Sunday, September 13, 2009

Let your child walk to school 

The New York Times Sunday Style section leads with an article about parents who defy convention and -- be sure you are sitting down -- let their children walk to school. Sadly, it is not parody but a very realistic assessment of the paranoia that has gripped American parents, particularly in affluent suburbs. There are many parents who drive their kids to school or at the very least hover at the bus stop because (a) they have an unreasoning fear of the risks of doing otherwise, or (b) they do not want to catch grief from parents with their own overwrought safety issues. (Note that the parents in category (b) are virtually all mothers -- I do not know a single father who cares what parents other than his wife think of his child-rearing decisions, or has even noticed what other parents think. Sorry.)

There are many reasons why the strong trend against small freedoms for children is a bad thing, but the best is this: The choice is not actually between more safety for your child and, well, less safety, but between safety today and safety tomorrow. Yes, at the margin your watchfulness may protect your kids against dangers now, but only at the expense of weakening their defenses when you actually cannot monitor their every movement. Few people learn basic street-smarts in the company of their parents, and if your children are not learning them now by spending significant time roaming around without adult supervision then you are making them a soft target later. It is as simple as that.


By Blogger Ray, at Sun Sep 13, 12:41:00 PM:

5 blocks!? How about parents *walking* their kids to school?

Maybe after the first three dozen or so such walks, jumping over the hideously dangerous millimeter-wide crack in the sidewalk, and fleeing past the ferociously barking pint-size dog, the parents might get some perspective.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 13, 12:56:00 PM:

Or, maybe after meeting the dozen or so registered sex offenders that your child has to avoid each and every day you will come to see that your child has nothing to worry about what so ever! After all there aren't dangers even in the suburbs! Get real, it's our responsibility that our kids are safe and if that means we take our kids to school and pick them up then that is what we do. It's part of being a parent and if you can't accept it then I hope you never breed. It would be unfair to subject any child to someone so uncaring.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 13, 01:14:00 PM:

This is absolutely unacceptable. How dare we expect our kids to walk 5 blocks to school ! This is a crisis. My solution is for a new Department of School Transportation. This federal department will employ thousands of unionized well paid people to drive the necessary vehicles with children to and from school each day. They will be directly supervised by a panel of not less than 12 regional managers who will oversee the day to day operations. These regional managers will be reporting to a new School Transportation Crisis Czar who will report directly to the President. Logistical Supply and Maintenance will be performed by trained personnel responsible to a sub department of the Department of School Transportation. Each sub department will be supervised by not less than 12 regional managers reporting directly to the managers from sub section above.

There are still many details to work out with this plan, but it will be streamlined to achieve maximum federal government efficiency, and will ultimately reduce costs, and provide a safer travel environment for our kids to and from schools across America.

That sound about right, libs ?  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Sun Sep 13, 01:59:00 PM:

I like the "walk your kids to school" plan until they're mature enough to walk on their own.

(To horrify the protective parents out there-- remember that poor girl who got kidnapped and kept for 18 years *was* under a parent's watchful eye, at a bus stop.)  

By Blogger Country Squire, at Sun Sep 13, 02:05:00 PM:


Between your original post and Anon 12:56 is a long held thesis of mine "Mothers raise boys. Fathers raise men." I'm quite certain you could add girls and women to it as well, if you felt the need.

I am by no means negating the role mothers’ play but child-rearing needs to be a team effort. Mothers and fathers are opposite sides of the same coin after all. The different perspectives the sexes bring to the final outcome is essential. I also think fathers are more apt to encourage their children to exist outside of the safety bubble many mothers want to construct/maintain for their offspring.

And Anon 12:56, “I hope you never breed. It would be unfair to subject any child to someone so uncaring.”? Your helicopter is waiting.  

By Anonymous feeblemind, at Sun Sep 13, 03:12:00 PM:

Another trenchant post TH. I think you are quite right. Over protectiveness does not allow a child to develop emotionally the way they normally would. The zeal to reduce uncontrollable risk to zero, whether for kids or adults is a symptom of the feminization of the culture.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Sep 13, 04:03:00 PM:

> but between safety today and safety
> tomorrow. Yes, at the margin your
> watchfulness may protect your kids
> against dangers now, but only at the
> expense of weakening their defenses
> when you actually cannot monitor
> their every movement.

Exactly. A couple of years ago I heard a grieving mother whose son just died in a skateboarding accident. The boy was, AFAIR, 14 years old. The mother was crying that this was the only time her son didn't wear a "safety" helmet, and puff, he fell and hit his head against the concrete.

Well, while I felt (and still) sorry for her and for her son, I immediately thought that he died exactly *BECAUSE* he was wearing the helmet all the other times. In other words, he didn't learn how to fall. I have fallen quite a couple of times from skateboards, bikes, climbing, etc., and just two days ago I was violently thrown across the bus in a particularly hard brake. But I did learn that when in a fall, there are two things I protect: my head and my neck. Everything else is secondary. But how can somebody learn this lesson, when there is always a "protective" gear to protect him/her from not serious falls?

I was stunned, when I came to the US in 1990, at the idiocy of some of the "safety" traffic rules. For example, the whole traffic has to stop when a school bus stops. Even if the bus is full with high schoolers. Really? 15-18 years old children are so stupid that the whole world has to stop for them? I was also stunned when I saw that at the University of Florida campus, the max. speed limit is 20 mph. C'mon, we are talking about adults. While it makes sense in the campus core (from where cars are banned anyways), but what about outlying areas where only some joggers go, and anyways, they are on the grass?

