I took the city bus to and from school starting in kindergarten or first grade.  I remember riding my bike across the city to school one day (remember it because I found a $10 bill!)  I was probably left a bit too much to my own devices, could be described as a “latchkey kid,” or maybe just “normal life for a kid with a working single mom.”  Not a lot of supervision… but I also started my first business when I was 12 and had my own checking account, and was paying my own taxes by 16, and from then have had an (overly?) strong sense of responsibility and self-efficacy.  I learned it early: I am responsible for my life.

But I am not treating my kids this way.  When she was 8 or 9, Emma went into a shop by herself (mom in the car outside) and it was a big deal to let her be so independent.  We live in different times!  Or do we?  I’ve wondered for years if there really is more danger to kids today, or we’re just hyper afraid?

So I enjoyed a “Here and Now” show today interviewing Lenore Skenazy (listen to the story).  Skenzay wrote an article about letting her nine-year-old son ride the train home and unleashed a torrent of criticism that she’s “the world’s worst mom.”  Recently she wrote Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had, Without Going Nuts With Worry — showing some important data — she writes a blog on the topic.

The book presents extensive statistical evidence that there is LESS child predation today than 20 or 30 years ago, and, in fact it is FAR more likely that your child will be killed in your own car driving to school than be abducted.  Yet the thought of letting my 10-year-old take a bus downtown to get ice cream fills me with angst… and we put the kids in the car every day.

Just in case it’s not obvious:  People are NOT rational!

In the face of this irrational but completely real and horrible fear, the facts become nearly irrelevant — and then we start making decisions carelessly.  Applying emotional intelligence, we need to understand the source of the fear, recognize the pattern of reaction, and then evalute the consequences.  In the face of this horrifying fear of child predation, I stop the evaluation.  The trick isn’t to ignore the feeling, but rather to go further.  I’m clear how I feel about the immediate risks, but how do I feel about the long term?  How do I feel if I shelter them so much they lack self-efficacy?   If I teach them to be afraid of the world?

To be clear, I believe in sheltering kids.  There is much in the “real world” that I abhor, and I see little value in exposing them to it “so they’ll be able to cope.”  The kids at 8 and 10 don’t watch commercial TV, we preview movies that aren’t rated G, and we have chosen to leave the city and live in a pastoral community surrounded by oak-covered hills and farms.  Nor I do I believe in passing on a legacy of fear and helplessness.  So somehow we need to find a balance of risk and safety — and perhaps Skenazy’s factual data can help us do so.

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