Scaring Kids Out of Their Wits — Literally

Hi Readers! I got this note and, in addition to being appalled, I was angry. The 10 year old in the story is literally being scared out of his wits by his mom. By”wits” I mean his brain, his senses. His mom is teaching him never to employ those, but to automatically go straight to fear. There is no way for this kid to learn how to distinguish between “pretty safe” and “dangerous.” It’s ALL dangerous. Good ol’ Worst-First Thinking, for a new generation.  

At Free-Range Kids, we encourage kids to sharpen their wits, not snuff ’em out. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently, we had a 10 year old over to play with my sons, ages 7 and 9.  I realized, however, that I had an appointment to go to.  I told this boy he could either go home or accompany us to my appointment.  He said he wanted to stay with us.  With this in mind, I brought a laptop with a  movie to keep the three of them entertained for the 45 minutes I expected to be 5 feet away from them, inside an examination room just off of the waiting area. (This office is not busy and there is only one other practitioner, so I knew they would only possibly encounter one other human “stranger” in the time I was in my appointment.)

In the car, I explained to this 10 year old where I would be and  that they would watch a movie.  Unfortunately the preview threw this kid into a full-fledged panic.  He said, “Oh, no, I can’t do that.  Oh, no. No way.  I’m not supposed to be somewhere alone or I’ll be abducted.”

I asked, “Who is going to abduct you?”

“The people,” he said.

I compassionately explained that I would be five feet away, simply IN THE NEXT ROOM, just like I am when he plays at our house, and that he would not be alone.  If he needed me he could knock on the door or call out my name and I would come right out.

Unfortunately, my explanations made zero impression on this child.  Apparently, his mother had drilled into him a fear of stranger abduction so deep that he could not fathom sitting  in a room with two other kids only feet away from a trusted adult.  I instead drove him home to his mother who thanked me and said she would never let him sit in a waiting room “alone.”

This world she is afraid of is not a world I care to live in, so I don’t.  I choose to live in a different world.  One in which my kids can feel they are safe. — A Frustrated Free-Range Mother of Two

128 Responses

  1. Makes me glad I’m raising my kids in Manhattan where I don’t have to worry about this kind of stuff. We talked minimally to our children about the possibility of abduction, as it never occurred to us that something like that could happen here (my husband is much more cautious than I am and did bring it up a few times). The only time it was something of concern was when we went to DisneyWorld, where all kinds of creepy people lurk and we’ve heard about a neighbor whose friend’s child was abducted in a bathroom there and fortunately found.

    My son took the subway alone at age 10 after checking with my husband if it was okay and we were impressed that he handled it so well. Just like Izzy!

  2. While I agree it is tragic that this kid believes he will be abducted by “the people” if he’s left without adult company (hmm, as I write that sentence it makes me think of some old sci-fi cult classic; maybe his mom has more issues than we think) but I have trouble with this story.

    Now, my kid is three, and I might think differently when he’s ten, but I stumble over the idea that his playdates might move from a friend’s house to a “practitioner’s” office without letting me know. Even when I was ten, back in the seventies, I had under-my-own-steam boundaries set by my parents, and if I was going to either leave those boundaries or move by means other than my bike, they expected to be consulted. Same went for all my friends. Nobody thought it was unreasonable.

    And I really have to wonder whether the “practitioner’s” office staff think leaving three boys in the waiting room for almost an hour is such a wonderful idea, movie or no.

  3. There are indoctrination pamphlets for kids sold on Amazon with misleading titles like “My Body Belongs to Me” and “Your Body Belongs to You” etc., with high sales and rave reviews from parents who enjoy terrorizing kids.

    Many libraries and schools order multiple copies. There should be some direct confrontation of that insanity. Reality check! Go to Amazon and add your comments for some balance.

  4. At my kids’ most recent dental appointment, there were a couple of kids waiting for their mother, I’d guess around 3 for the younger, 6 for the older. Receptionist didn’t mind, and her youngest had a blast with mine. The mother was even glad when she came out that I’d been willing to tell the kids to quiet down when things were getting a bit rowdy. Near as I could tell, her kids had been quietly watching a movie on the TV in the reception area until mine came along, all the kids saw potential playmates.

  5. sexhysteria, I did go to Amazon and have a look – this book seems to be an awful lot like one I bought for my child and her preschool. It is about how we all have a right to decide how much physical touch we are comfortable with and that we can say no to anyone, even a parent or relative, if we don’t want to be hugged or kissed. It says that our bodies are our own and no one can touch them without our permission. What exactly is the problem with this?

  6. I can’t help but think what would happen if this child (or his parents) actually needed help. My family recently moved to England, and we just don’t know many people. I had knee surgery, though, and my husband couldn’t take time off for my entire recovery. He asked the school for any resources for getting my daughter to school in the morning, and they set us up with a nice family down the street. The two parents took turns showing up at our door step and walking my daughter to school each morning. If she had been afraid of strangers, this would have never worked! Instead, she enjoyed chatting with them each morning, I had the support I needed as I recovered, and as a result we have new friends in the neighborhood. Isn’t this the very fabric of life and community– reaching out to one another, helping, and trusting?

  7. Amen, Ariana. I remember, shortly after moving to Malaysia, leaving my three preschoolers in the care, briefly, of a Kiwi soldier whose wife I’d recently met. He was in a mall coffee shop, and it was either dump them with him – he was the only person in the place who spoke English, hence the only one I could explain myself to at the time – or drag three wee ones across an uncontrolled four-lane road. And uncontrolled in J.B. at the time meant pretty much people drove wherever and however they liked, at whatever speed they felt like (4 lanes becomes 6 lanes, 8 lanes – as many cars as you could physically fit on the road!). All to pick up a prescription. It didn’t occur to me until reading this post that they took all that sort of thing pretty well, and didn’t worry about him being a ‘stranger’ – probably the fact that they could understand him made him an instant friend!

    And he coped well too, LOL…..though he had just come off rotation in East Timor, I guess three little kids weren’t too much of a challenge!

  8. Disney World, “where all kinds of creepy people lurk”? You mean us Floridians? 🙂

    Seriously, DW is one of the safest places I know. Yes, bad things happen. Bad things happen everywhere. But what are the odds? At DW, the crime with the greatest certainty (100%) is that you will find your wallet pretty much emptied out before you can get in the gate. It’s a pricey place for “creepy people” to lurk on the off chance of finding a kid alone.

    The place I panicked when our three-year-old daughter disappeared was Key Largo, no doubt because I’d seen too many movies…. She was out the door and off exploring in the 30 seconds I gave my attention to a hotel clerk. We were certain she had been kidnapped.

    Three-year-olds are much more competent (and much faster) than people assume. By the time we caught up with her, she had happily explored the docks, the pool area, and the second floor of the hotel, at minimum.

    My point in telling the story is to mention the good “strangers” who sprang up to help us find her. She was discovered in the midst of her second-floor explorations (by a man — horrors!) and led back to us, still cheerful and completely unaware that she was “lost.” Should she have been happy to go with a stranger who was taking her “to Mommy?” Probably not. But at least the experience left her with no scars, and she happily explores the world to this day. (To come full circle on this topic, she credits her love of other countries to the many visits we made during her formative years to EPCOT’s World Showcase.)

    Were the people who helped us really “good”? Of course not. The hotel manager was doing his job. Other vacationers probably included not a few who were cheating on their spouses, some who conducted shady business deals, probably number of drug users if not dealers. Most were ordinary, garden-variety folks like all of us — which means pretty self-centered. But it doesn’t take a saint to do good things, and most of us will behave pretty well, at least when there is enough “light” (community) shining.

  9. And when indoctrinated kids grow up, they might well expand the scary people to be other demographic groups, other nations, and be afraid of anything and anyone who isn’t exactly like them. The implications are far-reaching.

  10. Great story, very sad. Good luck getting this kid to go away to college.

  11. I recently invited a casual friend to go shopping in the “big city” about a hour drive from our small town. I realized that unless I wanted my childrens entire Christmas to have been purchased at Tractor Supply, I was going to have to bite the bullet and battle the traffic, but saw it as an opportunity to spend time with someone who didn’t smell like a wet puppy, have sticky fingers and had no connection at all to the Army.

    She gladly accepted, but explained that we MUST be home in time to get her son off the bus. Her son is 14! When I said that it wouldn’t leave much time for shopping and wouldn’t he be fine for the hour and a half until her husband came home from work, she looked at me as if I were suggesting she abandon him in the heart of the Sahara without water.

    I explained that my 12 and 10 year old daughters would be getting off the bus and staying at home until we returned, and I could see disbelief spead across her face. She declined my invitation and voiced her “concern” at my lack of “motherly smoothering”. I expressed my regret and pointed out that in four short years, her teenage toddler would be required to register for the Selective Service and eligible to be drafted into the military. We both left having narrowly escaped becoming friends with “one of THOSE mothers.”

    It made me sad.

  12. Well the kid in the article has certainly been sufficiently terrified by his own parents. Just yesterday I was judged by a stranger for not scaring my child enough about stranger danger. I was carrying my 20 month old son out of a coffee shop and he decided to yell “bye bye!” to a large table of men. Many of them smiled and waved back. (Who can resist smiling and waving back to a cute, chubby baby?) But one guy said to another, and not so quietly I may add, “geez, guess she hasn’t gotten around to teaching her kid stranger danger.” Um, did I mention that I was physically holding my child at the time and that he’s practically still a baby???

