Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Attachment, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Family, Fatherless Children, Fatherless Daughters, Fatherless Girls, Friends, Human Nature, Jackie, Jerks, Judgementalism, Life, Living, Love, Lovers, Mental and Emotional Health, Obsession, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Sarah, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Self-determination, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Sexuality, Society

All the Young Women

SUMMARY: I take a look at the women I met some years ago in Colorado Springs, and then draw a few conclusions about the challenges they faced at that time in their lives.

(About a 8 minute read)

People are often more predictable than life itself.  I can often predict, with surprising accuracy, what a long-term friend will do in almost any situation, but my life has taught me that it can be considerably more difficult to predict where I will be in a year or two.

I certainly did not expect when I came to Colorado that I would soon know — at least casually — about 200 young men and women twenty years younger than me, nor that about two dozen of them would befriend me.

Yet that’s what happened — largely as a direct consequence of my choosing to frequent a coffee shop that both served the cheapest cup in town and was the hang out of hundreds of local high school students.  Since it was also the oldest and most established coffee shop in town, it was also the hang out of everyone else — from the mayor and some city council members to several homeless people.

Continue reading “All the Young Women”

Abuse, Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Alienation, Art, Artist, Attached Love, Attachment, Celibacy, Competence, Erotic Love, Ethics, Free Spirit, Horniness, Human Nature, Lovers, People, Political Issues, Quality of Life, Relationships, Self, Self-Knowledge, Sex, Sexuality, Sexualization, Values, Wisdom

I Dumped Her When She Soaked Me With Buckets of Love

(About a 6 minute read)

Ask nearly anyone to sum up adolescence in a few words and most likely one of those words will be “confusing”.  Whatever else it is, that word is just as focused on a key truth as a teenage boy is focused on his friend’s suddenly perky nipples the very first time he espies them by the light of the werewolf moon.

What is often not mentioned, however, is how frequently adolescent confusions turn all manner of relationships into cruel ropes that jerk their victims back when they try to run from a bad situation.  Even blind or unintended abuse is magnified by the fact kids bond so quickly and firmly to each other.

Continue reading “I Dumped Her When She Soaked Me With Buckets of Love”

Adolescence, Children, Cultural Change, Culture, Life, New Idea, News and Current Events, Sexuality, Teresums

A Cranky Old Man’s Opinion of Period Parties

(About a 5 minute read)

One of my insufferable peeves as a cranky old man is that so many of us cranky old men enjoy meddling in much younger women’s sexualities.  Mostly, it takes the form of deciding for much younger women what their proper manner of dress should be.   At least here in Colorado Springs, when you hear someone tut-tutting about a young woman’s manner of dress, it’s usually a cranky old man.

I see that as meddling in a young woman’s sexuality because, of course, the comments are almost never about whether the woman’s outfit is creative, artistically tasteful, expresses her personality, or makes some other kind of statement — no, the comments are usually along the lines of her outfit is too sexually revealing in one way or another.

I myself am not the most astute or wisest cranky old man on the planet, but I did manage to learn a long time ago that young women typically put a whole lot more thought into their clothing, and into what they wish to accomplish with their choices, than I do.  So I tend to defer to their judgment except in the case of Teresum’s judgment — I mean, really?  Lime green striped mini-skirts with knee high paisley socks and florescent yellow plastic tops?  What’s she trying to do?  Scare to death Australia’s salt water crocodiles?  and besides, if a young woman chooses to dress pretty, or even sexy,  I figure she deserves to be honored with a silver medal for doing a public service by making life more interesting.

Of course, not every cranky old man thinks as I do, and — recently — I came across a new source of grievance for at least a few cranky old men.

Yes, just when I thought there was already enough meddling by cranky old men in young women’s sexualities, I discovered there happens to be a new way for us to meddle.

Period parties.

Period parties are parties given to young women in celebration of their first period.  A couple days ago, The New York Post published an article on them in which it described the parties as becoming “increasingly common”:

Period parties focus on educating young girls about menstruation and teaching them the lessons they may not receive in sex education classes at school.

