Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Urbanism and Child Safety

I've never really thought my parenting "style" or outlook was very different than the norms for my age, socioeconomic group or educational background. Sure, I made some parenting decisions that were a bit different than the national norms (cloth diapering, breastfeeding beyond 3 months) and even familial ones (ahem, circumcision). But after nearly two years on NPN, an active paid community of Chicago(land) parents, I've come to the conclusion that my point of view on parenting topics, especially as they relate to child safety, is outside the norm.

My neighbor, an avid reader of the same site, recently congratulated me on my status as "worst mother in America," as judged by our fellow NPN mothers. I leave my children in the (non-running, locked) car for less than 10 minutes while I drop off my dry-cleaning, pick up their sibling from a playdate at a friend's house, and even when I desperately need a caffeine shot at my local Starbucks. My opponents contend that such practices are dangerous. Something could happen to the car while I am gone. "Something"could happen to the car while I am in it.

Don't misunderstand me: I am not a risk-taker by nature, and I am utterly horrified by violence or abuse to a child (or anyone). I've been fortunate not to have experienced it firsthand, and that may guide my perspective. But I refuse to live in fear and I don't want to make my children unnecessarily anxious either. I have not yet read Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear; I understand that his point is that you should trust the sense of fear or uneasiness you get about some people or situations. I totally understand that, and think it makes sense. But I refuse to look for it, especially in situations where it may not be there.

Recently, two separate NPN posts asked about related issues: how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the restroom in a public place, such as Target? And how long can you take your opposite-sex child with you into the locker room at the pool? Note that the questions were worded in this way, which suggests that this behavior (taking opposite-sex child with you) is desired, versus the way I would have asked them: At what age is it OK to allow your opposite-sex child to use the restroom in a public place and/or use the opposite-sex change room?

The prevailing view on NPN was that it's OK until your boy is age 9. Nine? Are they kidding? That's the same age that Lenore Skenazy's son was when she left him at a Manhattan Bloomingdale's with $20 and a subway map.

The Boy is 8. He's been peeing at the local Target since he was 6. And I've been saying the same thing every time he goes in: don't talk to anyone, don't let anyone touch you and scream like hell if someone tries to touch you. No one ever has.

While stories like this one are frightening, I wish more parents would take it for what it is: fear-mongering. Yes, it happened and yes it was horrible, but it's also exceedingly rare (or statistically insignificant) for children to be molested by strangers (in a bathroom or otherwise). The data does not support the idea that something was likely to happen to The Boy today when we found ourselves at the end of an L ride in the Thompson Center with full bladders and a cross-town appointment in 10 minutes. While using the restroom in the basement of the Thompson Center has never been my top restroom destination, you get what you get sometimes. Our experience bore out the stats: no problems.

What do you think? How tight should we keep the reins on our children? Is the risk of harm greater for city kids? Does it depend on where in the city?


Sarah Morganstern said...

Caroline, I'm with you. I let my 5 year old go in the men's room by himself. I just started leaving my 8 1/2 year old at home if she is sick and I have to run the other kids to school (this is for like 20 minutes, and granted, we do live in a high-rise with a doorman so I feel like there's an additional layer of safety there). When Audrey's 11 or 12, I fully hope that she can walk two blocks to the Walgreens or grocery store if I need her to. When I was that age, I was riding my bike to the Kwik Stop to buy candy. I want my kids to feel like they can do things themselves, even in a big city--and I think they are just as safe, if not safer, in my urban neighborhood as they are anywhere else.

Anonymous said...

As Sears would say: Know your child. Our Boy has been raised in the city, lives in a genuinely diverse neighborhood (as opposed to one of those Disney diverse neighborhoods...brown people with MBAs and 6 figure incomes), rides public transportation all the time, and has no problem speaking up for himself when he feels someone is overstepping. I'm going to bet that most children of reasonably affluent, educated parents have not had those experiences or have that degree of self-reliance.

Caroline said...

Anon, that's an interesting perspective.