Don’t you just love going on social media these days to find out how much you’re screwing up your kid? Of late, the parents who are doing it all wrong seem to be those of us whose kids don’t play outside like we did back in the day.
You remember way back when, don’t you? When your curfew was the time the streetlights turned on, and we rode bikes without helmets, slept in the back of the station wagon, ate lead paint chips and somehow lived through it all?
If the aughts were about getting so far up your kid’s behind that you could see the backside of their tonsils, the past few years have been the very opposite. Free-range parenting is in, and if you dare admit your kid does something as awful as play inside on a sunny Saturday, well then you must be a sheep who believes every bit of fearmongering the Internet throws your way.
It’s true. If you’ve locked your kid inside the house because you’re afraid a pedophile is going to snatch them up and you’ll never see them again, you probably have bought into some over-hyped nonsense. As one piece in The New York Times so aptly put it, “The tales of pedophiles luring children out of their homes are like plane crashes: they happen extremely rarely, but when they do, they make headlines everywhere.”
Statistics bear this out: Most child sex abuse occurs in a residence (not your backyard), and it’s perpetrated by someone known to the child rather than a stranger.
So, why is it that sane, well-adjusted knowledgeable parents don’t just open the back door this summer and say “Go ahead, and don’t come back until the streetlights come on”?
Could it be we have other things we fear a whole hell of a lot more than pedophiles? Here’s just a taste of everything that will be going through my head when my kid asks to play outside this summer (and here’s betting I’m not alone):
From the time kids are old enough to stand, American parents are badgering them to “look both ways before you cross the street.” But repeating the words until you’re blue in the face may not be enough. We have far more cars on the roads today than our parents had to deal with, and while the vehicles themselves are getting safer, pedestrians remain the one group of road users who continue to see an increase in fatalities.
Kids are at a particular risk not only because they’re smaller and less likely to be seen by motorists, but because of the way their brains work. When scientists at the University of London investigated why kids younger than 15 are so susceptible to being hit by cars, they found that kids have a harder time determining how far away a car is and how fast it’s traveling, meaning their guesses as the time they have to get out of the way can put them in huge danger. Is it any wonder one-fifth of child traffic fatalities are pedestrians?
This may not be a concern in more urban areas, but we live in the country where dog owners often allow their pooches to run in their yards unrestrained by leashes or chains. That means it’s not uncommon to look at my front window and see a strange canine loping through the field across the street. Typically, the dogs are harmless, but after a dog bite incident, I’m more on edge than I used to be, and the numbers support that. According to the CDC, some 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. The chief victims are kids — mostly between the ages of 5 and 9. What’s more, one in five bites become infected. That’s 900,000 infected bites!
I grew up next to a river, and like every kid who grows up near water, I heard over and over (and over and over) that I was forbidden to go anywhere near it without the oversight of at least one responsible adult. I listened, of course.
OK, just kidding. The neighbor kid and I probably spent as much time in the water as we did pedaling our little feet as furiously as we could down the road toward home, hoping the faster we moved, the more likely we would be to air-dry before we rounded the bend near his house.
This is what scares me — that my kid will be like kids since the beginning of childhood and not listen to her parents. This can make for some great adventures, it’s true. But considering statistics bear out that it’s actually more dangerous for your kid if there’s a swimming pool in your neighborhood than a neighbor with a gun, is it any wonder parents worry?
Once upon a time, way back in those golden days that we all yammer on about on Facebook, every kid in the neighborhood was outside playing, and every parent was happy to be rid of them. But these days, parents who send their kids outside to play are just as likely to get a knock on the door from the police as they are to hear a ragtag band of neighborhood tykes tromping in to raid the fridge.
It seems every time you turn around, another parent has been reported by some nosy busybody who just can’t believe that kids are allowed to play. Alone. Like we all did way back when.
Will my kid get to play outside this summer? Of course. We can’t put kids in bubbles.
Will I hem and haw a little bit when she asks to take off around the block without me? Well… wouldn’t you?