(Bad) Advice from “All You” Magazine

Hi Readers — This note is RIGHT ON!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Just thought I’d let you know of this snippet from the most recent All You Magazine. It incensed me to the point of writing an email to the author scolding her for her “professional advice” (this column is written by “Relationship Expert” Nancy Carol Rybski, PhD). Here is the article:

Q. A 6-year-old boy in our neighborhood stops by often to play with my 7-year-old son. His mom and dad never check on him or pick him up – he just walks home when I say it’s time to go. I end up babysitting him for hours! How can I talk to his parents about this?

A. Next time, walk the boy home and chat with his parents. Explain that you’re glad the kids are buddies but you’re busy and can’t have their son over all the time. Don’t be accusatory, but say you’re concerned for his safety when he goes home alone. If they’re still hands-off, tell them he can’t come over, because you just can’t be responsible for his safety.”

Here are my thoughts: First of all, why does this mom even have to talk to the parents? If this boy is coming over too often or staying too long, she should talk to the child directly, perhaps negotiate what times he can come over and for how long.

Second, why is so unsafe for this boy to walk down the street to his neighbor’s house to play with a friend? Rybski is just encouraging people to worry about all the horrible things that might (but mot likely will NOT) happen if a kid goes outside without an adult.

Finally, why does this mom feel like she has to babysit this boy? She should send both boys outside and give herself a break! Instead of obsessing unnecessarily about their safety, why not bask in a little sanity while the kids enjoy a walk around the block together?

Anyway, I wrote this “Expert” a letter using the email provided in the magazine: relationships@allyou.com. Perhaps a few other Free Range readers might want to do the same? — Lauren Ard

I think they just may. Thanks! — L.

62 Responses

  1. “Lenore Skenazy, that woman’s crazy.”

    That’s probably what the “experts” over at “All You” magazine are saying to themselves.

    Yes, Lenore Skenazy IS crazy–in a GOOD way. She’s crazy about ending the madness that passes for “responsible parenting” these days, and letting the “experts” know the world isn’t a cesspool of the 3Ps (perverts, pornographers and pedophiles) as much as the “experts” like to make you THINK it is.

    Lenore, I am glad to hear you did this. You’re fighting a very worthy fight which I totally agree with.

    I would be delighted to chime in as well. What may surprised you–if & when I do, I’m not apt to be as “passionate” about it as I tend to be, but rather to take the “gentle-suggestive” approach. I know I can totally have a “tell it like it is” style, but in this case I’m more inclined towards the “gentle-suggestive” approach.

    But Lenore, I am glad you contributed. What a cool thing to do. I take my hat off to you–well, truth be told, I practically never wear hats, so that’s out–but I have half-a-mind to find a hat somewhere around here, put it on–and then promptly take it off to you, ha ha.


  2. Oops, comment #2 already.

    Regarding the main issue at hand, my thoughts–about 2 months ago, while at the park dealing with my own kids & having my hands rather full in doing so, a young girl about 5 or so stumbled into my little circle and wanted me to interact with her much as I was with my own daughter. She showed off on the monkey bars, swung & wanted me to push her as I had been doing for my own, and kept asking me questions of curiosity. If I recall, I even took her photograph.

    I left with a warm glow in my heart, and the little girl–and even her mother (I’m thankful for that)–seemed touched & blessed by the interaction.

    I’m not trying to hold myself up as being better than anyone else, I’m just saying–contrast that response to the response of the letter writer. I’m not saying that a person is obligated to involve themselves in every kid’s life, but which attitude would you like to see more prevalent? Which attitude should be encouraged more?

  3. Off topic, but for new readers of Lenore’s Blog, here’s Lenore’s delightfully entertaining and riveting speech at a recent conference. Send the link to this video to friends, family, and others who don’t understand the Free Range Kids mindset:

  4. It really seems to me that the primary problem here is the mom’s belief that she is expected to babysit this kid. I mean, I’d be annoyed too if someone just dumped their kid on me all the time. But, as you say, the correct answer to that is to change the mindset. Let her 7-year-old go over to the 6-year-old’s house, say ;).

    My neighborhood is awash in kids under the age of 5 (including my 3-year-old) and I cannot tell you how much I am looking forward to the day they are old enough to go over to one another’s houses on their own. Or run around outside in packs.

  5. have to chime in here…I agree, as adults we need to have back bones and let kids know when it is not a good time for a visit or WHEN to end the visit.

    I am so grateful for my free-range childhood and am striving for my own 3 children!

    Just finished reading your book (LOVED it) and my 12 year old also was eager to read your wise and humorous words. THANKS.

  6. Being in a somewhat similar situation to this, I understand what “the problem” is. It’s not that he comes over alone and walks home alone and the questioner, at least, didn’t say anything about “safety.”

    What you have is quite possibly a pretty neglected kid who has nowhere else to go and is either not welcome at home or doesn’t find it inviting there.

    Yes, you can say “Okay, it’s time to go,” encourage them to play outside, and so forth, but I suspect there’s a little more to the situation than the outward details of “he’s around a lot” and “he comes and goes by himself.”

    She feels dumped on. Whether or not there are ways to handle the situation so that she’s not literally dumped on, she’s right to feel uncomfortable that the situation exists in the first place, and it looks like she’s trying to find a way to handle it constructively with the parents, not just by limiting what goes on in her own home.

    And as for an answer, being in a similar situation myself, darned if I know. If you have good reason to think that a parent is clueless about where the kid is for hours at a time not because she thinks he’s responsible enough but because she’s just preoccupied or doesn’t care, it’s hard to imagine a sunny smile and a friendly chat is going to set things straight.

