Why Can't She Walk To School?
September 12, 2009 1:21 PM   Subscribe

“She’s just so pretty. She’s just so...blond.’ A friend said, ‘I heard that Jaycee Dugard story and I thought of your daughter.’ And they say, ‘I’d never do that with my kid: I wouldn’t trust my kid with the street.’”
posted by william_boot (136 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Particularly since last summer, when gas prices rose and districts began cutting budgets, some districts have been turning to 'the walking school bus,' where parent volunteers walk groups of children to school."

Huh. I picture something like this.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 1:26 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


"And they say, ‘I’d never do that with my kid: I wouldn’t trust my kid with the street.’”"

So, when they go to college, they're completely unprepared to live without an adult escorting them everywhere. Yeah, those kids are going to be *fine*.

Also: How many kids die in car crashes? Something like 3000. How many *non-parental* abductions happen in a year. In 1999, it was something like 100.

Nice risk management. I swear, we need to license parents.
posted by eriko at 1:33 PM on September 12, 2009 [9 favorites]


This seems like a really healthy way to deal with the inescapable uncertainties of life.
posted by leotrotsky at 1:35 PM on September 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


That reminds me of this article's map, which I think has been posted to mefi before, but I couldn't find the post.

Also, previously, tangentially previously.
posted by hattifattener at 1:36 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Can't say I see anything wrong with accompanying your children to school. I've had some of my best conversations with my dad going to and from school. Driving a few blocks is ludicrous, of course; you should walk with your kid instead. But I honestly find it sweet to see parents taking their kids to and from school.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:39 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Wow. When I was ten, in the 1970s, I used to walk down to the bayou by myself and look for snakes. No one thought anything of it. But the older boys in the neighborhood had already hunted out most of the larger snakes, so mostly I just found bullfrogs and crawdads. And porn.
posted by timeo danaos at 1:42 PM on September 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


This is a question with a right answer, unless your town is ravaged with crime let your kids walk to school. If you think that it's too dangerous your brain doesn't work properly. Walking to school will be harmful to a vanishingly small amount of kids and of course when tragedy strikes it will still seem like too many. But it really isn't. That tragedy is a drop in the bucket compared to millions of kids living this alien unchildhood getting fat and dull scared of things that go bump in the day. People care to much about tragedies that would make good screen plays and not enough about banal tragedies that are easy to take for granted.
posted by I Foody at 1:46 PM on September 12, 2009 [27 favorites]


Mmm... bayou porn. That's got to be better than the brownfield site porn* we had in the UK.

The people decrying the risk management skills of these parents may not be parents themselves. It really screws with your maths screws. Just sayin'.

* I know, I know.
posted by Leon at 1:50 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Last spring, her son, 10, announced he wanted to walk to soccer practice rather than be driven, a distance of about a mile. Several people who saw the boy walking alone called 911. A police officer stopped him, drove him the rest of the way and then reprimanded Mrs. Pierce. According to local news reports, the officer told Mrs. Pierce that if anything untoward had happened to the boy, she could have been charged with child endangerment. Many felt the officer acted appropriately and that Mrs. Pierce had put her child at risk.

Madness. Utter madness.

Critics say fears that children will be abducted by strangers are at a level unjustified by reality. About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:52 PM on September 12, 2009 [22 favorites]


leotrotsky: That's really the problem. Between popping pills, buying guns, and racking up debt, it seems we've developed an unhealthy set of coping strategies for that unease gnawing at the national soul.
posted by phrontist at 1:53 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The FPP article -- Why Can’t She Walk to School? -- in this Sunday's New York Times "Fashion & Style" section! WTF?
posted by ericb at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The people decrying the risk management skills of these parents may not be parents themselves. It really screws with your maths screws. Just sayin'.

What?
posted by phrontist at 1:54 PM on September 12, 2009


I get it ... another Style section article seeking to announce a trend!
posted by ericb at 1:55 PM on September 12, 2009


America, your world is unsafe! Only your planet killing death mobiles can save you now.
posted by munchbunch at 2:02 PM on September 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


I've had some of my best conversations with my dad going to and from school.

Yes, and likewise some of the best conversations I've had with my daughters have been walking to nursery/school. Walking is sort of different - I'm sure the fact that I walked with them early on made them less afraid of walking to places by themselves in the long run. They learned to see walking down the streets and going different ways as normal, unfrightening. Once when my elder daughter fell over and cut her knee (as they do), a kindly old lady popped out of the house and tried to help (though I already carried antiseptic wipes, plasters, you name it). I expect old lady out-poppage is statistically far more common than scary kidnapper-grabbage.
posted by Phanx at 2:05 PM on September 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Be careful. When I clicked on the NYT link, I got a new tab with a bogus "scan" and download attempt from best-antivirus03.com.
posted by bz at 2:06 PM on September 12, 2009


I was just coming here to post this paragraph, but The Card Cheat already had. I feel terrible for these kids-- my brother and I used to roam freely all over our neighbourhood, as did all the other kids we knew. We walked to school every day-- why would you be driven four blocks? We rode our bicycles to, and spent entire afternoons in, parks a couple of miles away from home, with just the instruction to be home for dinner. I used to ride my bike down to the library and come home with a basket full of books. Those times of wandering and independence are the best memories of my childhood; I can't imagine how claustrophic chidlren's existence is now, confined at home under constant adult surveillence, forbidden to go outside alone, with nothing but video games and television to become your imaginative world. Poor kids.
posted by jokeefe at 2:07 PM on September 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


As a mother-to-be, I'm more scared of turning into one of these overprotective umbrella-parents than I am of my child being kidnapped. Will I feel different once I give birth? Probably, I just hope I don't blow it out of proportion and end up so poorly equipping my children for real life.
posted by sunshinesky at 2:09 PM on September 12, 2009


Between popping pills, buying guns, and racking up debt, it seems we've developed an unhealthy set of coping strategies for that unease gnawing at the national soul.

Jumping at shadows; ignoring realities -- like childhood obesity that's leading to diabetes and heart disease at younger ages than ever before, for instance -- that require (a) parents to acknowledge that their perfect little darlings might be harming themselves, and (b) more horribly, might require parents to make significant and uncomfortable changes to their own lives. It's so much easier to fear the boogeyman than it is to, you know, ensure that your children eat right, to not let TV and the internet and video games babysit them all day long -- because that's how your precious baby ends up looking like Baron Harkonnen from fucking Dune -- and actually spend time with them instead.

(Full disclosure: Me? I have no children. I eat kittens. What kind of parent do you think I'D be?)

I was a latchkey kid who wandered my neighborhood at will. No one thought anything of it, although I'm sure there were neighbors who would have been happier if I hadn't been out there doing all the annoying shit that kids do. My presence was just not that remarkable. I'd sometimes even encounter, in my travels, other kids. Sometimes we'd fight. Sometimes we'd hang out. Sometimes we'd become friends. This used to be considered basic socialization.

Today I was walking down to the drug store and saw a little kid with his dog. Maybe ten. I did a doubletake; kid was on the other side of a wide street, I need to get new glasses; is that really a little kid? Couldn't be a dwarf? A petite woman with a modest build and terrible taste in clothing? But no: It was a kid. And mind you, he had his dog. But still. I wonder if his parents knew he was outside, or if any of his neighbors will think they're irresponsible. I don't think he was likely to run into any other kids.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:09 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The people pointing to auto accident vs. abduction statistics fail to point out that far, far more people drive than walk. What percentage of children walking alone are abducted? What percentage of children riding in a car are abducted? It would be, in fact, much easier to abduct a child walking. To pretend otherwise is as myopic a viewpoint as those arguing that children should never be unattended.

Also, I think that the *age* is in question here. There are probably a lot less people saying that high school students should not walk alone. What age to draw the line is a very situational question.

One more point: it's also safer for *adults* not to walk alone, although this is usually only an issue after dark or in very secluded areas. It seems like a lot of the risk to children could be lessened if they simply had at least one other child with them.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 2:13 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Be careful. When I clicked on the NYT link, I got a new tab with a bogus "scan" and download attempt from best-antivirus03.com.

Same here.
posted by ericb at 2:14 PM on September 12, 2009


The people decrying the risk management skills of these parents may not be parents themselves. It really screws with your maths screws. Just sayin'.

What?


Leon is just saying that the collective, emotional, societal fear of something happening to a child if he or she is allowed to walk in the neighborhood alone infects every parent (and apparently policemen too) and overcomes their rational reasoning. If you are not a parent then it is easier to ignore the irrational fears, and the social pressures involved.

Heck, as a child I walked a mile to elementary school until I could ride a bike, and then rode bikes to school all the way to college. I think I developed strong legs because of this.

Yet I take my kids to school.

Being divorced adds an additional pressure. If I just let them walk to school then it can be turned into a weapon against me.

That's why articles like this are a good thing. There needs to be more of this. If you can change the social fears you put less pressure and expectations of strange behavior on parents.
posted by eye of newt at 2:16 PM on September 12, 2009


Be careful. When I clicked on the NYT link, I got a new tab with a bogus "scan" and download attempt from best-antivirus03.com.

Me too me too. The server is compromised.
posted by fleetmouse at 2:16 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The real American solution here is just to start arming our kids. Something like a Kel-Tec P3AT. Small, light, affordable, low recoil. Perfect for when those precious little hands need to snuff the life out of some child molester or inner-city drug dealer.

A well-armed group of kids is a well-behaved group of kids.
posted by Avenger at 2:17 PM on September 12, 2009 [7 favorites]


Noam Chomsky was speaking about American fearfulness in a different context when he noted the pertinence of the question - paraphrasing here - "Why does a country that enjoys security undreamed of by any other nation in history piss its pants every time a balloon pops?"

He admitted: I don't know.
posted by Joe Beese at 2:18 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


Yes, and likewise some of the best conversations I've had with my daughters have been walking to nursery/school. Walking is sort of different - I'm sure the fact that I walked with them early on made them less afraid of walking to places by themselves in the long run.

Well, my Dad drove me. Somehow, I grew up to be able to function in life without being frightened of my own shadow. I don't think it damages, coddles or shelters a child to accompany her to school. It's ridiculous, ecologically speaking, to drive a child a few blocks to school, yes, but in an age when parents are working longer hours to pay the bills, the trip to and from school can be some great quality time. Regardless of the motive.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:21 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Before you fall too far down the "What's wrong with our society?" route, keep in mind, The people deemed important by the NYT and media isn't "everybody" It's a certain subset of middle class white America that simply does not reflect the reality of the rest of the population. I ride my bike through the streets of Brooklyn, which by itself would be the 4th largest city in the country, and from yuppie Park slope to ethnic Greenpoint, to shady ass Brownsville, I see unaccompanied kids doing what kids do. I recently saw 3 kids who couldn't be any older than 10 riding their skateboards the wrong way down a traffic filled 2nd ave. in the East Village.The looked to be having the time of their lives.

