Free-Range Fracas in England!

Hi Readers — England has been in a tizzy about a Free-Range family since last week.  A family I support!

Here, London’s Jennifer Howze weighs in. Jennifer is a partner in the online social network British Mummy Bloggers, and she’s lead blogger on the Times of London’s parenting blog Alpha Mummy .

Free-Range in London: What’s a Reasonable Bike Ride for a Kid? By Jennifer Howze

Once you want a nice suburban-type neighborhood in which to raise your kids (but you still want to be in London), you move to Dulwich, so the thinking goes. This picturesque, sedate enclave looks like a little village that’s been landscaped with money, but last week it was the center of a debate about how much freedom parents should allow their children.

Oliver and Gillian Schonrock allow their 8-year-old and 5-year-old to cycle on their own a mile to school every morning. Both the school and other parents raised concerns and there were threats of calling social services on the couple. The newspapers picked up the story and it has became a heated topic for discussion among parents, on parenting blogs and in forums in the UK all week. (At my daughter’s end-of-school assembly last Wednesday, the headmaster’s speech included a tongue-in-cheek thanks to parents “for not sending their 5 and 8 year olds to school on bicycles”.)

Even the London mayor Boris Johnson jumped into the fray, giving a full-throated endorsement to the Schonrocks for bucking the “nanny state” and “elf and safety” (aka health and safety) busybodies. “In this age of air-bagged, mollycoddled, infantilised over-regulation it can make my spirits soar to discover that out there in the maquis of modern Britain there is still some freedom fighter who is putting up resistance against the encroachments of the state,” he wrote in the Telegraph newspaper.

“Their vision of urban life is profoundly attractive – a city so well policed, and with so strong a sense of community, that children can walk or cycle on their own to school. Instead of hounding the Schonrocks we should be doing everything we can to make their dream come true – in every part of the city.”

A lot of the debate amounts to parsing the risks of the Schonrocks’ arrangement: Is it a good idea? Is it fair to make an 8-year-old supervise a 5-year-old? Is the couple simply trying to make a point and using their children to do it?

Complicating this situation are all the extenuating circumstances. A mile does seem far in London, even a family-oriented part of it. While the children rode on the sidewalk and crossed one street with a crossing guard, many people raised concerns about the heavy morning traffic and the “Chelsea tractors” (the 4x4s beloved of parents everywhere) that pose a danger to all bicyclists.

And here’s another thing, one of parents’ worst fears: Two years ago in Dulwich a man tried to abduct an 11-year-old off the street, writes Dulwich Divorcee, a well-known London-based blogger.  Just a few months ago, in the nearby neighbourhood of Wandsworth (where I live), another 11-year-old was grabbed by a man before escaping. (Police have released a description of the suspect.)

“However much we pretend we’re in a village cut off from the troubles of urban life, we Dulwich residents are as much subject to bonkers drivers, perverts, traffic jams, accidents and stress as anyone else in London,” the Dulwich Divorcee writes.

These are all valid points in this debate and I can’t say I know the answer. My daughter, aged 6, seems too young to cycle four blocks to school on her own, but that’s as much to do with her shakiness on a bike and our congested streets as anything else. (In London, many of the two-way streets are only wide enough for one car, making jockeying for position and squeezing past other vehicles a regular part of driving.)

Still, the Schonrocks say they took the risks into consideration and decided that their children are mature enough to handle them. The couple want to engender confidence and street smarts in their kids. That’s their decision.

What I find chilling is the idea that a school or fellow parents will, in effect, call in the cops (or civil functionaries) to police choices they disagree with. There’s no indication that the Schonrocks are neglectful parents. So is the threat of social services based on justifiable fear, or fear that we are somehow complicit if those kids discover that the world is not a 100% safe place?

We all have our own level of Free-Range comfort. (I’m making an effort to get comfortable with my daughter safely roaming.) What became clear this past week in London is that, when other people’s comfort level doesn’t match our own, just what others will do to bring it all into line. — J.H.

49 Responses

  1. Am I the 1st to comment? I hope, in my race to be first, I don’t have a lot of typos & spelling errors.

    I stand on the side of parental power. That is, the Schonrocks should have almost total 100% authority on how to parent their children, and so should ALL parents. It’s one thing to prevent abuse & mis-treatment, on that we can all agree I think. However, when other busy-bodies use the social services system as a means to impose their parental views on you, frankly–I consider such people to be among the people whom I have the most level of disdain for.

    I don’t just disagree with them philosophically, I oppose them in every way. They have absolutely no moral right to impose their parenting principles on other people.

    They (other persons) are NOT the ones endowed with the parenting responsibilities of the 5 & 8 year-olds. They are not the ones who created these children in the act of being husband & wife in the worst way. These children do NOT call these other busy-bodies mother & father.

    No, the Schonrocks are the ones with the financial, moral, ethical, and everyday tasks of responsibility with their 5 & 8 year old. They, and ONLY they–not any government, entity, or busy-body citizen not minding their business–should be the one to make this decision.

    Period.

  2. Let me get this straight… in the known history of this suburb, there have been two failed child-nappings?

    I fail to see how this proves the point that this family-oriented suburb is anything but safe for smart, school aged children to ride their bikes through.

  3. The one bright spot in this story is the willingness of the London mayor, a pretty high-profile politician, weighing in on the side of sanity. I can’t imagine a politician in America, where the citizens are frightened of everything, doing so.

    There’s a so-called “Parents’ Rights” movement in America, but its main concern seems to be enabling parents to block their daughters from getting access to birth control.

  4. (PS–figures, in my race to be the 1st, I did commit a typo or two.)

    I meant to say:

    They are not the ones who created these children in the act of being husband & wife in the most intimate way. (not worst way)

    To follow-up: to be sure, I am not saying that parents should have rights so absolute that in-breeding, molestation, locking in closets, etc become things that are no longer corrected. Of course not. Naturally, any citizen should not be told to “mind your own business” about such matters.

    It is a matter of degree, and it’s gone way too far in the other direction. As a parent, I can tell you–I don’t ask what other people in society in general think of my choices. I don’t consult with them. I don’t ask them if they agree with us, for instance, allowing our 3 year old girl to float with us in the 8 foot deep section of the pool, or us letting her float around a lake with us in water that’s over our heads. I don’t ask them if they agree with us never letting them sleep in the same bed or room with us, or if they think it’s wrong that I call my 1 year old boy “poo poo head” so often that he now seems to even think that’s his name.

    Does this mean I’m a gruff that doesn’t listen to anybody? No. Mostly, it’s about the TONE and the attitude of someone’s suggestions. When it’s done without any undertone of busy-bodyness, threats, snotty judgmental-ism–but rather with love and consideration, then I will ponder it and be respectful. After all, none of us know EVERYTHING and we all need help.

    But when it’s snotty and “holier than thou,” I don’t stand for it. I recall when our 3 year old girl was newborn & I had her outdoors with me in a public place. Someone can by and said “you know she ought to be in a mosquito-netting enclosure within that stroller.” I actually replied with respect, saying, “well there’s something that the hospital should’ve told me about.” With a snotty tone, she replied, “well that’s just common sense.”

    To which I replied–“well, it’s also common courtesy to MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS!”

    Sounds like some of the citizens of that neighborhood need to find some “common courtesy.”

  5. I agree with Larry and the Schonrocks. If parents have accessed the situation, understand their children, and have trust in them, that makes them more responsible than most parents out there who live in fear.

    I have been thinking why some parents feel they need to inform authorities of other parents who chose to let their children enjoy childhood, with trust and without fear. The only thing that I can think of, psychologically and logically, is that they are jealous. Jealous that they can’t bring themselves to have that kind of trust for their children, trust for themselves, and with much fear in their hearts. That they justify within themselves that THEY are right and others are wrong. And to ensure that thought, they dawn the “holier than thou” cape, reporting Free-Range parents to authorities.

    In my experience from what I’ve seen, these paranoid parents are so quick to judge. The ones I’ve observed, are so quick to judge, yet they don’t pay that much attention to their kids once they are caught up in their own activities. ie. shopping for clothes, grocery, talking with friends. In their view it’s always the other person’s fault, never theirs. In essence they are hypocrites.

  6. Three weeks ago, I sent my 8.5 year old son ONE BLOCK down one of thequiestest residential streets in one of the safest neighborhoods in San Francisco to do his laundry. He knows how to make change in the machine, which soap to buy, how to separate his clothes, run the washer/dryer, fold, etc. Oh, and he does carry a wallet with ID and a cell phone with GPS locator.

    Off he went with his sack over his shoulder and I didn’t think a second thought… until he came home and announced that the police wanted a word with me. I went downstairs to find two officers (both female, which I thought interesting) who told me about all of the risks, the sex offenders, etc. etc. and that they had received “multiple” calls about a little boy wandering alone.

    I told them that if there was a specifc law that we had broken to please let me know. They mumbled something about finding a penal code and getting back to me (I already knew there was no such law) and regaled me with horror stories and “horror possibilities.” I replied that I had checked the sex offender sites, that 90+% of those lisitngs are pure BS anyway, and that kids have a MUCH higher chance of being hurt in a car accident than they do walking down a street and that the odds of him being abducted, much less murdered, are vanishingly small. This according to the NHTSA adn USDOJ and FBI.

    They replied that “criminals don’t check stats,” to which I pointed out that this is why they are called “stats.” However, if the police are truly concerned about child safety, they shoul stop every car with a kid in it because that is where the danger is. They told me about two cases that made national news. I told them that those cases are tragic, but they made the national news precisely because they are so rare. If 50 airliners crashed each day, we would not hear about it, but that would not mean that flying is safe. The fact that even a small plane landing off a runway is such big news, or that a kid being taken is such big news, is precisely because it is so freaking rare.

    The cops went on their way. Later, my son told me that THREE cars had responded and that they had ordered him to “stay where he was” and barraged him with questions! The two female officers then walked him home! Since then, he has developed a bit of a fear about the very people I’ve told him to turn to when he needs help. I continue to tell him that they were extremely concerned for his safety and that cops are good people… and that most people will lend a hand if asked.

    Now I am truly afraid… not for my boy, but for the fracas that could ensue because some (insert expletive here) busybody will take it upon themselves to make life miserable just because they don’t like my decisions.

    So, I have decided to act in spite of my fear. My son carries a card to give to busybodies saying “I am OK unless I need help, in which case I will ask for it” and giving my phone number. When the police come again (and I am sure they will), I will tell them that I cannot find any law on the books (and in fact the YMCA summer camp lets him sign himslef out and ride his bike 10 blocks to Grandma and Grandpa’s house!). I will thank them for their concern and hold out my wrists to them along with my cell phone with the number to CPS ready to dial; if I have broken a law then call social services and rrest me now, otherwise STOP HARASSING ME!

    I may end up getting arrested and going through hell to defend my right to raise a free range kid… but the compliments he and i continue to receive about how mature and independent my boy is (and how well-mannered) make it all worthwhile.

    FREE RANGE OR BUST!!!

  7. I’m rather in agreement with Larry – I have commented on forums in the UK that I feel one huge problem today is this pervasive belief that parents are not capable of making risk assessments for their own children, and that when you see a child doing something independent that they are capable of doing, be it walking to school or going to the local shops, people seem to be swallowing the idea that this has to be some form of ‘negligence’.

    There’s also an interesting social class angle in this, it occured to me… I am certain that there must be many kids of low income families (often immigrant families), who walk to school, shops etc as their parents don’t own cars and may work in jobs with anti-social hours where they are paid by the hour (so can’t ‘come in late’), have to leave the house early and so on. And, quite rightly, no one is charging these parents with negligence or even commenting on it.

    But if you’re middle class and have a the car and the childcarers and the understanding flexible employers for your white collar job, you should be ferrying your children everywhere, as if better off kids are somehow worth more than poorer ones.

  8. typo…*accessed* should be assessed.

  9. I was fascinated by this debate last. Where I live, children are not entitled to free public transport , regardless of age, if they live less than 2 miles from their local school. If the school and other parents are so concerned perhaps the emphasis needs to be on making safer routes to this school for all children to be able to walk or cycle.

    For some families such decisions as these are made out of necessity rather than choice, e.g. when I was 4 & 5 years old I regularly walked one mile to school on a country road with my older sister aged 6. We often met cars doing 50 miles or faster and there was no sidewalk. Our mum showed us how to walk the route, where to cross and how jump into the long grass at the side of the road when we heard a car approaching.

    What isn’t clear is whether or not these children were coping with the bike ride. If they were, then really the reaction is over the top. I know there’s laws about riding bikes on sidewalks but when was a child cyclist or their parent last up in court for this offence?

  10. When the argument is framed as: “the streets are dangerous places full of dangerous SUVs! Our children can’t survive such an environment”

    The solution proposed is always to remove the children. It’s never to remove the SUV, or to modify the streets in a fashion that makes them navigable by pedestrians and bicycles.

    We need to prioritize the health of our society and the humans in it, not the steel and glass they move around in. The cars will be fine, time to make sure the humans in them are healthy and happy, and can get from a to b without being crushed.

  11. You go Anthony! Speaking as a child who learned to cook, clean, do laundry and babysit my younger brother (2 years younger than me) by the time I was 6. We grew up just fine. Mentally, emotionally, and physically. I don’t think we or my parents were/are any different from any other parents or children with common sense and intelligence. And we have always lived in a major city, downtown even. Though my parents have long retired in the suburbs, my siblings and I are still city folk.

  12. I just don’t understand why everyone has to be so unhelpful these days and blaming each other and judging each other. I got lost as a kid and each time someone helped me and my parents never got cps called on them.

    Once when I was 3 I got bored during my dad’s soccer game and while I was playing hide & seek with the other kids decided to walk home. A nice couple saw me and helped me they did end up calling the cops but only because no one answered our phone and I didn’t know the name of the field. The police came and took me to my dad told me not to wander away and left.

    The other time I remember I was in first grade and somehow missed walking home with the kids that go to my mom’s daycare, the crossing guard made sure I crossed the busy street ok told me not to talk to strangers and after all the kids were gone called my mom to let her know that I would be 5 or so minutes behind everyone else. No one freaked out they all assumed I could walk home safely at 6 years old.

    And this would have been right around 1990 when crime was actually at its highest

  13. I picked this up the other day and was absolutely disgusted. It’s the headmaster that’s threatening the parents with social services, and he ought to be bloody well ashamed of himself. The extent of state interference here is absolutely ridiculous and needs to stop.

  14. Anthony,

    I just had a thought! Maybe they saw the bag slung over your kids shoulder and thought he was trying to run away from home :P

    Who would believe it that a kid was doing his own laundry?

  15. @Becca: Removing the kids is the easiest solution to a bigger problem. Politicians would rather save the money for their pockets, than actually make it safer for kids to ride their bikes or let alone walk where there is high traffic. You are right, they need to get their priorities straight. The way it’s looking, if I was my 8 year old self doing what I did back then, my parents probably would have been arrested, my siblings and I would have been put in foster homes, and we would have probably turned out the complete opposite of the confident, respectful, happy (for the most part, lol), intelligent, easy going and successful adult we are now.

    @Snarfy: It saddens me that a lot of adults these days portray children as helpless and incompetent. That they can’t learn and figure things out on their own. Even with the help of their parents, if the parents help them at all. My family is already teaching my nephew (4 years) to do laundry. He often gets mad if we don’t let him load, put the detergent in and start the machine by himself. He’s also starting to help his mother bake. He does a very good job.

  16. @Snarfy, I started to laugh but caught myself. Isnt’ it sad that a kid who makes his bed, takes out the trash, does his own wash and puts his clothes away, and who can change his own bandages (he got a nasty little boo-boo on his leg from a mosquito bite or something that got infected but that is healing nicely) is the exception rather than the norm?

    Now, in fairness, my son is no paragon. Getting him to pick up after himself (such as putting the bandage wrappers in the trash, dishes in the sink, etc.) remain challenges and I am thinking of tying them into his allowance. But still… my parenting philosophy is that I have 18 years to make myself functionally obsolete, and almost half that time has elapsed.

  17. Look at the upside: the helicopter children are going to end up working for our children.

  18. Anthony, sorry to hear about your ordeal.

    Maybe free range parents need to create a set of guidelines to share for situations where we have to engage with police/child protection services because we want our children to be responsible and independent?

    I mean, we’d all be angry, puzzled a little bit frightened in such a situation, but I have been thinking that these interactions could be a great opportunity to start a dialogue about it.

    To suggest that ‘I’ve seen a child alone’ shouldn’t be a cause for police intervention unless the caller has other reasons for concern (it’s late at night, the child is under five and with no older siblings in evidence, the child looks dirty and uncared for etc) and to empower and inform those who answer calls to say ‘If you have no concerns other than their not being accompanied, this is not a police matter’ so people get the message that there is not ‘a law against things like that’, rather than it being reinforced that there is.

    For police to be trained in understanding the law around this so that they respond in the best interests of child protection, not in the as a knee-jerk to media paranoia. It’s in their interests… they’re wasting their time and compromising other people’s safety.

    To generally create a dialogue between communities and law/child protection enforcement that welcomes freedoms and encourages parents to support rather than to judge one another.

    A tall order, I know, but perhaps a big picture we all ought to keep in mind.

  19. Loved Gina’s comment. Pretty much exactly what I was thinking.

    But really, the thing everyone misses with this risk-assessment stuff (and this isn’t limited to Free Range Kids, but applies to counter terrorism, traffic law etc.) is that it’s not the absolute risk you should worry about, but the relative risk.

    We’re not comparing letting the kids cycle to school to spiriting them risk-free through the aether in the arms of angels. We’re comparing it to the risk of (for example) a road accident if we drive them, or tripping over a paving slab if we walk them. Furthermore, we need to compare it to the risks inherent in going to school in the first place: scissors and bullies and hot soup oh my!

    I strongly suspect that the risk of abduction would have to be much higher before it comes anywhere near the riskiness of actually being at school; health and safety notwithstanding.

  20. @Claudia, if you are nar San Francisco, California, I would LOVE to work with you. I would also love to work with Lenore or ANY free-range parents in California to start to address this.

    I am thinking we could pool our resources to rent out a hall and put on a free talk (donations requested but not required) for anyone who cares to come. Send invites to CPS and the police to come attend, and notify the press. I am a good public speaker and love being in front of an audience, so am happy to deliver the presentation.

    Any takers? Let’s do this!

  21. I’m so incredibly grateful we no longer live on mainland UK. It’s considered the norm for kids to go to school alone on the bus, or on foot. It’s fine for kids to be out playing in the street. There isn’t an issue with them going to the shore or up on the hills, within reason. Island life ftw, it’s EASY to have free range kids here!

    There needs to be a dialogue within the communities, and with the police as well, as has already been suggested. But the biggest, most important things are

    1) The level of state interference has to drop – dramatically.

    2) People need to get past this idea that every minute of every hour of every kids day has to be filled with supervised activity. It doesn’t – it’s bad for them, it’s bad for you, it’s bad for everyone and it needs to stop. Let them breathe!

  22. Quote: “(In London, many of the two-way streets are only wide enough for one car, making jockeying for position and squeezing past other vehicles a regular part of driving.)”

    This actually makes them safer. A driver who is squeezing a car past other vehicles and negotiating right of way with other drivers is one who is paying full attention to the road and its users, and going very slowly. So there’s much more chance that motor vehicle drivers will spot cyclists and pedestrians. Not to mention the fact that a street that narrow is also too narrow for cars to even attempt to overtake cyclists, so there’s less chance that the cyclists will get knocked into the gutter.

  23. Anthony, alas I am in London ;) My daughter’s only two, so it’s a few years before I potentially come up against any concerns, but if I start to see these in evidence, I certainly plan not to let it lie.

  24. This sentence is sticking with me:

    “What I find chilling is the idea that a school or fellow parents will, in effect, call in the cops (or civil functionaries) to police choices they disagree with. ”

    What one person disagrees with, but is perfectly legal, still means that person can call the CPS with impunity. there should be some bar or standard which is highly publicized, explaining WHAT constitutes neglect or abuse and a reason to call CPS.

  25. My sister turned 5 in July and rode her bike to school daily beginning the following month. Sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. She had to cross 3 streets (including a highway) to get there.

    In her entire childhood, the only incident she had on the way to school was to be stung by the bees ON SCHOOL PROPERTY after someone kicked the beehive.

    Her other mishaps all happened on school property during recess, including being kicked repeatedly in the face by the 3rd-grade class bully’s cowboy boots.

    In addition to coming out of her childhood basically unscathed, she learned many coping skills that are very valuable now that she’s a working mom.

  26. Yes, it is scary to know that some busybodies will report you just because they don’t agree with your perfectly legal, safe parenting choice. I found myself last night keeping my kids closer than usual at the park where I was accosted by a “concerned parent” last week. I hate that my kids’ development should depend on what other people think – other people who have not proven that their methods produce safer or superior kids, but simply have big mouths. I hope I can learn to be strong, and soon.

  27. Anthony, your comment about the helicopter kids working for the free-range ones made me laugh out loud!

  28. SKL, I have had similar thoughts. Just suck it up and endure the glares and “concerned” (aka self-righteous) comments. I need to develop thicker skin myself. We are investigating home-schooling our 4-year-old and will experience many comments should we decide to go that route. I am a recovering people-pleaser but get better at doing my own thing every year.

  29. @Anthony – I’m in the East Bay (Piedmont to be specific). Maybe we should do a Free Range Parent meet up!

    We do have a wonderful little city that is very well set up for FRing. But to be honest, most of SF is pretty tame by big city standards also.

    A quick SF horror story. A friend of mine who lives in the Laurel district of SF told me that when she sent her 11 year old son two blocks to get her a coffee, the neighbor almost had a fit. Because the neighbor couldn’t wrap her mind around the idea of letting her 14 yo son do the same.

  30. BrianJ, my email is anthonyh@ashlandhome.net. Let’s connect and make something happen!

    The neighbor had a fit about an 11 year old… in LAUREL VILLAGE? WTF?

  31. @ Anthony – we’ve been sending our kids to school by themselves since they were in 1st and second grade (girl and boy respectively). Neither we no they ever got any grief. The only time I even remember a funny look was when my son was in kindergarden. I would drive from work to pick him up at school and ask him if he wanted to walk home by himself. Unless it was raining, he always wanted to. I would play crossing guard as he crossed the street, and he would walk the shortest route home. This meant that I had to take a slightly different route, so that he was out of site for about 1 minute as he walked one block. He would wait at the intersection at the end of our block, and would cross in front of my car.

    Once, he reached the intersection a little before me, and one of the nice ladies who live on the block was walking reaaaallly slowly. She was waiting to see why he was standing there by himself. When she saw me, she gave me a little wave without letting my son know that she had been keeping an eye on him.

    Oh yeah… a biking story from Oakland, near our house. My son was riding his bicycle while wearing Heelies (which is a really stupid idea). He was on a pretty big street (Grand Ave at Oakland) in the bike lane and he fell. He was tangled up in his bike but mostly out of traffic. A woman driving on the other side of the street hung a very quick u turn and stopped her car so that her car was blocking traffic in the lane that my son had been in.

  32. A couple weeks ago, Logan rode his bicycle home from summer camp (38th & Fulton) to home (2nd & Irving) by himself. I was on my motorcycle and leapfrogged him all the way home. The closest I got wa sa tricky intersection where I crossed right next to him to make sure some motorist didn’t cut across his path.

    Every time we ride our bicycles to and from, he rides on the sidewalk while I ride in the street across and behind him (a great way to get an eagle-eye view and warn him if he does something maor, but that gives him all the decision-making power). On the way home, there is about 1/4 mile where I go in the street and he goes on the sidewalk out of my sight for about 5 minutes.

    He goes to the store by himself all the time, the one right next to the laundry one block away. On weekends, he goes skating in the park at the area at 6th & Fulton and he skates there and back on his own while I walk to and from. Once there, if he tells me where he is going, he is free to go to the Safeway at 7th & Cabrillo or to the hot dog stand on JFK. (Of course the street is closed to traffic when we are there, but if not, he’d go on the sidewalk without my needing to tell him.)

    At the big playground near Kezar Stadium, I will sit for many hours without seeing him as he enjoys himself. Of course, 5 police officers surrounded me one time saying they got a call of A MAN IN THE PLAYGROUND WITHOUT A CHILD! I had to call Logan over to assure th cope that yes, he is my son, in front of hundreds of people. My crime? Sitting on a bench, reading a book, minding my own business, not talking to anyone or doing a damned thing. As the cops were leaving, some smartass dad said, “It’s because you were reading a book!” to which I said, “and the people over there reading their magazines, a**hole?”

    Of course, these are the same cops who sent TEN CARS to the playground (nearly running my boy and me over in the process when they came screaming down park walkin paths) because some young deranged wisp of a man dropped trou in the middle of the playground on a dark foggy afternoon. Seriously, 3.5 BILLION penises on the planet and people get all bent out of shape about them? Tis guy was NOT a pedophile or a creep, just some poor little nebbishy guy with some serious mental problems.

  33. @Anthony: I need to make cards like that for my kids! I love it!

    All joking aside, I’m going more and more free-range these days (even let my 11-year-old go to the park while home alone). I’m glad I haven’t run into more busy bodies but I guess seeing unsupervised kids sprinkled around the neighborhood is a good sign that free-range is welcome.

  34. ** HERE IS THE EXACT TEXT OF THE LAMINATED CARD MY SON CARRIES WITH HIM IN CASE SOMEONE STOPS HIM. Feel free to use it any way you see fit (just please change the contact info! :-)) **

    ======================================

    To whom it may concern,

    Thank you very much for caring enough to check on Logan. He is showing you this letter because he has our permission to be outside and because he is perfectly OK. He has been carefully taught how to be safe outdoors and has demonstrated that he knows where he is, how to cross streets safely, what to do if
    something goes wrong, 9-1-1, etc. He is also carrying a cell phone with a GPS locator so we always know where he is, with all the contacts he needs on speed dial. IF HE NEEDS HELP, HE WILL ASK FOR IT and it is wonderful to know that there are good people
    like you for him to turn to for assistance when needed.

    His being outdoors is not in violation of any law. Also, per the latest government data (NHTSA and USDOJ), a child outdoors is about 40 times less likely to be killed than a child in a car. This may seem hard to believe but those are the facts.

    If you have any additional questions or concerns, or if Logan is misbehaving in any way, please call Anthony at (415)786-2081.

    Otherwise, thank you again for making sure he is OK and please let him go about his business without any further delay

    UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES WILL LOGAN GO ANYWHERE WITH YOU OR ANY OTHER STRANGER.

    ===================================

  35. “What became clear this past week in London is that, when other people’s comfort level doesn’t match our own, just what others will do to bring it all into line.”

    That really is a chilling thought.

    I admit that I don’t always agree with choices other parents make. But….whatever. I figure they’ll parent their children the way they see fit, and I’ll parent my child the way I see fit. But to think that the ability to be a parent could be called into question simply for letting a child bike to school is disturbing.

  36. Wow. I’ve been living in Japan for the last few years and kids here start walking on their own to school in first grade, which means many/most kids are age 6. There are lots of structures put into place to help guide and teach kids, including safety classes. Kids are also taking buses and subways and trains alone if their schools are further away (depending on the child/family comfort level, they may have practice runs with an adult for a few months, but then they are navigating all that commuting on their own).
    When we returned to the US briefly in the spring and attended school I saw that it was very different, and that my son was the only first grader to walk to school alone (with his big brother).

  37. ONe comment I hear offtener than any other is how childhood is getting shorter these days. This is rubbish childhood is at its longest now with 18 and 19 year olds being considered to be children. I was on anter forum and was shocked that people considered it proper that they open the mail of their children even 20 year olds.

  38. @Anthony

    I am 24 and don’t even do my own laundry, which makes this even more hilarious. But that has more to do with laziness and less to do with ability :P Good thing I have a husband who likes laundry, yeah? hahaha!

  39. “What became clear this past week in London is that, when other people’s comfort level doesn’t match our own, just what others will do to bring it all into line.”

    After reading an article about this case in the Times last night I was thinking last last night about the motives of strangers who decide to weigh in when they see other people’s children or their parents doing something that they personally would not do. I think they fall into three categories:
    First some people are generally concerned for the welfare of the children because i) they’ve read too many tabloid newspapers, ii) they are women with highly developed maternal feelings, who have a strong urge to look after all children, not just their own, or, of course iii) the child is in some actual danger, even relatively minor, in which case the “meddling” is a good thing.

    Then there’s the category of people, mostly women, who want to position themselves as good and responsible mothers by casting some other mother as bad and irresponsible and calling her out on her behaviour.

    Then there’s another category and this mostly relates to competitive, middle-class parents: they actually don’t like the idea that some other child is more adventurous and capable than their own. Frank Ferudi was talking about this in the article I read last night, but it’s a conclusion that I had come to independently. The reason I think this is the reaction I witness from other parents to my son doing quite unremarkable things like sometimes walking part of the way to school himself (he’s nearly 9!). I really don’t think it’s concern for his welfare, it seems more like a profound sense of unease. I really don’t know how else to explain how alarmed they seem sometimes.

  40. First, gold star for Anthony for use of the word nebbish. :D

    My wife Mander and I have somewhat different scales of tolerance for free ranging, but with enough overlap to not cause troubles for us or the kids. A moment on the playground the other day found us mismatched…

    Our kids were merrily off playing, we weren’t concerned about them for all the sane and good free-range reasons. But, there was a toddler on the big kid playground doing some impressive big kid stuff. Mander was nervous, keeping an eye on her, keeping a stink eye ready for her parents. When the little one got in a jam at the top of the monkey bars, I encouraged patience before rescuing her. But it quickly became clear that the little girl was freaked out and needed help (she was about 8 feet off the ground) so we got her down. We first thought that one guy was the dad she was calling for, but he walked on by. Then another. Then we wondered where her dad was and if he was going to comfort her (now crying, calling for daddy.)

    Mander was ready to rush over, have her point dad out and give him a piece of her mind about leaving her unsupervised on the big kid playground. I shared her urge, the baby is crying for you dude! but we let the little one find her way to her dad on her own. Mander settled for some grumbling under her breath and I was relieved we hadn’t gone all helicopter on some other parent.

    My point to Mander was, we were there. We were able to help. She wasn’t unsupervised because there were a bunch of us there, and if the parent wasn’t willing/able/available at the exact moment of need, the child had the rest of us to rely on. I’m ok with that. Mander is still grumbling. :D

  41. am I the only one to be very very tempted to call CPS on the parent that keeps their child locked up in the house all day??

  42. I’ve realised this whole issue of ‘concerned’ people calling the authorities is another problem with ‘don’t talk to strangers’. If people talked to the ‘neglected child’ rather than calling the police, and found out that they were on the way to their friend’s house two minutes away, or were going to the shop to buy some milk or whatever, their minds might be put at rest that this is a happy, safe child going about their business, not a neglected waif.

    But they know it could ‘look funny’ if they talk to the child and/or that the child is likely to have been told not to talk to strangers.

    It’s totally understandable why ‘don’t talk to strangers’ came about, but when it first appeared, far fewer people WERE strangers (and there wasn’t the awareness there is now, among those in the know, that it’s highly unlikely for strangers to be the danger to children). These days it basically translates as ‘don’t talk to anyone’ and that puts children at risk and leads to adults interacting with the authorities rather than the child.

  43. (mvb) I understand, believe me I do, if I hear one more parent issue a declarative order of “no running” when their kids in the park, running ON GRASS, I think I’m going to have an absolute fit.

    But to answer your comment, that whole mentality of calling CPS is what has ruined parenting. I would never stoop to their level in retaliation. Frankly, as much as I love my children–and I do, believe me–but if I had it to do over again, I tend to think I’d stay child-less. It isn’t the expenses, or the need to get a babysitter if you want to do some serious “adult free ranging,” but the whole nosiness of others & CPS.

    What good is being a parent if you can’t do it without busy-bodies meddling in your business? Your children consider you the leader, but what kind of leader are you really with busy-bodies looking over your shoulder telling you what to do? In my view–either I’m the parent, or I’m not. Either my wife & I have almost total authority over EVERYTHING (short of striking them side the head with a baseball bat, obviously) regarding how we manage our child’s affairs, or YOU (the government, busy-bodies etc) are the ones.

    Pick one, or the other, as an ABSOLUTE–and be done with it. Don’t tell me I’m the one responsible for how I parent my children, then tell me how to do it in a meddling manner. Either I’m the one in charge here, or I’m not. Period.

    Believe me, I’m up for the fight. In some ways, being this fighter brings out the best in me. In the process, I advocate on behalf of our family and on behalf of people being able to live their lives as they please in general.

    On the other hand, I just want to live, and to be left alone to live as I freaking please. I consider this a fundamental truth of life. To me, being a parent doesn’t change this in anyway. That said, I get tired of fighting all the time. It won’t ever cause me to lay down & “take it up the tailpipe” to appease the busy-bodies, but I get tired of it.

    CPS should be reserved strictly for rapes, molestation, extreme neglect and hunger, etc. When someone wants to call CPS on someone because their children are at a public place & dirty from playing in the mud beforehand, and they can’t refrain from making a judgment call (Lenore herself, in her book in “commandment 6″ tells parents who are about to judge to “hush”), we have a serious problem.

    Frankly, even though I’ve been told to “play nice” with people who confront you, frankly I want to chew them out with a monologue that’s reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s “You Can’t Handle the Truth” bit in “A Few Good Men.” They need to be told, quite honestly.

    LRH

  44. So I’m out with a friend for breakfast this morning and talking about how I am looking forward to my son going to third grade and walking/cycling/taking the streetcar to school some 16 short blocks away. I am also talking about my fear of more busybodies, police, etc.

    He came up with a brilliant idea that I just had to share:

    Have my son talk to as many people as possible each day on his way to and from school.

    Introduce himself to the streetcar driver and ask to be let off at his stop, does the same driver come every day, etc.

    Give him as few extra dollars and have him stop in at different stores and buy something (fruit, candy, etc.) and introduce himself to the people there.

    Say hello to police officers, firefighters, etc. and ask them if they are regulars in the area, etc.

    In short, strike up short conversations, make small talk, mention that he goes to school at X and lives at Y and that he loves being able to walk/ride/cycle/etc. because he’s enjoying getting to know everyone in the neighborhood.

    The idea is manyfold:

    First, he will build a network of people who will keep an eye out for him anmd who he can turn to if needed.

    Second, he will make himself a familiar sight on his route to and from school, and people will know that he is OK and that there is no need to overreact.Anyone who does will be promptly shut down by those who know him.

    Third, when the cops get a call about him, they will simply drive by, wave to him, and keep on going.

    I have no idea if it will work or not but it sounds great in principle. COmmunity building, one child at a time!

  45. @ Paula – I think this is very true that childhood is longer than ever. Being exposed to violence/sex/drugs/the general fallibility of the adult world doesn’t end childhood. The problem is that kids, however mature they THINK they are because they’ve ‘seen it, done it, bought the t-shirt’, are still generally kids, often with a very naïve and unrealistic view of the world.

    And keeping them cooped up is not ‘protecting their innocence’ – it’s prolonging their naivete and dependence.

    I swear to God, I do worry that by the time my daughter’s in her early adulthood people will be going ‘You let a 21-year-old out on her own?! What were you thinking?!’

  46. Depends on the kids. A mile seems long for a 5-year-old, but not for an 8-year-old. If you think about it, a mile is about what a typical person can walk in about 20 minutes. It’s not that far.

  47. Interesting point about “not talking to strangers.” I have never told my kids not to do so, but they are shy in odd situations. The situation where a strange woman took my 3yo by the hand as she was walking toward me at the park was one such situation. The woman asked her first in English and then in Spanish where her mother was. My daughter said nothing, just allowed herself to be led mutely, a look on her face like “what’s this all about?” Poor, helpless, abandoned little thing! Ha!

    I haven’t read Lenore’s book, but I’m glad to hear there is stuff in there about how to react to other people’s free range style. My suggestion would be to watch and not interfere as long as the chid is not in immediate danger. See if the child seems to be going somewhere in particular, or just wandering aimlessly. If the child appears to be alone and wandering aimlessly for an unreasonable period of time (given her age), I could see intervening. But it is wrong to just assume a child walking alone has a problem.

  48. Good comment, Larry Harrison!

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