It’s intended to be an open space, where girls can discuss starting their period, ask questions and debunk any myths they may have heard from friends (like the age-old “can you get pregnant while on your period?”)

It’s not just about education, though.

Many young girls often feel apprehensive about starting their period. For parents, period parties are about making the occasion something to celebrate, rather than fear.

Now, if you’re wondering what period parties have to do with cranky old men, you’re not alone.  I was wondering the very same thing when — you guessed it — a cranky old man (almost my own age) remarked, “What’s next?  Parties for a boy’s first nocturnal emission?”  And he wasn’t really joking.  He thought the idea was ridiculous.

He also thought he himself was a fair judge of what they should (or should not) mean to young women, and defended his view that the parties were ridiculous and on a level with celebrating nocturnal emissions.  Another cranky old man, same age as me, chipped in, “Ok, my head just imploded”.

Such wit!  The retirement homes will no doubt soon be bidding to draft either or both of them.  But more to the point, I simply don’t understand why it’s any of their business?

In my admittedly obnoxious opinion, cranky old men like me need to get completely out of the business of telling young women how to handle their sexuality — unless, perhaps, we have some genuine insight that might be of actual help to them.  But how often is that?  “That shade of red lipstick doesn’t favor your complexion, my dear.  Let me get my magic markers and I’ll fix it for you!”

Ok.  Maybe even cranky old men have more genuinely wise advice to offer young women (and others) than I’m letting on here.  You don’t need to be a perfect sage to advise a young person who is determined to “terminate her virginity with extreme prejudice” (as a 17 year old friend once phrased it) in order to advise her to use birth control.  And you only have to be marginally sensitive to the issues a young woman faces in order to encourage her to set and maintain her own boundaries in a relationship.

But let’s get real.  What do most of us cranky old men really know about how young women feel about themselves as they go through the changes brought on by puberty? Even those of us who have listened to a lot of young women on that and similar subjects are unlikely to grasp what a first period might mean to someone.  Should we be so quick to ridicule period parties, then?

In my opinion, American culture is far too oriented towards youth.  But I wonder how much of that is brought about in part because cranky old men like me typically don’t spend a whole lot of time, nor make that much of an effort, to listen to kids these days —  before we pronounce judgment on them.  Which assumes that pronouncing judgment is even necessary most of the time.  The ages have become segregated, and I do not believe that is a good thing.

There is so much cranky old men (and cranky old women too!) — if they have any wisdom at all — could provide young people that would be of genuine help to them, that I just can’t see judging and condemning things like period parties as anything other than a waste.

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Alienation From Self, Art, Artist, Authenticity, Being True To Yourself, Coffee Shop Folks, Coffee Shop Stories, Ethics, Free Spirit, Happiness, Life, Love, Meaning, Morality, Morals, Neil, People, Quality of Life, Relationships, Religion, Sarah, Self, Sexuality, Spirituality, Values, Wisdom

Neil and the Soul of an Artist

(About a 5 minute read)

Neil was raised in a tiny settlement in the San Luis Valley by artists.  The San Luis — over a mile above sea level, and the largest alpine valley in the world — is Colorado’s poorest region.

Because it’s so poor, the cost of living is moderate, and maybe it’s the cost of living that attracts the artists.  More than 500 working artists make their homes in the Valley.

Yet, because artists are quirky people, it might be more than the cost of living that attracts so many of them to the San Luis.  It could be the miles of open space, for instance.  Or the huge elk herd, the bald eagles and the sandhill cranes.  Or perhaps even the stars — for at night, the sky above the San Luis explodes with the music of light.

Neil’s parents were not religious people but they sent their son to church each Sunday.  When he was 13 or 14, he rebelled.  He told his parents he hated church, didn’t believe a word of anything he heard there, and was a confirmed agnostic.  “Good”, said his mother and father, “You’ve learned everything a church can teach you about life: Nothing.  We could have told you that ourselves about churches, but we wanted you to figure it out.  You can stop going now.”

