As a working mom, the one thing I dread most is a phone call from school. I’ve had two so far. The first one was when my daughter fell off her chair and chipped her adult front tooth so badly it left a gaping hole when she smiled. Although I rushed her to the dentist with the tiny tooth wrapped up in a paper towel thinking that they could reinsert it (wishful thinking), the dentist ended up creating a false replacement.
Just last week I got another dreaded phone call from school. This time I was in the middle of producing the live radio show I work on. Producing a live show is exciting but you can’t relax for a moment. Anything can go wrong and often does. The only thing that would make me shift my focus is the dreaded phone call from school. So, when my cell phone lit up with the school’s caller ID I grabbed for it, my heart skipping a beat. “Hello?” “Hello Miss _____ I just want to let you know that we found your daughter and her friend in the Trader Joe’s parking lot this morning. She had walked there with her friend and a Dad at the school found them and brought them back.” What?!?! My daughter and her friend are 7 years old in 2nd grade. After being dropped off at school at 7:45am, the two of them left and walked up one of the busiest streets in Los Angeles on a mission to find a gift for her friend’s teacher. Trader Joe’s is about a 3 minute walk from the school. Thank goodness a parent from the school saw them and brought them back.
I know many terrible things could have happened to them that day but they were okay, although a bit shaken up because they were brought into the principal’s office. The principal said in his five years as principal he had never had any kids actually leave campus during school hours although there was one fifth grader who ended up at McDonald’s during lunch time. While we did talk to our daughter about the dangers of leaving school and walking up a busy street on her own, I didn’t want to terrify her.
While I know we are obsessed with the idea of stranger danger right now I do think that the real danger is from people we actually know rather than strangers. So many parents scare their kids from talking to anyone in the park or interacting with anyone that I think we’ve created a generation of kids who are scared of venturing out on their own for any reason. While I’m not saying that there are no dangerous scenarios that could arise at a playground or that children could get snatched from a street corner, I do think that our fears are exaggerated. Our children are in more danger when they get in a car every day than they are riding their bikes unsupervised around the block. And, I am so grateful to the complete stranger who actually helped my daughter and her friend back to school.
I also think that if my daughter had left school and walked to the grocery store on her own in the 70s most of us wouldn’t have thought twice about it. In fact I may have been the one to send her on an errand to pick up some bread or milk after school since the store is so close by. But this is not the 70s and we have been set into a panic with every child abduction story or kidnapping. In fact there are actually no more incidences of children being kidnapped than there were in the 70s when I was growing up.
But back then kids played outside unsupervised for hours. I remember coming home from school, finishing my homework and then playing outside with my friends in the neighborhood. We rode our bikes, built forts and walked through the woods on our own. At dinner time our parents would yell out our names and we’d all hurry home. My parents never asked me what I did during this time. We were free in a way that our children will never be and I think they have lost something of their childhood.