For the record, back in my native Hungary, the protection we "had" in elementary school were these two things: The school's door opened to a low traffic street, and there was a barrier in front of the door, so if we run out of school, it would stop us. After that, we were expected to be educated by our parents how to cross the street. I simply don't remember that my parents walked with me to school, and it took like 15 minutes. Maybe when I was 1-2 grader, but definitely not later. Also, I don't remember I ever heard that a child died because of relevant traffic accident.

I applaud this mother who is teaching her child to go to school alone. Of course, I also hope that she did talk about the dangers.

Any country which overprotect their children, will have a hard time when these children become adults.


By Anonymous Fatherof5, at Sun Sep 13, 04:07:00 PM:

I live in NJ, and I insist that my kids walk to school, Even in the rain. Simply put, it builds character. I also let my kids ride their bikes to the park, and give them a time to be back by. All 5 are growing up steady and sure of themselves. The story stated that 115 stranger abductions happen each year. Each one a horror to their families, but come on....  

By Anonymous Mrs. Charlottesvillian, at Sun Sep 13, 05:08:00 PM:

As you would probably guess, as a mother, it's hard for me to read a post with the thesis that the vast majority of mothers are (a) neurotic or (b) insecure and that their failings are going to lead to some future societal ill. An easy straw man, but really.

I was raised in NYC in the 1970s -- an era that led to a generation of "NY = sodom" police dramas, yet was riding a city bus and walking a couple of cross-town blocks with a classmate (also female) to an after school swim lesson at the midtown Vanderbilt Y at age 8 (third grade). I was 10 when Etan Patz disappeared and I was not immediately placed in lock-down (in fact, it is considered most likely he was abducted by an adult he knew). You're telling me that I owe it to society to allow my children to develop "street smarts" while simultaneously telling me not to exercise my own? Terrific.

As a parent, one of my legitimate safety concerns is cars. I refuse to take on the mantle of "neurotic" because I don't like people who drive too fast with lots of distractions in cars with huge blind spots -- the driver of a large SUV has trouble seeing small children in front or behind the truck; the data on back-up accidents in driveways of parents killing or injuring their *own* children and pets should speak for itself.

As for capitulation to peer pressure occasioned by my ovaries, please note that women are not historically -- or even recently -- supported in efforts to exercise their independent judgment -- even (especially?) in matters of parenting. Just ask the mother in Bozeman, Montana who dropped her children off at the mall for a couple of hours and was not only criminally prosecuted (although no harm actually came to the children), but convinced by her attorney that she needed to take a plea: http://www.brainchildmag.com/essays/summer2009_kevane.asp

All finger pointing aside, it would be a lot safer for everyone who walked if there was more of a critical mass of walkers out there. Of all ages. So, back off the moms, leave the car in the garage, and let *yourself* walk wherever you need to go. Oh, and if you're really concerned about people who don't respect the exercise of parental judgment, write a letter to the Bozeman prosecutor's boss.  

By Blogger ChocolateGodzilla, at Sun Sep 13, 06:09:00 PM:

The Nanny State- Govt as provider/protector of womyn who wish to be cared for (all women) by someone other than a man especially those choosing to go the child route by themselves ( mostly white and college-educated ) is unfortunately a decision already made here in the USSA.

Reading the NYT is, however, something normal people can still reject. Screw them, screw their readers.  

By Blogger ChocolateGodzilla, at Sun Sep 13, 06:12:00 PM:

And to anonymous at 12: 56, get a grip. It ain't the registered sex offenders your kids need to worry about.

When seconds count, the registered sex offender enforcement patrol is only 6 weeks away.

You just don't get it, do you?  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Sep 13, 06:19:00 PM:

"Or, maybe after meeting the dozen or so registered sex offenders that your child has to avoid each and every day... It's part of being a parent and if you can't accept it then I hope you never breed. It would be unfair to subject any child to someone so uncaring."


By Blogger Country Squire, at Sun Sep 13, 06:25:00 PM:

Mrs. C.,

“As for capitulation to peer pressure occasioned by my ovaries, please note that women are not historically -- or even recently -- supported in efforts to exercise their independent judgment -- even (especially?) in matters of parenting.” Then how do you explain the almost knee jerk awarding of custody of minor children to their mothers in most divorce cases?

As for the Bozeman, MT case you referenced, the woman left her 12 year old daughter in charge of a three year old in a mall – because the kids wanted something to do and she was tired. Now at the risk of appearing to “flip-flop” on my previous comments about allowing children more latitude – somehow I don’t think that latitude should start at three years of age.

I also fail to see how this case buttresses your argument. If this is an example of independent female judgment then the situation is much worse than I feared.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Sun Sep 13, 06:30:00 PM:

I'm trying to think of a time when the average family *didn't* have the woman in charge of the children..... shoot, that's one of the supposed attacks against the Brit empire, that the fathers were too distant....  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Sep 13, 10:28:00 PM:

Mrs. C'Villain (who is my esteemed sister-in-law, so I tread lightly): My observation about mothers had nothing to do with safety neurosis, which I have seen extend to many fathers, but to the collateral concern with what "the other parents think." I have literally never met a father who even thought about that issue (and I have polled them, insofar as I have known more than one mother who cited it as a reason for this or that childrearing decision).  

By Anonymous Gandalf, at Sun Sep 13, 10:39:00 PM:

My granddaughters would have to walk 1.9 miles. At age 11, 9 and 5 and with all the potential to be introduced to perverts in this crappy world they get a ride. You want to experiment you use your own kids. Lots of time to introduce the street when they need to learn it.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Sun Sep 13, 10:42:00 PM:

Two miles is a LOT more than a couple of blocks! I wouldn't let 'em walk with any regularity, either.

