“Am I Wrong to Let My 6-year-old Walk Around the Corner?”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the scenario actually made some (twisted) sense, this way: Since the regime was NEVER going to change, anyone who thought it could or would was literally insane. Delusional!  And so to the asylums they were sent.

That gives me some (twisted again) hope for our own culture. Right now, parents who think that their kids can walk a block or two are considered, in many places, INSANE for trusting their kids and community for even five minutes. Some day,though, we will look back and see: Those trusting souls  were the SANE parents living in insanely terrified times. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am sure you get this kind of question in the subject line all the time, but I am really curious what other Free-Range parents would say.

We live in Brooklyn, NY, in a very residential neighborhood. It’s very
safe, and there’s a lot of the old everyone-looks-out-for-each-other
mindset. It’s much quieter, compared to the hipster parts of the
borough. We live two and a half blocks away from the public school my
older son attends for kindergarten. We cross one street, and then the last
intersection has a school crossing guard. Luckily for us, my younger
son attends day care right across the street from this school. It
makes drop off much more simpler in the mornings.

Now, kindergarteners have to get to school exactly between 8:10 and
8:20, and they have to use the main entrance, which is around the corner of the school. We used to drop the older child off at the main entrance, and then backtrack (and cross the street) to drop the younger one at the day care. But we were always running the risk of getting the older one late, and the little one also keeps wanting to go inside with his brother (his best friend).

So we started taking the younger one to day care first, and then crossing
the street to drop off the older one but the little one kept trying
to convince his brother to stay with him and would occasionally
whine/cry. So I started leaving the older one outside
the day care while I walked up to the door, dropped his brother off,
and came back downstairs. The older one is out of my sight for maybe 2
minutes. Maybe 3. More importantly, he in full sight of the crossing
guard, since that’s the intersection in front of the school. And ALL
the parents dropping off kids, some of whom know him.

Apparently some parents of his friends have walked past him with their
parents, saying “You shouldn’t stand outside like that, a stranger is
gonna grab you.” I can’t figure out if it’s his friends saying this,
or the parents.

Once in a while, if we are really running late, I would cross the
street so he’s on the correct side, and then tell him to go ahead and
run around the corner to the main entrance to get in by himself.
No street crossings, and the only thing on the block is the school, so
he’s basically walking around the school.  He doesn’t mind, and generally runs off when I tell him to do that. I watch until he turns the corner, before I cross thestreet. After the little one has been dropped off, I go back to make
sure he’s not lying on the sidewalk, injured. But he’s long inside and
learning already.

And the number of dirty looks we’ve received from parents for letting
him run off around the corner on his own is mindboggling.

The neighborhood is very safe.  I am not saying there’s no crime.
There’s no such Eden. But it is very close-knit, and I’ve lived here
since I was in elementary school. The neighbors all know each other.
And I am not having a six-year-old cross the street by himself. Just walk down the block, or stand outside a building.

Am I really being unsafe? I told my son today I would never ask him to
do something dangerous, and I realized I needed a gut check. Yes, I
get it that tragedies happen. But weighing the risks, I am not sure I
am doing something completely unfathomable.

But more importantly, what conversation do I have with a six-year-old
about how to deal with people (some he knows) telling him a stranger
is going to grab him? REALLY? — Bewildered Brooklynite

Dear Bewildered: I’m bewildered by the terror that people can conjure up in the most sunny of circumstances. As for what to tell your 6-year-old, tell him he can always TALK to people, he just cannot go OFF with them. Simple, direct, easy for a kid to understand.  And write to let us know if anyone else starts following your lead!  (Actually, his!) – L

86 Responses

  1. Is anyone else bothered by the fact that the kids only have a 10 minute window to be dropped off?

  2. Have him carry the FRK card. He can show it to the busybodies who say anything, and include on the card “The statistical chance of stranger kidnapping is “.008%, as per the Safe Kids la la la (whomever it is.) Thanks for your concern.”

  3. Okay, so which one is the potential child-napper: Is it the crossing guard? Is it the the cluster of parents waiting outside? I don’t get it. If the kid is never alone, how unsafe can he/she be?

  4. I do like the idea from Laura about the Free Range Kids card……….I might have to keep that in the back of my head for future use.

    But honestly, I think Lenore said it best: You can TALK to people; you just cannot go OFF with them.

    I think a caveat should be added to that statement however: sometimes, unfortunately, kids do get grabbed (be it by a stranger or by someone the child knows)……so if someone grabs you, you scream, kick, bite, yell, and do anything to get away or draw attention to the situation and run to someplace safe (business, school, home, neighbor’s, police…whatever is closest).

    With all that said, I think a six year old will understand about not going off with someone, even if you know them (i.e., if it’s not mom, dad, grandma, etc.)

  5. At first I thought she was saying she let her kid walk to school by himself, and at that age I thought that was a bit much. But for goodness sake, how is he going to get “grabbed” right outside of the daycare? And going around the SCHOOL by himself to go IN the school..not a big deal.

    And I too am bothered by the 10 minute window. Yikes.

