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Subject: Free Range Kids. rss

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Billy McBoatface
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When I was in Kindergarten or first grade my friend Glenn and I used to ride our bikes a couple miles to the dump and search through the garbage for cool stuff as the tractors and plows rumbled around next to us. I know how old I was, because by the end of first grade I wasn't friends with Glenn any more (he was a year older and decided that his second grade friends were cooler than me). So yeah, I was a free range kid.

I do think we tend to be overprotective today. My wife is more protective than me. I'm happy to let my 6 year old daughter run up and down the street and look for friends unsupervised, but my wife insists that one of us (or another parent) be able to see her at all times. It's a fight I'm not going to win, so I don't argue. Oh well.
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I'm sure there were just as many child predators back when you and I were young. However... the public is much more aware of such things now and they tend to react in a protective way.

I hate to say it but I'm more likely to look at people in a negative light now... I'm looking at people who perhaps before I might have just assumed were nice folks and wondering at their motivations for talking to mine or any others children.

Considering that letting your kid walk the several blocks to school is really nothing... except the fact that so many of the missing children of the past few years have been just walking several blocks to a friends place or to school or the library... it's all innocent until the panel van drives up and the unknown someone asks for help in finding their puppy.

You can attempt to streetproof your kids but they are kids... they don't always remember why their parents are being paranoid.

I'd love to be back in my home town... the people stopping to offer me a 'ride' whom I had no idea of their identity were always people who knew my mom or my nan or knew that I was the kid who'd 'accidently' blown up that outhouse or something. Today I'd hope they're the same ones... or their kids I'd grown up knowing... but more than likely... they're an unknown quantity and I'm not gambling good intentions on them with my kid.
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I was a free-range kid. My Saturday's would go something like this. My Mom told us we could watch cartoons till 10am, then we had to leave the house and NOT come back in till dinner at 6pm. And she was serious, we had to beg if we had to pee.

Most other nights we were allowed to stay out till the street lights came on. But once HS started, we had a free ticket to come in when ever.

And most of my friends were free range kids. We all rode around the hood on our BMX bikes, went to the dump, played in the arroyos(giant winter drainage ditches), and pretty much went anywhere we could get to.

Not ONE of my friends were ever abducted, or molested by a perv. Mostly because they were afraid of us hooligans riding around in our little gangs.

I had the best fun as a kid.

EDIT: And I lived in a bad neighborhood.
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Billy McBoatface
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mbourgeois wrote:
Considering that letting your kid walk the several blocks to school is really nothing... except the fact that so many of the missing children of the past few years have been just walking several blocks to a friends place or to school or the library... it's all innocent until the panel van drives up and the unknown someone asks for help in finding their puppy.
You're right, there is a risk in letting your kids walk to school without you. But, compare the number of kids abducted by pervs vs. the number of kids who die in car accidents as their parents are driving. You'll find that letting your kids walk to school without you is far safer than taking them along as you drive to the supermarket to shop. So why do you let them go with you to the supermarket, and not let them walk to school? Answer: Because every time a kid is abducted in Florida, it's on every news show in America scaring the hell out of parents, but when a kid in florida dies in a traffic accident, it might not even make the local news.

Both of these are horrible tragedies. But one makes the news and thus becomes what parents fear, the other is treated as no big deal except to those involved.
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The sad truth is that whether or not the child is being "hovered over" or is "free range," there is still that .000-whatever percent change of the terrible and tragic happening. It's a part of life. In my non-statistic-backed opinion the main things a hovering parent are protecting there kids from are some scrapes and bruises and an occasional bullying by another kid--both of which really probably aren't harming them anyway, but helping them grow as a person.
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Drew1365 wrote:
I am beginning to wonder. When I hear an altercation between the kids, my instinct is to go put a stop to it. However, am I subtly telling my children that they are unable to handle it themselves?

