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

Jason Mraz: “Let’s Go Outdoors” (to “I’m Yours”)

Hi Readers — Okay, so the kids in this Sesame Street video look a little languid and catalog-ready. And of course there is the inherent tension between a song encouraging kids to go outdoors and the fact that it is on TV, and if it’s REALLY good, kids will want to just sit there and watch some more, sunny day be damned.

DESPITE all that — and the sad fact that I find Elmo cloying — this is still a video with a lovely message. And great birdies in a tree. And it’s to one of my very favorite songs (sap that I am):

P.S. Another reader just sent in THIS song as a “Free-Range” anthem. “Hey, Won’t Somebody Come Out and Play?” from the show “Yo Gabba Gabba.” The last line of this sweet ditty actually makes me sort of queasy with regret: “Childhood won’t last, so won’t somebody come out and play?” Despite my best efforts, it is STILL hard for me to get my kids out of the house during the school year, often because no one else is outside and playing. So let’s hope this song convinces the younger generation to burst outside and not repeat the mistakes of the tweens.

Mom About to Adopt Asks for Free-Range Advice

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a soon-to-be mom with a request for ideas (and a tiny dig at me, but what the hey). The boy she and her husband are adopting is three. Congrats to her and her expanding family! —  L.

Dear Free-range Kids: I like the idea of Free-Range Kids (although I’m not totally comfortable with some of Lenore’s extremes), and I would like some advice: My husband and I will soon be adopting a young boy.  After years of miscarriages and failed adoption plans, I’m terrified to let this boy, who hasn’t even come to live with us yet, out of my sight for even a few minutes.  I’m especially nervous for this particular boy, who has been abused and neglected.  How can I moderate my crazy-protective response into something that will allow him to have a regular life?

Let’s help! And send them our best wishes!

“When I Was a Kid, My Neighbor Was Abducted. How Can I Go Free-Range?”

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I just got:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m generally in agreement with Lenore’s views.  It’s ridiculous to try to protect our children from EVERYTHING out there.  The article about not having a baby on board sign because it could decapitate the baby … fear-mongering at it’s worst!  Gave me a good lol.

My mom and I talk fairly often about this blog.  And there is one argument that she brings up that I don’t know how to combat.  When I was 14 or 15 a girl down the block was kidnapped.  She’s not been found to this day.  She was walking 3 blocks in a safe neighborhood to the local grocery store.  All of us neighborhood kids did the same thing.  She went with a friend.  Sure, it’s a VERY rare scenario, but it happened in my life.  I knew the girl and her friend.  That could have been ME!

So when it comes to things like letting the kids play alone in the park … that’s very scary.  My neighborhood couldn’t BE more typically suburban and safe.  But, how do I work up the nerve to let my daughter do something that feels so dangerous?  I don’t want to be a helicopter mom, but I don’t know how to justify something that in my experience has turned out so disastrously.  Maybe that’s the shift in thinking that I need to make … it’s not what makes me comfortable, but what is best for my daughter.  Because the likelihood of her being kidnapped is very, very low.

BTW:  For those interested, the girl is Michaela Garecht.  Her mom writes a blog here.

To which I replied:

First of all, what a tragedy. It’s impossible to contemplate it without feeling hopeless and disgusted with the world.

But then, as you point out: there is your daughter and her life and childhood to think about, too.

As far as going out and about in the world, there is no reason to start by sending her alone to the park. It would be more fun and more safe for her to go with a friend. I realize the girl in your neighborhood WAS with a friend, but an abduction like that is rarer than rare. So you can take some steps that allow your daughter out and about, but still with someone else, which is very safe.

Secondly, I think most of us feel better when we take action. So take a self defense class with her, or have her take one. Why not? Even the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children says the safest kids are the confident ones. There is confidence that comes from being prepared.

Thirdly, I don’t know how to get over the abduction fear, since it happened to someone you know. All I can say is I do know people who have been in car accidents and I still get into a car.  My friend’s boss died slipping in the tub. And, you’ll be happy to hear, I still bathe.