    I literally NEED to stop by this site daily to be reminded that there are like-minded people out there and that the world has not, in fact, completely gone mad.

  13. This reminds me of a friend who apparently tells her kids about being taken. I was talking with her daughter, who was probably 8 or 9 at the time about, I think, going next door to a neighbor’s house and she said she couldn’t because someone might take her.
    Wow, really…putting that much fear in a child…wow. Especially a child that is never allowed to have a minute to do something out of sight of a ‘trusted’ adult. The probability of being abducted by a stranger is infinitesimal. Likelihood of being abducted by *someone you know* is exponentially higher. (same with stats about being molested).
    Same friend’s mom wouldn’t even let the son go to the bathroom by himself…he had to go with her to the ladies room – at **9**. My kids told me at about 5 or so that they wouldn’t come into the ladies room. It was really tough allowing my kid to go by himself – in the airport – but I just went with it. It’s kind of funny watching the men laughing as they come out because they saw my kid do something (like climb on the sink to wash his hands).

    Cub scouts have something similar to do with your kid to get the badge…’talk with your kid about molestation’ – we tried to convey to him that no one should touch him, etc, but didn’t want to go into details.

  14. My basic rule is that when I have a kid over if we are doing something that the other parent may take issue with either I call or the child does. In my case most of the children my kids play with are local and I know their parents well and with my teenagers I have known those children and their parents for about ten years, so its usually not an issue. I have run into a couple of issues with allowing the kids to go up the street to play football (they were 12 and with my brother and husband) and a couple of times over video games or movies (who knew Harry Potter was innapropriate for an 11 year old???) BUT i also remind the parents that their child is capable of letting me know if they are not allowed to watch or play something or go somewhere.

  15. Whenever I have a dr. appointment I either have my husband come home to watch the kids or I schedule when they are in school. IMO it is rude to the office staff to leave unmonitored kids in the waiting room and is against the rules in most offices.

    Abduction would be the least of my worries. Imposing on the office staff to have my kids in the waiting room without me to discipline them is not thoughtful and considerate.

  16. What I always think about with these terrified kids is this: in the extremely unlikely event that they actually did get abducted, or lost, they would have absolutely no skills to get them out of the situation. They would probably not consider asking a passing adult for help, walking down the street by themselves to get away, hopping on a bus to get home, going into a public place like a library or even an office building to ask for help, etc., etc. By terrifying kids, parents are actually creating the kinds of kids that are most likely to be targeted by the bad guys.

  17. I think I would have said, “Oh….don’t you know about ‘the OTHER people?’…the ones who are helpful and kind?’ ”

    I thought of this site this weekend. While at my mom’s in MA, my son and his cousin (age 7) were riding their scooters around the block. When my son came in he said, “Mom, I did what you said. I fell down and a lady stopped her car and asked me if I was okay and if I needed a ride….so I told her I was okay and my grandma’s house was down the block…I didn’t get in the car…even though she seemed nice…and I said thank you”…I told him that was exactly right, but I did say, “What if you were hurt and really couldn’t get home?”…he said, “I would have asked her to go get you”….Phew!

    (he also said his cousin was coming behind him and could have gotten help too)

  18. Wow, my daughter is 9, and I can’t imagine her being afraid to wait in the waiting room without me! How sad that people teach their kids to fear the world we live in. I probably would have left her home, but she’s also happily waited for me while I’m in an appointment, and in fact occasionally has gone elsewhere (in the hospital) while I was seeing a doctor on a different floor.

  19. I can’t believe this woman took a kid in her car to go somewhere without calling the parent. I would be furious if another parent did that!

  20. This is so sad on so many levels. Most importantly, this child will grow up to be another college student, who must speak to his parents everday, about every assignment, every event ..just everything, because he will fear making any decisions on his own.

    I’m a laid back mom of a curious 8 year old son. It took me a long time to meet a mom like me. Thankfully, we crossed paths when our boys were in kindergarten together. She, mom of 3 curious boys, said almost right away, ” I appreciate your parenting style.” I knew at that point I had a friend for life and my kiddo had friends that he would enjoy years of adventure with.

    Our kids have slight boundaries, but they have the wit to use the freedom we give them, wisely. They are curteous, bright, social, and yes rambunctious. But I have no doubt in my mind they we are preparing them to be independent and successful young men.
    Surely we get some stares when folks see our 4 boys running, skiing, biking, playing energetically, all without the copter patrol. But when the day is done, we almost always are complimented by “grandparents”, who smile and say how happy it made them to see children enjoying life!
    Safe, smart, happy boys, who can make decisions on their own. If only more of us let our kids live without the constant fear of life!

  21. I think my issue would be a parent taking my child somewhere with out letting me know.

    This poor kid 😦 I can’t imagine living life in fear.

    While i have taught my kids stranger danger (they are 11 & 15 now) we don’t drill fear into them. Yes my 11 yo should know what to do if a stranger pulls up while he’s riding his bike around the neighborhood (*gasp* unsupervised)…..but we also have told him that it is very unlikely. So I think touching base with our kids on the “stranger danger” thing is fine….but they shouldn’t live in fear.

    I actually had a neighbor tell me last year (my son was 10) that I was wrong for not only letting my son ride his bike alone thru the neighborhood (it’s suburbia….the neighborhood is a oval shape – 1/2 mile around)….but also for letting him play outside alone. She was shocked that I didn’t go outside with him. He’s 10 not 2!

    I don’t get it…..there isn’t a bad person lurking on every corner. Use your head, educate (with out fear) your kids….and let them go have fun 🙂

  22. “I can’t believe this woman took a kid in her car to go somewhere without calling the parent. I would be furious if another parent did that!”

    Um, why? If you trust the mom enough to have charge of your kid for X amount of time, what is the particular big deal about getting in a car and going somewhere, as long as the kid is back to you by the agreed upon time?

    I am not really thrilled with the idea of hauling a kid off to the doctor’s office because I had mismanaged the playdate to conflict with an appointment, but if the mom was not available to pick the kid up or be home to have the kid dropped off, and the appointment needed to be kept, it’s not a disaster. I do agree Mom should have been called, though, in a situation like that. Appointments run over, and so forth.

    But on principle, *just* the idea of getting in a car and going somewhere being terrible? I don’t see it.

  23. wow some real freak commenters here today. DW unsafe? I bet 100% that the “abducted in bathroom child” just made the story up to cover up their inability to meet the parents. A local child recently did the same, becuase the parents had drilled the sex predator story into them. The child “knew” the parents were expecting it, so fulfiled this for them, by making up a story he had been abducted after school, but turns out he “just made it up” (or actualy retold the story he had been told a million times by the school and parents.
    also what exactly is misleading about “my body belongs to me?”. this is a fundamental tenant of our laws and society.

  24. The only way I’d have been upset about it is I had something scheduled for which I would have needed to pick up my kid while they weren’t at their house. The bigger problem would have been keeping my boys from getting bored and “finding something to do” while waiting for the mom in her appointment.

    Now, that’s scary.

  25. We have play dates all the time where we leave the house and do things. There isn’t necessarily a fixed itinerary! Like just the other day we all rode our bikes to the Pizza parlor and then we went to the park to swing. I didn’t call the parents to ensure this was ok with them. My kids are 10 and 7 and the friend was 11. I don’t think I need to treat the kid like he’s five and call Mommy to see if it’s alright to do things like ride a bike and go to the park. Now if I were going to take them to the museum in the city and this would mean we were going beyond the time frame of the play date I would call to see if this would work for the parent. It seems apparent that this mother feels comfortable taking her kids to that office and said she was five feet away and available to the kids. She said she could hear them and they could easily knock or call out her name. It is not described as a set up where she is down the hall and unavailable to the kids. She also said it was not a busy office with the possibility of only one person entering. What is the difference between the kids watching a movie at home while she is in another room and them watching a movie while she is in another room at this office? I am sure the frightened parent would say …. he could get abducted.

  26. Good lord! What will the woman do if her child requires a hospital stay. I probably drove my parents nuts with my willfull desire to introduce myself to strangers so we would no longer be strangers. At the age of three no less!

    My daughter, with me being overprotective due to our surrounding neighborhood, did not walk to school by herself at all. Not without my eye on her going down the block with five or more other kids in upper elementary grades.

    This parent likely survived a previous trauma that was not dealt with in a healthy way. Her fears projected onto her child are perhaps how she survives. Wrong as it may be, it will take a lot of trust and patience to help this family. I see rebellion around the corner.

  27. Here is the thing, more kids are harmed by people they know than by strangers. As a kid, I was sexually abused by someone I knew in the neighborhood. As an adult I was date raped. So what do you suppose I teach my kid? That if anyone touches him inappropriately he should tell me – even if it is someone he knows and he/she tells him to keep it a secret. I am teaching him to not simply trust anyone enough to ride off in a car with them or something. But stranger danger is blown out of proportion. In the support groups I have taken part in, I have never met someone hurt by a stranger. Every survivor I have spoken with in the last 20 years was hurt by someone she/he knew.

  28. “I asked, Who is going to abduct you?”
    “The people,” he said.”

    Phew. He could have said “the dingoes” or “the green men from Mars” and would probably be referred to a psychiatrist. But people that you encounter every day, that is somehow an “rational” fear. Huh.

  29. My stepkids mom taught them to never answer the door because someone might take them. Yes, child abductions usually start with the abductor ringing the doorbell. Fortunately we have encouraged them to play outside and get to know all the kids in the neighborhood and now if the doorbell rings it is likely a kid asking one of them to come outside and play.

