Article Comment 

Walking lessons




Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone. 


While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now. The days of Andy Griffith''s Mayberry and "Leave it to Beaver" are gone, if they indeed ever really existed. As Yogi Berra (supposedly) said, "nostalgia ain''t what it used to be." 


This longing for simpler times was front and center in a story in Monday''s Dispatch ("The walk felt ''round the world," Page 1A). A mother had let her 10-year-old son walk alone a half mile through Columbus to soccer practice. Several people, seeing the child walking alone, called 911. The mother took a browbeating from a police officer who responded to the calls.  


The story was picked up by international media outlets, who took up the fundamental question: Aren''t small-town America''s streets safe enough for a child to walk them alone? 


According to Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John, yes, they are. 


But on the same token, just because a child can do it, and a parent can allow it, should they? 


We, and most parents, would say, not always. 


While incredibly rare, the specter of child abduction looms heavy on most parents'' minds, even in a relatively small town like Columbus. Stories like the recent one out of Starkville, where a suspected (and currently at-large) child predator allegedly harassed children at a city elementary school, seem to appear in news pages too often. 


There are also traffic concerns, especially on streets with no sidewalks -- no matter the pedestrian''s age. The street in this case was a particularily trecherous (for pedestrians) stretch of 18th Avenue North leading up the hill from Seventh Street toward Military Road. 


The actions of the police officer notwithstanding, we''d like to think that this was an example of a positive aspect of small-town life, that the 911 calls were rooted in a genuine concern for a lone child. 


If this episode and the resulting media exposure makes parents consider their children''s safety, it will have been a good thing. 


And, as one soccer sideline parent told another Monday evening, with all the obiesity confronting us today, maybe parents should walk with their children to school and sports practice.



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Reader Comments

Article Comment Chris Ward commented at 4/20/2009 3:43:00 PM:

So, your Chief of Police, using statistics, reason and logic decrees that the streets of your town are safe to walk for local 10-year-olds in broad daylight for periods of up to 15 minutes at a time.
You don't agree with him. As he's already used statistics, reason and logic, upon what did you base your editorial?


Article Comment KateNonymous commented at 4/20/2009 4:41:00 PM:

It's a shame that the writer of this piece--and the editors--have chosen to promote mindless fear over critical thinking.


Article Comment C.McCord commented at 4/20/2009 5:59:00 PM:

"...just because a child can do it, and a parent can allow it, should they?"


Parents should be doing everything they can to encourage their children to be outgoing self sufficient individuals. How are children supposed to grow up if they are never allowed to do anything out of their parents watchful eyes? 10 years old is plenty old enough for a child to walk 1/2 a mile by themselves. If a child isn't given chances to expand their independence as children how will they ever be able to become self supporting adults?


Article Comment RachelADavis commented at 4/20/2009 6:03:00 PM:

This article is complete rubbish, summed up it says a boy walked to a sports practice alone, nothing bad happened to him (in fact half the town seemed to be looking out for his safety), the police chief said this was a safe thing for him to be doing so parents be scared - lock your kids inside! What rubbish! If anything this story should have been written to encourage parents to give their children a bit more freedom in the safety of their safe neighborhood. Of course that would probably sell fewer papers.


Article Comment Stephanie commented at 4/20/2009 6:56:00 PM:

I agree with all of the above comments, this is absolutely ridiculous. He's ten years old for goodness sakes! Kudos to the mother!


Article Comment Constance commented at 4/20/2009 7:44:00 PM:

"Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone."

Nowadays the kid might get picked up by a cop and the mom might get vilified in a local paper. This despite the fact that kids are even safer today than they were "decades ago." Yes, things certainly have changed.

Editors, as journalists you should be investigating and commenting on this baseless and damaging paranoia, rather than mindlessly adding to it.


Article Comment Nicola commented at 4/20/2009 7:46:00 PM:

Oh thank goodness for the voices of reason in the comments here. It's absolutely ridiculous that this editorial was written as a slam against parents trying to raise responsible, HEALTHY, kids. If a 10-year-old can't walk down a street in a small rural town with everyone's eyes watching over him and a cop able to catch up with him at the drop of a hat, I don't know what the world is coming to. It's stupidity at the highest level - and a way to sell some papers (as was mentioned).

Shame on you, opinion writer, for hyping up baseless fears without the second thought of backing them up with statistics (which will point to the fact that kids actually are overwhelmingly safe). Shame on you for wanting a generation of fat kids (1 in 4 are being reported obese already - and stats are out saying that by 2030 with current trends, 89% of Americans will be OBESE), who have no courage, no self-reliance, and no common sense. Shame on you for choosing to tell parents to lock down their children and throw away the key until they're old enough to care for themselves - which will end up being 25 since no one ever gave them the chance to figure out life before then. Shame on you.


Article Comment kelsomom commented at 4/20/2009 7:52:00 PM:

Reading this article, I would have to assume as an outsider that this chief of police was fudging the facts and that the good citizens knew that there were numerous pedophiles roaming the streets and snatching kids daily, otherwise you have a town stricken with baseless fear. I wonder which one has the worst impact on a child trying to grow up as an independent adult.


Article Comment Karen commented at 4/20/2009 8:08:00 PM:

I resent your "most parents" remark - you certainly don't speak for me on this issue!

If we believe that our children aren't safe even in broad daylight in our own communities, if we lock them away "for their own safety," we do them a grave disservice. Not only will they learn to fear every person they meet, they will never learn about all the good people in the world... they will grow up sad and lonely, and then sit in front of the tube watching the media play up the "strangers are eeeeevil" angle of the news.

