Mom Who Let Son Walk to Soccer Gets Slammed in Local Paper

You may recall that a couple weeks ago a mom in small town Mississippi, Lori LeVar Pierce, let her 10-year-old walk a third of a mile to his soccer practice by himself. Or she would have let him, that is, except he got picked up by the police a few blocks in.

The cop drove him the rest of the way, to ensure he wasn’t abducted and murdered. Then the cop waited for Lori to show up (that’s how responsible she is! She was meeting her son there 15 minutes later!) so he could tell her what a dangerous, crazy, maybe even criminal thing she had done, and how the police  had received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about a boy dangerously on his own on that sunny afternoon.

I sure hope these people never watch “Lassie.” They’d die of fright.

Some reporters in Canada and Holland picked up the story, as did the local paper. (The Internet is an amazing thing.) Then that local paper, The Commercial Dispatch, ran an editorial about the whole issue.

You might think the editorial writers would praise a woman for bucking the hysteria that imagines a predator on every block. But that would involve editorial writers who did not buy into the hysteria, whole hog.

Here’s what they wrote. (And here’s the URL: http://www.cdispatch.com/opinions/article.asp?aid=800 )

                                                          WALKING LESSONS

Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone.

While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now. The days of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” are gone, if they indeed ever really existed. As Yogi Berra (supposedly) said, “nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”

This longing for simpler times was front and center in a story in Monday’s Dispatch (“The walk felt ’round the world,” Page 1A). A mother had let her 10-year-old son walk alone a half mile through Columbus to soccer practice. Several people, seeing the child walking alone, called 911. The mother took a browbeating from a police officer who responded to the calls.

The story was picked up by international media outlets, who took up the fundamental question: Aren’t small-town America’s streets safe enough for a child to walk them alone?

According to Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John, yes, they are.

But on the same token, just because a child can do it, and a parent can allow it, should they?

We, and most parents, would say, not always.

While incredibly rare, the specter of child abduction looms heavy on most parents’ minds, even in a relatively small town like Columbus. Stories like the recent one out of Starkville, where a suspected (and currently at-large) child predator allegedly harassed children at a city elementary school, seem to appear in news pages too often.

There are also traffic concerns, especially on streets with no sidewalks – no matter the pedestrian’s age. The street in this case was a particularily trecherous (for pedestrians) stretch of 18th Avenue North leading up the hill from Seventh Street toward Military Road.

The actions of the police officer notwithstanding, we’d like to think that this was an example of a positive aspect of small-town life, that the 911 calls were rooted in a genuine concern for a lone child.

If this episode and the resulting media exposure makes parents consider their children’s safety, it will have been a good thing.

And, as one soccer sideline parent told another Monday evening, with all the obiesity confronting us today, maybe parents should walk with their children to school and sports practice.”

 The parts that drove me nuttiest were the INEVITABLE, “If this episode…makes parents reconsider their children’s safety…:” As if, without baseless warnings like this, parents just wouldn’t worry enough? As if parents need more fearmongering so they can stop trusting their own eyes and ears — and POLICE CHIEF —  which suggest their town is safe, and trust a “What if???” editorial instead.

Also: if there are traffic concerns, shouldn’t the paper – the voice of the town – rally for sidewalks, rather than rallying for cooping kids up inside?

And who decided there’s no Mayberry anymore? Unsupported articles like this one, that admit that nothing happened, no one was hurt, but that’s no reason not to be afraid. Be very afraid of your scary, scary town where nothing bad happened. (And the police are watching out!)

I will run Lori LeVar Pierce’s wonderful response to this editorial in a day or so. Meantime, be very afraid…of baseless hysteria. — Lenore

60 Responses

  1. I’m getting madder and madder at this sort of nonsense. I just left a comment on the paper’s editorial site asking them: Since the local Police Chief used reason, statistics and logic to decree local streets safe for 10-year-olds, upon what did they base their article?

