March 25, 2009
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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