Thursday, April 03, 2008

Atrios saw this and it really hit home:

"Mother Lets 9 year Old Ride Subway Alone." Apparently this is a huge cause celebre right now.

It resonated for me because we just let our nine year old go out of the house and across the street to visit with our 90 year old neighbor. I left the house with the older daughter, my husband was on the third floor on a business call and when she left the neighbor's house she found she didn't have a key to get back in, he couldn't hear the doorbell, and she couldn't get back into the elderly neighbor's house (couldn't get her to hear *her* doorbell and come down the stairs to let her back in) to call us and wouldn't have known what number to use anyway since he was already on the phone. Even though she was on our street and eventually found a neighbor who was home to help her it was a very scary experience for her. But that's part of growing up, figuring out what to do when your usual plans are disrupted. Next time she will remember to take a key. Next time she'll have her father's cel phone number and her grandmother's number in her head. Next time she'll know what to do.

But look, they are nine and eleven and we have just started giving them the freedom to get confused and lost. Because there are no other kids out on the streets with them. Even where we live most kids are chaperoned just because activities and schools are so spread out, as are children in a city with an elderly population. Its not that the city isn't safe, it is. Its that parents have been made hysterically fearful of some hypothetical bullies or rapists and they lack confidence in strangers. In fact one of the criticisms of the mother's actions from "Dr. Ruth Peters, a parenting expert and TODAY Show contributor" is

" that children should be allowed independent experiences," but [she] felt there are better – and safer – ways to have them than the one Skenazy chose.

“I’m not so much concerned that he’s going to be abducted, but there’s a lot of people who would rough him up,” she said. “There’s some bullies and things like that. He could have gotten the same experience in a safer manner.”

Well, and if there are bullies? Aren't there other people on the subway who will intervene? Yes, there are and we should be encouraging them rather than discouraging people from using the streets and subways. The mother speaks up for herself this way:

“It’s safe to go on the subway,” Skenazy replied. “It’s safe to be a kid. It’s safe to ride your bike on the streets. We’re like brainwashed because of all the stories we hear that it isn’t safe. But those are the exceptions. That’s why they make it to the news. This is like, ‘Boy boils egg.’ He did something that any 9-year-old could do.”

Addressing the same subject in her column, she had written: “These days, when a kid dies, the world - i.e., cable TV - blames the parents. It's simple as that. And yet, Trevor Butterworth, a spokesman for the research center, said, ‘The statistics show that this is an incredibly rare event, and you can't protect people from very rare events. It would be like trying to create a shield against being struck by lightning.’ ”

She said that people ask her how she would feel if one of those terrible and rare events happened to her son.

“It would be horrible,” she said. “But you can’t live your life that way; you could slip in the shower.”

“I don’t think this is just about the subway,” Peters countered. “I think it’s a difference of opinion of when is the child able to have independent activities. My thought on it is, it’s not just the child, it’s the other environment. If you can do something more safely, it’s just more appropriate.”

Said Skenazy, “I just think about all the college kids who are still sending their essays home to be edited by their parents. I talked to one lady whose daughter sends her pictures when she’s trying on clothes: ‘Mom, what do you think of this? What do you think of that?’ At some point you have to let go and let them live their life.”

Or ride the subway alone.

Hear! Hear!