  2. Bruce Schnier is not the first guy you might think of when it comes to parenting issues like this. He’s a security consultant focusing on computer-related issues, but he’s recently started taking a large-scale view of things. He wrote a couple of articles that are generally relevant: one on the psychology of fear, and a review of a book by someone else, also called The Psychology of Fear. I haven’t read the book yet, but the essay points out what FRK seems to be all about, at its core: Security is a trade-off.

    You can’t just say “oh, let’s make things more secure,” because security isn’t an independent variable; every change to security cascades and has a whole lot of other effects outside the purely security-related changes. Most people, if they ask any questions at all, ask the wrong question, namely, “Is this action effective against the threat?” We need to encourage people to ask what I think is a better question namely, “Is this action worth all the costs it will incur?”, and remember that costs does not just include financial ones– not having the freedom to walk a few blocks to soccer practise is a pretty significant cost to a child’s ability to handle themselves.

  3. They misspelled treacherous AND obesity.

    ‘Nuff said about the quality of the piece.

  4. okay…it’s my turn for baseless fear and nonsense…but isn’t anyone else worried about where this takes us?

    When people are in such a frenzy about the safety of our children and their ability to handle themselves…do you worry about what type of laws might be enacted — to make what WE (as free range parents) do to allow our children a little freedom –criminal?

    School are already afraid of being sued and are going to extremes to do what they see as protecting our children.

    I think it is only a matter of time before these fear motivate people to enact laws that restrict our rights to raise out children the way we see fit.

    eek. How’s that for hysteria?

    On an unrelated note, a school in our area was put on lockdown last week because they could not locate one of the students.

    The students were made to stay where they were and no one was allowed to come or go until the entire school could be searched and the child located.

    Turns out the kid was cutting class and left campus.

    Is it just me? Or does them seem like overkill?

  5. Oh, please. How old are these so-called editors? They don’t sound seasoned or parental. “If they ever existed?” Come on. “Most parents”?? I’m just sputtering now.

  6. What I always wonder about these things, why is it always child abduction that these helicopter adults are worried? It’s much more likely the kid would be hit by a car, if you want to be obsessed with possible tragedy.

  7. Okay, I tried to post a comment, but the page apparently isn’t taking comments anymore (or maybe my computer is unhappy), so I’ll post my comment here:
    ===
    “If they ever existed”? “Most parents”?? Are you kidding me? Look, I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s, and I have young children now. As an older mom, I’m often amazed at how frightened younger parents are of the boogeyman. But then I’m reassured by the large number of us who are ready to ground the “helicopter” and remember that while bad things happen, they are statistically rare. And, since they are, again statistically, more likely to be perpetrated by family or someone you know, walking in broad daylight for 15 minutes isn’t going to be the most dangerous thing for a kid to do. Ten-year-olds are not infants; they are kids learning to stretch to new responsibilites. I am a mother (of a 10-year-old), a former journalist, and the daughter of a state cop, and I’m very unhappy with those in the media who feel it is their duty to criticize parents and scare the senses out of everyone else. Be ashamed! Get off your high horse, quit sounding like you’ve just graduated from college, and get your nose into the facts.
    ===
    There. Not sputtering anymore.😀

  8. Ah, Anette beat me to pointing out the spelling errors.

  9. As you continually point out, “Mom lets kid walk to soccer and nothing happens” just isn’t a viable news story.

    That’s the media for you.

  10. It looks like comments are now working on the linked article.

  11. Simply disgusting. I honestly do not understand how people have forgotten their common sense! Denise said it best… how much longer before people like this get laws enacted that make free-range parents criminals for letting their kids go off alone?!

    If ANYWHERE a small town should be the place where everyone EXPECTS kids to be wandering alone… not where they’re calling the cops. I swear, by the time my kids are old enough to be adults there will be laws preventing them from slouching because it’s bad for their health.

