Responding to: “If You’re Free-Range, You’re Irresponsible”

Hi, Free-Rangers! Leaving behind the topics of politics, feminism, environmentalism and all that, here is a comment from a few posts back:

“I work in law enforcement in the child predator unit in a mid-size city. Kids meeting people on the Internet is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t sound like anyone here has any idea of the extent that perpetrators use new technologies to victimize. I won’t “bore” you with details since you don’t think this stuff can happen to you anyway. No one does.

“But it is kind of sad to me to see how proud people are to wave off their responsibilities to keep their kids in check.”

I’d like to respond. And I will!

First of all, I don’t know of any Free-Range parent who is “proud” to wave off the responsibilities of parenting. Free-Range is not about negligence or sloth (well, maybe a teeny bit of sloth, but is that so terrible?). It’s about trying to assess reality and figure out whether the world has really become so much more dangerous in just one generation (since those carefree days of the Cold War) that children cannot be afforded the same kind of freedom we had.

Our parents granted us this simple freedom not because they were lazy or neglectful, but because they didn’t think absolutely everything, from using a plastic drinking cup to selling Girl Scout cookies without an adult escort, was so dreadfully dangerous. They also saw some worth to having their kids learn how to navigate the world.

Free-Range parents may harbor a certain nostalgia for simpler times. It’s hard not to, when just 20 years ago you could be toasting marshmallows and nobody would be simultaneously talking on their cell, or dowloading videos, God help us, sexting. Fewer marshmallows shriveled into black nothingness.

Fewer weekends, too.

But beyond that stabbing feeling of loss, which could just be age, there is also a hard-nosed anger at all the fear that is being dumped on us. Some of the dumpers are well-meaning, but some are sneering blamers who refuse to accept the fact that children are not more threatened today. The crime rate is back to what it was around 1970. After that it climbed till 1993 and has been declining ever since, according to hardnosed numbers from the Department of Justice. So if you were a child anytime after Nixon resigned, the crime rate is actually lower now than when you were a kid. (So, for that matter, is infant mortality – four times lower than when I was born.)

As for the supposedly heightened danger presented by the Internet, I must refer to my own piece in yesterday’s Daily Beast, “The Myth of Online Predators.”   Pedophiles are not combing MySpace or Facebook for victims any more than they are calling random numbers out of the phone book and trying to get a date. It’s a technique that doesn’t work and they know it – and that is according to head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center. So the idea that any child online is easy pickin’s for perverts is just wrong.

I’m going to assume the law enforcement fellow who wrote to this site was well-meaning. He thinks he is giving us a wonderful gift: A little more ice-cold terror where our kids are concerned.

But it is a gift I’m returning. It’s useless, it’s ugly and I already have about a million.

– Lenore

45 Responses

  1. I think the (possibly well-meaning) commenter’s assertion that no one ever thinks “this stuff” can happen to them is maybe the part where he or she is most wrong. The inverse is true and that’s exactly the problem! Good, well-meaning parents are walking around irrationally convinced that every bit of nastiness in the nether regions of the long tail of childhood nasty stuff is going to happen to their child at any moment.

    Thanks for your site and your efforts to teach parents about probability.

  2. The situation I find myself in is that I have an 11-year-old boy who is excessively dependent on his mother. Partly this is the fault of the local cops, who took seriously a neighbor’s complaint that we let him (at age 9) 150 ft from our yard in a very safe suburban neighborhood. So I can’t even let him walk around the block.

    Except . . . that we have another house in upstate New York. (We are a family with 2 houses which aspires to have 1.) In our upstate house I can let him earn his own money, do his own shopping, go fishing by himself, and so on. The psychological benefits to that are huge. But coming back to Westchester County, they wear out after a while.

  3. Regarding online predators, adult women on dating sites are much more likely victims of predators than kids. Adult women have financial assents.

  4. It’s insane to me that people continue to comment here accuse free range parents of being negligent or misguided.

    Really, parents who don’t care about their kids are not reading blogs about how to give your kids a little more freedom.

    Parents who are truly neglectful don’t discuss with other parents crime statistics and ways to help our children feel confident in making their way in the world today.

    I guarantee you, the people who are reading this blog are just trying to do the best they can amid the hysteria of today’s society…not trying to find new and better ways to abdicate our responsibilities as parents.

