Today we spent a great, but very hot, afternoon out at the River Run Playground in Riverside Park at 83rd St. Maya and Ben got to see some of their friends who have been away for most of the summer, and a good time was had by all. Actually, I say we were in the playground, but most of the day was spent just outside the playground, in an area that features some dense foliage and high granite rocks. Heaven on earth for kids, in other words. The sidewalk that skirts the area starts up at the entrance to the park and has a pretty steep incline that then levels out along the bottom of the rocky area. (Had I been thinking, I’d have taken a photo, but…)We had no sooner positioned ourselves on a shady bench, when I looked over and saw a girl, possibly around 10 years old, flying down the sidewalk on a Razer scooter, having picked up some serious speed on the hill. She was shrieking in a half-fearful, half-thrilled voice, “I don’t think I can stop!” Her father, who was lounging on a bench next to ours, called out as she went by, “Well, try to crash in the grass.” We all laughed. The girl did manage to stop, did not crash, and of course immediately wanted to do it again.
The sad thing is that I know some parents who would either have physically tried to ‘help’ their child by leaping up when she shrieked and attempting to grab the handlebars of the scooter, or would have berated the child after the fact for being so irresponsible as to actually ride fast on a scooter. (Is there really any other reason to have one?) Fear, fear, fear. Parents think the world is more dangerous now than it was when we were kids. Guess what? It isn’t. Statistically speaking, it truly isn’t. Crime rates have plummeted all over the country since the early nineties, reaching the levels of the early 70’s (hmm, when I was a kid) or even the early 60’s, if you live in New York City. In my last Safety Dance blog, I recommended a video of Gever Tulley, in which he talks about 5 Dangerous Things that every kid should do. Today we received his book, “50 Dangerous Things (you should let your children do)”. The list ranges from playing with fire to climbing trees to blowing things up or riding the bus alone. And it’s really all about safety, because if we learn how to handle these ‘dangerous things’ our risk lowers dramatically.
Another book that is now happily residing on my new Nook (yes, I caved and got an e-reader. Don’t lecture me about how the Kindle is better. I like my Nook. It reminds me of Dr. Seuss every time I pick it up. I’ll leave you to figure out that reference on your own) is called Free Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy. You may remember her from a few years ago, when the Bad Mommy Police sent out a lynch mob after she admitted allowing her then 9 year old to ride the NYC subway alone. This book is a MUST read for any parent. Especially those who fear danger at every turn. It is written with lots of humor (sample chapter sub-heading: Playdate or Axe Murderer – How to tell the difference) but is actually a guidebook for loosening up those apron strings. (Hey, don’t you know those things are a choking hazard?) She also has a blog – today’s entry has to do with a Washington Post article on the dangers of watermelon seeds. I’m not kidding. Go read it yourself at http://freerangekids.wordpress.com
Since this entry has basically become a list of recommendations, here are two more, both by Gavin de Becker. The first is The Gift of Fear, in which he talks a lot about why we are so fearful and why 99% of it is unfounded and even interferes with our instinctual, ‘gut’ fear instinct. His other book is called Protecting the Gift, which focuses primarily on children.
My own advice on the absolute best way to combat the fear-mongering that has become an accepted and even expected part of our lives? Turn off the news. Completely. Don’t watch the crime dramas, or the so-called ‘reality’ crime shows. (Both Skenazy and de Becker back me up on this). But especially the news. Why? Because it’s not news. It’s a ratings grab, and nothing grabs ratings like random violence amplified a thousand fold until we are sure the criminals are looking through our windows, ready to pounce the moment we walk out our doors. (And if we don’t walk out, they’ll break in and take us!)
Turn. It. Off.
Despite what everyone who makes their living on TV would have you believe, the world is a pretty safe place. People are generally nice and have no ill-will toward you or your children. Most of the things you think will injure your kids won’t. The child-abductors are, in large part, a figment of your imagination and shows like ‘Bones’ or ‘CSI’ or even ‘The Closer’. The ‘danger under your sink’ isn’t really all that dangerous. It’s much easier to live in a world where everything is not a cause for fear. Where most mishaps are minor (and sometimes even funny a bit later on) A world where you can watch your child fly by on a scooter and simply advise her, mid flight, to try and crash in the grass.