  7. Off topic:

    I just wanted to share something my family watched recently on Netflix. The movie is Ponyo. It is Japanese anime (and rated G) about a 5 year old little boy and a fish who wants to be human. The little boy is given quite a free reign and is very capable at many things including morse code. And the adults are actually real figures in the story as well– not just anecdotal. I don’t know if it is mostly from a difference in culture, or what, but I was impressed.

  8. I let my boy go outside and to the local community center. He’s even made friends and is often gone for hours at a time. I always tell him to call me when he goes to his friends’ houses; sometimes he does and sometimes he doesn’t. A kid coming over to play with your kid is not the same as getting stuck babysitting. I think if this person is really concerned, making an effort to meet the kid’s parents might be a good idea. She might find that the parents just give their kid a long leash and that the kid hangs out for hours because he enjoys her son’s company.

  9. I suspect there may be more to the original letter writer’s question. It’s one thing for a boy to feel comfortable in the neighborhood and know how to get around; it’s quite another if the kid is truly neglected. As always, these letters never give enough info.

    But in my neighborhood, kids wander around all the time. If the boy’s parents are fine with him walking to and from friend’s, they should be fine.

    But the babysitting remark? Is she against socializing? If it’s too much for her, she should just say Johnny can’t play right now on occasion.

  10. lemontree, Ponyo is a favorite here as well and definitely has a free range ethic throughout the movie.

  11. I should probably restrain myself here, but my impression is that this mom doesn’t like kids much. I mean, when a little boy comes over to play with your kid, that’s normally a good thing – isn’t it? Our neighbor is practically begging me to send my girls over to play with hers (but our schedule makes it very difficult).

    I would not sit and “babysit” this kid. What I would do is send both kids over to their house to play half of the time. I’d try to cross paths casually with the kid’s parent to ask how much time they are comfortable with their kid being away at my house. And I’d send the kid home whenever I felt (for any reason) that he’d been visiting long enough.

    Kids aren’t born with social graces. And the parents might think you’re happy to have their kid over to play. I have never heard of a standing time limit for playing together, other than dinnertime and bedtime. But if you have some reason to feel uncomfortable with that norm, it’s up to you to tell the parents. Because I don’t think that’s normal, and the visitor’s parents probably don’t either.

  12. Another thing. “You just can’t be responsible for his safety.” Exactly what does this mean? Safety while walking down the public sidewalk? Or safety while playing with my kid? Why would either have anything to do with how long or how often the kid is at my house?

    I would be so offended if someone came and spoke to me about my kids like that. I could understand telling me that you (generic “you”) don’t feel comfortable sending the child home alone. Different strokes for different folks. Give me a call and I’ll come out and wait for him on the porch. But implying that I have dumped my responsibility by letting my kid visit your kid? Whoa! Don’t people realize that it actually takes MORE effort to get a kid to the point where he can go somewhere on his own? Or perhaps you’d feel better if I came over and demanded to inspect your house for safety issues before allowing my kid to step foot in there, reviewed your snack cupboard, lectured you on screen time, and gave you a list of words you mustn’t say in front of my kid. Ugh!

    I do agree with meeting the parents, assuming it hasn’t happened already. I’d certainly meet them before assuming that they were neglecting or abusing their kid.

  13. For the record, my kid brother used to go a-visiting (alone) at that age, usually before even coming home from school. He was supposed to check in and tell where he ws going, but he didn’t. It wasn’t because he was abused or neglected. He had a houseful of toys and siblings, so it wasn’t boredom. He just wanted to go visit. (Or maybe he just didn’t want big sis to tell him to clean his room?) Nobody ever so much as called us to tell us our kid was there. They would kick him out before their dinner or bedtime, and he’d walk himself home.

    I am saying this because I don’t like the implication that a 6-year-old who doesn’t sense when he’s unwelcome must be neglected or abused.

    I also think it would be more strange if a 6-year-old preferred to sit home alone when there is a friendly 7-year-old up the street. I’d be thinking, “why doesn’t that family send the kid out to play with the neighbor kids?”

  14. I also think it would be more strange if a 6-year-old preferred to sit home alone when there is a friendly 7-year-old up the street. I’d be thinking, “why doesn’t that family send the kid out to play with the neighbor kids?”

    There’s a poor kid in my neighborhood whose mother HATES that the other children play outside unsupervised, thinks they’re badly behaved*, and who doesn’t even let him play in his own gated front yard (which has no fewer than SIX cameras on it – and it’s not a very big yard or house!) unless she’s right there with him.

    He’s a terrible brat and a snob already at 10, but who can blame him?

    *For the record, the children she’s speaking of are a bit loud, but I have no real problems with their behavior. I wish they’d stop walking through my back yard… but my back yard has no fence. I’d do the same at their age, and I don’t actually blame them. Dump water on them from my window – yes. Blame them… not so much. And I know they sometimes insult my nieces… but my nieces insult them back, and it never has gone past words, EVER. These probably *are* the worst behaved children on the block, but I honestly have no idea WHAT this woman thinks they do that is actually bad in any way. They aren’t malicious, they aren’t dangerous, and they don’t even do anything particularly *risky*.

  15. But why is it being ‘dumped on’ to have a child come to play with yours? This attitude really concerns me – when parents start to see their school-age+ kids playing together as childcare it immediately changes things considerably for the worse.

    From age 5 of 6 I, like many of us I’m sure, was regularly dropped off to play with friends, without my mum there. It was seen as kids playing together, not one set of parents undertaking childcare on the other parents’ behalf.

    I think it may be a problem associated with more of us working – ‘childcare’ becomes more precious and then you have a few negative feelings that may arise – irritation from parents who feel they’re being ‘used as free childcare’ unless the other parent hangs about (or, on the flipside, parents who’d be quite happy to let the kids play alone and don’t want to host the parent/s, thank you very much!); and guilt from parents who’d like to have their kid play alone with friends but fear they’ll be seen as ‘taking advantage’, so they don’t want to ask in case people think they’re being cheeky. Which leads to a vicious cycle of kids not seeing one another as often as they might.

