Readers – I’m excited to introduce a new blogger on this site, Denise Gonzalez-Walker. Denise lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids. She regularly blogs about education at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Chalkboard blog and is a member of Seattle Mom Blogs. Here are her thoughts on childhood safety – and she is real expert, as you’ll see. Enjoy! — Lenore





My life is one of contrasts. On one hand, I’m the mother of two bright, active kids — a 4 year-old daughter and 10-year-old son. Both kids love to run, jump, climb and roughhouse. My son, in particular, gravitates toward “extreme” sports like BMX and skateboarding, and yearns to spend time outdoors on his own. 

On the other hand, I’ve worked for the past five years as a “child injury prevention specialist,” a.k.a. child safety expert, in a field populated with some of the most risk-averse people you’ll find.  While there’s definitely value to the work being done by these folks, I’ve sometimes found my own worldview at odds with my profession.

For example, constant supervision will always win out over unsupervised time for kids, from keeping toddlers within arm’s reach to always knowing where your teen is at.  Walking to school, or walking anywhere for that matter, will always be “unpredictable and dangerous”—the words a colleague recently used when describing her school pedestrian program. Swing sets will be yanked out of school playgrounds. Trees will be made off-limits to climbing. Etc., etc.

For parents like me, who believe in the Free Range philosophy promoted here, this can be a slippery slope. Sure, we all want our kids to be healthy, happy and successful. But how far should we go in protecting them? That is where both the research and opinions sometimes diverge.

I agree with Lenore—helmets, car seats, and seat belts are all simple to use and incredibly effective. But being scared to death every time your kid walks out the door is not as useful.  

Prompted by my own instincts as a mom and tired of viewing the world through the lens of risk, I’m leaving the field of injury prevention at the end of the month. As I approach this transition, I’m encouraged by the great ideas shared here on the Free Range Kids blog.

I’ve also started questioning how the Free Range philosophy fits elsewhere in kids’ lives. How much latitude do you give your son to choose his own path in school or on the playfield? My hunch is that those same anxieties driving parents to wrap their coffee tables with foam bumpers (full disclosure—I did it once, too!), later are reflected in the compulsion to manage our kids’ school and sports careers.

How much safety is too much — or too little? How much parental control? I look forward to contributing to this blog, sharing my ideas and learning from you.

Yours — Denise




   The overhead train schedule in that French town said the 8:05 was going where I was going.

   I thought.

   But if you’re a college kid backpacking through Europe and you don’t realize Geneva is not spelled Geneva” in French (it’s Geneve), you just might hop on the 8:05 to “Genoa” and find yourself in Italy, alone, instead of in Switzerland, meeting up with a bunch of friends. And suddenly you have a whole new adventure, and a new set of friends and if you never eat that famous Swiss chocolate, who cares? You’re in Italy !

  Getting lost is not just a privilege, it’s a right – a right that is being eroded by GPS and parents. The GPS devices in cars help us adults get where we’re going and maybe that makes life less aggravating. But now there are devices that make sure kids never veer off on their own, and those makes life less, period. There is less to life if you always end up exactly where you’re supposed to be.

  That’s why it’s too bad some parents are now equipping their children with tracking devices that immediately alert the parents if their kids wander off the prescribed path home. A panicked call from parent to child’s cell phone follows: Do not chase that squirrel to the park!

   Or parents are attaching little alarms on their kids’ clothing, so that if the child wanders more than 15 feet away at, say, the mall, the parental device starts beeping madly.  The parent looks up and snatches her kid back before he goes to, say, the water fountain.

  I know how horrible it is to look up and not see your child. In Midtown Manhattan a year ago, our then-9-year-old disappeared from the street and didn’t come back for 20 minutes. He’d gone into a three-story, subterranean KMart, looking for us in there, even as we were looking for him outside. He checked each floor thoroughly before finding his way back to 34th Street . When he suddenly reappeared after I’d been shouting his name like a madwoman, it was our own miracle on that street.     

  I’d have appreciated a beeping device back then, or a GPS sewn into his shorts — or ESP, for God’s sake — but the upshot was: He had an adventure. Not a great one, but a memorable one. He’d gotten lost, been on his own, and found his way back out. If things had gotten really hairy, he knew to talk to a police officer.

  This was hardly the defining act of his childhood, but it is part of his life’s relief map – a little dip beside the twin shores of parental protection. Without adventures, even some less than pleasant ones, a kid’s life is as flat as a placemat.

  I once was lost but now am found – so goes the song. Let’s let our kids sing it.

  In the meantime, for a book I hope to be writing about Free Range Kids, I would like to hear your stories of getting lost. Scary, thrilling or just plain ridiculous, let’s hear the most memorable thing that happened to you as a child when you got lost.

  Here’s to the winding road.  — Lenore