How to answer the people who think you’re nuts?

Remember the “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” that used to run in Mad?

That’s what we need here at Free Range Kids. As a recent email from “Skyscraper” put it: “This site needs a seperate idea page for what to say when others question the ‘free-range’ parenting approach.”

So true.  What do you say when someone thinks you’re nuts for letting your 8-year-old jump rope by herself on your driveway, or for letting your pre-teen walk to school?

I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews and I turn into a self-righteous bore when the host inevitably asks, “How could you let your son take the subway alone?”

I quote crime stats that show a child is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than by being abducted. I appeal to common sense. I remind people that a couple of generations back, a 9-year-old probably would have had a part-time job. And then I ask the interviewer, “Didn’t you getto run around and do things by yourself when you were a kid?”

“Sure!” comes the answer, but “times have changed.” Once they get that out of the way, they go in for the kill: “How would you have felt if something DID happen to your son?”

“Uh…bad?”

So much for my years of media training.

What I really want to say is: “Terrible! Earth-shaken! I’d be cursing God — and especially the radio hosts who asked Him to zap my son just to teach me a lesson! But, Mr. Fulminator, sir, don’t you see there’s something sick about immediately and endlessly envisioning the very worst? Isn’t that the very definition of paranoia? And isn’t it wrong to teach kids that they are incapable of taking care of themselves, that they can’t trust their community, and that it is better for them to live a virtual life inside, where life is programmed, than a real life, outside, where they can glory in the wonders of the world? Are you ever going to let your kid GROW UP?”

That’s what I’d like to be able to get out, but it sounds a little hysterial and it’s not exactly pithy. So if you have any amazing zingers that really seem to open people’s eyes (or shut their mouths), we are all eager to hear them.

And even more eager to start using them.

– Lenore

135 Responses

  1. Probably not helpful, but a variation on one of my favorite snarky responses to dumb/prying questions:

    Them: Why are you endangering your child so?!

    You: Didn’t I share my philosophy/reason/answer with you already?

    Them (puzzled, curious): No.

    You: Then it must not be any of your business!🙂

    Stick to your guns and your beliefs. I first heard about you and your son on the web, and then later on Talk of the Nation. I’m the father of two small children (almost 2 and almost 5), and while we live in the suburbs of Portland, you’ve inspired me to always make sure I’m not smothering them all the time, and depriving them of (safe, sane) ways of exploring the world, becoming more self-reliant, and being better people when they grow up.

    So, thank you!🙂

  2. I remind people that it’s my job to raise ADULTS. The kids won’t be kids forever – and wouldn’t it be nice if they weren’t terrified of the entire world?

    I tell people that I don’t just shove my kids out the door unarmed. I taught them their address, phone number, how to read a map (seriously) and each kid even has a Google Map of our neighbourhood in his backpack. They have a card with all sorts of information in there, too – home phone #, cell #s for me and Dad, work #s, address, emergency contacts, etc.

    I go out with them on new adventures until they’re confident and competent. I adjust the freedoms according to their age, ability and comfort level.

    And if one of the kids tells me that they’re scared (as opposed to nervous) I just don’t let them do it alone – whatever it is. THAT would be wrong. Letting them explore and learn about the world? Right. Definitely the right thing to do.

  3. Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions still runs in Mad Kids!

    “no, I’m afraid my kids will grow fat and lazy staying inside all the time.”

    “no, aren’t you worried you’ll hit another kid while driving yours all over town?”

    “no, this is the front of the line and we’re all standing backwards!”

  4. “How would you have felt if something DID happen to your [ten year old] son?”

    I’d feel the same way a parent would feel if something happened to their 18 year old child, 25 year old child, or 40 year old child. But that doesn’t justify a parent controlling the behavior of their adult children. The responsibility and empowerment I’m giving my son today will make my son safer and more successful for the rest of his life.

  5. I am thrilled with the idea of free range parenting, but I too have people criticize my choices. I had friends that were horrified I let my 6 year old run into the gas station alone to buy a snack while I filled the gas tank. I thought this was a rather minor thing compared to some of the other things she is able to do. I generally just say that every child is different, and I am raising her as I see fit. After hearing about the mother who was arrested for leaving her toddler in a locked, alarm-set car that was within sight at all times at a Walmart loading zone, I am more determined than ever to raise my child with a sense of reality about what is and is not a danger in this world. This site is a wonderful place of support for these values!

  6. Brad’s response there was sensational.

  7. Let’s see what the overprotective contingent thinks when their adult kids refuse to leave home and get jobs because they’ve been raised to be frightened of the big bad world and to distrust their own abilities.

  8. How about: The words ‘surveillance’ and ‘parenting’ are not to be confused!

    If I do my parenting job well, then my kids will not need to be under my constant surveillance. If I parent well, then they will have skills to navigate the real world, and common sense, too!

    They’ll never be able to exercise their own minds, their own judgment, if I am there 24/7 telling them what to do.

  9. “Of course I’d feel horrible. But I’d also feel horrible if he/she was killed in a car accident or died of a rare disease. I’m not going to keep my kids out of cars and in plastic bubbles because I’m afraid they will die in car accidents or of rare diseases. I take reasonable precautions.
    The world isn’t really much more dangerous than it was when I was his/her age; we just know more about the dangers. When I was his/her age I was allowed/made to do (all kinds of dangerous things) and we don’t do that now. So, my kid is still safer than I was as a child.”

  10. Snappy Answers to Dumb Questions:

    Q: When did you start letting your 9 year-old son ride the subway alone?
    A: After he got his first DWI.
    Q: Aren’t you afraid when your kids don’t come home on time?
    A: Nope, I make them take a time-reactive poison pill before they leave. They’re always early.
    Q: Do you let your children play with guns?
    A: Only in the pitch dark on the West Side Highway.
    Q: How do you know if your child has misbehaved?
    A: He fails his nightly polygraph test.
    Q: When will you let your sons date?
    A: When they qualify to vote…in Algiers
    Q: What do you do when your kids don’t finish their vegetables?
    A: I combine their nightly bath with waterboarding.

    Finally

    Q: Will you ever let your sons live with a woman without the benefit of marriage?
    A: Only if it’s me.

  11. love this “free range kids” concept – just came across this blog…i’m so tired of the fear-mongering. i actually tried to connect up school communities thru a simple web application i found (called schoolspace – its on facebook) and was thrown into a tizzy with all the potential dangers – there is always a sense of impending doom rather than looking at the potential benefits..it is so confusing and limiting!!

  12. “Q: When did you start letting your 9 year-old son ride the subway alone?
    A: After he got his first DWI.”

    Heh heh.🙂 This reminds me of some of responses I’ve read for rude strangers who lecture you about breastfeeding if they see you buying formula, like “I tried it, but all the crack in my system made the baby nervous and irritable.” (My son was fed through a tube for the first four months of his life, so I was particularly sensitive about that issue.)

    Because of his ongoing medical problems, I’m *always* walking a fine line between keeping him safe medically and feeling like a hysterical parent. I don’t need to add unlikely scenarios of stranger abduction to my list of things to worry about! So I think my answer, if anyone is ever rude enough to challenge me, will be something like this: “Compared to having to make the decision to have him flown several hundred miles to another city for major surgery at three weeks old, and then watching as he nearly died from an infection in his IV… letting him play in the front yard reeeeallllly doesn’t seem all that scary.”

    That should make them uncomfortable enough to not bother me again… or bring out the good part of them that made them care enough about my child’s welfare to try to do something about what they see as my lax parenting.

  13. I wish you’d said what you wanted to say. I don’t think it was hysterical at all, I think it was an entirely reasonable and honest response. Besides, staying calm will only take you so far… maybe people would believe you actually have your child’s best interests at heart if you get a little heated. On the other hand, screw ’em. If they don’t get it now, they probably never will.

  14. I wish you’d said what you wanted to say. I don’t think it was hysterical at all, I think it was an entirely reasonable and honest response. Besides, staying calm will only take you so far… maybe people would believe you actually have your child’s best interests at heart if you get a little heated. On the other hand, screw ’em. If they don’t get it now, they probably never will.

  15. Thankfully my family and I live in a suburban town where children’s freedom and free-range nature is cherished. It really is a diamond in the rough and a wonderful place to raise children. It is only when we leave town that the hysteria begins.

    I tell people they will be a lot happier overall if they stopped watching television, specifically the television news. I think that is the root of the problem. Really. Fear driven infotainment plays on our psyche and distorts our perception of risk. People become blind to the fact that news, by definition, is stuff that doesn’t happen very often.

    Numerous studies have shown that happiness increases as tube time decreases.

  16. As an adoptive mom, I get stupid comments alllll the time.

    My favorite free range comment: “The way these two fight, a kidnapper would bring them back after 5 minutes…”

  17. I was talking to my own mother – who was considered free range when she was raising me (I’m 23) – and she said that the thing with abductions etc. is that no one is going to abduct a kid on the subway who knows where s/he is going and has a *purpose*. There are plenty of vulnerable kids out there who have run away from home or are homeless for people to prey on.
    Like people said, if you equip your kids for the situation, they will be fine.
    One of the worst stories that I know is my friend’s mother who is the second-most overprotective parent I know, well, her kid died in a car accident 3 weeks after getting his licence (no alcohol or drugs were involved and it wasn’t suicide). There is no way you can protect your kids *all* the time.

