By Aisha Sultan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
The story about 4-year-old Alisa Maier being abducted by a convicted sex offender while playing on her front yard reignited fear in the heart of many parents.
The little girl was recovered within a few days, but the impact of that nightmare scenario will linger in our minds. It forces us to confront the question of whether we will ever allow our children to play unsupervised in our neighborhoods.
Count us among the paranoid, but we will not let our 5-year-old and 7-year-old in the front yard alone. Better safe than sorry. And, even if the chance of something tragic happening is miniscule, why risk it?
Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” has tackled this issue of whether good parents ever let their kids out of their sight.
On her blog, she asks the question: Has the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation? Many parents believe it has.
Not according to the evidence, she writes.
Over at the think tank STATS.org, where they examine the way the media use statistics, researchers have found that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds very steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40 percent of them were killed.
She acknowledges that our fears are understandable (although irrational):
“Any kid killed is a horrible tragedy. It makes my stomach plunge to even think about it. But when the numbers are about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it’s also a very random, rare event. It is far more rare, for instance, than dying from a fall off the bed or other furniture. So should we, for safety’s sake, all start sleeping on the floor?
It’s crazy to limit our lives based on fear of a wildly remote danger.
I heard things that strike me as completely bizarre. One dad in an upscale suburb of New York, for instance, “lets” his 11-year-old walk one block to her best friend’s house — but she has to call the minute she arrives safely.
As if she’s been dodging sniper fire.
Dodged drug dealers, bullies, child molesters and psychopaths on that afternoon subway ride home by himself.
Not that facts make any difference. Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.
They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.
And then there are those who don’t.
We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.
Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.”
While I understand the author’s viewpoint, I would argue that parents who supervise their young children while they play are not necessarily stunting and stifling them. We are trying our very best to protect them without robbing them of their independence and childhood.
The extremely rare, worst-case scenario is so horrible to consider that it become difficult overcome an emotional reaction. It’s the cumulative effect of years of reading stories like Alisa’s (some with much worse outcomes).
The world may not be a more dangerous place, but we are more aware of the dangers around us.