In case you missed it, Salon’s Katharine Mieszkowski interviewed Lenore Skenazy, a syndicated columnist who just penned the book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry.
She made headlines a year ago for allowing her 9-year-old son to take the subway alone.
Here is an excerpt of the interview:
What are the statistics about crimes against children? What is the news that we’re not hearing?
The crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the ’70s and ’80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it’s been going down.
If you were a child in the ’70s or the ’80s and were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying you, your children are no less safe than you were.
But it feels so completely different, and we’re told that it’s completely different, and frankly, when I tell people that it’s the same, nobody believes me. We’re living in really safe times, and it’s hard to believe.
But if crimes against kids have fallen, now that we’re keeping them cloistered, won’t some people think, “Great! It must be working!”?
Crime stats are falling across the board. It’s not just because children are inside, because [crime stats] are falling inside, too. Crimes against children, even by family members and acquaintances, are falling, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
We don’t tolerate sex crimes. There’s just much less tolerance of any kind of abuse of kids. Those people are prosecuted very aggressively, to the point where a lot of them are behind bars now.
But if other parents aren’t letting their kids walk to school, or wait at the bus stop by themselves, if you buck the trend, doesn’t that make your kid more vulnerable, because other kids aren’t doing it, too? If everyone was doing it, wouldn’t there be safety in numbers?
There would be safety in numbers, and I wish everybody would do it. My big idea is: “Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day.” I think that would be a great thing for our country.
Maybe the 7-year-old will walk the 5-year-old home, and nobody would say: “Oh my God, where are the parents? Let’s arrest them.” Perhaps your child is in .00007 percent more danger, but the danger is so minute to begin with. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance that your kid would be abducted and killed by a stranger. It is hard to wrap your mind around those numbers, and everybody always assumes: What if it’s my 1 in 1.5 million?
If you don’t want to have your child in any kind of danger, you really can’t do anything. You certainly couldn’t drive them in a car, because that’s the No. 1 way kids die, as passengers in car accidents.
This interview was a page turner, er, clicker. Skenazy said Australia and England also share Americans’ paranoia when it comes to child safety. At the other extreme are Japan and Switzerland where the kids walk to school without parents as early as 5 years of age.
I thought the questions posed to Skenazy were good and agreed with Skenazy that the 24-hour cable networks’ coverage of violent crime contributed to our fears. But I still disagree with her that parents walk their kids to the bus stop or pick them up at school solely because they are afraid of kidnappers.
Where I live, many parents work and their children are watched by nannies or enrolled in after school activities monitored by adults. As we have discussed here before, statistically, those children do better in school than kids who are home alone all afternoon. In fact, one of the arguments for after school programs is that adolescent crimes are most common during those hours when kids are left unsupervised. I can’t help but think “helicoptering” varies in our country depending on the availability and wallets of the parents. This is something I would have liked for Skenazy to address.