Two Thoughts

Hi Readers — I got this note the other day and found it very intriguing. You may, too. It’s about two issues that affect how we think about kids and freedom !

Dear Free-Range Kids: These thoughts have been swirling around my mind.

1. Have you noticed that “anything can happen” is the new code phrase for “s/he could be kidnapped” but people don’t like to spell it out? I’ve started pushing people into telling me exactly what they mean and then giving them a lecture on the real risks in life (as non-sarcastically as I can manage, but that’s not always saying much). Today, for example, I ran into the mother of a classmate of my older son’s and she gave me that line when it came out that my son goes to the grocery store — literally at the strip mall three houses away from us — by himself. I very innocently asked, “What, like something falling on his head?” Which, realistically, is far more likely than him being kidnapped. And that forced her to spell it out.  She remained unconvinced that it was safe, but at least I don’t think she’ll be reporting me to the authorities!

2. Something’s been niggling at me for years, since my older boy learned to climb on things and got very good at it, but it took me until recently to put my finger on exactly what it is. I — and my sons directly, which really ticks me off — have had many people from acquaintances to full strangers tell me that what they’re doing (usually something involving climbing and/or balancing) is dangerous and they will fall. Not “might.” “Will.” This is what’s wrong with so much of our society today. Since every risk has become unacceptable, everything that “might” happen has been elevated to a “will” happen, with no determination of actual risk (based on a combination of the activity, the individual’s skill, and the magnitude of the consequences). So, now, balancing on the arm of my living room sofa is equivalent to crossing a busy street without first checking the traffic. Maybe I’m more rational about this because of my strong mathematics background (guess what my degree is in!) but it seems like basic common sense to me.

Thanks for letting me unload. There aren’t a lot of people in real life — other than my husband who thankfully agrees with me — to talk to rationally about this stuff. Keep up the good work.

73 Responses

  1. It’s like I’ve always said. It’s not about the child – well in directly it is, because their safety and well-being is top on the list – but ultimately, it starts with the parent. For one reason or other (perhaps their parents were fearful too), consciously or subconsciously they have a deep paranoia of bad things happening to them. It’s an insecurity issue. And to justify it to themselves, they project it on others. But the worse part is, they are projecting it on their own children.

    Children aren’t dumb, a little naive yes but that is easily remedied by educating them. Given the opportunity, they can surprise you of the things they know. I never understood the mentality of adults and treating children like they are invalids. Young children absorb everything, and I mean everything. That includes negative energy…feelings. Which include fear, and insecurities. If not put in check, they grow up to fearful, insecure children themselves.

    I ignore people like this, because really, they don’t know any better than their kids. How many children of overly fearful parents have been hurt, abducted, killed even? Plenty, sadly to say. Did their fears protect their child? Sadly no. Could it have been different? IMO, yes. An educated child, who isn’t fearful, and has confidence and trust in their parents, is better prepared to deal with situations they come across.

  2. Since I’ve been spending lots of time in the OB/GYN’s office lately I’ve been looking through those national parenting type magazines for the first time in years. One of the many, many, many reason’s I’d never pay money for one of them is a section called “It Happened to ME!”, a column where someone writes in with a random horror story to “inform” other parents of a risk they might not be aware of (because its so unlikely to happen in most cases).
    My favourite was a mother who’s three year old was accidentally served an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant. She told her mother her juice tasted funny and it turned out they had received another table’s drink. Well, the horror! Her little girl was only 30 pounds; she could have been KILLED by a shot of booze! Now this mom tastes EVERYTHING the waiter brings to the table for her child and you should too!
    What can you even say to that mindset?

  3. @Deanne: that reminds me of the time I took cookies to a wine/halloween party my sister was having. One of the neighbors brought his then-three-year-old and gave him the *biggest* cookie off the tray (the size of the kid’s head and ghost–shaped) I ran over to let him know that the icing was alcoholic – spiced rum, specifically – and that his kid could well catch a buzz; I had, while taste testing the icing. His response? “Can’t take it away from him now. We just won’t tell his mom why he’s sleeping so well tonight.” I wish more parents were like him!

  4. I’m struck by how we interpret and view risk. As a culture we revere and admire the person who “risks it all,” quits their job and pursues some life long calling. It’s the American way. Yet the potential affects of a failed business venture are likely far more devastating that falling from a swing set.

    So we admire the person who sinks their retirement savings to open yet another restaurant, and we look down our collective noses at the parent who lets their kid get all Curious George on them.

    Doesn’t make send to me.

  5. Being told something “will” happen is pretty bothersome. Have you read “The Continuum Concept” by Jean Leidloff? She spent a lot of time with a group of South American Indians (they Free-Range). She saw kids doing all sorts of things we would think of as dangerous and they rarely got hurt. She too was bothered by our society telling kids to always “be careful”, because what you are saying is that “I expect you to get hurt, I don’t really trust you” and often that is what happens. The person lives up to that expectation and gets hurt. I notice it a lot now, and try to reply by saying “well they’ll only get hurt if…” I really like this blog and your book, so affirming and inspiring!

  6. Does anyone have a list of things of when they are, at least generally, developmentally appropriate? I know that in some cultures, all of these probably happen when people are 3 or 4, but I don’t know myself for our culture (and busy streets) what is appropriate.

    1) Going for a walk around the block alone
    2) Riding a bike through the neighborhood alone
    3) Being left at home alone for 1-3 hours

    Those are all I can think of right now. Thanks!

    Jon

  7. I don’t think such a list does, or even could, exist. Unofficially, my impression is that the age for all of the above is 12. The free-range answer is whenever the individual child is ready, taking into account the conditions of the neighbourhood. I can tell you that there are things my 4 year old does that his big brother would never have been able to handle at his age. Different people, different capabilities.

  8. A lot of people like to tell me what “they” have to “say” about the matter…You know: “THEY SAY that if you do/don’t do this, this could happen to your child!”

    I like to ask those people: “Who are THEY? Did THEY graduate from THEY University?”

  9. I’m pretty free range, and this site helps me to keep a balanced view when I hear or sense criticism. But the other day I saw a situation where I was potentially on the other side.

    I was at the park with my kids and there was a mom there with her 1- and 2-year-olds. The 2-year-old wandered off toward where my 3-year-old was playing and started doing some stuff that was fairly challenging and at a height where if his foot slipped, he’d get hurt. I didn’t stop the kid but reminded him to be careful and watch his step, and I stayed within catching distance just in case. (I should note we were on the equipment designated appropriate for ages 5-12.) I kept looking around but didn’t see his mom anywhere. After about 5-10 minutes, she came along and took over what I’d been doing. I mentioned what he’d been playing on and she said, “he’s pretty sure-footed” (which was quite true). Later the 1-year-old was climbing on the “big kid” equipment with Mom nowhere in sight. No harm was done, but I was a little weirded out. Then I realized that she was thoroughly absorbed in flirting with the guy she was with. I went away feeling weird about the whole thing. On one hand, the kids clearly had above-average agility and balance. They did not fall nor cry out for help the whole time I was there. On the other hand, the mom was so distracted that she wouldn’t have been aware should any clear dangers have arisen. For example, there were about 10 kids playing on the same equipment and one of them could have knocked her 1-year-old off balance while she was 7 feet above the ground. So I’m not sure if what I was seeing was free-range, foolishness, or a hybrid of both.

    I don’t like people saying “that is dangerous” or “he will fall” (which can become self-fulfilling prophecies, helping nobody). But I don’t take risks “lightly.” My free-range philosophy stems from my belief that experience is the best teacher, and responsibility makes us more aware. I put a lot of thought and planning into it, hoping that the little bumps and bruises and tears will gradually innoculate my kids againt the really scary stuff. Because I do find a lot of things I see in a youth’s world scary. So . . . am I the weird one?

  10. Answer to #2: “Soothsaying is the work of the DEVIL.” Crazy eyes. Walk away.

  11. @Mike: I think the people we admire as Americans are a dying breed. As kids that have no concept of self or reliance go out and just do foolish things, it’s going to be looked upon more and more as just that, if you ask me.

    I was watching a show the other night about sharp shooting. Don’t you know, all these guys are talking about how they saw someone do it, or read a book, and started practicing. Now, I’m not advocating gunplay for little kids, but History put a warning up:

    “These stunts are done by trained professionals. Do not try this at home.”

    I know, I know… they have to say it… but I always wonder – who trained these “trained professionals” when they’re saying they learned by doing? Maybe not the best example, but there are plenty of shows doing the same thing.

  12. I was struck by what Eric said about children surprising you with what they know, cause my barely nine month old has surprised me.
    This may not sound very free-range really, but we have been teaching him boundaries in the house…where he can play freely and where he cannot. We have put down blue painters tape to delineate those boundaries and I think he’s really got it based on two instances. First, he came right up to the edge of the tape and peered around the corner at me while I was cleaning the bathroom, but didn’t cross the tape…though he whined a bit about it. Then later he actually figured out that if he pulled the tape up, then TECHNICALLY he wasn’t actually crossing it…so he pulled it up on one side of the doorway and crawled past it!! Sneaky little guy!!
    So yeah, even babies are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for!!

  13. Climbing. A couple of thoughts.
    First, If there is something to climb, a kid or a cat will climb it. My godson’s children, and all his nieces and nephews have climbed anything and everything, sometimes before learning to walk.
    On the other side of things, when I was a youth in the Boy Scouts, we took pride in builiding and climbing the tallest towers possible using only natural materials and rope. Now, I am told that generally nothing is to be more than about five feet tall and extensive safety precautions must be taken “or someone will fall”.

  14. Ah, climbing. I was a climber. My mother often tells the tale of the time she looked out the kitchen window and saw me, at 18 months, on TOP of the back yard jungle gym. She said her heart just stopped, but she (externally calm) opened the back door, called me “in for a snack” then turned her back so she didn’t see me get down. I came trotting up a few seconds later. Of course, I don’t recall this. But I always loved to climb and have no fear of heights.
    My kids did not climb as much as I did. But my eldest DID climb out of the crib at 10 months…our first indication that she could do that was hearing the thud as she landed on the floor! She was out of the crib and in a bed the next night!

  15. i have a 5 yr old boy. well, as many of you know, 5 yr old boy = monkey. he climbs and swings on and off of anything he can reach (which is a lot). he particularly loves to ride improperly in shopping carts. we’ve had two incidents that stick out clearly from the dozens of people who have commented on this behavior.
    1) an elderly gentleman stopped me and said gravely, “he needs to sit down or he WILL fall out and bust his head.” I had been mentally checking my list and staying close so i could catch him (he did fall once and i grabbed his ankle and dangled him over the floor about an inch from disaster. he laughed). i stopped, stared, and said with an equally grave nod, “that would be bad,” and walked away from a disbelieving glare.
    2) more recently, i was walking through kroger, talking to my out-of-town husband on my cell, watching while my son climbed. an older gentleman said, “excuse me,” and looked pointedly at the boy who had one leg hooked over the back of the cart. i automatically said, “thanks, he’s fine,” in a cool tone of voice. the guy said, “oh! oh no, no! i wasn’t going to say anything like THAT. i just wanted to tell you i think he’s going to be a great fireman someday, the way he climbs!” we laughed, and he left. it made my day.

    take heart. the sane people are out there.

  16. This is kind of off-topic, but I remember one time when I was at the fabric store with my then 1 or so year old (old enough to stand up in the cart, not old enough to do it safely) and I was checking out. She was standing up and wiggling around, and the lady behind me kept saying, “She’ll fall.” I was TRYING TO PAY FOR MY STUFF. I did not have three hands. I was standing within arms reach and keeping one eye on her so that if she had started teetering, I could have immediately reached out, but otherwise there was really not much I could do about it. Did the lady offer to pick her up or otherwise help? No, she just kept glaring at me and saying “She’ll fall.” UGH. It’s just irritating how people will stand around and rebuke you for not having three hands, but won’t ever offer to help.

  17. @deanne- that mom can’t taste all her kids drinks. She’ll get GERMS in them. (rolls eyes)

  18. Meagan–I like that. I will use it. I often say, “Well, or the meteors will get him.”

    I had this issue on Thursday. The child of mine who is NOT the climber was on top of the roof of the playset at a park. The mom next to me said, alarmed, “There is a boy on the top of the roof!” Me: “I hope he can down by himself. I don’t want to put down my book.” Her: “Oh, he’s yours?” Me: “Yep.”