  12. My favorite, most comforting Free-Range stat:

    “Put yet another, even better way, by British author Warwick Cairns, who wrote the book How to Live Dangerously: if you actually wanted your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, how long would you have to keep her outside, unattended, for this to be statistically likely to happen?

    About seven hundred and fifty thousand years.”

    Lenore, since I read that in your book, I have felt so much better about letting my boys be more independent!

    Phooey on this editorial, they are dead wrong, and needlessly fearmongering.

  13. Do parents who drop their child off at the mall with friends get people calling 911 and public humiliation for doing so? The public’s hyper negative reaction to reasonable parenting choices puts more fear in me than the possibilities of harm to my children walking 1/3 of the mile away from home. It is disheartening and frustrating.

  14. This stuff really creeps me out. Do we never get tired of fantasizing about violence being done to children in our communities? These stories are half fear-mongering to keep parents in line and half titillating entertainment.

    The idea of child abduction or abuse sells papers, because people will always buy stories about sex and violence, even if the story is “No sex or violence here.”

  15. OMG.

    That’s insane.

    But, yeah, I suppose “Ten-year-old walks alone to soccer practice, arrives safely, nothing happens” isn’t that exciting a headline😛

    There are two big kid-safety-related stories dominating the local news where I live (Toronto, ON). One is a missing little girl in the small town of Woodstock, who was last seen leaving her school playground with some woman no one can identify. The other is a three-vehicle car crash in the city in which several small children, including an infant, were critically injured because they were not (or were not properly) restrained. I’m hoping that of the two, the latter story will get more press, because traffic accidents injure and kill SO MANY MORE kids than are ever abducted by strangers.

    I know this may sound cynical. It’s not meant to. I want that little girl to come home safe, and those kids to recover from their injuries, just as much as anyone else does. What I don’t want is another round of lectures on how important it is that I maintain round-the-clock surveillance on my daughter lest someone try to “take” her.

  16. There really isn’t any mercy left for us as parents, is there? If we hover over our children and constantly buzz around them and cater to their every whim, they grow up to be self-indulgent, dependent, whiny brats, or worse (rebellious because they’re dying for freedom, and so they become a criminal drain on society). Then people shake their heads and say, “There must be something wrong with the way he was raised (or she).” If we raise them to safely and freely walk the streets and ride the subways, act responsibly and independently, then we’re terrible. We must not love the precious darlings. We must want to expose them to danger and death (or worse). There must be something wrong with the way WE were raised, to be so cold and uncaring towards our own offspring.

  17. “we’d like to think that this was an example of a positive aspect of small-town life, that the 911 calls were rooted in a genuine concern for a lone child.”

    I grew up in a series of VERY small towns. It is small town to be concerned. It is NOT small town to call 911. It’s small town to recognize the kids that typically walk past your house. It’s small town to go outside and tell them “hey, there’s no sidewalk — this is a dangerous place to be walking.”

    And, it’s really small town if you know their parents and are probably headed to the same soccer game!

  18. In 1998, at the age of seventeen, Jesse Martin departed on his sailing voyage around the world solo, non stop, to become the youngest person to do so. We have been able to follow his journey through news papers, documentaries, books and internet. Jesse has been hauled as a hero, a youth ambassador.

    Did anybody ever question his parents about their parental responsibility? Was there any public outcry when his parents let him, a boy at seventeen, set out to sail around the world solo? Lenore, maybe something for an interview???

  19. Fear sells paper. Reality is boring. “Boy walks to soccer, has good time. Says hi to neighbors, has good practice,” won’t sell papers. We have to stop giving into the emotionalism. They even acknowledge how rare abduction is, but insist on running the story.

    At 10, a child should be able to walk 1/3 of a mile unsupervised in his own home town. What concerns me is planners who don’t build sidewalks, walking or bike paths, forcing children to be exposed to dangerous drivers–far more risky than walking unsupervised.

  20. The good news is, most who commented on that editorial were more disturbed by the article’s point-of-view than by the act the article purported to be shocking.

