Argh!!

Hi Readers — This just in. So much for changing the world in one fell swoop.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I really enjoyed the article in Time, and decided to have a talk with my 6 year old daughter about independence. She was very inspired and asked if she could ride her scooter around the block by herself. With helmet on, she headed down the sidewalk, where a neighbor stopped her, told her that Stranger Danger was out there and could get her, and said she needed to turn around right away and go home. I fear this movement could take many generations to sort out!

59 Responses

  1. It’s too bad your child didn’t– at the moment your neighbor started talking to her– start screaming, “STRANGER!! STRANGER!!! DANGER!! YOU’RE NOT MY PARENT!!!” just so that your neighbor would get a small idea of how rediculous s/he was being.

  2. Give her a note. “My mom said I could ride my scooter around the block because she knows that it’s a REALLY small chance any stranger is going to swoop me up. My neighborhood is full of good folks like you!”

  3. Good grief.

  4. BTW, just today I thought of ya’ll when a little girl–perhaps 4 years old, wandered a whole 3 feet from Mommy’s side whilst Mommy bought the Slurpees. “Sweetheart,” said Mommy, “I told you to stay right by my side. You don’t want someone to grab you away, do you?” Sheesh. I wanted to scream.

  5. How do you get past worrying about traffic? It’s the one thing really holding back my otherwise pretty free-ranging kids.

    We live on a somewhat busy street in our subdivision. I hold my breath whenever our 6 year old is out in the front yard, where he’s allowed to roam 1 house in either direction. I’m still not comfortable when our 10 year old rides around the neighborhood on her bike. Heck, I’ve almost been hit on our street by drivers texting or whatever it is that they’re doing staring down at their laps while driving.

  6. Jon, I tell my kids often and oftener, “Pay attention to the traffic because they’re not necessarily paying attention to you.” So far, so good.

    however, I do have to say that we stood once at our driveway, waiting for the schoolbus, and an idiot, to avoid rearending a car, swerved at US and jumped the sidewalk. I was paying attention and shoved my 6yo into the yard and he missed us by feet. So not even the sidewalk is “safe”, so it’s always, pay attention.

  7. and I HATE that the notify me box is always AFTER the submit comment button…

  8. Oh Jeezum Pete! LOL, I love HSmom’s solution. I had a good giggle over that one! I’m glad the neighbor was concerned with the child’s welfare, but seriously…society needs to take a chill pill these days. Oy!

  9. traffic is why my kids don’t walk the whole way to school. i’ve had people ignore me, a good-sized adult, to speed up thru a light or whatever; Godknows what they’d do to my little guys. sorry, no solution, just commiseration.

  10. Yeah, traffic is a tough one. Even on our street, which doesn’t connect to any of the major streets, some people tend to really speed. I guess that over time you just have to pay attention to how well your children pay attention. But this does seem to me that this is basing your free-range decisions on actual circumstances rather than on statistical improbabilities. Some streets just do have heavier traffic, and that requires a different kind of response.

  11. Traffic sucks. I live in the city so we have long, straight (mostly one way) residential streets with grass buffers between the sidewalks and streets (plus the parked cars). I have no problems with the kids playing out front and all the intersections around here have stop signs and every other intersection has a stupid roundabout (which are annoying for drivers but do little else).
    We get a lot of traffic on our street as people try to avoid the traffic jam on the busy cross road down the block. But I feel okay letting the kids cross at the corner on their own (I get more nervous the closer we get to the school because the other parents drive like idiots) but I still can’t bring myself to let the kids ride around the block.

    They wouldn’t be crossing any streets but they would have to cross the entrances to the alley in between our street and the next one over and, despite laws to slow down and beep your horn before exiting the alley, people come flying in and out of the small space with little regard for people of any size that may be walking past. I’d probably let them ride straight down the street a couple blocks, crossing at the cross walk before I let them go around the block.

  12. We were just at a yard sale today with a grandmother and her about 6 year old granddaughter. It was cool and drizzly so grandma sat in the back of the garage, and any time granddaughter was not in direct site, she scolded her to come back. On the driveway in front of the house, 30′ away, but out of line of site was not ok. I really felt sorry for the poor kid. She may as well have had a leash.

    This was on a deserted residential street.

    I was really tempted to say “You know, Jaycee was in site too” but I’m quite certain it would not have had the desired effect.

  13. Nosy weird ladies are a whole lot commoner than child-predators, and probably will be forevermore.

    If she weren’t being weird about that, she’d have something else stuck in her craw.😀

  14. “Stop, look and listen before you cross the street,
    use your eyes, use your ears, then use your feet.”

    I learned that in nursery school, aged 4.

  15. Who said starting a movement was supposed to be easy?

    You need to talk to your daughter about traffic danger, of course. But you also need to talk to her about stranger paranoia. You need to explain that the nice neighbor was only trying to help, but that the nice neighbor was WRONG. You need to ride around the block with her one more time, just to show her that no bad people are lurking. And then, you need to encourage her to try it again.

    And if Nosy Neighbor butts in again, have a few polite but firm words in private.

  16. I agree with the 1st comment. Try teaching your kids a “stranger dance” or a good robot voice “Danger Will Robinson, Danger!” impersonation. This should help them to demonstrate to the friendly stranger that it’s ridiculous to assume every stranger is dangerous.

  17. The reason kids used to be more free range was BECAUSE of nosy neighbors. People were home and kept an eye out for each other’s kids. If I misbehaved or fell off my bike and got hurt my mom knew about it long before I ever got home. I think the lady should have called home to check and see if the mom knew her daughter was out riding. Then mom could tell her it was okay, or go get her child if it wasn’t. The fact is it is not the norm anymore for a 6 year old to be out unsupervised. This lady was trying to help. We want people to be concerned when they see a child who might need assistance and not just ignore it so that kids can have the freedom to be independent again. What if the kids mom had thanked the neighbor for her concern, explained her daughter had the freedom to go around the block, and told her to feel free to call in an emergency.

  18. My six year old has been known to tell such neighbors “I’m not allowed to talk to strangers and I don’t know you” and then go merrily on his way. I have told him he can always have the neighbor walk down the street and talk to me if he/she is really concerned, but so far nobody has.

  19. We just had a 12 year old boy by a 17 year old driver, she fled the scene and tried to cover up the damage. She went through a red light speeding, while he was in the cross walk. Thank God the 12 year old survived.

    Maybe people are such inattentive drivers, because they’ve never been pedestrians themselves?

  20. Geesh

    We just had a 12 year old boy HIT by a 17 year old driver…

  21. Hmmm…My five year old rides her bike by herself down the block. (Maybe not around the block, which is one mile for us, but down the block and back up.) No one has stopped her yet to warn her of stranger danger…I wouldn’t let her go AROUND the block at this age, though. But riding bikes and scooters and scateboards just on our street is common among the kids.

  22. And I’ll add my main concern for letting her go no farther than our block is traffic. Cars don’t even stop sometimes for busses with the stop sign out. I really think it is TRAFFIC, and not fear of kidnapping, that prevents most parents from letting their kids free-range more. The fact of the matter is (I live in the same neighbourhood in which I grew up), traffic is 10 times more severe than it was when I was a kid. The chances of being hit by a car were a lot slimmer then, and there were no busy highways without crossing lights to cross.

  23. we have a lot of traffic and a lot of people who drive while using their smart phones/texting. also, no sidewalks on my road. add the rain in, and it’s not so great. however, we haven’t had a kid hit by a car, just some near misses, like a car plowing into a neighbor’s tree to avoid a kid last winter.

    biggest barrier to free-range for us is me, hand-down. i spent a few years volunteering for NCMEC and receiving every single missing child report for the west coast, as well as reading through all the NISMART reports that come out of CCRC, and i’m just now starting to get rational about it again.

  24. I know this is off topic regarding the original posting but I would still like to comment on the posts about cars..

    My daughter was hit by a car 3 years ago at the age of 7.. She and her 8 year old brother were running an errend and fetching milk from the local shop about 5-10 minutes from home. Something they had been doing without incident for a couple of years. She had run up to the crossing and didn’t notice the crossing light was red (no crossing till it was green) and a car hit her, catching her with his indicator on one side. She was thrown up in the air and bounced down on the road.

