What about away from home?
When I was growing up in Ankeny, there was a park that was known to be a haven for drug dealers, gay sex, and whatnot. Needles and condoms, naked men, and drug caches were found there several times during my growing up years. It was made clear to me, and to all of my friends, by all of our respective parents (many of whom were pretty lax in other areas of discipline) that we were NOT to go to that park under any circumstances. They were not trying to wrap us in bubble wrap and keep us safe from the world, and they were not allowing fear to rule their lives. They were taking prudent steps to keep their kids safe. Of course, just because drug dealers SOMETIMES were there doesn’t mean they were ALWAYS there… should our parents have allowed us to go to that park because, really, statistics were on our side? Chances were very good that we’d be perfectly safe… but you know what? Chances were even BETTER at parks without known incidents.
Same thing holds true today with a particular park in Des Moines. Last year, a convict recently released from prison threatened a child at the park. Last month, a man was found barefoot in a tree watching the kids play. There have been other incidents. And some parents are prudently choosing to avoid that park, and to avoid activities at that park, regardless of the fact that their playgroup has met there for years. Tradition means nothing when it comes to keeping your kids safe. Are parents who are choosing to avoid that park now just living in fear? Are they trying to wrap their kids in bubble wrap? Would they be better off just teaching their children how to deal with situations such as this?
(that’s actually an interesting question, we’ll come back to it.)
I personally feel that, by choosing a different park, parents are taking prudent steps to keep their kids safe, which is their God-given mandate. (and, I might add, the government seems to think it’s pretty important, too.) When there are so many other parks which are not known to be hangouts for the dregs of society, why choose a park that is?
Could similar incidents happen at ANY park? Yes and no, but let’s go with Yes. Yes, similar incidents could happen at any park. This is why parental supervision is so important. Kids are kids. When they’re playing, they’re involved in their play. They’re not looking around for danger. They would not even necessarily know how to spot danger (we’ll come back to this, too). That’s why they have parents! When we go to a park, the rule is that you have to be able to see mommy and mommy has to be able to see you. Period. No going out of my sight. I need to know where you are at all times. Because you are a CHILD, who is not yet capable of the decision-making needed to really be alone in public. This is why it’s illegal for me to leave my 7 year old home alone, I might add. 7 year olds don’t have the ability yet to handle situations that are out of the norm. (I mean, yes, ok, they do to a certain extent. but please don’t seriously be sitting there and thinking that your child is the exception here. Unless your child is some sort of critical thinking savant, they are not the exception.) This doesn’t mean that my kids don’t have fun, or they’re not allowed to wander. If we’re at a park and Wally wants to explore an undeveloped area, that’s fine. I just need to know where he is and keep him within eyesight.
(I should add it’s the same rule that most hiking families follow. Younger kids can range up and down the trail, but must stay in sight of parents. This avoids lost kids, kids getting eaten by bears, etc. Before you laugh that I’m living in fear, we hike in some areas where there are bears or moose or buffalo that WILL charge and WILL attack if they feel threatened.)
So we avoid obvious dangers in PUBLIC places by being choosy about where we go, and keeping an eye on our kids.
Prudence. Not fear. Obviously, the line is in a different place for different families. Some families have no problem continuing to visit a park with known issues, because nothing has happened “yet.” Some families have no problem letting their kids roam in an urban wooded area unsupervised. Their line is in a different place than mine. I personally feel their line is too far into the Unconcerned area.
I might add, I avoid going by myself into certain parts of town after dark. Prudence based on being realistic. I make my kids stop at intersections when we’re walking and wait to cross with me. Prudence. Not because I don’t think Wally knows how to cross a street – he does. We’ve taught him how. But because drivers aren’t always paying attention, and they’re more likely to see me than they are to see him. Plus, I can take a hit from a car better than he can.
It’s not living in fear. It’s also not living footloose and fancy free. It’s taking a realistic look at the world around us and taking reasonable, prudent steps to ensure our safety.
We’ll loop back to “teaching children how to deal with these situations” and “teaching children how to spot danger” in the next post.