It's hard not to immediately run to the site of the problem, but am I just encouraging them to scream for authority as soon as things don't go their way?
I wonder about this too. One problem is that my daughters are 2½ year apart, so if I don't intercede, the 6½ year old will always get her way and the 4 year old will have to always put up with whatever the older sister wants. That doesn't seem right, so when the older starts to bully, I usually step in. Then to make things "fair" I also might step in when the 4 year old is being unreasonable and a fight breaks out. But I always wonder if maybe I'd be better letting them sort it out themselves...who knows. My sister is much more in the "You kids work it out yourselves" camp, and her kids seem fine, so maybe just staying out of it is fine.
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Drew1365 wrote:

I don't believe that "awareness" is necessarily a good thing. Sometimes ignorance is bliss. I'm not advocating carelessness, but I think overprotectiveness can be harmful. And if the effect of the 24-hour all-Geraldo all-the-time news cycle causes us to be suspicious of our fellow humans, then it can't be good.

Statistics indicate that the "stranger in a panel van" scenario is so rare as to be almost mythical.


Yep. Fear is the mind-killer. The sensationalist media doesn't put crime into context, and even if they did there's a predisposition among most adults today to be anxious and distrustful. You have to ask yourself why people seek out lurid and frightening news stories.After all, the media is simply giving the audience what they want.

The world is no more dangerous than it was 30 years ago. Just because you see bad thigns on television more, doesn't mean they're happening more. 30 years ago, you wouldn't hear about a child abduction unless it happened in your own community. Now, every stranger abduction gets 24-hour media coverage across the entire English-speaking world.

The problem is, those of who can put awful but rare events into context, and asses risk rationally, are fighting against an overpowering current of hysteria. Simply raising your own children the way you were raised is going to get you ostracized - or worse. There are loads of anecdotes on the Free Range Kids site of neurotic strangers calling the police because they see a nine-year-old kid walking home alone from a soccer game. It's not enough that most adults today are gripped by hysterical fear - they have to harass those of us who aren't.


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Drew1365 wrote:
I am beginning to wonder. When I hear an altercation between the kids, my instinct is to go put a stop to it. However, am I subtly telling my children that they are unable to handle it themselves?

It's hard not to immediately run to the site of the problem, but am I just encouraging them to scream for authority as soon as things don't go their way?

I usually let my girls duke it out (figuratively; they don't really physically fight). I usually will only intervene if the crying/screaming gets so loud that it's annoying me. The level at which this happens depends on how my day has gone.

If I happen to already be in the room, though, and I see something that is "unjust" (like Older Daughter taking a toy from Younger Daughter) I will be a policeman and make things straight.

But as Bill Cosby once said (in "Bill Cosby Himself", though I'm paraphrasing as best as I can remember) - Parent's aren't interested in Justice: they just want quiet!


My kids aren't really old enough to free-range yet. Well, maybe my oldest is, at 6, but we do let her go outside and play. When she's learned how to ride her bike, I probably won't mind if she rides around the neighborhood and stuff, even go to the park nearby to play for awhile. There are a lot of "free range" kids in my area. I'm not sure if my wife is ready to let go yet, though (And really, since it's all theory so far, maybe I'm not, either?)
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mbourgeois wrote:
I'm sure there were just as many child predators back when you and I were young. However... the public is much more aware of such things now and they tend to react in a protective way.

I hate to say it but I'm more likely to look at people in a negative light now... I'm looking at people who perhaps before I might have just assumed were nice folks and wondering at their motivations for talking to mine or any others children.

Considering that letting your kid walk the several blocks to school is really nothing... except the fact that so many of the missing children of the past few years have been just walking several blocks to a friends place or to school or the library... it's all innocent until the panel van drives up and the unknown someone asks for help in finding their puppy.

You can attempt to streetproof your kids but they are kids... they don't always remember why their parents are being paranoid.

I'd love to be back in my home town... the people stopping to offer me a 'ride' whom I had no idea of their identity were always people who knew my mom or my nan or knew that I was the kid who'd 'accidently' blown up that outhouse or something. Today I'd hope they're the same ones... or their kids I'd grown up knowing... but more than likely... they're an unknown quantity and I'm not gambling good intentions on them with my kid.


