“Hey mom and dad, can I start walking the dog on the dirt road to do an extra chore and get a little more allowance?”
It was a perfectly reasonable question from my son, who is turning 7 in a couple of weeks. We live in a small suburban town where both my wife and I grew up. We are friendly with most of the neighbors, with one glaring exception. In order to walk the dog, he’d have to cross one quiet side street in front of our house and then walk on a dirt road with only one house on it. He’d be out of sight for a bit but still within shouting distance. In my mind it was a win-win because he’d learn the value of hard work and taking initiative, and he’d be getting some exercise to boot.
Which is why it’s ridiculously unfortunate we had to tell him no.
Why? Because as my wife pointed out, “I’m fine with it, but we can’t do it because someone will see him alone and call the cops. We’ll end up battling Child Protective Services just for letting him walk the dog by himself.”
I wanted to argue with her and tell her she was being silly, but I couldn’t. Because unfortunately, this is where we’re at when it comes to overprotective parenting in 2015.
Don’t believe me? Just ask the single working mom who was arrested for letting her 9-year-old play at a nearby park while she worked because she couldn’t afford childcare. Or Tammy Cooper, the Texas mom arrested after a neighbor told police she was neglecting her kids simply because they were outside on scooters. If you need something more recent, there’s the Maryland couple charged with “unsubstantiated child neglect” (whatever that’s supposed to mean) after doing nothing more than allowing their two children, 10 and 6, to walk home one mile from the park unsupervised.
Yet letting kids fire Uzis which results in a tragic death? Totally allowed and the parents are free from legal blame. Have fun trying to figure out that “logic.” But I digress.
As a child of the 80s/early 90s who grew up with the freedom to ride bikes around town unsupervised until the streetlights came flickering to life, I’m mystified as to where we went wrong and deviated so far off course. But then I read the online comments from said overprotective parents, and the answer is suddenly very apparent.
It’s all about fear and misinformation.
Without fail, when discussing this with other parents who disagree, I’ll see someone write “Well times have changed and the world isn’t as safe as it was back then.” Ironically, they’re not all wrong. Times have changed and the level of safety is not the same as it was in the supposed good old days. Want to know why? Because the world is a safer place in 2015.
Yes, that’s right. Statistically speaking, the data shows we are living in a much safer world than 20+ years ago.
Between 1993 and 2012, violent crime in the US declined by 48%, according to the FBI Uniform Crime Reports. Homicides fell by 51% and forcible rape was down by more than one-third. Furthermore, crimes against children specifically have declined since 2003. According to the University of New Hampshire Crimes Against Children Research Center, physical assault against children ages 2-17 was down 33%, while instances of attempted and completed rape declined by 43% between 2003-2011.
And if you want to focus on kidnappings, the Polly Klaas Foundation – a national nonprofit dedicated to the recovery of missing children – found there are only 100 stereotypical “stranger abductions” each year, in which a child is plucked off the street by an unknown person. There is a higher chance of kids being abducted by family members or acquaintances, according to the foundation’s website.
In fact, if you’re really worried about the safety of kids, you shouldn’t let them ride in a car. Or swim in a pool. Because more children die in car accidents and drownings than are kidnapped by strangers.
I used to simply shake my head at the overprotective parents of the world and go on raising my kids the way my wife and I think is best. But this incident has made me realize that’s not always possible.
We’ve moved beyond good Samaritans rescuing babies left in hot cars and scooping up toddlers who have found their way out of houses and are playing near traffic. Those kinds of things are not the problem, and are in fact expected as members of the human race. Too many kids are suffering real, terrible abuse and that must never be allowed to continue. However, the irrational fear of the way other people parent and the willingness to alert the authorities simply for disagreeing with a parenting style other than their own, is also a genuine concern.
The Maryland parents know their kids best and know they’re capable of walking to the park alone, just as I know my son can handle walking the dog by himself. But the bottom line is that no longer matters, because the way other people parent is now directly impacting my ability to raise my children how I see fit. Because if parents 300 miles from me can be charged simply for letting their kids walk to and from the park, it is not a stretch to think the same thing could happen if my son walks the dog alone.
Unfortunately, our lives could be turned instantly upside down with one phone call from someone who simply disagrees with how we parent. That’s not right, and that scares me. It should scare all of us.