Whitesburg KY

Mass hysteria



What happens when you live in a society that thinks “better safe than sorry” about everything, even things that are already very safe, such as walking to soccer practice in the suburbs in broad daylight?

You get a society so eager to protect its youngsters that it cannot see those youngsters don’t need all that protection. What they do need is the chance to stretch their wings — and leg muscles. They need a chance to get out of mom’s car!

I know this from personal experience. (After I let my 9-year-old ride the subway by himself, I was branded “America’s Worst Mom” in the media.) And this week, I had the following exchange with another mom. Shortened slightly, here is a modern-day tale of safety hysteria:

— Lori, a Mississippi mom, dropped me a note: Last night, my 10-year-old son wanted the chance to walk from our house to soccer practice behind an elementary school about one-third of a mile from our house. He had walked in our neighborhood a number of times with the family, and we have driven the route to practice who knows how many times. It was broad daylight — 5 p.m. I had to be at the field myself 15 minutes after practice started, so I gave him my cell phone and told him I would be there to check that he had made it.

He got three blocks, and a police car intercepted him. The police came to my house — after I had left — and spoke with my younger children (who were home with Grandma). They then found me at the soccer field and proceeded to tell me how I could be charged with child endangerment. They said they had gotten “hundreds” of calls to 911 about his walking.

Now, I know bad things can happen, but come on. I live in a small town in Mississippi.

— I wrote back: Incredible! It’s like the Salem witch-trial era, when people were hallucinating witchcraft. Today we hallucinate horrific danger in the safest of settings.

— Lori wrote: I was more than a little upset yesterday, but I really didn’t think it was a bad decision. I really resented the police officer trying to lecture me about how the streets aren’t safe. Rather than giving in to the hysteria or naively ignoring the danger, I think I’m going to go down to the police station and ask to see detailed statistics about what happens on our streets in the afternoon hours. I’d like to base my decision on facts. Of course, I don’t quite know what to do about the “hundreds” of people who called 911. I can’t imagine that many people even saw him in this mostly residential neighborhood. But if they were watching out for him, that just makes me feel as if he was that much safer.

— I encouraged her to talk to the police and to keep me posted. She did!

— Lori wrote: Guess what? I just got an apology from the chief of police. I e-mailed him this afternoon to ask for stats and explain what happened. He called me almost immediately, assured me that I live in a safe neighborhood, and apologized for the officer’s conduct. I still don’t know what I can do about the people who call 911 because they see my son on the street alone, but at least I don’t feel like a naive mother anymore. And I like our chief of police even more than I did.

MORAL OF STORY: It’s hard to trust your own instincts, especially when well-meaning (if deranged) authorities and busybodies tell you not to. But in times of mass hysteria — such as now — that is what’s required.

Lenore Skenazy is the founder of

FreeRangeKids.com and the author

of the upcoming book “Free-

Range Kids: Giving Our Children

the Freedom We Had Without Going

Nuts with Worry.”

©2009 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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