Just When You Thought Free-Range Kids Was Catching On…

Hi Readers — Here’s a link to my essay on ParentDish, “Can a Mom Leave Her Kid Alone at the Library for Three Minutes?” It’s about a mom who left her kid in the children’s room to run upstairs and check out a book in the adult department. She told the librarian she’d be back in a few minutes and the librarian warned her that this was okay, but that the dangers of the real world lurk in the library too.  My piece said that while I don’t think librarians should be treated like babysitters, this seemed like a fine, short, safe thing for the mom to do. And by the way: There was no one else in the children’s room!

Well the piece has garnered 1300 responses so far.  Here’s a typical one:


And another:

“Here is an example of the social contract. When you decided to become a parent, you accepted that being a parent means Every. Single. Second. There is no such thing as a free range parent.”

And another:


Personally, I’ve gotten so used to reading the comments here on Free-Range Kids that I was stunned anew by the  conviction that children are in grave danger for their lives EVERY SECOND their parents’ eyes are not upon them.

Not to mention the usual vitriol, and the joy in blaming a mom for something that did not end up tragically. But, you know, COULD have. — Lenore

Job description: Have child. Never let go. Ever.

133 Responses

  1. This reminds me of something I saw on the ‘net the other day: http://www.passiveaggressivenotes.com/2010/02/15/spoken-like-someone-who-has-never-tried-to-take-a-one-year-old-shopping/

    People always have an opinion about something even if they don’t fully understand it. Anyone who has raised a child knows the challenges of it all. I haven’t raised a child but I don’t pass judgement on parents for what they choose to do concerning day-to-day living.

    Parents today are afflicted by the danger of knowing just enough to get themselves into a tizzy. Lenore reveals that the statistics simply don’t add up the way the media would like you to believe…but most parents don’t seem to want to know about it. Why is this dangerous? These parents are depriving children of the very freedom that makes being a child exciting and a period of personal growth.

  2. It’s true, there is no such thing as a Free Range Parent. There are, however, Free Range Kids. Thankfully mine is one of them. And to provide a counter balance, we just found him a preschool that let’s him hammer real nails with real hammers. And play in real dirt with real water and collect real snails.

    No nuts allowed though.

  3. These people are crazy, from lack of sleep. At least I hope they never sleep. That way they would be living up to their convictions. Anything can happen while you sleep. Somebody could break in and wander off with your children while you selfishly sleep away the time you should be spending watching your children every single second of every single day. Also No baby sitters. Not even family.

  4. I feel bad for those people’s kids who will never learn any sort of independence and will grow up having mommy do everything for them. My mom used to drop me off at the library alone from the time I was 8. We had a pre-arranged pickup time. I would watch filmstrips, read, look at books, and all the librarians knew me. I still remember doing that to this day, and still remember how much fun it was.

    Lenore, don’t forget these people are also the reason why I stopped reading any sort of mom/parenting forums. They have an opinion on EVERYTHING even if it doesn’t directly affect them, and anything anybody else does with their kid is WRONG. They also worry that their kid isn’t developing “normally”. “OMG, my 13 month old isn’t talking yet. Should I get them tested???? What should I do????”

  5. Wow. I am a huge nerd and my mom used to work next to the library so as a result, my brother and I spent COUNTLESS hours in the library, unsupervised. We knew all the librarians and clerks by name, could find anything and everything we needed and learned how to master the computer and card catalogue like few public school kids I know.

    We laugh about it now, that some of our best memories are at the library, considering that my brother hates to read. I always take my kids to the library in hopes that they’ll choose to wander there on their own one day, although I guess that makes me a bad parent!

  6. The worst part about those comments is the belief that kids are more safe with family/friends. Anyone who knows the statistics knows that abuse and kidnapping are much more likely to happen from husbands/friends/relatives than from total strangers. Your kid is much safer in that library than alone with Uncle Ernie.

    It reminds me of the South Park episode where the parents are trying to protect their kids from abusers and perverts and when they hear that parents/relatives are most likely to engage in such behavior, they exile the kids to the woods in the name of “protecting” them. Perfect!

  7. This is just nuts!

    From the time I was 7 or so, my mom and I would frequently split up at the library, and agree to meet at the circulation desk at an appointed time. We started doing this in stores around age 9. Being a responsible role model means letting your kids know that they (and their interests) aren’t universally fascinating, too! It’s okay for parents to explore their own interests in a public space, as well.

  8. I pity their children… they will never taste freedom, learn responsibilty, be able to act on their own initiative, interact independently with strangers or figures of authority – I could go on but the list is endless.
    For my own part I see my job as a parent is to love, nurture and guide my child and to prepare them for the rigours and infinite possibilities of the big wide world.

  9. I forgot to add this thought too. While my kid isn’t 5 yet, I know a bunch of 5 year olds (neighbors, kids who I teach in karate). I can’t imagine any of them not screaming, or making a complete fuss if somebody they didn’t know tried to grab them in the middle of the library. Are the 5 year olds I know just out of the norm these days? That is one of the things we do teach them in karate, but I kind of thought it was standard.

  10. Seriously. Family members are sometimes less safe than strangers. Babysitters too. It’s not about who you leave your kids with or don’t leave them with. You can never know.

    My friend would have been better off staying home alone at age 8 than being babysat by a family friend who ended up touching her inappropriately.

    I would have been better off staying home alone when I was 8 rather than being with my dad who did inappropriate things as well.

    Those parents who write those things about being with your kids every single second…it makes me angry.

    I realize though that they’re just terrified. And being scared is such an innocent emotion. It’s not like they can help it right now. It’s just how they see things.

    I love them for doing their best. I love me for doing my best.

  11. So, unless I’m understanding Free-Range Parenting wrong, all you’re saying is that it’s OK to leave your kid alone for five minutes IF YOU’RE COMFORTABLE DOING SO. Nobody’s asking these other folks to do the same…If they don’t think their five-year-old could handle it, they shouldn’t do it! But leave me alone is *I* decide it’s OK for me!

    I will say, though, that this story did bug me a little in the assumption that it’s the librarian’s job to keep an eye on the kid, even for a short while. I get the feeling that her response was meant more as a “I may have to step away at any second, and I can’t be responsible for your kid, so it’s as if you’re leaving her here all alone,” than as “A monster is lurking behind the stacks! Beware!” But maybe I’m giving too much credit to the librarian.

    In either case, my point is that if the mom was comfortable with leaving her kid ALONE in the children’s section while she went to check out her books, then that’s awesome and fine and she did the right thing. If the only reason she was comfortable leaving the kid there was because she assumed the librarian would keep an eye on the kid, then that’s not fair, because it puts the librarian in the possible position of choosing between doing her job and leaving the kid alone when the parent asked her to watch the kid.

    Does that make sense? I think the latter is unfair…not negligent, just presumptuous. If that’s not the case, then the parent was totally in the right.

  12. Obessive people. My 6 yo could be by himself for a few minutes while I do something. He does it all the time- usually things like, playing in his room by himself building things out of old toilet paper roll, singing along to his ipod and having passersby wonder if he really is singing to AC/DC (he is), or using the bathroom himself (yep, the public ones).

    If I were that mother, I wouldn’t have asked if the libarian would watch him. I would have simply given him instructions on how to behave while I was gone. If questioned, I would have asked what the rules of the library were.

  13. For the third commenter, or should I say COMMENTER, you quoted, I’d like to note that that trusted family friend is statistically more likely to harm your child than any stranger.

  14. That “never let go” line was creepy enough in Titanic. No need to rehash it everyday of parenting.

  15. I’m a “free-range” mom and a children’s librarian. Our library has a strict policy that children under 7 must be attended by a parent or older sibling. I try to be aware of what is happening in the children’s room, but I can’t watch everything. If it’s busy, I don’t necessarily know which kids belong with which adults. If there is no one else in the room, I may have to leave for something and then no one is watching the child. While I agree that the “stranger danger” is low, there are a host of other ways to get in trouble in the library. The bookshelves look enticingly climbable to a young child. Also, while YOU may know that your kid will behave, WE don’t. We can’t have an unsupervised hellion causing chaos for our other patrons. I do try to be as accommodating as I can, but I can’t make exceptions just because you tell me your child knows better/behaves well/etc.

  16. Ayyyy Caramba! You practically woke the dead with your essay. Careful some of these folks might get you on the FBI’s Most Wanted List or give you the evil eye – sheeesh! I’d consider wearing sunglasses for awhile. I applaud you.

  17. 1. I actually snarked some of the more ridiculous comments in my journal already.

    1a. Lenore, you forgot the one about kids being kidnapped and stolen as slaves in foreign countries. That one was a bit WTF? to me.

    2. Jill, that’s reasonable enough and it makes sense. It’s a world away from the comments there, which are all “IF YOU EVER LEAVE YOUR KID ALONE FOR THREE SECONDS THEY WILL DIE DIE DIE DIE DIE! AND BE RAPED! AND DIE!”

    I have no idea what these people are doing on the internet. Shouldn’t they be busy holding their children?

  18. When I was a kid my Mom would leave me in the children’s section of the library for an hour at a time. I learned and discovered so many new things during that time. I’d stack up a pile of carefully chosen books to take home. The library was the ultimate way for me as a child to discover the world beyond my immediate space.

    I can’t imagine not giving my child a similar experience. Many of the things I am today I’d say came from those hours spent exploring the shelves of the library.

    @somekindofmuffin in Toronto a few years back a young girl was taken from her bedroom by someone known to the family who crawled in a window at night. But you are absolutely right, despite this having actually happened it’s completely ridiculous to think that there’s anything anyone could have done to prevent this. Are we to set up 24hr guard watches over our children? Should my wife and I schedule 12 hour shifts with them while the other sleeps? And even in this example it was someone known to the family. The odds of a complete stranger doing this are so low it’s not even worth thinking about. One of the most dangerous things to do is put our children in a car and drive them somewhere but I don’t see anyone crying out against this practice.

  19. Can I just add that, statistically children are overwhelmingly abused and exploited by people they know, and know well, like a father, brother, uncle, aunt, babysitter, etc.

    Obviously, leaving a 2 yr.old. alone in a public place for 3 mins. may not be the smartest idea, but if you’ve taught your 5 yr. old how to deal with strangers and you have given him/her the confidence to stand up for themselves when they feel uncomfortable with a stranger, then you shouldn’t have much to worry about.

    Tell your kid, “if someone you don’t know grabs your arm, or talks to you about things that make you uncomfortable, scream your head off—even in the library.”

    If you’ve given them the confidence to follow through with that plan. You can pretty much be assured that they’ll be safe.

  20. I was following that paranoia on ParentDish. I couldn’t believe it. When I walk in to the library with my five year old, he immediately goes to the children’s section and I usually go to the holds section and tell him I’ll meet him in a minute.

    Also, who doesn’t teach their child how to behave at the library, Jill? Is there really an epidemic of children climbing the bookshelves? You sound ridiculous. Children belong in the library, If they misbehave, kick them out, but how stupid to assume negative things about them.

