Wednesday, April 13, 2005

The 1970s -- It Was A More Innocent Time ...

I knew when I saw this post by Amy Sullivan at Washington Monthly that the cry would go up about how things have changed, oh so much, in the past 30 years. And always for the worse.

That's right, the 1970s is now that "more innocent time" that people long to return to.

I mean, it's not like there was a highly unpopular war going on or anything.

Teenage girls certainly never got pregnant during the 1970s, or had abortions. Nope. Certainly not.

And all of those serial killers you've heard about? Didn't have those in the 1970s. Nope. Especially not in sleepy little suburbs like Des Plaines, Illinois.

(Fun fact: Des Plaines is pronounced locally as "Dis Planes.")

What's really changed since the 1970s is not the danger that our children and teenagers are in -- all available statistics show that our children are safer than ever, less likely to die in accidents or from drug overdoses or from stranger abductions than they were 30 years ago.

What's changed is our perception of danger. Girls were abducted and murdered by creeps 30 years ago, but none of them became household names like Polly Klaas or Samantha Runnion, because the news stayed local. Now, the national is local, and the murder of a teenager in Bangor, Maine, will make a mother in San Diego keep her child indoors for a week.

There is one, and only one, childhood danger that has increased since the 1970s, continues to increase, and is a continuing danger for the rest of the child's life:


We are in danger of killing our children with our paranoia about their safety.

When I was six or seven years old back in 1976, I would walk -- by myself -- about three blocks to my friend Liz's house, and we would walk the other four blocks to school together. Of course, my parents warned me to watch out for dangerous or suspicious strangers -- even in the 1970s, we knew to be cautious. But they didn't think it was a terribly dangerous thing to do.

Today, letting a child that young walk to school by herself would be considered not just dangerous, but actively neglectful. A parent who did so could expect serious social shunning, if not a visit from Child Protective Services. Because "everyone knows" that child is in enormous danger from the moment she leaves the house.

Unlike Amy, I have no simple prescription like, "Complain about what's on TV to make yourself feel better." Not only is there not a simple answer, I'm not sure there's an answer at all. What we're fighting against is what people "know," and people will always choose to believe erroneous facts that "feel" right over than actual statistics. Because statistics mean that somebody, somewhere, will come out at the short end.

And no one wants to be that one.

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