From time to time, kids hear parents hollering their kids in for dinner. Those remaining just knew that when the street lights went on, it was time to go home.
No, this is not a depiction of a Norman Rockwell scene nor Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver's neighborhood; it was mine.
Understandably, I was saddened when I saw a TV program called "Bubble Wrap Kids." The show features Lenore Skenazy, a columnist who has been called "America's Worst Mom" because she let her 9-year-old ride New York City's subway by himself.
On the show, she acts as a supernanny who deals with parents who are convinced their kids, ranging from ages eight to 18, are in perpetual danger. These are parents who won't let their kids use forks and knives, ride bikes or leave the backyard, and who monitor their children 24/7 with walkie-talkies and video cameras.
When Skenazy asked people to guess how long they would have to leave their kids outside unattended for the child to be kidnapped by a stranger and held overnight, the answers were staggering and showed that parents are irrationally consumed by fear.
Has the world changed so much? In just one generation, have childhoods become so much more dangerous? Have child abductions increased that much?
Most child abductions are related to custody cases and are of short duration. With 50 million children under the age of 13 in the United States, the chance of child abduction and murder is one in a million. Numbers from the FBI and local police forces show that we are seeing a significant decrease in the number of abductions, from an average of 200 to 300 per year during the 1990s to roughly 100 per year in the 2000s.
In fact, the world is safer now compared to when I was a child. Why this heightened paranoia? Is it induced by the onslaught of information via media about how unsafe the world is, how unsafe our children are in it, and how much they need protection?
Danger is big business. Danger sells. Above and beyond insurance products, we are inundated with devices and services that claim to make our children safer.
But in that attempt, are we possibly risking the loss of something much more important? Are we losing our basic freedom and the opportunity for kids to become independent adults?
Independence is critical for a child. Are we at risk of stripping it away due to unnecessary worry or anxiety on the part of parents?
For some reason, many of us have a hard time trusting or calculating the difference between real and remote risk of perceived societal dangers.
Children are more likely to die by falling off furniture than by being abducted. So for safety's sake should we have them sleep on the floor?
Skenazy says, "Our kids are safer and more competent than pop culture tells us." She believes in letting kids ride a bike to the library, walk to school, and make dinner. She also believes in helmets, car seats and seat belts. But she does not believe that school-age kids need a full security detail to go outside. I agree.
JOANNA MAKOMASKI is an enterprise risk management executive with experience in energy, health care, and most recently in the sporting event sectors. She can be reached at email@example.com.
October 1, 2012
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