Walking To School

This post was originally published by Darren Barefoot.

This generation of children is the most pampered and protected of its kind in all of history. Of course, that’s probably been true of every subsequent generation of the past 150 years, if not longer. Still, some instances of helicopter parenting are particularly exasperating. One is the radical change in children being restricted from walking to and from school on their own.

The Saturday New York Times took on this provocative issue:

In 1969, 41 percent of children either walked or biked to school; by 2001, only 13 percent still did, according to data from the National Household Travel Survey. In many low-income neighborhoods, children have no choice but to walk. During the same period, children either being driven or driving themselves to school rose to 55 percent from 20 percent. Experts say the transition has not only contributed to the rise in pollution, traffic congestion and childhood obesity, but has also hampered children’s ability to navigate the world.

The article, as it happens, describes an incident from “a Vancouver suburb”:

Lisa Reid, who lives in a suburb of Vancouver, British Columbia, had signed a permission form, but when her first-grader proudly told his teacher he was walking home himself last spring, a distance of six houses, the teacher was incredulous. She took him to the office and called Mrs. Reid, who didn’t hear the phone. That was because Mrs. Reid was pacing at the end of the driveway, waiting for her son, her worries climbing exponentially as the moments ticked by.

The article goes on to explain that–the math here is mine–a child is more than 2000 times likelier to be injured in a car accident than be abducted by a stranger. There are the 62 million American children under the age of 14, and only about 115 of them are abducted by strangers every year. In Canada, there are about 40 to 50 stranger abductions a year.

I wonder why it’s so much higher, per capita in Canada? Maybe there are differences in how the crime is defined? In Canada, a stranger is apparently anybody other than a parent or guardian–”a close friend, neighbour, uncle, grandparent or another family member”. I wasn’t able to find a definition for ’stranger abduction’ in the US.

In short, the odds of a particular child being abducted are extremely small. Not to be all “when I was a young’un”, but the truth is that the abduction risk hasn’t changed since I walked about 500 meters home from elementary school in the eighties.

I should recognize that there are still many levelheaded parents out there. Derek, for example, lets his kids walk to school (and take other risks). It’s a little sad, if not surprising, that our the majority’s perceptions have so overruled the very safe reality.

While writing this post, I remembered the excellent map that accompanies this Daily Mail article.

About This Author:
Darren Barefoot is a leading social media strategist from Victoria, BC. He and wife Julie Szabo have no children, but they are building a beautiful home on Pender Island. You can follow Darren @dbarefoot

Photo: “Two Happy Girls” from Pink Sherbet Photography

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  1. DadCAMP September 22, 2009 at 11:08 am

    A note to add to this story: The city of Vernon is part of a pilot project this fall to encourage students to walk to school as means of reducing green house gases. I heard the story on CBC Radio 1, but cannot find any further news on it online.

    Here is further discussion on the NYT article.

  2. Steve September 22, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    Yeah, that's something I'm sure I'll struggle with. As a kid, I lived 3 blocks from my school in toronto. I was allowed to walk home from school once I was in grade 2. In grade 4, I moved to a new school that was a bus-ride away. It was another year until I could do that by myself, but then I was also allowed to take the subway all the way to north york where my mum was working, or to the library if I wanted. It was great. I'd definitely like Liam to have freedom to roam, but I'll have to get over my fears for that to happen. But y'know, I might just give him a cell phone for my own peace of mind if he is on his own. Even if he's only 6 or so, just so he can call me or 911 & I can call him…

  3. DadCAMP September 22, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    I remember riding my bike home for lunch all through elementary school rn(without a helmet). I took city bus all through high school too (no rncell phone).rnrnI’ll have to ask my parents if they were afraid at all. I grew up in rnRichmond during the Clifford Olson days – can you imagine the hysteria rnif that happened today?

  4. DadCAMP September 22, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I remember riding my bike home for lunch all through elementary school
    (without a helmet). I took city bus all through high school too (no
    cell phone).

    I'll have to ask my parents if they were afraid at all. I grew up in
    Richmond during the Clifford Olson days – can you imagine the hysteria
    if that happened today?

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