  18. “Times have changed” is not an answer! Of course, times have changed, it’s what times do. Ask the people who tell you that times have changed to prove you that times have changed in a way that makes life on their own more dangerous for kids. (If they answer “terrorism”, they lose. “Terrorism” isn’t attacking kids on the way back from school.)

  19. I agree with Violet about adults….

    I always tell people I am raising adults, not children. There are plenty of 6 foot tall children, already.

    My other favorite, when asked what parentlng style I ascribe to, is benign neglect. It usually shuts them up and we don’t have to play with their kids either.

  20. Ugh, I hate “times have changed” and “it’s not the same world we grew up in”.

    Damn straight. It’s a *safer* world than the one I grew up in, than the world kids grew up in half a generation before me – and it’s just as safe as the world my mother grew up in. (Maybe safer. When she was my age, my mother turned down a dance with a man who turned out to be Son of Sam, and I’ve never had the chance to reject a serial killer yet.)

  21. When I was as young as 5 years old and growing up in the INNER-CITY I would frequently play outside ALONE since I was an only child. My mom would be in the house. I have a 5th grader and a 4th grader who play outside TOGETHER in our yard in a SMALL TOWN and she freaks out that I let them go out without me. When I bring up that she used to let me out alone in a big city at a much younger age, she uses the “Times Have Changed” line. I never know what to say to her either.

  22. I feel that I am often referred to (behind my back, of course) as a lazy parent when in reality, I seem to be a free-range or natural consequences one. I’m so glad this blog is here! Maybe it’s because I have all boys that I’m not so paranoid, but good grief, even if there is a molester chester on the direct route home I figure if my children are walking home in a big group and act on what they’ve been taught about stranger danger they’re not going to get “got”.

  23. “… but times have changed.”

    You might want to answer that with

    “Yes. For the better. So what’s the problem?”

  24. Wow. It is sad that:

    a – some of you folks are agonizing & angsting over letting your kids be kids

    b – you are letting the opinions of others dictate your child rearing.

    Get out of your kids way, relax, let them be kids and watch them grow & flourish. Get over yourselves.


  25. shocked: MALAYSIA MAKE NEW RULES FOR CHRISTIANS!!

    EVERY CHRISTIANS MUST SAY “ALLAH” RATHER THAN “GOD” & DONT SAY “TRINITY” ANYMORE..
    This is because English language not suitable anymore because the original Bible is in Arabic.

    The full story is here: ckasih.blogspot.com

  26. I have explained my philosophy as ever increasing bands of freedom. My 3 year old has free reign in the house and back yard. He’s allowed to go to a certain expansion joint on the driveway. My seven year old can ride his scooter to a friend’s house 2 blocks away but not allowed to cross a main street to get to the park. When I was 7, I frequently rode my bike to the store (3/4 mile) to buy a treat or some small item. I wasn’t allowed to buy milk until I was older because it would have been too hard to carry home on my bike. Times haven’t changed. abductions are down. People have changed. Oh, and my kids wear helmets, ride in car seats, etc. My kids are more independant and capable in my humble opinion than many of their peers. They can also be more considerate and observant of their surroundings. I’ve never been particularly good at snappy comebacks, but I think it’s good to point out the utterly dangerous things that we did as kids.

  27. I want my children to be raised free range, not as veal.

  28. My “kids” are now 18 and 19, and they were raised as hybrids🙂 My husband and I divorced when they were very young and we disagreed strongly about how to raise them.

    When the children were with me they were given small pieces of responsibility at a time and when they handled it well they were able to get the next bit. Once they figured out that responsibility lead to freedom they were right on board.

    My son is now living at home part time while attending university, and I see a lot of him and his girlfriend. She is also 19 and was definitely not raised free range. When they are planning to go somewhere she is terrified of taking the bus or train on her own if she hasn’t used that route many times before. She’s not afraid of strangers, but of making a mistake, taking the wrong bus and ending up somewhere else. She is a lovely girl and I adore her, but I’m saddened every time they make plans to go somewhere new.

    This is what confining our children during their growth period does. It leaves us with adults who are afraid of trying in case they make a mistake.

  29. How about (wait a beat)
    How do you think I’d feel?

    or, and this would only work if asked in a true spirit of inquiry without any attitude,
    Why are you asking? Do you think I wouldn’t be devastated?

    then of course follow up with stats on actual danger of the escapade, danger of not allowing independence and the general culture of fear that rules instead of logic.

  30. I’ve been raised ‘free-ranged’, I’m now 26 years old and I’m so happy my parents did everything they did and let me do all the things I have been able to do.

    Thanks to them I’ve been traveling all over the world by myself since I was 17 years old, experiencing life to it’s fullest. And best of all, it has made me brave, I’m not scared of much (except dogs… for some odd reason😛 ) and always willing to try new things.

    Yes, some bad stuff has happened because of some choices I made when I was a teen, but I’m very proud to say that I’ve been able to overcome all the bad things by myself, with the guidance of my parents.

    Please, everyone who is raising their kids like this, please keep doing it, I’m sure you’ll all raise wonderful, smart kids. Hopefully all the fearmongering will stop

  31. Even if one were to accept the premise that the world is becoming a more dangerous place, wouldn’t that make it a greater imperative to prepare your child for it now — before they become an adult in an-even-more-dangerous world? Sheltering a child is an easy cop-out for parents unwilling or incapable of raising a well-adjusted person. The real tragedy is that we — as a society — are raising a generation of paranoid neurotics who will be unable to function outside their gated communities.

    Of course the premise is wrong to begin with: violent crime has been dropping for decades.

    “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

    “Better to die free than to live as a slave.”

  32. OK so i have a 5 year old son and a 3 year old daughter. We live in a COUNTY not town a COUNTY that’s total population is ohhh about 18 thousand I’d say…..our town is about 3 thousand. Our county is ohhh about 40 miles by about 60 miles I’d say….give or take a litttle so Needless to say we’re pretty spaced out over here lol. What I dont get is this. Why are people so concerned about letting their kids play in the yard? I mean sheesh my 3 year old roams our 5 acres like she owns it lol. She goes down by the creek GASP! she gets IN THE CREEK ! Bigger GASP! she pets “strange dogs” lol and she walks alone between my home and my inlaws which is on the back half of the 5 acres….which means a WHOLE 200 yards away! thats like GASP! 600 FEET! lol. People are so NUTS. I mean I wouldnt take her to walmart and leave her or anything I mean obviously she’d be scared and yes there is always that potential threat. But what is WRONG with letting her have enough freedom to play outside, play in the creek, pet dogs, talk to neighbors, walk to my inlaws, walk to my neighbors house (2 MORE acres over lol). I mean she’s 3 and she’s done this since ohhhh I dono she could walk and so has my 5 year old. I just dont understand ppl who think they have to sit on the porch while their kids play in their own yard, ESPECIALLY here. I mean sure there is always a threat…but geeze if they’re gonna get snatched outta your yard, they could just as easily get snatched out of your arms right?

  33. OH yeah and I was a free range kid I am 25 now, my parents sent me to Europe when I was 15….with 10 0ther kids LOL and ONE adult. It was pretty awesome..I called home often and had TONS of fun and it was a great experience and NOw that I am married and have 2 kids I am glad that I Had a chance to travel the world while I was younger. I cannot understand how a dad could follow a kid on her school trip for 4 days to “keep her safe” lol. He has too much time on his hands if he’s doin that crazy stuff. Sheesh ever heard of helicopter parenting?

  34. Denial and projection of fears run very very deep. Facts don’t even crack the surface I’ve found. Responding to this kind of stuff, when you have to do it, is really tough. I think the starting place is to switch it back to the questioner’s own feelings. “So you’re frightened that something might happen?” and then delve deeper into why and exactly where the fear comes from. But ultimately, many times, there seems to be a need to believe other ways can’t work because if they do it is a huge worldview threat.

  35. When people use “times have changed” fear mongering techniques to try to convince me to do anything, I always remind them of Tamerlane and Genghis Khan. That seems to help put things in perspective … well, at least for people who know enough about history to identify despots and conquerers of times past.

  36. […] 2008 Uncategorized As someone who has, I hope, three reasonably decent sproggs I found this a really pertinent post on the Free Range Kids blog. We’re living in a culture which does so much to engender fear […]

  37. I find, these days, people don’t mind their own business… all hail freerange children😀

  38. Sometimes, old men in white vans DO actually follow the school buses around, string at the little boys, and driving off when any adult approaches. And the cops will tell you that he hasn’t done anything illegal.

    And sometimes guys in pickup trucks DO actually try to lure little girls from your daughter’s brownie troop into their trucks, in broad daylight. And sometimes it happens to more than one of little girls in the troop over the course of a three day span.

    So what I’m saying, is that I’m having a very difficult time raising free range kids when there are REAL threats in my neighborhood., and despite the statistics, which I believe, about the low odds of my kids getting abducted by a stranger, there is now, and have been in the past, strangers, displaying predatory behavior, in my area of town.