About 100 kids are abducted by actual strangers in the USA every year. That number has not increased by any significant amount for decades and, in fact, has gone down.

One wonders how much parental paranoia is absorbed by children today? For example, there is the story of Brennan Hawkins who was lost in the Utah woods for four days back in 2005. He could have been rescued a couple of days earlier but he hid from the hundreds of people searching for him because his parents had convinced him that there were people just waiting to steal him away. Here is an excerpt from the news reports at the time:

"He had two thoughts going through his head all the time," she said. "Toby's always told him that 'if you get lost, stay on the trail.' So he stayed on the trail.

"We've also told him don't talk to strangers. ... When an ATV or horse came by, he got off the trail. ... When they left, he got back on the trail."

"His biggest fear, he told me, was someone would steal him," she said.


This 11-year old boy spent days longer lost in the woods without food or shelter because he was more afraid of "stranger danger" than dying of starvation, thirst or accident. Now, had he gotten hungry enough he might well have allowed himself to be found earlier but he might not have. This is, frankly, absurd.

I have a co-worker whose son is eight. She calls him constantly and requires him to call her when he gets up in the morning (when not in school), has his lunch, or leaves the house for any reason. He is not allowed to play outside while she is not there. He is not allowed to have friends over while she is not home. In short, this child is a prisoner to his overprotective and extremely paranoid mother.

When I was eight I would be outside and wandering as far as I pleased anytime I was not in school. My friends and I traveled by foot or bike all over the small to medium sized town in New Mexico where I grew up. In doing so, I became a confident, self-sufficient adult who is able to find my own way in the world. I also learned how to deal with people and how to speak to people I don't know. I wonder how my co-worker's child will ever learn these skills.

I am a hobbyist photographer. Children are absolutely wonderful photo subjects. When they are playing or learning they are generally uninhibited and joyful which makes for a great shot. I would love to go places where kids play or are have a good time and shoot. I do not do this. I don't do this becuase if I do, I run a very real risk of having the police called on me. I will almost certainly be assumed to be a pedophile by at least some of the parents around and could very well suffer physical violence. No hobbyist photographer I know will shoot anything but an occasional, casual shot of a child he does not know. All of this because of a problem that, in all truthfulness, does not exist in any more frequency that is ever has.

Do we really want our children to grow up thinking that most people they see mean them harm?

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wmshub wrote:
Drew1365 wrote:
I am beginning to wonder. When I hear an altercation between the kids, my instinct is to go put a stop to it. However, am I subtly telling my children that they are unable to handle it themselves?

It's hard not to immediately run to the site of the problem, but am I just encouraging them to scream for authority as soon as things don't go their way?
I wonder about this too. One problem is that my daughters are 2½ year apart, so if I don't intercede, the 6½ year old will always get her way and the 4 year old will have to always put up with whatever the older sister wants. That doesn't seem right, so when the older starts to bully, I usually step in. Then to make things "fair" I also might step in when the 4 year old is being unreasonable and a fight breaks out. But I always wonder if maybe I'd be better letting them sort it out themselves...who knows. My sister is much more in the "You kids work it out yourselves" camp, and her kids seem fine, so maybe just staying out of it is fine.

See, but this is a different situation. You're not only butting in 'cos a kid's being bullied, you're interceding to stop the bullying child. We've got to let kids learn how do deal with jerks, it's true, but we've got to lessen their jerky behavior, as well.
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I've been enjoying that blog for a while.

Also: http://playborhood.com/
and http://filthwizardry.blogspot.com
and http://www.wired.com/geekdad
 
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I think that we can thank people like Tipper Gore and politicians that are looking for an easy "cause" to make them look good for all this nonsense.

I was a free range latch-key kid and I had a great time.

The problem is that the more that parents do this the more it perpetuates danger. I used to run with random kids. Join one group, the group would run into other groups and we'd split up. You'd usually go out with a buddy, but we'd explore with other kids and their buddies. The fewer kids there are that are roaming, the more likely a child could get isolated and be prone to danger (either from someone else or from themselves with no help available) or just be bored and cause real trouble.

