Learning The Wrong Lessons from Sandra Cantu’s Death

It’s front page news out here in San Francisco where I’m visiting, but it’s probably front page news out by you, too: The tragic story of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who was abducted and murdered last week in California. Today’s front page story is as inevitable as the media attention: “Case Forces Parents to take Tougher Look at Children’s Safety.” http://tinyurl.com/cfsyyw

It’s hard not to take a tough look after a killing like this. As the parents interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle say, they are hugging their children closer and talking to them about safety. This is good news. Children should be taught to run, kick and scream if someone is trying to take them away. Teach them NOT to be polite. Also, by the way, teach them they CAN ask for help from strangers.

But of course, these are not the only lessons parents are taking from this tragedy. At least in the Chronicle piece, many parents have vowed to no longer let their children go outside alone, ever. “I used to let my kids walk to the park, which is a block away,” one mother is quoted as saying, “My 11-year-old would chaperone. But after this, there will be no more walking on their own to the park. This is a long-term change.'”

It IS a long term change, but not one that makes sense. First of all, her children were not walking alone if the 11-year-old was walking with them, right? And so already they were exceedingly safe. But even walking alone is generally safe, something really hard to remember in the face of one little girl who wasn’t.

The chances of being abducted and killed by a stranger stand at 1,500,000 to one, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. This is a number that does not go up or down a lot year to year. To keep your children inside or guarded at all times because of chances like that would make sense only if you also vowed never to take your children in a car, considering the odds of them dying in an accident are 40 times greater.

And yet, even though five child passengers are killed each day, you never see parents vowing, “I used to let my kids come with me in the car. But after this, there will be no more driving. This is a long-term change.”

This is not meant to be flip. Only that if keeping children safe from any possible death, no matter how remote the danger, is your goal, you literally cannot let them do anything. If they eat, they could choke. If they run, they could trip. If they go to school, they could fall down the stairs. Any of those could lead to death.

By all means, teach your children to be assertive. To fight, bite kick and scream  if they are in trouble. But beyond this, the lesson from Sandra Cantu isn’t, “Never let them go outside until they’re 17.”  It’s that there is no lesson. Only a very sad story that will replay itself in most parents’ minds longer and louder than all the other stories that don’t end this way. — Lenore

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56 Responses to Learning The Wrong Lessons from Sandra Cantu’s Death

  1. Stephanie @ Faithful Follower of Christ April 11, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    Lenore, I really really really like your blog. Thank you for being a voice of reason in a time where it seems everyone has lost their mind!

  2. Karen April 11, 2009 at 1:33 am #

    Lenore, I got your book in the mail on Wednesday & I’m almost done reading it. Awesome, just as I expected! I plan to pass it on to as many people as I can.

    On this sad topic – it would be a lot harder for me to take your advice if a child abduction leading to murder happened in my city (to my knowledge, it never has). But people still need to hear how statistically unlikely it is to happen, and they especially need to hear how harmful it is to their children to be paralyzed by fear of the outside world.

  3. Charles April 11, 2009 at 1:37 am #

    I think many news reports about child killings should be followed by the statement “And lets not forget that 40 million children in the U.S. were not killed today”

  4. Mike April 11, 2009 at 2:24 am #

    Is it possible the girl was accidentally killed (e.g., run over by a car), and the involved person panicked and hid her body? Don’t get me wrong, chances are it was murder, but before everyone tries to “learn a lesson” from this case, at least first consider the small possibility that it might have been negligence, not evil, that led to her death.

  5. Nicola April 11, 2009 at 2:26 am #

    Well put, Charles.

    I admit, the immediate response when hearing this type of thing is to (for me at least) be in mortal fear for my children’s safety.

    Then it takes about two minutes to calm down, another two to reassure myself of the statistics and facts, another two to remember that common sense in children isn’t developed by talking alone, another two to remember that I went outside by myself from first grade on and here I am… then my kids go right back to doing what they do best – being outside and playing while I kick back and take some time for myself.

  6. Peter Henderson April 11, 2009 at 2:50 am #

    I am not going to debate you. Instead I am going to ask your readers to use Google.

