Is the World a Scarier Place Today Than When We Were Kids, or Have We Just Scared Ourselves Silly?

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It was Saturday morning, the first weekend of the summer, and our family’s calendar was completely blank. So, naturally, my almost 11-year-old son was looking for a buddy to play with. At his request, I texted the mother of one of his friends (he doesn’t own his own cell phone), asking if her kid was available, and she promptly texted back: “He’s at the middle school playing a baseball game. Tell him to come on up.”

The school is about five blocks up the street, bang a right and head down an alley, then down a brief hill, cross a relatively busy street, and the school is staring you in the face. It’s a 15-minute walk, five or 10 minutes on a scooter. So, I wondered: Do I drop him off, offer to walk with him, or tell him to watch for cars and send him on his way?

In the grand scheme of things, it seems like a fairly insignificant question. My son is a healthy kid with no disabilities of mind or body. He knows the way and can certainly get there unassisted. What’s more, I’ve frequently opined about how, when I was a kid, I rode my bike everywhere whereas, today, kids rely on their parents to do just about everything for them but wipe their…well, you get the idea. But then another voice crept into my head.

“It’s a different world today,” that voice boomed. I’d heard it so many times before that I was fairly certain I believed it. This ‘different’ world, we’re told, is full of child predators and molesters and other freaks and weirdoes, just ready and waiting to gobble up unsuspecting innocent youths.

While these dueling voices duked it out in my head, my son immediately started searching for his shoes and scooter. “Want me to come with you?” I asked. “No,” he said. “I’ve got it.” So, after a pause that felt like a very long time, I agreed to let him go alone. As I watched my son head out the door and reminded him to look both ways, I caught a slight but discernible spring in his step. I wasn’t entirely convinced that he wouldn’t get hit by a car or swept away by a pervert, but I was equally proud of his desire to be independent.

Later that day, after he’d come home safe and sound, I did a little digging around on the Internet to see if I could rustle up some statistics to see if the world really is a scarier place today than when I was a kid, or if we’ve all just scared ourselves silly for no good reason. If you’re on the fence about letting your kid walk to the corner store or ride his bike to the pool this summer, you may be comforted by these findings:

  • Crimes against children have dropped in the last two decades, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
  • The rate of overall violent crime (this includes murder, non-negligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) is about the same today as in the mid-70s, about 500 crimes per 100,000 people, according to FBI crime reports.
  • Crime rates (both violent and non-violent) did climb between 1960 and 1990, but they’ve been declining every year since then, according to UNICEF USA.

So, given that statistics show our kids truly are as safe as we were when we were young, does that change what you’ll let yours do this summer? Will they be a little freer to roam the neighborhood, knowing that their chances of getting mugged are about the same as yours were when you were 11 and you thought the world was yours to discover? Or is your child’s summer far too scripted to allow any unstructured time for independent exploration, regardless of how feel about it? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section.


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