  30. I have never been one to instill fear of abduction in my child, who is 9, yet, just this weekend while we were at a festival, I asked my son to go watch a demonstration while I went into the bathroom – not an unusual occurrence. He got upset and said “what if someone takes me?” I was sort of shocked – where does he get this, at school? I told him that was highly unlikely and that that kind of thing just does not happen on a regular basis. He still wouldn’t go to the demo, but I was able to go to the bathroom!

    He can be prone to anxiety, which is really what I think was at work. He gets randomly scared of other unlikely things. Still…it was freaky!

  31. A friend’s kid was once had some offhand comment about “stranger danger”. So I asked “did I ever tell you about when your dad and your mom were strangers…” I told the story of how they met and that if people never talked to strangers he wouldn’t be here. I think that helped put it in perspective.

  32. My god, that poor kid!

    Though I agree that it’s a little weird to just up and take somebody else’s kid to the doctor with you. Not dangerous, just… odd.

  33. You know, I hate that it stores names from one time or another. That was me.

  34. When I was 10 years old, I would have been allowed to stay home by myself while my mother went to the doctor. I was 10 in 1986. It was a lot less safe then.

    By the time I was 11, I would have been allowed to stay home and look after the two younger kids, who were really not that much younger and would be able to mostly look after themselves.

  35. In my opinion, an average 10 year old ought to be able to be home alone for short periods of time, ride his bike around the neighborhood, get dropped off at the library to do research for an hour or so. If a ten year old can’t sit in a waiting room at the Dr.’s without a parent or babysitter it means he has a disability. If he doesn’t have one, this is a form of neglect. Not teaching your children independence is a terrible thing to do to them.

  36. My son was diagnosed with ADHD when he was 3. I remember the doctor watching the tiny speeding bullet as he walked into the exam room, and saying, “hmmm, yes, he is a ‘little’ hyper.”

    I told you that, to explain why, when we went grocery shopping he HAD to be seated in the cart (and even then he had arms like Stretch Armstrong and many items had to be weeded from the cart before check-out).

    I remember telling him in desperation during an especially energy sucking shopping trip (for me), that I couldn’t let him run around the store because someone “might” take him, and what would Mommy do without him. He smiled engagingly and said, “Oh mommy, don’t worry, they would get tired of chasing me and bring me right back to you!”

    He was right, nobody ever took him during his childhood and in his eyes if you spoke in passing or smiled, you were no longer a stranger. He, like my two daughters had a childhood filled with adventures, learning and friends.

  37. Weird story. I don’t doubt that it’s true, but as a kid my (pretty free-range) mom wouldn’t have just let me up and go to a friend’s mom’s doctor appointment. It would have been weird to even suggest it.

    If I had been over at a friend’s house and such a thing were suggested, I’d have had to call and get permission to get in the car in the first place. Mom probably would have said, “Uh, no, get a life. Go play somewhere else if they are going to the doctor.” lol

    So… I guess the rules have changed there, surprisingly to the more liberal side!

    Anyway, yeah, kid shouldn’t have a problem sitting in the waiting room while you get your teeth cleaned or whatever. My five year old can do that. Sheesh.

  38. My rheumatologist doesn’t want my son in the examining room, so he sits with a DVD player in the waiting area (within my earshot, and under full view of the 2 receptionists) during my appointments. When they first suggested this, I was a little nervous – I’m freerange, but he was only 3 at the time. Now he is 4, and every time is so proud that he got to be big and wait by himself, and the receptionists always comment on how well-behaved he is. Even better, at my last appointment, I came out to find that he’d turned off his video and was regaling an elderly gentleman with facts about his latest obsession, space. Apparently he has taken it to heart that while he should stay away from grownups who approach him he is free to approach grownups – they were talking for over 30 minutes. 🙂 I am so glad that he is growing up as a friendly, outgoing person instead of someone who is scared of every stranger.

  39. I am really surprised by the comments here that parents should check with their kids’ friends parents if they want to take them somewhere. Overprotective much? When I was a kid (in the ’80s, in the ‘burbs) time spent at friends’ houses could and did include random trips to random places, and never once did those parents call to “check” with my parents if they were “allowed” to take me somewhere.

  40. I left my 3yo alone in a waiting room for 45 minutes weekly last year, while I watched my other kid’s therapy sessions. She was right next to the unlocked door and in front of the window where “all the child predators” could see her. She was not afraid, nor was I. She could have made a noise or come to get me if there was a problem. She was thrilled to have the rare opportunity to watch DVDs.

    I think that 10yo’s mom needs her head examined.

  41. So this story brings up the same question I emailed to Lenore yesterday. Has anyone established local free-range parent groups so we can all avoid this type of encounter? My husband and I are working on having our first child and I would love to know about free-range parent groups when the time comes. A network of free-range parents would be a great addition to this website. 😉 Or, something that can be started via social networking… something I should work on? …

  42. My older 3 kids are now 11, 10 and 9. They just stay home when we run errands now. There’s no need to drag all the kids out to get groceries. Sometimes they aren’t even home when we leave. We either leave a note inside the house so they know when we’ll be back (and once they see the note they know they are no longer allowed to leave the property until we are back) or, occasionally, we drive to where they said they were and give them the message in person. We’ve only done that once or twice because we weren’t sure they wanted to come with us or not (we were also going out to eat). They chose to stay where they were and we told them that if they went home they had to stay there and no friends in the house.

    Occasionally they also keep their 5yo sister with them. We tend to not do it often because the 5yo fights with the 11yo constantly. They get at each others’ throats and it gets ugly. I’ve seen it turn physically violent between them over nothing. I just prefer not to leave them to antagonize each other. But I’ll do it if bringing the 5yo with us will be more headaches… or we’re shopping for Christmas presents. We’ve even left the 1yo with them occasionally (for much shorter trips). They do pretty well with him.

    In 2010 I was pregnant with the youngest and had an appointment towards the end of the pregnancy. We were living with my dad who was about at the end of his rope with the kids antics and needed a break (never mind I hadn’t had a break from them in 3 months because my husband had moved for his job at the start of my 3rd trimester…taking our only vehicle with him).

    My dad had finally gotten his car working enough to drive so I took the younger 3 kids with me, then 8 1/2, 7 1/2 and 4. I figured we’d go to lunch after and at least I didn’t have to take the bus for once (oy…it was like 100F out that day and my dad’s car had no AC but it beat walking 1/2 mile to the bus stop and standing in the heat for 30 minutes waiting for the bus).

    Then I find out I needed a pelvic exam. Yeah, I doubt my 8yo son wanted to see that (the 4yo had been in the room for a previous one). So I made them sit in the waiting room.

    I wasn’t at all worried about someone grabbing them. I was only worried that they wouldn’t behave. I shook my finger at them and told them they could play with the little toy thing but otherwise to stay seated and quiet and if I heard from any of the people in the waiting room (which was actually the hallway of a much larger medical building) that they had been annoying or loud they would be in so much trouble their heads would spin.

    They behaved perfectly. The older people in the room just smiled at me when I went back for my exam. No one cared that I left 3 small kids sitting in the hall.

    That reminded me of an incidence not long after we moved here. We had to stop at a shopping center for some things. My husband ran to the pharmacy to fill a prescription and we needed milk so I ran into the small grocery store. We left all 5 kids (10, 8 1/2, 7 1/2, 4 and 2 months) in the car parked in front of the grocery store. When we got out the 10yo asked if they were going in. We said, no they could wait in the car and she started to freak out…”what if someone takes us?”

    I just laughed. “Who in their right mind would steal a truck full of little kids?”

    She thought about it for a second then started laughing and said I was right, they’d be nuts to do that. I knew they could handle sitting there for 10 minutes (with the windows open…GASP). It’s a small town and kids stay in cars all the time here. Even saw one, about 9, sitting in his van in the wal-mart parking lot. With his tiny little dog to protect him. It’s normal here, no one batted an eye at the kids.

  43. Funny thing, when I was 10 I not only waited alone in a waiting room; I went alone to the optometrist and back (on public transportation!).

    The thing about driving someone else’s kid somewhere – that would probably depend on my history with the other parent and surrounding circumstances. Since this kid’s mom didn’t freak about that (apparently), they must have had that kind of arrangement. I could see getting irritated if I went by to pick up my kid early and she wasn’t there, and I didn’t have time to fool around tracking her down. Or if someone lied to me about what they were going to be doing with my kid. Yeah, THAT would tick me off. Like the time when my SIL took my 13yo sister (along with my stepnieces) to Planned Parenthood for “the talk” without my mom’s knowledge. But I don’t think this incident rises to that level.

  44. Yes, this sort of ‘stranger danger’ brainwashing is ridiculous, But, what also bothers me here is that it appears this mom took the child somewhere without letting his mom know. Hopefully she did call the other mom, but it doesn’t read that way. If my kid was at someone’s house playing I would be a little upset that they went somewhere like this without letting me know.

  45. @Marian: I don’t think it’s overprotectiveness so much as a different way of thinking about it. My understanding of modern “Playdates” is that basically one parent sort of gives over responsibility to the other for the duration of the “playdate,” so where-ever and whatever the Host Parent does, the Guest Kid goes along. The family goes to the mall? Out to lunch? Hey presto, that’s part of the playdate.

    Which would explain why Overprotective Mom didn’t freak out that the kid went to the doctor’s office, just that he was left “alone” in the waiting room.

    When I was a kid it wasn’t thought of that way. The “playdate” didn’t even exist as a concept. The kid had latitude to come and go within certain neighborhood boundaries, but not to travel outside those bounds, or go on someone else’s family outings, w/o explicit permission.

    My mom wouldn’t have been afraid of me being left in a doctor’s office “alone” but she’d have wanted to know what in tarnation the Other Mom was thinking by bringing me there in the first place. (and she’d have had something to say to me about it, too. lol)

  46. As an antidote to “Stranger Danger,” I showed my kids, ages, 5, 7, 9 and 10 “To Kill a Mockingbird” the other day. Never, I think, could there be a more poetic lesson about taking on other people’s fears as your own, or where the real “danger” lies: in your own family, usually. Who beat up (and probably raped) MayElla? Her own father.

    Seeing Scout, Jem and their friends pushing the boundaries of what they were “allowed” to do, sometimes learning invaluable lessons, sometimes scaring themselves silly, sometimes saving an adult’s life… well, talk about empowerment. Learning to be both objective and compassionate is hopefully what we want for our kids. How can they achieve that if they are bombarded with insistent messages about judging others so harshly?

  47. Oh, and the big climax scene, where the children are attacked in the woods (by someone they knew to be somewhat dangerous)? Who saved them? Another person known to them who they had previously assumed was “dangerous.”

    Life is for living. We can’t control for everything. Shielding children from taking on incremental responsibility, and learning from that, is, in my estimation, far more important than sports teams, enrichment programs, and even school, to some extent.

    For example, I think walking or biking to school alone or with a sibling or friends yields as much important learning as anything that happens in the school day, and promotes health as well. Don’t stunt your kids’ growth just because you are so afraid to “lose” them. It’s just not fair.

    Today my kids asked what “child abuse” was. I explained that it is any behaviour from an adult that endangers the child’s physical or emotional well-being. I think overprotection and scare-tactics are exactly that: abusive.

  48. Wait; the crew involved is going to another (admittedly more “strange” or “foreign”) place, where there’ll be yet another person on site to address any potential problem or disaster? And the suspicious child, in essence, will still have the same people, presumably those he already trusts, in equal or closer proximity? Oh, well …

    And I see objections that the “first” mother should have let the “second” mother know of the change in plans, which may be valid, depending on the intensity/familiarity of the relationship. (Perhaps, however, the objections voiced by our terror-stricken child negated this move before it was even viable; like the readers objecting to this aspect, it’s hard for me to tell.) But that, in itself, is presupposing the “first” mother is, herself a risk factor. Down the paranoia road we go, folks …

  49. The idea of ‘stranger danger’ was always idiotic to me, considering the reality of molestations and abductions. I would always comment that my 5 year old daughter was in much more danger coming from relatives and close friends than from any random stranger. And few days ago to my shock I was proven right when my husband’s brother got arrested for child’s pornography distribution! Few months ago she spend whole day in his care. So much for ‘stranger’…

  50. […] Lenore Skenazy: Scaring Kids Out of Their Wits — Literally […]

  51. Very well put Mollie! I completely agree. Childhood was meant to be a wonderful period of learning and discovery full of enjoyment and self-empowerment. The biggest problem is so many parents are filled with so much paranoia that they literally clip their own children’s wings and teach them to fail in all aspects of life, especially survival, and the cycle continues.

  52. @Molly: Forget college, he still has to make it through high school. Kids can be unforgiving at times, but teens…they are ruthless. His mother isn’t doing him any favors. In fact, she’s signing his own demise if he keeps that mentality. Sad, all for the sake of his mom feeling better about herself and her decisions for him.

  53. @Eric S, perhaps his mom will get the drift when he is still staying at home, afraid to do anything on his own when he is 40.

  54. All I can say about this article, is that every single one of our closest and dearest friends, the ones that we trust the most, were “strangers” at one point. These “stranger danger” people have double standards, and are hypocrites.

  55. @Lila: or worse, she’s one of those moms that don’t mind that. She prefers to control every aspect of his life till she passes.

  56. I’m sorry this kid is so scared; but I, too, remember from my free-range childhood that ‘going to a friend’s to hang out’ at that age had the assumption that if you were going to go someplace else– especially outside the neighborhood–, you called home and checked in. That way, if something came up and the ‘rents needed you home for something, they knew where you were.

    I wouldn’t leave a kid in a waiting room unless the receptionist said it was ok ahead of time. I’d rather leave a 9 and 10 year old in the car with books or the DVD player; that way if they got loud or silly, they wouldn’t upset other people.

  57. @Eric or an even scarier scenario, She passes and he is left to deal with everything on his own, totally unprepared for any kind of life. It makes me shudder to even think about where our world is headed for kids like that.

  58. A few important points seem to be missed here. It says she asked the boy if he wanted to come along or go home instead. The boy said he wanted to stay with them. Once this mother realized she had forgotten about this appointment she offered the boy two choices. It”s not as if she was dragging him to an appointment against his will.

    It also says the mother ultimately drove the boy home and did not bring him to her appointment with her two kids. He wasn’t left in the doctor’s waiting room because of his extreem fear of being abducted even though she explained that it was a safe place and she was just feet away and there wouldn’t be strangers wandering in and out. The point of this free range mother’s story is the child’s overwhelming fear of being abducted despite her reasonable explanations as to why he did not need to worry that he would be snatched. Why is a 10 year old so afraid of being abducted? That is the point of this story!!!

    How would any of us know the details of the playdate arrangement? Obviously she felt ok taking the kid along in the car and it does not mention that the other mother objected to that. When my kids are with their friends, I trust the parents to make decisions. I don’t receive calls asking if it’s alright to go to x, y or z place. If my kid is with another family, I have handed them over and believe they will be safe.

  59. I am not sure that I would want my kids hanging out at the doctor office, and I might be peeved that was where my child was – but not because of stranger danger.

    I would have been a little peeved that the mom hadn’t told me where she was (yes, in case of emergency) but I would also have offered in a heart beat to have both kids come stay with me while the mom went to the doctor. Why did she (over protective mom) not offer to take them when the mom said what was going on? It isn’t like they are 3 – they can hang out pretty well at home without a lot of supervision.

  60. “his mother who thanked me and said she would never let him sit in a waiting room “alone.””

    And yet she was happy enough with him being driven around. How many kids were killed in car-crashes last year?

  61. @Lindsey: Seconded! That would be wonderful.

  62. One of my favorite movies is Strictly Ballroom because of a particularly apt quote for today’s story.

    “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Poor kid, may he eventually learn to live life to its fullest without his mom holding him back.

  63. “But that, in itself, is presupposing the “first” mother is, herself a risk factor.”

    Can’t speak for others, I just think of it as a courtesy when there’s a change in plans that may result in a less-predictable endpoint to the arranged visit. Even beyond the unpredictability thing, I don’t think there need be a fear-based reason; it just seems courteous, if there’s a previous understanding about where the children will be and what they’re doing, to let the other parent know that there’s a change in plans. Letting someone know about something is not always a matter of fearing that something terrible could happen.

    If there was no previous understanding that the children would remain at the original home, that’s less of an issue. But if there is, informing the other parent of the change needn’t entail any concern whatsoever over a problem coming up.

  64. Big deal, she brought him along on a doctor’s appointment. It’s called LIFE. Stuff happens. Come along and keep us company. This concept of playdate as sheer entertainment is such a load of bull….

  65. And I assume doctor’s appointment although she never specifically said that. She could’ve been getting a bikini wax for all I know…..:-)

  66. Nonetheless, Selby, if I was under the (reasonably well-founded) impression that my child was going to be in location X from 2-4 p.m. I would appreciate being *notified* (not asked for permission) that my child was going to be elsewhere from 3-4, or possibly 3-4:30, if the other family got hung up.) I would not flip out over the admission, but I would *appreciate* the person doing so. It’s not that it’s a big deal, it’s more like….why does something have to be a big deal for someone to trouble themselves to do the other person a courtesy of informing them?

    If I was dropping the kid off with absolutely no expectation, or only a very loose expectation, about where she would be during that time period, then of course I wouldn’t expect to be informed of her every movement. But informing other concerned people of changes in previously arranged plans is just the right thing to do *even if you believe no horrible consequences will result from not doing so.*

    I’m not even saying the mom here did the wrong thing — sounds like everything was fine until the kid flipped out. I just don’t know why letting people know about something has to be equated with fear and paranoia over the possible consequences.

  67. Sorry, I meant to say I could not flip out over the OMISSION (that is, the omission of informing me of a minor change in plans).

  68. @Lila: That would be worse.

    @Carla: That is the main point. It’s not about where the kids were being taken, or what they will be doing when they got there (ie. sitting in the waiting room…well…waiting). It’s the fact that this boy, has been instilled with paranoia, and fear of being abducted by “the people”. And I’m sure he has no idea what that’s all about. Just that his mother/parents have gotten it in his head that he should NEVER be left alone, because he WILL get abducted by “the people”, which is really meant as “strangers”. No matter how you justify it, that’s just a terrible thing to do to a child, especially at such an impressionable age. Who know’s how long he’s been conditioned to think like that. That’s like brainwashing. Like parents teaching their children to be racists, bigots, or self-centred and spoiled, who in turn end up teaching their own kids the same attitude and beliefs. It becomes an endless cycle of negativity.

