Recently, my friend found this posted on her PTA’s website — some friendly tips from the local police department’s “safety expert,” beginning thusly:
If you are a parent, you are certainly concerned about the increasing amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages. From assaults, molestation and kidnapping of very young children, to brutal muggings, daterape and murder of college-age students, violence against children is a terrifying occurrence that strikes numerous families every day. However, by taking certain precautionary steps, you and your children can reduce the possibility of your family becoming victims.
The note went on to provide tons of tips, from the sensible (lock your doors) to the wacky (never leave your child in the car, even when you pump gas). But one thing it failed rather spectacularly to do was this: tell the truth.
According to FBI statistics, there is NOT an “ increasing amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages.” There is, in fact, a stunning DECREASE of criminal activity against children — and adults. Look at these numbers:
U.S. homicides: down 40 per- cent 1992-2005.
Juvenile homicides: down 36 percent 1993-2005 (kids younger than 14).
Juvenile homicides: down 60 percent 1993-2005 (ages 14-17).
Forcible rapes: down 28 percent 1992-2006.
Does that look like a crime wave? It’s the opposite — a crime plunge. And the numbers are just as encouraging when we talk about things like child abuse. A massive federal study released last year found all child abuse down by 26 percent from 1993-2006 and child sex abuse down even more — 38 percent! As David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, told The Associated Press, “it’s the first time since we started collecting data about these things that we’ve seen substantial declines over a long period, and that’s tremendously encouraging.”
It sure is! What it ISN’T is tremendously well-known. No, most people are still convinced that “times have changed” — for the worse. In fact, when a Gallup Poll asked Americans in 2009 whether crime was going up or down in this country, 74 percent said “up” — even though from 2008 to 2009, the FBI found a 10 percent drop in the murder rate. That is doubledigit good news that did not get through to the vast majority of us. How come?
Oh, I think you know. The news does not specialize in “fewer people murdered today!” stories. Or “Millions of kids walk home unabducted, yet again.” “CSI” does not show people going about their daily business, safe and sound. But we can’t just blame the media.
We also have to take a look at the “good guys” — the safety “experts” and the folks who parrot them. The tips on my friend’s PTA’s website included these and similar things: “Don’t leave your children alone in a store while you are shopping. Keep an eye on them constantly. It only takes a split second for a criminal to abduct your children.”
This was not standard parenting protocol when most parents (including me) were growing up. If I went an aisle over to check out the cookies while my mom squeezed cantaloupes, this was not considered tantamount to dropping me off at a NAMBLA convention. Now, apparently, it is — even though the crime rate hasn’t been this low since 1974.
The tips also say, “Be sure that your child is not alone when playing outside.”
Ever? Better he should sit inside, snacking and staring at a screen? Can we at least agree that there is a trade-off, hyper-security versus increased diabetes, obesity, heart disease and depression?
It’s easy to issue terrifying warnings and feel smug. It’s harder to take a look at reality and embrace these times for what they are: pretty darn safe.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and “Who’s the Blonde That Married What’s-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can’t Remember Right Now.”