The media keeps telling us that, despite there never having been a safer time to be a kid in America, children are no longer roaming our neighborhoods. They attribute this phenomenon to parents' irrational fear of something terrible happening to their children, particularly at the hands of a stranger.
But are parents really that irrational? While there's FBI data to support that the risk of abduction by a stranger is extremely low, I can't find any public opinion data to corroborate a widespread fear of child abduction.
I conducted a quick (and very unscientific) poll on Facebook to explore rationales for keeping children at close quarters. Among my very international (and unrepresentative) group of parent friends, traffic and cultural or social norms (including the risk of intervention by the police) are the top concerns. The few that did express concern about "dodgy types" included a British mum, now living in Switzerland, getting used to the expectation that her four year old should walk to Kindergarten by herself and another who acknowledged that her fear was irrational. If you identify an irrational fear as irrational, is it still irrational?
How about parents' fear of traffic? Is that irrational too? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the number of children struck and killed by a vehicle has fallen dramatically over the last ten years but is that due to improved driver safety (um distracted driving anyone?) and better pedestrian facilities or because parents are more vigilant around their children?
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