  69. I agree pentamom. Nothing wrong with a heads up to the other parent. I guess I was more accustomed to where ever I was, or where ever my friends were, the parents looking after us would become just like our own. And all the parents knew this and had the understanding. So my folks wouldn’t get play by plays of change in plans. They’d here about it afterwards. And if we were less than respectful, they’d here that too. There was a trust between families and communities back then. There were even times when we got disciplined (rightfully so) by other parents. Then our parents would find out, and we’d get disciplined by them. No one got the beats, but we knew quickly how to behave appropriately. In return, we got to do pretty much as we pleased, within reason of course. But we were allowed to ride our bikes all over the city (as far as we can go without getting lost or tired). We played in ravines, and creeks. We climbed trees, jungle gym sets, walked to places on our own. We even made our own breakfast and lunches sometimes, while the adults were either at work or doing something else. They were there pretty much just so that in case we needed something, they’d be there to give a hand. Those were the days. And I truly feel sorry for a lot of kids these days, that are missing out on that kind of independence and freedom. We learned to explore the world around us, and find ourselves and our place in it. Not everything was structured for us, and told we should be this way, or we should think this way and that way, or fear the people and things around us. We were taught about things, consequences, and how to deal with various situations should we ever come across it. We were taught to use common sense. Or as my pops used to say “use your coconut shell”, as he pointed at our heads. Then they gave us some pocket money and sent us on our way. This starting when I was 9 years old, oldest of us was 13 years, and as young as 7. We all knew to watch out for each other. As far as I can remember, none of us were ever fearful of the world. Nervous at times yes, but that’s a given with the unknown. But we never feared to face the unknown, gain the experience, and eventually the nervousness subsided. Just another thing we over came, and became more empowered and confident.

  70. @Eric ~ You’re right, it is a kind of brainwashing. And as Lenore said in her intro, it’s not allowing this boy to THINK and assess and know the difference between a dangerous situation and a safe situation. How will he ever learn this? I wonder if a child like this grows up feeling unsafe even as an adult.

  71. They do Carla. I had a male roommate who was so consumed by fear that he was barely able to function as an adult. He did live on his own, but while I was living with him in our mid twenties he would get worried if I didn’t come home at night (I had a stable boyfriend (future husband) who I would stay with 2-3 nights a week), and he doubled his commute each day by refusing to walk 5 minutes to the transit route that was much faster because “he didn’t feel comfortable” walking down a residential street in an upscale area of Toronto. When we talked about our childhood’s he indicated that his mother was a single mother who was extremely overprotective and that he wasn’t allowed to play sports, play outside, etc. as a child.

  72. @Eric, that is the type of childhood I remember and I know that my children also had fond memories of theirs. We lived on the West Coast when my oldest was four, she and the neighbor children spent hours playing and tumbling down the huge sand dune at the end of our street. It was so tall that none of the children could make it to the top, (let alone some of the parents), but they all spent most of the day playing there. In the two years that we lived there, no one ever lost a child. There was huge sand sifting piece of heavy equipment that came in frequently however, and sifted out all of the lost shoes, toys etc. and that was a real highlight for the kids. I am prone to believe that they (the kids) frequently buried things there just so they could watch them be found. I believe the oldest child in the group was 5.

  73. I agree that I think it’s odd that so many are concerned that the mom didn’t seek the permission of the other parent to take the boy to the doctor with her. Really?

    If I just dropped in on a friend while riding the neighborhood, my mother would probably expect a call if I went somewhere with them. But at that point, my mother would truly have no idea where I was or who I was with. I used to just take off on my bike with the only requirement being that I come home before the streetlights come on. Me deciding to get into a car with a friend’s family and drive somewhere outside the neighborhood would be a wee bit outside the range of what my mother was expecting, even if I were home before the street lights came on.

    However, if I went to someone’s house for a set period of time or the afternoon or overnight, it was understood that I did whatever that family did. Nobody called to check with my parents to see if it was okay to go places. The idea being that if my mother trusts you with me for a few hours at your house, she can probably trust me with you for a few hours someplace else as well. And while the term “playdate” didn’t exist, I was friends with kids from outside of my neighborhood and was frequently dropped off at houses for what we would now call a “playdate.”

    If my child goes on a playdate, I couldn’t care less what they do. Prior to dropping my kid off, I would have at least made a reasonable assessment as to the trustworthiness of the parents not to engage in life-threatening activities such as playing chicken with trains so the actual activities are irrelevant. If we made a playdate for 2-4, I’d want to know if my child was not going to be available at 4 so that I didn’t drive over to pick her up until later, but I don’t need to be involved in any discussions about what occurs between 2 and 4. Odds are, if my child is at a playdate at another house, I’m ecstatic to have 2 hours to myself and don’t want to be brought into the event unless it’s life-threatening.

    As far as getting in contact should there be an emergency, do you all really know that many people without cell phones such that this is even a worry?

  74. Mollie, you’re braver than I am, letting your 5yo watch To Kill a Mockingbird. The scene with the accused describing his version of the incident is the reason my 4/5yo kids haven’t seen it yet. My 4yo is very aware and intense when it comes to movies and such. They have seen some heavy stuff, though. I agree that it’s important for young kids to be exposed to important and difficult issues, and movies are a great way to do this (especially if you are at home, where you can talk as much as you want).

  75. Eric, I agree with you. The reality is, though, and OBVIOUSLY was in this situation, that most parents nowadays have higher expectations of knowing where their kids are, at least in broad terms. So unless you have the kind of relationship with the other parents where you know it’s 100% cool and not even to be thought twice about if you pick up their kids and haul them somewhere unanticipated, it seems to be appropriate to let them know. At the very least, doing so doesn’t imply that you have to let them know because you think that they think you’re acting like a predator if you don’t. It just means you’re sensitive to the fact that people like to be informed about such stuff.

  76. When I was 13 I got sick while visiting my grandparents. My dad dropped me off at a doctor’s office in town, by myself, for 2 hours, while he ran errands. (He did check me in at the front desk.) While he was gone the doctor gave me a shot that made me faint and they had to wait 15-20 minutes till my dad returned to tell him about it. I was fine, my dad was fine, and the doctor’s office was fine. Nowadays someone would probably call Child Services.

  77. This is mostly off-topic, but here goes. My kids’ daycare keeps providing “opportunities” to have our kids fingerprinted and an electronic ID made, as this is supposed to somehow protect them from being abducted. This has been “offered” (via some outside company/agency) for free several times per year. I always throw the flyer in the garbage. The day before, the kids come home with stickers on their clothes reminding parents that tomorrow is the big day! I rip the sticker off and throw it in the garbage.

    What is the motivation of whoever is doing this? Seriously? Out of the billions of children (aka pedophile-bait) in the world, how many have been saved as a result of their fingerprints being in a database? How many have even been identified after death based on fingerprints alone? And do they really think working parents are unlikely to have a decent photo of their little darling’s face (especially considering that the daycare also takes unauthorized professional photos of our kids a few times a year)?

    What is the motivation and why do they keep coming back? Why do I feel like they are shoving this down my throat?

    I told my daughter last night that they are not doing that. My 5yo said, “teacher says we have to.” Oh hell no! I told the administrator that they were NOT to be fingerpinted. She assured me that as long as I have not signed the permission slip, it won’t happen. She’d better be right.

  78. The motivation is control, if it was for the protection and in the best interest of the children, they would allow the PARENTS to actually raise their own children.

  79. There’s a mom who needs to read your book. And blog. And then get out of her fear-bubble!

  80. As a former receptionist, please don’t leave kids under say 13 unattended in waiting rooms. Especially if there are more than one of them.

  81. @Selby and @Donna (among a others) thank you for your sane and rational posts. 😉 When I was a kid, if you went to a friend’s house for the afternoon (we didn’t call them playdates, that term just grinds my nerves like fingernails on a chalkboard) you did whatever the family did. I remember going to the supermarket, droppping off other siblings at various places, playing in the neighborhood, and going to a HS football game among other things, on the many afternoons with my childhood best friend – who didn’t live within walking distance. And emergencies? Who doesn’t have a cellphone?

    And for those of you not willing to leave your kids in a waiting room…when, pray tell, are they going to learn how to wait? If your children are such hellions that they will drive the receptionist mad while you get your teeth cleaned, then someone isn’t doing their job – guess who that is? Sometimes we have to wait – even kids. Teach them how.

    And DVDs? Really? Here’s a suggestion – how about a book or a magazine?

  82. Ann – why? And why 13?

    Frankly, I know a lot of adults that behave far worse in waiting rooms than most of the children I’ve come in contact with there.

  83. Ann, sorry, but my boys are modest enough to not want their sister in the room with them when they get their physical. She will wait again this year, just like she did last year, in the waiting room, reading a book. She will just be taking up a chair, and probably won’t even talk to anyone unless they talk to her. She was 10 last year (almost 11)

    Now the boys, that is another story. They can’t sit still, and they get into everything. I understand that. Which is why I have Dad come home early from work to watch them while I take sister in for late afternoon, as she is modest too. But, there have been a couple of times, for emergency sick visits that they had to sit and wait in the hall while one was getting examined. We home school, and we do not have family near and friends don’t expose sick friends to each other. I realize that people have jobs to do and it doesn’t mean babysitting my kids. So I do try to avoid it, but sometimes, life happens.