(I know of what I speak-- I was from a very small town and walked that far with my sister and brother a couple of times. Biggest danger we met was a badger with a dead ground squirrel....)  

By Anonymous Mrs. Charlottesvillian, at Sun Sep 13, 11:33:00 PM:

TH -- Well, I guess one parent's reasoned safety concern is another's "safety neurosis" -- which was really my whole point.

Parents are under near constant scrutiny for being overbearing or neglectful -- when, in fact, most are just doing the best they know to do at the moment. To err, in this regard as in all others, is human. That the fathers in your sample don't internalize that scrutiny is just another one of life's little mysteries.

But I remain serious about the walking point -- more people walking would improve road and sidewalk safety for everyone, including school children. (And it would improve cardiovascular health, too.)  

By Anonymous Steve Skubinna, at Mon Sep 14, 10:29:00 AM:

Anon 12:56, I certainly hope you haven't bred, for you'd be in dngner of raising children as shrilly hysterical and cringingly timorous as you.

Which would be tantamount to abusing them.  

By Anonymous Mr. Ed, at Mon Sep 14, 10:40:00 AM:

Some of the comments here, all sincere I'm sure, remind me that there is a drive in society to give Darwin his comeuppance. Maybe if we are an intelligent species dodging danger is a trait of the evolutionary winners.

I think, though, that the danger dodging that is especially important, is the ability to dodge unexpected rather than anticipated dangers.

When I was a young boy I rode my bike and walked to school. Now it's true that I may not quite rank as one of the winners in Nature's struggle, but I have to think that years of practice beats, "Plop, your a man now."

Perhaps one size does not fit all. Society needs both technicians and leaders.


By Anonymous bipolar baer, at Mon Sep 14, 11:14:00 AM:

I grew up in a section of Reading, PA that even in the late 60's and early 70's was no garden spot. My parents rarely knew where I was, other than it was within walking or biking distance. When we were younger (pre 12 yrs old) we had to head for home when the street lights came on. After that it was some curfew based on time of year (sun light) and day of the week. We walked the mile to school everyday. I know I was much more prepared for the rougher side of life than kids today, who are driven everywhere and are not only not exposed to unpleasantness, but only know what unpleasantness exists based on their mother's mostly irrational fears.  

By Blogger ubernina, at Mon Sep 14, 11:21:00 AM:

Or perhaps not all walks to school are created equal and parents should be allowed to exercise their own judgement without being called names. I'm not about to let my five and seven year olds attempt to cross the state highway that is right outside our door on their own. Ask me again when they are 12 and 14. I still might say no.  

By Blogger The Pathetic Earthling, at Mon Sep 14, 02:22:00 PM:

As my mom is fond of saying (having raised five kids in the 1960s and 1970s) to us, "your kids are going to get hurt, the trick is to see that they don't get injured." The corollary here is important: let your kids deal with the occasion rude neighbor, or nipping dog, or gang of troublesome older kids, and they'll figure out how to deal with bigger stuff later. The notion that parents don't care because they send their kids outside without supervision is nonsense: I like to hover over my 5 year old, but I force myself not to, and when he and his 11 year old cousin wanted to wander up into the open space behind our house for an hour or so, I sucked it up and let them and refused to check up on them. And my five year old was delighted by it all. He's a better kid for it, and I'm a better parent.  

By Blogger John, at Mon Sep 14, 02:34:00 PM:

When I was a boy and left to wander Seattle on my way to school, I was approached at least twice by perverts asking me to get in their car. At the time I just thought they were being friendly. Even the guy who wanted me to model swimsuits for him - I was kind of flattered.

Thank God I didn't take them up on their offers.

The risk is there is it is real.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 02:45:00 PM:

Roads, perverts, dog packs in some areas-- yes, seriously; for that matter, more rural areas are having kids followed by wolves to the bus stop-- these are all reasons that I suggest walking the kids to school until you're sure the area is relatively safe.

Or just move to a smaller town and get friendly with the biddies, the kids will be watched at all times without having you hover over them. (Bonus, you'll get chewed on if your little darlings are misbehaving-- prevents Darwin awards.)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 02:45:00 PM:

Tigerhawk either doesn't have kids or is very naive.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 02:47:00 PM:

This is my life in a nutshell. My daughter (6) goes to an exclusive Catholic school 5 mins away. Lot's of kids live within walking distance, but no one walks home.

I live in a quiet Mayberry type suburb. When I mentioned to my wife in front of some of the other moms waiting to pick up their kids that we should let them walk home when they are 7, they looked at me like I just said "we should let the kids smoke crack."

Helicopter moms (and dads)do nearly as much damage to their kids as neglectful parents do, in my humble opinion.

We (not me) are raising a generation of kids afraid of their own shadows.  

By Blogger JSabo, at Mon Sep 14, 02:56:00 PM:

Too many offenders, one is too many,are released back in society and therefore parents have to be more vigilent than in the past. Offenders in the bygone era would have been hung but not anymore. They get light sentences by do gooder judges and let free to do it again. Lock them up or put them to death and we will not have to worry as much.  

By Blogger prairie wind, at Mon Sep 14, 02:58:00 PM:

Makes me laugh when people worry about the registered sex offenders.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 02:59:00 PM:

Kinda like worrying about registered guns, innit?  

By Blogger David, at Mon Sep 14, 03:08:00 PM:

Who really wants to grab some of these snotty kids?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 03:09:00 PM:

Yes, there are risks out there. One of them is having a tornado come and sweeping you away. Another is getting struck by lightening. They are possible, but they are unlikely. Very unlikely.

