The always-interesting (and funny) Lenore Skenazy has a superb opinion piece in today's Wall Street Journal, in honor of the start to the school year.
Skenazy cites a statistic that only about one in 10 kids walks to school today. Even kids that live within walking distance aren't walking to school. And forget about biking to school too. Instead, most parents are driving their kids, and "too often drop-off in the morning means snarls and traffic, and afternoon pick-up has become the evacuation of Saigon".
Skenazy rightly points out that childhood independence is a good thing, and that it is being undermined by parents, who are over-parenting. The issue is not that the external environment is less safe, or that kids these days aren't as tough as they were in the past; the issue is with the parents.
In today's social situation, I can understand why a parent might not want to send their son or daughter out on their own. After all, in the past, walking to school was made possible by the facts that (a) lots of other kids were doing it, and (b) adults looked out for them on the street - neither of which consistently happen today. But, by the same token, if I had a proverbial nickel for every parent who told me how much they wish that their kid could walk or bike to school like they did in the day, but don't feel confident to let them do so, I'd be a rich man. If this is the case, then it makes sense for parents to band together and encourage each other to allow their kids to walk, perhaps in groups. Maybe one parent can escort a group of kids at first, just till they get the hang of it.
Skenazy's "free range kids" campaign deserves lots of support - go here to learn more.