  16. I would advise this woman to call the boy’s house and request from his parents that he call before stopping by to play. If he’s old enough to walk to a playdate, he’s old enough to pick up a phone and dial a number. She could ask the child directly, but calling to talk to his parents gives her an opportunity to chat with them and get to know them. I think it’s unusual that they don’t call to check in, or even invite the woman’s son over to their house. Checking in every time is by no means necessary, but once in a while is entirely appropriate and just plain good manners. I wouldn’t call having another child over “baby sitting,” but the child is still your responsibility while they’re in your home.

  17. My 7 year olds often go over to neighbors’ houses to play. I rely on other parents to say no if it’s not a good time and to send my child home when it’s time to go (though I do tend to call at mealtimes to check in). One neighbor has asked if the kids will call first (which they do) before ringing the doorbell, but it’s normal and desirable for kids to go around the neighborhood looking for friends to play with. When kids come to our house asking to play with my children, and I’m not up for having the kids in the house, I say it’s not a good time or (more often) send the kids outside to play and tell them no running in and out of the house.

    My kids always want to be out playing with their friends when they have time to do so. They’re not neglected and they aren’t unhappy at home. But friends their own age are far more exciting to play with than playing by themselves.

    It seems to me this woman needs to learn to say no or to send her kid over to his friend’s house half the time. Children should be asking each other to play; it’s an adult’s responsibility to state whether it’s a good time for this or not.

  18. I don’t see a problem with talking with the parents. If one of the major problems we have as a society is the fear of the unknown, then shouldn’t we talk to the parents, get to know to them, and build community which is one of the things that made free-ranging possible in the 50s,60s, and 70s?

  19. My children often go knock on the neighbor’s door to see if their children can play. And their children do the same.

    It’s a give and take when you are a community and frankly, if the mom doesn’t want this child to play at her house, she can say no and send him home.

  20. My highlight of the day is when our neighbor’s little girls (ages 7 and 9) come over to play with my almost 3 year old! They can stay as long as they like and I never feel like I’m babysitting. I send them out to take my kid for a walk or play on a swing set. Friends have asked me how I can feel safe with him being out of my sight and with such young girls. Well, he loves playing with them and they take good care of him. Win-win! They play while I clean up, cook some dinner, read a book, or whatever.

    My advice to the mom in the article above would be: Relax. If the kids playing in your house get in your way, send them outside. If the neighbor boy is overstaying, ask him nicely to leave because your son has things he needs to do (eat dinner, clean up, homework). Send YOUR boy over to his friend’s house every now and then. You can have the whole house to yourself and someone else can “babysit.”

  21. It’s not babysitting if the other parents are at home, and you can send them home at a moment’s notice.

    That mindset annoys me as much as when moms leave the kids to spend some quality dad time and people call it babysitting.

    I get a sense that what this mom may actually be annoyed with is a lack of reciprocity on the other child’s parents’ part. I used to feel that when I felt like I had to hover over my son, but since I have let go of that some, I welcome my son’s friends to my house. Heck, I actually send for kids to come over from time to time so I can get things done around the house!

    IMO, a 6-7 year old does not need to have a parental chaperone at his/her friends’ houses or security detail when walking a few houses down the street.

  22. This part of the advice answer really bugs me
    “because you just can’t be responsible for his safety.”

    Really? Why Not? What kind of a society are we that we cannot look out for other people? Such an odd bit to add to the answer. I feel that I am responsible for the safety of everyone I come in contact with.

    Why is it such a burden to have a friend of your son’s over? Be glad they want to play at your house, you will like this when they are teenagers.

  23. I agree Cindy… I would, as far as possible, not blame another parent if a mishap happened ‘on their watch’. Something could happen to my child on my own watch, something could happen them on the watch of someone with ‘qualifications’; that’s life.

    I also agree that the mum being advised in the magazine might be fair enough in being annoyed at the invite not being reciprocated, but I think that’s a different issue from safety or a feeling of ‘babysitting’.

  24. I’m with Cindy, that advice is absolutely horrible. When I was a kid I went to friends houses and friends came over to mine. We went different places for different reasons. You came to my house for the yard – nice and flat with no dog poop. My one friend a couple of doors down had older sisters who were never home, whereas I had younger sisters. If we didn’t want to be bugged we went to her house. But I had the Atari, so we suffered annoying siblings to play Asteroids sometimes.

    Other friends houses had similar attractions or distractions. I really don’t think that anyone’s parents thought they were babysitting. No one’s mom hovered over us. But if it was time to leave – or you were getting on the adults nerves – they told us so, and you went outside or home.

    I don’t know why everyone here assumes the worst – that this child is neglected. My first thought was that his mother might have a baby at home – one that actually requires she hover – and that this kid is looking for a break from the crying and pooping. I have three younger sisters and when I was 6 my mom had twins. Getting out of the house then was imperative at times!

  25. While I agree that the advice is not good, I do understand a bit where the original question asker is coming from. Kind of.

    Because when another kid comes over to play (sans parent) I DO feel responsible for their safety.

    Now, my son and his friends are younger (2 1/2 with a 4 year old neighbor for example) so maybe that’s why, but I can tell you, when the 2 of them take off in different directions to play, I follow the 4 year old instead of my 2 1/2 year old.

    And on the times that I’ve left my son at their house, I would say those parents do the same thing.

    Yeah, it’d suck if my kid fell and broke their arm, and I realize it’s part of childhood for a lot of kids, but I’d feel HORRIBLY guilty if another child did it on my watch.

