Would You Let Your Child Walk to School Alone?

Filed under: In The News, Research Reveals: Big Kids, Research Reveals: Tweens, Research Reveals: Teens

school bus

Fears of child abduction and other dangers stop parents from allowing kids to walk to school alone. Credit: Comstock

Letting your child walk to school alone or wait by herself at the bus stop has become a radical act, thanks to a culture awash in fear from news of child abductions.

It was 30 years ago that a Manhattan mother watched her son walk to the school-bus stop alone, and that was the last time that Julie Patz ever saw her 6-year-old son, Etan. That case, reported The New York Times, is one reason that parents and school officials have created elaborate rules and rituals to help kids travel to and from school safely.

But when does vigilance cross the line? Parents like Lori Pierce of Columbus, Miss., allowed her 10-year-old son to walk one mile to soccer practice last spring and wound up being chastised by police.

According to The Times, passersby spotted her child walking alone and called 911. An officer drove the boy home and allegedly told Pierce that she could face charges if anything were to happen to the boy while he was walking without a parent.

The Times reports that in 1969, 41 percent of kids walked or biked to school, but by 2001 only 13 percent found their own way there, according to the National Household Travel Survey. During that same time period, the number of kids who are driven or drive themselves to school have more than doubled.

A study by the American Planning Association reported that half of parents in the San Francisco Bay Area with kids ages 10 to 14 drive their kids to school, and 30 percent of those same parents said the decision to do so was motivated by a fear of strangers.

Those statistics may be restricted to middle- and upper-income suburban families -- many children in low-income neighborhoods have no choice but to walk to school, The Times pointed out. Some communities may also be lacking in amenities like cross walks and sidewalks, but organizations like Safe Routes to School are working to help those neighborhoods enable and promote biking and walking to school.

Still, the idea of letting kids walk to school alone makes a lot of people nervous, despite statistics that belie their concerns: The Times reports that, according to Federal statistics, about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year -- but 250,000 are injured in auto accidents.

One Tuscon, Ariz., mother told The Times that she used to let her young daughter walk to a friend's house just five houses down on the same side of the street, until that friend's mother drove her child home one day.

"She said, 'I just drove her back, just in case ... you know,' " Amy Utzinger told the newspaper. "What was I supposed to say? How can you argue against 'just in case?'"

Do you or would you let your child walk to school alone?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.