I   t's a sign -- one of many, I'm afraid -- of just how much things have changed in the last 15 years or so.

Last week, a handful of York-area school districts opened their doors for the new school year. This week, a bunch more will do the same.

That means a lot of kids going to school for the first time. And it means a lot more will be going for the second, third and fourth times -- and on-and-on through the 12th year.

Kids walking to school in York City. Kids walking to the school bus stop throughout York County. Kids getting dropped off at the front door of the numerous charter and private schools operating in York County.

Permit me to dredge up the past -- say 55 or more years ago -- when I was a youngster. The school bus stop in my hometown couldn't have been more than a half-block or so from my house.

So on days when I was operating on time, I could walk the distance in two or three minutes. It was a leisurely pace.

On days when I was running late, I'd run and close the distance in 30 seconds or less.

The point is it wasn't that far, but it was far enough. Out of sight, for sure.

But never, and I mean never, in the 12 years I walked to the school bus stop did my mother or father walk with me. Same goes for all the other kids in town, regardless of their ages or the grade they were in.

It just wasn't done.

Why? Well, because it would have been perceived a sissy thing to do if you had to be walked to the bus stop by one of your parents. Parents would not have thought it necessary, and the kids would not have allowed it because of the peer perception such an act would have engendered.

And later, when my own children attended school, parents didn't walk their children to the bus stop, either. It's true, the bus stop was at the corner, and I could have watched from the front window if I'd wanted to. But I didn't. I didn't feel it was necessary.

Then last year, when I babysat my grandchildren for four days while my daughter and son-in-law were out of town, I noticed a change.

The bus stop was practically in front of the house, and there couldn't have been more than six or eight children at the stop. All lived within a half-block or so. And here came two 7- or 8-year-old boys, holding their mothers' hands, walking to the bus stop.

And the moms, ever diligent, stood right there at the bus stop until the bus arrived to pick up the children. Only after the bus pulled away did they return to their homes.

To be honest, I thought that was overdoing it. By a lot.

But that's where we are these days. Things have gotten so crazy in this world that parents are afraid to allow their children to walk to the bus stop in the mornings on their own. Kids not only must be accompanied by a parent but, apparently, the parent must actually hold the kid's hand as they walk.

It's certain a lot of students will be a little anxious on the first day back to school. It's just as certain, apparently, there are a lot of parents who are more than a little anxious, too. First day, every day.

So in 2013, we either have children who are overprotected by parents who won't let them out of their sight, or we have children who are minimally protected by parents who are unconcerned and nowhere to be seen.

Fifty years ago, a kid would have been razzed half silly if he or she had been walked to the bus stop by his/her mom. And if mom held his/her hand while walking, well that probably would have resulted in blood-chilling reminders from your peers for the rest of your bus-riding days.

"Remember when your mom held your hand while walking you to the bus stop?" or "Did your mom walk you to school today?" And it would have been blurted out in front of 20 other people, while you were trying to disappear into your own shadow.

Today, it's the accepted thing, I guess.

Parents are on constant alert these days, and probably for good reason.

The feeling is there could be a pervert, a child molester, a kidnapper, a gun-toting fool around every corner. Our kids are under a constant threat. And it's a parent's job to eliminate the threat whenever possible.

Too bad, I think, it has to be that way.

And it does raise the question: How does one prepare a child to grow up and go off to college on his/her own, or a job, either, for that matter, if they can't walk to the bus stop or to school without mom holding their hand? Can we protect our children too much?

Or maybe it makes no difference at all.

I don't recall ever having a fearful moment going to school or the bus stop.

I doubt my children did, either.

Today's kids? I'm not so sure.

Last week, the kids in my neighborhood started going back to school. The bus stop is right in front of my house. And there were at least three or four parents standing with their kids, waiting for the bus to arrive.

And they'll all be waiting at the bus stop in the afternoon when the bus brings the kids home from school.

They see it as necessary, I guess.

Because, as we all know, times sure have changed.

Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: lhicks@yorkdispatch.com.