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.

The Boom in Baby Snatching (Hysteria)

Hi Readers! You’ll recall that a few posts back I was ranting about the CNN video clip on how to keep your baby safe from being kidnapped.

Well, I ended up writing a whole column about the issue for my syndicate, Creators. So here’s the CNN article — “How to Guard Against Baby Snatchers.” And here’s mine on how to guard against CNN and its harsh admonitions to new moms.

I guess what really irks me more and more is the idea that “convenience” is a dirty word when it comes to parenting — especially mothering. And that even if it is ALMOST unheard of for a baby to be snatched from a hospital room while the mom is in the bathroom, CNN says that is still NO REASON for a mom to be so LAZY as to not bring the baby into the bathroom with her, just in case.

Why are we supposed to completely ignore our own needs or even preferences to thwart a nearly non-existent danger? What makes a mom “good” just because she is martyring herself for no reason? Where did this impossible and cruel standard come from? (Stay tuned: I’m reading a book that just may answer that question and will write about it soon.) Till then, remember: the only good parent is a parent who is really worried and stressed!  — L.

What Could Happen to Your Kid in the Car While You Pay For Gas?

Hi Readers — Over at Parentdish I wrote a column saying that sometimes you CAN leave your child in the car for a few minutes while you run in to pick up a pizza or pay for gas. Yes, crack the windows. Yes, take out the keys. Yes, always keep your purse or wallet in the back seat so you have to open the back door to get it and be reminded that your child is back there, and make your decisions accordingly. No one wants to see kids forgotten in the car that could quickly heat up, etc., etc. But I’m talking about a four-minute errand in a place where you get something and leave. Anyway, here’s a typical response:

By making a conscious decision to leave your child in the car, even to pay for gas, you are putting your child in harm’s way. Car thieves and child abductors lurk; your child could unbuckle them self and get caught in the power window or move to the front and put the car into gear.

This is what I call “What if?” thinking.  Not thinking about will PROBABLY happen 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 times. It’s the modern-day compulsion to think of the “worst first” and work one’s way back from it (the child COULD get kidnapped, so let’s never leave him there), giving no credit to the parent who HAS considered the real-world odds and, based on a reasonable risk assessment,  decided she can and will trust to fate and probability for a minute or two: “My kid’s asleep, it’ll take me 4 minutes to pay, I can see the car from here — seems fine.”

What’s really off, though, for folks like that letter writer, is the “probability” part. Many people have gotten to the point where they really BELIEVE the worst case scenario is very likely to happen in the very next minute to their very child.  And that’s why I harp on the way “the media” has changed us parents, for the worse. Nightly, the news will cull terrible stories from literally around the world (Maddie McCann, Natalee Holloway) and put these on TV. And if you are fed a steady diet of one tragedy after another, you DO become convinced these are happening “all the time,” because, on TV, they are. And Americans, on average, watch over 4 hours of TV a day — far more time than they spend in the “real world” that is their neighborhood, walking around and getting to know their actual neighbors.

And since TV never shows the millions and millions of non-events that happen every day — the children NOT snatched from the bus stop, the 29 year olds who never spent 18 years in captivity — and since people aren’t out seeing normal ol’ non-headline life for themselves, their perspective gets skewed. It’s like they LIVE in the world of  TV. And when you’re stuck in that world, everything looks like a potential disaster, including my brain, possibly about to explode, as I try to explain this over and over and then people say, “Fine.  But what if it was YOUR kid snatched from the car…” — Lenore

It's only recently we've decided leaving a child in the car for a few minutes is incredibly risky.