Calling All Cops ... Off!
So, a mom in Tennessee, Teresa Tryon, has been told by the police that she was wrong to allow her 10-year-old daughter to bike to and from school. Do it again before the police department discusses this with Child Protective Services, she was warned, and she could face charges of child neglect.
Though Tryon believed her child was safe, the police officer didn't. And that was enough to put the mom on thin legal ice.
The bike ride is less than 10 minutes each way, on quiet residential streets. The mom herself said she passed a total of eight cars on her two journeys on that same route that same day. Moreover, she had her daughter take a bike safety class before any of this.
Does it get any safer than that? Perhaps the girl should just never get on a bike at all. That would satisfy the cop, I'm sure. But what about the kid, who wants a childhood? And the mom, who wants an active, independent little girl? And the town, which could be buzzing with kids playing outside or could be just a barren expanse of empty lawns?
The cooped-up kids and lifeless lawns are collateral damage in the war against terror — the terror we are supposed to feel whenever we think of children doing anything on their own. If you don't share that terror, you risk trouble with the law.
I know because it happened to me, too. I am vaguely famous for letting my son Izzy ride the New York City subway solo when he was 9 years old a few years back, but I also let him ride the commuter train out to the burbs when he turned 10. He went back and forth to his friend's house many times, but then, one time, one of the conductors noticed him and went ballistic. "You should NOT be riding alone!" he said. Izzy offered to let him talk to me on the phone, but the conductor wouldn't hear of it. Instead, he radioed ahead to the cops, who were waiting when my son got off the train.
Also waiting, by the way, was the family of the kid my son was going to see.
You'd think that would be proof enough that this was a situation both families felt comfortable with, but instead, the train was held for a few minutes while the police questioned the friend's family and then called me. Finally, the cop conceded this was probably OK, so the conductor got back on the train, and that was that.
Until the next time, about a month later, when it all happened again. And the same cop called me. And when I said that I had found no laws forbidding 10-year-olds from riding alone and furthermore that I personally felt my son was safe — at rush hour, surrounded by hundreds of commuters — the officer said, "But what if someone tries to abduct him?"
I said that in that very unlikely scenario, I thought the other people would help out.
Countered the cop: "What if TWO guys try to abduct him?"
Sheesh. This is what I call "worst first" thinking — jumping to the very WORST scenario FIRST and acting as if it were likely to happen. Two guys waiting at a commuter train platform just in case a 10-year-old would happen to be riding by himself that day and they somehow could grab each arm with no one noticing? (And as my son asked, later, when we were talking about this: "Isn't the policeman there to KEEP me safe?")
Of course, there are police officers who understand that kids are not in constant danger and allow them to go about the business of learning to navigate the world. But when a cop comes knocking on your door or calling you from the train platform, you realize that until we abolish "worst first" thinking, kids can't be kids — and the police get to parent.
Lenore Skenazy is the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)" and "Who's the Blonde That Married What's-His-Name? The Ultimate Tip-of-the-Tongue Test of Everything You Know You Know — But Can't Remember Right Now." To find out more about Lenore Skenazy (firstname.lastname@example.org) and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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