    Her brother and a man who stopped to help ran back to the house to tell me what had happened, leaving her in the care of a lady who also stopped to help.. Naturally fearing the worse I ran to the accident scene to find my daughter wrapped up in blankets at the side of the road with the ambulance in attendance. She was scared, bruised and grazed but thankfully had sustained no other injuries..

    Did this event make me change the way I’m raising my children? No.. My kids still run errends to the shop, still go to town to spend their pocket money, still walk to school on their own albeit with a very healthy respect for traffic now.

    I will admit it scared the wotsits out of both my children, and us as a family, but the accident was my daughters fault, not the car drivers. There was no way he could have avoided hitting her as she ran out right in front of him.. In fact when he came round a few days later to check how my daughter was he was told that we didn’t hold him responsible in any way.. The relief on his face was was plainly evident.

    I had a ‘chat’ with my daughter, making sure she knew that she was responsible for the accident by not paying attention and looking properly. It was a hard lesson to learn but I wasn’t having her blaming the car driver as she tried to do. I also pointed out how upset the car driver must be feeling having hit her.

    She was off school for a few days and when she returned I had a chat with the teacher and asked if they could do a road safety lesson for the other children in her class. According to the teacher she stood up and told her friends what she had done, her head held high, and admitted that she had been wrong not to look properly. The other kids then had a chance to ask my daughter questions.

    I felt it was important that my daughter told her friends what had happened, as it doesn’t matter sometimes how much you hammer good advice into kids, seeing the evidence in front of their eyes can sometimes help more. We were very lucky that day, if the driver had hit my daughter straight on her injuries would have been much worse.

    My daughter, very naturally, was scared of crossing the road after that so we put her ‘in charge’ of road safety in our house. She was the one who could say when we could or could not cross the road and after a month or so her previous confidence returned, with a very healthy respect as to what could happen if you don’t pay attention.

    She, and her brother, learned a very valuable lesson that day and I am so very grateful that she was ok but it was an accident, and no matter how much you instill the right advice in your kids accidents do sometimes still happen..

  25. I taught my kids a couple of things that my dad taught me about the “rules of the road”.
    1. Anything with wheels belongs on the right side of the road (at least in the US).
    2. Anyone walking belongs on the left side of the road since you can see more clearly the cars coming toward you than the ones behind you.
    Of course, you can only teach your children to be wary of cars and hope that the drivers are paying attention themselves.

  26. Chrissy, I applaud you for how yopu handled it, alot of parents woulda sued the driver, or not allow the child to leave the house.

    Yeah, I am with everyone that one of the biggest issues preventing children from being free range is traffic. Hardly anyone watches where they are going, and I gotta include pedestrians in this too, you don’t want to know how often I have seen moms with kids lagging behind cut across the street though traffic instead of just walking the extra block or two to the stop lights. A few days ago I saw two moms with a strollers run across the street and walk in the middle of another street instead of using the sidewalks. Starting them young I guess, lol. These same kids grow up to be the bad drivers. I also think, people are in such a rush to get places NOW they don’t take the time to pay attention. I wouldn’t be suprised if a star trek style beam where invented you get molucular colisions(or atoms, however the beams worked), possibly causing mini black holes, and people would be saying ” well, it’s more convient” =oP

    HSmom….I’d pay to see that!

    On the actual subject pertaining to the letter….no kidding on saying this will take generation to fix this. I have the feeling that when my grandkids are playing on the street busybodies will be coming out “It’s too dangerous, stranger danger is after you!”

  27. LauraL,

    That reminds me of something that happened when I was a kid. I grew up on a busy street, so my mother arranged for the driveway to be my bus stop. My house was just south of a “T” intersection.

    One day the bus driver saved my life from a car that had tried to pass to the right — the car driver must have thought that the line of cars behind the bus was there because someone was turning left at the intersection. When the bus stopped, the bus driver saw what was happening and screamed so loud that I stopped in place and cried (I must have been 7). The car missed me by inches.

    My parents wouldn’t let me ride my bike on the road out front…which was smart, since we didn’t have sidewalks. We did play almost exclusively in the street behind my house, which was part of a subdivision.

