Readers — Here’s a letter I just got:
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m generally in agreement with Lenore’s views. It’s ridiculous to try to protect our children from EVERYTHING out there. The article about not having a baby on board sign because it could decapitate the baby … fear-mongering at it’s worst! Gave me a good lol.
My mom and I talk fairly often about this blog. And there is one argument that she brings up that I don’t know how to combat. When I was 14 or 15 a girl down the block was kidnapped. She’s not been found to this day. She was walking 3 blocks in a safe neighborhood to the local grocery store. All of us neighborhood kids did the same thing. She went with a friend. Sure, it’s a VERY rare scenario, but it happened in my life. I knew the girl and her friend. That could have been ME!
So when it comes to things like letting the kids play alone in the park … that’s very scary. My neighborhood couldn’t BE more typically suburban and safe. But, how do I work up the nerve to let my daughter do something that feels so dangerous? I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, but I don’t know how to justify something that in my experience has turned out so disastrously. Maybe that’s the shift in thinking that I need to make … it’s not what makes me comfortable, but what is best for my daughter. Because the likelihood of her being kidnapped is very, very low.
BTW: For those interested, the girl is Michaela Garecht. Her mom writes a blog here.
To which I replied:
First of all, what a tragedy. It’s impossible to contemplate it without feeling hopeless and disgusted with the world.
But then, as you point out: there is your daughter and her life and childhood to think about, too.
As far as going out and about in the world, there is no reason to start by sending her alone to the park. It would be more fun and more safe for her to go with a friend. I realize the girl in your neighborhood WAS with a friend, but an abduction like that is rarer than rare. So you can take some steps that allow your daughter out and about, but still with someone else, which is very safe.
Secondly, I think most of us feel better when we take action. So take a self defense class with her, or have her take one. Why not? Even the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says the safest kids are the confident ones. There is confidence that comes from being prepared.
Thirdly, I don’t know how to get over the abduction fear, since it happened to someone you know. All I can say is I do know people who have been in car accidents and I still get into a car. My friend’s boss died slipping in the tub. And, you’ll be happy to hear, I still bathe.
The sad truth — the truth we think we always have control over, but we don’t — is that sometimes tragedy happens. For some reason, we are able to compartmentalize some of our fears. Car accidents haven’t scared Americans off of driving. They say, “Well, when I’m driving, I’m in control.” But as a reader once pointed out so cogently here, if you are killed by a drunk driver, it doesn’t matter how great a driver you are (were!). Things happen. We don’t think about fiery crashes every time we put our kids in the car. We don’t leap to the headlines, and imagine all the sorrow and guilt we’d feel — and we shouldn’t. That would be an obsessive way to live our lives.
But abduction is another story. We feel it’s always a possibility, even if it’s rare, and that therefore we must actively prevent it all the time. And the only way we can think of preventing it is by never letting our kids out of our sight.
The fact is, it is rarer than lightning and we must not give our kids a Rapunzel life. The odds are very much in our favor. Meantime, it is not as if we aren’t making a trade-off, every time we refuse to let our children explore the world, or go about some of their day without us hovering. Childhood is a time to grow up. If someone else is doing all the growing up for the child — suggesting the games, deciding the teams, watching out for the cars, finding the route home — that adult has sucked all the lessons, and joy, and even frustration and disappointment — out of the experience. Sure, they do it with the best of intentions. But they have outsourced the work, and fun, of childhood.
It is our job to prepare our children as best we can for the world. To teach them, train them, and then, gradually, to let them go. Yes, with some fear in our hearts. That’s the part about being a parent that really bites.
So good luck to you as you deal with this. And good luck to your daughter, too. And keep us posted! — Lenore