Oh, Poopsikins, you can't go outside, ever, you might be hit by lightening. Just because the sky is blue doesn't mean we'll take that chance. An exaggeration on my part? Yeah--but not by much.

What a sad world we have when hyper-neurotic behavior is seen as "good parenting" and people of normal sensibilities are investigated by government agencies on suspicion of "neglecting" their children.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 03:11:00 PM:

Do most of the folks here agree that "people" are probably the most dangerous vector their kids will deal with?
Be it bullies, gangs, drivers or perverts? (oh, and "morons who think teaching their pets to be mean is cool," that sort of thing)
Might help if we know if we're coming from similar places....  

By Anonymous Ed, at Mon Sep 14, 03:16:00 PM:

When talking with our inlaws about similar issues, we phrased it in terms of safe vs. strong. We can try to keep our kids safe or we can make them strong and they can keep themselves straight. For example, we could prevent our children from ever crossing the street, which would keep them safe. Or, we could teach them how to cross the street properly and make them strong. Then, they will be safe because of their strength (in this case, knowledge).  

By Anonymous FLHawkeye, at Mon Sep 14, 03:18:00 PM:

Gandalf, hell....I walked or biked that far all by myself starting at 6. There were no "sex offender registries" to warn my parents where the perverts were (and if you think they've all been cataloged by now, or that there weren't plenty of them wandering around years ago, keep thinking those happy thoughts). Get this...we learned where the skanky people were early on, and how to avoid them, even at that tender age! Really! I know, I know, we had to do this horrible thing called "walking to school with the older neighbor kids", but we adjusted somehow.

The worst thing that ever happened to me was a little overheating when it got close to 105 in May, and the occasional dead cat in the middle of the road. If we wanted a ride, it had better be because there was a Biblical downpour, or because we twisted an ankle, or something like that.

And yeah, when my little guy is about that age, he's gonna hoof it to school, too. With the school cutbacks going on, it will probably be the closest thing to PE he will come near during the school day.  

By Anonymous Eric G, at Mon Sep 14, 03:31:00 PM:

Not everyone has the luxury of choosing. My kids are within 1 and 1.5 miles of every school from K-12. However the first mile is along a rural highway; 1 lane each way 55 mph speed limit (most traffic does 60-65) with no shoulder, no stoplights, no crosswalks, no sidewalk and ditches 5-8 ft deep on each side for rain water. The only people who walk any distance of any age are those who cannot afford to buy a car. Taking a bike is even more dangerous, because you cannot quickly jump out of the path of a vehicle on a bike the way you can on foot. This is in Cecilia Louisiana a Rural area. The realistic choices are take the bus or get a ride (or drive yourself once 16)  

By Blogger Namazu, at Mon Sep 14, 03:37:00 PM:

The real danger for kids comes later, when they toy with the possibility of taking a "year off" before college. The cryogenic unfreezing process is fraught with risk. This was the subject of an NYT piece around a year ago.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 03:38:00 PM:

My mom got onto me for letting my 10 year old walk about a half-mile down the street with friends to the neighborhood sandwich shop for lunch. I was allowed to walk about the same distance to a convenience store to buy candy even younger than that and that was a on a much less traveled road with no sidewalks. She was convinced that it's so much more dangerous today. But I told her, it's just that we hear about it more on the news. Instead of only knowing about local abductions, papers now cover almost any missing kid nationwide.

We live in the city and always have a ton of traffic and pedestrians, so to me it's actually somewhat safer. It also really depends on the kid. My oldest kid is a rule follower, so I'm more comfortable letting him do things, his brother is a different story and hasn't earned the same freedom yet.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 03:39:00 PM:

The worse thing that ever happened when we had to walk to school was my sister getting hit by a drunk illegal immigrant (in 1970).  

By Blogger amy, at Mon Sep 14, 03:54:00 PM:

Maybe my neighborhood is just an outlier, but tons of kids walk to the elementary school every morning. I even see a large number of slightly older kids (maybe 8yrs-10yrs) walking their 5/6/7yr old younger siblings.

My son just started Kinder, and I've been walking him (and my 4yr old tags along) to school each morning. I'm hoping by Christmas time he'll want to walk by himself, and I'll just watch from the front yard (I can see the school from there.) Next year I plan on letting him walk by himself.

I hear these stories about helicopter parenting, but it sure isn't happening in my neighborhood!  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 04:07:00 PM:

We are missing a safety net we use to have -- how many folks *know* all the parents on the street, and *know* that if they told them their darling child was misbehaving, they'd get a response?

I know that even when I was growing up, there were a LOT of parents whose children were a menace, and you were the bad guy if you said anything-- even to the parents! Heaven help you if you told one of the little idiots beating your dog with a stick to stop it.  

By Blogger Fred4Pres, at Mon Sep 14, 04:08:00 PM:

The statistics on child safety are revealing. Fatal trauma and childhood diseases have decreased several fold from the fifties (some catagories by a factor of 10) while murder and abduction have doubled (but not these are from extremely low numbers to start with so this may be due to better reporting than acutal increase).

So yeah, kids are safer now. And getting street wise is a smart move (and walking and riding to school is also good exercise). That said, given how few kids do it anymore, that raises the risk for those rare kids that do this. Granted the risk is low, and by far trauma would be the primary risk in such an activity, but there is a risk.

And yes, as a Dad, I only care what my wife thinks. Maybe my mom too (but she is in cohoots with my wife on these topics).  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 04:08:00 PM:

"She lives only a block and a half from school. Yet she walks by older children waiting with parents for buses to the same school."