    The threat may be low, but it is real, and when it gets real, there’s few things more frightening, and I, for one, can excuse a little paranoia in the mean time.

    The other debate in our neighborhood is whether it’s okay to walk up the 2-lane (heavily trafficked) road, because it lacks sidewalks. Although it does have a 30-foot grass berm on either side.

    rambling done.

  39. […] This post talks about how to deal with people who basically raise their kids in fear – not letting them out of their sight.  Ever.  While I also think that is a bit extreme, I’m not sure I’d be as extreme as some parents are either as far as letting a kid ride the subway alone or something like that.  The poster said she quotes stats such as kids being 40 times more likely to die in a car crash than to be abducted.  That may be the case, but my argument would be that a lot of criminals commit crimes of opportunity.  If a kid isn’t out on the street alone to be abducted, he won’t be abducted.  If he is, there is always the chance.  I’m not saying never let that kid out of your sight necessarily, but use some common sense.  If there are more kids out on the streets alone, there are more opportunities for kidnappers to abduct them. […]

  40. How would you feel if despite all your coddling and paranoia, something happens to YOUR child? 90 percent or so of non-auto accidents happen at home . So he’s safer elsewhere!

    People need to get real. Every time someone justifies helicopter parenting their kids by harping on sexual predators I want to ask if they’ve vetted their boyfriends and male relatives, because the VAST, VAST majority of abusers are heterosexual men their victims already know.

  41. My sons are 25 and 29, and while I am in the direction of an overprotective mother, I raised them “freerange” as I see it descriibed on this site (they always wore bike helmets and seatbelts, as well as protective sports gear — to me those dangers are more real, more probable and preventable at much lower cost than the hypothetical abduction danger of letting them walk to school)

    The biggest downside to me of the anti-freerange troops is that my kids had to walk to school alone (yeah, they had each other, but neither saw that as a plus). As near as I can tell, and I put a lot of work into finding them “walkpool buddies”, no other child in their grade school walked to school. This made it both boring (the walk was about half a mile) and socially unacceptable. I remember when I walked to school, I would encounter maybe 50-75 other kids in my 1 mile walk. It was arguably the best part of the day (especially the walk home). My kids didn’t have that experience.

    So freerange families need to band together, so that kids can find other walkers/bikers/commuters. I’m glad you are bring this to public attention — perhaps my grandchildren will have the joys of walking to school, playing on their own, etc. with other kids, rather than being that kid whose mother doesn’t care what happens to him.

  42. My sons are 5, 7 and 9. We live in Haarlem in the Netherlands and they do pretty much what they want, though 5 and 7 are not allowed to cross the fastish parked up road two streets away on their own.

    The scariest stuff that has happened to them was in the home: the two eldest went mountain climing out of a roof window (we suppressed that fiercely) and middle one almost set fire to his bedroom by knocking over a halogen desklamp onto a pillow.

    Heaven bless flame retardant pillows and smoke alarms.

    Unsnappy comeback
    “socialogical and historical research shows conclusively that the “it was safer/better when I was a kid (e.g. more than 20 years ago)” belief has been reported since records began. If it were true we would truly be in the pits now…

  43. I got a reasonable sound bite to answer the “wouldn’t you feel horrible if something happened to them?” question by combining Jenne’s lead-in with the “40 times” stat:

    “Of course I’d feel horrible. But I’d also feel horrible if she was killed in a traffic accident or died of a rare disease. And I’m not going to give up on driving her around despite the fact that she’s 40 times more likely to die in a car wreck than be abducted.”

  44. “So freerange families need to band together, so that kids can find other walkers/bikers/commuters. ”

    This is the smartest thing I’ve read here. A child alone is in more danger than in a group. But it’s hard to find other kids out there in the world. Someone above said “If there are more kids out on the streets alone, there are more opportunities for kidnappers to abduct them.” but what they don’t get is that more kids on the streets means they WON’T BE ALONE.

    What ways can we connect people in the same area? Meetups?

    We’ll be looking for a house in a year and what I wouldn’t give for a list of neighborhoods with lower traffic and kids out playing.

  45. I think that you can let them be a little free but I also think you have to have some responsiblility but most of the time as parents you are too busy ignoring your child and then you are offended when called a bad parent. Maybe you should be active in raising your own off spring and then you don’t have to be so offended!

  46. I was raised “free range” by parents whose only rules were that I would have to live by the consequences of my actions. They did not ask (when I was a teenager) where I was going or who I’d be with; they just always said “Have a good night and be safe” and I was, because it was very clear at a young age that if I got pregnant, I’d have to pay for my own abortion or keep the baby on my own or find my own adoptive parents to take the child; if I got a DWI or was involved in a drunk driving accident, I’d better have the funds with me to bail my own ass out of jail; if I got caught smoking pot, they weren’t going to give me the money to make up for the funds the US government would now deny me.

    Etc.

    It was the way I was always raised. When I did something wrong, it wasn’t “that was bad!” but “why did you do that?” to see if there was some logical reason and to try to teach me to learn from my actions.

    I also played in my front yard and sometimes *gasp* even the street when my friends and I played soccer! The horror of having to move our nets when the cars slowly drove down the block.

    I’m 27 now. I’ve never been pregnant, never driven while intoxicated, never done drugs. I’ve never been kidnapped, hit by a car, murdered (obviously!) or otherwise victimized. I know that danger is in the real world, but I also know self defense including how to take a weapon off someone and how to use a gun. (My parents are also a bit conservative and took me to a gun club when I was 8 to learn marksmanship, which I loved. They felt, as they kept a gun in the house, I should know what a gun was, that it was *not* a toy, and how to handle one should I ever need to. I never have.)

    I have self-confidence. It probably sounds conceited, but I am also not self-absorbed the way some college students are today — I know I have limitations. I’ve gotten low marks on tests and even failed one subject for one marking period in high school because I didn’t do my homework. I learned my lesson pretty quickly too, by the way! I’ve also racked up massive debt because I got a credit card at 18 that I’m still repaying today and I have a less than stellar credit rating thanks to that. But, I’m happy. I learned my lessons through my own mistakes, and I feel so much more like I can take on the world because I’ve always bailed myself out of my own messes.

    Oh, and I do know that if I was ever in over my head, my parents would honestly help me out. I’ve just never been silly enough to let any situation get that bad!

  47. Oh, and for those who are scared of their children being abducted by “real” predators, my mother took care of that by teaching me three things:

    1. DON’T GO WITH PEOPLE YOU DON’T KNOW. (Why don’t parents teach their children this anymore? Isn’t this like How To Be A Good Parent 101?)

    2. Scream “fire” as loud as you can. Get people’s attention.

    3. Kick in the crotch and poke in the eyes. Repeat as necessary, then run like hell.

    The end.

  48. I want my children to be raised free range, not as veal. Love it, Skip!

    One of my sons died in utero from a rare umbilical-cord accident. My heart was broken and I learned that all the worrying and safety-obsessing in the world won’t stop plain bad luck. I want my living children to savor life now, because it’s a gift. I’ve only had to say this once, to a relative who lambasted me for letting my children play in our fenced backyard, but I haven’t heard a peep from her on the subject since.

    Thanks for this site, Lenore.

  49. I’m half of a DINK couple but I’m starting to see more kids in our (pretty safe, suburban) neighborhood out playing by themselves… more then there used to be.

    I think this is awesome. It was downright creepy knowing the neighborhood is full of families and they must have all been playing video games or something instead of getting some fresh air and playing.

    And yes, I am always careful when I drive home!🙂 I don’t have kids but am glad to see that some are actually allowed to ride their bikes and wander around like I did and my husband did.

    There’s safety in numbers, too. So it’s helpful if other parents are on the same page, I think. Then the kids have others to play with and aren’t all alone, if that is a fear.

  50. I was raised free-range (I’m 39 now) and I want my son to be able to experience a lot of that freedom. What concerns me is not the dangers of the world, it is the fact that there are so few other kids out in it.

  51. Our snappy answer seems to be the goal of parenting; not fostering an ideal child by-way-of a perfect childhood but producing a socially functional and independent adult.

    On the subject risk management, I calculate that the danger of kidnaping, by a stranger, is about equal to that posed by UV radiation but who doesn’t let their kid outside for fear of melanoma. Both risks are easily mitigated.

  52. I wrote an article on Playborhood.com a few months ago entitled, Is Driving Your Kids Around Safer Than Letting Them Roam Outside on Their Own? .

    The answer, in terms of mortality statistics, is an emphatic “NO.” Kids are roughly three times more likely to die as passengers in an automobile accident than the sum of three roaming causes of death: death as victim of an abductor, death as pedestrian, and death as bicyclist.

    Sure, if more kids roamed, its possible that more would die (it’s also possible that fewer die due to “strength in numbers”), but three to one is a pretty wide margin.

    I’ve shared these numbers with a few people who were first amazed, then enraged, then defiant. I do believe that American people aren’t dumb when presented with facts.

