Now that I am a parent of two children I seem to have become this constantly paranoid, worried individual who will not let the children out of my sight for even a second. We see or hear on the news with all too often regularity about the abduction of children from public places and even private homes. My first impulse is to say that the world is a much more dangerous place than it was when I was a child growing up in the 1970s. But the reality may be that it’s not.
Whenever my wife and I take our children somewhere we agree to take responsibility for one each. My children are just like all other kids in that they really have no fear and tend to wander off whenever something grabs their interest. Intellectually, I think this is a trait to be admired and cultivated in a child. Perhaps it is only as children that we are in awe at the spectacle of a world that holds limitless wonder. Practically, it’s a reason for a parent to double up on the Valium. Before we had children my wife and I used to mock those parents who had leashes tied to their children to keep them from getting too far away. It looked ridiculous to us and we vowed never to do that to our children. Now that I am a parent that practice does not seem so outlandish to me. Humiliation is a small price to pay for keeping one’s children safe.
When I was a child growing up in Binghamton, New York I was at a plaza with my mother, my grandmother, and my younger brother. I could not have been more than five or six years old at the time, and I recall that it was a hot summer day. I must have run ahead of my mother and grandmother because I somehow became separated from them. I was looking in a store window when an older, bald man came up to me and said hi. I turned and said hi back. The next thing I knew he got really close to me and asked me if I wanted to go to the airport with him. I had enough wits about me to say no and run back to my grandmother and mother. I never told them at the time what had happened. I recall being embarrassed and I was also afraid that I would be in trouble. This last fear is as inexplicable to me today as it was then. Nevertheless, I have never forgotten the face of that older man who asked me to go to the airport with him.
We all want to keep our children safe, but we also want them to be able to explore the world on their own without becoming overly cautious. This is a near impossible balance to achieve. It is an undeniable fact that there are predators out there waiting for the chance to grab some child that has wandered just far enough away from his or her parents. As parents we have an obligation to inform our children about these predators, yet we don’t want to scare them into a state where they refuse to leave the house. I’ve no idea if it is harder raising a child today than it was in the past, but I now understand why our hair turns gray.