So the New York Times once again really needs to get their heads out of their trendspotting asses.
posted by billyfleetwood at 2:25 PM on September 12, 2009 [20 favorites]


This is the Fashion & Style section. Next week they'll have an article about how Ivy League admission officers are "seeking out" kids who walk to school and how important it is to walk to school, along with quotes from a school walking consultant who will emphasize that walking to school helps a student build character regardless of whether they get into the school of their choice.
posted by geoff. at 2:25 PM on September 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


Also, I think that the *age* is in question here. There are probably a lot less people saying that high school students should not walk alone. What age to draw the line is a very situational question.

I walked to school every day as a kid going to grade school. I also walked and rode my bike around the neighborhood and sometimes went for miles. Not really a big deal. I dunno. It was the '70s, and my neighborhood was pretty safe, but no more safe than most suburban areas.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:26 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


These kids are going to be so messed up when they reach adulthood. I'm not even that old* and I remember walking to school in grade school (about a mile), as well as traveling all over the city either on foot or my bike. In the summer, my sister and I would spend all day at the public pool by ourselves and walk home at the end of the day. From early on I spent time exploring the field a few houses down or the corn field across the street. As I got older, maybe 9 or 10 my favorite places to go were two parks, one with a pond and the other with a river and stream that I'm sure the thought of their kids falling in would terrify parents today.

I honestly can't remember an age where I was limited exclusively to my parents yard. I'm sure it was there, but so much of my memories is filled with times spent at a neighbors house, or down the street, or playing block-wide hide-and-seek games from such an early age that I don't think it could have been very old before I was allowed to start roaming.

But on top of that, its not like we never encountered problems. One time a man tried to get my sister and I to unlock the car door when my mother ran into a store. Another time my sister was flashed when she was walking home from school alone (she threw an unopened of soda at the flasher, hit him in the head and he ran off). I remember a guy trying to get me to come to his car when I was walking home and going into a gas station to wait until the guy drove off. Maybe he just wanted directions, who knows? But all these things too, as scary as they sounds, also taught me valuable lessons.

All these experiences, thinking on my own, going to stores and counting up how much of my allowance i could spend on a candy bar, or going to the library and figuring out how many books I could carry by myself, they all taught me about making decisions on my own. They make up who I am as a person.

I feel really bad for kids today. How are they going to function as adults?

*oh god, I am that old, aren't I?
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:27 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


The thing about being a parent is that you're supposed to put the well being of your child ahead of your own. Not letting your kid out of your sight, ever, is bad for your kid and has nothing to do with keeping him or her safe; it is all about assuaging your own fears.

I'm sure it is extraordinarily difficult to recognize when your fears for you children are unjustified and counterproductive. But that's part of what being a good parent is about. And before someone points out that I am not a parent, which is true, I must point out that my own parents managed it. And I was growing up in the middle of that EVVVVVIIIILLLL SATANIC CHILD ABUSE panic, so it's not like they weren't being inundated with scary stories.

Don't screw up your kids.
posted by Justinian at 2:32 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I feel really bad for kids today. How are they going to function as adults?

It's all the vidya games and the go-go music and the parties until 3am! Mark my words ...
posted by krinklyfig at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2009


Maybe we shouldn't conflate "parents accompany their kids to school" into "parents never leave their kids out of their sight, have sewn the umbilical cord back onto their bellies, and will make them into terrible adults."
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:37 PM on September 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


When my daughter was in kindergarten (last year), my husband used to put her on the back of his bike (in a child seat! with a helmet!) and ride her to the elementary school at the edge of our neighborhood. There were tons of kids going to school out of this neighborhood, and he was a real novelty for taking her there in something other than a car. I don't think any children walked by themselves. The school was built about 2 years ago - there were no bike racks.

Being an actual parent does fuck with your mind. I like to think that I am not one of "those" parents that overprotects my kid. But we have had a couple of truly terrifying experiences (really potentially life-threatening). So she doesn't go to play at other kids' houses if I don't come along. And she isn't allowed to roam the neighborhood unsupervised. She's also 6, and when she gets older and wiser, I hope that we will find ways to give her that unsupervised time to explore on her own terms.

It can be tricky with kids. One moment they seem perfectly rational, and the next they are opening the front door for someone they have never seen before. Judging when they are ready for more independence is really a crapshoot. So understandably, many parents err on the side of caution.
posted by jeoc at 2:41 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


These kids are going to be so messed up when they reach adulthood.

I'm with Marissa Stole Etcetera here. My parents, back in the alleged Good Old Days of the 80s, were pretty damn protective. I was 12 or so before I was allowed to ride my bike beyond our block. And yet, amazingly, I learned to function anyway.

People are smart, curious and resilient. I'm as opposed to overprotective parenting as the next guy — mainly because I know from personal experience that it's no fun having overprotective parents — but it's hardly going to ruin these kids for life. The claim that it will, that uptight parenting is dangerous, is just as hysterical as the claim that laid-back parenting is dangerous. Fact is, if kids get love, food, shelter, education, respect and basic freedom from mistreatment, most of them turn out fine pretty much regardless of what the rules are in their household.
posted by nebulawindphone at 2:41 PM on September 12, 2009 [8 favorites]


This and this might be of interest to some - a bit tangentially related, but still on the whole child safety/parent fear topic.
posted by djgh at 2:45 PM on September 12, 2009


So she doesn't go to play at other kids' houses if I don't come along.
I presume your child has some kind of life-threatening allergy or disability. Because otherwise, this sort of "rule" is basically saying to the other kid's parent, "You are too stupid/incompetent to supervise my child."

When I was that age, my mom got into a car accident while coming over to my friend's house to pick me up and bring me back home. In that sense, leaving the house turned out to be more threatening to my mom's life than to mine.
posted by deanc at 2:47 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I did a doubletake; kid was on the other side of a wide street, I need to get new glasses; is that really a little kid?

Heh, I'm very close to an elementary school with a servicible ball-field and open area.
The other day, I saw some kids actually playing over there. And not an organized game either with parents and orange slices, but a full-on, old-fashioned, invisible runner, make up your own rules pick-up game.
I had to go inside and get the wife to show her[1]. heh.

Living as I do close to a school, I see the behaviour in the article all the time, big SUVs carrying one kid, the lineup of parents waiiting on the sidewalk to escort their precious ones home. The saddest is when you see a procession of parents, all headed the same way on the same road, one per kid with no interaction between the sets. It speaks to our isolation somehow.

On the plus side, there is an active bike rack for the kids whose parents aren't scared of shadows, you'll often see, what I presume to be, an older sibling escorting a brother home, so it's not all lost.

[1] Which probably got us put on some list somewhere.
posted by madajb at 2:48 PM on September 12, 2009


I agree with billyfleetwood, this article seems to be focusing on a very select group of people. I live in an inner city neighborhood in San Francisco, and I see kids as young as 7 walking to school and riding the city buses by themselves all the time. These are probably some of the most independent and resourceful kids I have come across- I know I wouldn't have been able to negotiate a complicated bus system as well as they do at their age. In fact, the first time I rode a city bus at around 23 I got hopelessly lost.

So don't feel to worried for kids today- I think they're going to be alright.
posted by firemonkey at 3:01 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The people pointing to auto accident vs. abduction statistics fail to point out that far, far more people drive than walk. What percentage of children walking alone are abducted?

About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics

there are 300 million people in this country. about 25% under the age of 14. Approximatly 75 million children. And 115 come up missing per year. Not 115,000...115 Of that, two thirds are over the age of 12. That leaves about 40 elementary school aged children out of 75 million each year.

Cause for concern? sure, but that's not exactly a windowless van on every streetcorner. One missing kid is one too many, but put simply we have a media that thrives on ratcheting up fear, and no major mechanism that works as it's opposite.

And that whole, "She’s just so pretty. She’s just so...blond." bullshit can bite my shiny metal ass.
posted by billyfleetwood at 3:02 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Articles like this make me wish there was a [SCREAM] button down there by [+][!].

But, yeah, because they're worth mentioning: childhood obesity, freedom for kids to explore their world, letting kids learn tons of social skills (I had my first crush on a girl I walked home from school with, penetrating isolation of the suburbs, global warming, de-communitization of schools, all of that.

I too walked to school. It was like 1/4 mile. And the reason small town suburban kid like me wanted to live in the big city was so I could walk, like, other places too. Kids want the freedom to live their own lives. Which shouldn't surprise us all that much.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:07 PM on September 12, 2009


I presume your child has some kind of life-threatening allergy or disability. Because otherwise, this sort of "rule" is basically saying to the other kid's parent, "You are too stupid/incompetent to supervise my child."

Actually no, she's a smart, healthy, charming kid. She isn't the problem.

About a year ago, the older sibling of the child my daughter was playing with convinced her to climb into a rubbermaid rough tote filled with stuffed animals and snapped the lid down on top of her. The mother and I roamed around her house looking for my daughter. She was in there for several minutes, and came out sweaty and gasping for breath. Based on her behavior, I think the mom knew what was going on but went through the charade of looking all over for my daughter anyway.

The mother was a well-spoken, seemingly intelligent, friendly woman who was studying to become a teacher. I had absolutely no reason to distrust her. Now I get to know someone really, really well before I will consider leaving my kid alone with them. Like I said, I hope to relax this as she gets older and her judgement gets better. Certainly it would have been far better if my daughter had the presence of mind to say, "fuck you - I'm not getting in this plastic bin." But she was five, the sibling was eleven, she likes to please authority figures, and she didn't make a good choice.

For kids in her age group (6!), no one thinks it is weird that I'm coming along on playdates. It seems most parents expect parental accompanyment at this point. Obviously, if I'm still trying to tag along at 12, that would be weird.

So yeah, I guess I'm an overprotective asshole mom.
posted by jeoc at 3:15 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


phrontist: Yeah, apologies, that sentence was incredibly ambiguous. What fleetmouse said, but with shorter words. When it's your precious snowflake, rational doesn't come into it.

[I'd like to know why our parents weren't this paranoid.]
posted by Leon at 3:16 PM on September 12, 2009


Kids want the freedom to live their own lives. Which shouldn't surprise us all that much.

You may be underestimating how much of the internal life of the teen/pre-teen has moved into the virtual world. Getting out of the house to have some privacy isn't nearly so important as it was.

