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NEVER Let Them Walk to School Alone!

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Why are we still debating whether children under the age of 13 should be allowed to walk to and from school alone? Is keeping our children safe really up for debate?

florida girl somer thompson missing

Dr. Michelle Golland: As a clinical psychologist, I often counsel victims of violent crime. Given the risks that children face in our time, it is naïve and simply irresponsible to argue, as Lenore Skenazy does in her book "Free-Range Kids," that because we were all raised in the 1970s in a "free" way, our kids should be as well.

In the '70s, our generation also didn't believe in sex education for our children, and believed that being gay was a "choice" and should be demonized. We also didn't believe domestic violence was a "problem," that the Catholic Church would never put children in harm's way, and seat belts and car seats weren't mandatory. There are many things over the last 40 years that -- through studies, our intelligence, our emotional reactions, and plain mothers' intuition -- became simply obvious at this point in time. One of them is that young children should not be left alone in a public place -- whether it is walking home from school or a friend's house, playing in a park, or playing in the front yard unsupervised. Would any of you even question putting your child in a car seat or forcing them to buckle up when you get into the car? Is that too restrictive? Not free enough for your taste?

I believe what is often the motivator for these "free living" parents is that by allowing their kids to be "independent," it frees up the parents to focus on themselves, and also saves them the cost of child care. The parents are simply choosing their own independence over their child's safety.

I do not agree that depriving our children of the "freedom" to walk home alone from school quells their sense of independence. Children develop a sense of independence in many ways that don't put them at risk. For example, when your kids choose their extracurricular activities, the clothes they wear, how they wear their hair, the décor of their bedroom, or the games the family plays on game night -- this, in my opinion, gives your child a strong sense of independence and power at much less risk. The experience of "independence" is developed across time, and in age-appropriate and safe ways. The argument that allowing a 9-year-old to ride public transportation alone promotes independence is ignorant and irresponsible. My 9-year-old son begs me to stay home alone while I take his sister to dance class. I in no way believe that is his "cry" for independence, or that I should even consider it for a minute to promote his "independence." He is a 9-year-old boy who wants to stay home and play Wii for as long as he can.

By saying this, I am in no way blaming the mother of Somer Thompson -- but I am sure if she could go back in time, she would agree that a 10-year-old, even if told repeatedly never to let your siblings out of your sight, would in real time not be able to control a situation laden with heated emotions. We know there was an argument, and Somer ran off from the pack. We can't expect a 10-year-old to be able to manage an emotional situation such as this because she herself is a child, and will herself be overwhelmed by her feelings -- because, again, she IS A CHILD. Somer's sister will now live with the guilt and pain of this loss and her own sense of responsibility.

I have worked with clients who were "in charge" of their younger brothers and sisters when a tragedy occurred (drowning, being struck by a car, and an abduction), and the pain and impact on their lives is enormous. The conclusion is always this: "Why as a child was I put in the place of being responsible for the safety of my siblings?" I have also discovered that most experts agree that a teenager should not begin babysitting until they are at least 13 years of age and mature. Even then, the guidelines are clear on ages and how many children should be supervised by one teenager. I think we should look to these guidelines for giving children the "freedom" Lenore Skenazy is pushing for. Don't you?

You see, it is about maturity and ability to deal with different contingencies in one's environment. Younger children do not have the brain development to deal with issues like adults do -- it is that simple. They can be manipulated and lured much easier than adults, which is why they are at greater risk.

It is sad that we live in the "at-risk" society that we do. However, as we have seen in the news, there are many, many sex offenders living among us -- and we simply cannot afford to place our kids in harm's way under the guise of "letting them live free."

elizabeth olten

There are two tracks to deal with sexual offenders:

1) Community Information and Protection of Children

This is composed of access to information regarding the location of registered sexual offenders, and includes where they can live within range of schools, libraries, and parks. It also includes the enactment of the Amber Alert system and Megan laws.

