When I was seven, I walked the half-mile home from school by myself to a waiting parent and never had a problem. By the time I was ten, I was doing a mile home and I would be alone when I got there (in high school, I did two miles home, no problem). After school, I'd go hang out with my like-aged friends and stay out for hours, with no information to my parents other than a vague indication of which friends I was with. We'd walk all over the neighborhood, and much farther, without much more guidance than to be home for dinner. That independence served me well as I got older, making me comfortable enough to make my own decisions well before adulthood.
There may have been the occasional news report of an abduction, or some kid falling down a well, but those were few and far between. My parents didn't freak out, nor did I. I knew not to talk to strangers or accept rides with them. My parents, and the parents of my peers, were fine with us kids going out without adult supervision.
My, how times have changed. I was listening to the CBC's "As it Happens" on Wednesday. They had a story about a woman in small-town Mississippi who, having to watch other kids, let her 10-year-old son walk to his afternoon soccer practice, in broad daylight at his school, about one-third of a mile away. The mom would drive over to the practice after 15 minutes once things were settled at home.
So away the son walks, mom's mobile phone in hand, and he is intercepted by a police car three blocks later. The cops, who state they had gotten "hundreds" of 911 calls about a little boy walking by himself, drive him to practice and then head to the boy's home. (According to an e-mail from the mom, mom had by then left for practice, where the cops again show up and talk to her.) The police officer then berates the mother, saying she could have been charged with child endangerment and then offers a litany of anecdotal horror stories.
Mom is in tears, second-guessing herself and wondering if she's a bad parent. The next day, she calls the police chief and he sympathises, stating that the officer went a little over the line and that a child that age walking that short a distance is fine.
I could rant and rave over the over-protectiveness of society, but the best quote I saw about this was on a message board posted by a person with the unfortunate handle of "Dr Stupid:"
"Modern parents treat their kids like cattle, and if they don't other hysterical parents will be upset. It's disgusting. We are not meant to be herded from the cradle to the grave."
QFT. I'll teach him about "stranger danger" and being safe, but when Ian is 10 I fully expect him to be able to rove a mile or so under his own power (as well as being comfortable taking the bus by himself). I'd be very disappointed in him otherwise.
What's more, the CBC also interviewed a scientist who stated that with all the driving and coddling, a generation of kids are losing their ability to navigate (their internal GPS, if you will). The author of the study, Dr. William Bird, also warned in another interview, this one in the UK's Daily Mail, that "the mental health of 21st-century children is at risk because they are missing out on the exposure to the natural world enjoyed by past generations:"
"If children haven't had contact with nature, they never develop a relationship with natural environment and they are unable to use it to cope with stress," he said.
"Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment.
"They need time playing in the countryside, in parks and in gardens where they can explore, dig up the ground and build dens."
So run free, little children, run free.
Also I saw a stat that the chances of being killed by salmonella after eating raw cookie dough is 50 million to 1. I like those odds. Dig in kids!