Estonia, Here We Come?

Hi Readers — As usual, I’m sitting here wondering whether it’s  “lucky” to live in such a first world country. Check out these two notes I just got:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a writing from Estonia, it’s a small country in Europe. I came a cross your blog through babble.com and a quick flip through your posts left me a bit astonished. I mean, you seem to be sane and a thoughtful lady, but has rest of the America gone insane?🙂

Around here, we have no problems with children playing in the parks by themselves, going to school alone using public transport, having fun on the beaches, taking country trips, being home alone — without no adult supervision whatsoever. I would not imagine anyone calling the cops here for leaving children in the car. The emergency service people would probably laugh their asses off or consider it a prank call.

I wish you all the best and strength in voicing common sense in that strange country USA appears to be.

And then came THIS note:

Dear Free-Range Kids:   When Evan, my oldest, had his tenth birthday, we invited nine teammates from his baseball team to a party. For the first couple of hours we took them to the park so they could play some 5-on-5 ball.

They couldn’t do it. Pick their own teams? How? Who’ll call balls and strikes? Not hit to right field??

They had none of those social, creative or flexibility skills I realized I had developed as a kid, when I was “abandoned” by my mom to spend the day at the park and play with older kids. The game started around nine and went until (after) sunset, when we were afraid of losing the ball. Kids rotated in and out, the seven-year-old got pitched underhand, and the occasional fight worked out the close calls.

But these kids had never played ball unsupervised. They wanted an adult to participate. Maybe pitch. And they had never played with a kid not their own age.

By the way, congratulations on making an issue of one of the scarier trends today. I even read a sociological analysis of the destruction of the “children’s culture”– all those rhymes and games and teases and stories that are no longer passed on.

I"m sorry to say, my kids don't know how to play leap frog. Do yours?


37 Responses

  1. The mixed age game does (sadly) seem to be a thing of the past. As a kid I loved playing with all age kids on the block and we even had a category called “NC” for “no count” so that little kids could play without worrying about keeping up with the big kids. Just this year we played soccer with all ages – from 5 -12 – instead of signing up for our age specific leagues. The dads played too and a couple of moms as well. Everyone learned way more than they would have just doing drills with their peers.

  2. You will be especially depressed to learn that Estonia has a lower maternal mortality rate than us and actually is generally cleaner and newer than the U.S. So actually, not only are they freer, but also cleaner and more civilized than us in many ways. First world, schmirst world.

  3. I’m not entirely convinced that the “culture of childhood” has disappeared. We just spent three hours in the car yesterday driving home from the grandparents to the tune of “Comet, it makes your mouth so clean, comet it tastes like gasoline, comet, it makes you vomit, so try comet and vomit today!!”

    Picked up from other kids… not me!! lol

  4. Ah, suzannerevy, the Comet song. A classic!

  5. children age 5-10+ were playing football (soccer) and cricket at the weekend on the communal grass at the back of us at the weekend, not a grown up in sight. Well hubby and I were in our garden. The only interference being when I lent them the washing line pole to retrieve the ball which had got stuck in the tree. Only helped because after several minutes they hadn’t managed to get it out by themselves. Pole just reached with the tallest one holding it.

    Its great to see them all outside

  6. I’m an American expat living in Germany, which is more like Estonia than the US when it comes to free range kids. KIds here are raised to be independent at an early age. My 11-year-old son rides his bike to school. His friends also bike, walk, take the train, or ride the bus to school without any parental supervision. Yet they somehow survive the experience. Kids ride their bikes to their friends’ houses on their own and ride all over town by themselves. My son is also allowed to go to the public pool or ski at our local ski area with a friend. The kids here all know how to get help in an emergency. Last year my son slept over at a friend’s house which was about 30 km from my house. I as supposed to have picked my son up; but I got the flu and asked the other parents to send him home on the train. It’s only a 25-minute train ride with just a few stops. When I picked my son up at the train station, his reaction on seeing me was, “That was fun. I want to take the train by myself again.” He has since taken the train or bus by himself to visit friends and has never gotten lost.

    By the way, the German moms who I’m friends with all think that US helicopter parents are crazy. Also, the German police would have a good laugh if they got a call about a child left alone in a car.

  7. My dad mourns the loss of pick me up baseball.

    But I see the kids at recess playing kickball baseball. My son says they make up their own rules, pick teams, argue a bit, and play.

