Help Needed! How Can We Let Our Kids Free-Range Without Us Getting Scolded (Or Arrested)?

Hi Readers! The question that Emily poses, below, is so central to Free-Ranging that I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t have a truly killer response.  But when in need,  as we teach our kids, ask for help. So that is what I’m doing –asking all of you: How can we let our kids do things on their own at an age that WE consider appropriate, if much of the rest of society does NOT?

I’d love to hear from any of you who have done this successfully, as well as those who have not. I’d also appreciate any feedback and/or tips from people who work in child protection, the police department or the law.

I really do want to come up with some simple, usable strategies beyond the ones I’ve suggested before, which include:

* Give your child a “Free-Range Kids Membership Card” that states his name and the fact that you, the parent, approve of him being on his own. (It also includes your phone number, so a skeptical adult can confirm this.)

* Get other kids involved, so there’s strength in numbers.

* Try giving a talk to the PTA about the fact that violent crime is down since the ’70s and ’80s, which means today’s kids are NOT more in danger than we were.

*Yuppie Jujitsu: When parents say children need hovering,  tell them recent studies show that unsupervised “free play” makes children less depressed, more fit AND it builds their cognitive capabilities. (Yuppies love the word “cognitive”!)

*And…what else? Eagerly awaiting your two cents! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Sometimes I get so discouraged. I have a 7 year old boy, a 2.5 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. We live in an apartment building with no yard of our own. It’s also on the corner of two very busy streets. A few miles down the road, however, my father has a nice house in a suburban neighborhood. Two blocks away there are a playground, pool, library, grocery store and various small shops. When I was younger (7 or so), my best friend, younger brother and I would spend all day in this plaza, by ourselves. My lucky mother, haha! I would love a break like that!

Anyway, my son visits there often and I’d like him to be able to ride his bike around the neighborhood, go to the playground, and waste his allowance on candy at the store. I’d like him and his sister to be able to play in the (un-fenced-in) yard at my dad’s house. But I get SO many negative comments from just about everyone. Did I know my kids were on the porch ALONE?? Did I know my son rode his bike five houses away? Did I know my children were playing in THE DIRT????

Yes, I did. Thank you for your concern. Now please go away. Haha. I’m afraid that if I let my son go to the playground by himself, he’ll be accosted by every busybody along the way, and I’m even more worried that they’ll call the police.

Also, when we go out shopping, I let my son go to the toy aisle while I do my shopping nearby. When I go to “collect” him, there is always some other mom hovering and when she sees me she’ll say something like, “Oh, good, I just wanted to make sure he was safe.” Also while at the store, I occasionally have to take my 2 yr old to the bathroom. Rather than bring the baby in with us (which is ALWAYS a disaster), I’d like to leave him in the cart, by the door, with my older son. Yet, I fear the good-intentioned masses.

I’d appreciate any advice you can give me. Thank you! — Emily

111 Responses

  1. I learned this trick dealing with 7th day adventist. Sorry but I don’t like being greeted with you are going to hell. Yeah, good to see you too. 😦 Try to convert them to your way of thinking. In my example, have you considered the Catholic faith. :p

    With your son in the toy isle, how old were your children when you felt they were responsible enough to look at the toy isle by themselves. This usually leaves people stammering for words. They expect you to apologize or seem like you are the worst mom on earth.

    Make them think about why they choose what they do and they will leave you alone. I swear to you, there are a lot of people out there that don’t like it when you make them think.

    Good luck. 🙂

  2. With a 13yo and a 16yo who have been free-ranged from the beginning, I think the best advocate I’ve had in “sticky situations” through the years has been the kids themselves. By actively and warmly engaging with other adults and other kids when they’re out-and-about, they simply don’t come across like they’re trying to get away with anything! I guess if you don’t act guilty or suspicious, it’s surprising what you can get away with 🙂

  3. This has been my biggest struggle with free-ranging.

    I have a friend who has four sons. One son can be a challenge and will get bossy, pushy, etc. So one day, when Mom could not referee the carnage and cook dinner, she sent her son to go play on the back deck. The deck has a high railing, a secure gate, and at least half a dozen toys.

    Sadly, the son decided to scream at the top of his lungs to show his disapproval.

    So far, so good, right? No screaming moms, no spankings or violence. Just an angry kid with a safe place to express his anger.

    The pre-school, kitty corner to her back yard, called family services.

    Unfortunately, in my state, Family Services has a less than glowing track record. So this top shelf mom goes through the process of interviews and home visits while the state tries to decide if she is parenting well enough to keep her children. It turned out fine, she had a good case worker.

    But that is the worst case scenario that runs through my head: “What if a police officer finds my 10 year old son riding his bike alone and decides it’s unsafe?”

    It’s not the worst-case scenarios that frighten me. It’s the society that thinks I am INSANE for not being frightened.

    For now, I file “overly zealous system” away in the same drawer as “predatory pedophile” and “serial killer”.

    I can trust that, 99.9% of the time, strangers won’t actively try to harm my kid. Can I trust them not to give help he doesn’t need?

  4. I’m so thankful that we live in the country – I can let my 2 1/2 and 4 year olds ride their bikes in the driveway while I’m inside (with the window open so I can hear them; they’ve never tested their boundaries by going anywhere near the road).

    I would teach your son that he can politely thank the adult for their concern but let them know that he has your permission – and maybe give them your phone number?

    As far as letting the older son stay with the younger at the store, we do that all the time. My kids are 10, 4, 2 1/2, and 1 – I usually take the middle two to the bathroom and leave the baby with my oldest. Sometimes I even give him three or four items to shop for while he’s waiting. I wouldn’t think twice about seeing kids waiting outside the bathroom door.

  5. Most people’s minds glaze over when presented with facts, figures or complex ideas in favor of something they can see. (Think of how the O.J. Simpson jury ignored the DNA evidence after seeing trying to get the glove to fit with a protective latex glove inside it.)
    Turn some piece of information from a statement into a question by ending it with what is known as a hook phrase. This technique works best if structured so that they will probably give a yes answer to it.
    These examples may be a little unpolished but play around with the concept. If too long the busybody may lose focus.
    You do know that the world is much safer today than it was years ago, don’t you?
    The difference between strangers and people that we know is we haven’t met them yet, to look at any stranger as a threat means that we are also viewed as dangerous by others, That sounds logical doesn’t it?

  6. No kids, but was apparently raised freerange and used many freerange policies when teaching.

    I love the above of idea of making the child the mature one. I have a friend researching on society’s views of various parenting styles and many people have said the kids who are given more independence and trust are often more polite, social, with better manners all around. Prove to them by example what the kids can handle!

    Simply give your reasons why you feel your child is ready for such-n-such, but leave no room for argument.

    Children who are overprotected may live to see their 18th birthday, but by then have weak concepts of danger and risk assessment. Not only are you wanting to keep them alive, you want them to know how to stay alive.

  7. Just wanted to comment on the last point. One of the absolute sweetest things I saw recently was an older brother watching his little sister in the shopping cart while their dad (nearby but not right beside them) paid for their food. The care and attention that young lad was showing was outstanding. I think developing all childrens’ abilities to look out for one another is something we lack in our society and I applaud your effort to encourage your kids to form a community within their own family to help care for each other.

  8. Worrying about what the worrywarts think/say is exhausting. I have just learned to blow them off.

    I have four kids and the majority of the people I know have two kids. One of my standard comments is…maybe you’d do things differently if you had twice as many kids!!!

    I avoid the “mom gangs” or “hens” in the school yard – it’s usually negative, over sensitive and hyped up nonsense.

    I feel like so many of these women are unhappy and unsatisfied b/c they have no life other than hovering and worrying about their kids!!

    Sometimes I do feel like a lone wolf. But that’s the way I roll.

  9. I don’t know if I’ve seen it mentioned here, but Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear is really great reading for free-rangers. You might not think so (it’s mostly about how to avoid people who might hurt you), but his biggest point in the book is that spending all your time worried about what *might* happen leaves you unprepared for something that *is* happening. If you accept that your senses will alert you when you really need to be afraid, you can walk around without the anxiety that plagues so many people these days. It’s a great concept to teach our kids, and one most of us could learn from as well.

  10. FYI, I have found a new term (on the Merriam Webster site) for the busybody moms – sanctimommies.

    I just try to engage people to talk about the issue before it becomes a problem. We got on the topic today (I forget how) but someone was pointing to the cell phone locator as a good thing. I took the time to educate them (okay, rant) about how we never had cell phone locators. They tried to start with “but now things are…” and I shut them right now and went on to the fact that if parents took half as much care with car seats as they did worrying about the pedophile behind every tree, we’d all be better off. Okay, I might have gotten a little shrill.

    Unfortunately, this person said she still though implanting a tracking system (yes, implanting!) in children was a good idea. But at least maybe she’ll think about it. She is a good person who probably raised her son free range, but now has a grandchild and thinks the world is a more dangerous place than when her son grew up. (Thank you, Nancy Grace.)

  11. I just say “it’s OK. He’s training for the Zombie Apocolypse. Aren’t you?”.

  12. After 16 years, I don’t have the patience or the inclination to hoover over my children and as a result, we are more or less free range. As parents of a 16 year old and a 21 month old, parenting is varied and interesting and

    One thing I’ve learned over the years is that I don’t really care what others think of my parenting. As far as scolding from others, I just don’t give them an opening to comment. If (and that is rare) they do, I thank them for their concern and move on. It doesn’t change what I am doing.

    On principle, I believe that my government is not in place to police my parenting. There are terrible parents out there who seriously harm their children and that is where our government’s focus should be. Sending your child to the store by themselves or to play at the park without you is not even remotely an indicator of poor parenting.

  13. I don’t know if my comments are welcome, as I only have a 3 and 1 year old–a bit too young to free-range, I suppose–and limited experiences to speak of.

    I think it hinges on (a) knowing the law and (b) realizing your position as a head of the family–and that the others aren’t. With the right mindset, you don’t care what other people think. As long as you’re good with the people you know, respect, trust–people that are relevant, in other words–then you’re fine. Even then, you can still disagree on some things & not question if this means you’re “out there” as it were.

    I recently let my 3 and 1 year old run up & down the shoreline of a good-sized lake, while I was swimming. I wasn’t inches away, I was probably 100 feet away–in the water. But they had their life-jackets, they were staying in the sand area without straying off, and no one else was there whatsoever, which meant I had good visibility to see that they were doing fine. (It also meant that no one was around to pester or meddle, but again–you’re not supposed to care one way or the other anyhow.) Where anything to happen, that water was clear with good visibility & most of all I was a straight-shot away.

    More recently, and even better, I let my 3 & 1 year old play in the park independently of me, with me about 100 feet away playing at the basketball goals. People were there seeing the situation, but I didn’t change my behavior one single bit. The children stayed within the acceptable area, and after about 15 minutes of playing, I went to their immediate area.

