“After Hearing John Walsh, I Cannot Let My Kids Go”

Hi Folks! Here’s a heartfelt letter from a mom haunted by the horrible stories we hear all the time (sometimes decades later) of murdered children. Though she said in subsequent, very sweet notes to me that she doesn’t want any help, and is raising her kids the way she feels is right — as are we all! — I’m wondering if you have any kind words that might help her feel a little less pessimistic about strangers.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I was a Free-Range Kid. I understand the theory behind letting your kids Free-Range.  I even support and feel positively about the idea of Free-Range.  And then I see ANOTHER interview with John Walsh–whose child was one aisle over from his mother in a store before being abducted and his head cut off — or Stan Patz, whose child was just walking to school when he was snatched, or Marc Klaas, whose daughter was sleeping in her own bed before she was grabbed by a psychopath and brutally raped before being fatally savaged to death, and I just can’t do it.
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I just can’t.  50 dead kids a year is a wholly unacceptable risk in my mind.  And remember, we’re talking 50 kids who end up being lucky to be dead after the rape and torture they endure.  Remember, we’re not talking about the chances you’ll pick a yucky watermelon or miss the bus here.  One kid being violently murdered is the end of the world if it’s a child in your life.  I’m not going to helicopter my kids, but listening to John Walsh talking about listening to tapes of tortured children to see if he could recognize his son’s voice (which he couldn’t because Adam had already been beheaded by the time the tape was made) will haunt me forever.
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And I understand the responses already being formulated — those are isolated examples, that’s only three out of millions, crime statistics are down/misleading/hyperinflated, we did it when we were kids and we’re fine, etc.  These are all responses I’ve had from my three brothers (none of whom has children, incidentally) and they are perfectly reasoned responses.  They just aren’t enough to make the risk worth it for me. – A  Mom of Four
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My Response: Coping with Risk
Dear Mom of Four: I think the really important word here is “risk.” It’s different from the word “risky.” Risk is unavoidable. It’s a part of life. It’s something we take every time we put our kids in the car, for instance.
“Risk-Y” is something else, an activity or decision that is likely to cause harm, like driving blindfolded. When we define all risk — even the risk of letting  our kids wander one aisle away from us at the store — as “risky,” it becomes very hard to do anything other than keep our kids by our side at all times.  

Which is not to say you must  let your kids go off on  their own, or even sleep in their own rooms (which was the sum total of the “risk” the Klaas’ took). Only that the world we live, despite its imperfections, in is a LOT better than the tape loop of terrifying abductions we see when we turn on the TV. Free-Range Kids exists, in part, to turn that loop off. I’ve invited the readers to share any coping strategies that help them do just that. – L
John Walsh

114 Responses

  1. Dear Mom of Four:

    You know those names–each a tragedy–for the same reason you can recite flight numbers of downed airliners. Because they are RARE events.

    You can choose to live in fear, and raise a stunted and overly-dependent approximation of an adult, or you can use the brain the evolution/God gave you and do the correct thing.

    Fear is not an excuse for depriving your children of their birthright, which is to become fully capable adults capable of taking care of themselves without you. The one and only measure of your success or failure as a parent will be the kinds of adults your children grow up to be, period.

  2. After watching a really creepy episode of a cop drama last night I felt the fear rising. And that was fiction. Sheesh.

    Maybe ban televison to imporve emotional security and mental health?

  3. There is certainly a benefit to your children by keeping them on a leash. There is also a cost, and the cost far outweighs the benefits that leash provides. You rob your child of crucial life skills without which they will never be whole.

  4. We often talk about the parents role in a free-range family, but you can’t really be free-range unless you are raising your kids to be independent. That means that you are training them to make risk assessments **themselves** and to watch their own environment and make good decisions. Obviously, a meteorite could just as likely come through your roof as a PCP-crazed rapist could through a window – and both would make your choice in parent styles moot, but teaching kids to understand risk is a core value of the free-range lifestyle.

  5. The response seems very judgemental. Using words like ‘correct’ and phrases like ‘ depriving your children of their birthright’ does nothing to promote discussion. We all do the best we can and what we think is right as parents.