  6. Hey, I just had an idea–Lenore could teach “Free Range Kids” classes at schools and community centres, and guide the kids through the same kinds of challenges she does with the families on Bubble Wrap Kids. There’d be different levels for different age groups, obviously, and when kids finish, they’d be given a T-shirt, hat, or badge (colour-coded by age level) that says “Official Free Range Kid” on it, or something. If this was publicized well enough, then people would know what the colours meant, and they wouldn’t worry if they saw, for example, a six-year-old with FRK insignia walking to school, or a ten-year-old playing in the park alone, and so on. To make it more accessible, the program should be a part of the regular school curriculum, like V.I.P./DARE, and sex ed–actually, I think it’d be more important than either of those programs, because the chances of a twelve-year-old being confronted with sex and drugs are much smaller than the chances of that same twelve-year-old, say, setting off a smoke alarm while making popcorn, or getting on the wrong bus on the way home from swimming lessons–and of course, the answer isn’t to prevent kids from doing things like that, but rather, to teach them how to do them properly, so they know what to do if something goes wrong.

  7. What exactly is substantively different, safety-wise, if you’re with your son 100% of the time in those locations? I mean, he’s one of probably a dozen or more kids on their way to school, with parents of said kids all over the place. Is one additional parent really going to make that much difference? The only way I could see this mattering would be if the child is too immature to stay put or go in the right direction. And that would be the parent’s call to make.

    It also bugs me to hear people telling my kids that if they do XYZ, someone could kidnap them. My kids are 5 and this happens when, for example, they run out of their daycare for the few moments I spend checking their behavior charts and backpacks. Logistically, this is beyond ridiculous, but even if it were not, why would someone tell a child that? Make them feel completely vulnerable in a safe place, where their (apparently careless/clueless) parents have allowed them to run free? And then I have to teach my kids to ignore what their teachers have said because it’s illogical. Yuck.

    People, if you have something to say about the way a child is being raised, if you absolutely MUST comment, speak to the parent, not the child.

  8. @Renee Anne – I don’t know that age six is too young to walk 2 1/2 blocks to school. I walked further than that to get to my bus stop for kindergarten. Admittedly, I lived in a rural area, but I’ve lived in Brooklyn and it’s probably a safer walk than mine was. The only time my mom ever took me to or picked me up from the bus stop was if it was raining really hard. My twin boys are not yet five and we drop them off at the pre-school entrance – they make their own way up two flights of stairs, to their lockers, order their lunches on hot lunch day, change into their school shoes and go to their respective classrooms. By the time they are six, I fully expect they could walk 2 1/2 blocks on their own.

  9. Andy, I always ask the busybody who questions my very safe kid if THEY are the kidnapper. Why do they have such an interest in my kid?
    Why should I let them put me on the defensive with stupid questions?

    Just today on the way home from the store, I dropped my son off at a friends and my daughter (8) asked if she could also be dropped off. She just got new running shoes and wanted to try them out with a jog (@ 2 miles home). She came home about 5 minutes after we arrived. She felt great (said the sneakers did too) and got to let some energy out with out being hovered over.

  10. Sorry Renee Anne – that was actually @Casey Fogle. The walking by a kid and telling him someone could grab him is thoughtless at best, and frankly a little sick in my opinion. I’d love for someone to say that to my kids – boy would that person get set straight fast!

  11. ¡Ayyyy que flojera!

    Translation = Ahhh, come on! I don’t buy for a minute that women can’t answer this question on their own.

  12. My kids will be going to 1st grade next fall at a school which is at the end of a residential street. The school is a 15min drive from my house, so walking all the way to school ain’t happening, but I am trying to work out a compromise in my mind. They will be 5.5 / 6 in the first semester, so we’ll start with door-to-door service, but gradually I plan on dropping them farther down the street so they can have the benefit of a brisk morning walk before school. I was a “walker” myself, and I really think it’s a great way to start the day – especially the way they have cut recess and gym.

  13. The other day my kids got a little mini-book in reading class (KG). In it there is a girl who looks to be at least 6-7yo. Kid’s older brother is about to “hike a mile” (long i sound practice ;) ). Kid says, “I may hike a mile too.” But the story ends with the kid riding on her dad’s shoulders. Apparently a mile is way too long for a school child to walk!

    I had my kids walking over a mile at a shot (up & down hills) when they were 1.5. I’m not terribly pleased to see schoolbooks telling them a mile is an impossibly long distance.

  14. Although I see some changes, my fear is that this fear-mongering thing isn’t going away anytime soon. I hear and see it all the time.

    I find our neighborhood is a little more reasonable about this, although really none of the kids on my side of the ‘hood can walk themselves to school right now, but only because there is no crossing guard the street is crazy busy. Really – we adults don’t like crossing it! We are getting one after spring break, although I think they need 2 or 3. It is that busy with crazy drivers hell-bent on getting to work as quickly as a Cullen.

  15. skl1, my daughter ran a mile long race when she was 2! The next year she ran two races, the second one was so crowded with kids that I let her run alone, although I liked running with her.

  16. Teach your son that when grownups or other kids tell him, “Oh, you could be GRABBED!” he should answer, “My mommy says that’s crazy talk.”

    It is crazy talk. And it’s completely rude and unnecessarily traumatizing for other adults to be scaring your child about incredibly unlikely dangers while he does something totally safe and normal like stand outside a daycare or walk around the school.

  17. It wasn’t some stranger, it was their dad telling my kids “someone could grab you” if they were walking to school alone.