  28. Re: Kid Safety and Road Safety –

    It is ironic that we tend to fear for the safety of our kids in “citified” areas such as downtown (LOTS of STRANGERS, EVERYWHERE!).

    Urban centers are usually much safer for pedestrians – lots of traffic controls, stoplights, pedestrian crossings, and almost always proper sidewalks. It is in the suburbs and rural areas where kids are needing to cross driveways and alleys, where higher speeds are permitted on rural roads, or multi-lane suburban through-ways, where sometimes sidewalks are not even installed – as the assumption made in the planning process is that everyone will drive everywhere. In addition, where there are few pedestrians, drivers lose the awareness that they need to actively look out for pedestrians.

    As it is many, many, times more likely that a child will be harmed in a vehicle-child accident than by a lurking stranger, perhaps the real challenge to the free-range philosophy is a civic planning process that values autonomy and privacy over opportunity for community, not to mention a process that prioritizes vehicle access over use of community space by people.

  29. Absolutely traffic is the major block to me letting my kids be more free range. They are 10 and 12 now and we live a half mile from their school. I would let them walk to school together EXCEPT that they have to cross a major intersection to do so. The intersection has a walk light, but I’ve seen more than a dozen accidents at that intersection over the four years we’ve lived here. People don’t pay attention or are just jerks who think the rules don’t apply to them.

  30. “People don’t pay attention or are just jerks who think the rules don’t apply to them.”

    Where’s Al Paccino when you need him.

    “Kids are walkin’ here!”

  31. We used to play in the street. Kickball, street hockey, you name it…we played it in the street in front of our house. We knew when a car was coming, we moved, and then picked up where we left off after the car passed. I’m 38. My kids are 9, 7, and 3. I’m more concerned about the teen drivers than strangers. This is an aspect that makes me unable to go completely Free Range with my kids. We live near a high school, and the teenagers are forever speeding down our street.

  32. As horrible as it is, we still need to prepare our kids to face the difficulty of being pedestrians or bicyclists, and the sooner, the better. The traffic situation is not going to magically go away when our kids grow older.
    Think – what are the techniques that you use as an adult, to keep yourself safe? There’s a lot more to it than just “Look both ways.” Kids will only learn these skills by actively practicing these skills, and they will only have the opportunity to practice if we allow them the freedom to get out there.

  33. ::Sigh::

    Yes, it’s going to take a generation to fix it. But we won’t fix it at all if we run away and hide every time someone tells us we’re doing it wrong.

    I have a seven-year-old, and I expect to start having things like this happen very soon. So far this school year she has gone into the corner bakery alone to buy bagels (she did that last year as well); played outside in front of our building on her own for maybe 20 minutes; stayed by herself at the bus stop (also right in front of our building, but closer to the street) for a few minutes while I ran upstairs to get my forgotten transit pass; taken the garbage down the corridor to the garbage chute; learned to run our new washing machine and (standing on a stepstool) dryer; gone down the block and around the corner from the playground near her Sunday school to buy a drink at the corner store; and gone on her own to buy muffins while I stood in line for my latte and her hot chocolate at a different place (still within hailing distance). As yet all responses, if any, have been positive; the ladies in the bakeries and shops think she’s cute, and when she has an errand to run she looks very confident and sure of herself, so they don’t immediately assume she’s lost or neglected. But oh, the looks I’ve gotten from certain other parents sometimes …

    @Chrissy — what a scary experience! And how marvellously your family handled it. My daughter and I had an analogous (though orders of magnitude less serious) experience yesterday in a restaurant where we often go for lunch after her Sunday school finishes: as we were leaving, she bumped into a server carrying a bowl of hot soup (or possibly the server bumped into her: I honestly didn’t see what happened, but neither of them was running or anything), and a bit of the soup spilled on her. She was upset, and the server was upset, and staff and customers rushed in with napkins and cold water and cookies and chocolate milk. I think they must have been expecting that I would freak out and demand some kind of compensation, because the poor server looked ready to cry when I said “It’s okay, she’s fine, it was an accident, don’t worry!” — and she really was fine. (I wouldn’t have hesitated to make a stink if she’d been really injured and I believed the server was at fault.) I thought at first she’d have a small, minor burn, but whether because of the timely application of cold water or because the soup wasn’t all *that* hot, by the time we got home half an hour later there was no sign of any damage (though she found the soup smell upsetting and wanted to get into the bath immediately we got in the door). It makes me wonder how other people have reacted to similar accidents in the past …

  34. Is it general consensus that’s it’s wrong to teach the child to say, “BITE ME!”?

    Oh, it is?

