Friday, December 11, 2009

On Stranger Danger and Parental (over)Protectiveness

A few weeks ago I read the TIME article on the backlash against "helicopter parents" and the paranoid overprotectiveness we have of our kids these days.  I liked the article and agreed with a lot of what they said.  As a Montessorian, I have a much more watch-from-the-sidelines approach to parenting-- I want D to know that I am always here if he needs me, but want him to have the freedom to figure things out on his own and be more independent.  I'm quite happy letting D play happily in his room (as he's doing now) while I sit in the living room, say, typing up a blog post. He's safe, happy, and getting plenty of unstructured free play time which we keep finding out is kind of a good thing.  (keep in mind, these moments might only last about 10 minutes or so before he wants my attention again...)

That's in the safety of our own home, though.  I still feel a stifling paranoia about letting him out of my sight for even half a second if we're anywhere out in public.  A few months ago I was listening in to my mom, several of her cousins, and my grandmother reminisce about when they were young, and hearing stories such as my mom's cousin, at maybe 5 years of age or so, pulling my 18 month old mom and her newborn baby brother in a wagon around the block, completely unsupervised.  That's just what people did back then, but if it happened now you'd probably get reported to CPS.  Kids cannot be left alone EVER, and are taught early about "Stranger Danger" and to avoid these potentially evil people at all costs, because otherwise you'll end up in a ditch somewhere.

Then I came across another article on twitter yesterday, about child kidnappings.  And this is the part that shocked me (emphasis is my own):
The U.S. Department of Justice reports more than 200,000 children are victims of family abductions in the United States each year. Of that figure, about 56,500 cases are reported to local law enforcement authorities and require investigation, studies show. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Justice reports an average of 115 stranger abductions a year.
(numbers confirmed here, too)

*blink blink*


Out of the MILLIONS of kids in the US, only 115 are abducted by total strangers each year?  This is what we're freaking out about?

You then pair those stats up with the ones for sexual assault.  It's estimated that 60% of sexual attacks happen to people under 18.  That's plenty scary, and certainly enough for people to start checking their neighborhoods for sex offenders and demonizing strangers even more.  Until you find out that the vast majority of those attacks (85%-95%) are perpetrated by people the victim already knows well (family, friends, etc).  Only a teeny, tiny minority are attacks by complete strangers.

So in a way, our kids are safer with a complete stranger than at your family reunion.

I'm not trying to minimize the horror of those instances.  But I think it's alarming how much fear there is about strangers kidnapping and abusing our children, when the actual numbers are so low.  And in fact, by emphasizing the danger of strangers (and completely ignoring the fact that it's those close to you that are most likely to harm your kids) we are causing further damage by not educating and preparing ourselves for the real threats.

Meanwhile, car wrecks are the leading cause of death for children 2-14 years old.  Each year 250,000 children are injured in car crashes, and 2,000 children die from them.  I just read an article in Glamour (Jan 2010, pg62) about the dumb things we do while driving and how dangerous they are.  For example, texting while driving (even if you don't have to look at your phone while doing it) makes you 8 times more likely to get in a crash-- and it the equivalent of driving with a blood alcohol level of .08.  Talking on the phone (yes,m even hands-free) makes you four times as likely to crash, and lowers your ability to process visual information (light changes, brake lights, etc) by 50%.  Every year 2,500 people die from cell phone related car crashes.  Eating and drinking while driving are also incredibly dangerous.

I wonder how many of us teach our kids to be paranoid of anyone they don't know but don't think twice about answering a phone call while driving with our kiddoes in the car.

I'm not trying to be preachy, I'm more just baffled with finding out this information... and thinking about how I will change my behavior.  I am intrigued by the "Free Range Kids" movement, and may try to read the book soon.  I might relax a bit when out and about with D, while being much more mindful of how I drive with him in the car... and avoiding it completely whenever possible (fortunately we live in a good area for walking to places).

I'm curious to hear your thoughts on all this.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I wish more parents would read these stats instead of relying on hyped-up news stories. Good stuff, and I loved that Time article as well - hope some learned from it. :)

  2. You are correct and I speak from personal experience- it isn't strangers you need to be wary of- a lot fo time-it is a close family member or friend. I think we need to teach kids to trust their guts instincts. Just because you don't know someone does not mean they are bad and just because someone is a family member or friend does NOT mean they are always good.

  3. Oh yes. We live in this culture of fear, terrified of so many things, but often they're the *wrong* things, if we look at the actual rates of incident.