I understand the desire to be protective. How about the parents taking turns escorting the kids?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 04:11:00 PM:

a soft target adult is safer than a soft target child.  

By Anonymous FaxMan, at Mon Sep 14, 04:18:00 PM:

Many concened people are of the opinion that 1) strangers present the biggest danger of sex offenses against children and 2) registered sex offenders present the biggest danger of sex offenses against children. This is not the case. The facts are that most sex crimes against children are committed by people the children know, and most sex crimes are committed by people who are not (yet) on the Sex Offender Registry.

From Criminal Justtice State of New York website: "Myths and Facts" :Current Research on Managing Sex Offenders .

Click on : “Myth: Most sexual offenses are committed by strangers.Fact: Most sexual offenses are committed by family members or acquaintances.”

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, 86% of all sexual assault cases reported to law enforcement were committed by someone known to the victim – a family member or acquaintance (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 93% of victims under the age of 17, and 73% of victims age 18 and older, were assaulted by someone they knew. Where the victim was a child, 34% of offenders were family members and 59% were acquaintances .(Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2000).
Multiple studies have shown that sex offenders often establish contact with their victims through their relationship with another person, most commonly an adult. For example, repeat sex offenders in one study used romantic relationships with women to gain access to the women's children. Offenders can also gain access to victims through babysitting for someone they know or by living with friends who have children (Minnesota Department of Corrections, 2007).

Click on “Myth: Community notification and sex offender registries make communities safer.Fact: Registries help identify where sex offenders live in order for the public to protect their families.”

The vast majority of sex crimes are committed by someone who is not on the Sex Offender Registry. During 2005-2006, approximately 94% of the persons arrested for sexual offenses in New York State had no prior sex convictions. As a result, these people would not have been on the Sex Offender Registry (New York Sex Offender Management Grant, 2007)  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 04:23:00 PM:

Fred-- don't forget gang members are often classed under "murdered children" if they're under 21. (Naturally included, if we're looking at all deaths below the age of 15, 18, what-have-you.)

Googling around a bit, it seems that a huge number of child homicides are kids under 5 killed by unrelated males living in the home-- a situation that has become a lot more common since the 50s.

Just more on the "people you know are more dangerous than those you don't" theme FaxMan is doing.

That said...suddenly having kids who've never dealt on their own walk to school can be a really, really bad idea. (See also: binge drinking in college kids....)  

By Blogger Dave S., at Mon Sep 14, 04:53:00 PM:

The chance of your kid being molested by a registered sex offender are somewhere between "slim" and "none." The chance of him growing up neurotic and paranoid because of your hypervigilance is about 90%.

Besides, there are guys on the sex offender registry for taking a leak against a wall when a kid walked by. Here in Maine, a man was murdered because a nutjob from Canada found his name on an online offenders list. The heinous sex crime he was murdered for? He was nineteen when his girlfriend was fifteen.

Get a grip. Paranoids like you got a few hundred innocent people imprisoned in the '80s during the daycare hysteria.  

By Blogger exhelodrvr1, at Mon Sep 14, 04:56:00 PM:

We let our children walk to elementary school (about .75 miles) and they rode their bikes to middle school (about 3 miles). (Time frame 1993-1999). Good exercise, gave them some responsibility, and taught them to pay attention and be out on their own. And that was part of what has made them self-confident, independent adults. (Now 23, 22, and 20, youngest still in college.)  

By Anonymous Dan, at Mon Sep 14, 04:57:00 PM:

FWIW, my 9 year old brother was killed crossing a little used street walking home from school 36 years ago next month. You can't convince me it's all right to let kids walk to school unsupervised.  

By Anonymous Ryan Booth, at Mon Sep 14, 05:19:00 PM:

A large number of the "sex offenders" everyone is scared of were convicted of pubic urination or were teenagers having sex with other teenagers. We need to change the Sex Offender Registry so that it actually means something. If we did, we'd have a lot fewer "sex offenders" to worry about.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 05:23:00 PM:

Count me as a dad who cares what other parents think. That's because my kids now spend half their time with their mom, who would just LOVE an excuse to keep them full-time.

Nevertheless, I walk with them to school. Their mom drives them.

Oh, and (off topic) I have to figure out how to teach my daughter what she needs to know about puberty and boys and such, without getting accused of some vague perversion by her mother, who is far too uptight herself to teach daughter what she needs to know.  

By Blogger Richard, at Mon Sep 14, 05:26:00 PM:

Vilmos (Anon 9/13 @4:03 PM),

I always thought the 20 mph limit on UF's campus was due to the gators that live in the ponds just off the road, and the number of blind curves as one drives out toward the practice fields. Can't have any of those "evil cars" run over any of the "endangered" animals (about which signs are posted warning joggers that they're at risk of being EATEN if they run after dark), now can we?  

By Blogger RebeccaH, at Mon Sep 14, 05:44:00 PM:

As our children had a variety of environments in which to walk through (various military postings), this was an ongoing conundrum for us. I tried to make them as independent and fearless as possible, but sometimes, The Earth Mother had to step in. It's a matter of perspective and realistic observation.  

By Anonymous Bobbi, at Mon Sep 14, 05:50:00 PM:

My kids walk... 10 blocks - including 2 lighted intersections. Last year ages were 10, 7, 5, 4 (the 4 was in pre-school I dropped him off, he walked home with his sisters). This school year ( by November) ages will be 11,9,6,5 - the 3 y/o is choked at being left behind.  

