Are children really less safe today than they were before?
My own mother talks of a time when she left her house unlocked and kids left the house at nine and didn’t come back until dinner time. Now, of course, most parents wouldn’t dream of letting their children out, unsupervised, without any means of contacting them, for hours at a time. But that was just the way things were done then.
Suddenly, though, there was a pandemic of abductions, robberies, criminals, and all sorts of dangers that enveloped our children. People just aren’t as trustworthy now; we have to keep our doors locked and be in constant communication with our children. Right?
Actually, America’s crime rate has been on the decline for quite some time now. Ever since the peak in the 90’s, we’ve actually been growing safer by the year. Yet, with the rising 24-hours news cycle, millions of American parents have a false perception of the danger their kids face. Pressured to fill every minute with stories that will keep viewers watching, networks focus on gruesome but isolated crimes repeatedly until parents begin to believe that their children aren’t safe unsupervised. Not only do we worry about kidnappers, but we fret over what’s in school lunches or even how dangerous their toys are.
In all actuality, children have never been safer, not only from disease, but from traffic accidents and abductions as well. Despite our fears of letting kids run amok for hours on end, we actually have less reason to worry than before.
Now, this isn’t to say that you should forget all common sense. Being aware of what could happen to your child is always good, but be sure to put it into context. Yes, you should be aware of where your children are in large crowds, but their sudden absence doesn’t automatically equate to abduction. Places like the Mall of America or Universal Studios are classic family destinations, and they can be a lot more fun if you stop stressing and realize that classic abductions are incredibly unlikely. It’s much more likely that someone you know would take them versus a stranger snatching them in a crowd. So, maybe don’t send your toddler's out all day without supervision, but don’t fret over every unsupervised second either.
But what about cyber crime? Surely, the rise of technology has lead to more opportunities to commit crimes. Well, as it turns out, here parents’ concerns are warranted. Cyber criminals are more likely to target children, despite their supposed “digital nativeness.” They aren’t as wary as adults of suspicious activity online, just like in real life. Adults are more practiced at reading a situation and telling the difference between friend and foe. It’s these people skills that children lack, and in combination with their increased Internet usage, it does provide a potential crime avenue that wasn’t there previously. These threats aren’t coming from the streets, but from your children's’ pockets. Preventing those situations require special attention.
All of this, like most of parenting, is a balancing act. You should be watchful, but not overbearing. Concerned, but not coddling. You need to foster independence, but not push them towards something they’re not ready for. Ultimately, you’re responsible for gauging your own child and the situation, but try not to let popular media color that perception. Instead, focus on the actual risks wherever you are as well as the capabilities of your child.
Photo by Immanuel Giel (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons