The New York Times ran a story on Sunday on the huge gap between what actually keeps our kids safe, and what we think keeps them safe. It turns out the five biggest things likely to injure a child are car accidents, murder, suicide, child abuse and drowning. What are parents afraid of, though? Kidnapping, school snipers, terrorists, dangerous strangers and drugs.
The driving seems the most relevant and common – and it means the most to me as an American who has chosen to go without a car in Sweden. From the story:
“The least safe thing you can do with your child, statistically, is drive them somewhere,” said Lenore Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids,” a manifesto preaching a return to the day when children were allowed to roam on their own. “Yet every time we put them in the car we don’t think, ‘Oh God, maybe I should take public transportation instead, because if something happened to my kid on the way to the orthodontist I could never forgive myself.’ ”
The article is a good examination of how we are bad at risk assessment – how kidnapping looms over every decision while kids get fat (and sick) because they get no exercise because they are never let outside or forced to ride their bikes anywhere.
The beautiful thing about Sweden is the lack of fear. I’m not sure Stockholm is any safer than your average American suburb. And I’m sure Swedish parents fret and worry. But, still, there is not that overarching fear of violent, horror-movie death hanging over children here.
And it clears the head. So every time I get annoyed that we are taking the train to our summer cottage, I do actually think that we are safer on the train. Every time we get in a car now, I am terrified that my kids will die. This may seem like an overreaction to an American, but it is the more logical fear. My children are much more likely to get hurt in a car than anywhere else. So I keep them out of cars.
And I hope that it holds over if we ever live in the US again. I hope that I will just tell my daughter to ride her bike to soccer practice, even if it means taking quiet streets at dusk. I’ll make sure she has a helmet and a light and a cell phone, if need be.
Better than getting her in a car at rush hour …