  84. And where did the idea that it is somehow the MOM’s job to seek the permission of the other parent come from? When I was a kid, if permission was needed, I had to get the permission or go home. The other parent wasn’t going to call my mother and ask if it was okay for her to take me x,y or z. I had to call home and ask if it was okay for me to go x, y or z.

  85. Donna, maybe it is the bad experiences that necessitate this. Like when my daughter was 5 and the grandmother of the neighbor child wanted to take them for ice cream for “30 minutes or so.” 3 hours later, I needed to go someplace and my daughter wasn’t home, and the mom of the other girl couldn’t get the grandma to answer her cell phone. But even then, I just wouldn’t let grandma take my child out again – I didn’t know at that point about her drinking problems, just that she would not keep her word.

    But yeah, if the neighbor kid wants to stay for dinner, I usually make him call his mom and ask. (Or better yet, run down the road.)

    But the fact that this boy was so scared to sit with his friend (it wasn’t even like he would be alone) does seem a bit over the top.

  86. We went to a doctors office today as my older son has conjunctivitis. While there I noticed there was a young girl, she looked somewhere between 9-11, reading a book as her Mother and sibling went upstairs to an examining room. Come to think of it, EVERY time we are at the pediatric office there are kids playing, reading or what ever, without their parents. I have on more than one left one or the other son alone in the waiting area. They are safe! That’s why I do it! Not a worry in the world.

  87. Cheryl, 5 is certainly different than 10, but at some point I don’t feel that it is my responsibility to make your child call home, get permission etc. If YOU want your child to let you know before he leaves my house, eats at my house or whatever, YOU need to explain those rules to your child and your CHILD needs to be responsible for keeping those rules. I’m not going to keep up with the individual rules of each of my child’s friends.

    Likewise, I explain to my child what is expected of her. If I tell her she can go to T’s house but not anywhere else without letting me know, she needs to call me before she leaves T’s house for any reason (except to come home). I don’t expect T’s mother to call me and tell me that she’s taking my daughter to the doctor’s. I expect my child to do what she was told which is to call me if she wants to go to the doctor’s with T’s mother.

  88. Donna, that seems reasonable. However, not all parents seem to make that clear to their kids, and apparently not the parent of the terrified kid in this post, otherwise he would have called home to tell his mom where he was going. Maybe it is the babying of America that so many parents want the parents to call?

  89. Actually, the mother of terrified boy didn’t complain about the mother or boy not calling her before they went somewhere. She didn’t like the idea of him being left “alone” (which now apparently means without an adult) in the waiting room. Nothing was said about the need to inform her before they left the house to go anywhere or that she would have had an issue with this plan if another adult was present to wait in the waiting room with the children. That issue was 100% generated by the people on this list.

    But I do believe it is the babying of America is responsible for the shift to wanting the parents to call. Kids can’t be given such a monumental responsibility as making a phone call. The need for a call at all is in HUGE part due to the control-freakness of today’s parents. When I was a kid, parents weren’t so anal about what their kids did outside of their presence. Clearly there have always been things that were not cool, but for the most part, parents didn’t make a lot of demands on the parents of their friends (and those that did found their kids with few invitations). Now parents want to be apprised of and have a say-so over every single millisecond of their children’s lives, regardless of whether said child is with them or not. For many, “when in Rome” has changed to “things need to be done exactly my way every second of your life so your hosts need to follow my rules and I need to approve of any change no matter how minor.”

  90. Wow. Just this morning, I left my 10 MONTH old in the waiting room of my office while I saw the last couple of folks before lunch. I find the patients don’t mind waiting on me nearly as much when that happens. I must admit, I’ve used it as a ploy more than once. I guess I’m living proof that a doctor’s (or any professional’s) office really can have ulterior motives!

    By the way, our office has children in the waiting room all the time. If I hear them getting too rowdy, I know I need to pick up the pace so they can leave. It helps me get finished with my day on time, too!

  91. ann, don’t you think the rule should be that parents whose kids can’t behave shouldn’t be left unattended?

    My 3yo knew how to behave for 45 minutes. Better than some 13yos, actually.

    As for “why DVDs,” my 3yo was just beginning to read. She liked books, but she loved DVDs. It was a way to keep her happy with the fact that her sister was getting the exclusive attention. We don’t do TV, so . . ..

  92. Oh, and the DVDs were Scholastic book DVDs and reading skill DVDs.

  93. @SKL: The one movie that I’ve recently regretted letting the five-year-old watch was “Spy Kids 4.” The fact that a movie like that is rated G just has me looking like a dead carp with my mouth flapped open. Really? That’s a “general audiences” movie? And with really minimal values content. I would call that film’s values content analogous to the nutritional content of Lucky Charms cereal.

    Tom Robinson’s emotional testimony is, to our five-year-old, simply a man crying. Maybe she got that he had been accused of something he didn’t do, but the “graphic” aspects of what he describes certainly didn’t have me cringing for the kids’ sakes.

    Honestly, I freak out seeing what most small kids are able to watch on Fox or the Disney Channel. All of these tarted-up teenlets pouting and giving attitude… what a relief, not to have a TV! Give me Gregory Peck’s greatest performance anyday!

  94. DVDs because we don’t have a TV, so this rare “screen time” means a guaranteed quiet 4-year-old. And yes, we only get educational ones!

  95. That’s unfortunate that he has this strong fear. As a free-range child who roamed the neighborhood from dawn to dusk no parent every took me anywhere in a car.

    Today, my kids friends parents may take them to park or to get a snack but I have to agree that if someone was taking my kid somewhere that they would be left alone with a video I’d want to know that. That doesn’t seem unreasonable for a parent to not make that choice for her child. I’d rather have my kid at home or doing something else rather than waiting in a doctors office watching a video.

    And yes, I believe that Harry Potter is not appropriate for all 11 year olds. I think sometimes what we miss here is that not all kids are the same and it isn’t ALWAYS because the parents haven’t done their free-range job.

    Remember his fear may not be because of what his mother told him but his interpretation and own personal fears. Some humans are innately more sensitive and nervous than others. There are lots of factors and we should get off our high horses sometimes and realize that many parents make choices for their children BASED on knowing their children better than anyone else.

  96. OK the only part that needs to be cleared up is that you took someone else’s child to the waiting room. I agree that making the choice to leave your own child (as I would) is o.k., you should have given the parent a heads up and let her make that choice. That is the issue …

  97. “And yes, I believe that Harry Potter is not appropriate for all 11 year olds. I think sometimes what we miss here is that not all kids are the same and it isn’t ALWAYS because the parents haven’t done their free-range job. ”

    Yep. Kids are different. And parents have different views about what is appropriate for their kids, even if we don’t consider them “babies” at this point or that. Respecting that is part of getting along, even when it’s a different standard from your own.

  98. “you should have given the parent a heads up and let her make that choice. That is the issue …”

    Not really. The main issue as I see it is that this boy practically had a panic attack at the mere thought of being in a waiting room where “the people” might have access to him.

    Checking with the mom is a logistical detail. Let’s assume that these folks have their agreed protocol and protocol was followed in that respect. The boy still has an irrational fear that he apparently learned “somewhere.” And given that his mom said she wouldn’t want him alone in a waiting room, I’m guessing she’s the source of that fear.

  99. I love the idea of free-range parenting. I think it is important. I see in my own son how exciting it is for him to have a moment of freedom, something I spent most of my childhood having. I truly wish he could have more but we have some factors that make it difficult.

    I’m disappointed though in the tone this takes with so many responses I see. “My son did this at 3” or “I can’t believe they would tell a child that”? Why must we always look at another parent’s choices with judgement instead of an interest in understanding another view or situation.

    Is it so hard to try to put yourself in the other parents shoes for a second to ensure that the choices you are making for THEIR child will work for THEIR child?

    When kids take the bus with my kids home I always explain to the parent that they will be walking home alone and may be home for up to 30 minutes alone. I’ve never had anybody care but parents deserve to know that I’m making that choice for THEIR kids.Why, because the parent knows THEIR child better than anyone and should be the decider if they can handle a situation like that. Making the determination that my kids can handle it says nothing about the ability of OTHER kids to handle it.

  100. I’m with pentamom — if DD has a friend over and the parameters change significantly, I’ll get the friend to phone home and check in. (“I’m happy for you to stay for dinner, but please check with your dad first.”) When it’s my kid, I like to have some clue where she actually is, in case for some reason I need to reach her (most likely to find out when she’s coming home ;)). So I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suggest having the guest kid phone home to announce the change of plans.

    We don’t know what guest kid’s mom has actually told him. Some kids do blow things they hear waaaaay out of proportion, and not all scary “stranger danger” messages come from parents (when DD was about 6, she worried that someone would “take” me on my way to collect her from after-school care — not because of anything DH or I had ever said, but because of some talk they got at school. I was not impressed). But I know if that were *my* 10-year-old, I’d be trying very hard to help him overcome that anxiety. I’d be interested to hear guest kid’s parents’ side of this story, but certainly from the facts as presented I don’t get the impression that guest kid has had a lot of encouragement to overcome his fears.

  101. Parents have always had different views as to what they choose to expose their children to. This belief that we should ALWAYS have control over every single thing our child experiences, even when not with us, is new.

