I’m sometimes amazed that I survived childhood. At a very young age—6 or so—I wandered the neighbourhood. I hung out with my older sisters and their friends. We went to parks. We went to convenience stores. We went to a nearby ravine, where someone in our group knocked herself out swinging on a rope.
Contrast the freedom I had with that of children today. In some states (for example, Florida), the police would arrest my parents for negligence. Yet the world is safer than ever. The crime rate in Canada has dropped since my childhood. In 1983, there were 8,470 police-reported crimes per 100,000 people. Last year, there were 5,489. The US has seen a steep drop in crime too.
I thought about this after reading The Coddling of the American Mind. The book looks at what’s undermining free speech and free thinking in US universities. One is a culture of safetyism. Kids need freedom, including freedom to make mistakes, to develop. By over-protecting kids, parents put their kids at future risk of being unable to cope with the real world.
Yet while I appreciate this perspective, it’s hard when it’s your own kids. There’s no clear line between protective and overprotective. Also, while crime may be dropping, pedestrian deaths by car are increasing.
So my takeaway is this: by default, let my kids roam free. When I feel an urge to protect them, I can check that urge against the stats. Based on that criteria, I’m not that worried about my kids playing in a park by themselves, as I did at their age. It’s crossing the road to get there that scares me.