  5. Lenore,
    I appreciate what you’re doing but I have a question. You often point out that the crime rate is lower now – I’m unclear on whether you mean crime overall or crimes against children. Either way, what if that’s an outgrowth of the fact that people are keeping their children “safer” inside? Do you have any data that would point one way or the other?
    Thanks for your blog, I enjoy it.

  6. Jessica, both are true.

  7. LOVE the last bit about returning and unwanted gift; very witty and a perfectly accurate metaphor. ^^

    I’ll second that question from Jessica though, Lenore; Are the crime rates down for crime against/concerning children because so much work has been done to make things safer for them in the past generation?

  8. Given the chance, I would say this to that officer:

    Yes, the crimes that you investigate are horrific and no one in their right mind would want them to happen to any child. But the fact that you are a criminal investigator has completely skewed your view. All you see when you look around is a crime that has occurred or the potential risk of another crime being perpetrated. It’s created a crime-focused mentality for you.

    I’m a health educator on a college campus. I can look at almost any situation a student is in and see the potential health risks, especially when it comes to alcohol. Does that mean the student will most definitely end up engaging in the high risk behavior? No. Most likely they’ll be fine overall. Does that mean that I have less responsibility to do my job well and address those risks? Also no.

    But I’m well informed about how our views of a situation are filtered through our experiences, knowledge and most importantly our perceptions. And a good chunk of our perceptions are actually MISperceptions.

    For example, did you know that college students consume alcohol at significantly lower levels than 20some years ago? While those who drink do so at higher levels, the overall rates are down. We don’t see that because Time and US News and World Report have cover stories almost every year about BINGE DRINKING IS KILLING OUR BEST AND BRIGHTESTOur national conversation and media attention on college drinking has completely thrown off our perceptions. I could give you reams of data on both (or go to http://www.socialnorms.org to see for yourself).

    It’s the same as with the crimes this officer is investigating. It’s true of almost anything (over)reported on these days (swine flu, anyone?). We end up buying what we hear because many of us don’t have the time or energy to sift through it all…or we don’t have the media literacy skills to keep up with the speed with which media is evolving, let alone how to deconstruct the messages we are pelted with endlessly.

  9. My gawd, Katheryn, my kids were walking to school, a block away, by themselves at the age of 5 and walking several blocks to their friend’s homes at the same age… all without helmets, bubble wrap, cell phones, and a police escort! I find it to be a shame that you were persecuted for a mere 150 feet.

    I’m not quite sure how I would handle a “well-meaning” person or officer if they dared to question my choices for my very responsible kids. I shudder to think the time I’d do in jail after loudly speaking my views!

  10. After reading this site for a couple of weeks, I am starting to get pretty shocked at the level of hysteria evidenced in current American culture (i.e. prosecuted for dropping kids a few miles from home) .
    I can see the fear based news broadcasting starting to takes it’s toll here in New Zealand too.
    (particularly around the current influenza scare).

    Although some people still go a little bit to far (http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/735320) in giving thier children responsibility.

  11. Hola everyone! I am a Free Range mom posting from Mexico, the land of Drug Lords, earthquakes and *gasp* The Killer Swine Flu. While it is true that all schools have been closed until next Wednesday, otherwise, it is lfe as usul here. Today my children woke me at 7am to let me know they would be going to play at a friends house. Yes,they had eaten breakfast (all by themselves). Yes, they had brushed their hair and teeth (all by themsleves) and now they were off to enjoy a sunny day off from school while their lazy parents slept in. They returned around noon with a gaggle of children in tow, all ready for a snack and some time in the pool. This is life as usual around here much as it was life as usual for me growing up. Out of the house after breakfast. Back in the house before dark.

    We don’t let our children, ages 6 and 7, use the computers, but this is a family choice based on the educational model they are following in the local Waldorf Schools. I am not concerned that they will fall prey to child molestors and perverts. Rather, I think their time, at this age, is better spent exploring cenotes, playing soccer in the street, drawing, banging on drums etc….. Plenty of time for computers later on.

    I agree with the assessment that the original commentor’s perspective may be skewed by his field of expertice. I think that would be unavoidable. I’m sure he really doesn’t think the Free Range movement is abusive, neglectful or ignorant. It is just in his nature now to be overly cautious, to see danger everywhere. Aren’t we all grateful we don’t have to do HIS job.

