3 Heartening Stories from Just This Week!

Hi Readers — These made me smile!

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I sent my 12 year old son and 10 year old daughter on the light rail train from our suburb to downtown, so they could meet their daddy and go to a baseball game. The boy was confident, the girl was wary, but they both hopped on that train. They had directions, phone numbers and a phone, no changing trains necessary, and they got there just fine.

I was nervous but confident! My son was like, “You can go, Mom!” at the platform, lol. — Laura

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I let my 7 year old son go to the barber around the corner from our house on his own for the first time to get his hair cut. Last time we were there I spoke to the barber about the possibility of my son coming over on his own, explaining we live near by and she knew that we came regularly. She said that was fine and that he should just come in and ask for a “boy’s haircut” and she would know what he wanted. He has been looking forward to going back on his own ever since. Today the big day came and he was so excited! We got the money ready together and then he had me remind him what to ask for and off he went. He ran back home absolutely glowing and I was so proud of him and so happy for how happy HE was, I actually teared up. — April

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been letting my 3 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. He, and a group of kids ages 5-12, all came with him! They’d seen him playing alone, and wanted him to join them! So, now my 3 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 six blocks all the way around, and we have tons of kids. It makes me happy to see this kind of mentality returning! —  Marie

28 Responses

  1. While I’m happy to see more people letting their kids slip the leash (responsibly), I also shed a tear when I read how traumatic it is to let a 7-year-old go around the corner to get a haircut (or as we used to say, “get his corners rounded”). When I was a kid — back when dinosaurs ruled the earth — this was normal. Now we have to fight to get to normal. What a world.

    A note to Marie: Paying kids to do what kids should do naturally doesn’t seem to be a good thing from my point of view. But then, I’m an old fart, so what do I know?

  2. Two great stories, one that makes my skin crawl. Hope I’m just paranoid.

  3. “A note to Marie: Paying kids to do what kids should do naturally doesn’t seem to be a good thing from my point of view. But then, I’m an old fart, so what do I know?”

    *shrug* When I was the older of a bunch keeping an eye on a bunch of younger kids, some parents occasionally tossed a couple of dollars my way too. Those 12 year olds become 13, 14 . . . and then they become your go-to evening babysitters. It’s setting up a relationship.

  4. Three great stories. The way things ought to be, frankly.

  5. “A note to Marie: Paying kids to do what kids should do naturally doesn’t seem to be a good thing from my point of view. But then, I’m an old fart, so what do I know?”

    This does not seem right to me neither. The kids are supposed to be friends for friendship, not friends for bucks. Connecting friendship and bucks imho is bad for the friendship and bad education

    “Those 12 year olds become 13, 14 . . . and then they become your go-to evening babysitters.”

    Now _thats_ when you “hire” them for real, not before that

  6. “A note to Marie: Paying kids to do what kids should do naturally doesn’t seem to be a good thing from my point of view. But then, I’m an old fart, so what do I know?”

    If this child was old enough to roam the neighborhood on his own, I would agree. But at 3 SOMEBODY needs to be responsible, and if these 12yo are taking on the responsibility, I don’t have a problem with an occasional “tip” for the service. However, I think I’d say something to the kids about checking with the parents before running off with a preschool-aged kid, just so the parent knows where the kid went.

  7. I think the ‘paying the kids’ issue is going to be one where you gotta be there, know the kids involved and exactly the situation before you can judge it.

    Moving on…now that my younger two did the train thing, my oldest is ready to take on the light rail downtown, transfer to a street car and hit up Powell’s Books, all on her own. It builds, people, it builds!

  8. The third story makes me a tiny bit nervous, just because the kid ran off by himself to join the other kids without consulting his mom, and went out of her sight and knowledge — because that’s what three year olds DO. And it won’t always be with “nice” people. Not that there are predators lurking everywhere, but kids who might not be safe for him to just run with, maybe?

    I’m NOT saying that therefore what this mom did was wrong. I think it just points up the fact that before a certain age, it’s not pure mythology that kids are vulnerable and easily lured into trouble, if the trouble is there to be found. So….just saying, it’s always a judgment call when to let kids of certain ages certain amounts of freedom, it’s never a matter of “oh, nothing could possibly happen.”