By Anonymous Squealer, at Mon Sep 14, 06:39:00 PM:

I'm disappointed by the overall quality of this post and comments. First of all, vehicle traffic on the roads is much, much heavier now (in number and size) than when you were a kid, TH. Second, you don't say at approximately what age you think walking would be safe. Third, you and all the commenters neglect to mention the practical technique of having kids walk together in groups.  

By Blogger Ann's New Friend, at Mon Sep 14, 07:08:00 PM:

When my father was a lad, living in rural Georgia, he walked to school, I'm told. He lived in a part of the country inhabited by alligators, but he walked and roamed the woods and hunted alone sometimes (that would be with a gun).

Well, flash forward, if alligators were the only worry, maybe my kid could walk to school now. But in my region of the world, even adults become occasional road kill. And if you escape the peril of automobiles, consider that a few sexual predators do prowl about -- not that anything in our culture would encourage people to commit sexual crimes .... Some trusting souls in one affluent suburb I know are still unaware of the death of a neighbor who was stalked by a stranger getting off a bus. The area might be affluent, but it's population changes a lot. And memory fades.

In an era when "Shine on harvest moon" was a popular song, maybe having kids walk through rural meadow to the school house was okay. But I trust alligators more than homo sapiens, and I take the kids to school. Will it prevent them learning to protect themselves, no.

Of course I would perhaps reconsider if the kid could walk to school armed.  

By Blogger Wacky Hermit, at Mon Sep 14, 07:14:00 PM:

One time my boy (about 7 years of age) was acting up in the car on the way to school. He refused to sit down and strap in, so I kicked him out of the car and made him walk to school. I explained to him that riding in the car is a privilege that came with the responsibility of strapping yourself in with your seatbelt. The route to school was approximately 1.2 miles and while parts of it didn't have sidewalks, the street was plenty wide enough for two cars and a pedestrian boy, and it was a back road with only a few T intersections, not a main thoroughfare with stoplights. I figured the risk of letting him learn he could get away with bouncing around unfettered in the back seat of the car was far greater than anything he'd face walking to school.

Nevertheless, you wouldn't BELIEVE the horrified looks on the other parents' faces when they found out I'd made my child walk to school. How could I be so cruel??? In their minds I might as well have taken him out back and beat him senseless with a log, then dragged him behind my minivan chained to the trailer hitch, that's how bad it was.

Some people have no sense of perspective.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 08:48:00 PM:

In my very nice suburban neighborhood there were recently two men driving around trying to pull women into their white van.

That girl who was abducted at 11 and found 18 years later was pulled into a car by a husband/wife team.

The boy and girl who were abducted a few years ago were in their swimsuits on their front lawn. The boy was killed; the girl was fortunately found.

A California girl was abducted and killed by a man who pulled up in a truck and then grabbed her.

Another girl was told to walk home as punishment and abducted and never seen again.

The son of the host of America's Most Wanted was abducted at a mall in a matter of seconds. His head was found in a river.

It has happened thousands of times.
It takes only a few seconds for a parent's (and child's) worst nightmare to materialize.

I realize the odds are small, but that's partly because most parents are vigilant enough. If you encourage parents to watch their children less closely, you make kids easy marks for perverts.

The odds of drowning to death or dying with a lawn dart to the head are small too, but it does happen and nobody ridicules parents for taking appropriate safety precautions with our kids.

Would you leave your wallet on a busy street for an hour and walk away, and expect to find it when you come back? Would you do it again and again every day?

When you send your your kid to school on a busy street, it's like putting your wallet out there every day, except that you're putting the safety of someone far more precious than money into the potential reach of any nutjob or pervert who happens to come along.

Why is that a good plan?

I know the odds of getting into danger for my pretty 11-year-old daughter, which are low right now, would go up dramatically if I encouraged her to walk the streets by herself on a daly basis.

Some kids are less likely to be targets for nuts. A boy is less likely, although gay kidnapping has happened too. As kids get older and stronger, they are in less danger. Rural areas off the beaten path may be statistically much safer than, say, a busy urban street.

I noticed that the Yale student who was just murdered was petite. Being small, even as an intelligent adult, makes you an easier, physically weaker target --just the kind criminals like.

Kids are easy marks for criminals. Their muscles aren't even fully developed, no matter how intelligent and streetwise they think they are. They are also certain to be unarmed.

That's why children aren't ready to protect themselves at age 7 or 10 or 12. They aren't even fully grown yet. If they stay safe, it's partly because genuine sickos can't be everywhere at once.

The odds are nothing will happen on any given day, but I choose not to play roulette with my children even if the odds are 999 to 1 in my favor. The cost is too high, if I lose that gamble one time. And the more days I tempt fate, the higher the odds of encountering that moment of real danger. No thanks.

I do agree that kids need increasing responsibility and independence as they approach 18. They do need to be ready to go to college or jobs and to be street smart.

But don't underestimate human evil. And don't assume that a 12-year old can take care of himself or herself when two men pull up in a van, when the poor kid is not even physically fully grown yet.

I'm not going to play roulette with my children's lives. And, yes, I do question parents who do, and I am sad for their children.

I know life can throw curveballs at us all, and the most carefully watched child could still be murdered in some freak situation or could die of deadly disease. But to the extent that it is in our power, we need to keep our children safe, healthy and well. Keep them alive to grow up to adulthood is job #1. This isn't the kind of choice where you get another chance if you are too careless.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 08:58:00 PM:

Driving a kid to school is more dangerous (because of car accidents) than letting them walk alone.  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Mon Sep 14, 09:24:00 PM:

Squealer.... how old do you think we *are*? Traffic hasn't gone up THAT much in the last decade... also, several folks HAVE mentioned having the kids walk in groups.