And then, they will teach their children to be very, very afraid, too.


Article Comment Cheryl commented at 4/20/2009 8:31:00 PM:

I am a public school teacher of 10-year-olds and the mother of a 9-year-old in that horrifically dangerous area called Los Angeles. And this editorial is one of the most ridiculous pieces of sensationalized fear-mongering I've seen in a very long time.

Statistically, that boy probably would have been in more danger of death or injury from an accident if his mother had put him in a car and driven him there.

10-year-old children are NOT babies, for heaven's sake. The world would be a safer place if more people started teaching their children to be responsible and look out for themselves.


Article Comment William commented at 4/20/2009 8:38:00 PM:

What a sad commentary on a sad little town. Thank you God that I don't live in that little bundle of fear. Did any of you read this out loud? Try it and you might just see how foolish this really is.


Article Comment Andrew commented at 4/20/2009 8:54:00 PM:


I still can't believe that this sensationalist tripe passes for news. I don't know why the media instists on promoting fear and paranoia. It's good to see that we aren't all mindless sheep. Kudos to every commentor that recognizes this "news" for what it is.


Article Comment Colin Principe commented at 4/20/2009 9:15:00 PM:

What absolute tripe. It's no wonder newspapers are going under across the USA. This editorial reads like it was written by an "elementary-aged" child, spelling mistakes and all.


Article Comment Angeline commented at 4/20/2009 10:27:00 PM:

It is interesting how people love to espouse hysterical points of view even when there is nothing to get hysterical about. I have recently moved from a major metropolis to a small town and find that people are more paranoid about safety in the small town, even though there is much less to worry about. I think it comes from watching too much television and not having a sense of perspective.

Dear author of "Walking Lessions": If you feel the need to add drama to your life, do what other sheltered, shallow people do, watch daytime soaps and gossip on the phone while your kids go out and do healthful, enriching things like walk to soccer practice.

The tides are turning and the comments to this editorial show that parents are tired of being sold baseless fear. Facts are too easy to come by (just ask Chief St. John) for us to be guilted into worrying about nothing.


Article Comment Chris commented at 4/21/2009 2:30:00 AM:

Not a single comment supporting this article? Thank God for that.

Cheryl really put her finger on it. The most dangerous thing - by far - you will ever do to your child is put them in a car. When will this fearless editorial page berate parents for driving their kids to soccer practice?


Article Comment Andy commented at 4/21/2009 4:03:00 AM:

Sheesh! On what authority do you, as an editor, seek to dismiss the opinions of the police? Do you know more about statistics, crime and safety than them?

And, by espousing fear and doom as you do in this article, do you not create a vicious circle?

Terrible article, with a terrible opinion - you should be ashamed of sending the USA further into a spiral of unjustified fear.


Article Comment Aaron commented at 4/21/2009 11:21:00 AM:

Don't you think society should be asking the question: "Do we want streets that are far too unsafe for children to traverse?" Why have we all accepted that the structure of our society (and the cult of the automobile) is the best we can do?

If this kid can't walk a couple blocks alone without being in danger (I don't believe it but what if) Then the problem is with the city, not the kid. You know what makes cities safer? A sidewalk with kids on it that motorists become trained to look out for!

It's a nice day, go play outside..


Article Comment Parent to be commented at 4/21/2009 12:53:00 PM:

"Statistically, that boy probably would have been in more danger of death or injury from an accident if his mother had put him in a car and driven him there."

YES! YES! YES! YES! Finally someone who speaks the truth most overprotective parents are too hysterical with fear to even realize. Your kids are in far greater danger riding in your car than walking down the street alone.


Article Comment Misty commented at 4/21/2009 11:36:00 PM:

I agree with that this story is complete crap. What happened to journalists actually verifying statistics before writing a story. Yes, times have changed, people like you would rather write a story like this than encourage parents to give their kids some freedom.


Article Comment Marti commented at 4/22/2009 5:02:00 PM:

No, no, no, everyone; you don't realize what's going on here. The editor wrote his editorial last month and forgot to post it on April 1st. That's all.

(But seriously, look up some statistics, especially those relating to escapes of children in attempted abductions. Whenever a child has been adequately prepared for such a situation the chance of escape is much greater. These are skills that are useful into adulthood, especially for girls. Doesn't it make more sense to teach children how to handle freedom and responsibility so that they will be safe when they are required to use it?)


Article Comment Marcia commented at 5/5/2009 10:37:00 AM:

I was brought up in a small Long Island, NY town in the 40's-50's. We were free to walk alone, play outside, ride our bikes, explore, play games in the street and baseball in vacant lots. We were still cautious but not fearful to step outside our a child, I had two cars with men pull up and expose themselves to me, a child was murdered in a house I walked by on the way to high school. I was a victim of attempted rape...not in my little town but in the 'city'....and the bottom line here is that all of the children and parents continued with the way things were! Years later, thank goodness it was still sane and my children who were brought up in Florida had that same wonderful freedom to roam and have fun! (60's - 80's). My grandson, now 19, was affected some but fortunately did not have helicopter parents but I did feel the pressure from the media. My 3 year old granddaughter, I hope and pray will be able to survive the media fear.


Article Comment Brian commented at 5/6/2009 9:31:00 AM:

I thought hand-wringing think-of-The-Children journalistic nincompoopery was strictly the province of coddled Yankee hacks.


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