 6 I started riding the train to school (K). It was pretty simple: get put on the train by Mom, Conductor knew when I had to get off and so did I, A taxi knew to be waiting for me.

As I got older, I got more flexability and at 7 my little brother would go with me when he started pre-k.

By the time I was 8-9, changing train in the city was no big deal.

Now, my mom is one of those hyper-protective sorts now that I have little kids (2&4) and thinks they can't be out of multiple supervision for 1 sec.

Whe I remind her how she raised me she goes into denial, but can't explain how I got to school.

The whole thing is preposterous. When I get into a drunken argument about this with my overprotective parent friends I ask then to look at the statistics - and then look themselves in mirror ervytime they put their kids in a car.

That said, I am a geek and can't wait to wire my kids withs a cell/gps system so I can momitor their every move. I will justify it that it lets me give them more freedom knowing I can track them.

LizApril 10, 2008 5:23 PM

I think the real issue hasn't been addressed here... in the graphic, George, age 8 in 1919, was allowed to walk 6 miles to go fishing by himself.

What kind of parents did he have?! Six miles? And that area was likely wooded too. That means there were bears. Bears could have mauled poor George, and obviously, his parents were horrible people who didn't realize that people shouldn't go outside, lest they might be attacked by bears.

Worst. Parents. EVER. [/tongue in cheek]

Michael AshApril 10, 2008 5:29 PM

@ City versus countryside

If my child were not taught to scream, yell, kick, bite, and punch while being abducted then I would not let him outside either. I believe you're mixing up cause and effect, here. If children are being abducted silently in this manner it's because they're too sheltered, too unwilling to do anything without an adult's permission, and too familiar with movies and television instead of the real world. A well raised child such as this one will realize that adults lie, that strangers who do bad things need to be stopped, and that drawing the attention of a crowd is the best way to stop them.

Teaching independence and good judgement certainly doesn't require risking their lives unnecessarily. Nobody here is saying that it does. What we are saying is that the activity which prompted this article is NOT risking their lives unnecessarily, or even risking them at all.

You're absolutely right that you only need common sense to answer the question of whether children are at greater risk in the city or in the countryside. However, you do need more than common sense to answer this question correctly.

You're also completely ignoring the question of whether this risk is even worth examining. Child abduction is so rare that taking any significant measures to prevent it is not worthwhile. Do easy things to prevent it, of course, but there's no point in worrying about it when you occasionally let your child make a trip alone in a city. Put that mental effort into things which actually have a reasonable chance of hurting your child's future, such as dangerous drugs, failing to cultivate intelligence, and not getting sufficient physical exercise.

askme233April 10, 2008 5:42 PM

ok,had to post more.

first of all: @alan at April 10, 2008 03:58 PM hahahaha, that is great.

@"Black/Latino kids"

If you follow the popular press, as I think it is safe to say most of the helicopter parents do, they should fear having a blond daughter. As far as I can tell from Fox News, pretty blond women are abducted and murdered continously while, men, boys, the ugly, the brunett, non-caucasians, etc. have nothing to fear.

jtApril 10, 2008 5:52 PM

""what evidence": Seeing a person with a cracked skull from a bike crash taken to the hospital. Anecdotal, so useless, right?"

Two things:

Your anecdote doesn't say *anything* the *effectiveness* of helmets in preventing serious injury.

Cracked skulls in cycling are very rare.

Grant GouldApril 10, 2008 5:56 PM

Security, as Bruce constantly reminds us, is about tradeoffs. Let's look at the security risks here:

- Miniscule chance kid is abducted, bullied, or mugged while traveling one of the safest cities around, versus

- Near certainty that kid will turn into a neurotic overweight learned-helplessness poster-child if he is stuck in secured areas all his life.

I strongly suspect that risk B is more serious than risk A. Indeed I rather intend to secure my daughter against risk B more zealously than against risk A when such tradeoffs arise.

Pat CahalanApril 10, 2008 5:58 PM

I routinely rode my bike (without a helmet, fwiw) about 3 miles a day to and from school in third grade (I was 8), and about 4 miles on the weekends to a buddy's house. I was accosted once, by a larger kid who tried to steal my bike... I got away from him because I had the bike, and he didn't.

I don't have crime statistics handy for San Jose, CA in 1979, so I cannot verify the relative safety of the town in crimes against minors relatively to the crime statistics in New York. That said, it seems a reasonable course of action for a nine year old to have the autonomy to take a subway.

Regarding the cell phone, its use as an emergency notification system is not terribly large in most scenarios. Any child that is independent enough to ride a subway at 9 is likewise smart enough to find a phone if they get lost or take the wrong train. And while I personally would give my kids a cell phone, it's not outside of the realm of probability that you can have a child that's perfectly responsible for their own safety and yet still the sort of person who will lose their shoes if they're not tied to their feet, so I don't think that Skenazy's comparison is valid.

@ City vs Countryside

> The bottom line is child abduction is, amont other things, a
> crime of opportunity, is it not?

Yes, but it is not this sort of opportunity - you're trying to equate it improperly.

The staggering preponderance of kidnapping and molestation crimes targeting children are people well known to the child, not total strangers who select targets of opportunity.

JRRApril 10, 2008 6:04 PM

I have a friend who grew up in NYC in the 60's, when it was demonstrably more dangerous than it is now. She started taking the subway around town at age 7 and never had any problems.

Yes, there may be creeps around, but there are also a lot of eyes around. And these days, you are GUARANTEED that there is someone with a camera no matter where you are. Some kid starts screaming, it's very likely that someone will come to help (yes, even in NYC), and at the very least, multiple people will probably be taking your picture on their phones.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 6:09 PM

@city: "Who really wants to be the parent who gets to be the exception, the parent whose child does get abducted?"

Who wants to be in the plane that gets hijacked? Who wants to be in the building that gets attacked by terrorists? Who wants to be the dude that gets hit by lightning?

According to your logic, we shouldn't fly, work or live in tall buildings, or go outside.

JRRApril 10, 2008 6:09 PM

She does NOT have a risk assessment problem. People lose cell phones by probably the 10s of thousands every day. It's easy to do. Child abduction or molestation is vanishingly rare by comparison.

Losing the cell phone is a very reasonable thing to be concerned about. A child being abducted from a very public place with a lot of people around is not.

Pat's WifeApril 10, 2008 6:17 PM

Thank goodness there are still mothers like this out there. I remember being 9 or 10 and taking the bus from my suburban town to downtown Dayton, OH to take ballet or go to the orthodontist without my parents. I also rode my bike around the neighborhood or otherwise disappeared for hours into neighbors' houses with nary an incident, I was just expected to be home for dinner.

In an era when people are driving their 6th graders 3 blocks to school, I like to hope that I'll be as big on pushing the independence as my parents were once our kids are of age. They'll have cell phones, though.

alanApril 10, 2008 6:17 PM

Back when I was a kid bike helmets did not even exist. Even if you wanted one, the materials in the modern bike helmet did not exist. About the closest thing was a football helmet and that would have been unwieldy and stupid looking.

That far-off era was the late 1970s.

Most of this safety gear is pretty recent. Not just from a safty standpoint, but from a materials standpoint.

FrankApril 10, 2008 6:21 PM

A doctor has a patient who has smoked for 20 years and never developed lung cancer. Does he conclude that smoking does not cause lung cancer, or that smoking is safe? No. Anecdotal evidence is not conclusive.

So one child traveled on the subway alone and was not accosted. Meanwhile, in Boston, they have undercover cops patroling to catch predators who prey on adults. If all kids were allowed to take the subway alone, the number of serious crimes against children on the subway would be substantial and intolerable.

Is Bruce Schneier the author of all these blog posts, or are some of the posts ghost written by someone else? The posts seem to alternate between good balanced insights and mind-numbing naivite.


JRRApril 10, 2008 6:31 PM

You want data? Look at the data. The article itself says that crime is lower now than it was back when kids doing this sort of thing is common.
Look at how many kids are accosted during the course of their childhood. Compare to how many kids there are.
There are probably dozens if not hundreds of kids that travel the subways alone; they just aren't making national news.

GeoffApril 10, 2008 6:32 PM

Typical mum - what she gives with one hand, she takes away with another. Her son's friends now know that he can cross NYC on his own, and that the NYT is writing articles about him. This is cool. His school friends will be impressed.

Then with one blow she ruins it all - he was last seen SHOPPING FOR HANDBAGS IN BLOOMINGDALES... he will never live this down. Forget the subway, he's more in danger from the school bullies.

On a more serious note, I agree entirely with the mother's view (which also seems to be that of the majority here). I understand that the majority of attacks on children are from family and friends (sorry, no reference to hand), which would seem to indicate that keeping them constantly close to home may be curiously counterproductive.

And on the tangential bike helmet debate, there is a well-used acronymn in the motorbike community: ATGATT. All The Gear, All The Time. It doesn't matter whether you're riding round the world on a motorbike or up and down your front drive on a bicycle, a fall to tarmac with an unprotected head can be fatal, no matter what speed.

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 6:35 PM

@Anonymous

"Who wants to be in the plane that gets hijacked? Who wants to be in the building that gets attacked by terrorists? Who wants to be the dude that gets hit by lightning?"

Nobody. But in each of your examples, the life you're risking is your own (do with it what you will.)

In my example, the life at risk is your child's.

Do you really expect people to be as brazen with the life of their child(ren) as they might be with their own life?

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 6:38 PM

@Synonymous

You sound familiar.

"So what? There's no conclusive evidence that the food you ate today is not poisonous, or that your spouse is not a space alien. Yet you conclude both are not true. How?"

Didn't you, under another pseudonym, say the other day you can't prove a negative?

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 6:41 PM

@Pat Cahalan

"The staggering preponderance of kidnapping and molestation crimes targeting children are people well known to the child, not total strangers who select targets of opportunity."

Non-abductive molestation crimes, yes. But for abductions too? You sure about that? How about some stats, please.

windyApril 10, 2008 6:44 PM

For those of you bleating about "child abduction" and claiming it is a "crime of opportunity", how much do you really know about child abduction? Are you aware that 98.8% of all abductions are by family members, such as the mother, father or grandparents, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children? In other words, the vast, VAST majority of abductions are actually custody disputes. Whether or not your child rides the subway alone in NYC is immaterial to this risk. Rationally, the very best way to protect your child from abduction is to get some really good marriage counseling, practice discussing difficult issues without fighting with your spouse, and schedule a weekly date night for the two of you. Preferably with the TV news turned off.

Michael AshApril 10, 2008 6:46 PM

@ City versus countryside

The fact that you imply that flying in commercial airliners, occupying tall buildings, or going outside is "brazen" says more about your attitude than anything else you've said.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 7:01 PM

@City versus countryside

"How about some stats, please."

http://www.crimelibrary.com/criminal_mind/psychology/child_abduction/4.html

100-130 cases per year. Further, "Though the victim in most of these cases did not know the suspect, there was previous contact between them prior to the crime."

You are your biggest direct threat to your own children. They are arguably _safer_ on the NYC subway than in the same house with you. Can't deal with the truth? Ironically(!): then don't have children.

alanApril 10, 2008 7:13 PM

We need a "clean air act" for Toxic Fear Emissions.

Nancy Grace would be paying big bucks to stay out of jail. (And the penalties from the Bush administration would pay for the war and remove the national debt.)

City versus countrysideApril 10, 2008 7:28 PM

"98.8% of all abductions are by family members, such as the mother, father or grandparents"

Well if that's true, then my argument that there's a worrisome risk of child abduction by strangers falls apart.

@Michael Ash

I think there's a difference between remaining on the golf course for those last three holes during a lightning storm on the one hand, and "going outside" on the other, don't you?

I take risks every day that I wouldn't subject my children to. I think most adults do. Is it such a crazy idea to protect your children until they get to age 15 or 17, when they've had a chance to see (in other, less fortunate accident victims) a bit of the consequences of risky decisions, and then turn them loose at age 18 to go take the risks themselves that they want to take with their own lives?

VikingApril 10, 2008 7:29 PM

I was raised in a urban environment, and although i didn't spend a lot of time roaming the city alone i certainly didn't grow up in a climate of paranoid fear. I went to and from school alone or with my friends, and we played and went on outings on our own during our free time.

My mother taught me the common sense stuff that i needed to know, and showed me how to be safer and less vulnerable. Keep your head up and eyes open; walk with confidence even if you don't feel it, even if you're lost; don't show fear; never be afraid or embarassed (a big one with girls) to be loud - and when in doubt, scream your head off; always wear shoes you can run in; don't talk to a stranger alone, and if you need adult help look for a woman or someone working (in a bar or a shop, sweeping the street, driving a bus) or someone with visible kids...

She also was very, VERY clear about the sneakier kinds of assult, like anyone who asks you to keep a secret from your parents, and to trust my instincts about people. Statistically, i'm pretty sure getting run down by a car or molested by someone you know are the biggest dangers for kids these days.

We didn't have cell phones when i was growing up, and i came home to an empty house for years with no trouble. Yes, sometimes i was creeped out, or thought i was being followed, but i learned from those scary experiences and used them to protect myself ("what could i do differently next time so that won't happen?").

I think a parent's job is to give the child the tools he/she needs to live on their own. To that end, doing it all "for them" defeats the purpose (like never asking them to do housework). A parent's job isn't to seal the child into a plastic bubble until their 18th birthday (25? 36?) and then turn them loose and ignorant out into the world.

I also think that a HUGE part of all parenting is based on the particular kid involved. Children are people; they are not all the same. Every kid is ready for different kinds of learning, different amounts of independence and structure, at different times in their development. I don't think this is a geographical issue, but an individual one based on the temperment of the child.

If i had a child i would probably buy them a phone, but not in an attempt to spy on them; i would want them to be able to contact me in case of an emergency. When i was growing up there were payphones everywhere, and i was required (by my mom) to carry a few dimes in my pocket so i'd always be able to make a call. Yes, payphones were a dime back then.

Two more little things:
1) in my opinion countrysides are more dangerous than cities because a) no one can hear you if you scream and b) one might be under a false sense of security, not spotting the psycho until it's too late. In the cities, the psychos pretty much wear their crazy on their sleeves.

2) Never underestimate the ubiquitousness of kind strangers. Honestly, most people are in fact pretty nice, and NYC is one of the better cities for kindness-to-strangers.

Thomas H. PtacekApril 10, 2008 7:33 PM

As the parent of an 8.5-year-old boy in a major metro area, I find it funny that the only risk this mother, Bruce Schneier, or 80% of the commenters on this post seem to be able to consider is child abduction. This is roughly akin to observing that shark attacks are incredibly rare, and it is therefore OK to allow a 9 year old boy to go SCUBA diving out in the ocean alone.

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 7:44 PM

@Thomas H. Ptacek

"This is roughly akin to observing that shark attacks are incredibly rare, and it is therefore OK to allow a 9 year old boy to go SCUBA diving out in the ocean alone."

Yes! And how many 9 year olds have crashed a plane? Probably none -- you have to be an adult to demonstrate that kind of incompetence! So it must be totally safe. Heck, airlines should be hiring them.

And what about brain surgeons? I can't remember the last time, if ever, there was a malpractice suit against a 9 year old brain surgeon. Are the medical schools tapping this unplumbed resource of raw talent?

And I bet if we checked, it would be shown that the guy who designed that bridge in Minnesota was likely some 40-something dimbulb. Do I need to go further? Is it not obvious where the systemic flaw really is?

And finally, what about people who form utterly idiotic, content-free arguments based on a complete misrepresentation of the situation at hand? I can only testify to events I have witnessed, but I think all of these people were well over the age of nine.

Could it be that intellectual honesty is one of those innate characteristics of the human mind -- show in exuberant abundance by 9 year olds -- and it takes decades of practice to shut it off completely?

What do you think, Mr. Ptacek?

AnonymousApril 10, 2008 8:00 PM

@Viking

"1) in my opinion countrysides are more dangerous than cities because a) no one can hear you if you scream and b) one might be under a false sense of security, not spotting the psycho until it's too late. In the cities, the psychos pretty much wear their crazy on their sleeves."

Psychopaths are quite difficult to discern in advance. You've probably spoken with a few, and never suspected a thing. There is a good reason for this too, if you choose to think about the matter.

Frankly, though, the #1 threat to anyone is other people, and most of that is people who you consider family or friends. Very few people walk out into the street and just start firing away.

The truly predatory ones are almost always drawn to large population centers, as this wastes a minimum amount of their time. The idea that some crazy person would wander around in the wilderness looking for victims ... well, it's just not a reasonable concern.

There is only one subtle thing to remember: roads. If you can be seen from one, you are still at some risk. Not as big as in-city, but not the almost imperceptible risk of the general "countryside".

reddevilApril 10, 2008 8:20 PM

when i was 10-11 yrs old ,i took the subway from 241st in the bronx [i lived in mt vernon-5 miles away--rode bike]
to coney island many a time with a cpl friends & never had a problem

Ctrl-Alt-DelApril 10, 2008 8:27 PM

@Urox,

"In the SF bay area in the past year, there has been an incident of a man forcing a girl into his car."

"An" incident? Let's take you at your word.

Firs we need to estimate the number of girls in SF.

http://www.bayareacensus.ca.gov/bayarea.htm
AGE - 2006 est., children 5 to 17 years (inclusive) = 1,137,060

The youngest (5 to 6) will rarely be let out alone, and the oldest (16 to 17) are practically adults, reducing their risk of abduction (though not other crimes), so let's exclude those groups. Assuming a linear spread across the age group, 9 / 13 * 1,137, 060 = 787,000. Less than half of these will be female, giving us a final wet finger estimate of, say, 380,000 potential abductees. Based on the 2000-2006 census info the probably group grows slowly from year to year (reducing the individual risk) but let's pretend it doesn't.

Assuming each of these travels alone an average of 10 times per week (home to school and school to home, subtract holidays but add some weekends; going out with her friends not included) we discover that there's one chance in 3.8 million each year that your girl child will be abducted.

She's probably at greater risk of falling off a ladder and dying.

Obviously you can mitigate the risk of abduction by accompanying your daughter everywhere. And you can mitigate the risk of falling off a ladder by not having any ladders in your home.

bad JimApril 10, 2008 8:31 PM

A similar question came up at another site, and one commenter noted that you'd be blamed more if yours was the only child taking such a risk. In the old days (or in other places) it seems less hazardous because everyone else is making the same choice.

This may be one reason why so many opinion makers supported the war. Since everyone else was doing so, there wouldn't be much blame attached to making the wrong choice, and there was always some slight chance that the war would go well.

Michael AshApril 10, 2008 8:33 PM

@ City versus countryside

I have no idea what you're talking about with that golf course example. Nobody mentioned such a thing before and I can't figure out how it's supposed to apply.

Yes, I would say that it is a crazy idea to protect your children absolutely until a certain age, at which point they become legal adults and can do anything they want. Such a steep cliff from absolute safety to absolute responsibility will destroy a person. People learn badly by watching other people, and children doubly so. If you don't give them a chance to experience difficulties for themselves (in a controlled and safe manner!) then they will not be able to handle it once it is thrust upon them. Watching other people is simply not enough. Now I'm not suggesting that children need direct experience for everything. I would not recommend, say, giving them a bit of cocaine in order to keep them off drugs. But they need to experience injury and failure as well as safety and success. If their first chance to fail occurs at age 18 then they're going to fail hard, and they won't have the safety net they would have had if they had been 8.

As far as risk taking and children goes, I think that most of these risks are overrated in general. I'm a glider pilot, and I'm under no illusions about the safety of this activity. It is by far the most dangerous activity I've ever done regularly when examining injuries and fatalities per hour of exposure. It's most likely the most dangerous activity I've ever done regularly even when not considering hours of exposure; I expect that my chances of dying in a flying accident are greater than my chances of any other kind of violent demise. What's worse, driving my car would be second on the list and most of that is done to get to the airport so I can go fly!

If I ever have children I will happily support any desire they have to fly with me or to become pilots themselves. It is legal in the US to fly a glider alone at the age of only 14, and I would be delighted to have a child who was able to do that. I wouldn't push them into it, but the risk of this, the most dangerous thing I do, is still so low that I wouldn't hesitate to let my child do it. The benefits far outweigh the risk involved.

This isn't just idle talk. I know many people who have taken their children flying and many delightful young people who have flown solo at an early age. Nobody ever calls them bad parents despite the fact that you are three times more likely per hour to die in a glider than in a single engine aircraft. But do something perfectly safe like put your kid on a subway alone and suddenly everyone thinks you're out of your mind, despite the fact that people routinely did this 40 years ago and there was no epidemic of murdered children.

ice weaselApril 10, 2008 9:24 PM

There's little more pathetic than a good portion of the parents today. One need not look much past this very thread to see the mewling emotionalism and paranoia.

That said, they're your kids. Screw them up however you like. I'm just glad none of you parented me.

elegieApril 10, 2008 9:31 PM

The article "Avoiding Strangers" at http://archive.mailtribune.com/archive/2005/0728/life/stories/01life.htm talks about the advice to avoid strangers. Some are questioning as to whether the common "stranger danger" advice should be reconsidered. In 2005, when a kid got lost in the Utah woods, concerns about strangers caused him to hide from rescue parties. In the article, there are some additional interesting aspects. One parent, who questioned the ability of kids to identify hostile individuals, said that they do not have any better alternative to the advice of "stranger danger."

The article also talks about officials who recommend the "stranger danger" advice. Supposedly, the public attention about sex offenders and kidnappings makes it hard to convince parents to believe otherwise. It also could be said that law enforcement has their specific interests, just like others. Though a crime such as child abduction might be rare, law enforcement still has to deal with it. (Though it may not be mentioned, law enforcement has to deal with crimes even when "someone else" is the victim.) Perhaps interestingly, one officer does recommend identifying strangers that can be safely approached if the need arises.

The Jacob Wetterling Foundation has expressed concern about whether "stranger danger" advice could cause problems. See http://www.jwf.org/readArticle.asp?articleId=119 Among other things, parents sometimes expect kids to talk to adults that are not familiar to them.

graceApril 10, 2008 10:22 PM

@ tomm

What, precisely, would make asking a woman safer?

Perverts are not automatically tagged with penises and stubble for easy tracking, y'know. Read _Gift Of Fear_, and teach your kids to trust their instincts; they'll be a lot safer than if they simply aim for a skirt and cross their fingers.

anonymouseApril 10, 2008 10:52 PM

@grace, Gavin de Becker's sequel to 'The Gift of Fear' ('Protecting the Gift' about teaching safety to kids) gives the specific advice to teach lost kids to approach women, not security guards or other (usually male) uniformed personnel. This is because the great preponderance of violent/sexual exploiters of children are male, and uniformed security personnel (also usually male) are, as an overall group, significantly riskier than women for a child to approach. (Note that this is not saying that police are a threat to child safety, but uniformed security personnel are (apparently they profile similarly to violent criminals), and a young child may not be able to make the distinction.)

Reader XApril 10, 2008 11:05 PM

@alan, bike helmets certainly did exist in the late 1970s. I still use my 1979 Bell helmet, made of styrofoam with a mylar cover, and they were not new then, although certainly rarer.

If I recall correctly, modern helmets basically came in with the modern ten-speed (in the USA, this would have been in the 1970s), which raised the performance bar of bicycles to lethal levels as regards accidents and collisions.


LynoureApril 11, 2008 12:34 AM

I grew up in Kotka (60000 inhabitants), Finland in 80s. I remember being allowed to always roam pretty much as far as I wanted to. When I was 7, me and my 9 years old sister travelled together about 700km to Oulu, by train. When I was about 12 when I started visiting Helsinki on my own. No harm ever came to me despite talking to strangers on pretty much all of my longer distance travels.

To me not allowing a 9 year old to travel to school or close by store and back on his own seems almost like inprisonment of the child.

I have been long wondering what kind of adults these children will grow up to be. If they are taught all adults are dangerous and evil, will they be excessively distrusting of others even when all grown up? What will they think about themselves? And more importantly, how limited idea of adulthood have their acquired as the result of being shielded from most of their fellow humans?

csrsterApril 11, 2008 1:49 AM

"You are your biggest direct threat to your own children. They are arguably _safer_ on the NYC subway than in the same house with you. Can't deal with the truth? Ironically(!): then don't have children."

This is a probabilistic fallacy due to frequentist thinking. In a Bayesian approach one can add in additional "priors" (e.g. "I love my children and would never harm them") which would lead to the correct conclusion that my children are in more danger of violence outside the home than in.

