Thursday, September 25, 2008

Food For Thought

When I was at the dentist last week I picked up a Readers' Digest to read as I waited. The title of an article caught my eye, so I started to read it.

The article was written by a woman in New York who let her nine year old son ride the Subway home by himself. He had been begging forever for her to let him "find his way home" from somewhere, so one day she left him in Bloomingdale's with a subway map, bus pass, $20 and some quarters (she didn't give him a cell phone because she thought he might lose it) and went home. She thought nothing of it. A little while later, her son came home ecstatic, wanting to know where else he could find his own way home from.

Since then the woman has been shocked to find that almost everyone who has heard her story wants to turn her into CPS. She's been all over the news, defending herself. As the article went on and I read her defense, I went from being shocked and horrified (and ready to call CPS myself) to seriously thinking about what she was saying.

I've had many conversations with my fellow mom friends about how different the world is today and how things that we did growing up, things our parents allowed us to do without blinking an eye, we would never in our wildest dreams allow our kids to do. It does make me sad (and frustrated) that I don't feel safe letting my kids play in our front yard without me. I can't imagine letting them walk down to our mailbox alone. The fear of abduction and getting hit by a car has me keeping my kids within a five foot radius of me at all times. I don't even let them ride the school bus. All my friends, in varying degrees, feel the same about most of this. We've shared horror stories of people we knew who let their child do this or that (gasp!) and didn't ever try to hide the fact that we were judging them for their horrible parenting skills.

But as I read this woman's reasoning, I started to feel a little ridiculous, and a little sad at the things I've deprived my kids from. She said the number of child abductions is actually way lower now than it was fifty years ago. We think it's become an epidemic because everywhere we turn there's another headline of a missing child, but really it's the opposite. Because there are fewer now, they are covered more in the news. We're just hearing about them more.

Think about it: Our kids are no more likely to get hit by a car nowadays than we were twenty(ish) years ago. So why don't we let our kids cross the street when we were roaming the neighborhood (often past dark)?

I couldn't deny her logic, and part of me sat there, hopeful, thinking, "Really? Can I let my kids go play in the front yard and continue to do my dishes inside? Can I really let them walk down to their friend's house, five houses down?" But as much as I'd love to relax my limits with reckless abandon, I can't just forget seven years of maternal paranoia.

So, I'm taking small steps. I know I shelter my kids, way too much. I have to remind myself that I am doing them no favors by keeping them ignorant to what goes on outside these four walls. Tonight I was looking at pictures of the Hurricane Ike damage, and Macy started looking over my shoulder. Normally I would have shooed her away and quickly changed screens, thinking it would freak her out and give her nightmares, but instead I took advantage of a good teaching moment and explained to her what was going on in the pictures and what these people were going through. She looked in fascination and made numerous comments about the plight of these poor people and how thankful she was to live in a place that doesn't have stuff like that. Maybe tomorrow she'll go get the mail. Maybe not.

So what do you think about all this? Do we have reason to protect our children as fiercely as we do, or have we been scared into thinking the world is not safe?


Jessica said...

Great post Alicia! I have wondered about this too. Do we just see all the crazy thing more because of our "high tech" world and everything is at our finget tips, we see EVERYTHING that goes on EVERYHERE, so has it always been this bad or do we just hear about it more?

It's so hard to know, and I am such a "what if" person. So I shelter like you, but one of these days we are going to have to let them do things or they are going to become one of those weird kids who can't/won't do anything without their mom.....sigh.....motherhood is so hard!

MichelleB said...

Wow I have you hit on my soap box!!! I am one of those moms that make you gasp! As much as I want to know everything and everywhere my kids are, I have to at some point trust what I have taught them. There is a middle ground in this, but I am sure I haven't found it. Thanks Alicia for making us all think about this. It also remids me to be caeful how I judge others and their parenting. It may not be my way, but it doesn't mean I am more right in how I do it. (Something I try to explain to my husband frequently.)

Brenda said...

You really got me thinking on this one. I do think that we have been forced into this paranoia to shelter our children more than our parents sheltered us. I also think that the media is so negative that it has us scared. I know there are more good people in the world than bad, but still I don't trust any stranger until "I know them" and I think this is because of all the negativity I see in the media. I don't even watch the news anymore and I barely read the paper (except the adds:) because it is such a downer.

Melissa Mae Johnson said...

I am the same way. I don't know if its because I grew up with a dad that still to this day won't let me cross the street by myself, or if I'm just that way. But I never watch the news because it seems that there is nothing covered but horrible things happening to people, and when its about children it makes me sick. I'm afraid I too, will be way to protective of my kids.

AOlson said...

My husband and I grew up very differently. Everything he did was watched or controled. I had no rules. I rode my bike until dark all over town, came home and watched HBO, MTV or whatever my parents were watching. My parents trusted that they had taught me what I needed to know to make the right descisions. Now as a parent I think my parents were NUTS, to some degree.

I used to be nazi-mommy and he attached at the hip with my kids. If they wanted to play outside I had to be out there too. I have loosened up a bit becasue I could never get anything done. I allow them to play in th front yard with boundaries. I still don't let them walk home from school even though I live RIGHT DOWN THE ROAD. I do think we need to give them some form of independence, but it's also hard to let go becasue of all of the "what if's" and "maybes".

Vanessa said...