    Look up the following children:

    Lisa White; Missing 11/1/74.. Vernon, Connecticut
    Angela Meeker; Missing; 7/7/79.. Tacoma, Washington
    Michelle Lakey; Missing 8/26/86.. Scranton, Pennsylvania
    Michaela Garecht; Missing 11/19/88.. Hayward, California
    Jacob Wetterling; Missing 10/22/89.. Saint Joseph, Minnesota
    Victor Shoemaker; Missing 5/1/94.. Kirby, West Virginia
    Brittney Beers; Missing 9/16/97.. Sturgis, Michigan
    Mikelle Biggs; Missing 1/2/99.. Mesa, Arizona
    Erica Baker; Missing 2/7/99.. Kettering, Ohio
    Bianca Lebron; Missing 11/07/01.. Bridgeport, Connecticut
    Sofia Juarez; Missing 2/4/03..Kennewick, Washington
    Heather Lewis; Missing 4/4/03.. Ely, Nevada
    Tabitha Tuders; Missing 4/29/03.. Nashville, Tennessee
    Adji Desir.. Missing 1/10/09.. Immokalee, Florida

    These are only a handful of the hundreds of Children who were either walking alone, outside playing by themselves or just with same age playmates when they vanished- none have been found.

    You are correct the odds against your child being a victim of a stranger abduction are very long. I guess the question your readers will have to ask themselves is “Do I want to risk the chance my child will be added to the list?”

  7. CClay April 11, 2009 at 2:57 am #

    In the time since the American Revolution we have slowly forgotten as a nation that there is a price to freedom and that it can only be paid in blood. This debt must be paid by each generation for freedom to be upheld and it is not always paid for on foreign soil. We have grown arrogant as a society in our belief that we can avoid paying that price, or in thinking that it is price only others should pay.

    That is not to say we should ignore the risks we and our children face. We should prepare them and ourselves for dangerous situations and to respond to them as safely as possible.

    While I pray that I never lose my child to predator I will also not attempt to ensure his safety at the cost of his freedom. Mourn the loss of Sandra Cantu but recognize too the sacrifice she made to uphold the freedom and liberty we enjoy as a nation.

  8. Anneliese April 11, 2009 at 3:12 am #

    I may be paranoid, but I will not allow my child, age 7, to play outside unless I am outside with her. Pedophiles/sex offenders live in your neighborhood. I am not taking chances. There could be a potential sex offender that may use my child as his “first” attempt. I believe our laws are weak; our justice system is absolutely obsolete. There are repeat offenders living in neighborhoods instead of being in prison. They are required to register and report when they move. Do they? Some don’t. Some have ankle monitoring devices, and yet, they have raped and killed regardless. Wake up, America! We need a better solution to keep our children safe.

  9. Charles April 11, 2009 at 3:13 am #

    “Do I want to risk the chance my child will be added to the list?”
    Of course not, anybody who would not care if something happened to their child shouldn’t have them in the first place. Rather than coddling children wouldn’t it be better to teach them how to be safe? Teach your kids it is better to be amongst people, the buddy system (and such things), basic self defense is a no brainer, stay in lit areas at night, lights and safety gear when riding a bicycle and so on.

    Seeing a list like that is heart wrenching and a person would have to be cold not to feel for those families but you have to remember that bad things do happen. As Lenore said a car accident killing your child is 40 times more likely than a stranger hurting your child.

    I hate to keep saying it but bad things will happen all the time, if you keep your kids sheltered, not letting “do this” or “go there” what will happen when they do? Many children are rebellious (many adults too). If you say keep off the grass they will want to play catch on lawn. Think of how many dangerous items there are in your own home that they can get into? I know that fell down the stairs in my own home more than once as a child. I was probably hurt more by own brother growing up than by all other people combined.

  10. Anna April 11, 2009 at 3:18 am #

    I’ve very, very sorry to hear about Sandra and the pain her loss must cause her family. But I must be doing something right, because this post was the first I’d heard of her. And I don’t live in a bubble, but I do not take in much “news” anymore. I don’t plan to make any changes to our “free ranging”.

  11. Karen April 11, 2009 at 3:46 am #

    Yes, Anneliese, we need a better solution to keep our children safe – better than keeping them captive in the house and never having any fresh air or fun with friends. Look at the post from a couple days ago: a sex offender could be your daughter’s teacher, or scout leader, or gymnastics instructor, or your babysitter, or a member of your family. You can’t possibly keep her away from everyone who could, conceivably, be a sex offender or potential one. It’s far better for her to know how to spot danger than hide from it.

  12. Michelle April 11, 2009 at 4:00 am #

    When I was ten, one of the girls in my Virginia neighborhood, Rosie Gordon, was abducted, raped, and murdered. Her bicycle was found parked by the street. Because of this, my parents placed absurd restrictions on my life that persisted well into my teen years. And my mother imbued me with paranoia about talking to strangers so deep that I am antisocial and shy to this day. Rosie Gordon’s death was tragic, but it is even more tragic that the leash I was on during my childhood had such a lasting and negative impact into my adulthood. I will not do the same to my children. They will be encouraged to roam widely and to talk to strangers.

  13. Carol April 11, 2009 at 4:08 am #

    Educate yourself and your children on how pedophiles act. Let your children know there are no “secrets” from you , just
    “surprises” (like a birthday surprise) That their body is there own, and they can say no to any adult at any time to being touched unless it is for safety or health (Hey, I make the doctor ask before he touches my kids. It is their body.) Start by not doing any body modification without their permission, like cutting their hair.

    Random things happen. Horrible random things happen. But be rational, train your kids. Gavin de Becker has several great books that you might find helpful.

  14. Rachel April 11, 2009 at 5:10 am #

    This was a good column for me to read just now, since I let my 10- and 8-year-old cross our somewhat residential-but-used-as-a-cut-through street, borrow the neighbor’s dog and walk around the block with him today. I was nervous, but my head said I was being silly, and my kids were thrilled. And they returned safely. 🙂

  15. Jen April 11, 2009 at 5:21 am #

    More importantly, it’s essential to remember that children are MORE LIKELY to be assaulted or abused by people they KNOW then a total stranger. Sad but true.

    Lenore, thank you for this piece. My heart goes out to her family and friends.

  16. Shannon April 11, 2009 at 6:11 am #

    Peter: I guess you’d better start Googling the much larger number of children who have been sexually assaulted or murdered by their parents, compile a similar list, and then make sure that you’re never alone with your children. You wouldn’t want to risk adding their names to the list!

    Anneliese: yeah, unless you live in the ghetto and are at high risk for drive-by shootings, your seven-year-old can play outside in your yard or driveway. Period. Teach her all of the same things your parents taught you (don’t take things from strangers, don’t get near their cars, even if they’re just asking you for directions, run inside and scream if anyone acts weird), and she’ll make it to adulthood, just like you. Think about it. According to every statistic out there, you grew up in more dangerous times than she does. You just have access to 24-hour news channels, which your parents did not. You’re taking a far greater risk by not introducing her to the burdens and responsibilities of freedom early on. And we’re not exactly talking giant leaps forward here. It’s just playing on your own property by herself.

  17. Will April 11, 2009 at 6:31 am #

    @Shannon – “the much larger number of children who have been sexually assaulted or murdered by their parents” — More reason to have kids raised by strangers. (I have *got* to stop reading the comments.).

    Kudos to Lenore for being a light in the wilderness. I should do more to inspire and educate the people around me.

    “It is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness” – anon

  18. Uly April 11, 2009 at 7:10 am #

    Peter, your list spans THIRTY FIVE YEARS and only consists of 14 children. That’s not NEARLY as scary as you think.

    There are currently some 61 MILLION children under the age of 14 in the US. And out of those, how many are abducted by strangers yearly?

    Less than 2000. (Much less, as some of the original 2000 turn out to be runaways, lost children, mistakes where the kid is where they’re supposed to be but the adults don’t realize it, and family abductions.) Of those 2000, all but about 200 make it back home safely, which is tragic but not exactly a high risk.

    Which means that the odds of your child being harmed by a stranger are quite literally astronomical. I’m more than willing to take those chances.

  19. Uly April 11, 2009 at 7:12 am #

    Shannon, the irony is that if Annaliese *did* live in the ghetto her kid probably *would* play outside. I pass by the projects going here and there all the time, their kids are *always* playing in their yards, on the sidewalk, on the street, on their shared balconies (in the apartment-style projects), or in the nearby playgrounds with no adult supervision.