  21. Although I agree that the safety of your children are paramount. Being overly fearful is not a good thing. No matter how you look at it. Whether you realize it or not, your fears become your child’s. That is no way to grow up. You CAN’T always be there every second of every day. There’s is no point in going insane when you can’t. In this case, the mother trusted the librarian enough to leave for short time, much like any parent would trust teachers at a school to leave their child. If the librarian was okay with it, she should be smart enough that unless the MOTHER came back for the child, she would not let anyone else she didn’t see the child with take her. Even if they said they were a relative. If they were a relative or a very close friend of the family, they would have the understanding and wait for the mother to return. An extra set of eyes if you will. Davonia made a great suggestion: “If I were that mother, I wouldn’t have asked if the libarian would watch him. I would have simply given him instructions on how to behave while I was gone. If questioned, I would have asked what the rules of the library were.” Of course, the parent shouldn’t take this for granted and be gone longer than they should.

    This mentality of paranoia only gets worse for the child and the parent as time roles on. There is no difference between leaving a child with a librarian for a few minutes and leaving a child at school for the day, or play in the playground, or be in the next room in your own house. Be it abduction, choking on a toy, falling down the stairs, tripping on something and banging their head, there WILL ALWAYS be these potential dangers. You CAN’T strap your child to you 24/7.

  22. I always wonder how these people who try to tell us that it’s never safe to turn our eyes away from our under-18 year olds even FOR ONE SECOND ever use the bathroom. Seriously.

    It’s cool that Lenore is on Parent Dish and all, but thanks for reminding me why I don’t actually look at it… and most other mainstream parenting sites.

  23. This is why some these kids go to college, they have no clue how to do anything for themselves unless mom and dad are moving into the dorm with them?

    I wonder if some of the posters on Parent Dish only have very young children. When I had only a little one, it would have been hard to imagine leaving her alone somewhere when she was older. But now, my ten year old walks around stores (and gasp – sometimes even takes her 7 year old sister with her!) and rides the city bus by herself from her school to my office.

    I see parents every day at my kids’ school who walk their kids across the street, then stand on the sidewalk until their child walks in the front door of the building. Note that there are half a dozen teachers on the sidewalk in front of the school as well as tons of kids walking in to school. There are no streets or parking lots to crross, just walking on a sidewalk into the building.

  24. I have left my 7 yo in the childrens section because he was in search of a particlar book (our library policy is adult must be in the building with 7-12yo, under 7 yo can’t be left alone). He’s known the librarians since he was 18 mo old. If I had to leave him to run to the adult section to grab a book, I’d mention it to the children’s librarian NOT because I’d expect then to keep an eye on him but so they would know where I was & that I didn’t leave the library. Plus sometimes he’d forget exactly where I’d told him I was going, especially if he was concentrating on his search. He’d calmly ask the librarian to point him in my direction

  25. Good God, those comments are nuts! Did you see this one?

    ” am a mother of a 19 year old man….still to this day I do not like to even leave him sitting in the car while I run in to pay for gas. There are psychos on every corner. I am not going to be one of those moms who has no idea what happened to her child. Mind you my son is 6 foot and weighs 230 and plays football. I am sure he now can take care of himself but I refuse to happen on my shift. And to ask a complete stranger, doesnt matter where she worked, Im sure Jeffrey Dahmer, John Wayne Gacy and all the other serial killers had jobs. She did not know this woman from adam but yet trust her to keep an eye on her kid. Besides the fact if the girl did come up missing that would be exactly who she blamed………..Good for the Librarian.”

    Her son is 19!!!! She won’t leave him alone???? Doesn’t she realize that many 19 year old have kids of their own at that age, for God’s sake???

  26. I am all for free-range children and recommend your blog all the time.

    Here is the dilemma. I am a public librarian. Parents use the library as a free babysitting service all the time. Librarians don’t stay at their desks. I have worked at libraries when school age kids from 6 onwards spend all their after school hours in the library. They don’t pick them up before the library closes. I remember when a three year old fell and hurt himself badly, and the only person in the library was his 5 year old brother. His parents could not be contacted.

    After too many experiences like that, a librarian might very well react that way.

    If the mom felt comfortable leaving her child, why did she ask the librarian?

  27. I think it *is* catching on. But it’s not something that can happen overnight, especially with all of the brainwashing that’s been going on.

    P.S. I am a ‘real mother’ no matter what any scaremonger says.

  28. I wouldn’t have done it, not because of whatever “danger” (real or imagined) to the child, but because it’s your kid, not the librarian’s. She’s not there to watch your child, she’s there to help people, put away books, etc. What if she turned her back for a moment, and the child climbed something, pulled down something heavy on her head, or dashed off into the stacks? Who’s to say that the parent wouldn’t complain and the librarian would find herself out of a job?

    Unless the librarian agreed whole-heartedly to watching the child, the mother shouldn’t have left her behind. Period.

  29. I read as many of the 1300+ comments on the original article as I could stomach and one thing struck me. The fear was strangers hurting/taking the child. What wasn’t mentioned was that most abuse and kidnappings are inflicted by someone the child knows – not a stranger.

  30. One doesn’t have to be against free range kids to think 5 is too young & librarians are not babysitters. What if the child started wandering to find his or her parent? Or decided to start taking books off the shelves ? What if he or she had started to cry because they didn’t understand time & couldn ‘t read a click to know when the parent was coming back? I think a 5 year old might do all or any of those things & the librarian would be compelled out of a sense of order, duty, or worry to abandon her desk & job to deal with it until the parent returned. If the parent was in sight or hearing distance of the librarian, maybe not. Free range should not mean leaving young children in the charge of people who have other, better things to do than worry about your kid. 8 years old (depending on the library & the child) would have my support, but this was just rude.

  31. I get that librarians aren’t baby sitters, but I also note that the parent didn’t ask the librarian to watch her child. She just let the librarian know that she wasn’t actually abandoning her child for good (“I’ll be a right back”).

    I think in that sort of situation, so long as you’re comfortable with the idea that the people in the room may change and there isn’t anyone who is actually responsible for looking out for your kid, and you know your child can behave him/herself appropriately, then there’s no problem.

    I wish libraries and other places wouldn’t take the idea that because *some* kids can’t behave then none of them should be trusted alone. Some adults can’t behave, but they never seem to kick them out.

  32. I mean, sometimes it just feels like most everyone around you has their heart in the right place, but mind out of this world! Sheesh. 1300 comments!? That’s nuts. Sorry I didn’t click on it to comment in favor of your piece!


  33. I wish people would make a clear delineation between “the kid is in danger from other people” vs “the kid might misbehave/need help”. Most place I know of that have a “Keep kids with you at all times” policy do so because otherwise the kids are running wild. Running wild is unacceptable. Being a kid alone behaving well is not. Stores/libraries need to go after the parents for unacceptable behaviour, not target the free-range kids who are looking at books or price-comparing cereal, or, as happened to my then-5-year-old, sorting the gum correctly by brand and flavor.

  34. Posted to Lenore’ ParentDish article (#1310 or thereabouts):

    It’s a shame when (I hope young and inexperienced) parents and those who would advise parents magnify 10PM news casulties to near-inevitability.

    (when it BLEEDS, BABY, it LEADS)

    It would be easy to belittle irrational fears, but instead consider this:

    When your child is unexpectedly out-of-sight do you reflexively assume the worst?

    If so, try for some personal peace-of-mind and go to Free Range Kids:


    or try the Lenore Skenazy’s recent book:

    Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

    Wikipedia and other reliable, readily available internet sources can also help shine a reality-based light on actual hazards in modern life.

    (they don’t compare to past hazards)

    But don’t trust me. Go see for yourselves.

    Try to let your calm, rational side regulate your fears.

    Some of you will clutch firmly to magnified, mostly-imaginary, wakeful-nightmares.

    For the rest, there is solace in objectively measured truth.

  35. Good LORD. I’m glad I didn’t know before I had a child that the job description involved watching her every second for 18 years, because I would have said HELL NO!!! and thus missed out on all the fun of parenting ;).

    I can think of lots of 5-year-olds I’ve known who shouldn’t be left alone in the library for three minutes because they’d cause havoc. But I can also think of lots who would handle it just fine. I support the librarian in making it clear that direct supervision of unattended kids is not her job, but I also support the mum, assuming that she knows her own kid’s capacities and proclivities, in leaving him for a few minutes.

    I would like to know where all these libraries are that are full of paedophiles and kidnappers lurking (where? in most children’s sections, the shelves only come up to an adult’s waist and are usually built-in or bolted to the walls…) all day, every day, on the off chance that a child will be left unattended for three minutes. Because I‘ve never seen a library like that, and I spend a lot of time in libraries. And, further, who these librarians are who see a child being molested or walked off with under protest and don’t do anything. Librarians are people too!

    I would also like to know what five-year-old (absent developmental issues, etc.) isn’t able and willing to, as we put it in our family, Make A Great Big Noisy Fuss if some stranger comes up to them and tries to Do Something Bad. (A known authority figure is a different matter, obviously, which presumably is why the majority of perpetrators are known to their victims — you get better compliance from a kid who’s been taught to trust you than from a random kid who can see you’re a creep.)

    Finally, I would like to know, please, when I am supposed to work, sleep, use the washroom, have a conversation with another adult, have sex with my husband, go to the laundromat, or talk on the telephone if I am not permitted to leave my child alone even for a split second.

    Srsly, WTF? Do these people live on the same planet as the rest of us?

  36. Oh for goodness sake. Do people bring up their children to stay mute in the unlikely event that a completely random person would drag them out of a public room? Even my baby would scream his head off, which might just attract some interest. Got to bring them up to be aware, rather than somnolent.

  37. I should note that not only the librarian, but every adult within earshot would likely come running, possibly armed with encyclopedia volumes, if a kid started screaming that someone he didn’t know was trying to DO SOMETHING BAD.

    As for the 19 year old son . . .assuming he’s not disabled in some way, I really wonder if she just plans to keep him at home for the rest of his life. I assume that he doesn’t work, doesn’t drive, and doesn’t have any friends . . . I suppose that’s a way to keep your precious baby safe . . . if you don’t mind him growing up to be Norman Bates that is.

  38. It was amusing and sad to read some of the comments. Seriously, it seems over half of them would not let a child out of their sight for one split second. That is so sad for the kids – assuming that is true.

    I posted a few comments but I doubt anyone got around to reading them in all that hubbub. One point: aren’t we being a bit hysterical about “some” dangers while completely ignoring other, statistically higher dangers – like driving in the car that brought the kid to the library in the first place – and riding on the school bus – and probably whatever half of those coddled kids had for dinner last night.

    Another: leaving a child in the same area with an adult does not equal asking the adult to “babysit.” If my child knows how to conduct herself in a room designed for children, she should be able to be there regardless of the librarian’s “job description.” The child was 5, not 2. I suppose when I sent my kid sister off to school “alone” at 5, I was asking each resident on the street to babysit her while she was on their sidewalk? Oh, and don’t tell me they have less trouble with spoiled 12-year-olds in the library than free-range 5-year-olds.

    I leave my 3-year-olds “alone” in public places for about a minute at a time, when it feels safe to me. For example – when kid 1 needs a potty break but kid 2 is still eating, I will go back and forth, leaving each temporarily as I check on the other. I believe my kids are more aware of their environment because they aren’t being led around by the hand all the time. Surely by age 5 they will be able to be left in the children’s area of the library (and a lot of other places) for 3 minutes.

