Archive for August 18th, 2006

The casualties in this world of parental paranoia:

  Walking to school – barefoot, in the snow, and uphill both ways – used to be the norm. But so few children walk to school today – about 10 percent nationwide – that Oct. 4 has been named International Walk to School Day.

A major reason the K-8 crowd is sealed into the backs of SUVs and transported: Parental concerns about safety.

And those concerns “have as much to do with ‘stranger danger’ – the chance that a child walking to school will be snatched off the sidewalk by a complete stranger – as a fear of traffic,” states a Salon.com article about “Safe Routes to School,” an effort started several years ago to get more kids walking and biking to school.

Wendi Kallins, project manager for the Marin County, Calif., program, describes one father who attended a Safe Routes meeting: Intellectually, he understood his child was highly unlikely to meet a grisly end on the walk to school. But emotionally? “With my pretty blue-eyed daughter, I’m convinced she will be the one.”

“When you’re dealing with gut-level fears,” Kallins is quoted as saying, “there’s not much you can do.

“The whole level of fear in our culture is increasing.”

And so a vicious cycle ensues: Fewer children walk, so they don’t travel in the protective packs that once gave parents comfort. The increase in traffic heading to schools makes it more likely that a kid will be hit by a car, most likely driven by a parent. (Fifty percent of the children hit by cars near schools are hit by parents of other students, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.)

And kids miss a chance for exercise, social interaction and a dose of self-reliance.

  The death of play.

Much has been written about the overscheduled child and the lost art of play. Structured fun does far less to bolster creative thinking, self-sufficiency, teamwork building and social and problem-solving skills.

Almost all parents wistfully wish that their kids could experience playtime as they knew it, when children organized their own games and came home when the streetlights were turned on.

Yet no one seems willing to let their children simply go out and play. There’s the fear – that word again – that kids will be left behind if they don’t take part in the requisite number of classes and organized activities. There’s also a hands-off approach to other people’s children that didn’t exist 30 years ago, so parents can no longer count on “the village” to discipline or even keep an eye on their child. And many kids simply don’t want to play outside – video games and computers are the new playgrounds of choice.

But a 2001 Time magazine article quotes a Sarasota mom who sums up many parents’ sentiments: Unsupervised play is also dangerous.



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