Last night I got a Facebook wall post by a former neighbor and childhood friend. He posted some Google Streetview links to the places where we grew up, including the elementary school that we walked to. It didn’t take me long to get curious about our daily walk to and from James Madison Elementary School. I was a bit surprised to see it pop up and say .7 miles.
When I thought out my daughter, entering 3rd grade, I thought to myself “there is no way I’d allow Megan to walk .7 miles to school without an adult!“It’s too dangerous. Too many bad things could happen. Plus we would worry all day wondering if she ever even made it to school. Couldn’t the school call me when she got there? Would someone call the police on us for letting her walk?
Isn’t that an odd reaction? My mom was not cruel in making me walk to school. Nor was she considered a bad parent for not driving me. In fact, all the kids in my neighborhood walked to school! She would have been seen as a bad parent if she had driven me each day. Culture in 1980s permitted– demanded that kids walk to school.
But the world is way more dangerous than it was when you were a kid, Adam!
That was my first reaction, too. Until I did some research and discovered that our country is much safer today than it was in 1985. While there is a general assumption in our psyche that things aren’t as safe as they were when we were kids… in fact, the world is a safer place. Less violent crime. Less petty crime. Even less violent crime against children.
The culture of fear in America
So why is it that we live in a safer society today but I would never allow my children to walk to school unattended? Why is it that it seems ludicrous to allow an 8 year old to walk to school with some friends? Why is it that I would be viewed as a horrible parent if I allowed her to do that?
The answer is that in the last 10 years we’ve allowed a new cultural more of irrational fear for our children to creep in. It wouldn’t be illegal for my child to walk .7 mile to school but it would feel wrong.
Culture mores are not always logical.
Cultural mores are not always reasonable.
Cultural mores are sometimes counter-productive for a society.
When I think back to my childhood most of the good stuff happened as a result of long periods of time without parents. We walked to school, we were at school all day, and when we came home we played with our friends. We spent epic amounts of time in trees or playing games or creating sandlot baseball tournaments. Now we take our kids to school, ask the teacher to report their behavior to us, and barely allow them any unsupervised time without us. In effect, normative parenting skills inhibit a childhood like I had.
Remember getting on your bike and riding around the neighborhood all day?
Remember going to the park with no adults around?
Remember disappearing into the woods to build forts?
All gone. Not because we live in a society that is more dangerous or litigious. But because culture has taken these things away.