    To me, that’s what you have to do–just live as if they don’t exist, and put on your battle armor of defense whenever someone dares to lecture you.

  14. You know, I just don’t bother. I just say, “Yeah, thanks” and move on. When the neighbor comes over and tells me my children were seen on the sidewalk – gasp! – at the end of the street, I just say, “Thanks for telling me” and close the door. I don’t say, “Yeah? So? They went for a walk. They’re allowed. They’re quite capable of walking one block and back without setting fire to anything. Big frickin’ deal.” Nope. I just say, “Thanks for telling me,” and move on. When my son (4) is waiting for me outside the ladies room (because he’s too much of a big boy to want to come in), and I come out and find some old lady hovering over him and saying, “Phew! I saw him all by himself and I was concerned!” I just say, “Thanks, come on, son” and move on. That’s it. I don’t really see the point of debating about it. People are going to judge as they judge, think of you what they want to think of you. Debate sometimes seems futile. What’s the worse they can do? Call CPS? And what’s CPS going to do? Investigate, and then move on. Because you didn’t do anything wrong or abusive or illegal. It would be a nuisance, sure, but it won’t likely happen until there are several calls, and nothing will likely come of it. I think these horror stories about CPS taking away kids for no good reason are about as common as a pedophile kidnapping and killing kids. Yes, it DOES happen. But rarely. So go about your life.

  15. I like the card carrying member idea.. so much that I just made up a few for my daughter… first line I copied from the website so I will see about squeezing on the website next time sorry I just thought of that lol… it says:

    I’m a Free Range Kid!

    This card certifies that _______ is considered to be a smart, young, capable individual and NOT an invalid who needs constant attention and help.

    _______ has permission to be on their own in public and is trusted to behave properly and return on their own.

    (back side)
    YES my parent knows I’m away from home alone.
    YES my parent knows how to find me should they need me.
    YES I know how to find or reach my parent should I need them.
    NO you do not need to take me home. — I am fine to go alone.
    NO my parent is not irresponsible, nor a bad parent. — My parent is raising me to become a responsible adult.
    NO these days are NOT scarier than when you were a kid. — Don’t you know that crime rates are lower than back then?
    Any questions or concerns can be addressed to my parent.

    Parent’s Name ______________
    Parent’s Number _____________


    I need to tweak a bit I’m sure but I like this idea for when my 8 yr old daughter does run to the store or something, because she has been stopped by other parents before, and she has had a Walmart employee stop her and then page me because she went to the restroom alone and I was probably 2 department areas away.. tho that one has been a while now…

  16. But, that said, I think I’m going to start using MustangSally’s line. Just to see the effect.

  17. Yes Mustang Sally’s line rocks!

    I have left my almost thirteen year old Autistic (high functioning… theoretically) son outside the restroom while I take a sibling into the restroom. I can only leave one out there with him, because two is too hard for him in public. However he has strict instructions to tell other people who might try to be helpful that strangers are not allowed to touch his siblings if they are waiting for mom or dad to come out.

    Usually it is not a problem, but since like me he does not look his age we have had issues before. My husband went into a military building on post to get some paperwork taken care of. Leaving the children in the car with the oldest, sippy cups, plenty of water and snacks. Someone still called the MPs and opened the car doors without our permission! I was furious!

  18. I never really bothered. The Monsters have always been independent-minded. Hoverparents who took it upon themselves to “make sure they were safe” got “No need, thanks.” Those that got themselves in an uproar and chose to berate me got a raised eyebrow and an icy stare.

    They’ve made it to 14 and 18 just fine, thankyewverruhmuch.

    I really wish I had thought of MustangSally’s line back then, though!

  19. “Yes, I know Johnny was playing in the DIRT. That’s actually one of the food groups for toddlers in our household!”

  20. I usually say something like “he’s working on learning independence and good choices right now.” Make it sound like something similar to piano, or swimming, or a second language. Every parent knows that it takes practice to perfect a skill. They may never have considered that being alone is a skill, but it is, and even young kids can start with the basics. Nothing worse than a high schooler who can’t manage his time or find his way to class, because he’s never been asked to do such things by himself before.

  21. I can empathise.
    Slightly different from free-ranging though.
    We have found that placing our kids on the back step for timeout at night (in the dark) has a nicely sobering effect after a short amount of screaming.

    However our next door neighbour who can look out over the step called the police.
    The police turned up half an hour later. They were nice and polite, but “suggested” that during the 3 minutes he would be in timeout anyone could be walking around. (our house has a 20m driveway up off the street in a quiet neighbourhood surrounded by old couples). He also said that it was a bit cold.

    I am really unhappy with that attitude from people, particularly the police.

    We went to Japan for a month during christmas and boy does kicking a kid out into -18C snowy weather for a couple of minutes work for cooling thier hot heads down when they should be asleep.

  22. Hi, I’m the one who wrote the question. Thank you, everyone, for your suggestions. If only I had known that I had another detractor, right in my house. I was reading this blog to my husband and it turns out I’ve been married to a helicopter parent and didn’t even know it! He is, however, interested in reading your book, Lenore, so I may just convert him yet!

  23. Well here’s a thought for what it’s worth. A big part of the problem with the anti-free-range crowd is that they have lost a sense of perspective. Stranger abductions are actually very rare. Consider that many free range parents reading this (wonderful!) blog may be inadvertently suffering from the same lack of perspective. In actuality how many parents are harassed by the system for allowing their kids to ride their bikes or watch their siblings in the store? Sure, if it has happened somewhere in the last few years (out of untold hundreds of millions of people) we read about it here. But that doesn’t mean it is common…

  24. I took my boys (8 & 10!) to the dr. today for their yearly check-ups and the nurse asked me if there was always someone outside when they are playing… I said “um, no I have a 1 yr old to look after and things to do inside, I send them outside to get out of MY hair so I can clean, eat bon-bons, watch soap operas, ya know, all those SAHM things.” 🙂 From there she explained how very dangerous it was outside in my own backyard and they need to be supervised at all times! Even my boys looked at her like she was nuts!

  25. I had no idea how much of a free-range parent I was until I started reading this blog. I mean, I know that my kids are allowed to do things that make all their friends jealous. I guess I’m lucky though. I have had very little intervention in my free-range styles. When my son was five he was allowed to go across the street, behind a small community hospital, to a park all by himself. I had to convince my hubby that he was safe – but we never had any problems.
    When he was seven I let him ride his bike several blocks away to the community indoor pool. No, he couldn’t swim yet. But he knew the rules, where he could and couldn’t go in the pool, and I trusted that the lifeguards there would actually do their job. They did and he was fine. In retrospect, I’m surprised no one ever had a problem with it.
    I think my confidence level and the confidence level of my children makes all the difference.

  26. I love the idea of a membership card. Here’s how I see it. You know how they have girl scout / boy scout badges for certain accomplishments? Well, our kid could be working on his __ badge. We could prepare a very simple little checklist for each age category, which our kids could keep on hand and show to any busybodies. Hmm, what would some examples be . . .

    __ Delivered a package or letter to a neighbor on the same block.

    __ Walked all the way around the block alone.

    __ Safely rode bike to friend’s house.

    __ Went to the neighborhood store and made a purchase alone.

    __ Entertained self at the park for an hour alone.

    __ Walked home from school alone.

    It could be tailored for the logistics of the neighborhood, as well as the child’s age and experience. Nobody needs to know it’s not a 501(c)(
    3) organization!

  27. As another commenter pointed out – the fear of social workers has become a little extreme … yes there are overzealous people working in social services from time to time – in any job there are people who don’t really get it; HOWEVER, I have been a child protection social worker for a long time and I would (and have) LAUGH/ED at any referral about a kid playing in their own yard or about any kid over the age of 5 or so riding a bike, walking to school, playing with friends during the day unattended etc.

    When you spend your day, as most of us do, dealing with children who have been sexually assaulted, physically abused, neglected to the point of having maggoty diapers and chemical burns from urine etc, etc, etc ad infinitum, you gain a certain perspective about what actually constitutes risk.

    Keep in mind that many complaints about “interfering” social workers are because 1) if a referral is made, some sort of “investigation” is required by law, even when it is transparently a waste of time and 2) Parents involved with social services may misrepresent the reasons that social workers are involved, and the worker / agency can not respond or defend itself, due to privacy laws.

    It is SO much more common for us as a profession to NOT intervene where we really ought to, due to massive case loads and limited resources – a lot of kids and families who could use some support are left dangling – Free Range Parents (and I am one, and encourage my clients to be also!) are truly not a concern to 99% of us!

  28. Lenore’s card idea is a good one,

    Another possibility – How about typing up a certificate of some kind ( one easily folded carrying in a pocket) that explains more fully your belief in raising Safety Conscious, Independent Children.
    Include the name of Lenore’s book, Free-Range Kids, and her blog. Suggest that anyone reading the certificate should read Lenore’s book to understand the situation.

    Instead of seeing busybodies as negative, welcome an encounter as an “Opportunity” to get the Free Range message out. After all, it IS great news that crime is actually down and people’s kids are much more likely to die in a car crash than by being snatched by a stranger, etc.

    All moms and dads could carry cards with Lenore’s book name and blog to hand out. I actually do this!

    Buy a few copies of Free Range Kids to hand out at appropriate times. The fact is, the book presents the Free Range Mindset in a very complete way – far more convincingly than a 3 minute anxious exchange on the street or at the park. My wife gave Lenore’s book to the superintendent of her school system. Imagine the positive changes that might result from a strategically placed book.

    If you’re enthusiastic about Free Ranging, be the first to tell somebody about it instead of being the victim of a well-meaning fear-monger. Go on the offensive!

  29. Also think that the card is a nice touch. But how about a sign for where appropriate live your dads yard OP that says something to the effect of child at play – do not disturb. Actually I was thinking you could but an ad-joiner That says if any problems please read the following with even smaller print telling the person to BUG OFF ( I was thinking much stronger words and leave the kid alone.

  30. Greg and Margo,
    I do think that overzealous CPS workers are not the norm, but every time I get to feeling comfortable, I hear of something happening that is outrageous. and I don’t mean online either! All it takes is one social worker that doesn’t like you to get the ball rolling. I would like to know the stats on how many parents are investigated, how many kids removed, how many parents forced into classes and how many have fought it in court. then I would like to know the stats on serious abuse, so I can put two and two together.
    I agree that most case workers don’t bother with this stuff, and are
    overloaded with real problems to concern themselves with mommy wars problems. I hope busting FR parents is as rare as stranger abduction.

    Personally, I don’t think about cps or other peoples opinions unless it’s in my face. I don’t care what sanctimommies think, and would laugh if someone made comments to me. I would also be likely to explain the whole free range thing, as I like to advocate for good ideas-if we don’t, who will?