  26. Acutally, I know this scenario: There is a kid in our neighborhood, whose parents never show, and frankly, I find it very annoying that they apparently take it for granted that we will take care of him and include him in all activities (we other parents often meet outside to chat and have snacks while our kids play.), it has become really stressfull, because he wants our full attention, is quiete intrusive, and he wants us to interfere, if he was treated unfairly by someone else, just like we would for our own kids, and he has no-one to teach him the boundaries.

    So, yes, I am complaining about a similar situation: while I do not count the exact numbers that a kid comes over to our place to play, gets a snack or something to drink, I _do_ expect the parents to be approachable, and to have my kids over just the same, and I do expect them to be approachable for their kid, so they don’t have to beg for attention with other parents.

    Also, you _do_ have some sort of responsibility, if a neighbor kid plays in your yard. (Especially as in my experience it often is the parents who never show, who scream the loudest if something happens to their kid.).

    So while I am not concerned about how the kid gets home, I don’t like being taken for granted and used as a day care center for other people’s kids. We’ve had a tough time with the kid, because everybody was annoyed by his intrusiveness, and we are now making slow process by teaching him to back off a little — which really shouldn’t be up to us, but at least he seems to be learing, that we like him better now, that he has backed off a little.

    So long,

  27. I’m a little confused because there are several commenters talking about neighbor parents who dump their kids on the community. I don’t notice these commenters saying that they have spoken to these offending parents. I am sad to picture a group of friends sitting together and gossiping about a neighbor’s assumed poor parenting. Wouldn’t it be easy and more fair to call them and invite them over, and give them the benefit of the doubt? As another poster mentioned, there might be a reason the parent stays home. And that reason might be that he/she sees the judgmental glares cast in his/her direction. If you’re already introverted, how are judgmental looks or a gossipy clique going to make you feel more outgoing?

    I also feel sad that the child is being looked down upon because the parents aren’t fitting into the neighborhood mold. It seems to me that the focus should be giving your kid the opportunity to experience all kinds of people, as long as said people don’t endanger your kid’s safety or infringe on other things you want your kid to do. It is more valuable for them to experience a person who doesn’t fit the mold, actually. If the child had a mental or physical disability, you’d probably welcome the contact. So why the carve out for social backwardness?

  28. This letter can be read so many ways. If the mom is saying she’s concerned about the child walking alone to her house and back to his house, that is one thing, and a free-range issue. If she is concerned about her responsibility for the child’s safety in her home, OK, I can see that.

    On the other hand…if the issue is that the child is over there EVERY day for hours, with no reciprocity from his family for others to play over there, that is an issue I would address both with the child and his parents. Boundaries need to be set and his parents need to also know and respect those boundaries.

    WARNING: TL;DR follows. Skip if you like.

    We had that issue with one of my girl’s friends. “Lily” came over every day after school, and appeared early in the day on Saturday and as soon as we got home from church on Sunday and would stay all day. Yes, her parents were home. She just liked to play (or, rather, rule the games) with my girls.

    No hints about “today isn’t a good day” were taken. I almost literally had to carry her out the door to get her to leave, and I would have to make a point of telling her she could not stay for dinner or she would calmly pick up our phone, call home, and tell her mother she was eating at our house! Her mother never questioned her, nor did her mother ever speak to me about this.

    The last straw was the day she came over as we were packing the car to go on a trip – WITH HER SUITCASE IN HAND!! I put her in my car and drove her back to her house, with her screaming and crying all the way that she wanted to go with us, she’d be so bored while we were gone. I got her out of the car and rang her doorbell, and told her mother that her daughter was no longer welcome in our house unless I called and told the mother Lily was invited to come over. Her mother just wanted to know why Lily couldn’t come on the trip with us! (yeah, right, lady. I will buy her a plane ticket at the airport. NOT!) My daughter was actually delighted with me; she’d long grown tired of Lily being around all the time but was too soft-hearted to tell her to get lost.

    Unfortunately, the end result was that Lily told lies about my daughter and we had a lot of problems for a while. But that is long over and we never had another Lily.

  29. Give me a break. My kids have friends over almost every single day – ours is the “fun” yard with the trampoline and swimming pool. I will not babysit any of them! If there is a really little kid (under age 5) I will make sure that there is an older child in charge of him or her. After that, I only minimally supervise to make sure no one is fighting or getting hurt. Having my kids play with a bunch of friends is MUCH easier for me than dealing with them sitting around the house bored!

    I do wonder if the letter writer dislikes this boy coming over for any other reason. There are a couple neighborhood kids that are not so welcome at my house because they are troublemakers and DO need to be watched like hawks.

  30. OK, Lily and her mom sound WAY over the top!

    As for the comments on “they don’t reciprocate,” what is there to reciprocate? You simply send your kid there and tell him to come home for dinner. As often as they send their kid to your house. The ball is in your court on that one. Unless you HAVE sent your kid there and he’s usually told he can’t stay. And if that happens, then it’s your turn to reciprocate again – tell their kid he can’t stay.

    I mean, from the outside looking in, this looks like two families where the parents are both staying at their own homes. It’s not like you’ve gone to their house and presented a flowery invitation for their kid to come and play, and now it’s their turn to come down the street and do the same. Or am I missing something?

  31. Again, sorry for the multiple posts, but I gotta say that a lot of this sounds like “they aren’t reading my mind.”

    You have to tell people what you want, or you aren’t going to get it. If you want family meals without visitors (and the kids aren’t comprehending), you might need to call the neighbor parents and tell them that. “We consider it very important for us to have exclusive family time at dinner. That is why we send all friends home at X:00.” Then be gently but firmly consistent.

    You can’t really complain if the other parent is listening to her kid, and you haven’t clarified your position between adults. Comments like “she never questioned her kid” – how do you know? When my kid sister used to ask permission to have dinner at someone else’s house, I’d ask “have you been invited? You didn’t invite yourself, did you? Are you sure it’s OK with the mom?” But who knows, my sister could have been fibbing. This didn’t happen often, partly because in those days, most parents weren’t shy to say “time to send your little friends home.”