  8. Not to sound like a broken record, but that’s another reason we homeschool. My kids do play with kids of all sorts of ages. They do organize games and settle disagreements on their own. If they have trouble, they have a parent nearby to ask to help, but they rarely need it.

    They do all of these things, still here in the good ol’ USA.

  9. I had to teach my 7 year old son’s friends how to play ball tag a couple of weeks ago. I then had to teach my son and my 5 and 9 year old daughters how to play Elastics just the other day.
    My son has brought home 3 naughty cards at school in the last two weeks for making paper planes (at lunchtime) with the offence category of ‘Throwing Objects’. He is now on a 5 day removal from playground because of his planes. Times are a changing.

  10. Since 911, this country has had such an excessive fear of another terriorist attack, but with the way so many children are being raised today, I am far more worried that we are raising a populace that could easily be overtaken by another country. Raised with limited ability to act independently or take responsibility, unable to find a way out of danger, and for one out of three children – too heavy to run and too big to hide, we are sitting ducks waiting for a dictator to take over and tell us what to do. Thank goodness for those of you out there who are raising competent, responsible kids. We will need them to lead.

  11. Of course these problems only exist in first-world countries. Only in rich countries, really. You have to reach a certain level of no worries about your daily needs to start worrying about ridiculous things like americans fear. When your world really is at risk, you don’t waste time on silly fears. It’s the countries who can transition to stability without coming up with stupid fears and panics that should be sought for solutions.

  12. cookiemonsta – that is one of the most ridiculous things I have ever heard of in my life. I think I would keep him home those five days and allow him to build and throw a fleet of paper airplanes.

    On another note, I was pleasantly surprised this weekend when I took my daughter (12) to a comic store she frequents with her brother (9). I normally leave them there and go browse in bookstore just across the way or pick up some items at the grocery store around the corner. My kids have their own debit card accounts, and I have tried to raise them to be both independent and polite (and safe). Apparently it has worked. The clerk at the comic store stopped me to complement how my kids behave nicely, ask questions politely, handle their cards responsibly, and all with out me around. Hurray!!
    My 2 kids are responsible for dragging out the neighborhood kids when we moved here a few years back. Now they all ride bikes around the neighborhood, create games at the park or on the street, and generally entertain themselves. All is not lost – we just need to learn to trust each other again – and teach our children how to be safe and to trust in that teaching. Sure, bad things can and will happen, but so will good things!!

  13. Kai – it’s really only the well off in rich countries who can afford to worry like this. IT’s been hinted at in the comments to many posts on this blog that the kids in poorer neighborhoods (especially those of working class immigrant) seem to be outside playing with each other, taking care of younger siblings, and generally doing the things that most of us wish we could get our neighbors to do with their kids.

    In other words, worry driven helicoptering is a luxury that most of the world can’t afford. Like many of the other luxuries that we have here, it’s time to throw that one in the trash.

  14. I often wonder how many kids helicopter-parents have!

    I can see how you can “manage” to helicopter over 1, but not how to do it over 2 or more.

    I now have 2 kids and I do have a need to closely guard over my youngest (15 months), because he has no fear and he loves hight and wants to examine everything, so we spend a lot of time practicing what NO means, so that I can leave him outside to play and ride his bike like his older brother (now 4,5), without me….

    If I were to helicopter my oldest son, I would hear criticism without end from his grandparents, they are the firm belief that with 4,5 you are a BIG BOY!

  15. Speaking of kids and sports, has anyone come across what’s going on in Canada recently – http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/06/01/win-a-soccer-game-by-more-than-five-points-and-you-lose-ottawa-league-says/. That’s right… score more than five points over the other team and you lose!

  16. ^How stupid. My poor country.

    To BrianJ,
    Yes, it might be more fair to simply say that it is only well-off people, not just well-off countries. You have to be so rich you don’t know what to do with your worries to start raising the concerns North American parents have.

  17. I also read your blog from overseas, though I’m an American. I have raised my children from birth in Russia, (8 years so far). I love having another cultural perspective to balance the trends of American parenting practices.

    I think the over-supervising parent is definitely a class issue. In Russia, kids have been downright neglected in the past, and definitely unsupervised. Now, parents with means see the threats of (truly) higher crime, and react with extreme vigilance. While every other mother that I know walked (or even bussed) to school and activities by herself from age 7, nobody else lets their kids do it now. We allow our son, age 8, to occasionally walk to school, but the other parents worry about him. I consider it a huge plus that the 600 yards to the school are full of other parents walking their kids.