  12. I am SO behind you on this. I was traveling by myself in Mexico City as a kid when i was 12. I hitchhiked thru Europe when I was 15. I am so depressed by parents who think they do their kids a favor by making them afraid in the world and of the world. The aim of upbringing is to make a kid capable of living on their own happily and effectively. Making kids afraid of cities, strangers, mass transit etc. is a terrible mistake. Thanks for fighting the good fight!

  13. I’m offended that wanting to raise an independent, strong, self-sufficient person qualifies as “waving off my responsibility to keep my kid in check.” What is “in check,” anyway? Squashed under so many rules and prohibitions that the child is afraid of a strong wind? I think I’ll have to pass on the gift here, too. It’s worse than a white elephant! My child has excellent manners, is quick to obey adults that he recognizes as authorities (and I regularly remind him who is and who isn’t his boss), and gets regular compliments from friends and strangers alike on his public behavior. He’s four and I will not teach him unreasonable fear. If that isn’t in check, what is?

  14. I have NEVER sent my kids anywhere without me because I was lazy. I sent them because they were old enough, responsible enough, and it was time.

    The GREATEST gift we can give to our kids is to teach them, and then BACK OFF.

  15. This is the line that gets me:

    “But it is kind of sad to me to see how proud people are to wave off their responsibilities to keep their kids in check.”

    My kids are in check thank you very much. I am told so repeatedly by my neighbours that they are the two most pleasant and polite kids on our street.

    My wife and I expect that when they are outside playing that they will be polite and respectful and I shouldn’t have to hover over them to ensure that they are.

    If children are not given the responsibility to be responsible for themselves they never will be and it begins with playing with peers outside without parents telling how to interact with others.

    JMHO

  16. My mother’s mother was crippled at 19, got married, had 5 kids. My grandfather had to go hundreds of miles away to find a job, so he was often absent. At 9yo, my mum would catch the bus into the city to pay a bill. Grandma couldn’t walk well or drive at all, so when my uncle did a faceplant off his bike – 3 miles away, unattendee, 8yo – he walked himself home. All 5 survived. Growing up, I walked/rode to school, no adults in sight, in 3 different countries. All 5 kids in our family, also survived. Responsibility was not waived, it was taught.

  17. Many others on here have said it, and knowing a cop, it’s easy to understand why he’d be looking out for the worst. Really, if you’re dealing with a job where you’re in the office for perhaps 5 hours, then on call for the majority of the rest of the time – all dealing with the darkest and dankest denizens of the city – of course you’re going to expect the worst.

    Said cop friend warns me about the dangers of being female in a mini-skirt without a male escort… well damn it… I’m not going to pants and flats – with or without a man around. I use common sense and listen to my gut – in his mind, I should keep constant the fear of what could be all the time. It’s a sad life to live and I’ll pass, as will my kids.

    Teaching common sense… we “free-rangers” must make it all the rage! (So says the new free-range mom of a month. 😀 )

  18. Once again – completely on the mark. Understanding the realities of risk and teaching our children how to handle themselves in the world isn’t shirking our responsibilities.

    We all are wise to take reasonable precautions, but when those precautions start interfering with other parts of our lives, then they are too much. That’s not irresponsible. That’s smart.

  19. The State Attorneys General put together a task force to get to the bottom of safety issues related to the internet. The group was called the “Internet Safety Technical Task Force”. The group found that identity deception “does not appear to play a large role in criminal cases” with sex offenders. More information here:
    http://mommymythbuster.wordpress.com/2009/03/16/myth-25-social-networking-sites-are-crawling-with-predators/
    This (well-meaning?) commenter would do well to spend less time typing and more time reading.

  20. *sigh* Nicola nailed it. The father of my boys is a career officer, pushing 30 years now. There is danger lurking around every corner. His wife (well, ex now) is an e/r nurse. Needless to say, the boys and their sister are practically bubblewrapped and are basically prisoners in their safe, locked, alarm monitored home. Climbing trees, riding bikes, making friends without conducting background checks on their immediate family, all dangerous activities. A sniffle lands them in the hospital. Seriously. Their girl was not allowed to play loose in the house until she was 5. Until then, she was confined in a child proof room with a safety gate. If she wanted to play with her brothers, they had to go into her pen. I kid you not. Oddly they see nothing wrong with giving the boys pellet guns, I have no explanation for that.

