The story is awful: every parent’s nightmare. And of course, the reaction is a mix of horror and fear that something like that could happen to one of our own children. If…we aren’t protective enough. If…we don’t watch them well enough. If…we let them out of our sight, for one single, solitary second.
But life is risky, and who’s to say little Leiby would have been less a target if he were 10, 13, or 15? How do we really protect our kids from something as random (and rare) as a stranger abduction? (They happen in locked homes, too, you know.) Do we eliminate all risky behavior (driving in cars, taking baths) because they sometimes (a lot more often with the baths and cars than the kids walking alone, actually) turn out badly? Where do we draw the line between making our kids “safe enough” and keeping them from exploring, enjoying life and learning to be independent human beings…which is, of course, the ultimate goal?
I believe the answer is more, not fewer, kids running free.
I wrote about this dilemma on my blog today. From my post:
I try to temper my nostalgia about yesteryear with a firm dose of today’s reality. The things my mom could easily do, like letting me run free with a pack of kids from morning until night, isn’t so easy for today’s parents because a) the authorities might decide to get involved, and b) just where would we find this “pack of kids” anyway? …
Because I believe in free play for kids and want my children to grow up feeling a sense of pride in their community, “ownership” of their neighborhood, and independence, it’s important to me to do what I can to make my neighborhood a safer, play-friendly place for kids.
There’s safety in numbers – in the watchful eyes of many sets of adults, instead of just one; in the protective circle of many children, not just one. But creating a dynamic where kids play together in groups is a lot easier said than done. So how can we as parents encourage free play while building stronger communities and raising safer kids? I’ve shared six ideas on my blog, and would love to hear your thoughts, too.
*Update: several readers pointed out that my bringing “free-range parenting” – of which I am a proponent – into this post was sensationalist and didn’t serve my purpose of making parents feel reassured, rather than more afraid, of letting their kids have freedom. On further reflection I agree that though that was the opposite of my intent, it created a link between a horrible and unpredictable tragedy and a parenting style that many thoughtful, caring parents embrace. I have removed the reference to free-range parenting from the title and tags. My heart goes out to this little boy’s family and his entire community, and I apologize for any hurt or confusion I may have caused.