    I feel if I lived in the States, I would be fully on board with the free-range philosophy. But I sure wish I had statistics on abductions foreign kids in Saint Petersburg to balance out the fears of my neighbors and friends here. The truth is, all sorts of scary things DO happen here, but of course, no one knows how often! Any one have suggestions?

  18. Kai, it’s not just that.

    Another person mentioned that this must be something people with only one or two kids do, and that’s also true… and typically speaking, the richer you are, the fewer children you have. This is a pattern that holds true for the past few thousand years! (I guess it’s because sex is cheap.)

  19. Jamie- that is insane! I’d be plotting to score goals for the opposing team at that point. Pathetic really.

  20. So as I got distracted by reading the comments…I had a thought, oh shoot where is my child…I should probably check on him. He’s 5 and was being quiet. That was because he was outside, where he has dragged his playdoh. So by some parents ways of parenting I would be the worst parent ever for not knowing exactly where and what my child is doing. I feel that hes outside on a beautiful day and playing independently and creatively (also he cleaned up his playdoh by himself) I think I am doing ok.

  21. Estonia is a great country and what has been said is mostly true. However, before everyone emigrates on masse, they should be aware that not everything is so perfect when we only focus on the positive. For example, Estonia has among the highest AIDS rate in Europe due mostly to heroin and other injection drug use and needle sharing by addicts. The drug epidemic comes from the poor economy, lack of jobs, high crime rate, and general despair experienced by the many Estonians and Russian immigrants who are do not live in the well off areas. Talinn’s Old Town is an epicenter that should probably be avoided by tourists.

    These things are pretty similar to many parts of the US, particularly small towns in the midwest ravaged by drugs and unemployment following the collapse of the US manufacturing base, and now the economy in general due to looting by the elite here.

  22. Now I feel depressed! It could be that I’m pregnant and have a very difficult time controlling the stupid hormones that are apparently necessary for developing a baby, but it is also because I am wishing I could just live in a different world! I don’t know why things are so complicated now-a-days.

    No wonder we are in financial/economical distress. I was at a park with my husband and baby yesterday and I needed to use the washroom. As it turns out, I was sent to an “outhouse” by one of the people working at the burger shack at this park. What’s wrong with regular old-fashioned outhouses? This one was basically a port-a-potty but really big. Why put that much money into something that still stinks and is just as uncomfortable and irritating to use? It seemed like such a waste.

    After the park, my husband and I were driving around because my daughter was napping and we thought we’d let her sleep a little longer so we drove past home and went exploring. We came across a little town that was likely once booming when the train was more popular. It’s a beautiful town here in Saskatchewan with a little book/gift store, a pottery/art gallery, an ice cream shop, and a confectionary. Like I said, we were just driving around so our daughter could sleep so we didn’t get out, but I thought “why aren’t there more people walking around here on this beautiful Sunday afternoon? And why don’t people take the train anymore? It’s such a lovely and environmentally friendly way of travel.

    In the town we live in there is 1 completely dilapitated park. It’s called the “tot lot” but is really not suitable for tots. There’s hardly any level ground (and hills, while fun, are difficult for 1 year olds who have just mastered walking on flat surfaces). Of the few structures and toys there are most are in very poor condition. I don’t understand why there is no wading pool or spray park or something involving water for kids to play in on the super hot days we get sometimes. But then it dawned on me. Why would we need a nice park and community pool when everyone has swing sets and trampolines in their back yards? Instead of us all pooling our money and creating public places for our children to meet, we just spend it on ourselves. It’s a sad situation really and I am extremely concerned about where we’ll all end up in even a few years, nevermind decades. For all the “improvements” North America has made, things sure aren’t improved.

    Ok, ok, enough of the crazy pregnant-lady rant. Little by little we can bring it back, right?

    **My daughter just woke up, so I’m not going to spend time proof-reading this…hope it’s all good:-)

  23. I was at the local playground with my then young twin boys (about 3 or 4). Playground is located within a sub, and there was a boy playing (house backed onto playground). Soon a friend showed up with his dad and a basketball. 2nd boy runs to 1st boys and says “Do you want to play?” I am not joking that they played for about 5 min, and having a great time, before that dad had to butt in. They weren’t keeping score right, they had a foul, they weren’t standing in the right place, they weren’t following the rules, etc. I just stood there with my mouth open, unable to believe that he couldn’t just let the boys play. After about 10 min of this they “got bored” and went to play on the slide.

