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Reality Or Perception?

Posted Sep 23 2009 11:03pm
Before I get started on this post, I wanted to say thank you to all of the great thoughts and insights in the previous post.

I have recently had an experience that generated much discussion in my family over how dangerous the world really is.

Scene: Neighborhood park 2.5 blocks from my house. I am there with my 9 year old nephew, 4 year old nephew and LB - age 15 months. Unfortunately, our German Shepherd is also there with us after escaping out of the backyard. He is overly excited (because my nephews keep squealing every time he gets close making them great squeaky toys) and keeps running up and down on the play equipment - something he usually avoids. I don't have a leash and have decided the best thing to do is to leave the kids at the park and run home with the dog. I could take LB with me, but she would slow me down a great deal. I decide to leave the 9 year old in charge and tell him I will be less than 5 minutes. The oldest is nervous about being without an adult (and would not have agreed had the dog not been also very scary) so I point out a house across the street where there are obviously some adults home and tell him to run to that house if he gets scared for any reason.

I take the dog home, I am back in less than 5 minutes and everyone is well. I sit on the sidelines while my nephews crawl all over the play equipment for the next 30 minutes and occasionally assist LB in some minor adventures of her own.

Later, I tell my sister (my nephews' mother) about our adventures. She is shocked that I would not only leave a 9 year old in charge of a 4 year old and a 15 monty old, but says she wouldn't have even left her two kids alone in a neighborhood park for 5 minutes.

That starts which is to me a very disturbing conversation. The nine year old isn't even allowed, for example, to hang out in the toy aisle of a Target while she spends 20 minutes shopping. I spend the rest of the day - and on to the next - wondering if A) the world really is so much more dangerous than when were kids and B) how my nephews will cope with the world as they grow up if they continue to be so sheltered.

I don't know what was bothering me more - the thought that my nephews may grow up without the skills they need* or that there really is a boogy-man out to get LB.

Since that conversation, I have done a small amount of research at it appears that violent crime rates are actually lower than when I was a kid. There doesn't seem to be good data about abductions - especially from before 1980, but one fact that is often repeated is that there were 115 "stereotypical" abductions of children in a particular year (1999?). These were cases where a stranger kidnapped a child to murder, assault or keep the child. The other nearly 800,000 cases were abductions by family members, acquaintances (still scary), runaways and throw-aways (abandoned children or children that went missing and the parents didn't report it).

If there were only 115 stranger abductions that would put the likelihood of getting abducted at a little greater than the chance of getting struck by lightning.

Of course, if it happens to you, it doesn't matter what the statistics are. I wonder, though, how careful should we be? Is it crippling for a 9 year old to be afraid of being alone? I remember the first time I walked to the store alone. It was about 10 blocks from home along a very busy street. It was such a proud moment that I remember like it was yesterday. I was 5 years old. Many years later I learned that my father followed me that first time to make sure I was being careful, but I went on to walk even farther to school (I may have been as old as 9) and to ride my bike across town with my 11 year old sister to my grandparents house, among other adventures.

My memory is from the perspective of a child, but I remember our neighborhood being full of children riding bikes, playing games, running from house to house - only to return home at dusk. I don't remember adults doing more than checking in once in awhile. Well, that and feeding us when we got hungry.

I asked a slightly older friend of mine what she would have done in the above scenario. She agreed with me but added her children would have agreed with my sister. She added, "It is the age of paranoia."

What do you think? Are we protecting our children by constant vigilance or are we hurting a generation of children by being so afraid? Is the world really that much more dangerous or is it our perception? How are you raising / planning on raising your children?

*A part of the story I left out in order not to color your initial reaction is that the previous 30 minutes were spent trying to coax the 4 year old out of the coat closet because he missed his mom and the older one out of the bathroom because he couldn't deal with the younger one "having a meltdown".
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