    But on the other hand, I do believe it depends on the place. It makes sense that libraries are a magnet for people who are not “all there” and I could see the kids’ area being enticing for pedophiles. That said, when I was a kid there were plenty of pedophiles and I never met one in the library. But I’d want to be aware if that was a problem they’d had there before. It’s possible that some parents might think the library has some kind of security or safety that it doesn’t have. The librarian’s response sounded simply honest, in my opinion. Yes, the same risks you find on the street are likely found in a public library. Parent accordingly.

    In my local public library, I’d leave my kids for short periods of time if they earned the right via good behavior. In some other places, probably not.

  39. my favorites were the people who assumed that all free range kids are belligerent, undisciplined, spoiled rotten brats. Far from it. I actually see it being the opposite. The kids who are being raised free range, know what responsibility is and like it and want to keep it, so they behave. The kids who are being helicoptered tend to be the ones misbehaving since they don’t know how to act because mom and dad do all their thinking for them.

  40. I’m so happy to have you “in my corner” Lenore!

  41. Wow… I LOVE this comment:

    “…All the stories you hear about children being molested, abducted, sold into slavery in other countries…”

    Really? There are actual stories (plural) of children being kidnapped in New York state to be sold into slavery?

  42. Re: abduction for foreign slavery: I begin to wonder if the paranoia epidemic isn’t more rampant than the obesity epidemic at this point. Is there something in the water? Or should there be??

  43. In other countries, no less!

    Now, child slave labor *is* a worldwide concern… but those children are cheap enough in their own countries that there’s really no need to export them from the US.

  44. Does the person who made the second comment in the post remember that most child abuse is done by a husband, family member, or trusted friend instead of total strangers? Mothers do a fair amount of abuse too. Maybe kids are safer with strangers! I’m (sort of) joking for the non-free rangers reading this.

  45. Off topic… but relevant to always keeping your eyes on your children/library.

    Parenting is more then watching your children. If anyone is familiar with PBS’s Arthur in which the character of ‘the Tibble Twins’ are a pair of four year olds with horrible manners. The grandmother fears going out in public with them, until eventually in one episode the twins learn the social cues about to behave in public and gain more freedom.

    The public library is one of the first places where children learn how to control themselves and have awareness of their surroundings in a public setting. In the article I think if the woman asked another parent (which wasn’t available), that would be fine for most readers, but asking the librarian I’m not so sure about.

  46. I didn’t read the comments on the other site but got enough of the flavor here. My theory is that, thanks to what the media chooses to air each night, people feel as though the world is out of their control. So parents transfer this lack-of-control feeling to their parenting and obsessively try to control every second of their child’s life. Also, no parent wants to be “out parented” by another so in some ways there’s a competition going on to be the most vigilant. It’s sad that an entire generation will pay the price for it.

  47. I don’t believe for one second that these people live up to what they’re saying, even leaving out absurdities like not sleeping (although I agree they deserve to have that absurdity pointed out them.)

    What, these people seriously have never left their child ONCE with ANYONE in FIVE YEARS?????? I’m a stay at home mom who had real difficulty finding babysitters when my older kids were very young, so I left them very rarely other than with my husband, but even I don’t claim that I was with them “every single second” up until age five.

    NOBODY actually does that in western culture!!!!! Why are they even making that ridiculous, exaggerated statement?

    Personally, I agree that librarians aren’t babysitters, but I’m thinking the mom thought that the kid didn’t NEED a babysitter, she just wanted to check with the librarian so that 1) she wouldn’t get in trouble 2) the librarian wouldn’t worry when she saw an “unattended” child. So it depends — if she was expecting the librarian to keep an eye on a child who needed to be watched, she was in the wrong. But if she was just thinking that the child really would be okay and wanted to make sure no problems would result, she was just fine. Not sure I would have done it myself, but I don’t think I can find any actual objection for a very brief separation like this.

    It’s also nothing short of amusing to consider the awesome foresight and power people attribute to molesters/kidnappers. To think that someone would just walk in off the street on the off-chance that there was an unattended five-year-old, hoping they’d hit that five-minute window of non-attendance, looking for prey. Sometimes I wonder how these people get through the day, if they have such an unrealistic and fantastic view of reality.

  48. Yesterday, I put my 4-mo old son down for a nap. Once I saw that he was deep asleep, I went out and got the mail. I love being there for him when he needs me, but a lot of the time, he’s happy on the floor with a blanket to chew on and a mirror to look at. If he were, oh let’s say, 19, 6′ and 230 lbs and playing football, he’d be getting the mail, and probably doing the grocery shopping, filling up the car on his own and maybe even, heaven forbid, doing the laundry!
    It even reminds me of the same conversation I had with two aunts. One talked about the joys of raising kids and helping them explore the world. The other was stressing out over her oldest going to college and not knowing how to work a washing machine. There wasn’t a name for it five years ago, but I think it safe to say which aunt fell in which category, and why I love to visit the free-range aunt. No stress in her house!

  49. My absolute favorite (so far) is:

    “…I had my son at age 41 and you better bet I watched him every second and trusted NO ONE! I wouldn’t even let my husband take him out of town without me! (We all know MEN never watch their kids 100% of the time as Moms do)”

    I see lots of therapy in this kid’s future.

  50. I do agree with the subpoint being made that it is kind of silly not to simply inform a five year old that he can come with you and be patient for five minutes. But the people focusing on that are focusing on an irrelevancy. Whether or not her choice was good in terms of letting her five year old choose, it was not placing him in mortal danger.

  51. To Redstocking Grandma – If you say you are all for free-range, where do you suggest children be allowed to actually BE free-range? Are they only allowed to be free-range if it means the parents are within yelling distance? This seems contradictory to me, and leaves me absolutely baffled. As a child, I spent almost every day at the library. If I fell and scraped my knee, I asked the librarian if they had a band-aid. If they didn’t, I simply walked home and *GASP* got one myself! What strictures are you putting on letting children be free-range? Last I knew, part of free-range kids was realizing that children sometimes get boo-boos, and it’s not the end of the world.

  52. Oh. My. God. I just know that if we lived in the States, they’d already have taken the kids away from us…

    Please tell me, these are fake comments… (I mean, just the fact that the librarian even warned her the about the dangers of real life only because the mother went upstairs for a few minutes freaks me out — let alone the comments).

    Oh. By the way. I’m reconsidering free range for my son (8 in May)…

    The other day he brought home three lovely little leeches (in a jar) from the little creek where he and his friends spent half the day (and one of the other mothers and I agreed that we rather would _not_ want to know what exactly they were doing there, *lol*)… So, THAT’S an argument against free range, if you aks me, ;-).

    So long,

  53. I guess I’ll weigh in!

    One thing we all should remember is that even though we feel it’s ok to leave our children in a library provided they have good manners etc, there IS the idea floating around out there that if something happens someone would sue the library/city over it. I’m not going to go into a bunch of hypothetical what-if scenarios – but we all know the incredibly stupid litigious society we live in. So – a librarian may be looking out for more than just his/her own hind end when it comes to not being responsible for other people’s kids.

    That said, librarians are NOT responsible for other people’s kids! I know we all kinda talked about this a few months back regarding the lady letting her kid pull on the Christmas tree – but judging from the fact that the woman asked the librarian to watch her child – it tells me she’s far from free-range. She might be working on getting there – but I know if my kids are big enough to be left alone, I don’t need to ask someone else to watch them. If I need to ask, they’re not old enough and/or ready enough. There’s nothing wrong with having to ask – either. Don’t get me wrong, but to assume she’s free-range is a bit off, imo.

    All the commenters… yeah. I’ve come to the conclusion that 95% of people are either morons or lack a vital chunk of common sense. Sheep, would be the term for it, and when they see something on TV and start yakking about it, it becomes real and present – thus, our next generation of people in charge are going to be even more paranoid and indecisive and ignorant.

    One more thought… one I don’t think anyone wants to think about in conjunction with a kid screaming their head off for help. Do recall the studies done, where when more than a few people are standing and hearing a cry for help, the less likely they are to help… they wait on others to do something. I hold out hope this wouldn’t be the case for a child – but someone made the comment that all kinds of people would come running if a kid screamed. I would hope someone would have the courage to step up and ask if the screaming kid belonged to that adult – but with the way things are going, you either get a nosy Nelly who yanks kids out of trees, or you get a bunch of people looking the other way as they hope the “parent” takes care of the noise.

    (Bystander Effect: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bystander_effect Wikipedia, I know, but there are links to the source material at the bottom for something more reliable.)

  54. So, I guess I’m not doing it right, since every day I leave my baby with someone who is neither my husband, nor family, nor a friend – but someone I pay to watch my baby. And she also watches other kids. I hope she keeps ’em in a line, all day, every day, so she can keep her eyes trained on ’em with every passing second.

    Oh, and these parents are really doing their kids a disservice, because something tells me those kids will grow up to TYPE IN ALL CAPS AND PISS ME OFF LATER IN LIFE.


  55. I’m also intrigued by the drowning and house-fire stories. How many children drown in libraries? And how does the presence of a parent prevent was what ruled an accidental fire that occurred in the presence of another responsible adult? I have real compassion for people who have suffered these things, and I suppose I can’t blame THEM for seeing the world through the lens of their personal tragedy, but I hope no one else takes their experience as instructive in completely different circumstances.

  56. My parents used to leave us in the children’s section all the time. That way we could browse our own books while they looked in the grown up section for theirs. They taught us proper library behavior ahead of time and if we mis-behaved, we were removed and taken home without a book which was a HUGE consequence. We learned to that we needed to be quiet, look at books, and if we were good we could check out the max. We loved the library and learning independence in a place that felt safe, fun, and grown up.

  57. Omg, the most hilarious comment was from the mom who didn’t like to leave her NINETEEN year old son in the car while she paid for gas. That’s a freaking adult. I leave my 5 y/o to do that and he’s fine.


    Oh, good grief. These are the people who are most likely to abuse and molest your child, dummy! [facepalm]

    Gotta love people who just pull “facts” out of the air, rather than do the slightest bit of checking or research and find out what’s actually true.


  59. To the people who seem to think that it’s not okay to leave your kid in the library for even a second because the librarian is not a babysitter, I would like to pose the following problem. I’m a mom. My kids are boys. Kindergarten boys. The city seems to think this is too old to use the opposite gender bathroom. I have heard this is the policy in city facilities – made for the pool, mostly, but applied to all city facilities – at least, that’s what I hear. No one has yelled at them yet if they’ve followed me in, but if I need to pee at the library, should we just go home or WHAT?

    (And yes, I know my previous reply was also bathroom focused… I just think any policy that requires you to not pee is probably a bad one.)

  60. Geesh … whatever happened to “It takes a village.” How can we foster any kind of community when we’re all scared to death of each other? I knew the librarians by name when I was a kid and they knew my parents. I knew to behave in the library, to stay away from creepy people and ask an adult (usually the librarian) for help if I needed it. In fact, I once told a librarian that a man had said some weird things to me and she had him booted out.

  61. It didn’t sound to me like she was asking the librarian to watch her kid, but that she was giving the librarian a heads up, as in, “I’m just going to be gone a couple of minutes.” So the librarian wouldn’t think the mom just took off.

