Friday, May 9, 2008

Looking for Opinions on This:

I've mentioned before that we live in a town that does not provide bussing to school for children within town limits. They simply live too close to the school to qualify. So Nature Girl walks to school. Once she was used to the walk she began doing it on her own. She's a month shy of turning eight. She's been diagnosed with ADHD, although it does not present itself if she is working one on one with someone in a quiet controlled environment.

Papa Pan works "in the city". He works with kids who are considered "flight risks" so they are literally bussed a block to school and not allowed out of the school without direct supervision. He also works with kids with ADHD.

He was mentioning to a co-worker that we have Nature Girl do this walk on her own. He said that despite our initial misgivings about the distance it has really helped her ground herself in the morning so she can perform better in school. He mentioned that the 40 minute walk home often takes her 2 hours because she NEEDS that time to decompress and use up all that stored up energy- digging in the dirt, following snails, worms, looking for rocks, simply being outside in nature. We've been doing quite a bit of reading on not looking at ADHD as a medical condition but a "type" and it is one that needs Nature and Exercise. It describes Nature Girl perfectly (Richard Louv talks about it in Last Child in the Woods and Stephen Putnam deals with it exclusively in Nature's Ritalin for the Marathon Mind: Nurturing your ADHD Child with Exercise. Well the coworker found the idea of a GIRL this age being allowed to walk to and from school on her own very alarming.

I'd agree if we lived in the city. Not because it is "the city" and there'd be more traffic, but because despite the increase in population density she would very likely not know or be known by as many people on her walk. As it stands she passes lots of known neighbours, lots of classmates homes, her occasional babysitter's home, and her teacher's home on the walk. We live in a small town, word gets back to you if your kid is causing mischief. The school sees walking to school as a "safe" activity and even promotes it with a "Walk to School Week" early in the school year to encourage parents to ditch the "Drive Them" mentality.

Nature Girl knows not to accept rides from KNOWN people or strangers. She knows not to go into a friend's house without getting my permission first. We know if she isn't home when we want her home what route she takes and where she veered off (the botanical garden is her home away from home)and we can find her quickly.

What do you readers think? Is she being put at risk walking to and from school? Am I giving my free range kid too much freedom?


deb said...

I personally feel that she is too young to be walking to or from a school that is a forty minute walk on a good day. The fact that it takes up to two hours some days, would have me worrying like crazy. While she knows what she is or isn't allowed to do, she is still a "little" girl and can be forced into a vehicle against her will. Lots of kids are abducted in broad daylight in front of strangers.

I know that it is hard for you to pack everyone up to do the walk twice a day. But, I think that the school board should be rethinking their policy.

Just my humble opinion.

Mud Mama said...

But the real abduction rate in Canada for all children (birth to 18 - and 11 to 18 year olds are more likely targets for abduction than those younger) is 1 in 776 514 - and a full 20 percent of those were taken from their homes.

Abduction is just not a real risk for children.

About 43 children in Canada are abducted a year by someone other than their biological parents (so that rate includes grandparents, aunts and uncles who take kids ...and I'll say there's usually a cause for that, although kidnapping isn't a good response!).

"Something bad" happens to children who are abducted in about 40% of cases. So being generous with the math there's a...

1:1500000 chance of her getting abducted for nefarious purposes.

For comparison purposes - there is a 1:280000 chance of being hit by lightning. I don't keep the kids inside if it is raining.

Dog bites, drowning, getting hit by a car, those are real risks "out there".

I won't let her bike alone because the risk of a bike accident at her age and experience is a real risk.

In 1972, 87 percent of children who lived within a mile of school walked or biked daily. Today it has dropped to 13 percent.

monkey said...

it's obvious that you believe that people are fundamentally good. i, however, don't share that belief. i believe that children are good, through and through. but somewhere along the way, a lot of people lose their goodness...and they are masquerading as warm-hearted genuine neighbors. perhaps i'm aware of the ugliness of people because of being sexually abused by a prominent man in my childhood...i know the difference between the image some people put out into the world and their behavior behind closed doors. perhaps it's having a father who was robbery/homocide sergeant for the lapd...he's ingrained distrust in me. and i have to say, i don't think this is a bad thing. i'm AWARE at all times. and i can name at least two instances where this heightened sense of my surroundings and the people included has saved me from danger, if not saved my life. had i taken my safety for granted, i don't think i would have been so careful. people are crazy, mud mama, and this isn't limited to the city. all it takes is one unstable person who KNOWS your daughter walks by herself's not really the age that bothers me. it's that she's by herself. i do understand that nature girl probably benefits immensely from this time alone. and i don't believe in relying on statistics. i don't believe in living in fear. i don't believe in seeing only the bad. but there has to be a balance. and i don't know your area...maybe nothing will happen. but most tragedies happen in our own backyards, unfortunately. and, although i don't want nature girl's innocence to be altered by fear, i also don't want it taken away from her.

Chabad Chammer said...

I used to walk a mile to school when I was in kindergarten. I say let her walk - you live in a place where it sounds especially safe and friendly. It's good for her in so very many ways.

KEM said...

Oops - that last comment was from me, not Mark (chabad chammer)...

zoom said...

I think the benefits of walking to and from school far outweigh the miniscule risks. We all used to walk to school; nothing bad ever happened to me on my way to or from school. Parents today are SO over-protective and so certain that evildoers are lurking everywhere.

One of the things we studied in criminology was the phenomenal mismatch between people's perceptions of crime and the actual rates of crime in their own communities. It's due in large part to people deriving their perceptions of crime from American TV crime shows.

Mud Mama said...

I did some more math based on the 40% of abductees are hurt or killed (and yes I do think it is horrible and barbaric that it happens at all!) and that is 17 children from birth to 18 that are abducted and hurt in Canada each year. If only half of those are 11-18 year olds that means less than 10 little kids are abducted each year in Canada. We have a population of roughly 33 million people.

So there less than 1 chance in 3 million that my kids will be abducted.

The risks involved in using stimulant medications are WAY higher.

It isn't that I think there aren't risks out there - sexual abuse being a big one! But walking home alone (and she walks part way with other kids there's a 500 metre period where she isn't likely to see anyone she knows and should we fear 500 metres of forest?)wouldn't very likely be where she'd be targetted for that. Most kids are abused by someone they know intimately. I'd be much more concerned if she went to a friends house every day for 2 hours and their dad was there, or an older brother OR sister, or their friends.

That is part of why I have the rule about not going in any friend's houses unless she has my permission first. I want more than a phone number and I will always be vigilant.

Years ago I read Gavin deBecker's writing - The Gift of Fear is a GREAT book on trusting your instincts about people and situations. About not trying to be nice and worrying what others think of you when you perceive danger - its a skill more women need.

His other book specifically for parents is Protecting The Gift - which addresses abduction and sexual abuse - but also the more likely forms of violence our children may face - abusive child care providers, boys and guns, being mugged or bullied, and how to stop needless worrying - his chapter on walking to school wasn't about it being unsafe - it was about preparing kids to do it.

Actually I think I need to reread it.

zoom said...

Just a small adjustment to your calculations - the population is 33 million, but the population of children is much less than that. So a particular child's chance of being abducted by a stranger are more like one in a million. However, since most kids are never out of an adult's sight anymore, those who are might be more likely to be snatched. So maybe it's one in half a million. I still agree with your conclusions, of course. We subject our kids to all kinds of dangers that are statistically riskier than stranger abduction.

Oma said...

The other thing to take into consideration is that those children who do not learn to be independent as children will have a much harder time later; they are all going to take risks some time. Let them take controlled risks and teach them caution not fear.

I think it is sad that our society is becoming so fearful. Far better to raise children to be independent and careful rather than fearful.

You live in Wolfville, not Los Angeles or Toronto.

monkey said...

i read all these other posts and immediately realize that my opinion is a bit skewed since i live in los angeles. i actually live in a neighborhood where i won't even walk to the corner store by myself or with the baby unless someone else is with me. it's not my neighbors i'm worried about. it's the unsavory characters that like to linger. (we're in the process of trying to move but the neighborhoods we want to live in exceed our income at the moment)
besides, most people these days won't get involved. my father always taught me: if i'm ever in trouble, don't yell 'rape'...yell 'fire' because it's more likely someone will actually help. this is from his experience as a homocide detective. so, yeah, i'm a bit jaded.
but it's also necessary where i live. and i don't really know any different.
so it's hard for me to opine on your situation (really, i just wanted to use 'opine' in a sentence!)

deb said...

I grew up in Kinburn Ontario with a population of 256...I was sexually abused there. I was also sexually abused as an 8 year old. Stats are great but I don't think that most sexual abuse is reported...I know both of my incidents weren't.

It is against the law to leave children under the age of 12 home alone without a babysitter, so why would a child of 8 be safer walking the streets?

Mud Mama said...

But you weren't sexually assaulted walking home from school - that is not a realistic risk, walking home from school on your own. It *is* a very real risk for kids - but not under these circumstances.

I'd have more to worry about sexual assault if she was with a babysitter or visiting neighbours.