  53. i really like your ideas! thanks for sharing🙂

  54. btw: answering the people who think you’re nuts often times sounds like sarcasm and is tons of fun and can actually be a really good answer🙂

  55. How about – “I’d feel terrible – how would you feel if your kid broke his neck?”
    A;
    “So do you stop him playing football?”

    Or, you could point out that when you see the kids being driven to school, you relax and think “My child is much safer than them”, and then explain the statistics.

  56. A W E S O M E. Not only do we have free range kids, but free range chickens for the kids to mind after!

  57. I have 4 free range kids. People are always questioning what I ‘let’ my kids do. I think these people want to hear my logic. They just want me to be wrong. If I am wrong, they must right. Right?

    My snappy combacks are limited to:

    1. I’m just lazy that way.
    2. Report me to the bad mom police.
    3. I’m counting this as practice for when they grow up and move away.

  58. OOPS! They don’t want to hear my logic.

  59. My 12 year old grandson was visiting here in NYC last month from Israel. (He’s a native English speaker.) He was bored with us at a museum on upper 5th Avenue, so we gave him a Metrocard, three quarters in case he had to call, four dollars for drinks or ice cream, and a house key, told him he had to be home in four hours, and sent him downtown to the Apple store on the bus. He hung out there for a few hours, called us on the iPhone, took himself to see FAO Schwartz, and caught a different bus home. Said he had a great day. He’s used to being pretty independent at home, so this was a welcome relief from the regimentation of a family vacation. It’s certainly easier to give a kid freedom in the city than the suburbs because of the public transportation. That’s partly why we raised all our kids in the city. Most people who I’ve told this story to responded with shocked silence.

  60. How about replying, “How would you feel if you were in a car accident going the same route as my son, knowing you could have sent your child on public transportation?”
    I think the biggest problem we(parents who advocate more independence in their children) are the parents who don’t. When they see my kids “unsupervised” they feel like they have to step in and compensate for my lack of parenting. Sometimes I just have to say, that “No, they need to learn to do it themselves.” Or “He needs to learn”. It’s just annoying that they look at you in way that says “How could you?”

  61. does anyone else find it ironic that the poster who called everyone here “bad parents” uses the screen name Lolyta (=”Lolita”)? That’s funny.

    I think you guys are great and am going to figure out how to give my eight-year-old a bit more room to explore. When I was his age I was catching turtles in a SWAMP … he has a pet turtle in a tank.

  62. This has been coming up for me quite a bit because my kids are playing outside a lot these days.
    When neighbors ‘inform’ me that the two and the four year old are outside, I try to stay calm, say ‘thank you, they are CHILDREN, so I am letting them play OUTSIDE and I can see them from the window, but again THANK YOU.”
    I’ve also taught the boys to wave and say “thank you for your concern” with a kind of porky pig rattle to their voices. They love doing it- especially the 2 y.o. who will say it 30 times and chuckle to himself for hours…
    Kick those kids out of the house!!

  63. Here’s a GREAT talk from TED “Five dangerous things to let your kids do”

    http://www.glumbert.com/media/dangerchild

    OUTSTANDING

  64. My answer? “Freedom is better than safety.”

  65. I like Sally’s response a few posts above. Personally,If one more mother rushes over to my 3 yo climbing a ladder at the playground and behaves instead as if he’s scaling Everest without oxygen,I’m going to explode.

    It’s no wonder that people freak out about a 9 yo riding the subway, when they were spotting him on the slide just a few years prior.

    With hotheaded radio show hosts and the like, they don’t care about stats, zingers or pithy comebacks. They care about ratings. I’d enjoy the publicity, calmly reiterate your POV, hope a few people listening take the time to rethink their own practices, and move on.

  66. There is no snappy answer. I have three grown, relatively “free range” kids, two of whom had the unfortunate burden of growing up in suburbia. Nevertheless, I was able to train them to be independent. Training for the first began at age 4, when he wanted more french fries at McD’s. I gave him money and sent him to the counter. By 15 my daughter spent the year in school in Europe. Not only did she fly there alone, but she negotiated crises with her host family and language problems at school. By the time she came home she had nothing but contempt for her symbiotic American peers. My youngest was raised in a big city, where I never had to drive him anywhere. As a result, he was independent from age 10.

    Just ignore the idiots who think that helicopter parenting will allow their kids to develop. Those parents will never understand. I’m not sure how America changed from a country of adventurers to a place of frightened ninnies, but it surely has happened.

    There’s a movie coming out soon called Two Million Minutes (www.2mminutes.com/) that I think shows the end result of this. Check out the YouTube trailers. (Since my older two graduated from the U.S. high school shown in the film, I know it’s not an exaggeration.) If kids are not taught independence, how can they possibly think globally? If they don’t, what will happen to America? You may be in the minority, but you are most definitely right in creating free-range children.

  67. How would you feel if nothing happened to your kid?
    You could sit him in front of the tv and feed him/her Mickydees.

  68. A: You’re funny. You remind me of Marlin (Nemo’s dad.) “I promise I will never let anything happen to you.”

  69. I honestly think one of the only ways to deal with such people is to ignore them. Simply thank them for their concern and maybe tell them you’ll consider their advice. Then don’t.

    If I encounter this problem when I have children, I will simply tell them that this was how my parents raised me, and they are very proud of who I grew up to be. I think this is a good answer for anyone, even if it’s not necessarily true.

    I think keeping the confrontation with those who disagree to a minimum is important, even if that means not “converting” them. That said, it is also important to actively encourage raising “free range” children among friends and family members who we know are likely to be open to the idea.

    Unfortunately, not everyone can be raised “free range.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that that we should abandon “helicoptered” children to their parent’s overbearing ways. A child’s friend’s parents often have a great deal of influence over them. They are someone to come to who won’t punish them for doing the wrong thing, but who can give them good adult advice from the perspective of a parent. This is a powerful position to be in. Such “free range” parents have the opportunity to take “helicoptered” children under their wing and allow them some lessons in independence that their parents might not allow. Often this requires an unfortunate bit of subversion, but in the long run, the benefits outweigh the costs.

    My mother did this with my best friend (of course, it helped that she and my friend’s mother did not get along too well because of this difference). For example, if my mom took us to the neighboring town to get ice cream, she would allow (and encourage) us to wander the downtown area and window-shop without her while we ate, while she did the same, in the opposite direction. Were it my friend’s mother we were dealing with, she might have had us finish our ice cream in front of her, then remained at the ice cream shop to watch us as we window-shopped, with the promise that we would be back in exactly 15 minutes. A minute later and we would get yelled at. Then she would ask us exactly where we had gone and what we had seen, and if there were any inconsistencies between what she had observed from her “perch” at the ice cream shop and our story, she would grill us on them mercilessly. I firmly believe that my mother’s interference in my friend’s life helped her build a much stronger sense of independence than she could possibly have had with only her mother’s influence.

  70. My theory is that every kid needs a second mother. We moms are too close to our kids to objectively see what they really need. T

  71. This is not particularly snappy, but I think it cuts to the heart of the argument. I’d say… ” I let my child do x for a number a reasons, I don’t think it’s particularly dangerous in and of itself, I know that the likely hood that anyone would abduct or harm my child is extremely slim (wouldn’t it be great to say you’d have a greater chance of winning the lottery? – someone who is more numerate than I am should check that out) but most importantly because THIS ISN’T ABOUT ME.

    If it were about how *I* feel I would never let my child do anything. It’s about him. The benefits of allowing him the freedom to do what he is ready, willing and able to do far out weigh the importance of any thing I might or might not feel.

    Children are not possessions to be *kept* safe. They are human beings who should be allowed the opportunity to be the most they can be. The best protection from the ups and downs of life is LIFE.

    So before you wag your finger at me, nosey stranger, you should take a long hard look at your own motivations. Is this really about what’s best for my child? Or is it about something else (like getting some sad, validation from admonishing strangers – you could leave this part out if you want…)

  72. Ask why they let their kids get into a car, even though they’d feel awful if their kids were in a car crash …

  73. Nearly a decade ago, I worked for a libertarian think tank that among its other endeavors, vigorously defended the right for adults to smoke. Setting aside whatever personal feelings you may have on the issue, you have to appreciate the soundbite that emerged from whenever one of the policy analysts was called on a talk show to defend this position.

    Ultra-earnest Host: But Mr. X, surely you wouldn’t want *your* children to smoke?

    Mr. X: No, I don’t want my children to smoke! I don’t want my children to ride motorcycles or jump out of airplanes either. But what I really don’t want is for my children to grow up in a country where they don’t have the freedom to make those decisions for themselves as adults.

  74. From a media-training perspective, Violet is on the right track. Your job is to talk about your message, not to answer their questions. It’s a hard thing to remember, because in our personal lives we’re taught to listen and respond, but this is not true when you’re on air. The right answer to any question is repeating your message :

    “How would you feel if something happened to your kid?”

    “America is a better country for the brave, creative, innovative kids who grew up to do great things. Those are the adults I’m raising.”

    Throw in a couple of stories about Einstein if you want, bit don’t repeat what they say and say only what you want people to hear. It’s your precious airtime — don’t give it away to your opponents.