Or maybe I just had geek kids. Who knows. All generalisations are wrong.
posted by Leon at 3:19 PM on September 12, 2009


I have to admit that the idea of eventually having to let my son out into the world by himself gives me the chills. For me, it's as much about a bad personal experience as it is about anything. At age 11, I found myself being followed by a car as I was doing my paper route in the rather isolated neighborhood I grew up in (the Lake Merced/S.F. Zoo area for you San Francisco folks). There was no ditching the guy; I crossed streets and cut through alleys but he caught up to me each time. At last, he managed to cut me off and was trying to get me to come over to his car. Luckily for me my older brother rounded the corner right at that moment, I started screaming and the guy took off like a bat out of hell.
I don't think I'm being paranoid when I say that the guy probably had a plan to do Very Bad Things to me if he caught me. I don't think that it makes me a neurotic parent if I am concerned that someone might want to snatch my kid. Given my personal experience, it makes me smart. Will I try to mitigate my fears and allow my kid to go out and about in the world? Absolutely. Will I be a nervous wreck when the time comes. Absolutely.
posted by echolalia67 at 3:28 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I live in an inner city neighborhood in San Francisco, and I see kids as young as 7 walking to school and riding the city buses by themselves all the time.

I think the over-protective parent is typically in the suburbs. Hard to be too paranoid when you're living in the human stew.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2009


Leon: You may be underestimating how much of the internal life of the teen/pre-teen has moved into the virtual world.

I don't. I just really don't think that's healthy.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 3:32 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


You may be underestimating how much of the internal life of the teen/pre-teen has moved into the virtual world. Getting out of the house to have some privacy isn't nearly so important as it was.

Well, what I'm seeing with my nieces and nephews is much more structured and fully scheduled lives with a lot of emphasis on organized sports. They are great kids, and they are generally doing very well, but I am a bit concerned that they aren't allowing their kids enough space to develop on their own, and certainly they aren't getting privacy. Well, not until they hit about 14 or 15, and then they become teenagers, when privacy is the most important thing in the world besides cell phones.

Unfortunately, not many geeks and/or musicians among them, but I have hope for their kids, who will surely avenge their parents ...
posted by krinklyfig at 3:38 PM on September 12, 2009


"Be careful. When I clicked on the NYT link, I got a new tab with a bogus "scan" and download attempt from best-antivirus03.com."

Same.
posted by moira at 3:39 PM on September 12, 2009


You guys keep citing statistics...only x% are kidnapped each year...yeah, I KNOW that, but I would NEVER forgive myself if my daughters were one of the %. Someone said, "Not letting your kid out of your sight, ever, is bad for your kid and has nothing to do with keeping him or her safe; it is all about assuaging your own fears." That's not true. It does keep them safe. but its also difficult for the kid to grow up with that. How to give them independence?

As a parent, what do you do? I want my daughter to be able to roam free and play all day like I used to. I want her to walk to school, walk to a friends' house. But what IF? How would I ever forgive myself?

I don't know yet. My oldest is almost six and I walk her to school (when I don't have to be at work early) but the time will soon come when I have to make a decision about this. Its a terribly scary thing. I want to do the right thing, but shes the most important thing in the world to me. How do you let the most important thing in the world walk away from you into the great unknown?
posted by aacheson at 3:42 PM on September 12, 2009


I just took a look at the place I lived as an elementary-school-aged kid in Google maps. As best as I can tell from the scale bar and trying to remember landmarks, by about third grade I was roaming in a circle of between two and three miles in radius. But that roaming was almost never alone -- it was more fun to go around with a friend or two. And alone the creepy guys and nasty dogs were really scary.

And I guess that's my point. I was a free-range child, or whatever people call it now, back in the late 1970s / early 1980s. It was fun, and good, and I was happy. However, one time a creepy guy tried to lure me into his van (a city public works utility van, at that); too many times to count predatory older brothers or fathers of friends made inappropriate advances; and we got ourselves into some pretty serious trouble, often, involving everything from stitches and broken bones to hiding in the brush while the police searched for us.

So if I had a kid, I don't know that I would be quite so laissez-faire about them being free-range. I escaped some nasty situations by pure luck, and while sure, I guess you could call them "learning experiences" they weren't anything you couldn't learn by reading a Stephen King novel in the safety of your living room. In my neighborhood, I see a lot of parents taking turns walking behind groups of little kids on their way to school, about half a block back. For the little ones, that seems like a great solution -- the kids have the sensation of independence and get to make their own choices about street crossings, but an adult is close enough to intervene if something not great happens. And slightly older kids (maybe third-grade-ish) tend to walk to school in small groups, which also seems great to me.
posted by Forktine at 3:45 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


The Wilderness of Childhood: This is the kind of door-to-door, all-encompassing escort service that we adults have contrived to provide for our children. We schedule their encounters for them, driving them to and from one another's houses so they never get a chance to discover the unexplored lands between. If they are lucky, we send them out to play in the backyard, where they can be safely fenced in and even, in extreme cases, monitored with security cameras. When my family and I moved onto our street in Berkeley, the family next door included a nine-year-old girl; in the house two doors down the other way, there was a nine-year-old boy, her exact contemporary and, like her, a lifelong resident of the street. They had never met.

In other news, schools have actually been banning students from biking to school.
posted by parudox at 3:46 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


My kid took the school bus to school. You want your kid to have Experience, try the school bus. It's intense. No predators except for other children and drivers who have no training in dealing with children. A real education. And I'm not joking.
posted by Peach at 3:50 PM on September 12, 2009


How do you let the most important thing in the world walk away from you into the great unknown?
posted by aacheson at 3:42 PM on September 12


How can you drive her anywhere, which is much more dangerous? What if?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 3:51 PM on September 12, 2009


[I'd like to know why our parents weren't this paranoid.]
According to my dad, he could just make another one. I was a wild child. :)
posted by figment of my conation at 3:53 PM on September 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


l33tpolicywonk: " I just really don't think that's healthy."

I have to admit that when I see adolescents texting, I too see their generation's society growing debased in ways they don't recognize.

Then I remind myself that my parents' generation certainly felt that way about mine. (And who knows? Maybe they were right in some respects.) But we got along acceptably, it seems. I know that we laughed with our friends and fell in love once in a while. In the end, I don't know if life offers much else.

So perhaps the kids are all right.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:54 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


As a parent, what do you do? I want my daughter to be able to roam free and play all day like I used to. I want her to walk to school, walk to a friends' house. But what IF? How would I ever forgive myself?

There is no way to protect against everything, and in economics there is a concept to describe a common phenomenon called the Law of Diminishing Returns. If you're expending a lot of time and energy doing things which give you the illusion you're making your child safe, when in reality the problem itself is negligible and indeed very rare, then it's not really productive to spend so much effort or worry on it. (I know, it's easier being detached about it when you're not a parent ...) It's sort of like how we approach airport security after 9/11, because people became terrified and irrational. It's a lot of theater but not a lot of real security, and many of the measures are either ineffective or protecting against threats which are virtually non-existent. So, why keep doing it? But, easy enough for me to say when it's not my kid.

Maybe make sure you are familiar with some people who live or work along the way, so the neighborhood could keep an eye on them? That's how we used to do it when I was a kid. It was just sort of an understanding to watch out for the kids in the area.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:55 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


My parents weren't this paranoid because (a) they were much younger than parents these days and had no conception of their own mortality, let alone that of their children (b) they were busy drinking cocktails and flirting with other people. Of course, I was born in the 50s.
posted by Peach at 3:55 PM on September 12, 2009 [5 favorites]


How do you let the most important thing in the world walk away from you into the great unknown?

The same way parents have been doing it for 100,000 years or so? By putting the welfare of your kid over your own irrational fears.
posted by Justinian at 3:56 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think a few of you may be coming down too hard on protective parents.

Although we recently moved my daughter (now thirteen) spent her elementary years attending an inner-city school and just missed the busing distance. It was a very difficult decision to let her walk to school, ever. She needed to walk past high school students waiting for their buses alongside (or through) a park that was basically an open air crack den. Women performing oral sex for a hit behind the bathrooms was a regular occurrence and local kids don't wear flip-flops because syringes can go through them.

On two occasions she had to duck under police tape on her way home and once witnessed a shooting.

The reality is that there are some places it simply isn't safe to allow a child out of your sight. Even if nobody (and nobody ever did) specifically targets her, the chances of her being caught up in random violence were far from negligible. Our local gangbangers aren't very good shots.

We have since moved to a better school district out in the suburbs and she regularly walks/bikes to school but not a morning goes by that I don't fear for her safety. I allow it because I do not want to raise timid fearful children, but it wasn't an easy decision and I've been known to 'accidentally' be passing by at dismissal time.
posted by cedar at 4:10 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


God.
posted by killdevil at 4:13 PM on September 12, 2009


My children started riding the bus, by themselves, to their Chicago school, nine miles away, in fourth grade. I still have the maps I drew them, labeled "nax junior's and miss nax's home to school map." One day, nax jr got off at the wildly wrong stop, in an unfamiliar neighborhood, nearly three miles from home. He figured out his compass directions based on where he'd been and started walking north until he saw something familiar. He was an hour late. I was fairly frantic, but that kid was so damned proud of himself, and I learned that I did not have to worry, these kids were city kids who knew how to deal. (He also learned that you can call home from any pay phone by dialing collect. This was before we got cell phones.)

Conversely, he had one friend whose mother wouldn't let her child walk to our door by himself ( a distance of maybe 30 feet), but also WOULD NOT GET OUT OF HER CAR TO WALK HIM HERSELF. She would call me from the car and make me come get him, because of our racially mixed "dangerous" neighborhood.
posted by nax at 4:16 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


As a parent, what do you do? I want my daughter to be able to roam free and play all day like I used to. I want her to walk to school, walk to a friends' house. But what IF? How would I ever forgive myself?

I know this was meant to be a rhetorical question, but I think it actually gets at the heart of the issue here. As a culture, we've bought into the idea that if you "let" chance affect your kid, it is unforgiveable. And that sets an unrealistically high standard for parenting.

Chance affects all of us, with or without parental permission. Ordinary parents, who haven't done anything truly reckless, should be forgiven when their families suffer misfortune — and should be able to forgive themselves.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:16 PM on September 12, 2009 [11 favorites]


The real problem is not the schools or the parents. It is the fact that we now mostly live in areas designed for cars and not people, or in urban areas that have been poorly planned.