  31. I want to leave my son in the car when I run into the library – not even into the library – outside of, with the drop box. Where I’d have my eye on him/the car 80-90% of the time. When I mention situations like the author posed, or similar to the library – to other friends… the common response is, “Not in today’s age, things are different now.” When I remind them that crime is at an all-time low, sometimes its argued because of these protective measures parents take. No smoking answers here. Great topic, regardless.

  32. Whenever I have to run some errands, I take all 4 kids with me (the eldest is 7, so it’s quite a circus). Only it’s THEM who do the stuff. I just give instructions and watch. Even the youngest, who is just starting to talk, is taught to do the shopping (and hand the money, and recieve the change). So there we go, every child carrying a grocery bag, and Mummy leading the way with her hands free – an alternative way of hovering, you may say…
    The youngest the kid, the longest it takes, true. But by now, we have attracted enough attention, so that most shop attendants know us. Now the eldest can handle herself well enough, so sometimes she runs simple errands for me on her own.
    It has taken a LOT of work, but it’s paying back. Last time, I waited outside the crowded grocery store with the little ones while the two eldest shopped for me (I had already finished my own errand). A mother with a boy about 10 was just behind them. She watched as my girls did their thing, but didn’t intervene as she saw the cashier welcome them and treat them like normal customers. We left her looking at her own boy thoughtfully… I wonder if that kid has learned something after that 😀

  33. I have been just ignoring people. I leave my 8-year-old with my 20-month-old strapped into the cart while I go to the bathroom, I let her wander to another aisle while I’m shopping, and she has free range of our neighborhood. I’ve had some people say things, but on the other hand I’ve had other parents follow suit as well. The more of us who relax about this stuff, the more other parents will see that it’s no big deal and there’s no real danger, and will also relax. It’s contagious either way – the more parents who hover, the more who feel it’s necessary. I approach it as a “be the change you wish to see in the world” thing.

  34. Oh, an example. My daughter’s bus stop is a block away. All the parents used to walk their kids down and wait with them, and then wander over when it was time for the bus to come and wait for them. If the weather was bad, they’d drive one block and park their cars there. Really. I decided that was ridiculous and started sending my daughter on her own to the bus stop, and having her walk back from the bus stop on her own. At first, a couple of parents asked me if I really thought that was OK, and I just said yes, she can handle it. Now, no parents wait at the bus stop. The kids can handle a one-block walk.

  35. I spoke to a social worker friend, two cop friends, and a friend who studies criminal mindsets.

    Practical, reasonable folk.

    The cops would never think twice about some kid on his own unless they had more reasons to be concerned.

    Social worker wouldn’t bother.

    One argument is that kids even in groups would run and be frightened if a kidnapper grabbed one of them. None of my friends could think of a single kidnapper mind that would attack kids on groups on the street. Way, way, way too risky and difficult.

    Other argument: sex offenders are a massive threat. They’re on a list, they’re being watched, they don’t want to go to prison, they’re getting mental help… Again, unlikely they’ll try anything

    other argument: pedophiles everywhere. More chance perverts are after adults. Pedophilia is rarer.

    How do they know the world is dangerous if they never do a valid experiment such as seeing if the kids get/don’t get kidnapped? I mean this with a purely scientific mindset, of course.

  36. I worry about this too. My son has always been easily upset and prone to tantrums. When he was about four, we were out at a neighborhood park and he was upset because I wouldn’t let him do something he considered perfectly appropriate (probably throwing sand or whacking another kid with a stick). I made him stop playing and sit down and he started screaming like he was being killed. So I walked about 20 feet away and ignored him while he calmed down. A woman came over to ask what was going on and I explained that yes, he was mine, and he was having a tantrum. She scowled at me and left. About ten minutes later a police car pulled up at the park. She’d called the police! Luckily nothing came of it, but I’ve been wary since then.

    My son is now pretty much past the tantrum stage, but people’s reactions to his tantrums often bothered me. I would think there’d be support for someone who was not rewarding or cajoling a child who was having a tantrum. But if I let my son cry I got the dirtiest looks from people. They automatically assumed that anyone who would let a child cry without “fixing” it was a bad parent. I did, of course, remove him from places where the tantrums were overly disturbing to others, but I don’t think letting a kid yell at a park for five minutes is all that disturbing, and I was absolutely determined to not ever give in and give my son what he wanted in order to quiet him down.

    Luckily, the police visit was the only one, but it did make me concerned about “helpful” people.

  37. I’ve not really come across this yet, though I seem to have had some funny looks for, for example, taking my eye off my two-year-old in a public place for a moment, but if anyone were to challenge me with the ‘She might fall, you know’ or ‘It’s not safe for her to do that’, I reckon a polite ‘Thank you, I thought about it and I decided it was OK’ might be a reasonable retort. It will hopefully reassure them that you’re not ‘neglecting’ your child or exposing them to ‘danger’… you have a policy that they should experience managed risk; it may even remind some people that you, as a parent, are entitled to do so

  38. Based on Q’s comment, I like a response like “Oh, he’s very advanced at personal responsibility relative to his peers.” It praises your child and points out that the parents, who know the child, are best equipped to determine what social/public situations they can handle on their own.

  39. Great idea on the cards…how about starting a Free Range Kids club? 🙂 With “official” membership cards etc? We could download them from a website, get them laminated at a copy shop and voila! it’s all official and everything.

  40. mustangsally wins the game!!!

    my son is only 3, so we don’t have too much experience yet… but for what it’s worth, i do let him run wild on the beach — within eyesight but decidedly way out of reach. I’ve only had a couple mild comments, along the lines of “is he ok?”. I just say “oh, he’s fine… he’s shown me i can trust him” — to which they usually say “oh, how nice for you”.

    @SKL — i love your badge idea…. what would you all recommend for a 3 year old ?

  41. another suggestion w/ regard to older kids and “bigger” free range episodes — and I can attest that this one worked in my effort to convert my coworker. I simply asked her how old SHE was when she was first allowed to do (whatever’s in question) . That really got her thinking.

    Also, pointing out how few years before the child will be driving a car solo — as in, “in 4 years she’ll be driving alone.. don’t you think she ought to learn to ride her bike across town first?”

  42. Frantic nutjob: “Don’t you know your child could be abducted!”

    Reasonable FRK parent: “That’s the point, I want him gone. No luck yet though, he’s been playing outside for years and no one has taken him yet. Guess this neighborhood is just too safe. Sigh. I keep hoping though.”

  43. Mike, you remind me of what my mom used to say whenever threatened with someone getting taken or running away:

    “Promises, promises!”

    She also used to joke that she was trying to teach the kids to play in the street, but we were just too smart for her.

  44. My 3yr old daughter goes to a private religious preschool. Included in the packet full of forms to be filled out before school started was a notice to the effect that it is illegal to leave a child alone in a car, even for a moment, and as a mandatory reporter they were obliged to ensure that no siblings ever got left alone during drop-off/pick-up.

    I had CPS called on me by a madatory reporter once before (I was seeing a new therapist and was talking about my parenting frustrations and she reported our conversation to CPS…not sure what her goal was there but they came and talked to us and dropped the case, of course). I did not take the preschool’s implications very well (it still gets me all jittery), especially seeing as THERE IS NO LAW in my state against leaving a child in a car for the few moments it would take to pick up a kid at preschool.

    My 2 yr old son is generally sleeping at pickup time. It ticks me off that the administrator might call CPS if I don’t wake him up and schlep him into the school, which shares space with our synagogue in a very safe neighborhood. I guess this isn’t really a Free Range issue, but it just gets me so angry. Why does everyone else have a say in how I parent my kids???

  45. mvb, that’s a tough question, because 3-year-olds can be so different. What I’ve done with my 3yo’s has included the following (most of which has earned me significant judgment):

    – Take self to public restroom OK’d by Mom (it obviously has to be clean, and they have to be able to reach the toilets and sinks).

    – Entertain self at park for at least 20 minutes while Mom takes walk around the perimeter.

    – Walk one block down the street alone.

    – Cross street and walk through parking lots with supervision but without “holding Mom’s hand.”

    – Help at grocery store by getting own little cart, selecting certain categories of stuff, unloading at check-out, and returning the cart (which involves going out of Mom’s sight).

    – Signing self into daycare (keypad safety thingy).

    – Hanging up coat at school and getting other stuff organized at beginning & end of school day. (It seems I’m the only mom cruel enough to force my kids to hang up their own coats at daycare, LOL.)

    – Bathing self, except for washing hair.

    – Fully dressing self from inside to outside, head to foot, without help or nagging.

    – Setting table, preparing breakfast, helping to clean up.

    – Completing self-care tasks on schedule without nagging.

    – Paying for the meal at the restaurant (well, Mom does calculate the tip).

    – Earning and spending own money.

    – Coloring at the coloring table at Old Navy while Mom shops.

    – Playing alone in backyard or front yard.

    – Cleaning their bedroom, sweeping kitchen floor, etc.

    – Safely cooking something very simple.

    – Taking care of a baby for a while, with supervision.

    – Giving teacher important verbal message.

    – Responding appropriately to aggression by other children (without adult intervention).

    – Completing task A and then meeting Mom at place B.

    I’d have to give it some more thought to decide how best to classify and word these for a “badge” checklist.

    We live in an area where nothing is close enough for them to walk, other than neighbors’ houses. Otherwise I’d include “walk to ___” on the list. My kids are not ready to ride a bike anywhere yet.

  46. SKL — thanks, there are some great ideas in there, and some are good reminders of where i’m still probably baby-ing him too much (my bad habit… he’s my only child so i have the free hands and time to do many tasks for him)

  47. I let my 10 year old take his three little siblings (7, 5 3) to the park a couple blocks away. I sent a timer with him so he would know when to bring them back (he’s not wanted a watch, so I haven’t gotten him one yet). Best half hour of the week!

  48. I used to worry about this too. I wanted my kids to walk home from school (4 blocks) but when I brought it up to other parents, there was definitely disapproval. It got in the way for awhile, but when my kids got a little older, it seemed ridiculous to pay more attention to what others thought than what I knew was just fine, and frankly better for them. Once I knew in my heart that this is the way I wanted to parent, those comments bothered me less. And now most people just know I am that way. I’m pretty sure they roll their eyes at me sometimes, but that’s OK.
    They also know my kids better, and have more confidence in their ability to take care of themselves. Since I started making them walk, I haven’t had any parents comment negatively, and some have even told me how careful the kids are when they are crossing the street.
    Sometimes people just need to see the free-range thing working. Then those images can replace the ones in people’s heads about the rare tragedies.

  49. So, here’s the brilliant response I came up with 2 days AFTER the woman on the street “scold-queried” me (you know what that’s like: “So…you let your child wait at the bus stop ALONE?? Don’t you WORRY that something will happen to him???”) about leaving my son at his school bus stop so I could get to work on time:

    “No. I don’t really worry too much — because I know that in my community there are lots of concerned folks like yourself that are looking out and being the village that helps raise my child and keep him safe. But, boy wouldn’t it be great if he didn’t HAVE to wait alone and there were other children in the neighborhood whose parents wouldn’t insist on driving their kids every day and he could have a friend to wait with? Would you help out by encouraging the other parents in this community to live greener and more neighborly and tell them how you know of a boy who actually rides the bus and you think they should too? That would be great and then I really wouldn’t have to worry at all.”

    Unfortunately, I said something much less intelligent and a lot more exasperated than that. 😦

  50. ReflectiveAgent – that was great! Don’t you hate when you think of the right thing to say but way too late!

  51. I have an eight yr old son. He’s in his third year of cub scouts and won’t get on any bike unless he’s wearing a helmet. When he rides around the neighborhood or goes down to the park with friends or our dog Homer, I send him with a good walkie-talkie about 1/4 of the time.
    I scaled back the walkie-talkie use since the beginning of summer b/c it just was a waste of time. I knew I could trust my son to be safe. The only times he has it now are for when he has to be back in a short time. And kids and time–you know. If he doesn’t have a walkie, I can whistle and yell really loud. If he doesn’t come back shortly after I call for him, the he’s disciplined.
    This past semester, I’ve been taking a class which starts at 8am. His bus comes at about 10 after 8. So, I let him wait on the porch after I left the house to go to class.
    What do you know? My well intentioned neighbor says, “Do you leave him alone when you leave for class?” Duh. You can see he is alone. What’s the problem. He talks with the neighbor across the street, or goes over and waits on their porch.
    Lo and behold, this past Tuesday I get a visit from CPS and a sheriff’s deputy. Someone reported that I was leaving my son alone and unattended. Now I have to wait until the Nanny State Rep decides whether or not my child is safe.
    She told me he seems mature and fine. But she warned me to cover my butt to protect myself from these nosy people.
    I’m not worried however, this is still stressful.

  52. Janet,

    You idea for official cards is fantastic!

  53. @Derek I applaud you for how you parent your child & I cannot say it loudly enough–do not let that busybody intimidate you into parenting differently.

    What I would love to be able to do to nosy neighbors like that. This Bugs Bunny video can illustrate it better than I can say it. At the designated time-marks, look at what the frustrated opera singer (who can’t practice singing because Bugs Bunny keeps disrupting him with his own music) does to Bugs Bunny in response. That is what I would LOVE to be able to do to a busy-body like the neighbor in question–or, if not me, someone else do it.

    I have to use something funny & humorous to illustrate it, because just hearing about this just makes me steam-up on your behalf & on behalf of all parents who are looking to parent without meddling.

    Or, instead, at times like that, I wish I was a JR Ewing-type, loaded with millions & connections and able to avoid any legal ramifications for anything I did in that realm. I’d have his brother’s parole review ruled against him, his wife lose her teaching job over an “allegation,” their child expelled from college for drugs that are planted in their dorm–you name it. I’d be Dallas & Dynasty-dirty to the hilt, and I’d let the neighbor know their meddling was the reason why. “You don’t mess with JR Ewing” type of thing.

    At any rate, let us know how it goes. We are rooting for you totally. As for me, right-now I’m a stay-at-home-dad until a job turns up, I’m actually doing okay with that–and I was about to leave for a trip to a lake where I let our 1 & 3 year old free-range on the sandy area (they do really well, seriously) when I read your post.

    Now I’m mad after reading it. I dare anyone (if anyone is at the lake to start with, this late in the season & on a weekday) to come up to me & question the wisdom of what I’m doing. That upsets me anyway, now I’ll go in already steamed up from reading this.

    We have to fight this. It’s downright evil. It’s not just misguided–I consider it downright evil. (Again Lenore, I hope my tone isn’t offensive, I know you want positive contributions here & generally that’s what I try to do. We don’t want to do mud-slinging and name-calling and threats etc here, we strive to be better than that. I just become so angry when I hear of such things, to me it’s downright evil–not just misguided well intentions, I consider it downright evil.)

  54. I’m a social worker in the Bronx. Funding is so terribly short right now that we barely have time for people who really, legitimately need help. My most recent referral was for a mentally ill crack addicted prostitute with a mentally ill teenager and a toddler. If I got a referral for an 8 year old playing happily outside on his or her own? I would laugh before sending it to the shredder.

    I get that people are concerned, but there seems to be this idea that CPS and social workers (most people who work for CPS are NOT social workers) are out to judge you and snatch your kids. There are poorly trained and overzealous people in every profession, but I’m much more concerned about jaded, burned out, overworked CPS workers and social workers than I would about the ones greedy for more kids.

  55. My mother, a very wise woman now in her mid-eighties, told me in my early days of parenting, when I was bewildered by all the childproofing crap, that the best childproofing was a competent child.

  56. Little late here, but…MustangSally for the win! I am SO using that line! Brilliant!

    And I am making my daughter a FRK identification card tonight! She can always be counted on for two things – gregariousness and oversharing – so I can’t wait for the calls I’ll get when she’s proudly displayed the card for all her friends’ parents. And if THEY call ME, then who can they blame but themselves when they get an earful of FRK proselytizing?

  57. DMD: ‘Sanctimommies’. I love it. So true.

    And MustangSally, I just may have to use the ‘zombie apocalypse’ answer. The thing is, when the sanctiparents let loose, they think they are being helpful but really, they’re saying a bunch of “blah blah blah”. “Don’t you know your child could be kidnapped?” is pretty much on the order of “Don’t you know that your child could be abducted by aliens from Mars?” It might be useful sometimes to give a nonsense response to a nonsense question/comment.

  58. @larryharrison Thanks for your support. I wanted to write more but I was in a hurry to get home from where I was at the time.
    I just don’t understand the thinking behind these people. I’m not going to change one bit.
    By the time I was my son’s age, I’d been to the hospital ER at least three times for bodily injuries.
    1st one was under my mom’s watch when I was 3. I fell an hit my head on a baseboard heater. Mom didn’t notice anything was wrong until after my nap when the blood soaked pillow clued her in. 2d was when mom’s bf pushed me down and the tip of my middle finger hung by a tiny strip of skin. Third was when I wrecked my bike and we thought I broke my hand.
    She’s constantly butting in where she doesn’t belong, so she’s also high on my suspect list. This same woman says “it doesn’t matter!” when I try to use logic on her, cite facts about crime, etc. If it were up to her, I would have to drive him everywhere and hover over him. What really galls me is that she never did anything like that with any of her own kids.
    I ran out to the store on Monday. Son was home sick with the spare phone. He called me to ask if he could get a snack. He’s no robot, but he is very obedient and respectful of the house rules.
    When I am cleared, I plan to post it on every telephone pole in the neighborhood and to personally hand copies to those I think may have made the call and wasted the time a CPS worker could have used to truly help someone in need.

  59. I’m glad you all like it and take it at will. Sure the Zombie Apocolypse may be ridiculous but it reminds people there are other, more realistic things to be afraid of. I’ve got my own parental paranoia going – it just heads in a different direction. Like what would happen if the BIG ONE hit and he were alone at school or a friend/family/babysitter. What if we were in a car accident on a deserted stretch of road and Daddy & I were hurt and he had to go get help?

    But if they don’t look like they’ll get the sci-fi reference I might say, “you know I used to worry but he’s very mature and self-reliant for his age and we’re trying to encourage that confidence. I’m determined not to live my life in fear all the time. But I really appreciate your concern since it’s good neighbors like you that help us not let the bad guys win”.

    Sure I could try to protect him from EVERYTHING (and make him miserable in the process) but I feel my true mission as a parent is to teach him how to protect himself.

  60. We adopted our son from foster care. So, I have a bit of a soft spot for both CPS and busybodies. Without both, my kid would be in a bad way.

    I try to assume the best of people, and assume that they are looking out for my kid out of genuine concern, rather than because they want to judge his parents. I just smile, and say ‘Thanks, he’s good’ NOW, however, I will use the Zombie Apocalypse line every chance I get.

  61. Jamie wrote: “I took my boys (8 & 10!) to the dr. today for their yearly check-ups and the nurse asked me if there was always someone outside when they are playing… I said “um, no I have a 1 yr old to look after and things to do inside, I send them outside to get out of MY hair so I can clean, eat bon-bons, watch soap operas, ya know, all those SAHM things.” 🙂 From there she explained how very dangerous it was outside in my own backyard and they need to be supervised at all times! Even my boys looked at her like she was nuts!”

    First think I’d do is find a new pediatrician, and, on the way out the door let the current doctor know exactly why you are leaving. No reason to enrich those who are fanning the panic.

  62. No one has addressed this yet, so I’ll throw it in: if people want free-range kids, they need well-behaved kids with self control.

    For the record, we are a free-range family with kids ages 14, 11 and 6. We let the kids do what each is capable of, without caring too much about the opinions of others.

    However, I know other families who would also consider themselves “free-range” whose idea of the concept is letting their kids go make mischief/cause problems without bothering to correct them.

    I was in a lovely tea shop with a mom who didn’t want to “hover” over her three year old. But the three-year old didn’t see any problem with picking up and examining every teapot on a shelf. The mom didn’t want to “suppress her independence” by requesting that the child stop touching things that didn’t belong to her. Inevitably, the child broke a *very* expensive teapot. The mother had to pay for it but the tea shop employee, who had been cringing the whole time, had to clean it up.

    I had lunch with this same lady and a group of her friends several years later. They let the kids run crazy all over the restaurant; after a lively game of tag, the kids organized a hide-and-seek game in which some actually were hiding under the table of two quite bewildered businessmen trying to eat. Again, in the guise of “freedom,” the kids disturbed a whole restaurant of people while the mothers had a carefree conversation without the inconvenience of controlling their kids.

    (I don’t go out with that lady and her kids anymore.)

    When we decided when each of our kids were old enough to go to the park down the street by themselves, it had less to do with whether we thought they would be safe (they would be), but completely with whether we thought they would behave themselves without a parent.

    I wonder sometimes whether parents think they’re getting dirty looks for not hovering over their kid in the store, but people are really ticked off because the kid is pulling down a whole shelf of books and the parents don’t care.

    (My husband works in a bookstore–kids running wild is a big problem.)

    My point: if you want to convince people that free-range is a good idea, start by making sure your kids are well-behaved and self-controlled. Otherwise, sorry, you *need* to hover–not for your kids’ sake, but in courtesy to other people.

  63. hi, i’ve posted here before and to all those saying over zealous social workers and cps are not the norm [ especially margo and socialjerk] that is point blank not true. social jerk, you said if a report of an 8 year old playing in his yard youed laugh it off. fat chance. try it in upstate ny. if a 15 yearold is sent out into the yard to cool off[in the summer] you are charged with child neglect and abandonment. and you go through the entire horror of thr “legal” system. i believe children have the right to be given responsibility as far as they can handle it, but according to quoted law in court, not “child” under the age of 18 is mature enough to be left unsupervised. of course, once they turn 18 they’re supposed to magically develope self responibility.

  64. Sue,,

    I’m located in upstate NY. The CPS investigator said there is no law regarding children being left alone in NYS. It is taken case-by-case. I am less concerned about my case and more concerned about my reputation.
    I allowed her to interview my son w/o me in the room. I had dishes to wash and laundry to fold, anyhow. She said my son seemed mature and capable of handling himself if left alone.
    She said that I “should” take him with me b/c someone could see me leave sans child and call again. I told her that her office should turn around and charge whomever is calling with filing false reports.
    Of course, there is no way for me to confront my accuser.

  65. I will say it. The fundamental flaw is twofold–that we have abusive parents, and that society takes this as justification for micro-management for all parents in existence.

    At times I have stated my belief that the entire CPS system should be abolished, in totality. Period. However, I do realize that there are drug users and those who are hideously neglectful and that can’t be left un-answered.

    The problem is this: the reality of this is often used as justification for extreme micromanagement for every single parenting topic for every single family out there. All these insane “mandated reporting” laws, meant to keep parents from being unaccountable for REAL abuse, has been twisted to where society thinks it has the right to meddle in issues which are none of their business. It is no one’s business if I choose to pop my 18-month old on the hand for grabbing something in the store. It is no one’s business that, today, I let my 1 & 3 year old run all across the entire sandy shore of our lake (the shoreline is about 100 yards, although they basically stayed in one small part of it where a sandcastle stood) while I swam in the lake about 100 feet from shore.

    That is how I choose to parent my children, NONE of this involves depriving them of needs or beating them, and it is no one’s business to critique me on (although if Lenore, as our “Queen Free Ranger,” or another free-ranger type, where to tell me privately that she felt this was too much, I would be receptive to hearing it).

    But we have built a society of snitches and narcs, tattle-tales, who aren’t interested in helping and improving life, but meddling in people’s business. CPS and our government are largely to blame for this, for fanning the flames by so publicly stating “if you suspect abuse, call us, DO NOT keep it to yourself, you could be saving a life.”

    They do NOT finish the story, by saying, “if there is no abuse going on, you could be potentially breaking up a family over nothing.”

    We don’t DARE say that, even though it is absolutely the truth.

    And so, everyone around us–or too many people, if not everyone–thinks it their place to butt in where no abuse is going on, and where there busy-bodyness is absolutely unwelcome. And YOU, social services and CPS, are largely to blame for this.

    (And those parents who do abuse & neglect their children, who thus make many THINK this sort of extreme oversight is necessary even though it isn’t, you are also to blame as well.)

    That is my commentary for the day. Abusers–stop abusing, for your kid’s sake, and so maybe other parents can be left alone. Social services, CPS–learn to butt out where you’re not wanted. Quit hiding behind “legally we’re required to intervene” and spend as much time reforming that particular piece of nonsense as you do on bothering families who didn’t do anything more than parent as they saw fit (with no abusing) but were the victim of a meddling busy-body with more time on their hands than brains in their heads.


  66. I want to defend CPS here. I’m doing it anonymously because I don’t want my parents to find out I’m sharing this. Hahaha!

    Anyway, when I was growing up, we were free-ranged, but we were also neglected as far as the home environment was concerned. I don’t feel we were in any danger, but our house was FILTHY. I mean, maggots under the stove top and cat feces in the piles of garbage in our bedrooms.

    CPS was called, and when they came and saw how awful things were, they didn’t take us away. They gave our parents a chance to fix the problem, and told them they’d check back in a week. They gave them a checklist of things to accomplish. When they came back, the whole list wasn’t complete, but it was a lot better. They still didn’t take us away, they gave our parents another week to keep fixing things. They could tell that apart from the living conditions, we were being taken care of. Everyone was eating and healthy.

    Now I’m sure some of you feel we should have been taken away. But the point I’m making is, they DON’T take away every kid for every little infraction. They save that for the really bad situations. If there’s a legitimate problem, they try to work with the parents first, to fix it.

    A friend of mine just foster-adopted a little boy. It took a LONG time, because CPS was trying so hard to get him back with his mom. They gave her a lot more chances than she deserved, she was still able to have visits when her kid was taken away, even though she was an abusive drug addict. The point here, is that CPS tries to keep families together as much as they can. And if they do that by recommending ways you can keep people from calling on your family, then they’re just trying to help.

  67. I have two sets if strategies, one that I follow and one that I’ve given my son to follow.

    My own, having been reported once for allowing him to ride his bike home from school alone (at almost 8 years old!), is to do whatever I think is right and try not to worry about what others will say or do in response. If questioned by a member of the mommy brigade, I push them into thinking a little bit; it never really changes anything but it gets them off my back.

    For my son’s benefit, we’ve had a number of talks about free range concepts and dealing with other peoples’ worries. He was once questioned at the grocery store when it was discovered he was there on his own. I happened to have given him a list that day, so they left him alone once he showed it to him. I’ve explained that people often have trouble understanding the idea of children doing things on their own, so if someone is gving him a hard time he shouldn’t hesitate to have them phone me. After that grocery store experience he told me “I got in a little trouble” and I had to explain to him that he wasn’t the one in trouble, I was. I also spoke to a cashier who knows us well so she can vouch for him if necessary. We even joked about putting up a poster in th office with his picture on it and a caption reading “This child is allowed to shop here alone. “

  68. I’ve read all the comments and think there are many wonderful things shared – but what I keep coming back to is that we DO want other people looking out for our kids when we’re not around. “Back in the day” that’s how it worked, right? The pack of kids would roam the neighborhood and the adult in the house nearby kept half an eye out for them (or had an ear cocked for a scream of pain). Then the kids roamed somewhere else and another parent or neighbor was aware they were in the area. Not actively monitoring, but aware. And if something happened, they helped and no one got sued.

    So it seems like a good response to someone questioning our parenting decisions might be, “I’m so glad to know you are looking out for the children of this neighborhood. I don’t think it’s in Johnny’s best interest for me to be hovering over him 100% of the time because he’ll never gain independence that way, don’t you think?” And then close with what someone suggested earlier: “How old were you when you first got to XXX (whatever the person’s worried about)”.

    Open, honest conversation will convert more people than sarcasm and hostility, however tempting those may be.

  69. If I’m over-contributing, my apologies, and I know that Lenore started this thread as a means by which we can help people free-range without worry, as opposed to it becoming a “rant thread” about “CPS is evil” versus “CPS is only trying to help” as it were.

    To that end, I think the post by (Gail) is the most recent post which seems to follow these guidelines. I think there were some good tips in there.

    No, I’m not a moderator here & I surely hope I don’t come across as thinking I ought to be one–neither is the case. I’m just trying myself to wake my own self up to what this thread started out to be, mostly.

    That said, I most respond to (Anonymous) and (BG) quickly.

    (Anonymous) I am sorry that your parents did not do everything as they should & that it upset you. It sounds like your situation may well have warranted intervention.

    However, I take exception to “they don’t take every kid away for every infraction.” They may not always take the child away, but they sometime do–and even if not in that particular case, they can & do get involved for petty things, often-times with a dark, threatening tone–often-times with the words to match. They can do this with ANYONE, even successful people like lawyers who, it must be reasonably surmised, would have plenty of funds to keep their children fed, clean, medically provided for, and the house in a good state even if it required hiring someone to do so. It’s to the point that you can’t take your child to the emergency room after a fly ball hits them over the eye in a little league baseball game, without the risk of a social worker paying you a visit which, often-times, is not particularly friendly or cordually-nice in its disposition.

    A good friend of mine had a visit from a social worker over something as silly as her 3 year old girl saying “I’m hungry” repeatedly while the mother was on the phone with a shipping company checking tracking status. (Anyone who knows anything at all knows a 3 year old can say “I’m hungry” 80 times in a row even while you have the food on the stovetop cooking it!) I knew this woman, I dated her–she was NOT the neglectful type in my impression. She also had plenty of funds, I was with her once when she bought a Rolex watch. She spoke glowingly of her little girl all the time, used to spend all sorts of money on her for Disney World trips. This was NOT a woman who would’ve starved her child. Yet over such a simple little whine from her child, a shipping employee thinks it necessary to call in the authorities to check it out.

    And my position is this: this is wrong. I do NOT want to hear “in this day & age they must.” Bullfeathers on that. This gets back to the crux of free-ranging, if you ask me–that somehow “in this day & age” we must helicopter-parent our children, AND we must be all warm & cuddly about the government meddling in our private parenting business under every specious circumstance. As I acknowledged before, yes at times there must be involvement, I surely wouldn’t want it to be where a parent could smack their child upside their head with a wood plank and nothing happen. That said, the LEVEL which it has reached is way over the top.

    The poster who mentioned his neighbor calling because he left his 8 year old alone for 10 minutes to wait for his bus–that is the type of thing which I’m referring to. A relative of mine is bad about this sort of thing–she even threatened to call CPS (although she never does) simply because she saw us with our 1½ year old son at the lake without suntan lotion. (He didn’t get burned, and never has–and we keep her far away as much as possible.)

    That sort of thing is uncalled for. This type of occurrence creates a chilling environment in which some people end up editing their parenting decisions–ones which are NOT along the lines of beatings, starving, or denying medical attention–because the level to which we’ve taken this whole “report any suspicious behavior no matter what” attitude has gone way overboard.

    What Lenore Skenazy went through 2 years ago is yet another example. That is why this site even exists. What moral right did those people have to condemn her for letting her 9 year old ride the subway alone? Lenore Skenazy need not explain to anyone, as far as I’m concerned–including the government, if it were up to me–about the wisdom or lack thereof in that parenting choice she made. People who didn’t agree with it & expressed it cordually & respectfully–fine. All of us as parents should be able to listen to well-intended advice. But those who were snotty and preachy and suggested she should’ve had her son taken away–that is just wrong. Lenore Skenazy owes those types of persons absolutely nothing but a middle finger–only she’s too classy to stoop to that level, which is one of the reasons why we love her as we do.

    (BG) I agree, communities looking out for each other & their kids, that is what we want, and that includes me. However, it needs to be done as it was in the older days–without any threat of calling a government authority on someone except (of course) in extreme cases. Do it that way, and I’m on-board.

    Let me close by saying something others have said: I simply parent the way I think is right & I don’t live in fear of being reported for anything. At times I may assume a “CYA” disposition, but basically, I do what I think is right based on my own opinion & the thoughts of those whom I respect (like John Rosemond & Lenore Skenazy for instance) and I don’t let fear cripple me.

    I like the membership card idea, as well.