    There goes my idea…

    In all seriousness, while I applaud the “takes a village” mentality shown by the grandmotherly woman in approaching and helping advise the kid, I’d like to think that I wouldn’t step out and turn the child around in the direction of home.

    Someone else’s kid; therefore, it’s not my place to instruct and/or scare them in the ways of life. That said, if I WAS terribly worried about a particular situation or saw a super-young child out on her own, I might casually observe — but there are boundaries there, yeah?

    At least she was acting in the community spirit, which we tout here quite a bit. That’s something.

    Besides; if the mother immediately caught and corrected the scare-tactic thinking, then no harm was done.

  35. @sylvia_rachel

    “It makes me wonder how other people have reacted to similar accidents in the past …”

    With lawsuits.

    That’s exactly the problem, and the reason for the overboard hospitality after the spill.

    Remember the “hot coffee” chick? She’s a millionaire…

  36. No, hot coffee ‘chick’ is not a millionaire.

    http://www.lectlaw.com/files/cur78.htm

    Juries are peers, not morons.

  37. @Chrissy

    How scary. My brother had a similar incident when we were kids (back in oh…1985 or so). He was maybe 7 or 8 and him and a friend went to the playground at the end of our block (across a street in a quiet, traffic wise, city residential neighborhood). The friend was 9 or 10. I was playing next door with the friend’s little sister (I was 10 and she was 6 or 7). All of a sudden we saw the friend come running down the street and bound up the stairs to our building. My dad came out, they spoke for a minute and then the friend went tearing back down the street, followed by my dad.

    By then I was freaking out and we took off after them. Come to find out my brother was about to cross the street, was screwing around and the friend yelled at him to watch out for the car which caused my brother to spin around. He then spun back around to the street and walked right into the moving car. We laugh about it now because he hit the car, not the other way around.

    But they called 911, my brother’s ankle was all bruised up but not broken and my dad drove him to the ER. The people that hit him, an elderly couple, called and sent a card to make sure he was okay but no one got sued or investigated by DCFS. We were still allowed to wander the neighborhood but my brother did get a lecture about crossing the street properly.

    I actually got into an argument online the other day about letting kids be independent. I was told it was wrong to allow my 3yo to get up before me and watch TV because you never know what she might get into and when that happens I’ll be the only person to blame. On the contrary, when my kids get into trouble I blame them for doing things they know they shouldn’t be doing. My 3yo knows better. She’s been getting up on her own for a year now and has never gotten into anything.

    My other kids…less better behaved. My son did once almost cut the tip of his finger off using a knife. He knew he wasn’t allowed to use the knife (it’s so sharp it has it’s own sheath to protect the blade and stray fingers) but he wanted to slice a tomato for his little sister. He was 5. He was so afraid to tell me he cut himself because he knew he did something wrong. In the end I patched him up and he got lectured about touching knives without supervision (by then he was allowed to use the serrated steak knives if we were around) and that was it. I never once blamed myself for leaving the knife on the table. He was the one that was wrong and he knew it.

    The way other people talk, kids today can’t be held responsible for anything they do because they are just kids and obviously are stupid or something and can’t figure out right from wrong before they are teens. My 3yo knows better then to touch knives and never has except to move them out of her way if they are left on the table.

  38. @jen, that reminds me of an incident in about 1985… I was driving my gigantic car up a 35mph road, that several residential streets T-d into. I was on my way to work. A girl,l about 10 or 12 years old, on a bicycle came out of one of those side streets and didn’t stop – she ran right into my car.

    I collected her, took her home, left my name and number with her family – I can’t remember if her mom was there or a sister, but someone – and went on to work, shaken.

    The mom called my mom and started threatening insurance claims, lawsuits, etc because the girl had hurt her ankle and the bike was damaged. She would not listen to reason at all – her CHILD had been struck by a CAR and she was going to GET HER JUST DESSERTS!