    I remember once when my sister and I were 5 and 7, and my sister told me we had permission to go home with a friend (on their school bus). I wasn’t convinced, but I couldn’t let her go alone, so I went with her. My parents had no idea where we were, until the other parents called them after dinner to ask when we were being picked up. My mom was SO angry (at us), and the offense was never repeated. But the point is, adults can’t rely on young kids to be socially competent. Adults have to talk to each other. And sometimes, the conversation needs to be started by the person who doesn’t like the status quo.

  32. Our 7 yr old son has a classmate/friend that lives on our block. He knocks on our door daily. Is it a problem? Absolutely, it is not. It allows our son the opportunity to say yes or no to playing. It also teaches that you can tell your friend no and it doesn’t mean the friendship is in danger. As far as when to go home, the kids pretty much know when it is time for dinner, it is time to go. If he needs a nudge, we thank him for coming over and send him home. We encourage our kids to handle their own playtime. I really don’t like the word “playdate”. Our kids our 2nd and 3rd grade and we still have parents call to arrange “playdates”. I always suggest if their child would like to play with our child, it would be best to have their child our son/daughter a call or stop by to see if they would like to play. Our society schedules play like it is an event. Our daughter backed out of a playdate (scheduled the week prior) because she was tired. The response from the other parent was scarey. You would have thought someone had called off an engagement.

  33. JIll, if a parent called me up to schedule a playdate (the very word makes me gag), unless it was for a scheduled event that requires tickets, I would say “Sounds good, but I have no idea what we’re doing that day, call back the day before.”

  34. I have two views 🙂

    I think she should be grateful kids are coming over. In this day and age it is getting rarer. Most parent I know want to be seen as the ‘family that has people over’ yet rarely let their kids go to others houses. So this causes the no one goes anywhere problem.

    On the other hand I am the stay at home mother in the street with four kids. I dont overschedule my kids and we just play in the afternoons after school. I cant believe how many people ‘rely’ on me to do things for their kids because they have to work and have other obligations. I’m pretty relaxed so it doesnt bother me most times…. but Gee I wish I had a neighbour like ME!!

  35. I apologize, I misread the original post. Lauren Ard (a reader) was the one who gave the magazine editors a piece of her mind, not Lenore. My apology for misreading that.

    It is true, a kid shouldn’t rely on a “playdate” to just play. Unstructured, spontaneous and creative fun is at the heart of what being a child is all about. It sounds like the families being discussed found a wonderful situation by which this can happen–for the betterment of ALL of them–and they just need the wisdom to realize it and know how to handle it, including respecting of time & responsibility boundaries.

  36. FWIW, SKL, I’ ve never spoken about this with other neighbors (I might have told a friend from a different neighborhood who doesn’t know the people involved, without mentioning any names) so it’s not like the neighbors are sitting around gossiping. I’m just saying it’s a difficult situation to deal with when you have people like that in the neighborhood, and that yes, there are ways to “handle” it, but I was sympathizing with the problem.

    And Maureen, I’m not “assuming” that’s the situation. I’m saying from reading the letter, that’s another possibility of what’s going on, rather than assuming some of the OTHER things people assumed about it.

  37. I wonder if she feels she has to be the entertainment for them. Suggesting things to do, helping play the games, etc. Many of today’s parents have no idea how to tell the kids to entertain themselves. From that perspective it would be a burden to have him over all the time.

  38. Don’t get me wrong – I love it when actual friends visit! It’s no problem to welcome the kids who knock on our door actually wanting TO PLAY WITH MY KIDS, and I’m glad to have a window into their relationships so I can offer guidance and support. What I find truly annoying is when kids show up who are not necessarily my kids’ friends, but instead they are:

    — kids who’d like to spend a lot of quality time with just our animals

    — kids who come over to use my kids’ stuff (ipod, computer, art supplies) and they repeatedly insist on it even when my kids would rather do something else together, outside

    — kids who are hungry and either were denied a snack at home or who simply prefer our food

    — kids who crave adult attention, e.g. insisting that we all should make cookies together or go to the pool together or do some other adult-enabled activity that (I assume) their parents are not available to help them with at that moment.

    I’ve had to teach my kids how to say no and be more assertive (they are naturally easy-going). I’ve even given them a code word to say to me after they have tried every tactful, friendly tool in their repertoire and the “frienemy” will simply not back down from the obsession du jour. Occasionally I’ve had to tell all the kids that our house is temporarily closed and that playtime will have to be outside. In one case, I even carried a stubborn, bossy 5-year-old girl right out my front door (there were tears), and I’m pretty sure the mom thought I was over the line… However, this girl was not at all respectful of our boundaries and my kids deserve to have a home that’s THEIR HOME and not, say, a zoo, public library branch or de-facto community center.

    Can I imagine calling a parent (assuming I’ve got their number) and playing the “safety” card in order to keep a non-friend frequent-flier from repeating her not-so-friendly intrusions? You bet!

  39. I don’t understand this woman’s attitude at all. I had three kids and have the neighborhood at my house most days. I likes it they had someone to play with and the siblings didn’t fight as much when they had their own friends to be with. If I was busy or things got too rowdy I send everyone home. I bakes them cookies and play games and did crafts with them. There even was one family where both parents had to work early mornings and they left the kids to get themselves off to school. They were welcome in my home before school. I often feed them with my own, combed hair, washed faces and even once or twice found them something else to wear. I didn’t feel put upon I’d felt I’d rather know where my kids were and what they where doing. I got to know their friends and they got to know me. Yes my kids could go to others homes or to the park around the corner but I enjoyed all the fun and sometimes peace I got from all this. Even when my kids where teens I knew their friends and they were always welcome.
    Why is it today people like her feel like it’s a burden? I was thankful to be a part of their world at a time most kids didn’t want their parents around. And even the kids that I felt were being neglected I didn’t feel the urge to report them but did the best I could to fill the gap and hopefully I had a positive impact on their lives in some small way. Looking back I see those parents were doing the best they could in the situation they were in. Reporting them would have just made things worse, put more stress on an already fragile family.
    Shouldn’t we not only teach our kids to be Free Range but also isn’t part of that being caring and teaching our kids to be the same???

