While I was visiting my mother in New York last month, she told me a story.
"When we lived in Wisconsin, you used to go across the street and play in the schoolyard," she said. "One day, the kindergarten teacher stopped by the house. She said, 'Did you know that Darrell has been going to class over here? He just invited himself in.'"
Shortly thereafter, I was officially enrolled in kindergarten at age four.
A cute story, I thought, until I pondered for a moment.
Wait! I was four years old, and my Mom didn't know where I was? What about pedophiles, psychopaths, rabid animals and trolls? This was, after all, the state that later produced Ed Gein and Jeffrey Dahmer, who became infamous for eating people.
"You were with the other kids," she said, "so I knew you were alright."
When I returned, I began asking friends around my age how much parental supervision they remembered as children. Almost invariably, their recollections involved interacting with other kids in an adultless world, especially in the summertime.
Back then, parents didn't barricade their kids inside the house -- they kicked them outside.
"Go play with your friends," they'd say. "Be back for dinner."
No wonder all those stay-at-home moms were able to maintain their sanity.
So has society devolved since then? Is it really all that dangerous for kids? I wonder.
The Virginia State Police Website on child safety warns: "Don't leave your child unattended in a car, even for a minute."
There are two ways of looking at this. One is to say: "The odds on my child being snatched up by somebody are very long, indeed, so I'm just going to go on about my business." Or, you might say: "Sure, it doesn't happen very often, but one time is too many if it's my child."
Now, if a parent has his or her attention diverted even for an instant from a child who then wanders off, the news stories always make a major point of it.
Granted, it's lunacy to leave your young children in the house alone and, say, go out to an all-night disco. But we act today as if the really responsible thing to do would be tether your offpsring to you at all times with a stout rope, lest something awful happen to them and you be blamed by the local TV anchorperson.
Child molesters, you know.
Moreover, we have become terrified that our children might come home from school and find no adults there. If that happens, then they're "out on the street" with, God forbid, their friends.
Maybe if we gave our kids a little more space, they might develop more maturity more quickly.
Anybody have any thoughts on this?