Overreacting to Overreacting

Opinion: Lenore Skenzy / Free-Range Kids

Opinion: Lenore Skenzy / Free-Range Kids

From the “Why is this news?” department comes this latest story, an incident that took place just a few days ago:

While playing outside her home, an 8-year-old Michigan girl decided to walk a few houses down to the oh-so-tempting public bus stop. A bus came by. She hopped on, and the bus driver, accustomed to seeing youngsters ride public transit (free, if they’re young enough), simply let her take a seat.

This, her mom now claims, was outrageous! As upset as she was by her daughter, she was far more outraged that the bus driver didn’t immediately take some kind of unspecified but heroic action to stop this non-catastrophe. So she did what any modern-day American would: She alerted the media.

The media, for their sad part, took the bait and reported this tempest in a depot as if it were of actual import. So if you watch the news report, you will see all the usual elements: an establishing shot of the neighborhood, an interview with the mom, a statement from the bus authority.

Why was this so galling, at least to those of us who believe that it is not news when kids do simple things (or even commit minor transgressions) that earlier generations routinely did on their own? Two reasons:

1) The airtime afforded to fantasizing.

“The mom (is) just grateful that what could have happened didn’t,” the reporter gravely intoned. Playing her own part, the mom piped up:

“Oh, my goodness, just all kinds of thoughts run through your mind. Somebody could’ve taken her. … She could’ve just been lost somewhere downtown, because I know a lot of kids leave home and don’t make it back.”

Really? Name one.

Of course, the reporter did not say that.

He left unchallenged all the “could-haves,” as well as the assertion that “a lot” of kids who leave home simply never return, even though the homicide rate in America right now is on a par with what it was in 1906.

Yes, 1906. But hey, let’s act as if kids are being snatched up right and left. It doesn’t hurt anyone (except for the kids who are barely allowed to play outside anymore or walk to school).

Anyway, the other problem was that:

2) Also per usual, the mom was demanding a complete overhaul of the way the bus authority does business based on this one single uneventful event. Hurray for CATA (East Lansing’s Capital Area Transportation Authority) for not immediately groveling, “You’re right! From now on, we will stop the bus in its tracks when anyone young and competent tries to ride without a guardian.” Amtrak could use a spine transplant from CATA. (Our national rail service recently changed its unaccompanied minors age from 8 to 13. So now a 12-year-old needs adult accompaniment to ride the train.)

One saving grace? Though the mom was angry, the kid refused to see her adventure as anything but fun. The reporter asked: Was she afraid? No, she replied: “I made some friends!”

It sounded as if someone off-screen was chuckling at her pluck — the reporter or the mom — but the mom still had to sum it up this way: “If my kid could do it, then other kids could, too.”

To me, that’s an endorsement of her child’s independence, not the bus authority’s lassitude.

But I don’t think that’s how she meant it.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker and author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids.”

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