    I could go on for days, but the fact is, I don’t see danger around every corner. In fact I live in a very safe area (as does the dad) but I am constantly up against someone who thinks I am negligent in my parenting and who encourages the children to think I am a lesser parent because of it. That I mustn’t care about them as much because I dont’ rush them to the doctor for every cold and scrape and because I encourage them to build tree houses, take walks down the road and be unsupervised as much as possible.

  21. I think people seem to get the wrong idea from term “Free Range.” Heck I may even have the wrong idea.

    It seems to me that having a free range kid is a lot like have free range chickens. They are kept cooped up in a coop but rather they can roam free….. to an extent. Even on a free range chicken farm there are fences to keep the chickens from going too far. Far enough that they get the exercise they need for a healthy life of laying eggs but not so far that they get swept up in the tractor blades.

    With kids it is similar, free range parents are responsible in that they let their kids roam, but still provide the protection
    necessary to keep them alive out from under the tractor blades.

    If I am wrong in this assessment please let me know.

  22. Weird. I’m having the same problem with my husband, who was a cop for a number of years, and is now in the Army. He is just convinced that “strangers” have the worst of intentions at all times. I’ve always poked gentle fun at his misanthropy, but now it’s costing our son the independence that he himself has been asking for. I put my foot down about not stifling this urge, and hubby lobbed all these little verbal barbs that Lenore’s poster did: Basically, that deep down, I didn’t care about our son and just wanted him out of the house for my own selfish reasons. Not true. So, what was my 4 1/2 year old son’s crime? Wanting to play outside by himself, in our apartment complex with a nifty little playground right next to our building. The complex is small, and yes, there are cars, but also really big speed bumps, and there are also gaggles of kids outside all the time. *I’ve* never almost-hit any of these kids, so I’m not sure why Hubby would think our neighbors would be so bent on running down our son. Son also has had practice for about a year now: he’s allowed to play outside on his Grandpa’s quiet street and has demonstrated to me that he knows about cars and to ask permission if a little friend invites him anywhere. He knows not to go off with any adult.

    Maybe it’s a cop thing?? He’s always been extra-cautious and also would warn me about the dangers of being a woman, blah blah. It wasn’t so bad when I could laugh off the paranioia about me, but now it involves an issue deeper than that…

  23. I wouldn’t say that it is a “cop thing.” Last weekend I was meeting my girlfriend’s extended family, one of whom is a cop with three kids. We were sitting by the pool talking about this a various other topics. He is a free range parent, He will teach his kids how to protect themselves and then send them off into the world.
    While we were talking his 2 (or 3) year old girl slipped on the tile and went right down on the back of her head. He and his wife were up in an instant and over to their crying child. Once it was confirmed that she was uninjured and the tears began to subside, he came back over and resumed our conversation, letting the child go back to doing what she had been doing before.

    Children will fall, they will get hurt, there is no stopping that, all we can do is be there to pick them up when they fall.

  24. I want so badly to be a free range parent. I’ve loosened the reins a LOT after reading this website. But Jessica’s question has been the lingering question for me as well. I don’t want to be a victim of fear mongers anymore, but it’s NOT an easy thing to do.

  25. @Kirk, I think about it like this:

    Children are far (like 100x) more likely to be killed or badly hurt in a car wreck than abducted by a stranger. If you are truly a safety-conscious parent, you should never let your child into a car.

    But the fear-mongers don’t bring this up. Why? BECAUSE IT DOESN’T SELL ADVERTISING. Do you really want your life to be ruled by people who want to sell you a new Timex watch???

  26. This is a great post, Lenore! You really explain your–our–position perfectly. Thank you!

  27. Ok, since there is heightened discussion about online safety… makes more for the case for free ranging those kids right out the door…. for anyone to accuse me of not caring in such a generalized manner is abhorent. I care enough to teach my kids to not be victims, to criminals and fear mongers alike.

