Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe on Trains

Hi Readers: What generally brings us together here at Free-Range Kids is the belief that today’s children are safer and more competent than our culture gives them credit for. So I thought I’d present a letter I just got from someone who read my Amtrak column in a newspaper, not here at this site:

My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak?  My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.

There is really no security.  People jump on and off at different train stops.  No one checks luggage.  An adult could easily snatch a youngster.

Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised.  The common sense that is lacking is yours. 

Not a radical – retired high school principal.

Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie?  The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!

And then there’s the issue of kids being snatched right and left. Well, potentially, anyway, and that’s good enough for this letter writer: The fact that a child could, in theory, “easily” get grabbed by an adult (with none of the other passengers noticing, I guess), is reason enough not to let even seventh graders ride the train solo. Heck, using that reasoning, why let them do anything where they could be “easily” grabbed? Why let them walk to school, or get an ice cream? Think about the worst thing that could happen and plan accordingly! This is not “radical,” according to the writer,  and as proof he points out that he is a retired principal. (The writer is a male.)

The sad thing is that he IS radical. But he doesn’t feel it, because our whole CULTURE is radical. It has taken the radical new view that children are too vulnerable to do almost anything without adult supervision.

It also has started to believe that nothing is safe without an official safetymeister checking it first. And then, if there is even the smallest possibility that sometime, under some circumstances, it could somehow be UNSAFE, that’s reason enough to declare it verboten.

So now we — the folks who believe in the world — are seen as radicals, while the crazy paranoid nutjobs are becoming our overlords. If that’s the case, well then, okay, redefine me. I’m a raging radical, ready to take them on. — L.S.

ANNOUNCING MAY 22: “TAKE OUR CHILDREN TO THE PARK…AND LEAVE THEM THERE DAY”

Hi Readers : You read it here first! Free-Range Kids is officially declaring Saturday, May 22 — the weekend before Memorial Day– the very first, “Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day.”

What?!

Just that. If our goal is to get kids back outside (it is), and playing together (it is), and for parents to relax (it is), and to start creating community again (it sure is!!!), then “Take Our Children to the Park… And Leave Them There Day” is a great first step.

Across the country — what the heck, across the world — parents will  converge upon local playgrounds and parks with their school-age kids. They will tell them to have fun, make friends and don’t leave with anyone. Then the parents will wave goodbye and the kids will amuse themselves for whatever amount of time they’ve decided with their folks. An hour. A morning. Or maybe even just half an hour, to get used to the whole thing, which, admittedly, sounds radical. But is it?

The crime rate in America is back to where it was in the early ’70s. Crime was going up then, and it peaked around 20 years later. By the mid ’90s it was coming down and continues to do so.  So the strange fact — very hard to digest — is that if YOU were playing outside in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids today are safer than you were! I know it doesn’t feel that way. In fact, here’s an interesting poll about how the majority of people feel crime is going up when actually its going down. But anyway, the point is:

Most of us used to play outside in the park, without our parents, without cell phones, without Purell or bottled water and we survived! Thrived! We cherish the memories! And if you believe the million studies that I’m always publishing here, kids are healthier, happier and better-adjusted if they get to spend some time each day in “free play,” without adults hovering.

I know there will be shrill voices insisting, “Predators are gonna love this holiday!” but keep a level head. Crime is down. Awareness is up. There is safety in numbers, which means getting kids outside again, together. This won’t happen until we actually start DOING IT.

So spread the word and be not afraid. Free-Range Kids never says there is no risk in the world, only that the risk is small and worth taking, as it always has been. The trade-off is kids who make up games, who solve problems, who discover nature and get moving (to coin a phrase). Kids who don’t need a screen to entertain them. Playing outside, on their own, is what kids all over the world do. We have forgotten how vital and wonderful it is.

Walk around your neighborhood. Do you see empty sidewalks? Empty yards? Empty playgrounds? It’s a waste — of childhood. Let’s bring it back, starting on May 22.

Feel free to add your ideas, caveats, endorsements and suggestions below. This could be the start of something big! (Or not. Guess we’ll see.)  — Lenore

Imagine.