  21. This reminds of Farenheit 451-does anyone else remember the girl who sat on her front lawn quilting and walks where she wants. Everyone thought she was crazy.
    (She does disappear in the story and was presumably killed by a car… but that’s not the point.)

    Yes cars are dangerous-but hopefully, someone’s mentioned that to this 10-year-old. Or maybe this horrible incident will lead people to talk to their children about those huge things with wheels that they may have seen once or twice outside.

  22. Tana put it perfectly! So many of my friends think I’m mean and terrible for teaching my children to be responsible. My children will not die because they forgot their lunch at home one day and I refused to go home and get it. (The bonus to that is that she never forgot her lunch again!) They don’t need me to watch every single hockey, lacrosse, and soccer practice and validate how well they did. I’m not cold and uncaring but that’s how other people see me.

  23. “Stories like the recent one out of Starkville, where a suspected (and currently at-large) child predator allegedly harassed children at a city elementary school, seem to appear in news pages too often.”

    This is part of the problem. There literally ARE too many stories in the media–my pet peeve lately has been that CNN.com will put unsolved cold cases in the headline spot. So you’ll see something like “Toddler Vanishes from Park” and when you click through learn that this was a tragedy from years ago that they are rehashing in order to create lurid headlines.

    We need to put more attention into realistic dangers and also realistic life skills–which includes being able to walk independently by age 10!

  24. My children walk 1/3 of a mile to the grocery store with a list of items to buy. They are 8 and 11. I even let them ride their bikes there. They both know how to compare prices and my daughter loves coming home with her “bargains”. They know all the cashiers by name and they feel so grown-up.
    I have never had anyone comment on this to me and it surprises me. People at the store love my kids and always comment on how great they are. I know eventually I’ll meet that stranger who thinks I’m putting my children in danger but I haven’t yet.

  25. Okay, call me crazy, but really, I don’t understand what magical safety properties sidewalks contain. Maybe in a city where there are curbs a car must navigate over before they mow down pedestrians, but in rural areas, a sidewalk is just a concrete trail on the right of way. There is nothing between the walker and the traffic. Perhaps we should install guard rails before allowing anyone to use rural sidewalks. If a sidewalk is plunked down by city planners, does it suddenly create a safe place to walk or does it just give that impression that this is a place where walking should occur? Specifications in my area now require new subdivisions to have sidewalks so what you have are little islands with sidewalks that lead to absolutely nowhere.

    We live one mile exactly from the elementary school. Children are not allowed to arrive or depart from the school on foot because there are no sidewalks. It makes me crazy. Are kids not smart enough or trainable enough to know how to walk as far from the road as possible without a cement ribbon to guide them.

  26. I think that it is important to note that the Starkville incident mentioned in the editiorial was found to be ENTIRELY FABRICATED BY THE CHILD AND THE SCHOOL OFFICIALS.

    It was reported that a man spoke to a child and tried to get him to come with him. When the child refused, the man followed him until he reached the school. As it turns out, an African-American man was 20 to 30 feet away from the child, did not stare at him or speak to him, did not follow him, but made him feel uneasy nonetheless.

  27. Jessica- I think helicopter parents obsess about the unlikely things because they would feel even more guilty if it DID happen (should have prevented it, and all that), because they are not making good trade-offs about security vs independence. Sure, they would probably feel guilty if their child was in a car accident, but it is so much more common that they don’t feel as much like they could have prevented it, if only they had watched him more carefully.

  28. I love the “decades ago” and references to Andy Griffiths. Geez, the 80s weren’t THAT long ago, and kids were still mostly Free Range back then.

    It’s all the 90s’ fault. The 90s saw the psychologizing of every human behavior. And childhood, too. Suddenly, every word and deed a parent said or did could cause irreparable psychological harm to a child, so childhood started to be fervently cultivated and protected. Instead of teaching kids to roll with punches and that the world doesn’t revolve around them (like we used to), we coddled them from all disappointment so they wouldn’t become emotional wrecks to nurse their victim wounds and blame US.

