“Today I Trusted a Complete Stranger with my Child”

Hi Readers! Here’s a lovely story from reader Deborah Halliday Mills. Remember it when you find yourself between a rock, a hard place, a child and a stranger! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always prided myself on being a common sense parent.  I don’t follow “experts,”or the latest trends or pop culture.  I believe strongly in community and that the vast majority of people are good, kindhearted and helpful.  My husband and I do what feels right in our hearts and minds.  And sometimes that means making split second decisions when it comes to safety.

Today I had to make such a decision.  My youngest of three boys, age 4, was home from preschool with a 102 fever.  I desperately needed to get to the grocery store to pick up a couple of items.  He was feeling okay for the moment, so we hopped in the car and headed out to the store.  My 15-month-old dog came along for the ride as well as she often does.

My son and I were in and out of the store in minutes while the dog waited in the minivan.  My son was hanging on to the side of the grocery cart when we got to the car.  I opened up the back of the van and within a second the dog  darted out and started running around the parking lot.  She was excited and refused to come to me, and then ran into the road.  So my dog was running in traffic and my son was standing by the car.  I was beside myself with  panic.  A woman pulled up in her car and asked if she could help.  She said she would stay by my son while I ran after the dog.  I made a split-second decision and said yes and ran after my dog.  Bringing along a sick 4-year-old while chasing a dog in traffic would have been a stupid thing to do.  So I left my son with a stranger, with my purse, phone, wallet and keys in her full view, and took off running.

My dog ran in and out of traffic and I was screaming and crying.  Numerous people stopped to help.  One man stopped traffic and ran after her with me.  It took us at least 15 minutes to catch her, running across roads, around drainage ditches, all the time me crying hysterically.  She finally conked out and laid down for a tummy rub.  (Typical dog!)  The man offered to carry her to my car for me because I was so upset.  But I declined, and mentioned that a stranger was watching my 4 -year-old son.  He smiled and said he had two sons too.  Please take care, he said,  and have a good weekend.  I thanked him profusely.

I carried my dog back to the car (a good distance away).  My son was sitting in the back of the van with this lovely “stranger,” talking about ducks and geese.  He was as happy as could be.  The “stranger” asked if I was okay, did I know where my keys were?  Was I okay to drive home?  Then she gave me a huge hug and told me what a wonderful son I had.  I couldn’t thank her enough.  I couldn’t thank both “strangers” enough for the time and efforts they had given me, my son and my dog.

I can honestly say that I not once feared for my son. We’ve never taught our kids to be afraid of people.  Instead we teach them to be kind and respectful and to use their own commonsense –- yes, even a 4-year-old.  That’s why he didn’t panic when I ran off and had a fun time talking. I’m sure there are plenty of parents that would be aghast at my decision, but I knew, thanks to you and my own common sense, that my son would be fine.

I still haven’t stopped shaking from the stress my dog caused, but I am so thankful for the strangers in my community that saw a woman in need and thought nothing of offering help.

Sincerely, Deborah, a proud, Free-Range Parent

Most strangers LIKE to help kids.

Made Me Think!

Hi Readers! There have been so many thoughtful comments about the post below this one — the one about the mom charged with neglect because her toddler slipped out of the house while she was napping. Here’s the one that gave me a jolt of insight. Two jolts, in fact: 

By SKL: I am just saying, and not to anyone in particular, that the mindset “kid did ______, need to buy a safety product” is becoming the kneejerk reaction, and it concerns me.

When this exact sort of thing happened decades ago, the parents’ first thought was usually, “How do I teach her better?”  It was even common practice for all preschoolers to be taught how to find their way home safely, just in case.

What I’m saying is, before, safety solutions were child development solutions.  And now, safety solutions are child restraint solutions.  Anyone else see why this is troubling?

(I’m not talking about a precociously mobile infant who is really too young to learn to choose well.  And yes, I support a mom’s right to pee in peace, even if that means having baby gates for a while.)

Lenore here again: Yes, yes! I see how we have moved from “teach” to “buy” and/or “restrain” in many parenting situations. In fact, “buy those door handle thingies” was my solution, too. Thanks for this reality check: Why DO we automatically think of new things to BUY or activities to CURTAIL every time we parents worry for our kids? — L

Mom Charged with “Child Endangerment” When Tot Wanders Off

Hi Readers!  According to this story by Terri Sanginiti in Delaware Online, a mom  put her 3-year-old down for a nap and then went to take one herself. Unbeknownst to her, her daughter then got up and managed to get out of the house. When police found the little girl later, they went looking for the mom and charged her with child endangerment.

