Stop worrying about your kids

Really interesting interview in this week with the author of a new book, Free Range Kids.  Take-away point: we worry way too much about our kids.  I definitely will not argue there.  Though, I actually think my own mom was a little lax– I swear I remember being left to wander through the Springfield Mall on my own when I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8.  I think her most important point is that our kids aren't in any more danger, we just think they are.  Much like Americans were completely obsessed with violent crime during the 1990's because of sensationalistic reporting all the while crime statistics showed consistent declines during this era.  Some of the interesting exchanges:

 I grew up in the Houston suburbs in the '70s and '80s.
Back then, we kids waited for the school bus without our parents. Now,
in that exact same neighborhood, parents always wait at the school bus
stop with their kids, although the neighborhood has not changed

This was a shock to me. Now, parents
wait at the bus stop. They wait in the morning to make sure their kid
gets on safely, and sometimes they wait at the bus stop in the
afternoon to drive the kid home, even if it's on the same block, even
if it's in a gated community. Sometimes they wait with those little
golf carts. It's the new social norm.

What do you think are the reasons that change has taken place?

When I was growing up, my parents were not watching those horrific
television shows that are on now like "CSI" and "Law & Order:
Special Victims Unit." They were watching "Dallas," "Dynasty," stuff
with maybe big hair, but that was the biggest crime. It wasn't all
these shows with really graphic, horrifying consequences for kids.

then, you didn't have cable, and cable has to fill 24 hours with the
worst possible stories, because if they filled it with stories about
kids getting home safely, you wouldn't watch. What's the most
compelling story that anyone has come up with so far? It's something
terrible happening to a child.

 What are the statistics about crimes against children? What is the news that we're not hearing?

crime rate today is equal to what it was back in 1970. In the '70s and
'80s, crime was climbing. It peaked around 1993, and since then it's
been going down.

If you were a child in the '70s or the '80s and
were allowed to go visit your friend down the block, or ride your bike
to the library, or play in the park without your parents accompanying
you, your children are no less safe than you were.

But it feels
so completely different, and we're told that it's completely different,
and frankly, when I tell people that it's the same, nobody believes me.
We're living in really safe times, and it's hard to believe.

Then again, it's one thing to know you don't need to worry so much about your kids, it is quite another to feel that way.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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