    I stood there with my mouth open while my one son got smack in the head with the swing that was pushed by brother. Really, after the 5th warning of “Don’t stand too close to the swing, it will hit you” is not heeded I have found that experience is the best teacher. He never stood too close again. (It was just a little bump. Nothing to call CPS over)

  24. Just want to firstly say that I came across your blog the other day and am now an instant follower. This post has especially hit me.

    We have recently stopped watching the news, taping into media reports etc. so that we are less inclined to fear.

    I intend to allow my daughter the right to be independent and free. That’s why we brought them here! To grow up taking care of themselves (of course we take care of them – thats not what I mean) and able to contribute to a better life for all – driven kids. Not kids that are driven (pun intended).

    Thank you!

  25. Lenore, I’ve got the answer regarding the absense of kids playing outdoors, with the freedom we had as kids.

    We Free Rangers (with our families) were on a sightseeing interplanetary field trip. We were traveling from the REAL EARTH and stopped here for refueling. The “authorities” have drugged us, wiped our minds clean, and are still trying to convince us this is Earth.

    Don’t tell anyone you know the truth,
    or the police will be at your door
    as fast as you can tell your kids,

    “Go play in the park with your friends.”

    Don’t trust anyone…even if they “say” they allow their kids a large measure of freedom. Just quietly pack your bags and get ready to escape… before it’s too late.

  26. “All sorts of scary things DO happen here, but of course, no one knows how often! Any one have suggestions?”

    Kara, your comments about Russia are quite interesting. I agree it’s helpful to know that actual stranger abductions are very low in the US and that’s good to allay fears.

    In my own case, we had a neighbor who was a registered sex offender. Now I am generally skeptical of most sex offender hysteria since many people are on these lists for things that present no risk to society, like similar-age statutory rape, or some 13 yr old boy charged with possession of kiddie porn because a girl that likes him texted him a topless photo of herself and he thought it was funny enough to send to all his friends.

    But in this case, the neighbor, and his partner (there were two pedophiles living together in the same apartment, which was even more disturbing), were some of those very rare actual real pedophiles and psychopaths who have committed atrocities and are extremely dangerous. Needless to say, my wife and I were not happy at all with this news. We had the unhappy task of sitting down our kids and explaining to them in very specific detail what these people had done and what they were capable of. We explained some psychological techniques that predators use. We also explained to stay far away from them and to come in the house if they saw either of the people approaching them or even out and about. We restricted where they could play. The kids did not handle this well at all and had nightmares for months just because of the description of the crimes. There is no way I would have had a conversation in that sort of depth with them if not for this situation.

    We still allow them to play outside unsupervised, given that we have explained the situation and they understand it. It is similar to warnings we have given them about wildlife which they have handled well. They have run into poisonous snakes, wild animals, and even a bear while playing by themselves, and managed to handle it properly.

    In our case, the offender registry is working for the purpose it was created – so that families can be aware of who they need to stay away from. Back in the old days pre-registry this was handled by word of mouth. “Watch out for Uncle Bob, you know how he is.” In this case there was still word of mouth, it was another neighbor that alerted us to the situation.

    So do I have advice? I don’t know. I think there are advantages to your children being able to be out and about and learn to navigate the world. I did as a child and it benefited me. But there are also some very real dangers out there. Being aware of them and taking preparations can help. Even with the best of preparations there is still some risk. But if one is really in such a dangerous situation that children can not play at all, maybe one should move somewhere else. I don’t know how bad it is in Russia right now so I couldn’t possibly say whether it is safe. Maybe there are hundreds of children abducted and sold as sex slaves for perverts there, and if so you’d want to be more careful. And speaking of selling children as sex slaves, that was one of the crimes committed by one of the neighbors. Why she was ever let out of prison I don’t know. I do know that I prefer to know about who is there than not know, so knowing all your neighbors might be one thing to do.

  27. That is sad about the ball game. Some of my best memories from my childhood are of pick-up games, either baseball in the church parking lot across the street (which was played with whatever we could find…usually a racquet or tennis ball and some kind of t-ball bat, lol) or basketball in the alley (we had a hoop on our garage).

    We played with any kid that wanted in no matter the age and allowed for their skill level. We kept score but it wasn’t an integral part of the game, we were too busy having fun and trying not to break windows or hit the ball into the crazy old man’s yard at the end of the church lot.