When Neil turned old enough for high school, his parents decided he needed a better school than the one in the settlement.  So they packed Neil off to live with his grandmother in Colorado Springs and to attend Palmer High.  There, in his first art class, he met Sarah and Beth.  The three shared an intense interest in art and quickly became best friends.

It was Sarah who introduced me to Neil.  Sarah was regular at the Coffee Shop, and the two of us now and then shared each other’s company.  At 16, she was poised, sophisticated, and self-confident.  She liked to flirt with older men, even though she knew, as she put it, that she “couldn’t let it go anywhere”, and she once told me how much I disappointed her because I wouldn’t flirt.  I felt like a killjoy, and wrote a poem about her to make amends.

Sarah, Beth, and Neil spent hours together each day.  They seemed more mature than many kids their age.  For one thing, both Neil and Sarah held themselves much like adults, and all three of them would look you right in the eye when listening or speaking to you.  For another thing, there were seldom conflicts between them, and the three friends were remarkably free from adolescent dramas.

Back in those days, I heard enough adolescent dramas to fill a social calendar.  I had somehow stumbled into the role of confident for many of the kids who hung out at the Coffee Shop.  Sometimes, up to a half-dozen kids a day would confess their woes to me — pretty much one kid after the other.  Yet, I understood their need to talk and never rejected them.

Most of their stories were about sex and relationships, and some of the stories were painful to hear, because there were kids who kept repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  Yet, even the kids who didn’t repeat their mistakes — kids like Sarah, for instance — still seemed determined to make an allotted number of foolish mistakes, for how else do people learn?  I quickly discovered the role of confident was often more depressing than rewarding.

Through-out high school, Sarah, Beth and Neil remained as best friends, but when it was time for college, they parted ways.  Each went to a different university, and while Sarah and Beth stayed in contact with each other, Neil dropped out of the group.

I recall Neil was 22 and back from college when I ran across him one evening at the Coffee Shop.  We chatted for a while and I suggested we go to a restaurant for something to eat.

We ordered beer with our food, and were soon rambling along from one topic to the next.  A few beers into the evening, Neil decided to tell me how he lost his virginity.  “Was it Sarah?”, I asked.  I knew she’d been sexually active from the age of 16, and given their close friendship, it seemed logical to suspect her of having been his first partner.

“Not at all”, Neil said, “I wasn’t ready for sex back then, and I knew it.”

“I’m curious how you knew that about yourself.”

“I don’t make really important decisions up here”, he said, pointing to his forehead, “Instead, I go with what my soul tells me.”  He looked at me quizzically.  “Do you believe we have a soul, Paul?”

I didn’t want to sidetrack us into metaphysics, so I said, “I believe I can understand what you’re getting at.  Do you mean something like your sense of yourself…of who you are…of what’s right for you?”

“Yes!  That’s close!  I knew I wasn’t ready for sex because the opportunities never felt right to me.  None of them passed the soul test.  I didn’t want my first time to feel wrong in any way.”

“Was it ever hard waiting?”

“Sometimes.  Everyone else was having sex, and I wanted to have sex.  I was always horny.  It’s not like I wasn’t.”

“So what happened?” At that point, I wanted him to cut to the chase.

“Last year, I finally met the person I knew was right for me.  We met in a bar, but we weren’t drunk, and everything just clicked.  I knew she was the one.”

“Did you have sex that night?”

“No.  I called her on Thursday, a few days later, and we got together that Saturday.  I wasn’t in a hurry.  I knew it was going to happen.  I took her to dinner, and we went to her place afterwards.  That’s when I lost my virginity.  And I was right to wait. I was vindicated.  It was beautiful, Paul.  It felt perfect and it was beautiful.”

“Was it her first time too?”

“Oh no!  She was 26 last year — an older woman, and experienced.”

“Are you two still together?”

“No”, he said, “We never got together as a couple.  That wasn’t something she wanted or I wanted, and we understood that about each other from the start.  We’re friends now, but we’ve only had sex that one time.”

“I’m very proud,” he went on, “that I waited until everything felt right…until I knew it was right.”