I am way more paranoid than my parents were. When I remember being about 4 and having free reign of my parent's farm. My kids are little now, but I can see myself having serious overprotective issues.

Shayla said...

Yeah, I'm the paranoid one. No matter how many times I try to let my guard down and let my kids do just a little more...that sneaky "what if?" sneaks into my brain. I can't stop worrying that the one time I let go, will be the one time MY kids get hurt. I don't know...this is a fine line, but I agree with Michelle. We need to be careful to not judge other parents even though it's so easy to do, what's right for one isn't always right for another.

You know what's interesting, though? My parents were the ones who let us kids roam the neighborhood at will and now they say they'd never be that easy-going about it if they were raising their grandchildren today. So, maybe things aren't as bad as we all think they are...maybe the "statistics" she sited make it look better than we think it is...but I also believe in the Second Coming and the signs that have been foretold by our prophets, that it's just going to get much worse before it gets better. So, even though I believe in optimism and being grateful for this wonderful world we have to live in, I also believe in a little bit of cautiousness too. Okay, maybe a little more than a little bit, but better safe than sorry...right? Just a thought...

Lisa said...

I never in a million years thought I would let my kids walk home from school. But now, there's two of them and they have been walking home together for a few weeks now. I feel a lot of pride in the fact that they; find each other, stick together, and "find their way home."

We can't protect our kids from everything, I know that. But we can decide what we think is acceptable for them and what isn't. My older two walk home from school now, but the rules may be different for my younger two. It's our jobs to decide what we think is best for each child. It will always change, because their environment, and their capabilities will always change.

M-A said...

I am super poor children. I think it is always good to error on the side of caution when it comes to the safety of children. I don't think the world is any more dangerous than it used to be...I just think we hear about every single thing because of modern technology...internet, cell phones, 24 hour cable news, cell phone cameras, etc.

Noelle said...

i was shocked by the age of the child but i love that the lady let her son did this. i would have allowed it if it were brigham and a best friend. buddy system, you know? i have many friends in my ward who i know openly talk about the fact that i allow brig and sam to ride their bikes home from school all alone. it's about 10 blocks. i have talked to them about abduction. i have talked to them about what to do if people come up to them. i feel like they have more ability to deal with a situtaion like that beucase we have talked about it. i actually feel they are safer riding their bikes alone than on the bus, stuck on those stupid things with 6 graders making out in the back seat. niiiiiice.
i have a personal opinion that childhood obesity can be directly corrolated with our generation and our inablility to allow our children the freedoms we had as children. but i don't let my kids go running all willy nilly over the neighborhood like i was allowed to do. i must know where they are, who they are with and try as much as possible to make that all happen in my front yard. i am honestly more afraid of what my kids will find on their friends computers than what will happen outside on our street. play on kids. play on.

blindblogger said...

This is a good question. It always blew me away in Hong Kong how you would see kids from the age of 7 and older cruising all around town (as big as NYC)on the subway and buses. I think there it's probably safe, I don't know about NYC. I don't think I'd do it.

Andrea said...

I completely agree with Noelle's comment about being more afraid of what's on the computers than what's outside!! I feel that way too.

I am so hesitant to say anything on this subject since my kids are so young, and I haven't had to choose to let them walk to a friend's house and play outside by themselves. However, I am already much more relaxed than my husband in this area and I have a feeling it's going to continue that way as our kids get older. At the store, I let Addie wander around, sometimes moving to the next aisle without her. Usually at the park I turn my back or let her wander out of site, and I know people (my husband) that will not do that under any cicumstances. Maybe this makes me "relaxed", but maybe it just makes me the mom of the naughty kid who is terrorizing the kids and tearing apart the store.

That being said, I definitely think everyone should raise their kids the way that's best for them. I see myself in the future being able to let them walk to friends' houses and ride the bus and let them experience things by themselves.

Ms. Kristen said...

I say let them run free!!!!!!!!!!!

No, I am as paronoid as you are my friend!
I was followed by a old guy, when I was a teenager walking home from school! Scarey! Luckily, I ran to someones house I knew!

Teach your children to be safe! My mom taught us never to get in the car with someone. Even if we know them. She had a code word. She told us that she would tell the person the code word....then we could trust them.
Ofcourse, growing up in SoCal. You had to be procautionary!
I talk to my kids all the time. They probably know too much!

polka dots said...

like this post Alicia. it made me think. I wish my kids lived in the world that we lived in when we were growing up. I have let them ride their bikes to neighborhood friends' houses, but I am a wreck until they call me to tell me they are there.

Marilyn said...

Alicia, I love this post. I definitely lean towards the thinking of the woman in the article. My kids are free to roam our neighborhood, walk to the library without me, even Ethan and Lily, (though, not Lily by herself) and my big girls can walk to and from school by themselves.

I recently had a discussion with my mom about the paranoia that kids will get kidnapped or abused or hit by a car. We came to the same conclusion, we live in a world where media is constant and the media loves to give us the negative headlines. I don't believe that we are in more danger now than ever before, I believe we are in a more media driven world.

Of course, we as parents should be cautious and careful in rearing our children, but in moderation. I think it is really important to let our kids experience the negative as well as the positive so that they can make informed choices as they grow. After all, we won't be there with them forever, will we?

Andrea said...

Thanks for starting this discussion, Alicia. It's been really nice to read the opinions and perspectives of more experienced mothers. I need all the help I can get!