    Parents in my childhood seemed to have a better understanding that a single experience is not detrimental in most instances. There were certainly obvious lines not to be crossed – taking a 10 year old to see a rated R movie, for example – without permission. But, in general, they trusted that one movie was not going to irreparably harm their children (and if children were so sensitive, they didn’t go or that was made known before). Yes, children occasionally were exposed to things at a friend’s house that the parent wouldn’t have chosen but that was considered part of life, unless it was something extreme. Watching a movie that you would otherwise not have shown your child was dealt with. Sitting in a waiting room at a doctor’s office was not a big deal, even if not something you would have done. Watching more tv than usual, eating junk food not normally consumed, etc. was expected.

    Todays parents want you to have their children over but then control every aspect of that visit – what they do, what they eat, what they watch. I don’t have the tolerance for that. If that means that some kids can’t come to our house, sobeit, my child will have to live with it.

  102. I’m the mother in the story and would like to say something about all of the banter regarding calling vs. not calling. I generally call if there is something out of the ordinary. I wouldn’t call to take a kid out for icecream or to the park but I would call for say a trip to the beach or amusement park. AND I’ve never encountered a parent that wouldn’t allow their kid in my car. This particular kid had been in my car many times over the 4 years we had known him. I find it odd that anyone would even worry about this sort of thing. I trust that adults with drivers licenses that I have met and deem appropriate to supervise my kid can drive them from one place to another just as I do. Accidents happen and I am aware of that risk every day that my kids step in MY car.

    DRUM ROLL >>>> I actually did call the Mom but did not get through to her from the house and planned to call her from the car again if the boy wanted to come with us or to tell her he was coming home early. This all happened in a very short time frame. I realized I had mistakenly put my appointment on the calender for the following day …. I interrupted the kids watching their favorite movie and apologized saying ~ so sorry kids but hurry and get your shoes on! I have an appointment I can not cancel! (hey, I’m not infallible. Sometimes I mess up dates on the calender. If you don’t, then consider yourself blessed.) There were protests and pleads from all of the kids that they wanted to watch their movie and this boy wanted to remain with my kids. I said we would discuss it in the car because my appointment was in 15 minutes (and roughly 10 minutes away) and we had to hurry. As I said I tried his Mom once from the house just to tell her I had forgotten about the appointment. (yes it was important and I also did not want to incure an $80 fee for not showing up.)

    This kid lived on a street not far from where I was headed AND I PLANNED TO CALL THE MOTHER again from the car as soon as I could. I did think it would be great if the kids could just watch the movie there because I knew it would be fine. My kids had been there before and it is completely safe. I also knew the Mom was busy packing and I had offered to help her out by keeping her kid for the day and didn’t want to dump her and my kids on her. SO yes, I thought it a perfectly fine option to have the kids wait for me watching their movie but I planned on letting Mom know.

    A few minutes into our ride toward my appointment and his house the child began his anxious rant. This went on for at least five minutes which brought us basically to his doorstep. . No point in dialing the phone again as we were already there. That’s just how it all unfolded. His Mother was home but in the basement packing. She didn’t hear my call. She actually invited my kids into her house for the duration of my appointment and then I picked them all back up after ward. The point of my letter to Lenore is that this kid has far too much fear of being abducted. He is irrational about it and I can see by his Mother’s response that she is the source of it. The office I go to is actually a house with one small room with two rooms off of it. It’s not a busy office building with people coming in and out. My kids have been there several times and not seen anyone come in. It’s safe and I truly would have been just a few feet from them while they finished Harry Potter and the Sourcer’s Stone. He’s 10 people! His and his Mother’s fear do not seem reasonable or healthy to me and I am frankly worried about this kids future.

  103. I am surprised by how judgmental of the playdate’s mother many of these comments are. Am I the only one who thinks it’s good that the kid was strong enough to say that he wasn’t comfortable with the scenario offered him by the hosting mother? We cannot judge what he’s been taught by his mother other than this, she has taught him to express himself and stand up for himself when he is not cool with what an adult is doing. Children get very flustered and mixed up with their parents’ and teachers’ instructions and teaching all the time, especially when in a very foreign and surprise situation as was this one; so being “abducted by the people” is less telling than the mother who would judge another mother for erring on the side of caution. The facts we know are the plan was being altered mid-playdate without his parents’ consult and he and his friends were to be left for 45minutes without the supervision of the parent to whose care he had been entrusted. We are told this turn of events made him uncomfortable, and he, to the best of his ability, expressed honestly that he was not okay with it. Good for him.

  104. Wendy said: “I’m disappointed though in the tone this takes with so many responses I see. “My son did this at 3″ or “I can’t believe they would tell a child that”? Why must we always look at another parent’s choices with judgement instead of an interest in understanding another view or situation.”

    Personally it’s not the individual parent that I’m reacting to as much as the fact that this kind of thinking reflects “modern wisdom” that is all wrong. I think “modern wisdom” is more likely to be the origin of these kinds of fears than individualized, realistic parenting. (Though I agree that sometimes, it’s an individual maturity issue.)

    It’s partly a reaction to being on other sites or real-life situations where moms and childcare “experts” overwhelmingly agree with and act on the belief system that “anything can happen, and we must prevent at all costs.”

    Now in the present case, I could actually understand if the mom had said “my son should not be left alone in a waiting room because he’s not mature enough / not ready for that.” I would take that to mean that he lacks the self-control to conduct himself properly in that situation. But clearly this mom’s thinking isn’t based on her individual kid’s development. She just thinks the world is full of people who will come into doctor’s offices and snatch whatever tween boys don’t happen to be supervised at that moment. Or, she thinks that even if there could be one such person on the planet, that risk is unacceptable and everyone’s life must be rearranged to eliminate that miniscule risk.

    The more I think about it – the boy would have been with his friend, right? So not even “alone.” I just can’t imagine teaching a 10yo boy to FEAR sitting in a room with another boy outside of direct adult supervision. I have yet to hear at what age these types of parents believe their kids suddenly become safe in such situations. Perhaps never.

  105. @Boston mom… I offered this child the possibility of two choices and he said he wanted to stay with my kids. I was not trying to take him somewhere against his will and did not take him anywhere against his will. I took him home. And yes it is always good to express oneself and I support that 100%. The issue is why is this kid thinking he’s going to be abducted while sitting with his friends in a safe place? During his rant he expanded and explained all the scenarios he would be unsafe in. basically it was everywhere a parent wasn’t a foot away from him. The poor boy is anxious beyond belief. Is this a good thing for him? I don’t think so. My letter to Lenore is about the fear instilled in kids that seems unhealthy and unproductive to me. My kids were very intrigued by their friend’s abduction fears. They did not chastise him but expressed to me that they did not understand why he is so afraid.

  106. This kid has essentially been laced into a pair of lead-bottomed shoes. Getting them off will be extremely difficult.

    Normal, rational ten-year-old-boy reasons not to want to sit in the docotor’s waiting room with a friend:

    *Boooring! I thought we were gonna play in your yard. I would rather go home.
    *I don’t like the smell in doctor’s offices. It makes me think of shots.
    *Ditto, but for chores.
    *We were going to play with such-and-such toy together but I left it at home. Can we go to my mom’s house while you go to the doctor?
    *Has a fight with his friend, stomps to the door, demands to be taken home.

    Not wanting to hang out with his buddy for an hour without his buddy’s mom in arm’s reach because “the people” might take him away is abnormal, irrational, and rather sad.

  107. Just for the record, TheMother, I didn’t intend for anything I said to be critical of how you handled the situation. When I said I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of mismanaging a playdate and remembering a conflict, I meant that in the sense that, if I did that, I would consider it an error, and wouldn’t be thrilled with myself — but in a “we all make mistakes” sense. I could easily see myself doing it. I had the feeling that other people had a somewhat more cavalier attitude about it being just normal to take kids to the doctor during a playdate, not a regrettable-but-excusable situation. But I didn’t even mean to make much out of it — it was just sort of a throwaway remark.

  108. “This belief that we should ALWAYS have control over every single thing our child experiences, even when not with us, is new. ”

    Well, I wasn’t suggesting that it was appropriate to micromanage every encounter to have control. I was just a little put off by people saying, “How could they get upset with a child of X age watching X? What’s wrong with them?”

    I just didn’t think the judgmentalism over different preferences was all that helpful. I didn’t mean to agree with the practice of trying to dictate everything that goes on when you send your child somewhere. If you find that people have significantly different standards from your own, don’t let your kids go there unsupervised. But if the family’s values are acceptable to you, don’t act like you need to remote-control every “play date” or whatever.

  109. @pentamom ~ thank you for your comment. I certainly try to remember things as I should but every now and then something slips through the siv that is my middle aged brain. And I tried to handle that situation the best I could. I know there were a lot of small details left out of my post (because I thought they were irrelevant to the message I was sending Lenore) and it was easy for many on here to speculate and run with ideas and judgments. I find it so interesting how folks get hyper focused on details that they essentially “suppose” without knowing all of the facts and context.

    @Jennifer Hansen ~ I think you’re correct. It was not even close to what I expected to be his reaction or what a typical kid his age would think/say. Remember he wanted to go with us. I think he figured it meant we would all be in the same room. He probably goes in the room with his Mother seeing she told me she would never leave him in a waiting room. It was only when I described exactly how it would be that he began to panic. (panic is the right word. He had an anxiety attack for sure. Kept repeating the same thing over and over and didn’t seem to hear me talking to him.)

