© 2009 Brooke Allen
Originally published in International Family Magazine
My wife and I both feel that our society has gone overboard in making people afraid.
One very destructive message inflicted upon children is that they should fear strangers.
In a planet as overpopulated as ours, even extremely rare events provide plenty of copy for the press.
As awful as they may be, abductions are rare. When they occur, someone the child knows (a relative or an estranged parent) is usually the culprit. Strangers intending harm are few and far between.
As parents, we were much more concerned about the physical and emotional harm that we might cause you than the harm that stranger might bring.
Simply riding in a car is by far the riskiest thing most children do. Swimming in a pool is pretty dangerous. Talking to strangers is not.
This is not to say that children should be left to their own devices… not at all.
We believe that very young children are not yet capable of exercising good judgment, whether it is over wearing a seatbelt, gauging the depth of the water, or evaluating strangers. They are no more ready to bear this burden for themselves then they are ready to baby-sit the children of others. Responsible people must look out for their safety at all times since they can’t do it themselves. Eventually children will learn responsibility by observing others, not by being told a set of rules.
Our point was illustrated one Sunday morning in a bagel shop. I was reading the Newark Star Ledger and the woman sitting next to me was reading the New York Times She had a daughter (age five or so) who had nothing to do and was catatonic with boredom.
Since the Ledger has comics, and the Times does not, I decided to offer the young girl my comics.
She began to hyperventilate and make squeaky noises. Then she began to cry.
Her mother peered over her paper, “What’s wrong, honey?”
“Th. Tha..That.” She was gasping for air. Finally, pointing at me, “That man is trying to talk to me.”
The mom barked angrily, “Don’t be silly. That rule doesn’t apply now.” She snatched the comics from me and thrust them at her daughter. “Don’t embarrass the man.”
The girl became even more upset. Think of all the conflicting rules she was expected to follow and the conflicting emotions that were generated.
It is easy to understand where to draw the line. Think about how you would assign blame for an accident. If a toddler, left in the charge of a nanny, were to explore a light socket with a paper clip, would you blame yourself for not protecting the sockets or the nanny for not paying attention? Surely you wouldn’t blame the toddler for being curious; it’s in their nature.
You may not be innocent, but your children are. Let them lose their innocence at their own pace; it will happen soon enough.
 I am glad to see that there is a web site devoted to freedom for children (and not going nuts) entitled Free Range Kids (http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/).