    @trb
    I have many moments where I sit up and wonder, “where the heck are the kids,” lol. I keep them to myself because I know if I mention them online I would get slammed and people would be questioning my parenting and threatening to call CPS (I wonder how they think they will do that when they don’t even know where I live).

    Half the time I have no clue where they are. I just know they are outside having fun…somewhere on our block. Usually I just have to stand on the porch for a few minutes before I spot one of them somewhere. They have friends all up and down our block and are usually in one of their yards.

    Heck, I’ve been having that problem since they were able to walk, just not outside. I’d go to the bathroom and come back and the living room would be empty and I’d have to search the house to figure out where my toddlers had run off to.

  28. Estonia has been on my radar for a while now, as libertarian states go, it has a LOT going for it (now just stay off the Euro, Estonia!!). When I consider freer places to live and raise my kids, it’s right at the top of the list. If only it were warmer.

  29. @Scott – Estonia has one of the strongest economies in Europe. They got hit when the depression started, like everyone else, but but they bounced back very fast.

  30. Childhood culture is definitely not completely dead, at least not around here. My 7-year-old knows all kinds of skipping and clapping rhymes that I didn’t teach her; she and her friends play hopscotch (sorta) and jump rope on the blacktop at recess and after school, and they invent various games with elaborate and ever-changing rules.

    The ECEs who supervise the kids in the before/after school program, while they do watch the kids and prevent them from climbing over the playground fence, etc., tend not to organize their play or tell them what they “should” be doing; most days, after school they feed them a snack, make the older ones do their homework if they have any, and then decant them onto the playground until their parents arrive to collect them. It seems to work.

  31. I’ve got to echo the other homeschooler who posted a comment here. Yeah, homeschooling. I know it’s not for everyone, but it is a wonderful alternative to traditional school and is not as impossible as it may seem.

    Last year, we went to a homeschooling convention and they had a workshop on making paper airplanes. My son has made hundreds of them in the last year (and I learned quite a bit about making them, too) and gets such a kick out of seeing them fly. If he were in school, he’d probably get the paper airplane enthusiasm driven right out of him.

    Also, he gets to play, regularly, with kids two to three years older and younger than he is because he’s not segregated into artificial grades. We go to the park at least once or twice a week and although I don’t drop him off, I do let him do his own thing with his friends rather than follow him around like a mother hen (after all, it’s my time to “socialize,” too).

    His life is not completely free range, but we’re working toward it, bit by bit.

  32. “all those rhymes and games and teases and stories that are no longer passed on.”

    I taught my son how to play Ring Around the Rosie a few months ago. The next day I told a co-worker about it and how much he enjoyed the game, and she told me the words of the song refer to the Plague and that it’s pretty horrible to teach your kid a song that refers to death and disease. (From I read of it, she’s wrong about the song referring to the Plague.) She also told me there are new words to the song and I should use those instead.

    I think it’s kind of sad how a simple game of RAtR now can turn into a question of values. It makes me wonder if I should start memorizing the “new words” to every rhyme, song, and fairy tale lest I come off as some sort of backwards, un-PC mother.

  33. DMT

    I drive my niece’s and nephew’s teachers nuts. I love nursery rhymes. So they do Jack and Jill with the class – and Loren and Brett go on and on and on because I taught them the whole thing not just the first verse. The same with several others. Finally the teachers just asked sis for a copy of the rhymes and now they are teaching the whole thing to kids.

    Now the folklore – Loren has learned not to tell Aunt Kimbie’s stories at school. The story of the Devil showing up to the dance that goes after midnight on a Saturday/Sunday – not so popular at her religious school.

  34. DMT, she’s DEFINITELY wrong about that one being about the plague. Even if she were right, it’s not as though it’s obvious from the words. (But she’s not right.)

  35. Kai, that’s an excellent point (re: your first comment). I’ve thought about that many times myself.

  36. DMT: I was actually thrilled to find out about the plague theory when I was in high school. It made both the song and the history lesson that much more interesting. Now, it’s not particularly credible, but it’s still a fun thing to read about (if rather morbid).

  37. Nicky, I was actually disappointed to see the Plague theory wasn’t correct. I too thought it lent an interesting perspective on the song. Even if it had been true, I would not have stopped singing it the way I was taught.

    Morbid or not, it’s still a part of the past, and we can’t sterilize all of history (nor should we).

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