  9. BTW, I agree with LauraL. Twelve year olds may enjoy being with a three year old (some of my kids loved playing with littles at those ages), but it’s not sheer, unmitigated joy for them, and there is an element of responsibility that mom is conferring and they are assuming. So while it probably wouldn’t be a good sign to have them show up and stick their hands out every time they spent a half hour with little Timmy, it’s probably just fine to show some tangible appreciation for the fact that they are taking this responsibility on and fulfilling it, now and then.

  10. Pentamom, sure. But look at what really happened. Other kids. that’s all. not the big bad boogeyman that everyone wants you to be afraid of.

    Ask the kids to let her know before they take him playing? Sure, that’s totally reasonable. But do we need to talk about the 750,000 years for the kid to be kidnapped off the street?

  11. Three great stories. But Marie’s stuck with me the most. That’s how things were when I was growing up. A bunch of us kids would always be running in and out of my house or my cousins. Eventually, almost each of our houses. Race wasn’t an issue, age ranged from 6 – 12 years. We got to know the parents just by going over each others houses. The parents (not all, but most) eventually got to know each other too, by calling and asking if so and so can stay for dinner or sleep over. It was a community thing. As far as I can recollect, none of them were fearful. Because they had trust for their children, and trusted that their children would let them know if any of the other kids were treating them nice. We all treated each other with respect. Apart from my cousins, there are two other kids that I still talk to this day. They are like brothers to me.

    As for occasionally tipping kids who took it upon themselves to look after another kid (without asking for anything in return mind you), I think it’s commendable. It shows the kids that good deeds is good karma. And because they don’t get tipped all the time, they don’t feel that they can take advantage. It’s also a good way of finding a good babysitter. But as Wendy Walker mentioned, if they are going anywhere beyond the yard or even another kids house, they should be informing the parents. It’s also a good idea for the parents to get to know each other as well. Not only is it neighborly, but it’s also good for communication. And none of this “suing” mentality. If your kid falls and scrapes his knee, it’s no ones fault. That’s what happens when your a kid.

  12. @Pentamom: that’s why as a FR parent, its our responsibility to educate our children at the earliest time when they can understand us. By 3, most kids know what you are saying. It’s a simple as letting them understand that if they are going to leave the yard, no matter what ANYONE tells them, to quickly run inside and let the mom or dad know first. Or even let the other children know to come in and let them know before they run off. That’s what we used to do. “Mom! Going to the arcade with George!”. This usually got us some extra spending money. lol

  13. In my rather free-range neighborhood, it’s not unusual for a bunch of older kids to come over to play in our yard with a 3-4 year old tagging along. I always make sure to talk to the oldest one to make sure that he/she is “in charge” and that the parents are not expecting me to watch their 3 year old (not gonna happen unless I get paid). It typically works out just fine.

  14. This is all good news including the 3 yr old. In the newspaper last week for our area it was reported a father was sentenced to 90 days in jail for child neglect because his 2 yr old daughter was found playing outside unsupervised. Dad was also taking a nap, fair enough, but is this really neglect deserving of a serious criminal record? I think not.

    I could relate. We let our 3 yr old play outside with his brothers and he has done this since he could walk. They keep an eye on him and we check outside from time to time.

    I am aware that by doing this, I may be arrested and put in jail. I don’t think it is reasonable to arrest parents for letting their children play outside, and I don’t know of any other country in the world that does this.

    I suspect that in most of these cases the defendant can’t afford an attorney and is forced to make a deal or face even worse charges. That’s what it seemed to be in this case. It would be interesting for someone to go to trial over this, be convicted, then appeal. Talking with people in my area (non free range people), the general consensus is that parents who allow their children to play outside without continuous close supervision genuinely are guilty of neglect and deserving of prison, so I know how the jury would rule.

    Needless to say, obesity and heart disease rates are high in this area.