    She went over to her daughter and then griped at her! “You must never, never do that. Do you understand? That is DANGEROUS, and you’d better not ever try that.” Poor girl was stunned, as it had never occurred to her to try it. All the fearful venom that she could not direct at me as she wanted, she dumped on a feet-on-the-ground five year old.

    The mom’s friend then went to her TWO YEAR OLD and gave the same speech about never, never, never.

    My theory is this: once I accept that there is a broken bone in their future, I can relax.

  19. Jon:

    Honestly, it is about your kid, and your situation. My 8 year old is not a risk taker. I can trust him to make good choices. He always has been this way. The 5 year old is a different story. She loves a good risk and its rewards. As a result, the 8 year old can stay home alone for about an hour. After that, he is ready to touch base with a grown up. I know he won’t reenact Home Alone. The daughter may never get to be home by herself until she is paying rent. She would take the opportunity to tie up the dog, build a campfire in her room or chop down a tree.

    We live in a nice neighborhood, but with no sidewalks. My answers would be very different if we had them. My son has boundaries that include about 2/3 of the neighborhood on foot or on bike and two busy streets.

  20. @deanne: I saw that in Parents too (go a free subscription when I had my dd). And I questioned whether or not that even happened to that particular woman. I’ve been working at a restaurant/bar for 8 years, and I’ve been hearing tale after tale of: “oh, this one time, I think it was at an Applebee’s (always the default restaurant of urban legends), some kid got Scotch instead of apple juice. Some kid got a Margarita instead of lemonade. Some kid got wine instead of grape juice. Blah, blah, blah” The story is the same, the liquor/drink sometimes changes. But do you know how hard it would be for that to happen? There would be no reason for liquor to be poured into a kid up. Sometimes they are used to store garnishes, but there’s not alcohol there. Margarita mix? Maybe. But not with tequilla in it.

    I guess I’m just a little skeptical as to how legit this woman is, seeing as how I’ve heard so many different versions of the same unlikely event.

  21. My grandson is one of those early walkers, and agile climbers. He was going up the spiral ladder at the playground at 2, and doing the lean-out-grab-the-slidey-pole at 3. Perhaps it’s because he’s my grandkid, and I’m well grounded in the reality that they survive remarkably terrifying things where, really, the biggest risk is heart failure for those watching. Perhaps it’s because he’s just really sure-footed. But I just don’t get wonky about it. Once at the park, a mom was watching him, and noticed her daughter looking like she was thinking about trying the same stunt (I forget exactly what he was) and the mom said to her, “That’s only for older kids. I don’t want you trying that yet.” She then asked me, “So how old is he? About 6?” Okay. He’s tallish, but still… “No. Just turned 3.” Turns out her kid was almost 2 years older than my grandkid. She was about to be 5.

    I had just expected last summer to be the summer of stitches or a broken bone. It’s likely to happen sometime. But no… made it through another year! And, really, my daughter the climber, the runner-jumper-crazy woman was the one who did not get injured in childhood. Her very cautious brother got stitches several times, and broke his arm at 5. He was always just kinda stiff. She just sorta went with it, you know?

    So, yeah, another climber. And he’s already being pretty daring on his eensy skateboard too. I’m sure I’ll have many many many interesting/challenging conversations regarding his antics in the years to come. And yes, he probably ‘will’ get hurt. But that’s just part of it.

  22. At some level, I think some parents tell their kids “Don’t try that or you’ll get hurt” just so they have the option of saying “I told you so” if it actually happens.

    An example I have seen numerous times at stadium events: dad brings son to the ballgame, and gets him a giant cup of soda pop. As he delivers it to the son he says “Be careful you don’t spill it.” In a small percentage of cases, the kid spills the drink. Dad immediately pipes up with “I told you you would spill that!” Dad wins!

    However, while dad was first delivering the drink and loading up his “I told you so” weapon, what the kid was hearing was “You are a klutz. I fully expect you to spill this.” It then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  23. OH the climbing at the playground. Alex 7 will climb on anything and on top of anything. I just won’t let him walk on top on the monkeybars. But he has stood up for a few seconds. Yesh.

    I’ve had a few mothers come over and ask (nicely I’ll admit) for my son to stop because it is giving their kids (bad) ideas. I tell them he is fine and having fun. Fortunately, that is the end of it. Take care of your own child and I’ll take care of mine.

    And my other son Calvin once accidentally had an alcoholic drink too. At the end of a birthday party. He was 9 months and got a hold of a watered down fruit drink and slurped the rest of it down. Mom and Dad weren’t really paying attention but just laughed afterwards. He was fine.

  24. About the grocery cart standing. I taught my kids not to do that, but one day when my back was turned, one of them couldn’t resist. (She was about 1.5.) Another shopper told me, “she’s standing.” I actually appreciate that sort of thing. If I seem unaware, let me know what you see. NOT your judgment about it.

    Because one of my kids is remarkably agile and also small for her age, I know better than to assume another child isn’t capable of whatever he’s trying. But, I still feel uncomfortable if the mom isn’t even watching from a distance – with kids 2 and under – in a climbing paradise outside the kid’s own territory. (Not saying that’s the case for anyone here.)

  25. As far as the “bad influence” goes, I tell my kids that they need to be concerned with my rules, not other parents’ rules. This comes up with respect to going “up” the sliding board. I don’t tolerate this at the park mostly because it’s inconsiderate, but also because it can be dangerous if a big kid comes barrelling down the slide. Nowadays with all the twisty slides, kids can’t even tell if a little one is climbing “up” at the bottom. So anyhoo, they get tempted because they see others do it and their parents say nothing. I don’t care. God gave each of us a brain so we can think for ourselves. The age-old speech, right?

    If there’s something I don’t want my kids trying at the playground for safety reasons, usually it’s something they would need help to reach. So I don’t help them reach it, and that’s the end of that. If they can get up on something, chances are they can get down from it without breaking their neck, or at least hang there long enough to call for help.

