Everything I Worry About…

…seems to be confirmed in this article from the BBC, about a recent, random survey over there:

1 – Many people would think twice about helping a child, for fear their actions could be misinterpreted as an abduction.

2 – About half say they think it is unsafe for children to play unsupervised. (But the article doesn’t seem to state what age, so maybe they were thinking about very young kids).

3 – One third say that if they let their kids play on their own they would be judged harshly by their neighbors.

4 – And yet — get this — a whopping 81% believe “children playing outside helped to improve community spirit” and 70% say it makes an area “more desirable” to live in.

This sounded like a pretty solid survey, and as such it highlights the conundrum Free-Range Kids is always facing:  People WANT their kids to play outside. They WANT to be able to interact with neighborhood children. They WANT to live in a vibrant community. But they are scared. And so they back off from the very things — helping, trusting, going outside — that would bring about the kind of world they’re longing for.

Free-Range Kids believes that the more we connect to each other, the more we let our children connect to the world, and the more we believe that the real world is not the same one we see on “Predators Today,” the better off everyone is.

Simple as that. — Lenore

24 Responses

  1. Related to #1, my boss told me recently that a friend of his was driving down a busy highway near here, and saw a toddler out on the road. He stopped and helped the little one find his home (his mom hadn’t realized he had gotten outside; it had only been a couple minutes), and luckily it was close by. The man was nervous to help because if they toddler didn’t live in the immediate area he didn’t want to have other people see him put a small child in his vehicle; they would for sure call the police (which is where he would have brought the child).
    It was so sad, because here is this little kid out on the road where he might get hit, and instead of only worrying about helping him find his parents, people need to worry about stopping to help because something bad might be assumed about them.

  2. Too sad and too true. I let my kids play outside as age appropriate, but they’re some of the few. On the plus side, I do see a lot of families letting their kids play in their front yards in the evenings. The parents are always watching the kids, but there’s some socialization.

  3. #1 Help if you think they need, carefully & responsibly, don’t worry about being misinterpreted. You’re probably doing someone a favor. I know, easier said than done.

    #2 Kids have been playing outdoors for years, the outdoors hasn’t changed that much in 30 years.

    #3 I don’t give a da– what my neighbors think. They didn’t make my child, they don’t pay for its daycare and food, clean up their nonsense, or deal with their temper tantrums. If they want to help, good–if they want to judge, mind your own yard.

    #4 Fine. If you believe it, live it–put up or shut up.

    I’m in a brief mood today for once, vs a “rambling” mood.


  4. Nuff said Lenore.

  5. The article doesn’t mention the specific questions used in the survey, nor the demographics of the people asked. But people are frequently inconsistent in their opinions and beliefs, so it is quite possible that a lot of people in this survey, honestly believe that it is dangerous for their children to play unsupervised and it is OK for somebody else’s children to play unsupervised, without realizing that this means that it is OK for somebody else’s children to be in danger.

  6. Forgive my ignorance, but this whole “I don’t want to stop to help a child b/c I might be misinterpreted as a creep” fear is ridiculous. The better option is just to leave the toddler wandering on the side of the road?!?! No one – not even the most paranoid – would think that’s true. What’s the quote: “You’ve got to be the change you want to see in the world”? If no-one is stopping to help, then the ones who do stop really stand out and get the side-eye. If everyone was helpful, no-one would think twice.

    If you’re really concerned about busy-bodies, here’s a simple suggestion: either walk up with the child to the first house you see and explain & ask for help or if you have to take the kid in to your car, call the police station and say “Hi, i found a child who is lost and I am going to take him in my car now so that we can drive to xyz. Just letting you guys know so I can preemptively fend off the accusations.”

  7. I’ve never really had a problem with #1 as I look about 13 myself (I’m 21) and even kids don’t usually buy that I’m an adult.
    As for two, I’d say it’s true. In some areas, and with some children. People should know when their kids are old enough to cope with being let out on their own. When I was about 8 or 9 there was a spate of attempted abductions in my area, so our teacher gave us self defence lessons.

  8. @timkenwest. I totally agree with you. Just make it very obvious that your trying to help the child. But at the same time, just like the fears that control helicopter parents, so do the same fears prevent others from getting involved. There have been cases were the person trying to help ended up being treated like the villian. Some people have that self preservation switch on.

    What would also help is that others don’t be so quick to judge, and start throwing stones. If a person just tried to help, don’t treat them like they just killed your dog, stole your money, and burned down your house. Leave the pitch forks in your shed. And maybe even say “thank you”.

  9. *cheers Larry on*

  10. This just reminded me of my brother and his girlfriend helping out a 5 year old girl a while back. My brother was driving down the street with his girlfriend, and they saw a 5yo totally freaking out on the sidewalk. Scary freaking out-like throwing herself around, waving at traffic, etc.

    So, they stopped and asked if she was ok (like normal people, right??!). She said her dad had beaten her badly and she was too scared to go home, and she had lots of bruises. It seems that she had run a ways from her house too. My brother & girlfriend got her into their car (!) and took her to a nearby church where they called the police and cps… who then took the girl home (dah). BUT, the incredible thing is that nobody even suggested that she was abducted! I didn’t even remember this story as unusual until I got to thinking about how few people would have even thought of it!

    My little brother’s awesome, by the way.

  11. I don’t bother worrying what the neighbors think about the kids playing outside. I like hear the laughter of children on saturday afternoons. Besides, when they start restling and playing loud, that’s exactly when its time to go outside.

  12. Sadly, not everyone in the UK supports kids playing outside. A friend of mie received a letter from a neighbour in his block of flats asking people to write to the local council to complain about their children making a noise all day (in the summer holidays – imagine!)

