Saturday, December 03, 2011

Free Range Kids

The media has trained parents to be paranoid, thus depriving kids of the chance to be kids. This book presents a folksy tail of a mom who dared let her tween navigate by himself home on the subway - and live to tell about it. It is fun, entertaining ramble.

Parents do many stupid things in the name of "safety". Some of the concerns are shown to be total crocs. There has never been a case of somebody tampering with Halloween candy in an attempt to injure children. (The only "documented" cases were of family members often trying to use it as a ruse to collect insurance.) Yet, parents are still restricting Halloween activity. Ironically, they are encouraging more "junk" candy rather than healthy. The candy companies benefit by this false sense of danger and are thus in no hurry to fight it.

Other fears are more often grounded in "poor" math. There is an infinitesimal chance of a child being kidnapped on the way home from school. However, these kidnappings are sensational news stories. Even people that act rationally, knowing they are rare still justify driving their children. They could never live with themselves if their child happened to be the one in ten million that had something bad happen. Of course, the odds of being injured in a car accident are much greater than the odds of being kidnapped. And the consequences of inactivity. Hmm... Pollution... And what about the congestion and the potential harm caused to other pedestrians. The world just becomes a much worse place because of people's inability to properly judge the likelihood of rare events.

There are plenty of people who know this. However, they are still afraid to do things out of fear of what "other people may think". I have even heard that from neighbors. Sure school is only half mile away from home, and walking over a pedestrian freeway bridge makes walking not much longer than driving. But, they don't want to let the kids walk themselves because they are afraid of what other parents would think of them. Sigh. In example was given of a mother of a young child that asked the lady behind her (with two young children) to watch her child while she ran to get something. The second mother was later flabbergasted. "How could the first mother have trusted a total stranger? What if I would have kidnapped her child?" Of course she didn't kidnap the child, and she new she wasn't the type to do it, yet she judged the other mother as bad because she was trusted. Huh? Even had she been villainous, she would have had a difficult time trying to kidnap a child while managing two others. Irrationality at its best.

And sports. Instead of playing, kids spend more time in organized sports. However, in organized sports, they spend more time sitting around. And there is the matter of being driven there, and only competing for a few hours a week. Oops.

In some cases the busybodies are well meaning, but cause huge overreaction. The Danish mother who parked her infant-containing stroller outside a restaurant is a great example. The busybodies thought is was a great travesty to do it. Think of everything bad that could happen. Oh yes. Plenty of bad things could happen. Passerbys could call the police. The police could send you to chail. Child protective services could be called. Yep. Lots of bad stuff. All caused by our paranoia.

Perhaps relaxing the paranoia is the key to solving our government financial crisis. We just need to back off on the regulation and official "support" in society. Let kids run around. Close the streets off near school. Why not prevent parents from approaching the school grounds. (Hey, that would even help the paranoid - no adults getting near the kids.)

The author does, however, go schizo in a few places. She has a long rant against "formula-feeding guilt". People that are fed formula turn out fine. But, she highly favors seat belts and helmets. "you never know". However the more apt thing is that people have succeeded with the worst possible upbringing. If we worry to much about things, we wont necessarily make life better for the kids. However, we will make it miserable for ourselves, which in turn can make life worse for the kids.

It is time for society to back off!

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