When a co-worker said she didn’t want her third-grader to walk the quarter-mile to school and back and she planned to change her work schedule just to be available to drop him off and pick him up, I thought something must be wrong with the child: mentally or physically disabled, maybe. As a first-grader I used to walk at least five miles after school to my grandmother’s house everyday. Okay, it was decades ago and a lot has changed since then, but surely an eight-year-old can handle such a short distance. And then she told me why she rarely lets her son out of her sight.
Last week in Texas two elementary school boys were walking to their first day of school with their mother when their estranged father forced them into his car and later drowned the boys. That same week in Delaware a pediatrician was convicted of 24 counts of abuse, including 14 counts of rape, for sexually assaulting his toddler patients.
Police discovered his crimes after a two-year-old girl who was left alone with the doctor during her exam told her mother that he hurt her. It wasn’t the first complaint against the doctor. But this time police showed up with a search warrant and found videotaped evidence of his crimes.
These are the kinds of stories that let me know childhood isn’t what it used to be, and neither are some of the trusted adults in their lives. Sadly this father and doctor won’t be the last to harm when they should have been protecting. And what’s worse is even those parents who manage to prevent their children from becoming victims are doing so at a great cost.
If a child isn’t allowed to roam his neighborhood unsupervised and find his way home or walk a few blocks from school he probably won’t be able to understand a map or develop a sense of direction; if a child never has the experience of being a latch-key kid she might never develop the time management skills needed to complete homework, her household chores and get dinner started before her parents arrive home from work; and if a child has to question every touch from a doctor or a teacher his sense of trust and discernment might deceive him when it matters most.
As children we never realize how our maturity is impacted through these normal activities. And if children aren’t allowed to experience them we are stunting their critical thinking skills and doing them a disservice that could carryover into adulthood.
Steffanie Rivers is a freelance journalist. Send your comments, questions and appearance inquiries to Steffanie at