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Jewish World Review Sept. 19, 2002 / 13 Tishrei, 5763

Lenore Skenazy

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Consumer Reports

Should you report me to the authorities? | I let my 4-year-old walk downstairs to his friend's apartment, alone. I let my 6-year-old out of my sight on the playground. I let both boys go into public bathrooms by themselves, rather than dragging them into the ladies' room.

Moreover, I firmly believe that anyone who finds me lax is in the grips of mass hysteria and needs deprogramming, pronto.

A generation ago, my actions would hardly have merited comment. Remember how our parents let us walk to school and bike to - gasp! - the local park?

But now anything even approaching that kind of freedom elicits raised eyebrows and wagging fingers. "What about all the abductions?" demand many of my fellow moms.

"What about getting some perspective?" I want to bark back.

About 100 children are abducted and killed each year. As sad as that is, we are talking about one child in nearly a million. That statistic has held steady for 30 or 40 years - yes, back to when most parents were carefree kids themselves.

Cable TV, meanwhile, has exploded.

"The horrors of the world are being replayed and replayed," says Linda Dunlap, chairwoman of the psychology department at Marist College. Gorged with tragedy, she says, "parents lose all sense of reality." And the reality is that our children are very safe.

How safe? Consider this: While the media relish reminding us that 725,000 children were reported missing in 2001, what they neglect to add is that the vast majority of them were found, usually within 24 hours. Most of them weren't even abducted. They either ran away or lost track of the time.

Still, what is rational knowledge compared with gut-wrenching TV footage? One dad I know actually cited the case of two girls slain in rural England to explain why he wouldn't let his child sit alone in a movie theater while he went out for popcorn.

The fact that we all know the English case I'm talking about just proves my point: We are hearing too much. It is warping our perspective.

"It's a real panic," says Frank Furedi, author of "Paranoid Parenting." "You start to think that literally every aspect of [kids'] lives is a minefield."

Parents who feel this way naturally want to protect their progeny. So they play bodyguard to their kids outside, or simply stow them inside, where they can't enjoy any life except a virtual one - on TV or the computer.

"We are basically saying to children, 'You can't do anything because I can't trust the world the way it is,'" says Dunlap.

This fear seeps down to the kids. "Lily actually said to me, 'I'm not going to have adventures to tell my children about,'" mourns my friend Carol of her 10-year-old. Carol traipsed around Brooklyn by herself as a 6-year-old. But her Manhattan daughter is afraid to go downstairs to the playground solo.

Until we recognize that we are lucky enough not to be living in constant danger, we will act as if we are.

What a waste of childhood.

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JWR contributor Lenore Skenazy is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.


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