    Well, finally, my mom got the DAD on the phone and he was calmer and tried to re-explain it, until my mom pointed out that the BIKE struck ME – unless there was some magical way that my right rear fender suddenly went sideways and struck the bike.

    He verified that verbally? My mother offered to show him the car. He’d find no damage to the front end of the car in anyway – the bike hit THE CAR.

    he said thank you and we won’t be bothering you again.

    I think the child got a lesson in STOPPING and LOOKING FOR TRAFFIC before just riding out into it!

    Which is what I am teaching my children. STOP. LOOK. LISTEN. they are just as responsible for their own safety and risk assessment as drivers are for where their cars go in accordance with traffic laws.

  39. re: the original post
    I just wanted to say that would like to think I can tell the difference between a lost/scared or otherwise ‘endangered’ child and one who is just outside on their own. I would never stop a kid happily riding their scooter down the street to ask them where their mom or dad is. I would be too afraid to approach a child I wasn’t 100% sure needed assitance, because I would be too scared of being accused of something crazy.

  40. My daughter’s soon-to-be-ex-preschool (not for this reason, but for many that free range parents would understand) has a ride on toy. You push the different faces on the buttons and they say different things. “This is the fireman. In case of emergency, call 911.” “This is daddy. Always wear your seatbelt.” “This the the policeman. Don’t talk to strangers!” I about took a mallet to the darn thing. Instead I said, “What a silly thing to say!” No swearing in front of other people’s 4 year olds!

  41. You moms wrestleing with this now , take heart . I am a late ‘boomer,1952’ my daughter is 20 . do the math , was 37 when I had her . I gave her as much exposure as I could .Outside toys(swings, trampoline , big wheels ,etc)for her b-day in june . christmas was heavy in learning stuff like books and geo safari(it was cold in new england so good time to make learning fun .I let her watch tv and dvds includeing what I watched (better to have it come up when we could discuss things like sex and racism)I gave her a book on 8 children who had been kidnapped and abused with stories of how they turned the tables and escaped themselves . I believe forwarned is forearmed (knew one mom I loaned the book to who thought was too tramatic for her girl to read (have always feared for that child).I let my girl make “snow angels) in the mud of an indoor rideing areana (alittle dirt just builds imunities) after , the other mom and I hosed them off .I breast fed and made my own baby food (cheaper)In short I let her be a kid .At 18 months when she wanted to jump on furniture I gave her a jogging trampoline surrounded with quilts .She rode ponys (with a helmet ) climbed trees and ran races.My 9 lb baby girl is now Navy Intelligence service.I raised her to be strong ,smart and independent ,I think I did my job .Oh I watched over her but she seldom was aware of how much . Guided her to make smart choices but didn’t tell her what they should be .She is her own woman now and one I can be proud of .take heart , let them take risks , just quietly try to minimize the risks and be there to dust them off .when kids fall , they always look to mom “should I cry ?”just look back and ask them if they broke the floor .9 times out of 10 they will laugh with you ,if they don’t , then you know they really did get hurt and you can put things right for them .maybe a hug , maybe ice , maybe a trip to the Dr but never kill their sense of self and exploration.

  42. […] Argh!! Hi Readers — This just in. So much for changing the world in one fell swoop. Dear Free-Range Kids: I really […] […]

  43. Chrissi,

    You and her dad are my heroes. The free ranging parents are good at free ranging their kids, but it truly takes someone like you to continue after this. event.

    Sophie

  44. Chrissie,

    In other words, I would only hope that I could continue with the free-ranging after you event. I’d like to think I would, but it didn’t happen to me. SO, if something like this does happen, you are inspiration.

    Sophie

  45. Oh, that just about broke my heart!! I can just imagine this little girl being all excited at the chance to act like a BIG girl, and being squashed by the paranoid neighbor. That really sucks.

  46. Jean, I agree totally. Kids are going to have face it so we may as well teach them how do it safely. I walk with my kids a lot. By myself, I don’t always follow the walk signs but with my kids I always do. I also have taught them to look at oncoming traffic. I have them guess as to whether a certain car will slow down or stop. You can usually tell as they approach the intersection. It all goes back to instinct. If they are taught watch for they will usually be able see it.