  20. thordora April 11, 2009 at 8:52 am #

    I was abused by a family friend, a neighbour, someone I was told to go to if in trouble.

    My children roam our backyard within yelling distance without me panicking, because I fear strangers much less than I do people I know. They’ve been taught, and continue to be taught what to do if someone approached them, touched them, did anything untoward.

    Bad things happen. All the time, and they ALWAYS have. Mitigating the risk without becoming hermits-that’s what matters.

    There’s no more boogeymen in the bushes now than there was when I was a kid, and I’m so bloody tired of people freaking out like there is.

    Thanks for this post.

  21. mrsfinn April 11, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    I am a whole-hearted believer in free-range parenting. I’ve been doing it since my daughter was born, and only recently (recently being yesterday) found this site, and therefore have a name for it.

    While I am horrified by what happened to Sandra, and heartbroken for her parents, I can’t help but think that the knee-jerk reaction of “NEVER let your kids out of your sight” is extremely excessive.

    In my own position, I make a point of introducing myself, and my daughter to our nearest neighbours, wherever we live. I keep an eye on their houses, they keep and eye on mine, and we keep an eye out for each others’ children. (if necessary). I had one occasion, where my husband and I went out for dinner and a movie and left our then 6 year old with a babysitter. (age 13). The girls decided, that since it was a warm evening, they would run across the street to the park. It was still daylight out, and as soon as it started getting dark, they headed back home. – only to find they had locked themselves out of the house. No phone to call anyone, and no vehicle to go anywhere. They were rescued by my neighbour, who noticed the girls sitting out on the front step. Even though my daughter had only met this woman a few times in passing, she KNEW she could trust her, and that this woman would keep her safe. And it’s a good thing too- we would never have known our daughter wasn’t safe in her bed at home, and if left outside, could very well have frozen to death. Where I live gets very cool at night, especially in the fall and spring, when it may be 25 degrees (celsius) during the day, and fall to below zero after dark.

    What of stranger danger then?? What moral lesson would the media have played on for parents in that case?? Never leave your child EVER?? And what happens to the relationship of parents who NEVER get to stop being parents and have their own relationship as a couple together?? I have seen what happens to parents who forget that they themselves are individuals, and are a couple, who NEED time to themselves AWAY from being parents to reconnect with one another and keep their relationship as a COUPLE strong.

    The point I’m really wanting to make, is that I greatly appreciate knowing that I’m not the only mom out there who doesn’t think 24/7/365 lockdown is an appropriate way to raise kids. Thank you so much for letting me know, I’m NOT naive, or lazy, or a freak for allowing my daughter to make her own mistakes, and live her own life, without the shadow of mommy hovering over her every second of the day. – expect a thank you letter from her as well once she gets older too!! 😀

    Take care!!

  22. shawn April 11, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    If it happened to your child, would you still feel the same? I feel terribly for this family, and this community that is enduring such heartbreak and pain. And yes, we all hug our children tighter when we hear of such tragedy. Losing a child in any way, is a devastation of unfathomable grief. And we all say in one way or another, that there may be certain things we will no longer do or that we may do differently. Some for long periods, some short, until something else in life comes up. There is a huge difference in allowing your children certain freedoms as they grow and mature, and caring enough to be a constant presence in their lives. We can teach them to be safe, we can show them how to be safe, to do this or that in certain situations, but we still cannot ignore the fact that were something to happen, there is the possibility that all teachings and trainings and thought process will fly out the window and they will go blank. As parents we can only do so much. I will still allow my children to play outside, but I do check on them regularly. I will not ban their bicycles, or their walks with friends, or their time spent at the park, but instill some safeguards. My kids are just that, kids. They aren’t adults to be left to their own devices, they do require supervised guidance at times. I feel no guilt in this at all.

  23. Marilyn Trevino April 11, 2009 at 12:49 pm #

    In fact the killer is yet unknown.

    What is known, by the police investigating the Cantu
    murder; is that the vast majority of violent crimes are committed by a person known, or more often, related to the victim.

    My guess so far would be the mother. Sorry mom.
    Hope my “guess” is wrong. We shall see I
    believe, for the resources being expended.

    Good work. Thank you for this article.