  15. Laura and Eric, I agree with you both. I just want people to recognize the reality that even “educating” doesn’t work reliably until, well, it does. (That is, you can and should “educate” your three year old this way, but don’t be surprised if he’s not really trustworthy about this kind of thing until he’s four, or some other age.) Don’t get me wrong, I am NOT discouraging this kind of thing. It’s just that I occasionally see people (not Lenore, not most people here, but a person here and there) take a very pie in the sky view of Free Range, where “nothing can happen if I’m a good Free Ranger because MY KID won’t make that mistake and there are no real dangers anyway.” I’m not trying to correct anyone, I’m just saying that the incident in the post reminds me that there’s a balance to keep here. Thinking out loud more than anything, really.

  16. IMO, “pie in the sky view of Free Range” parents aren’t FR. It’s just as irresponsible to have that “nothing can happen to my kid so I let him do whatever he wants” attitude, as it is with “too many things can happen to my kid so I don’t let him out of my sight” attitude. They are posers. lol

    And I totally agree, balance is important. Don’t stifle, but at the same time don’t let them run amok. At a young age, there does need to be some control, so that the children can easily absorb what they are being taught. Not thrown at them all at once. As Lenore says “baby steps”.

  17. My 2 year-old plays alone in the yard all the time. I leave the door open so I can hear her if she cries, and the dog goes out with her to bark at anyone who comes near the fence. If I haven’t heard from her after about 5 minutes, I look out the window. 90% of the time, she’s busy in the dirt, the other 10% she’s moved to the backyard.

    I can’t imagine anyone in my neighborhood getting upset about this. She waves and says Hi to everyone as they pass, and they say Hi back to her.

    PS my yard is fully fenced on a street that only really has cars on it when people are going to or from work. I wouldn’t let her out alone with no fence.

  18. Loved that story about the children taking the light rail train to meet their dad–took me back about 60 years to when my brother and I rode the Pacific Electric to meet our dad when he got off work on Saturday mornings. Alas, when my daughters were in the same age range, there was nothing but buses, so that was their transit experience.

  19. I *love* getting happy stories once in a while!

  20. Cool stories! I love that the kids took responsibility for the little one, I think I’d have scolded them very lightly about making sure little’s parent’s know where they are. Thanked them for looking out for him and sent them all on their way.

    Its great knowing that in some neighborhoods, kids are still out playing.

  21. I’m not a parent, but it’s nice to know the younger generation aren’t all going to be scared of the world. When I was a teenager in the 90’s some friends parents thought my parents were nuts for letting me go to concerts “in the city” without any adults present.

    I turned out fine. It seems like my friends that were sheltered from the world are the ones too scared now as adults to try anything new or challenging, or went the other direction and don’t seem to know what a bad idea is.

  22. The stories about the 10/12 and 7 year olds are great. The 3 year old story, though…. well I think this is a little too young to be running around the neighborhood like that. They need to be able to understand certain things. Like for example that it’s not okay for someone else to touch their private parts (just in case one of your neighbors is a perv or even one of the 12 year old kids). Can a 3 year old get that concept? Maybe I’m just being paranoid and anti-free-range, but I’d be okay with this more for ages 5 and up because they are old enough to understand boundaries.

  23. Re: the 3-year-old, out without mom:
    I remember as a 3 and-a-half-year-old being asked to be in charge of my 1-year-old brother (a one-year-old from Hell: he walked when he was 9 months old- and ran by the 12-month mark). THAT was too young, placing any kind of responsibility on my shoulders, but being “looked after” by a group of older kids is something different, and something I’d feel safe with, remembering my self and my own reasoning at 3 and 4.

    What’s heartening about these stories is how empowered and competent these kids feel when being able to do something on their own. I wish we could start talking about the detrimental effects (or “dangers”) connected with the cultural practice of telling your kids that the “world is dangerous” and “they’re incapable” of dealing with it.
    How many will be struggling with panic-attacks when they finally are let loose?

  24. This is awesome stuff. I feel that more and more people are converting to free range parenting. In my own neighborhood I see groups of kids on bikes every day. Sometimes I even see what look like six year olds riding their scooters or bikes alone. It seems like everyone is realizing how ridiculous helicopter parenting is. Lenore, you have done an amazing job so far, and I hope you continue so people won’t think about turning back to helicoptering!