    I live off a busy 4 lane road and my kids have been walking, crossing, riding bikes and scooters along it for years. I will admit though that Grandpa just bought my son, Joey, a skateboard and I have already informed Joe that until he becomes better at riding it, it will be on our street only.

    Kids can handle more than we give them credit for. Teach them that it is their responsibility to watch for traffic as the drivers won’t be looking out for them. My kids have been fine so far.

  47. A couple of weeks ago, my son, a 5th grader was given this assignment (and I quote):

    “Write a persuasive paragraph. The topic is: Not Talking To Strangers. Convince someone not to talk to a person they don’t know. What are the consequences of talking to a stranger? What should they do if a stranger talks to them?”

    I was so annoyed by this notion of teaching paranoia that he and I did a little brainstorming. (“Don’t talk to the waitress — you don’t know her! You might not get the any food, but at least you didn’t talk to a STRANGER!!” etc.) In the end, this is what he wrote (minus the spelling errors):

    “Never accept something or go with a stranger. They could be trying to kidnap you or doing something else illegal. However, talking to strangers is another matter unto itself. The majority of commercial transactions are with strangers. For example, when you are at the grocery store, the clerk you probably don’t know. When he or she asks if it will be paper or plastic, you don’t just ignore them because they are a stranger. The intention of the rule is a good one. But the rule itself is rather silly. Without talking to strangers, life would not be able to function. I am sorry about not following the assignment, but not talking to strangers is a rather bad rule. You might want to be cautious with strangers, but that doesn’t mean you should be rude and ignore them completely.”

    His teacher, to her great credit, said “Interesting point!” and later praised him again for his original thinking. So I guess there’s some hope — at least with a somewhat older teacher in Columbia, MO.

  48. Oh Wait! I have a good story! I was at Lands’ End this weekend with my 17 month old son. We were in the children’s play area and I was hanging out while my husband shopped. There were 5 other kids all under the age of 4 playing at the same time. Their mothers were all shopping, with no parent at their child’s side! And no one was freaked out that their children were talking to me!

    I fully intend to leave my son alone to play when he is at least 2 and is over the separation anxiety phase!

  49. This is THE THING that holds me back from being more Free Range with my kids. The other day, my five-year-old was scooting along and I actually had to explain to her that when we go into a busy area, like the neighborhood bike path that commuters use, she has to stay right by me because if she doesn’t, other people who see her often get scared and angry at me if they think she’s alone.

    She was rightly confused, but we hung together in the crowds and then I let her haul off a block ahead of me in the home stretch.

  50. UUGH!! This is the problem, you try to do the right thing for your kids and other nosy people sabotage it! Mind your own business people! Unless the kid is screaming and crying or bleeding!
    I can’t tell you how many times my teenagers have been picked up or offered a ride while walking or riding their bike to school, sometimes as a natural consequence for missing the school bus. Very annoying, Lenore, how do I handle that????

  51. Chrissy I applaud you and know that your children will grow up to be very successful because they know they are responsible for themselves and their actions. And thank goodness she was OK!
    What a relief it is to find other parents who believe that a 3 year old, 5 year old, etc can be responsible for their own actions.
    I had a horrible experience of my 3 year old riding away from me on his bike. The whole outing he had carefully listened and ridden to the spot I had asked him to and then carefully waited for me. That is until the end when he took off crossing driveways and parking lot entrances and out of my sight (he wasn’t ready for that free range step – we’re working up to it).
    I was nine months pregnant, so I couldn’t chase him and he either couldn’t hear or chose not to, because I couldn’t get him to stop. This went on for at least ten minutes of me yelling and chasing as best I could and he merrily riding along.
    Now what really gets me is that he passed all kinds of people and not a single person stopped him. They would look at me in distress and let him ride on by.
    When I finally caught him and laid in to him for not listening, I had a women yelling at me, telling me it was my fault and not to take it out on him.
    I was so angry that this women chose to involve herself when my son was no longer in danger, but was getting a lesson (albeit a bit hysterically because I was incredibly scared and upset and pregnant!) and didn’t involve herself when she could have stopped him as he rode right by her and he really might have been in danger. Another person suggested that I should have asked someone to stop him and I responded that I thought it was pretty obvious with me yelling behind him.
    I know I’m not perfect, but what lesson are we teaching a child if they don’t listen and do as they have been instructed and people tell them, that’s OK, your mother should have been watching over you better.