    My friend told him very curtly to mind his own business…

  13. I would also be curious to know how responses correlated to information about the people surveyed. I’m going to guess that parents would be more willing to help than non-parents. In a very close neighborhood like mine I don’t think you’d find many people unwilling to help, or believing that children of a certain age can’t play unsupervised.

    Also, I think we have a problem when all children are lumped together. If I let my one-year-old play outside in our alleyway by himself — that would be dangerous. But my four-year-old is now allowed to play there on her own and even travel to another alleyway if she checks with us. And older kids are certainly able to hang out with the neighborhood gang without parental supervision. We shouldn’t treat all kids like toddlers!

  14. I think we live in a sue-happy world. While I think many people would stop to help a kid and know of many who have, there sadly are those who would not out of fear. Stupid self-preservation.

    I’ve also met mothers who think it should be illegal for kids of any age to be outside on their own because it’s child endangerment. Good grief. What happens? Do they baby their kids and then send them to college unprepared for life? I had a roommate freshman year of college who knew nothing. I had to teach her how to make a bed.

    My neighborhood constantly has kids running around unsupervised. No tragedy yet, and the kids have a blast. Their parents taught them things like rules and common sense, so they can hang around the area in safety.

  15. It happened to me just last weekend. I live in a very small, rural town. I was walking to the Subway restaurant two blocks from my house to get some lunch. About midblock, I came across a man and woman unloading a love seat from a trailer. There was a boy with them. He looked about ten years old. As I walked by, the boy looked at me and said loudly, “Hello!” It seemed rude not to respond, so I said “Hello” as I turned and nodded my head at the father, to indicate my hello was for all of them. As I continued on by, I heard the mother say to the boy, “We don’t talk to strangers, remember?” From now on, I’m crossing the street whenever I see a child ahead, and I see I’ll have to stop going to the park, too. What a world we’ve created.

  16. Carter, the parents didn’t say “Call the cops!” or anything like that. They just reminded the kidlet not to say hi to random strangers. Maybe they don’t want him talking your ear off.

  17. On the topic of the “not wanting to help another kid” issue, this is something that really makes me sad for our country. I live abroad in Asia now and it took me about 2 years of living here to shed my American attitudes about interacting with random kids.

    Back home, if you’re a male who is alone at the time, if you spontaneously speak to a kid who’s wandering around in a supermarket or a kid comes up and talks to you for some reason people actually stare at you like you’ve done something wrong. Most American males it’s just something you know never to do, but on the occasion when I accidentally breached the rules for some reason (kid wandered up to me or I thought a kid was lost) I had it happen.

    Over here, kids come say hello, you talk to them – give them high fives. Sometimes you end up just running around playing soccer with them for a minute and they get the biggest charge out of it.

    Kids are a Hell of a great thing to have around and they exist in a community, but we don’t act much like a community back home. We treat each other with suspicion and fear and we move from our homes to our cars to our offices and back without interacting with anyone we don’t have to. Seeing the unbridled excitement kids have and hearing their bizarrely humorous interpretations of life is just a joy and I hope to have kids of my own someday, but in the mean time it’s positively idiotic to isolate kids as if they’re in constant danger and, while this is less important, it’s fairly insulting to have to walk around on eggshells as a grown man because of paranoid mothers. Certainly it leaves us with kids who are, yes, less likely to experience some horrible thing at the hands of society, but also less prepared for life in society and more likely to continue our anti-social and isolationist social ethics – which is what leads to the self-segregation that’s becoming a problem again today.

    Great site, by the way, I hope it catches on back home!

  18. I just remembered: When we moved to new neighborhoods, my mom used to make us go door-to-door and introduce ourselves to the neighbors and ask if they had kids we could play with.

  19. What an idiot I am! Thank you, Uly, for reminding me that we’re supposed to be raising a generation that’s too afraid to talk to anyone around them.

  20. I don’t think you’re an idiot, or I would’ve said that. I just think that crossing the street (even saying you will in jest) is a little extreme for what actually was said.

    And I tell my own nieces not to bother strangers. Not because i want them to be scared, but because I want them to have good manners.

  21. […] Things Worth Worrying About […]

  22. I’ve been letting my three year old play outside on his own for brief periods, 5-10 minutes and I check on him. The other day I went to the bathroom, looked outside, and he was gone. I’m not a panicky person, so I went outside calling his name. Him, and a group of kids ages 5-12 all came with him! They saw him playing alone, and wanted him to come! So, now my three year old runs around the neighborhood with a group of 6-10 kids of all different ages. The oldest ones promised me they’d watch him and I occasionally give them five bucks when he comes home unscathed. Crazy? Or the community stepping up? We all let the kids in and out of our houses, giving them snacks and drinks. This is a tiny part of a small town, probably 6 blocks all the way around, and we have tons of kids. It makes me happy to see this kind of mentality returning!

  23. […] UK survey sheds light on decline of outdoor and neighborhood kids’ play [BBC via Free-Range Kids] […]

  24. There are also alot of people are just really clueless, or has the “someone elses problem” attitude when it comes to helping a lost child, or helping anyone for that matter.

    Ridiculous man fear: we went to a small park in a mall not long ago, my son was playing with other kids, and some of them would run up to my hubby and talk to him whenever we go(long curty hair and tattoos, you bet kids are going to be curious). My hubby would answer back. A little fat kid(I know, harsh, but he was) ran up to him asked him questions and started telling him about his Xbox and Wii, and this whole story of going to the food court for fries(as if this kid needed more grease in those arteries), and his mother came up and gave him the nastiest look ever, you know that “Don’t talk to my kid you freak!” look. Sad part is I was next to him, and this was while my hubby was taking the jacket off my son. Seriously, are you so paranoid, lady, that you think a man getting his own child ready to play in a park is a pedophile?

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