  40. I’d love to have a friend coming over to play with my kids. My kids go play with various other kids in the neighborhood, and I’ve told parents that their kids are welcome to come over, but there’s only one family that has taken me up on that, and with prearrangement she’s even willing to let me pick her kids up from school to play with mine.

    I thought I had another family willing, but the one time their daughter knocked on our door to play with my kids, and came inside, the mom quickly rang our doorbell and said it was only okay out front. I was fine with that, as my kids play out front all the time.

    I have a toddler, so following my kids to friends’ houses can’t always happen. My youngest is often napping when the older kids are ready to play.

    Thank goodness all my neighbors are more than willing to tell my kids that it’s not a good time, which they hear more often than they hear “yes.”

  41. When my children have friends over who want me to be constantly involved in their play I remind them they are at my home to play with their friends (my children) and not me.

    I play games or do crafts with my children as “family time” or on rainy days etc…I love to do these things but too many children don’t know how to play without adult guidance, I want to make sure my kids don’t rely on me as their entertainment. This mother may not understand she isn’t needed to entertain the two boys.

  42. Like other posters, I grew up in the “fun” house: lots of arts and crafts supplies, sewing, puzzles and games, a creek out back, etc. Kids were always coming over, and often getting hurt (from pricked fingers all the way up to needing stitches). Never once did a parent suggest these accidents were my parents’ fault, or their responsibility.

    My folks’ mantra was always “Everybody outside!” anyway.

    One thing to note about Dr. Rybski: she’s coming from an academic background of families scarred by abusive kids. It’s entirely possible she sees the world through that lens, and judges accordingly. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, as I see the kids through a free range lens–I just think it’s important we recognise she has her biases, just as we have ours.

  43. @skl:

    **** I don’t notice these commenters saying that they have spoken to these offending parents. I am sad to picture a group of friends sitting together and gossiping about a neighbor’s assumed poor parenting. Wouldn’t it be easy and more fair to call them and invite them over, and give them the benefit of the doubt?****

    We certainly did try to talk to the parents, and we certainly invited the mother to come to our little chats out on the playground more than once (note: we don’t expect her to be there _all the time_). I’m sure she has her own concerns and things to worry about — but she still is responsible for her kid, and it is still up to the parents to teach him not to be a burden to other people.

    So, yes, the sorry truth is, that it all falls back on the kid — but really, that should be the concern of the parents, not of the neighbors who already have their hands full with their own kids. (But I am talking about a situation that has become a real problem).

    Also about the babysitting while a kid is over to play with your own kids: yes, if it’s on your property or in front of your kittchen window, you do have some responsibility. Also, while you certainly don’t have to entertain the kids, you do have to have your ears open, as you cannot automatically assume that the visiting kid knows the rules or can be trusted not to do this, that or the other.

    And, if your kid is thirsty — you will offer the other kid a drink, if your kid wants a snack, you will offer one to the other kid, if the other kid needs help with something, you will help, and so on. This works in an environment in which things equal out one way or the other — but not, if one side always takes and takes you for granted.

    I know that sounds harsh, and I never thought I would ever think like that, but the sorry truth is, that some people do _exploit_ the situation and drop their kids on them.

    So long,

  44. I’m the parent of a 9 year old, who has been inside or outside with her friends since the age of 5. Sometimes they play inside someone’s home; sometimes they play in someone’s garden; sometimes they play in the street – a cul-de-sac with little traffic. Far from seeing it as a childcare responsibility or a chore when they are in our home, I see it as an opportunity for her to spend some good quality time with her friends. If anything the childcare is less with more children as they pretty much look after themselves. They as for drinks or snacks, I say yes or no. They pour their own drinks, choose their own fruit from the bowl and get back to having a great time. They manage their own disagreements as much as possible. This is all good experience in social interaction.

  45. I sent my email!

  46. You know, as the “fun” house in the neighbourhood, I think I know why this lady is so annoyed with her small “intruder”. My house is open at all times (I mean REALLY open, not just unlocked; kids constantly running in and out), and I’ve had a wide range of little friends coming in. There’s the shy one who peeps from the street until invited, and then gradually joins in the games. I hang around a bit to give them confidence (yes, you can use our bathroom, here’s a glass of water, that sort of thing), but they are usually more interested in playing with the rest. There’s the impulsive types who just have to watch it a little. Fortunately, I know their parents, and I know it’s OK if I kick them out for the day if they don’t behave. Anyway, they are well-mannered and know they should ask before coming in.
    But there’s the third type; not exactly neglected kids, but those who are just bored to death at their houses, and truly wish we could adopt them for some time (both parents working, only child or with siblings way too old to play with them…). So they behave as if they were part of the family. And their parents, or caretakers or whatever, are glad to get them off their backs. Surely we have all met these kids, demanding ones who crave for adult attention. I don’t think their parents have much to do with the kids behaving that way (other than being the first object of adoration for said kids, which can be truly mind-breaking). And normally it’s just a phase children go through.
    My response to these types is to pay attention to them when I feel like it, and just kick them out when not. As Lenore has posted many times, little kids’ heartbreaks are effimerous and they bounce back quite unscathed. I am not impressed if they spend the afternoon watching my family doing family things through the window, pouting and puppy-eyed.