  52. I’m a dedicated free ranger. My kids have walked or biked to school by themselves since first and second grade.

    The other day, I saw a little boy, maybe 4 or 5 years old, playing at the corner not far from my house. He was throwing little pieces of shrub at cars that had stopped at the top sign to turn. His behavior was totally out of whack of course, but what worried me more was that he was venturing very close to the street, and I could very easily imagine a driver not seeing him and cutting the corner a little too close.

    I pulled over and told him to go home. He walked off down the block, I guess towards home.

    I wanted to stop and walk him home by the hand and tell his parents what he had been up to, but I didn’t know him or his parents and didn’t know where he lived.

    Not sure if that makes me the nosy neighbor or the good village mate or somewhere in between.

  53. My 7-year old son rode his bike down to the shopping center last week to get his haircut. The shopping center is two blocks away and is a smaller center. He has done this many times with his 9-year old brother, but this was the first time he went on his own.

    Someone did not like that my son was riding in the parking lot next to the sidewalk (my son did not want the security guard yelling at him for riding on the sidewalk) and came into the barber shop to “give him a talking to”. It was a waste of a conversation…if the this concerned person had felt my son had veered into traffic or made some other unsafe move, he could have been so much more effective if he had simply explained that to my son.

    Instead, all my son could explain to me is that some man stalked into the barber shop and yelled at him. The only thing I could offer, was that to walk his bike on the sidewalk of the shopping center in the future.

    We need more neighbors in the world and fewer “ranters”.

  54. Ha ha ha ha. I love the first comment. I can just see the guys head whipping back in forth at the fearful thought that he will be cuffed and carted away. The he scurries back into his house to let the kid finish her scooter ride and be a kid.

  55. I would be interested in a survey (a real one, I mean, at least attempting to be scientific in its construction and its sampling, not just an online poll) that tried to determine what percentage of people are non-Free Range or Free Range only to a very limited degree precisely because of public reaction, rather than actual fear of danger. I know personally, I’m probably above the median in being Free Range, but OTOH, there are quite a few things I won’t let my kids do that I consider safe, but I don’t want my kids to be stopped and questioned, or to have the phone ringing or somebody showing up at my door because I let my kids out of my sight.

  56. I am the Mom who wrote the “Argh” letter. I so appreciate all the feedback! I do understand all the comments about traffic safety – and I think it depends on the child. My daughter is the kind of kid that follows rules to the letter of the law, and always looks for cars. She would have to cross 2 alleys in her “scoot”, but I know that she ALWAYS stops at the alleyways and looks. I know other kids her age that, for whatever reason, aren’t aware of traffic, and if she were like that, I wouldn’t let her go around the block by herself.
    I was an extremely independent kid who walked a mile to school, played outside, and even taught myself – at 8 years old- to catch the bus, and transfer to go to the mall. Within reason, I would love for my children to have some of that freedom and independence. We must stop being so paranoid!

  57. I remember when I was a kid, there was this boy across the street whose grandmother was always poking her head out the curtains or the door, and yelling at him to come back if he went more than half a block away. She was crazy and mean.

    We all ran around doing whatever we liked.

    Today it seems like everyone’s parents are that crazy mean old grandma.

  58. We did the exact same thing–let our kid go around the block–shortly before his sixth birthday in July of this year. We let him do it a couple different days, and we told him not to stay on the other side of the block and come back soon–and he always did. About a week into this, though, he was led back by a neighbor, and we were informed that he had been trailed by a bunch of neighbors, who called the police. I was lectured in front of my son by the office who warned me to “be careful.” I asked him, “Is there something on the other side of the block I should know about?” He replied, “No, but you never know what’s out there.”

    We haven’t let him go around the block again yet, and our son still remembers the incident and holds a grudge against that policeman.

  59. Hi folks! It’s me, Lenore, just saying hello and checking to see how my comments button is working. L.

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