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Kidnapped By Snickers, Not Strangers
When freelance writer L.J. Williamson proposed at a PTA meeting that kids ride their bikes to school, it was as if she'd "suggested we stuff the children into barrels and roll them into the nearest active volcano." Apparently, there's supposed to be a predator hiding around every corner. Williamson writes for the LA Times about parental paranoia, and how people are afraid of all the wrong things:

Although statistics show that rates of child abduction and sexual abuse have marched steadily downward since the early 1990s, fear of these crimes is at an all-time high. Even the panic-inducing Megan's Law website says stranger abduction is rare and that 90% of child sexual-abuse cases are committed by someone known to the child. Yet we still suffer a crucial disconnect between perception of crime and its statistical reality. A child is almost as likely to be struck by lightning as kidnapped by a stranger, but it's not fear of lightning strikes that parents cite as the reason for keeping children indoors watching television instead of out on the sidewalk skipping rope.

And when a child is parked on the living room floor, he or she may be safe, but is safety the sole objective of parenting? The ultimate goal is independence, and independence is best fostered by handing it out a little at a time, not by withholding it in a trembling fist that remains clenched until it's time to move into the dorms.

Meanwhile, as rates of child abduction and abuse move down, rates of Type II diabetes, hypertension and other obesity-related ailments in children move up. That means not all the candy is coming from strangers. Which scenario should provoke more panic: the possibility that your child may become one of the approximately 100 children who are kidnapped by strangers each year, or one of the country's 58 million overweight adults?

In 1972, 87% of children who lived within a mile of school walked or biked daily; today, just 13% of children get to school under their own power, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In a significant parallel, before 1980, only 5% of children were obese; today that figure has tripled, says the CDC.

The next generation of grandparents won't even need to harangue their progeny with tales of walking seven miles to school in the snow; it'll be impressive enough to say that they walked at all. My neighbor was right — the world is a very different place.

Posted by aalkon at April 24, 2007 8:11 AM


The second paragraph says it all. Our kids (9 and 11) occasionally bike to school. Starting next year, the older one (moving up to junior high) will take the train by himself (but along with a zillion other kids).

Parents who wrap kids in cotton wool their whole lives sometimes get to see the most spectacular crashes when the children finally escape parental supervision - and escape is what it will be. And most likely will have no meaningful relationship with the adults the children will become.

Posted by: Brad Richards at April 24, 2007 2:18 AM

The wildly inaccurate perception of threat (and other statistical phenomena) is fuelled by the media because it sells papers. We need a free press but I wish they would do something less destructive when they are not investigating government cover ups.

Posted by: Norman at April 24, 2007 4:41 AM

Norman's right, but the reason this threat scares people is that sex is different than other things. It moves people differently than do other appetites and hazards. This came up here a couple weeks ago too, and it would be fun to tie it all in to Unified Blog Comment Theory, but there's no coffee yet.

That whole abduction thing from a few years ago where everyone was doing fingerprints seemed silly. Kids are just not that difficult to come by naturally,

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 4:56 AM

Y'know, my daughters are 11 & 14, and I'm constantly telling them to go outside and ride their bikes or take a walk to the beach or do SOMETHING besides sitting in front of the damn computer all the live long day! Neither one is in danger of becoming obese (in fact, my older one is skinny as a rail) but they seem to prefer playing computer games to going outside. I've restricted their computer time to one hour a day, after homework is done. Our neighborhood is such that I'm not too worried about them being abducted. There are plenty of kids around, as well as adults keeping an eye on them. Too many people are too afraid of their own damn shadows anymore. It's just crazy. I refuse to live in fear and I refuse to bring up my kids to be afraid of every damn thing. Being wary is good; being afraid is not. Common sense just isn't common anymore.

Posted by: Flynne at April 24, 2007 7:00 AM

I'm reminded of a line from the Karen Stabiner book, "The Empty Nest" (about relationships after the kids leave home) that I'm reading for my panel at LAT Fest of Books.

Annette Duffy writes in her essay, “…you have to raise your children to go away, or else you’ve failed utterly.”

Book is here:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at April 24, 2007 7:08 AM

I had my kids quite young. My little one is finishing 10th grade and my friends are having their babies. The fear I see in all of these friends is mind blowing. One friend told me that she will not allow her in-laws to babysit her 3 year old twins because Grandma let the 9 year old nephew go to a restaurant restroom without going with him. Trying to explain to her that she should worry more about a drunk relative molesting her kids than a kidnapper snatching them from a restaurant is like explaining rocket science to a dog.

I send her links to sensible essays but you cannot tell these parents anything. They won't listen to anything that doesn't come from a child "expert". Too bad they don't realize the "experts" need to keep you off kilter so they can be gainfully employed.

Posted by: miche at April 24, 2007 7:56 AM

I do love cheerful parenting articles by cheerful freelancers who cheerfully bicycle to school with a cheerful child!

