Free Range Children Vs. Litigious Social Environment

In fact, by focusing on liability and not teaching our kids how to take risks, we are making their world more dangerous. When we were children, we had to learn to evaluate risks and handle them on our own.

Exactly. That’s Chris Daly, quoting from his own 1995 Atlantic article, being quoted on Doc Searls’s blog. And Aunt Harriet and Uncle Bob live on Spy Pond, so give them a wave for me, Doc.

4 thoughts on “Free Range Children Vs. Litigious Social Environment

  1. … and yet there is the comment by deb, to that post, which haunts me.

    Do Harriet and Bob live in one of those fab old houses that look down on the pond from the north side? If so, they have my envy.

    We actually fantasized briefly about buying a house that was for sale on a corner of the pond. Since then it has been bought, fixed up, chopped into condos, and re-sold. Not what we would have done, but not ugly, either.

    I gotta say that there’s a bit more respect for the looks of a neighborhood here in New England than there was in New Jersey when I was growing up. (Dunno if that’s changed. Haven’t been back.) Or than there was in North Carolina. I have been back there, fairly often, and — for example — was appalled to see how Guilford College Road, an path that led straight into the campus of its namesake (also my alma mater), was diverted to make room for a gas station, smack across from the campus entrance. There could not possibly be an excuse for that, other than civic avarice (by the town also called Guilford College), graft, contempt for the college itself, or the complete absence of taste.

  2. That’s absolutely right, Doc, and your response to Deb seems quite right, too.
    We all want our loved ones — heck, everyone’s loved ones — to flourish in safety. But part of Chris’s point, and part of your point, is that we can’t make that happen by swathing them in protection.
    It’s the same kind of point that Bruce Scheier (and you too) have been making about National Security. There’s irresponsible heedlessness at one extreme (“Heck yeah, bring your ol’ bombs aboard planes, see if we care”) and totalitarian intrusiveness on the other (“Now, for the cavity search. . . .”), and somewhere between the two lies a sensible policy congruent with a well-ordered state, conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that citizens should not be required to cede their freedom in order to attain [an ultimately illusory] security. I ranged around my neighbourhoods when I was a kid, running freely through semi-rural woods in Maine, taking buses all over Pittsburgh. That seems good and right to me, and I tended to encourage my children to explore more than many other parents I knew. (I expect that the kids may have a different perspective, and other parents will want to assert their prudent best motivations, which I do not dispute in either case.)
    I believe I recall reading research, though, that suggested that the world was not less dangerous when we were children, Doc; and I don’t think that vigilant protection of children has forestalled a statistically noteworthy array of catastrophic accidents and crimes.
    That point is irrelevant to anyone who has felt the pain of such a disaster. Each life is incalculably irreplaceable, is significant in ways that trivialize statistics.
    And…. Disasters, accidents, illnesses, crimes happen anyway. As Scheier points out, many of the steps we take to heighten security actually make fraud easier and more attractive. As epidemiologists point out, the disinfectant culture of hygiene increases bacterial resistance and diminishes human resistance (I think that’s what I’ve read — I’m not posing as an epidemiologist). I don’t presume to know exactly what the unintended consequences of heightened parental vigilance will turn out to have been — we’ll learn that, awkwardly, in retrospect — but I’m as sure as I’m sitting here in Glasgow that there will be unintended consequences, and not all of them will be good.
    Should we encourage kids to skate on open ice without parental supervision? I’d hesitate to say so, but then I’d also hesitate to say “No way.” And anyone who’s lost a child or sibling (or parent) under those circumstances is perfectly entitled to underscore that open ice is a risky phenomenon. I take it that Chris’s essay, though, and your post remind us that we can’t construct a risk-free environment for our children (or ourselves) — and that by walling off particular risks we leave ourselves open to others, most apparently the risk of not knowing how to assess and distinguish and prioritize risks. That’s worth your saying, and Chris’s saying, and my affirming.

  3. Thanks. Good reply.

    As I’ve also said about regulation, mostly what we do is protect yesterday from last week. That’s certainly the case with most TSA rules these days, it seems.

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