    Personally, as a kid, I did many truly dangerous (dumbass) things that I hope my kids will never think of. And the way the world is now, the chances of them getting the idea from their peers is very slim. (I think!) Come to think of it, this may be what prayer was originally invented for. Dear Lord, don’t let my kids get the idea to do the dumbass things I did. And Lord, thanks for being there so I could live to tell – and worry – about it.

  26. My younger niece once *did* fall from a shopping cart.

    I’d told her to stand in the basket so I could get her out. What I didn’t realize was that the cart (on a slope) wasn’t actually touching the barrier like I’d assumed, so as soon as I leaned over to lift her out it moved back another 3 inches and down she fell, right into the main part of the cart.

    Me: !!!!
    Her: !!! I FELL!
    Me: Yeah, uh, I see that. Wow. Can you wiggle your fingers, toes, nose? Yes? Anything hurt? No? Stand up again – okay? Great, you’re fine.
    Her: You have to be more careful next time!
    Me: Clearly! OMG!

    She was totally fine. Me, I was a little shocked. However, since then I’ve never had to ask her to sit down when I *wanted* her to sit!

    As far as playgrounds go, I’ve had people act shocked at how my nieces (particularly the older one) climb in there. Unless the playground is full of much younger children (in which case I need to find a new playground….) or if I think they might actually kill themselves, I don’t stop them. I’ve found that if I say “It’s dangerous!” about things that aren’t, they disregard it every time. If I say it rarely, they listen.

    (But they started *really* paying attention when I told them firmly that I would not help them get down from things anymore and “if you can’t get down, you should never have gone up”. After a few incidents where they had to drop down from the monkey bars or stay up forever, they learned. “Connie, look what you made me do!!!” “I made you do? I didn’t make you climb up there, you did that yourself. I’ve been sitting here with a book this whole time.”)

  27. SKL, you say sliding board? I’ve only ever seen that term on dialect maps and in Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle books. Where are you from originally?

  28. Well, we used to call it a sliding board back in my day. You know, back when the swings were made of wood and grownups on the playground were rare indeed (toddlers were usually accompanied by their older siblings/cousins). The days of cherry bumps and overhands. I wanted to be clear that I was talking about the board part of the slide, not the ladder part. I didn’t know it was an obscure word, LOL.

  29. @Jonathan Bartlett my answers to your questions for my kid in my current neighborhood are probably (he’s 3 now, so obviously this will depend on how he reacts/develops as he ages) …

    1) Going for a walk around the block alone
    5 years old

    2) Riding a bike through the neighborhood alone
    maybe same as for 1 but maybe a little older (6 or 7). You can walk on the grass verge (no sidewalk) in our neighborhood but would be biking on the road with the cars — there aren’t lots, but still.

    3) Being left at home alone for 1-3 hours
    probably around 12; possibly a bit younger if our across the street neighbors (who are retired) are home and willing to be available if he needs help

    I do strap him into the shopping cart, precisely because if I put him in there it’s because I want to focus on getting the shopping done and getting out of the store. So no problems with standing-up foolishness for us …

  30. I downloaded ” The Book” today and found someone willing to speak out about what I’ve felt as a parent for years. Thank you Lenore! I have a 13 year old daughter and a 15 year old son. For the last year I have been in a nasty divorce & custody battle that has been fueled by my insistence that our children should be allowed the freedom to be responsible.
    One issue in particular has be a source of extreme confrontations. While I lived in a near downtown apartment complex last summer, I rode my bike to work everyday downtown, about a 2 mile ride on a bike trail through a park and then into our small downtown. On the weeks when my kids stayed with me, I took them on the trek several times and then permitted them to make the journey on their own. They simply loved the independence and freedom. My son was taking a driver’s education course at this time that met at a downtown building near my office. Since he had shown his responsibility with the ‘commute’, I allowed him to get himself up in the morning, make his breakfast, and ride his bike to class. After class he and I would have lunch downtown and sometime his sister would join us. I felt allowing him to do this was big step in his own independence. Considering he was taking classes to learn how to manage a 4000 lb. vehicle on these same streets, riding his bike seemed pretty timid to me.
    WELL, my ex-wife, and her attorney, did not agree. This has been fodder for endless accusations of my irresponsibility as a parent. We are currently waiting a decision from the final custody hearing, I hopeful the Judge is a “Free-Ranger.”

  31. deanne,
    Do you know how many times a kid in my family has received an alcoholic beverage by mistake – 6 or 7 times? Different restaurants. One time 3 kids* got the wrong drinks at the same time. You know what we do about it? If a kid says a drink tastes funny and adult samples it. It is that simple.

    *The time the 3 kids go alcoholic beverage instead of drinks ordered was slightly different. We were in the restaurant alone and the waitress refused to replace the drinks with what we had ordered. They did replace the drinks of the people that got our virgin dacaries. I was the oldest at 17 or 18 the other two were in elementary school. (I was taking them Ice Skating and to lunch)

    So I walked over to the bartender with the alcoholic dacaries and said, “Either replace these or I call my Dad at “Beer distributorship” and he calls you boss and the district head of TABC”

    We got our virgin dacaries and they tried to comp us. I was still living at home so couldn’t accept the comp because they were a customer of my Dad’s and TABC can be real touchy about what is a comp and what is a bribe.

  32. Oh when the above story happened drinking age was 19 – but I wasn’t carded and the other two were clearly under 10.

  33. I think this is so true – the second point especially resonates with me. I try to do that with my parenting as well – if my children are doing something that makes me uncomfortable, I am always careful to say that it makes me uncomfortable because something might happen, and then I try to walk away unless I think it’s just too risky for some reason. Once I spell out the risks for them, it becomes their decision about whether it’s a risk they’re willing to take.

  34. SKL,

    I’ve been on the other end with my my niece. We were at the YMCA. It was adult swim (when the life guards switch places, put on sun screen, and take a bathroom break for 5 min out of the hour).

    All the kids were on the splash pad. Loren was maybe 3. She loves the splash pad and has no fear (at the time no respect) for the water. Some older kids warned her she was about to get a big bucket of water dumped on her from one of the fountains. She looked up got the water in the face, shook her head. and laughed.

    So after that if they were squirting each other by redirecting streams of water – the older kids would include Loren in the fun. Their parents noticed and scolded them. I introduced myself and pointed out Loren was loving the fun and attention. The kids showed her how to redirect the water. After that the parents were ok with it. Now I was right there not flirting with anyone.