From the article: "An example: My son's school has a written rule that students in grades K-4 may not ride their bicycles to school. My son and I cheerfully ignore this restriction; I think school rules belong on campus, not off. As we ride together each day..."

Call me contrary, but I have a hunch the no bike for kiddies rule is probably intended for not terribly streetwise unaccompanied tinies, with parents on a less cheerfully freewheeling, freelance morning schedule, and is as much to do with traffic and little ones forgetting to lock up pricey bikes as predators.

And parents who are unaware that one day their children must be ready to leave home should, of course, buy useful books on this hitherto overlooked subject.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 8:10 AM

Jody, we're always grateful for sarcasm, but you gotta admit that a lot of the parents being discussed here are oblivious to these matters. They aren't likely to set up any better parameters for the separation at adulthood than they did for the binding of childhood (fatherlessness, Guatemalan nannies, etc.)

Question for blog commenters with kids in High School: How many of their peers were pregnant before graduation?

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 8:27 AM

Never mind pregnant in high school, my sister-in-law told me during our Easter dinner that her 8th-grade daughter has a friend who's pregnant! And the town I live in is not a big-city/urban area, although we live in between 2 such areas. And this child is apparently going to finish 8th grade (the baby is due this summer). Children having children isn't just an urban issue.

Posted by: Flynne at April 24, 2007 9:00 AM

"but you gotta admit that a lot of the parents being discussed here are oblivious to these matters..."

Nope. I don't gotta admit that.

And that's why, Crid, the late Benjamin Spock hit paydirt AND practicality with his gentle mantra to parents: you know more than you think you do.

"Question for blog commenters with kids in High School: How many of their peers were pregnant before graduation?"

My mother was pregnant with my older sister in High School in Suva before graduation almost fifty years ago.

I see that's slightly busted your paramater -but is that any help?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 9:05 AM

Sod my spelling. sorry!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 9:08 AM

I was the only person that I knew of pregnant before graduation.

Posted by: miche at April 24, 2007 9:17 AM

Well, mee-yow! I was thinking more Cleveland than Suva. (I had a bad experience in a roundabout in Suva ten years ago... Those animals drive on the left. That's also the side the cattle graze on.)

If parents knew what they were supposed to know, Amy would have a topic. If your family is the gold standard for human development, or even typical of how things work nowadays (single parenthood in high school is what I was getting at), please share the details.

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 9:50 AM

Whoops, Amy WOULDN'T have a topic....

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 9:51 AM

The good parents I know explicitly acknowledge that their primary job is to help their children grow up to be full-fledged, independent human beings. It's the purpose of parenthood to bring children up to be sane, productive adults. By necessity, this process involves some bumps and bruises along the way.

I don't think that the world has become that much more dangerous since I grew up, but I see very few kids these days doing what I used to do. On weekends or after school, we'd be on our bikes and out around the neighborhood for hours until hunger or thirst intervened. We rode our bikes to school as soon as our parents decided we were old enough. We wanted it, badly - these were tiny little snippets of FREEDOM and AUTONOMY. We sometimes screwed up, but those were learning experiences too. Parents just don't allow that anymore is my guess - everything is scripted and planned. I think this is bad in lots of ways.

Posted by: justin case at April 24, 2007 9:53 AM

"I had a bad experience in a roundabout in Suva ten years ago... Those animals drive on the left."

They probably didn't think very highly of you either, Crid.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 10:03 AM

Well, the native Fijians were extra nice. So were the Indians and their descendants, but the Indians were more like normal people. But you could pick up all hitchhikers without fear. Seriously, those people got wide-open spririts. Do you get back much?

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 10:13 AM

"Do you get back much?"

No, but I can take a hint!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 10:36 AM

Maybe your family IS exemplary. I've never seen as many warm hearts as on those islands.

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 10:46 AM

If you don't stop your paeans to those warm ol' island folk, I'm gonna burst my grass truss!

Seriously, one of the reasons for my family's desperate diaspora is that we're all fleeing each other. A dreadful bunch.

(Though all excellent parents, natch).

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at April 24, 2007 10:54 AM

Crid, I went to high school in central CA, and there was only 1 or 2 girls that I remember being pregnant. Now I'm 22 and attending college in Guam, and it's MID-BLOWING how many girls get pregnant while they're still in high school. One example: an 18-year-old freshman in my studio art class last semester had a 3-yr-old daughter and a six-month old, both with different dads. She's in my sociology class this semester, pregnant again and ready to pop. And the sad thing is, this is COMMON. Maybe it's a Pacific thing, I don't know. I do find it intriquing, though, that roughly 95% of the island identifies themselves as practicing Catholics...if so, shouldn't the teen pregnancy rate be significantly lower?? Hmmm.

Posted by: Sarah at April 24, 2007 5:44 PM

More observant men than me have noted that Catholicism isn't all it's cracked up to be.

I spent one night in Guam 10 years ago. I was in a hotel named Seoul something , which was disconcerting. I remember nothing else (jetlag) but that one the way to the airport the next morning (early! early!) on the way to Micronesia I saw the outlines of a Burger King street sign.