I believe we need to take this further. We should have national guidelines for the training of our children in schools on how to be safe and protect themselves as much as possible from sexual predators. We need to create ways for our children to get to and from school with adult supervision.

Our schools should be community centers with access to after-care programs for working parents. It is imperative that we as a society deal with the issue of after-school care in a progressive and aggressive manner.

I do not think that it is paranoia to say that we should provide GPS devices for our children. In the case of Elizabeth Olten, the police were able to locate her body because of her cell phone. There are many GPS devices that you can give to your children that would enable the authorities to help locate your child. Devices can be placed in shoes or in backpacks and could be monitored by the Global Positioning Satellite System immediately. As we know, when a child goes missing, time is of the essence. We place a greater emphasis on locating our cars or our cell phones than our kids. Again, it's a risk-reward issue. To me, it's a no-brainer.

2) Sentencing and Civil Commitment of Child Sexual Offenders

We should all be upset at the differing sentencing guidelines for sexual offenders. I believe we need to make sexual crimes against children a federal offense, which would automatically mandate sentencing guidelines that are uniform for all states.

• Mandatory federal sentences for child sexual abuse should be similar to Wisconsin's tough sexual offender statutes that include the following: "Jessica's Law" legislation (created in memory of Jessica Lunsford, who was kidnapped and killed by a sex offender who did not register in Florida) imposes a minimum 25-year sentence for those convicted of first-degree sexual assault of a child. Another measure passed by Wisconsin lawmakers provides judges with the authority to give life sentences to offenders twice convicted of first-degree sexual assault (the previous maximum was 40 years). With the high rate of repeat offending by child sexual predators, it is imperative that sentencing guidelines are used to protect our children from pedophiles.

• Kansas has enacted the Sexually Violent Predator Act of 1994, which was passed in response to concerns about recidivism rates among sex offenders. Under the law, which was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1997, the state can commit individuals who are likely to engage in "predatory acts of violence" due to a "mental abnormality" or "personality disorder." Few confined sex offenders are ever released. The Washington State Institute for Public Policy has followed the issue since that state passed a civil commitment law in 1990. As of December 2004, the Institute reports that 3,493 people have been held for evaluation as sexually violent predators or committed for treatment, and 427 individuals have been discharged or released. This seems like a good alternative to keep sexual predators off the streets, but it is far more expensive than prison. Civil-commitment legislation was introduced in South Dakota as well, but lawmakers decided to create a no-parole provision for certain repeat sex offenders instead.

Given the clear danger of predatory child sexual abusers, as a nation, we must come together and create clear and tough guidelines for repeat child sexual predators. We must educate our children about sexual offenders, and we must wake up to the reality that we can't live as if it is 1970. Sadly, we must wake up and deal with the reality that there are people who look for the "window of opportunity" to take a child, sexually assault them, and throw them away like garbage. These are real risks in the reality of our time. We must take our shoes off at the airports, put our children in car seats, and not allow them to be alone in public places or walk home from school alone. Is it really that much of a "hassle" for us to take these measures? I would not want to be a parent who sits with the pain of having a child taken, assaulted, or even killed -- and know that I placed my child in danger when it could have been avoided.

 


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32 comments so far | Post a comment now
Karen October 30, 2009, 2:49 AM