“Not many people do that, Neil.”, I remarked, “Did your parents raise you to consult your soul?”  I had a strong suspicion at this point that Neil’s parents, both artists, raised him to pay careful attention to his “soul”.  It seemed like something artists would do naturally — perhaps even do necessarily.

“Very much so.”, Neil said, and he went on about that for a while.  But I wasn’t really following him at that point.

I’d begun to feel the beer and my mind was wandering back to the days when Neil was in high school and I was something of the neighborhood confident for a third of the kids at the Coffee Shop.  Neil had made the decision that was right for him and come out shining.  All in all, his story was one of the best I’d heard then or now, and I felt grateful to him for sharing it with me.


This post was originally published July 7, 2008, and was last updated April 23, 2017 for clarity.

Adolescence, Adolescent Sexuality, Biology, Don, Evolution, God, God(s), Humor, Late Night Thoughts, Life, Lust, Morality, Nature, People, Politicians and Scoundrels, Quotes, Religion, Science, Self, Self Identity, Self Image, Sexuality, Sexualization, Verbal Abuse, Village Idiots

Late Night Thoughts: Friday, March 17, 2017

(About an 8 minute read)

I turned 60 a couple months ago. One of the things I’ve enjoyed about getting older has been that I don’t worry as much about my mistakes as I used to when I was younger.

I still make as many — or even more — mistakes as I ever did, but I just don’t worry about them as much. Instead, I let the victims of my mistakes do the worrying, for part of my getting older has been my learning how to properly delegate responsibility.

I recently got involved in a discussion of nudity.  Someone said that nudity was against Christian principles for women.  That is, women should be modest in their apparel.

Then someone else pointed out there wasn’t much that was more modest than nudity.  “Hard to put on airs when you ain’t got nothing else on.”

Do you suppose American women, by and large, have similar handwriting?

At least, it’s my impression that a woman’s handwriting usually resembles other women’s handwriting to a greater degree than a man’s handwriting is apt to resemble other men’s handwriting.  Put differently, it seems more difficult to tell women apart than it seems it is to tell men apart.

If that is indeed the case, then why is it the case?

And if it is true of American women, is it true of women elsewhere?

I’ve heard people say we can never know for certain what it feels like to be someone else.  But is that really true? Is it never possible to know for certain what it feels like to be someone else?

Yesterday, I was with my friend Don for a late lunch. Don and I go back a long ways and we know each other pretty well.

At one point during our lunch, he said something that was so profound it went completely over my head and I couldn’t even begin to fathom what he meant.  I felt lost and stupid.

Then I suddenly realized: “Surely, this is what it feels like to be a politician!”

Who am I?

If you ask most of us who we are, we will answer you by naming one or another relationship. We are, for instance, a husband.  Or a golfer.  Or a businessman.  But to say we are a husband, or a golfer, or a businessman, is each case to define our self in terms of the relationship we have to something.

In contrast, we tend not to define our self in terms of what is happening with us at any given moment.  I do not think of myself as someone whose shoulder is itching. Or as someone who happens to be looking at a computer monitor.  Or as someone who is wishing it was dawn.  All of those are transient things — too transient for me to think of them as “me”.

Yet, being a husband, a golfer, or a businessman are also transient.  That is, if you really think about it, you are not simply “a husband”.  You are only sometimes a husband.  Just as your shoulder only sometimes itches.  And it is only a convention of thought that you imagine yourself to always — or continuously — be a husband.

The Cosmic Dancer, declares Nietzsche, does not rest heavily in a single spot, but gaily, lightly, turns and leaps from one position to another. It is possible to speak from only one point at a time, but that does not invalidate the insights of the rest. – Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1968, p. 229.

While it might be true Nietzsche never wrote what Campbell attributes to him, Campbell’s “paraphrase” of Nietzsche’s views ranks as a sharp insight in itself.

We humans sometimes wish to construct systems of thought — worldviews — that are consistent throughout and encompass everything.  Yet, such “views” are simply beyond us, and might even be logically impossible.

So, perhaps the best we can do is to become Cosmic Dancers.  That is, folks who are capable of looking at things from many angles and perspectives, who are capable of dancing between views, but who do not settle dogmatically on any one point of view.