George ReasonApril 11, 2008 2:41 AM

If this mother fumbled on a risk assessment, it was when she told people about this. The chance of hysterics actually managing to "protect" her kid from her is low, but compared to the chance of the kid getting hurt it's enormous. Still, I'd think it should be low enough to make that action quite safe too.

What people, even here, seems to be forgetting is that people, generally, is really, really nice. Especially to kids. To hurt a kid one would have to either be close enough in age to feel bullying would not make you look like an idiot, I'd say about less than five years older, or a psychopath. The first one is more likely, but have less substantial consequences. Both would probably be hindered by bystanders.

(Rest is worthless anecdotal evidence):
- (Public transport is safe anecdote:)
When I was 5, in the mid eighties, I rode the bus alone to kindergarten. Worst experience I had was the bus driver forgot to stop (I wasn't tall enough to reach the stop-button, and had to tell him to let me off, but this time he forgot).
- (People are nice to kids anecdote:)
Another time, when I were about 8, I got lost waiting for my older brother to pick me up. Since I were rather sissy for my age, I started crying. A group of scary looking (mohawks, leather and spikes, probably knives in their pockets) teenagers approached me, asked what was wrong, and managed to help me find my brother who were at the _other_ signboard outside the train station. Either I was lucky, or, and in my opinion more likely, even rebelling criminal teenagers wants to help rather than hurt little kids.
- (Bike helmet anecdote)
I've fell of my bike onto tarmac lots of times. Always been an incredible reckless cyclist. I also did some martial arts training as a kid, which, if nothing else, taught me to fall without getting hurt. I think such training (much of it is just training your body to reflexively protect the head and neck when loosing control) would help more than helmets for avoiding injury. That being said, the main reason I don't wear a helmet is that I find it uncomfortable.

Armando TorresApril 11, 2008 3:06 AM

The question is even more fundamental: why do parents have kids? Children do NOT ask to come to this world, remember? None of us did. We all find ourselves in a blown-up world, plenty of fear and sadness, where we cannot play as they want, we cannot be really happy because we're always lacking *something*, most of us cannot eat properly every day. I say US not THEM, it's the same planet for all of us.

Poor people born in rich countries are racist and greedy for stupid things, rich people in rich countries do not travel to poor countries because of fear; rich people born in poor countries cannot get visas not even for a holiday trip, and poor people in poor countries (~75% of world population) just starve and die. Let's close our doors! Let's forget about each other! Only the NASDAQ and the iPhone count, after all.

Heck, those of us who live in *civilized* countries must endure school, to learn how the system lies to us night and day, and not happy with that we're told that we should not go alone to school, and we should call home, and we should do this, and clean your room, and do not lend things, and do not talk to strangers, and have fear, and do not live your dreams, do not write your thoughts on a blog for fear of what they'll say, and whatnot.

Nice message to our kids! It's amazing that kids love parents so much, because it'd be a good idea for all of them to blow themselves on the head at age 10 and leave this planet to heal itself. "You fucked it up, daddy! BYE".

And why all of this?? Because of two people who had sex one night. Our lives are so ridiculous that we think that having a kid will give us a sense in our life. I know girls who had a kid just to keep their partner, and now just don't know what to do with the child. I do not say that people shouldn't have sex whatsoever (leave that to dummy religion fanatics everywhere) but rather that we should all think TWICE before taking the decision of bringing a new life to this overcrowded planet.

Wake up people. This is already too ridiculous to continue. This mother is an example for us all, because she OVERCAME FEAR to bring freedom to her child. WE WILL ALL DIE PEOPLE. Let the kid be proud and happy, he'll love her mother more than ever because of those minutes of freedom. Geez.

TokyoDevilApril 11, 2008 3:45 AM

One of Japan's more popular TV specials is "First Solo" -- the camera crew trails a young child to the store or some other errand for mom and dad, who wait anxiously for the kid to return home safely. The youngsters are usually 5 or 6 years old, and sometimes take an even younger sibling with them. Yes, I know the camera crew is there, and that Japan is considered a very safe country. Still, an unusual theme for a TV program.

My children walk in teams to elementary school -- an older (6th grade) student is the hancho (team leader), everyone meets at the local park or other landmark at 7:45, and then they're off to school. The way home is with friends or by yourself.

On the morning commute it is not unusual to see four or five 7-8 year olds going to their private elementary school.

I grew up in Chicago, and was in my teens when the Gacy killings were uncovered -- caught a lot of crap the night I got home at 7 p.m. I love my parents, but I wish they would have seasoned the fear with a bit of self-defense training.

jawthesharkApril 11, 2008 4:16 AM

Want an example of completely overreacting parents? I live in Luxembourg, next to Belgium and quite close to Neufchateau. Neufchateau has a very famous "inhabitant", for he sits in prison and he's a notorious child offender. I'm talking about Dutroux. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutroux)

A few years ago, I remember him escaping and through the whole Belgium parents took their kids from playgrounds, kept them inside... on a beautiful sunny day.
You could say "that's reasonable if you live in Neufchateau and surroundings". Yeah, sure, but exactly this scenario happened at the Belgian coast... a good 300km further.

Besides, an escaped inmate surely has other things on his mind than molesting the next child... Get away, keep under cover, etc.....

SherriApril 11, 2008 4:56 AM

I fall into the middle of this argument. I didn't watch the interview, and I haven't seen any mention on what kind of self-defense training her son's received (keeping a safe distance from strangers, watching environment, not necessarily martial arts).

My mother was approached by a pervert offering her $5 to help him find his dog, this was in the 1950s, so that was a lot of money. But she remembered what her mother taught her, and declined. This was in a small tourist town in New England.

When I was a young teen in Houston was when the police finally found the candy store manager that had nabbed and sexually tortured many young teen boys.

Sometime around 2000, two teen girls came running into the ER at the hospital I worked at because a man tried to nab them while walking in the neighborhood nearby.

Last year many different kinds of police cars raced through my sleepy old neighborhood, which caught all our attention since we hardly ever see police here. It was a medium-speed chase from a neighborhood north of us of a guy trying to nab a kid, with a past record of doing so. He was trying to get to his family's home in our neighborhood.

There was a report on the local news last night of a girl that was nabbed and sexually abused, the guy had a history.

I don't know how often kids are nabbed, raped, killed, or never found in NYC, but there's different levels of safety for children in different areas throughout the world, so people that make fun of people that are concerned parents are obnoxious and small-minded as far as I'm concerned.

Other than the police chase last year, our neighborhood is usually safe from human predators (there's occasionally packs of dogs, most are friendly, but not always; I've been chased many times, and sprayed one, and almost shot a small pack that jumped our fence trying to get our rabbits).

So if I had children, I'd teach them to never let a stranger get withing grabbing range, to travel in groups while walking (I'd prefer they ride a bike, to make escaping from human and dog predators easier), and maybe a baton self-defense class. I'd give them an old cell phone that wasn't as desirable, or expensive, so they wouldn't be jumped for it, or cost a lot to replace it. I'd also teach them how different areas are usually safer than others, but to always keep an eye out for trouble, but not to dwell on it at all times.

I wouldn't want to over-protect a child so much that they'd grow up to be a nervous wreck; I still go do errands at night, but I do pack legal weapons (and have shown them to potential attackers a few times). But I'd want a child of mine to wear rose-colored glasses thinking nothing would ever happen to them like many in this thread seem to think.

I do think the people accusing the NYC mother of child abuse are over-reacting though.

jtApril 11, 2008 6:20 AM

"I'd teach them to never let a stranger get withing grabbing range,"

Never? Maybe your kid would end up like that kid who was lost in the woods and kept evading the people searching for him.

Never? Well you kids can't visit cities or crowded towns then.

D0RApril 11, 2008 6:36 AM

She is a enlightened and wise mother.

I especially liked the fact that she gave her child a phone card, as I am very skeptic about giving a cell phone to a kid: do you think that a kidnapper would allow the kid to phone home once he has assaulted him? Furthermore, a kid with a cell phone is more likely to use it all the time to call his pals, hence lowering his awareness on the world around and attracting phone robbers. Kids had no cell phones years ago and they weren't unsafer at all.

(110 comments... Sure a popular debate.)

Jeremy DuffyApril 11, 2008 6:39 AM

Not a chance. I shouldn't be afraid, ok, I get it Bruce. But there's no way I would let my kids do anything like that alone. Managing fear is about managing risk.

This scenario is like a wing falling off a plane during a flight. Sure, the chances are really, really, low (I hope), but the consequences are really, really severe.

Similarly, even if the odds are low, the consequences of my child getting hurt without anyone they know and trust around to help them would keep me from ever following this lady's example.

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 6:45 AM

@csrster

"This is a probabilistic fallacy due to frequentist thinking. In a Bayesian approach one can add in additional "priors" (e.g. "I love my children and would never harm them") which would lead to the correct conclusion that my children are in more danger of violence outside the home than in."

Dead is dead, in the hospital is in the hospital. Does it matter if the event occurs in the house or on the street? More than violence can harm a child. But all of this is ok: as others say, if you want to tie your kid up at home for his/her "protection", that is a decision for you alone to make.

prontissimoApril 11, 2008 6:51 AM

This story, and security in general is about managing risks. I, too, would never let my kid do the same thing in NYC. But then again, I don't live in NYC.

So I have no idea what the city is like, from within, as a citizen.

But I have heard, from people who did, that it's a very good place to be, that the people are very kind to one another.

So it makes sense, for them. Not me. Even knowing all this, and this women's experience, I would still not do it.

I simply would not be able to manage the risk.

Also, to all commenting about the cell phone loss thing; I always say that I trust my wife with my life, but not my wallet. It sounds like a contradiction, but when you think of it, it's just the duality between grand emotions and common day life.

csrsterApril 11, 2008 7:17 AM

Anonymous: A good argument is weakened, not bolstered, by fallacious reasoning.

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 7:23 AM

@csrster

"A good argument is weakened, not bolstered, by fallacious reasoning."

Indeed it is. So why are you employing one?

Go ahead, find a family murder-suicide case where it was the direct intent of the instigator to create the family -- just to kill them all a few years later.

Your extra prior needs to be supported by _evidence_, not simply intent.

KristineApril 11, 2008 7:26 AM

@csrster: "I love my children and would never harm them"

Parents who beat their children love them, too. Just because someone loves someone does not mean there cannot be violence.

Maybe even the contrary: A parent who loves their child only wants "the best" for him/her and thinks that the ends justifies the means. Therefore, violence is not ruled out, as long as it is for "the best".


Kristine

MikePApril 11, 2008 7:44 AM

Anonymouse, I believe what Mr. Ptacek was trying to say is the kid is much more likely to get hit by a car or run into by somebody with weightier matters on their mind like watching for other people or run over by a cyclist who can't stop or having something fall on his head, than he is to be abducted. When my stepdaughter goes out, yes, abduction is a concern (particularly when she's "forgotten" what time it was and not returned home on time) but mostly, it's accidents I worry about. Same for my wife - and she was raped at 8 and would spare her daughter that pain.

SteveApril 11, 2008 8:31 AM

With respect to the graphic, it would be interesting to plot change population density over time vs allowed wandering range. I suspect that the number of jerks per square kilometer has increased proportionally to the allowable travel distance.

Just a thought.

DelicateFlowerApril 11, 2008 8:46 AM

My husband and I were discussing this story, and started talking about how it's not always irrational fear of something bad happening to your child that instills restrictive parental behavior. Oftentimes, it's the (quite reasonable) fear that other parents will judge you and/or report you to authorities for what they perceive as lax parenting.

Patrick CahalanApril 11, 2008 9:03 AM

@ City vs Countryside

>> "98.8% of all abductions are by family members, such as the mother,
>> father or grandparents"

> Well if that's true, then my argument that there's a worrisome risk
> of child abduction by strangers falls apart.

You never really had an argument... and this is precisely Bruce's point, actually.

Not that you (and the other people on this thread who are reacting negatively to the woman's decision) don't have lines of reasoning... but that your lines of reasoning don't constitute an argument.

People confuse the two, all the time. Lines of reasoning are great, but when they rely upon probability rather than true/false propositions, they require evidence to constitute an argument.

Most people don't bother to look for the evidence. They rely upon anecdotal information and other biased sources.

