Why I Walked to School Alone and My Kids Never Will

PHOTO: A girl is pictured walking to school in this stock image.

It's no secret that raising kids today is nothing like it was a decade or two ago.

In fact, many moms say there's no way they would let their children do what their own parents gave them free reign to do as kids.

"I remember taking the city bus with friends and riding to downtown Atlanta when I was 11 or 12, maybe younger," said Samantha Gregory, a single mom of two children. "I would never let my kids do that today."

Gregory, who still lives in Atlanta, says she used to get flak for dropping off and picking up her son and daughter from school when they lived only a half-mile away. But she refused to let them roam like she did at their age: "I was paranoid about possible abduction."

It's a common fear, although statistics show that crimes against children have generally decreased in recent decades. Yet moms and dads who walked to school or took public transit themselves as kids refuse to let their own children have that same freedom.

PHOTO: Atlanta mom Samantha Gregory with her two kids.
Courtesy Samantha Gregory
PHOTO: Atlanta mom Samantha Gregory with her two kids.

Melisa Alaba, a mom of three who grew up in Chicago, remembers taking the city bus as young as 8 years old to go to the movies. But the first time her 12-year-old wanted to go the movies without a parent, her husband still sat at the back of the theater.

Her three daughters are so used to being chauffeured around that even when her oldest began high school, she still expected to be picked up every day, once waiting 45 minutes for a ride. The walk home, Alaba says, would only have taken a few minutes -- but it never occurred to her daughter that walking was an option.

"I was almost embarrassed," she said. "I was like, 'Wow, this is what this has turned into, that they expect a ride all the time.'"

She worries that all the "helicopter parenting" has a price.

"When we look at our kids, they're very smart in their own way, but they're not street-savvy," she admits. "I feel like we need to explain things more."

Gregory agrees that her kids lack the independence she had developed at their age. But knowing that they're safe is worth it, the moms say.

PHOTO: Melisa Alaba with her children and husband at her oldest daughter’s high school graduation in May 2014.
Courtesy Melisa Alaba
PHOTO: Melisa Alaba with her children and husband at her oldest daughter’s high school graduation in May 2014.

Michele W. Miller, who lives in New York City, said she can't even remember a time she couldn't roam the city streets alone.

"There was a sense that we could make decisions for ourselves that I would not necessarily expect my child to be able to make," Miller said.

She also doesn't want her twin boys, 11, to have to deal with what she did at their age.

"A man exposed himself to me when I was maybe my kids’ age," Miller said. "And I really did not know how to handle it. I definitely was not prepared for that situation."

Miller, an attorney and author, hopes that if she keeps a close eye on her boys, they won't make the same mistakes she did.

"I did quite a bit of drugs as a teenager," she said. "And I think my parents had a somewhat permissive attitude, possibly because of the times. I think people are more aware now."

PHOTO: Manhattan mom Michele W. Miller with her husband and two sons at Lake George, New York in July 2014.
Courtesy Michele W. Miller
PHOTO: Manhattan mom Michele W. Miller with her husband and two sons at Lake George, New York in July 2014.

In Salt Lake City, Carly Kerby, a stay-at-home mom to four daughters, is also stricter than her own parents were.

"We were always outside unsupervised, it was just the norm," she said.

Kerby does let her kids walk to school a few minutes away, but only if her oldest daughter, who's 11, calls her on a pre-paid cell phone as soon as they're safe inside. And while she remembers having frequent slumber parties with friends and neighbors, her own kids are only allowed to have sleepovers with cousins.

There’s no one reason for the over-protectiveness. Gregory blames feeling less connected to her community than she and her parents did years ago.

“We’re all online, we don’t really get around and talk to people. We don’t know our neighbors,” she said. “You don’t have that feeling of safety.”

PHOTO: Utah mom Carly Kerby with her four daughters in June 2014.
Courtesy Carly Kerby
PHOTO: Utah mom Carly Kerby with her four daughters in June 2014.

Some of it might also be about stigma, suggested Kristen Treat, a mother of five in Nebraska.

“In talking to most moms, it isn’t the fear of harm coming to their child that creates ‘helicopter’ parenting,’ it’s the fear of public perception,” said Treat, who’s also a licensed counselor. “The fear a stranger will call Child Protective Services. Which is a loss for our children.”

It happens all the time. A South Carolina mom was arrested last month for leaving her 9-year-old daughter to play unsupervised at a park, and a woman in Florida was arrested on Saturday after police found her 7-year-old son playing alone at a park.

Moms add that even as crime declines, they're more aware of terrible things that do happen to children thanks to 24/7 access to news and social media.

"We hear about every single thing that happens, and I don't think we heard about things like that growing up," Kerby said. "It's just a different time."

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