    I would have felt fine leaving my child alone in the library for a few minutes while I checked out or used the bathroom when she was 5. I am sure some 5-year-olds wouldn’t be able to handle it, but I have to think most would be fine. My daughter is 7 now and she goes to the children’s section and I go to the adult section.

  62. I feel bad for those people’s kids who will never learn any sort of independence and will grow up having mommy do everything for them.

    I have a friend like that. She’s 30, and still lives with her parents because she’s terrified to move out.

  63. I’m surprised those commenters were able to read the story on the internet and type a response on a keyboard. They must have done it all with one eye and one hand, right? I mean, seeing as how the other eye and other hand were both on their child lest Something Terrible happen…

  64. ugh! I can’t believe that some one wrote “You can never be too paranoid.” Yikes! His/her kids are going to need some therapy! (Not to mention the parent too!) Paranoia… a lovely gift to pass along to your kids?

  65. Fengru wrote, I just think any policy that requires you to not pee is probably a bad one.

    I could not agree more.

  66. I love how these idiots have to type in ALL CAPS. lol. I think they love chastizing mothers more than they worry about the kids. Honestly, people like this are insane…just insane.

  67. Lenore, I finally read the story on ParentDish, and I think you screwed up here.

    The librarian was PERFECTLY reasonable to respond as she did, because people OFTEN *expect* librarians, etc. to keep an eye on their child. In fact, the librarian’s response was VERY laid-back, and I commend her for it, rather than having a hissy. Letting the librarian know you will be right back and are not abandoning the kid, good move; expecting the librarian not to say “ok, but the library isn’t any safer than any other public place and I’m not a babysitter” is silly.

    The case in Massachusetts was especially scary because the 5 year old was apparently not trained in what to do if someone approached him– it points out exactly what kids need to learn to be free range or even NOT free range– if something seems weird or creepy, RUN and YELL !

  68. […] Just When You Thought Free-Range Kids Was Catching On… Hi Readers — Here’s a link to my essay on ParentDish, “Can a Mom Leave Her Kid Alone at the Library […] […]


    That person apparently thinks you can never use all caps too much, so already the judgment is suspect. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t make fun.

    But, on a slightly more serious note…

    Paranoia – 1: a psychosis characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations
    2 : a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others

    Even a little paranoia seems like it a bad thing by definition. I just wish people could express themselves a little more accurately, it might make the gulf seem a little less wide.

  70. It’s so funny to me that there are people out there who feel like you can never leave your children alone, never let them take risks, never let them grow up.

    These are the same people who are going to be asking themselves why their adult child won’t move out and get a life of their own.

    I think time will tell…in the future…the kids who are going to be successful in life are the ones whose parents allowed them to grow up learning what it means to be responsible and independent.

    Egads…what will the future be like if all these pampered…constantly watched children are in charge?

  71. I just left my 61/2 yr. old alone today. In Target. We were eating lunch when the 3 yr. old had to use the bathroom. I told the girl at the lunch counter, “I have to take this one to the bathroom, my other daughter is still eating. I’ll be right back.” She said ok, looked around the corner to see who my daughter was and we walked off. 5 minutes later we were back and the counter girl was no where insight, presumbably doing her job. There sat my oldest, happily eating her lunch. So am I a bad parent? Not in my world!

  72. I love the woman who said she didn’t like to leave her 19 year old son alone. She has serious issues. At 19 I was married and living far away from anyone I knew and I was, gasp, alone a lot! With all things it takes time to learn. Keep up the good work Lenore!

  73. Oh fer pete’s sake! 19 and not left alone? A 230 pound, 6′ football player?! So, what?! Does he commute to the local college because he certainly can’t go away to school? My son moved out at 17. Got a job, got some roommates, got a place. He really wanted a practice year before he went to 4 year college. He’s in community college. Has been since 16. He could’ve transferred as a junior this year (17 for another entire month, mind you), but decided he wanted to look at more colleges than just the one that he applied to, which accepted him and gave him a 50% scholarship. Prestigious private college. He’d like a full ride. With a 3.97 at 17, he can probably get one.

    He’s 6 feet tall, about 130 pounds, facial piercings, long dreadlock from one side of his head, which is otherwise mostly buzz cut with a long shock on top. He plays bass in a punk band. Not in the least intimidating, or looking like someone who could handle himself in an altercation. But he’s competent, and responsible, and respectful, and engages in NO illicit activities. Kid doesn’t even drink coffee. I often don’t hear from him for a week. And I don’t worry if I don’t. If something weird happened, his roommates would either call me or facebook me. They’ve all voluntarily approached me as a fb friend.

    Not leave him alone while she pays for gas?!?! How humiliating! Monday this week, my husband, who, like me, teaches college, related a commuter bus story.

    Our university runs a connector line from the main campus to the downtown campus, about 20 miles away. He was on the bus, and when it made a stop, there was a mother in the parking lot, with younger kids in the car, who waited until her COLLEGE STUDENT daughter was on the bus, seated, and the door closed before she pulled out of the lot. If we ever tried something like that with either of our kids, they wouldn’t come home for a week.

    Our daughter, who turned 20 on Monday, lives in CA. 2500 miles away. In the mountains. She often has no cell reception for days. She usually checks in when she gets into town. Good grief. These are adults.

  74. I’m going to take comfort in the fact that most likely, all of ’em are hypocrites. Ever. Single. One of us has left their child for a moment or two to get something done. To say we haven’t is lying, flat out. Nothing like a virtuous, concerned parent dishin’ it on the internet 🙂

  75. I love the woman who said she didn’t like to leave her 19 year old son alone.


    I must be the worst Mom in the history of ever, then. My 17 year-old son is moving to a resort town for the entire summer for a job – about 75 miles away, and working 60 – 80 hours a week.

  76. Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry you had to put up with those insane comments! If it makes you feel any better, here’s an upbeat story:

    I have an almost-6 year old student whose mom is from Mexico and dad is from Denmark. The girl recently obtained her first library card, and she brought it to school to show me. She told me proudly that her dad said he would wait for her in the car while she went into the library to check out books for the entire family to read. Part of me was overjoyed to see her happiness and hear about her parents’ trust, and part of my cried silently, just knowing that as soon as the child set foot inside the library she would be attacked – not by “bad guys” – but by distrustful and hyper-paranoid library employees and other deranged parents.

    Some days are better than others, but keep pluggin’ away because there are parents (and teachers) who believe in your message.

  77. “These are the same people who are going to be asking themselves why their adult child won’t move out and get a life of their own.”

    And then maybe ten years later, why they never come home to visit and they never see their grandchildren. Once this kind of kid finally figures it out, he might just want to be GONE.

  78. What utter paranoia.

  79. Those of you bewildered about how these parents can state how you must watch your child every second may not realize what their homes are like at night. These people are likely to live in a gated community in the suburbs, with an extensive home security system and multiple loaded guns hidden in the house. It really is a constant state of fear and paranoia.

  80. I’ve spent far too much time reading these posts. I need to rush away now to breathe on the head of my sleeping daughter, so that she won’t be taken out her bedroom window by gleeps in the night. How irresponsible of me, to have left her bedside.

  81. When my kids were younger, I had a similar situation were I asked the librarian if I could leave the kids for a minute while I looked for a book. The librarian simply said no – the library’s policy was no unsupervised kids under 8. And I don’t really think that is an unreasonable policy. After all, if they made exceptions, they could soon end up running an unpaid daycare center. So that said, I guess I sort of disagree with Lenore on this one? However – those comments were just off the wall ridiculously insane. I’m actually depressed from reading them. I can’t believe there are so many people with borderline mental illness raising kids. Sigh.

  82. Yes, I read that and was completely depressed. I had an argument previously in an online forum about basically the same thing (Whether or not you can leave your child in the car while you run in and pay for gas). I am honestly surprised at how angry people get at those that are comfortable with their children out of their sight for a second. I simply cannot understand the “IT ONLY TAKES A SECOND!!!” mindset.


    I guess your kids won’t be attending a school then?

  84. In 2nd grade, I was trekking down to the library on my “banana seat” bike with a basket full of books. By the summer after 3rd grade, the librarian asked me if I would like to volunteer and help her out on Saturdays. Not once, did the librarian indicate that she was babysitting.

    How the world has changed.

  85. The Harris County library system (Houston, Texas) has a great policy that I have posted before. They are upgrading their servers so I can’t link to it now.

    It starts that kids have the same right to use the library as anyone else. The library I go to is usually crawling with kids. Some are with their parents some are not. There is a large number of kids from upper elementary age to HS that volunteer. You are more likely to see a kid pushing a cart of books than and adult. With the exceptions of brief periods right before and after events for certain ages you don’t hear the kids.

    The other day I was leaving behind a group of women with some kids. The women were distracted for a moment by a census worker. One of the kids kept walking out not realizing the adults stopped. Someone coming in stopped the little girl (maybe 2 yo) and said, “oops you need to wait for Mommy. The Mom thanked him, and the little girl waled over to Mommy.

    This is in Houston one of our largest cities, in a neighborhood that is a little dicey. The man that redirected the little girl carries around about 10 walmart bags. I think he is homeless and trying to find a job. (He was across the table from me, and the librarian was helping him with his resume the other day). No one blinked when he stopped the little girl from walking out the door. Mom thanked him and reminded the little girl to stay next to Mom.

  86. I’m a single mother. I have a 17 month old only child. He plays in his room when I’m in the kitchen cooking. I watch him on our deck play with our cat when I’m doing the dishes. If I didn’t do these things nothing would ever get done. When I was 9 I was a child-volunteer at my local library. Rode my bike there myself, helped the librarians hang holiday decorations, shelve books, etc. I’m sure when he is 5 I will let him be in one of the library while I go grab a book in a different section. I can’t think of anything less threatening.

  87. I’m obviously putting myself at risk here… But this has been such a mind-blowing, crazy, bewildering experience, I feel I have to say *something*.

    Because I’m the mom about whom Lenore wrote. I’m the mom who spoke up last week, the one who left her daughter in the library. The one who, according to some, should be shot. (!)

    Although I do not for one second regret my choice (if anything, reading some of the insanity at AOL has made me realize that I want to be more Free Range than ever, because I REFUSE to allow my children to grow up with me being as paranoid and overprotective as many of the commenters appear to be), nor do I feel the need to defend my actions, I would like to take the opportunity to clarify a few things.

    Bear with me. This may take a bit. 😉

    I only spoke with Lenore (who was witty and engaging and generally awesome during the talk/discussion; one of the moms in my group asked to marry her…!) for a minute or two, and thereby only gave her the most basic details of the story, in part because time was limited, and in part because I knew that she would be “in my corner” and further explanation wasn’t necessary. She did an excellent job of conveying the information that I *did* give her – but there, obviously, is more to the story, and there were reasons behind my decisions that I’d like to expound upon.

    My town is a safe, family-friendly place. The kids in my neighborhood ride their bikes all around the block, without any parents in sight. They all play in the cul-de-sac for hours with nary a grown-up to be seen (well, my 3 year-old doesn’t, but the older children do). They walk through neighbors’ yards from house to house. Doors are left unlocked. Bicycles are left on lawns and are still there in the morning.