"It is futile to try to evade the issue of unsafe city streets by attempting to make some other features of a locality, say interior courtyards, or sheltered play spaces, safe instead. By definition again, the streets of a city must do most of the job of handling strangers for this is where strangers come and go. The streets must not only defend the city against predatory strangers, they must protect the many, many peaceable and well-meaning strangers who use them, insuring their safety too as they pass through. Moreover, no normal person can spend his life in some artificial haven, and this includes children. Everyone must use the streets.

"On the surface, we seem to have here some simple aims: To try to secure streets where the public space is unequivocally public, physically unmixed with private or with nothing-at-all space, so that the area needing surveillance has clear and practicable limits; and to see that these public streets spaces have eyes on them as continuously as possible.

"But it is not so simple to achieve these objects, especially the latter. You can't make people use streets they have no reason to use. You can't make people watch streets they do not want to watch. Safety on the streets by surveillance and mutual policing of one another sounds grim, but in real life it is not grim. The safety of the street works best, most casually, and with the least frequent taint of hostility or suspicion precisely where people are using and most enjoying the city streets voluntarily and are least conscious, normally, that they are policing.

"The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public spaces sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars, and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety. ...

"... The second mode [of living with insecurity] is to take refuge in vehicles. This is a technique practiced in the big wild-animal reservations of Africa, where tourists are warned to leave their cars under no circumstances until they reach a lodge. It is also the technique practiced in Los Angeles. Surprised visitors to that city are forever recounting how the police of Beverly Hills stopped them, made them prove their reasons for being afoot, and warned them of the danger. This technique of public safety does not seem to work too effectively yet in Los Angeles, as the crime rate shows, but in time it may. And think what the crime figures might be if more people without metal shells were helpless upon the vast, blind-eyed reservation of Los Angeles."


Jane Jacobs, 1961, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Chapter 2 - The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety.

posted by parudox at 4:17 PM on September 12, 2009 [10 favorites]


I don't. I just really don't think that's healthy.

Can't think of much healthier than socialising with your peer group.
posted by Leon at 4:17 PM on September 12, 2009


About a year ago, the older sibling of the child my daughter was playing with convinced her to climb into a rubbermaid rough tote filled with stuffed animals and snapped the lid down on top of her. The mother and I roamed around her house looking for my daughter. She was in there for several minutes, and came out sweaty and gasping for breath. Based on her behavior, I think the mom knew what was going on but went through the charade of looking all over for my daughter anyway.
Well, in that case, the mother really was too stupid/incompetent to supervise your child.
posted by deanc at 4:21 PM on September 12, 2009


Not to derail, but it's always interesting to me how many "creepy stranger" stories threads like this bring out. Sure, 100 kids get abducted every year, but it seems like every female in America has a "I was flashed/accosted/propositioned by this creepy old guy when I was a kid" story.

I never had that problem as a boy. Is it just selection bias or are there really millions of weird old men trying to molest little girls?
posted by Avenger at 4:25 PM on September 12, 2009


There are plenty of weird old men trying to molest little boys, too. My husband can attest to that fact.

I myself was never accosted as a young girl, even though I walked everywhere (including to school most days), played unsupervised in nearby neighborhoods, and only came home when I heard my mom calling. All the creepy things that happened to me happened when I was older.

Heck, last Labor Day a guy made meow noises at me on the street, and I'm 58.
posted by Peach at 4:37 PM on September 12, 2009


Well, in that case, the mother really was too stupid/incompetent to supervise your child.

Yes, yes she was. Over time, I came to realize that there were issues with this family, but they weren't anything you would notice if you didn't live across the street from them and see them day in and day out.

The crazy people, they have kids too.
posted by jeoc at 4:39 PM on September 12, 2009


I think these concerned parents should encourage their children to do what I did when I was safely walking all over town at the age of ten: carry a boombox blasting Judas Priest.
posted by The Straightener at 4:40 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm a guy, and as I mentioned above I had plenty of creepy encounters. Only one or two with a stranger, though -- the vast majority were older relatives of my friends. Their older brothers, cousins, dads, and uncles were the ones to watch out for; creepy strangers are a lot easier to avoid.
posted by Forktine at 4:42 PM on September 12, 2009


When I was in second grade I was tiny. About 44 lbs. True story. I walked every day from our school to 12 blocks away where my mom worked. Through a mostly low-end-rental area. By myself. My biggest concern were bullies, but there were none of those either. I had a giant head full of curly hair and everything. I can only imagine the flak my mom would get allowing me to do this today.

Thing was that it was AWESOME. I'd stop at the pet store most days, it got so the owner knew my name, sometimes he'd let me feed the fish or the birds or w/e. Occasionally I'd detour into the library, but if I did that it was only a few minutes---I knew I needed to get to mom's work and check in so that I could leave again as soon as possible. Then I'd get there and she'd give me my $1, usually to go across the street and buy a Heath bar, sometimes a Milky Way, and a can of Pepsi. And then I'd go wandering around the near side of town, or eventually wind up back at the ghetto art gallery where my mom was the director. I'd wander around the facility, sometimes go on the roof (until I got caught), throw things at pigeons, maybe find a quiet marble floored room to lay in and do my homework if I had any.

In High School it became a mile and a half walk both ways every day...and the worst things that ever happened were that one day my friend's mom offered to give me a ride home and I sliced open my finger on her piece of crap minivan door, (She wasn't allowed to walk.) and that often my hair would be frozen by the time I got to school. (Long hair. Shower. Long walk in the snow...)

Really, I just long for the thought that someday my kids can do the same. I only graduated 10 years ago.
posted by TomMelee at 4:42 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I forgot to say:
I learned early to kick, bite, and scream "You're NOT MY MOMMY". I learned about closed doors and cars and puppies and candybars as promises from strangers. I learned how to run and throw a fit. I also learned that acting like a victim makes you a victim.
posted by TomMelee at 4:43 PM on September 12, 2009 [3 favorites]


Based on her behavior, I think the mom knew what was going on but went through the charade of looking all over for my daughter anyway.

She suspected your daughter was in the box the whole time?
posted by BaxterG4 at 4:44 PM on September 12, 2009


Avenger:I never had that problem as a boy. Is it just selection bias or are there really millions of weird old men trying to molest little girls?

Neither. I think that it's a relatively small group of (mostly) men who have this predatory inclination. They're just constantly trying to find a way to satiate their desires. If you look at the stats on child molesters, the number of victims per offender is staggering. From the Wikipedia page on peophiles:
"... one study estimated that by the time of entry to treatment, nonincestuous pedophiles who molest boys had committed an average of 282 offenses against 150 victims."
posted by echolalia67 at 4:46 PM on September 12, 2009


acting like a victim makes you a victim
Uh, no. People attacking you make you a victim. You have a lot less control than you think over the merciless indignity of the world. But it's comforting to take credit for not being attacked, instead of thinking it might just be luck.
I myself had frozen hair many a day. I've never understood why that was a big deal.
older brothers, cousins, dads, and uncles were the ones to watch out for
Oh, yeah, those. I forgot about my creepy cousin peering through the keyhole of the bathroom all the time. I figured that kind of stuff didn't count.
posted by Peach at 4:48 PM on September 12, 2009


Uh, peach, I obviously didn't mean that everyone who becomes a victim made themselves that way.

When I was 5, a man tried to abduct me from my front yard. True story. I screamed like 6 motherfuckers "NO YOU'RE NOT MY DADDY" and you should have seen the neighbors come running, and my vietnam vet dad come over the couch and out the front door.

I MEANT that acting scared, putting your head down, being afraid of people and never going new places or on your own is a bad idea. I meant that if you live your life waiting for the other shoe to fall, it will.
posted by TomMelee at 4:55 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


She suspected your daughter was in the box the whole time?

Yes. She basically said as much, right after I lifted my daughter out of the box and had her on my lap, putting her shoes on so we could get the fuck out of there.

"I thought {older sibling} was up to something, with the way she was galloping around and around that container."

In the 135 seconds it took me to get the both of us out the door, it also became apparent that this was not the first time this kind of thing had happened in their house.
posted by jeoc at 5:07 PM on September 12, 2009


All our lives we're betting that the odds will be in our favor, that we won't die in a car crash (my nephew lost that bet this August 8th,) that we'll manage to avoid an encounter with some madman with a gun, or fail to come down with a killer disease. We hope that we won't lose someone close to us. We can take rational steps to mitigate dangers, and try to educate ourselves as to what those steps should consist of, or we can give in to useless hysteria in which our world becomes ever more limited and suffocating. As the man said, the only thing to fear is fear itself.

I guess I'm just saying that we should give some thought to how our actions in attempting to circumvent danger affect the rest of our lives, and keep in mind the way the media plays into all of this. But I speak as a non-parent, so I'm sure there are aspects of this issue that I can never quite understand. One thing I do understand is that the more we give into this this habit of driving a kid a quarter mile to school, the more the ability of that kid to recognize and deal with potential hazards will atrophy. Kids need to be able to deal with these things, and parents should probably consider it a top priority to educate them about all of it. Maybe the problem right now is that parents shirked this responsibility a generation or more ago.

I don't know, just a few thoughts about an issue that interests me greatly. Thank you for the post.
posted by metagnathous at 5:12 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hehe. When I was 6 a neighbor boy's older brother convinced me to hide in their truck box. In East Texas. In Summer. "No matter what" he said, "Don't come out! It will be soooooo funny!". "Everyone will laugh" he said.

So I hid in there. For a couple hours. In the first 10 minutes, it was just my parents. And then it was neighbors. Then it was city police, then sheriff's, then staties. Finally I had to pee so bad I came out.

Good thing I did, apparently I was pretty close to heat stroke.

I thought that kid was so cool though, what with his eating of ketchup packets and ability to drive his dad's truck.

Amazingly though, my parents still allowed me out of their sight...just not with THAT kid. Interestingly though, I did have a 9pm curfew until the summer AFTER my senior year. Lol.
posted by TomMelee at 5:15 PM on September 12, 2009


like childhood obesity that's leading to diabetes and heart disease at younger ages than ever before, for instance

I'm going with this fear over the walking to school thing, partially because I think this fear is not only more serious, but indeed, that Kittens understates the problem.

The other day, Child Jones came home from school and told us that her teacher informed the class that by spring many of them would have to start packing deodorant and not to be alarmed by new found furry bits down Brazil way.

Child Jones is in the fourth grade. She just turned nine.

Regrettably, alarmingly, scandalously, I believe the teacher is not far off the mark in terms of what to expect, developmentwise. I'm guessing it's Frankenfood. I've got my suspicions where it comes from and I'm not loving it. But if the NYTimes wants to do a little worthwhile crusading here, I think there are bigger fish to fry than a helicopter parent suburban paranoia.

