When I was little, my two best friends lived across the street.
We must have been about 5 or 6 when we were playing in the creek in my backyard or arguing in the front yard about which of them was my best friend. I don’t remember an adult being nearby.
We lived on a little dead-end road off a major highway in Norcross. The only thing we were scared of was Samson, the German shepherd who lived next door.
My mother let me play unsupervised in the yard when I was just 5. It should be noted that I was the responsible eldest child, and she worried more about my siblings getting into trouble.
When we all got a little bit older and moved to a subdivision in Suwanee, I remember roaming the neighborhood on bikes or foot. We’d go on walks at dusk collecting frogs in a bookbag — more dangerous for the frogs than ourselves. We’d play with neighbors in a cul-de-sac on the other side of the subdivision.
Now, the only time I see kids roaming the streets is on Halloween, and they’re all accompanied by adults.
We just can’t safely let children out of our sight. It’s a scary world.
Except for one thing: Our world is safer now than then.
In my lifetime, the rate of violent crime in Georgia peaked when I was about 6 — it’s been decreasing ever since, according to data kept by the FBI.
Here’s what violent crime rates per 100,000 residents looks like between that statewide peak and 2018, the most recent data available.
Violent crimes rates calculated from data reported by the following agencies:
Gwinnett County Police Department
Hall County Sheriff’s Office
Gainesville Police Department
The data show the crime rate was higher in 1990 across the board, and almost four times higher in the city of Gainesville. So, why does it feel like there are dangers lurking in every corner that weren’t there in the “good ol’ days?” My guess is we have more total crimes due to population growth and quicker access to information about them; thus, our perception is that the world is more dangerous even if our community is actually safer. And I’ll point out that while media consumers sometimes complain there’s too much bad news, they consistently click on articles about crime more than any other topic. So, even when a media outlet is providing balanced coverage of good and bad, readers tend to see more bad. In the past week, the four most-clicked stories on gainesvilletimes.com are about crimes. The fifth most-clicked story is about a new affordable housing complex.
So, we all hear horror stories and feel the world is more dangerous and then make parenting decisions based on these false assumptions.
It’s so ingrained in parenting culture that letting your kid play outside unsupervised has a special name — free-range parenting — and there have been some national reports of free-range parents being questioned by authorities and even answering to charges in court because their children were unsupervised while playing outside, walking home from school or waiting in a car.
Obviously, there are limits to what children can do unsupervised for what length of time and at what age.
I wandered with those two childhood friends into an apartment complex behind my house at least once. Apparently one of those violent crimes reported to the FBI happened there — a place I called “the meadow” and had first enjoyed exploring with my grandpa.
We probably shouldn’t have been there. And something horrible could have happened.
But if we made all our parenting decisions based on “what ifs” with no regard to what’s likely, our children would never learn how to take risks, learn from failures and be independent.
Good parents using common sense can allow their children a little freedom. It’s good for them.
How much freedom did you have as a child? And how does or did that shape how you parent? Send me a note and I may follow up with another column on this topic.