  6. I think the thing the writer misses is that you cannot control everything. Polly Klass was taken from her bedroom, as was Elizabeth Smart. You cannot completely avoid “risk.” But that’s the allure of helicoptering. You feel like you are in control when you are not. I’d rather teach my child about risk, give him tools to use, but help him to be independent, so that I don’t have to bring him with me when I run an errand when he’s 15.

  7. I’m somewhat prone to anxiety (like the kind you take pills for) and it is easy to get fixated on ‘what-ifs’, especially the kind I have little control over. And to be honest, as Klass’ case illustrates, this particular risk is one we have no control over – we have absolutely no ability to micromanage the horrible decision other humans sometimes (rarely) make to harm children. And that is terrifying. So we try to cope by tightening our grasp on the things we can control, no matter how little they actually reduce risk. Kudos at least to this mom for recognizing that her reaction is psychological, not rational.

    But what helps me is to own this next paragraph fully:

    Ultimately, as awful as it sounds to say it outright…I’d rather my child had a wide range of enriching and humanizing experiences, because no matter what precautions I take there is a chance he will die young, and I want his life to have been as full as it possibly can have been no matter how long or short his time is. If he could be snatched from his bed, I’d rather he have had years of exploration and experiences to draw courage and resilience from, rather than leave too soon a life full of ‘when you are older’ unfulfilled potentials.

  8. I’m sorry but John Walsh and everyone like him play on our fears as parents and they make millions of dollars doing it. When you stop and do a little research, there is very little stranger danger, though it does happen. Most children 95% are victimized by people they know. There are several studies out there that debunk the coolaid that these people and politicians feed us. As a past child victim, these people do not forgive nor do they allow us or want us victims to forgive, grow and move on. I suggest you educate yourselves about the dangers and that the danger is mostly within the family unit. Shame on you John Walsh for saying otherwise and quit revictimizing us and making money off of us!

  9. Re: “And then I see ANOTHER interview with John Walsh–”

    Mom-of-four, STOP FILLING YOUR MIND with those fear-mongering stories! How many hours have you spent telling yourself THE TRUTH?

    Read Lenore’s entire book: Free Range Kids, then make a habit of spending time everyday (even if it’s only 10-15 minutes) reading stories and comments on Lenore’s blog. A couple months from now you will be a different person.

  10. I would also suggest just not watching John Walsh. When an interview with him comes on TV, turn it off. He is drawing everything he says from his personal experience, and everything he says is skewed from that perspective.

    Think about this – if Adam Walsh had had a completely normal childhood, and John Walsh gave interviews about that, would you listen to him? Would you base your life on what he said?

    Tapes of tortured children? My TV would have been off the minute that was even mentioned. There’s no need, in my opinion, to listen to anyone talk about that.

  11. I’d suggest she not take her child in a car anywhere since isn’t the statistic for a kid being in an injury car accident much much much higher? She can obviously do what she wants, but at some point her kids will start resenting their lack of freedom and independence. And she has another issue if she can’t stop watching interviews or videos like this. What about all the videos of happy kids playing? Why isn’t she watching those?

  12. Fear is used to control you. Fear is the mind killer. Fear is a liar. Fear is just a feeling and you can get over it. Fear is a prison. Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

    Living your life in fear of the unknown is keeping your children in a prison of your own creation. The world today is safer than the world we grew up in. Let your children live, don’t punish them because you are afraid. If you truly can’t handle letting go of the fear, it’s become a security blanket for you and you need to seek professional help.

  13. I feel for the Walsh family as I do for any parent whose child dies before them. The wife must feel some about of guilt for being in a different isle. But here’s the thing….

    She didn’t murder her son.

    Again. She didn’t murder her son.

    Here’s something also important….

    We are all going to die.

    If we live our lives trying to keep ourselves and our loved ones from dying, we are fighting a loosing battle. Sure I don’t want my children to die before I do, but I don’t have much control over that. Nor would I like my children to be tortured shortly before their deaths. But….

    We are all going to die.

    However, I do have control over what my children do and how they do enjoy life. And I try to live it like they have cancer and are dying because if they did have cancer then we wouldn’t spend time worrying over if someone is going to kidnap them and murder them, now would we? We’d spend quality time with them and try and make their last few days special.

    So I spend quality time with my children and try to make every day special in case it is in fact the last one for them or for me because we are in fact all going to die. And the vast majority of us have no idea when or how we are going to die (only those who happen to be dying really have some inkling).

    And we need to get over the fact that we aren’t immortal.

    As L says, we are more likely to die in a motor accident than be kidnapped, yet we still get in a car and take our children to the library, out to the park, out to eat, to the pool, to school,….

    We are all going to die. Repeat that to yourself and think about what you should be doing rather than worrying over something that inevitably is going to happen anyway.

  14. I do a lot of “reckless” activities with my kids. We hike, we backpack, we race…. I used to have a recurring nightmare of one of my children falling off a trail into a raging mountain stream and drowning.

    This would scare the crap out of me; I’d wake up in a cold sweat and have trouble sleeping. But I still hike and take my kids out there. Why?

    Because there’s nothing like standing at the top of a mountain with your child.

    We have frank conversations with our kids about safety. The mountain doesn’t care if you live or die. It DOES NOT CARE IF YOU LIVE OR DIE.

    So living or dying is your choice.

    If you prepare yourself for death, and live in fear of death, then you deprive your kids of life.

    If you accept the risk of death, and prepare for life in the face of adversity, of danger, then you give your kids life.

    Turn off the TV and get out there and live.

  15. I think the writer needs to ask herself, what benefit did I get from XYZ (walking to school, riding a bike around the neighborhood, etc) and think why should I deprive my child of that experience? After that, the parent needs to go through the kind of therapy that people use to desensitize their fear of say dogs for example. Imaging being 100 feet from a dog, then getting comfortable with that, then 50 feet, then 25 feet, then 10 feet, then petting the damn dog. Although I guess with being free range, it’s in reverse. Letting them be out of your sight for 30 seconds, then 1 minute, then 5 minutes and so on. And seeing how HAPPY and SELF CONFIDENT your child becomes when they see how you let then have some autonomy and the belief that they are capable of doing things on their own. And if she NEVER wants to let her kids out of her sight, when they get to college or just being on their own as adults, how are they supposed to cope?

    On a side note, does she not allow them to drive in cars? Or is that risk something that feels normal and regular and everyday, so it’s okay if they say were killed if someone drove them over a bridge (which is what happened in NYC not too long ago)

  16. “kids who end up being lucky to be dead after the rape and torture they endure”

    It may be some comfort to learn that the distorted idea that child sexual abuse is worse than death is promoted by special interests who sell rescue services. There is strong evidence that most kids who experienced sexual activity with different age groups were NOT seriously harmed by it. For a reference to that evidence read this critical review of a one-sided book that has made millions terrorizing a generation: http://sexhysteria.wordpress.com/2012/04/15/the-courage-to-heal-a-critical-review/

  17. You choose not to allow your children the freedom to roam because of your own self interest. Read your letter again. It isn’t about how awful it is for the kids who die. It is about how awful it is for the PARENTS to live through. It’s about John not Adam; Stan not Etan and Marc not Polly. The kids aren’t mentioned in your letter at all except for the effect their death had on their parents.

    Parenting is the one thing of the few things we undertake that REQUIRES us to put aside our own selfishness and do what is best for the children we choose to bring into the world or bring into our homes. Children need space to grow into mature, responsible, independent adults. They need childhoods filled with fun and not fear of the boogieman around every corner. Is it scary to let them go? Absolutely! But we have to push down our own fears and do what is best for them, not what is best for us. Every time my daughter goes out if my sight, a part of me worries until I see her again. But I wave and let her go, knowing it is her job to slowly spread her wings to prepare for a life without me and it is my job to let her no matter how afraid I am. Because it isn’t all about me.

    And ask yourself this, when will it be enough? At what age will you be able to allow your child to walk out the door without you with a 100% guarantee that they will not meet some horrific tragedy before they return? 18? 22? 25? For every Etan Patz, there is a Natalee Holloway, Chandra Levy, Eve Carson. All over 18 and all murdered. All mourned by their parents just as Etan Patz is mourned by his. Their parents are no less devastated because they got a few extra years with their children. Should Eve’s death now keep us from allowing our children to go to college? Should Chandra’s death keep us from allowing our children to do internships? Should Natalee’ disappearance keep us from allowing our adult children to vacation with friends?

    At some point, we have to step back and let them live their own lives. It is never easy. It is not going to be easier at 16 or 18 or 21 when you have kept them close to you because if fear. It is much easier to slowly give them room so that when they do have to leave you, you know they can handle it.

  18. Here is the list of things to worry about and the order in which to worry about them. (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr59/nvsr59_08.pdf) Please note that homicide doesn’t make the top 100 and it comes after suicide. I’m just sayin’

  19. And stop listening to John Walsh. He has exploited Adam’s death to make himself a millionaire. He wants you to fear because that is where his paycheck is. If everyone realizes that the world is not an awful and scary place full of danger for children, he loses money. He doesn’t want to lose money so he will shove every morsel of fear down your throat that he can. The more gut-wrenching and horrifying the better. He stopped being about Adam and became about his own fame and pocketbook many, many years ago. He probably disgusts me more than I feel an ounce of sympathy for him anymore.

  20. I find it interesting that every ‘helicopter parent’ says something along the lines of ‘I just would never be able to live with myself’ or ‘I would feel so guilty.’
    Shouldn’t it be more along the lines of, ‘he’d never get the chance to grow up,’ or ‘she would be emotionally scarred for life’? After all, it’s the KIDS this is happening to.
    I had a brother who was sexually abused when we were young, and neither me nor my parents ever tried to make it about us. We felt guilty, of course we did, but that wasn’t the point. We only have to live with the guilt, and while the guilt itself is certainly crippling, my brother has to live with what happened to him, has to deal with it every day.
    I can’t imagine how my brother would have dealt if he had to constantly reassure me and my parents that it wasn’t their fault, there was nothing we could have done. It wasn’t about us. It was about him.

  21. Using a different analogy, airline disasters are like strangers abducting children. They are events that get a lot of air time on the news when they happen because they are so rare. Just like we can name kids who have been abducted and killed by strangers (Adam Walsh, Etan Patz, Polly Klaas), we can also name flights which ended in disaster (Pan Am flight 103 that exploded over Lockerbie, TWA flight 800 from New York that exploded over the Atlantic Ocean). Because these events are so rare, we end up mentioning aviation disasters and kidnappings that happened many years ago.

    What never gets mentioned on the news are all of the millions of people who fly every day who make it to their destinations. The millions of kids who walk to school, take a public bus, or ride their bikes different places are also never mentioned. It would be really boring to hear about everyone going places without incident. Fear sells and generates ratings.

    This dredging up of old events doesn’t just happen in the States. In 1990 my husband was working in a small town in England and I came along. Whenever I would mention running in the nearby woods, people would tell me how dangerous it was because someone got murdered while walking alone in the woods. It turned out that the murder happened about 10-15 years previously, but people still talked about it like it happened yesterday. Again, it was a very rare and sensational event that stuck in people’s minds.

    As Dr. Phil and others say, we are not raising children, we are actually raising adults. We need to teach our children to become self-confident and to function as adults. When our kids go off to college, or start careers, we won’t be by their sides 24/7. Self-esteem doesn’t come from being constantly praised. It comes from age-appropriate mastery of something. I liked the suggestion of letting your kids go in small doses. For example, let your children walk to a neighbor’s house by themselves. When you see that they can do that safely, let them go a little further. You’ll be amazed at the boost in their self-esteem from trusting that they can handle being on their own for a few minutes.

    One more thing. Read Lenore’s book. She has some great strategies for assessing real risks and how to avoid the prevalent fear mongering.

  22. No, I totally get what this mum’s saying. There are awful mental images that just churn your insides and haunt you, and pop to the front of your mind when you least expect them to. Panic is simply irrational, and even though you try to convince yourself of the stupidity of it, there’s little you can do to eliminate it.
    Fortunately for me, my own personal panic is so ridiculous I have very little trouble convincing myself not to give in to it. (If you must know, I have this stupid idea that one of my kids will end up falling from somewhere really high. No, I’m not afraid of heights myself, and nothing like that has ever happened to anyone I know, it’s some sort of projected phobia or something).
    The thing is, our kids’ developments are more important than our personal superstitions. If you pretend to eliminate that particular fear from your life, I guess it will be almost impossible, but what you CAN do is not giving in to it.

  23. I wonder if people like this ride in automobiles…

  24. Here are a few things you could try.

    1. Be continually aware of the risks of keeping your children tied to your apron until they’re old enough to drive.

    2. Start researching fatality rates from driving. Seriously (it’s all available with a few clicks of the mouse). You won’t end up thinking “I’m never putting my kid in the car again” but you will realize how much that particular danger dwarfs all others.

    3. Instead of watching the news, read books about childhood. Read “American Girls,” read biographies of the childhoods of great men, read Laura Ingalls Wilder even if you already have. Keep in front of your eyes at all times what childhood can look like, is supposed to look like, and always has looked like until a couple of decades ago.

    4. Keep reading Lenore’s blog, and read her book too. It really helps to be reminded, with her common sense and humor, that there are people out there who do not keep their kids on a leash, so you don’t feel like a radical. Helicopter parenting is radical!!!

  25. I’m not going to judge this mother. But I am going to ask what is she doing to proactively to teach her children risk assessment, conflict avoidance/resolution, self-awareness/accurate gut instinct, and a whole host of other skills to prevent them from becoming victims as adults since she is choosing not to let them learn those skills through controlled and scaled independence. As long as she isn’t putting her children in danger later by denying these important skills, and she isn’t telling me how to teach them to my kids, I have no issues with her choice.

  26. I would like to add, for the mother’s consideration, my uncle as been a police officer for three decades. Because of the shifts and areas he’s worked his daily life involves interaction with the worst of the worst- the very things you fear. He still raised his kids, and recommended for the rest of us, free-range.

  27. Donna, your comment (and its follow-up) blew my mind. Awesome.

    TURN. OFF. THE. TV.

  28. I have OCD. I am often bombarded with mental images of horrible things that might happen to my children, over and over again on a continuous loop.

    I push through it. I have to push through it. When a car comes flying around the intersection without stopping, a block ahead of the spot where I am walking with my children, and my mind begins to turn over and over with images of “what if” we had been right at that intersection at that very moment…I keep walking. I have to. My heart pounds and I want nothing more than to turn around & go home – but really? Letting my anxiety keep me from taking my children for a walk on our own street, because something that didn’t even *almost* happen might happen someday?

    Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? It sounds ridiculous even to me, and I live with it every single day. But the alternative to pushing through it is more terrifying than anything my mind can manifest. I am *not* going to let my mental illness contaminate my children’s childhood. It is a struggle, but I think it will be worth it in the end – for all of us.

    Fear doesn’t keep us (or our children) from dying; it keeps us (and them) from living. I read these words in this space recently & they have become my mantra.

  29. It is my duty to prepare my children for the challenges of life

  30. I can’t do this by smothering them with excessive protection all the time.

  31. If you look at the website for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children they have this to say about child kidnappings each year:

    115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know or a slight acquaintance who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.

    Compare that to about 1 out of 6 women being sexually assaulted. Yet we still go about our day.

  32. I think we all need to embrace the fact that life and world offers no guarantees. Terrible things happen. But the fact that there are no guarantees also means that wonderful things happen. We need to simply let go of any sense that we are in control of things and just enjoy the ride. If you’re religious, part of this is putting faith in G-d or a higher power, since humans simply can’t practice the kind of overarching control they want to, and letting a higher power be in charge really is a relief. (Also, it would be funny to any higher being to see us humans trying to control everything.)

    That being said, I also have trouble dealing with those fears. So, when I feel them, I let myself feel them for a moment and then put them aside. I think it’s the compassionate thing to do both for yourself and for the parents who have suffered these terrible losses to let yourself feel the fear and then move on. It keeps you from becoming numb to these horrors, but it also allows you to get on with life. Both of those are necessary to be a good parent.

  33. Donna–I really liked the first 2 paragraphs of your post.

    I think that is right, the letter writer needs to figure out why this is so important to her. Are you afraid others will judge you? What does it mean to you and why? Maybe something from your childhood?

  34. I think I would add that getting to know your neighbors and participating in your community is a great way to feel more secure. Host a block party, or just spend time OUT FRONT where people can wander up to you and chat. When people in a neighborhood know and care about each other, a child’s roaming radius can naturally grow because we know we’re all watching out for each other. I think a lot of our fears come from being isolated and disconnected from our neighborhoods.