  75. I would answer… THANK YOU🙂

  76. “When they are planning to go somewhere she is terrified of taking the bus or train on her own if she hasn’t used that route many times before. She’s not afraid of strangers, but of making a mistake, taking the wrong bus and ending up somewhere else. She is a lovely girl and I adore her, but I’m saddened every time they make plans to go somewhere new. ”

    This doesn’t necessarily have to do with being raised free-range or not, I think. My sister and I were both allowed to wander the neighborhood, nearby cornfields, rivers, strees, playgrounds, etc at will, and we were allowed to ride our bikes anywhere we could get to. We did not have cellphones (they weren’t popular yet). We were very independant.

    BUT. We are both very very shy–my sister more so than I am. In spite of our long summer days spent entirely out of the house with no adult supervision, we are still nervous about new experiences and are afraid of just about everything. We don’t like driving places that we haven’t been, and we don’t like calling people on the phone. We _do_ the things, because we know we have to (this weekend I’m driving 7 hours to a new state, by myself), but we’re still afraid.

    Possibly that’s the legacy of being raised free-range. We do the things because we know we have to, even though we’re still afraid. We know that no one else will do them for us.

  77. “But times have changed.” PROVE IT!!!

    I’m pretty sure that crime is down…especially when population growth is factored in.

    Or maybe they have chnged. Kids are pampered, bored, and incapable. They feel entitled to stuff we had to earn (if we got it at all). They are so bored and pampered that they turn to any kind of ‘extreme’ sport because just riding a bike isn’t good enough anymore.

    But they’re safe. Oh yeah, that’s better.

  78. Skyscraper’s comments rule!!!

  79. Sadly, people feel the need to hyper-parent, because it is in the interest of many organisations to keep parents in a state of anxiety. for example, it used to be that kids played street hockey. Now parents feel obligated to sign them up in leagues, buy a small fortune in gear, lest they feel they are neglecting their kids.

    Newpapers and TV journalism leads with horrible and tragic news stories- even though these stories are anomalous. Very unusual. If a child is kidnapped by a stranger it is a rarity in North America. The stats include custody battles so people feel paranoid when they hear the numbers. Crime is down, but more sensationally reported than ever.

    The worst part is that a herd mentality has developed so hyper-parents justify their state of mind by making less anxious parents feel bad for not meeting the well-intentioned but ill-conceived expectations. I feel this pressure myself, and have to force myself to restrain the desire to over-parent.

    Thank you all for the great hints- it helps to keep a sense of humour about this:)

  80. This is too good to be true. Finally some wrath upon the politically correct finger pointers.

    The sensational parroting going on in the news media, especially in print media, I believe is due to the competitive environment and not much else.

  81. I’m not good with snappy responses. What worries me is that we who support ‘free range kid”-style parenting are seen as the nutty ones. We’re the only ones who haven’t lost our minds!!! We need to recapture the “middle ground”. We’re the normal ones! It’s everyone else who has run over the edge with protectiveness and fear of the unknown danger lurking around every corner. We need language the describes us as normal and them as the kooky ones.

    Did anyone read Leanord Pitts, Jr.’s recent column on “Freedo is Just Another Empty Word”? It gets at teh same point although not with regards to raising kids.

    Hurray for sanity. Down with silly anxieties rooted in the media’s overstimulation of the reptilian part of our brains.

  82. Amber’s comments on extreme sports rules!!! I’ve held that opinion for several years now. If we don’t let kids grow up, they will find a way even if it means searching out crazy sports and extreme fear.

  83. I plan to say:

    “I love my child just as much as you love yours, but I know I can’t protect her from everything, and even if I could, I won’t always be there. So I consider it my duty as her father to try to help her develop the strength, intelligence, and independence to deal with things on her own.”

  84. As a single mom, I get a lot of people who make comments about what I allow my children to do. It’s funny that they are in awe of the fact that my 10 year old knows how to do laundry and make a simple meal, and my 8 year old isn’t far behind, and think that is wonderful parenting. Alternately, the fact that they can go to the library on their own, less than a half a mile from the house, makes them think that I don’t care about my children’s safety. What they don’t understand is that they have been taught safety rules and are extremely responsible for their ages. They think only of the times when they do something on their own, not of the multitude of times that we are home as a family doing things together and talking about situations they may come across. They know what to do in most situation that they may come across. They will be better employees once they can get a job because they have learned to do what they are supposed to even when not under constant direct supervision. They have well developed self esteem stemming from the fact that they do have some independence. These people do not understand that I am, as others have said, preparing my children to be able to function well as adults. Because of my way of parenting, I am confident that if I died today, I have taught them enough that they are as far as they can be at their ages to being self sufficient.

    As an aside, do you really think that the world today is that different? Keep in mind the advances in communication via the media as to the “bad things that can happen,” and how people are generally more open to airing dirty laundry now as opposed to keeping the negative in secret. Sure, there may have been increases, but that only means that the teaching we are doing is that much more important.

  85. To some degree you are “nuts” or better your son is BRAVE and youre CRAZY. Allowing your child to walk/bicycle to middle-school, in you community, or jump rope in your front yard, is not the same as allowing your child to ride the subway system on his own. To begin, if you are going to liberate your nine year old to; (as an example) a two-mile zone around your home, then it is reasonable to utilize communication devices, at least a two-way radio or better a cell phone, for instantaneous communication. Remember the saying: Out of sight, but not out of mind. Second, the subway allows access to millions of individuals, and a nine year old alone in a subway is something people would notice. Perhaps attracting the wrong attention. It is Wonderful that you trust your son, and that he feels empowered by his freedom, but with freedom comes responsibility. Is your child aware of all the potential situations, stereo types and situations which could occur. Have you prepared him and drilled him on how to respond during dangerous situations? Have you spoiled his innocence? Or are you naive enough to believe that he is old enough to protect himself? I believe in encouraging children to independence, but only in baby steps. I give my children plenty of space and encourage their self-assertion into the world. I intentionally leave them at home, ALONE, for up to an hour while running errands. I allow them to run/skateboard/bicycle with their friends in our local neighborhood UNSUPERVISED, with some strongly encouraged rules: 1-Stay together 2-Stay In Touch 3-Dont talk to strangers 4-Dont go into anyone’s home. Perhaps, depending on the individual maturity of the child, at age 13 or 14 while in the company of peers, and in daylight hours, I would allow my child to travel the subway. Not at age nine, not alone and not without a communication device and GPS.

  86. Interesting discussion. I was talking to a high school friend from way back saying how youth sports is totally micro-managed by parents and kids today don’t play pickup basketball or sandlot baseball at the park anymore — that’s how you learn the game, by the way, not by youth coaches.

    My friend’s reply: “Kids can’t go to the park by themselves anymore.”

    I said, “Really?” (I don’t have kids) I couldn’t believe it and he lives in a rather tame mid-sized city under 200,000 people. He said no way, kids cannot go to the park by themselves, even high school kids. I was too stunned to reply.

  87. “Oh, they’re not actually my kids – I abducted them from their real parents. Do you realize how low the odds are that they’ll be abducted a second time?”

  88. When I was 3, my parents would often put me on a city bus to grandmas house.
    The bus stopped right in front of our house and an hour later, the same bus stopped at the end of grandma’s street. They had me sit in the front seat, and told the driver which stop I was getting off at. They had everything in a note pinned to my shirt and grandma was always waiting for me. No bus driver ever refused. I never thought anything of it, but to this day everyone thinks we were nuts. Maybe thats where my libertarian streak comes from.

  89. This has really given me something to think about. Thanks for challening my parenting. I find it crazy though, in my neighborhood a lot of kids just run around. But, I never approached them and challenged their parenting. I figure, I’m another eye to watch out for them because I care about my neighbors. Once, though, some boys were fighting in the front yard and I did tell them to stop. They did.

  90. I am a 44 year old mother of a 9 year old boy… I remember “back in the day” when we ran free all day during summer vacation and played with our friends in the park or around the neighborhood from morning until dinner time…. those were some glorious days, the 1970’s and 80’s… I do remember having some close calls with a stranger pulling up in a car asking for directions or the creepy guy that stared too long while I was at the shopping mall with my friends… I believe I got lucky, that a higher power must have been looking out for me those times… but times have changed a lot, too much really and in todays’ society, I would never allow my son to go unescorted on public transit in a big city… to me, that would be sending my son into the arms or a number of disasters waiting to happen… I believe you dodged a bullet this time, my friend… I am not a religious woman per se, but I do believe in God… and your child was looked after by the Grace of God that he returned safely to you this time… Please don’t tempt fate, use a bit of common sense… as a mother, I can’t even imagine the feeling of devastation if something were to happen to my precious child… please think about this loss long and hard before you let you child take off alone like that. Peace and take care.

  91. It’s not that the world is more dangerous than it was when we were children (I’m 40); it’s that we’re more aware. And there’s more of us, period. In the ’70s, JFK Jr. got mugged in Central Park for his ten-speed — and did Jackie make him stay inside and/or ask the Secret Service what they were doing? No; in fact, she didn’t want the Secret Service to protect him from the hazards of daily life, because sooner or later he’d have to deal with them on his own. We survived, after all.

  92. You can’t see, but I am standing up in my chair and clapping fiercely. I hope to see your message multiplied over and over again.
    Very well said.