    My desktop wallpaper is often family snaps. I’ve been scolded by adults for pictures of my nieces and nephew doing things like using ziplines in the rainforest, climbing the outside of the stairs, and a cool shot of my BIL tossing the kids (one at a time) high in the air. My students though Brett had jumped from a 2nd floor balcony instead of being tossed by his Dad.

  35. Brian – two miles? At 12 and 14? Wow. Your ex should only know where I was biking on my own at that age. I just looked it up on Google map (been meaning to do that for a while), it’s 11 km or about 5 miles each way from my childhood home to a conservation area with hiking trails. I used to make a day of it, ride down, have a hike and picnic then ride home. I don’t think my parents even knew this place existed much less where I was when I went off on my bike.

  36. Looking back on the marriage, I found that much of our kids developmental ‘issues’ could be traced to the idea of not letting them explore, succeed, and fail. . . I hopeful for their future, if I can only get through the custody issues. . .

  37. I’m not a fan of sweeping statements about “what’s wrong with society today”, but I do love – LOVE – these two points.

    When people say my kid is going to hurt himself or whatever, I sometimes say, “Well I do have the equivalent of a Masters Degree in this child. If you’d like my professional opinion I’d be happy to offer it.”

  38. It always amazes me how very different kids are, especially when it comes to being ready for some things. My oldest turns 8 next month, and she is quite eager to be allowed to do things like stay home alone for short periods, but she absolutely doesn’t want to walk home alone from school. She’s been warned that she will have to one of these days. It’s only a fifth of a mile.

    My son is 5 and a more mild personality. I’ve nudged him into more freedoms, but he’s been reluctant to take advantage until recently.

    My 14 month old… I may have my wildest child yet. She’s already trying to climb slides, and loves it when she slips and goes down the slide on her stomach. She’s into everything, and when we take her into the front yard, she’s off without a glance to see if anyone’s following her. It’s fun but exhausting dealing with her in any situation where she can get into something new.

  39. My parents had two rules about climbing trees. 1) There must be at least one other person in the vicinity (friend, sibling, or adult), and 2) Don’t climb up anything you can’t climb down.

    The really fun part is my parents’ house has a fruitless mulberry. If you know these trees you’ll know that they are extremely malleable and that for a long time they were “pollarded”— all of the branches were cut off in the winter. Welllll… my dad decided when I was a kid that he was going to play with this tree, and by the time I was a teenager it had a cave below and a lovely large flat area above, big enough for at least eight adults (by test.) When I was going off to college my dad asked if he should cut it out, and I said, You will have grandchildren, right?

    He stopped with the pollarding a few years back, but still keeps it trimmed. In a few years, we’ll build a new ladder and introduce my son* to the joys of The Tree…

    *Grandchild #12, actually. Just the first one to live in town.

  40. Another story to share. We went to an egg hunt today. The playground was about 50 yards away from the hunt area. As we waited Alex (7) went over to play at the playground. I knew a couple other families. A dad came up to me.
    Dad: You know Alex is climbing on the rock structure.
    Me: Yeah probably (I wasn’t even looking)
    Dad: On TOP of the rock structure?
    Me: Yeah just like last year and the year before. He really likes that thing.
    Dad: Oh okay….

    Dad’s 7 yo never left Dad’s site during the whole 3 hours at the park. Dad didn’t want to go over to the playground so the boy played the provided games or sat with Dad.

    I didn’t see Alex too much but he got through the day without being kidnapped, hurt, or beat up.

  41. I see this everywhere even not involving children. It’s been bloody hot here in Knoxville for a couple of days, and I tell my sister to crack the windows in her car so it won’t be an oven inside the vehicle when she gets in it. Cracking the windows a few millimeters is apparently tantamount to letting a thief steal her car to this girl. Frustrates me to death, especially since, if I can remember, cracking all four of my car’s windows just a little bit means I don’t have to leave them down on the way home. Though, I leave late, and it’s been generally very pleasant lately around that time, thank god.

  42. @natalie:

    ****She saw kids doing all sorts of things we would think of as dangerous and they rarely got hurt. ****

    My experience is that my kids where much more likely to hurt themselves, when I was looking than when I wasn’t. The feel and move much safer, when mom isn’t always standing behind them gasping and telling them to watch out. And for the most part they know themselves when to stop.

    (So when other moms tell me my kids are doing this or that I often answer: “… that’s why I’m looking the other way….”).

    So long,
    Corinna

  43. Well, about the alcohol thing, there’s also a basic math issue. One drink for a 30 pound kids = 5 drinks for a 150 lb. (fairly average) adult. That’s going to KILL somebody? It’s not exactly responsible drinking, but it’s not deadly.

    Oh, and I didn’t mind that the lady was warning me that she was standing. (Strapping her in didn’t work, she was so small for her age she could wriggle out of the straps. And the funny thing is, I’ve pretty much been able to teach my kids “not to do” just about anything I needed to teach them when they were little, but some of them were just incorrigible about the shopping cart as toddlers.) What I minded was that after the first comment, clearly I WAS aware of what was happening, I was standing right there, and there was really nothing I could do about it without growing another hand, short of being ready to grab her if necessary, which I WAS. I just needed to pay and get out of the way and then I would have been able to deal with it.

  44. Uly, I grew up saying “sliding board” and still have to remind myself not to say it because it sounds dated and odd. I grew up in Eastern Pennsylvania, born in the 1960’s with siblings who grew up in the 50’s, FWIW.

  45. Yes, he WILL fall (okay, MOST likely). And say ouch. And get up again. And then do it again.

  46. Here in Southern California fans of funicular railways were delighted last month when the Angels Flight railway reopened in downtown LA. I was going through some photos from the mid 60’s and found pix of the time I took my daughters, who were in the 5 to 6 year old range, downtown for a ride on this relic. Even though their mother (my first wife) had them “dressed up” for the “big city”, they had a field day climbing on the rubble of a demolished building next to the railway. And one thing I will give Wife #1 credit for, she never said, “You’ll fall!” when the girls tried their climbing skills. On another occasion, we were visiting a friend who had a steam locomotive. Not a model, a 12-ton standard gauge wood burner. The girls got to ride in the cab and even throw wood into the firebox. I’m sure some busybodies would scream “child endangerment”, placing small children in an industrial situation like that, but I call it a priceless and long remembered experience.