"Playdate" is a terrible word, and a worse idea.
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We often talked about this very issue in my education classes. Many people around the world call U.S. Children "Glass children" because we've become so afraid of letting them get hurt and letting them take any kind of risks that they have become risk adverse. This I feel is more damaging that the actual hurts they're likely to experience.

As for abductions, children are most likely to be abducted by someone they actually know than someone they don't know. And the vast majority of cases of sexual abuse is from a family member - not some stranger. But, people would prefer to blame a stranger than someone they know because that is so unthinkable to many, even today.

That said, I do remember being told as a child not to accept rides from a stranger - but I was certainly a free range child. Heck, walked to town several times which was 2 1/2 miles away. Often spent the day roaming the woods, climbing trees, getting poison ivy , scraped knees, whatever. I don't ever remember anybody in my area being abducted until I was in HS.
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mbourgeois wrote:
I'm sure there were just as many child predators back when you and I were young. However... the public is much more aware of such things now and they tend to react in a protective way.


Protective behaviour is based on real, imminent outcomes. Like making sure the kid stays away from an electric fence, or strange dogs, or strangers.

Not letting a kid play outside because a van load of roaming pedophiles might nab him is straight up paranoia.

And honestly, do people really want to raise their kids to be afraid of everyone they meet? (Cautious sure, but terrified?) To believe that danger and ruin are around every corner?

What a lousy, miserable experience that would be.

I think parents in the US need to take a deep breath, shake it off, and go back to just relying on plain old common sense like their parents did.


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Drew1365 wrote:
Like this one?

Quote:
ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- A driver, now identified as an Asheville firefighter, shot a bicycle rider because he was angry the man was riding with his child on a busy road, Asheville police said.

. . .

Officers said the victim was riding with his wife and had his 3-year-old son in a child seat attached to his bicycle when a driver approached him.

Police said the driver, Charles Diez, claimed he was upset that the victim was bike riding with his child on the heavily traveled Tunnel Road.

Diez pulled a gun and opened fire, hitting the victim in his bicycle helmet, according to police.

They said the bullet penetrated the outer lining of the helmet but did not actually hit the victim's head.


Well, maybe not like that one... that seems far enough off the deep end that it's more likely to be a matter of mental illness rather than ideology.

I have a potentially useless analogy - in baseball over the last 30 years, we've seen a complete petrification of strategy regarding usage of relief pitchers, every team has to have one pitcher designated to pitch the ninth inning and only the ninth inning, and he may only be used if his team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, or 4 if there are two men on base, or 5 if the bases are loaded. Why? Because those are the conditions for being credited with a "save", and if you as a manager do anything different, like use your best relief pitcher against the other team's best hitters, or god forbid in a tie game, (I exaggerate, but only a very little) regardless of whether that is better strategy, you are opening yourself to criticism if your team loses. And, some times your team is going to lose. So it's safer to just play it "by the book". You do what everyone else does.
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molnar wrote:

I have a potentially useless analogy - in baseball over the last 30 years, we've seen a complete petrification of strategy regarding usage of relief pitchers, every team has to have one pitcher designated to pitch the ninth inning and only the ninth inning, and he may only be used if his team is ahead by 1 to 3 runs, or 4 if there are two men on base, or 5 if the bases are loaded. Why? Because those are the conditions for being credited with a "save", and if you as a manager do anything different, like use your best relief pitcher against the other team's best hitters, or god forbid in a tie game, (I exaggerate, but only a very little) regardless of whether that is better strategy, you are opening yourself to criticism if your team loses. And, some times your team is going to lose. So it's safer to just play it "by the book". You do what everyone else does.


David, your analogy is close, but not quite. To keep it to baseball and pitchers, I'd say a better analogy is this complete frenzy in baseball over pitch-counts. I guy may be pitching well, with a slim lead in the fifth inning, but if he's already thrown 105 pitches you can bet he won't see the 6th. Unless its a no hitter.