  93. I’m so glad you’re talking about this. Teach responsibility and street smarts not fear and everyone will be better off.

  94. We just tell people we refuse to live in fear, especially fake fears foisted upon us by society.

  95. Three words:

    Finland.

    Finland.

    Finland.

  96. Use their own paranoia against them:

    “Suppose both you and I were both on one of the planes to hit the WTC. Whose kids do you think will be better able to fend for themselves in this ”big bad” world?”

  97. I am always walking the line between teaching them to be safe, and allowing them to be kids. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t. One thing I point out to people who question their safety is that the danger of abduction or abuse is much higher from someone they know than from a stranger and that if someone grabbed them off the street, or out of a park, it would be a complete crime of coincidence…about the same odds as being struck by lightning!

  98. The best gift my parents ever gave to me was the summers spent at the cottage by the lake. We kids ruled the woods, playing and exploring. Do you think I’m afraid of wildlife today? They’re afraid of _me_! Because I know in truth they are. Bears run away when you yell at them, even lynxes. I tried Scout camp once, but my parents took me back to the cottage after a week because I couldn’t take the confinement. They had so many rules, whereas I was so free at the cottage. As an adult I have always been fully confident that I could survive in the wilderness if I had to. I’ve trekked all over the wooded hills behind our cottage (I’m talking Canada, here, in a part that’s on the edge of the true wilderness) and even let myself get lost on purpose just for the fun of it, though to tell the truth I can’t really get lost because of the built-in compass I developed as a child. We kids had it good up there. (And yes, back in the city, I walked or biked to school, and when older explored the city by myself by bus and metro.)

    Another plus at the cottage was no road, no electricity (no TV!). We played board games, which taught me about life’s rules. And we read, of course.

  99. “Haven’t you heard? According to Mayan prophecy the world is coming to an end in 2012 anyway, so we figure he should enjoy it as much as he can now “.

  100. Did you see this article?

    <a href=”http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/may/20/rare.events” link

    Cory Doctorow makes your point, with math! And he expands it beyond just children to include security in general.

  101. I would be so down with your philosophy if only I saw better examples of it out there. As it is I have all the free range kids running around in my yard, playing with my child’s things, kicking her off her own swingset, etc. because they might be capable of negotiating their environment but they have the sensitivity and social skills of their similarly ill-raised parents. So my kid ends up in the house to avoid the craptacular free range neighbor kids I think if your kid is supervised, at least from afar, it would be a more palatable concept.

  102. To reply to the previous comment: I would not say that the kids you are speaking of are truly Free range kids. I have seen children in my neighborhood that are well mannered and treat others with respect, I have also seen children that are rude and disrespectful. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that they act that way because they are allowed to roam. Just like when we were kids, there were always kids that were mean and disrespectful, the kids that broke things and hurt other kids. If they are coming into your yard, you do have the right to shoo them out, then call their parents and report the behavior. I have done that on many occasions here. My house sits behind a giant field. We have kids out there all the time. Some are good, some not so good, but as an adult and a parent, if I see behavior like that, I have no problem letting the not so good ones know that I don’t tolerate it.

    Constant supervision doesn’t make a good kid. Learning good values and respect from your parents does.
    On another note, I have a friend who has her son on constant supervision: he has a cell phone, she has blocked the internet, he is not allowed to answer the door etc etc. He is 15 now and my son’s best friend. Her son has such a deep need for independence and freedom that he is starting to rebel against her technical chains. The more she tightens, the more he rebels. I think those are the kids that end up running away or getting into trouble: they so long for a taste of freedom that they resent the safety measures the parents take to protect them.

  103. Better to take some risk and learn to be careful than take no risk and learn to be fearful. Risk is unavoidable.

  104. Before today (tuned into the web site on the advice of a friend) I never knew I was raising ‘free range kids’. I just thought I had often-criticized hands off parenting style. I also haven’t been particularly interested in defending my parenting choices. However, I do have a standard answer that I use, though not very snappy. Ironically it doubles as my answer to why my children are so well behaved in almost any circumstance. “Kids need to play in the mud.” This tidbit is usually met with blank stares as the situation rarely involves actual mud anymore. Sometimes I try to explain that I mean this both literally and figuratively. Sometimes I just take advantage of the silence and walk away.

    Children do need to play in the mud and the snow and the sunshine. They need to catch bugs and save them, or squish them, or eat them. Yes, it has happened. They ate some snow and dirt too. No one died or even got sick. Kids need to experience the world around them with all their senses. That’s how they learn.

    My kids talk to strangers, as do I. How else would we meet friends? They skin their knees, bonk their heads, get their feelings hurt, and fight their own battles. They tend to find their own way. If not, help, guidance, and a band-aid are only a request away. I hope they make mistakes while they are young enough to have small ones. It’s all just playing in the mud, learning.

  105. I smile and ruffle my (obviously) healthy, happy son’s hair and say, “It (my parenting) hasn’t killed him yet. After all, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?”

    In answer to, “How would you feel if something DID happen?” I answer, “Stuff happens. Life happens. I’d be crushed beyond reason if my son were hurt or killed, but that’s no excuse to put him in a bubble. I refuse to raise a fearful man.”

    I like, “Kids need to play in the mud.”

  106. I read about your web site today in teh Virginian-Pilot. I love what you’re doing here. I’m the parent of two grown daughters, well, grown is subjective I’m sure, 22 and 18 is what they are. I think you have it right though. Kids do need their independence. They do need the opportunity to figure some things out for themselves.

    I have been known in the past to use the old parent line…I guess she won’t try that again! But, my typical response to anyone that’s ever questioned how I raise my kids has been for them to pretty much mind their own darned business. I usually don’t put it quite so politely.

    Keep up the good work and may your “movement” grow exponentially! I think some of the same parents that won’t let their children out of their sights are the same ones that WILL let them through a temper tantrum in the middle of the supermarket while they watch in disbelief.

  107. I cannot believe I have stumbled upon such a website!

    I spent well over 20 years raising other people’s kids- teaching. I LOVE KIDS! And I respect the everliving daylights out of them.

    People must educate their children. They are thrilled to learn. They want to be as self-sufficient as they can be. Absolutely amazing what children are capable of, with the proper guidance and ¡ horrors!- even on their own.

    I was the first born child. My Dad died very young. My Mom was left with a pre-schooler, a toddler and an infant. I was four.

    My mother taught me, allowed me, encouraged me, cajoled me and, upon an occasion or two, forced me to be independent. In doing so, she gave me a priceless gift.

    I walked to kindergarten myself. I remember in first grade walking 5 or 6 blocks to obtain a present for a friend’s birthday party. I still remember the straw purse with plastic fruit I proudly bought and presented to my friend. Just so long as I did not cross the busy street by myself.

    At about the same age, I pestered my generous buddy to use his little two wheeler and I taught myself how to ride a bike. I also taught myself how to swim. At the age of 8, I was walking to the dentist by myself. i ran out one day, sure, but I did return. The list goes on and on. But you get the idea, I am sure. ;o)

    I loved it. It has paid off my entire life. I rarely have to ask people for help but I have taught myself to do so. Many people do not understand, frown upon such independence, including in my thinking, and I don’t really care.

    I travelled all over Mexico by myself and thought not a thing of it. I drove cross country by myself. When I reached 19 and moved out of my Mom’s house, it was NO big deal- just a natural progression. When someone at the phone company told me to list my phone number by the first letter because I am female I laughed. Duh.

    As a teacher, I taught my primary students how to teach themselves. Often it was far easier to just do things myself but I never did that.

    I use to joke that the kids were better behaved when I was out sick than when I was there as I loved clowning around with them. They ran my classroom, knew where all the materials were, understood all the procedures and I continuously taught them how to do so. Exhausting but so rewarding. They turned out incredibly self-confident, intrinsically motivated, eager learners and independent thinkers.

    The next years’ teacher would fight over my students- to get them into their classroom for the upcoming year.

    But one thing I do want to stress is the dangerous, wrong message we are sending our kids about Stranger Danger. By far most abuse, danger occurs INSIDE the home not out.

    Kids are being taught to fear the very people that are the most readily identifiable and safest resources they have- police, clergy and teachers.

    You know, maybe today’s parents are fearful for good reason. Their children do NOT possess the skills they need to be independent and safe because they won’t let them!

    Terrific website. I LOVE IT!

  108. When I was 13 or so I on my own figured out the county’s bus system and could get myself around town during the summer. I would go to downtown Tampa, the mall, I even went to the airport to watch planes come and go.

    My son is 12 and my wife refused to let him go with friends to the mall unless I was at the mall with him. A friend of his who is also 12 cannot see a movie unless an adult with him in the same theater.

    I wish I could convince people that I’m not the one who is nuts. When I was a kid, according to FBI statistics, I had THREE TIMES the chance of being abducted as a child does today and back then we didn’t have cell phone, AMBER alerts, and awareness of missing children. But it seems no one wants to deal with facts any longer.

  109. What could be dangerous with riding the subway? I don’t understand the concern…

    Anyway, I walkedto school from grade one. Well, actually I rode my bike until it got stolen twice and then I had to walk.

