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Our Kids Are Safer Than They Ever Have Been

Image Source: Monica Bielanko
Image Source: Monica Bielanko

There is a quietly growing parenting war being waged in response to the recent detainment of two Maryland children, ages 10 and 6, for being in the neighborhood park alone, with their parents’ permission. The Meitiv kids were picked up by police and given over to Child Protective Services — ostensibly to protect them from the dangers of walking home.

Until now, when any parenting debate got heated, everyone would calm down with the old “live and let live” adage. In other words — you raise your children the way you want to and I’ll do the same. But when laws are put into place that prohibit me from raising my children in the responsible manner in which I choose — we have a problem.

How is the state protecting my children when they enact laws that defy common sense and are little more than an irrational response to perceived dangers? An article titled “There’s Never Been A Safer Time To Be a Kid in America,” recently published in The Washington Post, uses FBI statistics on missing persons to support its claims. The statistics are interesting — missing person reports involving minors in America are at record low levels, and the number of these reports has dropped 40 percent since 1997.

I’d like to note here that the overall U.S. population has risen by 30 percent over the same time period, and the actual rate of missing children reports has fallen even faster than 40 percent. Not only that, but among all missing persons cases (adults and children) in 2014, roughly 96 percent were runaways — kids or adults deliberately trying to escape a situation at home. Just 0.1 percent of missing persons cases were what we’d think of as a “stereotypical kidnapping” — where a complete stranger tries to abduct somebody.

The takeaway? The likelihood of your child being kidnapped is infinitesimally small.

And yet we find ourselves parenting within this strange new culture where it’s standard conduct to call the police when we see perfectly capable children walking home from the park. Why? Do we secretly enjoy the fear that tingles our spine when a sensational news story dominates a 24/7 media culture hungry for the next big thing?

“It could happen to me,” we tell ourselves as we rubberneck the latest tragedy, bolstering our irrational parenting fears without being willing to entertain any true perspective on the likeliness of any such events happening to us. We end up judging risk by a measure of how horrible things would be if something happened, not how likely it actually is to happen.

If you really want to protect your children based on the likelihood of dangerous events, maybe you should start leaving them home alone (gasp!) when you go to the store in your car, as kids are so much more likely to be killed in a car accident than by a stranger. It’s funny that we have little fear of getting into an automobile, something that should actually terrify us, given the statistics. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop driving our children, does it? Of course not.

With stranger abductions so unbelievably uncommon, organizing your parenting paradigm around protecting kids from an almost nonexistent threat defies common sense. We don’t allow parents to decide when their children are mature enough to walk a couple blocks alone, yet it is legal to refuse to vaccinate your child against very real, contagious diseases. Go figure.

Listen. There are risks inherent in everything kids do. But life must be lived. How is a person to learn independence and how to calculate risks or discover their limits — much less learn to overcome them — if they’re constantly coddled by terrified parents?

Want to protect your kids from all dangers, real and imagined? You can try. Then, when that day finally comes when you aren’t there to maintain that bubble of protectiveness, will your child will be able to discriminate between what is safe and what is dangerous? There’s this little thing called growing up, and it is our job as parents to give our kids the life skills necessary to do so.

We can’t allow fear to rule our existence. If we worried about everything that could happen, we’d never leave the house. Teach your children well and when you feel the time is right, give them some independence. When they prove they can handle that, give them more.

As The Washington Post notes, “If it was safe enough for you to play unsupervised outside when you were a kid, it’s even safer for your own children to do so today.”

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