DALL·E 2023-12-12 15.13.58 - child's drawing of a girl walking on the sidewalk surrounded by robbers and murderers and zombies and monsters

Don’t Tell Kids That Someone Could Grab Them

A childcare worker in Texas dropped a line with a story — and a request:

Dear Let Grow:

You helped me a few years ago when the state wanted me to get rid of my rope swing, which the kids in my childcare program love.

I also run an after-school care program at my local elementary school, which abuts a park. I allow the kids to play in the park independently. Recently one of them, a 7-year-old, walked away from the park, toward the school campus. No road was crossed. A substitute teacher who works with a program at the school brought her back. Before leaving, she reminded the girl she should always stay close to an adult, as it was “not safe” not to.

“You could get grabbed by the neck!”

A few days later, this child told me that the substitute told her again, at school, that if she ever wandered away from adult supervision she could be kidnapped by someone in a car who might grab her by the neck. This was too much for me. I found the sub, but she was completely unreceptive to my objections to her fearmongering. An administrator was called, and she, too, told me it’s good “to put the fear of God into kids, because it works!”

This girl had not been more than about 75 yards from me! She was not running into the street. She was enjoying the park independently, as she knew she was allowed, but the way these women carried on, you’d think she had walked into a cage full of hungry lions. It was surreal.

Please give me some actual kidnapping stats.

So: Could you direct me to some rock-solid stats on the risk of stranger abduction as compared to the risk of riding in a car? I tried to say that car travel is much riskier for children than exploring independently, but they weren’t having it.

I know you probably have to cite these stats fairly constantly, lol.

Thanks! Megan Baker, Austin, TX

Here you go. Crime stats from Let Grow:

We responded:

Hi Megan! We have a crime stats page at Let Grow. It notes that:

If for some strange reason you WANTED your child to be kidnapped by a stranger, how long would you have to keep them outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen?

750,000 years.

Source: Free-Range Kids, Second Edition

MORE stats!

Number of kids (17 and under) taken by strangers in any given year seems to be about 100. Most are 12-17 years old. 92% make it home safely.

Number of kids (14 and under) killed as car passengers: 1184. (Of course, if this number went up to age 17 it would be larger.)

Telling kids to always be scared.

And: While it may SEEM like it makes sense to “put the fear of God” into kids, telling them it is a scary, bad world out there, that outlook ends up backfiring. This study of so-called “primals” — one’s primary beliefs about the world — found that “seeing the world as dangerous keeps me safe” is not good for kids:

“[R]egardless of occupation, more negative primals were almost never associated with better outcomes. Instead, they predicted less success, less job and life satisfaction, worse health, dramatically less flourishing, more negative emotion, more depression, and increased suicide attempts.

Parents can be fearful AND Free-Range.

And when we keep trading independence for excess supervision, we are doing kids no favors. A Vox piece on the decline in children’s play time subtitled, “The world can be terrifying. But we should still give kids the freedom to explore it” explained: Free play is great for kids’ mental health — and everything else kids need to flourish:

This study, conducted in Switzerland in the 1990s, compared children who played unsupervised in their neighborhoods to children who spent more time playing in parks with their parents looking on. The free-playing kids had more than twice as many friends as the park visitors, and had better social and motor skills — they also spent more time outside overall.

So — we wish you well and hope you will tell us what happens when you gently present this material. Good luck! — Let Grow

P.S. Letting go is an act of bravery! Visit our Parents pages for helpful resources and free downloadable materials.

3 Responses to Don’t Tell Kids That Someone Could Grab Them

  1. Bruce Holtgren December 13, 2023 at 3:03 pm #

    This is great stuff. I love the stats! Keep it up please. 🙂

  2. Roger December 13, 2023 at 9:41 pm #

    I do tell my kids that we need to watch out for Karens and busybodies who might call the police on us. And yes, we have been reported many times for trivialities.

  3. Common sense December 14, 2023 at 5:29 am #

    I always as amazed and depressed by the speed with which outside independent play has been changed from a good ans normal part of childhood to an abusive practice that should cause you to lose your kids. “Experts” are always talking about childhood depression rates skyrocketing but wil blame everything except the Superman prisons conditions the current children are being rais3d under.