  47. This reminds me of small part of an episode of My Name is Earl. Earl’s ex wife comes home to find her husband napping on the couch. She wakes him up and sees that there is a child not their own on the floor. She says “I told you not to go to sleep with the front door open, you know x family will use you as a free babysitter. Now I gotta sweep the house” Then she goes off and finds another one of that family’s kids in their home.

  48. Hmmm…that’s my girl. Six years old. Knocks on friend’s doors to see if they can play. I never check on her or pick her up; she just comes home when they say it’s time. I wonder if my neighbors despise me and think they are babysitting? Now, I do have one neighbors who reciprocates – that is, her kid comes over to my house for hours at a time, and I boot him out the door when we have to eat dinner, and it doesn’t bother me at all – I don’t “babysit” him. He and my daughter play while I work, which actually gives me more of a break than if he were not here! Sometimes they play inside, sometimes outside, but I just do my thing. But for the other neighbors who don’t let their kids loose to play outside or wander to friend’s houses, who don’t let their kids come to my house in return – I wonder if they feel put upon to have my daughter show up at their door and ask to play with their kids? If so, why not just say – no, my kid can’t play right now, and send her on her way? It’s so much easier when the kids make their own play arrangmenets!

  49. “Another poster mentioned, there might be a reason the parent stays home”
    I stay home because I have work to do. I can’t be sitting in a lawn chair eating snacks and drinks with the neighborhood moms from the moment my kid gets home from school at 3 until dinner at 6, watching and supervising and interfering and settling disputes! (Fortunately, I don’t see any moms doing this in my neighborhood, so it’s not as if I’m being rude and not joining in, but, if they did, I would rarely be able to hang out. I do freelance work from home, and then there’s the housework.)
    I don’t expect other parents to do that for my kid. Let the kids handle themselves. At 6, they are old enough to play together unsupervised, to come home is there is a serious problem. My daughter is not neglected or unloved, but playing with kids her own age is a lot more fun than playing by herself (and, no, I will not entertain her one-on-one for three hours straight if she stays home, but I don’t consider that neglect either. I’m her mother, not her primary playmate.)
    I hope neighbors don’t consider my child “neglected” because she wants to play with kids her own age and I let her loose to ask to do it. If they don’t want her, I rely on them to tell her it’s a bad time. If she’s told that, she’ll go home.
    I have no problem if they send their kids in the same manner to my house, I say they are welcome to come any time, and indeed I wish some of them would (but only one actually does). Reciprocate! Send your kids over here! That’s how you reciprocate. How can I reciprocate on sending my kids over to your house? Grab your children and drag them to my house? No, you have to send them. Door’s open.
    As for kids who come over to use your kid’s “stuff” – I’ve had that happen, and it’s a pretty simple solution – NO ELECTRONICS ALLOWED WHILE FRIENDS ARE IN THE HOUSE. That’s our hard and fast rule.
    “And, if your kid is thirsty — you will offer the other kid a drink, if your kid wants a snack, you will offer one to the other kid, if the other kid needs help with something, you will help, and so on”
    Don’t your kids get their own drinks and their own snacks? I don’t help them with this. They are 6 and 4. Are we talking about very young children here? As for snacks – the only thing typically on offer here is fresh fruit and water or milk, and my kids know it – if a friend asks for a snack, that’s what they offer. They offer it. Not me.

  50. Corinna– exactly. It’s not that the kid shows up and leaves on his own; it’s not that we don’t want them around; it’s not that we think the other parents are evil; it’s not that we think we have to devote all our time and energy to “babysitting”; it’s that in some cases, and you know what they’re like if you’ve experienced them, something else is at work where you get the sense that something is amiss, and so we’re not surprised that someone might ask for some advice on how to handle it.

    And yes, since this kind of kid not infrequently is the kind who stirs up strife and/or abuses your kids’ toys or your other property or whatever, and some cases doesn’t really understand “go home” unless it’s made to sound like a threat, this isn’t always just as simple as “Oh, it’s no trouble if they come over all the time, it’s just a kid who wants to play.” Some of us, at least, have in mind situations where it’s simply NOT all rosy and as simple as being welcoming and setting limits and letting them entertain themselves.

  51. Here is the email I sent to Ms. Rybski:

    Ms. Rybski,

    I must take issue with your advice to the mom who states concern about her son’s neighborhood friend and his parents’ assumed lack of supervision. My first question for this mom is, “Why are you babysitting anyone?” A six year old and a seven year old who have chosen to play together should be perfectly capable of entertaining themselves. If, on the other hand, the mother’s child does not want to play with this neighborhood boy, then by all means, gently let him know that he cannot play today. Whether the neighborhood parents have confidence in their son’s ability to move from their house to the neighbors and back again is not this mother’s business. Some children are more mature, some have been taught more appropriate levels of independence and this is really not the mother in questions realm of concern.
    Unfortunately, we live in a time when fear mongering has made so many parents feel that they not only have to hover over their own children and micro-manage their time, but that they also have an obligation…no, even a right…to question the parenting decisions of those around them. As a mom whose 5 year old frequently asks to go down the street to his friend’s house, I would not welcome the mother in this letter sharing her advice. I would, however, make sure my son found a playmate whose parents have more faith in their own children. Luckily, my neighborhood is a haven of parents who believe that their kids can play as we did when we were children and kids move happily up and down our street, on foot and on bike, without worrying parents hovering over them.
    Shame on you for adding to the ridiculous (and wrong) supposition that danger lurks around every corner just waiting for the unaccompanied child. Phooey!

