- - Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The days when a boy could ride his bicycle to the park to take in a carefree summer day are gone with the wind. Society now insists on coddling the young, insisting on helmets and padding lest a raindrop fall and bruise a scalp or skull. A new Reason-Rupe poll, alas, finds that’s the way Americans want it, because they’re terrified that boys will be boys.

Among those surveyed, 83 percent demand laws against parents who won’t constantly hover over their 6-year-olds playing in a public space. Sixty-eight percent want the government to intervene lest a 9-year-old be seen by himself in a public park at high noon.

This is no theoretical concern. Police in Port St. Lucie, Fla., arrested a mom who allowed her 7-year-old son, Dominic, to walk to a park a half-mile from their home. Dominic had a cellphone and could call if he ran into trouble. His mom regularly checked in to see if he was OK.

That wasn’t OK enough for a neighborhood busybody, who saw the youngster playing on his own and called the constable. The mom was taken away and charged with felony child neglect. Putting parents away on such fluff and flimsy isn’t exactly the most effective way to ensure good parenting, but common sense goes out the window when some people talk about children.

Scary news stories about “stranger danger” and missing children abound, with the always-excited media giving the impression that kids are more at risk now than they were decades ago. That’s not true.

Not only is murder at a record low, children under 11 are the least likely of any demographic group to be a victim, according to the FBI. An FBI analysis in 2000 found that more than 80 percent of assaults on children occur in the home, not at school or in a park. Most are committed by acquaintances or, less often, by members of the family. Only 5 percent are committed by strangers.

Another Justice Department study conducted in 2000 found that of 58,200 missing-child reports, only 115 represented actual kidnappings. “Most children’s nonfamily abduction episodes,” the study concluded, “do not involve elements of the extremely alarming kind of crime that parents and reporters have in mind (such as a child’s being killed, abducted overnight, taken long distances, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child) when they think about a kidnapping by a stranger.”

Once child-custody disputes and false reports are weeded from the numbers, the statistics show that only 14 children under the age of 17 were taken from a public park in a typical 12-month period. Staying at home is no safer; 16 were snatched away from their homes. Far more kids die every year from poisoning or drowning in the home than from abduction.

The child is the ultimate victim of the irrational fear of play time without constant surveillance. Jettisoning the training wheels from a bicycle is an important moment in a child’s life, a recognition that he can balance himself without assistance. If he falls and skins his knee, he learns there are limits to what he can do. He learns that independence has limits.

Learning the limits of independence is what growing up is all about. Forcing kids to spend their childhoods encased in bubble wrap, bathed in the glow of a television screen, creates a generation of timid dependents. Small wonder that Obamacare encourages 26-year-old “children” to freeload on their parents’ health insurance plans.

The Florida mom deserves congratulations, not a felony conviction, for trying to enable her son to grow up the way nature intends him to.