1. Examples of other de minimis risks.
I’ve found that this is helpful just to help people stop focusing on the image of a child being abducted (i.e., to help them stop saying, “Yes, I know the risk is low, but WHAT IF…?!”) and think instead about all the tiny risks we ignore every day. Here are a couple of examples that I’ve used:.When you drove here today and you parked your car, did you choose your parking space based on the possibility that there could be snipers on the roofs of the buildings around you? Did you say, "Well if I park here, snipers on that building could get me . . . but if I park here, the awning will shield me from snipers over there . . .".Probably not, right? Now, could you really be 100% sure that there weren’t snipers on the buildings? No, because it's not impossible. But it’s SO unlikely that you just don’t worry about it. You would be nuts to plan your parking around it..Another example: We are in Southern California. We have earthquakes. They are unpredictable, and sometimes they do terrible damage. Now imagine a parent who says, "I never let my child go indoors, because I don’t want them to be killed if there is an earthquake and the building collapses. So we live in a tent, and I home-school the child at a picnic table in a field, and I never let them go into a store . . . I make them wait outside where they will be safe, because you just never know when a major earthquake will strike!" We’d all think that parent was crazy, right? And yet, are we 100% sure that there won’t be an earthquake in the next 10 minutes, while we’re in this building? No. It’s not impossible. But we don’t worry about it because the risk is SO small that it just doesn’t make sense to plan our lives around it. It’s not worth giving up homes and schools and stores and all buildings for..We fly on airplanes, we drive in cars. There are risks associated with these activities, but we have decided that the benefits of being able to travel outweigh the risks. Or at least, we let every person make that decision for themselves. If you’re afraid of planes or cars and you never ride in them, or you never let your child ride in them, hey— I’m not judging. But if *I* decide to travel in a plane or a car, if I let *my* child ride in one, I don’t have to worry that you will call the police and report me as negligent because *you* think planes and cars are too dangerous, right?.I think I should have the same rights as a parent. If I, as a parent, judge that my child gets more benefit (in terms of learning independence and responsibility and good judgement and self-confidence) from walking to school, playing in a park, riding a bike with friends, or being allowed to stay home alone for a few hours in the afternoon, and that those benefits outweigh the statistically tiny risk of something bad happening to my child, that’s a rational decision for me to make, just like the decision to let the child ride in a car or on a plane. I shouldn’t be legally required to act irrationally just because a lot of other people have a particular phobia.
2. Talking more about the benefits of independence for children's development.The difficulty with this, research-wise, is that it’s really hard to measure the benefits of independence, and it's really easy to describe the occasional bad thing that happens. A broken arm is easy to describe, but the long-term benefit of learning to climb a tree is hard to describe. Those of us who study development need to figure out how to quantify the benefits to kids, but in the meantime, we can find statements by child psychologists giving their professional opinion that there are real benefits to independence..The researcher Ellen Sandseter in Norway (https://ellenbeatehansensandseter.com/) proposes this list of things that she says children need in order to develop:.(1) Exploring heights, or getting the “bird’s perspective,” as she calls it—“high enough to evoke the sensation of fear.”(2) Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master.(3) Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby.(4) Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation.(5) Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast.(6) Exploring on one’s own..And she actually says that the last one is the most important for development..
3. Getting adults to recall their own childhood memories in a positive, nostalgic way..This is very simple, but very powerful. We’ve all seen how effective it is. Many adults have very clear and very happy memories of things they did independently when they were kids. If we can get them to think about that — instead of about the most recent episode of CSI: Sex Trafficking Unit or whatever the hell they’ve been listening to -- they might be able to hear us..
To the Busybodies Who Say, "Never Leave Your Child in the Car for Even a Minute!"
A few years ago a team at the University of California-Irvine did an amazing study about why we believe kids are in grave danger waiting …
A few years ago a team at the University of California-Irvine did an amazing study about why we believe kids are in grave danger waiting in a parked car for a short time, when statistically, the kids are in more danger just being driven to the mall -- and yet we don't get freaked out about that.
One of the Irvine researchers was Barbara Sarnecka, Associate Professor of Cognitive Sciences, and she has just shared some thoughts with us on how to counter the idea that anytime a child is unsupervised they are automatically in danger:
Let's use all three as we counter the push to overprotect. - L.