Friday, November 6, 2009

On Kids Walking to School

One Florida girl Somer Thompson, and her family die because she was allowed to walk to school and this mom thinks no kid should be allowed to walk to school again. At least she admits she's being paranoid, but it'd be nice to see her go the next step and just admit already that her decision to keep her children from walking to school seems to have more to do with quelling her own paranoia than it does with keeping them safe. Here's her argument:

115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics. There are 73.7 million children in the U.S. YES, I realize that the odds are slim that the worst could happen. But tell that to Diena Thompson, Somer's mom. The odds were just as slim for her, and it happened.

First of all, I should say nobody can or should fault any parent for wanting to keep their children safe. That's not what I'm intending to do here, because nobody can possibly make an argument against keeping children safe. The fact is we're all for keeping children safe--in fact, we don't even have to say it. But obviously there are disagreements as to what constitutes "keeping children safe."

Some people believe that in order to truly keep children safe they have to restrict the kid from doing anything by themselves. Others believe that all that is necessary is to teach the child common sense and baby-step them (carefully balance out what they are allowed and not allowed to do on their own and work them towards self-sufficiency). I fall into the second category--I don't believe we ought to be letting 5 year old preschoolers walk to school all by themselves, but I also don't believe 13 year olds should be barred from doing it when the school is right down the block.

There is no question that the incident she refers to was a real tragedy, and as our hearts go out to the family, we really need to remember to keep our heads and actually learn from this. One's own children are no more in jeopardy after this tragedy than they were beforehand. All one can really do as a parent is exercise good judgment and take the opportunity to teach children about possible dangers and what to do and not to do when walking to school. By restricting a child from doing it completely because it makes you as a parent feel like they are safer, you're in fact choosing not to exercise any judgment whatsoever. A cautious parent holds back no matter what. A good parent teaches children to be cautious. The difference? Teaching takes work whereas holding back doesn't.

If you want to restrict them from these things to spare yourself your paranoia, then it's easy. If you want to make sure kids are safe and have a degree of self-reliance, then it's going to take some work.

Yes, I know my kids are much more likely to get into a car wreck on the way to school than be abducted while walking home. I get it. But Somer didn't die in a car crash. She died after being abducted, while walking home from school. And, as a parent, that is something I believe you could never get over -- never in a million years.

Once again, nobody is disagreeing that for those involved that event is an unthinkable tragedy. What is not making sense though here is that if statistically kids are more likely to be harmed while riding in cars than they are walking to school, that each and every one of those car accidents where a child is life threatened is itself also a tragedy for those involved. Just because car accidents happen more frequently doesn't diminish the profound effect that they can have. Likewise, just because kidnappings happen so infrequently that when they do they usually hit the news doesn't make them more profound.

If you were concerned with safety of kids based purely on the frequency of possible threats, then letting them walk to school would be one of the more safer things you could have them doing. But then again, reducing the issue to simple heuristics isn't practicing good judgment as a parent. The fact is both scenarios entail risk, what you have to do as a parent is make sure your bases are covered beforehand either way.

Call me paranoid all you want. But letting my kids walk alone is just not a risk I'm willing to take.
Okay. You ma'am, are paranoid.

On a side note, I've tackled the issue of paranoia over walkers recently with this post. In reality, unless you live in a major city where crime is rampant, chances are your kids aren't any less safer walking to school in this day in age than they were back in the 1960's and 70's when there weren't as many safeguards out there as there are these days. In fact, they're probably safer. The only change is that people are more aware of the dangers than they were back then.

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