When people ask me how long I've been biking, the answer is basically as long as I can remember. One of the reasons why I liked biking so much as a kid was that biking meant a certain kind of freedom. Each year, my permissioned domain got bigger and bigger. First, I was allowed to stay on my side of the street up until certain house. Then, came the whole side. Then, the unassisted street crossing. It wasn't that long before I could go around the block one street over, then two streets, etc. Eventually, though, the limitation wasn't any kind of geofence--it was my feet. I could literally only walk so far and I wasn't allowed to take public transportation on my own yet.
My bike exponentially increased the size of my world. Once I was allowed to pedal off the block, I could go anywhere my wheels could get me within the gap between lunch and dinner--about four or five hours. That was a pretty big distance. My friend Vinny and I would go down to Manhattan Beach--not to go to the beach necessarily, but just to bike over and back. We went all over.
When we rode, there were kids seemingly on every street. Fire hydrants were open in the summer. Wiffleball games were in full swing. The streets were teeming with kids.
Little by little, though, the numbers have dwindled. Sunday morning, I rode over to my parents house in the middle of the day. I didn't spot a single kid in the street the way there or the way back.
Where is everyone?
The answer: Too afraid to go out.
So, it's not so simple. You can talk about working parents, video games, etc., but this was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the summer. These kids should have been outside.
Kids don't necessarily see how fear is playing a part in their lives--although when you get headlines like the tragic ones from Aurora about movie theater shootings, the fear strikes close to home. A little boy on TV told a reporter that he'll just wait for things to come out on DVD now. This is a child whose world is going to be so much smaller than the one I grew up in.
What's worse is that if the world you're allowed to experience is really small, then you're not as invested in what's going in around you. You don't care as much about a world you don't really participate in. It's not surprising that voter attendance seems to be trending down over time--why bother participating in things that don't really effect you as you sit indoors in front of a big screen?
I don't want to tell anyone how to raise their kid. I don't have any children of my own. I hope, however, that I'll find some way to come to terms with this:
There are risks in the world. There are bad people. There are sick people. Those people might wind up in a movie theater, at a mall, on a commuter train or in a football locker room. They can force the most unimaginably terrible experiences into your life and no amount of precaution can protect us all. We fear these risks more because they have faces, narratives, and a lack of randomness. Shootings aren't random, they are planned. Someone chooses to put a gun in their hand and fire. These things create fear the way kids getting cancer, getting hit by cars, or getting diabetes do not--even the latter numbers exponentially more occurrences every year, many times over.
What we can prevent, however, is letting fear consume our lives and the lives of children. This doesn't mean ignoring threats. It doesn't mean not preparing yourself for emergency situations. It means trying your best to let your children actually live in that world--and to know that the best life you can give them isn't locked up in the safety of the TV room. They deserve more. They deserve to be kids--the way you were when you were younger.
I'm not even sure that the world they're playing in is actually more dangerous than before. Kids today are aware of so much more. They have the tools to be smarter about their environments. They have cellphones, Google maps, and ATM cards. On top of that, they're not growing up with nuclear warheads 90 miles offshore or race riots. Big city crime is at an all time low.
Yes, there's still lots of danger out there, but I'd make the case that the world is safer now than it was, believe it or not.
Last Thursday, I went to go see Dark Knight thanks to a special sneak preview. It was fantastic. It was the best of the trilogy--an 11 out of 10. It's so much of a must-see that I couldn't wait to write about it in my Monday morning newsletter.
That was before I heard about the shootings.
I'm not going to tell you what to do, except that you should read two blog posts below. My hope, for you, and for us, is that we find some rationality in this tragedy--that it sparks a thoughtful conversation about a) mindfully, but unfearingly continuing to live out our lives and not clamping down on our daily experience and b) what the average person has access to in terms of tools of widespread violence.
The two most thoughtful things I've read about these topics are below: