Reprint: “Walking to Kindergarten Should Be Child’s Play”

Hi Folks! One of you sent me this wonderful oped from the Sydney Morning Herald. Then I got in touch with its author, Karen Malone, and found out she is an academic studying, among other things, how to make cities more child-friendly. Which is exactly what I’m going to be talking about in Bendigo, Australia early in May. So here’s to serendipity — and kids walking to school. — L.

Walking to Kindergarten Should Be Child’s Play, by Karen Malone

Picture this. It is 2005, I arrive for the first time in Tokyo. I am making my way across the busy city to attend a meeting when I encounter a small group of kindergarten children walking home from school. They are oblivious to my presence as they busy themselves crossing streets, picking up autumn leaves, straddling low brick kerbs and chatting. There is not a supervising adult in sight, no older siblings. As a parent I feel a sense of foreboding – I worry about their safety.

I recount my experience to a Japanese colleague and exclaim ”there were no adults watching out for them”. He is a little taken back. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!” On average, 80 per cent of primary age Japanese children walk to school. In Australia the figure in most communities is as low as 40 per cent. Why? What happens in Japan that makes it so different?

At a community seminar recently I asked the audience to imagine themselves aged eight in a special place and to describe it. Most recounted being outside in their neighbourhood, with other children, out of earshot of parents: ”I had some bushes where I would play and hide with my brothers and sisters and sometimes friends” (Wilma, 43); ”My friends and I would go to this vacant lot and build our own cubbies” (Richard, 36); ”We used to get all the neighbourhood kids together and go out on the street and play cricket” (Andrew, 39).

Tim Gill, author and play commentator, would call this parenting style ”benign neglect” and for many of us, growing up in baby boom suburbia, this was our experience. It made us independent, confident, physically active, socially competent and good risk assessors.

I next asked the audience to consider if they would give these same freedoms now to their own children. They all said no.

The question is, then, are we killing our kids with kindness? Is our desire to protect our children actually making them more vulnerable?

The big issue pervading the psyche of parents around children’s independence in the streets is ”stranger danger” and child abductions. The irony is, when you look at the statistics on abductions, almost all are by family members, and the numbers have been going down for a decade. When I tell my audience the odds of a child being murdered by a stranger in Australia is one in four million and their child is at a much greater statistical risk of drowning in the bathtub or being hit by a car at a pedestrian crossing, they answer like Andrew, 39: ”I want to and I wish we could. I know the chances are slim but I just couldn’t forgive myself.”

So is there a middle ground between ”benign neglect” and ”eternal vigilance”? There is in Japan and Scandinavian countries, where children’s independent mobility is high. While parental fear of strangers is still high in these countries, rather than driving children to school or other venues, parents and the community have initiated and participated in activities to increase their safety.

In inner Tokyo, a neighbourhood has parent safety brigades that patrol the streets around schools; shopkeepers who are signed up as members of the neighbourhood watch program; and the local council has provided a mamoruchi, a GPS-connected device that hangs around a child’s neck and connects them instantly to a help call centre.

These concrete strategies, while unique to each neighbourhood, are reliant on one critical cultural factor: a commitment to the belief that children being able to walk the streets alone is a critical ingredient in a civil, safe and healthy society.

So while we might criticise the policeman who decides to take it on himself to deliver a child back home, as reported in the Herald recently, it is heartening to know someone is watching over us. It was reassuring when recent results from a historical comparison in suburban Sydney showed children’s independent mobility in the past 10 years has remained stable and in some cases increased, with many parents looking to get children out of the house and back to parks and playgrounds. So it is timely to have these debates, but if we want to start claiming back the streets and local parks for children then it’s our role as community members to step up to the plate and let parents know we are willing to support them and play our part.

Dr Karen Malone was recently appointed Professor of Education in the School of Education at University of Western Sydney. Dr Malone is also Chair and Founder of the Child Friendly Asia-Pacific network and a member of the UNICEF International Research Advisory Board for Child Friendly Cities.

68 Responses

  1. I loved this piece until the end, when the GPS and “parent safety brigades” were brought in. Seems counter-indicated in the run-up, which establishes that children are able to get from point A to point B without supervision, that this is actually helpful for their overall development, and that our fondest memories of childhood are mostly moments when we were out of our parents’ sight.

    Agh. “Parent safety brigades.” That one conjures images that leave me wincing…

  2. Uh, you do realise that Australia is far, far more spread out than Japan, and has far worse public transport, right? So much so that for most Australian children outside of the capital cities, and even quite a few IN the capital cities, walking to school is simply either completely unviable – because it’s just too far to walk – or unsafe due to a lack of sidewalks and an abundance of wildlife that kills you (yes, even in our towns. SNAKES. EVERYWHERE.). In most places in Australia outside the state capitals, you can’t just catch a bus from wherever you are to the nearest town/next town/across town/whatever, and because we live so spread out, walking to kindergarten might easily entail a 5km (3 miles) walk or far more.

    Japan is renowned for having amazing public transport (trains!) and a terrifying population density (so there’s a far higher chance that a Japanese child lives right on top of their school/kindergarten). It makes a lot of sense that Japanese children are far more independent in this regard than Australian children are, since their entire NATION makes it easy for people who can’t drive a car to get around. Ours… not so much.

  3. Yes, Sera. Australia is on my list of “Places I never intend to go” because of all the dangerous wildlife.

    As I’ve heard it said, it’s true that Australia has 9 out of the top 10 most venomous snakes in the world, but it’s equally true (and far more accurate) to say that out of the top 9, Australia’s got ’em all. You’ve also got some of the world’s most deadly spiders, some of the world’s most deadly ants, platypuses (which are venomous!), and the world’s most deadly jellyfish… also known as the most poisonous creature known to science.

    And all the rabbits.

    But you know, I just like saying that so I can comment on how scary Australia is. The drought’s not helping.

  4. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!”

    I love this sentence, that’s what is meant with “it takes a village to raise a child”. Here in Germany my impression is, that the village is no longer interested. For example, I always get mad when someone is crossing the road when the red lights are on and I’m standing there with my children. Sometimes I have the feeling that the adults are expecting a better behaviour from our children than they show themselves every day. And then they complain about the lack of social skills, hmm.

  5. It may be amazing to some people what children can do on their own if parents would let them. Somehow society has changed to think children cannot do things that were commonplace a generation ago and on back, like walking to school. It’s not the children that have changed, it is the adults’ way of thinking.

    This is O/T but I don’t know where to submit articles.

    “Father arrested for girl’s picture of toy gun”

    Read more: http://www.calgaryherald.com/Father+arrested+girl+picture/6209132/story.html#ixzz1oB2m3VT0

  6. What’s special about the places you mentioned — Japan, Scandinavia, the far suburbs? Homogeneous communities with common cultural standards. Where I grew up in the 1980’s, in suburban St. Louis, we were allowed to run amok in the neighborhood because my parents could count on all the other parents in the neighborhood to keep a benevolently neglectful eye on us as we crossed from backyard to backyard. If I still lived there, I would let my kids do the same thing. But we now live in downtown Washington, D.C., where I all I can count on is that some of my “neighbors” would try to sell my kids drugs, or beat them up for their cell phones, or at best, wildly ignore them while driving too fast on residential streets. Freedom can be granted where there is trust between neighbors, and it’s pretty well documented that there’s little trust in diverse communities — and in my experience, for good reason.

  7. Yep, Sera, I am always joking with my friend who has moved to Brisbane about whether Australia is even fit for human habitation! Floods, droughts, bushfires, snakes, spiders, more floods, more droughts……..

    Jokes aside, though, yes, I noticed on visits that even the ‘city’ of Brisbane is fairly/very spread out. I imagine your country towns would be like ours, as you say: bugger-all public transport.

    There is no reason, however, and no excuses for such things as the writer describes not happening in smaller places like NZ. We live a 45 minute walk from the girls’ school, so usually the kids bike, but a lot of kids living within cooee of school (i.e. 1-2 kms or under) are being driven there. Except in gale-force storms, there’s no particular need for it…..But people even here are being conditioned to the idea that unless they have their eyes on their kids 24/7, something could happen to them! And so they drive them to the gate before going to work etc. This in, as I keep stating, a country where 1 child has been kidnapped and killed by a stranger in 30-odd years. And that child was a 6 year old walking alone (as she had every right to do, of course, but it is less likely that she would have been targeted if she’d been walking in a pair or group – though until she was killed I suppose no-one thought much about safety in numbers).

    Also, I know farmers often live miles out of town, but are your country towns themselves that spread out, i.e. wouldn’t kids be able to walk about pretty much anywhere in a small town? Because you’d have to train them how to deal with snakes etc anyway, wouldn’t you?

    Am just soooo glad I don’t have to deal with the daarn things:-)

  8. Uly.. I have seen a snake twice in my life.. and they were the non venomous type garden snake. People say those stats all the time, but I’ve never been in any danger living in australia 😉 never bitten by a spider or jelly fish and yes I lived in a city, and suburbs and I’ve even been camping several times and swim regularly. Dont put off your visit to australia !! lol animals usually stay out of peoples way!

    Our school was recently chosen with 20 others to be an active school for this year, so the kids must walk or ride once a week and will be given prizes and initiatives to keep going – The city council chooses different schools each year to be part of the program.

  9. Dont put off your visit to australia !

    Oh, don’t worry. I wasn’t going to visit anyway! Too far away by plane.

    I just like talking about how you’re chock full of venomous critters. (And still, the rabbits are taking over. How does that even work?)

    lol animals usually stay out of peoples way!

    That’s certainly the truth.

  10. hineata said…

    Yep, Sera, I am always joking with my friend who has moved to Brisbane about whether Australia is even fit for human habitation! Floods, droughts, bushfires, snakes, spiders, more floods, more droughts……..

    Don’t worry about the snakes. The spiders have eaten most of them.

    @Lenore…

    If you are coming to Bendigo – my home town – I would quite like to meet up with you. I am hoping to attend that conference if I can get the time away from work.

  11. So do you have drop bears in your neighbourhood too, Sera? 😉

    I have to walk through a bit of bushland to take my son to school (in outer suburban Sydney, near a national park). Have encountered bush turkeys on a few occasions and had a leech drop onto me on a rainy day (this has happened once in 3 years). I think sayign there are SNAKES EVERYWHERE is a bit of an exaggeration! I have never seen one in once in suburbia (Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra) in 44 years of life.

    I still think the parents in massive 4wds (SUVs) are by far the biggest hazard getting kids to and from school – probably the same in any country.

  12. Don’t worry about the snakes. The spiders have eaten most of them.

    Yes, PTerry : )

  13. When I was little, I was allowed to walk to school “alone” from the age of 5. I later learned that my Mom walked a distance behind me for several weeks and I actually walked with several other kids whose parents all knew one another. But I felt independant and learned to make decisions for myself. My sister (whose kids are older than mine) tells me the key to allowing her children to play outdoors with other kids “unsupervised” is knowing the parents of the other kids. I think the key for me, when my kids get to that age, is going to be getting to know my neighbors, especially the ones with kids, really well!

  14. One of the reasons I think children aren’t running (exception being mine!) around the neighbourhood is that the old Neighbourhood Watch programs are disappearing. Even this article mentions it as being a key to why the children are walking alone in a “city full of people watching them”. Our local Neighbourhood Watch program almost disbanded this year because there was no one willing to be the chapter’s president. AND there are few community members willing to volunteer to warrant running the program. I don’t know if people realize that businesses can register as well or are turned off by the required criminal background check. My sister and I used Neighbourhood Watch several times as kids (we were sort of lost, fell off our bikes, big kids bugging us, or just realized that the nice people would offer a cookie), which was a comfort knowing that if you had trouble, there was someone willing and able to help.

  15. @Uly…

    Shhhhh

  16. I walked a long way to school at the age of 5, but now it would be called a “walking school bus” I guess, but with no adults. I was furthest away, but I only walked about 1/2 a block before I knocked on a classmates door and then we walked together a few more houses down and added another child to our gaggle. By the time we got to school there were about 6 or 7 of us 🙂

    It is easy to say that our kids can’t do this or that, it is much harder to find ways for them to do it anyway.

  17. I did quite a bit of walking to and from school as a child. Mostly it was a positive experience.

    My own kids haven’t done quite as much.

    Looking back it was a great way to get some exercise, but I’m not sure the adults were always looking out for us like we’d like to think they were. Would they be any more likely to intervene now?

    I used to walk home occasionally with a kid who lived near me. For whatever reason he was a target of verbal abuse from other boys. Sometimes, but not usually, the abuse extended to both of us. Sometimes we were fearful, and would find alternate convoluted routes(one through a cemetery!). I can’t recall any adult ever saying anything. To the extent that my parents knew one of the offenders, they didn’t wish to get involved.

  18. Off-topic, but the panic and paranoid didn’t start as recently as you might think.

    http://vintage-ads.livejournal.com/3169063.html

    If you don’t use the right batteries, you could KILL your BABY! OMG!

    Doofus, don’t store poison in your medicine cabinet. Problem solved.

  19. “Uh, you do realise that Australia is far, far more spread out than Japan, and has far worse public transport, right? So much so that for most Australian children outside of the capital cities, and even quite a few IN the capital cities, walking to school is simply either completely unviable – because it’s just too far to walk – or unsafe due to a lack of sidewalks and an abundance of wildlife that kills you (yes, even in our towns. SNAKES. EVERYWHERE.).”

    @Sera: Shouldn’t public transport and the roads be improved then? Also, snakes are easily dealth with. Teach your kids not to approach them and not walk in high grass — problem solved.

  20. I love the experiment about asking the adults to remember a special childhood place. That’s the part of “Free Range” that I always have the hardest time explaining. It’s easy to explain that stranger danger is overrated; it’s much harder to explain why giving children their freedom is so *IMPORTANT*.

  21. Sera, while it’s true that many people live in rural areas and walking to kinder or school is not a feasible option, many schools have buses set up to make transport a possibility. This is especially so in the country where school buses – not ones used for the general public – make getting to school a possibility. I grew up in a very rural area 15 kms from town and school and the bus’s nearest collection point was 3.5 kms away. We moved to that house when I was 11 and in grade 6 where I either got a ride with the woman and her kid around the corner or I rode my bike there. Prior to that we lived half a “country block” from the bus stop (between half to a full kilometre, I can’t quite remember) and yet I still did it. No, there were no sidewalks. I walked on the road against traffic and could hear anything coming from a mile away anyway and snakes and spiders were a legitimate risk but you know what? I survived, even despite these killers being “everywhere”. How? Common sense. I’ve known to avoid these creatures since I was a toddler (stand still and don’t provoke if it’s a snake, get an adult if it’s a spider) and all of us country kids were given lessons on how to treat snakebites. Not just in one regional school but all three of the primary schools I went to, starting from at least the third grade. And even when I lived the 3.5 kms from the main road, on the edge of a state forest at that, I never saw a snake. Plenty of goannas and other lizards and kangaroos (a couple of which DID end up going crazy during the drought and had to be shot after attacking humans) but snakes and spiders and other wildlife intent on leaping out to get you aren’t half as much of a risk as you’d think. And in all the time I’ve lived in suburbia both in Melbourne and now Bendigo, I’ve never seen a snake. The point is, an amount of kids walking to school (or the bus stop) is still possible in Australia. Heck, in my case, it was the only way since my dad worked during school hours and my mum didn’t drive.

    Lenore, I’m so glad to hear you’re coming to Bendigo to talk! It is a surprisingly free range place as many kids walk to and from school and the local senior high school (only years 11 and 12) is situated in the middle of the main park with no fences and so many opportunities for killers or rapists to get them, the horror! (Not to mention the snakes…)

  22. Kangaroos attacking people? Seriously?

  23. Japan may be better configured in certain places for walking to school, but I tend to think attitude has more to do with it than anything else. After all, cities have their hazards too, & look at the uproar that occurred when Lenore let her son take the subway alone even though car-based hazards probably were almost non-existent in that excursion of his.

    Where it regards wild animals, I think a of that is attitude as well. Seriously, we played in the woods all the time growing up, but wouldn’t know it–you hear a lot of people saying “with all the wild bears & this & that in the woods you can’t do that anymore.” Do they really believe that wild animals just suddenly sprung into existence the last 20 years or something? They cite mosquitoes and ticks etc as well, and it is true that mosquitoes do spread diseases, but deaths from mosquitoes and tick bites are also extremely rare in this country (probably more common in 3rd world country with a real mosquito problem & with less advanced medicines to deal with it).

    It is about keeping perspective; after all, in 1959, Jim Tatum, a North Carolina Tar Heels football coach, died after contracting Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which is spread by ticks, a common parasite in the woods of North Carolina, but you didn’t have people not allowing us North Carolina kids to play in the woods or blasting our parents for allowing because “don’t you read the news, didn’t you hear about what happened to Jim Tatum?”

    I have more on this, which I’m going to do in another post right after this one (so it’s not so “long & ungainly”).

    LRH

  24. This may be off-topic (animal rights vs human life discussion), but also where it regards wild animals, I have always wondered–in places like Australia, if you really do have such problems with snakes and crocodiles and such, why not kill them when necessary? I’m all for respecting wildlife, but not when this means it significantly worsens the plight of humans in anyway. I’m an avid swimmer, & if I lived in Australia, I’m going to want to swim in any lake or river there is in the “wild” & to also be able to legally shoot & kill any animal that endangers me while doing so. To have to only swim in “designated” areas, or to be told “if you get attacked by a crocodile, it’s their territory you’re in, that’s the chance you take,” to heck with that. The way I see it–it’s a human’s world, they only LIVE in it.

    I especially don’t get ideas like how, in Florida, if an alligator comes onto your property & you kill it, you can get in trouble. That’s insane to me. I don’t agree with the whole “you’re in their territory” and “you live in an area known to have alligators that’s how it goes” line of thinking. I think of it as I’m a human, they’re an animal, I’m more important and should be able to do whatever I need to to handle a problem by any means necessary.

    I can tell you this–if I lived in Florida & an alligator came onto my property, I’m killing it. Period. Why mess around with animal control if I can just handle the problem myself? I’ll take the legal punishment but frankly, there shouldn’t be one.

    I don’t get that whole “respect of wildlife” being taken to such an extreme. I’m all for reasonable conservation and not killing something if it’s not doing you any harm. We have birds all around our place & I could shoot them if I wanted to (I live in the woods out of the city limits) but they are a beautiful addition to the environment & not harming me so I leave them alone.

    On top of that, I certainly would say that, in designated national parks & forests etc (places like Yosemite come to mind), I’m all for “letting nature be nature,” but otherwise–I’m all for humans being able to eliminate threats from wildlife as necessary. Heck, in our case, a former neighbor (they no longer live here) had 3 large-sized dogs they weren’t controlling & they kept coming onto my yard, and they acted somewhat menacing while doing so. I was just starting to let my kids play in our yard, & I didn’t want 3 large not all that friendly dogs on my property. I warned the person, in a very nice tone, that they needed to keep their dogs off, & they blew me off. I tried just “shooing’ them away (“get out of here”) but they always returned.

    Well one day they were on my property again, and let’s just say I made sure they couldn’t come back. Sometimes that’s what you have to do. A common saying I have heard is “you never ever ever shoot a man’s dog,” but if they’re on your property acting menacing to your kids who are playing in their space, I say you do what you have to do. Besides it being my property, you’re also debating a human’s interest vs an animal’s interests. The human’s interests is always more important in my opinion.

    LRH

  25. I am very happy to raise my children in Japan where they have lots of freedom and walk to school everyday. They are connected to our neighbourhood in a way my nephew in Canada never will be.

    Sera, the public transportation and population density you speak of is really only a small part of Japan, ie Tokyo and Osaka. In the majority of the land, public transport is on par with Canada or Australia (non-existant). What is different is that people are outside a lot more in the streets and front yards, not in their fenced backyards ignoring the neighbours.

    In my neighbourhood there are poisonous snakes, wild boars and monkeys my kids might encounter on the way to school. They know what to do though, and traveling in a group means they are so loud no animal would come investigate.

  26. I should add that at 6 my kids and neighbours walk 1.9km to the elementary school, at the bottom of a mountain. The longest walk is 2.6km, and even those kids are banned from riding in cars. Love Japan.

  27. I’m amazed at how the kindergarteners walking to school discussion turned into wildlife dangers!

    We had the same experience here when our school district proposed a bike path to cut transportation costs. In addition to stranger abductions, the biggest fear of parents was animal attacks and bee stings. One parent actually spoke of the danger of badger attacks to the children-this in a suburb outside a major US city.

  28. Katrin, that was my thought exactly (German here,too). I pictured my oldest (almost 7) walking to music school on his own. That’s a 4 minute walk, but along one of the busiest streets in our town. I imagined him crossing at a red light, and all the people in my imagination were just giving him the stink eye instead of looking out for him. No one cares. :/

    I would love for him to have that freedom. But reality kind of prevents that way too often.

  29. ”there were no adults watching out for them”. He is a little taken back. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!”

    That is how it should be everywhere! My children play outside “unsupervised” all the time. When other parents expressed concern about their safety, I simply state that I know my children, they don’t go into the street, they don’t cause mischief or vandalise anyones property; they both have watches (digital) and know when the watch says,— it’s time to come home, of it they see the streetlights and porch lights on. Not to mention, they are playing, most of the time, with other kids. Who are outside “unsuperviesed”. Unsupervised doesn’t also mean negleted. I think people forget, or refuse to remember that.

    I would love for my daughter to walk to kinder next year. Unfortunatly I don’t think a 10 mile walk is gonna happen. So walking to school will happend when either, we move closer, or they bulid a closer school.

  30. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!”

    This is such a great line. It’s the same thing as your kid being “alone” in a Walmart with 50 customers and 30 employees in the store. If there are other people around, there are other eyes, and even if those eyes aren’t each personally assuming responsibility, the presence of eyes is protective.

    But OTOH, as an American I totally get what Katrin and Sara are saying as well. The American mentality isn’t that kids are safe by themselves and if you notice anything wrong you’re there to help, it’s that kids aren’t safe by themselves and you’re permitted to angrily blow off their presence as someone else’s parenting fail.

    It may or may not be that the Japanese approach is superior, but the reality is that in most larger American cities, people wouldn’t assume that attitude of “they’re safe because all those other people are watching” because most other people don’t look at it that way, and feel annoyed rather than protective in the presence of unshepherded kids.

  31. People in America are not just annoyed by unshephered kids, they seem annoyed by ALL kids. There is a definite anti-child vibe in many places where people don’t want them around and, if they are around, they should be secured to their parents so as not to venture into someone else’s space and force that person to acknowledge their existence. And, God forbid, kids actually act like kids in public.

    I don’t think kids need to be everywhere. There are certainly places where adults should be able to go without kids playing. There are certainly places where kids need to rein in their exuberance if they are going to go. And crazed or screaming kids need not be welcome anywhere. But kids doing general kid things seem to be unwanted too.

  32. @Silver Fang – I have probably lost my ‘satire’ brain-processing part or something, but I assume you’re joking? If not, then yes, kangaroos definitely sometimes attack people. Not often, I gather, but anyway suffice to say you would be fairly dumb to try taking on a large kangaroo. They use those legs well in a fight. I learnt that in primary school, along with basic procedures for dealing with bears – which is hilarious, since the nearest wild kangaroo is 3.5 hours away, and the nearest bear probably 14, 15 hours. By plane. The same teachers kept the instruction about animals that might conceivably have been dangerous to rural Kiwi kids (cows with calves – never get between them, crazy possums, drunk farmers) to our parents….:-) Talk about paranoia.

    @Donna, sadly it’s not just the US that is kid unfriendly. Sometimes, in my more cynical moments, I actually think it’s all white people. Or people groups, rather. When I take my kids on the train, for example, it tends to be the Pakehas (whites) who look down their noses at them. I actually had one woman, who I got daughter and friend to stand up and offer a seat to, push past them without a thankyou and proceed to spend the rest ot the trip glaring at them – presumably for daring to exist in the same timezone. I felt like getting the kids (9ish ) to sit back down on her lap. Whereas, for all the social issues that are more publicised, almost all Maori I have ever met can be counted on to take an interest in kids- and look after any strange child who looks in trouble . Same with Chinese, from teenagers up. And Malays. And Samoans (actually, all the Island groups here anyway). Go to an Asian restaurant, and your kids will be adored, in the nicest possible way. A marae, same thing, or an Island church. As a kid, I internalised the idea – not meant to be racist, just what it seemed to a kid- that brown people gave hugs, and white people were standoffish (from experiences with rellies). You can guess which rellies we kids preferred to spend our time with.

    For the record, I look white, and so did friend’s daughter, so it wasn’t a racial thing with that silly woman – purely unfriendliness. There are days, LRH, when I feel your ideas about wildlife apply to some adults, whose unfriendliness is a danger to the world my children have to inhabit. Oh, that I could take matters into my own hands too, LOL!

  33. @Donna- The anti-child vibe keeps many kids from doin things they are perfectly capable of.

    My son was biking home from school on the sidewalk, when a driver threw a hot cup of coffee at him (my son slammed on his brakes and missed getting hit.) He came home with his friends to tell me of the “lunatic” and that we needed to call the police. I reluctantly did (even though our town seems to be run by Boss Hog and Enis). The police officer said that “sometimes these kids bike in the middle of the street and drivers get annoyed” implying that he somehow deserved to have the coffee thrown on him. When I explained that he wasn’t in the street but on the sidewalk and didn’t do anything to provoke, the cop just said that sometimes people do stupid things and that there was nothing he could do. I think I said something snarkly like “sorry if I took you away from your donut” but I wonder how this cop would feel if someone threw hot coffee at him. I’m sure there would be a manhunt. But a kid? Then it’s why didn’t the mom just drive him home from school?

  34. @hineata, this white woman agrees with you! I had my first three children in Canada’s very far North, amongst an Aobiginal people called the Dene. They were very child-friendly and child-focused, and we felt welcome anywhere we went. The elders took particular interest and responsibility for all children in the community.

    We moved to a southern Canadian city five years ago, a place where lots of seniors live. We are often treated like pariahs here, sometimes just for having children with us, even if they are being very well-behaved.

  35. As an Aussie… I have managed to survive 32 years, 20 of them growing up in a very small country town, trapsising through un pathed bushland, paddocks and more, Walking 3km to school on my own from a very young age and NEVER have I seen a snake alive, never have I been bitten by a spider… Fear mongering about the ‘Dangers of Australia’ is no different than helicopter parenting !
    I now live in the city and my gorgeous kids walk to and from school on their own. At first I was critisised but now slowly parents in the neighbourhood have started to let their kids walk too… A balmy summers evening sees many a local child playing around the block, bikes are out, the air is filled with kids. Yes there are the few who can not go out for a walk with their friends to the playground but more and more are being given the freedom.
    Dont write Australia off!
    As for the article, I see no issue with the parent brigades. Not really ideal but I am guessing it is more a community working together and keeping an eye out, rather than an organised patrol.

  36. I think in lots of Western urban environments people get annoyed when they perceive that they have to take on any responsibility for someone else’s kids.

    And as for the Australian wildlife comment… If a parent hasn’t taught their child how to respond to the wildlife by the age of 5-6, they truly have failed.

  37. @hineata – I get that from a lot of the older people at church – they’re not (I guess) used to running, screaming kids. And I’m the type that if a kid needs some assistance reaching the water fountain, I’ll pick them up so they can drink, or if they’re sitting in the Arby’s at a table pouring salt all over it from the salt shaker, I’ll tell them “stop that right now”. I got the stink-eye from some parents whose dd was doing the saltpouring on more than a few tables.

  38. @ Sera.
    I have lived in Australia for 35 years and I have seen 2 snakes. Both at least 4 hours drive from a city, both dead.
    I agree, that schools can be to far from home to make walking viable, but I’ve NEVER heard of people worrying about wildlife attacks. What total rubbish!

    @LRH
    I assume it’s because Aus is far less religious that the USA (generally speaking) but most people here think that an animal’s right to live in it’s natural environment out-weighs your desire to swim where ever you so choose. Further more, crocodiles are only found in the very far north of the country which is relatively sparsely populated so not much of a concern for most of us. Snakes and spiders are simply not a big problem – don’t believe everything you hear. Also, gun laws in Australia would mean that very few people actually own a gun.

    @Ben
    Australia is not much smaller (geographically) than the USA but has a population similar to Manhattan Island. So as you can imagine, we’re all a bit spread out which makes funding public transport rather tricky.

  39. Oh, and why is this conference happening in Bendigo? I’m sure Bendigo is lovely and all, but it’s a bit of an obscure choice isn’t it?

  40. @Diane – Sorry, lost that….I meant to say that most Island folk are wonderful with kids in church – though they tend to be very strong on discipline, so very few children misbehave in the services themselves….it’s outside in the carpark later that kids tend to run wild 🙂

    Also, and this is grossly off-topic but I noticed one of your comments regarding islam/sikhism – actually as I am sure you probably know they are two very different religions, and I don’t think I have ever heard of Sikhs rioting….While Islam is a religion and not a race, I think you might find that Sikhs are pretty much both….i.e. they all hail from pretty much the same area in India originally, and the men are almost all surnamed Singh and the women Kaur. I only know this myself – as I don’t know any Sikhs personally – because my husband grew up around some, and he was really angry in the aftermath of 9/11 with the reports of Sikhs being beaten up in the States, simply because they wore oddlooking headgear….After that he insisted on our kids knowing at least the basics of all the religions he knew anything about (and being a Malaysian, that was quite a few!), as he felt ignorance could be extremely harmful.

    Anyway, apologies if you already knew all that, and have a great day. Good on you for interacting with other people’s kids, too – we need more of that, if we’re ever going to recreate the ‘village’!

  41. My kids have played around black widow spiders since they could toddle out to the Little Tykes play structures in the back yard. When we lived in Santa Cruz, CA, those spiders got in every nook of those toys and while I would spay them off every so often, the only way to get them out entirely was to take the dang toys completely apart. My kids never got bit, despite daily playing inches away. Part of that, was that I taught them to never touch the shiny black spiders. So to me, the “animals” excuse is just that, an excuse.

    I have had friends (adults) who got beer bottles thrown at them from passing cars while riding bikes. My husband had the same thing happen while on a motorcycle. Jerks, but this didn’t happen often, thankfully. Police were not called, but I am going to tell my kids to try to remember plate number and make and color if they can.

  42. For folks worried about Australian snakes, note that there are excellent antivenoms for all of them, and as they’re neurotoxic elapids, long-term side effects are extremely rare.

    A North american rattlesnake will cause serious scarring and permanent functional loss even WITH antivenom.

    The odds of being bit are low, and with treatment, the odds of dying if you ARE bit are low. (And the first aid is simple and widely taught: put a pressure bandage on it properly and you have a few hours to seek care.)

  43. See FiSyd and again my apologies if I’m off-topic, but I’m one that basically thinks animals have no rights pretty much. I take the “humans are of a higher plateau than animals” to such an extent that I’ve even argued that Charles Manson is entitled to better treatment than a dog that’s rescued someone from a fire because Charles Manson is a human & a dog is an animal. I’m totally serious.

    (Don’t get me wrong, Charles Manson is a monster & I would hardly be inclined to sympathize much with any pain he happened to be suffering from.)

    That said, I do agree with laws that punish people for torturing animals & such and I have no problem with kindness with animals per se, just the notion that an animal’s “right” to live in “its” habitat outweighs my right as a human with dominion over the animals & plants to explore pretty much wherever I darn well please. I’m all for national parks & forests being set aside where they are left alone & you venture at your own risk somewhat, but otherwise–nope. Any point of view that holds an animal has more rights than I do is just wacko, if you ask me.

    More on-topic, I think Donna is right in terms of kids being unwelcome even when they’re just “being kids” & not necessarily being noisy brats in places they should behave. I’m all for a parent being expected to keep their child quiet in a nice restaurant, church, wedding, graduation etc, & in fact I’m one of the 1st to give someone the “stink eye” or even confront them if their kids are noisy–but for people to look at disdain when kids are running & yelling in the park, that’s nuts.

    LRH

  44. @Hineata – umm, way to go with racial generalisations!!! As a Pakeha, I rather take issue with the ‘Pakeha aren’t friendly to kids’ thing. Sorry if its been your experience, but let’s not get into racial profiling please?

  45. LRH – please don’t come to Australia. We’d prefer people with such barbaric attitudes stayed elsewhere.

  46. LRH – you do realise YOU are an animal don’t you? We are all animals and as the most evolved species we have a responsibility to other animals not rights OVER them.

  47. @Sera – let’s get some stats in here shall we? since 1980 there have been a grand total of 43 Australians killed by snakes. That’s just over one per year – which means you have approximately the same chance of being killed by a snake in Australia as you have of being killed by a a crocodile – or a shark – or lightning – or bee stings http://www.sydney100.com/snakes-spiders-sharks.htm. Not really worth worrying about, is it? And it’s certainly no reason for children not to walk to school.

    As to your suggestion that Australia is too spread out for children to walk to school – that’s rubbish. Most children do live within walking or bike-riding distance of their schools, and for those who don’t there are bus services. Until fairly recently most children DID walk or ride or take the bus to school – the change is not in the distance to schools but in the behaviour and attitudes of parents. Children would still walk to schools if they were allowed to (indeed if you ask children they say they would much prefer walking to be driven), but parents don’t let them.

  48. Somewhat related because it is so typical of the attitude of lots of helicopter parents… As in, only their child’s safety is important.

    Today I was walking my child to school and saw someone getting out of her car, which was blocking the crossing at the end of the footpath we were on. The woman was dropping off her daughter at the preschool right next to the path. There was a family with school kids right in front of me and one right behind me. Lots of families cross there with their kids on their way to the primary school, often with prams and bikes, needing the kerb ramp to safely cross, not to mention the big 4WD reducing visibility on the crossing.

    So I yelled: “Excuse me! Do you realise you are parked across a foot path?” She looked at her car, then at the path, said something to her child and then just continued walking to the door of the preschool!

    She was lucky we were running late for school too or I would have followed her in to subject her to an overdose of scarcasm revolving around how I had not been able to tell that her child was so much more precious than our kids and other road users and how her daughter would lead an enchanted life in the knowledge that consideration for others is completely optional as long as she is comfortable and doesn’t have to walk too far.

    I have on occasions called the parking inspectors because of parents parking dangerously at the school because apparently their child is unable to walk an extra 20 metres. But what I really feel like doing is smash their headlights in with my umbrella!

    And don’t get me started on parents speeding through school zones! It is ironic and infuriating that it is mostly other parents who make it so much more dangerous for kids to walk to school.

  49. It used to take a village to raise a child. I’m not really sure what happened. It makes me sad.

  50. FiSyd asked…
    Oh, and why is this conference happening in Bendigo? I’m sure Bendigo is lovely and all, but it’s a bit of an obscure choice isn’t it?

    I understand it’s an initiative of the City of Bendigo so where else would we hold it? In addition the major sponsors – La Trobe Uni, Victoria Walks – are Victorian bodies so a central Victorian location is ideal.

    Lenore is doing the keynote address on day one and is headlined as “World’s Worst Mum – helping families go free range.” Such fame and notoriety! Well done Lenore.

    Regarding the Aussie wildlife visitors are unlikely to see anything much of them unless they specifically go looking for them. The native animals have evolved in ecosystems where they didn’t really have any predators and so are not overly aggressive or defensive. The only large predator is the crocodile which is restricted to the northern part of the country. For the most part our wildlife is indifferent to humans, neither afraid of us nor aggressive toward us.

    The only real animal problem we’ve had in the Bendigo region in recent years was an infestation of thousands of fruit bats in Rosalind Park during 2010. The greatest danger they posed was being pooed on from above and the associated smell.

    The weather, on the other hand, can be fickle. In the past half dozen years or so I’ve been in the midst of tornado, bushfire following a decade of drought, and flood – all within the confines of Bendigo itself.

    @Lenore…

    If you are to come here you MUST choose an AFL (football) team to support. This is de rigueur for all foreign visitors. I would highly recommend Geelong AKA the mighty Cats.

  51. Thanks gwallan – might be time for me to come and check out Bendigo! Sounds like my kind of town!

  52. I hope I am not stirring up controversy with what I’m saying, it isn’t my intention. At any rate.

    FiSyd in my view, no, I’m not an animal. Similarities to apes & gorillas aside, I consider humans separate from the animal kingdom, even though we’re “homo sapiens” and have a spot in the “kingdom phylum class order family genus species” hierarchy (if I remember it correctly). I consider humans a special group of “organisms” (for lack of a better way of putting it) & not just another animal etc. When someone says “you’re acting like an animal,” it’s not a compliment, for a reason.

    Frankly I don’t see what is so barbaric about what I’m saying. What’s different about that versus, say, people killing roaches or mice that invade their house? Am I supposed to sit back & let roaches or mice invade my house if they come in here? What’s different between that versus taking care of business with stray animals that come into your yard & are acting menacing and could hurt your kids, especially when you’ve tried more humane ways but it hasn’t worked?

    Yes I do believe, seriously I do, that we have a responsibility somewhat to be humane, not just run rough-shod over everything inferior to us “because we can” (like I said, the birds around here don’t harm us in anyway & add “character” to the space, so I’m all for just letting them be), but that can be taken too far, and I think such is the case when you tell a human they can’t explore the environment around them because an animal is there & you can’t “invade their space.” That’s fine when you have national parks set aside specifically for them (and I agree with those who say zoos don’t count, it’s not a “genuine” experience for the animals & they do deserve one), but if it turns out to be seemingly half the freaking country, that’s too much. (You’ve stated that it’s just a small section of the north, so perhaps that would be fine in my view.)

    It’s too much when the Flor-idiots that run things in Florida tell you that you can’t take care of business with an alligator that has invaded your own private living space; I don’t mind animal control handling things if they can do it quickly & conveniently, but when you’re legally REQUIRED to even if they can’t do it as quickly as you can, & this is your own private space we’re talking about, that’s taking it too far. When I lived in Tucson AZ you couldn’t touch the javelinas (a sort of pig, Wikipedia calls them peccary), even though they’re bad about coming onto your land & ransacking your garbage, EVEN when the garbage is tight in cans and EVEN when people have put up fences in the yard to keep them out.

    That’s ridiculous. If one has done all of that & they’re STILL causing problems, you should be able to take care of business by whatever way you can, period. To heck with this whole “you’re in their territory” rubbish–no sir, we’re humans, it’s OUR territory, especially our own freaking yards which we’ve fenced up to keep things out. Gee whiz, what more are we supposed to do? (For the record, I lived in apartments not houses when I lived there, it was never an issue for me, but it was for many who did live in houses.) Still, as long as wildlife doesn’t do something like that which is a headache-inducing irritation, I’m okay with leaving it alone. The qualifier is that they have to leave me alone first.

    LRH

  53. Lin I agree with you (although I do think school speed zones sometimes are too much to deal with as a commuter as they’re done). A lot of parents have the “my child” perspective that everything is supposed to revolve around them, EVERYTHING. I remember when the “Baby on Board” signs existed, my response, along with others–why should I have to drive slow (not careful, but slow) just because you had children? Besides, who is to say a child’s life is more important than an adult’s? I never understood that mentality. I don’t agree with it at all; a child hit by a car is terribly horrible, of course, but so is an adult. A human is a human, if you ask me.

    But yes, such parents think it’s okay if their child hollers in a nice restaurant or during graduation ceremonies etc, & how dare you suggest otherwise. They’re the ones that name their child an unusual name because they want their child to “stand out.” As I told my girl’s teacher, I want my child to BLEND IN to your class, not stand out from it. If she wants to stand out, let her do so in her academic achievements or in how well behaved she is, NOT in terms of her having an unusual name or demanding special treatment over & above other children.

    As I like to say–yes, to YOU, your child is special; to society at large, they’re not. A child is a child is a child, it doesn’t mean we HATE them (I agree with those pointing out how sometimes people can be hostile towards kids playing even in the park where it’s SUPPOSED to be that way), but no one person’s child deserves special treatment over the rest of them, & it’s inflated thinking to believe otherwise.

    LRH

  54. Re: LRH and ‘unusual names’. I have a pretty unusual name in that I’m white and most people with my name are African-American. I certainly stood out in school because of it (mostly because the hilljacks couldn’t pronounce it) and it’s caused me some issues as an adult, because when people hear my name (especially in combination with my last name) before meeting me, they think I’m going to be African-American. But my parents didn’t give me this name to stand out. My mom honestly didn’t know it was more of an African-American name. She just thought it was pretty. Yes, there are certainly some parents who give their children ridiculous names (celebrities, I’m looking at you), but there are other parents who just don’t realize what they’re doing.

    My dad once commented that “Barack Obama” sounded like a Muslim name. I asked, “Does my name sound like it belongs to a white woman?” He looked at me for a minute and then said, “You have to talk to your mother about that.”

  55. kiesha That is funny. I definitely was not referring to situations like that, but people who PURPOSELY choose unusual names because they want their child to “stand out.” As I told my girl’s teacher, when we were at one point having issues with my girl acting out in class, if my child wants to “stand out,” let her stand out by being well-behaved and getting good grades and being age-appropriately independent, NOT by making a scene and “look at me” spectacle of herself, or by me bestowing an usual name on her for that purpose.

    I mean, I don’t think Lenore is an unique name (although Skenazy maybe is a little bit), but our “queen of Free Range” most certainly stands out, in a good way, in how she advocates this wonderful cause.

    LRH

  56. She was lucky we were running late for school too or I would have followed her in to subject her to an overdose of scarcasm revolving around how I had not been able to tell that her child was so much more precious than our kids and other road users and how her daughter would lead an enchanted life in the knowledge that consideration for others is completely optional as long as she is comfortable and doesn’t have to walk too far.

    Roll over the hood of her car, like in the movies. You know, the good guy is running from or towards the bad guy, there’s a car in the way, so they just jump and roll.

    You only have to do it once per driver, I promise 😛

    LRH – you do realise YOU are an animal don’t you? We are all animals and as the most evolved species we have a responsibility to other animals not rights OVER them.

    “Most evolved”? What an ignorant and outdated statement! Evolution isn’t a race, it just is. Having brains and thumbs doesn’t make us “more evolved” than other animals, it makes us better suited for some environments. You don’t get “evolution points”. We’re all EQUALLY evolved.

    Some of us are just more sentient than others. I’m not complaining. However, we’re not the long-term survivors that, say, cockroaches are, we can’t see as well as hawks, our eyes are more prone to certain injuries than those of squids (and it’s really a great example of kludgy evolution, our eyes!), we can’t fly under our own power (boo!) or dive down very deep….

  57. As far as being able to explore the world and destroy anything that threatens us, I will simply quote David Cross [strong language ahead]: “The Indians were fucking dumb. That’s why they’re extinct, motherfucker. Hey Indians, get a Bible, then we’ll talk. It’s called Manifest Destiny. Look it up – it’s in the book we wrote.”

  58. kiesha I guess I started an off-topic rant, I didn’t mean to, I only meant it to the extent that wildlife come up in this topic & my thought was, if wildlife is making people nervous about letting their kids have a childhood, IF the wildlife is a threat as it’s being presented (although apparently it isn’t as it turns out), then why are we dilly-dallying around vs taking care of business? If there really is a threat, enough with all the dilly-dallying around & let’s eliminate it.

    But that said, where it regards the Native-Americans, I will say that as it’s presented it does seem as though they got a raw deal. If that’s how it happened (and it seems to be that it is), that to me is MUCH more outrageous than displacing wildlife, because, again, Native-Americans were humans, not animals, so it’s a whole different thing altogether.

    LRH

  59. But Kiesha, isn’t giving kids the skills to adapt to their environment as opposed to us adapting their environment to suit them a big part of raising free-range kids?

  60. linvoLin – Was that comment meant for me or someone else? I’ve only made two comments in this thread and neither have been about adaptation…

  61. I guess to me, displacing wildlife and displacing Native Americans both come to down to someone having the attitude of “I’m bigger/stronger/better than you, so get out.” It’s sort of like eminent domain: “This Home Depot and access road are more important than your farm, so we’re taking your land.” (True story!)

    I’m not a crazy animal rights person. I do not believe animals have more rights than humans and would definitely ‘take care of business’ if an animal came onto my property and threatened me or my family.

    But I also wouldn’t go clear-cutting a forest to build a house and then get upset when I saw bears.

    I think it’s our responsibility as the bigger/stronger entities to try and take care of wildlife when we can and not drive species to extinction just because we want to build more condos.

  62. Amazing story and so easy to believe. I particularly like the answer about just how many adults are looking afte them! Worst part of worst-first thinking is fear-thy-neighbor thinking. I’m suppose there are things I appreciate about American individualism, but it sure interferes with our ability to connect with and trust our communities.

  63. again, Native-Americans were humans, not animals, so it’s a whole different thing altogether.

    ARE humans. Native Americans ARE humans. They’re still here!

  64. Yeah sorry Kiesha, it was a response to LRH to the suggestion that we should remove wildlife threats…

  65. Uly Yes the one still here theyy ARE humans, most certainly. I meant WERE in terms of the displacement having occurred many years ago, those persons now being deceased & no longer with us, they WERE humans.

    Also, I do sort of agree with the idea of not clearing out every last bit of non-developed areas for still more condos, animals or not. What I don’t agree with is the notion that if you are like me & choose to live in the wilderness because you wish to get away from the noise & stress of city life in the name of “when home, I want to just be left alone,” you shouldn’t then have to tolerate being harassed by wildlife trespassing into your space & not be allowed to shoo it away. Otherwise, you’re merely trading one aggravation (sirens, traffic, tons of other persons all on top of you) for another (bears, armadillos, stray cats & dogs ransacking your place).

    Whether it’s in the interest of me being left alone so I can have some peace & quiet or my kids being left alone when they’re outdoors playing & exploring, I moved into the country because I wish to be left alone by everything, period, absolutely 100%–thankfully for the most part I’ve succeeded in that. I just get upset when I see others run into these problems & are told “well you moved into the wilderness you should EXPECT those problems.” A person should be able to make their home actually THEIR HOME. (But again, things like birds & rabbits which act “character” to the place & don’t cause any of these problems, I’m more than happy to leave them be and even somewhat enjoy them.)

    LRH

  66. It’s up to the kids parents if they let their children walk to school on their own or not. Perhaps the people of Japan have a different mind set to some of the people writing these comments and there may be a proven safety record in Japan, one that is far higher than in the United States for example.

  67. Cherry, you act as though we have a particularly low safety record here in the US!

  68. Most people in Australia live in our state capital cities, so it’s just not true to say children live are too far from schools to walk. As an example, most of the children attending my daughter’s primary school live within a 1 km radius of the school – and most of them are driven. It’s my personal opinion that parents drive because they don’t have too listen to their kids whinge as much that way. Having sometimes walked home with some children who were not used to it, they complained all the way. My children got over complaining by about 3 or 4 because they knew (or figured out) it wasn’t going to change anything, and they were still going to walk. And, by the way, we never met a snake (it’s far too urban) but we did rescue several possums who had fallen from trees…

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