    I think there’s somewhat of a backlash against this nowadays (all the “non-PC” humor/tv cropping up), but media fear has picked up where excessive psychologizing left off.

  29. I think what is sadly overlooked in the editorial is that the town had a lot of people actually looking out for the safety of the child (by calling 911) and a police officer quickly responded to those concerns. That actually sounds like Mayberry! Shouldn’t they be celebrating the fact that the neighbors are actually looking out for each other? How would a predator get away with anything there?

  30. Oh how far we have come since I was an 8yo mum sent to the milkbar to pick up her cigarettes (with a note, which is more then most parents did in those days).

    The statistical reality is that the crime factor PER PERSON has gone down. I don’t even watch the news anymore. Sick of the scaremongering. Psychologically so many people are so scared because there is an inbuilt system in us to fear those problem things we see or hear about the most. The truth is though, we do not see a representtive sample, so they aren’t as common as we think.

    I have to wonder if such things are making life for anxious personality types (such as Asbergers sufferers) much worse then they used to be, thus making such people less functional in general.

  31. I actually agree with the editorial: “Stories like the recent one out of Starkville…seem to appear in news pages too often.” They’re right. Stories like this DO appear too often. It’s fear mongering, and it’s ridiculous. It’s insane that a 10-year-old can’t walk a block in his own neighborhood in the middle of the day. If it were a 5-year-old, then maybe I’d be concerned, but probably not even all that much.

  32. Jennie has a good point. Going on a news fast can be great for one’s mental health. The world seems less and less scary.

    Personally, I get almost all of my news from NPR (http://www.npr.org) and the CBC (http://www.cbc.ca), plus a little from online sources specializing in parenting and technology, cause I roll like that.

    I find non-profit news sources like NPR and the CBC are much less sensationalistic and frightening to watch.

  33. Per too much of North America, the car is king, and tough luck if a kid (or even an adult) attempts to travel somewhere under his or her own power.

    Reading the editorial, the “traffic concerns’ are “treacherous”–with the veiled inference being it’s a pedestrian’s fault (age not a factor, please notice) if one even *thinks* of using bipedal power. “Windshield perspective” thus adds to discouraging free-range kids; after all, it’s not Mayberry anymore, we’re told, and there are no sidewalks in this instance (so THERE! See, reckless mom?). At best, one has to walk with one’s child(ren); perhaps a “herd” effect will slow those wheels down.

    In my much-more urbanized hometown, I worry little about kidnapping, I worry little about gun violence. I admit I do worry about drivers oblivious to pedestrians–but I worry about those pedestrians regardless of age, not just children. Statistically, where I live that’s the very real danger to my son, but if I can coach, counsel, and train him to handle that very real threat … and handle it on his own, without undo fuss or alarm … I’ll be satisfied. So far, so good.

  34. In a world where some schools feel justified in strip-searching a student for their zero tolerance drug policy (on NPR this morning). Where they will do that because one student claimed that another one was carrying, get this – IBUPROFEN… I think I am becoming more afraid to send my kid to school then to let him be a free-range kid out of school.

  35. John,

    You said “I think what is sadly overlooked in the editorial is that the town had a lot of people actually looking out for the safety of the child (by calling 911)”. While I agree that “lots” of people were looking out their windows, it doesn’t seem particularly neighborly to call 911 for a situation which isn’t, on the face of it, an emergency. Why involve the police?

    As DJ points out above (April 21st, 2009 at 9:34) the neighborly thing to do if you’re worried is to go out and say hi to the kid and see what’s up. Of course, with “stranger danger” and what not, even saying hi to an unknown kid is tantamount to abuse so perhaps only police should be allowed to do it (oh and priests too. No wait, on second thought maybe that’s not a good idea). So if you’re worried about that, the REALLY neighborly thing to do is to recognize the kids who live in your neighborhood and, after saying “hi”, if you’re still legitimately worried about them, call their parents to make sure they’re ok.

