The XX Factor

Watch Children, Not Parents!

Many of the parents and teachers described in the New York Times article about letting your kids walk to school alone seem to be misdirecting their watchdog inclinations. Our communities have become vigilant about monitoring and admonishing “negligent” parents for letting their kids escort themselves to school. But shouldn’t that energy be going toward watching out for the kids themselves?

I walked to and from school every day from the time I was 8 until I graduated from high school, usually alone. It was a mile’s walk through a nice residential neighborhood in downtown Chicago. Most kids at my school got a ride. I griped about walking when the weather was terrible, but I appreciated the time by myself and the sense of freedom I had. One spring day when I was 13, I was mugged by three older boys from a nearby high school. They held me up at knife-point, emptied out my backpack, frisked me, and ran off when they realized I had nothing but (really) dirty gym clothes to offer them. I sobbed the rest of the way home.

What’s strange about the story is not that I was mugged (I was as obvious a victim as any), but that it occurred in broad daylight on a residential street in a safe neighborhood when people were out walking their dogs, gardening, getting home from work-and not a single person looked up to notice what was happening to me. If we want to live in communities in which kids can be out by themselves, we must, as communities, be watchful of our children. There will always be wild cards-outsiders who sneak in, insiders with devious intentions, reckless drivers-but we ought to be able to depend on one another to keep an eye out, and to intervene if trouble arises.

Photograph of a mother driving her kids to school by Ryan McVay/Getty Images.