The world isn’t a safe place, therefore we cannot let our children out of our sight even for a moment or something terrible might happen. This is the echo of the fear mongering media and the people who buy into it.
It’s true, the world is not a safe place. It never has been, it never will be. We cannot child proof it.
However the world is AT LEAST AS safe as it was when all of today’s parents were growing up – in most cases, it is actually safer. Crime is down. And more specifically -crime against children is down.
You’d never know that based on the screaming headlines of abductions, molestations and other heinous wickedness.
But if all you read is the headlines, you miss the bigger picture.
Out of all of those crimes against children the vast, vast majority of them were perpetuated not by a stranger in a park, but by someone those children knew and trusted. A coach, a priest, a teacher, a family member.
My children are statistically safer at the park with strangers than they are at summer camp.
My children are statistically MUCH safer playing at the park than they are in my car, in car seats being properly used.
My children are statistically safer climbing trees at the park than they are taking medicine prescribed to them by their physician.
Yet no one is calling for a ban on summer camp, or demanding that children never be placed in cars, or that they never be given prescription medicine. Because society tells us that in those instances, the benefits outweigh the risks.
Summer camp is enriching. Cars are essential. Prescription medicine saves more lives than it kills.
So what is it about children’s unencumbered, unsupervised play that makes it seem unenriching, unessential and superfluous? What is it that seems so… wrong and neglectful and dangerous about letting children play unsupervised? After all, we did it.
Is this really the first thing we think of when we think of kids alone, unsupervised?
The following day when she went on Anderson Cooper Live, the show I bowed out of, they paired her with a “law enforcement officer” who was “outraged, just outraged”. After all, didn’t Lenore know that a 73-year-old woman was raped in Central Park at the same time that those 4 kids were there, playing unsupervised. Clearly our children are ALWAYS at risk.
And this is the problem with the conversation as it stands. Lenore and I, and others who understand math, can point out – over and over and over again – that statistically our children are safer at the park than almost anywhere else.
We can point out that play IS in fact essential in the same way that cars are, and enriching in the same way that summer camp is, and an argument could even be made that free play has saved more lives than it has taken – after all a confident, capable child is less likely to be targeted for violence than a frightened, isolated, shy child.
But as soon as we make that argument, some moment of violence inevitably occurs. And it doesn’t even matter if the violence is directed at children. Suddenly the argument has shifted and the fear mongers hold the upper hand – A 73-year-old woman was raped, by someone she was familiar with, in retaliation for something that happened the week previous, therefore ALL CHILDREN EVERYWHERE are at risk.
I sit here and stutter and try to get out the words to explain how completely ridiculous this line of argument is, words that will somehow put this back into perspective. But how do you argue with someone who believes that because an orange was pulped, all apples are at risk?
Around 65,000 people visit central park on an average day, or 25 million people annually. (Yes, many of those people are repeat visitors, clearly. In fact, some of them live there for all practical intents and purposes.) And this is in a hot crime spot, where children are ALWAYS in danger and 73-year-old women are getting raped in broad daylight. So, we would expect that when we looked at the crime stats, that we would see this reflected.
This woman suffered from the first reported rape in Central Park in all of 2012. (See link above.)
In 2011, there were exactly 2 reported rapes in Central Park. Not to downplay what happened to these women, or any women (or men) who have experienced rape, but these statistics do not tell me that our children are unsafe. Quite the opposite. These statistics tell me that children have an excellent chance of surviving a trip to the park unscathed. In fact, looking at the stats tells me that you are more likely to win the lotto than to be harmed during a trip to Central Park.
Furthermore, it seems telling that in the Central Park crime stats, there isn’t even a category for crimes against children. There is no abduction category, no child molestation category, no child assault category. There is nothing in the stats that implies that children are being targeted, abused, assaulted, abducted, or harmed in a criminal way. At all.
25 million visitors and not one criminal attack on children.
That’s well below national averages.
Now the naysayers will shout – but that’s because we watch our children now.
But is it? Because while your children may suffer from the luxury of having a parent available 24-7, there are still many, many children who do not. Children of single working mothers, children of dual income families, children of free-range parents. And I would be willing to bet that some of these children have played at Central Park and lived to tell about it.
Further – I know, for a fact, that all the helicoptering in the world cannot protect children from all harm.
One of my helicopter friends fell carrying his precious 2-year-old son down the stairs and broke his son’s leg. He was so worried about his toddler navigating the dangerous stairs on his own and yet, what ultimately hurt his child was over-parenting.
Helicoptered children have been harmed at school, at camp, by relatives, in cars, by coaches, by church officials, by doctors, by freak, random chance, by “acts of God”.
The sad truth is – we cannot protect our children 100%. We can’t.
What we can do is PREPARE them, to the best of our abilities. We can arm them with knowledge, with skills, with words and confidence – and then we can let them go, a little bit at a time, letting them lengthen the leash inch by inch until one day they discover that they are ready to be let off.
In a perfect world that moment comes when the parent too is ready to let go, but often kids know first, and as parents we have to test them and challenge them to prove their abilities one more time.
Do they know their phone number, and how to dial it from any phone?
Do they know what to do in an emergency?
Do they know the difference between a real emergency and a small set-back?
Are they able to follow the rules even when they are out of your sight?
Do they talk to you – even about uncomfortable stuff?
Will they tell you if something happens to them?
Have you given them the emotional and psychological power to do what it takes to protect themselves?
And those first few times – do they have a friend, or a group of friends, that they can go with so that they can have each others’ backs?
And then, you let them go – and because you know you prepared them well, you simply hope that lightning doesn’t strike.