On numerous occasions from the time I was 12 years old, my parents would let me walk from our house in Westchester, Ill., to the nearest bus stop (five short blocks), catch a bus to the westernmost terminus of Chicago‘s elevated train system (15 miles), take the “L” into downtown Chicago (20 miles), spend the day bumming around the Loop, and then backtrack my way home.
I usually had no more than $5 in my pocket, and this was in the late 1950s/early 1960s, meaning that my only means of contacting home, in the event of an emergency, was by pay phone. My parents never seemed to think any of this posed any more danger than riding my bike around the neighborhood, and I never felt the least bit threatened.
Sometimes, but not always, a friend accompanied me on my excellent adventure. On other occasions, my buddies and I would ride our bikes to the newly opened Oakbrook Shopping Center, a distance of five miles, on a heavily-trafficked four-lane thoroughfare.
Despite what the major media apparently want you to believe, children are as safe from predators today as they were in the 1970s. Furthermore, for all the “stranger danger” hysteria, a child is far more likely to be assaulted by an adult acquaintance than a stranger. In other words, a child is at greater danger (albeit the danger isn’t great at all) in his or her own neighborhood than five miles from home. Topping the list of uncomfortable statistics is the fact that a child is at greatest risk sitting in the back seat of a car being driven by a parent. (A good reason, by the way, to stop the after-school-activities rat race.)
But hysteria is not easily assuaged by facts or logic, which is why lots of people think Lenore Skenazy is certifiable and should have her 9-year-old son, Izzy, taken from her and placed in a foster home where he will never be allowed to venture farther than the backyard.
The reason for the hubbub: Ms. Skenazy recently left Izzy in Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s with a map, a transit card, $20 and some quarters for pay phones. His challenge was to find his way home via New York’s bus and subway system. As statisticians would have predicted, he was home 45 minutes later. Needless to say, Izzy was as proud of himself as his mom was proud of him.
Ms. Skenazy wrote about Izzy’s adventure in her column in the New York Sun, and the media sharks went into a feeding frenzy. She and Izzy have since been on the Today show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. In addition, she has been the subject of stories in several major periodicals, including Newsweek, and has written an article for Readers’ Digest. Ms. Skenazy also has started a Web site called Free Range Kids (www.freerangekids.com) where she promotes giving children the independence they deserve, the freedom to be trusted, the freedom to be out from under the near-constant vigilance of their parents.
Ms. Skenazy may be one of the few parents in America whose thought process has not been infected by the media fear mongers. Since the 1970s, parenting has morphed into a cultural neurosis, and being completely over-the-top paranoid about your child’s safety has become a sign of responsible parenting. It’s time to stop the insanity and begin allowing children the freedom to learn that the big, bad world isn’t so bad after all.
• Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).