  35. I’m also not going to judge the mother, because I can see that what she is doing is out of love for her children. I was a bit of a helicoptor parent, thinking of all the bad things that may happen. Not just stranger danger, but getting hit by a car if crossing the road on her own,burning down the house, etc. Luckily I have a strong willed daughter, that when she was 8 convinced me that she could walk home from the school I taught at and that she attended in a small country town (there were 52 students at the school) We lived across the road from the school. I allowed her, although she had to lock the door and ring me as soon as she got home. (which was 2 min later) Guess what nothing happened. But letting my girl ‘go’ was baby steps for me. Now that she is almost a teenager (in 2 weeks, 3 days and 5 hours, or so she tells me) she keeps surprising me with her independence. Yes she does do silly things and gets herself into some trouble, but nothing that can be worked out. All I can say to this mum, if she wants her children to be freerange is take little steps and I bet she will be surprised at the resoursefulness of her children, and yes the fear is still there in the back of your mind but that can be pushed out of your mind. Good luck to that mum and her family, whatever she decides.

  36. I think most people on here live in extreme when it comes to free range. The truth is, you can live a middle ground – which if you reread the article- seems to be what this woman is trying do. She said she doesn’t hover over her kids. She just can’t be as “free range” as many there on here. Those of you suggesting she will be raising crippled adults are just as bad as those who put fear in others over worse case senerios. Millions of capable adults are raised every year who’s parents took some extra precautions when they were young and didn’t give them a wholly free range childhood. Kids are resilient. She isn’t ruining her kids at all. The only thing she’s doing is maybe giving herself extra worries. So let’s all relax a bit and remember to be “kind” as Lenore said.

  37. *I did not read all the previous comments*
    Dear Mom of Four,
    I am a mom of two, and I agree with you on some of your points. 50 children needlessly dieing is a wholly unacceptable number. But not allowing your child freedom to do things on his/her own will not prevent dieing. I agree, the idea of an adam walsh or elizabeth smart or jaycee dugard is terrifying.
    My niece was taken from a mall play area when she was two, she still remembers it, I don’t care what they say about memory, she has vivid memories of a strange man taking her away from her mother and sisters. BUT she cried as loud as she could, she kicked,she screamed, she fought! and when the man set her down to take a breath and someone walked over to a crying two year old to tell her “your daddy is right over there sweetie” she told that wonderful woman that he was NOT her daddy, at TWO YEARS OLD. and that woman brought my niece straight to security and now she is 15 and still with us. THANK GOD! Thank God my sister, and the rest of my family taught her (and all the kids in my family) that you don’t go off with strangers, no matter how nice they look or act. That if someone does take you without your permission or your moms permission you kick, scream, yell, bite, do all those things to hurt that person that you aren’t supposed to do otherwise. From a very early age, we were taught that. Not “don’t talk to strangers” or “strangers are scary” But Don’t go off with a stranger. Don’t get in a car with a stranger. Fight if someone takes you away from your family, or where you are supposed to be. The other thing I think was very important that my mother and father always told me was about the threats bad people make. I remember having conversations with my mom about what would happen if someone tried to kidnap us (and I fully believe conversations about things like that are very important) She told us that they will threaten our family if its what the feel will make you come with them, or calm down. She told us not to worry about that, she told us that more often than not they say those things to scare you, but its not really true, they can’t really follow through. If it was true, they would attack those grown ups and not a small child. My parents told us that in a situation where we are facing life or death, or extreme danger that is one time where it is completely appropriate to be selfish.
    The story about my niece terrifies me. And all the other stories terrify me too. But I think about my niece, and how she got herself away, at such a young age. I think about all the stories of kids that got away from attackers, and I see a theme. They all fought, none of them believed the person who told them harm would come to others if they tried to get away, all of them said their only thought was “I need to get away, no matter what”. I don’t know the thoughts of children who didn’t get away, and it is too tragic to dwell on for me. But I will teach my children to fight. I will tell them that their safety and life is paramount in a life or death situation. I will tell them that mommy and daddy can take care of themselves, if someone threatens us to threaten them. I will do everything I can to make them know that telling someone that they are in danger is NEVER the wrong thing to do.

  38. I really struggle with why these people are so fearful of the absolute worst happening to their kids – but none seem to fear what can happen to their kids if they raise them with no independence, a false sense of self esteem and the inability to function as adults. This is what I lay awake at night and worry about.

