Fire vs. Predator: Which Does Society Protect Kids From?

Hi Folks! I found this story fascinating, in how starkly it prioritizes our fears.  — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently had a conversation with a firefighter that stopped me in my tracks and I wanted to share it with you.

I was writing a story about how to do a home fire drill for our local paper. Here’s my article. For the story, a firefighter came to my home and taught us about fire safety and even helped us conduct our own fire drill.

In the course of interviewing him, I asked him about the red reflective circles that we all used to have on our bedroom windows in the ’70s and ’80s — remember those? — to alert firefighters there might be children in those rooms. “Why don’t we have those anymore?” I asked.

He hemmed and hawed for a minute before he responded something to the effect that “society” anymore doesn’t really approve of those. “Society?” I was thinking. “What part of society could object to notifying firefighters where children sleep…?”

Aha. It sunk into my thick (Free-Range reinforced) skull: By having red stickers in kids’ bedroom windows, we would be advertising to all predators that a child lives in this house!

Of course, there is no other way for a predator to know where a child lives. The chalk designs on the sidewalk, the bikes in the garage, nevermind all the comings and goings of the family. None of those communicate that there are children as much as that red dot in the window. Why, predators would be lining up — or climbing in!

Now, given that more than 90% of child sexual abuse cases and more than 95% of child abduction cases involve someone the child knows — many of whom are family members — most predators not only know where the child lives, but also where she sleeps.

The firefighter told me that those red dots were helpful back in the day, showing firefighters where to put their ladders to track down children as quickly as possible. But “society” has chosen to protect us from potential boogey men instead of fires. Has it made the right choice? — Emily Mulligan, mom of 2, Lawrence, Kansas

No it hasn’t! Although for the record, those red things always did pose one other  question for me: How many of us remove them when our kids grow up and leave? I’d hate to think of a firefighter risking his life for an outdated red circle. But anyway, point well taken: Fear of abduction trumps common sense, and safety. — L.

But at least no predators got in!