Hey Kid, Get Your Own Breakfast.
by Risa Green
Last week’s New York Times article about why kids can’t walk to school anymore has, I must say, been the talk of the town lately. Everywhere, it seems, people are discussing what it means for our kids, and the general consensus seems to be that it’s a shame to have such a ritual of independence taken away from an entire generation. It’s true. When I was a kid, I walked four blocks – through a major, crossing-guarded intersection – to elementary school everyday. And though my middle school was too far to walk to, I took the bus, and I walked to and from the bus stop by myself every day, too. I also let myself into the house in the afternoon with the key that I kept in my backpack, made myself a snack, did my homework, watched tv, and sometimes cooked a frozen dinner in the microwave if my parents were going to be home late from work. All that, and I was only eleven.
Which got me thinking about this whole no-walking-to-school thing. I mean, for the record, there is no way in hell that I would let my kids walk anywhere by themselves, ever. Maybe I would feel more conflicted about it if I lived in a leafy suburb like the moms interviewed in that Times article, but I don’t. I live in Los Angeles, smack in the middle of the city. And while we live on a nice street, in a nice neighborhood, it’s still the middle of Los Angeles. Two blocks from my house is an intersection that was once rated one of the most dangerous in the entire country, and I’ve been woken up more than a few times by homeless people rifling through my trash bins in the middle of the night. So yeah, my seven year-old daughter walking down the block by herself is pretty much out of the question.
However, I consider the no-walking alone situation to be a sad result of the times we live in, and not a statement about my daughter’s ability to handle herself. I mean, if you transported her back in time to 1980, to the Philadelphia suburb where I grew up, I have no doubt that she’d be totally capable of walking to school, or riding her bike to a friend’s house. But do you know what makes me sad? It makes me sad that she has no idea that she’s capable of any such thing. If I were to say to her, hey, honey, why don’t you grab your scooter and ride over to Sophie’s house for a few hours – just be sure to be home by five! – I think she’d think that I’ve lost my mind. Me? Go somewhere by myself? Alone? But I’m only seven. I can’t do that. I swear, I think she’d probably call child protective services and report me.