  47. I completely forgot what I climber I was. Thanks for the reminder!! We lived in an apartment complex growing up where the parking in back was covered. It’s hard to describe, but you could walk up to the cover because it was level with the ground, but the cars drove in off the other side. I just had a flash back of walking onto the parking cover with my brothers, holding onto the edge, and somersaulting off to the side where the cars parked, while hanging like a gymnast, then dropping to the ground and running around the building to do it again.

    We did similar things off our bunk beds.

    We also played “Dummy drop.” We had stairs that doubled back so if you stood at the very top of the stairs, you could look straight down to the bottom. We’d pile all our pillows and blankets at the bottom of the stairs, then jump from the top. Frequently we wouldn’t wait for the previous person to get out of the way before we jumped.

    We climbed lots of trees, went ice blocking (which I hear is illegal now), and from the time I was a pre-teen, my dad would send me on the roof to replace the pads on the evap cooler.

    Now my husband freaks out when our 2 year old stands on the coffee table, 12 inches away from the couch and 18 inches from the ground. Ugh.

  48. Sky, good point. Sometimes when people say “he’ll fall” to me I’ve been tempted to answer “so?” but I figure I’ve already had enough trouble with CPS so I keep my mouth shut. Truly, though, I’m happy to have them do their falling while they’re small and bouncy rather than wait until they’re older and more fragile. And, not to sound heartless, but so what if they get hurt sometimes? I don’t like the sound of children crying any more than the next person but falling and getting hurt are part of life. In fact, I’ve taught my boys that boo-boos are good; they’re proof that they try stuff instead of just sitting around.

  49. Two EXCELLENT thoughts and nicely put.

  50. Okay, this is what kills me about some of the people who post on here. TANA< A SHOPPING CART IS NOT A SAFE OR APPROPRIATE PLACE FOR YOUR 5 YEAR OLD TO BE PRACTICING CLIMBING!!! Maybe if people excercised even the tiniest bit of freakin' common sense, we wouldn't all be viewed as a bunch of negligent freaks.

  51. I just had a flash back of walking onto the parking cover with my brothers, holding onto the edge, and somersaulting off to the side where the cars parked, while hanging like a gymnast, then dropping to the ground and running around the building to do it again.

    The kids in our neighborhood climb on the garages in back of my house. The garages are built into the hill, so they basically just hop on a milk crate to get up, and then jump off at the other end when it’s a full story-and-a-bit off the ground!

    I’ve told my nieces I don’t want to see them doing that. Not really because it’s dangerous – I actually think it *is*, but I’ve lived here 16 years and never seen anybody get hurt or heard of anybody having so much as a twisted ankle from doing it, so it must not be as dangerous as it seems – but because it’s really not our property and those neighbors already don’t like us. I’d like to keep using that back alley as a convenient access to my yard, and if they get tired of the kids and block the whole thing off (it’s not a public road) we won’t be able to do that anymore.

  52. Hey, incidentally, I have two invite codes to dreamwidth if anybody wants them. If two people from here take codes, maybe I’ll start a comm for Free Ranging Kids over there. (Um… Lenore, come to think, if you want a code I can scrounge one up for you from somebody else, but I think you’re settled here, aren’t you?)

    GK6M8N2P5BC9PAAAFRNP

    AJB2AFFN7SSDCAAAFRNT

    I’ll stop being random today.

  53. That “you wil fall” logic also just reinforces kids’ own illogic, the “I haven’t fallen so therefore I won’t” (or, “These drugs haven’t done terrible things to me so drugs can’t hurt me”) arguments. That’s one problem with exaggerating risks – kids end up ignoring our warnings completely.

  54. Oh yes, “anything might happen”. It’s become one of those phrases like “health and safety” that is supposed to be beyond argument.

    I heard it the other day at the library. The librarian was complaining about two children at the library unescorted. One child was at least 10, her sibling was school age. The librarian said “your parents are not supposed to leave you here alone – anything might happen”. I felt like saying “like what exactly?”, but I wasn’t brave enough.

    The “anything might happen” people have got the zeitgeist on their side, if you don’t think that “anything might happen”, you’re considered naive.

  55. Very good points. When *did* we go from “something bad might happen” to “something bad will happen”? And how can we go back?

    My 7-year-old is a climber (much like her mom…) and small for her age; over the years I’ve heard a lot of [outrage]”Do you know your daughter is on top of the …?! She’s going to fall and hurt herself!”[/outrage] from other parents and grandparents at neighbourhood parks. I generally reply with something like “Well, if she does, I’m sure I’ll hear about it.” I’m sure they think I’m a terrible parent, but oh well. Every so often she does hurt herself, and every so often she’ll get stuck somewhere and need some coaching to get herself down. She’s pretty smart about it, though: I don’t think she’s ever gotten stuck in the same place twice.

    My mom was helicoptery about climbing when I was a kid (not about other things, though — just climbing and Halloween candy), which just made me sneakier and a bigger risk-taker. I climbed boulders at the beach (with no shoes — yes, I cut my feet a few times; no, there were no lasting consequences), I climbed every tree I could get myself into, I climbed every piece of playground equipment I could find, I jumped down the stairs and off the furniture and off swings … when I was in Grade 9, on a school sailing trip, I not only climbed the shrouds and lay out on the bowsprit for hours when I was off watch, I also walked all the way around the rail. (Didn’t fall, either, despite being totally hopeless at the balance beam in PE class. Lack of motivation in the latter case, perhaps? The water off the coast of BC in May is VERY VERY COLD.) Anyway, I’m trying hard to be less helicoptery about climbing for precisely this reason: I’m hoping that the less I fuss about how dangerous it is, the fewer idiotic risks DD will take. Maybe it’ll work or maybe not, but in any case it’s much more relaxing than my mom’s method😉.

    The one drawback, of course, is that I know that in the unlikely event that some seriously bad thing does happen to DD, her dad and I will immediately be blamed, because we are clearly Very Bad Parents.

  56. Anything can happen. Yes, I have gotten that one before. I usually return this question, “Do you have your children wear a helmut in case they are hit by a meteorite?” It COULD happen.

