This week, the Washington Post told us "There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America” and postulated that stricter parenting is "probably not" a contributor. Why is the news media so reluctant to give modern parents any credit for their parenting style?
The article presents data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that shows that "between 1993 and 2013, the number of child pedestrians struck and killed by cars fell by more than two-thirds, from more than 800 deaths to fewer than 250”. Bryan Caplan, an economist at George Mason University, comments "It's hard to say that much of the decline [in mortality and abduction rates] comes from stricter parenting. There are a lot of factors driving those trends downward -- better safety standards for cars and better pedestrian infrastructure, for instance".
But while child pedestrian deaths decreased by more than two-thirds (71%), the decline in all pedestrian deaths was rather less impressive at 16%. In 1993, the share of all pedestrian deaths that were children was 15% compared to 5% in 2013. Yes, the share of Americans that were children also declined during that period but at a much lower rate.
If better traffic safety standards are the main factor behind the marked decline in child pedestrian deaths, surely we should have also witnessed a similarly marked decline in adult pedestrian deaths? Or do these safety standards only apply to the streets that children use or the cars that hit them? When it comes to the reduction in child pedestrian deaths, how can a change in parenting approach be ruled out?
Unintentional motor vehicle accidents (of which one in five involve a collision with a pedestrian) are still the leading cause of injury deaths for children aged 5 to 14 years in the US. I'm all for greater freedoms in childhood but I certainly wouldn't go as far as suggesting - as the Washington Post seems to - that parents should chill out and let their kids go play in traffic.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Are parents irrational about the risks to their children?
And maybe it's not entirely due to parental fear that children aren't playing out in the streets in the first place. Following Superstorm Sandy, most of my Connecticut town was without power for a full week. With few device charging opportunities, free-range children were evident on every corner.
Thanks to my Facebook friends for their comments. Select quotes provided below:
One time my middle son was in our driveway by himself and the police came to my door asking if he was alright and where was his mother? I was so embarrassed. I don't allow my kids to roam too far because I am not sure what is "allowed" or "ok". I don't want to get in trouble!!
American Mom Living Suburban America
We have a very quiet road but some people drive really fast up and down it. A couple of times H has burst out between cars and one time in a thousand she's going to get unlucky
British Dad in Suburban England
For the [ten year old], it's traffic danger/crossing busy roads. I guess there's also an (irrational) concern about stranger danger. Trust is a big factor in all this
British Mom Living in Suburban England
It is because of cars and the busy environment and it could even be a cultural thing. In Spain, kids of that age - especially in the older years - are out and about till 11pm/12pm at weekends
Mom (with Spanish roots) Living in London
Don't call the police, but I let my 7 and 4 year olds play outside unattended. We are on a cul-de-sac, and they know to stay on or around the property, and I check on them often. I think you have to know your kids and what they can handle, but it's crazy that we have to worry about someone calling the police
American Mom (with Dutch roots) Living in Suburban America
Infrastructure. And someone would call the police! In Finland, kids bike to schools and visit friends. My kids love it when we visit and they can walk to stores and be more independent. Less stress for the parents too
Finnish Mom Living in Suburban America
British Nanny Working in Suburban America
Other parents' opinions!
British Mom Living in Suburban America
Traffic is a worry, not so worried about stranger danger
British Mom Living in Stockholm
Road sense, dodgy types
British Mom Living in Suburban England
Here in Switzerland it is very much encouraged for little ones age 4 and above to walk to kindergarten on their own. They have training in crossing the road from a local policeman within the first weeks of kindergarten. It has taken me a while to accept this and have been walking her to school. Only this week she said she wants to walk home on her own. So we have allowed it but are secretly following her. It's a very cultural thing and you do feel pressure from the Swiss. My hesitation firstly is abduction and secondly road safety as she has four zebra crossings to negotiate
British Mom Living in Switzerland
We live in NYC in a lovely community with playgrounds and tons of adult supervision in the form of nannies, parents and security. When they were 8 they were still required to be supervised. At 12, if they were with friends, they walked to and from school, and could meet up after school. My biggest reason for the supervision was fear of abduction or assault by other older children
American Mom of Now Adult Children Living in New York