    What I had to explain to my kids was, “Your dad is imagining that kidnapping is happening all the time around here, but it is not. In the last fifty years, there was one child, about 25 years ago, who may or may not have been kidnapped… no one knows… he just disappeared one day. But all you need to know is that if someone did try to grab you — and this is SO unlikely, no more likely than it was when I was a kid, and I went all over the place by myself — then you kick, bite, scream, and go spazzy. Got it? Now don’t let you dad, or anyone else tell you that it’s not safe to walk by yourself because of kidnappers! That’s not real, that’s just their imagination.”

  18. “the chances of a twelve-year-old being confronted with sex and drugs are much smaller than the chances of that same twelve-year-old, say, setting off a smoke alarm while making popcorn, or getting on the wrong bus on the way home from swimming lessons”

    You really believe that? I estimate that there is a near 100% chance that my daughter will be confronted with sex and drugs during middle school (age 11-14). If not offered it directly, she will at least know what it is and where it is available.

    She may also set off the smoke alarm and get on a wrong bus but believing that sex and drugs is foreign to 12 year olds (who have pregnant and pothead classmates) is hiding your head in the sand.

  19. At my daughter’s elementary school in Northern California the kids have PE outside of the “Gate” and many of the parents are so frightened that the kids go back and forth from the bathroom either by themselves or in pairs without adult supervision. It is so laughable, I guess they feel that the kids aren’t safe unless they are behind a locked fence with known adult eyes on them at all times.

  20. My dd’s answer last week to the “you’ll be taken” warning was “I know karate.” Chuckle-worthy if nothing else.

    Actually, though, maybe the right answer is “this school is a safe place, is it not?” Put them on the defensive and make them realize the person they are talking to understands their words.

    How about: “Don’t worry, I know to scream at the top of my lungs if anyone bothers me, and scratch their eyes out if that doesn’t work.” [Extra points for adding: "I did that to my teacher last year and she never touched me again."]

    Or: “Statistically, that is highly unlikely.” Ha ha, I think I’ll teach this one to my girls.

  21. Also — tell your 6 year-old how to identify TRICKY PEOPLE:

    http://www.checklistmommy.com/2012/02/09/tricky-people-are-the-new-strangers/

    All best,
    Sarah

  22. And, again, these “caring adults” are scaring the kid but not staying with him! If they really thought he was in danger, why aren’t they staying put to make sure he’s safe and then talk to the mother directly?

    Because there’s no real risk and they know it.

  23. I make some parents at my kids’ school nervous too because my 6 year old often walks to school on his own. He just takes off ahead of me, even if I haven’t left the house yet. He’s so proud of himself though. I go to the school also be cause I volunteer in the mornings, but that doesn’t keep him from choosing independence. It’s maybe a quarter mile, but no crossing guards at the busiest of the streets he has to cross. That’s the only part that worries me, just because it’s full of parents desperate to drop their kids off in the 15 minute window our school allows, and the parking lot is fairly small.

    My kids know to get loud on the off chance someone tries to grab them, but with all the people around the school I just don’t see that as probable.

  24. skl1, I did something similar with my son when he was in 3rd-4th grade. We lived in a rural subdivision served by a school bus, but he started wanting to walk/scooter/bike to school. So I drove him into town, dropped him off a few blocks from the school, and he got there on his own. Over time I dropped him off farther and farther away, til I pretty much stopped at the village limits and let him go. It was great for him and a time saver/convenience (oh no, the “c word) for me.

    I would have done it younger, but he never expressed an interest in not riding the bus til 3rd grade.

  25. “…so they can have the benefit of a brisk morning walk before school. I was a “walker” myself, and I really think it’s a great way to start the day – especially the way they have cut recess and gym.”

    I agree, and I wonder if this loss is one of many reasons we’re seeing more ADD-like symptoms than we used to?

  26. Ok, this might be counter productive but at least it’s funny: teach your child to intentionally misunderstand the concerned adult (assuming it’s an adult). When they tell your child he could be kidnapped, he should run away screaming. When someone asks what’s the matter, he can say, “[concerned adult] said they were going to kidnap me!”

    After all, while I’m sure they won’t make the connection, if they’re going to go out of their way to frighten your child, you may as well show them that they are being inappropriatly scary. And as a bonus, it demonstrates that your kid (1) knows how to respond to a kidnapper and (2) is surrounded by a caring community that would intervene quickly in case of an attempted kidnapping.

  27. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  28. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  29. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  30. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  31. I seriously have people who question me for letting my 11 year old walk a half mile after school to her dance studio…. She’s in middle school! People need to keep their “advice” to themselves sometimes….

  32. HaHa… we’ll see if my plan works next year. I have a 3rd grader now, who will be 10 in May. Next year his younger brother will enroll in Kindergarten, younger brother will be 6 in July. We are enrolling him in PM kindergarten so that, should we want to, they can both walk home together in the afternoon. The walk home is 0.5 miles. The younger kid will be dropped off by daycare in the early afternoon. The 10 year old will walk to school in the morning.

    How long until someone freaks out?

  33. Lenore, is there a website where your show can be watched for free? My cable does not carry the Slice channel.

  34. Are we already forgetting that in 1979 child development books said a 6 year old should be able to walk 4 – 6 blocks to the store and buy something ( http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/as-recently-as-1979-a-first-grader-could/ )? Walking around the school is nothing… though I’d wonder what those other parents plan on doing if they think it is a risk (I’d still let my kid walk, though).

    I too am bothered by the 10 minute window. I can’t even imagine how that works, honestly.

  35. Let him walk to school. I did K-2nd.

  36. I used to let my daughter play outside of our local shops while I went into the supermarket all the time from when she was 5 or so. Fortunately no one ever tried to scare her with stories of kidnappers. Now she is 7 and walks home from school by herself regularly. But she did have a parent bring her back to school last week because they assumed she was not allowed to be out on her own. So I have now given her a Free-range membership card to carry.

    It would be so tempting to prompt your child to answer something really sarcastic to those silly comments about being grabbed by strangers. Or something like: “I am more likely to die in the back of the car – yet my parents insist on driving me places sometimes. Crazy isn’t it?”

    I have regular “what would you do if” conversations with my daughter about strangers pulling up in cars, etc. And am confident she knows what to do in the very unlikely event a stranger would try to lure her. I am just reading “No Fear” in which they mention that the majority of kids who were abducted went with their abductors voluntarily. Empowering your kids to deal with tricky situations is the most effective way to keep them safe. Hovering only results in giving them the false impression that they don’t need to learn to look out for themselves.

  37. As an increasingly free range parent, this has been the hardest part for me: the judgment from others. It doesn’t scare me to let my 4 year old ride his bike a little ahead of me down our very quiet residential street, but boy am I sick of the looks and comments from neighbors that I receive about letting him do this…A couple of them have stopped him and told him to stop moving altogether until I catch up to him. And this really drives me nuts because he is young and doesn’t understand the conflicting instructions he’s getting. I’ve told him to bike ahead to a certain landmark and turn around and some other adult is insisting he stay put. Ugh. Guess I need to work on telling him to only follow instructions from mommy and not mere acquaintances.

  38. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  39. No, you are not wrong to let your 6-y.o. walk around the corner. You are right to let your 6-y.o. walk around the corner. I used to walk by myself five city blocks to school when I was in 1st grade. My son walked himself four blocks to school when he was in 1st grade. That’s the normal way to do things. The other parents have gone loco; not you.

  40. As Celeste said, you’re not wrong to let your 6-year-old walk around the corner. When I was 6, I walked two blocks to school. I also walked by myself to play with my friend, who lived around the corner from me. In Germany kids walk to school by themselves starting at age 6. When they are in their last year of kindergarten (preschool), a policeman comes and teaches the kids how to cross streets safely and also what to do if someone tries to offer them a ride or snatch them. Kids learn that they can talk to strangers but never to go off with them. They also practice these skills with their teachers.

    Also, as someone else above asked, is there a website where people can watch your show, or will you upload it to YouTube? I haven’t seen it In Germany and would love to watch it.

    My son (age 13) reads this site and the comments. He thinks that helicopter parents are the ones who should be sent to the asylum, in straitjackets no less, and not the free rangers. He also has a great sense of humor. Yesterday I parked at the on-base library, which is about 100 meters from the teen center. I had to return a book and told him to walk to the teen center from there. He said (in a very dramatically exaggerated voice), “Oh no! What if someone kidnaps me?” I told him to tell any would-be abductors to pick a different kid because they couldn’t afford to feed him. After a good laugh, we went our respective ways.

  41. No, you’re not wrong. How is a child going to be kidnapped in NYC with its traffic situation and general heightened security level overall? (the last sentence being rhetorical)

  42. I’m surprised no one is raising the race/class issue that is clearly inherent in so many of the discussions that are taking place on the Free Range Kids page… though I’ll limit my discussion to the post at hand.

    This is really a “first world problem” here… and probably one belonging to a member of the middle to upper middle educated (often, statistically, white) class. I’m imagining that the school your kid goes to and the neighborhood your family lives in reflects at least part of the make-up described above.

    I worked for 3 years in a “high needs” school is an impoverished and rather dangerous section of the Bronx. I taught 1st grade and, more often than not, my students arrived at school, barreling around the corner and up the block all by themselves or with an older sibling trailing somewhere in the unseeable distance (or an even younger sibling racing to catch up). Many of these children had parents who had already left for one of their two jobs and had been cared for through the morning by a neighbor, a grandparent or the aforementioned older sibling. Most of these children spoke at least one other language. The vast majority of them stopped at a Bodega on the way to school for a bag of chips and cheap soda to bring to snack. Nobody ever bothered themselves about the 5 and 6 year olds coming to school without a parent because we were simply grateful they came to school that day. There were bigger fish to fry. As teachers, our calls to the school social worker or child protective services were reserved for the kids who came in with dead rodents in their backpacks, blood stains on their clothes, drugs in paper bags or for kids who were walked to school by the parent against whom we knew there was an order of protection.

    I don’t mean to sound harsh, but if you and your peers have the luxury to wonder if it’s ok for your NYC 6 year old to walk a block and a half to school, pat yourself on the back.

  43. I recently used the driving statistics comparison to calm another parent worried about letting the kids play in the local park. Her answer? “But I am in control in the car.” I pointed out that the real issue therefore had nothing to do with safety but rather with control. After a long pause, she simply said “oh.” I like to think I converted her that day….
    P.S. I LOVE the idea of a FRK card that my kid can carry and show to meddling adults. And having FRK training in schools is pure genius!