Not that that would sell a lot of papers or get as many comments in the blue. As a story, it doesn't go immediately to the gut (sorry) the way child rape fantasy does.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:16 PM on September 12, 2009


One thing I do understand is that the more we give into this this habit of driving a kid a quarter mile to school, the more the ability of that kid to recognize and deal with potential hazards will atrophy. Kids need to be able to deal with these things, and parents should probably consider it a top priority to educate them about all of it.

See, this is the part I don't get: I've yet to see any evidence, beyond pure speculation, that parents taking their kids to school and back will turn these children into clueless marshmallow peeps, unable to defend themselves against the world. I mean a claim like this assumes the child has absolutely no freedoms, whatsoever, and isn't learning about the world in a myriad of other ways. That's a pretty broad and sweeping generalization to make. I can appreciate the anecdotes about how much freedom people had, to go as they pleased and how nothing bad happened to them. I'm just saying that just because your freedom of movement was a part of you turning out fine, that doesn't mean a child taking an accompanied trip to school is going to be stunted. It's just a trip to school. The child, I assure you, will not be warped in its development during those minutes in the minivan.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:26 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


A side effect of this fear is that the traffic around suburban schools is a nightmare. The few children who walk need to be extra-vigilant for drivers who are more interested in finding the parking spot closest to the school than in making sure they don't run over little Susie. You want hair-raising tales of disregard for human life, chat with a crossing guard.

We all want children to be safe -- from predators and everything else -- but having 400 cars vying for a spot on the same block that 400 kids are walking on/around/across is not a good way to reach that goal.
posted by Marit at 5:43 PM on September 12, 2009 [6 favorites]


See, this is the part I don't get: I've yet to see any evidence, beyond pure speculation, that parents taking their kids to school and back will turn these children into clueless marshmallow peeps, unable to defend themselves against the world.

I'm not saying that being driven to school in and of itself will inevitably have that effect, Marisa, but that it could indicate a trend in the parent's approach to raising the kid. I don't think it's a black and white issue, really. The personality and awareness of the child will always be part of it as well. But like I said, I'm not a parent.
posted by metagnathous at 5:50 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not saying that being driven to school in and of itself will inevitably have that effect, Marisa, but that it could indicate a trend in the parent's approach to raising the kid.

Maybe, maybe not. I got shuttled to and from school, but on Saturday morning I'd bound past my father out there door with a quick "See you at dinner" from me and a nod from him as he watched Meet the Press. Parenting is seldom a uniform and consistent process, and you don't need to be a parent to know that - I think anyone who had parents can attest to an uneven application of the same priorities in different situations. So while these parents drive their kids to school (and again, I think it's ecologically unsound to drive a few blocks when you could walk with them), we can't accurately extrapolate an entire trend of parenting behavior - passing judgement on how they parent outside of this behavior and what they will do to their children - from this one harmless thing they do. But it seems every "look at these hysterical parents" story tends to do that, every time.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:03 PM on September 12, 2009


Avenger: Is it just selection bias or are there really millions of weird old men trying to molest little girls?


In my case stated up thread, the only person we know was up to no good was the guy that flashed my sister. The two other cases, the guy that tried to get my sister and I to unlock the car, and the guy that tried to get me to come over to his car, could have been completely innocuous.

I've actually pondered this many times. As a child we were taught to be afraid of strangers. And most likely rightfully so. But having read some of the comments in other threads about men being afraid to even go near an obviously lost or distressed child for fear of looking like a child molester, I have to wonder if guy A just wanted to know why two kids were sitting alone in a car and guy B wanted to ask if I was lost. Not that I would have wanted my younger self to react any differently than I did.

So to answer your questions, I do wonder if at least some of the stories aren't just misunderstandings (beyond the obvious flashing, etc . . .) and little girls, who are taught to be more wary of these things have made more of these mistakes.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 6:08 PM on September 12, 2009



I have no clue how I survived into my seventies. I walked a mile and a half to school through the streets of down neck Newark,NJ.
Another 1 1/2 mi home for lunch. Back to school after lunch and back home after school. Did it from K -8th grade. 6 mi a day.
At ten yrs old four of us rode our bicycles from Newark to Asbury Park and back the same day.70+ mi round trip. Did it twice more that summer.
Once when I was eight a guy tried to put his hand down my pants. I cried. He stopped. Who? The monsignor (parish priest)
The way children are protected and coddled today is not necessarily a good thing in the greater scheme of things.

Now you younguns get off my lawn and stay off.
posted by notreally at 6:12 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


I remember getting a phone call from the sanctimonious principal for letting my first grader walk home alone four blocks -- with crossing guards and a gazillion other kids -- in the city voted safest in America. Kids are also not allowed to bike to elementary school. Huge SUVs however, are encouraged to drive single kids to school daily. Aaargh.
posted by mozhet at 6:20 PM on September 12, 2009


this is ridiculous - i see kids walking, on bikes, going to school, going from school, going wherever they want CONSTANTLY in my small midwestern city
posted by pyramid termite at 6:21 PM on September 12, 2009


People attacking you make you a victim. You have a lot less control than you think over the merciless indignity of the world. But it's comforting to take credit for not being attacked, instead of thinking it might just be luck.

Actually, I don't think anyone wants or means to get into blaming the victim. But I've heard and somewhat believe the theory that people who come from chaotic or abusive basic backgrounds have a higher chance of being victimized as they have already been conditioned to shut down and disassociate when threatened. When your fight or flight response is damaged, you can be too far into an inescapable situation before you recognize danger. Where the rest of us are screaming bloody murder when someone so much as looks at us sideways. This comes from a good friend who spent many years in therapy learning that the shitty "luck" she was having as an adult was mostly due to her being raised in a house with a violent alcoholic father.

This is why I think we do way more damage to society pretending like the threat is from an anonymous stranger, while ignoring the reality of how bad shit happens and spreads.

My parents let us roam far and wide, but all sleepovers and slumber parties were at our house.
posted by billyfleetwood at 6:24 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Marisa-
I think we've had this conversation before, haven't we? Regardless, I don't think that anyone is necessarily saying that there's a causal relationship. Here's the trend I've noticed though:

Kids are being (and really HAVE been being, for like 20 years) that it's someone else's job to look after their safety and wellbeing. It's someone else's job to make sure that the steps are even, that the ice is cleared, that the coffee's not to hot, and there aren't any cars coming, that everyone around them doesn't have a criminal background, that their clothes are made of certified organic vegan fibers, and that things are, most generally, catered to them. Right now.

So it manifests itself in everything from teen relationships (what do you MEAN I got pregnant/std's/stabbed/etc) to inability to drive to a lackadaisical approach to personal safety---including weight management, exercise, etc.

I guess that seems like sort of a broad leap---but in my book it's logical and I see it daily.

(Sort of like the teenager I almost had towed out of my parking lot earlier. She just couldn't fathom why I had a problem with her new Range Rover parking in my space.)
posted by TomMelee at 6:35 PM on September 12, 2009


I think I would be comfortable with my child roaming free IF the conditions were similar to the conditions I grew up with. Yeah, we roamed free and roamed far, but there was always a little pack of us (sometimes a big pack of us) going everywhere together. We walked a mile to and from school, but we always walked with other kids. Even if we elected to walk alone, kids were in front of us or behind us. Other kids were everywhere.

Now, so many parents are afraid to let their kids go out without parental supervision that there aren't ENOUGH kids out and about together. It's as if parental fear has created a snowball effect with fewer and fewer kids allowed to be outside. Kids are scheduled for so many activities after school hours that I rarely see any kids out playing together between the end of the school day and the start of dinner in a neighborhood that is full of kids. It's terribly discouraging.
posted by jeanmari at 6:37 PM on September 12, 2009


Just as a humorous counterpoint, my friend from India just told me about how when he was growing up, autorickshaws (which can carry 3 adults) would be packed full of kids to take them to school.
posted by artifarce at 6:38 PM on September 12, 2009


Good illustration of base rate neglect.
posted by cogneuro at 6:53 PM on September 12, 2009


TomMelee:

We may have had the discussion before, I don't remember.

Kids are being (and really HAVE been being, for like 20 years) that it's someone else's job to look after their safety and wellbeing.

Well, the examples you cite to support this are kind of a mixed bag , none of which really slam-dunk the conclusion that Our Children are cave fish who will one day be dumped into the bright sunlight unprepared to deal with the cold, harsh world.

So it manifests itself in everything from teen relationships (what do you MEAN I got pregnant/std's/stabbed/etc) to inability to drive to a lackadaisical approach to personal safety---including weight management, exercise, etc.

I guess that seems like sort of a broad leap---but in my book it's logical and I see it daily.


Yeah, that's a pretty broad leap indeed that pretty much insults Kids These Days categorically as being clueless dolts, and parents as enablers of this clueslessness. You see it daily; I see kids today as being a hell of a lot smarter than I was when I was their age.

Tomayto, tomahto.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 6:56 PM on September 12, 2009


I see kids today as being a hell of a lot smarter than I was when I was their age.

Really? Could you send them on over to my classroom? I'd be delirious with joy. That is, if I didn't drop dead of shock first.
posted by Go Banana at 7:04 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


I work in a wealthy section of a city on the San Francisco Peninsula. If I drive a particular route, I pass a middle school, and sometimes I'll be driving by when school's letting out. Nearly all the kids I've ever seen have walked or biked (the school has a lot of bike racks) away from school, generally in groups of three or four. This is a lily-white area with large lots, mature trees, and randomly placed sidewalks, and I see kids as young as ten out and about by without adults.

When I was ten we moved to Europe for a year. We lived in Oxford for six or seven months, and Paris for six or seventh month. In both places, after being accompanied on public transit (buses) to and from school by my mom, I was all "I can go by myself, you know!" And I did. Two buses each, from one side of Oxford to the other, one side of Paris to the other. Some of my best memories.
posted by rtha at 7:05 PM on September 12, 2009


Joe Beese: I have to admit that when I see adolescents texting, I too see their generation's society growing debased in ways they don't recognize.

Then I remind myself that my parents' generation certainly felt that way about mine. (And who knows? Maybe they were right in some respects.) But we got along acceptably, it seems. I know that we laughed with our friends and fell in love once in a while. In the end, I don't know if life offers much else.

So perhaps the kids are all right.


I have no problem with what our kids listen to, or what they read, or what newfangled technological tools they use to talk to each other. I am concerned, though, if their only choice is texting, if the only place they meet each other is on an organized soccer field, if we don't let them play spontaneously in the street, or wander past a comic book shop on the way home from school, or stay late to play tag, or just do whatever they're going to do if we don't make them call us to bring the minivan by every hour, that they won't laugh or fall in love or do any of the other things that make life rich and joyful and unexpected. I'm worried about what happens to our kids when their only choices are xanax and television.