Agreed: It is not a good idea to have a 3-year-old wandering around the nabe. But I disagree that this means the mom endangered the child. Sounds more like the mom underestimated her child — didn’t realize the girl could or would get up and go!

So how about giving the mom some of those babyproofing thingies that make it hard for a child to open a door? Or an alarm that sounds if the door is opened? In other words, how about helping the mom — and child — rather than making this sound as if the mom is a no-good parent who needs to be punished? As it doesn’t seem like there was any evidence of drugs or alcohol, sounds to me like we’re talking about a parent who simply had something go wrong, which can happen to even the “best” of us.

When we criminalize the ups and downs of normal life, we start making it seem as if living that normal life (which inevitably involves some mistakes and surprises) is criminal. That’s when we start believing we need to take extraordinary precautions against unlikely events, and hovering over our kids out of fear for them and fear for ourselves — we could be blamed!

I hope the charges against this mom are dropped, and that she gets some childproof doorknobs. That should be the end of the story. — L

Free-Range 9-Year-Old Earns $250 — in a Week!

Hi Readers! I don’t even know many ADULTS this entrepreneurial!  Enjoy this  story sent in by Misty Olen, who posted it on her blog, Free Your Kids.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Three years ago I started reading this blog. At that point, I was like many parents. I was afraid to let my kids play outside or do anything without me keeping a close eye on them. After a week of reading Free-Range Kids I decided I was going to start raising my kids to be Free-Range.

It was a hard transition and a million thoughts went through my head: “I’m going to let them walk down the road? That’s crazy, what if a car hits them? What if they get kidnapped? What if they fall down and get hurt and I don’t hear them cry?” There were so many thoughts and scary ideas that I had to work through, but I kept in mind that I was raising my kids to be confident and to be able to handle themselves in the world. They needed to explore and learn what life is like, and the best way to do that is by experiencing it.

Soon after, I decided to raise my kids this way I started looking at other things in life I wanted to teach them, like how to earn money. When my youngest, Colton, turned eight years old, I decided I was going to stop giving him and my daughter their $3 per week allowance. I was going to help them learn how to be entrepreneurs. I told them I would not give them money and that their job was to look for ways to make money, ways that didn’t involve doing things for me.

In the first month my son started recycling. He walked around and picked up cans on his way to school and then walked them to the recycling facility next to our house. He could easily make $10 per week (over 3 times his previous allowance). He was off to a great start!

One year later, Colton decided to change his focus to golf balls. We lived next to two golf courses so he and his friend Zach got the idea to gather the balls and sell them. They collected a 5-gallon bucket full of golf balls. Zach never wanted to do the work of selling, only collecting. Colton decided one day he was going to the golf course to actually sell the balls.

He took off and told me he would be back in a couple hours. Hours later he returned with a wad of cash. He was full of excitement and told me about learning which golf balls were the most valuable and how much people would pay. He figured out that standing by Hole 8 on the course was the best place to sell because people stopped there to get a drink of water, and he could also wash the golf balls there while waiting for his next customer.

Colton soon recruited friends to help him sell and he let them keep 50% of money they earned and he kept the other 50 percent. Yes, he had employees. At dinnertime he would tell us about discounts he had come up with to convince customers to purchase more, and discuss his different selling tactics. One of his marketing strategies was giving away some of his cheap golf balls to some of his bigger customers to encourage repeat business.

Altogether he made about $250 in those two weeks. He was really excited to have that much money, and decided he wanted a new bike. We took him to the store and he bought a bike with the money earned from golf balls. I had the pleasure of seeing his sense of accomplishment and witnessing how proud he was of himself. I feel like I’m doing my job as a parent. I’m teaching my kids to be confident and providing them with the tools to be happy and successful in life. — Misty Olen

What are you trying to sell us, son?

Camp Ride-a-Bus

Hi Reeders! Just read about a new camp in Austin, Texas. It’s for teens who want to get around the city by public bus.

That’s the whole camp. Teens. Getting around the city. By bus. They consult a map, pay their fare and go someplace. According to TV station KXAN, a mom named Sheila Gordy came up with the idea for what she calls “Urban Explorer” camp when her 12-year-old wanted to start discovering the city on his own. KXAN quotes Gordy as saying, “When you have been catered to for 13 or 14 years and all of a sudden you yourself can get somewhere and you don’t have to ask, that’s really empowering.”

It sure is. It might be even MORE empowering if your parents weren’t paying $310 a week to have you do it with the help of this camp. But in truth, I’m probably just jealous that I didn’t come up with the idea first. After all, I am vaguely famous for letting my younger son, Izzy, take the New York City subway by himself at age 9. If only I’d come up with “Izzy Camp” (or “Camp Izzy Does It”? “Izzy for Real”? “It’s Izzy To Get Around NYC Adventures”?), he could have been raking in $310 a week, per kid, for a couple of years now. He’d take their money, hand out maps and have his little posse head anywhere they’d like. Coney Island. Central Park. The candy store.