    I visited Paris at age 14 with my dad and one night I absolutely wanted to see a movie but my dad was too tired so I asked if I could go alone, so I went to the Champs Elysees by metro, watched the movie and went back to the hotel. No problem at all.

  110. The problem here isn’t just that parents overestimate the risk that their kids will be abducted, they assume that it will happen in the times and places where it’s actually least likely to happen. Places like malls, crowded schoolyards, and the like are actually the safest places for kids (Adam Walsh being abducted in a mall was a fluke; I think that was the only time it ever happened). Most kids who get abducted are teenage girls, not little boys. So the risk that a kid who’s not a teenage girl and doesn’t have wealthy or powerful parents who could have ransom demanded of them is actually far lower than the already low risk demonstrated by the statistics.

    BTW, a big part of the risk for teenage girls is hanging out with guys several years older than them, so much of it is easily preventable.

  111. The best answer for this was in “Finding Nemo”
    Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
    Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
    Marlin: What?
    Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

    Long before that I heard the same sentiment expressed by Mel Gibson when he was cast to play Hamlet. He was asked if he felt it was scary to play a role so far from his normal genre.
    “If you don’t take that chance, you know what happens? … Nothing happens. And that’s really boring.”

  112. I a mother to a 6 yr old and a 1 yr old. I am not so much worried about strangers and abductions, but CARS.

    Even after constant reminders, my 6 yr old still doesn’t look both ways before crossing any street. He never remembers to check for cars, period. This holds him back from being able to go to the park or even ride his bike around the block (cars pulling out of driveways are also a problem).

    It is hard to want to play outside in the neighborhood when there are NO other kids to play with. All other kids are sequestered in their back yards or indoors all the time.

    We are going to work on bike safety this summer and also I will try to let him play in the front yard without being under my surveillance!

  113. The problem with the “Times have changed” line is that the person saying it has only their gut feeling to back it up. If you question the premise, they have to abandon it.
    A reply to “Times have changed” might go along the lines of:

    “But times have changed!”
    “Really? How so?” (This has to be asked sincerely, not sarcastically or patronizingly.)
    “It’s so much more dangerous now!”
    “Really? According to who?” (Again, sincerely)
    “Well, everybody knows it.”
    “Hmm. All the studies I’ve seen say that it’s safer now then ever. But if you have something that contradicts that, I’d be interested in seeing it.”
    “Well, I don’t know a particular study…”

    (Now you’ve dismissed the “times have changed” part, and get to move on to the rest of their crazy responses.

    “But what about that child who was abducted…”
    “Well, if it were something common, it would be on the local news all the time, wouldn’t it? Instead of three states away.”
    “But still, what if something happened?”
    “I’d feel terrible, just like if they were in a car crash, which is much more likely. But I’m not going to stop driving him places.”

    etc.

  114. “As a teacher, I taught my primary students how to teach themselves. Often it was far easier to just do things myself but I never did that. ”

    Hammer meet Mr. Nail, square on the head

    May I suggest that the hellicoptor parents are the lazy parents?

    It’s far easier for them to just do things for their children than it would be for them to teach their children how to do things for themselves.

    You can spend hours and hours teaching your child how to handle himself in a public place on his own, undestand how to get to where he’s going, understand how the system works, etc so he is capable and safe while taking public transportation on his own.

    Or you can just stick him in the car and drive him. It’s quick, easy, takes like a minute, and there’s no need to fuss with all that pesky knowledge work.

  115. Not to add fodder to an already crowded article; I’m pretty familiar with this already, even though my daughter is only 2.5 months old. We’re practicing “Infant Potty Training” and have been, successfully, since day 1 (well, night 1). The nurses who “caught” me holding my newborn daughter over a bucket and “sushing” at her had the gamut of reactions. The general consensus, though, was that I was crazy, and the next step was to make sure I “Wouldn’t be disappointed if it didn’t work out”

    We only see loaded diapers when she’s upset now; and her signals to us are very clear.

    The reactions of the nurses, from what I can tell, were based on fear. They didn’t understand it, and they were afraid of finding themselves in a position where a patient knew more about their child than they, as professionals, did. Fear can only be removed by careful education (the care taken must be proportional to the fear) and when you find yourself on a radio show; there is not enough time for careful education.

    Just make sure that your rational answer can be heard by those willing to listen; those who won’t listen aren’t going to start listening just because someone has a snappy reply.

  116. […] “Free Range Kids: Let’s give our children the freedom we had!“ […]

  117. I think Beth hit an important point – it is easier to do everything for your children than to help them learn and grow through their own experiences. I am clearly seeing this after becoming a single mom one year ago. My sons, now ages 10 and 5, were aghast at my expectations that they clear their own plates, put away their clean laundry, and pick up their toys. Dad always does these things for them, and I think it’s because it’s easier to just do it than deal with the complaining. But now they don’t complain, and are learning to take some responsibility for themselves, albeit on a smaller scale than I’d like…for now. Unfortunately, my older son does not want to do free-range things such as riding his bike around the neighborhood alone, so I’m having to nudge him a bit.

  118. Stephanie, stress to your 6 year old that cars cannot see him because he is so short. Trust me, little kids do not understand that and are rather amazed to discover that. Tell him drivers don’t have x-ray vision- that is silly and might prompt him to remember.

    My kindergarten teacher Mrs. Dwire, bless her kind heart, taught us a song/rhyme and to this day I say it once I reach a corner. LOL. “Stop, look and listen before you cross the street. First use your eyes, then use your ears, last use your feet!”

    Kids remember corny stuff like that.

    Btw, thanks, Beth for your astute comments! ;o)

  119. I ask them if they make their kids wear rubber boots all the time, because of the danger of getting struck by lightning. ‘No? And you don’t even have a lightning conductor on your house? But you’d never forgive yourself if they got struck by lightning!’

  120. A good response I’ve found is this: “Wow, you seem to think my child is stupid, weak, fearful, and incompetent.” It forces an instant retraction. Nobody wants to be called out for insulting a child like that. I have been raising my 11 year old stepdaughter since she was 6. When she moved in with me she was scared of everything, she refused to try anything difficult and new, she was incapable of trusting her own judgment. How is that a safe child? Anybody could have taken advantage of her! After one month of being trusted/required to know her own needs and get them met, she turned into an energetic, confident, powerful kid. She is responsible and honest. We gave her trust first, then she worked her butt off to earn it. How can that be bad parenting?

  121. My answer to ALL arguments I don’t care to engage in, either because I know I’m right or because the person posing the question is not worth my time:

    Them: “Don’t you think it’s dangerous to let your son blah blah blah (fill in the blank with the myriad of things that I do just to annoy the Bubble Wrap Moms.)

    ME answer one: okay

    ME answer two: so

    It is impossible to argue with either one. Really if they think I’m nuts, fabulous!!! I must be doing the right think as a parent because their kids are helpless and can’t even color without consulting the lines.

    I grew up in a matriarchal family where the only way to be was free range. As a kid my brother and I spent most of our childhood running around in the desert near our house. The Mojave Desert to be exact, home to horny toads, tortoises, brown recluse, sidewinders and rattle snakes. We walked through that desert on our way to school starting in 1st grade. In fact there have been several times when sidewinders have slithered into the school where my mom is a principal. Guess who panicked and screamed? The bubble wrap kid. The free range kids filed out of the room in an orderly fashion. There is no sidewinder drill in school, the teacher just said, “Stand up quietly and walk out the back door, NOW.”

    I would really like to conduct a study on how many of the kids who are hurt, kidnapped or grow up to be lazy, “the world owes me” bums are bubble wrap kids. Think about it… Which kid is going to remain calm and remember all the “stranger danger” techniques you have taught them: the kid who has never been allowed to stand in their front yard or the kid who is allowed to maneuver the self checkout at the grocery store alone, produce included, ALONE.

    My Free Range parenting was put to the test when I picked up my 9 year old from Denver International Airport. He had attended Space Camp in Alabama and had flown home, layover and flight change included, ALONE. We reached the concourse and he walked on. A woman ran in front of me as the doors closed. HE was ON the train I was standing on the PLATFORM. At this point I saw two options 1) panic and run up to the terminals in search of a security guard who would do I don’t know what since their are NO security guards on the tram at the same time possible missing the next train or him if he came back on another train OR 2) wait for the next train and pray that the lady who mouthed “Is he yours???” would ensure he was not stolen. I waited for the next train, calmly walked on suppressing my desire to scream, cry and let everyone know my only pumpkin pie was LOST somewhere in DIA!!

    The train pulled up to the next stop and there was my little peanut, standing calmly on the platform just like he was waiting for an ice cream in front of our house. I reached through the crowd, grabbed his shirt and pulled him to me as the other passengers gasped audible. “How did you know what to do?” I asked. “Well,” he said in that “of course I know I’m Smart” tone of voice, “I knew you would get on the next train so I just waited her for you to come along.”

    I am also a teacher. You would not believe how many kids have a huge case of learned helplessness. So much so that they have a melt down if their pencil breaks, they don’t have a paper or are not sure of the directions. They are incapable of solving their own problems or even functioning in the classroom let alone the real world.