The problem isn't with kids. The problem is with us.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 7:11 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


We've lived in "suburban" Bloomington and now in definitely non-suburban Richmond, Indiana. (Buying an $8000 house means you live in a poor neighborhood, who knew?) In Bloomington in the academic crowd, things were exactly as described here - kids didn't just drop in on each other, they were driven to play dates even at 10 or so, and you didn't leave your kids with just anybody, you had to meet them first. (OK, it wasn't that bad, but close.)

Here in dirt-poor historic Richmond, we've got a neighborhood like my dad grew up in. Kids ride around on bikes, kids play together, shoot each other with slingshots, the whole nine yards. Part of it is that they mostly can't afford video games, I think - but part is just that their apartments are small and they spend time outside when the weather's good. And everything is close together.

But our son has had a blast here this summer, playing with kids right outside the door for the first time in his life. It's really been fantastic.

We still drive the kids to school, though. Their schools are too far for practical walking and we just aren't in the bike habit yet. And we don't let the kids out after dark on their own, even to walk the dog. There are known drug dealers in the area, and, well, why be stupid? They'd probably be OK, but still.
posted by Michael Roberts at 7:28 PM on September 12, 2009 [2 favorites]


Marisa, I think you pretty much hit the nail on the head with what I was trying to say, minus specifically pointing fingers at yourself. I fully support the responsibility of every parent to make every decision in the upbringing of their child that they see as best. I'm not someone in this thread who would dain to call someone else a faulty parent.

However, I do think this helplessness is cultural and systemic, and has roots in gross materialism and disneybuymenowshinyshinycellphonetoytoy culture too.

And, well, no, I'm not calling These Kids of Today stupid. I'm pointing out a generation of cluelessness and, possibly, ignorance that while not invisible in older generations, is certainly more persistent in this one. And yea, I have and continue to work with the very kids I'm talking about, and no it's not every one any more than it's every been every one, but it's certainly...there.
posted by TomMelee at 7:31 PM on September 12, 2009


Last year in Florida, I had the opportunity to visit an entire planned community called Bluewater Bay. Which---while very attractive, is somewhat sickening to me. No, scratch that, I hate everything about it, but man do they have perty flowers.

That said, I was concurrently overjoyed and disheartened to see that the gated community (nay, town, it's big!) has its own school, and lots and lots of kids ride their bikes there every day. Lots of playground space and play yard and bike racks and whatnot. Of course, you also can't come near the place w/o an access code and a certain credit score and background check and income level.

Unless, you know, you happen to guess that the "Service" workers code may be some insanely easy 4 digit combination.
posted by TomMelee at 7:35 PM on September 12, 2009


Heh, I have the opposite problem to helicopter parents. I've been trying to convince my nine year old to walk to/from school with her little brother without me for about a year. They both have been in karate for over a year and the school is less than ten minutes away but she just won't go without me. I know she enjoys our conversations and just doesn't feel secure enough yet to walk the same route we've done over the past five years without me but, maaan, I'd sure like to sleep in someday.
posted by saucysault at 7:58 PM on September 12, 2009


I remember being not allowed to go out when I was wee. I also wasn't allowed to have friends over. Or talk on the phone. I didn't really have any friends until middle school or so, but since I lived 2 towns away, it was always a case of having to be driven over to visit friends (since my parents didn't trust the other parents to drive over and pick me up).

My bestie tells me about how she grew up with a large extended family and was pretty much allowed to go everywhere and was often out until late at night. This is just a completely fucking mystery to me. I know a sample size of 2 isn't valid, but I know that there are extreme differences in how we deal with things. I'm much more cautious and paranoid of everything--strange bars, restaurants, back alleys, other people. She has no problem hopping into some shady ass place to ask for directions or to use the phone. I'm slowly learning to be more comfortable with that sort of thing, but it's hard to get around the fact that my mind just screams DANGER DANGER at everything.

FFS, my mother still insists on waiting until I walk in the door of my own house before driving off after visiting. I'm 24 years old.

Although, I do remember having some random walkabouts. In high school, there was a weekend field trip to NYC. We were given beeper numbers and cell phone numbers for the chaperones and told to be back at a particular intersection in 3 hours. If we did not meet the intersection, we had to find our own transportation back to the hotel. At the time, none of us thought it was a strange thing, because the purpose of the trip was to go explore some museums or something, which is what we were supposed to do in the 3 hours. However, enterprising little fucks that we were, we all got a map of the museums, checked out the bullshit worksheets we had to fill out that were conveniently labeled by exhibit, and then just divided and conquered. (And later shared information at the hotel.) This then allowed us a much greater amount of free time to wander about the city and go shopping. Then again, my high school was known to be a bit...strange.

We did the same thing in middle school, when we had an exchange program with a school in Wyoming. A batch of us would spend 2 weeks out there and then some of their kids would spend 2 weeks in DC during the spring. We'd stay with families and drive around the state in those huge charter buses. It was an awesome trip and a lot of people I know are still in contact with the kids they hung out with. We did the same sort of thing with the crap worksheets, that everyone knew were nothing more than busywork. Unfortunately, the last trip happened in the fall of 2001 and the kids from our region were stuck out there for much longer than expected when all flights were grounded. The school system had to pay to bus the kids back to this side of the US and all future Wyoming trips were cancelled because it was found to not be 'educationally valuable'. Which is bullshit. I can honestly say I learned more on those trips that was much more valuable than how to fill out some crap worksheet that wasn't even looked at for correctness, just completion.

Maybe it's just due to the 24 hour news cycle or the fact that towns are being built more for separation and not being a community, but I'll be damned if it's not frustrating and confusing.
posted by sperose at 8:08 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I grew up walking to school every day, from elementary all through high school, but I have every intention of continuing to drive and/or bus my kids to school.

I grew up on the very same block where my mother and her sister had grown up. We knew absolutely everyone on the block, for better or worse, and the people in the surrounding neighborhood as well. If anything scary had happened there were several houses along the route where I was confident that I could go knock on the door and someone's stay at home mom would be home to help me.

My kids aren't growing up in such a well-established social matrix. My husband and I had lived in the same house in the same urban neighborhood for seven years by the time my oldest went to K. While we knew some folks in the neighborhood there was nothing like the solid knowledge and history my mom had of the area when I was coming up. My kid's school was three blocks away and on the other side of a major thoroughfare. We were friendly with folks who worked in some businesses along the route, but there were all kinds of sketchy passers-through, crackheads, hit and run drivers, you name it--there was no way I would dream of letting her walk alone even at eight.

Then this summer we moved across the country to follow my job We are in full-fledged leafy suburbia with highly acclaimed schools, low crime rates, the whole schmear. However we now know absolutely no one in town at all and certainly no one along the route from home to school. And again, there is a busy street (this time a four-lane state highway) between our house and the school.

My older kid knows the route to and from her elementary, but I have seen how people fly around the corner taking the exit to our branch of the neighborhood and I will not have my kids walking that stretch. We have tried biking to school as a family and there are not safe routes that way either. Last time we biked to school I watched in horror as a lady driving a car nearly hit my 9 year old on her bike, as the driver breezed out of her condo complex's driveway without dreaming that someone could be using the sidewalk that crossed it.

The other options are of course drive or ride the school bus.

So far a week into the school year the bus driver has shown him/her/itself to be a total fucking idiot. The highlight of this was letting my younger child off at the wrong stop. She is a kindergartener and had an actual huge label around her neck stating her bus stop. The stupid fucking driver didn't even look at the tag and let her get off at what the child thought was the right stop.

Suffice to say I am quickly losing faith with this option and driving the kids every day seems more attractive.

I love how the people who don't have kids get so condescending and know what *they* would do. Thanks for playing, I guess.
posted by Sublimity at 8:14 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine is a college professor, and he says he definitely sees the effects of helicopter parents in the students' lack of initiative and in their lack of ability to, say, come to a college interview without their parents. Seriously, parents show up with these young adults and answer questions for them during the interviews.

Another friend, who works with teenage summer interns at a law firm, says the same thing. She also says that the aura of entitlement these kids have, and their stunned disbelief when they learn, for instance, that their jobs, which involve running errands and making copies, do not entitle them to their own offices and unlimited internet access.

Anecdotal, yes, but both of them say it's getting worse every year, and the fact that these kids have never done a single thing on their own, and that their needs are completely catered to by their parents, can't be helping.

And I think there's a difference between the common sense of not wanting your very young kids to cross a four-lane highway on their own, and not letting them walk a block and a half to school, which is what the article talks about.
posted by OolooKitty at 8:22 PM on September 12, 2009


"Damn kids! Get off of your lawn!"
posted by Foam Pants at 8:41 PM on September 12, 2009 [4 favorites]


My elementary school was, maybe, 10 minutes walk away for a fast walker. Maybe 7 minutes for an adult. I lived at the upper lip of a valley and it took me 20 minutes to walk to HS and maybe 30 or 40 minutes to walk up the mountain (the road was called Mountain Highway) home (depending on how many textbooks I was carrying in my backpack and whether I was carrying my oboe and trombone - I was a small kid).

I did my undergrad in Iowa; it just wasn't feasible to have an elementary school and a highschool in every town. Kids had to take a 30 minute (or more) bus to get to their school - these buses are going 50, 60, 70 miles and hour. I know of suburbs with centralized mega elementary and high schools which are unwalkable (ie., taking an hour or more to walk to).

There are situations where motorized transportation to school is necessary and utiiful, rich/helicopter parents ferrying kids three blocks to their school is stupid.

Walking is great; it lets you interact/experience your environment and other people who are walking rather than just driving by it. But then again, do walker parents who accompany their kids interact with each other these days?
posted by porpoise at 8:43 PM on September 12, 2009


Yeah, I talk to other walking parents and we sometimes walk together. The first year I was constantly stopped by other parents in my neighbourhood offering me a ride home in their vehicles because they couldn't fathom it was a choice...

Regarding how helicopter parenting affects children as they grow older; I work the reference desk at a public library and you would not believe how many parents come in with their children and ask questions on behalf of the children (most of the time the children are with them but often the parent will say "oh, they are still asleep"). And I am not just talking about elementary students - I mean students in their twenties attending university. I regularly have to pull out my "I will not discuss homework assignments with anyone but the student to avoid wasting both our time" speech. Cut those apron strings by the time they finish secondary school at least. And yeah, a lot of the students say they can't get to the library because there is no one to drive them, as though buses or walking never occurred to them.