    N. CA.

  24. KBF April 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm #

    When I was 11 and walking home from school with a friend, we were asked by a man to help him find his dog (at the time I had no idea that this was considered a common lure). The whole experience was full of red flags that we were in a situation that was not going to end well. I think that we were both acting brave because we were together. We didn’t take off running until the guy had his pants around his ankles. In the end we didn’t get hurt physically.

    Our parents did restrict our freedom for a time after the incident…primarily because we told the man where we lived. After a few months we were given more freedom again and we had free range or our apartment complex and the surrounding area again.

    I learned a lot from the experience and have talked to my kids about the incident. I have taught my kids how to talk to strangers–like it was mentioned a child may need to talk to a stranger if the child needs help. I have also stressed to my children that adults we don’t know should not be asking children for help.

  25. Kimberly April 11, 2009 at 1:48 pm #

    When I was in school we had a very calm level headed safety course as part of PE (the only good thing about PE in my elementary school).

    We were taught the rules of the road for riding our bikes, walking, basic first aide, and how to defend ourselves. Very practical stuff like how far to stand from a car that pulled to a stop (other side of the side walk or ditch), some common lures, and what to yell. It worked also.

    A man targeted kids in our neighborhood. Turned out it was a ransom thing – he figured anyone in the area was rich. The kids he tried to grab including my sis were able to do things like jump fences to get away from him. They all reported it. He was arrested. The school started repeating the course in the spring before school let out.

    Those lessons have stayed with me as did the confidence it gave me.

  26. Sierra April 11, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    @Peter: I asked myself this question today when I was at a busy park with my kids and for the first time my older daughter (age 4) wandered out of both sight and hearing range with a pack of children. She stayed away for a long time, just over the edge of a hill. Long enough to make me wonder if she was OK, and where my risk tolerance really was.

    My answer was yes – I am willing to risk her being on the list you posted. I’ll take the chance that when I let her go over the edge of the horizon she might be snatched by a bogeyman. I’ll take it because I think the real danger if that if I don’t, she’ll grow up to be an adult who does not know how to care for herself or defend her own boundaries.

  27. someone April 11, 2009 at 2:36 pm #

    sigh.. its like saying we should walk around without our clothes and learn how to kick..scream…ask strangers for help…because you wont get raped so easily…well… at least the stats are lower than getting killed in a car accident…
    there is always risk and return… the problem is getting the right balance

  28. japanese phrases April 11, 2009 at 4:22 pm #

    I thin a big part of the scare isn’t hat crime is increasing, but how often it is shown in the media is.

  29. Michele April 11, 2009 at 9:46 pm #

    Thank you so much for bringing us all back to reality. Your points are all well-taken and need to be heard. I let my children walk to the park (1/2 mile away) yesterday while we were visiting a relatives home. They walked with their friends, 6 kids total, and I still have to consciously tell myself that this is, OK. They are and will be fine and guess what? They were!

    The sense of self-confidence from the walk with no hovering parents, the great conversations that took place on the walk and the play they all engaged in at the park together is so worth the risk of telling them no because it’s not safe or better yet, that experience far exceeds any formal educational lesson that they ever receive while sitting like robots in school!

  30. Jen April 11, 2009 at 11:15 pm #

    the latest news on this seems to indicate the suspect is someone whom Sandra knew, her Sunday school teacher at that. It is sad and tragic that one never knows whom to trust, but that doesn’t mean we should stop trusting everyone.

  31. Jen April 11, 2009 at 11:32 pm #

    just a clarification of my last post – the woman arrested in this case may not be Sandra’s own Sunday school teacher, but is someone she knew: “Huckaby lived in the same mobile home park as Sandra’s family, and Sandra was friends with Huckaby’s daughter, Sheneman said.” (www.cnn.com)

  32. Daniel Reeves April 12, 2009 at 12:28 am #

    As Bruce Schneier says:

    Remember, if it’s in the news don’t worry about it. The very definition of news is “something that almost never happens.” When something is so common that it’s no longer news—car crashes, domestic violence—that’s when you should worry about it.

    More from Schneier: http://www.schneier.com/essay-171.html

  33. Anne April 12, 2009 at 3:31 am #

    @mrsfinn – Excellent post. Everyone has their own style and I have no problem with people who are more protective of their kids than I am. What I do have a problem with it the constant message: the only “right” way to parent is hyper-vigilance.