  36. Small towns often don’t have sidewalks on streets and roads away from the town center. Sidewalks would be nice, but if they aren’t there now, they probably won’t be added.

    Kids need to be taught to walk facing traffic (it’s safest), to cross at “traffic controlled” intersections “with the green light” if at all possible, and to constantly be alert to not only vehicles, but to hazards on the roadside, such as snakes (the south has poisonous snakes), loose dogs, stinging insects, poisonous weeds, sharp litter, etc. That’s just common sense for anyone walking along a road/street, and if all this is taught and adhered to, then it’s probably relatively safe to walk along the road (though as a city-reared kid, I do prefer sidewalks and fear loose dogs far more than anything).

    Will tragedy sometimes strike? Yes, I’m very mindful that it will, though far more likely due to vehicles than abductions. Someone close to my family even experienced such a tragedy, when a 9 yo child was crossing road just outside a small town, without an intersection or traffic control. Even with the help of an adult supervising on the other side of the two lane road, the child only looked for cleared traffic in one direction, not realizing the other direction wasn’t clear, and he ran into the road and was struck by a pickup truck. He did survive and is pretty well now, but was seriously injured and hospitalized for some time. The accident was fully investigated and the driver was deemed not at fault, though he and his family were very emotionally traumatized by the event and the child’s injuries.

    Does that mean kids can’t ever walk on roadsides or cross them? I think it means they need to be taught how to do it. We can’t learn everything about life as adults.

  37. I am glad to see that there are others who believe in teaching kids freedom.
    I have been giving my 15 year old son freedom to ride his bicycle 2 miles from home starting when he was 10 or 11. Yes, his first time crossing a major intersection, he actually hit a car! Of course, he did not follow my instructions. He was not hurt -just his pride-and I was not far behind. The kids need wings.

    But I still won’t let him walk the 2 blocks from home to the store after dark! I have my limits!

  38. Where do you live, Wilma, where it’s suddenly not safe at dark for a teenager to be out?

  39. I wonder what the editors would think of a modest proposal to arm the children in this town. Since the place is clearly full of predators, shouldn’t we give the kids a chance to protect themselves? By 10, a child should be able to handle a .22 pistol pretty well….

    I also wonder if the writers in this case have children of their own. Maybe if they spent some time actually raising them instead of telling everyone else how they should be doing it, the society of the future could turn out better and their grandchildren wouldn’t have to worry so much about being abducted or whatever.

  40. Aubrey, your comment about arming kids is at the same time interesting and amusing.

    Penn and Teller have a TV show called Bullshit (on which Lenore Skenazy was a guest in season 6). In season 3 they addressed the issue of gun control. Penn’s idea was that every woman in the country should be issued a handgun, a PINK handgun. Pink so that homophobic jerks who would attack women wouldn’t want to carry it. The idea is that even if only 50% of the women in the country would carry it, how many attacks would there be on women if there is a 50% chance that she has a gun.

    Apply this concept to children.

    I am not saying we should give all kids weapons, but think what would happen in terms of child safety if more kids had a means to defend themselves.

  41. On http://www.babycenter.com there is an article “The Best and Worst Things about being a Mom Today.” Here’s but one quotation from the article:

    “We have to worry about so many more hazards,” said one mom. “Just sending the kids outside to play or over to a friend’s is no longer an option. We have to be hypervigilant — and that’s exhausting.”

    On the bright side, there is also an article on babycenterabout “top 5 parenting fears and what to do about them” – #2 is stranger danger, and the article does a good job with citing stats and trying to dispel fears.