  44. We have a 15 minute window to drop our kids. They go to school on a college campus. There is a safe drop off carpool lane manned by three teachers on any given morning. I can’t tell you the number of parents who park in an adjacent lot, then walk their fifth grade kids across the street and into the school (not just to the entrance of the school or across the crosswalk – into the actual classroom). It is mind boggling. Thank goodness we have a new principal who sees the absurdity and is putting a stop to it. Now, he is cracking down on parents who insist on getting out of the cars in the carpool lane, personally handing backpacks to the kids, and giving hugs and kisses before walking the kids around the car to the sidewalk – holding up the entire carpool drop off in the process (there is limited bussing to the school). I’m convinced it has nothing to do with the safety of the kids, but everything to do with the ability of the parent to say “I care more about my kids than you do – look what I do in the morning!”

  45. [...] Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the … Read more: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ [...]

  46. I truly believe one of the safest places for a child is in amongst peers and school personnel before the start of school! I doubt anyone’s hanging around the school yard waiting to snatch a child in front of his school. I say go ahead and allow him the independence he deserves to walk to the front of the building. Make it an even bigger deal next year – this is what we’re going to do EVERY day now that you’re a year older!
    I welcome naysayers to question my parenting style. No one ever does. I think they’re secretly jealous they can’t “let go.” haha

  47. @Momof2-I also believe letting your kids walk/bike independently to school is one of the best things parents can do for them- both physically and mentally.
    I also believe the current culture of overparenting needs to be turned on it’s ugly side. The need to control others (including your own children) is a mental illness. The need to tell others that their safe kids are “in danger” also falls under that category. I laugh when crazy parents bring up the “what if someone grabs them” when they hear my kids bike to school. I say, “Good luck catching them!” as they go so fast and command their space that it would take an Olympic sprinter to get them off their bikes.

  48. Completely off topic, but interesting, regarding back-to-sleep, SIDS, tummy time, and the loss of developmental skills in an effort to be safer: http://www.medpagetoday.com/InOtherWords/31954

  49. I had something similar happen to me last year. I was laid off in March so I started walking my first-grader to school. It’s literally 1.5 blocks with sidewalks all the way. He does have to cross the busiest street in the village (yes, village, so you know the busiest street isn’t like a freeway or something) and there is a stoplight with pedestrian crossing. After about a month of walking with him, I got a letter from the unemployment office that I had to report there at 8:30 Monday morning a week later. It is about a 15 minute drive and the school won’t allow children in before 8:30. So I told Brandon he would have to walk to school himself that day. So the next day, instead of walking all the way with him, I just walked to the corner so I could watch and make sure he crossed the busy street at the right time. After 2 days, he said he was fine and didn’t want me watching him. On the third day we were running late that morning so he got to school late and the secretary immediately called me to report he’d been late and when she asked him how he got to school, he said he had walked… ALONE! I said, yes, sorry he was late, do I have to come over and sign him in? Is that why you’re calling? And she said, no, we were just concerned that he walked… ALONE! And I said, yes, that’s right. Anything else? And she said no and hung up. So on the day of my appointment, I set the kitchen timer for 15 minutes, told my son when the timer goes off, you need to leave for school and I left for my appointment. And for the rest of the year he walked to school. ALONE!

  50. What I find so sad about this story is that these parents could obviously see that this mom is trying to drop both her sons off at the same time. Why not simply introduce oneself “hi, I’m Ms. Nice and reasonable this is my son/daughter Lil Nice. Can we walk with your son to school?”. That is the world I want to live in and that is what I would do in this situation. Maybe this woman can find one of her sons friends to walk with to claim the naysayers.

  51. First off, this sort of thing makes me thankful that live where I do. Yes, I still hear the backlash for raising free-range kids, but at least people in my neighborhood don’t seem to think it’s the MOST absurd thing to let kids play outside! My 6 year old’s school is 2.6 miles from my house, and directly across the street from our subdivision. The school has a rule that kids can’t walk to and from school alone until second grade, UNLESS they have an older sibling walking with them (so kindergartners CAN walk as long as they have someone 8 years or older with them). Anyway, almost all the kids in my neighborhood walk to school, and no one minds at all. Kids play outside in un-fenced in yards, and no one cares. They ride their bikes around the neighborhood, and aren’t abducted…. imagine that! So, yay! for my somewhat free-range neighborhood!

    And on another note….

    I’m part of an online forum for moms with kids born in Feb 2010. Just last week one of the moms posted, freaking out because her 17 YEAR OLD nephew is allowed to walk alone at night in Brooklynn, NY. Are you kidding me??? What’s wrong with a 17 year old walking on his own?? According to this lady, she’s POed because her nephew is involved in a play at school, and rehearsals have been running until approx. 11pm. His mom can’t go get him because she has other, younger, kids that are at home sleeping. So, he takes the subway, and walks from the station to his apartment each night. His PARENTS are fine with this because it’s for a school activity, he has a curfew on other nights.But the AUNT is freaking out saying this is the most irresponsible parenting she;s ever heard of! I tried to reason with her, to calm her fears, pointed out that in just a few months he’ll be in college and on his own, and he NEEDS some real world experience before he’s left on his own. I pointed out that crime rates are down. But nothing worked because, “What if something terrible happened!” SMH!

  52. When my youngest started school, I carried on doing what I had done for years: pulled the car up to the kerb, pitched out the three kids with backpacks and lunches, and drove off or, if we had walked, said goodbye to them at the gate and let them walk down the school drive to the playground gate on their own (it’s about fifty yards from the street gate to the playground gate, with a wide safe path next to the school drive, which has almost no traffic).