But that doesn't make them American! It's only an American protectorate, which is not the same thing. If we were going to specify reproductive patterns in nations like that, especially when they were already hosting our troops and buying our burgers, we'd be as evil as the French say we are.

PS- Anyone else getting tired of American causalities in Iraq? Just asking.

Posted by: Crid at April 24, 2007 5:59 PM

PS- Anyone else getting tired of American causalities in Iraq? Just asking.

Hell yeah. We have to understand that our soldiers will die in a conflict, but it sucks that they keep dying and dying - mostly in a steady trickle - without the end of that dying becoming any more apparent. Damn it.

Posted by: justin case at April 25, 2007 10:36 AM

I'm sort of tired. It seems the Iraqi's should be getting more tired. I'm starting to think the bad people/good people ratio is too high in that country.

The Germans lost 20,000 men occupying Yuogslavia for 5 years, a country smaller than Iraq, and in a time before IED's and the AK 47. I have a new respect for Tito.

Posted by: doombuggy at April 25, 2007 11:41 AM

"Question for blog commenters with kids in High School: How many of their peers were pregnant before graduation?" -Crid

My stepdaughter is in 7th grade, and knows at least 2 8th graders that are pregnant.

My wife doesn't coddle, she micro-manages. She's not afraid for Crystal, she just feels as though she has to make sure Crystal does the things she's supposed to (brush teeth, homework, bedtime, etc). It's exhausting for her, and all it teaches Crystal is that she doesn't NEED to manage herself, mommy will do it for her. She's pretty exhausted about it recently...and even though she doesn't want my input, she's requested that I take over, however I see fit. (evil grin) I'm more for personal responsibility with a few well-drawn limits and with clear consequences...Crystal's not going to be very crazy about me for a while.

Posted by: Jamie at April 25, 2007 11:57 AM

> without the end of that dying
> becoming any more apparent.
> Damn it.

Yes... It's showtime. We need some good ideas here. If there was something Bush wanted to do with or for this nation, this here now would be a real good time to do it. We need not admire the urgency some feel for withdrawal to think that it's time to make things happen for them in a democratic way. Maybe all their sturdy, democratically-minded people are dead or fled. And if they can't pull a responsible government together, maybe we should get an alliance of liberal democracies together to carve it up, oilfields and all. Anybody wishing that Japan had a big armed service?

Ok, that was just thinking out loud. But let's not pretend that turning the place loose for the murderous factions to fight over wouldn't have consequences for the whole world... STARTING with the Kurds, whom we've disappointed before.

Back to the topic: Alex Baldwin's Jack Ryan in "Hunt for Red October" was the best of that series of films... A two-dimensional actor in a two-dimensional film of a two-dimensional novel. I actually mean that as high praise: It was an excellent popcorn film from a workmanlike beach vacation novel.

Jamie: Do your best. Personal questions!: Does she love/hate you as a father, or just hate you for being a stepfather? I'm guessing this is a continuum.....

Posted by: Crid at April 25, 2007 12:47 PM

Damn! I thought this was the Ireland Baldwin comment stack! They all blend together after awhile....

Posted by: Crid at April 25, 2007 1:01 PM

Jamie: Do your best. Personal questions!: Does she love/hate you as a father, or just hate you for being a stepfather? I'm guessing this is a continuum.....

She definitely defines me as "stepfather" and not as a father (she sees him at least every two weekends)...but her issues with me aren't due to a father/step label. It's more that I represent change. Not by my presence, but by the rule/condition changes that I "inflict" on her. She can't push my buttons the way she does her mother (she kinda likes making her mad), she thinks she had more freedom before I was involved (Which isn't true. She actually has more when I'm in charge. I just don't haggle/argue like her mother does...when I set a limit, I stick to it, and I follow-through if there's consequences.), etc. I'll just continue to do what I believe is best, based on evaluating the situation as objectively as I can. If she doesn't like it... (shrug).

Posted by: Jamie at April 25, 2007 1:26 PM

The upside of a 7th grader who doesn't brush her teeth without being told:

She will probably not be knocked up in 8th grade.

kidding, of course.

"Little Bit" just told me the other day that a 15yo classmate is pregnant. It was just learned the week before that the expectant father was involved in the gangbang (rape) of a freshman. (The freshman said that something was in her drink.) I used the opportunity to talk to "Little Bit" again about drugs, booze and sex. She again told me that Dad and I have taken the fun out of the high school version of that stuff. We have taken her to clubs in Paris, Prague and Mexico and she is allowed wine with dinner. When she said she was thinking about sex, we explained the physical and emotional risks and then got her birth control. She knows that drugs can be fun, but are illegal and can wreck her life before she even thinks about taking the MCAT.

Again, I was a high school mom so perhaps I see things differently. One thing I have learned raising two daughters is that there is no perfect way to do it.

Good luck Jamie.

Posted by: miche at April 26, 2007 5:03 AM

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