  110. TheMother – sieve. Stupid spelling, but there it is.

  111. What we are teaching our children about strangers is something that I’ve been thinking about over the last week since I managed to scare a child that I was trying to reassure, after I scared a dog away that was growling at him. I was on a walk after my children had left for school and I came across a boy (about 9 or 10) who was walking to school and was being confronted by a growling dog that had escaped from it’s home. I shouted at the dog and it ran away and I suggested to the boy that he cross the road to my side to avoid the dog, which he did. I could see that he was really upset so I bent down to his height, patted him lightly on the back and tried to reassure him. I asked him his name (just because it’s nicer to talk to someone when you know their name) at which point he looked at me in terror and started running down the road to school (looking behind frequently to make sure I wasn’t following). When I phoned the school to let them know what had happened they said they had been doing a unit on stranger danger. Surely there has to be a way to teach children about keeping themselves safe without being scared of anyone who stops to help them.

  112. I’m reminded of a quote from a rescue dog handler–that lost children are harder to find anymore because they have been taught to move away from the voices of strangers, even strangers calling their names. So they end up spending an unnecessary extra night outdoors in the wilderness, and . . .

    Back to the case in the original post: Has this kid’s parents (I am assuming that both of them are in on it) stopped to think about what they are putting in this kid’s head? He lives in a world where “the people” may at any time bust into a random doctor’s office and drag out two (presumably kicking and screaming) children past the receptionist, out the door, and into a vehicle before the adults in the next room can react and nobody witnessing this will be able to stop it. I wonder who he thinks “the people” are. Sith? Ninjas? Vampires? Does he think that “the people” are following him and his mother at all times, just out of sight?

  113. Wow! I’m so glad my kids are more self reliant than that! I have my own free range story. My kids were playing down the street last night with some friends. When they came home they told me that my son (7) had thrown a stick in the street (he knows better) and a car ran over it. The lady stopped and got out to talk to my son and asked where he lived. They told her, but then she drove right by our house. They came home and told me the story. A few minutes later the lady and her teenaged daughter knocked on my door. In her version, my son threw the stick AT her car and she ran over it. I told her I knew about it. She said “There were other children playing out there, and what if she had lost control of her car and hit and killed one of them? She would go to jail for it.” I kind of looked at her and just nodded my head. I’m really not sure what I was supposed to say. As she walked away, she said, “Well we know what kind of parent you are.” Ok, I have to admit I told her to kiss my ass and then shut the door. I’m not sure what I did wrong. I don’t know if I was a bad parent for letting my kids play outside without me or for not freaking out because they threw a stick in the street. My son was disciplined for it, and he had been told not to do it before. Was I supposed to be freaked out too about the whole “I could have hit and killed a kid” thing or watched my kids play with 4 other children in front of the other kid’s house? Plus, my daughter is 12 and a Red Cross certified babysitter.

  114. This same child asked me during a different playdate “shouldn’t you be watching us?” (The boys were outside in our fenced backyard.) Apparently at his house, he can only be outside in their fenced yard if a parent is watching him.

    My son later told me this boy had made comments earlier to him that he thought I should be outside them. Maybe I’m crazy but I don’t worry about my kids being abducted from my fenced back yard!

  115. I’m wondering why you didn’t contact the parent and ask the adult what their preference would be?
    If you had dealt with the adult, the child would not have been put in a position by which he had to make judgement calls on the fly. If I were his parent, I would never allow another playdate with your children. And what kind of a playdate is watching a video while waiting in a strange doctor’s office anyway? You, as the ‘responsible adult’*, should have put yourself in the other parent’s shoes and cancelled the playdate.
    *And what ‘responsible adult’ forgets their own doctor appointments???

  116. @Momothree ~ I did call the mother. See my earlier comment that explains this. I also drove the kid home. And boys Mother did not take issue with my having written down an appointment under the wrong day on the calander. I’m a human being with a busy life and many things to juggle. She was more than happy to let her child and mine play at her house until I was finished. My children are very friendly with this child and we continue to have him over so I am quite sure she does not share your point of view!

  117. Wow, MomOThree. Just so you know, it’s called Free-Range Kids, not Perfect Parenting. You should probably go find another website because this one isn’t for you.

  118. TheMother, I am glad that the mother offered to watch the boys – your explanations clear it up that mom knew you were going to the doctor, it was only when the boy learned he wouldn’t be in the room with you that it was a problem. Given what else you say about him playing with your son, it is evident that this poor boy is going to have a hard time growing up – I hope he is able to stay in touch with you and your son so that he has example of what can be done on ones own.

  119. Really, Momof3? You’ve never forgotten anything? Well, bully for you!

  120. @ Uly ~ The idea that there is a person or people out there who have never forgotten anything or mixed something up is astounding! But then I realize perfection is at best a delusion of the perfectionist. Plenty of “responsible adults” (I’m sure all) mess up something at some point and let’s just hope they realize they’re in good company 🙂

  121. I went to the dentist today. There was woman there with two girls (around 12) in tow. One was hers, another a friend – looked like she had just got them from school. The girls sat down, got out juice boxes and school books. Mom comes back from the desk and says, “Come on, we’re going. I though my appointment was today, but it’s not for two weeks.” The daughter rolled her eyes at mom and laughed.

    I laughed too because it made me think of this thread. And guess what – no children were harmed from either the waiting room or the imperfect mom. 😀

  122. Too bad “Mom of 3” posted and ran. I would have loved to hear more about how to never ever ever forget anything or get anything mixed up, ever in your whole life. I could certainly use a lesson or two in that!

  123. Beth, she probably forgot or mixed up websites.

  124. “*And what ‘responsible adult’ forgets their own doctor appointments???”

    Imperfect ones, that is to say, ones who are just like you.

    Now I agree that it would be a sign of something bad if the person was always forgetting their own doctor appointments. But to question someone’s responsibility because she confessed to forgetting ONE TIME — wow.

  125. My mother was a fear-mongering helicopter mother micromanaging every little thing (she still does today and BOTH my daughter and I cannot stand it). Anyway, I vividly remember being around 9 or 10 riding my bike to the local pizza shop a few blocks from my house to meet up with friends. My mom knew I was going and that I would be back after I was done. I remember having such fun until I started making my way out of the parking lot and on my way home. My mother’s car pulled up beside me and she told me to get in the car and put my bike in the trunk. I wondered “what did I do wrong? I was coming back home.” Turns out she was in the parking lot watching me the whole time. She’s always LURKING that woman. I was so upset that she didn’t trust what I told her (and I was a pretty honest kid) and that she didn’t trust my ability to make it back home A MERE FEW BLOCKS! The worst, was her reasoning, “Why didn’t you ride your bike with everyone else back home?” “Umm..because we all live in DIFFERENT houses?!” I enjoyed riding my bike to meet my friends around the neighborhood, but every so often (too often in my memory) my helicopter mother would show up at my friends’ house and go, “WHY DIDN’T YOU CALL?! I WAS GOING TO CALL THE POLICE!” Umm..again crazy lady, cuz you already knew were I was going to be! Her helicoptering has affected me in many debilitating ways that had stunted my growth as a young adult. I didn’t know how to make coffee till I was 16. My kid’s FOUR and she makes ME coffee! I never got to drive to school like many teenagers with a license. Even while in COLLEGE my parents wouldn’t let me drive their car to school and back. So my father would drop me off (of course right in the middle of the parking lot) with my kid and I had to take her to daycare and go to class knowing I had to WAIT on my parents when I was fully capable of driving myself and my daughter to and from school. My husband has instilled the confidence within me to become more independent. I am able to drive perfectly with my daughter in an SUV, I am able to cook for my family (they are vegan and have NEVER let me cook meat until last year), I am able to trust my judgment and my daughter’s judgment of crossing the street without holding hands, and I am not afraid of someone ABDUCTING my child all because I asked her to “wait outside” a minute. I will never put that sort of fear into her. This stranger-danger society we are living in now is complete BS. Yes, are there bad people in the world? But that shouldn’t stop you or your child from experiencing a full childhood the way it was meant to be-FREE.

  126. Alicia: Sounds like your mother might have a personality disorder; take a look at

  127. Wow, some people seem to think the idea of a parent getting on with their life when they are looking after another’s child is somehow wrong, or weird.

    If I’d agreed that I was going to someone’s house, my parents would be aghast at the idea that these people, being so kind to allow me into their home, might put their plans on hold so not to inconvenience me; and they certainly wouldn’t expect to be consulted.

    Of course if I’d taken myself off to someone elses house without asking my parents first (the horror!) and got asked if I wanted to go out with them, ad hoc, my parents would get a courtesy phone call (from me, not the parents) telling them that I was going out and would/wouldn’t be back for tea, sometimes they’d object (because I was 10 years old, and making a bad decision!) and I would take myself back home again (and sulk!)

    I supposed this is because the idea of ‘PlayDates’ is very alien to me, runs completely contrary to how things were when I was a kid (a mere 18 years ago!) :

    If I went to another kid’s house their parents didn’t plan their day around me being there, certainly didn’t plan anything for us to do, just put another plate at the table when it was food time, and left us to entertain ourselves. If it was a Thursday and they went shopping on a thursday, or had an appointment, or one of the other kids played a sport, we went shopping, sat in the waiting room, or went to watch them play. If they had visitors I met them too and played with any kids they’d bought along (met an oscar winning actor this way too, but that’s another story!) Basically, I was one of the family for the duration, and it was exactly the same when anyone came to ours.

  128. warn your children not too eat their fingernails… or the fingernails will grow , SKIN, CLAWS, HAIR, AND TEETH, and they might develope a monster living inside of them… SERIOUSL|Y, its true.

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