  42. Maybe instead of always bombarding folks with the “facts” about the actual likelihood of abduction or other serious harm, we should just calmly ask them, “How would you feel if your child grew up lacking confidence in his abilities to handle simple situations, finding his way around, making his way in the world without someone’s constant guidance, or assessing whether another person is safe to interact with? Do you realize that the changes of that are about 19 in 20 if you never let him go anywhere alone?”

    Of course the facts about the small genuine risks are important in their place also, but the beauty of turning it around is that immediately undercuts the “but what if he WERE the one in a million” response before the person even has a chance to THINK it.

  43. I mean, who is going to look you in the eye and say, “A 95% chance that he’ll lack basic life skills? I’ll TAKE that chance!”????

    Of course, it’s kind of a made-up number, but it’s a lot more realistic than most people’s beliefs about abduction.

  44. The days of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” are gone, if they indeed ever really existed.” No they never really existed – they were TV shows, duh!! But my childhood really existed, and after the age of around 8, I was not merely allowed, but REQUIRED to walk and ride my bike everywhere I wanted to go in the neighborhood. I have no memories whatsoever of my mom taking me to the park or walking me to school at the age of 10. I would have been humiliated beyond belief if she did!

  45. I just want to leave you an overall comment🙂

    I think you’re great!

    My son has been going to school on his own since the age of 6 and he’s been going to te mall/supermarket since the age of 8. He’s been coming home to an empty house since the age of 9 and he’s doing very well. He always does his homework immediately after coming home and he makes himself something to eat and drink every day after finishing his homework.
    He’s 12 yrs old now and he’s still doing great.
    Of course I sit down with him on regular bases and talk to him about coming home to an empty house everyday and he actually prefers it that way.
    Nowadays he even peels the potatoes before I come home without me asking him🙂

  46. (beats her head into her keyboard)

  47. It is SOOO refreshing to see all the “common sense” responses to this ridiculous news article.

  48. This story just frustrates me endlessly!

    A very similar situation happened to me at the beginning of this school year. My oldest son had just started 3rd grade and my youngest Kindergarten. We walk together to school and home most days. On this particular day, my youngest was exhausted and walking slower than molasses. The oldest wanted to get home quicker, so I gave him the key and told him to walk on ahead. He was almost 9 years old!

    I look up to see him about a half a block ahead of me talking with a police officer! Apparently someone at the local bar/restaurant down the road from us called 911 because they thought a 5 year old was walking alone. Well, my son is certainly small for his age, but 5? I mean really, they could have just ASKED him how old he was.

    This whole experience has really set back his journey towards independence. He is fearful of staying home alone or walking anywhere alone.

    I think he’s very conflicted about being more independent STILL! Months later!

    Jeez! This is just out of control. Stop the madness!

  49. Again, thank you for addressing this issue. Alas, I am no longer amazed by the fear that pervades our communities. People want guarantees, and it doesn’t matter how detrimental the act, working for a perceived a guarantee of “safety” is priority one for far too many of us.

    I do wonder about this story. Did anyone confirm that any 911 calls were made? If so, how many were actually made?

    As for me, my memories of walking to school in a small midwest town start in kindergarten. (I remembered the walk as being a mile or more, but upon a recent visit, I now know it was about 1/2 mile.) I remember many an afternoon spent laying in a field along the way, staring at clouds, wasting time, before I finally went home. No one batted an eye.

    I moved to a very big Southwestern city in 2nd grade, and I walked to school (again 1/2 mile), every day with my little brother who was in kindergarten. Again, no one batted an eye.

    I can’t imagine that the adults in Columbus, Mississippi had a dramatically different childhood experience.