Of course, once kids figured out they could do this on their own — most of us parents did, after all — they could save $310 a week to spend on Kit Kats, or college. And that’s why I’m of two minds about this new idea.

On the one hand, it’s crazy. Why pay money for your kids to do what any able-bodied Ameri-kid could and probably should do upon turning 10, which is to use public transportation? Even if they got lost, all they’d need are the same old instructions our parents gave us: Ask for help! You can always talk to a stranger, you just can’t go off with some stranger who approaches YOU.
No adult needs your help finding his puppy, no adult should ask you to get in his car. It’s that straightforward. And seeing as so many kids have cellphones, Mom and Dad are never really out of touch anyway. If kids need help (and even when they don’t), they call. My God, do they ever call. So who needs camp?

On the other hand, maybe this is exactly what they need. The parents, I mean. After all, we have spent about a generation convincing them that their children are in peril if they do ANYTHING on their own. That’s why only about 1 in 10 kids walk to school anymore. That’s why they don’t make their own play dates or meet up at the park unless it’s for a scheduled supervised game.

If this camp can convince parents that their kids are capable of taking care of themselves on an outing, well, it is worth a fortune, because it will be giving the kids — and the parents — an invaluable gift: the gift of a child’s self-reliance.

Once parents see that their kids are not mewling babies surrounded by miscreants, maybe they’ll let the raft down the Mississippi — or at least get themselves to the mall.

Best not to send them with $310.

All aboard?

Why Are More Kids Nearsighted Lately? (Hint: I Like the Answer)

Hi Folks — Here’s a recent piece from The New York Times that suggests that more kids are growing up nearsighted today because they don’t get enough time OUTSIDE. Since humans evolved as creatures living in the outdoor world, it’s possible that our eyes came to depend on that very light for their development.

Which means?  We keep our kids locked up indoors at their peril. Even though many parents think they keep their kids locked up indoors to AVOID peril. Oh, the irony. (Or should I say the eye-rony? Maybe not. Okay, I won’t. But I WILL say that maybe keep-’em-inside parents are being…wait for it…NEARSIGHTED.)  — L.

Here’s A Story You’ll Love…About a STRANGER and a GIRL

Hi Readers — Just read this lovely little essay and wanted to share it. It’s about a dad who accidentally loses track of his daughter on a bike trip, and what happened next. Enjoy! — L.

When “Child Porn” Isn’t, And The Woman Who Insisted We Differentiate

Hi Readers: Two important things today. The first, and saddest, is that Mary Duval has passed away. I wrote about her here. She was the mom-turned-activist after her 16-year-old son Ricky was put on the sex offender registry — for life — for having consensual sex (twice) with a 13-year-old girl he thought was his own age.

Mary fought first for him, and then for all the folks on the ever-expanding registry who pose no threat to children. She leaves behind her two beloved sons, a movement for more just and rational sex offender laws, and barely enough money to pay for her funeral. If you would like to make a contribution, please write it out to Ricky’s aunt, D. Logan, and send it to: D Logan,  765 Mesa View Drive,  Space 24,  Arroyo Grande, CA   93240.

One of the things Mary fought for was to help our country get a grip. None of us want predators preying on children – I mean, really, that’s pretty obvious — but as our fears for our children grow (inflamed by everything from Law & Order to Nancy Grace), politicians pander by creating “tougher and tougher” laws against sex offenders. Sometimes those laws end up going overboard, taking with them all common sense. For a prime example of where this can lead,  check out this article, about a California high school yearbook that was recalled because, according to CBS:

The background of a school dance photo shows a 17-year-old boy’s hand inside the clothing of a 15-year-old girl in a way that suggests sexual penetration.

“The photo was taken at a dance and the suspect and victim are not the focus of the photo. They are in the background and likely didn’t know they were in the photo,” said sheriff’s spokeswoman Cynthia Bachman.

In fact, even the high school yearbook advisor didn’t notice this naughty bit. Nonetheless, now students are being asked to bring the books back to school for a refund. And what happens to the kids who hang onto them? 


That’s why Mary Duval will be so missed. She fought the dumbing down of the terms “child abuse” and “child porn” to the point where normal, non-violent activities could qualify as crimes. She fought so that normal, non-violent folks like  teens who have sex with their girlfriends, or send sexts, or HOLD ONTO THEIR YEARBOOKS would not end up as official sex offenders.