    In our town, there are regularly elementary school-aged children left – alone! – at the ice cream shop for 30 minutes to get a cone with a friend. High school students walk from their school campus into town to get lunch. It’s a safe place. You know… as safe as the majority of the rest of the USA. Which is to say… very safe. (Lenore has quoted the statistics, so I don’t need to rehash them here. ;o) )

    The library is also safe. In the kid’s section, parents frequently chat or read their own books or whatever while their kids roam about or look at other books – and, although they’re in the same library section, they sometimes don’t physically see their kids for 10, 15, 20 minutes at a time. And it’s okay. They know their kids are there, the kids know where their parents are, and it’s fine. That’s just how our library and our town work.

    My 3 and 5 year-old and I are there weekly, if not more often. Both girls know it back and forth and in and out and feel very, very at home there. We know the librarians. The librarians know us. To reiterate: it’s a safe place.

    On this particular day, my 5 year-old wanted to play with the library’s felt board and I needed to get a book in the adult section, which was upstairs; the distance between these two sections is no greater than going from one floor to another in a large house. I knew that my daughter was in hog heaven playing with the felt board (this was her special time without her little sister tagging along), and didn’t want to pull her away, especially considering we’d have to leave soon to pick up my other daughter.

    *I* felt perfectly comfortable leaving her while I went upstairs, but I wanted to confirm the library’s stance on doing so. I asked the librarian what the policy was on children being in one section while a parent was in another, and was told that there wasn’t a policy; it was up to each parent’s discretion.

    She also informed told me, “Of course, if you leave her, the same dangers apply here that would apply if you left her alone in any public place or on the street.”

    Ah yes… So true. And helpful. Thank you.
    (Looking back, I don’t believe the librarian was speaking out of a true concern that some creep might wander off with my daughter, but rather out of concern for being sued should *something* happen. )

    I never – not once, not for one second – worried about my daughter’s safety. Nor did I worry that she’d wander off while I was gone, because that’s just not what she does. She is SUCH a stereotypical firstborn; she follows the damn rules! Plus, she was LOVING the felt board, so there was NO way she’d leave it. I know my kid.

    What I *did* worry about was receiving nasty glances from the librarian. Well, maybe “worry” is a bit strong… But I just wasn’t in the mood to get any crap from her. So I waited a few minutes and thought it over, all the while walking around the children’s section looking for more books to check out.

    (For the record… in many comments on AOL, people stated that perverts could be “lurking” anywhere in the library… or that sketchy, homeless people can wander in and make themselves at comfy… While that is certainly true in many places, there are virtually no homeless people in my small town. They just don’t come here. None.

    And, although I didn’t do it on purpose, by walking the children’s section while thinking things over, I had canvassed every single area of that section: there was NO ONE there. Not a single soul. And certainly no one “lurking” somewhere.)

    So, bolstered by recent Free Range topics I’d read 🙂 , I decided that yes! It was okay to get the book. It was safe. It was fine. Rock on!

    I did confirm with my daughter that she would prefer to stay rather than come with me (*I* felt comfortable leaving her, but I didn’t want *her* to be nervous or uncomfortable or scared), and she was VERY excited to be entrusted with the responsibility of playing on her own for a moment.

    And then slunk past the librarian (ha!) and ran upstairs to get my book – literally RAN.

    (Also, for the record, and I think this is a very important point: I did NOT ask the librarian to watch my daughter, nor did Lenore ever say that I did. Many AOL commenters jumped totally erroneously to that conclusion, and became incensed. I would never do so, any more than I’d ask a flight attendant to watch my child while I went to the bathroom, or a restaurant server to watch my girls while I paid the bill up front. While I believe strongly in community “togetherness” and believe that it DOES take a village, in these instances, I feel that employees have responsibilities to tend to, and babysitting my kids isn’t among them. The librarian obviously knew that my child was there, and that I was getting a book upstairs… But that’s a far cry from asking her to assume responsibility for my daughter’s well-being.)

    So anyway, I took off running. Although I was certain I was making a safe, sound choice, I still didn’t want to be gone too long, nor – as I said – did I want to receive withering glances from the librarian. In fact, I was SO conscious of not being gone too long, I timed myself: from time I left my daughter’s side to the time I was back next to her… 86 seconds.

    Eighty. Six. Seconds.

    Lo and behold: When I got back, my daughter was still there, just as I left her. In fact, she hadn’t even really noticed I’d gone or returned! We stayed for a few more minutes, tidied up the felt board, checked out our books, and left. End of easy, completely uneventful story. 🙂

    I mentioned it to Lenore at her talk to simply share a “Free Range” story, but also to thank her for, in part, giving me the courage to feel confident enough in myself and my child to make the decision I did. 🙂

    I didn’t realize that it might strike a chord with her…

    Nor did I realize that it would strike a chord with so many other folks, nor that I was officially a Terrible Mother who should potentially be visited by CPS, who knowingly puts her child in danger (risking her life to the stalkers who are snatching up children every single day). I especially didn’t realize that I should be shot – awesome!

    As I mentioned at the beginning, this has been an absolutely wild experience. The people making nasty comments on AOL have NO idea who I am, NO idea what my town is like, NO idea what our library is like, NO idea what Ella is like, NO idea of how I parent in general… And yet, they feel completely comfortable jumping to AWFUL conclusions about me, my parenting, my love for my children, my capability as a mother, or even whether I should live or die.. all based on (supposedly) 3 minutes of my life.


    Of course, I know to take everyone’s comments with a Mount Everest-sized grain of salt, and that I owe no one an explanation.

    But I wanted to clarify a few things – especially the fact that I NEVER once asked the librarian to watch my child, that I was indeed only gone for a VERY brief while (meaning my child was not left to potentially “misbehave” for any length of time), and to clear up the idea that this library, in particular, *might* have been harboring strange predators lurking behind the Board Books section… it wasn’t.

    I don’t regret Lenore sharing my story, nor, as I’ve said, do I regret doing what I did. I am absolutely shocked, however, by the level of viciousness in the AOL comments – and, even more, I’m deeply saddened and appalled by the number of parents who truly DO live in a state of paranoia, hovering over their kids’ every moves.

    I’m also grateful for living in the community I do, and for my extended family and friends, all of whom have heard this story and have supported me with a very vocal, “Damn straight!”

    All in all, I’d do what I did again in a heartbeat.
    And I’m really freakin’ glad I found Free-Range Kids.

  88. And a few more thoughts… Because, as the subject of the story, I’ve given this a *lot* of thought today… ;o)

    I continue to be astonished by the level of utter paranoia and lack of common sense demonstrated by the commenters on AOL. The idea that danger is hiding around every corner? Just SO NOT TRUE. Factually… statistically… Just. Not. True.

    Beyond the general hysteria, what happened to knowing your children, and knowing their maturity level and what they’re capable of, rather than applying blanket rules across the board? I know my kids, and knew that my 5 year-old was absolutely going to follow directions, play quietly, not wander off, not cause a ruckus, etc. On the other hand, I wouldn’t leave my younger daughter alone at the library for even 20 seconds. And not just because she’s 3, but because she’s HER… and she wanders and has very selective hearing when it comes to following directions. ;o)

    Would I leave my older daughter in the completely foreign (to us) New York City Public Library while I perused another section? Not a chance. But in our hometown library? At 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon when the library was virtually empty, and I was a stone’s throw away? Absolutely. And I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

    Was it, technically, a calculated risk? I guess so.
    But people take calculated risks with their children ALL the time. Children are FAR more likely to die in car accidents than by any other method… And yet, how many parents insist that their babies remain facing backwards in their carseats until they’re 12 months AND 20 lbs? How many keep their kids in 5-point harnesses till they’re 4 years and 40 lbs? How many keep them in boosters until they’re 4′ 9″, which might be until they’re, like, 10 years old? And how many keep them out of the front seat until they’re 13?

    How many times to kids ride scooters or bikes without helmets? How often do parents drive over the speed limit with their kids in the car? Do their kids every climb playground equipment? Do they climb trees? Play sports? *Everything* carries a level of risk, and when we make our choices, we decide that the risk is SO minimal, it’s okay. And then we hope and pray like crazy that we’re right.

    So, yes. Technically, leaving my daughter for those 86 seconds was a calculated risk.
    And yet… not really.

    Because, in order for someone to have come in and kidnapped her, a random person would have had to saunter into the main lobby of the library (which was also all but empty), past the 3 check-out librarians and the librarian at the help desk. Then, said person would have had to go into the children’s section, which involves ducking down and scooting through these little arched doorways. He’d be childless, alone (which, you think, might raise suspicions), and would have passed the librarian with whom I’d just spoken – who, maybe, would have wondered why some random, childless man was coming into the kids area.

    In any case, he’d then have had to have noticed my daughter across the room and, in nanoseconds, determined that she was alone, and gone up to her. If he’d managed to instantly scoop her up and somehow silence her, he’d then have had to have dragged or or carried her out of the children’s section – past the librarian who, although she was not “watching” my child, certainly knew that we were there alone… and, hey, now here was this little girl with a strange man who was silencing her – and then would have had to duck down with her and scoot through the little tunnels. Finally, he’d have to have made it out with her by going past the other four librarians and whoever else might have been in the lobby… Which, at that point, would certainly have taken at least 50 seconds, and by then, I would have been returning down the stairs and would have run into them.

    Of course, there’s a far greater chance that my daughter would have made some noise – maybe a helluva lot of noise – and it would have quickly become obvious that something was amiss. And again, although it’s no one else’s JOB to watch my kid, I would certainly hope that, as human beings, anyone in the library who had witnessed someone obviously harming or terrifying a child just might speak up. (That’s a wee bit beside the point, though, because if my daughter had screamed, I would have HEARD her upstairs – like I said, the library is simply not that big.)

    And all of that would have had to occur in 86 seconds.
    In that exact place. In that exact way.

    Which is to say… It wouldn’t. It simply wouldn’t.
    Because she was safe. Period.

  89. I used to ride my bike, through town, to our single wide trailer that housed our town’s library. I spent the entire summer reading through the entire library. I read them all. My parents had no clue what I was reading. It was a personal challenge. Oh what COULD have happened in that single wide trailer. I have no idea who the librarian was, I don’t recall one conversation. Today, in the three towns we’ve lived in since having kids, now ages 12 and 9, they are their personal friends. They run up and tell of the stories they are reading, the legos they are building. I ran upstairs to get my books with the explicit command to NOT come up stairs. Read a book, Nuzzle a Bear, Jump on a Computer. Now, in our library, they do not have room for the non fiction to stay in the children’s area, so my kids have to wander *gasp* the ADULT section to find their books. Whew. Danger danger danger. They look for the huge J’s on the tab of the book. . . . Craziness abounds. After 20 minutes they timidly come look for me, hoping I’ve found my selections, then they play on the computer or put together a puzzle.
    I can’t imagine asking the librarian to watch my kids – but she does know who they are, and would know if trouble was afoot. There’s NO way my kids could get hauled out of the library down 2 floors and out to the street without being covered in duct tape or drugged. Heaven Forbid.
    The only thing I have trouble with is that she did do the babysitting thing to the librarian, they can’t be responsible for potty breaks or a child that runs upstairs cause they think you’ve been gone too long. You train your free range kids, then give them responsibilities. Maybe a friendly – hey, I’m headed up stairs but cutie says she’ll be fine – in a friend to friend conversation would be better.
    But still. 1300 comments? Holy Cow. I read a few. So sorry they blasted it!!!!

