It’s front page news out here in San Francisco where I’m visiting, but it’s probably front page news out by you, too: The tragic story of 8-year-old Sandra Cantu, who was abducted and murdered last week in California. Today’s front page story is as inevitable as the media attention: “Case Forces Parents to take Tougher Look at Children’s Safety.” http://tinyurl.com/cfsyyw
It’s hard not to take a tough look after a killing like this. As the parents interviewed by the San Francisco Chronicle say, they are hugging their children closer and talking to them about safety. This is good news. Children should be taught to run, kick and scream if someone is trying to take them away. Teach them NOT to be polite. Also, by the way, teach them they CAN ask for help from strangers.
But of course, these are not the only lessons parents are taking from this tragedy. At least in the Chronicle piece, many parents have vowed to no longer let their children go outside alone, ever. “I used to let my kids walk to the park, which is a block away,” one mother is quoted as saying, “My 11-year-old would chaperone. But after this, there will be no more walking on their own to the park. This is a long-term change.'”
It IS a long term change, but not one that makes sense. First of all, her children were not walking alone if the 11-year-old was walking with them, right? And so already they were exceedingly safe. But even walking alone is generally safe, something really hard to remember in the face of one little girl who wasn’t.
The chances of being abducted and killed by a stranger stand at 1,500,000 to one, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center. This is a number that does not go up or down a lot year to year. To keep your children inside or guarded at all times because of chances like that would make sense only if you also vowed never to take your children in a car, considering the odds of them dying in an accident are 40 times greater.
And yet, even though five child passengers are killed each day, you never see parents vowing, “I used to let my kids come with me in the car. But after this, there will be no more driving. This is a long-term change.”
This is not meant to be flip. Only that if keeping children safe from any possible death, no matter how remote the danger, is your goal, you literally cannot let them do anything. If they eat, they could choke. If they run, they could trip. If they go to school, they could fall down the stairs. Any of those could lead to death.
By all means, teach your children to be assertive. To fight, bite kick and scream if they are in trouble. But beyond this, the lesson from Sandra Cantu isn’t, “Never let them go outside until they’re 17.” It’s that there is no lesson. Only a very sad story that will replay itself in most parents’ minds longer and louder than all the other stories that don’t end this way. — Lenore