There's no law saying kids can't be at home under 12 alone. Home alone classes are offered to 8-12 yr olds. Only a few places have ANY laws on the books regarding being home alone and they range from 8 to 12 (I could only find a couple of states listed). 13 year olds are allowed to be at home for 24 hours and in charge of other children for that amount of time. But most places don't have laws at all - it is too individual with kids and circumstances.

Home alone is much more dangerous for a child than walking home is too. Accidents in the home are much more likely, there are greater dangers - fire, *no* supervision, and they are "invisible" behind closed doors if something does happen.

I live in a block parent community btw.

zoom said...

I was sexually abused as a kid too - but always in the homes of people known and trusted by the family, or at school. People who abuse children like privacy.

deb said...

I still think that eight is too young for an eight year old to be walking alone for 40 minutes to 2 hours. Not judging your parenting by any means...but I just feel that it is too risky. Maybe if she had a partner to walk with the whole way, I would feel better about it.

zoom said...

What age do you think is okay, Deb?

Oma said...

Like one of the other people who commented, I walked a mile while in kindergarten ... and clambered around the cliffs of Lake Ontario and played on a home made raft there ... and rode my bike miles when I was nine or less. There were predators then too but I knew enough to be cautious of the strangers who might have hurt me.

It was a couple of years later with a trusted friend of the family, an RCMP inspector, that I was abused ... not violently ... but he broke the trust my father had placed in him.

Walking home from school, even if you stop to smell the flowers and check out the toads enroute, is a pretty safe way to learn independence.

I remember the freedom of being a kid around Lake Ontario as the best part of a childhood that was, for the most part, unhappy.

deb said...

Ten maybe? I am not Ker says, it depends on the child but not before ten.

KEM said...

Wow. I have to say I'm shocked at the amount of commenters who have been abused as children by people they knew... Is this problem really that pervasive? I'm stunned and depressed.

Chris (Mombie) said...

Hmm, the idea of an 8 year old wandering home over a two hour stretch makes me a little nervous, but I get a twinge that tells me that the nervousness is unfounded.

I think this is a 'know your kid, know your town' sort of situation and if I was on her route home I'd be keeping an eye for when she passed my house, making sure she was safe so far and letting you know if I hadn't seen her by her usual time (I'm one of those neighbours who know which kid belongs to who, and notices if the people across the street are away but their door looks open).

If the walk works for her, then, by all means, she should take it.

(I tagged you in a meme, by the way)

XUP said...

Wow - this is a hot debate. I'm inclined to agree with everyone. Yes, children need to learn independence, yes we all walked to school alone at that age, yes your community sounds as safe as any community can be these days and yes the walking time seems to be important to your daughter's well-being. But, I also agree that there are a lot of possible unsafe situations for such a young child on such a long walk - not necessarily the just texbook abductor. There are nasty kids, unfriendly dogs, traffic, unhealthy adults and the child herself. We all like to believe that the stuff we've drilled into our kids' head has stuck, but you'd be surprised how differently they hear things (i.e.: he wasn't a stranger mummy, I've seen him before). I walked to school at that age and I had some experiences that I would not want my daughter to have. Anyway, you know the situation best and if you're completely comfortable then that's all that's important.

zoom said...

One thing you might want to ask yourself is would you still have her walking to and from school if she qualified for school bus service?

Mud Mama said...

Hmmm...if there was bussing my concern would be that she wouldn't have as many kids out walking with her. So if there was bussing I'd still have her walk to school in the morning and I'd have her bus home then go back out to the forest/botanical garden as often as she usually does it herself (we go meet her there a couple days a week as it is.

For half her walk she is SURROUNDED by every other local kid walking from kindergarten through grade 9 (the second half on her way to school, the first half on the way home) on her way there before she hits the huge crew of kids she is on a walk with minimal traffic concerns (new road, good wide sidewalks a grassy area between the road and the sidewalk, she passes 6 neighbours we know well enough she could go to for help (with stay at home mom's, friends houses, retired couples etc). The only concern is the forested area and on the way TO school she knows not to stop and play she zips on past. Several other neighbours are there dogwalking at the same time and I know from chatting with them that they'd shoo her on her way if she did try and play hooky there) And we know all the garden staff and they know her. On her way home it is where she'll veer off though.

Honestly at her age I'm not concerned ... in a couple years the lure of the "skypark" will be pretty strong and IT frightens me (arial paths through the trees either rope ladders and bridges or those handles you hold on and swing through the trees)

If it hadn't been presented by the school as both a necessity and a "good thing" tm I wouldn't have ever considered it.

The funny thing is trhat several of her friends live one street over and she could walk with them, their parents are worried about them walking together because they are more likely to get into truble!