  90. I’ve tried hard to stay out of the fray, but I finally feel the need to clarify some things. My daughter asked the librarian if it would be okay for her to leave her five year old alone in the children’s room ONLY because my daughter didn’t want to break the rule if leaving her child was not allowed. The librarian was never asked to “babysit”, nor was that in any way expected of her. My daughter actually timed her run up the stairs, locating of the book and return trip to her daughter. I believe she told me that she was gone for 86 seconds.

    My daughter is a highly capable and devoted mother who knows her five year old better than anyone else does. Her parenting decisions are made using rational thought, in addition to love.

    I’m shocked by the countless, incredibly judgmental comments (mostly on ParentDish) made about my daughter, especially considering that none of the commenters know her at all. Why does someone whose parenting style differs from theirs deserve such vitriolic criticism? Why can’t parents have a respectful dialogue about their differences? I know that it can be a scary world in which my darling granddaughter is growing up, but, frankly, people who so cruelly and ignorantly judge others worry me much more than the likelihood of a random creep lurking in the library.

  91. Wow! What a story, Emily. Who knew that such a minor event could bother people so much.

    Lenore’s post came just as I was posting about parenting as a collective aim. I think that the two topics are related. I do believe that people’s fears and anger stem from a sense of righteousness and individualistic notions of how we bring up children. In other words – we really must start to think about children as part of one big community than as little projects for individual parents to work on (or mess up, as your critics suggest).

    You didn’t do anything wrong – only had faith in a community of people who you thought cared about kids. Kudos!

  92. To Emily:

    I know how you feel, kind of. I once made the mistake of asking on a “friendly” forum whether I should be doing anything different with regard to my heavy 10-month-old’s diet. By the next time I logged in, I had been declared guilty of child neglect, not loving my child, having body image issues and projecting them on my child, starving my child, being crazy, and so on. I had intended to pose the question in a light-hearted tone, hence jokingly said things a bit more cavalierly than I could have. It was a very long time before I felt safe being “lighthearted” on that forum again.

    ParentDish is not the place to go to get warm, fuzzy feelings. There is something about it that encourages a negative tone. Besides that, every so often some other site links to a ParentDish article and this draws a lot of comments from a differently-minded group. These folks don’t care about your kid, they care about showing off for their blog friends / enemies.

    All that to say, don’t take it personally. And, I know that’s easier said than done.

  93. I’ll just say it: ParentDish sucks! 😛

  94. Wow, those are crazy comments. I’m sure their kids will grow up independent and self confident. LOL.

  95. Wow. If I’m not a real mom, I wonder what the heck it is that I’ve been doing for the past 12 years. I don’t know where in the world I went wrong. I only let them do their own thing because I thought it would be healthy… 😉

    Ok, so here’s the thing. I do think 5 is too young to be left alone in the library, unless your child is especially precocious. I don’t think the typical 5-year-old has the skills to deal with “what happens if someone I don’t know comes near me,” or “how long has it REALLY been since Mom walked away”? My kids have been browsing in the library on their own for about three years now (they are ages 10-12 now). They know they are TOAST if they misbehave or in any way spoil the experience for others. I have wonderful memories of being in the library, on my own, browsing & reading, and don’t want others to have negative memories because my kids were brats. By the time I was 10, BTW, my 2 sisters, 3 neighbor friends, and I were walking a mile to the library several times a week during the summer, with no adult. And my mother used to give us money to walk 1/2 mile to the store to get a gallon of milk, or a loaf of bread. *Gasp* That sounds like the makings of a great campfire story!

    So…while these people teach their children that I am some evil stranger who might snatch them away, thus making them fearful of doing anything away from mommy’s watchful eye, I will be busy raising my children to be in charge of themselves someday–adults who can make a decision without checking in with me.

  96. This is the kind of behavior/thinking that happens when people remain stuck in “what if,” rather than “what is.” It’s a tragedy, really. It’s limiting to both parents and children. The solipsistic parent can’t imagine the child could be safe without him or her. The child is taught that fear is the appropriate response to the unknown. And that the parent is the only person who can be trusted.

    The problem is that the crippling fear that underlies all of these comments is in direct opposition to what I believe to be the parents’ intention–to provide the best for their kids and keep them safe.

    However, children must learn to fend for themselves absent a parent’s direct involvement. It’s an essential part of childhood and has inspired everything from Shirley Temple films, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. Children who have lost parents have to learn to overcome the challenges of the world. Obviously, these are extreme and dramatic. But they’re fiction.

    In reality, life is far less theatrical, and children don’t end up as wizards, nor do they (thankfully, actually) sing “On the Good Ship Lollipop.” It’s all about understanding that there are always risks, and no one can prevent every risk. That’s why there’s the concept of “acceptable risk.” Children who demonstrate they can handle responsibility (being well-behaved in public, for instance) earn more rights.

    Teaching a child to function independently and appropriately in the world is a much greater protection than trying to control and protect every moment.

    Still, the responses to Lenore’s post point out what’s out there. Makes me more grateful for this blog and nascent movement.

  97. Sueg,
    I know you weren’t directing your comments at me in any way, but since my daughter is the subject of the story, I just wanted to talk (okay, perhaps brag 😉 ) about her a little.

    Yes, she’s five. But she is awfully darn precocious. She sat up at 4 months, crawled at 6, and walked at 9.5 months. She’s been speaking in full sentences since she was 14 months old. She has been writing her name since age 2 and now, although she’s not yet in Kindergarten, reads and writes full, simple sentences and books.

    She is also just very, very capable – oftentimes shocking us with the things that we never knew she could do. She’s been getting herself fully dressed (including “tricky” things like tights, bathing suits, pants with zippers, shirts with buttons, etc.) since just before she turned three. She knows the location of every single item in the house (okay, I’m sure there are some that stump her, but still…) and can inform everyone of where things are and how to do stuff. She just showed me the other day that she has taught herself how to put her own hair up in a ponytail or a bun.

    Since age three, she has “read” her clock and waited until the first number was 7, and then has gotten herself out of bed and gotten herself dressed. These days, she makes her bed and brushes her teeth, too, before letting me know she’s up (“Mommy – it’s after 7!”) and going downstairs. By the time I’ve gotten there 5 minutes later, she has routinely gotten out breakfast for herself and her sister. (The only items on her menu are cereal with milk, yogurt, various kinds of fruit, and milk or chocolate milk… but she knows she’s not allowed to operate the microwave or toaster. 😉 ) Last week, she showed me that she had cut strawberries into nice, neat pieces for her and her sister – and I was ready to begin the lecture/reminder about how she is NOT allowed to use the sharp, grown-up knives… when she pulled out the strawberry-laden child-friendly knife that we keep in the kids’ drawer.

    She gets snack for herself and her sister nearly every day (she knows that she must have fruit with every snack, and also is aware of the other acceptable options as well as what an appropriate portion is). She helps her sister remove her bedtime diaper and get dressed. She helps put away groceries. She helps walk the dogs.

    While we were out of town last week, my husband and I “caught” her at the kitchen sink, standing on a (low) stool, after dinner… And she informed us that she was washing the dishes “to give us a break.” I even got out the video camera, asking her jokingly if she was trying to wheedle a pony out of us or something… But she cheerfully replied that, no. She just wanted to help and give Mommy a break.

    Okay… That was about as unabashedly braggy as a Mom can get. 😉 Now, don’t get me wrong: my daughter is far, far from “perfect” with regard to her behavior. She certainly can have a fresh mouth and her personality can “turn” on a dime (I just posted on Facebook yesterday about how, while I was fixing her hair, she’d muttered under her breath that it was “the very worst hairdo EVER” — and when I reprimanded her, explaining it was unacceptable to speak to me with rude words in a rude tone, she told ME that it was unacceptable to fix her hair in a rude way. She can’t ride a bike or throw a ball. She can be bossy and certainly receives her fair share of time outs (yesterday’s was for whacking her sister on the head with a Barbie). But she’s a damn good, smart, fun, funny, loving, confident kid, and I have a lot of faith and trust in her, even though she’s only five. 🙂

    So, yes. In short, she’s pretty darn precocious, and because I absolutely knew and trusted her safety in our library, as well as was CERTAIN that I would only be gone for a VERY short while (86 seconds, to be exact 😉 ), I knew that she would behave appropriately and that my decision was sound, for her.

    As I already mentioned above, I would NEVER do the same with my 3 year-old — and I don’t know that I will when she’s 5 or 6 or even 7, for that matter, because although she is equally wonderful, her personality is entirely different, and I don’t know that she could be trusted to stay in place, not misbehave, etc.

    In any case… Please know I’m not “jumping on” you in any way, and I know we’re in the same corner here! But I just wanted to say that, in this particular case, I know that my daughter was up to the job. 🙂

  98. Well as far as I’m concerned, the mother’s first mistake was in telling the librarian she was leaving. I hope she’s learned her lesson. Like the rest of you I am shocked (though not surprised) at the comments. I’ve been handling this situation in the exact same way for a long time – since my son was three in fact – and have never had a moment of doubt about his safety.

    I find it interesting that so many libraries object to children alone. It certainly wasn’t like that when I was growing up. In fact, I spent so much time there that the librarians were all over me as soon as I turned 14; it seems they liked to hire kids who obviously loved books. I wound up working there all through high school. I was recently back in my old neighbourhood and walked the route from “home” to the library. It was quite a distance, much farther than most parents will allow their children to go alone these days.

    As to the librarian’s response, one thing I’ve noticed is that people often fall back on “safety” rather than give the real reason for something. I’ve been told to have my son stop climbing on things because they’re dangerous (um,no, if it was dangerous I wouldn’t be letting him do it) when they really don’t want kids creating a disturbance. My judgement as to what’s acceptable isn’t always the same as others’ and I can’t read their minds. Depending on my mood, I’ll either go along with them or innocently remark that my son is being safe and force them to say what they really mean.

  99. I’ll say it again: the reason librarians automatically have a negative response to unattended children is because they’ve been burned so often in the past.

    After a certain number of incidents of unattended kids climbing furniture or destroying books, children left in the building at closing time, and pervs in the bathroom (my library catches masturbators at least once every week or so), library employees just assume the worst. One time I saw a little girl, maybe 2 years old, climbing up on a chair and trying to get over the railing of our 2-story atrium. She would have fallen 30 feet onto a brick floor if we hadn’t stopped her- Mom was too engrossed in MySpace to see the danger.

    That said, my experience is in a large urban library with a major homeless/mentally ill/substance abuser population among our patrons. The Rochester librarian is probably more concerned with the kid’s behavior than the possibility of getting abducted.

    BTW- at my library, we regularly issue the same warning to anybody who asks to leave their backpack or stack of DVDs at our desk, let alone their child. “Yes, you can leave those here if you want, but we can’t promise to watch them very closely because we may get called away from the desk or have to answer the phone.” We don’t want to get blamed if your stuff goes missing!

