I grew up as a wild child. We lived out in the middle of nowhere and I would disappear - on foot or on my pony - for entire afternoons. I'd explore the roads and pastures and woods and creeks around our farm and neighboring farms. This was an important part of my personal development.

My children live in the city, but I still try as hard as I can to give them opportunities to be alone and to wander and explore, both in nature and in town. My oldest began walking downtown -- or sometimes taking the bus -- to see free concerts and hang out with his friends a few years ago. My youngest son, who is nine, likes to dress in cammo and go play army in the huge forest of kudzu next to our backyard. Although our neighborhood is very urban, we also have a backyard that slopes down to a creek, and I encourage all of the children to go play down there and check out the turtles and the tadpoles and the occasional sandcrane.

But after a high profile kidnapping of a child, like we've had in the U.S. in recent weeks, I find it harder to let them go play outside. I always find it harder to let my 11 year old daughter just go play, because I worry more about her. BUt still, I force myself to let them go. Right now, Elliot is dressed in his fatigues and has packed up an army napsack full of capguns and snacks, and he is out in the "kudzu forest." I can see him from the kitchen window, but just barely. He's a tiny, green speck deep inside the wall of kudzu.

The odds that my child will be snatched are exceptionally low. Of course, to a parent to whom this horror happens, the odds are meaningless. And I am scared sometimes. People ask me if I worry more about their safety because we live in a truly urban neighborhood instead of in the manicured 'burbs or in the country. I don't. I remind myself that the two boys kidnapped in Missouri were snatched up while riding their bikes on remote, rural roads.

I push myself to get past my fear and allow and even encourage the children to go play outside. I think children lose out when they never get to explore beyond manicured, fenced yards. I believe that our children today are losing the ability to learn from their mistakes in navigating their own neighborhoods. When you never encounter muddy slopes or dogs that chase you or sketchy characters, you never learn how to deal with unexpected challenges.

Plus, sometimes children just need to be alone.

But I worry. I think I'll go peek out the window again and make sure I can still see Elliot.


Mia Storm said...

"Better a broken bone than a broken spirit." -- Lady Allen of Hurtwood, children's rights advocate

I guess the eternal struggle of parents is to balance reasonable safety precautions against allowing their children to take necessary chances. Sounds like a good topic for your book, Katie.

dewi said...

It is an issue you just have to let your children be and enjoy their childhood.
I can tell you from first hand experience there is not much you can really do to protect your child (Just teach the regular stuff we all tell our kids) then let them be and explore the world. You could keep them in adult company 24/7. How about when parents find out it's their priest or their beloved relative or stepfather who is a pedophile harming your child. All along, you were protecting them from the boogey man stranger who might snatch them off the street.

I know urban life is much safer for children since there are always people in the streets. I have mentioned before that my daughter who navigated Manhattan on a daily basis starting at 13 years old was never harmed in any way (and I worried like crazy all the time). The time I was not feeling worried was when she was 15 years old visiting her best friend at the family's beach house in a quiet well to do Rhode Island beach community. Walking off a beach in "safe" Rhode Island, the girls were abducted at gunpoint and raped by some sicko.

They were eventually rescued in a couple of hours because a group of 10 year old boys were riding bikes near the beach and reported to the police they saw a man with a gun take two girls away. Your children might be the heroes like the little boys reporting a crime.

mamalife said...

I also remember riding my bike everywhere at a young age. Sad that today parents have to not allow this or worry terribly if they do.

Leslie said...

What we do to allow exploration with a bit of a safeguard is have a buddy system. The boys like to walk to the library, but ordinarily I make them go together. If Emily wants to go walking she has to either take the dog or else only walk the main road and take my phone along.

Anonymous said...

I guess Europe is different from the US in abduction/preocupation, or at least it was when I was growing up.
At 10, my brothers and I all started taking public transportation to and from school. At 12 or 13 we would even ride the metro with friends on our own during the weekend to go places, like the movies, friends', the bigger public parks.
I see children doing it today in the city centre (600,000 people) but not in the suburbs (all together, almost 2 million). But even children in the city centre do it when they're slightly older than we were, and always in huge groups (5+). And with mobiles, always.
We have the lowest crime rate in Europe. And most parents of my children's friends (6, 4 and almost 2 yo) state they'll never let their children roam the streets like that until they're in college! Can you imagine? I can't, either!

Anonymous said...

Sorry, forgot to sign the previous post

Marta from Lisbon