    I guess I could answer the question with the following “I refuse to raise a child incapable of functioning successfully in everyday society” but really I get more pleasure out of “so.” Besides it annoys those bubble wrap moms more to know I DON’T CARE about their opinions and refuse to let them control my parenting style.

  122. Good on you for standing up for kids rights. We have 4 free range kids and yes……sometimes I’d love to be a fly on the wall seeing what their upto, but their independance and freedom are much more important than pampering to the fears of society.
    Fear is used to subdue and control…… parents use it as do governments and our kids aint gonna fall for it.

  123. I grew up in post-war Asia (Japan and Taiwan) under constant threat of air raids and/or shelling from Mainland China. Amidst all this, however, I was pretty much free range kid–I hiked alone in the hills above Taipei at the age of 12, rode pedicabs and buses all over the city (I didn’t speak Chinese, either–only the baby Japanese I had learned at age 5). Growing up in the US in the 60s wasn’t a whole lot “safer” (anybody remember the Cuban Missile Crisis?)–so I do not understand how today’s helicopter parents get off claiming that this is a more dangerous world. It’s just differently dangerous. And if we don’t equip our kids to survive in it, we’re not doing them any favors at all.

    This isn’t the perfect snarky answer for you, but it’s a good attitude to carry around: when my students claim that they absolutely cannot live without having their cell phones on, I point out to them that I raised two children safely to adulthood without ever having owned a mobile phone. Their typical response is “yeah, but it was different in the olden days.” “Yes,” I reply. “We lived in perpetual fear of nuclear attack. And cell phones wouldn’t have done us a bit of good in that situation, either.” Fortunately, I usually get away before they come up with a snappy reply.

  124. I’m going to take the unpopular position that the need for cell phones does represent an aspect where the world has changed (but not catastrophically). There are far fewer pay phones around, and there are many communities where there aren’t any left. Many local businesses that would let someone use their phone have been replaced by corporate chains whose phone systems won’t let anybody make outside calls to any but a few numbers. Adults are scared to let an unfamiliar child use their phone for fear of what they could be accused of. So someone without a cell phone today is generally at a communicative disadvantage compared to someone without a cell phone 20 years ago.

    All that said, cell phones do make it too easy to go overboard and insist on a level of “constantly in touch” that we were succesfully able to do without in the recent past. This is one of those areas where moderation in all things is the key. Back when pay phones were common, it would have been reasonable to ask a kid to use one to call home if he/she changed plans or was going to be late. It wasn’t reasonable to expect them to call home every 10 minutes just so their parents would know that they had survived normal life. Cell phones let you require the latter, but just because you can do something doesn’t automatically mean you should do it.

  125. Well, here’s a question for you, although I don’t know if a snappy answer will suffice. Why is it so terribly bad that Miley “I Didn’t Mean To Pose That Way” Cyrus is seen in Vanity Fair w/a sheet clutched to her chest, back to camera – why is This so awful? After all, Miley wears revealing and suggestive outfits on her show, doesn’t she? So, what is an “art photo” so much different than the image she projects on her show? I ask because you are very attuned to hypocrisy. I admire this, but I wonder, then, why your ire over Miley’s photo seemed was so deep. I mean, really, who cares? Why does it matter? Can’t a 15 year old have some sense of the sensual without being cheap, tawdry and bad? If That’s the problem, then Disney is just as much at fault for Hannah Montana’s outfits and image (and Also, come to think of it, for that suggestive little clam-shell bra thing that Arielle wears).

  126. First off, I love the concept of your blog and the niche you have settled on. My wife and I are parents of four kids and have unknowingly been raising them as “free range” kids for years now. Time permitting, I plan on going through some more of these articles and I know I will have some examples of things we’ve been through to share as ideas with you.

    I’m just getting started with my own blog. The blog is called wiredparentpad – it will be dealing with topics along similar lines as yours, with emphasis on the intersection of raising kids in the digital era. Many parents have such a negative concept of current technology (Myspace, instant messaging, online gaming, YouTube, etc.). My blog will focus on the positive effects of raising kids (specifically teens and tweens) in today’s digital world.

    Thanks again for the great blog.

  127. “Benign Neglect”

    That’s how I refer to my style of parenting when I get those quizzical looks, or when people ask where my kids are.

    If they’re interested in hearing what I mean by that, I explain that it means putting kids in a safe environment, teaching them the skills to navigate it, and then LETTING them exist in it without monitoring their every movement.

    This is a strategy that works well because it puts the accusers on their heals, leaving them either mystified or wondering about whether their own parenting style might be too domineering.

  128. This “times have changed” mentality is totally generational. When I was studying ancient near-Eastern languages, I read a transcript of a Hittite tablet to the tune of,

    “All the politicians are corrupt, children don’t obey their parents, there is no work for an honest man, disease is rampant, the end times are surely upon us.”

    I read that around 1999, which I thought was pretty funny, with the looming Y2K fears. Made me realize that pretty much every generation thinks that when they were kids it was so much safer, better, more prosperous. I don’t have these illusions, I know that, at least for kids, it has gotten worse. And it isn’t the shadowy intruder that’s doing it–it’s the parents, the schools, and the other adults in charge of their lives that are making kids’ lives intolerable.

    Columbine was the trigger, I think. I remember the first time I had to sign in to my old middle school to go visit a former teacher. I used to go to the school every year to talk to the 7th graders, tell them that it is okay to be a nerd, or whatever, and that they shouldn’t feel threatened when they ask questions. I used to just wander in, but after Columbine I had to make appointments, even walk through a metal detector.

    One of the reasons is that the instruments of control have changed. It used to be a threat of a spanking or grounding that would keep kids in line, now it is GPS and cell phones and tracking devices. I always believed that these tools were supposed to liberate us from long, spiraling cords, not shackle us to more surveillance.

    Ah, it really makes me fume. My kids are going to be free to go where they like, armed with a cellphone and a swiss army knife.

  129. Emma Goldman, in her autobiography, told a story about being at a meeting late at night. She was going to leave and a fellow asked if she needed someone to walk her home. She said, “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt anybody.”

    I loved that answer and think it could be reworked to fit this situation.

    Q. Aren’t you worried about letting your child out on the streets alone?

    A. Don’t worry. S/He’s a good kid. S/He won’t hurt anybody.

  130. Joking or not, I really don’t think an answer page would be a bad idea after all!

    Homemaker Barbi (Danelle Ice)

  131. When my daughter was 4, I broke my ankle on the back stairs, with nobody else around and no phone handy. So I told her to go out along the sidewalk, find a grownup, and tell them mommy needs an ambulance. Which she did. The woman who she brought to my rescue, after the ambulance had been called, started to lecture her on stranger danger, starting off with “You were very lucky …” I cut her off before she got too far into it.

    It’s a very skewed view of the world. What are the odds that the first adult she found would be the particular sort of criminal who’d hurt her? What are the odds that the first person she found would follow her home and call an ambulance? I’m entirely certain that the vast majority of people — even the vast majority of not very nice people — would do the right thing when confronted with a small child seeking help for her injured mom.

  132. This acute paranoia about walking places alone is not just foisted upon children. At age 29, I worked a half mile from my house in a quiet suburban neighborhood. When one of my coworkers found out that I intended to walk home after work she was so frightened for me she tried to insist on giving me a ride home. I accepted her offer on nights that it was raining, but most of the time I politely declined and thought she was completely crazy.

  133. You asked for snappy come backs. I agree with many here but, honestly, I don’t want to start a conversation at a time like that. I just want to stand my ground while living and let live. Here are some that I would hope, with a little laugh, would stop all comments but let us go on with life.

    “How would you have felt if something DID happen to your son?”
    a reply:
    Oh, quit fixating on death and loss so much that you miss living life. BTW, was that your kid just faceplanting?

    Regarding “times have changed”:
    a reply:
    Maybe true, but it’s up to me to change ’em back.

  134. […] post How To Answer the People Who Think You’re Nuts is broadly relevant to anyone who holds views outside mainstream thought in any arena. The attitude […]

  135. To the couple of posters who say Lenore is/was crazy for letting her 9 year old navigate the NYC subway system on his own — a fearful, nervous adult is *more* likely to be abducted on a subway than a confident child who knows where s/he is going.

    Handling the (rare) “stranger danger” situations comes down to being prepared, because guess what? Most predators are capable of overpowering their victims. When physical size and strength no longer matters, it then comes down to wit and knowledge. Shouting something like “fire” gets people’s attention and can stop a predator in their tracks, regardless of whether the victim is a child or an adult.

    If you go to something like bestplaces.net and compare a city like NYC to the city you currently live in (this works especially well for those that live in the city, or in a major suburb), you might be surprised to find out that NYC’s crime rate is comparable to that of your own city. I actually compared it to where I currently live and where I have lived over the past 5 years (various parts of Columbus, Ohio), and found that nearly all areas were *identical* or very nearly identical to NYC’s crime rates. There was one, which I actually expected to have a lower rate, actually had *double* the crime rate as NYC!

    And for the record, New York City has consistently ranked among the top of the big cities for safety, having one of the lowest crime rates (per 100,000 people) of the major cities.

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