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Duck & Cover

by Stephen Lautens


December 27

, 2002

I guess some people figure it's never too early to teach our children to be paranoid.

In Edmonton they're teaching children as young as five years old how to hide from snipers in school. Along with fire drills, St. Boniface Elementary School in Edmonton is getting kids to hide under their desks, stay away from windows and generally hunker down in the face of bomb scares, chemical threats and crazed gunmen.

Not wanting to be left behind, schools in Saskatoon and Toronto are also working on drills and procedures to prepare their students from assorted nutjobs, wackos and terrorists.

Great. Just what we need - a new way to make our children feel threatened and afraid.

The League of Overprotective Parents just shrug at all of this and say: "Oh well - with everything going on today in this crazy world it's too bad we need to warn our kids that a deranged maniac with an Uzi may attack them at any minute." Let's have a little reality check here - in spite of a few rare and isolated incidents, bomb scares, chemical threats and crazed gunmen don't present any realistic threat to school kids. 

Forget terrorist attacks, I can't remember a school fire drill where there was actually a fire. I'm sure it happens, but ask around and see how rare it really is. So what do you think the odds are of terrorists deciding to fly a plane into Dingleberry Public School in Cowbum, Saskatchewan?

"There's no harm in being prepared," I hear someone nervously call out from under the bed. Baloney. It's just another way we rob children of their childhood. As adults we have to face all kinds of unpleasant things - war, death, taxes - but give the kids a break. Can't they just be happy kids for a couple of years?

It's no wonder we label so many kids as having attention problems at school. It's hard to concentrate on the blackboard when you're looking over your shoulder every twenty seconds.

Kids need a place where they can feel safe. They can't play in the streets anymore because vigilant parents have taught them it isn't safe. I remember as a kid being out all day, vaguely telling my parents I'd be down in the creek or in a friend's yard. It wasn't time to come home until the street lights came on.

Of course we didn't have pagers, cell phones or other tracking devices to keep us in constant contact with the home base. If we were late coming home, no one called the cops and assumed we had been sold into slavery. Mom might call around if we were really late, or more likely just yell out the window.

And you know what? The streets are statistically safer today than they were back then, although you wouldn't know it to see how empty they are of children playing. Child abductions get a lot of media play, but they are also statistically becoming rarer in North America. Still, for the last decade we've been warning our children to see every stranger as a potential abductor.

So why are we making five year olds huddle in the dark pretending someone is hunting them? I suppose it all part of what I call the "victim industry", where no threat or danger is too small or remote, and every consequence is treated like it will scar you for life. Grief counsellors stand ready by the battalion to "help" kids deal with traumas they'd otherwise forget by recess, and concerned committees look for new ways to scare kids while wrapping them in a protective bubble.

Oh for the days when all we worried about were the monsters under the bed.

© Stephen Lautens 2002

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