The mane is thought to keep the neck warm, and possibly to help water run off the neck if the animal cannot obtain shelter from the rain. It also provides some fly protection to the front of the horse, although the tail is usually the first defense against flies.

Wikipedia

I’m not buying it.  I find it implausible that manes would evolve because horses with manes had warmer necks, and that their warmer necks proved to be significant to their reproductive success.  There must be some other reason manes evolved.

But what would that be?

I was thinking sexual selection.  That is, I was thinking manes are like the male peacock’s tail.  It provides no survival advantage, but the female peacock’s like it. So the females pick the males with the best tails to mate with.  That’s what I was thinking.

But then I remembered that both male and female horses have manes. So now I’m thinking sexual selection probably isn’t the reason horses evolved manes.

But what is the reason?

For the sake of discussion, let us assume there’s an able god.  By “able”, I mean that god is capable of doing anything that does not violate the rules of logic.  For instance, it can create the universe, but it cannot create a square circle because a square circle is logically impossible.

Next, let us assume that god unconditionally loves all of creation, including each one of us.

Is that scenario logically possible?

Well, I think it is possible. I would not account it very probable. It’s not something I’d bank on.  But possible?  Yes.

Now, let us assume the same two conditions — an able god and that god’s unconditional love — plus a third condition.

The third condition is there exists a hell that is a part of creation and to which people are sent after their death if they disobey the god.

Is the new scenario logically possible?

I do not think so.  Instead,. I think the new scenario involves a logical contradiction and consequently cannot exist.  That is, it cannot be real.  But what is that contradiction?

Well, how can you logically have an able god that loves you unconditionally and also causes you to go to hell if you disobey that god?

So far as I can see, you cannot.  An unconditionally loving god would neither impose a condition upon it’s love ( i.e. if you do not obey me, I will not love you) nor would an unconditionally loving god, if it were able to prevent it, allow it’s beloved to come to harm (i.e. if you do not obey me, I will cause or allow you to go to hell).

But what do you think?  Is it an amusing logic puzzle?  Or have I just had too much caffeine again?

Four Quotes From Voltaire:

Les habiles tyrans ne sont jamais punis.

— Clever tyrants are never punished.

C’est une des superstitions de l’esprit humain d’avoir imaginé que la virginité pouvait être une vertu.

It is one of the superstitions of the human mind to have imagined that virginity could be a virtue.

Nous cherchons tous le bonheur, mais sans savoir où, comme les ivrognes qui cherchent leur maison, sachant confusément qu’ils en ont une.

We all look for happiness, but without knowing where to find it: like drunkards who look for their house, knowing dimly that they have one.

Il y a eu des gens qui ont dit autrefois: Vous croyez des choses incompréhensibles, contradictoires, impossibles, parce que nous vous l’avons ordonné; faites donc des choses injustes parce que nous vous l’ordonnons. Ces gens-là raisonnaient à merveille. Certainement qui est en droit de vous rendre absurde est en droit de vous rendre injuste. Si vous n’opposez point aux ordres de croire l’impossible l’intelligence que Dieu a mise dans votre esprit, vous ne devez point opposer aux ordres de malfaire la justice que Dieu a mise dans votre coeur. Une faculté de votre âme étant une fois tyrannisée, toutes les autres facultés doivent l’être également. Et c’est là ce qui a produit tous les crimes religieux dont la terre a été inondée.

Formerly there were those who said: You believe things that are incomprehensible, inconsistent, impossible because we have commanded you to believe them; go then and do what is unjust because we command it. Such people show admirable reasoning. Truly, whoever is able to make you absurd is able to make you unjust. If the God-given understanding of your mind does not resist a demand to believe what is impossible, then you will not resist a demand to do wrong to that God-given sense of justice in your heart. As soon as one faculty of your soul has been dominated, other faculties will follow as well. And from this derives all those crimes of religion which have overrun the world.