  57. When I was in high school, we had one ladder that could reach the roof of the house, but it was rickety. I was the lightest/most agile person in the house, so I got the job of cleaning gutters. I was 13 or 14, and scrambling around on the roof of the house with a bucket, a small trowel, and the hose. I never fell, and spraying my sister with the hose from the roof was more than enough compensation.🙂

    My kids are climbers, diggers, bikers, and general mischief makers. Their knees are perpetually bruised, and they constantly sport bandaids and filthy feet. They’re the happiest kids on the block.

  58. “My favourite was a mother who’s three year old was accidentally served an alcoholic beverage in a restaurant. She told her mother her juice tasted funny and it turned out they had received another table’s drink. Well, the horror! Her little girl was only 30 pounds; she could have been KILLED by a shot of booze!”

    Hm.

    My 3.5-year-old (actually my 3.5-year-old AND a 4-year-old) were allowed to order a chocolate cake off a menu. Us parents approved it, and the waiter took the order from the kids, knew the cake was going to the kids.

    After the kids had consumed about 75% of their medium-sized piece of cake, I kind of registered that it was leaving behind a puddle. I tasted the puddle, and realized the cake had been drowned with some form of hard liquor. Judging by what was left behind, there was probably a shot’s worth over the whole piece of cake. I kind of blinked at that, and the kid slept really well that night.

  59. Sorry, shot’s worth over the PIECE of cake. So, each kid got a piece, and each piece was bathed in a fairly largish amount of something alcoholic. It wasn’t listed in the description.

  60. I tripped over your site via CreativeSTAR. Love it.

    Particularly, as I have visitors over at the moment with the (extreme?) over-protective mother. She’s afraid of (wait for it) cats. And anything else that isn’t caged! I took her twin daughters for a stroll in the park to see some street cats (who survive off picnic’ers’ scraps) and she was petrified; gave a stare at her husband to “Do something!” I told her they’d be fine and we wouldn’t touch(!!). The twins loved it, one even gifted me all her treats when we returned. I smiled at mum.

  61. Hey, I’m a big fan of your philosophy, and I have a few questions for you (I’d email them, but for some reason I can’t find an email for you on this site).

    1) Are “code names” a big thing with helicopter parents? I mean, my parents were fairly free-range with me and my brother, but we had code names — he was Sonic, I was Tails. In case this is not a widespread thing, here’s the scenario — hypothetically, my brother and I are wandering around, doing our kid thing, and a stranger runs up and tells us, “Your parents were in an accident, they asked me to come and find you guys and take you to the hospital.” Ordinarily, we’d have no way of knowing if this is the truth — however, in the code name scenario, our parents would have told the stranger that our code names are Sonic and Tails, the stranger would tell us, and we’d know that our parents really did send this person to get us. A little paranoid, sure, but you have to admit, a stranger coming up to a couple of kids and telling us that they have to take us to our parents is a little sketch. Plus, it’s not exactly a giant invasion of privacy or restriction of freedom.

    2) As a nanny, I often find myself hovering over the kids (autistic 12-year-old, plus an 8-year-old and a 5-year-old). I totally buy the whole free-range concept, but I feel like when the kids are not yours, it’s hard to stick to that philosophy. Besides the whole “cover your ass” instinct (the mom is very understanding, but I still hate having to explain to her that little Maddie got a boo-boo on my watch), I sometimes feel like maybe as a babysitter, I SHOULDN’T be so permissive. I mean, they’re not my kids, I don’t know what the parents think they should or shouldn’t be doing. Since I’m nannying these kids again this summer, what do you think? Parents, would you want your kids’ nanny to be as free-range as you are?

  62. “She WILL fall.”

    My answer: “Yep. I know I did.” I remember this time I fell out of a tree and landed on a rock. Hurt something awful, too. Went crying into the house to my parents, who were having a nice visit with my aunt and uncle (I had been outside playing with my older brother and cousins). After determining that nothing was seriously wrong, guess what my father’s line was?

    “Well, that’ll learn ya.”

    And it did, too. I never fell out of another tree after that. And not because I didn’t climb them: because I understood what I had done wrong!

    My point is: Yes, kids will climb. Yes, they may hurt themselves. Such is life. Most people have to learn things the hard way. It’s not the end of the world, people! How will we ever have stories to tell to our grandkids if we never do anything marginally stupid and live to tell about it?

  63. I just found your blog (yeah, I know, I’m waaay out of touch!) but I’m so glad because your philosophies and mine align. And re: this post: I always find it curious how far out of touch with real life lawmakers seem to be.

  64. My brother-in-law freaked out this weekend because we let our four-year-old use a knife to cut cheese on a cheese plate.

    What is the worst case scenario here (reasonably)… a cut and a lesson learned?

    We were watching, able to give advice. It wasn’t like he was throwing knives or something. (e.g. see the following: http://raisingthewreckingcrew.blogspot.com/2009/05/um-how-about-machete-instead.html )

  65. I love hearing about ‘what might happen’. What might happen at the library is I help a kid reach a book they can’t. What might happen is I redirect a lost child in a grocery store to the restroom. What might happen is I pick up an object your kid dropped and hand it back to them and actaully have to talk to them. What might happen is that I hope adults treat my kids with respect and intelligence.

  66. I think the nanny question is interesting.

    If I’m watching someone else’s kids, I am more restrictive than I would be with my own, but that’s because my babysitting jobs are very occasional and I don’t KNOW those kids like I know my own. Their talents and limitations and past experiences, etc… even if I sat for them last month, a kid can change a lot in a month.

    Also, I know how much risk is acceptable to me. I guess all you can do is talk to the parents… and maybe part of paid child-care providing is that you can’t risk losing your job and reputation over a safety-issue disagreement.

    Interesting question.

  67. just want to say that the alcohol instead of soda thing happened to me once – I ordered a sprite and I got a spritzer. I was about 8 at the time-

    I took a sip said ‘this sprite tastes gross’ Grandma tasted it said ‘tastes fine to me’ (yes that might tell you something about grandma)

    I proclaimed I would not drink it, as it was gross. Waitress came, my g-ma returned the drink as she didn’t want to pay for it. A terribly apologetic bartender and waitress came and explained what happened and we got a free dinner.