Thirty years ago guys were throwing complete games much more frequently. Sixty or 70 years ago they were throwing both ends of double headers. None of their arms fell off! But now, guys stick to the pitch count and it seems like they're hurt more often than pitchers of yore.

I think this mirrors the "safety pandemic" among parents and children today. All the over-protective efforts of today's parents are yielding marginal results at best, probably doing more harm than good at worst.

Just my two cents.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Kafka wrote:
I am a hobbyist photographer. Children are absolutely wonderful photo subjects. When they are playing or learning they are generally uninhibited and joyful which makes for a great shot. I would love to go places where kids play or are have a good time and shoot. I do not do this. I don't do this becuase if I do, I run a very real risk of having the police called on me. I will almost certainly be assumed to be a pedophile by at least some of the parents around and could very well suffer physical violence. No hobbyist photographer I know will shoot anything but an occasional, casual shot of a child he does not know. All of this because of a problem that, in all truthfulness, does not exist in any more frequency that is ever has.


When I was single and childless, I kept my distance from children for precisely this reason. I always felt like I was being viewed with suspicion. Even now, I am hesitant to talk to other children unless my kids are with me, marking me as a dad.

And I have to admit that I was slightly uncomfortable when an unmarried, childless middle-aged man moved into the house across our back yard. My wife even searched the state databases to see if we had a child molester in the neighborhood.

I feel pretty rotten about that.


Even that might not be enough:

http://tinyurl.com/65qguv

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A few quick random thoughts:

My wife is a prosecutor and from her I have learned a few things. First, there is a lot more sexual abuse of minors than I had previously realized. Most of what I have heard about is from dad / stepdad / relative /friend of the family / mom's boyfriend. In other words, I don't recall any "scary stranger" cases, but lots of abuse cases. Frankly, it is a good think I don't work in these fields because when I hear her talk about some of the cases, I could see myself skipping the whole justice process.

Also, In the same way that the web as made pornography (use whatever defintion you like) more accessible, child pornography has also become more prominent both in its production and trafficking. Since there is now a more reliable deliver method, production (and thus demand for children) has increased. While the "scary stranger" is probably still pretty unlikely, it is not zero and is likely greater than in the past.

While I despise helicopter parenting, I think more supervision might be warranted than we received as children.
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I was allowed to play outside without too much supervision when I was little, but my parents usually wanted me to stay in our yard. If I wanted to go any farther than that they made sure they knew where I was. I also walked to elementary school by myself starting at 4th grade, which was not very far but far enough that you couldn't see it from the house. (In 1st through 3rd grade I lived too far away to walk.) So I guess I was semi-free range by today's standards. Those rules seem reasonable to me, but that may just be because that's what I grew up with.
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Drew1365 wrote:
Kafka wrote:
Even that might not be enough:

http://tinyurl.com/65qguv



Wow.


It is "comforting" (for lack of a better word) to know that this insanity isn't just limited to us crazy Americans. (I mean "comforting" not in a good way, but rather in a way that at least it's maybe a world-wide problem)

As I think about it, when I was young, we had pretty free reign. As young as 8 or 9 years old, I was walking to the mall either by myself or with one or two friends - and the mall was probably a good 2 or 3 miles away, and we usually took a path through a wooded area to get there. I was never abducted that I know of, nor was there any time where I felt scared.

I think the philosophy of teaching children to be WARY of strangers is good - ie, don't get in a stranger's car, etc. But there does come a point where the line needs to be drawn. I think the story of the kid in Utah is a prime example - there should be lessons of "if you are lost, find help, even from strangers". Sure, there COULD be the rare chance of it being some pervert, but the chances are FAR, FAR greater that it will be someone who will be willing to help.