  50. Oy. I was a child of one of those overprotective mothers, in a small town…Mom’s favorite thing was bad news. But I was still allowed to walk to school and ride my bike around the block to friends’ houses (though if I stopped off somewhere, I had to call home to let her know where I was). Yet there were times when my mother would watch me walk to a neighbor’s house three houses down and require said neighbor to signal my arrival in one piece. I still managed to grow up and leave home (actually, I could not wait to get out of there); I went away to college, and after that, took a job in NYC. I survived that, despite Mom being convinced that as soon as I stepped out of my apt in NJ to go to work I would be kidnapped, beaten, raped and left for dead in a gutter somewhere (at age 25!). Once an anxious parent, always an anxious parent, and they aren’t confined to one particular generation, either. And at least one child of an overanxious parent is indeed capable of coping with life. 😉 My daughter is still young-three yrs old-so we still keep a close eye on her, but I am not going to be as anxious as my mother was when she gets older. (Or I’ll try, anyway-no one can predict the future.) But I agree with the Free Range philosophy, for the record. I want my daughter to be independent & capable, not shaking at every little shadow, real or imagined.

  51. There has been a concurrent rise in concerns about automobile crash survival (read: airbags and SUV’s), and municipal water (bottled water being sold in places where what comes out of the tap is not only safer than the bottled stuff, but tastes fine as well) . We, as a society, have decided to embrace all fears, and protect against them equally. The issue is twofold: the inability to do reasonable risk assessment on one hand, and the ability to pay for increased levels of vigilance on the other. Where they meet is our current society: people who pay for stuff they don’t need to avoid doing risk assessment, and to avoid upsetting peer standards. The question is, “Who benefits?” With SUV’s and bottled water, the answer is obvious: corporate interests (with SUV’s, selling high profit, inefficient vehicles; with bottled water, selling something that 10 years ago was essentially free). I think Free-ranging your kids is also a feminist issue(and I say this as a man who was a stay at home parent until my son was in grade one). Every one of these articles (that I have seen) has been about a MOTHER allowing her child to do something which someone else decided could put the child at risk. It is about increasing the burden on women: of denying their right, and fitness, to make judgments about their children’s abilities; making supervision of children an onerous full-time occupation(or at least a MORE onerous one); It is about creating artificially high standards as a salve to couples who have two careers and have to pay for care. This is a political issue, and it’s about much more than the security of children. It’s about how our society allocates it’s resources, and about how corporations encourage fears and capitalize on them. It is all the more interesting as we move from a period of unmatched prosperity and uncontrolled consumption to the era of financial uncertainty, peak oil, and global warming. In the 1940’s our parents went through World War 2 and the horrors and deprivations it brought. Genocide, displaced populations(if you’re a European reader), military service and the potential of death or disability, food and gas rationing, and the reduction of access to consumer goods. Yet we are told not to accept the tiny actuarial risk of traveling in a small car or allowing our child to walk to school by himself. Over the next few years, the costs of these choices will come into true perspective, and perhaps we’ll see change. To summarize: Free-ranging your child is a political act. It’s green, it’s anti-corporate, and it’s feminist. Those who are against it have an agenda, and I’m pretty certain it’s different from mine (and, with any luck, yours).

  52. What I learned today, the hard way, is that where I live it is now illegal to allow a child that age any freedom. :(( Last week I allowed my almost 8-year-old son to ride his bike home from school by himself for the first time. The distance is about half a mile and he has to cross one slightly busy street, which I’ve been training him to do nearly every school day since he was 6. Another parent expressed concern to the school principal. The next day I got a call from the school, requesting that I pick him up. I refused. As a result, the school reported us to our local Child Protective Services and I had to spend some time on the phone with a social worker today. The bottom line is that, my judgment and my son’s abilities/maturity notwithstanding, I will be breaking the law if I allow it again. In this region, children under the age of 10 are not allowed to be unsupervised at all.

  53. erm…nice info…parents should take care for their children

  54. What I always wonder about these things, why is it always child abduction that these helicopter adults are worried? It’s much more likely the kid would be hit by a car, if you want to be obsessed with possible tragedy.

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  60. […] Mom Who Let Son Walk to Soccer Gets Slammed in Local Paper « FreeRangeKids – Local Paper is an Asinine, Alarmist Rag — Film at 11! […]

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