@ prontissimo

> I simply would not be able to manage the risk.

As a fellow parent, I understand people who have difficulties deciding what is (and isn't) safe behavior for their children. You're certainly within your grounds to choose not to emulate this woman's choice.

You aren't managing the risk, however. "Managing risk" requires weighing failure probabilities. You're choosing not to weight them, but arbitrarily assigning a maximal negative value to the probability of child abduction.

Again, I understand why people do this, but you are relying upon an emotional decision, not a real analysis of the threat involved.

NickApril 11, 2008 9:20 AM

I've only made a few short visits to New York in the last few years, but I remember seeing a lot of kids walking around and I had the impression that with buses, trains, easily navigable street grid and lots of people it was an ideal place for kids to get around on their own.

On the other hand, there are plenty of adults who would never go more than a few blocks from their home or place of work without a car, cell phone, or companion, let alone their kids.

A very comforting statistic I heard recently was that in all of New York City in 2006 or 2007 there were only something like 30 murders committed by strangers, the rest being committed by family, acquaintances, and criminal connections. So, if you can't think of someone who might want to kill you, you're probably safe.

Christophe ThillApril 11, 2008 9:24 AM

"There's some bullies"

Yes there are. They're at school, where the normal kid is sure to meet them everyday.

PaulApril 11, 2008 9:39 AM

So I haven't had time to read the previous comments so I'm sorry if I'm repeating but... Are we sure it's safe for 9 year olds to boil eggs?

SherriApril 11, 2008 9:41 AM

@ jt

"I'd teach them to never let a stranger get withing grabbing range,"

Never? Maybe your kid would end up like that kid who was lost in the woods and kept evading the people searching for him.

jt, there's a difference between staying out of grabbing range, and visual range LOL

My husband was still far away from home while on his bike when a strong storm blew in, so he rode to the park with the big covered basketball court. There was a boy about 9-10 there on his bike too.

Hubby said he didn't have a phone, so hubby called his mom for him, who drove to the park to get her son. I asked hubby if the boy or mom was freaked that a unknown man was helping. He said the boy was polite, but stayed a good distance from him the whole time, but close enough they could hear each other with the rain hitting the roof. The boy balanced out safety with reason.

If I had children, I would also try to teach them at least a little wilderness survival. But I'm not sure about 'wild foods' with younger kids though, because the neighbor girls wanted to try out all sorts of plants and berries after I showed them our vegetables and herbs.

LaVee-SwedeApril 11, 2008 9:42 AM

When I was 9 y:s I was in Paris and whe 10 in London, and spoke Neither french nor English enough, but used to swedish metro, I managed to go 4-5 stations, find the hotels, get the keys and some coins to the soda machine - Big Deal?
My daughter would also have managed it

Of course I(and may daughter) was(is) brought up talking about big cities as both wonderful and dangerous, filled with both good and bad people. I can't find any strange in letting your kid be free i NYC, if you know and trust the neighbourhoods. I never been there, but according to NYC-friends, the mom did right. You have to let go of your children sooner or later.

Paul McLellanApril 11, 2008 10:12 AM

I was brought up in England and I used to take the bus to school from the age of 4. Not a school bus, just the regular city bus, and I even had to change buses in the center of town. That was somewhat exceptional even then, but not much.

Paul

ShaneApril 11, 2008 10:14 AM

I just want to say that the fact that this is national news is an absolute joke. I can't believe I live in a time where this type of nonsense makes it on a 'Today Show' or whatever. Absolutely deplorable.

What's more, is like many of the posts above, being a child who grew up in utter destitution, I was nearly independent by the age of 5. I woke up alone, made my own breakfast alone, took the public bus, train, or simply rode my bike to school (in between having them stolen). Sure as hell there was danger, of getting my ass whooped by the local bully, getting hit by any number of moving vehicles, being kidnapped, raped, maimed, murdered, etc... What's changed? Not a thing. I still risk the same shit every time I walk out the door, and so do all of you.

I really don't think that the age of the child has anything to do with it, it is the mentality, awareness, and intellect that the child possesses (which, many adults do not give children enough credit for) that should govern when they are ready to do things on their own, and frankly the parent has far better idea of the preparedness of the child, and generally a far greater emotional attachment to his/her safety.

I definitely second the comment regarding inner-city, poor, and / or minority children too. This shit has been happening since the dawn of humankind, that it is morning cable talk show fodder in contemporary times is the *real news, and the real shame.

Kudos to Skenazy for not backing down when the media frenzy decided to have a 'human interest' day, which seemed to simply translate to a modern day, white collar witch hunt.

Sad times.

All I can hope for is that the children of people like her grow up to run this country, rather than the silver-spoon-up-the-ass-want-for-nothing-sheltered-for-life trust fund babies of all the rich and privileged that (arguably) run the show today.

*sigh*

Then maybe we'll have some meaningful news.

RickApril 11, 2008 10:28 AM

Mr. Cahalan:

Very very well said. We live in an age not governed by reason but by fear, when 'thoughtful response' has been replaced by 'kneejerk reaction'. When the irrational maniupulation of statistics can be used to support the argument that the places we live in are horrible and unsafe places to raise children.

I will not raise my son to fear strangers. To do so undermines humanity itself. If we extrapolate the notion that strangers=bad to the extreme, and assume that all kids today are taught this notion, what sort of world will be live in if we all fear one another?

I will teach my son to be safe, to think critically and to always do the right thing. Love, trust, independence and intelligence are far more powerful and fruitful than fear, distrust and over-protectiveness.

bobApril 11, 2008 10:55 AM

@Reader X:"poor people" in the US arent. You are probably better off as a welfare bum in the US than anywhere at all in most African or Central American countries.

The first person I personally knew who had a cellphone (the old motorola "brick") was on welfare (in the process of having a second child for the payraise it entailed) and that was 9 years before I considered myself well off enough to buy my first cellphone.

samApril 11, 2008 11:03 AM

j0nner_ca:
"While I applaud the fact that she's teaching her kid independence and also that she's not jumping on the paranoia parenting bandwagon... 9 in New York City strikes me as perhaps a bit extreme. It's New York City."

What's that supposed to mean???

He was at Bloomingdale's on 59 and Lexington. The subway station is right there on the same corner. 59 and Lex is perfectly safe due to the fact that it is NYC and there are people everywhere. There's no dark alley for him to be abducted into in the 10 feet between Bloomingdale's and the subway...

Destination was 33 and Park, less crowded but perfectly safe. Then the bus again perfectly safe.

The fact that it is NYC makes it safer than most places. He is never going to find himself alone on a street being followed by child molester - since it's a crowded city. If he gets scared about something there's an open shop door 10 feet away. Travelling the same distance in a deserted rural area would make him far easier to abduct.

He probably passed a dozen policeman in the trip.

The subway is safe for him too, probably safer than for the average adult (whom ride it twice a day all their lives and never have anything happen) since he's not likely to be carrying lots of cash or have an expensive watch and hence isn't worth robbing.

The main problem would be getting lost, clearly he had shown he wouldn't previously or she wouldn't have let him make the trip.

He might bump into a scientologist on the subway and join that cult, there's a higher chance of that than walking in the suburbs I guess...

City versus countrywideApril 11, 2008 11:16 AM

@Patrick Cahalan

"You never really had an argument"

Well, that's incorrect. My argument fit 6 of the 10 definitions given at Dictionary.com.

But you did get one thing right, Patrick. People do get confused about what an argument is. Precisely as you did (see below, especially # 10.)

ar·gu·ment /ˈɑrgyəmənt/ –noun

1. an oral disagreement; verbal opposition; contention; altercation: a violent argument.
2. a discussion involving differing points of view; debate: They were deeply involved in an argument about inflation.
3. a process of reasoning; series of reasons: I couldn't follow his argument.
4. a statement, reason, or fact for or against a point: This is a strong argument in favor of her theory.
5. an address or composition intended to convince or persuade; persuasive discourse.
6. subject matter; theme: The central argument of his paper was presented clearly.
7. an abstract or summary of the major points in a work of prose or poetry, or of sections of such a work.
...
10. Obsolete. a. evidence or proof.

aikimarkApril 11, 2008 11:21 AM

Thank you for posting this and everyone's comments.

I've been urging my girlfriend to be less fearful of harm coming to her 13 year old daughter. Mother nixed the daughter doing some 4AM running around their (very) suburban block to practice for track. Talking about it only made my girlfriend angry and me frustrated.

Hearing this story from a mother of a nine-year-old child has caused her to rethink the actual danger probabilities made her feel better.

I've urged her to read your comments.

City versus countryside April 11, 2008 11:24 AM

@Pat Cahalan & Anonymous

"The staggering preponderance of kidnapping and molestation crimes targeting children are people well known to the child, not total strangers who select targets of opportunity."

"100-130 cases per year."

"National Center for Missing Exploited & Exploited Children, reports 3,000 to 5,000 child abduction statistics by non-family members each year, most of which are sexually motivated cases."

3,000 to 5,000. That's a bit more than 130.

With 5,000 exceptions per year, I wouldn't call the preponderance so staggering, would you?

http://foreignabduction.blogspot.com/

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 12:20 PM

@City versus countryside

You trolling still? Frankly, every reliable source is in accordance with a minuscule risk quoted above. A few more hits:

http://www.ourmissingchildren.gc.ca/omc/publications/007/news29_e.htm

"In the two calendar year period, 2000 and 2001, the total number of stranger abductions was 5 incidents."

The US:Canada population ratio is about 10, so the US figure ought to be about 50. Maybe the US is slightly more dangerous, or Canada is (somehow) 100x safer than your idiot claim?

http://thetyee.ca/Life/2007/01/09/StrangerDanger/

"Falling for abduction

True "stranger danger" crimes are so rare that they're actually rather difficult to count. The U.S. Department of Justice has done the best tally of stranger abductions. It estimated that in 1999, there were 115 stranger abductions of children in the United States, inflicted on a population of some 75 million children. The best recent Canadian tally could only find five stranger abductions -- over two years of cases -- and only one of the perpetrators was a complete stranger. From 1988 to 1999, furthermore, the Justice Department concluded that the number of such crimes did not change in a statistically significant way. That means that the odds of abduction actually fell, as population grew."

and on and on.

The claim of 5000 a year is simply insane. No official US or Canada figures come even close. I mean, we are orders of magnitude off here.

Which makes one ask the question: why would the so-called "National Center for Missing & Exploited Children" say such a preposterous thing?

http://www.missingkids.com/missingkids/servlet/PageServlet?LanguageCountry=en_US&PageId=1805

Off-hand, I'd guess it is difficult to raise money if the "stranger danger" is practically zero, and even more difficult to raise money if it was widely known that the biggest risk re: abduction, murder, etc, to children are their own loving parents.

I bet alot of these parents even donate to "child protection" causes too. How much did you give?

pachildsApril 11, 2008 12:43 PM

I find it odd that this woman choose not to trust her child with a cell phone for this little experiment for fear that it might get lost, but she was willing to risk losing her child.

Independence and responsibility are great things to teach our children, but nine is too young for this task and this woman was foolish and lucky.

ShaneApril 11, 2008 12:52 PM

@Anonymous & City vs. Country

My guess is that the 3-5k stat is not stating "complete stranger", but rather, "non-family member", which (to me) doesn't seem that unlikely. There is a world of shades of gray between "complete stranger" and "family member", filled in by everyone the child in question would have had repeat contact with throughout his/her daily life.

Just a guess though, I wasn't about to try to track down some silly stats.

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 1:06 PM

@pachilds

"I find it odd that this woman choose not to trust her child with a cell phone for this little experiment for fear that it might get lost, but she was willing to risk losing her child."

You really need to re-read the story again. Carefully. There are other comments above as well answering this particular "criticism".

@Shane

"Just a guess though, I wasn't about to try to track down some silly stats."

Yes, I'd be willing to accept that @City versus countryside simply misrepresented the otherwise honest statistic from the NCMEC. The "complete stranger" statistic is the relevant one here though, as it is probably even more unlikely the kid would have met a "non family" "non stranger" while wandering around on his trip home.

Robert B-PApril 11, 2008 1:12 PM

I've helped teach Boy Scouts how to survive in the wilderness for a few days, but many of them would be hopelessly lost in an urban environment. Bravo to those filling in the knowledge gap!