  100. One person suggested that the librarian might have been afraid of a lawsuit. I agree. In addition to being paranoid that something disastrous will happen to a child if left alone for a second, there is an overwhelming fear that you could be sued by anybody for anything at any time if you don’t offer enough legal disclaimers. The librarian may have just been paranoid and thought she’d protect herself by saying the equivalent of, “Sure, I’ll watch your kid, but if anything happens, I take no legal responsibility.” That was her way of issuing the superfluous peanut jar warning, “May contain nuts.”

  101. Wow. “Every. Single. Second.” How profound. How pedantic. How about extrapolating to the ultimate “period” point: Until just WHEN? At 18? At 21? Forever?

    Every. Single. Second. Indeed. Better give up sleeping.

  102. That’s another point (re Emily’s daughter’s abilities) that those PD commenters completely missed. Just because their child, or the average child, might not be ready for a responsibility at age 5, doesn’t mean no child is.

    My kid sister was very precocious. When she was 4, I was her daytime caregiver. I was in college and took night courses, so I was not a morning person. After first getting permission from me, 4-year-old would carefully and skillfully cook breakfast (scrambled eggs, toasted cheese), sometimes lunch (boxed mac n cheese, hot dogs, canned veg) while I was still in bed. Some people even on this site would say, whoa, that’s child neglect, etc. But if you could have watched her, you would be surprised. She would start by making sure there was nothing flammable on or near the stove. Then she’d cook carefully. Never forgot to turn off the stove when she was done. Never left anything in a precarious position where it could spill or burn her. She would clean up after herself, too. Put perishables in the fridge, garbage in the trash, etc. I knew I could trust her because I was the one who taught and observed her until she was ready to go it alone. (I spent hours every day helping her to acquire skills, lest you think I was a slacker. Just not at 8am!) On the other hand, if her brother, twice her age, told me he was about to cook something, I’d be down those stairs instantly, because he was absent-minded enough to leave flammables on the stove and such.

    At 4, little sis was also independent with respect to bathing, dressing, keeping her room tidy, etc. She was mature enough to go visit her friend down the street and come home at the appointed time. She could read, write, make a phone call, and play the piano. She was articulate and confident in interactions with adults. Is all this unusual for a 4-year-old? Yes, but that doesn’t make it impossible or wrong. How can anyone say that a child they don’t know is “too young” for a responsibility, particularly one that endangers nobody else?

  103. I had something very similar to this happen to me in the Children’s area of our library except I was STILL IN THE CHILDREN’S AREA!

    I was at the library with my child (3 at the time). He was playing quietly with the puzzles and puppets in the children’s corner. I was a few shelves away picking out books for my children. The librarian asked very loudly and looking straight at me, “Does anyone know who’s child this is?”

    The implication was clear: “What kind of mom would be 30 yards away from her child? And don’t think I didn’t see you looking down at those books. I know you couldn’t see him EVERY.SINGLE.SECOND.”

    I actually felt guilty at the time.


    Since most child molesters are family members of close friends maybe we should only leave our children with strangers in the Library. No matter how you look at this illogic it never makes sense. Let’s say it again. Life is risky, somewhat dangerous, we get it. But you cannot protect a child 24/7 for all potential danger. Most places are safe and especially the children’s room at the library. When will we look at the statistics and rope in our emotions.

    Take heart Lenore, in the long run free-range will win the day. No society can function driven by fear. If for no other reason then exaustion eventually parents will loosen up and kids will gain some freedom.

  105. Susan: Wow. I never would have let her get away with that. I would have replied in an equally loud voice “Why? Is he causing trouble or misbehaving in any way?” If the answer is no, I would say “Then I don’t see why you are concerned!” That, by the way, is my prepared response for when I let me 7 and 10 year old hang out by the video games at Walmart while I shop nearby (I haven’t had to use it yet, but my daughter was worried that someone will yell at them for not being right by me.)

  106. I will start off by saying that replies to the post on Parentdish were pretty out there and I feel for these women’s children.

    But I think many free-rangers need to relax a bit too. The librarian did not tell the mom that she couldn’t leave her kid. She just gave her a warning. Why is that such a big deal? She is not repsonsible for this kid and wanted to make that clear to the parent.

    And although she was never asked to watch the child, the librarian may have inferred that she was expected to. If I were the librarian, that would have been my assumoption. At least two librarians have posted that problems with unattended lids are common. So the librarian in question wanted to make it clear that this woman was leaving the child in a public place and not a supervised situation. Again, why is this a big deal? Why is this an assault against free range?

    “That’s another point that those PD commenters completely missed. Just because their child, or the average child, might not be ready for a responsibility at age 5, doesn’t mean no child is.”

    And regarding thinking like this: you all need to stop being so self engrossed. Just because you think your child is ready for a responsibility, don’t assume that anyone else does — or cares. I am sure that the librarian has dealt with kids — whose parents think they are angels — get into mischief.

    So many people are quick to jump on this as anti-free range or parnoid or CYA for a potential lawsuit. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not as far-reaching as that — maybe the librarian or the barber mentioned in a previous post or any other adult in question just doesn’t want to deal with your kid.

    Take a moment to think. If you want this librarian to change her way of thinking, which works better — a bunch of comments attacking her or the chid who stayed in the children’s section without incident.

  107. I don’t have a problem with the librarian. I would do this kind of thing, but wouldn’t mention it to the librarian. Of course, when my son (now 8) was 5, he would’ve wanted to go with me. He’s just naturally cautious and unless he was really into something (like if they had a Thomas the train set-up), he would not have wanted to stay.

    That said, since about age 7 he’s been comfortable with that as have I. Most children’s rooms in libraries and bookstores are not right next to the door. If my son were abducted (and I don’t really even think about that), my son would put up a huge fuss if anyone tried to take him.

    As for the Parent Dish folks, I just feel bad that it’s come to this. We are told every day, in ever kind of media that you *have* to watch your child every second. Even when they are “old enough” you have to monitor them on your cell phone. It’s pervasive. The thinking behind it is that if something happens, well, it’s your own fault. You fell off the job for 3 minutes and just look what happened. Never mind that we *know* that stranger abductions are incredibly rare and that most abductions are not strangers. It’s the fact that the most frightening thing you can conjure up is to have a child abducted by a stranger, never to be heard from again. And the fact that we’re led to believe we can control it. But look at Polly Klaas. Wasn’t she taken from her room at a sleepover? And the girl in Utah (her name escapes me at the moment), she was in her room (and he wasn’t a complete stranger). We are told we need to be in control and the fact is that control is an illusion. And kids are suffering because they rely so much on their parents that when they are faced with a situation they don’t have the experience making independent decisions.

  108. Elizabeth Smart, dmd. I gotta say, that case surprised me. It was so strange that I was *sure* she was a runaway, that her sister was covering for her, however ineptly. I was shocked that she really was kidnapped in that incredibly improbable way. (And horrified, of course.)

  109. Yeah, everyone thinks their own child is unusually special. Yawn. To me, that’s hardly the point. Even most completely typical five yar old can manage themselves for five minutes. If you’re happy with the deicisons you are making on behalf of your kids, just be confident and ignore the stuff you don’t agree with. Seriously, who cares what a bunch of online strangers think? I think this particular 86 second incident has run it’s course.

  110. My 4 yr. old and I go to our downtown public library 2-3 times a week. We split up at the front door with him going into the children’s library to choose books, and me going to the adult section to pick out my own books. When I am done, I go into the children’s section, and he uses the self checkout to check out our books. If he gets done before me, there are tables with small toys, a fish tank full of exotic fish to watch, and of course, plenty of books to read. He will sometimes ask the librarian for help locating a book or for book suggestions but the librarian is certainly not babysitting him, nor is there any risk of him climbing the shelves or wandering off with a stranger.

  111. Ellen, my point is not that other people should think anything about my kid. It’s that they should give parents the benefit of the doubt that they know what their own kid is capable of.

    I would agree the same argument works the other way. I’m not criticizing parents who DON’T leave their young kids alone in the library or let them cook independently or whatever. Not all kids are ready for that, obviously. But yes, if you take it to the point where you swear you will never take your eye off your child for one second (up to the age of 19, apparently, in one case) – and not due to any special needs but simply on principle – then yes, I do feel sorry for those kids. Either their parent is obsessive, paranoid, dumb, or dishonest, any of which is sad for the kid.

    I do agree that some of us jump to criticize other parents who are also making a choice based on their superior knowledge of their child. But please don’t overgeneralize, because that’s not helpful either.

  112. “Ellen, my point is not that other people should think anything about my kid. It’s that they should give parents the benefit of the doubt that they know what their own kid is capable of.”

    While I sympathize with this approach somewhat, reality does tend to intrude. How often have we seen parents who not only don’t seem to “know what their kid is capable of,” but who calmly stand by while their kid is verbally or physically misbehaving in a disruptive or (genuinely) dangerous way. It’s just hard to take the line “trust parents to know what their kids are capable of” when you’re in a world with a significant (not overwhelming, but not tiny) percentage of people who don’t have a CLUE about monitoring their kids’ public behavior. I can’t blame the librarian or anybody else for not being willing to extend the benefit of the doubt that a given, unknown parent is able to reasonably guarantee appropriate conduct in their young kids.

    But at the same time, this isn’t a defense of people who busybody and interfere and are aghast that YOU let your kids do X. In this situation, the librarian had a specific responsibility that involved (among other things) maintaining order in the library, and she was appealed to. That’s not the same as non-involved people flipping out that you DARE let your kids walk two blocks or use a knife. In cases where the person isn’t responsible for the ramifications of your child’s behavior, they should definitely leave things to the parent’s judgment.

  113. Sigh. I remember being so excited when my parents gave me a watch. That meant that I could go and play and do whatever I wanted, as long as I was back home by the designated time.

    They sent me off with a “quarter for calling” (no cell phones in the good old days) but otherwise really had no idea where I was or what I was up to.

    Talk about liberating. Now, as a university professor, I see parents arriving weekly at the dorms to do laundry, cook meals, and clean for their kids.

    Not only has this “helicopter parenting” taken away the freedom of these kids, it’s infantilizing them. We’re going to be a society of middle-aged babies before we know it.

  114. The library is a wonderful place for children to explore on their own. Having said that, as a youth services librarian I heartily agree with Lenore that librarians should not be used as babysitters.

    Most libraries have some sort of “unattended child” policy, which is probably what this librarian was attempting to explain to the mom. These are generally applied either to very small children who have been allowed to run wild to the point of property destruction, or to slightly older children who are left alone for very long periods of time. Some parents assume that public libraries, like schools, act “in loco parentis” (as legal guardians when parents are absent), but this is not the case.

    In the past few years, despite strict usage policies, wonderful security guards and librarian staff, there have been two incidents in my very busy library in which an adult somehow revealed himself to a child. In both cases, the child was attended by his or her parent. Even if you’re with your child “every single second,” you can’t prevent every bad thing from happening–and the librarian can’t either.

  115. Pentamom, I said in my first comment that I saw no problem with what the librarian said. My only judgment was of the nasty comments on ParentDish.

