A story on NPR today confirmed what I’ve believed for quite some time now. Though we seem more fearful than ever as a nation, crime actually is on the decline and has been for years. In fact, the crime rates in America now reflect those of the 50s. You know, that “perfect” era everyone harkens back to when they decry the state of America today. But in reality, today’s world in the realm of safety resembles that halcyon decade more so than that of the 70s when many of those parenting children growing up today came of age.
On a summer night like tonight, circa, oh, 1976 or so, I would likely have been found at dusk hanging out in anticipation of sighting the glow of the first lighting bug of the evening on our street’s vacant lot. The lot where someone rigged a tire swing on a sturdy pine branch, providing a gathering spot for kids taking a break from riding bikes or playing in the woods. My mother would either step out and call for me at dinner time or, better, wander down to the lot herself to join in a conversation with other moms out on kid gathering expeditions.
And yet, many parents today reacted with horror to Lenore Skenazy’s suggestion that we allow our kids to play alone in the park. Skenazy writes a blog, Free Range Kids, that promotes the idea that worrying less about safety actually leads to more responsible, self-reliant kids. Her blog often serves as a reminder of how far toward the “security” end of the spectrum parenting today has swung.
Perhaps it’s because I’ve always believed Suburbia provides a safe environment for kids, or perhaps it’s because I do actually know a number of my neighbors, but I’ve never worried much about giving my kids free reign of the neighborhood. They walk to one of two of our neighborhood parks to play, ride bikes with their friends, and, in the case of Soccer Boy, build forts in the woods. They go to the neighborhood pool and swim on their own–though I’d draw the line at that if there weren’t a lifeguard on duty.
Lately, with the advent of a new big box store within walking distance, I even send them down the street to buy things I’ve forgotten or to shop for themselves. Evidently this provides some novelty at times for the clerks, particularly in eleven-year-old Soccer Boy’s case. But why shouldn’t an eleven-year-old boy walk a block or two and pick up a loaf or bread, some milk, or detergent? By doing so, he learns to interact with adults, ask for help when needed, and conduct small monetary transactions.
And, no, I don’t worry that he’ll somehow be grabbed off the street and swept away never to be seen again. Is it a possibility? Of course, just like it’s a possibility for him to be snatched out of his bed by a deranged stranger. But I don’t go to bed every night worried about that, and I refuse to limit my kids’ independence and ability to be responsible for themselves over the equally unlikely concern that they’ll be kidnapped in public.
I refuse, because all kids deserve their own lightning bug moments. The ones that promote wonder and a sense of possibility. After all, that’s what growing up is all about.