You’re never going to hear a news anchor say “Today, 149,000 children in our state had an uneventful day at school and are now safely at home. Let’s talk with some of them, shall we?” Tragedy and fear-mongering sell, and because the horror stories are the only ones that make the news, people end up superstitiously worried about risk, rather than being able to consider it sensibly. Just as zealously sanitizing the environment of a healthy child will weaken their immune system, so does preventing them from learning independence by practicing it stunt their emotional growth. Immune systems are strengthened by exposure to things that can make us sick. Characters are strenghtened by exposure to learning experiences. Ours is a sick society. In my opinion, part of the reason why, is that people feel that they shouldn’t have to be responsible for their own actions. $2.9 million to a woman who spilled hot coffee on herself. Because, you know.. it wasn’t her responsibility to know that hot coffee could burn her. A parent’s job is to help their children grow up into capable, independent adults. Never allowing them unsupervised time until they’re adolescents is NOT the way to encourage critical thinking and coping skills. Some day your child is going to be out of the nest, responsible for her own safety and well-being. The best way to prepare her for that day is to give her the tools to become a capable human being, and allow her to use them. If you keep your child wrapped in cottonwool, he will learn only that he’s breakable, and should be protected. His entry to the adult world is going to be a rude, possibly even traumatic shock, as he learns that other people expect him to take care of himself. Please note, I am not advocating giving all children blanket permission to do whatever dangerous thing they want to. I do think that the approach of a friend’s parents was the right one. He learned about knife safety when he was five. By sharpening them. Under his parents close supervision, while the family worked together canning the harvest from their garden. He never hurt himself with a knife, because he knew exactly how sharp they were, and how to use them properly.




flabbergasted mom November 1, 2009, 1:06 PM

Seriously!! How many more times can you guys use the don’t put your kids in the car as logic for why it’s ok to let a 10 year old walk to school, play alone, etc. The truth is that most sexual molesters ARE family or freinds, but why is your childs innocence and life worth chancing it! The truth is that the odds of a sexual molester ever getting caught in the first place are not in our favor as parents. What we need is much stricter laws! For all you free range thinkers Sexual abuse destroys a childs confidence for LIFE!

An Idle Dad November 1, 2009, 7:07 PM

Flabbergasted Mum,
The argument “if you don’t take every percaution against molestation means you either support it or lack empathy” is an old one too. But let’s consider your specific argument some more!
I agree sexual abuse destroys a child’s confidence for life. I agree that most sexual molesters are family & friends and not random strangers.
Therefore, isn’t walking to school is safer than putting kids in the car with the person most likely to molest them? At least they are getting away from a dangerous environment (your house) into a much, much safer one (the sidewalk).

Hmmm….

Anonymous November 2, 2009, 8:52 PM

You do your readers a disservice repeating baseless claims. The statistics don’t bear it out.

Mel December 3, 2009, 9:14 PM

I both disagree and agree with this if one could think that is possible.

There are pros and cons to everything. To explain this, I’ll let you know a bit about me.

I am 21 and the only daughter out of five children of a very loving father. A father who named his only daughter after one of Ted Bundy’s victims. Had she survived, she would have been my aunt today.

While growing up I was not allowed out after dark. When the street lights came on that was my cue to tell my friends good-bye and head home.

I was never to go anywhere with out informing my dad of where I was. I would have been in a tremendous amount of trouble if I broke that rule.

I still have issues to this day with asserting my independence. I still live with my dad but I own the home and up until I started school I held a full time job since I turned 16.

There was so many things I wasn’t allowed to do. So many fun things I missed out on and only heard about it as my friends told their stories.

I’ve grown a bit, not just chronologically either. I can see and understand his reasonings, his fear. He’s already lost two of his children. (Unrelated to this topic. Stillborn and one attacked by dogs.) No parent should ever have to suffer through the pain of losing their children.

But it’s so infuriating to understand this when I don’t want to.

All of my friends are having fun, going to parties, just getting into trouble, living.

But then I look at what my friends don’t have.

My dad always knew where I was. I always knew I was safe because he was standing on the side lines watching me and tormenting himself with letting me that freedom.

My friends on the other hand, were getting into drugs and alcohol with their free reign. Of course, much of that I don’t completely blame on the parents for I made that choice myself years ago when offered pot to refuse it, not my dad. Their parents didn’t seem to care either way. I remember spending the night and being just… stunned when their mothers let us go to the gas station at one in the morning. I didn’t stay the night again of my own choice simply because I knew and understood the dangers that posed.

My own reigns were beginning to lift as I grew and my dad could see I was capable of making sound decisions. Just, the only fall back was was that I was unable to really fit in with other kids. I didn’t know how to cope with the freedom they were given. It was too alien and intimidating to me.