  28. Charles, I am in the category that you are. Not totally sure I qualify as free range, but it feels pretty free to me. I grew up the 3rd and last child of parents who were in their mid 40’s when I was born. My brother and sister were in their 20’s at the time and gone, so basically I was an only child. Mom was a stay at home mom, dad worked construction, gone by 5, home by 5. Dinner on the table half hour later. I went everywhere with them, never had a baby sitter. But did they smother me? Heck no. I roamed in the house/yard alone from the time I could walk. Mom would check on me now and then. They taught me the one thing that I feel is key to everything in life from a very early age: RESPECT YOUR PARENTS!! Listen to what they say, and mind. And I did. I wouldn’t dream of back talking my folks, not that they would beat me but it just wasn’t done. Elders are to be respected, they have wisdom. There is a line that was extablished from an early age and it just wasn’t crossed. Stretched to the ultimate limits, but not crossed. And I raise my brood the same way. I tell my kids time and time again, I love you unconditionally, but there are days I will not like you, same as you won’t like me. Part of life. And I am not your friend, I am your mother. Do not confuse the 2.
    To me, it is very simple. Teach your children, interact with them, set the right examples. Give them the opportunities to be people, not belongings or less than what they are. Respect them by showing them what respect is. They come into this world knowing little but instinct, and that instinct can either be squandered from the get go or nurtured so they soar. I choose the latter. My kids never had cable, computers, gaming systems, until my younger son turned 10. It comes with limits and is an earned privilege, not a right. The great outdoors, the imagination of thinking for ones self, books, all are the best things that a kid can be given. And yeah, to many of those in our small community, our household is different in that respect. But all the kids congregate here, and love it. And my kids are healthy, intelligent, street smart and respectful. So I must be doing something right.

  29. Yes, totally unlikely out-of-the-blue bad things can happen to you and your family. But you should NOT let that possibility take over your life and replace rational risk assessment. In the mid 1990s, when I was 15 years old, my parents allowed me to take the bus home at night, to a quiet residential neighborhood, with a friend. I was taken and assaulted by a stranger. It was an absolutely freak occurrence. And you know what? I think my parents were right. I’m glad they didn’t lock me inside either before or after that event, and I plan to give my own kid similar freedom as he grows up. Even as a victim of one of these terrible random crimes against kids, I think our fear-obsessed parenting is ridiculous!

  30. This commenter doesn’t seem to understand that there is a difference between negligence and well thought out choice. S/he also doesn’t understand that there is a difference between denial and risk assessment.

    There are risks to letting your children do ANYTHING from walking a half mile to school alone to walk down the stairs in your own home with Mommy right behind you. Free-range parenting is about assessing risk and not giving into fear of the possible but highly unlikely.

    The truth is that teaching a child safe practices for how to use the internet and social networking sites and then giving them freedom to function independently is more time consuming and more difficult for parents than simply controlling and monitoring everything the child does online. But then one day when you are, inevitably not there, the child who has been taught how to be independent will know how to handle him/herself in a tricky situation unlike the child who has been either kept ignorant or blinded by fear.

    Free range isn’t about abdicating responsibility, it’s about passing it on constructively from parent to child, where it belongs!

  31. regarding Jessica’s question, I highly recommend reading Freakonomics. I’m not going to discuss the conclusions the author of that book reached here because I don’t want to highjack the thread. But I will say that his in depth study did not conclude the reason rates of crimes of all kinds has decreased is because of parents increased “protection.”

  32. It’s kind of odd for me to read some of these stories. I live in a small town in KY and some of these stories truly shock me, specifically the recent one about a 10year old boy walking to soccer practie by himself and people calling the police about it.

    I grew up here in KY and am raising my children here, and it is common for a child to leave to go play outside in the morning, walk eight or nine miles throughout the day and come back a little after dark. I’m talking about children of all ages, from around 9 years old all the way up to 18. The children here are very independent, they know where their friends live and they can get there on their own. They walk to and from school. They also know what to do if someone they don’t know approaches them and they know how to navigate traffic on their own. Sure, there are some overprotective parents, but there are the exception, not the rule. I can look out my window on any sunny day and see about 10 kids playing in the (not very busy admitadly) street.

    Another thing that I think plays a large role in the area’s parents willingness to let their children have “free range” is their confidence that their children will do as they tell them to. Children in this area tend to be well behaved and diciplined and parents tend to be very strict and able to control their children. I love my son and I nurture him but I am definatly strict and I feel confident that he obeys me (at least on important things) even when I am not around. I believe that one of the reasons some (not all) parents are over protective is that they know that their children would do whatever their impulses told them to if they weren’t around (or in some cases even when the parents are around.)

  33. That’s a good point, Ashland. You can tell your child 100000 times not to go anywhere with a stranger but if you *know* in your heart that they’d do it anyway, you have to keep your kid closer to home and supervised, whether or not you want to be Free Range or not. Our children have to earn the right to live free and that means listening to and remembering what their parents tell them about the world, and learning the lessons about safety that we do teach. If your kid is going to take off his bike helmet as soon as he gets around the corner because it’s ‘not cool’ to wear it, then he doesn’t get to ride his bike.

  34. @Charles:

    You are right to a certain extent about the “free-range” children being like the “free-range” chickens, but the difference is the size of the pen.

    Some people feel comfortable with their kids being allowed the range of the city limits, some within a few blocks, others within their own communities. These limits and borders, unlike the chicken coop, change with time, age, and maturity.

    FR parents do care about where their kids are and what they’re up to – but I think the big difference between what we do and what is done with the common perception of parenting today is that we trust our kids. We know they’re resourceful and intelligent and capable of making choices and staying (for the most part) out of trouble and harm’s way. My kids are still young (7&8), so I let them outside to roam our neighborhood, but just this September they’ll be walking themselves to and from school (about 2 miles one way). I educated them on car safety, on the routes to walk, on the importance of staying together, and on running like mad if someone asks you to help them look for their puppy (among other ploys that may come up). I trust them and believe in my heart that the majority of people are good people and that the statistics on abduction and abuse are correct.

    With the cop you mentioned in your other post, I honestly believe that what you saw there was the older, wiser version of modern-day cops. Those that know they are there to uphold the law, but that they’re protecting a vast majority of people who are good from that minority that isn’t – vs. what we are describing, which are the cops that have had the bad experiences so ingrained that they believe EVERYWHERE you go danger is lurking and specifically waiting for you or your children.

    Hell, I had my cop friend’s sister tell me when I said I liked wearing skirts, “it’s your vagina.” As though as soon as I stepped out the door I was rape-bait. Many cops are skewed, and understandably so. We just can’t let that color our view of the world… like this swine flu thing… when you look at the fact that world-wide there’s been about 75 cases? And they’re describing it as the next possible pandemic? I’ll believe it when the numbers support it. I’ll take precautions like washing my hands, but I’m not going to shut myself in my house until it passes… just like I’ll educate my kids to protect themselves and use common sense, but I won’t lock them in the house because there’s an off chance something bad will happen.

  35. […] So how, then, can I defend that mother who kicked the kids out of the car a few miles from home? And how can I defend Lenore Skenazy when she argues back against a law-enforcement officer who wrote the following: […]

  36. There is a far greater risk (and fear) that my children will be taken by CPS than by some perv as a result of my FreeRange parenting choices.

  37. If people are worried about internet pedophiles then the kids are better off outside!!! I think it is more neglect to let your child surf the web for hours on end than take a bike ride to the library or ice cream store. I’ve lived in Geneva Switzerland and the kids have so many more right than ours here in the states. I have seen children as young as six walking home on their own. Kids are also allowed in bars at 15 to dance and have a glass of wine. They seemed much more mature than ours. Yes, they still have their problems but we are not raising very sophisticated children when they are overly protected from k-12. I now live in a small town on an island in Rhode Island and my 11 year old son and 9 year old daughter have a full range of activities they can do on their own. No, I am a stay at home mom so I am always a call away if they need me. But I think they are growing so much from this freedom.
    People have to understand that we have so many news outlets in this country. They NEED to report on something! And this is a HUGE country. When we see something reported we act as if it is happening in our own backyard. We also(I noticed this when I returned from Europe after 5 years) have some of the most violent prime time programming. Of course violence is ALWAYS on our mind!!! I think the reality is much different. I think instead of being afraid at every turn we need to start fighting.

  38. one more thing…to say that Free Range Parents are lazy is a joke. I think it is LAZY to allow mass media and the morning news show determine your life and how you live it. To be a critical thinker when it comes to family and how you live life and possibly go against the grain takes work and energy.

  39. My own child being well into adulthood now, I don’t have recent experience, but I agree with Luigina’s point about outside being more safe than the Internet. Not that the Internet is crawling with predators (though they are there); the bigger problem is that the Internet takes all the bad traits of television and magnifies, expands, and exaggerates them. (Of course, it does the same to the good effects of TV.)

    I gave my son more freedom than I had, and he lived to tell the tale. I was always the strange kid in the 70s and early 80s — the one whose parents never let her leave the house. No extracurricular activities, no visits to or from friends. They did not do this because they were overprotective. They did it to try to eliminate their risk of personal inconvenience, embarrassment, or expense.