Why is this a Free-Range issue? Because the more non-dangerous activities we start labeling as “dangerous to children,” the more society becomes convinced that our children are in constant peril. So the more ridiculous laws we pass, and the more we pull our kids inside, and the more we distrust our neighbors and everyone else. (For a lovely example, see my post on the church that will not allow married couples to teach Sunday School unless a third adult is in the room with them, lest the dad molest the students and the wife refuse to testify against him.)

It is so easy to inflate fear and so hard to bring it back down to the real world. This was Mary’s calling. I believe it is also mine.

R.I.P. Mary Duval. — L.

The Highlander Takes the Low Road

Hi Readers! I know these Toyota ads have been running for a while, but I still cannot believe that some ad agency thinks the best way to sell parents on a car is to tell them their kids despise everything they believe in and enjoy — possibly including THEM. And that the best way to show our love for our children is to chauffeur them in a TV-equipped bubble, where they can drown out anything that does not amuse them. And, of course, that driving (individual!!) kids to school is the natural order of things.

This is what I mean when I talk about the many ways pop culture molds us as parents. If we turn on the TV and it really looks like EVERYONE is driving their kids to school, that becomes the norm and, in turn, everyone starts driving their kids to school.

I know this is a car commercial, so it’s not going to say: For God’s sake, why don’t those able-bodied boys WALK to school? Or ride their BIKES? If they’re such good friends, obviously going the same direction, wouldn’t it make sense for them to amble off to school TOGETHER and talk on the WAY, instead of communicating through CAR WINDOWS? (Or if they live really far, even — hey — carpool?) When we don’t see any of those questions on TV, the only question becomes WHAT we drive, rather than WHY.

Yes, all of that is what this ad (infuriatingly cute nonetheless) got rumbling inside of me.

Meantime, the ad BELOW just reinforces the idea that cool kids get driven to and from school, losers take the bus. (Cool, RICH kids apparently also get the blonde chicks.)

I guess it’s a little much to expect a car company to embrace public transit, but still — let US at least remember that more kids are killed in car crashes than on school buses. So if you’re a parent who REALLY cares…which would you choose?

Hey Kids! School Needs Volunteers to Play Massacre Victims

Folks — Sometimes I’m just stunned by what our culture chooses to focus on. See below. And remember, as you read this, that one of the places children are very SAFEST is at school. — L
Dear Free-Range Kids: I live in NJ where the current governor has been slashing the education budget like the chainsaw massacre killer. So, what is my district spending money on these days?  That’s right, an active shooter drill. Because, you know, Columbines happen all the time.
This is a suburb that is chock full of supermoms and security nuts.  But the principal is asking for volunteers to act out this remote scenario and doesn’t appear to see the irony that  “rubber ammunition” will be used.  It’s the most bizarre email I’ve gotten this year and I thought the last one forbidding high school students from using Super Soakers to play Assassins was stupid.  So, let me get this straight: It is NOT okay for 16-year-olds to douse unsuspecting students with Super Soakers when they are off of school property because the water gun looks “too realistic” and the cops can’t tell the difference between it and a Glock. But it is PERFECTLY okay to ask for student volunteers to play the victims of a drill where rubber bullets and realistic sights and sounds of a mass murder in progress will be used.
I’m the one with the problem, right? I’ll bet some administrative assistant’s job was cut to help pay for this nonsense. – A Mystified Jersey Mom
Subject: Active Shooter Drill at High School on 6/24. Student volunteers requested. See website or email for details.
General – Email Only
Complete Message: On Friday, June 24, 2011, our high school will be conducting an Active Shooter Drill at the school in conjunction with the Police Department, the Office of Emergency Management, the Rescue Squad, and the district Community Emergency Response Team members. The purpose of this drill is to provide a simulated training activity to help emergency responders prepare for an actual emergency in any school setting..To make this a productive and authentic training activity, student volunteers are needed.The drill will run from approximately 8:30 AM to 12:30 PM. Because this will be a training exercise for the police, rubber ammunition will be used, and the sights and sounds will be very authentic and potentially upsetting. Student volunteers will not be utilized in any way that may cause injury and will mostly serve as students in a typical classroom setting under lockdown conditions or as students with simulated injuries to which the EMS and CERT members can respond.Current high school students, including graduating seniors, are welcome to attend. Students who are involved in this drill will earn certificates for four hours of community service. A permission slip is required for participation in this activity, and submission of the permission slip is how students will officially be signed up. Permission slips are available on the website and in the office, as well as in the email attached to this Instant Alert. Completed permission slips must be submitted by Friday, June 17, in the first floor office.Thank you for your willingness to help our schools and emergency responders train effectively to keep everyone safe.