  70. I really just want to share a few examples of how I 1) encourage other parents to let go a little and 2) encourage people to back the heck up when they are questioning my parenting style. I was at the thrift store just yesterday and when we pulled up my 10 month old son had fallen asleep in his car seat. I gently took him out and managed to get him in his stroller without waking him. It was an umbrella stroller, so it didn’t recline and his head was tilted forward. A lady in the store saw him and commented how it looked incredibly uncomfortable. I smiled very sweetly (I smile all the time – it disarms people) and replied, Well it’s a good thing babies’ necks are made of rubber, and moved on.
    As far as helping others free-range, I was at the WIC office waiting for a group meeting. There were a few moms there before me all in the waiting room with their babies on their laps. I try to contain my son, but he’s such a wiggle-monster that I give up quickly. So in this case, I set him on the floor and let him crawl away, making a crack about his need to move to the other moms, and after a few moments, one of the other moms set her child on the floor next to him. Another child was freed from his stroller, another from her mom’s lap. And as other moms and dads came in they set their kids on the floor and we shared toys and laughed as they played together and talked about them. When I left, I realized that by allowing my son that small freedom of being able to crawl away from me, I was, in essence, giving permission to the other parents to do the same. I think sometimes when other parents berate or threaten or go on tirades about other parents giving their kids freedom, it’s because they’re jealous that they can’t find the strength the let go, even for a few minutes. And it does require strength to watch our kids move on without us. So, instead of arguing or trying to force someone’s point of view through statistics and debate, let’s just give them permission to be like us. Smile and laugh about it. I know that’s what helped in my case. And maybe, just maybe, we can change the minds of others without them realizing that’s what we’ve done.

  71. to derek, yes you should be concerned about your reputation. no matter the findings or court orders you will forever be on their short list. as far as mayt lawyer can find out there is NO way to be removed. however there is shuge difference between reputation and honor. reputation is what others think they know to be true about you. honor is what you know to be true about yourself. this thought is what i hold onto because i know my honor is intact. as to the comment that there is no law as to what age they can be out is unfortunately what ever cps and the court decideds law be da..ed. i agree with the poster about taking your child to the doctor after an event like this..child was on sports team. i almost had to make them quit until the coaches started circling with highlighter and photographing any bump that might bruise brfore cps stopped bringing the police to my house to interrigate me. my boss and the parents of other children around me have been wonderful. my boss sicced her lawyer on them when they told her she would be arested and her child taken away if she did’t fire me. that is the type of tactic cps uses to prove they are all powerful and can ruin your life at a whim.

  72. Maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough…. but in all of my extensive dealings with CPS, I never ONCE saw the fabled CPS SWAT team that lies in wait for the chance to remove safe children from their happy homes.

    I’m sorry. But I do not believe for one second that a 15 year old in their yard in the summer time would cause child neglect and abandonment charges. I’m just not buying it. There is clearly a LOT more to that story.

  73. let me tell you the story…my 17 yearold was talking to her boy friend. told her to get off the phine. bf mother calls, says kids were making plans. told her child had work to do. she said i was standing in the way of true love. at the same time 15 year old started saying she wasn’t going to clean her room and throwing a fit. 17 year old was crying because she couln’t spend 3-4 hours[yes hours] on phone. sent both out side to yard to cool off while on i’m on phone[did i metion 17 year old is a drama queen..her teachers descrption, not mine]. bf mother [who is a teachers aid] said she would call police and report me for child abuse if i didn’t give daughter unlimited phone time. i said no. short time later police,sheriff and cps show up because they have a report from a reliable source that i’m beating my children. find the 2 of them in yard[warm sunny june day garage if too hot] appaerntly she said she’s seen older daughter with bruises and black eyes! child did not have[ever] have them. also[later when they questioned other teachers and friends]nobodu ever saw them with them. when they could not support the report of child abuse, they brought one of negliect. otherwise they would have to justify why the swat team has you called it showed up. from what my lawyer could find out not only was bf mother a mandatory reporter but friends with several police and cps worker. they thought my kids were cute as a couple if bf mother reported something, it was the godhonest truth and they would[this is a direct quote that came out at trial] teach me a lesson. so yes more to the story. this is it. so go ahead and tell me that all cps workers are pure as snow and would never abuse the power they flaunt. when i was found innocent and tried to clear my name, i was imformed with a smirk;;go adead and will never happen. they would see to that. i’m sure somewhere there are good and honest cps workers but i have yet to see it.

  74. CPS workers not taking children away for everything? Yeah right. One baby girl was recently removed from her home for “medical neglect” because the mom chose to have a home birth. Home birth is safer than a hospital birth and is NOT medical neglect! Usually, there isn’t any more to the stories except that the CPS workers want to have power and flex it.

  75. also christine, i’m sorry you are surethat ther’s a LOT more to that story. i used to feel the same way. why don’t you ssit down one of the people you’ve had your many dealing with in cps and ask her just how much the fact they know who’s making the report counts. not that i’ll believe they’re telling the truth but it would be interesting.

  76. This is one instance where being a multicultural family really helps! I can always “plead cultural differences” and be done with this subject. In the US, cultural tolerance is something people don’t want to cross for fear of being blamed for racism or who knows what else. Claiming our practices are important in our culture (whatever that is) provides a decent umbrella protection for the family.

  77. Lenore:

    I have been meaning to write you about this since it happened in July and this post is the perfect opportunity.

    This summer I went to visit my extended family in Toledo OH. On the way to my dad’s house, I stopped at Walmart to pick up food for a family gathering. It is a nice Walmart in a nice end of town.

    It was sunny and 75-ish degrees. It was 5 pm. The parking lot was bustling with people. I left my 11YO daughter, my 11YO neice and my 3YO daughter in the car while I ran in to get about 5 items. All the windows were down in the car and they had my neice’s cell phone.

    About 2 min after I entered the store, my daughter called, frightened to death. There was a lady by the window of the car who was insisting that I come out of the store. I told my daughter to put the woman on the phone, as I picked up the pace down the aisle grabbing what I needed. The woman refused.

    In less than 1 minuted, the woman called THE POLICE and the store manager! Then the FIRE DEPARTMENT pulled up. No lie, in the amount of time it took me to take my cart from the entrance to the frozen food section, all of those people were approaching my car..

    My daughter was totally freaking out as more and more people surrounded her. I told her to just stay on the phone with me or hand the phone to one of the adults so I could explain that they are fine.

    But no one would get on the phone to talk to me.

    I finally abandoned my cart and ran out the door into the parking lot.

    Here is the best part:

    As I RAN to the car, everyone, including the woman who called the cops LEFT!!! I had to chase the police down to find out what the heck had just happened.

    The officer, trying to drive away as I was saying, “Excuse me, did I do something wrong?” said,
    “We had a customer complaint that there were children alone in a car and we had to check it out.”

    Me: “Is it against the law to leave 2 11 YO’s in the car?”

    Officer: “no ma”am. It is against the law to leave an infant in the car”

    Me: “Do you SEE an infant in my car?”

    Officer: “No ma’am I don’t”

    Me: Where is the person who called you, I’d like to speak to her.”

    Officer: “she left”

    Me: “after she completely freaked out my daughter and my neice!”

    Officer: “She was only concerned.”

    Me: About WHAT??? I wasn’t even gone a full 3 minutes! This parking lot is packed. The windows are open. They have a cell phone. They are safe. If she was so concerned why didn’t she wait to discuss this with me??!!!”

    Officer: “I just needed to make sure they were OK.”

    and off she drove.

    I was so upset. The concerned citizen apparently approached the car, stuck her head in the window (!) and said, “How old are you? Where is your mother? Tell her to get out here immediately.”


    Now, for the record, had my children been in danger, I would have been eternally grateful to the rapid response of all the emergency personnel. But holy Moses…I leave my 6th grade daughter home for an hour or two at a time several times a week. And she is not safe sitting in Walmart parking lot for a few minutes on a beautiful sunny day in a nice end of town watching her little sister???

    OK…I’m done.

    Thank you for letting me vent that. I have no answers, only more questions.


  78. For me and my children, free-range parenting is the way to go, no question. I believe in valuing and teaching competence and independence!

    I think it’s important to point out, though, that, as a couple of other comments have said, that having a “village” is part of the net that allows me to feel OK about free-range parenting. Not only do I trust my children to make good decisions, I trust that other adults in the world will be able to help them if there really is a situation that calls for it (though this is rare). If I see a crying 7-year old, I ask if she’s OK; if a lost 6-year old asks me for help, you bet I help! That’s part of being in a concerned community of adults. (As an aside, I believe that teaching children to ask for help from adults when they need it is part of free-range parenting.) So, knowing that there are concerned adults in the world, and that they keep a thoughtful eye out, is a good and helpful thing.

    Being able to distinguish between these and people who busy-body for the fun of it is critical. “I was concerned about your child” is very different from “I disagree with your parenting philosophy so I called CPS because you asked your teenager to relinquish the phone.” I believe that, in the former case, a “thank you” is called for; call me crazy. In later case, it is no less crazy to let one’s parenting approach be guided by fear of the nutjobs who want to call CPS than it is to let it be guided by the nutjobs who want to hurt your kid. They are both incredibly unlikely to happen (though they HAVE happened to some families), and can, in most cases, be dealt with gracefully and thoughtfully by your family in the incredibly rare event that they do.

    As in so many things, moderation is the key. 🙂

  79. Interesting discussion!

    CPS always tries to increase number of mandatory reporters who are obligated by law to call them if they see “something”. Incredibly broad definition creates situations in which even in the states where there is no minimum age law, people call if they see kids home alone.
    Parents are surrounded by these people – teachers, doctors, police, firemen, apt. managers, clergy etc.
    They all are obligated by law to report on parents for anything suspicious. These are the people that I am surrounded with and see on daily basis. They all keep and eye on me.
    So the increase in number of cases justifies the increase in funding. (Remember that they are funded by us! ) Another problem is that parents can’t clear their names entirely because cps will still keep the records, even for unfounded reports.

    I personally think a change in legislature is needed on this on a federal level. I am the parent, not the nanny state!

  80. Nat,
    I think you should find another place for your child’s time out. Not be cause he could be kidnapped or freeze to death, but because you are rude to make your neighbors listen to your child screaming.

    Find a place inside that doesn’t disturb your neighbors.

  81. Kherbert, that might be hard.

    My mother once (I’m told by both her and HER mother) had a tantrum so loud that they heard her all the way down the block. My grandmother just went outside and did her gardening, and as the neighbor (apparently) said “If I wasn’t out here talking to you now, I’d think you were beating her!”

  82. So last night my 3yo had to go to the emergency room because of a freak accident. (Something that could have happened to anyone, free-range or not.) Nobody gave me any crap, probably because (a) kid was healthy and had no other marks on her, (b) kid had never been to ER or hospital before (nor had her sibling), (c) accident happened in the community rec center after an evening swim, hence I must (appear to) be someone with money and responsibility. In other words, I was lucky this time.

    Still, my friends are always telling me that I should not (a) be openly free-range or (b) admit that I believe in spanking, because then, anytime anything happens or one of my kids makes a noise, people will assume that I am abusing or neglecting them.

    I won’t stop doing what I consider to be best for my kids just because of what the neighbors might think (though I might make minor adjustments). That said, I try to keep my kids quiet. If they start “making a noise” (i.e., tantruming loudly), I am quick to nip it in the bud. This of course goes against modern childrearing theory, but like Uly mentioned above, the neighbors may think I’m thrashing my kids, when I’ve merely decided not to cave in to their over-tired, over-sugared, or over-stimulated nonsense. (Well, it’s also because I don’t like the noise and I assume my neighbors don’t like it either.)

    Oh, speaking of the emergency room, one thing I was asked repeatedly was whether my kid was up to date on her vaccines. What does that have to do with the hole in her head? Anyone know what the agenda might be behind this line of questioning?

  83. SKL – ” Oh, speaking of the emergency room, one thing I was asked repeatedly was whether my kid was up to date on her vaccines. What does that have to do with the hole in her head? Anyone know what the agenda might be behind this line of questioning?”

    I would have thought almost certainly public health. Many vaccination levels are below those required to prevent widespread outbreaks. Asking about vaccinations in a health care setting is one step often recommended to increase rates. The hospital may be getting a financial incentive to improve vaccine take up rates, or it they may just consider it good practice. Also, if it was a hole in her head, Tetanus could be a valid concern.

  84. Helenquine, I thought about the tetanus, and therefore mentioned she had DPT this past summer. However, they didn’t ask about tetanus specifically. They just asked if she was “up to date.” Maybe they assume that parents don’t pay attention to what shots their kids are getting when. But on the other hand, parents could answer incorrectly if they weren’t that aware (or scared to report). Seems they could have specifically asked when the child’s last tetanus / DPT shot was.

    I’m a parent who does vaxes differently from the CDC recommended schedule, so the question (as asked) was a bit uncomfortable for me under the circumstances. I wasn’t really in any condition to get into a discussion on vax schedules.

  85. SKL, just answer “yes” (because they ARE as up to date as you want them to be).

  86. SKL – It’s possible that if you hadn’t specifically mentioned DPT they would have followed up with something more specific, but it sounds like they are taking the opportunity to try to encourage/pressurize people to get their kids vaccinated then. From a public health perspective it’s a valid approach. It does sound like they could consider rewording it so as to not alienate people who are not quite conventional but still getting to the same end point.

  87. I’m a medium-range parent — I shadow my 2-year-old closely when he goes up the 8-foot climber meant for 12-year-olds; I don’t let them go in the water at the beach without holding my hand for fear of rip tides. On the other hand, my 5-y-o is responsible for not letting the garden die of thirst (and occasionally it does, that’s how one learns), and often keeps track of his little brother for me on errands, at parks, etc. I’ll even let them go out of my sight at a park & in some stores. But I live in nanny-state CA, and I’m terrified to leave them in the car for even 2 minutes for fear someone will call the cops on me (it’s illegal to leave under 12yos in the car here), I’m worried we might get reported if we let him walk the 1.5 blocks to school alone, and like others I’ve had challenges being allowed to properly ignore/deal with tantrums in public. Some of my hovering is out of true concern for their safety, but a lot more is out of concern for OUR safety as parents.

    I like the membership card idea, and when my boy turns 6, I think I’ll give him one and let him walk to school by himself. (also by then I think he’ll have the hang of figuring out when to cross the street and when to wait because the parents driving their kids to school don’t see him and might run him over)

  88. It’s probably too late to weigh in here, but I couldn’t help but commiserate! I do a number of ‘weird’ parenting things–extended breastfeeding, giving birth at home, etc, and I fully expected to vigorously defend myself for those choices. But my choice to free range parent my kids has drawn me FAR more attention and criticism than any other parenting choice I’ve made so far. And it is very hard to defend myself with strangers who assume the worst possible scenario of ME, and of my kids having a longer leash than society’s ‘normal.’ It weighs heavily on me, after several extremely negative experiences at parks, birthday parties, and the like.

    (I also wanted to say that I think the commenter who mentioned FRKids’ behavior was probably onto something–I worry about my middle child’s ability to handle FR without going nuts/getting in over his head!!! I still let him roam, though…it cost far too much NOT TO)

  89. I am dealing with this concern right now. I have 4 free range kids ages 11, 6, 3 and 1.5. My 11 year old is very articulate and cautious so I have very few “concerned” comments make it back to me about him. When we first moved to this neighborhood, one neighbor did come knock on my door to let me know my son was on the other side of the block. “Yes, I know. He has my permission to roam in the neighborhood” was all it took.
    However, in the last few weeks things have gotten stressful. My 3 year old is curious and independent. He takes walks down to the park at the end of the street (in our very quiet suburban neighborhood in our very safe small town) and was recently returned home by the police. A few neighbors reported to the police that this was a regular occurrence and that my kids are frequently without supervision. Greeeaaaattt. Thanks guys. So now we have a file with CPS. No visit yet thankfully. But given the situation, we have tried to keep 3 yo closer to home. The more we try, the more insistent he gets. All our doors have deadbolts installed. He can now climb the back fence. Hubby put up paneling to extend the height of the fence as one neighbor has a pool and he is not a very good swimmer.
    I really wish I could let him roam, but now we are faced with the very real possibility of more police visits. It is all very stressful.
    I do like the idea of the cards though. I am also tempted to just let him roam back to the park where he is happy. I think I have enough witnesses to what happens when he isn’t allowed to be out front. But I doubt CPS would listen. Is it enough to hope the funding cuts will save me?

  90. SKL,

    Children are dying because fools listen to a struck off doctor and a bunch of idiot celebrities. Also up to date on vaccinations also means tetanus which could have a good deal to do with the hole in the head.

    On Frequent trips to the ER. I must have made 10 or more by the time I went to university, Sis less but the type that involved bruising & broken bones, a cousin 5 – 6. The ER people never questioned any of us about abuse.

    – Sis was questioned by Mom, School, and Doc after bruises that looked like someone had grabbed and shook her appeared on her arms during a shower. Turned out she was slightly anemic and a boy had kicked her in the arms jumping over her to get to squad lines in PE on time. The kicks didn’t even register on Sis’s radar, till the same thing happened the next day.(The bruises were spooky in that they really looked like hand prints)

    -Cousin was sort of questioned. A new teacher over heard him regaling friends with stories at lunch. She asked her mentor teacher if this reached the level of reporting. Mentor teacher laughed and filled her in on the rest of the stories – most of the trips had started at school, or when he was in the care of friends/family. He was just one of those kids that runs full force into walls. Latest pics on his FB page- road rash from laying down his bike. (Mentor teacher was a friend of the family and told Cousin’s mom about the conversation)

    -Me the only reports a doc ever made was to the the Health department, because a restaurant lied about the contents of their food and I had a life threatening reaction.

  91. The concern for me is not CPS taking my child away – I know that that isn’t going to happen for letting my 5 year old play in my own fenced in yard by herself. I don’t want CPS and the police involved in my life at all. I don’t want me, my daughter and whomever else deemed appropriate interviewed by CPS – I don’t have anything to hide; I just don’t want it.

    I also think that the interest the police and CPS has in your case is directly related to the area you live in. In a major city or financially depressed area, the police and CPS aren’t going to pay any attention to free range complaints. There are just too many bigger fish to fry. In a small town or more upscale suburban area, you may see more of a response as there is not as much going on.

    In the area that I work (where we seem to have more police than citizens), the cops will respond to anything. They have lots of free time. The worst free range investigation I’ve seen was when the cop kicked in the door of a house because a 4 year old was playing in the carport by herself. Now he supposedly knocked first and only kicked in the door when nobody answered (I take that claim with a grain of salt since 90% of what comes out of this particular officer’s mouth is a lie). Either way the parent was not charged with anything related to the kid but there was pot in the house so was charged with possession of drugs.

    In truth the law in this area is extremely vague. All the people saying that there is no law against free ranging are both right and wrong. Right in that no law specifically states “you can’t allow your child to go to the park by himself until he is 12.” Wrong in that there are MANY different laws that could be interpreted as being violated by free range activities if you happen to run into the wrong cop and the wrong DA. I’m in a very conservative, pro-prosecution, pro-desire to have every citizen in the county on probation. We’ve had a couple of arrests for free-range type activities. None have gained traction with the DA’s office so the arrests are minimal (cops don’t bother to arrest for something they know will be dismissed). However, we now have a new DA and I wouldn’t put it past her to prosecute those types of cases fully. If she’ll prosecute, we’ll see more arrests.

  92. Kherbert, when I was 2, I had a head accident and I also had bruises all over. My mom says it was because I was a tomboy and kept trying to scale the attic / basement steps unsuccessfully. The ER folks did take me aside and question me repeatedly, and my mom felt they were trying to get me to say she’d abused me. Good thing I had enough language skills to say “I fell off the dresser.”

    Knowing how hard it is to deal with the whole emergency scene in the first place, I feel for moms who have to deal with implications and accusations at a time like that. I could barely state my damn name in all that stress.

    Not trying to get into a debate on vaccinations, but I’ll just say that pro-CDC-schedule doctors create half of the problem by being so arbitrary and condescending. Makes them look like they don’t know much about the vaxes they are pushing. Otherwise, why not just talk to us like intelligent adults?

  93. We have a nice little mom-n-pop restaurant in our semi-urban neighborhood that we visit frequently. We were seated at a table within view of the restroom and so when our 5-year-old pulled her usual trick of needing to pee urgently as soon as the food arrived, I sent her into the women’s restroom on her own. Moments later, a middle-aged woman hustled her out and accompanied her to our table…”She was in there all by herself! I was glad to help her reach the paper towels but I was just so concerned…!” Aaugh! I wish I had had a zombie apocalypse retort for her but I just gave her my best Glare of Doom and said coldly, “thanks.”

  94. I think there has to be a happy medium. The truth is that there are bad people in the world. About a month ago, a mom let her 4 year old daughter play in the toy aisle of a thrift shop by herself while the mom shopped. A few minutes later, the child was gone. It turned out that the girl had been snatched by a pedophile and molested in a bathroom. Maybe I’m what you all would consider a “helicopter” parent, but I feel like there are some situations that require a little bit of common sense. We can’t protect our children from every little thing, nor should we, but I feel like there is a fine line between what some people consider “free range” and neglect. If your 4 year old is out playing in the street while you are in the house watching soaps or getting high, that is definitely bordering on neglect. I do believe in children having certain freedoms, but it needs to be done little by little, when they are ready for it. You’re not going to feed a steak to a newborn baby. You work up to that. That’s how freedom works. In my opinion.

  95. Amy, my four-year-old actually played outside by herself (in our quiet, safe neighborhood) while I wrote my doctoral dissertation inside. I question you throwing together the age of the free range child and trashy behaviors by parents. In many cases, kids of lower socioeconomic status people you implied are actually more street savvy and ready to be on their own, but you just don’t know in general. You have to judge the safety by the particular child, the neighborhood, and other relevant factors. And accidents will still happen once in a while. Rare, freak accidents do not form a good basis for decision making.

    Actually, the most dangerous things you can do to your kid is driving her around in a car, in regular street traffic. This, statistically, is the number one killer of children in industrial nations. We still engage in this highly dangerous behavior of using cars, because the benefits outweigh the risks. It’s OK to make such risk-benefit analysis in other cases, too, and participate in activities where some small percent of people get hurt or dies.

  96. This really makes me think of how things “used to be.” Shouldn’t we be pleased that others are so aware of what kids are doing, like neighbors? I have to admit, even this past summer as I sat on my porch typing away, I watched with judgment and concern at the three little girls who played on the very busy corner a few houses down from mine. They were all under the age of 6, pushing babies in strollers back and forth, edging out on the street…I often wondered where the mom was. I never saw her; however, I did keep my eye on them as the cars rolled by. I’d prefer to see parental concern as the community looking out for each other’s kids. Isn’t this how it used to be? Let’s just lose the judgment, and that goes for myself too!

  97. I think that those who are concerned about CPS are right on the money. I guess it depends on where you are, but in our area (Washington D.C. suburbs) they are enthusiastic about going after ordinary parents, although they routinely have their excuses ready when a child under their supervision is murdered by a truly awful parent. I had a chance to talk to a social worker who was investigating a friend of mine who had been accused of neglect. Briefly, this woman is absolutely a wonderful mother in so may ways. I admire her greatly, but an upset teenager got a distant relative worried, who then called CPS, who then did a full investigation. I asked the social worker what he would report, and he said “No evidence of need for further investigation.” Which is the BEST possible outcome. In other words, there is no possibility of a finding “good parents, leave them alone”. I asked what if another call came in after this investigation? He said they would investigate again. I suggested to him that the investigation itself, with the violent disruption of family routine, and the threat of having the children taken away to strangers is itself a danger to the children. He could not wrap his head around this foreign idea.

    Yes, do be more afraid of CPS than of possible abductors.

  98. About a month ago, a mom let her 4 year old daughter play in the toy aisle of a thrift shop by herself while the mom shopped. A few minutes later, the child was gone. It turned out that the girl had been snatched by a pedophile and molested in a bathroom.

    Where was this? Which town? Do you have a link? Unsubstantiated rumors aren’t very helpful.

  99. Uly – I’m pretty sure she’s thinking of this one:

    The girl was taken by a woman who was not a pedophile, and found unharmed later the same day. Also, this happened not one month ago, but *two years*. It’s an object lesson in how the rare stories on this subject get distorted and hyped (assuming this is the case and there aren’t other little girls being taken from thrift shop toy aisles).

  100. On the plus side, there was a case, thanks Helenquine.

    On the down side (or not really) it wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the previous poster thinks. And also, apparently the basics of motherhood don’t involve shopping. EVER.

  101. “Where was this? Which town? Do you have a link? Unsubstantiated rumors aren’t very helpful.”

    “The girl was taken by a woman who was not a pedophile, and found unharmed later the same day. Also, this happened not one month ago, but *two years*. It’s an object lesson in how the rare stories on this subject get distorted and hyped (assuming this is the case and there aren’t other little girls being taken from thrift shop toy aisles).”

    There was a recent case that just happened in August in Fayetteville, AR in a Walmart. A registered sex offender snatched a 3 YO from the toy aisle and raped her twice, before letting her go. The little girl managed to find her mother and tell her a man took her. When he was arrested, he was trying to take another little girl into the restroom.

    Lots of other links to this story. You can Google it. I just posted one.

    On the same note, the place where my daughter takes dance and my son takes Taekwondo just sent all parents an e-mail stating that a 38 year old man was recently arrested for standing in the windows of a nearby dance studio and the facility where my kids take lessons. He was looking in the windows during lessons watching the girls dance. When asked what he was doing, he stated that he “liked watching young girls, especially girls ages 10 to 12” In his vehicle they found a whole array of children’s videos, though he admits he has no children of his own–and knives. He was arrested in the parking lot where we go 2 times a week.

    I love the idea of “free range.” I really do. But man-oh-man…one story like that and it stops me dead in my free-range tracks.

    Just sayin.


  102. And I just want to echo what a few others have stated. That is, having free range kids really does take a village. The only reason I allow my kids to roam freely up and down the streets of our upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood is because after living there 6 years, I know and trust my neighbors. I know they are looking out for my kids. I’ve gotten calls saying, “Just wanted to let you know your son is here, in case you are looking for him.” And I do the same for them.

    I know I would have the peace I do were it not for our fabulous community.


  103. Correction: “I know I would NOT have the peace I do, were it not for our fabulous community.” Typo. Sorry.

  104. Sandy, thank you for the link : )

    I don’t want to sound like I’m saying “These things never happen” because they do and always have. However, there are a lot more “kid raped in the bathroom stories” than there actually have been kids raped in the bathroom, you know? So when I see somebody say something like that with no corroborating details, I… I’m not very trusting.

    (Also, of course, it’s just plain helpful to know where these things happen. There was a rash of hate crimes in my area over the summer, and a few muggings just around my block! Yes, this affected how I lived my life, though the crime rate always go up as the temperatures rise. But a rash of hate crimes and muggings in Arkansas? Wouldn’t bother me. Pedophile in Arkansas who was caught? I’ll reiterate basic safety precautions. Pedophile HERE who was NOT caught? Sorry, no outside alone time for the kiddos until the situation changes.)

  105. Turns out there was another recently in a Thrift store. This one in Utah.

  106. Sandy, the story of a man snatching a kid is infinitely more DRAMATIC than the story, say, of a grisly car accident. I mean, what would you write? “Newton’s second and third law caused forces stronger than the car’s materials and human bodies could withstand. The resulting loss of structural integrity killed all passengers.”

    I could dramatize it more, but it will never match a story where people are involved. Yet there are MANY MORE or car deaths and serious injuries than assaults.

    Also, if you look at statistics of assaults, the two stories you shared are unusual. Most rape happens among people who already have relationships, not among strangers.

    I really think sensationalizing RARE stories – what journalists do routinely – makes more harm than good, given the current level of statistical literacy.

  107. Maria:

    I worked for State Farm insurance company for 7 years as a bodily injury claim representative. My job was to investigate claims where our insureds caused injuries to other people. Daily, I would need to visit people with scratches, bruises, broken bones and muscle strain. I’ve set through depositions and court trials. I have taken photos of the insides of more bloody vehicles than I’d like to recall. I’ve stood at intersections where vehicles collided and people died, in order to assess liability.

    I know all about vehicle accident statistics.

    The fact remains, free range or not, there are things we can do as parents to reduce the chances our kids are injured.

    When we get into a car, we can properly strap our children in. We can refrain from drinking and driving, from texting on the road and from speeding. All of those things greatly reduce the chances our kids will be hurt in a car. They don’t eliminate the danger of other stupid people, but greatly reduce it.

    Most children killed in cars are not properly strapped in.

    In the same way, we can greatly reduce the chances our kids are snatched by a stranger or molested by a neighbor or relative. We can keep our 3-YO daughters close by our sides or in the cart at the store (I have a 3 YO). We can teach older children to scream for help or resist or find another adult if someone tries to lure them away. We can instruct them about proper touch and boundaries when it comes to adults they think they can trust.

    It’s a primal instinct to protect our children. I think God gave us that for a reason. That’s why we all feel sick to our stomachs when we hear about another child dying or being harmed in some way.

    Regarding the incident at Walmart, I don’t see where that was sensationalized at all. I read several accounts of the story and they all gave the general basic info. No grueling details about how exactly the little girl was raped. There were no pictures of her bloody, damaged parts. They have surveillance video of the man carrying her into the bathroom, but no news websites show this.

    I didn’t even see where it made national news. I found the story mostly on local Arkansas news websites and blogs.

    How is that sensationalizing?

    The truth is, whether it happens every day or twice a year, it’s extremely disturbing that ANY 3 YO girl would be taken into a Walmart bathroom and raped in less than 5 minutes. I’ve lost track of my kids longer than that many times. It just makes me sick. Especially with things we, as moms, do every single day, like go to Walmart.

    I am all for teaching my kids independence and freedom (I am the same one who earlier in the comments vented about how the police were called on me in July because I left my kids in an open car in the Walmart parking lot–ironic, huh?) I refuse to parent out of fear.

    HOWEVER, I also believe it is my responsibility to protect and train my children until they are old enough to protect themselves. If reading a story like that makes me keep my kids a little closer at Walmart, I don’t see where that has done “more harm than good.” I think it’s a good thing.


  108. Sandy,

    Thank you for the points you made. Your comment made me think! Here is Take Two on the subject.

    News report stories disproportionally to the frequency at which they occur. This skews people’s perception of dangers, and of measures they should be taking to prevent dangers.

    You write: “The fact remains, free range or not, there are things we can do as parents to reduce the chances our kids are injured.”

    There are literally hundreds of thousands of potentially harmful events our kids can experience. We do not have time, means or attention to work in all these directions. I think we should optimize our efforts and our attention, focusing them on dangers that have most “mathematical expectation” of harm, so to speak. Something like frequency times the level of harm.

    Being aware of a three year old in a public place, at all times, seems like a reasonable practice to me, because it prevents many different dangers at once.

    I still think there is some sort of dis-balance between the high level of interest to stories of rare dangers and the low level of interest to stories of frequent dangers. This can skew our attention and safety practices.

  109. Maybe if an adult starts questioning your child about why he’s alone, the child should state, “I can’t tell you because I’m not supposed to talk to strangers, and if you continue to harrass me, I’ll have to let my parents know that a stranger was bothering me.”

  110. A-freakin-men! @Maria

    My 8 y o son is trained to tell police “I am not allowed to talk to you without my dad or lawyer.” Seriously. I think it is so bad and bureaucrats will do anything to justify their bloated budgets that they will start taking away our own children if we do not comply.
    Melodramatic? Perhaps. My 11 y o nephew was pulled out of class by his teacher and asked if he was on any medications! A job with the state is an unofficial license to mess with your life.
    End rant. Go Giants!

  111. I am a bit late here, but thanks everyone for your posts. I read through everything because I plan in a week or so to take my kids to a store to shop for Christmas gifts for each other and birthday for me. (Their dad won’t take them, so this may be the only way they get to get anything for me – not that I care, but they do.) They will be allowed to shop together in the store.

    Steps that I will take
    – shop early on a weekday (we homeschool.)
    – Prepare them with what to say to busy bodies
    – Remind them they don’t leave the store area with anyone without screaming and fighting
    – Remind them who they can go to if they do need help
    – tell them to stay together.
    – Give them money to pay.
    – give them my cell number so that they can have someone call me if needed. (We only have one cell phone for road emergencies.)

    My kids are 6, 8 and 11. Like many others, my biggest fear is being reported to CPS for something that my parents allowed me to do with no problems at all.

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