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"Take Our Children to the Park...and Leave Them There Day!" Are You Crazy?

I’ve mentioned before that my style of parenting is somewhere between helicopter and free-range. I call it Satellite Parenting, because if there’s one thing I like, it’s making up terms for concepts that probably already have terms for them.

I grew up pretty free range, but because of addiction and single, working parent necessity rather than anything like a choice on my parents’ part. I turned out fine. Sure, I got hit by a van while riding my bike on a highway once, and sure, I fell through the ice into the St. Lawrence River once, and sure I…hmmm….

Actually, I was pretty lucky to survive being a Free Range Kid.

One thing I never dealt with was stranger-danger, or predators at the park (there was no park on the army bases or islands I lived on). I had no experience of it beyond After School Specials (from which I learned, by the way, that if you fall through the ice you stick your arms out to the side right away to catch yourself and I totally did that and it saved me from getting sucked away from the opening I fell through, so thanks TV parents!). But as a parent living in a world of sensationalized child abductions I am totally aware of this stuff now. It could very well be an irrational fear, and Lenore Skenazy, of Free Range Kids fame, certainly thinks it’s irrational. It’s so irrational, she thinks, that the world needs waking up! Let’s have a national day where we just send our kids to the park to play by themselves. Moreover, let’s announce the date and time! This weekend, Saturday May 19th at 10am is the 3rd Annual Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day!”

About the primal fear modern parents have about predators roaming the parks to steal away children who lack supervision, Skenazy says:

We’re so racked with predator panic these days, it’s almost hard for parents to imagine their kids NOT getting abducted. And yet, the crime rate is at a 40-year low. It’s actually lower now than when most of today’s parents were growing up — and playing outside! And don’t think the reason kids are safer now is because they’re under constant supervision. ALL violent crime is down — including crimes against adults whom we do NOT lock inside on sweet, sunny days telling them it’s for their own good. So if our own loving parents let us play outside when crime was higher, why don’t we let our kids play outside now, when the crime rate is lower?

Now, most kids who are sent to the park on Saturday will be fine. Statistically, they can’t all be kidnapped or get hit by a car on the way home. And perhaps they will all be fine. But I do not buy Skenazy’s argument against my irrational (statistically) fear of predators at all. Here’s why:

Suppose we accept that violent crime rates are down across the board, and are lower than when we were kids and falling through the ice and getting hit by vans on the highway. Skenazy suggests that the decrease in crime overall has some relation to a decrease in predatory child abductions, and that this relation has nothing to do with contemporary vigilance against predatory behavior. Why? Because violent crime is also down against adults. But hold on! What is responsible for the lower crime rate overall? And why would lower overall crime rates have any causal relationship with a lowering of the rate of a particular type of crime? For instance, why would a decrease in muggings be related to a decrease in child abductions? One crime is motivated by economics, the other by psychology. What reason could they share that would see one go down when the other goes down? Well, here’s one reason: Everyone is watching you.

I don’t know what reason Skenazy might have for thinking that a lower predatory crime rate is not linked to vigilance. Or maybe she thinks there’s actually more predation now, with vigilant parents, than there was 40 years ago when parents didn’t monitor play, and so vigilance itself is ineffective so why bother with it. I don’t know. I do know that the argument that says “Crime is lower overall, therefore kids are safe at the park, therefore there is no need to maintain a watchful eye” doesn’t work. It only follows if there is some common feature between crimes that explains the lowering of all of them, and that rules out vigilance as that feature.

I’m not saying don’t send your kids to the park alone this Saturday (although I won’t be). But do it because you’ve been convinced by some argument other than the one given by Skenazy.

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More of me on Parenting Off the Map:

“Why You Should Ignore Your Kids”

“Back Off Moms, I’m Parenting Here”

“Dadventures In Parenting: A Multiple-ending Story for Your Enjoyment”

 

 

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