Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Are We Scaring Our Children?

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Did you hear about Lenore Sknazy, the New York columnist who gave her nine-year-old son a subway map, a transit card, $20 for emergencies and a couple of quarters for a phone call, then left him in Manhattan’s Bloomingdale’s?

Her son rode the subway home alone—because he wanted to.

In Reader’s Digest Sknazy admonishes all us other parents to “stop scaring our kids.” She talked about her overly-concerned friend. “My friend was a Harvard math major, so she is perfectly aware of probability and statistics and that the odds of anything bad happening to her daughter are tiny.”

My response mirrors her friend’s. “Doesn’t matter.”

At 11, I rode my bicycle in my neighborhood and with permission ventured into others. By age 12, I crossed major streets to reach the other side of town. At 11 Addy can’t ride her bike around our neighborhood unsupervised. Forget riding alone for hours.

Maybe I’m a little overprotective. Lenore Skenazy may be right. But still.

One evening Addy announced, “Jane’s neighborhood was busy yesterday.”

“What does that mean?” my husband asked.

“We walked around her neighborhood and lots of cars drove by.”

“Oh dear,” I thought. “You did this alone?”

“Yes,” Addy said proudly.

I looked at my husband. He raised an eyebrow. And so I have started to think about this. When will I consider her old enough to walk around the block or from school alone?

I recently read an article written by parenting author and cyberfriend, Christine Hohlbaum.
Christine’s elementary aged child had gotten lost somewhere between school and after-care. It took her an hour to find him.

Turns out her son had walked home with a friend. She explained why her son’s disappearance had so unnerved her. “My anxiety stems from something that happened in our town almost two years ago. It was then a pillar of the community was caught molesting some neighborhood children.” She confessed the computer repair man “was even in my house a couple of times to look at my PC.” Ultimately, the man was prosecuted.

“But,” Christine shared, “he still lives in our town.” Like Christine, I know we have sexual offenders nearby. Although I believe most people are good, bad people do walk the same streets. I don’t believe I am “scaring my child.” I am preparing Addy to be aware of her surroundings and leery of suspect folks.

A couple of websites can tell you if the bad guys live near you: the FBI provides ( and America’s Most Wanted TV host John Walsh’s brings us ( These sites are to inform you, not scare you.
Spend time talking to your child about what to do if she is separated from you or is confronted by a stranger.

I tell Addy, “Seek out a woman with children. Next best bet: a woman by herself.” I’m not picking on men here. I’m just playing it safe. Why? The best way for me to say this is that whenever Dateline airs “To Catch a Predator,” a reality TV show catching would-be predators on film, men show up. They’ve filmed 12 shows in all and caught over 300 predators. Never has a female been involved.

I’m preparing Addy to travel solo in this world, but at 11 the world she lives in is too big and she is too little to take on the bad guys by herself. Sorry, Lenore Skenazy, for now I’m going to be one of those “over-concerned” parents you wrote about.

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