    I let the Boychick out of my sight at playgrounds, and I leave him in the car when he's asleep while I go inside to pee and prep the bed -- and I drive with him a lot in the afternoons to get him to nap at all. Which one of these is actually riskier? And which one gets me the most reprobation? Driving, and leaving him in the car, respectively.

    It would be laughable, if people weren't actually making laws criminalizing the less risky. But heaven forbid we fund creation of communities that would reduce our reliance on cars...

  4. You are totally correct. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (USA) gets over $40 million annually, and its CEO, Ernie Allen, rakes in a cool million in taxpayer dollars each year using these misleading statistics on the risk of child abduction.

    It being the Season of Giving, perhaps you, your family and your readers would consider supporting one of the charities that actually takes care of real children's needs?

    In early November the FBI announced it had rescued 52 children from "sexual slavery" in a nationwide crackdown on child prostitution. But none of the victims has been provided with the help specialists say is necessary to overcome such trauma and rejoin society.

    At least one, a 15-year-old Sacramento girl held on an unrelated charge, remains in a juvenile detention center, according to a Los Angeles Times check of the children’s situations.

    Others have been sent home or into foster care.

    The victims need intensive residential treatment, specialists say, and only three such programs exist.

    So please consider giving your donations this month to smaller, hands-on charities like the 24-bed Los Angeles shelter called Children of the Night.

    Unlike the National Center for Milking and Exploiting Congress, small charity shelters deal with the problems of these children directly. Their statistics are real. And they need everyone's support.

    Wishing you and your family all the best for the New Year.


  5. I struggled with answering calls on the road when driving. It was not possible to text and drive at the same time. I downloaded an application of to send messages without using my hands.

  6. I've been thinking a lot about this since reading Simplicity Parenting. P and I aren't worriers by nature, but so many others are. The nice thing is that we're happily unaware of most of this paranoia, as we don't have a TV. I did get asked on a recent podcast interview on my views on "putting my family on display" on my blog, and my reply was "well, I feel like it's exponentially more dangerous to drive him to the grocery store!" I think we probably have the same views about that, too. :) Once Finn's old enough to have a preference about his blog appearances, then I will certainly respect his wishes.

  7. "Talking on the phone (yes,m even hands-free) makes you four times as likely to crash, and lowers your ability to process visual information (light changes, brake lights, etc) by 50%."

    I've heard this before, and every time I hear it I think: Isn't talking on the phone hands-free the same as having a conversation with a passenger in the car? So then should you make all your passengers shut up whenever you are driving?

  8. Laura-
    he Glamour article claimed that, according to studies they've looked at, talking to passengers in the car and listening to the radio didn't impair driving abilities, at least not nearly as much as talking on the phone. I reasons I've read before are that in-car passengers will tailor the conversation to road conditions and situations (eg, stop talking when going through a tricky road spot, or help point out road hazards to the driver), and that phones don't produce the full range of tones and so your brain has to spend more energy processing the speech to make up for that which adds to distractibility. I know I hate talking to people on speakerphone because they're that much harder to understand, and my guess is that's part of why.

    I did find info on wikipedia (not the most reliable, I know, but was surprisingly difficult to find much other info on comparisons of hands-free vs in-car conversations) that apparently research results are mixed. Some studies show a clear difference between talking on the phone and with people in the car, while others seem to say that both are distracting.

    What does seem clear, however, is that using a hands-free device doesn't make any significant difference over holding your phone in your hand.

    Yup, feel pretty much the same way. =)

  9. Anonymous8:46 AM

    Hypocrisy knows no bounds when you are a child abductor and a pedophile. The "Secretariat" of the infamous who has posted on your page is but one of the aliases that Emmanuel Lazaridis, a known parental kidnapper and pedophile with warrants for his arrest in the US and France. He kidnpped his daughter from her custodial mother in the US when custody proceedings were not going the way he wanted. He went to the Dominican Republic to obtain a divorce and has hopped from there to France and Greece manipulating the complexities of international law and jurisdiction to keep his daughter prisoner. Don't be taken in by his false concern for children's rights or flowery language. He holds a PHD in statistics but, while intelligent, he remains a danger to children... including/especially his own.

  10. Dear Anonymous-

    That is interesting information. I would, however, hope if you're making such serious accusations about someone you'd provide some links to verify or at least a name for yourself so you can be taken seriously. (Unless, I suppose, you feel you'd be putting yourself or your children in danger for doing so?).



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