The sad truth — the truth we think we always have control over, but we don’t — is that sometimes tragedy happens. For some reason, we are able to compartmentalize some of our fears. Car accidents haven’t scared Americans off of driving. They say, “Well, when I’m driving, I’m in control.” But as a reader once pointed out so cogently here, if you are killed by a drunk driver, it doesn’t matter how great a driver you are (were!). Things happen. We don’t think about fiery crashes every time we put our kids in the car. We don’t leap to the headlines, and imagine all the sorrow and guilt we’d feel — and we shouldn’t. That would be an obsessive way to live our lives.

But abduction is another story. We feel it’s always a possibility, even if it’s rare, and that therefore we must actively prevent it all the time. And the only way we can think of preventing it is by never letting our kids out of our sight.

The fact is, it is rarer than lightning and we must not give our kids a Rapunzel life. The odds are very much in our favor. Meantime, it is not as if we aren’t making a trade-off, every time we refuse to let our children explore the world, or go about some of their day without us hovering. Childhood is a time to grow up. If someone else is doing all the growing up for the child —  suggesting the games, deciding the teams, watching out for the cars, finding the route home — that adult has sucked all the lessons, and joy, and even frustration and disappointment — out of the experience. Sure, they do it with the best of intentions. But they have outsourced the work, and fun, of childhood.

It is our job to prepare our children as best we can for the world. To teach them, train them, and then, gradually, to let them go. Yes, with some fear in our hearts. That’s the part about being a parent that really bites.

So good luck to you as you deal with this. And good luck to your daughter, too. And keep us posted! — Lenore

Emma Thompson on Making Kids Brave

Hi Readers! Here’s a lovely little rant about raising brave kids by the “Nanny McPhee” (and, oh, Shakespeare) actress, Emma Thompson. It’s from an interview she did with BabyCenter. The whole interview is here. The rant is HERE:

On why ‘bravery’ is her favorite lesson Nanny McPhee teaches the children:

I think it’s good to be brave because then you’re also slightly more able to cope with failure and failure of course is your best friend in every regard really. Children are brave and they’re more likely to take risks and they’re more likely to learn really important lessons.

That’s really what I mean by being brave, you know. That we take care of our children very carefully and that’s absolutely right, but in certainly my culture children are being so, I think, stifled by sort of health and safety so that they’re not climbing trees anymore, they’re not taking risks, physical risks anymore.

My daughter lives in Scotland as well and she’s already fallen off cliffs and down gullies and so when she picks herself up and she says things like ‘well that’s a lesson learned,’ you know. That’s the only way she’s not going to go near the cliff edge again because she’s actually fallen off a small one. I think it’s the only way you really do learn how to look after yourself because just saying it, saying don’t go to the cliff edge ‘cause you might fall off and hurt yourself doesn’t cut the mustard.  It just doesn’t.

‘Don’t go out with that boy because he will take your heart out of your mouth, fry it up with bacon and eat it’ won’t work because no one is going to listen.  They don’t, you know that, we’re mommies, we know.  So you’ve got to let them get hurt and you gotta let them fail and to do that you have to let them be brave.

With PTAs Like These…

Hi Readers — As the school year gears up and we are talking about how great it is when kids walk to school, here’s a “real world” note I just got from one guy. Sigh:

My children’s  school has no school buses, and at our first PTA meeting one parent was being praised for setting up a private school bus, paid for by the parents.

I mentioned that since everyone is close enough to walk, that’s what we should be focusing on, getting more children to walk, but everyone comes up with the “what if?” arguments.

To which I replied, “What if?” is the greatest two-word idea killer of all time. To which my correspondent replied:

Even sadder was when I was showing actual statistics to back up my arguments that walking is much safer than driving, the head of the PTA stated: “Statistics mean nothing when it comes to the safety of my child.” To which everyone applauded.

Argh. Never said it would be easy. If any of you can think of a way to sway parental minds closed to health, safety, common sense, environmentalism and a belief in outdoor time for kids, please help this guy with some good arguments for the next PTA debacle. Er, meeting. — Lenore

What A Wallet Photo Proves About Humanity (Something GOOD!)

Hi Readers — In response to the story somewhere below, about “Annie’s Mailbox” spreading the belief that a family decal on a car could delight, incite and invite predators, another reader sent in this wonderful study about wallets.

Yes, wallets. Researchers in England “dropped” 240 wallets outside, to see which ones would be returned. Forty of the wallets contained a baby picture, 40 had a family photo, 40 had a picture of an elderly couple and another 40 had a puppy pic. Then there were 40 with a receipt from a recent charity contribution (but no photo). And the final 40 had nothing special in them at all. All of the wallets contained the same business cards and identification, none held any money.

Result? The ones with the baby picture had the highest rate of return! They were sent back almost 9 out of 10 times. The return rate was next highest for the puppy, then the family, then the elderly couple. The charity receipt and wallets with nothing special in them at all had the lowest rate of return.

What the researcher, Dr. Richard Wiseman (perfect name!), concluded from this is that, “The baby kicked off a caring feeling in people.” He added that, in evolutionary  terms, this just makes sense: We are genetically coded to care for our young and seeing pretty much any baby jump starts that feeling. (It’s not like we’re coded only to care for a handful of particular baby faces, which happen to be our own offsprings’. Any young faces make us feel protective.)

Let’s remember this hardwired connection to all kids when we think about the world. More and more, especially with the advent of GPS for backpacks, and laws keeping adults without kids off of playgrounds, and restrictions on the photography of random children, and advertisements that suggest predators are all around, we are being brainwashed into believing the world is awash in perverts and it’s the rare adult who does not harbor creepy feelings for children.

This is the exact opposite of the truth. It is a lie that is making us suspicious, disconnected, miserable, pliant and frightened. We must fight to help each other  — and especially people who don’t visit this site — remember that the vast majority of  humans would rather HELP children, than hurt them. — Lenore

We are hardwired to love and protect young 'uns.

Something’s Afoot: A Great Way to Start the School Year!

Hi Readers — I just love what is happening in Evanston, Illinois, and not just because I’m from that neck of the woods. Evanston, a suburb of Chicago, is encouraging all students, all ages, public, private, you name it to WALK to school for the first week of the academic year.

This is so smart because, even before parents get around to arranging car pools, or figuring out how they’re going to drive their kids to school each day, the kids get in the groove of walking. So instead of having to BREAK the daily drive habit,  the kids get off on the right foot!

Ok. Dumb, obvious joke that ins’t even that funny. Or at all funny. But still: Kudos to Evanston. Now let’s hope other school districts follow in its  (sorry, I can’t stop myself) footsteps! — Lenore

Disturbing? Cool? Both! 3 Kids Take Plane Trip W/Out Informing Parents

Hi Readers! This is just one strange story. A 15 year old Florida girl, Bridget Brown, saved up $700 in babysitting money and used it to take her friend, 13,  and younger brother, 11,  on a plane ride from Jacksonville to Nashville.

The trio cabbed it to the airport, boarded the flight without any problems (Southwest allows kids age 12 and up to travel without adult supervision), and got to their destination. They called their parents from there and immediately flew home.  Bridget is quoted as saying the impetus for this trip was simply this: she just wanted to fly somewhere — and had the money.

So what makes this disturbing? That the kids didn’t tell their parents. (Yes, even Free-Range me thinks kids should let their parents know when they’re flying off to another state.) Also that Southwest didn’t ask any of them for IDs, at least according to this MSNBC account. That’s weird.

What makes it cool? The kids’ spirit of adventure. Their competence in the adult world. The fact they got their money refunded in the end.

Which just may mean a sequel. — Lenore

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