    As for the old “how would you feel if it happened to your kid” – well how would YOU feel? You had your kid on 24/7 lockdown and it STILL happened! Guess what? Random, tragic things happen and will still happen no matter what. A fighter jet crashed into the house of a Korean family in San Diego not too long ago, killing the wife and two children. Are the parents to blame for living in so close to an airbase?

    So that’s an extreme example. Here’s a better one: Statistically, your children are in far greater danger every time they get into a car. Are you a bad parent for continuing to drive with them? If they were killed in an accident, are you to blame for living the type of lifestyle where you have to drive everywhere? Should I question the parenting of people who live in the burbs? What about people who drive their kids to lessons? Bad parents? They know the risks and yet they continue to do it. They must be bad parents. So goes the logic of those who would have you believe that people who let their 8 year olds walk to a friend’s house should be thrown in jail for neglect.

    There are a lot of good reasons why people drive with their kids but if you really had a hard, dry-eyed look at it, convenience would come top of the list. So yeah, sometimes it’s convenient for me to let my daughter play in the yard by herself. How would I feel if something happened to her? I would want to stop living. How would you feel if your kids were killed in a car accident?

  34. Carine April 12, 2009 at 7:56 am #

    my husband and I were talking to some “same age” ladies at our local bagel place this morning Lenore, we discussed this very subject and (I’m pleased to say) your book and my interview with you-all of us agreed that the media is way over-doing the “scare” mentality.

    It is scary-but, while I definitely wouldn’t just say “go play on the freeway during afternoon drive time”, I don’t think we do our kids any favors by not teaching them to be more observant and less “loud”.

    As you said-teach them to yell, kick, bite and go places in groups.

  35. ebohlman April 12, 2009 at 8:13 am #

    Daniel: Thanks for pointing out Schneier’s essay. Incidentally, Daniel Kahneman, one of the psychologists who established a lot of those results about how people evaluate probability and risk, won a Nobel Prize in
    Economics a few years ago for exactly that work (which turns out to be very relevant to how people make financial decisions; you really need it to understand, for example, how very smart and astute investors got fooled by Madoff).

    After a rare tragic incident, there are usually all sorts of “countermeasures” that range from ones that wouldn’t have prevented the incident if they had been in place, but infringe on people’s rights (e.g. banning certain bands’ t-shirts after Columbine) to ones that would have prevented exactly that specific incident but would have no positive effect under even slightly different circumstances (about a decade ago, several kids were killed when a train ran into a school bus that had somehow stopped in the middle of a grade-level crossing and couldn’t get out because of backed-up traffic on the other side of the road. The Illinois legislature responded by passing a bill prohibiting two-way traffic at grade crossings, even when there are no trains within miles. The crossing where the accident took place had an extremely unusual configuration that I doubt exists anywhere else in the state (a local road crossing a major artery with the train tracks running at an angle through the intersection) and while banning two way traffic at such an intersection would have prevented the accident, it wouldn’t be a factor at any other crossing. As a result, a stoplight near a grade crossing in my home town used to be a one-minute light at worst; now it’s more like a five-minute light.

  36. Casey Munro April 12, 2009 at 1:35 pm #

    I’m not going to spend the time on google compiling a list, but I seem to remember hearing about women who have been abducted (and no not just prostitutes). In light of this and of the list of missing children pointed out by Peter Henderson, I have decided to call into work and quit my job. It is simply not safe for me to walk or drive to get from my home to my workplace. I’ve also had to make arrangements to have groceries delivered to my home because it’s obviously not safe for my husband to go out either (I’m sure there have been men who were abducted). I’ve sold my car seeing as I will not be going out anymore and I’ve also asked our police department if I could move my family into the jail because there have been home invasions in my city before and I am not going to risk the lives of my family members by living in a house no matter how many locks or security systems I have. I’m not quite sure how I am going to continue to pay for things, nor am I certain how any of these choices will affect my children when they become adults, but it’s no matter because I simply won’t risk anything no matter what the reward would be.

    Risk sucks. It would be nice if we never had to risk anything and yet still experience all the rewards. But it’s not possible. If a child doesn’t learn how to be independant, when and how will they learn as an adult. Are these “protective” parents prepared to have their children live with them forever? The point of childhood is to enjoy life at it’s most simple time, and learn gradually how to be responsible. How dare a parent hinder their childs development and then call others neglectful!