But in today's world, it's starting to even become scary to "help" - not because of the fear for the child, but the fear of an overreacting parent. One time I was at Wal-Mart by myself, and came across a little boy who was obviously lost. I wanted to help, so I asked him if he was lost, and said "let's go find her". But I admit, I was worried (partially) that someone would overreact or something and accuse me of trying to kidnap the child. Fortunately, I found an employee very soon and was able to have her help the boy (as she would have access to a store PA) with no issues, but it was a lingering thought in my head. I felt good I could do the right thing, though.

I think I remember a thread from a few years ago that had a similar topic, and one thing that came up was who to have your kids go to when they need help. I think a compromise that even the most paranoid could make would be "Find a mommy or daddy" - ie, an adult who has children with them. The chances of them being creepy pervs is probably miniscule at best!
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I have two boys. We are trying to raise them free range, but it's hard.

There are no other kids out and about to play with. My wife and I get shocked looks when we tell other parents that we let our kids "go out and play".

Playdates are a fact of life, because they are almost the only way to get our kids together with other kids.

Awhile back, I was playing catch with my oldest (nine) after school at the school playfield. There were other kids there, as the moms will let the kids play on the playground equiptment for awhile after they arrive to pick them up.

Soon a lot of kids are asking if they can play baseball, too. I tell them OK, if mom or dad says so. In short order, I've got about nine or ten kids.

I divide 'em up and tell them I'll pitch for both sides. I get blank looks.

"We don't know how to play ball without a coach." "We don't have enough kids for two teams."

I tell them to have a kid play a base each and to spread out the rest in the outfield. I say that we will just use ghost runners if we get too many kids on base.

"What's a ghost runner, Mr. Edwards...we never heard of that?"

I sigh, and explain the concept. We proceed to have a great time for a couple hours.

It boggles my mind when I stop to think about it that most of these kids will never have a pick-up game, never learn to establish a pecking order without a meddling adult around, never learn how to have a fistfight or get along after one happens.

I think we've puffed up the tiny "evil molesting stranger" hobgoblin so large that we can't see around it. It's like we are so afraid that they might be struck by lightning, we never let them outside, even on a clear day.

I think this thread might have inspired me to purchase a Daisy BB gun.




I miss those days.

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Bloodybucket wrote:
"What's a ghost runner, Mr. Edwards...we never heard of that?"

I sigh, and explain the concept. We proceed to have a great time for a couple hours.

It boggles my mind when I stop to think about it that most of these kids will never have a pick-up game, never learn to establish a pecking order without a meddling adult around, never learn how to have a fistfight or get along after one happens.


This is incredibly sad. In my neighborhood we could play almost any sport with three or more. (Three kids and we want to play football? No problem - one kid is the permanent QB!)

Hell, I even cooked up one-on-one wiffle ball rules for my brother and me when we were at my grandmothers house (which was bereft of other kids with whom to play).
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I am a proponent of free range kids (but as I'm not a parent, my opinion is easy to dismiss, of course). I was raised pretty free range, apart from annoying, Bill Bixby denying brothers, in any case.

Yes, the threat from kidnapping is real, and some protective measures for your kids are worthwhile. It is, however, always a question of trade offs. One of the problems is people equate "non-zero threat" with "serious threat". This is commonly expressed in statements such as "even one death/kidnapping/etc. is too much".

While the ideal is nice, it's clearly both not true and not practical. The threat of lighting being a nice example - or the threat of being struck by a meteorite. They are both non-zero, but clearly both not worth worrying about day to day. Lighting one mitigates (hopefully) when the conditions for it are apparent.

Bruce Schneier is a security writer that I like quite a bit, he has some good essays on things like:

Humans being bad at judging risk

Fingerprinting Kids as they get on and off the school bus

Talking to strangers

I can't find his particular comment I was looking for related to that last topic, but I recall his having said that the ideal would be teaching your kids, when lost, to do the selecting when talking to strangers. That is, you'd reduce risk by not allowing the strangers to approach the kid, but instead teach your kids to initiate an appeal for help when lost. Since the average stranger is vastly likely to be "a good guy", vs. the average person seeking to talk to unescorted kids (which I'm pretty sure they don't have data on).
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