Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Week: 10-year-old Forbidden to Cross Parking Lot

Hi Free-Rangers:
Here’s a note from a mom who just wants her son to NOT be treated like a baby or invalid. But…that’s against camp rules. Voila:

My 10 year old is going to an art camp being held at the museum. Each child is suposed to be dropped off and picked up, complete with sign in/out sheets, by a person with the appropriate identification card issued by the camp. No card, no pickup. And if you’re late, they fine you.

I have no problem with this if it makes someone comfortable or if they have young children…however, my boy is not younger and I am fine with him leaving after his last class and walking across the very small parking lot to wait for me at the library where I may or may not be late depending on work. [Italics mine — Lenore]

I sent a letter stating that he had permission to leave unescorted, as per their instructions. Would you believe they have charged some intern to walk him across the parking lot?! The point of my letter was that my boy was fine, I was fine, and that he didn’t  need to be a bother to anyone there. The library and museum area are about as safe as you can get around here: Plenty of people, lots of foot traffic, very small parking lot so not a lot of vehicle traffic. The grocery store parking lot is twice as big and he’s been returning the carts for years!

First day, I ask the intern why he’s with my son and he said he just wanted him to make it safely to the library. I explained that wasn’t necessary and thanked him. The next day, my son slipped out without him, met me right smack out front and then asked if he could meet me at the library. I decide to move my car to a shadier spot and find my son on the library steps with the intern who’s followed him. Geesh people. He’s TEN!

In the non Free-Range world, alas, ten is the new two.  — Lenore

33 Responses

  1. I agree about 10 being the new 2. The way I have heard people talk they treat preteens like they are infants and incapable of even basic thought. Now teens are the new 8 year olds, except they are allowed to drive. I don’t get that. It’s like they hit 16 and suddenly are able to take care of themselves. Sadly, since most kids are never given the opportunity before that they really don’t know how to take care of themselves and then are freed on the world sitting behind the wheel of a 2000lbs accident waiting to happen.

    Yet I’m the one chastised because I expect my kids to be accountable for themselves and look out for each other and just generally be responsible. I’m told they are too young to be expected to do anything. I guess kids have gotten really dumb in the last couple of generations. I know I was capable of looking out for my brother when I was 9/10 years old. I was also capable of walking around the block, going to the deli to buy chips and a soda and making mac & cheese on the stove for my brother when we were left home while my mom did her weekly grocery shopping.

  2. I’ve worked at a summer camp way worse than this. You think escorting a 10 year old is bad, how about not letting 16 and 17 year olds walk unescorted places? Even crazier is that the 18 year old counselor is magically somehow able to do all the 17 year old can’t.
    Camps are obsessed with liability. We had a rule for a bit banning cameras including camera phones (you can bet that went over well with parents wanting to call their kids) because some camp somewhere else in the country had some kid who took photos of girls changing in the bathroom and posted them online.

  3. Since they are so worried about your son and the potential dangers walking to the library you should turn it around on them and say you are uncomfortable with this intern who seems to be “stalking” your son after the camp is over.

    I kid of course. If you did that he would probably go to Jail and never be able to work with kids again.

  4. This is all due to the parents. I was going to share stories but they reveal too much that perhaps I shouldn’t share from my experience volunteering at day camp for Cub Scouts.

    I mean, parents threatening lawsuits, wanting only people over 18 being counselors at camp, afraid of abductions by strangers, saying their ex-husband may kidnap the child, etc.

    Additionaly the issue of totally inept kids who act irreponsibly—not all kids are independent and can keep themselves safe, some are reckless! I have seen kids do really stupid things, dangerous stuff to themselves and others & also cruel things to little animals and insects, frogs, turtles etc. With some kids when they are out of your sight for a second all heck breaks loose. I can only imagine if there was not a strict sign-out for each kid.

    The parents want this security and so they got it.

    The poor nonprofits running camps spend a lot of time and effort trying to protect themselves against lawsuits and also spend time dealing with ridiculous parents who complain and make certain demands.

    Oh the stories I could share…

    I like the kids it is some of the parents that can drive you crazy!

  5. Parents are by far the hardest part about organizing activities for kids!

    I understand that these kinds of sign-out forms are there because parents want them, and because some kids need to be supervised. There’s no reason, though, that there shouldn’t be a release form. I get charged extra if I’m late to pick up my kid from her after school program (she’s only 7; I don’t really want her walking home and staying there alone for 4 hours… plus she likes the program, she has friends there). Yet I or someone authorized is req

  6. (continued… not sure what I did)
    Yet I or someone authorized is required to sign her out. If they’d just let her play outside, or walk up to the bookstore 3 doors down and meet me there, there would be no problem… as it is I’m always struggling to get there on time and someone is forced to stay with her.

  7. It’s the litigation! I know I’ve said it before on a previous post, but we as a society in the United States brought this upon ourselves by deciding that it was ok to sue people for doing things we didn’t like, and it’s just gotten out of hand.

    While I understand the mother’s frustration and the fact that I’d be frustrated too, at the same time, understanding is required on the part of the non-profit who may just be letting a 10-year-old out of sight whose parent is a complete waste of space. The minute that 10-year-old trips over a crack in the sidewalk, the parent gets to take money from the non-profit.

    It’s sad.

  8. When I was 16 (2001) I went to a 8 week camp in Boston where we were allowed free range of the city in our free time. We had a reasonable curfew of 11 or so, and had to be out in groups after dark.

    6 years later, I am a counselor for a different camp of 16 year olds, and I’m instructed to never allow them out of my sight for 2 weeks. In Stanford CA! It was one of the safest areas I’d ever been in.

    I was shocked by such a huge change over a few years. Maybe its just because my parents always expected me to have some common sense.

  9. @Nicola: Of course it’s the litigation. This sort of thing has very little to do with keeping kids safe, and EVERYTHING to do with CYA. Safety is just a convenient excuse.

    Now if we could only convince judges to dismiss patently ridiculous lawsuits before they drag on and threaten to bankrupt everyone…

  10. Yes, and I find that unfortunately, the feeling that ten is the new two is pervasive and absorbed by our children. After a week with me alone on vacation, I finally had my daughter “de-briefed” from this mentality.
    Upon her return to the “real world” it took only two or three days of dubious restrictions courtesy of those less enlightened than say, those who love her best – like her PARENTS! – to scare her back into hesitancy.

    We are fighting an uphill battle people. It’s a battle we’re fighting, but the people losing are our kids.

  11. It’s definitely a liability concern, but the approach is all wrong. NO, a camp (or school, child care, or any other organization) should not be responsible for a child once they’ve left the facility. YES, there are parents who will sue at the first opportunity. The obvious solution, though, is to require a release form. I’ve seen these; my daughter is a member of the Boys & Girls Club, which has open drop in hours for ages 6+… they have an “open door” policy, and it’s made very clear upon joining that the club is not responsible for children who are not in the building. They also run an after school program at one of the elementary schools… it’s a fairly densely populated area, so most kids live very closeby and the registration form has a section for parents to sign if they want to release their child to walk home on their own at the end of the program… kids still have to “sign out”, but they can do so themselves, and the program does not accept liability once they are signed out. It seems to work just fine.

  12. “You think escorting a 10 year old is bad, how about not letting 16 and 17 year olds walk unescorted places?”

    The whole point of going to camp is about gaining a sense of autonomy and freedom in a safe place. If someone is always watching how can you sneak out and fool around with boys of sneak a cigarette for the 1st time or go look at a dead snake? I shaved my legs for the 1st time at camp and got my 1st kiss and danced with a boy…slowly.

    (I know smoking is evil and all, but really that’s what we did when I went to summer camp and it was GLORIOUS to be so free of adult supervision…and that’s coming from a kid of the 60’s/70’s who did not have the kind of crazy, over the top, never let them out of your sight parents most kids seem to have now. )

  13. Last summer, my (then) 10 year old attended a science-based day camp conducted at one of the local middle schools. For check-out, I could either come in and sign him out myself, or check the box called “walk home unsupervised”. Pleasantly surprised that I wouldn’t have to schlep the 3 yr old in every afternoon, I checked the box and turned to my son and said, “I’ll be out in the parking lot at pick-up time.”

    The woman handling the intake forms said, “No, ma’am. That box is for kids who walk home, not car riders.”

    Dumbfounded, I asked her how far I needed to park from the school for him to qualify. She had to get her manager’s approval, but finally he was allowed to walk outside the school unattended and carefully traverse the dangerous 20 yards to my car.

  14. I’m guessing that when my 8 month old is 10, I’ll be arrested for letting her go downstairs and get the mail in our apartment building by herself?

  15. If I were someone running a camp like this the only reason I wouldn’t let a kid cross the parking lot unsupervised would be if people were known for not driving safely in it. I’m much more afraid of Gabe getting hit by a car then being kidnapped. We have a little backpack with leash for him in high traffic areas because he hates to hold hands and doesn’t listen when you ask/tell/yell at him to stop and wait for you.

  16. I have a friend whos daughter, when she was just shy of 3 years old, started to choke on a Jolly Rancher that she was given by her 8 year old cousin who didnt know any better. The cousin did, however, know the Heimlich and rectified the situation within seconds. Daughter has just turned 10 and for her birthday was given a bag of hard candy from another friend and it was confiscated as soon as it was unwrapped because of the “dangerous nature” (my friends words) of hard candy. This child is so overly protected that she is scared to walk to the park alone in a town where she is related to everyone but me (not an exaggeration) and the park is less than 1/4 mile from her house. Her mother watches her walk from our office to her grandmothers house next door (less than 250 yards away) because they, mom and daughter, are worried that something might happen to her. Nothing has ever happened to a child here that wasnt an accident along the lines of tripping over your own feet but even that is a thought too horrible to bear thinking of.

    Its amazing to me that the level of CYA that has been created in years of litigation has caused such a babying of children that they are no longer the little independent souls but sheltered and stunted in their personal growth.

  17. knittingfisher

    My sister and her SIL went to a restaurant together with their kids. When told how long the wait (over an hour with a toddler and PK) would be they decided to leave and find some where with a shorter wait.

    As they were walking to the car SIL’s son starts choking. SIL freezes and Sis grabs the boy and starts trying to clear his air way. The first time didn’t work and the boy was turning blue. So she yells at SIL to call 911, while Sis continued to try and clear his airway.

    Just as the EMT’s arrive Sis gets the airway clear. It was a mint. The boy must have taken it from the hostess bowl while Sis and SIL were discussing where to go. The EMT’s check over the boy – and threaten both Sis and SIL with CPS. Apparently a 3 or 4 yo child grabbing a mint out of an open bowl is horrendous child neglect.

    Sis is a social worker – she got the EMT’s information – and filed a complaint. No problems with CPS.

    The restaurant was falling all over themselves offering Sis and SIL immediate seating and free meals because they were afraid of a law suit. Sis and SIL declined because they just wanted to go home and collapse at that point.

  18. My children have had a very different camp experience. In the car on the way home the only thing they could talk about was this one game they had played. The campers were split into teams of two and given a map of the camp. Then they had to set off and find the counselors hidden on the campus. The counselors were all dressed up as different wacky characters. The first team to find all the counselors won. That game made my children feel so grown-up.

  19. I was about was free-range a kid as they got, but my seven-year-old is not.

    Your blog’s thesis is a new one to me and I look forward to reading more of it so maybe I can find ways to safely loosen up on my child a bit. I have to say tho, I’m so conditioned to keeping my eyes on her all the time, I’ll be one hard nut to crack.

  20. @Jannie – It gets easier as you see that she’s safe for that 5 minutes on her bike, then 10, then 15. The world is a great place and there is no better way to teach that than to let your kids explore it.

  21. There are elements of this foolishness everywhere, but it seems to be orders of magnitude worse in your litigation-prone country.

    We assume that our kids are well looked after at holiday programmes because they’re still there when we arrive to pick them up. Both our kids have special health needs but we don’t seem to have to sign any extra releases or anything; we just make sure the staff are briefed on what and what not to do.

    One of the kids’ favourite activities when camping over summer is playing “spotlight” with other families. This is played after dark and involves them and their friends (aged maybe 5-10) hiding around the campground (sometimes in bushes, or down in the creek) while the adults try to find them at maybe 10 o’clock at night. No-one really organises it; it just seems to happen.

    Great fun.

  22. If Americans weren’t so litigious, I’d think this was ridiculous. From a pure liability standpoint, I understand why the camp does what it does. Doesn’t matter what is in writing from mom or dad, they can still sue. I am only surprised that they don’t send *two* interns, so that the child can’t accuse the single intern of molestation.

  23. The issue of litigation may have some merit, but my gut tells me it is a red herring. All the camp, or school, etc. has to do is have the parents sign a waiver saying that they allow their child to be dismissed without a parent or guardian present. Once that waiver is on file the school or camp isn’t going to be held liable.

    My friend’s daughter is 12 and isn’t allowed to be dismissed from her CLASSROOM after band practice without her mother parking the car and going into the school to retrieve her. My friend has requested repeatedly that her daughter be allowed to leave the classroom and walk to the front of the school where she can meet her at the car. (My friend also has twins who are 2 and getting them in and out of the car to pick up their older sister is a nightmare, especially in winter or when it’s raining.) The school refuses and insists that she be picked up in the classroom. It’s insane. Thank goodness their family is free-range everywhere else in their lives.

  24. Wow. Round here, parents can’t just walk willy-nilly into schools because – lol – it’s considered a serious safety risk!

  25. When I Was 10, I’d ride my bike a few miles to my friend’s house. In the afternoon, after school. And my parents weren’t even home! I know, shocking… I’d just tell my brother where I was going.

  26. […] Free-Range Kids Outrage of the Week: 10-year-old Forbidden to Cross Parking Lot Hi Free-Rangers: Here’s a note from a mom who just wants her son to NOT be treated like a baby or invalid. […] […]

  27. I am troubled by the double messages that our kids receive. On one hand, a 10-year old is told that he can’t cross the parking lot by himself. The media constantly tells parents and caregivers what danger lurks out there. Meanwhile, the same media (in the guide of kids’ shows) tells kids that parents are stupid and that they are “grown up” in some of the most bizarre ways.

    I mean, girls younger and younger wear makeup, high heels, and skimpy clothes — and we’re not talking during play/dress-up time here. Boys are exposed to an incredible amount of violence and emotional issues (seen the live-action Transformers movie?).

    However, neither group is “supposed” to be given the tools to deal with or understand those things. (I say “supposed” given what can and cannot be discussed at school and what many parents DON”T talk about with their kids.)

    Kids want to do “grown-up” things and, if we don’t teach them responsibility and provide avenues for them to do this (like crossing the parking lot), they will try to emulate “grown-up” behavior in other, more negative ways.

  28. … and the day after I gloatingly mention how much better things are in New Zealand, I read in the paper that the Children’s Commissioner complained about a father “taking a risk” by allowing his kids to play in the park unattended.


  29. Things have gotten so crazy with kids these days not to mention the people that want to sue someone at the drop of a hat.

    Just this weekend we had a family member have a bit of a fit because I was letting my 18 1/2 month old son play with a bucket of water in the back yard not more than 50 feet from me. His comment was that “playing with water in buckets is unsafe” and I replied with, “Sure if you leave the kid unattended, which I’m not”. He was smart enough to keep his mouth shut and not reply

  30. Complain to the camp that you don’t want your son minded by such a young, UNESCORTED person, and insist that the intern have a (older) intern mind the first intern.

    Rinse, repeat.

    Once the ‘train’ of minders is long enough, give your kid a drum and Drum-major hat, so he can lead the parade across the parking lot, take a detour down the street, maybe hit the mall, city hall, etc.

  31. If you think your son is responsible enough to walk a cross a small parking lot,he should be able to its nobody else’s problem.

  32. Really cool I love examples of the articles that have been written, and especially the comments posted! I will come back!

  33. It now occurs to me (as mentioned by other commentors, actually) that perhaps we’re skirting the real issue here:
    Liabilities are nasty roaches to exterminate – by corpo-bullies everywhere.
    Seems the population at large must kowtow to this new reality (that being the opportunities for any corporate reality involving “child” safety) to avoid any dangerous pitfalls that may cost them precious money.
    Therefor the kids being profit and loss statements, and not kids at all, in the social context.
    A sad state of affairs.

    Any wonder that brain-dead behaviour on the part of over-anxious “guardians” is encouraged?
    We’re not supposed to think (or endow our kids with that marvellous skill.)
    We’re supposed to not mess with the shareholders’ profit margins.

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