Let's please stop telling parents that it is normal to be terrified for even the shortest periods of time when kids are doing the most mundane of activities: walking to or from school.
Because here's what NBC's Alyssa Newcomb reported the other day in an piece on "Back-to-School Safety Tech That Helps Keep Kids Safe" (the title alone reinforcing the idea that kids are NOT safe without us taking new, tech-assisted precautions): "No matter how mature and responsible a child is, those few blocks without adult supervision are enough to make most parents worry."
Since when? Since violent crime is back to the level it was in 1963? Since we are living in the safest times in human history, according to Harvard's Stephen Pinker? Since even child deaths at the hands of kidnappers — already extremely rare — are now one fifth of what they were just 20 years ago? "Most parents worry" about a few-block walk, in these particularly safe times, even if they know their kids are mature and responsible?
If so, that seems like some kind of illness. Yes, it's normal to worry if the neighborhood is truly crime-ridden. But otherwise, it's just useless panic.
Goosing this panic makes sense for only two groups of people: the media, who depend on fear to keep us engaged, and the makers of tech tracking devices, who depend on our dollars to stay in business.
And so reporter Newcomb goes on to list four products that track kids and apprise the parents of their location. The PocketFinder is one. It goes in the child's backpack "and updates a parent's smartphone with their location every two minutes."
What a joy that makes walking home: Follow that squirrel, kid, and mom calls 911.
Then there's Life 360, which is free and shows every family member's location. But if you pay a premium (aha!) you can get "expanded history data and a live adviser for urgent situations." Just suggesting "urgent situations" makes the walk sound dire.
The Canary, also profiled, is part of a $199 home security system, allowing you "to see live video and hear audio from their home. Parents can even replay the video clip from when their child walked in the door, ensuring that they were with only authorized house guests."
This seems less like a normal household device and more like something you'd find above the door at a 7-Eleven.
And finally there's the August Smart Lock, which lets you "see and speak to whoever is at your door, even if you're not home." It also locks and unlocks your door, long distance "making it ideal if your kid forgets their key," according to Newcomb. At $400, it might be more ideal fiscally to make your kid a few extra keys, or hide one someplace clever.
So now I, too, have some advice on how to keep your kid safe on the way home from school — advice that the TV report, in its haste to hail technological solutions to nearly nonexistent dangers, forgot. Teach your children to:
Look left, look right, look left again when crossing the street.
Make sure that anyone turning sees them in the crosswalk.
Know that they CAN talk to anyone; they CANNOT go off with anyone.
And also understand that they should not get into anyone's car.
Those are tips that make a lot of sense and, by golly, are free! Of course, for a premium, I will add a new and pointless tip every month. Sign up now!