Unless you don't have children, you probably saw that video of the guy walking up to kids with a dog and striking up a conversation just to show how easily your child could walk away with a stranger. The moms in the video all swore up and down that they teach their children to never talk to strangers and when their children did, the camera panned to their shocked and horrified faces. So many women that I know shared the video with statuses that said, "Every mother should watch this and hold her children a little bit tighter," or, "The world isn't what it used to be; we have to be more vigilant with our kids."
Damn, I thought. Let me click on this video and see what all the hype is about because OF COURSE I want to protect my children and be a vigilant mom.
So, I clicked on it and started watching. And I was absolutely appalled. But not for the same reason my friends were.
Sadly, what was once a staple of American values - community - has fallen away as we have become inundated with news stories of very rare occurrences of child abductions, molestations, and rape by strangers. This has led our once-assumed collective responsibility for our children to morph into concern for only our own children. As Skenazy wrote, "Here [in the United States], [children are] seen as private property under constant threat of theft."
There is a show in Japan called "Hajimete no otsukai," which means Child's First Errand. Children are filmed as they complete their first errand on their own. The children are usually younger than 5 years old. In this video, you can see a mother sending her two kids alone, ages 5 and 2.5, to run some errands at their local butcher and grocer. The kids go to a park by themselves, play a while, and then do the errands. The whole community seems to support these children, complimenting them on a job well done.
Consider these facts (taken from THIS article in the Washington Post):
- Child mortality from all causes is at an all-time low (yay, in part, to vaccines!): nearly 450 deaths per 100,000 children aged 1-4 in 1934 compared to fewer than 30 deaths in the same age group today.
- The homicide rate for children 14-17 decreased 58% from 1993 to 2008, landing at 5.1 deaths per 100,000 kids; For kids under 14, the rate in 2008 was 1.5 cases per 100,000.
- Since 1997, child abductions have gone down by 40%, even though our population has risen by 30%, meaning that the actual rate of missing child reports filed has fallen more than 40%.
- Of these "abductions," only 0.1% of them were at the hands of a stranger.
- Better safety standards for cars and traffic means that traffic-related pedestrian accidents have declined as well.
- According to the National Institute of Justice, 75% of children who were sexually assaulted knew their molester well, with 60% of children knowing their molester from their own social circle.
- Only 14% of children violated did not know their assailant
- According to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, there have been significant declines of child sexual abuse since the 90s.
So, does that mean that you're negligent if you let your kids visit Cousin Matthew or Grandma and Grandpa or their best friend from school? Since the lifetime risk of being involved in a car accident is 1 in 84, does that make you a bad mother or father if you choose to drive to the grocery store instead of walking? Do we make these moms and dads feel like bad parents because of the (higher risk) of abuse or injury involved in cases like these? Of course not. But the second a parent leaves their child in their locked, running car for a few minutes to go grab a liter of milk, or allows their child, whom they have deemed responsible enough, to walk alone to the park, the cops are called and Child Protective Services gets involved. We victimize parents who have done nothing wrong simply because we have baseless fears and think what they have done is not OK.
So, let's teach our children that we can trust adults. Let's not make them scared of their neighbors but instead, give them the tools to recognize a dangerous situation and to have the strength, if at all possible, to get out of one. Let's let our children learn those important lessons that they can't learn at their parents' feet. Let's give our kids the gift our parents gave us when we were children: the ability to spend long summer days unsupervised, running through knee-high grass, building fairy houses out of twigs and leaves, lying down on the dirt and looking at the clouds, and stopping by the neighbor's house to ask to see their new puppy (make sure your family knows your neighbors well!). My fondest memories are of doing those very things, alone. Those moments brought magic to my childhood. Let's give our kids a little more credit and teach them about community, responsibility, and safety in a way that empowers them.
And if I did nothing to change your mind, even just nudge it a little bit to think about all of these things, maybe our favorite person in the world might: