“When I was growing up, parents just told kids to be home by dark, but nowadays it’s too scary out there to let your children roam around.”
I was sitting on the pedicure throne when I overheard a new mom make a comment about how scared she was that someone would steal her new baby. “My husband is thinking about putting bars on the windows!” she exclaimed, though I am not sure if she was being hyperbolic to indicate the level of concern they had over abduction, or if she was serious. “It’s just so scary out there for children nowadays,” she said. Wondering if this is really true, I decided to do some research on my own.
It turns out that “nowadays” is the safest time to be a kid in America. Kids are less likely to have a disease, less likely to be hit by a car, and less likely to be abducted than at any other time in American history! Let that sink in a bit: the safest time to be a kid in America. According to Child Trends’ analysis of the Center for Disease Control’s data, child mortality rates have dropped by nearly half since 1990, in large part due to vaccinations. Another reason for the increased safety is due to a drop in child homicide, which the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported at 1.5 per 100,000 for kids under 14, and 5.1 for kids ages 14-17 in 2008. Therefore, the chance of your child experiencing a premature death is 0.01%.
Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that between 1993 and 2013, the number of children killed by cars went from 800 deaths to fewer than 250, a drop of more than two-thirds.
Finally, reports of missing children are down 40% since 1997 according to the FBI. Of all cases of missing persons, 96% were running away from something. The Washington Post reports that what we’d call stereotypical kidnapping in which a stranger takes a child is about 0.1% of all cases.
So why does it seem like we are living in the most unsafe time in America? What has changed? People’s knowledge of the fewer cases of disease, fewer abductions, etc., has increased exponentially. As soon as a kid has been abducted, we all hear a loud ring on our cell phones as the Amber Alert is issued. The news cycle is now 24 hours, so you can literally stay glued to the TV, hearing every detail of how a parent accidentally ran over their child for days. That kind of constant awareness of the bad stuff that happens from social media, TV and the radio fuels our fears, but that does not make it reality. And though some might argue that stricter parenting is responsible for these statistical drops, economist Bryan Caplan of George Mason says that it’s mostly due to better safety standards, for instance.
So, people, we’re in the good ole days, it just may not seem like that if you watch the news. As the Washington Post put it, if it was safe for you to play unsupervised as a kid, it’s even safer now.