  116. OK, thanks and sorry SKL.

  117. I see the result of helicopter parenting. I volunteer at a local college campus where I help with academic advising. When I went to college, you scheduled your own classes, met with your advisor and financial aid person a few times to make sure everything was kosher and then you were expected to take care of yourself. “Call if you need anything!” was the mentality. Now, most students ask us to schedule their classes, order their books and make sure they pay on time. It’s overwhelming for the staff, but if we don’t do it, we lose students b/c they just can’t seem to get by on their own. It’s sad, really.

  118. I have a bit of a problem with what the librarian said. I don’t think it was terrible, it’s not like she shouted “how could you?” or something. And she didn’t have half an hour to compose a response so I understand it can be difficult to find the right words at the right time.

    But if her reason for responding with anything other than “O.K.” was because she thought she was being asked to babysit or she thought the child might not behave appropriately it would be really nice if her comment had actually mentioned either of those things.

    I think it’s symptomatic of how the fear driven approach to parenting has seeped into the fabric of our society. An appeal to insignificant risks like that should draw looks of puzzlement from parents, not have them second guessing themselves. It’s not that I really blame the librarian, it’s just that I think it’s a shame it’s become such a standard way to try and manipulate parents (as Gail mentions above).

  119. You would think that giving your child freedoms would create responsibility and trust. However as my daughter turned 19, even after all the warnings, she met someone on internet cam, and 3 weeks later he sent her a ticket to Seoul Korea. Human Trafficking no doubt! Luckily her friends warned me, so I could save her.

    You can talk about giving a child freedoms all you want. I agree that we have to trust to a point, and not shelter our children. But THEY ARE NOT ADULTS! Some of these kids don’t remember the razor blades in halloween candy. The Tynelol scare.

    I think it’s ludicrous for you to judge parents that want to protect. We all protect based on our choice. I assume your children are not older than teens yet. Watch your words, cause they will come back to bite you. We raise our kids right, and then somehow they lose their brains now and then.

    I know, I have been on a high horse with my great daughter, bragging about how I raised her properly, and then BAM, meets a predator on the internet.

    So, I humbly now understand that no matter how many great tools, trust, friendship, parenting skills, it will always come down to our kids taking risks, chances, and stupid stuff.

    My advice to you. Step off the high horse before they make a dumb mistake like mine did. It’s easier to blog and rant about her dumb choices.

  120. You would think that giving your child freedoms would create responsibility and trust. However as my daughter turned 19, even after all the warnings, she met someone on internet cam, and 3 weeks later he sent her a ticket to Seoul Korea. Human Trafficking no doubt! Luckily her friends warned me, so I could save her.

    Human trafficking? In Americans? Possible, but unlikely. You’d get into a lot less trouble trafficking in poor people from impoverished countries. This is why we hear so much about human trafficking from Eastern Europe and from Asia and from Africa, but so little from the US. We’re not morally superior, we’re just richer and have more political power.

    Doesn’t mean it can’t happen, I guess. It just strikes me as unlikely.

    You can talk about giving a child freedoms all you want. I agree that we have to trust to a point, and not shelter our children. But THEY ARE NOT ADULTS!

    Actually, at nineteen, your daughter IS an adult. Legally and morally.

    Some of these kids don’t remember the razor blades in halloween candy. The Tynelol scare.

    Razor blades in halloween *candy*? How would you fit one in there? In apples, sure… something which has never killed anybody and which has never been that widespread, but in *candy*? What sort of big candy are your neighbors giving out on??? (Poison, in candy, btw, has never really happened.)

    As for the Tylenol scare, well, that was a one-time incident. What’s happened on that front recently?

    So, I humbly now understand that no matter how many great tools, trust, friendship, parenting skills, it will always come down to our kids taking risks, chances, and stupid stuff.

    So why kill yourself trying to prevent it? Let them make their small mistakes when they’re little so they’re not so stupid as to make big mistakes when they’re adults.

  121. Kimmy, you honestly made me lol. To you really think all the folks here do not want to protect their children? That is ludicrous. I think most of these children will be better prepared for the world away from their parents because they have been given some freedom to do things by themselves and for themselves.
    Remember free-range does not equal a free for all. It is not that we allow our children to do whatever they want without rules or supervision. It is that we are raising our children to be adults by giving them the time as children to learn to take care of themselves by playing without us, making decisions own their own sometimes, by being trusted so they can trust themselves in the future when they are truly on their own.

    When will your child be an adult?

  122. Kimmy: I’m sorry if I sound like a jerk, but I feel a little sorry for you. You must be terrified all the time. I can’t imagine what it must be like to live in fear for your children all the time.

    I’m not a parent, so disregard this if you like (it’s easy for people to disregard the opinions of nonparents because “we don’t KNOW!”), but childhood is a process. Children are developing physically, yes, but also mentally.

    When people say, “Just yesterday, he was playing in the sandbox, and now here he is, graduating from college,” that’s just a metaphor for the passage of time. Unless people want to be following their 25-year-old sons into the men’s bathroom to make sure no pervs get by, they have to start giving their kids the freedom, incrementally, to make decisions and form judgment. And sometimes they will make mistakes and make very poor decisions that will get them hurt. Adults do that, too, sometimes, but judgment isn’t something that’s delivered on your 21st birthday. It’s something that grows over time.

  123. Wow. I just went over there and read this comment from a mother. The worst day of her life was when her 2-year-old wandered away from her. She looked and looked…and found her playing happily at the other end of the store, completely fine.

    I get that those 10 minutes were terrifying, but the moral of the story is that, no, there was no pedophile waiting to snatch her helpless toddler.

  124. Wow! I routinely send my 5 & 7 yr olds in (sometimes alone, sometimes together) to collect the books we have on reserve & to return things. I refuse to live a life of perpetual fear.

  125. Depends on the age of the kid. Under 5? I’d be concerned he or she would make a mess while I was gone. 5 and up? Sure. I let my 5 year old go to the bathroom alone all the time at the library while I stay with my 3 year old looking at books in the kids section. I don’t split up, but that’s because of my 3 year old. If I were just with my 5 year old, I’d happily leave her in the kids section for awhile while I went to the adult section, making sure she knew where I was.

  126. I think it’s hilarious that the final comment uses “parent” to mean “mother.” By the context alone, it’s obvious.

    I hate when people say “parent” when they REALLY mean “Mom.” If “Dad” had done such a thing, I doubt seriously anybody would have batted an eyelash. What a Great Dad He Is for taking the kids to the library at all, amirite?

    Anyway, librarians are currently hypersensitive about this “not a babysitter” issue. Whether their reasons for this hypersensitivity are grounded in reality or groupthink I don’t honestly know… I’ve heard numerous stories from people about “black women” who “just use the library for free babysitting while they hook up with guys” and while it’s got the whiff of urban legend about it, there might be something behind it in certain communities. Shrug.

  127. @cb — yeah, I noticed that, too. I find it particularly hilarious because in my little family, DH, not me, is the more helicoptery parent (although even he’s not that helicoptery anymore, since I left Lenore’s book lying around the house a few months ago …).

    It just occurred to me that the “not a babysitter” issue is a direct consequence of the “no child left alone” issue: 30 years ago, when I was my daughter’s age, people weren’t constantly on alert lest they be mistaken for free babysitting because there was no expectation that every child had to be watched constantly at all times. I’m sure adults kind of casually kept an eye on any kids that happened along, but it wasn’t automatically assumed that any adult in the vicinity of a child would have their pants sued off them in the event of a child-related mishap.

    Of course, I was, as I say, a child 30 years ago, so maybe I’m making that last bit up ;), but I stand by the first sentence of the above paragraph.

  128. AirborneVet, on April 2, 2010 at 11:02 am Said:

    “Now, most students ask us to schedule their classes, order their books and make sure they pay on time. ”

    I wonder if this happens at upper-tier universities and colleges?

    I suggest an additional cause for this behavior – namely a not-so-recent trend toward a “consumer model” at lower-tier colleges.

    My wife teaches at one of these.

    When she started, in 1993, students had the expectation that they weret to get validation for themselves as is – and not for the education the institution was pretending to provide.

    Matters have improved, since then, but the school is still much more concerned with the “full-time-equivalent” (on which state subsidies are based) than with any form of rigor.

  129. I think that makes a lot of sense, Sylvia.

    It’s like we’ve decided it is not even possible for a child to be unsupervised, so you resent being drafted for intensive childminding, even when that is not the intent of the parent.

  130. OK, so as part of the “non-believers” invading parenting… I belong to Mom’s Club, an international group of stay at home moms with chapters all over. It’s a good way to meet other moms with kiddos the age of yours and they have play dates and moms night out and park days and… and it all sounds great. Except one thing. All groups are on Yahoo groups, which itself it a great ap, but due to the “insecure” nature of yahoo groups, it is against Mom’s Club rules to post date/time/location of events. So, once a month, a calendar is sent out by an email list – this calendar lists all the events for the month. Any future reference to the events can’t include any details… Frustrated, I inquired as to why. The answer? Pedophiles, stalkers, ex-husbands… might hack into the yahoo group or otherwise obtain the information from the list (it is a private members only list) and show up at the events and do something horrible. As a result, it is difficult to remember events and so I frequently miss. I have sent this blog out to the group, a few thought it was great, I’m sure the rest think that I’m nuts… I’m just so frustrated. I know that there are bad people out there but are they really going to target a group of moms and kids? Of all of the things to be worried about, I really am more concerned with the very real threat of poisonous snakes in my yard than someone not invited showing up at a play date in the park.

  131. I work on a college campus so I see the effect of free-range parenting versus the paranoid paradigm. Yes, the intentions of the paranoid parents are pure (I’ll assume that, at least) but they seem not to realize that our objective as parents is to make ourselves obsolete so that our offspring can survive without us when they are 18. This is actually a very loving objective and we should parent in furtherance of this very loving goal. Parents don’t seem to realize that when they hover in these paranoid fashions, they are essentially saying to their kid “I don’t trust you to be able to handle this situation on your own.” This, my friends, is one helluva message to be sending to a growing young person.

  132. I’m a children’s librarian coming late to the discussion. Our library is a free-standing children’s library. The adult/YA stuff is next door. In general, we’re fine leaving it up to the adult in charge of the child. They know the kid and they know what the child can handle. We have to tell parents that while we strive to make our space as safe as possible, we are still a public building and we can’t stop someone from entering. We also can’t stop a child from leaving with an adult, because we mostly don’t know who that adult is to that child.

    I have had to take a child next door and go through the library floor by floor to find her mother since we were closing for the evening and mom hadn’t come back to pick her child up. I have had to call a parent’s cell phone and tell her that if she didn’t come to pick her children up in 15 minutes, I would be calling the police (they were 6 and 3 and left here for almost 2 hours. The 6-year-old was not capable of watching the younger child and the little one couldn’t use the bathroom by herself.)

    So, yes, we have been burned mightily. We don’t object to parents zipping downstairs to use the bathroom, though, as long as their child is capable of being alone up here for a few minutes. Peeing is important. 🙂

  133. OK the social contract comment bugged me, I’m an anthropologist and we have to read the book the “Social Contract” in intro. theory. The social contract basically states that to live in a society we all agree to abide by the rules of the society and live in harmony with our neighbors. If we all did live by the social contract we wouldn’t need Lenore (sorry) to remind us to just exercise some common sense in child rearing and trust random people not to suddenly become child molestors just because they happen to see a child.

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