October 2, 2009

Why Can't Kids Walk Alone To School? Part 1

136 comments on Metafilter about an article on the NYT, and none of them suggest that the problem is that adults are untrustworthy and dangerous.

Via metafilter: a mom, Katie, decides to let her kid walk to school, a move so outrageous that the New York Times is compelled to write an article about it.

" 'She's just so pretty. She's just so ... blond.' A friend said, 'I heard that  Jaycee Dugard story and I thought of your daughter.'  And they say, 'I'd never do that with my kid: I wouldn't trust my kid with the street,' " said Katie, a stay-at-home mother, who asked that her full identity be withheld to protect her children.

Katie, too, is tormented by the abduction monsters embedded in modern parenting. Yet she wants to encourage her daughter's independence. "Somehow, walking to school has become a political act when it's this uncommon," she said. "Somebody has to be first."

Any parent can sympathize: what if?

But what if... what?  Be specific, put some thought into this: are you worried your daughter will cross paths with a Bad Man, or are you worried that your daughter is walking into a world where everyone is an opportunist?


One problem is that we aren't trusting of ourselves as parents. Perhaps the older generations didn't know or care about their shortcomings, but we do, for sure.   Have we really done our jobs?  Did we teach them enough about the complexities of human nature?   It's easy to say "don't talk to strangers," but how do you tell your kid to watch out for his otherwise good teacher?  How do you tell them not to let a cop drive him home?  ("Why would you ever tell him that?"  A: Why would they ever drive him home?) 

It's easier to hover.   Not a judgment, just an observation.

We probably all imagined that when we had kids of our own, we'd teach them how to beat down a bully.  Well?  I know we dreamed about how we'd teach our kids to escape from bad guys.  Did you?  Did you teach them how to manipulate their attacker?  Or did you leave them to the Wii?   "Well there are just too many other important things--"  Oh, you taught him French? Started him on push-ups early?  Game theory?

Kids don't ask to be chaperoned; they don't ask to be forbidden from going "down the creek" and they sure as hell don't ask for bike helmets.  That's all chosen by the parents.  So the question really is, why do parents choose to do this?

Don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying we are failures as parents; I'm saying we are afraid we are.  We are insecure that we have adequately prepared kids for life.  This insecurity prevents us from letting them experience life.  And thus they are actually unprepared, and thus we were right.


"All this helicopter parenting is going to make kids grow up to be wusses."

Maybe, but it's interesting that most people who say this don't have any kids of their own.  Parents might agree with the sentiment, but they're still going to buy bike helmets.  Geezers may like telling stories of how they had to walk five miles to school in the snow, but I don't know any geezers who would let their grandkids do that today.

Do you see that Katie, quoted above, is hiding her identity "to protect her children?"  The world is much smaller.  Just like it's easy to imagine calling a guy across the country on a whim, it's not so crazy to imagine a guy buying a $100 LAX to NYC plane ticket for the possibility of free 9 year olds.


Question: have we squandered the nanoseconds we do spend with our kids by using it to teach them not to judge people by how they look? 

Xanax yourself, Caps Lock.  We adults do frequently judge people based on how they look, right or wrong.  So on the one hand we think we can identify the Bad Men, on the other hand we are aware that we have not taught our kids to do it.  So we have to do it for them.

Have we crippled kids, in the name of equanimity?  That we don't believe anyway?

Maybe such politically incorrect heuristics are precisely what we should be teaching them, precisely because they have nothing else to go by?  I know that not every 50 year old white man with a mustache is a pedophile.  You know what else I know?  Run.

Heuristics are short cuts that save you from overthinking.  Sometimes you need handy, explicit rules so that thinking, education, logic, experience, and civilization don't make you do the wrong thing.  A joke by Dave Attell: 

If you walk outside and see a naked man running down the street, cock flapping in the wind, you run with that man.  Because there's some scary shit coming the other way.

"But not all bad men look like bad men!"  I know, but maybe at least steel the kid against some identifiable Bad Men?  "But not everyone who looks bad is Bad!"  So maybe the kid misses out on the gentle friendship of a mustached IT guy.  Oh well.  He can have a snow cone instead.


Our insecurity is not unfounded.  We barely spend real time with them at all, we get through the time until they go to bed or college, whichever comes first.  And we're certainly not anticipating the issues they'll face in their future.  What did you tell them about the ethics of killing robot hookers?

  We don't see our kids as total human beings, they are still mostly extensions of ourselves.  Since we're not sure how well we've prepared them, AND we fail to see their unique strengths because they didn't come from us, we just don't know how they'd react.

Will the kid really not be enticed by a guy with some candy/Playboys/pot?  If he tries to grab a six year old and she runs, will she know how to get home?

Or, and I can't believe I'm writing this, if she's 15, will she remember to run? 

We're not confident in how we've trained our kids and so we don't train them, reinforcing our insecurity.  Meanwhile, we don't see that they're growing up anyway.

Kids are the best, Apu. You can teach them to hate the things you hate. And they practically raise themselves, what with the Internet and all.
Good point.  We'd better monitor their internet use, then.

Part 2 here.