Quit Trying to be So Safe!

Hi Readers! This was a comment on the post two below this one, and I was nodding along so much, I decided to give it its own post. It’s by a woman named Nanci, who describes herself as “a Midwest mom of two.” — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: ….  I really think the bottom line problem is that our society today is “too safe.”  When we begin to defeat all the things that used to be dangerous, we lose quite a bit of perspective.  We start to gauge safety/danger against absolute safety.

One hundred and fifty years ago it was almost unheard of for any family to have all of its children survive to adulthood.  There were so many dangers back then, from diseases to wild animals, to harsh living conditions, to dangerous machinery and so on.  Everyone expected people to die.  No one looked for someone to blame when a particularly cold winter claimed many lives, or an outbreak of typhus swept through.  Even 75 years ago young people were being killed by polio and world wars.

Nowadays, though, America is so safe that we have begun to see death as unnatural, especially the death of a child. “Surely something can be done to prevent it!  Surely if the parents would have just done a better job, been more vigilant, their child would be okay!” And so now we have generations growing up with the idea that if you protect enough you can prevent any tragedy. This is America, it’s 2011, we have good hospitals, doctors, everything is state of the art, surely there is no place in this society for children to die!

And now, after anything that kills a child, no matter how freakish the accident,  a product appears on the market within months that would have prevented it (and normal life) from happening.

In Third World countries they do not have these issues with Free-Range Parenting.  There, because children do still die, at least the parents have the freedom to live without the fear that they will be blamed if they don’t create a absolutely safe environment for their children.  They know it’s impossible! Unfortunately in America we are so close to complete safety that we can’t see that it’s an illusion that will destroy us if we seek it.

There has never been a safer place or time in history to raise children than America in 2011, and yet parents are more paranoid than they have ever been.  Parents today will only accept absolute safety, nothing less. Unfortunately the victims of this screwed-up thinking are their children, and eventually all of us, because as we all know the children are the future.  Too bad this next generation will be living in their parents’ basements playing video games into their 30s. — Nanci

A Boy, A Dad, A Tragedy and A Big Question

Readers — I just read this story and am sick to my heart. A dad brought his 5 year old son to the park then crossed the street to talk to some friends. The boy ran after him. He got struck by a car and died. Now the father is in jail and the charge has just been upgraded from “felony cruelty to children, reckless conduct and simple battery” to involuntary manslaughter.

I cannot imagine how that father would feel even if he weren’t in jail. It’s boggling. This is a tragedy pure and simple. But the issues are not so simple at all.

We live in a society that does not believe in accidents any more, or bad luck, or fate, or even, when it comes to children’s safety, “God’s will.” That’s good, in the sense that it makes us strap our kids into car seats, and take some basic precautions. But it’s corrosive in that when anything bad does happen to a child, we almost always blame the parents. The media does it, the DA does it (perhaps for political gain), and the neighbors may well do it, too. Sometimes we do it almost reflexively, as if to protect ourselves. “Well I would never do that so nothing bad will ever happen to my family.”

As if none of us has ever lost track of our kids for a sec.

Now, certainly, it makes sense to keep watch over a young child at the park. But if we slip up for a minute, if we do something human and not  intended to hurt anyone, especially our beloved child,   should that count as “cruelty”? What if it’s something that normally is NOT particularly dangerous? What if we go to the basement to put in a load of laundry and our child follows us and falls down the stairs? What if throw a ball to our child and, trying to catch it, he runs into a tree? What if we go across the street to say hi to a neighbor and unbeknownst to us our child follows and is hit, like this boy, by a car?

Is there no split-second that a parent is legally allowed to not be physically protecting his kindergartener from every possible danger? That’s a tough precedent to set. Think about even a child on a swing. Can we watch him there, knowing he COULD fall off? Or must we sit on the swing and hold him on our lap?

And didn’t a lot of us walk to school on our OWN, starting in kindergarten? I did. My husband and his siblings did. If we’d been hit by a car, no one would have arrested our parents. They would have grieved with them.

Right now, I am grieving for that boy and his family. And I am grieving for a society that is so convinced nothing bad ever happens to the children of GOOD parents that it is willing to put this man on trial.  A man who is already in hell. — Lenore


It's hard to think of any kid dying.


The Baby Sling Thing

Hi Readers! Perhaps you read the other day that now even baby slings are regarded as “risky” by the Consumer Products Safety Commission. This because, over the course of 20 years, there have been a reported 13 baby sling-related deaths.

It is really hard to write “death” in any story about children without sounding cavalier when adding, “Does that really mean a product is risky?” But still, that’s what I have to write. The odds are so overwhelmingly good for babies in slings — fewer than one death a year — that to label a product like this “dangerous” is to label doing almost anything on earth dangerous. In 1999, 624 people died falling off of furniture. So is sitting on furniture risky?

Another 45 people died that year from being bitten or crushed by reptiles. I’d consider that a rather uncommon way to go. But it is about 5000% more common (isn’t it? Help me out with these numbers, folks!) than dying in a sling. Even dying thanks to a venomous spider — 6 deaths in 1999 — is way more common. Here’s a death chart. See for yourself.

Then check out this nice piece by Rachel Lever in the Salt Lake City Parenting Examiner, about the sling thing. “I’m all for child safety, believe me,” she writes. “I have five of my own children and I want them to outlive me. What I worry about here is that people will go too far.”

I worry, too. In fact, I worry that we worry so much we have lost all perspective and are afraid of our own shadows. And especially our baby’s shadows. — Lenore

It's not like baby slings are a new fad.

Subway Death

Dear Readers — It is with terrible sadness I report the death of a woman at about 3:45 this afternoon on the New York subway…at the station my sons use to come home from school.  At that very time. My younger son, the famous subway rider, got there just as the cops were sending people out. His friend darted down to see the aftermath.  Apparently the woman had dropped her pocketbook, jumped down to get it, and got smashed by a train. The kid told my son: Don’t look.

Aside from sorrow, I know this tragedy will re-invigorate some people who believe that young people should never take the subway unsupervised. All I can say is, there are an average of 5.2 million people who ride the subway daily, bringing the grand total to 1.563 billion rides a year. Today’s story is so shocking because it is (thank God) so rare.

Our whole family is shaken by the story, and the mental image. And we’ll be on the trains again tomorrow. — Lenore