I have these moments where I feel like I’m nostalgic for the “good ole’ days,” like…..you know, the 1990s. It seems like everywhere I turn I’m told that my kids are in terrible danger.
“It’s not like it was when we were kids,” they say.
“There are predators everywhere,” your friend says.
“You can’t let them out of your sight for a minute,” you hear from the mom at the park.
We share stories on social media of kidnapped children, or of creepy people who looked at our children funny at Walmart (who we’re SURE are predators!).
But is it true that your average American child growing up today is in more danger than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago?
The answer is actually, no, it’s not true.
One day I let my 5-year-old daughter go outside our house to roller skate. We lived on a safe street with sidewalks and rear entry garages, so there wasn’t any danger of a car backing out into her. I sat in the front room, sipping my coffee, while she went from the blue house to the fire hydrant (the distance she’d been told she could go) and I checked on her periodically. A few minutes later, I noticed an SUV park two doors down and just sit in the car outside. I waited for a minute and then came outside. A woman exited the car and said, “Oh, good, I thought this child was unsupervised. I decided I’d just wait right here to make sure an adult was watching her. It’s so dangerous out here these days.”
I thanked her for her concern and she got back in her car and drove off. But as I thought about this later, I thought, “My gosh, if my quiet, suburban street is SO dangerous that my kid isn’t allowed to even go OUTSIDE without me being there, maybe I shouldn’t live here.” It shook me up MORE that this woman assumed some adult must be being negligent if a child was outside playing without a visible grownup nearby.
In 2015 The Washington Post published a story sharing that the rate of child kidnapping has dropped 40% since 1997. Children are also less likely to be hit by cars and far less likely to die due to homicide. Contrary to popular belief, crimes against BOTH adults and children have dropped in the last few decades.
One of my biggest dreams for my children is that they have a true childhood because this is what will make them into confident, competent adults. Bit by bit, I feel like the modern world wants to take that from my children. It demands a sanitized life where they stay inside all day under fluorescent lights or get shuttled (by me) from pre-planned activity to activity, under the watchful eyes of adults.
But where does this end? An 8-year-old who has never been allowed out of sight of the eyes of an adult eventually becomes a 15-year-old being chaperoned as she goes to the movies with her friends. She eventually becomes an adult herself. And now she’s a grown-up who has limited experience with making daily decisions without the help of a grown-up. She’s been told the world is a big, bad scary place full of predators and dangers.
What I really want is this: I want them to run and play, ride bikes, have friends and neighbors that they know by name, get dirty, skin their knees, have arguments with their friends and figure out how to solve them, and come inside smelling like wet puppy dogs. I want them to become confident, strong, independent, creative, and resourceful.
Do you know what I worry about more when my kids play outside?
The judging eyes of other well-meaning adults.
I worry that in my very conscious, well-thought-out decision to allow my kids to play outside on our street, that some other adult will assume I’m negligent and call the authorities on me. If there’s any reason that I’m sometimes hesitant to let my kids out of my sight, that’s the real danger I fear. But maybe this fear is unfounded too. I worry that if my kid gets hurt in the normal course of being a kid, that I will be blamed because somehow I should have prevented it.
So, despite my own fears, I’ll continue to let my kids play outside. It’s too dangerous not to.
More resources on this topic: