Cops Collar 12 y.o. for “Walking Alone” in Downtown Toronto

Hi Folks — Now that the notion, “How could anyone let their kids walk alone outside?” is back in heavy rotation,  here is the blog post of a mom whose 12 year old son was brought home to her by the cops. He wasn’t  in any trouble. He was simply scooped up because the cops didn’t think a middle schooler should be walking, by daylight, in an urban area. It freaked them out.

I always worry when people in power are scared of non-scary, formerly normal childhood activities.

As this boy was picked up in pretty much the same area that I’ve been staying in while I film my “Free-Range” reality show in Toronto, I can attest that it is not a scary nabe. It is bustling. But even if it weren’t, since when do police pick up boys who are doing just fine, walking home? From the blog post:

“I just wanted to walk home” he said dejectedly. “He’s not in any kind of trouble” the first officer said cheerfully. But then more sternly added “but he was walking on the downtown streets”. “We live downtown” I said, becoming confused. “Where is his school?” asked the second officer. “He’s in a camp this week, at the Jewish Community Centre – it’s at Spadina and Bloor”, I said wondering why two policemen would think a kid was in school in the middle of July. “Well ma’am, we picked him up at Yonge and Adelaide” he says, looking all strong and concerned. “Yes, I said, he was walking home, is that a problem?”. “He was walking…. alone…… downtown……….!!!” the officer gritted his teeth at my stupidity and spat out. “He’s 12”, he added as if this would make it all clear. “Do you not see the issue” he spurted? “So are you trying to tell me that because my child was getting exercise, being environmental and increasing his geographical skills, rather than sitting in the basement playing a video game, or hanging out in a mall, or sitting in a fast food restaurant filling his gutty wuts with hydrogenated trans sugar chemical slop, you were worried about him? Do you realize that at 12 he is old enough to babysit?” I asked.

Her fight is our fight: The fight against irrational fear, and a Worst-First mentality that assumes if a child is outside, he is likely to get in terrible trouble. When, in fact, the opposite is true. A child outside is a great thing for a city, a family, a kid. — Lenore

125 Responses

  1. I’m sure we’ll get many anecdotes from people who explored their cities at a young age. I wandered Victoria B.C. on my bike at age 8.

    But one I really like is James Randi talking about his growing up in Toronto http://bigthink.com/ideas/20387

    “I guess I was about 12 or so at the time. And I saw a magician. Oh, man, that got my attention. I figured maybe that’s something I could know something more about.”

  2. Are there any laws in Toronto or Ontario against young people his age walking alone? If there aren’t, she can sue the cops.

  3. It’s just bizarre. This is what I think about when I let my kids go out in our city (Chicago), rather than their actual safety. I let my 7 year old ride his scooter out on our sidewalk yesterday without us. He was beyond thrilled. I didn’t worry at all about his safety, but wondered if anyone would give us a hard time. I

  4. In April my six year old was escorted home in a police car, in the front seat, for playing outside without an adult present, less than one hundred feet from our house. We live in a peaceful, well-appointed suburban neighborhood with landscaped ponds surrounded by leafy walking trails. There is a pond one house away which is shallow enough for my six year old to walk in (which he has) and in any event he is a strong swimmer on the neighborhood swim team. To be fair, the policeman may not have realized this. But while our son regularly plays outside alone, the irony is that he was not alone at the pond this particular time. He was with a twelve year old neighbor boy. They were together checking on the ducklings which hatched from a nest on our front porch, some of which the twelve year old was fostering after being abandoned by the mother duck. When the constable first approached the boys and told my six year old he couldn’t play there alone, the twelve year old replied that he was watching him. Apparently that was unsatisfactory and my son was driven home, literally one house away.

    The officer told me he is uncomfortable with my son playing outside without an adult, revealing that he doesn’t let his thirteen year old son outside unsupervised. I kindly said thank you for the concern but my son has our permission to play outside alone even at the pond, that we encourage him to do so, that he is a good swimmer, that the water is shallow enough for him to walk in anyway, that he knows the neighborhood very well, that he knows the neighbors and they all know him, that he knows our phone numbers, and that he knows not to go off with anyone (excepting the police, ahem). We have worked very hard to create the sort of community where our children can explore the world outside and feel confident doing so. As if to underscore my position the neighbors were stopping by to say hello and talk about the ducklings etc. during our long chat. Eventually my son got bored with our conversation and wandered back to the pond, but this time the police officer didn’t say anything! I’m very proud of myself for sticking to my guns in a patient, firm manner, and in the end the policeman left – if not necessarily agreeing with our approach at least realizing we had given it careful consideration and preparation.

  5. This is absurd. My parents let my 13 year old cousin, visiting from France, take me to the beach on the bus when I was 6. My cousin didn’t speak English very well at the time. I never felt worried or afraid.

    My mom remembers wandering around downtown Flint, Michigan when she was four or five (this was well before Flint was a blighted city). Her dad (my grandpa) gave her money to buy ice cream. No one batted an eye.

    Just yesterday, we enjoyed a day at the lake with our next door neighbors, who we’re just beginning to know a little more. The entire time we weren’t on the boat, their four year old was floating around the water (in a life jacket). We could see him, but we were all about 100 yards away. His parents weren’t concerned and would only check on him from time to time. They know he’s a competent swimmer.

    It was a breath of fresh air to see parents treat their child with respect and maturity.

  6. Somehow I’m reminded of the Ray Bradbury short story “The Pedestrian” in which a man is arrested for walking… outside… On The Sidewalk . Really, is this what we’re coming to?

  7. We just came home from a week at the beach. I allowed my 14 year old daughter to invite a friend to come with her for the week. The girl’s mom allowed her, even though she keeps her on a very tight leash (not literal, let’s not start that argument :)). I, however, allowed the girls to wander at will. They came and went from the beach when they wanted, they wandered around the shopping area alone, they went for ice cream alone, in other words, they had a ball. Not one bad thing happened to them. Now, I have no idea what the girl will tell her mom, we’re not really friends, so I won’t have reason to tell her what I allowed them to do, so I don’t think this will help make her less strict, but I can see the argument later on, “But Sarah’s mom let us…” :)

  8. I can remember, at twelve, walking all OVER our neighborhood. As the sixth child of seven, I had the advantage of experienced parents. Cannot imagine how they would have reacted if a police officer had brought me home ‘your son was walking alone in public, sir, ma’am.’

    At this point, I’d be delighted if my fourteen year old expressed a desire to go out riding his bike alone, or even with a friend. He and a friend recently walked to the friend’s house after a movie – almost a mile through residential neighborhoods. REALLY glad the police didn’t get involved.

    By the by, one of my sisters recently made a Facebook post about ‘how sad our kids will never feel safe outside the way we did when we were kids’. I responded with ‘free range kids – Google it’.

  9. Here we go again! I could see myself getting really angry at that! I’ve had people tell me “but she wasn’t with an adult” over and over again – lucky I am the type of person to curb my impulses!

    The other day I took my kids to a Hometown Buffet (the food was awful!) and when it was time to leave, my 4yo wanted to go the “in” way and meet me outside. I nodded my assent as she skipped off. Outdoors, I waited, checked, waited, checked . . . there was no chance that she was lost, and no good reason or a delay. Finally the door opened and a woman walked out with my sheepish kid. “She was trying to go out the other way.” Yes, I know, she was going to meet me here. “She was all by herself, she’d gotten away from you.” I realized that the young woman thought she was doing me a big favor, so I thanked her and moved along. But yeah, people, kids are not idiots. Don’t assume a problem unless there is evidence of a problem. A child walking alone in a safe place (when old enough to have a clue of where she’s going) is not a problem.

  10. Oh, and my kids’ daycare boss about lost her mind when my daughter let herself out of the building while I was busy doing something with the other kid. Naturally she assumed the child was being disobedient, but I’ve never told her not to do that. Another day I had to let her go in and use the restroom after we had already clocked out, so I sent her in alone. When she was done, a teacher brought her out and walked her all the way from the door to the car in a death grip. I suppose she’d faint if she saw me letting my kids cross the street on their own.

  11. I too travelled age 7, 2 miles on 2 buses to visit my grandparents.
    I think you are being hard on the cop, who is keeping a proactive eye on your child for their safety. Yes, he could have enquired and just watched the kids, but lets assume he had no other pressing duties, which is a good sign. Also, if this had been late at night,” when bad things happen”, I think it is wise to know where your children are. 100 yards by the pond, no probs, 1 mile on a strange street, thats when kids get into trouble, from both directions. Cops have a suspicious mind because they deal with lots of trouble. We have pure minds because we avoid trouble. Next time, say thanks.
    I guess a note from the parent, in a pocket, for these occasions would be prudent if it happens regularly. BUT becoming friends with the local cops is a good idea for many reasons, so look on it as an opportunity.

  12. *Shakes head and frowns* *Audible sigh*

  13. I was walking through the Metrotown bus loop (Metrotown in the second largest mall in Canada) with a friend of mine (also a mother) and we saw a boy about 8. He was sitting on a flight of stairs without an adult. He was just sitting there playing on his DS. She wanted to go over and take him inside to customer service. I told her to just look at him. And our conversation went something like this:

    Is he safe?
    Yes.
    Is he probably waiting for someone (a friend or parent)?
    Probably.
    Is he causing trouble?
    No.
    Is he in any distress?
    No.

    She left it alone and we got on the bus. Victory!

  14. Someone on Elaine’s blog wrote “Wow. And here I thought we were safe from this American-style idiocy.” Makes ya proud, doesn’t it?

  15. I am surprsed he did not also ask for the camps cori reports. No wonder kids are not growing up and moving on…insted they move home so they can stay in the safty of mom and daddy. I better not share the story of the bear on our camp site!!!!

  16. I can’t help connecting this trend to what’s going on with my niece. She’s supposed to go off to college this fall but has no idea how to pay for it. She’s 18. Everyone’s talking about what her parents should do / should have done for her, but my question is, what is SHE going to do about it? “Oh well, you can’t expect her to do anything for herself, she’s never been asked to do so before.” [Mind you, her dad was a very free-range, can-do person who had a regular grown-up job at age 16 (with no help from family). Her mom was married with kids (former marriage) at age 18. And my niece is "gifted." So I'm not sure why she's been brought up as if she's incapable.]

    How many other young adults are sitting around waiting for their lives to be arranged for them? And can we blame them?

  17. Not in Canada! I thought they were more sane than us nutty Americans.

  18. Absurd. If it was a nice part of town and he was not causing any trouble and the parent was okay with it, than the cops need not be concerned.

  19. SKL: The story you described above may have less to do with free range and more to do with you are not supposed to walk out the “in” door at those restaurants. Why would you let her do that if it was something you are not supposed to do? Even adults really should not go out that way. Are you talking about the ones with totally separate entrances for coming in and out? They do that for a reason.

  20. Hopefully they don’t come to my town. My ten and seven year old regularly haunt the skywalks downtown. With only each other and a few bucks for the candy shop. Yikes.

  21. As a compromise, Toronto could issue a standardized and affordable “walking license” for children of parents with confidence in them. A cop picking up a kid in a suspect area could see if the license envisioned the kid there. If in doubt (eg thinking the kid forged the license), he could call into headquarters and see if their database matched the license. Kids without “licenses” could be rounded up as per current policy.

  22. @SKL Back when I was working for the museum, we had a summer program. This Mom came in and picked up her daughter. They got to the car and Mom was putting the baby into the car seat. The little girl realized she had left her lunch kit. She told her mom and raced back into the building.

    The building was one of the 1st Hiltons built and we occupied only one little corner of it. The little girl ran in grabbed her kit. Honestly I didn’t give it a 2nd thought, until the mom came in looking for her. Now we were alarmed. Everything above the 3rd floor was under renovation at that point. Large sections of the floor were missing – and the girl was fascinated with the elevator (one of 3 in the whole city).

    Another staffer called the building manager, who started searching the upper floors. I ran up to the 3rd floor to see if the little cuss had gone up to visit my boss. Her mom went to the 2nd to see if she had gone to visit 2 other offices. (Mom was very involved in the art community and most of them had offices in the building).

    A very irate woman walked in with the imp in tow. Turned out she went out the front door out of habit. Mom had parked off to the side.

    The woman filed a complaint with our board. Thankfully Mom was on the board. They all knew her daughter, and thought it hilarious.

  23. I’m surprised by this because my parents sent my twin sister and I to Toronto on a two-weeks summer camp to improve our English. I was 13 and at first I could barely ask for a Coke, let alone understand basic street directions. Yet as long as we signed out on a sheet of paper we were allowed to get out of St Michael’s college campus every afternoon. (Sneaking out at night happened to be quite easy too ;) ) And we weren’t the only kids out there, either; at the Toronto Eton Mall we spotted groups of younger girls with big shopping bags and mobile phones.
    I’d like to say it felt like the most normal thing at the time. It didn’t. My mother was not free-range at all; As ten-year-olds it had been practically impossible to walk further than 3 feet away from her when we had visited Paris.
    Before Toronto, I had never been free to move around alone in a city for a few hours without having to lie first. Since I used to break rules quite often ;) it felt just like freedom and happiness, whereas my more obedient sister was anxious most of the time. When the way you’re raised is based on the idea that anytime you’ll be left alone something horrible is very likely happen, you tend to entertain very scary thought when you’re left alone for the first time. It’s also likely that you never had to naviguate a city map outside of homework. But as I was used to lie about my whereabouts and go to all sort of places alone, I knew the world better than I was allowed to, so I’m now ashamed to admit that I completely broke down after having lost sight of my twin for twenty minutes in a shopping mall. That’s what happens when you’re told about child abductions as the main reason you can’t take a walk around the neighborhood with another twelve year-old.
    The irony is, Downtown Toronto was way safer and quieter than my homeland. There I had already found out what it was like to be sexually harrassed by one of the guys selling crack on corners; to have old people inviting you into their car for money, thinking you’re a prostitute (and I DID look 13!); to say no to a “friend” who insists you carry a bag of “stuff” for him; to run very fast to escape from a schizophrenic homeless guy with a big knife. Yet had I lost my sister near my school, I’d never have suspected something bad had happened to her, because Hollywood movies aren’t set there.
    I’ve not seen Toronto since the day we left: July 31th, 2001. Exactly 10 years ago! I suppose a lot has changed in people’s attitude toward kids’supervision, and not in a good way. There are children who don’t even know what is being taken from them in a rush to more control in the face of anxiety that is mistaken for safety precautions. The two-week trip is one of the best moments in my life, but the memory’s still bittersweet, because by enjoying freedom in a safe place, I learned what I was missing the rest of the time.

  24. In 1985 when I was 13, after I finished 8th grade I went to Mexico for a month to visit my grandfather and the slew of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had been there once before with my family, but this time I went solo. I had a 5 hour layover in Miami. I was not escorted by anyone.

    Once I was there, I took the bus alone, walked around alone. I spoke some Spanish but not a ton.

    It was one of the best experiences of my life.

  25. I’m seventeen, heading off to college in less than a month. I have a good friend who’s fifteen, and I decided to invite her over one day last week when I had the house to myself. Her mother refused, saying she wouldn’t be comfortable without an adult around.

    I wonder how she thinks I’ll survive college…

  26. My boyfriend is a cop. When asked about this, he said, “Are you kidding me? Who has time for that? Do you have any idea how much paperwork that would involve?”

    I’m glad that the existence of actual crime, and also laziness, keep him as a sane police officer.

  27. [...] here’s one from Toronto, about the police bringing home a 12-year-old who they caught walking at Yonge and Adelaide in the [...]

  28. Stephanie — I just can’t agree that allowing a four-year-old to float in a lake, 100 yards away from supervision, is a good thing. Lifejacket or no, swimming lessons or no. Not saying pre-schoolers shouldn’t be allowed to swim in lakes, or that parents have to be hovering over them, but drowning can be fast. The length of a football field is too far…especially if you’re only “checking from time to time”. IMHO.

    Dolly — Yonge Street isn’t the nicest neighborhood in TO — but it’s busy, with pretty much everybody represented, from suits down to drug dealers. I walk it alone every time I go there, even at night, but I’m not sure I’d let my impressionable 12 yo niece do it. But then, we don’t live there, and I’m sure this mom has made sure her boy is street smart. But the police officer wouldn’t have known that…though had the boy just called his mom on his cell, he’d’ve found out without wasting his time on the drive. The boy doesn’t have a cell? The cop does. If the boy doesn’t know how to reach his parents then I question the street smartness after all.

    But seriously, Silver Fang, sue the cops for a ride home, however unnecessary??? God bless America…but that’ll be the main reason I’m really glad I don’t live in the States. The courts have much better things to do than deal with someone’s fit of pique.

  29. Frances, she should sue because the cop interfered with her kid’s right to travel freely. It’s a vestige of a much great oppression by the state of the citizenry, the 21st century encellument of the peasantry.

  30. Ha, seems I’ve created a stir by letting my kid go out the “in” door. Tsk tsk! Ever been to a Hometown Buffet? There is like a long hall for people to line up in to check in, and exit is a separate door (but right next to the “in” door). Folks can certainly go out the “in” if, for example, they changed their mind about eating there or didn’t like the prices or were just taking a look to check out the senior discount. When we were leaving, there were no people in line to come “in” as it was almost closing time. If I had been going out the “in,” I am sure the woman would have just said “have a nice evening.” There was certainly no reason to “apprehend” a 4-year-old for going out that way. I could see them having a problem with people going in the “out” door into the buffet area (skipping the cashier), but not the other way around.

    The point was that my kid wanted to go out a different way and meet me outside. We do the same when we go to Bob Evans, which has 2 sets of doors, neither of which is designated “in” vs. “out,” on opposite sides of the building. The lady assumed the child was awol and I had no clue.

    Problem with this is that people who think they are “saving” your kid are actually creating problems where they don’t exist. My kid did not show up where she was supposed to show up. I was debating whether I should go in and look for her, and if so, which door I should go in. If I’d gone in one door and the woman then dragged my kid out the other door, what then? Wouldn’t it have been better for the woman to follow and see if the kid was on the right track to meet someone, than to make her change course?

    Reminds me of yesterday at a kiddy picnic we went to. Various dads were walking around the playground area and telling my kids “sit down,” “you’re not big enough for that,” etc., presumably to keep them safe. Good intentions, but why not assume the parent is making sure the child is doing what’s appropriate for her? If I’m not stopping my kid from climbing the apparatus, should that not be an indication that she’s ready to attempt it?

  31. That also reminds me of a blogger saying “sorry, but if I saw a 3-4yo separate from a parent in a store, I’d take her to the security desk.” Regardless of whether the child was doing anything wrong or looking lonely or minding his own business. Folks like that make it hard for us to let our kids do things as they are ready.

  32. Also regardless, SKL, of whether or not it’s a good idea for a child to go wandering off with a random stranger, whether it’s to the security desk or not. My nieces know not to go wandering off with ANYbody, EVER for ANY reason. If they’re separated from us (when they’re not supposed to be), they’re supposed to sit down and stay still. Period.

  33. I realize this incident happened in Canada, but I’m sure it happens in the U.S. also. I really think the bottom line problem is that our society today is “too safe”. When we begin to defeat all the things that used to be dangerous and become safer we lose quite a bit of perspective. We start to gauge safety/danger against absolute safety. 150 years ago it was almost unheard of for any family to have all of their children survive to adulthood. There were so many dangers facing families back then, from diseases to wild animals, to harsh living conditions, to dangerous machinery and so on. Everyone expected people to die, they expected serious illness with little medical care, they expected harsh living conditions. No one looked for someone to blame when a particularly cold winter claimed many lives, or an outbreak of typhus swept through. Even 75 years ago young people were being killed by polio and world wars. Now days though America is so safe that we have begun to see death as unnatural. Especially the death of a child, surely something can be done to prevent it! Surely if the parents would have just done a better job, been more vigilant, their child would be okay. And so now we have generations growing up with the idea that if you protect enough you can prevent any tragedy. The idea that a child could die seems so wrong. This is America, it’s 2011, we have good hospitals, doctors, everything is state of the art, surely there is no place in this society for children to die! Any thing that ever kills any child, no matter how freak the accident, there will be a product on the market within months that would have prevented life from happening. In third world countries they do not have these issues with free range parenting. There children do still die, they have diseases, they have harsh living conditions, and they have the freedom to live without the fear that they must create a absolutely safe environment for their children. They know it’s impossible! Unfortunately in America we are so close to complete safety that we can’t see that it’s an illusion that will destroy us if we seek it. There has never been a safer place or time in history to raise children than America in 2011, and yet parents are more paranoid than they have ever been. Parents today will only accept absolute safety, nothing less, unfortunately the victims of this screwed up thinking are their children, and eventually all of because as we all know the children are the future. Too bad this next generation will be living in their parents basements playing video games into their 30’s.

  34. Uly, that’s exactly what I told that blogger. How are we supposed to teach our kids to NOT go with strangers, when “helpful” strangers take it upon themselves to “save” our kids? (And, should I be dismayed that my kids didn’t scream and run away when benign-looking strangers have taken their hand? Or credit their instinct for distinguishing a good guy from a bad guy?)

  35. Silver Fang — she should NOT sue because the cop interfered with her kid travelling freely (whether that’s a legal right in Canada for a non-emancipated minor might be debatable, though I’m no lawyer). She should complain to the organization. She should do what she did, which is make it public by blogging about it. She should work to effect change by spreading knowledge…not by wasting the court’s time and plenty of taxpayer dollars (guess who would fund the police defense?) in a lawsuit. So her kid didn’t get to walk home. He got a ride to where he was going anyway. It might not have been right, but if it’s the worst thing that ever happens to him, he’ll lead a charmed life.

    I live in a largish city in Western Canada and I can’t imagine this happening (the police have many more pressing things to do) but if it did I know a lot of 12 year olds who’d be delighted to have a ride in a police car…and one free range mom got to explain her philosophy in person.

  36. I think this is less of a free-range issue and more of a “let’s prove to the public we’re useful so mayor Ford (the Toronto mayor) doesn’t cut the 500 police officers like he said he would” issue.

    Toronto is probably one of the safest cities to live in. Not that I’m biased as a T.O. native or anything.

  37. [...] More here: Cops Collar 12 y.o. for “Walking Alone” in Downtown Toronto [...]

  38. It really annoys me when you decide as a parent that something is OK & some stranger wants to cirumvent you. I was in a Babies R Us with my 5yr old & he wanted to look at the coin machines by the door just inside the store that sold toys I wanted to finish shopping so I told him he could go look & come right back, well he didn’t make it very far when some employee stopped him & I could hear him upset. I told the employee I told him it was OK & she told me that her manager sent her over & was concerned. I wonder if she was really concerned for my son or worried about a lawsuit.

  39. Another example of someone with a badge and a uniform who believes it is their job to be your hero. No It Is Not!
    If they would just read their job descriptions every day, they would see the word “hero” is not used.

  40. I think that some parents have a chip on their shoulder sometimes about this. If I saw a very young child like three or four or younger without a parent anywhere in sight I would probably step in too to make sure the child was not lost or trying to escape. I would hope if my boys who are four got away from me someone would help them. As long as they are polite about it there is no reason to get all pissed off. Once you tell them you are okay with them being alone, then if they say “Okay” and back off then no harm was done and you don’t need to get your panties in a twist.

    People step in because if your child really did get away and then goes and gets hurt the parent would be freaking out yelling at everyone saying “Why didn’t you stop them!” and threatening to sue. It does not ruin anything for someone to approach your child and say “Are you lost?” or “does your mommy know you are over here?” etc.

  41. If I had a dime for every time someone said “Do you know your son is doing x..?” I could retire. I think exactly twice in their lives has either of my sons been doing anything I didn’t want them to do, and both times there was no threat to life or limb. (Threats to my sanity are another issue entirely)

    The worst-firsters are a curse. I dropped my kids off at scout camp for a week yesterday. When I was mentioning it to a fellow church member the week before, she asked a few questions. When I mentioned that they would be sleeping in (gasp) platform tents, she immediately said, “Ohmygod. What if there’s a thunderstorm! What will they do?” (direct. quote.) I admit I looked at her like there were lobsters crawling out of her ears. I mean, chances are that thunderstorms have occurred at camp in the past. Pretty sure they have ways to deal with it. I’m much more worried about my son being an ass than I am about him being eaten by bears or struck by lightning.

  42. The job of the police is to keep the streets safe FOR 12 yera and safe FROM them. No crime committed no reason to bring the child home.

  43. Not to slag T.O. or anything, but it’s not really very much like the rest of Canada. I say this with affection, and also with the admission that stupid things happen here, too.

    When I was eleven, I would routinely walk to school about a mile and a half away. It was great: lots of time with friends before the structure and torment of Junior High. It was along what we then called a busy street (things have become much busier). I have wonderful memories from those walks, and I would be very upset if I had missed out on them because ONCE AGAIN, adults couldn’t be trusted to keep their noses out of every single aspect of a kid’s life. What I chiefly remember about my days once I GOT to school was a never-ending battle for control: adults who saw kids as chaotic, morally and intellectually imperfect beings, regulating their daily lives down to the nanosecond. We had “in” doors and “out” doors at school, “up” stairs and “down” stairs; we had lines we had to follow on the floor, and the teachers’ lounge had a giant two-way mirror looking out onto the playground. My resentment of such mistrust and mistreatment is with me even today, well into my own teaching career. It has long-lasting effects.

    Kids are capable, for the most part, of WAY more than we think. Do these cops not remember being kids themselves? What kind of a life would it be, just sitting quietly and rolling around helplessly like some kind of larva, waiting to be fed? Are these adults who control their kids the same ones who complain about being controlled themselves, by government regulations, taxes, etc.? They’re human; they’re just smaller and less experienced. Sheesh!

  44. When I was about 14 or so I was walking home from the store. A deputy pulled over to make sure I wasn’t in distress or a runaway. After giving him my info and pointing to the back of my house, visible from where we were standing, he insisted that he drive me home to ensure my safety. I asked him for the code from my parents, to which he replied he was a cop. Just in case the uniform, cruiser, and belt full of cop stuff wasn’t obvious enough. I informed him that unless I was in distress I wouldn’t get close to his vehicle without the code from my parents. He stared blankly at me and I walked away. He followed me home and came to the door to talk to my parents. My mother informed him that I was not only permitted to go to the store alone, but she had asked me to pick up a few things for her. Then she thanked him for his concern but assured him I was fine.

    The next day I saw the same deputy at my cousin’s birthday party. My uncle was talking with his fellow officers and deputies. When he saw me he pointed and said “That’s the girl”. Everyone laughed. I babysat half the group’s kids. Almost two decades later they still haven’t let him live down trying to save their children’s babysitter from a big bad daytime walk in her own neighborhood, or that I refused to get in his cruiser because he didn’t have the safety code.

  45. I’m sorry this mom had to go through this. Why do the police try to scare us into thinking our neighborhoods aren’t safe? Why do they pick up perfectly fine kids and then act all self-righteous even though they are wrong. Its interesting when the kids are just as bothered by the interaction as we parents are. Lenore, you are so right about this being all of our fight. We have to fight the fear and make it normal for kids who are old enough to be seen in public without their adults attached at the hip.

  46. Zozimus: That is how our middle schools are run around here almost. It drives me crazy. They treat the kids like elementary kids when they are too old for that now. They walk the kids to classes and the kids can only go to lockers at certain times and they are walked to the bathroom, etc. Its stupid. When I substitute taught at middle schools I gave the kids way more freedom. They don’t need a monitor to wash their hands before lunch. I am pretty sure a 12 year old can handle that alone. Sure some kids are butts and make trouble and if that happens, you deal with it when the trouble comes. No reason to make the good kids have to be treated like prisoners. I was so happy when middle school was over with because we had a lot more freedom in high school.

  47. I also look around for parents if I see a 3 or 4 year old alone, even if they’re not in trouble. I think the number of children this age who can navigate the world by themselves is small, and the number of parents who would like me to check is much greater than the number who do not. I just look around to see if someone’s watching the child (sometimes I ask “Is he with you?”) or ask the child if her parents are nearby. If she says “I’m meeting them over there,” that’s fine, but I do check.

    I wouldn’t do this with a 5 or 6 year old unless they were in distress. But to my mind 3 or 4 is young enough that a quick check is warranted.

  48. Heather: I think that what you and your mom taught you about not even blindly trusting police is a good thing. Sure if you are in trouble a policeman is a safe bet. But if a policeman just randomly comes up to me I am going to be a little suspicious. If I am not doing anything wrong why are they bothering me? Some police are corrupt so its smart to not just blindly trust them.

    When a cop pulls me over I put on my emergency blinkers and will proceed to a populated gas station or area to pull over even if that is not for a way down the road. I am no fool.

  49. @Silver Fang — no, there is no law here that says kids have to be a certain age in order to go places without their parents. I know this because I phoned two local Children’s Aid societies as well as the Toronto District School Board when I was involved in a dispute with my daughter’s school principal as to whether or not she (my daughter, I mean) should be allowed to take herself home from school one day a week following an after-school program. The CAS’s have “guidelines”, and these guidelines say that a child DD’s age (she was 8 at the time; she turns 9 next week) is too young to be travelling alone. One of the CAS people I talked to — I can’t remember whether it was Children’s Aid or Jewish Family & Child Services — told me very seriously that if the police saw an 8- or 9-year-old walking around alone, they would pick him or her up as a “neglected child”. O_O

    I thought then, and I still think, that in a city of >3 million people in which at least 50 homicides have been committed so far this year, the police generally have better things to do than pick people up for walking while young. After reading that blog post, though, I’m wondering.

    One of the concerns the principal had, and the CAS ladies as well, was that DD would be travelling alone — not only not with a parent or other adult, but without an older kid or even a posse of age-mates. I admit this is a legitimate question: a group of kids is more visible to motorists, for example, than a single kid, and in a group, it’s likely somebody can figure things out if someone can’t quite remember their way home. But I felt they were throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because the choices were (a) DD gets on the bus at a stop in full view of the school playground, gets off the bus 5 minutes later, crosses a 2-lane, non-busy street at a controlled intersection, and walks 1.5 blocks home; or (b) we find an older kid going in the same direction, with whom DD walks part of the way, and then she has to do the rest of the 2km journey on foot on her own. Which she could do, don’t get me wrong, but … really? the bus is that scary to these people? o_O

    Anyway, I suspect this 12-year-old would not have been “targeted” by the police had he been with a group. Yonge Street downtown may not be the cosiest stretch of pavement in the city, but it’s FULL of people going places, and I’m here to tell you, they’re not all of voting age ;).

    I would also like to reassure everyone that despite this Unfortunate Incident, Toronto is full of kids — from teenagers down to 9- and 10-year-olds — navigating their city without adults, and often with younger kids in tow. They walk and bike and take the bus/subway/streetcar to school; they go to the local playground and push their younger siblings on the swings; they run errands for their parents; they walk to their friends’ houses; they ride their bikes up and down the sidewalks in front of their houses. A couple of weeks ago, when I was taking DD to the dentist, we ran into a friend of hers who, with her 11-year-old brother, was coming home from day camp by streetcar and subway. “We’re going home from camp,” said DD’s friend, who is 8 and just finished Grade 3. “By ourselves.” Her brother was pretty matter-of-fact about the whole thing, but she was clearly Very Proud of Herself. They are familiar with the transit routes they use and were navigating with ease and confidence. They clearly knew what they were doing, and nobody bothered them. I think — I hope — the incident described in that blog post was an anomaly.

  50. Uh yes – young children need a check, I don’t think this is the issue and have no clue why it’s being brought up. It goes without saying that young children wandering the streets should be tended to.

    Teenagers don’t need an escort home by the police for wandering the streets. I thought I didn’t know any uptight mothers until yesterday.

    I listened to the mother of my boyfriends nephew harp about how the boy should NEVER swim alone. Ever. It’s just not safe, you never know what could happen and she was worried he might try to go swimming alone…and how, as a mother, she was just so concerned he would go in the pool alone and something might happen.

    Now – ready for the context of this story? The “BOY” the mother was so concerned about is 18 YEARS OLD!! I paid him $30 to stay at our house and “cat sit” for the weekend. We have a pool that is about 5.5 feet deep…and she was worried that he might try and swim in it alone. And drown.

  51. he needed one of those “my mom knows I’m doing this” cards from your Free Range Kids book — my kid is only 4 and I’ve already printed out a pile of them in anticipation…
    :)

  52. “That also reminds me of a blogger saying “sorry, but if I saw a 3-4yo separate from a parent in a store, I’d take her to the security desk.” Regardless of whether the child was doing anything wrong or looking lonely or minding his own business. ”

    And that means the person also has to even adequately be able to JUDGE whether the child is 3, 4, 5, or 6.

    My child (O) is skinny and was shortish (until his last growth spurt). He is 5, and he has a just-turned-3 year old cousin (A) who is his height, chunkier, and looks to be about the same age or older. The two of them were running about my house a few weeks back and I know A’s age, but I was having to remind myself that even though he looks the same age as O, I can’t hold him to the same expectations of 5-year-old behavior.

  53. “morgaine, on August 1, 2011 at 10:24 said:

    I’m seventeen, heading off to college in less than a month. I have a good friend who’s fifteen, and I decided to invite her over one day last week when I had the house to myself. Her mother refused, saying she wouldn’t be comfortable without an adult around.

    I wonder how she thinks I’ll survive college…”

    I do too, considering how incredibly stupid you are. The mother clearly and correctly thought that you planned to make the sex intercourse with her daughter, and due to your stupidity considers you unsuitable breeding stock. I’m on her side.

    Really dude? Are you really that stupid? If you are….

    Shake yer boobs!

  54. [cont. thought] And I don’t even really know whether someone seeing O and A in public together or apart would think that O was 3 (instead of 5) or that A was 5 (instead of 3). I know that I’ve surprised a few people who have asked by telling them that O was as old as 5. He’s still the second shortest kid in his kindergarten class.

  55. I don’t worry about my kids doing stuff alone (that is, I’m human, I DO worry sometimes but I don’t obsess about it and live in fear) but we have a strict “no swimming alone” rule for our 4 ft. deep backyard pool.

    Weird stuff happens. It’s unlikely, but it does. People do drown in their own shallow backyard pools alone. And when I say it’s “unlikely,” I don’t mean it’s one in a zillion like a random stranger kidnapping, I mean, yeah, it will *probably* not happen to a healthy person — but it’s not all THAT rare. Happened to a close friend of a friend of mine. Happened to a guy in my city just a couple of weeks ago.

    That said, lying awake at night worrying that your kid “might” go swimming alone is a sign of being overly anxious. But I think teaching the rule that no one, of any age, should swim completely alone is a good thing. Water is actually much more dangerous than “strangers,” or riding a bike in non-crazy traffic, or walking alone in a safe part of a big city in broad daylight.

  56. SYB, are you making a certain assumption about morgaine?

  57. I thought you’d enjoy today’s Bug comic.

    http://www.bugcomic.com/comics/better-sorry-than-safe/

  58. I am with pentamom. Even adults die when swimming alone. You get cramps. You dive and hit your head. People’s hair gets caught in the drain. You can become unconscious for a variety of reasons. You can fall asleep. I have definitely swam alone, but it never hurts to have strength in numbers around water. I would swim alone with friends and my Dad would say “Don’t both drown at the same time so the other one can go for help.” Well its a good policy. If you have someone to go for help, that probably prevents a lot of drownings.

    I would not leave children alone around pools or lakes period till at least 12 and they would still have to have other kids around. That is just my personal preference. Baby pools or bathtubs and other shallow water things I would say age 6 and I would still check on them regularly and feel better if other kids were with them.

  59. @Wendy Case, I lvoe your method of asking questions to yourself before butting in (and encouraging your friend to do likewise). I think that’s the biggest problem we face as parents is the snap judgments of other people. We live with these stories embedded in our brains that make it hard to think rationally when we see a young child on their own (and apparently, for some, young children can be as old as 18) because we hear about the horrible things that happen to them day after day. I’m fairly anxiety prone and so I was truly surprised the other day at the park when my 20 month old son disappeared from my view. I had been chatting with a friend and wasn’t really paying attention since he hadn’t wandered far all afternoon. It was time to go and I couldn’t see him but I found I didn’t panic, didn’t think any scary thoughts. I simply remember thinking that he must have found something interesting out of my line of sight and after walking around the play structure, we found him with another family at the park, riding on one of their toys. It was hard to pull him away because he was enjoying the toy and the family and the family was enjoying his antics but as I left, I realized how truly blessed I have been to find this site and benefit from the sanity it provides me as a parent.

  60. I’m a strong swimmer, who has nearly drowned twice. Once I got knocked off my feet and slammed my head into a sandbar. I was 6 or 7 in waist high water. I was stunned/knocked out for a second. My father had me in a double hand hold and was able to pull me to safety while being pounded by waves and holding my 2 yo/3 yo sister.

    The other time was in maybe 18 inches, 2 feet of water. Due to a prank played by a stranger at a water park, I slipped off my tube and was trapped under two other people on tubes. My mouth and nose were literally MM from the surface. It was a terrifying 30 seconds/minute between getting trapped, having these large adults fall back on me slamming my head into the concrete “slide” as they scrambled to get up, and having my sister, a life guard and bystanders pull them off and me up above the water.

    I’m a loner, I go to hole in the wall restaurants in chancy neighborhoods in Houston. I have traveled out of the country on my own. I’ve traveled in the US with just a general plan. I do NOT ever, ever, ever, ever swim alone.

    If I see a youngish kid off on his/her own, I will sometimes ask do you know where your grown ups are? or Do you need some help? Sometimes they point, sometimes they need help getting something off the shelf (I love it when parents send their kids to get stuff in the grocery store, but sometimes parents over estimate what their kids can lift off the higher selves), and sometimes they are lost.

  61. Dolly, it would be appropriate for a concerned adult to confirm that a young child is OK and knows where he’s going. That is FAR different from turning the child off his course and into a direction that some stranger decided to take him in. I furthermore believe it is WRONG to take someone else’s child by the hand and lead him somewhere, unless the child is in imminent danger. If you must meddle, follow / stay with the child while the parent catches up.

    I too have been in situations where I wondered if a little tyke was awol or not. But I would never arbitrarily take another person’s child by the hand and lead him somewhere. I would watch to confirm whether he has a handle on things, and if still in doubt, I would ask him. If he said he was on his way to meet his mom or do something his mom allowed him to do, I would back off. Maybe still observe, but no more, unless a ridiculous time period had passed, or the child did something obviously inappropriate.

    My kid may be 4, but she is very bright, confident, and capable. She was giving me driving directions before she was 3. Literally. She can read and is certainly articulate enough to explain herself. If anyone asked her what she was up to while walking alone, she would be quite able to explain herself, including where I was, what instructions I’d given, and where we were going to meet up. And she doesn’t look like a toddler. So there is no reason to make my kid change course without at least finding out whether she’s off course in the first place.

  62. I do feel insecure about pools and bodies of water. Maybe as my kids become better swimmers, I will chill a bit. As a hormonal teen, I actually set out to drown myself and thought better of it when I was quite a ways out. So I know the power of humans to survive. But I also know that drowning happens a lot, and it’s pretty much irreversible.

    Aside from being vigilant about water, I encourage my kids to stick together when they go on various adventures. Even if it merely makes a tiny risk tinier, it seems worth it, at least for now. Eventually they will probably want to be alone (I know I did), and hopefully by then they will have the skills to deal with most anything.

  63. Someone I know had their 4 year old almost drown just a couple weeks ago. They were at the lake and they were packing up and did not watch the kids closely enough. One of the 4 year olds decided he wanted to go back in the water and did so. The mother found him facedown in the water unconscious. They did CPR and took him the hospital and he survived. It probably only a minute or two that they had him out of sight.

    Kids and water DON’T mix! That is not a free range thing. That is a common sense thing. This was a child that was familiar with water. I never turn my back on kids and water ever. Especially since mine are not swimmers yet. Even then I am going to be vigilant about it. They can play on their own in the water just fine with me nearby for now and watching them later on but not right next to them.

  64. Dolly, it would be appropriate for a concerned adult to confirm that a young child is OK and knows where he’s going. That is FAR different from turning the child off his course and into a direction that some stranger decided to take him in. I furthermore believe it is WRONG to take someone else’s child by the hand and lead him somewhere, unless the child is in imminent danger. If you must meddle, follow / stay with the child while the parent catches up.

    Yes, this.

    There are occasionally times when it’s appropriate to take a stranger’s kid somewhere – say, if they’re standing in the middle of the street, it’s correct to take them out of the street and directly onto the first sidewalk. Or, as I saw once, if they’re standing in the playground unshod screaming that their feet hurt, yes, it’s okay to pick them up and find their mom that way. (NYC playground surfacing gets VERY hot in some parks, because it’s recycled tire and we have insufficient shade.)

    And if you ask the kid if they’re all right, and they say no, and for some reason you can’t call their parents for them (which, in this age of cell phones, is almost always going to be the better option), it’s reasonable either to wait with them OR, if you have a reason to think that specific area is unsafe or it’s been a very very long time, to help them locate a safer place to wait (say, a police station or the information desk, someplace where they can be more easily located) – but even then, unless they really are very small, you shouldn’t be holding their hand. Or, rather, they shouldn’t be holding your hand.

    (On that long rambling note, I once got yelled at for letting the older niece sit near the duckpond while her sister threw a tantrum. Quite aside from the fact that she’s nowhere near stupid enough, at eight years old, to wander INTO the duckpond, or the fact that it barely goes up past her waist, there’s the simple fact that she was never out of my eyesight. After we extricated ourselves from that situation, I gave Ana a helpful piece of advice. If you’re walking alone, and you’re allowed to be alone, and aren’t in trouble, and some busybody comes up to you and asks where your mom or dad is? Just point to the closest grown-up and say you’re not allowed to talk to strangers. Guaranteed they aren’t going to bother to check unless you use very poor judgment in whom you pick. If they do, I deny all knowledge of ever suggesting this to you. There are times when a little white lie just makes life ever so much easier.)

  65. Dolly- kids and water DO mix- quite well. Unsupervised children, especially non-swimmers is different. I also think it is smart, even for competent swimmers to not swim alone (I was life guard and swim instructor for years and although I would swim without a life guard, I would not swim alone). Parents should not rely on “floaties” either.
    Kids absolutely should be supervised in water. That being said, my kids have been jumping into pools, and off boards since the age of 2 (with someone to catch them). They have been jumping in and swimming over their head
    Since age 3 and 4. My son does running flips off diving board at age 7. Other parents would think its crazy, but as a swimmer and diver, I think its great. Perspective. I think people riding bikes with baby seats (especially in nyc traffic) is nuts, but I try to remind myself that that’s because I am a complete spaz on a bicycle. For some people it is part of what makes life great.

    I agree that checking with a young child, particularly one that looks distressed and helping if they NEED help is fine, but that an assumption should not be made that a child “got away from” (escaped) from a parent. Some parents let go on purpose, even encouraging young children to be independent – going out a different door or looking at things in a different part of a store. My son at 2 walked on nyc streets (where we live) without holding hands. People often said, “wait for your mommy” or even tried to grab his hand, to which he would say, “I stop on the corner”…he did. He hated the stroller and he knew if a toe went in the street, he’d be in strapped in. On the flip side, he was much older (about 5) before I trusted him around suburban driveways (something he encountered less frequently) and I judged by watching him that he wasn’t aware/capable of taking on independently on his own.
    Each kid/family/situation is different. It’s too bad that solo kids are assumed to be “escaped” from parents constant guard.

  66. Uly, while thinking about this discussion, I decided to tell my daughters (the next time we decide to “divide and conquer” that if anyone talks to them, they are to state firmly, “I have to meet my Mom over there (pointing) right away.”

    I think what happened in the past is that upon being accosted for going about her business, my kid got the idea she must be doing something wrong, and acted sheepish instead of speaking up for herself. If I put it into her head that the ONLY right response is to speak up, then she probably will. At least then the stranger can’t honestly tell himself he “needs” to intervene and hinder/redirect this “lost” child.

  67. My father stuck me on a plane at 13 to fly from Ohio to New Mexico to visit my sister. By myself. When I got to Chicago O’hare for my change of flights, the stewardess came flying down the corridor. She asked me why I walked away. I told her- “because my next flight leaves from gate (whatever it was)” and held up my ticket. “See?” It was hilarious when she said I had to stay with her. I asked her point blank, “why?” I wasn’t stupid. I knew what I had to do. She just begged me to stick with her and she’d give me a ride on the golf cart. (Yeah, she bribed me, but it was cool not to have to walk.) I think back on that and I’m proud to think I could handle it.

    @Hugo: A card for a kid to carry around as proof that he can walk around is only one step away from an adult needing to carry a card around proving he can walk around after 9pm. Unless that kid looks lost, is lost, or is causing trouble – the cops shouldn’t even be concerned. If they are, it’s easy to stop the kid, ask if everything is ok, and let them be provided it is.

    One of the people posted on that blog how the cops were within their right, seeing all the tragedy they see. To that I say, if you work constantly with only the “tragedy” – domestic violence, murder, drug dealers, car thefts, stabbings, beatings, other types of theft – then your view of the world is, INDEED, skewed. My sister is a cop and helpfully gave me hints as to what kidnappers look for – but never once told me not to let my kids walk alone. Just making sure they have decent shoes, combed hair (yes, we already did all this, lol), zipped up jackets, says to a wanna-be kidnapper (IF there is one stalking about) that your kid has someone who will look for them if they go missing. I loved that she didn’t let her perspective overshadow the fact that kids need to learn and need the freedom and space to learn how to become adults. In fact, she was totally happy that these guys go outside by themselves.

  68. As I read this, I keep thinking back to my daughter and I going to Toronto together 3 or 4 times the year she was 14. She was allowed on more than one of those trips to go shopping alone not far from where this took place.

    We don’t live in Toronto (3000km away, in fact), but she was as familiar with the area as I was, and has a good head on her shoulders, so I let her go off alone.

    A few months later I did the same thing in Seattle.

    Imagine (in either case, but especially in Seattle) if she had been picked up for “walking while young” in a ‘foreign’ city?!

  69. Well, in a way the cop was right. In downtown Toronto, apparently it isn’t safe for a 12-year-old to walk down the street; not when he can be suddenly dragged into a cop car even though he hasn’t done anything wrong!

  70. The time I got a ride home in a police car (front seat, but keep you hands to yourself) I was all of five years old.

    My allowance money had been burning a hole in my pocket, and a Marathon Bar had been calling my name. The fact that it was a mile hike seemed a small matter. As did the the fact that most of it was along a major commuter road—after all there was a wide grassy verge and I knew enough to walk by the fence.

    I don’t recall much of the ride firstly because I was picked up on my way back, so I had my candy and secondly because the thing that was worrying me was spotting the right turn from inside the car.

    Mom was mortified of course, but apparently the officer was only concerned to see that I did get home because I was taking care to stay away from the traffic.

    ‘Course, all that was back in the seventies.

  71. I think it is sweet that they cared enough to drive him home. If he had gotten kidnapped, you would be asking “Where were the cops”?. Twelve is old enough to walk home alone, but I would not fault the cops. Is the child small for his age?

  72. I definitely would not feel comfortable seeing an unattended ~4 year old (or younger) in a store and would either approach said kid or observe said kid until someone the child recognized as an older friend/guardian (sibling, sitter, parent) showed up. As mom to a preschooler, I hope each and every one of you would do the same for my child. I thought that was part of the ideal of free-ranging, that we adults keep an eye on the little ones? I’m fine with a 12-year old walking around Toronto and think the story that sparked these comments illustrates ridiculous, but I can think of far more times a preschooler alone in a commercial site (as opposed to, say, a library) has been lost/separated/frightened than cases where he/she was just walking through.

    And I’m not a fan of swimming alone, either, even for adults. I’ve just been camping at a lake with my little one and while we spent almost the entire time in the water, I made sure I was (a) with him or watching him and (b) had a flotation device (not necessarily a life jacket, just something he/I could grab onto) if we were both out of our depth for any amount of time. He’s a strong swimmer (and a strong kid — thus my desire to have a flotation device; I’m not sure I myself could safely grab him and keep him, and me, afloat were he panicking), but when you’re at an age where you believe the “…lake is safe [silly mama]! There are no sharks in a lake!” and have no idea what drowning means or what exhaustion feels like, you don’t belong by yourself unattended in a pond or a lake. On the other hand, if by 18 you haven’t succeeding in teaching your kid that (and it’s entirely possible you haven’t and I won’t — 18-year olds aren’t know for their cautious thinking), I think you’re left with prayer as your defense.

  73. She should have asked the nice officers if they could take him back to where he was picked up so he could finish his exercise. Maybe guilt trip them and call it his Anti-Future Diabetic Treatment.

  74. I grew up in Toronto. I was even younger than this boy when me and my younger brother used to walk all the way to Queen and University and back home again to Carlton and Sherbourne. Anyone that is familiar with this area knows it’s quite a bit of a trek, especially for a 10 and 8 year old. But we learned to navigate the city pretty well. We knew short cuts, we knew areas to avoid, we knew the people in certain areas. Not once did police ever stop us. If memory serves me correct, they actually thought it was pretty cute. They even made a point of saying hello.

    Just because these are cops, it doesn’t make them any less susceptible to the same fears and insecurities heli-parents go through. Being police officers, they should know better. It’s a classic case of quelling their own needs to empower themselves and make themselves feel better of the things they fear. Again, it’s not really so much about the kids, but the adults own insecurities. And being a cop, along with those insecurities, they also have a certain power that comes with their position. Which is a BAAAAD combo. That’s like giving a gun to a paranoid teen. With being a police officer, there comes a level of responsibility, more so than a regular civilian. They have to keep an objective view, setting their own personal feelings aside. They law keepers, not babysitters. If the law isn’t broken (which it wasn’t in this case), they should have just left it well enough alone. Now this boy is going to think that the police officers aren’t good. That they make him feel bad about doing something that isn’t wrong. Way to go copper.

    I have a number of friends on the force. I sent them the blog to that story, and they replied with “I wonder who those girlie girls were” (they are in a different division). Basically they thought those cops were too fearful. Sure they see a lot of things, but even they admit that it wasn’t as bad as 15-20 years ago. When kids were allowed to walk downtown at younger than 12 with no problems with police. Yes, they do “see things differently”. Unfortunately it’s not a good different. Stick to patrolling the streets and arrest criminals, and prevent criminal activities. Keep the parenting to the parents. And you parenting opinions to yourselves. And keep your “dresses” clean. Don’t want your CO getting upset when you spill your drink on them. lol

  75. I review your posts often and am bolstered by your common sense rationality! It gives me voice and confidence where usually I am outnumbered by fearful parents. Thank you for sharing your experiences and being an added sane voice. I now stand up for my free-range ideas and know I am not alone!

  76. If he had gotten kidnapped, you would be asking “Where were the cops”?

    No, we wouldn’t. That would be stupid.

    It’s certainly not “sweet” that the police took a child who is old enough to walk alone and had permission to do that, drove him home (instead of doing their jobs!), and harangued his mother about letting him walk unattended at the age of 12.

    As mom to a preschooler, I hope each and every one of you would do the same for my child. I thought that was part of the ideal of free-ranging, that we adults keep an eye on the little ones?

    Absolutely if I saw a very small child alone, or an older one who looks lost, I’d ask if they were all right and/or needed help. I’ve done it before, I’ll do it again. (Most hilariously I saw an about 5 year old leading a troupe of toddlers, maybe three years old and a late two, marching around a bookstore saying “Let’s go this way! I know we won’t get lost!” I was sure she thought she could go wherever, I was equally certain her mom or dad didn’t realize quite how far she’d gone with the little-little ones (she was all the way across the store from the children’s section, and the youngest was quite small). All it took was one “Honey? Does your mom know where you are?” for her to turn around and march them all back to the kid’s section.)

  77. Sorry, didn’t finish that. I’d ask, but unless they said yes or I really thought they needed the help (let’s say they were in my backyard, or it was 11pm in an iffy neighborhood on a fast intersection and no grown-ups anywhere near), I wouldn’t assume they needed to be led anywhere.

  78. That entry about the hazards of “swimming alone” reminded me of a colleague who was one of the pioneers in SCUBA diving. He told me about the “buddy system”: “Always dive with a buddy, so you can push HIM in front of the shark.”

  79. Keeping an eye on little ones is totally different from taking someone else’s little one somewhere, even if somewhere is just the customer service desk. Unless the child is in a dangerous location (i.e. the middle of the road), there is no reason to take a child someplace. If you are concerned about the situation, ask the child if s/he needs help. Hang out to see if someone comes around. Personally, I wouldn’t suggest following the child or you may end up like grandpa and his camera but if you want to, go ahead. But definitely don’t take it upon yourself to decide that you know what is best for this strange child and lead them somewhere else.

    As for the main story, that cop was an idiot.

  80. Another Toronto girl here… shocked by this story. Toronto tends to be a very free range city. I see kids on the subway by themselves all the time. I live in the suburbs now and often think to myself how much younger the suburban kids seem than the urban kids that I see when I am downtown each day for work. I have to question if this is just a freak occurance from a cop who was having a strange day – or we are missing part of the story. Either way, this is not normal in Toronto AT ALL!

  81. I have no problem with asking a little one, or a child who looks distressed, if they need help. Moving them elsewhere, not so much, unless they really do need help. That cop was just out of line.

    Swimming, I’m big on having someone else along, no matter your age. My oldest is a reasonably competent swimmer in a pool, but got a cramp one day while swimming, and was close to drowning, which I pointed out to my husband, who was much closer to where she was. He thought she was playing around, and gave her a push down, which got me screaming at him, and he pulled her up and dealt with the tears and the awful scare my daughter just had (not to mention a rather angry wife). He felt pretty awful that he hadn’t recognized her situation himself, but it was a reminder for all of us to never swim alone. The water wasn’t dreadfully deep where my daughter was, but with the cramp she couldn’t get herself to safety or ask for help.

  82. I was picked up by the police at age 17 because I was walking alone at night, while it was raining sideways with little ice particles in the rain, in an inadequate coat. He just took me home and reminded me to drink something hot and change all my clothes as soon as I got inside. This is a sensible welfare precaution.

    Parents are told to drive their kids to school or wait with them at the bus stop when there is a bear in the neighborhood. (We live next to a wildlife refuge, so this happens frequently.) If the bear has been spotted within the past hour, the police go up and down nearby streets shooing people indoors. This is a sensible welfare precaution.

    In grade school, children were to wait in the designated spot for the bus or parental car or immediately begin walking away on the sidewalk. My old school was surrounded by acres of tempting woods that contained broken glass from drunken campouts and occasionally a bear. Also, we were all expected to check in at home promptly after school so that we could get started on homework, chores, or whatever else our parents had planned for us, instead of wandering off and losing track of time. This is a sensible welfare precaution and also a good ulcer preventer for parents.

    Not letting a 12-year-old walk unescorted in his own part of town? This is almost as dumb as the police advisory to take kids out of the car at the gas station and make them stand out in the weather with cars going by in case the family car was hijacked at the pump!

  83. I cant understand your attitudes fully… I live in Australia and in 2003,there was the Daniel Morcombe case, he was 13 year old boy waiting for bus on the side of an extremely busy road to go buy Christmas presents for his family… his body has never been found, no one has been charged and his parents have been through a hell that I cant even begin to contemplate. I do understand the desire to bring up independent children but you need to remember it REALLY can happen.

  84. Wow, Cat, I never heard that before. You’ve absolutely convinced me, and probably everybody. Your job is done, and you can go home happy now. Bye!

  85. Happy? why on earth would I be happy? I was a wrapped in cotton wool child not allowed to walk ten feet down the street, it was not good while my brother was allowed to roam free because my parents thought he would be safe… Absolutely I agree, it is ridiculous to wrap your kids in cotton wool and try and protect them from every little thing and when I turned 18, I ran wild but how do you weigh up the pros and cons?

  86. My son is 10 and outside alone, wandering the neighborhood looking for golf balls right now. He has a stand on the golf course where he sells them. He’s been giving half his money to our neighbor, who is fighting lung cancer and unable to work. Is letting him out there alone negligent?
    I cannot fathom why the police would pick him up. Do they also pick up those potential jaywalkers (because they could get hit by a car) or drivers without seatbelts?

  87. Cat,

    2003? How many cases like that happened from 1993 till then. How many cases like that have happened since? And we’re talking millions of kids with millions of waiting for the bus moments.

    At least when some parents here talk about swimming, there are more than enough tragic drowning stories (needing not to go back to ’03) to support some of their concerns. Let me put it this way: when at the beach, I would caution and be watchful of dangerous surf conditions i.e. riptide…the thought of a great white swimming through for dinner on a 1 in 5 million shot won’t enter my mind. Why? because if we worry about the 1 in 5 million scenario we will go mad. That’s what phobias do to the human brain.

    You live with the “it COULD happen” swimming through your noggin and you will soon be having lunch with Chicken Little…and HIS therapist. Don’t let them outside at all is your answer. SOMETHING could happen. The sky could fall. Meteors do hit earth every so often, ya know.

  88. Actually, the meteors that hit the ground are called meteorites. I was just looking into the frequency and found that hundreds, if not thousands (most very small) make it through our atmosphere every day.

    So folks, it could happen.

  89. Although lots of Canadians seem to cherish a bit of antipathy toward the city of Toronto (in much the same way as some of our American friends like to hate on New York), the fact is that by any rational measure it’s one of the safest cities of its size in the world. Any self-respecting 12-year-old in this city would be aghast at the idea of needing a police escort at Yonge and Adelaide. As other readers have noted, there are all kinds of kids this age who navigate the streets and the public transit system in downtown Toronto with absolutely no trouble at all. The idea of a Toronto police officer deliberately choosing to get involved in a non-event like this seems really odd to me.

  90. Hugo: That is a horrible idea… while it sounds good at first, the true horror comes when you realize that they would probably treat those without the licenses much worse than they would now.

    As for the concept of swimming alone: It depends on what “alone” means. A 10-year-old walking 1/2 mile to a lifeguarded public pool is fine; but the same kid jumping in his residential pool without supervision is a big no-no. IMO a kid is “alone” (and thus should not be in the water) ONLY if both of these are true: He (not excluding girls here, this is the “neuter he” form) is not with (that is, “did not enter the pool’s property with that person, with the intention of also exiting the property with that person”) someone else age 8 or older, and: the body of water is either not a pool, or is not lifeguarded.

    Also of note: At the local par-3 golf course, kids who go through an instruction camp get a free round that they can take any time. A few weeks ago I was playing golf when I saw a boy, probably about 8-10 years old, playing on the course. There were no adults anywhere within 2 holes of him. My guess is, he was one of the former campers who was using a free round. My dad tried to ask where his parents were, but to drown it out I yelled out “Great shot!”… after all, he had just made it on the green (about 120 yds away) in 1 shot. It was about 95 degrees that day (actually one of the coolest days all summer here); the only non-employee adult (that is, college age or older) on the course at that time was my dad.

  91. Back from vacation as of yesterday.

    I agree 100%, what the cop did was silly. Praise to the woman for standing up to him and pointing out the fallacy of his thinking, too. I especially like the part about how he’s old enough to babysit. It sort of reminds me of the argument about 18 year olds being old enough to die in war but not old enough to drink, a little.

    Now, to the “subject within a subject,” swimming. I apologize for the length.

    My quick answer: I for one think the whole “NEVER SWIM ALONE” thing is way overdone in society, even where it regards kids somewhat, and ESPECIALLY where it regards adults. I make a practice of having our kids swim or float in the deep sections with us, or splash on the edge while I swim-out to the deep section, and I may be 100 yards away at times–and I see no problem with it.

    Longer version.

    I just came back from Austin and was very relieved how we were able to free-range with our kids & swimming in some areas, not so much in others. Anyone who knows anything about Austin knows one of THE places to visit is Barton Springs Pool, a 68-71’F year-round spring-fed swimming creek right in the heart of the city. Trouble is, as I understand it, it’s heavily-lifeguarded, so I would imagine (although it wasn’t CONFIRMED) that this would mean they would not be of the mind to leave us alone while we handled our kids however we chose even in the deep sections. Lawsuit & safety concerns aside, I want to be able to let our kids do whatever we want without someone hovering over me micromanaging it.

    Heck, at home, we take our kids to the lake, they aren’t supervised by any staff, they have those 5 words I love to hear “swim at your own risk.” We then go out in the deep end, with them floating on a boat–sometimes with lifejackets, but not always as we sometimes lose them, forget them, or just decide that it’s probably more fun for them without all the extra layers. Sometimes I’m close-by, sometimes I am a good 100 yards away while they float around in a inflatable boat. It sure beats the heck out of them just splashing around on the edge in ankle-deep water. That’s our choice to make, not some nosy lifeguard’s.

    As a result, we didn’t go to Barton Springs Pool at all (besides the fact that it was SUPER crowded, and I hate big crowds). Instead most, though not all, of the swimming was done at the hotel pool, which was huge, 9 foot deep on one end, and most of all, no one telling us what to do. Our 4 year old, for the first time, with the assistance of a properly-fitting lifejacket, managed to swim very well in the 9 foot section without freaking out–and now it’s all she wants to do. The knee-deep section now is of no appeal to her at all.

    By the same token, we went to Pedernales Falls State Park nearby, and 2 sections existed–one allowed swimming, one didn’t. Guess which one had swimming holes which were MUCH more appealing, naturally, it was the one that forbad it. I’m told they did this because one person drowned over 30 years ago. The one that allowed it, due to our seemingly never-ending drought & heatwave, only gets to 4 feet or so. (I’m told it normally is deeper than that.) The “swimming forbidden” section–I found a hole that was easily 20 feet deep, with a jumping platform, and some of the clearest water I’d ever seen.

    Rules be damned, I went in it anyway & enjoyed myself immensely, no one but my wife and kids nearby (they didn’t jump in). The way I figured it–I’m in the wilderness, I’m unlikely to be noticed, even if I am I’m 5+ hours from home, it’s not like I’m here all the time anyway. I wasn’t about to be denied something so wonderful just because one person drowned 30 years ago & now the park is “thinking like lawyers.”

    I’m sick of all of this “never swim alone” business and being protected from my own self. I’m 42 years old and have been swimming alone since I was a teenager, and do just fine with it. I’ve never gotten serious cramps, the tiny ones I got just meant I used 1 leg instead of 2, big deal. As much as I enjoyed jumping in that 1 big hole I found, it nonetheless ticked me off that numerous people over the past 30 years have been denied enjoying that wonderful section just because of 1 unfortunate drowning 30-odd years ago.

    I can only hope that the section which allowed swimming truly is typically much nicer than what I saw (again, we are experiencing a horrible heatwave-drought here), but even so, given that knowledge, you’d think the staff would change the rules temporarily to fit the context. As is so often the case, they don’t, and quality of life suffers.

    But I didn’t let it stop me, and don’t regret it for a minute.

    LRH

  92. Oh, I need to PS my already long post, my apologies.

    I am not sure it’s accurate when I say that we are 100 YARDS away from them at any given time. I just checked outside our home, as I know for a fact we’re 100 yards away from a largish highway, and that seems much longer than what I ever am from the kiddos at the lake even when I’m the most liberal with that sort of thing. 100 yards is 300 feet, and I would say the actual distance we sometimes let them stray is probably more like 80-100 feet, not 300.

    In fact, locally speaking, one of the lakes I like to go to gets deeper more quickly than others, and that’s what I like about it–if they’re doing the “knee-deep splashing” I can enjoy the deeper water without being as far away. And thing is, they do real well about venturing out from shore only to a point and then deciding it’s too deep and going closer to shore. As long as I regularly look around to see they haven’t slipped out of sight and are underwater where I can’t see them, it should be fine. (And again, there are occasions where they’re in lifejackets anyway so they can’t sink.)

    I try to strike a balance. Lenore of all people considers drowning a legitimate concern, not an overblown one like kidnapping, so some caution is in order I’d say. By the same token I do think a lot of parents go way too far with it. I try not to be like those I see who take their kids to the lake and then spend so much time yelling “stay out of there” and “don’t go beyond that” etc that it seems to, frankly, take all of the fun out of it. What really makes me shake my head are those that yell “no running”–not poolside, but even at the lake itself, which doesn’t have the hard/slipper concrete.

    Frankly, if, say, you live at an apartment complex and the pool is visible from your window & within 50-60 feet or so (as was the case in the last 2 apartment we lived in before left apartments for good), I don’t see the harm in the parents just watching from the window from inside. If both parents are home, maybe have the parents take turns in watching from the window, but I don’t see why they’d have to be RIGHT AT THE POOL.

    LRH

  93. I don’t hang around within arm’s length of my kids in the pool (they can swim, and half of the pool is not up to their neck). I do stay in the water, in the deeper part, even if they are playing in the shallow part half of the time. When one (or both) of my kids decides to swim in the deep end, I decide if they need me near or not. If they are swimming the width, I’ll hang out near their destination, where they are most likely to get tired. If my gut tells me one of them is running out of steam, I’m there. There is no hard and fast rule. The pool rule says I have to be within arm’s length of both until they are 5, but I quietly offend that rule. That would be very difficult to follow as a single mom with two preschool-age swimmers – unless I prevented them from actual swimming.

  94. Hmmm.

    By definition, in my book, anyone swimming in a lifeguarded pool (or lake, or ocean, as long as they’re within sight of the lifeguard(s)) isn’t swimming alone, regardless of the age of the swimmer. I don’t yet leave my preschooler alone at our (well-guarded) public pool — nor do the rules allow it (he would have to be 5+ years, and he’s not yet) — but I will leave him at the shallow end of the lap-length pool and go to the deep end, myself (~25 yards away), or be with him in the deep end and swim to the shallow, knowing that he’ll follow. I don’t neglect him when he’s in the pool over his depth, but neither do I keep my eyes constantly on him. I do pay attention to which pools in our town are well lifeguarded and which are poorly lifeguarded (Are reasonable safety rules, like no running on the pool deck, enforced? Do the guards change positions regularly and stay alert?).

    I wouldn’t let a kid swim in an unguarded pool or lake unless an adult was present and in sight. Beyond that, how close would be a function of the competence of the swimmer. Right now I’d say I rarely let my son get more than ~8 yards from me if he’s out of his depth in an unguarded setting, but again, he’s under 5. Having a decently fitted life jacket on would certainly change things and I’d quite happily let him go farther if he had one on. We don’t tend to use them for swimming, but I can certainly see their merits. I’d be very reluctant to give anyone under the age of about 16 responsibility for watching another swimmer, and even then, I’d prefer for the watcher, whatever age, to have had some water safety training.

    I leave to other adults the decision about whether they want to swim alone; I’m reluctant to do so as I have plenty of safer opportunities to swim. But I wouldn’t hesitate to swim out in a public lake with other people around and no one (in particular) watching me.

  95. “By definition, in my book, anyone swimming in a lifeguarded pool (or lake, or ocean, as long as they’re within sight of the lifeguard(s)) isn’t swimming alone, regardless of the age of the swimmer.”

    Alexicographer, I agree. When I say alone, I mean alone. But as you say, under a certain age and/or swimming ability, someone should stay close as well.

  96. The pool we belonged to as kids had a great rule. Children did not need an adult if they were over 12 or had the approval of the head lifeguard. Basically you had to pass a swimming test to stay on your own. If you misbehaved or were a problem the permission would then be revoked.

  97. When I was a kid, you could go to the public pools alone at age 8. Even then, we used to fib and sneak 6- and 7-year-olds in. Kids who couldn’t pass as 8 could still come in if we were with a friend who could pass as 15. (It goes without saying that our parents never took us to the pool. The only parents there were the few who went in with their toddlers during rest period.)

    Where we live now, there is no free public pool. We swim at the rec center (bought a membership). Kids have to be at least 12 or 13 to go unaccompanied.

  98. So there we are again and how many of you say ‘let’s sue the police let’s sue that other guy etc. again? I have a feeling that it is not clear in the mnd that America and canada may have that problem of overbearing safety because everyone sues the hell out of each other? If every one likes to do so I am not surprised that you can’t get wooden or steel framed playground equipment anymore if any mum sues the city/the maker or whoever if their child got a splinter from it.

  99. I grew up a Navy brat. That meant three years in Japan when I was 9-12. I used to travel quite a bit on the trains and buses in the Japanese economy when I was 10 and 11. No one thought anything of it. What happening in this world?

  100. I live in Toronto. This doesn’t sound like “my” Toronto, but hey times change. I am the product of free range parents and will be a free range parent myself (She’s only 10 months!) when the time comes. I feel for the child and mother, but often times people in authority (I’m an elementary school teacher) can exert their belief system on the young. Parents/guardians need to combat this in order to lessen the paranoia that seems to exist in general society. Sad, but true.

  101. Um – my whole story was about an 18 year man whose mommy was afraid he might go swimming alone. In a 4ft deep pool.

    Now – if at 18 you cannot quietly get into a pool, cool off, walk around and then get out then there is a BIG, BIG problem somewhere. If you refuse to get into a pool alone because ZOMG I could randomly pass out and drown!! then perhaps you should also stay away from driving, stairs and pretty much everything. That is just plain craziness to my ears. Like – get some pills craziness.

  102. If you think this blog is something……..Everyone of you should go see this video…… you will be amazed….. people are actually defending the actions of the police…….

    I say they were wrong for what played out in this video….

  103. @Karin, sure, but there are lots and lots and lots of other comments here about whether much younger kids should be allowed to swim alone or not.

  104. The attitude of the officers feels wrong, but I wonder if it’s typical?

    I have an acquaintance who is a major worrywart–in fact, she just about had a heart attack when she learned that my 12-year-old recently went to the store by himself (it was a bold step of independence and I’m really proud of him). Anyway, one of her problems is that she spent several years working in a police department (not as a sworn officer, but in another capacity). She said the officers told her the worst stories, and often dispensed advice about how she should never do x, always do y, etc.

    For them, the clear takeaway from any tragedy wasn’t the rareness of some event, it was its awfulness (and the need to avoid it). I wonder if many police officers share that worldview. Certainly the Toronto officers appear to.

  105. I assume Silver Fang is an American. Her first instinct was to look for a way to sue the cops. Not really the way we do things in Canada. But after seeing the video of the father having his son brought home in a police car for the (how many times?) same reason–suspicion; I can see a good reason to sue the police department. The awards in Canada are not as large, so the chances of getting someone to take the case on contingency are proportionate.

    About walking home in Toronto–right now Participaction, the nagging government fitness publicity reminder group has commercials on TV to let us know kids need at least 60 minutes of vigorous physical activity every day–seems like walking home from day camp should be part of that.

  106. Participaction is back? I’m just glad they didn’t bring back Hal and Joanne. They lived next door to a friend of my wife, and they were even MORE annoying in person.

    As for walking at Yonge and Adelaide, I can see the intersection from my office window. It’s always so busy, I’m amazed any police officer could pick a lone kid out.

  107. Mom in michigan: I had some cop friends who would give me advice about safety and I just took it as them wanting to keep me safe. It was not paranoid beyond reason stuff. Just common sense stuff mostly like be aware of your surroundings. Don’t open the door to strangers. Don’t get out your wallet or open your purse to give money to panhandlers since sometimes they will just snatch your wallet or purse and run when you go to give them money, if you want to help them buy them food and bring it back to them instead. Don’t pull over for a cop unless you are in a populated well lit area, just put on your emergency blinkers, slow down and drive till you find a safe place to pull over. Stuff like that. I appreciate their input and so far it has kept me very safe.

  108. I appreciate their input and so far it has kept me very safe.

    You don’t know that, though. That’s like the man who blows on his whistle to chase away the dinosaurs. “But there are no dinosaurs here!” See? IT WORKS!

    You may have been just as safe ditching all this advice, or keeping some of it and not other parts of it.

  109. Uly: To the point that I do know that some of it has kept me safe. I had an encounter once with a strange man at my door that was setting off all kinds of internal warning signals in my head and I followed the advice not to open the door to him and I think it might have saved my life that day. The fact that after I repeatedly refused to open the door to him and he kept trying to convince me to open the door only confirms he really wanted in my house. I am pretty sure he was a stalker/rapist/murderer. No man gets angry when a young woman won’t open the door to him, most men would understand. They also would not continue to harass them trying to get them to open the door for 5 minutes afterwards. The guy was very suspicious.

  110. Dolly, here’s the thing. Would you have opened the door for him if no cop had ever said “Hey, Dolly, don’t open the door for strangers!” to you?

    Also, my point wasn’t that the advice was bad, just that you have no proof it was good. If a cop said “Chain your children up in their rooms so they won’t get kidnapped”, and you did that and by golly, they never got kidnapped, that doesn’t mean that chaining them up is a good thing or that they would’ve gotten kidnapped otherwise.

  111. (And if you would’ve opened the door for that guy, I suddenly get why cops are falling all over themselves to give you advice. You surely need it.)

  112. Hmmm, you followed the cops advice to not open the door. Meaning that you would have opened the door for some guy who was setting off warning bells if said cop had never given you advice? In other words, everything your cop friend told you is simple common sense that most semi-street smart people can figure out on their own.

    As for him being a murder/rapist (he wasn’t a stalker), quite possible. Or also possible that he had an emergency of some sort and wasn’t thinking clearly. Or a salesman who had a quota to make. Or something else. Not saying you were wrong to not open the door, I probably wouldn’t have either, but rapists knocking on your door is pretty damn uncommon and if someone wants to rape you, a locked door isn’t going to stop him.

  113. There was nothing weird looking about him. But I believe he would have immediately forced his way in if I opened the door whatsoever. It was shortly after I got back from the store and I suspect he followed me home. So I believe you don’t open the door period to strangers ever.

  114. He was not a salesman. His story was he was a bounty hunter looking for the owner of a truck parked in my cul de sac. So no, not an emergency and not a salesman. When I told him the truck was not mine and I don’t know my neighbors, he continued to try to convince me to open the door saying he could show me a badge and all this other stuff. After I repeatedly told him to leave, he did not. He never knocked on any other doors in my cul de sac, he just left after I would not open up. Sounds pretty suspicious to me.

    Locked doors do stop rapists. Some crazy rapists might break a door down in a crowded neighborhood in broad daylight but most are going to try to get in to rape you quietly without drawing attention. Kicking a locked door down is going to make noise. Pushing in a door already opened is going to make a lot less noise. Common sense. Most criminals don’t want to get caught. Its a lot easier to walk in an open door than bust through a locked door. Again common sense.

    What exactly are you arguing here? That you should open the door to strangers? That cops don’t give good advice? Are you just anti police and if so why? I have never had trouble with the police because I am a law abiding citizen and even when I did break the law like speeding the police were super sweet and went easy on me actually apologizing to me for even pulling me over. Sure there are butt cops here and there but most are not.

  115. Of course the police have apologized for pulling you over, speeding or not. Of course.

  116. 6 years old – walked 1km to and from school twice/day, often alone (though more often with other kids)

    7 years old – ‘tested’ the ice on the creek behind the house to see if it would hold our weight. Did so with a boot. On a foot. Got lots of soakers, never drowned.

    9 years old – swam every day at the university pool, alone (though lifeguraded)

    9 years old – took the bus 40 mins to (what the media portrays as a very dangerous downtown), with six of my friends, to see Star Wars at the cinema. Repeated this adventure 4 more times that same summer, once alone.

    13 years old – took the bus 4 km to jr. high alone, jaywalked 6 lanes of highway traffic every morning, unless I did it on the bicycle (on that same highway)

    18 years old – routinely swam completely alone in non-tidal waters. Had a self-imposed “don’t do anything stupid” (i.e. diving, horseplay) rule. Used the steps, swam lots, cooled off, survived.

    I would not sue the police because–as others have said–suing is part of the problem. I think the OP handled the situation really well, though I would also call my city councillor and the police chief and let them know that if it happens again I would consider it harassment.

    I question the people who say they would approach a 3-4 year old alone anywhere. If you’ve ever dealt with a lost child of that age, you know it’s *immediately* apparent the child is scared. You’d have to be made of wood not to pick up on the fear & worry of a lost child. A lone, contented 3 year old is just as easily spotted, and a parade of strange adults asking that (or any undistressed) kid where their parents are isn’t doing anyone any good.

    Finally, @shakeyerboobs: Morgaine is a girl’s name. AFAIK, it always has been. Calling people “stupid” while failing to notice this is the greater indictment of one’s intelligence.

  117. Beth: your sarcasm is noted, I wish I was making this stuff up. Swear to God, was pulled over for my lights being off at night, Had the kids in the back, Explained to the police politely that we were going home after attending a drive through Nativity where they asked you to turn off your lights and I forgot to switch them back on. Apologized to them. The officer apologized to me for pulling us over because I guess he felt bad to pull over a mom and her kids around Christmas after a Nativity drive through. I was as shocked myself. He was a very sweet guy, To top it off I was without my ID! I explained I left it in my purse and forgot to put it back in the diaper bag. He said technically they can haul you off to jail right there and then for that but he allowed me to call my hubby and get my ID number and give it to them that way.

    So yes, some cops ARE very sweet. My cop friend said its cause I’m pretty and they never like giving tickets to pretty girls. I just try to be polite and respectful to them and the other two times I was pulled over for various infractions I was also sent on my way without a ticket as well.

    I’m so so sorry Beth that it hurts you little feelings that cops are nice to me. Next time I get pulled over I will cuss the cop out for no reason so I can get a ticket and you can feel better about yourself.

  118. I’m not anti-cop. I deal with cops on a daily basis. I like many of them and think others are crooked as hell. It depends on the person. My interactions with cops now are so much different than most people’s, but even before my current job, cops were always extremely nice when I interacted with them, frequently letting me go with a warning. I’m also a white, middle class female and realize that my personal interactions with cops are much different than people from other socioeconomic backgrounds and races. I don’t judge people who do hate cops.

    The point was simply that the advice that the cop gave you was common sense that you should have figured out all on your own well before you were ever allowed to be on your own (and probably did). You were crediting this cop’s advice with saving your life when simple common sense should tell you that opening the door to a stranger that made you nervous is a really bad idea. No cop advice needed. And, personally, I would find it patronizing for anyone to feel the need to give me such advice as an adult. I’d wonder why that person believed me to be a complete idiot incapable of taking care of myself. I’d either roll my eyes or think “what a patronizing asshole” depending on the person giving the advice.

    As for opening the door to strangers, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. It depends on what my gut tells me in the situation. Refusing 100% of the time to open the door for strangers is no better than refusing to ever let your kid out of your sight. 99% of the time the person knocking is not looking to rape and murder you since random acts of rape and murder are exceedingly rare.

    Since the bounty hunter story is so absurd, it may very well have been true. Nobody with any sense would make that up. Odds are if it was not true that he still had no interest in raping you at all. The vast majority of the criminals who go door-to-door are not looking to get at you, they are looking at what stuff you have to see if it’s worth robbing another day when you are not home. I always open my door to them. Unfortunately, my stuff is so old that they’ve never bothered to come back and steal it. I could really use a new tv and computer that I don’t have to pay for. :)

  119. Locked doors do stop rapists. Some crazy rapists might break a door down in a crowded neighborhood in broad daylight but most are going to try to get in to rape you quietly without drawing attention. Kicking a locked door down is going to make noise. Pushing in a door already opened is going to make a lot less noise. Common sense. Most criminals don’t want to get caught. Its a lot easier to walk in an open door than bust through a locked door. Again common sense.

    That sort of rape is exceedingly uncommon. I’m not saying you should just let strangers into your house, but the vast majority of rapes are by people you already know, not strangers.

    What exactly are you arguing here? That you should open the door to strangers? That cops don’t give good advice?

    That you’re being exceedingly illogical. Since you made the choice you made, you have no way of knowing what would’ve happened if you’d made a different choice. (Well, unless that guy was convicted later of rape, I guess. I mean, my mother made the choice not to go out with Son of Sam because she thought he was pathetic, and because he was convicted of being, well, Son of Sam she can reasonably assume that choice saved her life, but that’s an extraordinary situation.)

    And also what Donna said. Your choice not to open the door to this specific guy was plain common sense. If you need the cops to tell you this sort of stuff, as an adult, there’s something wrong there. I knew better than to open the door to strangers as a child, and the cops never felt the need to tell me that. (Heck, I don’t even open the door to cops! Never let ‘em in my house, that’s my motto.)

  120. “Some crazy rapists might break a door down in a crowded neighborhood in broad daylight but most are going to try to get in to rape you quietly without drawing attention.”

    That type of rape is exceedingly rare. It happens probably FAR less than kids are kidnapped by strangers, and we know how rarely that happens. Most rapes involve people that you know. Of the few stranger rapes, the vast majority are crimes of opportunity – drunk college coed gets into a cab alone (a rash of those happened in my town last year); grabbing someone on the street; etc. An extremely small number of rapists will break into a house, largely at night while the victim sleeps. A rapist who goes door-to-door in a crowded neighborhood in broad daylight hoping some woman will open the door so that he can rape her is ridiculous. Yes, it may have happened at some point but it’s certainly not a remotely common MO for a stranger rapist.

    “Common sense.”

    Attributed to criminal behavior? This is laughable. Possibly the funniest thing I’ve read all day. If any of my clients had one inkling of common sense, I would be out of job. Or they’d at least stop committing incredibly stupid crimes and giving full confessions and make my job easier.

  121. [...] Collar 12 Year Old for “Walking Alone” in Downtown Toronto” [Free-Range Kids] Cop tells mom kids under ten “by law are not allowed outside unsupervised except in their [...]

  122. [...] Lenore Skenazy: Cops Collar 12 year-old kid for “Walking Alone” in Downtown Toronto [...]

  123. Quote:

    “We have worked very hard to create the sort of community where our children can explore the world outside and feel confident doing so.”

    End Quote:

    Bravo, Noel.
    Why don’t more people do this? Does it require skills, motivation, ambition and determination that have disappeared from the public realm? Do our children not deserve this anymore? Is this kind of thing now supposed to come out of a textbook, or off a computer screen?
    Does it need to be value-added, corporatized or otherwise securitized with absolute guarantee?

    Community adults do require special skills in order to solve the problem, it seems…skills that once were common – apparently not so much anymore.

  124. Middle school. That would be…grade 7, 8? Daylight. Downtown. (The urban part of the city that is actually walkable.
    In the 70’s, the 13 year-old drummer in my band used to get smuggled into the Zanzibar and various other strip joints, wearing a wide fedora and baggy trench coat to disguise his age….seems Jimmie the organist liked his drumming enough to take the risk. The kid wasn’t even there to ogle the ladies – he just liked a paying gig, and drumming in an actual band that could follow chord charts and keep his beat.
    My point? This kid was only one year older – Yonge and Dundas was definitely wilder and more dangerous back then, but we were, socially, far closer to Spanky and Our Gang – than we are now. It’s a damned shame when kids are punished for an honest attempt at slightly grownup independence.

  125. [...] with “child neglect” for allowing her daughter to bicycle to school, a 12-year-old boy arrested for “walking alone” and a father charged with “child endangerment” for letting his kids play in the park without [...]

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