Walking to School Alone at Age 7

Author Vox Day recently had a humorous yet understandable fatherly response to an article posted in the NY Times regarding the push by some parents to allow their young children to walk to school alone (he recommends finding high ground and bringing a rifle with a scope to provide adequate protection for young children on the morning stroll).

In the Times article, an anonymous mother from New York discusses wanting to encourage independence in her 7 year old daughter by allowing her to walk the short distance daily from home to school.

...Katie, too, is tormented by the abduction monsters embedded in modern parenting. Yet she wants to encourage her daughter’s independence. “Somehow, walking to school has become a political act when it’s this uncommon,” she said. “Somebody has to be first.”

It has been 30 years since the May morning when Julie Patz, a Manhattan mother, finally allowed her 6-year-old son, Etan, to walk by himself to the school-bus stop, two blocks away. She watched till he crossed the street — and never saw him again.

Since that haunting case, a generation of parents and administrators have created dense rituals of supervision around what used to be a mere afterthought of childhood: taking yourself to and from school...
We live nowhere near our son's school, but even if it were a few blocks, he would have mom or dad tagging along on a walk to 3rd grade. As the "experts" in the article like to regurgitate, child abductions involving strangers are rare:

...About 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year, according to federal statistics; 250,000 are injured in auto accidents....
It should be noted that the cited numbers involve confirmed stranger abductions and do not include the unknown offender abductions--which most assuredly would make the totals greater.

Further, as stated in the article, the number of kids walking or biking to school dropped from 41% in 1969 to 13% in 2001. Do you think the presence of parents driving kids to school or waiting at the bus stop is a significant factor in reducing the number of opportunities that strangers would have in snatching a child?

Stated in terms of criminology's routine activities theory to explain why a crime did not occur with a parent present--there is a motivated offender but no crime opportunity due to the lack of an appealing target and faced with the presence of a guardian.

I think anonymous mom is taking an unnecessary risk in encouraging the solo walk by a 7 year old. There are plenty of other ways to ensure that a 7 year old develops independence.

Obviously, mom being anonymous in the story reinforces that the fear expressed by most parents for their children is reasonable and not unwarranted.


CK Lunchbox said...

funny about the anonymous thing. There was a mother who did the same thing in NYC with her 9 y/o son. Boy did she catch hell from the public.

No way I would do this. Aside from abductions, there are just too many factors that can't be controlled, and kids don't have the best decision making ability at that age. My youngest stepdaughter gets so distracted she'd be walking all over the street.

Yes, there are better ways to foster independence AND good judgement.

JennyMac said...

I will likely not let our son walk to school alone until...he is 16 and can DRIVE himself.

Abductions alone would make this not feasible..and we live in the middle of a huge city. Ugh.

Expat From Hell said...

Being out here in rural America this month, I wonder if the ol' school bus isn't the way to go. Of course, that isn't feasible in the cities any more. I also just read that the average American kid spends 12 minutes a day outside. If you think that's healthy for our society long term, you need to put down your Wii for a moment and think. Great, compelling post, SD. Thanks for this... EFH

J. J. in Phila said...

I live in the city, and most younger children are attended by parent.

angelcel said...

Another blogging friend mentioned this issue recently and I was very surprised to find that I was one of a small minority who said that they *wouldn't* allow their child to walk to school. Most *say* that they have every intention of doing so...but of course when the time actually comes they may think differently.

My girls are adults now and I took the attitude that I never wanted to risk *my* child becoming part of the statistics, no matter how small that risk supposedly is.

You're right, there are other ways to instil independence. In fact, I can confirm that my girls have not developed into emotionally stunted [and fat] adults, so we must have been doing something right!

Heather Sunseri said...

This is such a difficult question. It depends so much on the circumstances. Although we walk our children to and from school, I do see circumstances when it's okay to let your child have some independence.

Natalie said...

I walked to school until I could drive, but we always walked in a neighborhood group of friends and fellow siblings. I loved getting rides to school, but growing up in such a small town with the schools so close, it was kind of silly for us to rely on a bus or parents.

That said, we were the exception, not the rule. I plan on walking with my kids if we're not on the bus route. This forces me to get up in the morning and make sure they're dressed adequately for the weather (WAY too many underdressed kids go out to recess!)
We'll walk until it gets too cold, then we'll be driving!

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

We are fortunate that our bus stop is literally behind our house. We can see the bus (albeit through some trees) coming and going. And since it's mandatory that parents of K-2 children wait at the stop, there is always supervision.

I actually can't believe the walk I used to make to school with a couple of friends. We would take "short cuts" through fields and woods and other people's yards. I would never let my kids do this.

torn blazer said...

here where i live parents now see the outside world as a place where children are likely to be hit by a car or harmed by a stranger. if
you perceive your neighborhood as unsafe then you are less likely to allow your children to play
outside or walk to school

Oz Girl said...

Like Natalie, we walked to school with our siblings and/or friends. My memory recalls a big group, usually. I was restricted to one route, to and from school, and was NOT allowed to take any "shortcuts". Needless to say, I was caught taking a shortcut one day when my parents decided to pick us kids up from school because we needed to be somewhere that evening rather quickly. I recall getting spanked and grounded... for my own safety, of course! :)

Slamdunk said...

Thanks for the comments all.

As Natalie and OzGirl said, I walked to school alot between second and sixth grade, and sometimes when I was younger. I can remember my mom allowing me to walk to school alone (well with a friend who was in second grade) in kindergarten one time.

My greatest fear was the fourth grade girl crosssing guard who liked to kiss me every time she saw me--needless to say I ran that part of the journey.

I think federal government's promotion of this as a way to help kids lose weight fails to address the dozens of other problems in an obese kids life as opposed to the 10 minute walk to school.

Bob said...

I was 8 yo in 1962, when on business and pleasure with my parents and sister, we flew from NY to CA, and went to Disneyland, the San Fran Wharf, with a view to - oh, what's the name of the island?? It'll come to eventually. Long story short, we were in San Fran shopping in some store like Macy's... I was with my sister, my parent somehow weren't nearby, enough to see me suddenly concerned, so I told my sister look around the store - I'll go back to the hotel and see if they're there. It was a perfectly logical decision.

So I left the store, age 8, and walked up the street in San Francisco. I got lost, naturally. I didn't have the skills developed yet to know where I was. On a street corner, I "bumped" into this guy in a black trench-coat and hat. It was a gray day, drizzling off and on. This man turned to me at this street corner, and asked me if "I was lost?" I said, "no", I looking for such and such hotel. He said "Can I help you find it?"

I, even in 1962 asked - "who are you?" He said, "secret-service" and produced an official government id.

Today, what happened to me seems like it happened in another world. How can kids be kids when they're organized and regimented to act under "controlled conditions". As Salm Dunk states 115 children abducted by strangers a year. Many end in tragedy so heart-breaking a nation is stunned.

What happened to me?

The guy really was secret service... he walked me to my hotel where he asked the hotel cleck where my family had their room... the clerk responded in a way I remember she knew he was ss... he brought me to the room, and my parents were already there, I got a whipping. For disappearing. Hey, what's a kid to do???

Katherine Mercurio Gotthardt said...

Bob, what an incredible story! You're quite lucky, of course.

Bob said...

True story... I was lucky! There happened to be a convention - I think supreme court judges in town, and that is why the secret service was there.