Another disturbing sign of the times: This article in today’s Times about parents who are so afraid of stranger abduction that they drive a child 5 houses down (yes, you read that correctly) rather than let them walk, or even walk them themselves. Also in the article, a town in which people called 911 at the sight of a 10-year-old walking alone, resulting in a police reprimanding of the parent.
Something is extremely wrong with this picture! The areas of bizarreness and loss include: the dominance of an extreme and unfounded culture of fear, the complete absence of community, and the loss of independence for young people.
I wrote a comment on the New York Times site, which I’ll repost here. It goes to the heart of what Slow Family Online is really about:
“This article both saddened and outraged me. Something is deeply wrong with a society in which children walking or biking short distances to school and to play is not only not the norm, but is actively frowned upon and even criminalized. There are so many things wrong with this picture: Parents are living basically alone, completely car-dependent, with largely unfounded fears and guilt that they are passing on to their children. What is going to become of this generation of children when they go off to college and to jobs and are unable to navigate their surroundings or do anything for themselves?
Children should be given reasonable increments of responsibility, and adults should be there to participate with them and teach them. We biked with our child and taught her road safety. We walked with her to elementary school and taught her how to be aware, use her good judgment, and which neighbors and shopkeepers to call on for help if needed. She is now a relatively independent teen who can navigate our town, call on her own sense of self-reliance, and have a little well-earned space away from hovering parents.
I live in a very safe small town, as I suspect do most of the people quoted in the article. I think that speeding cars pose a much greater hazard than stranger abductions. To that end, our town has a very active Safe Routes to Schools program, which is a model for others, with bike lanes, crossing guards at hazardous intersections during school hours, community involvement and interest, and continuing efforts to make the roads safer for walking and biking. Each year, for the last several years, the amount of children walking or riding to schools here has risen, and many children do this in groups. (Perhaps some parents can channel the energy they spend fretting into organizing walking groups.)
When adults and older children are out on and using our streets, they also become safer for younger children, and we all reap the benefits that come with slowing down, spending quality time together, observing things, greeting neighbors, having fun, gaining independence, being outside, getting exercise, learning about our surroundings, and getting from place to place without a car, when possible.”
This page about Slow Family Online illustrates more of my family and scout troop’s adventures in walking and challenges getting people out of their cars.
Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman