Much has been written about the fact that at least a generation of kids now have been prevented from being able to go out and play in their neighborhoods on their own. People bemoan it, mourn the loss of it, yet all the parents I know are like me -- we can't just let them out "there" now. It is hard to explain just how this came about, why it is so pervasive, and so accepted. The cost is so high. The nation's children are overweight because of lack of exercise, addicted to the videogames, TV, and the internet that substitute for outdoor, kid-found entertainment, pacifiers for children house-bound. They are more self-centered, less socially skilled, more fearful and dependent. Not novel observations, I know.Nothing is spontaneous for these kids; there are arranged playdates, shuttling to a plethora of activities and "enhancements," all safe and contained. No worries, no danger, and completely devoid of adventure.

Maybe it started with Adam Walsh, the unspeakable horror of his disappearance and what happened to him. That picture of him, freckle-faced and smiling in a baseball cap, every American child encapsulated. If it could happen to him, well. The idea that there are monsters lurking and waiting, and every so often, another obscene story of another waste of a child's life would be reported to underline it, served to make parents say NOT MINE. You aren't getting them, faceless monster. Not on my watch. I WILL KEEP THEM SAFE.

Are there more monsters now? Is this the reason? Or do we just hear about them more now? Children, tragically, have always been victimized by adults. It is only relatively recently in history that children were considered anything more than chattel, or had any focus on them or rights whatsoever. Is it because the world is so open now, rules relaxed, or could it have been worse before? I don't know. No one will know. But now we are left with these kids, who find themselves at adulthood, and they have had little to no experience making any decisions totally on their own. The parents, accustomed to micro-managing their children's lives, see this, and can't let go, extending childhood into the 20s and 30s and maybe further. The "kids," caught between wanting that security and desperately wanting to break from it but not having the tools to do so, fall into some kind of twilight world of the semi-adult, waiting for real life to begin.

Every so often I will see a young boy or girl walking down the street alone, and I instantly look around to see if a parent is perhaps nearby. If they are not, I feel a pang of worry. There is a part of me that always imagines the van pull up next to the child, that would instantly and easily take him or her away, forever. That is a deep deep fear, hard to shake, even when it is a sunny day, the neighborhood is quiet, and I know that the kid is probably just walking a few blocks to a friend's house or school. I still worry.

This is so not what I wanted for my children, not at all. I didn't want to close them off, and I never wanted to have to feel like monsters were everywhere. It is something like plane travel for me -- yes yes yes, I know that things are overwhelmingly likely to be just fine, but if something goes wrong just once, it is all over. And I am not going to think oh it could never happen to me, because it could. I never wanted to have to explain to a preschooler what "good touch" and "bad touch" was, how even the nicest and kindest and most trusted person could want to hurt you, how there is such sickness in the world. How can any child take that in and deal with what that really means? I install fear in my children because I am told it is the right and necessary thing to do, yet I cannot compartmentalize that for them or put in in perspective. They have to do that for themselves.

My oldest son is close to 17. The day I felt somewhat OK about letting him go out and about on his own was when I felt he was big enough and strong enough to fight a monster off. He goes out, sometimes, but so often does not when he could. He seems not to see the day, coming up so fast, where he will be considered an adult and will have to take on all that that means. Sometimes I think the monsters have won, just in a different way.