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Free-Range Kids June 9, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Culture, Dwight Furrow's Posts, ethics of care.
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I heard an interesting interview on the radio today with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids. As she reports on her website:

When I wrote a column for The New York Sun on “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone,” I figured I’d get a few e-mails pro and con.

Two days later I was on the Today Show, MSNBC, FoxNews and all manner of talk radio with a new title under my smiling face: “America’s Worst Mom?”

So she wrote a book about her experience. The thesis of her book is that kids today are excessively sheltered. Parents seldom let them go anywhere alone, fearing they will be abducted or molested. Thus, children today are robbed of experiences that most of their parents enjoyed 30 or 40 years ago when it was routine for kids to walk to school and move about their neighborhoods with few restrictions.

The statistics she reports are surprising: Sex crimes against kids are down 79% since 1993, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics, the crime rate is back to where it was in 1970, and only about 50 children each year are killed, a number that has held steady for years. There is a 1 in 1.5 million chance that your child will be abducted and killed by a stranger—he or she is in much greater danger riding in the car.

Why are parents today so fearful?

If you think about what our parents were watching when they raised us, it was “Marcus Welby.” Or “Dallas.” Or “Dynasty.” Turn on the TV tonight and instead of kindly doctors or millionaires with big hair, you will see autopsies, psychokillers and a playground’s worth of child predators.

And that’s before the news.

Now, thanks to shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI” and “24,” it looks like no child can step outside without some creep following behind them with duct tape. Between that and 24-hour cable news bringing us the latest abduction from Aruba, it’s almost impossible to convince ourselves these events are rarer than rare. TV piles it on because if it told us what’s really happening — “Millions of kids unharmed!” — we’d turn it off.

Then we’d surf the web. Oh look! A new abduction story.

This explanation strikes me as quite plausible. We are likely much more affected by countless media narratives designed to attract eyeballs by provoking alarm than by the occasional statistic from the Justice Department.

This fearfulness that Skenazy highlights may have implications beyond how we raise our kids.

How much social trust can we expect from a public scared witless by the belief that danger lurks in every nook and cranny of modern life? And what are the political consequences of that persistent fear. It seems to me such a public would be susceptible to the belief that the only thing that stands between us and chaos are authoritarian institutions.

That is not a belief that characterizes a healthy democracy.


book-section-book-cover2 Dwight Furrow is author of

Reviving the Left: The Need to Restore Liberal Values in America

or Visit the Website: www.revivingliberalism.com



1. Paul J. Moloney - June 10, 2009

My other grandmother, my father’s mother, used to tell us kids to go play on the freeway. Apparently, the neighborhood was too safe for us.

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