AlbatrossApril 11, 2008 1:24 PM

In 2006 I took my family to Germany, and part of getting them there was promising to take my boys, 10 and 13, to the gigantic World Video Game Conference in Leipzig.

We got into our hotel, took the train to the convention center, and gave very careful instructions on what to do... and then my thirteen year old evaporated into the 100,000-person strong crowds.

At 8 p.m. I waited by the one end-of-the-line train stop and watched for him to come by. The giant crowd boarded its trains and left, and I never saw him.

At 9 p.m. my wife called from the hotel - he was there, having left the convention a few minutes before I arrived.

In a foreign city he had taken a strange train 10 km to a station he'd only seen once, and from there navigated dark urban streets to the correct hotel, blocks away. All my worries had been for nothing.

As the mother in the article points out, he was exhilarated by his independence, and I was very proud of his courage and brains.

We learn again and again on here that humans are lousy at calculating risk. The same parents who wouldn't let their kids ride the subway alone would probably let their kids do all sorts of riskier things - from bike without a helmet to use a trampoline to swim in a pool - because they don't PERCEIVE the risk to be as great.

As these kids on these trains have demonstrated, kids are smart and thrive on independence and trust. Is there a risk there? Sure. Is there a risk to coddling our children into insensibility? Definitely.

You don't want any risk? Don't be born.

Daniel C.April 11, 2008 1:41 PM

When I was a child I routinely took public transit in Caracas, Venezuela, arguably the most dangerous city in the world (100-200 murders a week). The route was from home to my parents' office, half-way across the city (some times I just wanted to visit). Before leaving home I was supposed to call mom to tell her I was coming, so if I wasn't there after a couple of hours she'd know to worry and maybe call the police.

If that works in the most dangerous city in the world, I'm sure it's OK in NY too.

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 1:56 PM

@tomm:

You wrote: "When my son started to go by public transport alone, I advised him to ask or address a woman in case of any problems."

There are evil women too. If you want to narrow the options, you could tell him to ask someone with a child (child thieves are unlikely to have a child with them already) or a police officer or security staff.

AnonymousApril 11, 2008 2:04 PM

@Heather

You are totally right about bike helmets. They are a pet peeve of mine too. First, your head is the least likely place for you to get injured on a bicycle. I bet you've had your share of bicycle injuries. Did you ever have an injury that a helmet would have protected you against? No. Rather, you typically injure your knees, elbows and palms. So, if you want to add protection you should wear gloves, or knee pads.

In addition, a helmet doesn't even protect you from hits to the *side* of the head. They only protect you from a hit to the *top* of your head. Now, what kind of accident would result on a hit on the head in that direction? All I can think of is a high-speed head-on collision with a car. In that case, what's the use of wearing a helmet while on the sidewalk?

Michael R. FarnumApril 11, 2008 2:05 PM

You are seriously telling parents to calculate the risk of their children getting abducted by a stranger while riding alone on a subway? Like Isao, I tend to believe that knowledge and caution are the reasons kids are more safe today, not because the world has become safer. I don't have stats, but how many people are reporting that they are doing more to protect their child like looking on the web to know where predators live and don't let their children walk home three miles?

And Bruce, here's a quote you forgot to put in your post:

--------
How would you have felt if he didn’t come home?” a New Jersey mom of four, Vicki Garfinkle, asked.

Guess what, Ms. Garfinkle: I’d have been devastated. But would that just prove that no mom should ever let her child ride the subway alone?
--------

This mom sounds like a borderline emotionally stunted person to me. There comes a point where human reason (call it common sense if you want, whatever) overcomes pure analytics. Playing risk games with your children's safety is pure madness. You can protect your children without making them paranoid freaks. It just takes common sense and time.

BTW, I think applauding this woman by saying that kids can't do anything without mommy and daddy is as much of an emotional response as saying she is wacked in the head.

AlbatrossApril 11, 2008 2:34 PM

"Did you ever have an injury that a helmet would have protected you against? No. Rather, you typically injure your knees, elbows and palms."

Not only is this ridiculously anecdotal, but those who died from bicycling-related head injuries would hardly be able to offer you a counterexample, now would they?

Most head injuries in bicycle related accidents are not the result of falling and skinning your knees, they're the result of being hit by a car while biking.

The speed-conscious riders of the Tour deFrance consider it worth the extra weight and drag to wear a helmet when they ride. Are you smarter than the Tour deFrance?

"The most serious injuries among a majority of those killed are to the head, highlighting the importance of wearing a bicycle helmet."

http://www.iihs.org/research/fatality_facts_2006/bicycles.html

There are some nice, non-emotional facts for you. So stop acting liking a freaking crybaby because you have to wear a bike helmet.

j0hnner_caApril 11, 2008 2:44 PM

Firstly I never thought that the kid was in any real danger from any of these sensationalist threats people have been tossing around like being abducted or even robbed. I'm well aware of the fact that there's more good apples than bad apples as well as the fact that more people means more eyes to watch him. I also knew that New York City had a low crime rate for its size. It just seemed to me that letting him loose at age 9 for the first time in not just a city, but one of the biggest cities we have was going from 8 to 80. I merely thought that there's a good chance the kid would be overwhelmed by its vastness and get lost or meet with some other minor conundrum. Perhaps I was being a bit obtuse.

@sam

> The main problem would be getting lost, clearly he had shown he wouldn't previously or she wouldn't have let him make the trip.

I didn't recall seeing in the article anything that showed he had previous experience in a similar situation. It just said he had been asking her for weeks. The article made no indication as to his familiarity with the city or experience with it - just that she, one day, dropped him somewhere strange for the first time.

@Jeremy Brooks

>Have you ridden the subway line that this child knows how to ride? If not, I suggest you shut up and keep your opinions to yourself.

Well I tell you what JB: I'm not going to take that suggestion :) In fact I really resent it.

>You are only showing yourselves to be victims of fear.

Please don't hurt me. Take my money. Take it all! Just leave me be!

UroxApril 11, 2008 2:45 PM

@Ctrl-Alt-Del

I cited one incidence because I know of that one. You don't need to "take me at word" since I included a link to a news report. I'm quite sure there were more but didn't want to bother digging up every single incidence.

I'm not saying put kids under gps or accompany them everywhere. I'm not saying that there are greater risks other than abduction. I'm saying that it is ignorant to not believe that bad people exist in the world and to not give some guidance.

UroxApril 11, 2008 2:51 PM

Looking at the map of childhood independence, I think it would also be interesting to know about population densities relating to the distance kids are allowed to walk.

City versus countryApril 11, 2008 3:06 PM

@Anonymous

"every reliable source is in accordance with a minuscule risk quoted above."

So the National Center for Missing Exploited & Exploited Children's stats about missing and exploited children are wrong, eh? Interesting.

"The claim of 5000 a year is simply insane. "

Take it up with the NCMEEC. It's their stat.

TSApril 11, 2008 3:35 PM

The Lexington Avenue line runs down and exits on Park Avenue at 34th. Really, it's one of the better stops in Manhattan. As far as the subway goes, the 6 train is consistently ranked the best. It's clean and mostly on time.

On the other hand, 34th street is a major cross street, there are trucks, cabs and passenger cars darting across the intersection. Mostly the trucks and cabs are ok, but there's a lot of idiot drivers who rush across trying to get to the tunnel or the FDR. Really, those commuters are a bigger danger than anything you'd find on the subway.

As for sexual predators, there aren't any registered in that area, but that doesn't mean they aren't there.There is a halfway house on 24th that has sheltered registered offenders which has drawn complaints from neighbors.

When I was young in the 70's, we wandered far and wide, that's what everyone did. Our parents didn't say much because that's how they grew up. What's different now? Is the danger any greater? I don't think so, but it's the perception of danger. I'd let my kid wander as far as he wants, but it seems to me that you risk a visit from CPS if you let them out of your sight.

I get crap from other parents all the time, because I take my son out backpacking, mountain biking, kayaking, snowboarding, and climbing. That last one really bothers some parents, and they've said I'm a bad parent for letting my kid do these things. Frankly I don't have time for overprotective parents who think they know what's "best". It *really* annoys me.

Michael AshApril 11, 2008 3:45 PM

@ Michael R. Farnum

"There comes a point where human reason (call it common sense if you want, whatever) overcomes pure analytics."

This is stupid. There are times when emotion overcomes reason. It's just part of human nature. But to deliberately let your emotion overcome reason, and know it's happening, and do nothing to fight it, is just purely stupid. Do you think your child will be safer if you ignore the facts and listen to your emotions?

If you want safety, then you will evaluate the risks as rationally and unemotionally as possible, using the best available data. If you want emotional security, then you will do what feels right. Sometimes you can't overcome your emotions and you do what feels right instead of what is rationally best. But pretending that emotional security equates to objective safety is stupid.

From what I've seen, the arguments of the two sides can be summarized thus:

"This child was perfectly safe. Here are a bunch of numbers which show it to be so."

"This child was extremely unsafe. The situation was frightening to me, thus it must be so."

If this kind of reasoning were applied to other fields of human endeavor then we would be having this conversation around a fire in front of a cave instead of on a world-spanning computer network.

Michael R. FarnumApril 11, 2008 4:22 PM

@ Michael Ash

Thanks for the uplifting rebuttal.

If you MUST use an equation to measure the safety of a 9-year old child alone on a subway, then look at the equation closer:

Risk = Threat x Vulnerability x Cost. The threat may be low, even in a big city such as NYC or Houston. But the child's vulnerability is extremely high, and the cost is extremely high. Therefore risk is still high. If you have a priceless asset that is extremely breakable but has a low threat, do you just consider the threat part of the equation when determining the level of protection it warrants? If so, then you are also stupid (sorry to sink to your level, but us cavemen who want us all to go back to campfires can't help ourselves).

Look, applying metrics such as risk to the safety of a child when that child is yours is irresponsible at best at this level. You can do that when you are considering how small the bites of their hot dog should be. It should NOT be applied when trying to decide whether to let them run around by themselves on a subway, no matter what city that is in. That might seem backward and ignorant to you, but oh well. Of course, doing it with someone else's child is remarkably easy, which you are illustrating.

And applying the term "human endeavor" to the protection of child is asinine. A human endeavor is going to the moon. A human necessity is protecting a child from harm.

Three guesses: either you are just as emotionally stunted as that woman, you have no kids, or you are simply trying to remain analytical in all things. If it the first or the last, then I hope and pray your kids grow up safe despite you. If it the second, then have some and see how far your reasoning carries you when you have that child in your arms for the first time.

To repeat myself, you can protect your children without making them paranoid freaks. It just takes common sense and time. Sending them on a subway by themselves at 9 years of age is not the way to do it.

kyraApril 11, 2008 4:28 PM

Wow...I envy so many of the posters here-- when I was 9, my parents wouldn't even let me be in the *front yard* alone, even if they were inside the house (we lived in a middle class suburban neighborhood, and I never heard about there being *any* violent crimes committed, although my parents probably "protected" me from that too).

As far as the claims that this sort of upbringing creates neurotic people, most of the girls at the college I go to (who likely had similar upbringings) are terrified to go outside after dark alone, even on campus. Even if "after dark" means 6pm during the winter-- "OMG it's dark, some crazy person is going to jump out of the bushes and attack me!" During the 3 years I've been here, I've only heard two stories of anybody being "attacked" (as in some unfamiliar person came up to them), one of which was in our downtown area, not even on campus. And yet, everybody freaks out when I try to go out at night alone, because they're convinced I'm going to get raped or murdered. I know this is all anecdotal, but to me at least it seems like a lot of the fear goes back to being repeatedly told that the world is out to get you all the time.

Michael AshApril 11, 2008 4:54 PM

@ Michael R. Farnum

Nobody is ignoring the cost in the risk assessment. Every time I have used the word "risk" it has been exactly in the form you describe.

My argument is really quite simple. Nobody bats an eye when you let a child go swimming, or ride a bicycle, or even fly an airplane. Yet these activities are generally more dangerous than riding the NYC subway alone. Where is the outrage over parents who let their children play in large bodies of water, or who use dangerous equipment like roller blades or model rockets?

Note that the cost in all of these situations is the same (the same child is at stake, after all), so the only thing which needs to be considered is the relative probability of mishap.

I guarantee you that flying a light plane, even with an instructor, is more dangerous than riding the NYC subway alone. I did this when I was not much older than the child in the article. I was 12 when I took my first lesson, and nobody called my parents bad. Brave, sometimes, but never bad.