Of course, there is also the other extreme of parents that drop off their three year old children in the library for four hours because we provide free babysitting doncha know...
posted by saucysault at 8:48 PM on September 12, 2009


Also wanted to say I agree emphatically with parudox that suburban planning plays a big role in this.

Not too long ago I attended a neighborhood town hall discussion on this very problem. Traffic in this one neighborhood had gotten so bad that parents were afraid to let their kids out of the house to visit friends across the street.

There were stop signs, sure, but no traffic lights and no speed bumps. Furthermore, cuts in mass transportation (not just rising fares but reductions in the number of buses and bus stops) and a lack of any bicycle paths (apart from scenic park paths outside of the area) had offered people few alternatives in getting to work but to drive. This combination of factors creates something known as "traffic islands"; residential areas cut off from other areas unless travelling by car. Combined with the noise and air pollution the constant car traffic creates, and yeah, kids aren't walking to visit their friends, let alone go to school.

In many ways it's a vicious circle that can be broken with good urban and suburban planning.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 8:55 PM on September 12, 2009


In the UK there is now a proposal to check for criminal records anyone who volunteers to drive kids to school. Ironically, this does not apply to friends and relations -- who are statistically more likely to molest kids. The assumption of guilt in people who are trying to be engaged in society is not good.
posted by binturong at 8:58 PM on September 12, 2009


Recently, Amy Utzinger, a mother of four in Tucson, Ariz., let her daughter, 7, walk down the block to play with a friend. Five houses. Same side of the street.

Afterward, the friend’s mother drove Mrs. Utzinger’s daughter home. “She said, ‘I just drove her back, just in case ... you know,’ ” recalled Mrs. Utzinger. “What was I supposed to say? How can you argue against ‘just in case’?”


I can't even imagine why the friend's mother loaded the kids up in the car and drove her five houses home instead of walking her back, if she insisted on escorting her home.
posted by slightlybewildered at 9:00 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I presume your child has some kind of life-threatening allergy or disability. Because otherwise, this sort of "rule" is basically saying to the other kid's parent, "You are too stupid/incompetent to supervise my child."

Honestly? I don't let my oldest son lightly into these situations because I'm afraid of what *he'll* do. He's got a history of some aggressive/bullying behavior, and I simply can't inflict that on other kids or expect other parents to deal with that until we can get some of this under control.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 9:15 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I want my daughter to be able to roam free and play all day like I used to. I want her to walk to school, walk to a friends' house. But what IF? How would I ever forgive myself?

And what if she's beaten or raped in her first week of college, because she has no idea how to conduct her life without you watching her every movement?

What IF? How would you ever forgive yourself???
posted by eriko at 9:28 PM on September 12, 2009


Seeing the lead line of this post on the blue keeps reminding me of the intro to 'Baby Got Back' ("she's so....black!!!"), but that is neither here nor there.

I survived a 5-block walk to school every year from second grade on. Our neighborhood wasn't the best, but I felt protected. In retrospect, the protective feeling seems to have stemmed from a compact shared by the grownups in my immediate neighborhood and the adults in my childhood to be aware of and watch out for little kids in my environment.

Sure, there were always exceptions to the rule. Still, I'm proud to be part of that now that I'm an adult.
posted by mynameisluka at 9:47 PM on September 12, 2009


little kids in their environment
posted by mynameisluka at 9:47 PM on September 12, 2009


See, this is the part I don't get: I've yet to see any evidence, beyond pure speculation, that parents taking their kids to school and back will turn these children into clueless marshmallow peeps, unable to defend themselves against the world.

I don't think that's necessarily true. For one thing, I think it can be very worthwhile if a parent and child have a strong bond and spend a lot of time together. But I think our modern culture includes a lot of media hysteria and various moral panics about dangers to children, and the general effect has been that a lot of parents who live in perfectly safe neighborhoods are unjustly terrified of phantom threats.

But we're also living in a time when a lot of our "family" suburban neighborhoods are very transient in nature, and the people on the block don't always know each other anymore or care much about the immediate community. This is a source of safety for a kid. However, as has been mentioned in so many of these conversations, most often a child who is abused or abducted knows the attacker, so this can work both ways. But a neighborhood that helps look out for the kids in the area can really open everything up and allow the kids to sort of roam around at will. I admit this really can't work everywhere, but that's how it works here.

When I was a kid my step-brother used to be the stronger, braver one, also four months older, who was also into taking huge risks, more than most boys his age. But his mom, my step-mother, was totally the helicopter mom, although with her it was sort of passive. She wanted us out of the house whenever possible, and my dad had a place 20 miles out of town in a condo community surrounded by miles and miles of undeveloped desert mesa, so we used to spend a lot of time riding our bmx bicycles all over the desert. His mom used to just lay into him all the time about not doing dangerous things, which he completely ignored. He got hurt a lot - well, we both got injured now and then, but he really pushed it, and his mom would get absolutely hysterical and berate him for not listening to her. Of course, he was fine with maybe some time to heal, and just had to test his physical limits, which he would have done regardless. She

Years later, his mom later forced him to move back home - after his graduating from college - because he was throwing huge underground raves and she was trying to protect him again, but, look, he's 25 now, not a child anymore, and this isn't jumping a BMX bicycle over some berms. But he moved home, and he continued to throw parties, but just did it in his hometown. He also continued to do tricks on his bike, to the point where he was getting paid to do freestyle shows for marketing store openings and events, got some sponsors and was actually making some money at it through college, and he continued to work at it as he found a career in sales and moved away for good. He was in his 30s, making pretty good money at his day job and still riding a lot and finding gigs and sponsorships, when he landed on his head during a flip, which nearly paralyzed him. Took him years to get movement back, though he was told he wouldn't be able to move again. He's doing OK now, but still does not have full range of movement and will always be physically limited. Still, he has a career and family, and he does alright.

I always discounted his mom as being way too over-protective, but it turns out her concern was not unfounded, though he was over 30 when he finally got really hurt. Honestly, though, I can't picture him living his life differently. He wouldn't have been happy. I sometimes wonder if he would have been a different kid if his mom hadn't been so hysterical, but I think he was always going to be the kind of kid who spent a lot of time plotting his next stunt and/or healing up from the last one. I would never have wished this on him, but I think his mom might have been a bit happier in her life if she had been able to let go of him a bit.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:11 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


The trouble, TomMelee, is that there were people in your parents' generation who had the same thing to say about yours.

I can say that so confidently, without even knowing your age, because every generation complains that way about the next one down. They're so clueless! So timid! So dependent! So.... young!

I teach college freshmen. I see plenty of laziness and entitlement. But I also see plenty of smart, hardworking kids — and I think back and remember how lazy and entitled some of my own classmates were when I was a freshman. The details may be changing. Back in my day, for instance, there were fewer kids calling in their parents for backup, and more outright cheating. But the basic attitude was the same — "I need this grade, I deserve this grade, and I'm not interested in working for it."

Teenagers suck sometimes. It's not bad parenting, and it's certianly nothing new — it's just their nature.
posted by nebulawindphone at 10:37 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


When I was six we lived in Frankfurt, Germany, and I'd take public transit across town to go to school. When I was eight my parents would put me on a place to fly halfway across the US to visit relatives. At about the same age I played by myself in the woods by the creek behind our subdivision and would follow the creek for a mile or so. When we walked to school we took a shortcut through a vacant lot behind a cul de sac. Some of my favorite memories go with the freedom I had as a child, and I feel sorry for kids that won't have similar memories.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:55 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is it just selection bias or are there really millions of weird old men trying to molest little girls?

Well, in all fairness, it's not just little girls. I've dealt with creepy men since I was 8 or so, and now I'm an adult and it's not really all that different.
posted by lullaby at 11:20 PM on September 12, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would never have wished this on him, but I think his mom might have been a bit happier in her life if she had been able to let go of him a bit.

I can fully appreciate what you're saying there. And for the record, I'm not advocating smothering a child with hysterical overprotectiveness; I'm addressing the article, which is about parents taking their kids to and from school because they don't want anything bad to happen to them. I can understand it, and I think trips to and from school can be great bonding time between parent and child. I find it hugely generalizing to inflate that behavior into the charge that these parents must be engaging in all kinds of restrictive behavior over their children, stunting their growth and development, and that the kids are going to be helpless lambs when they finally have to go to college. Take this for example:

~ I want my daughter to be able to roam free and play all day like I used to. I want her to walk to school, walk to a friends' house. But what IF? How would I ever forgive myself?

~ And what if she's beaten or raped in her first week of college, because she has no idea how to conduct her life without you watching her every movement?


A poster makes a sincere expression of their worries; the kind of thing that goes through the mind of many parents, thinking out loud, weighing the balance between wanting to protect and wanting your child to explore. In return, this sentiment is exxagerated into "what if she's beaten or raped in her first week of college, because she has no idea how to conduct her life without you watching her every movement?". It's a completely inaccurate response to what the poster even said - they never said they intended to watch their child like a hawk every second of the day; they're talking about walking the child to school or to a friend's house.

Sorry if this is rambling or whatever. It's just that people usually get called out for making sweeping generalizations about how entire groups of people live based on one tiny sample of their behavior. I'd like to see some more consistency in that department.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 11:37 PM on September 12, 2009


"See, this is the part I don't get: I've yet to see any evidence, beyond pure speculation, that parents taking their kids to school and back will turn these children into clueless marshmallow peeps, unable to defend themselves against the world."

It's not a certainty and for sure not a one-to-one correspondence,
but this particular example is a dramatic and widespread indication of a mindset which is depriving kids of opportunities due to the irrational fear of overprotective parents.

Different example of the same thing:
my nephew recently started doing cross-country.
His buddy, also interested in running, is not allowed to participate because his mom fears that hiding in the bush beside the trail at a race is the perfect place for a predator to jump out and grab him.

So kids not running. At home. video games.

not that video games are in themselves so bad, and on the opposite side, walking kids to school can be a really interesting time to hang out with them -
but the general mindset reflected on restricting the activities of the child predicated on *statistically* unfounded fears are clearly doing no favours to the kids -
a bike ride to school, a walk in the park, and a run in the forest are pretty positive aspects of my youth. And while the kids will probably be alright in spite of it, it's really shameful of us to deny them these things.
posted by sloe at 11:41 PM on September 12, 2009


Parent of a cute, blond daughter and former latch key kid here. If I don't give the kid small tastes of independence in baby steps, what will happen when she's forced to have some?

I walked to school by myself from K-4. In 5th, I took two city buses to get to a school bus stop. the only time anyone ever tried to accost me, I was sitting in front of my house, in supposed ear shot of my mom. And because I had gotten the creeper lecture, when he tried to do something, I told him to fuck off and ran.