    I’m not saying their motivation was typical. I doubt that it is. But either way, the outcome of that parenting strategy — and I learned this painfully as a young adult — is that a child becomes an adult literally overnight and yet has had no practice whatsoever in the skills necessary for survival.

    There’s more than one kind of child neglect.

    Great blog. I didn’t know about it until a few minutes ago, but I’m encouraged by it.

  40. Regarding the cop: If you’re carrying a hammer, everything’s going to start looking like a nail.

    Nuff said.

  41. As a nursery school teacher, let me say that I love what this site has to say and I wish all my families would read it. You have no idea how crazily overprotective some parents can be about things that are in a totally safe environment in a nursery school. Last year someone told me that playground mulch was a hazard.

    I also want to say something nice about our police force. At my kids’ private school we recently had some incidents involving men taking photographs of the children on the playground and then leaving quickly when a teacher approached them. A police officer came in to talk to parents at a big meeting. He told us that as an officer he’s a little paranoid himself about his own 5 kids, but that the best thing we could do was to teach our children what to do when something seems weird. That is, scream their little heads off and look for an adult they trust. Beyond that, he said building a fence or installing big security doors wouldn’t help and would only be a lot of money spent to make our kids fearful without actually protecting anything.

    He also tried to put everything in perspective. At the time of the meeting, the police had made 3 runs to the school in a week but not a single run other than those in the previous 5 years. At other schools in the area the police make 5 runs A DAY. He said that while the situation was scary we really needed to take a wider view. We needed to be vigilant but give our kids the tools they needed in case we aren’t there. I appreciated his use of numbers because we often don’t hear the stats when we’re warned of some new danger facing our children.

    At the end of the meeting there were still parents trying to figure out how to bulid a fence around the school, get more supervision on the playground, and maybe cut back on playground time because you just never know. Argh!

  42. About the irresponsibility of allowing kids free range: isn’t it more irresponsible to allow kids to grow up without gaining the self-confidence that comes from doing things on your own? As a “second wife” I am trying to help two adult “children” (almost 19 and 21) figure out how to make their own decisions about what to eat and what free time activities to pursue. They also would like me to look up phone numbers for them, make their appointments and take them there (we live in Germany where they can easily take a train and bus to practically anywhere in Europe), and deal with their correspondence and even apply for jobs for them. I am slowly teaching them not only how to do these things, but more importantly, that they are capable of learning how to do them themselves. Kids who do not have experience in figuring things out without adult intervention suffer a lack of self-confidence and initiative later. Do we want a society of people looking for help? Let your kids go outside and visit their friends and tell them to call you if they’re going to be late. Get to know your their friends’ parents and talk to your kids to find out what they’re doing and what they’re thinking about. Then they can have their own experiences and you can still share in them (and not worry so much). And they can learn to be independent. Isn’t that responsible?

  43. You make a good point. But to be fair, don’t you think the declining rates could be attributed, at least in part, to heightened safety measures taken by parents, educators, law enforcements officials and the like?

  44. I think that due to awareness and funding it has been possible over the last 30 years or so to increase our focus on the societal problems facing children and thus expose problems we didn’t know about and solve new problems. Because these problems are constantly changing, I’m not sure we can speak of declining rates, only different circumstances. I think that gets to the heart of this debate: are there more problems now than 30 years ago or only different ones? Are our children more threatened by playing outside today or does it only look that way?

    Schools, police, social institutions all play a role in protecting and educating our children, but parents are and always will be the most important and influential caretakers. Safety measures are great and everyone should learn more about them and implement them as they see fit, but if they are too limiting, they can hinder a child’s growth. Safety measures tend to focus on the danger inherent in the risks we take every day (riding a bike or in a car, walking down a busy street, playing where animals or toxic plants are present, etc.). Too much focus on the danger may cause the child to grow up tentative and scared, or worse, eventually rebel against a restrictive environment and take risks they otherwise may have avoided. Not that we shouldn’t take precautions, but we should promote awareness and not fear. “Do this because it makes sense,” not “Do this because otherwise you could be hurt or killed.”

    P.S. I really like your online name “Beyond Blessed”. It helps me remember how much I have in my life. That I can even take time to consider these issues.

  45. I agree with you 100% Paula.

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