  25. Great stories. Our old neighborhood was like the last story. My youngest daughter (who is 4) has been running around with her older siblings and the neighbor kids since she was 2 1/2. During this past summer I looked out to see the pack playing some cops and robbers type game. There were 9 or so kids ranging from 4-12 both boys and girls. And they all loved to play with the 3yo boy next door. It was like that when I was a kid growing up there. I was always the oldest and felt it was my responsibility to look out for the younger kids (who went from 5-10 years old…my brother being the oldest of them at 10). I was 12 at the time.

    My big free-range news at the moment…Last Friday my 10yo daughter stayed home alone for the first time. We took the other kids grocery shopping and out to lunch but she didn’t want to come. She was home for several hours on her own just watching TV. She called us once to ask if she could have a hot pocket for lunch.

  26. I’m sorry but you guys are going to far. Teaching a 3 year old to walk 2 blocks to a fire station and a 7 year old to get a hair cut by himself? Teach the 3 year old to use the phone in an emergency. You are teaching parents how not to be good parents. Having a 3 year old playing with 6 to 12 year olds. What’s wrong with you? Why would 6 to 12 year olds want to play with a 3 year old? We won’t find out until your child is 30 or 40 what really is happening to them. I hope and pray that none of your children get stolen or hurt as you go through life in rose colored glasses. Wake up. It happened to my family and I wish we were more cautious and not what you are teaching here. Because once it happens you can’t turn back. Shame on you all for being so lazy that you can’t watch your children. Shame on you.

  27. “Teaching a 3 year old to walk 2 blocks to a fire station and a 7 year old to get a hair cut by himself? ”

    Nobody “taught” the 3 year old to do that. She wasn’t encouraged to do it as a regular thing. She did it because she was familiar with her environment, it was the only thing she thought to do, and it’s a darned good thing she knew her way around that well. And, um, what’s dangerous about walking AROUND THE CORNER to a barber you know to get a haircut? How is that different from walking to a school full of people you mostly don’t know, which I did every day at that age, in a world that was less safe than today’s? This is a seven year old, not a toddler.

    “Teach the 3 year old to use the phone in an emergency.”

    Have you ever tried to have a substantive phone conversation with a child under 5? No matter how well trained the kid is, their little voices are hard to understand at that age. It’s much better that she found someone in person who could immediately respond, than trying to explain the situation over a phone.

    “Having a 3 year old playing with 6 to 12 year olds. What’s wrong with you? Why would 6 to 12 year olds want to play with a 3 year old?”

    I don’t remember. It’s been a long time since I was that old. I’d have to ask my kids, one of whom is twelve and loves to play with the little ones. My guess is her answer would be a blank look at why I was asking such an odd question followed by, “They’re cute and it’s fun.”

    “Shame on you all for being so lazy that you can’t watch your children. Shame on you.”

    Yeah, those parents who taught their daughter to find her way safely around the neighborhood and where to go in an emergency were lazy as anything. How irresponsible can you get, teaching your child life skills?

    I agree it’s possible to go too far with any of this, but your examples are far from “going too far” nor do they indicate laziness or irresponsibility.

  28. 6 to 12 year olds love babies. They aren’t babysitting at that age and probably find exposure to little kids awesome. Besides, thet finally have someone younger than them to boss around. It’s great. I’m sorry you believe in a homogenized world where kids are processed through life according to age groups and associating outside of that is “dirty”. No wonder the family idea is breaking down. Let’s just take kids away from their parents at birth and start training them to love Big Brother in our Brave New World. Seriously, Sally May, do you think it’s wrong for age groups to mix? I could assume you are saying siblings shouldn’t play together unless they’re twins and family reunions with cousin parties should go right out the window. As for this 30-40 thing where we finally find out what’s happening to the dear kid? What exactly do you think the 6-12 YOs are doing?! If it’s common for molesting tendencies to start that young, we have much bigger problems than kids hanging out together.

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