You're absolutely right that I'm trying to be analytical in all things. I accept and enjoy my emotion but I never for a minute think that my emotion is somehow going to guide me to a better answer to any question for which facts and reason are available.

Emotion is what gives you the values of various outcomes. Reason is your best tool to use those values to come up with the optimal answer. Emotion is what tells me how fun flying is and how afraid I am of death. Reason is what tells me that it's worth the risk. Emotion is what tells us how high the cost of losing a child is. Reason is what you should be using to make decisions about that child.

If you're using your emotion instead of your intellect when making safety decisions for your child, then guess what: your child is less safe than he would be the other way around. If that's how you want to do things then that's fine with me, but don't go acting like WE'RE the crazy ones when we apply our brains and our reasoning to the problem.

You and the people sharing your argument keep repeating that letting them take the NYC subway by themselves is bad or not the way to teach them independence. All I want to know is, why is this? Give me a reason, one based in facts and reality and not in emotion, or admit that there isn't one.

If your argument is simply that we shouldn't be applying reason to the situation, then so be it, but I consider that position to be deliberately negligent, in exactly the same way as you think this woman's actions are.

City versus countrysideApril 11, 2008 7:09 PM

@Michael Ash

"Nobody bats an eye when you let a child go swimming, or ride a bicycle, or even fly an airplane."

Says who? I know all kinds of people who bat all kinds of eyes, especially over the swimming. As if kids are immune from accidental drowning.

"Note that the cost in all of these situations is the same ... so the only thing which needs to be considered is the relative probability of mishap."

No. You completely forget the enormously important factor of how bad the harm could be. Different activites can result in different harms. Scraped knees are less harmful than a broken arm, which in turn is less harmful than prolonged oxygen deprivation (from accidental near-drowning, for instance.)

"Reason is your best tool to use those values to come up with the optimal answer."

I agree. But reason won't help you much if you omit the facts to which to apply your reasoning, facts like, how severe is the hard that could occur from this activity (you already got the part about 'relative probability of mishap'.)

"letting them take the NYC subway by themselves is bad...All I want to know is, why is this?"

Probability of harm(s) occurring multiplied by the severity of the harm(s).

GweihirApril 11, 2008 8:16 PM

Good grief, you people are really cowards. A small portion of risk is part of successful child-rearing. And, here is a hint, the risk starts well before the child is born. Of course occasionally a child is harmed. But if you over-protect them, you harm them all rather seriously. For once they will be incompetent, the first time they have to figure out a situation by themselves. Then, a lot of them will live their lives in fear, greatly degrading their quality of life. And the real risks you cannot protect them from anyhow, as the real dangers have nothing to do with what the media shows you. I can only quite our esteemed host: "If it is in the news, don't worry about it. The very definition of news is that it does not happen very often."

Overprotection is child abuse with dramatic consequences. Don't do it to somebody you love.

Michael AshApril 11, 2008 8:22 PM

@ City versus countryside

"You completely forget the enormously important factor of how bad the harm could be."

No I don't. Please don't assume I'm a moron. Of course a detailed analysis will work out the various probabilities for all the various outcomes. Forgive me for not including a detailed statistical analysis in my blog comment.

"Probability of harm(s) occurring multiplied by the severity of the harm(s)."

And what are the probabilities of the various outcomes? From reading about crime in New York City I have personally concluded that the probability is extremely low, much lower than many activities in which children routinely engage in, for example riding in a car. You apparently see it differently, so what are the reasons?

AlgirdasApril 11, 2008 10:07 PM

@City versus countryside

for the purpose of present discussion, statistics of 3000-5000 non-family abductions a year (that you found on that moronic blog you linked to) is complete garbage. The actual statistics (for US in 1999), with breakdowns into age, ethnicity, outcome and particulars of the crime, info on the perps, is located here:

http://www.ncjrs.gov/html/ojjdp/nismart/03/ns4.html


A quick summary. Out of 115 kidnapings that year:

90% were resolved in 24 hours with 57% of children returned. However, 40% were known to be murdered; more that half suffered violence (beyond what is involved in kidnaping, one supposes) with half of those returned having been injured; 50% were raped.

58% of victims were 12 or older; 20% were 15-17 y.o.

Girls predominate 7:3 among the victims.

50% of cases involve more than a single perp (what clearly goes against the media promulgated image of lonely pedophiles lurking around to hurt our kids).

70% of cases involve complete strangers, with remaining 30% classified as "slight acquaintances" (however these are the only two classes of perpetrators considered under "stereotypical kidnappings" definition).

AlgirdasApril 11, 2008 10:30 PM

hm,

Assuming no correlation between age and gender, 115 x 0.58 x 0.7 = 47 girls of age 12-17 kidnapped per year. We are talking about kidnapings of the kind that come with 40% murder and 50% rape likelihood. It is not unheard of for 18-23 year old women to be raped or murdered. Makes me wonder (but not enough to go search for statistics again) how many women in 18-23 age group are kidnapped each year? I'm guessing quite few, quite likely more than 47. I hope to have a daughter some day, perhaps I should already start panicking about her imminent rape, murder (or both) in the college?

Daniel C.April 12, 2008 3:26 AM

@Albatross:

It's not merely anecdotal (btw, that was me in that post, I just forgot to put down my name). Do you really think that most bicycle injuries are to the head? Have you ever actually ridden a bicycle? Think of the basic physics. When you fall your legs hit the ground first, then your arms. Then there are shoulders around your head, making the mechanics of a hit to the head fairly unlikely.

Is it possible to hit your head badly? Sure. But it should be evident that it is not the typical bicycle accident.

Btw, a helmet doesn't particularly protect you against a lateral hit to the head.

You say "Most head injuries in bicycle related accidents are not the result of falling and skinning your knees, they're the result of being hit by a car while biking."

Well DUH. Isn't that pretty much what I said? It's really hard to hit your head with the typical bicycle accident. Pretty much the only accident a helmet will protect you against is a direct head-on collision with a car (it won't particularly help with a side-ways collision, and it might even do more damage).

You wrote: "The speed-conscious riders of the Tour deFrance consider it worth the extra weight and drag to wear a helmet when they ride."

Sigh... First, wearing helmets in Tour de France is an entry requirement, not a personal choice of the cyclists. Second, high speed cycling is precisely the place where a helmet is sensible. Your example hardly justifies wearing a helmet for near-zero-speed cycling on mom's driveway.

While most accidents that cause serious injury are to the head (another duh) you'd have to ask yourself how likely those are, and whether a helmet would actually help you in those accidents. A helmet doesn't protect you particularly against a lateral hit to the head (and could do more damage, including breaking your neck).

You wrote: "So stop acting liking a freaking crybaby because you have to wear a bike helmet."

Oh, an ad-hominem. Yes, that really strengthens your case.

RichardApril 12, 2008 3:47 AM

In "Swallows and Amazons" (a popular children's story in the UK the mother of the children asks the father in a letter if it is OK to let the children go sailing on their own. The reply that comes back is
"Better drowned than duffers - if not duffers will not drown"

jtApril 12, 2008 4:09 AM

@albatross

"The speed-conscious riders of the Tour deFrance consider it worth the extra weight and drag to wear a helmet when they ride. Are you smarter than the Tour deFrance?"

First, they wear helmets because it's required by the rules of the sport. Before that, almost *none* did.

Second, it's silly to equate someone (most of us) cycling around for fun or transportation with people cycling at high speed under extreme duress in all weather fighting each other to win their livelihood.

countfeboApril 12, 2008 7:25 AM

It strikes me as odd, that pretty much everyone here who believes of having to 'protect' their kids from harm never gets beyond the idea of treating the problem like protecting a soap bubble floating in mid-air from bursting. Treating kids like fragile objects that receive security passively from the outside by their parents is hot helping them in any way.

Anyone ever asked the kid what they perceive as risky, difficult to achieve or doable? Not that they would not need any feedback on their own assessments at any time or a share of your own experience, but if you care to listen to your kid, you'll see that they are pretty good at getting it right on their own. Remember, the one person on this planet who is more interested than yourself in not getting your kid harmed, is your kid itself. Trust it.

Living a life is dangerous and typically ends with death. Get used to it.

The only way to learn how to live it successfully, is to start living it from early on. Soulds simple, but is prevented by those parents suffering from protectoritis. Give good guidance and advise, where necessary and when asked for. This pattern can start as early as with 3 years.

Encourage your kid to sound self assessment and courage to ask for help, assistance, feedback or guidance feeling they need some, like you would expect to be treated yourself.

And no, just because they are kids, does not mean this rule does not apply.

Kids are rather robust folks, very adaptable and fast learners. If they grow up in Manhatten, that's their universe. They have spent their whole life there already and know how it works, and if you are a good parent you lead by example how to live in this place, even you yourself have not grown up there and thus are challenged by the place at times. If it is their world, then there is nothing strange to letting them take the subway home at the age of 9. If they want to. Remember, ask your kid. It might add valuable insight.

And no, this is not irresponsible. Quite to the contrary. It allows kids to become mature people.

Salem WatchdogApril 12, 2008 10:24 AM

All this crap about child abuse, abduction, child porn, and other crap... it's the Salem witch-hunt of the 21st century.

Suspected pedophiles are the witches, burned at the stake of public opinion, before they can ever get a trial - and when they do get one, ANY potential jury is biased to all hell.

velshinApril 12, 2008 1:01 PM

Isao's comment makes the most sense of all!

Since we're back to 1960's New York City, I'd like my milk delivered to my doorstep in easily refillable, unmarked bottles. Tamper seals and expiration dates are a waste of time! Also, when driving out of the City, I won't wear my seatbelt -- it's not cool and it doesn't help that much since I drive so very well!

It's sad that this 9-year-old-kid-on-subway thing is even a big deal, but sadder still that the *common sense* of trying to keep a little kid safe until he's big enough is being confused with excessive fear or over protectiveness. That persistent urine smell in the subway and that sh** I stepped in a few days ago may not be deadly, but I wouldn't want my child alone near the people that left it!

AnonymousApril 12, 2008 4:51 PM

@velshin

You know, @velshin, if you want to lock your kid in a closet for it's first 18 years of life, feel free! Enjoy! Just slide that sugar-coated crap called "food" under the door, connect a feed of informational sewage -- aka "cable television" -- and just let them play video games 24/7.

No one will care. I certainly won't. Your kid, your style. If fat, borderline diabetic, inexperienced bawling kids are your thing, hey, whatever floats your boat.

Might I ask, however, that you extend the same courtesy to the dwindling minority who find such things abhorrent?

Please read carefully:

Skenazy's kids was, by any rational standard, safe. Even if the possible harms that could have come to pass were increased by a factor of 10, the result is still abundantly safe. The risks have not changed substantially over a century, and probably never. Evolution is as evolution does.

But you don't need to believe any of this. You can rationalize it away by whatever nonsense thought processes you choose.

However, what I am many other people here, as well as the mother in question, object to are the micromanaging control freaks -- like you -- who demand that we all follow you into you demented world of pure terror. You as the guide, us as the petrified suplicant.

"You will fear as we fear!"

I'm here to say: fuck that. And so was Skenazy, and many other respondents here and elsewhere. Maybe they were more polite about it, used more words, tried to introduce the idea more comfortably so your fear-addled brains could approach the idea without locking up.

But I'll repeat myself, in all the bluntness I can muster: FUCK IT.

You can take your god-damned witchhunt and shove it. Do it now, right now, if you would be so kind.

P.S. I'm sorry Bruce for bothering your blog with language like this. No doubt the people who say "protection at all costs" will deny it, but I have personally witnessed the witchhunt in action. Too many busy-body no-lifers are out there, with general chips on their shoulders, wanting to screw up other people's lives simply because they do not believe in the same ghosts.

perpetualApril 13, 2008 2:26 AM

The point being missed here is that if the practice of letting your children go out alone increases, then so will the threat to them because the threat actors will realise this increased vulnerability.

Our ingrained, evolved, security thinking is not as flawed as some new-age 'security gurus' would like to portray.

averrosApril 13, 2008 3:45 AM

The real issue, as always, is that some people take it upon themselves to decide what is safe and what is unsafe for other people's children.

