Roger Ebert's blog has a very interesting entry today about the so-called lost phenomenon of "Free Range" children. That is, children who grow up (in America and other such countries) without the use of all of the safety precautions. This mostly refers to children who grew up before the 1970s who would drink out of garden hoses, pee in the bushes, ride bicycles everywhere (without a helmet, of course) and play with pocketknives.
This isn't the first time I've heard this discussion. At the end of Ebert's piece there is a whole list of videos, including a news piece on the "World's Worst Mom" who let her 9-year-old ride the New York subway alone. Although I consider myself a bit of a news junkie, I know that the world is not really worse than it used to be. The news media - perhaps irresponsibly but not out of malicious intent, I don't think - reports more terrifying stories without putting them in perspective. Sure, we see more stories about train accidents, airline crashes and child abductions, but are these dramatic stories truly indicative of growing trends? Or is the fact that they are compelling news stories more an indication of how rare these events really are? In fact, I believe that the world is a good deal safer than ever simply because people are smarter and technology is better.
I have no intention of ever having any children of my own, so the question is really more hypothetical than anything, but all this makes me think about what I would do in this situation. Do I really believe that the world is safer? Would I really let my child loose on the New York subway or would I just be too consumed with fear and dread and paranoia?
I am actually a pretty reasonable person (I think) and not particularly paranoid or fearful for my own life. Not to say that I am a daredevil or have a great amount of faith in my own abilities, but I just don't fear the world too much. I don't run from wasps or bees because I don't think they are going to sting me (although I do flinch when they buzz my head). I don't feel nervous when traveling through a poor neighborhood because I don't think anyone is actually going to rob me. I don't worry about flying because I don't think that my airplane is going to crash. I also don't play the lottery because I don't think that I am ever going to win.
Things are much different, however, when it comes to others. Although I don't really think that my wife's airplane will crash, I have to constantly remind myself that she is perfectly safe. I worry that one of my dogs might pull out of their leash and run into the street. The very dangers that I don't believe exist truly do terrify me in a way that I have no real control over. I still have passive fears of hell (fortunately my fear of heaven is long gone!). I really do love Francis Bacon's quote, "He that hath wife and children hath given hostages to fortune; for they are impediments to great enterprises, either of virtue or mischief." How true. I have no plan to have children, but if I did, I fear that I would wrap them in bubble wrap and fret over every single moment that they were not in my sight. And all of this would be in direct contradiction with what I believe, that it is better for the child to have more independence and autonomy. Strong and compelling cases have been made for relaxing the control and protection of children. I am very glad that I will never have to deal with this problem!