  39. @sam: The way I read the article it’s the classic misunderstanding of risk. “50 dead kids a year is a wholly unacceptable risk in my mind”. OK, fine. we’re not willing to accept 50 dead kids. So how do we reduce the number of dead kids to less than 50 a year?

    You’d have to keep them indoors and never drive them anywhere. You have to keep them away from all outdoor activity. You’d have to keep them away from all possible ways of committing suicide; all of those rank higher than death by abduction. So the logical conclusion is that you have to put your kids into padded rooms in a straightjacket.

    The problem is that by not allowing kids to experience life outside a carefully controlled bubble they don’t learn the coping tools they need to survive.

    We had an extreme case like this when I was in high school; a 15 year old who had been raised by his parents, home schooled, and rarely allowed contact with anyone outside his home until he was “old enough to handle it”. The net result is that he was completely unprepared to handle normal 15 year old life and dysfunctional in society.

    I’ve traveled to many places in the world; the kids best able to handle foreign environments are kids who grew up exploring. I’ve seen kids who had to go home after a few days because they could not cope with another culture. Invariably these were American kids who grew up protected and sheltered. Not to say that the free range kids always enjoyed it, or even acted appropriately, but they did not freak out and could deal with other customs, languages, and concepts.

  40. Yep, thanks to fear mongering like John Walsh and the many others, people now live in fear for their children and themselves. Fear is a great motivator, it brings profits to those invested in the companies.

    http://www.facebook.com/OfficialSOIssues
    http://sexoffenderissues.blogspot.com

  41. How would you cope if you lived in Syria right now? Or Greece?

    My tips: Enjoy your freedom. And help others who aren’t so fortunate.

  42. Raise confident kids who know how to say “no” to adults. Don’t stop them from telling adults in their life when they don’t want them to something (even if it’s grandma trying to give them a big wet kiss!). Give them full respect and allow them to have the self respect to tell adults exactly what they think, even yell it out, without reprocussion. So often, kids are taught to do as adults tell them everywhere else in their life but then are suddenly supposed to take a stand for themselves when a “nice, friendly” adult asks them to do something they’re uncomfortable with. They’re afraid to yell at adults, to scream and make their needs heard because they’ve been taught adults are more important.
    So yes, if the irrationality of the imaginary “riskiness” isn’t enough…then feel better by teaching your kids to be able to stand up for themselves. Put them in some self-defense classes. Teach them confidence and the ability to handle any situation and then YOU’LL feel more confident in them and not view them as so vulnerable. Trust your kids even if you can’t bring yourself to trust others.

  43. I don’t want to sound morbid, but who tapes the screams of tortured children? The torturers? Who then send them somewhere so that a private citizen like John Walsh can have them, along with the accompanying detailed information that his son was dead BEFORE the tapes were made? This just makes no sense to me and, truthfully, it sounds like a great way for him to fear-monger to parents.

  44. The problem with Mom of Four’s math is that she seems to think that not allowing her kids their independence not only removes the risk of something awful happening to them (which is debatable) but that it has no downside. But, realistically, she’s trading in the one in several million chance of something awful happening to her children for a 100% guarantee a different something awful will happen to them. It’s an awful and injurious thing for children to be denied independence, how many examples do we need to see, how many studies need to be done before we understand this? Apparently, we would need a Mike Walshian fear monger figure on the television talking about the kids who came to adulthood totally unprepared for their adult responsibilities because they’d never been far enough out of their parents’ field of view to learn to make decisions of their own. That happens a heck of a lot more often than 50 times a year, and it’s a risk that a parent CAN actually ameliorate, if they decide to.