    Total amount of alcohol consumed by child – half a sip.

    Do you really think the kid would drink a whole shot?

    I told my parents and they laughed….

  68. RL – I’m used to the code names idea. It was the big push when I was a kid. As far as it fits into free ranging, if having a silly code word in case of emergencies is what it takes to let your kid go play alone, really, I don’t think it matters that much. It’s a tiny thing to do, and if it alleviates a lot of worry, there you go.

    (In fact, when my father died a stranger *was* sent to pick me up at the bus stop. I was understandably leery of hopping in the car of somebody I didn’t know, so instead he followed me to our dance studio where he was supposed to take me anyway and I waited to be picked up. A code word would’ve been useful, because I had to ask him for directions anyway!)

    2. I think the best plan is to be pro-active. Ask the parents this summer exactly what the limits should be. Honestly, you’ll all be happier if you KNOW you’re on the same page.

    If I were a parent, I’d want a babysitter or nanny who pretty much had the same rules I did. I might allow for a little extra strictness in some areas, but if we by and large didn’t mesh up, unless they were the most awesome babysitter everywhere I’d probably start looking for somebody else.

    I do understand your dilemma though. I watch my nieces, and with most things I’m trailing a few months behind what their parents let them do, simply because I dread having to say “Well, Ana was doing such-and-fuch and…” and having their parents go “Wait. You let my kid do WHAT???” (It happened a few weeks ago I’d sent Ana to the store,

    If the kids ask to do something that I’m not sure is allowed I tell them that they can do it once their parents say it’s okay. And then I ask the parents directly either over the phone or when they get home.

  69. Huh, that’s weird. I was going to say “It happened a few weeks ago I’d sent Ana to the store, and her dad showed up right as I was about to pop out to see why she hadn’t come back yet. I felt like a bad auntie when I found out she’d locked herself out and was sitting crying on the back porch.”

    Of course, we set up a new plan if this comes up again: If she’s locked out, she knocks on the basement window so my grandmother can call us to let her in.

  70. RL – When I’m responsible for kids that aren’t mine, I always err on the side of caution. My daughter is allowed to watch select PG-13 movies (she’s 11) but if she has friends over, unless I know for a fact that their parents are okay with it, they can only watch PG and under. She’s allowed to stay home by herself while I run out to pick something up at the store, but when there’s another kid here, they both have to come with me. She’s not thrilled about it, but I’ve explained to her that each parent gets to make the rules for his or her own kid/s, and that’s why some of her friends are allowed to do things she isn’t and vice versa.

  71. Thank you all for being so vocal. I’ve just come across this book and blog,and it’s so nice to have validation for my own parenting style. I see my sons as MEN of the future, and don’t want to coddle them in fear.
    I’m so tired of being at the park, and have by children climbing all over,to be STOPPED my another Mom worried about their safety. I’ve tried dealing with it politely, saying “thank you, but he’s doing great” ect.. so annoying!
    Just needed to get that off my chest.

  72. I’m so tired of being at the park, and have by children climbing all over,to be STOPPED my another Mom worried about their safety. I’ve tried dealing with it politely, saying “thank you, but he’s doing great” ect.. so annoying!

    My cousin Frances was over yesterday, visiting her aunt, my grandmother.

    At one point my older niece asked for some water to go with her tea (I need to teach her how to brew tea herself, it’s not like it’s *hard*), and I told her to get it herself. So she did get it herself in the usual way – she hoisted herself up onto the sink and filled her cup up.

    “Oh, Connie, she’s climbing onto the sink, she can’t do that”
    “Yeah, she can, that’s how she always does it : )”
    “It’s not a good ideeeeeeea”
    “It’s a great idea! How else is she going to learn to climb things?”

    At which point she backed off, which is good, because I can only be so civil at one time.

  73. Here’s a thought I’ve been mulling over recently after reading some posts on feminist boards that uncannily echoed many of the things I read here – this parenting paranoia culture is rather akin to the blame-the-woman rape apologist culture phenomenon.

    Think about it: when it comes to sexual assault, there’s tons and tons of information out there on how to behave, how to dress, how, where and when to walk, the self-defense classes and the gadgets and precautions that keep women safe. There are articles telling us that walking after dark, talking on our cell phones, putting down our beverages or binge drinking put us at risk of rape. At the core this is fallacious. What puts women at risk of assault is being in the vicinity of, or on a date with, or acquainted with a rapist. All the above activities may make it easier for the rapist, but, you know, if we really took a strong stance about educating men to not rape women or addressing mental/emotional health early on in non-stigmatizing ways it would be a lot more effective than trying to control such a wide variety of the behaviors of the potential victims, then cross our fingers and hope while never bothering to teach potential assailants, the ACTUAL BAD GUYS, how and why consent every time is important.

    Abduction and stranger danger and the subsequent cultural standard of “be paranoid and helicoptery or you’re just a failure as a parent” is the same erroneous assumption. Playing outside or letting your child ride a bike or walk to a friend’s house or strike up a conversation with the mailman does not put them at risk of abduction (and therefore make you a terrible parent) – being near or acquainted with a kidnapper does. The simple fact of only 100ish of these people (based loosely on stranger-abduction stats, which I may be borking up) exist in our country at any given time would indicate that risk is incredibly low and good parents would be better off teaching children to mitigate more likely risks, especially some that one might have some firsthand control over. Regardless, the parents, the secondary victims, are not to blame. The kidnappers are the bad guys, but no one ever says “what could we have done to stop him/her from doing this horrible thing?!?” people say “those parents didn’t do X, Y, or Z and now look what happened to their poor child.” It’s the parenting equivalent of wearing a short skirt, and it’s every bit as nauseating.

    I’ve also been pondering whether the reduction in crime rates in recent decades has anything to do not with helicoptering, but more effective recognition, intervention, and treatment of child abuse and mental health issues more generally. I can’t fathom anyone becoming a child predator (or a rapist, for that matter) having come from a supportive, nurturing home environment or being a person who wasn’t seriously troubled otherwise. If people want to make their children safer, working to provide care and services for all children so they grow up happy and functional would seem to be a more productive route than engaging in a cultural norm that blames and stigmatizes the victim.

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