I remember one conversation with my dad however on the way to the grocery store. I was complaining of my lack of freedom and personal space and everything. “Dad, when are you going to let me grow up? I’m not a kid anymore.” He asked me what I meant and I explained it to him. He then went on to tell me that he didn’t want me to make the same mistakes he’s made or get hurt by others. My only response was that I needed to make my own mistakes too, that’s part of life. I can’t always be safe.

Being safe isn’t living. Dangers exist everywhere. Whether it be from a person or natural occurrence and everything in between.

But to get to the point before I get further off track…

I’ve experienced the over protective parent. It was a bit of a hindrance in growing up and establishing myself in the world. But at the same time, I grew up knowing that my dad actually cared.

A parent just needs to learn where to draw the line. You’ll stop the growth of your child if you smother them. But you can unintentionally endanger your child if you give them too much freedom.

My advice is this;

Give your children the freedom they desire but be reasonable about it.

Most of all though, just educate them on the dangers they could face so they can not get blind sided by it and have a better chance of reacting properly.

I grew up knowing of some of the dangers out there and knew if a stranger approached me or even if someone I knew acted differently that I should talk to my dad about it.

Make sure your children know that they can always talk to you about anything.

Which means that you parents need to keep an open mind. Don’t get angry with them if they confess something to you, work it out. Don’t make them scared to tell you something.

Well, I’ve finished my rant/lecture. Hope this is helpful to someone out there.

Mel December 3, 2009, 9:25 PM

—because I knew and understood the dangers that posed.

My own reigns were beginning to lift as I grew and my dad could see I was capable of making sound decisions. Just, the only fall back was was that I was unable to really fit in with other kids. I didn’t know how to cope with the freedom they were given. It was too alien and intimidating to me.

I remember one conversation with my dad however on the way to the grocery store. I was complaining of my lack of freedom and personal space and everything. “Dad, when are you going to let me grow up? I’m not a kid anymore.” He asked me what I meant and I explained it to him. He then went on to tell me that he didn’t want me to make the same mistakes he’s made or get hurt by others. My only response was that I needed to make my own mistakes too, that’s part of life I can’t always be safe.

Being safe isn’t living. Dangers exist everywhere. Whether it be from a person or natural occurrence and everything in between.

But to get to the point before I get further off track…

I’ve experienced the over protective parent. It was a bit of a hindrance in growing up and establishing myself in the world. But at the same time, I grew up knowing that my dad actually cared.

A parent just needs to learn where to draw the line. You’ll stop the growth of your child if you smother them. But you can unintentionally endanger your child if you give them too much freedom.

My advice is this.

Give your children the freedom they desire but be reasonable about it.

Most of all though, just educate them on the dangers they could face so they can not get blind sided by it and have a better chance of reacting properly.

I grew up knowing of some of the dangers out there and knew if a stranger approached me or even if someone I knew acted differently that I should talk to my dad about it.

Make sure your children know that they can always talk to you about anything.

Which means that you parents need to keep an open mind. Don’t get angry with them if they confess something to you, work it out. Don’t make them scared to tell you something.

Well, I’ve finished my rant/lecture. Hope this is helpful to someone out there.

Lasivian December 16, 2009, 11:06 PM

This is folly.

I was walking to and from school when I was 7, and crime statistics prove the world is no more dangerous now than it was 30 years ago when I was a child.

What has changed is immediate news of something like this gets shot around the world for everyone to read instantly, and everyone quakes in fear that their child might be next. So rather than taking a logical approach we let fear rule our actions.

“DOCTOR” Michelle Golland should know better than to let fear dictate her prescribed course of suggested action.

debs December 17, 2009, 1:49 PM

I was walking to school by myself by the time I was six. And no, not because my mum didn’t have the time, but because I actually told her I didn’t need her to anymore. My primary school was a seven minute walk from my house, involved crossing absolutely no roads, and was full of other kids walking parentless along the same paths. Stranger danger wasn’t even a part of my life, obviously I was told not to speak, take sweets, or get in a car with strangers, but I was also not taught that every adult in the world wanted to hurt me.

The attitude displayed by the author of this article is nothing but confidence damaging paranoia. As has been pointed out, most children are hurt by somebody they know. The number of children going missing or being killed has not actually risen for several decades, and yet parental fear and hysteria has gone out the roof. Ridiculous.

I will always think about what is best for my children, but I also hope I can encourage them to have the same freedoms and confidence that I did when I was their age. If they ever want to go anywhere or do anything by themselves, I will always try to think rationally about the risks, their level of confidence, and how safely they can get there/return home again. Not because I am lazy, but because I want children who feel that the world is a good place to explore.

Michael January 25, 2010, 6:28 PM

This is unbelievably disturbed. You don’t even take the trouble to consider the evidence that children are almost all overweight today, and will die twenty years younger than their parents for the simple reason that they cannot get exercise because of … this sort of corrupt thinking — And this is only one of many ways in which protecting people from harm can have unintended consequences.

You don’t look into this at all, it is a purely scientific matter. I remember my daughter’s pediatrician telling me I should talk to her, at the age of three about possible sexual molesters. I thought “man, where’s the evidence that talking about sexual molesters to 3 year olds doesn’t permanently damage them?” He had made no inquiry into this at all.

But to return to the walking home from school point — The kind of parenting you favor has future heart disease written all over it. …. To mention just one of about thirty strictly parallel objections any rational person could make.

I really think you should reconsider this blog from a moral point of view.

Jack May 26, 2010, 7:59 PM

Honestly I agree with free ranging kids. Sheltering a child makes them feeble and unable to survive in the real world. Honestly if they werent in front of the Wii, smothered by mom, the kid would Have common sense which most new age kids lack. As far as pediphilers, honestly its sick and they should be put to death like the rabid dogs that they are. Kids are only human dont treat them like they are in a prison camp. Let them grow naturally and mature them as parents. U want to control something “Get a dog”

Emily August 11, 2010, 2:12 PM

Wow. Letting a kid pick out her own clothes and a game! Wild! That’s not independence at all. That has nothing to do with a kid taking care of themselves.

I’ve had so many first grade students walk home without parents. Not one kidnapping incident. We did have a mom who hit two students with get car because she was on her phone.

Give kids reasonable freedom. Teach them the skills for it. And realize it’s not that bad out there.

Jessica November 12, 2010, 8:18 PM

Well, interesting point of view…

However, I seriously hope that neither of your children are ever snatched out of their beds in the middle of the night by some crazy pedophile…because according to you, that would be your fault for not putting iron bars on the windows. Or I hope that when your children get their drivers license, they don’t die in a terrible wreck. Because according to you, that could have been prevented by not allowing them to get their license. And I truly hope that your children never grow up past 18, because my goodness, it is one crazy world out there. And after all that time of being supervised by their overbearing mother, I think they might be scared of their own shadow. Good luck on college.

And I don’t see why the number one argument against this book is seatbelts. When you gals get up on your high horse and start screaming “well then why wear seatbelts if a crash is so rare” it’s just laughable. She didn’t say there was absolutely no risk anywhere. She said that certain things have more risk than others. Wearing seatbelts is reasonable, and doesn’t impede independence. Not allowing a teenager getting a license because they could get into a crash is not reasonable. There seems to be a big disconnect here with perceived risk. Or maybe just societal pressure. Even though it is far more likely (by LEAPS AND BOUNDS) that your child will die in a car crash rather than be abducted and killed, you still allow your children to ride in cars but disallow ever being unsupervised. It is simply societal pressure. Teenagers die in accidents all the time, but society won’t blame the parents because society is expected to get a job, a car and join the rat race. But as soon as a child is abducted in an exceedingly rare case, we are all quick to blame that mother. Sickening.


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