  52. Pentamom, you’re right, there are those exceptions where there is something “more” going on, and it isn’t as easy as “tell them to go home.” You can’t really tell from this letter what the situation is, either way. But I still find the “safety” response to be off-putting, I suppose because I have been on that side of receiving a GASP GASP you let your 6-year old walk half a block to a firend’s house by herself GASP! What, are you negligent? Don’t you care about her safety?

  53. I have had this situation where kids come over constantly and the parents never check in on them. I think it’s odd when parents don’t check in on their kids after hours and hours of the kids being at a neighbor’s house playing, if nothing else just to make sure they aren’t inconveniencing the parents. I’ve had the situation where we as a family need to leave and go somewhere else, but the neighbors are nowhere to be found and can’t be contacted. And, honestly, I wouldn’t feel comfortable sending my kids over to their house to play, because I would worry they are not keeping any sort of eye on the kids. My kids are 6 and 4, just to let you know their ages.

    We have some neighbors where we feel very comfortable with the kids running over between each other’s houses and playing as much as they want to. But these are neighbors we’ve built a relationship with and some level of trust. We didn’t start out just letting them go over, knock on their door, and stay for four hours. I wonder why some people would let their kids just go over to someone’s house that they’ve never even met or talked to and then never check on them. It seems weird to me.

  54. So glad to read all the responses to my post the Lenore so graciously put up! I applaud those of you who sent an email to accompany mine. They probably won’t mention it in the next All You magazine, but if they do, I will surely let you know!

  55. As a parent, I think you can usually tell when kids are just very social and when they are not well supervised (perhaps neglected?) and yes, you do feel “put upon” when those kids are always at your door.

    A new family just moved in two doors down, and there are two sisters, 5 and 3. They play in their front yard unsupervised – and I mean with absolutely no supervision, not even an adult inside with an ear to the outside. They leave the yard, ride bikes up and down the block, and, yes, make a game of running into traffic on a busy street. They’re great kids, but they are too young to be playing completely alone outside.

    Earlier in the summer I let my 4 year old play with them in their front yard while I “supervised” from two yards away, mostly by ear, until one day my girl fell butt-first into a pot of cactus I didn’t even know was there. It was an accident, I expect accidents happen, but the problem was that when she screamed bloody murder and started wailing no adult even came to see what was going on. Seriously, no one even came the door when a child started shrieking in pain in their own front yard, and that concerns me. I had to trot over, carry her screaming and wriggling back to the house to perform an hour’s surgery with tweezers! 🙂

    Now, she is not allowed to play over there, because a 5, 4, and 3 year old do need some level of supervision which the adults in that household do not provide. The girls now play in our front yard, and I supervise – usually from inside the house as our yard is small and we have many windows so I can see and hear what is going on.

  56. Well said! Thank you!!! I have heard similar complaints from moms and can’t understand it. It’s all so clear to ME: Send all kids outside if they are noisy, send child home if he/she is overstaying a welcome, suggest to my child to make new friends if friends aren’t being nice. End of story.

  57. Yes! Why would an adult not just send a kid home when its time for him or her to go, regardless of the reason (maybe its dinner time or maybe you just have a headache). Actually, I think this is a good example to set for your own kid in terms of establishing boundaries and being gentle but direct about your feelings. My daughter gets so stressed when she wants the neighbor girl to go home but doesn’t know how to say it, so I try to model the right way to do it.

  58. Sky, I agree absolutely, and in fact that’s my point — the initial question didn’t even ASK about safety, so that’s why I raised the possibility that a parent who didn’t know or care that his/her kid was becoming a nuisance *might have been* the issue, not safety. It was kind of a dumb reaction for the advicer person to bring up safety, and possibly a mistake for Ms. Ard to assume the questioner had “safety” in mind as well.

  59. “advicer person?” Sorry that was my fingers, not my brain. 😉

  60. It all depends on what neighborhood they live in and how close their homes are. When I was their age, my mom had to meet the parents before I could visit. I had to call home to check in if I went to a friend’s house after school without asking.
    And IF allowed to stay, I had to call before walking home and often the friend would walk me halfway. If I was staying for dinner I had to be picked up or dropped off because it was dark outside. That’s just how it was for me and everyone I grew up with (who had attentive parents).

  61. It’s her house-If she doesn’t want kids there it’s her business. Just conjecture, I think the advisor was using the safety card as an easy out for the mother. Women have a hard time just saying “I don’t want to do it.”
    Personally I think she’s being short sighted. My mom used to bait the neighborhood teens with food to come on by. We all used to hang out at her house because she was so laid back and didn’t judge. She just blended into the background. In reality, she knew our plans and where we were headed. My mom is smart like that.

  62. We have a little stalker neighborhood girl who this summer was at our house for hours with very little parental check-in. She still, even with school in session, will circle the block endlessly and even wait in front of our house if we’re not home. It gets a bit much. Mom is single, works from home, and as far as I can tell has no idea where the kid is sometimes. My daughter has been at the girl’s house a couple of times, and says it’s not as fun there. Mom is working, and the girl will take my daughter into her room and just watch stuff on the TV/computer. The girl is 7. My daughter likes playing with her, mostly, but she sometimes finds it hard to say no to her. I’ve talked to the mom, and she sounds supportive and reasonable but her actions do not bear that out. After she pressured me into watching her kid so she could run an errand (“She’s always at your house anyway. And she will be SO bored with this errand. Bye-bye!”), it dawned on me that, indeed, free child-care is what I am.

    Poor kid, though. She really does not get “it is time to go now.” Like other posters, we have had to get blunter and blunter with her. The tough part is we have lots of other great kids and families in the neighborhood, so we will be out hanging with them and this girl will zip by and latch herself onto us again, even if we’ve just walked her back to her house.

    Kids dropping by to play are great. Any other neighbor kid is a joy to have drop by. I love that our neighborhood is like that. But not all dropping-by-kids are a joy, I hate to say.

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