As a bonus, you can't list "an age" that kids can just walk to school, because the different routes have different risks. If it's (as one person told) visible from your front porch, five or six is no problem; if it's two miles of the only paved road through a rural area, with no sidewalks and ditches all around, walking isn't practical. If you live in the middle of Drug Sales R Us, have one kid and don't know the neighbors, probably not a good idea to let the kid walk.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 09:29:00 PM:

I remember those mile-long walks to school, rain or shine. And G-damn Tuesdays when it was band practice and I had to lug a friggin' French Horn.

You really learn to forge strong relationships when you walk to/from school with other kids. You have nothing to do but talk for a half an hour or so.

Heck, we'd leave school, play football or whatever, and eventually head home. And our parents weren't in any rush to get us back home, either.

Times sure have changed.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 09:36:00 PM:

It's also more risky today for a kid to walk to school these days because most other kids don't.

Back in the day the streets were littered with kids making their way to school, greatly decreasing the likelihood something would happen simply because more people were out and about.

And keep in mind that the pervs know when kids are going to school. My little sister's bus to the all-girls catholic school was occasionally followed by some dude who'd wack off in his car behind the bus. Lord knows what would happen if he found any of these girls alone.

It's a tough call, really.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Mon Sep 14, 10:49:00 PM:

The very end of the article really got me. Not only did the neighbor not allow the kid to walk home ONLY 5 FRICKIN' HOUSES AWAY, the neighbor DROVE her!!!

Jim C.
demento.fan =at= gmail \dot\ com  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Tue Sep 15, 12:09:00 AM:

A few consolidated reactions to the many comments.

Yes, I have kids. They are now 18 and 14, but were younger once.

I agree with Mrs. C'Villain -- if more people walked to school, walking to school would be safer, so the social trend in the opposite direction is reinforcing. Too bad, I say.

Of course there are plenty of people who live in situations where more supervision is warranted. If school is across a busy highway from your house, a different judgment is in order. But here in Princeton, for instance, that is not true, and still there are no bikes parked in front any more, and virtually no kids younger than high school walk.

A couple of people have mentioned tragedies, for which I am obviously sorry. That is bound to alter your weighing of the risks and benefits. No doubt it would for me. But that does not mean that helicopter parents are not weakening the defenses of their children later on. I admit, it is tough to weigh a small number of tragedies against millions of kids who have less independence and street smarts than they should.

If we had local policies that encouraged biking and walking to school, it would be much safer (Mrs. C'Villain's point).  

By Blogger Jamie, at Tue Sep 15, 05:57:00 AM:

Anonymous @8:48, allowing your kid to walk somewhere is almost nothing like leaving your wallet on the street. The only way in which a wallet is like a child is that both contain value; but a wallet can't make judgments, can't walk or run in any direction, has no sense of its own value, and is much more compact, quieter, and easier to make off with.

Children can be abducted, abused, injured, killed... and if it happened to one of mine, it would take the whole resources of the rest of my family, my church, and my friends to convince me that the rest of my life might still be worth living. But be careful not to blow the dangers wildly out of proportion.

You mentioned a bunch of anecdotes, scattered widely in time and space; if you'd said, "Six children were abducted from my small town last year," now that'd be a definite reason to have parents monitoring everything children did in that town. It would not, however, mean that I, in a completely different town, necessarily needed to up my vigilance.  

By Anonymous bandit, at Tue Sep 15, 09:01:00 AM:

Don't let your kid go to Yale.  

By Blogger Maureen, at Tue Sep 15, 09:04:00 AM:

Fine. Bad stuff can always happen. Anywhere. Your child is not absolutely safe even in her own home, and if she were, a meteor could still fall on her head.

What about the non-minuscule chance that good things could happen? That your child could get plenty of exercise, grow up healthy and happy, and become a self-confident adult who lives a happy life.

Or you could just cower indoors, keeping your children locked up, and waiting for the falling meteors to crush you into powder. That'd be sensible.

Statistically, there's a lot better chance that your kids will get killed by you getting into an accident driving them to school. Or that you'll just murder them, as many parents do. Lots more common than stranger abductions.

Unless you live in a slum or indeed have a scad of registered sex offenders in the neighborhood, they're safer walking.  

By Blogger Maureen, at Tue Sep 15, 09:08:00 AM:

Oh, and it's not just kids who get picked up by the police for walking. My grandma called the police when I was visiting, and had only been walking around her quiet neighborhood for half an hour. (And I told her where I was going and that I'd be coming back in an hour.)

Nothing like getting picked up by the po-po for being outside without my mommy, at the highly vulnerable age of thirty-five....  

By Anonymous Mrs. Charlottesvillian, at Tue Sep 15, 01:09:00 PM:

TH --

If, in fact, the thesis is that "helicopter parents are . . . weakening the defenses of their children," I would in principle agree with that statement.

I guess I don't see the method of transport to school as a clear-cut litmus test on helicoptering. And, really, I think it's important to trust and support individual parents' judgment about what works for their specific circumstances and for their particular children -- even when their actions may appear as "helicoptering" from the sidelines.

