The XX Factor

Why Can’t They Walk in Groups?

Amanda, I would like to be one of those parenting rebels who let their children walk to school by themselves. (In the New York Times story yesterday, one mother was reprimaded by a police officer, after passersby saw her 10-year-old son walking alone and called 911. Other mothers got scolding calls from school administrators or fellow parents.) Of course, better safe than sorry feels like the correct operating assumption. We all understand that child abductions are rare, but those stories about Jaycee Duggard and Etan Patz, the New York boy abducted in 1979, are hard to get out of your head.

Emily, you once raised the other side of the equation which Amanda mentions : overdependence, fear of the streets, lack of confidence. My husband and I recently calculated that in the 8 years of my daughter’s existence, she has probably spent a total of some minutes-yes, minutes-outside the supervision of an adult. (At the pool, she walks and gets ice cream from the little concession. Maybe 10 such trips equals 40 minutes.) You also, argued, Emily, that it depends on a lot of factors: how old the kid is, what the neighborhood is like, what time of day it is.

Here is my central question: I feel like these stories always titillate by saying the singular “she” or “walks alone.” What about in groups? I walked back and forth to school every day, probably starting in third grade. But I wasn’t alone. I walked with my friends. Next year my daughter moves to a school about 15 minutes away, in an OK urban neighborhood. The school wants parents to let their kids walk, to cut down on the driving. I desperately want her to as well, but I’m also desperately worried. What to do?

Photograph of kids walking to school by Photodisc.