  37. Shylo April 12, 2009 at 9:21 pm #

    There’s been an update on this case. A woman, the granddaughter of a family who also lived in Cantu’s trailer park, turned herself in for the kidnap and murder. She and her family knew the victim and her family well.

  38. Kenny Felder April 12, 2009 at 9:36 pm #

    There are two arguments that need to be made against the “Peter”s and “Anneliese”s of the world. Both are tricky arguments to make, much more subtle than the simple eloquence of Peter’s list of names.

    1. The mathematical argument. I have attempted to make this argument by proposing that no good parent should *ever* allow his children in a car, unless the trip is absolutely necessary (eg to a hospital). All your child’s playdates should be with neighbors. If you’re going shopping, leave your children at home (no matter how young), alone if necessary, or hire a baby-sitter. Because the odds of dying in a car, within a few miles of your home, are orders of magnitude higher than the odds of any other sort of death. This rule would save many lives–real lives, of real children, whose parents love them as much as you love your kids–we could compile a list a hundred times the length of Peter’s without effort. If you *don’t* buy into this rule, then you are admitting that some child-life-or-death risks really are worth taking.

    2. The other key argument is to try to express the cost of too much safety. This is even harder to explain. What are the real dangers of keeping children on a short leash? Why is it so important for kids to get to run in the woods, play in a stream, climb a wall–unsupervised by adults? What’s wrong, after all, with life in a bubble? I can’t answer that question, except to say that I know that it is, because I remember my own childhood, and to hope that enough other people share the same intuition.

    Curiously, the movie “Finding Nemo” is a startling defense of Free Range parenting. The father, after suffering unthinkable tragedy, tries to shield is son from all possible harm, and eventually learns that he cannot and should not do so. “I promised Nemo that nothing would ever happen to him,” he says. The moral of the movie is expressed by Dori in response. “If nothing ever happened to him…then nothing would ever happen to him!”

  39. Laura April 13, 2009 at 11:16 am #

    I’m very relieved to read what you had to say Lenore…to be honest with you my absolute worst nightmare is to have my children abducted…I suppose it’s every parents’ worst nightmare. Due to this I tend to be over protective and I suppose to some point ridiculous now that I read what you wrote. I realize we cannot protect our children 24/7 but how I wish I could. Thanks so much for your logical reasoning…sometimes as mothers we tend to think of the worst scenario so that we can prepare and be safe.

  40. Kimberly April 13, 2009 at 11:18 am #

    On a tangent on Risk, this is my absolutely favorite quote, ever. My children are raised in the spirit of it..

    Helen Keller – “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. “

  41. Karen April 13, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    I fought and fought with people over the death penality because I find it frightening to have someone accused when they are innocent and we have seen through DNA that it did happen to many, but this case about little Sandra shook me up and I changed my mind.
    That is they have the right person responsible.
    These monsters have no right to life and should be executed and as fast as possible

  42. Marilyn Trevino April 13, 2009 at 11:28 am #

    I recall the first few times I took my kids to Disneyland.

    Wow, what a crowd. I worried terribly but security advised no lost child reported at Disneyland, was
    not recovered, wandering. No one. I couldn’t
    believe it so asked a few other security personel
    who assured me there has never been a child
    snatched at Disneyland.

    Thanks for all your wonderful comments.

  43. Rob C April 13, 2009 at 11:39 am #

    It’s sad that some parents are going to such extremes to keep their children safe from something that will, in all likelihood, never happen.

    It’s an understandable reaction, but it’s not a rational response.

  44. Rob C April 13, 2009 at 11:43 am #

    “Let your children know there are no “secrets” from you…”

    This is a big one, and I tear strips off my children’s mother whenever she tries to get them to keep something (usually incredibly petty and minor) a secret from me.

    Like you said, surprises are fine. they can be fun. But not secrets.

  45. Rob C April 13, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Karen –

    What on Earth does that have to do with the topic at hand? This isn’t a pro-death penalty board, go wave your pitchfork somewhere else.

    Casey – “I’ve also had to make arrangements to have groceries delivered to my home..”