Obviously, the implication of the Styles piece was that parents are shepherding their children to school to protect them from becoming the next Jaycee Dugard, but it's not at all clear that the inference is accurate. (Shocked, I tell you, that the Styles investigative journalists have led us down this garden path.) Sure, statistically more parents drive their children than in the past. Why? Probably many reasons, including but not limited to (1) people/crime-related safety concerns (as you mention), (2) traffic safety concerns (more people live in "remote" cul-de-sac neighborhoods without sidewalks; cars are bigger and there is more traffic), (3) they don't know their neighbors/neighborhoods well enough to feel comfortable assessing the actual risks (more mobile workforce; more hours at the office), (4) tighter school budgets have eliminated bus transportation, (5) they want to spend some time with their kids, (6) it's more convenient since they're driving to work anyway, (7) cul-de-sac bus routes are incredibly inefficient -- your children may spend an hour on the bus when your car ride might take 10 minutes, (8) their overly-entitled children demand that they be driven, and the parents acquiesce as is their pattern . . . , and so forth.

I have something of an unfair advantage here, knowing that growing up your elementary school backed up more or less to your back yard, so you may have walked pretty early, even by then-current standards. I also suspect that your children have probably not walked themselves to school as (as far as I recall) they have never attended a neighborhood school. Nor likely have they ridden a school bus. I bet if we diverted the thread a bit, we could get some great stories about "street smarts" that children have acquired on school buses over the years! I know mine have, and they are still in their early elementary years.

To broaden the discussion at the thesis point, however: if, in fact, "helicopter parents are . . . weakening the defenses of their children," why the helicoptering? And where is the line between being an appropriately "involved," "concerned," or "supportive" parent and needing to don the headset & aviator glasses in the morning?  

By Blogger Foxfier, formerly Sailorette, at Tue Sep 15, 01:16:00 PM:

I'd guess that the helo'ing comes from folks feeling like they're not doing enough-- because a lot of mothers work, and there's so many broken families and thus less time with the kids.

What is helo'ing would vary from kid to kid-- my folks never gave me a time I had to be in by, because...well, I'm a geek, I didn't party; I told them where I was going to be and why. My sister had a curfew, had to clear who she would be with, etc.

I guess a good minimum would be "have a strong basic idea of where your child is and what they are doing, in case anything goes wrong."
(Beaten home by my grandparents having that very rule-- saved one of my uncle's classmate's life when he got alcohol poisoning.)  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Tue Sep 15, 07:08:00 PM:

Kids are not miniature adults. They are physically weaker and smaller. They are more easily excited, distracted, tricked, misled, or grabbed.

Who is an easier target for perverts -- grown adults or a tween? Who can they more easily abduct -- someone driving or riding in a car or a small, weaker person walking on a public streets with no adult around?

The risk may be small on a given occasion, but it goes up if kids walk the same street day after day, a predictable route that criminals can "case."

A difference between a kid and a wallet left on a public street day after day is that my wallet I can replace. My kid gets one and only one life.

I think the New York Times generally focuses too much on the parents and their needs and wants. The NYT also lives in a fantasy world in which kids are mini-adults, and adults are the only truly vulnerable people who make mistakes and need second chances.

Unlike real adults, children are expected to function as perfect little adults -- not only capable of walking to school, but aso capable of making adult choices about engaging in sex, using contraception or having abortions. They are supposed to walk themselves to and from school for what purpose? The thrill of freedom? Maybe the first day or two, but after that it's just a big long walk with a heavy backpack. The route to and from school is not exactly the call of the wild.

Tweens are not little adults. They are half-child and half-adult. They need guidance and physical protection as well as a measure of freedom where it is safe.

Having your child abducted or molested is not a catastrophe you can insure against. If you are wrong once, you lose big. It's like living in a home without fire insurance. You're brilliant, except for that one time in 200 years when a fire comes through your neighborhood or a loose wire in a wall begins to spark. Then you pay a fearsome price from which you never recover.

There are sex offenders everywhere, according to the registry. And no, they aren't on the sex offender list just because they peed against a wall. Maybe that's what they tell their friends. It's very easy to get misdemeanor offenses that truly involve no threat to children dismissed or expunged. It is very hard to get a conviction in America -- remember the guilty beyond a reasonable doubt standard? If someone is a convicted sex offender, take it seriously. Someone already took it seriously enough to plead guilty or to go to trial and get a conviction.

Women are constantly advised to know their surroundings, get their keys out before they go outside to their car, be careful if a van is parked next to their car, use escort services on campus, etc. etc. And then we have people advising kids -- with no keys or cars -- to just walk to and fro on public streets as if they are little superheroes with supernatural "street smarts." Let's not overestimate the power of street smarts. They do not turn a child into a little superhero capable of anticipating and overcoming any danger. The predator has street smarts of his own, and no moral compunctions. He will overcome your kid's "street smarts" with one trick, one knife, one threat, one crow bar, one strong arm, one vehicle ready to pull away from a curb quickly.

Taking care of kids until they are physically as strong as adults is hard but necessary.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Tue Sep 15, 08:25:00 PM:

Might be late to post to this thread, but there's a great book, Last Child in the Woods, that discusses how children have lost the chance for unstructured, unsupervised play outdoors. I think the political left and right might both agree that's a bad thing that should be corrected.

(Disclosure: I get a brief mention in the book for an idea I had on defending landowners against nuisance liability lawsuits.)  

By Anonymous Mrs. Charlottesvillian, at Wed Sep 16, 01:51:00 PM:

Looks like an interesting book . . . but I'm betting the subtitle loses as many potential readers as it hooks; I know, there's no arguing with editors :-). Thanks for the suggestion.  

By Anonymous Brian Schmidt, at Wed Sep 16, 05:58:00 PM:

Regarding getting more children/people to walk to change driver awareness, here's a data point I saw recently: bicycle ridership in New York City has risen 90% in the last decade, while accidents have increased 10%. The implication is that drivers are becoming more aware of cyclists.  

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