Life learning kids are more than likely also going to fall into the category of ‘Free Range Kids’ (Lenore Skenazy’s term for children whose parents actually allow them some freedom and are not overly protective or paranoid). Part of learning to live in the world is gradually being given the trust and freedom to explore it. There is no exact time line – each child is different. For parents, the most important thing is to not listen to the news and believe the hype that danger lurks behind every bush and around every corner.
This becomes a much more difficult task, even for someone like me who actively avoids televised news broadcasts, when a child disappears. In this case, it was a young woman, not a child. Lauren Spierer, a student at Indiana University, disappeared on June 3rd after a night out with some friends. She is still missing, and there are virtually no clues as to what happened. Apparently she had been out to a bar (she’s 20, so underage, but I spent enough time in Bloomington during my own college years to know that the legal drinking age is hardly ever enforced), and after saying good-bye to her friends on the walk home, she disappeared. She left her shoes and cell phone at the bar, which would indicate she might have been drinking. She is from the NYC area and her parents have money, so her story has been plastered all over the place – even I read about it online. Hundreds of volunteers have come to Bloomington to look for her, and of course the police are running a full investigation.
This is a tragic, horrible occurrence. Chances are that Ms. Spierer is dead. My heart goes out to her family. It is an unthinkable event for any parent.
But it is very, very rare. And that is what we need to remember. My Mom told me today that the Indianapolis Star newspaper was running articles in which parents whose children are to attend IU this fall are freaking out, debating whether or not they should allow their kids to go. Are you kidding me? There are just over 32,000 undergraduate students at IU Bloomington. 1 of them is missing. I’m not trying to downplay the tragedy of the 1, but you do the math. Odds are nothing like this will happen to a student in Bloomington, or anywhere else for that matter. It is a sign of our fear driven society that anytime anything tragic happens, everyone in the country knows the name of the victim and often the details of their lives. This creates a false sense of familiarity, as if the missing person was in fact someone we knew personally. Which in turn makes us believe that such occurrences are common, every day events.
As life learning free rangers, we fight every day against such paranoia and unfounded fears. All I really need to do is look back on my own life (and contrary to popular belief, it was actually more, not less, dangerous when I was a kid) to know that most of the time things turn out fine. I tramped all over Germany and Austria at the age of 20 without a cell phone and lived to tell the tale. I traveled across country in an old Ford Escort, on my own for 3 months when I was 25, again without a cell phone or internet access of any kind. I spent most nights in campgrounds in my tent and made no secret of the fact that I was alone. My friend Tina was even more daring, traveling to distant lands with men she barely knew; one time even taking a taxi driver up on his offer to sleep in his apartment when he found out she had nowhere to stay until her flight home the following day. (Ok, even I thought she was crazy when she told me that story.) I could go on and on with similar anecdotes and create the longest blog post in the history of blogs – and that would include only the stories from people I know.
The disappearance of Lauren Spierer is unthinkable. I hope her parents find out what happened. But we can’t lose sight of the fact that her apparent abduction is the exception, not the rule. If you don’t believe me, I suggest you pick up two books from Gavin De Becker. The first is “The Gift of Fear” and the second, which focuses primarily on children is “Protecting the Gift”. And turn off your television and your radio. You might even ditch the newspapers and stay away from your homepage (Yahoo, MSN, whatever) for a while. You might be surprised at how quickly the world becomes a safer, friendlier place.