Growing up, I spent a good deal of my time outside. I was not alone in these pursuits; most of my friends were outside also. Sometimes I would leave in the morning and not return until dinnertime or sometimes not until dark. I did not harbor any fear, nor did my parents, of what might happen to me. We fished, went swimming, rode our bikes, played war, made forts, played sports or worked for someone, usually on a farm.
These pursuits took place outside and often did not include adults. We jumped off high cliffs or iron bridges into the water, walked over train trussles and over the tops of bridges. We built ramps to jump bicycles off and later we jumped motorcycles off the same ramps. Most of the time, at least one of us had serious bruising, a broken arm or some stitches, all that fun came at a cost sometimes.
By today's standards, I guess we were suffering from a lack of supervision. In spite of the risk, I believe that we experienced a freedom that most children today will not. Most children from my generation were free to explore their neighborhood without supervision. These explorations might take you to a neighboring town or village. Occasionally we hitched a ride, mostly with people we knew but sometimes with strangers and we did this without trepidation.
Some say that children do not go outside anymore because of the internet, exotic video games and three hundred channels of high definition television. Some say that parents have become unreasonably fearful that something bad will happen to their child. A parent's worst nightmare would be for their child to be abducted. Even though the incidence of this monstrous crime is rare, there are many television shows dedicated entirely to this topic. Maybe this "fear making focus" has led many parents to conclude that it is just safer to keep junior inside.
In 1930, an alarming one in 10 children did not reach the age of 20. By the year 2000, that rate had dramatically declined to one in 100. According to the Department of Justice, 82 percent of child abductions were by known family members, 11 percent by friends or acquaintances and often connected to a custody dispute. Only about 2 percent are considered legitimate stranger abductions and the suggested risk of abduction is about one in six hundred thousand children.
To put the risk in perspective consider the following. When compared to abduction, there is a two times greater risk of dying from influenza, a four times greater chance of dying from heart disease, a 17 times greater chance of dying from suicide, a 20 times greater chance of dying from playing youth football, a 30 times greater chance of dying as a pedestrian in a car accident and a 100 times greater chance of dying from an automobile accident. The loss of a child for any reason cannot be diminished or overlooked. It is a gut-wrenching tragedy of titanic proportion.
Maybe that is why we do not let our children go unsupervised all day anymore. They are not jumping off dangerous cliffs; they are not walking on train trussels, taking rides with strangers or participating in other obviously, stupidly dangerous pursuits. Maybe there are good reasons why we do not see children outside playing very often. Maybe that is why so many more children survive to adulthood today. Remember all kids count.
Scot Hurlburt can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com