We could what-if our children to death. But unless they're home schooled and wrapped in bubble wrap, bad things will happen to them at some point. I hope to hell by the time my daughter encounters something bad, she'll have the smarts, confidence and practice of being in charge of herself to get away from it.
posted by Gucky at 12:31 AM on September 13, 2009


Yes Avenger (and with that name, where were you when I needed you?) it is an extremely common problem. I do not know a single woman who has not been confronted with unwanted sexual attention at work or school-- from groping boys, kisses forced on you, inappropriate comments, general atmosphere of "boys will be boys," to actual attack, coercion, or physical danger. Some of us rail against it, some of us ignore, excuse or rationlize it, but every one of my generation at least has experienced it. Most of this when I was an adult, but certainly my share as a child and a girl.

Why do you think we're so pissed off all the time? It ain't the PMS.

/derail.
posted by nax at 7:26 AM on September 13, 2009 [7 favorites]


Before I was 12, I was accosted by strangers, attacked by bullies, groped by perverts in the subway and on the bus, locked in a small room for hours, approched by some hooligans while waiting for my parents in the car while they went shopping, nearly got run over by a big green car , got hit by another car, suffered endless, bloody crashes on my bike, been standed literally dozens miles away from home without money or water on bike rides that went too far, and I've managed to survive until now.

But despite these events, I've had great experiences - taking long rides on public transport, seeing foreign parts of the city for the first time, discovering unchartered lands on my bike, and meeting strange and interesting people, and I don't deny that they have molded me and had a significant influence on my world view, and made me appreciate the natural beauty of the world and of humanity.

But what if one of those perverts was better prepared? What if one of those cars rolled a few feet further? What if my body couldn't endure the distance of my bike trecks or the dehydration and I passed out alone in some field? What if I was more trusting and opened the car door for those pesky teens harassing me in the parking lot?

I think a lot of it has to do with luck. Plain and simple.

There are so many what ifs in life. There always will be. If I ever have kids, what will I do, if they want as much freedom as I had? I will always think about my near-tragic experiences, and know that I deserved to get out safely no more than someone who didn't.

I also look at my wife, who at 41, continues to be coddled by her over-protective mother. Who was given everything as a child. Who is scared of every bump, every knock, every shadow. And I think to myself, that's no way to live, is it?

But there is more to life than the freedom to play and explore by oneself. She did well in college. She knows how to handle herself around strange, perverted people. She doesn't walk around with an overinflated self of entitlement. She is a kindhearted, generous member of society. Her life is a thousand times more fulfilling than mine. She is more emotionally grounded and secure. She laughs and laughs and smiles and laughs. She has solid, loyal relationships with friends and family, and in more ways than a thousand, she is a better person than I.

I'm not saying that it's better to be overprotective. It isn't. My experiences were the only happinesses I had as a child, and I'm glad I had them. My point is that Overprotection != Useless adult.

I read each of these posts, looking for the right answer or the right formula to making a safe, fulfilled child. I found none. But I'm glad, I'm not the only one who thinks about this.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:30 AM on September 13, 2009 [2 favorites]


Children ARE different than they used to be-- less able to focus, less self-directed, unable to follow complex instructions, more poorly socialized in terms of awareness of their surroundings, empathy and even manners. I have been teaching in an afterschool sports program (an ice rink) for about 12 years and even in that short space of time I have observed significant changes in what the kids can handle and how much class time is lost to getting everyone on the same page at the same time. Children do not understand anymore that when you're speaking to everyone, you're speaking to EACH one, and I blame it on this parenting style of constant eagle-eye attention on MY child and only my child, of telling the child every single damn thing they have do to so they kid never has to think for herself. These are the parents that crowd into the rink door and shout at their child "pay attention to the teacher" at the top of their voices in complete disregard of the fact that this means they are NOT paying attention to me. Then these parents accost me afterward wanting to know why I didn't spend more time with THEIR child (um, because there are 20 of them and I have a 30 minute lesson to give and it's a GROUP CLASS not a private lesson?) In a lot of classes now you tell them, okay 5 minutes free time, and half of them just stand there. They have no idea what free time is.
posted by nax at 7:38 AM on September 13, 2009 [4 favorites]


Jaycee Dugard was snatched from a school bus stop in sight of her stepfather, who was able to run after the van. Guess the only way to keep the kids safe is to chain them up in the basement.
posted by dilettante at 8:54 AM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey: (the previous would look much better if you didn't have a colon in your name) Interesting...I just heard about the walking school bus concept here last week. Sounds like an excellent idea for all sorts of reasons.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:19 AM on September 13, 2009


Fascinating, thanks for the article...
posted by agregoli at 9:27 AM on September 13, 2009


115 children are kidnapped by strangers

What's the figure for those who are raped, molested and harmed in other ways? I get the point and it's probably still less than auto accidents, but include other harm and the number goes way up. "115" is misleading.

I've watched a lot of animal documentaries in my time and almost always, the mother keeps her cubs or kits or whatever very close and are rarely out of sight, mostly because she knows that other animals including those of her own species and even relatives will kill them if she isn't vigilant. I suppose it isn't a valid comparison to make though. Human beings are different. Right?
posted by Mike Buechel at 3:34 PM on September 13, 2009


the mother keeps her cubs or kits or whatever very close and are rarely out of sight, mostly because she knows that other animals including those of her own species and even relatives will kill them if she isn't vigilant. I suppose it isn't a valid comparison to make though. Human beings are different. Right?

It isn't a valid comparison. Cubs are the equivalent of babies or toddlers. Nobody is suggesting you send a 6 month old out to forage for himself.
posted by Justinian at 7:36 PM on September 13, 2009


I have a 6 year old in first grade. His school is about 3/4 of a mile away, and we walk to school together. Our neighborhood is filled with insane drivers, most of whom are going 40mph in a residential (the police set up one of those screen-thingies that tell you how fast you're going after a 4 year old was hit by a trophy wife going fast enough while she talked on the phone and put on her mascara, that she flipped the child OVER the SUV).

Boy would have to cross two streets in our neighborhood that don't have crosswalks, stop signs, or anything else to slow down this mascara puttin on, cellphone chattering, donut eating idiots. Then we walk along a very busy 4 lane road, where *I* have been almost hit crossing the street, at the crosswalk, WITH the crossing guard. People here just don't pay attention.

To add to it, there are a ton of big kids on bikes who think it's funny to terrorize the little kids. My son has been hit twice, and last week I was hit so hard that the kid bounced off his bike. My poor little dude is so afraid of those kids now that I had to snatch him out of running into traffic to get away from them. What should have been a lovely thing to do every morning has become this huge stress on both him and me...and I'm almost ready to give up and drive him, just to avoid the monsters on bikes. Let him walk alone with those bullies...kids that are willing to strafe adults? Not even a chance. He's six freaking years old. How is he supposed to defend himself against kids twice his size, swinging book bags and aiming at the unescorted kids?

And if that weren't bad enough, there are four, count them, four convicted child molesters on the route to school. (Because the neighboring town outlawed them, so they all moved here.) One of whom, convicted of multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault on boys under 8 years old, sits out on his porch every morning and watches all the kids walk by. Creepiest fucking thing.

Why, in the name of all that is holy, would anyone think that running that gamut by himself would be empowering?

So, call me a helicopter parent. Call me overprotective if it makes you feel better, but ya know what; my kid is more important to me than your opinion.
posted by dejah420 at 9:40 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cubs are the equivalent of babies or toddlers

No, actually it's usually until they're old enough to breed (depending on the species) so the equivalent for humans would be around 12 or 13 Years old.
posted by Mike Buechel at 12:14 PM on September 14, 2009


No, actually it's usually until they're old enough to breed

Not really.

Brown bears generally stay with their mothers until around 3 years old. They don't mature reproductively for several years after that. The males may not breed until around 7 years old. Black bears stay with their mothers for an even shorter period of time, maybe 1.5 years, and do not breed until they are 3-5 years old.

Elephants live for almost as long as humans (particularly when not murdered for their ivory) and female elephants tend to breed around age 13 (with 30 year old males). They stop nursing at 2-3 years old and the males are completely independent in a new herd before age 12 or so.

I'm just pointing out the limits of using animal models for human behavior. I don't think the examples say what you think they say, and I don't think it would be very meaningful if they did.
posted by Justinian at 12:39 PM on September 14, 2009


Be careful. When I clicked on the NYT link, I got a new tab with a bogus "scan" and download attempt from best-antivirus03.com.

BTW: Learning From the NY Times Attack Ad -- "The NYTimes.com site warned Sunday that it had inadvertently displayed an 'unauthorized advertisement' over the weekend that tried to use fake malware warnings to trick viewers into installing scareware."
posted by ericb at 3:02 PM on September 14, 2009


Are people really that freaked out that a person doesn't think it's a good idea to let a 7-year-old walk to school alone? Some kids can't tie their own shoes at 7, have trouble memorizing their phone numbers, can't make change for a dollar, and have trouble remembering things like "don't chase your ball into the street without looking out for cars." Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of savvy second-graders out there, but they still pick their noses when you aren't looking and wipe the evidence on their corduroys.

There are a ton of things that will seriously fuck you up as a child. A parent, adult, or responsible teenager walking you to school, and making sure you don't wander around outside alone? Is this what's screwing up western society nowadays?

Because there are kids that walk alone to school every day, get harassed by older kids, kids that rarely see their parents, kids that don't do their homework and don't graduate from high school, kids that drink and drive, kids that fall into a lot of bad shit. Don't get me wrong, I understand that statistically your kid won't bloody likely get abducted if you let her roam around, but I'm fairly certain that parent-involvement is essential to healthy child development. And I understand that being able to roam may build character, but there are plenty of other great ways to build character in kids that don't involve them disappearing out of sight for a few hours.

You know what? Maybe the solution to our problems may be more parents walking their kids to school. I'd take parent over-involvement versus parent under-involvement any day.

Just because fear of child-abduction is a ridiculous reason for hovering over your children, keeping an eye on them is not causing the walls of our society to crumble.
posted by jabberjaw at 6:09 PM on September 14, 2009


This sort of stood out for me from the generally alarmist rest of the article:

"Some school buses now have been fitted with surveillance cameras, watching for beatings and bullying."

Children should be independent, but that doesn't mean other children should be free to torment and physically assault them when the teachers aren't looking. Surveillance cameras on the bus would have saved me from some pretty terrible shit when I was in grade 3-6.
posted by tehloki at 9:35 PM on September 14, 2009


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