    Oooh no, bad mother! I was called over at collection time one day and told I had bring my youngest right up to where the class teacher could see her come in – in other words, about fifty yards and round a corner past a hedge. ‘But why?’ I said. ‘She wants to come in to school. She’s got two older siblings who sort-of keep an eye on her. There are loads of other kids about, and loads of parents.’ The teacher’s response? Last year a little boy in the youngest class had decided he didn’t want to go in after all, and had started to walk back down to the street. Dear me, I said, did he get out? Well, no, of course he didn’t, because there were lots of parents around and he was fielded well before he got there. But now the policy has had to change…

    Thing is, even if all the parents did what I wanted to do, and let the kids walk in alone, there would still be a bunch of them yammering by the school gate, so there is no way a small child would have made it as far as the road – and the crossing patrol lady.

    But rules was now rules, even though no child had ever managed escape the clutches of school once sent in at the street gate, and I had a VERY cheesed off small girl who felt deeply insulted that the school thought that she stupid and unreliable enough to have to be nannied.

    I got have dug my heels in and made a fuss, but I had an awkward squad reputation already and decided I would wait for something bigger to come along. Which, of course, it duly did…

  53. @ Emily, I think having the kids wear a hat or anything identifiying them at FRK, may not be the best idea. I’m all for letting me kids walk around town (within reason) by themselves but not of dressing them in clothes that say “I don’t have an adult with me.” I do like your idea of classes though. Did anyone else wonder why this mom needs to walk her kid across the street when there is a crossing gaurd there? No reason why he can’t walk around the corner into the proper door but I’d let him on his own at the crossing gaurd.

    I also agree with whoever said it’s important to talk about kicking and screaming for the very slim chance they do get grabbed. That’s good advice for us mom’s too, I’ve been seeing lots of stories about missing mom’s lately – how come no one thinks it’s suddenly unsafe for us to walk places by ourselves?

  54. Does this mom not know any of the parents walking by with their kids? Meeting up with a friend to complete the walk is as good a solution as any.
    I don’t think the short walk alone is a problem, but when the kid is surrounded by classmates and parents, it’s slightly antisocial.

  55. Funny… I just read this comic yesterday and thought about FRK, and now we get told about ‘well-meaning adults’ trying to put scare scenarios into kids skulls…

    http://www.somethingpositive.net/sp04052012.shtml

  56. off topic, but this also reminded me of FRK.

    http://www.cracked.com/article_19744_6-popular-childrens-books-that-teach-kids-horrible-lessons.html

    The “Because Daddy Loves You” and “Love you forever” have overparenting down pat.

  57. At a local fun race day, kids as young as 2 were participating in (and finishing) the one mile run. My 8YO completed the 2 mile “extreme” trail stomp” (Ahead of both me and her dad, I might add!)

  58. These helicopter parents would have freaked out at the event I was at today! At the “chop drop” a helicopter hovered over a local football field and dropped thousands of Easter eggs. The field was roped off while they were dropping, but once the ropes were removed it was a free for all to gather eggs (later they were exchanged for bags of candy so there was less competition to get the most eggs). The area my first and second grade sons were in was a ways away from where I was working at a table and had probably up to 1000 kids (and some helicopter parents). I pointed out that I was near the end goal of the football field and told them that when they’d found their eggs they were to come back to my table. They had to wait a good 20 minutes before the eggs were dropped and then another 10 or so to find the eggs and make their way back. I checked in on them a few times just for my own peace of mind! They both did great! They did get separated from each other, but both boys made it back to the table in one piece! Hooray for confident children!

  59. Christi is correct; debating and deciding whether you are “Free Range” or not is actually something of a luxury problem. Lots and lots of poor people’s kids walk & ride public transportation to and from school; go to the store for their parents; let themselves in with a key; fix themselves a snack; etc. It’s a matter of practicality/necessity; they’re not always overanalyzing it or discussing the heck out of it. I don’t know if it’s a pat on the back we need though. It might actually be a kick in the pants.

  60. JenJen, you consider it antisocial for a child to walk in by themselves? There are over 400 kids at my daughter’s school. She only knows a fraction of them by name and is only friends with about a dozen. So if she meets friends on the way in, she’ll walk in with them. If not, she walks in by herself. That is perfectly normal behaviour that we as adults model too.

    Though I must admit that my 7yo loves me walking her into school. She also prefers to walk home with me. But she will walk home alone if I can’t or – bless her – if I say I have to pick her up with the car.

  61. I’m in No Cal and when my daughter was in Kindergarten the school was under renovation so there was no parking and you weren’t allowed out of the car for a drop off. (cops everywhere!) I also had a child in 5th grade (same school, opposite side of the campus) and a child in 8th grade at a completely different school. I had 10 min to drop off the two littles and then get my middle schooler to his school 6 min away. Parents of the Kinders would go park a few blocks from school, walk their kid into the completely gated and fenced courtyard then wait until the classrooms opened up before they left. Not having time to do that, I’d drop off the two littles in front of the gate, have my 5th grader walk his sister to her classroom door then continue to his class on the other side of the school which left me enough time to get to the other school. Amazingly the only comments I received were on the days that my daughter would refuse her coat and she’d be shivering by the time the teacher came out. Natural consequences as far as I’m concerned and she’d agree to where her coat for a while until another warm day came around.

    Later in the year the kids biked or walked the 1 mile to school and 3 miles to the other school. And as soon as kids saw mine doing it, they begged to do it too, and now they walk or bike in a pack of 8 or 10. Awesome!

  62. I have been walking my kindergartener and 1st grader (6 and 7) to school since the weather turned a few weeks ago. (and we walked last year in good weather also) Its about a mile to school and for the most part, they really like it. We often walk w a group, sort of a walking school bus, with one or two parents and a bunch of kids. My kids would like to walk by themselves (no parents) by the end of the year and I am all for it. After I cross them once, the walk down a fairly main road (with some but not crazy traffic) and only cross side streets (with one exception which can take some navigating) until they get to school. They will have walked this exact route many times when I let them go solo. I feel very comfortable with it (as they seem to). My husband and neighbors, not so much! One neighbor told me that the age was 10 to be able to walk or ride bikes alone – like the law was 10! I assured her that there was no law. I will follow the kids lead on this but I hope they try it this year a few times and next year its a regular thing for them.

  63. @linvo…Antisocial on the part of the adults. All those grown ups walking with their kids en masse and no one is friendly enough to ask for or offer help? That’s behavior to model as well, from both aspects. The letter writer said it’s a tight knit community where everyone looks out for each other. She unfortunately received some nasty comments and looks. I bet there are more helpful people in that crowd than the snippy ones. Letting the boy walk a bit on his own is no big deal, but tagging along with a friend is even less of a big deal. All she has to do is reach out to someone she recognizes as a fellow student parent as they walk. I’m sure if she told the kid to look for a classmate or friend, he’d find a walking buddy himself.

  64. @stephanieokeefe. I often get the 10yo comment from people. I am pretty sure it has to do with lots of road safety advice claiming kids have to be 10 before they can safely cross roads by themselves and they all quote the limited peripheral vision argument. I have done some digging on this and found some academic studies that contradicted that and even concluded that you can teach kids as young as 5 the skills to safely cross roads. And that was with crossing through gaps between cars, which I won’t allow my 7yo to do. She has to wait till the road is completely clear before she crosses, which is quite easy to do in the afternoons in our area. I walked this route with my daughter for 2 years pretty much every day at least once. And I always took the opportunity to test her road crossing skills. You basically want to test that they always make sure they can clearly see the road. That and choosing the safest place to cross, but if it’s just the route to school, they already know this.

  65. @JenJen, My daughter would be very annoyed if people kept asking her if she needed help walking into school. I just don’t think it is necessary at all to have a walking buddy to walk around the corner.

  66. @Jenjen I see nothing antisocial about not talking with other people in crowd. It would be antisocial not to say “hello” to people you know. There is nothing wrong with minding your own business while you are walking.

    It should not be mandatory to tag along someone you barely know just so you do not rise suspicion. After all, some people enjoy a short lonely walk – it is easier to think that way.

  67. Christi is correct; debating and deciding whether you are “Free Range” or not is actually something of a luxury problem.

    Except that this is not what people generally do here. People talk about genuine problems that come with allowing your child more freedom than the norm in your area.

    Are they the same problems experienced in poorer communities? Generally not. Does this mean they don’t count as problems? Absolutely not.

  68. It’s funny – my kid sister rode her bike to school (walking it across the two street intersections) on the first day of KG. (She’d turned five about a month earlier). No parents in sight. Another parent who knew her commented like that was concerning. So I thought, I’d better go make sure she’s OK. I stuck my head into her KG classroom and she was like, “what are YOU doing here?” This was HER life, dude. She did not need me for this.

    I must admit that I myself (relatively free-range for the times) don’t consider my kids ready to do what my sister could do at their age. However, it’s more because they haven’t had the opportunity to practice enough. No friends or anything within walking distance. The nearest walk-worthy destination is a park which is 1 mile away. And they don’t get large chunks of time to play around town.

  69. My point has been missed

    In a close knit community where the neighbors know each other and look out for each other, it isn’t such a stretch to say hi to your sidewalkmate and have a freakin conversation. Is it necessary that each child be attached to a parent on the walk? That’s as stupid as a line up of minivans loaded with one or two siblings and the one or two next door neighbors in one or two minivans next in line. Driving en masse or walking en masse, pool human resources. I’m not saying chat up everyone you see on the route or having every adult ask your kid if they need help. Annoying. Like I said, the kid walking the rest of the way himself is no big deal. And neither is seeing a friend and racing the rest of the way. Lighten up.

    So, no, letter writer, it is not wrong to let your boy walk around the corner alone. Neither is finding a friendly face in the crowd you walk with everyday and making a connection.

    That is after all, what neighbors who look out for each other do for each other.

  70. Off topic, but happy Easter and Passover, everybody!

  71. It sounds perfectly safe to me! And, with all those busybodies worrying, think of all the people looking out for him!

  72. @stephanieokeefe: I would do a quick Google search on your state before assuming that there isn’t a law. For example, when searching to see if there’s anything on the books in PA (my home state), I stumbled across this website, which basically says that since Oregon has a law saying kids must be 10 to stay home alone, the same law can likely be applied to walking alone. http://www.saferoutesinfo.org/program-tools/what-legal-age-child-can-walk-store-himself-oregon Always be aware of state and local legislation, or a lack thereof. Happily, although my child wouldn’t be able to walk to school anyway (6 miles away with all walking done on a major road without sidewalks,) there doesn’t appear to be anything in the state or local laws where I am limiting the ages kids can walk alone.

    Also, I know my local elementary school doesn’t allow ANY walkers younger than 2nd grade. Even the kids whose yards are adjacent to the school property must be bused or driven by a parent for K-1.

  73. I’m pretty sure your kid goes to my kid’s school. And here’s a funny story: another parent recently asked me, “At what age are our kids allowed to walk home alone from school?”

    As if this is something the school decides, and not something we do.

    I live around the corner from our Brooklyn school, have an 8:10-8:20 window for drop-off (and no, there’s no problem with that at all – it’s totally fine – kids can come earlier for breakfast if they/their parents wish). My son (who’s 7) often walks the block-and-a-half to school by himself, though typically, I follow a couple minutes behind and check with the teacher at the front door to be sure he got there. I’m not sure what I would do if she said “no,” and honestly, it never occurred to me that she *might* say “no.” But I’m on the PTA, so I go in to check the PTA mailbox every day anyway – it’s a perfectly normal interaction.

    And for the commenter above – what does it mean that the school doesn’t “allow” walkers younger than 2nd grade? I mean seriously.

  74. Here’s my family on the Canadian National news, talking about taht very subject. You may recognise some crazy Mom that even let her kid ride the NY subway alone (not mentioning any names).

    http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/story/2012/01/06/slow-parenting.html

  75. Homeward Dad–can kids in K-1 at your kids’ school be walked to and from school by an older sibling?

  76. @Jen How can they really disallow that? What happens if someone attempts it?

  77. Also, I know my local elementary school doesn’t allow ANY walkers younger than 2nd grade. Even the kids whose yards are adjacent to the school property must be bused or driven by a parent for K-1.

    How could they even enforce that? Not allow the child into school?

  78. @Jen:”Even the kids whose yards are adjacent to the school property must be bused or driven by a parent for K-1.”

    I would be willing to bet my next paycheck that there isn’t a state in the country that has a law preventing a parent from walking his or her child to school. No principal has the authority to mandate how a parent gets a child to school.

  79. Jen, you must live in a well funded district! When the cuts do come, expect every kid within a half mile or more to be walking. Unless they are special ed and can prove that they HAVE to ride.

    Around here, kids only ride the bus if they live a certain distance away, and that distance is longer the older the school level. I think that parents are actually discouraged from driving their kids in, which I think is a great thing from a conservation view. Probably makes it easier for teachers too – kids are awake and energized, unless they rode the bus.

  80. False Child Abduction attempt in Massachusetts, the man was really looking for his dog!

    http://boston.cbslocal.com/2012/04/07/webster-police-suspicious-man-actually-was-looking-for-puppy/

    ““Mom sees the car pull in real quick, it only takes a second, that exchange between the driver and the daughter. She steps out and the gentleman takes off real quick,” Sgt. Reynolds said. “When you look at it from her perspective she’s thinking you know what, this isn’t right. We hear it and think you know what this is not right; why would you take off when mom steps out?

    But in fact he never saw mom. He’s not even thinking about talking to a young girl, he’s just thinking about the dog.””

  81. The other parents obviously 1) know who your son is and 2) know who he belongs to and 3) know where he’s going. If not, they wouldn’t be able to criticize you or him for letting him go to school without you. Therefore, he is surrounded by people who are not strangers and who aren’t going to allow someone to grab him. There is no sense of the word “alone” in which your child is walking to school alone in this scenario.

    Also, not for nothing, but if you were a dangerous pedophile, would you try to grab a child in a crowd that includes lots of other parents who know him AND a crossing guard? They’re bad. They’re not stupid.

  82. My school has a policy that Kinder have to be picked up by a sibling/cousin/parent/or neighbor. This was after several kids got lost in the apartments. If a parent signs a note, the child can walk home. We have a meeting point on the front porch and bus porch that siblings can wait for each other and walk home together. The kinder teachers stand there with they 4 and 5 yo kids. All the grade levels walk past these points to get to the edge of the properties. Most parents have already set up groups for their kids to walk home with before school starts.

  83. @Suzanne–the Free Range Kids hat/badge/T-shirt wouldn’t be specifically for the purposes of going out alone; it’d just be a sort of award/insignia/souvenir for completing the Free Range Kids class for their age/grade level, sort of like when kids get T-shirts for completing V.I.P. or D.A.R.E. I probably still have my old V.I.P. shirt stashed away in my closet somewhere, from when I took the class in grade six.

  84. Bewildered Brooklynite here – Lenore, thanks for posting. My kids and I’ve been having a lot of good conversations, and they love the idea of a FRK badge/card. I see some hours on Zazzle up ahead. I actually decided to chime in because I found Christi’s comment interesting. I didn’t think it was relevant to include in my original note that the neighborhood I live in is predominantly working class and immigrant (myself included). A significant portion of the school is bilingual or ESL. I think the kind of “the world is a scary place for our kids” mentality we are discussing is pretty across-the-board and not just limited to the upper middle class (or a particular race). Sure, there are some neighborhoods where it’s not economically possible to be a helicopter parent, but there is a lot of area in between.

    Anyway, thanks.

  85. When I was five and six years old and in kindergarten (1959-1960), My mom walked with me to school the first day, and for the next nine months I walked the one-mile round trip by myself. No big deal, no problems, all of the kids did it. We also played in our front yards and up and down the street until dusk with no adult supervision. I almost never see pre-teen kids outside any more. This is so, so sad.

  86. I don’t think a 6 year old should walk alone or stay alone on a street but do it if you don’t mind possibly being that 0.08%.

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