    What are you, crazy? You’re going to let complete strangers come right up to your front door? To handle the food you and your children eat? Why not just post a sign on your lawn that says ‘Ax Murderers And Poisoners Welcome’?!?!

  46. Casey Munro April 13, 2009 at 2:08 pm #

    Rob C – do you think they’ll let me grow a garden at the jail? Maybe I could farm goats or something too. Wait a second, I’ve heard cases about police gone wrong…maybe I should look for a different place…is there nowhere safe???

  47. Anna April 13, 2009 at 6:51 pm #

    Why teach children that adults never need the help of a child? I know plenty of times adults have asked me for directions when I was a child and they didn’t mean any harm.

    The truth is most people won’t do you harm, there are only very few that do and those are often people you know.

    I was out in the woods at age 8 or 9 with my friends building huts and climbing trees and that is what children these day should still be able to experience, without the irrational fears the media are trying to instil in us.

  48. Steph April 13, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    I discovered your blog after performing a search for common sense responses to such a tragedy (the story is a local one for my family and my son, who is Sandra’s age, became frightened after all the media coverage).

    I am now reading through everything. EVERYTHING! And I am most definitely going to pick your book up. It is so refreshing to see a group of people dedicated to sanity when so many others are giving in to manufactured hysteria.

    I think I’m in love. In that completley platonic and online sort of way.

  49. Sarah April 14, 2009 at 4:23 am #

    I’ve been weighing whether to let my boys ride thier bikes 2 miles to school now that the weather is nice (all safe bike trails along the roads to school). I appreciate all the wonderful comments parents have made on this site. It helps to read like minded parents ideas. Why should we keep our children from becoming independent, responsible adults because there’s a extremely remote chance they might have something happen to them. While we do need to teach them to be careful we shouldn’t teach them to be afraid.

  50. Uly April 14, 2009 at 4:59 am #

    Tragically, Sandra Cantu appears to have been killed by – what a surprise – somebody she knew. Her friend’s mother has been arrested.

    Devastating for the families affected? No doubt. But nothing – NOTHING – that could’ve been prevented by more lessons in “stranger danger”. And while I suppose it could’ve been prevented by staying with her 24/7 that’s not exactly a reasonable cost. Besides, I couldn’t stay with ANYBODY without needing a break. All that stress on families no doubt just increases parent on child crimes.

  51. caramellabutterscotch April 15, 2009 at 2:21 pm #

    In the end – whether you want to call yourself “freerange” or not.. We don’t live in a free range world anymore.. If you are willing to risk what happenedto this litle girl happening to your own child- while you proudly and defiantly call your self “free range”, why then, have aat it. While they are children they only have you to protect them. That’s it.

  52. Anna April 15, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    caramellabutterscoth, when do you think we did live in a freerange world? Because all statistics tell us that life has only gotten safer since the 70’s when we all still played outside alone, cycled to the next town, walked to school and climbed in trees.

    It’s the media that wants you to believe the world we live in is a dangerous place.

  53. Rob C April 15, 2009 at 10:12 pm #

    “It’s the media that wants you to believe the world we live in is a dangerous place.”

    But we’ll tell you how to keep your kids safe, after you watch these advertisements!

  54. Kessa April 18, 2009 at 4:31 pm #

    Given that kids are usually abducted by people they know, imagine the actual harm that “stranger danger” is doing.

    Let’s say that Sally is abducted and taken somewhere by her Sunday School teacher. He leaves her in the car at the gas station in a city she’s never been to while he goes to pay for gas on the way to their destination (where he has less-than-pure plans). Sally didn’t know from her “stranger danger” education that Sunday School teachers can abduct kids and do bad things from them. She doesn’t understand that she’s in danger. What she does “know” from what she’s been told is that everyone in the gas station is a stranger and therefore dangerous. So Sally just sits there in the car and waits, and makes no attempt to get out.

  55. Caroline April 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm #

    Uly’s point is a really key part of this anecdote. I’m in San Francisco, where this tragedy is still front page news. Sandra was allegedly murdered by the mother of her playmate, who lived nearby and whose home was Sandra’s destination when she was last seen. The alleged killer is a Sunday school teacher, granddaughter of the preacher, a family well known in the community. There was no stranger abduction and not even a creepy, suspicious-looking male neighbor.


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