These busybodies deserve to be unpolitely told to go enjoy themselves sexually; and it they persist in foisting themselves upon the rest of us - to have their teeth kicked in. And if they send armed thugs in state uniforms to enforce conformance with their ideas, they deserve gift of some rope and acquaintance with a lamppost.

We've grown too polite towards socialist scoundrels. So they've grown too bold.

HolisticApril 13, 2008 2:19 PM

Wow, lot's of emotion (esp. fear & anger) in these posts! As a parent & grandparent, I know the fierce passion to protect.

I'd bet that most of the folks who responded to the blog entry would agree somewhat or even strongly with this proposition:

Those raising and teaching children have the paramount duty to prepare them to take their place one day as adults, who had better be equipped to make the critical choices and overcome the sometimes enormous challenges they are likely to encounter.

If the goal is survival-at-all-costs, it would make sense to raise children in padded underground shelters where they could be sealed off from every known danger.

I think Bruce has tried to express over and over that security decisions are about trade-offs: to obtain some security benefit, it is generally necessary to sacrifice some other good.

Making bodily (or projected emotional) safety paramount over all other considerations in the raising of children is not costless!

When children are taught that strangers (i.e., more than 99.99999% of humanity) are an acute threat to their well-being, how does that shape the way the see the world, and think of themselves in relation to it?

[You might want to take a couple of moments to think about how such mental maps have shaped the U.S. response to 9/11, and what that response has and will cost.]

When children grow in highly sheltered environments, where does most of their information about the world come from? Who scripts and presents that information? What is the agenda of these packagers?

There's good reason to believe that it's important for children to accumulate as much experience of trying things out, and taking on challenges, as can be done without their suffering permanent harm. To have such experiences, probably these best ways to gain world-knowledge, confidence, and self-knowledge, a degree of risk is often necessary.

There is such a thing as too safe.

From http://www.statisticstop10.com/Causes_of_Death_Kids.html , more than 4 times as many children aged 5 to 9 die from traffic accidents than from homicide. Since most child homicides are probably not connected with abduction by strangers, the ratio of traffic deaths to street-abduction deaths might be more like 50:1.
This suggests that many parents could easily cause their children's total death risk to decrease by cutting back on car travel by a few percent, even if giving them more independence doubled their risk of death from stranger adbuction.

I hope everyone can take some breaths and use their minds.

DBHApril 13, 2008 5:02 PM

I live in NYC, and I've walked the streets, even in unfamiliar areas late at night without fear. On a per capita basis, crime in NYC is about equivalent to Boise Idaho, about 105th in the nation of big cities. If you can trust your kid not to run into traffic, jump off a subway platform, or go down dark alley short-cuts, this is (almost) perfectly safe, and a great experience for the kid.

Ctrl-Alt-DelApril 14, 2008 12:25 AM

@ Urox,

Actually I "took you at your word" not because of any doubt that the incident happened but because I thought there would be more than one abduction in such a large area in any given year. I was curious myself as to what the odds would be. My rough-and-ready calculation estimated only one such kidnapping every ten years, which is probably way too low.

But our solo subway-travelling New York boy would not fit the profile of most abductees anyway, so perhaps the calculation isn't so far out. The conclusion is that Skenazy's risk assessment was realistic and that those jumping all over her are building mountains out of molehills.

I do have personal experience of an abduction. I have seven nephews/nieces and two grand-nephews. Of these, one nephew has been abducted. It happened during a court-mandated visit, and it was done by his father, who was disputing childcare payments. Abduction by relatives is by far the most common sort of abduction.

One of my favourite anecdotes has to do with NYC. In 2000, on my first visit, I walked lengthwise through Central Park on a sunny day and came out the north-east corner, some place called Harlem, where a group of black teenagers was huddled on some steps, intent on something between them. Drugs? Mischief? I was raised on all those cop shows and stories about New York in general, and Central Park in particular. These guys looked rough and tough, so I steered wide of them until I managed to get a clear sight of the object of their interest.

It was a game of chess.

Socialist scoundrelApril 14, 2008 6:53 AM

velshin:
"Since we're back to 1960's New York City, I'd like my milk delivered to my doorstep in easily refillable, unmarked bottles. Tamper seals and expiration dates are a waste of time! Also, when driving out of the City, I won't wear my seatbelt -- it's not cool and it doesn't help that much since I drive so very well!"

Well, the expiration date is arguably quite useful, but the tamper seal is most decidedly not. It's actually one of the best examples of a solution addressing the feeling of security rather than the actuality of it. Seatbelts does protect you, but I since it protects you, and only you, from death by increasing the chance that you'll get seriously injured instead of dying, you'd actually save society some money by not wearing it. If you feel the cost (lessend comfort & coolness) of wearing it outstrips it's usefulness, you should be allowed to make that (in my opinion bad) choice.

@avveros: even socialists can be proponents of individual freedom.

Michael R. FarnumApril 14, 2008 9:39 AM

@ Michael Ash

"You and the people sharing your argument keep repeating that letting them take the NYC subway by themselves is bad or not the way to teach them independence. All I want to know is, why is this? Give me a reason, one based in facts and reality and not in emotion, or admit that there isn't one."

Tell me how to calculate this. Do we start letting all our kids run around on the subway and see what happens? Sounds a lot like Nazi medical experiments (not calling you a Nazi, for the record - just making a point).

So many are trying to calculate risk without all the data. The only way we can get all the data is start letting kids out to roam free and then see what happens. You can't use on-child crime statistics that show a downward trend when the very nature of "over-protective" parents is likely causing that trend.

"If your argument is simply that we shouldn't be applying reason to the situation..."

Good gracious, man. I never, ever said that. I simply said that applying a risk analysis only to how best to protect your kid is crazy. You say your embrace your emotions, but then you turn around and use nothing but reason to make a decision about whether to send a child out on a subway by themselves. That doesn't seem to be consistent. Of course, your view of emotions seems to be different than mine. I don't think reasoning is purely analytical. I think true reason makes use of both emotion and analytics. Forgive me for getting philosophical and believing in esoteric concepts like mother's intuition or instinct, but I just think a Vulcan-like attitude about human life is irresponsible.

Michael AshApril 14, 2008 11:35 AM

@ Michael R. Farnum

You never said that we shouldn't be applying reason? Let me see....

"There comes a point where human reason (call it common sense if you want, whatever) overcomes pure analytics."

Despite the use of the word "reason" here, I submit that this argues against reason. You advocate for "common sense" based on emotion, rejecting analytics which, like it or not, are what reason is.

"[Metrics such as risk] should NOT be applied when trying to decide whether to let them run around by themselves on a subway, no matter what city that is in."

If you don't apply risk analysis then what exactly do you apply? It's not going to be based on reason.

"...you are simply trying to remain analytical in all things."

You said this in the context of criticism, as though I were somehow doing something bad when applying reason to the situation.

In conclusion, while you apparently enjoy using the word "reason", you reject the use of what I call "reason" in preference to some sort of substitute based around emotional thinking.

Moving on, you say:

"You say your embrace your emotions, but then you turn around and use nothing but reason to make a decision about whether to send a child out on a subway by themselves."

I'll repeat from an earlier post: emotion is what you should use to place values on various outcomes, reason is what you should use to determine the proper course of action based on this. I did not use nothing but reason to make this decision. Emotion is what told me "if you let this child come to harm the cost is enormous". Reason is what told me "this enormous cost balanced against the miniscule risk and moderate reward makes this action worthwhile".

"I think true reason makes use of both emotion and analytics."

Well then this is simply a difference in terminology. To me, this statement says that you think that pure reason is bad and that you should substitute emotion for at least part of the process. This fits in with "we shouldn't be applying reason to the situation" above. You're just trying to use the term in a different way, to somehow use the word "reason" to apply to an emotional response. If it makes you feel good then good for you, but you shouldn't fall under the delusion that this will allow you to make objectively better decisions.

I think the emotion versus reason situation can be summed up with one simple question: would you be happy if this mother had driven her child home?

From all of the statistics we have been presented with during this discussion, it has become apparent that the child is far more at risk in a car than he is when alone on public transportation.

City versus countrysideApril 14, 2008 12:05 PM

@Michael Ash

"From all of the statistics we have been presented with during this discussion, it has become apparent that the child is far more at risk in a car than he is when alone on public transportation."

No. You're confusing actual risk with stats of past events. Like velshin pointed out, take the children out of cars and put them on public transport, and watch the stats change.

"Please don't assume I'm a moron. Of course a detailed analysis will work out the various probabilities for all the various outcomes. Forgive me for not including a detailed statistical analysis in my blog comment."

Oh, I'm not assuming. :) You don't need to include detailed statistical analyses to consider that the size and type of harm in question is a crucial part of the analysis. You need only common sense.

Pat CahalanApril 14, 2008 2:22 PM

@ City vs Countryside (CvC hereafter)

Normally I would not bother to discuss semantics; however this is a very very common misunderstanding nowadays (conflating "opinion" with "argument") so I feel compelled to respond.

PC> You never really had an argument

CvC> Well, that's incorrect. My argument fit 6 of the 10
CvC> definitions given at Dictionary.com.

"Argument" has a particular meaning in this context. Most of those definitions do not apply. You can match 6 of the 10 definitions and still not match the correct definition (and, in any event, I don't see how your position matches 6 of the 10).

CvC> But you did get one thing right, Patrick. People do get confused
CvC> about what an argument is. Precisely as you did
CvC> (see below, especially # 10.)

CvC> 1. an oral disagreement; verbal opposition; contention;
CvC> altercation: a violent argument.

This definition of "argument" is functionally equivalent of "quarrel", which is a mis-characterization of this debate. This is a common usage of "argument", agreed. However, the negative emotions required here render this definition inappropriate for this context.

CvC> 2. a discussion involving differing points of view; debate
CvC> They were deeply involved in an argument about inflation.

This is the proper meaning in this context. In order to have a "debate", you need to have (a) a rational set of propositions and conclusions; and either (b) evidence to support these propositions or (c) axiomatic proof of truth of the propositions... depending upon what kind of a debate you're having. This debate qualifies as requiring (b), not (c).

CvC> 3. a process of reasoning; series of reasons: I couldn't
CvC> follow his argument.

This is, I assume, one of your "matches". However, this definition requires that you are discussing "a process of reasoning". We're not discussing only a process of reasoning here.

This definition applies when what being discussed is a collection of simple true-false statements which would fit in a purely logical problem domain (ie, if we were discussing a mathematical concept, or we were having a theological discussion with given "Truths" inherent in the theology in question).

CvC> 4. a statement, reason, or fact for or against a point:
CvC> This is a strong argument in favor of her theory.

This is actually a somewhat bad definition on Dictionary.com's part. In the context of certain classes of argument, this definition applies to *evidence*, not *argument*. Linguistically, this is inconsistently self-referential (not uncommon in English, admittedly).

CvC> 5. an address or composition intended to convince
CvC> or persuade; persuasive discourse.

I imagine that you're including this as one of your matches. I would disagree with your assessment, however. Without evidence, you have no ability to persuade a suitably discerning subject of the correctness of your position.

CvC> 6. subject matter; theme: The central argument of his
CvC> paper was presented clearly.

This is a superset definition. That is, you can declare a collection of arguments to itself be an argument, for the purposes of using the term. While this is linguistically correct usage, it also does not apply here.

CvC> 7. an abstract or summary of the major points in a work of
CvC> prose or poetry, or of sections of such a work.

This is obviously not a usable definition in our case.

CvC> 10. Obsolete. a. evidence or proof.

Interesting that Dictionary.com considers this particular definition to be obsolete. It certainly doesn't seem to be a universal consideration, if you look at other dictionaries.

Michael AshApril 14, 2008 4:35 PM

@CvC

"No. You're confusing actual risk with stats of past events. Like velshin pointed out, take the children out of cars and put them on public transport, and watch the stats change."

First, I wish you would stop saying that I've forgotten this or I'm confused about that. It may just be a rhetorical device but it's simply not true. I'm not confusing anything here.

Now, I freely acknowledge that past statistics are not a foolproof indicator of future risk. However, they are the best data we have to go on, and they allow us to at least analyze the situation.

You refer to the argument that the risk is only low because children are so protected. I don't believe that it's true, and I don't believe that it's relevant even if it's true.

This argument supposes that the rate of child abduction is limited by supply rather than by demand. In other words, it supposes that there are more potential abductors out there than there are children available to be abducted. Thus, increasing the availability of children increases the rate of abductions.