(Source)

A while back, I was sitting in a coffee shop when I noticed — just beyond the window — a girl of about 14 or 16 dressed in a highly sexualized manner.  That is, her clothing was flamboyantly sexual even for an adolescent.  Moverover, she was flirting with a boy, who appeared a bit older than her, and she very soon straddled his lap in order to grind against him.  I couldn’t recall when I had last seen in public such an overt display of sexuality — outside of an erotic dance club.

Now, the girl was not physically attractive by American conventions. For one thing, she was much too fat to be fashionable.  For another thing, she had a rather plain face thickly coated with cosmetics.  And, though her clothing was notable for being revealing, it did not seem that she had put much thought into the combination she’d chosen.

So, it wasn’t long before I began to wonder whether the poor girl might be suffering from low self-esteem.  That is, it seemed possible that she thought of herself as not having much to offer the boys besides sex.

I was thinking along those sad lines when I heard a male voice at the table behind me say, “God! Look at that slut!”

Of course, I don’t know whether he was talking about the girl, or about someone else.  I didn’t ask.  Yet, I assumed he was indeed talking about the girl — and that made me feel old.  Old and tired.

You see, the one attractive thing I had noticed about the girl in the few minutes I’d been watching her was that she seemed so full of life.  Even if her dress and mannerisms were motivated by low self-esteem — and I didn’t know that for certain — she appeared at the moment happy.  She was, if only for a while, the queen of her universe.  It wearied me to think anyone would simply dismiss her as a slut.

Abstinence Only Sex Ed, Abuse, Adolescence, Children, Culture, Education, Health, Late Night Thoughts, Sexuality, Sexualization, Society, Values

The Two Most Popular American Attitudes Towards Sex?

Popular American culture seems to be dominated by two contrasting attitudes towards human sexuality.

On the one hand, you have the attitude that manifests itself in the stupid sexualization of youth.

It must seem to any neutral observer that America’s media, with surprisingly few exceptions,  is absolutely obsessed with sexualizing ever younger and younger children.  What else can you make of such nonsense as thongs and fishnet stockings made for preteens?  Yet, the science is in on this absurd practice: Studies show that such sexualization has numerous negative consequences and few or no benefits.  So what is the attitude — the thinking, as it were — of the people who perpetrate this blunder?

I believe what underlies the sexualization of youth is pretty murky, rather than clear cut.  Surely, some people are promoting sexualization in order to exploit kids for financial and business gain.  But what attitude or thought process encourages the mother who puts her eight year old daughter in fishnets?   That mother cannot be said to be doing it for financial or business gain.  But if not, then what is she thinking?  That puzzles me.

On the other hand, in American culture you have the attitude that manifests itself in the equally stupid abstinence only sex education movement.

I think the attitude that underlies abstinence only sex education is more clear cut than the attitudes that underlie the sexualization of youth.  That’s to say, underlying abstinence only sex education is a peculiar blind and obstinate prudishness.   There may be other attitudes mixed in with that one, but I will wager that prudishness is predominant.

Abstinence only sex education is only the sharp tip of that prudishness.  The same prudishness also manifests itself in a pervasive fearfulness towards sex that at times is indistinguishable from wretched hysteria.  That astonishing fearfulness is often accompanied by ignorance,  unrealistic expectations, squeamishness, and even outright rejection of ones sexuality.  We often make fun of prudishness in this country, but it is perhaps equally possible to think of it as crippling.

Both of these popular American attitudes towards sexuality — both the attitudes that manifest as the sexualization of youth and the attitude that manifests as abstinence only sex education (among other things) — are dysfunctional. 

In my opinion, Americans could not have picked two attitudes towards sex more stupid than those two.  Indeed, the fact those two ideas are the predominant ideas about sex in American popular culture severely argues against the notion that our country is, or has ever been, blessed by a deity.

Anyway, that’s how I see it.  So what have I overlooked here?

Abuse, Adolescence, Children, Family, Quality of Life

Is Lenore Skenazy “America’s Worst Mom”?

Last night, I was blissfully stumbling through the blogosphere when I landed on “Free-Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy, an author and columnist who is sometimes called, “America’s Worst Mom”.

She “earned” that title by one day allowing her 9-year-old to find his way home — all on his own — via the subway and buses of New York City:

Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.

Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

After her son made it safely home, brimming with a new-found sense of independence, she wrote about his experience in a column for the New York Sun. That got her invited onto several talk shows — at least one of which billed her as “America’s Worst Mom”.  People quickly accused her of neglect and child abuse.

Are those charges justified?

The thought of a 9-year-old boy negotiating his way alone through the streets of New York City alarms us.  We can easily imagine all sorts of horrors happening to such a kid.  Many of us fear to allow our children out of our sight, let alone allow them to ride the subway by themselves.   But Lenore Skenazy — and perhaps a growing number of other parents — believe those fears are largely misplaced.

Skenazy argues that parents fear for their children’s safety way more than is warranted today.  According to her, we have become a hyper-vigilant nation of overly protective parents.  And the facts simply don’t justify our common perception that children are at exceedingly great risk of harm.

For instance, according to some crime statistics that Skenazy cites, the odds of a child being abducted by a stranger or slight acquaintance are about one chance in 1,500,000.  To translate that into more concrete terms, you would on average need to leave your child unprotected for about 750,000 years before you could be sure she would be abducted.  In 1999, there were only 115 such kidnappings in the United States.

In a recent interview, Skenazy elaborated on why these days we might feel the world is not a safe place for our children despite the facts that suggest it is:

The world is actually safer, statistically, than it was when I was growing up. In the 1970s and 1980s, crime was going up in the States, peaking around 1993. Then it came down, back to the level of the 1970s. It just doesn’t feel that way.

Now there’s the 24-hour news cycle. There is not one episode today of Law & Order that could have been aired before, say, 1971. It’s so graphic and disturbing and violent. It’s on every night of the week. Parents watch it, kids watch it.

Those images don’t just go away, even though our rational minds know they’re fiction. Those images are the first to come to mind when you ask yourself, “How safe is it for my kids go outside?” You don’t think of yourself walking to school – it’s so mundane that it doesn’t come to mind. But I can picture a missing child’s photo…. That’s how we think these days. If one child in the entire country is kidnapped and held for 18 years, that’s what we should be basing all our decisions on – the very outside, worst-case-scenario that something bad could happen.

The notion that television might be warping our sense of reality and needlessly increasing our fears has been around for some time.  I recall reading about 35 years ago a study published in Psychology Today that suggested people who watch a lot of TV tend to overestimate life’s dangers.  Since then, there have been numerous studies collaborating that one.  So, Skenazy could very well be correct to suppose TV is a cause of exaggerated fears.

She proposes that parents put aside their fears to give their children more independence:

We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.

I think in that, she makes a great deal of sense.  There are parents today who will not let a 7-year-old walk a block to their friend’s house, nor even allow her to go unescorted to the mailbox.   There are kids who are not allowed to play unsupervised.  Surely,  most neighborhoods are not so dangerous as to justify that sort of hovering attention.

I do have a major concern with Skenazy’s statistics.  The figure she often cites — one chance in 1,500,000 of a kid being kidnapped — is very likely misleading.

The figure seems to be based on the NISMART October 2002 Non-Family Abducted Children Report (.pdf), which found that only 115 children had been victims of stereotypical kidnappings in 1999.  But a stereotypical kidnapping is a rather special case:

During the study year, there were an estimated 115 stereotypical kidnappings, defined as abductions perpetrated by a stranger or slight acquaintance and
involving a child who was transported 50 or more miles, detained overnight, held for ransom or with the intent to keep the child permanently, or killed.

Of more concern to us might be kidnappings that did not involve transporting the victims 50 or more miles and detaining them overnight.  There were — not 115 — but 58,200 of those in 1999.   Children are at significantly greater risk of abduction than Skenazy’s favored statistic might lead us to believe.

I don’t think it can be doubted that Skenazy documents numerous examples of excessive and irrational fears for the safety of children on her blog.  I do believe, however, that children are at a much greater risk of abduction than she seems to think.  Yet, it seems to me her main point — that children need more independence than our fears are allowing them — is probably a very good one.  The question is finding the right balance.