PORTLAND, Ore. - If you don't immediately recall the name except for maybe seeing her billing at the NASPDTS annual conference here, Lenore Skenazy has drawn national media attention for, along with her husband, allowing her then 9-year-old son to ride the New York City all by himself.
The nationally-syndicated columnist is also the author of "Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts With Worry." She's controversial to say the least in this age of child sex predators, scares about child vaccines causing autism and student bullying. It was a timely presentation, "Why Does an Old-Fashioned Childhood Sound So Radical?", that she gave NASDPTS members on Friday, especially as the nation headed into the Halloween weekend. How many news stories have you read or heard about the scares of poisoned goodies, pot-laced cookies and razor blades in candy bars. It brings an all new meaning to "Trick or Treat?"
By all accounts Skenazy gave a humorous talk in front of her audience here at the Doubletree Hotel Lloyd Center on parents becoming so over-protective of their children. As Diana Hollander, state director from Nevada, pointed out, Skenazy discussed how many parents won't even let their kids walk to the school or the school bus stop that is a mere block or two away because they are afraid they will be kidnapped, sexually assaulted or killed.
The gist is that a large cross-section of society is not helping kids grow into their independence.
"She pointed out the four things she thinks are the cause for our concern, media being the lead culprit!" Hollander said.
Ouch. But the truth hurts.
Sensationalism is certainly alive and well in America, but not just in the media, I interject. Lest we forget, election day is right around the corner. There's a reason elections only happen every two years: the nation would revolt under the sheer frustration of all the negative ads.
Interestingly enough, Skenazy appeared on Fox News' "Stossel" Friday night, just days before the 2010 mid-terms, to join a panel of experts to discuss the very same topic of child safety with host John Stossel.
"The idea of 'think the worst first' is so sad," Skenazy told Stossel.
That might be a hard pill for many pupil transporters to swallow because their livelihood depends on training then training followed by more training to mitigate risk to not only the 25 million students who ride the yellow school bus but the rest of the motoring public, pedestrians, etc. But the discussion also paints the picture of irate, demanding parents who are sometimes clouded by their love for their children. Sound familiar, anyone?
Now I don't have children of my own, so take that with a grain of salt, but it's not a stretch to say that our society has become embroiled in fear in many different forms. I'd even venture the guess that many parents might not be as scared for their children but of them. Understanding and proactively dealing with this fear, such as parents refusing to put their children on school buses not equipped with seat belts, fears that are sometimes unfounded or misdirected or a result of a simple misunderstanding, has become an all-important job description for pupil transporters.
Skenazy told Stossel and his audience that she would be allowing her son, now 12, to go trick or treating alone this year. Her son now regularly takes the subway all by his lonesome, and he was only followed once, by a woman who admonished him for being so foolish. Certainly the thousands of pieces of hate mail Skenazy said she has received back up this viewpoint.
Some would say she's rolling the dice, while others would comment that she's empowering her child. Still we -- the pupil transportation industry, parents, society -- must remain vigilant. Or cautiously optimistic.
FBI agent Marybeth King followed Skenazy at NASDPTS Friday morning, and in some ways she contradicted Skenazy's presentation. King, after all, is a trained professional who has undoubtedly seen some horrible, horrible things that human beings are capable of. But, as Nevada's Hollander pointed out, King also made a good point that we don't want to scare people to death; instead we want to educate and be aware.
"If the fireman who was on the scene in Times Square had not been so educated, the bomb would have more than likely gone off. And that secret was awareness and education," Hollander added. "They were both awesome and very interesting!"