With around 100 abductions per year in a population of nearly 100 million children, I don't see how this could possibly be true. There are a lot more potential abductees out there wandering around. Not all parents are as paranoid as the naysayers on this blog, and the story in question is mainly exceptional because it was published, not because of the events it discusses. No, the reason that the number of abductions is limited must be because the pool of potential abductors is small. Increasing the vulnerability of some children will only move the risk, it will not create more of it.

Even if it is true that increased use of public transportation by children would increase the risk per exposure, it's still going to be safer than driving. The differences in risk are roughly two orders of magnitude. You could increase the risk of abduction by a factor of ten and still be safer than driving. Increasing the risk enough to exceed driving would require there to be thousands of pedophiles out in the world, all of them frustrated at a lack of victims and all of whom will descend on their local public transportation system once it starts carrying more children. There's simply no evidence that such a large, victim-starved population of pedophiles exists.

Lastly, I would like it if everyone would stop using the phrase "common sense". Common sense is how you arrive at a conclusion quickly and with insufficient data. It is not something which can support a position in a debate. Ideally common sense will come about because of facts and deductions, and if that is the case then present these facts and deductions directly. If your common sense is not supported by fact then it is simply baseless.

CvCApril 14, 2008 6:14 PM

@Michael Ash

I can't respond sensibly without first looking up the term 'common sense' in the Pat Cahalan Dictionary.

HolisticApril 15, 2008 12:13 AM

Another observation - starting with a quote from Skenazy's article:

"'How would you have felt if he didn’t come home?' a New Jersey mom of four, Vicki Garfinkle, asked.

Guess what, Ms. Garfinkle: I’d have been devastated. But would that just prove that no mom should ever let her child ride the subway alone?

No. It would just be one more awful but extremely rare example of random violence, the kind that hyper parents cite as proof that every day in every way our children are more and more vulnerable." (End Quote)

The challenge in the form "how would you have felt?" is very significant. A security-related choice can only be rationally evaluated in light of a clear understanding the value to be protected.

If what Ms. Skenazy seeks to protect are her feelings, then Ms. Garfinkle's question is worth considering in making the security choice. Here we're talking about a parent's emotional comfort or security, to which the well-being of her son is incidental.

If instead Ms. Skenazy's goal is to protect her son's well-being today and throughout his future, then Ms. Garfinkle's question is irrelevant to the security choice. If something that's good for the child's well-being (for example, undergoing a medical procedure) scares the stuffing out of Mom or Dad, well that's tough, it's still the appropriate thing to do.

To my mind this distinction is crucial, because I believe that Americans tend to be staggeringly self-centered, and that parents often fail to distinguish between their own egos and the needs of their children.

It would be nice if parental happy-feelings were always consistent with the well-being of children: then parents could simply do things that feel good as much as possible, and not have to reason through difficult decisions.

It's very human to feel some shock when a parent's choices or attitudes toward their children seem unfeeling. I invite anyone interested to consider some of the worst problems that afflict American children along their road to adulthood. What's your evaluation of the dangers of unfeeling parenting vs. unthinking parenting?


One way to recognize Security Theater is when people are spoon-fed information that makes them "feel bad" (like media reports about stranger assaults against young children, that promote a grossly disproportionate perception of risk), and proffered remedies palliate the bad feeling more than they responds to any underlying reality.
When we allow emotion to dominate reason in evaluating security choices, we become ripe targets for Security Theater.
Wasting resources on something that's not much use is only part of the cost of Security Theater: often a more terrible cost is the distraction of energy and attention from avenues likely to make a real difference.

...Hope some reader of this blog finds this comment helpful in looking for useful ways to think about real-life security choices.

PelleApril 15, 2008 2:14 AM

This week in rural Sweden, normally known for its low crime rate: mother lets 10 year old Engla cycle home from soccer by herself for the first time, a couple of km. Her bike and cell phone are found a few hundred meters from home. After a weeks intensive search and a confession from the prime suspect (now determined to be a serial killer), her body was found in the forest in the next county.

Patrick DraperApril 15, 2008 3:36 AM

I lived on a busy state highway with no sidewalk so my parents wouldn't let me ride my bike on it alone until I was 12. But once I turned 12, I could ride my bike pretty much anywhere I pleased, which was up to 10 miles away to visit friends, or 30 miles on long bike rides with friends.

Tim BowdenApril 15, 2008 4:40 AM

All this talk about safety is being done without considering one of the most important aspects: How well you know the environment. I grew up in the bush before I went to boarding school in the city. I got to know both environments fairly well. I had city bred mates who would be at serious risk in the bush, not because it is inherently more dangerous, but because they weren't able to recognize the dangers. There were bush bred kids who would be in trouble in the city in no time flat for the same reason.

If you don't understand the environment you're in, you're at risk, simply because you can't identify the dangers. If you do learn to read the environment, you can ameliorate the risks, and make yourself much safer. That's an experience that's familiar to all children. By the age of nine or ten most are able to make rational decisions in response in such situations. The responsibility of parents isn't just to keep them safe, but to help them learn how to keep themselves safe. Part of that is teaching them how to evaluate the environment they're in.

HansApril 15, 2008 5:38 AM

When I was four ( that was in 1947) I lived in The Hague, Netherlands. I traveled alone by streetcar to the center of the city to pick up my father from work. When I was six I moved to the other side of town. Every Wednesday afternoon I would travel by streetcar to visit my old buddies. We would play by the fishing harbor at Scheveningen and generally wander around.
How times have changed!

MikeApril 15, 2008 10:23 AM

I had a lot of independence growing up in New York City in the 70's, when The City was far more dangerous than it is today. The subway in particular is far safer than it used to be. As a father I'd have to carefully weigh what my child could be relied upon to do, but I was riding the subway alone when only a little older.

Still motheringApril 15, 2008 10:42 AM

Dr Ruth Peters comments are ridiculous.
The poor child is far more likely to be "roughed up" at school or on a school bus. When was the last time this "parenting expert" (what an offensive term to all parents!) was at school or riding the school bus.

Evil people will always be there. We cannot stop learning and living because of fear. If we follow this logic no one should drive a car or work in skyscrapers.

JaBbAApril 15, 2008 11:17 AM

@Heather

Perhaps you don't know anyone who suffered a closed head injury, but wearing bike helmets (or seat belts, for that matter) is a different issue than allowing children to roam in the neighborhood. It's all about risk - closed head injuries are more common than you think, and the consequences of not wearing a helmet are sudden, extreme , and only preventable by wearing the proper equipment. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I'm sure that you would find that the incidence of closed head injuries among children is way down since the emphasis on wearing bike helmets. And if you don't make your children wear the helmets on the driveway, you'll find them later biking down the street with the helmet strapped to the handlebars.

It's a completely different equation than allowing a 10-year-old to walk to the store by themselves.

Dan McCartyApril 15, 2008 12:06 PM

Didn't have time to read through the comments, but this is a great counter-example of what parents are too often doing these days: over-protecting their children based on sensational media coverage of (statistically) rare events.

For example, a mother of three named Treffly Coyne was arrested recently for leaving her daughter in a parked, locked car while she walked 30 ft. away with her other two daughters to deposit coins in a Salvation Army kettle. This level of fear-fueled hysteria--not to mention the level of state control over private lives, which is another issue--is preposterous.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/chi-treffly-lawsuitmar21,1,2218398,print.story

jtApril 15, 2008 12:20 PM

" closed head injuries are more common than you think, and the consequences of not wearing a helmet are sudden, extreme , and only preventable by wearing the proper equipment."

Well, I don't know how you know what Heather knows about the rate of those accidents, but your last comment "only preventable by wearing the proper equipment" is just silly.

The most important way to prevent that sort of injury is to not hit one's head in the first place.

For sure, kids' heads are softer than those adults, and evidence suggests helmets might be useful for kids (the best evidence suggests they have almost no usefulness in preventing serious injury in adults).

But comments like "only preventable" about bike helmets really point up the fundamentally misguided efforts of bike helmet proponents.

I mean, if I know someone who got shot, should I go on and on about how important bulletproof vests are?

AnonymousApril 15, 2008 1:24 PM

@JaBbA

"I don't have the statistics in front of me, but I'm sure that you would find that the incidence of closed head injuries among children is way down since the emphasis on wearing bike helmets."

http://www.ski-epic.com/amsterdam_bicycles/

Where are all the dead Amsterdamian children?

PhilApril 15, 2008 1:49 PM

More people should watch South Park. For example, the season six episode "Child Abduction is Not Funny" which makes exactly the same point.

MikeApril 15, 2008 3:57 PM

The best part about cell phones is that everybody has them, so you *don't* need to carry one in case of an emergency, as long as you are in a populated area. And now that everybody has a jillion free minutes, you can ask any random stranger to borrow one and they'll let you.

BarbaraRApril 16, 2008 4:59 AM

My daughter was abused, she will tell anyone about it. It was her middleclass uncle who molested her when she was twelve, though we didn't find out about it for years.
That was also a year when I used to allow her to take her sisters for all day trips around London, where they never had any trouble and received a lot of friendly attention, which they enjoyed.
Which event do you think I feel most guilty about?

Hoogla BooglaApril 17, 2008 7:44 AM

I think that americans overestimate the risk of child abduction/molestation when kids are allowed to go about on their own. Most of the time offenders are family members, so I agree to what BarbaraR said.

When I was a kid we used our bikes or mass transit to get to the next city, the countryside, whatever. Nothing bad happened. We didn't have cell phones, GPS tracking devices, most of the time our parents didn't even know what we were doing throughout the day. The rule was "get home when the street lights are switched on". We stuck to the rule. Well, at least most of the time...

hwokApril 17, 2008 10:27 AM

@anonymous
"First, your head is the least likely place for you to get injured on a bicycle."

Maybe, but your knee is also the least likely place for an injury to result in brain damage. Risk-assessment. A bike-related injury anywhere besides your head will result in a bone break at worst. Head contacting pavement at 20-30mph -- that can be a bit worse, so that's the area to protect. And since you don't wear a helmet, you must not realize that a helmet covers all around that brain area, so a blow from any direction is absorbed.

FreedaApril 17, 2008 8:11 PM

Excellent story. I started going into NYC alone at 15 and even flew abroad to visit friends I had made over the net (all interested in computer security). At first my family was deathly afraid and I had to pressure them hard. Now I am doing great and I am sure these experiences played a part.

My parents were always horribly worried about my sister being raped.. she is 22 now and has just started taking a train to NYC. She has been stifled badly due to these early fear experiences and her life is and will be much more difficult as a result.

D0RApril 22, 2008 8:49 AM

This seems so extraordinary that even made it in the news today (the article is in Italian):
http://www.repubblica.it/2008/04/sezioni/cronaca/bambino-musei-vaticani/bambino-musei-vaticani/bambino-musei-vaticani.html

A 10-year old American tourist which was visiting the Musei Vaticani in Rome with his parents got lost. Police and dog units immediately started the searches.

They found him three hours later. Realizing he was lost, the kid simply had asked directions for the American Embassy (which was a couple of miles away) and happily trotted there.

Way smarter than his parents, I'd say.

DaveApril 23, 2008 5:05 PM

While I totally buy into the low odds of a child being randomly abducted, what about if there’s a pattern to what the kid does? It seems to me that if my daughter walked our dog alone in the park every day, taking the same path at around the same time, it could raise her risk unacceptably. Especially since you don’t see a lot of girls her age walking around on their own. Is this irrational?

somebody who can spellMay 2, 2008 7:19 AM

The world is a remarkable place and we loose something when we fear it.

The hounds?

DenisCMay 4, 2008 1:18 PM

I find it surprising that nobody mentioned that the "my cellphone will save me" is pure fear based marketing.

MaestroSeptember 23, 2008 10:45 AM

Sorry for commenting so late, but I noticed this topic today, and it took some time to read all the comments.
I think that Skenazy's decision was totally wise, and she correctly evaluated her child's ability to get back home alone. She was way wiser than the bunch of parents who won't let their kids get out of home alone, but this has been already said.
Speaking of wrong evaluation of risk, I would like to recall how my mother bought a scooter (little motorbike) to my 14 years old sister in order to protect her from possible abuses while moving around the city, putting her at much greater risk. Of course, my sister is definitely enjoying her new scooter :)

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