Trusting Neighbors

I’m not the expert on Halloween traditions since I wasn’t allowed to celebrate Halloween as a child, but I’m pretty sure the tradition of alternative church events such as “trunk or treat” had not yet begun. Although I think the “trunk or treat” idea is kind of silly, it’s not my place to mock the religious beliefs of others. (Or at least I’m trying to break the habit.) Trick-or-treating at the mall is similarly ridiculous. But I am bothered by such alternative events for one major reason: it indicates a lack of trust in one’s community.

Sending your kids around the neighborhood to trick-or-treat is overwhelmingly safe, especially if they have parental accompaniment. The biggest risk kids face on Halloween night is from the other parents driving their kids around! Tonight I witnessed two minivans in my neighborhood, passing each other in opposite directions, while throngs of kids had to go off to the side to get out of their way. Those parents were making all the kids less safe while they presumably thought they were keeping their own kids safer.

I did a Google search and there are no reports of children being abducted, murdered or otherwise harmed during trick-or-treating. Ever.

But letting your kids go through the neighborhood to solicit candy displays an implicit level of trust in your neighbors, and I think that’s the biggest reason people turn to alternative events at churches, malls and grocery stores. My kids’ school won’t even refer to Halloween parties by that name, instead calling the event a “harvest party.”

My neighbors are not dangerous, and yours almost certainly are not either. I grew up in a neighborhood that was, in retrospect, actually pretty dangerous, but no harm ever came to my friends who went trick-or-treating, save for the occasional bigger kid stealing their candy. And even that likely could have been prevented by parental accompaniment.

Distrusting our neighbors has massive implications for society. It is the reason that parents won’t let their children play outside in their back yards unattended anymore, so instead the kids stay indoors all summer long, watching TV and playing video games. It’s the reason most kids don’t go explore their neighborhood on foot or on bike anymore. It is why many schools won’t allow parents to send home-baked goods anymore and why it is entirely possible to live in the same house for years without even knowing your neighbors’ names. It has changed the entire social structure of our communities, and I don’t think it has been a positive shift.

When we don’t know or trust our neighbors, it is easier to wash our hands of responsibility for each other and to believe that we are alone. This sense of aloneness can lead to feelings of isolation and depression, and make the world seem like a harsher place. But believing that the world is harsh slowly makes it become true.

Furthermore, I cringe every time I hear parents in a store tell their child to stay close so they don’t “get stolen.” I hear this nearly every time I go shopping; just yesterday I overheard a parent tell her toddler “you’re so cute that bad guys will steal you, so don’t let go of my hand.” I think this is incredibly damaging to children. Of course it comes from a place of genuine concern; obviously every parent wants to keep their child safe at all costs. But it overstates the risks by a huge margin; I don’t think there was ever a single abduction by a stranger in my entire area.

What does it do to a child’s psychological development to grow up with a sense of fear that kidnappers are lurking around every corner? It is all the more tragic because it frankly isn’t true and never was.

The world is safer than mainstream media wants us to think it is. If we hear an Amber Alert about a kidnapped child in our state, it makes us think it’s occurring in our own backyard, even though it often involves non-custodial parent abductions (the most common type, by far) and is somewhere else in the state. We think it will happen to us if it occurs to one child in a city or state of 8 million people, even though the odds of winning the lottery are higher. Then again, given the numbers of people who play the lottery, many people don’t seem to understand odds very well.

If we got to know our neighbors again and trusted our children to have brief, supervised encounters with them, maybe it would be harder to vote against millages funding schools and senior centers because we would know and care about the people affected. Maybe we’d form relationships with people who could help us, and in return we could help them. That is what life is supposed to be like; we are not supposed to be so isolated and focused solely on our own well-being.

It all starts with letting your kids accept some candy from the old lady down the street. I promise, it will be safe.

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