  45. Donna is absolutely right! Believe me, I have 4 kids aged 10, 11, 23 & 26.
    We often hear it said “Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems”, but I also say “little kids, little worries. Big kids, big worries”. The fear never leaves. When we have young kids we are waiting for the day that they are big and we won’t have to worry any longer. Never happens. NEVER. Now the fear is they will die in a car accident because they drive, or they will get in a car with someone whose impaired, or they’ll fall prey to drugs, or be in the wrong place at the wrong time when something “goes down” (innocent bystander), or a million other scary things that go through your mind when they start to go out with friends to clubs and bars etc. Sometimes they forget to call to say they won’t be home and these crazy worrisome thoughts that your child is dead in a ditch somewhere crop up. But you learn to live with it and trust your child and always hope for the best. Bad things can and do happen. Such is life.
    Last week my daughter told me she is booking a trip to Mexico with her friend. Mexico!! Is she nuts?? I told her “Are you crazy? You want to go to the beheading capital of the world!?? Don’t you read, don’t you know what is going on in Mexico? Drug lords are leaving dead, dismembered bodies in the street!” But she is young and carefree and rolls her eyes and answers ” Mom, we’re just going to a resort, not downtown Tijuana! I know what’s going on, we have no intention of going anywhere except the airport and the resort. No tours, no visits into town. We’re not stupid!”
    And there you have it. She’s right, she’s not stupid. She’ll go, I’ll worry. I’ll kiss her goodbye at the airport and say “Have fun, be careful. I love you, be careful!” Perfectly normal. And I’m 99.99% sure that she’ll come home with great memories to share. Even from the beheading capital of the world!

  46. Dear Mom of four,

    I completely understand your fear. I know it is “justified” in that every parent’s worst nightmare would be to lose a child to a violent death.

    Remember there is a lot you can do to teach your children to protect themselves from danger. A well educated child will not walk out of a shopping mall with a stranger! Also realize there are things that happen which we can not control no matter how much we hover and try to protect them, like someone breaking in and stealing a child from their bed. What has helped me is to focus on what it felt like FOR ME to be a free range child. How can I deprive my children of this experience simply because I fear something horrible might happen to them? Something horrible MIGHT happen to them but they are more likely to be hit by lightening than abducted and they certainly know right well what to do if anyone should try to abduct them.

    My kids are 8 and 10. They need to feel at ease in this world DESPITE the fact that there is some risk involved with leaving the house …. And that goes for any of us! My mom nearly died in a car accident in March. Does that mean I should stop driving? My children will tell you most people are good people but they know there are some sick ones out there that hurt kids. Fortunately they know they can walk out the door and LIVE, not fear, because they have thee confidence and education to do so. They also know there are very few sickos out there. That’s important to stress to a child otherwise they will be paralyzed with fear ~ kind of as you are.

    I wish you all the best.

  47. Buffy, psychopaths often videotape or record their victims they can have more thrills later reaching it. If the policehave confiscated those tapes, it would make sense to bring the parents of a murdered child in to see if they could identify the killer. Harsh, but true. I hope none of you on here have to live through having a child tortured and brutally murdered. The reason it’s hard on the parents is because most parents love their kids so much that they would never get over the horrible feeling of knowing what their child had to endure. If I had to go through that I might want to do everything possible to prevent it from happening to another child as well, even if it meant acting irrationally. And to everyone here who has been putting down John Walsh, let’s not judge this poor father too much, OK?

  48. I remember people being surprised that my husband and I would adopt children since “so many” birthparents come back and sue to get their birthchildren back. Yet it was a risk my husband and I were willing to take. Because, just as the person who pointed out that you know the Walsh Patz and Klaas names, it is a RARE event compared to all the children who grow up healthy and happy (and hopefully, free-range) with adoptive parents. I adore my children and think that it is imperative that I take the risk of letting them make choices and succeed or fail on their own. It is impossible to protect them from every danger that can possibly lurk out there. I would be devastated if my son or daughter was abducted and murdered. But for me it is worth the risk to allow them to have a LIFE! Keeping one’s children on a leash and not allowing them do experience what life has to offer does not make one a better parent, it makes one a jailer.

  49. Mom-of-4 … back when I was pregnant with my firstborn I shared your thinking about the slightest risk being unacceptable. I cut out caffiene, hair color, nail polish, sunscreen, cold cuts, soft cheeses … the list goes on and on. We couldn’t go out to eat because there was so little I felt was safe to eat. We couldn’t go to art openings because there was no guarantee the water was filtered. I didn’t exercise outdoors because I was concerned about air quality or overheating the baby. Our entire lives were cancelled for the sake of our future son. I don’t know how my husband tolerated it.

    After two miscarriages before my second child, I wondered about the causes. I researched the actual risk of the things I had been giving up, and discovered they were really quite small. I started comparing everything to the risk of dying walking across the Target parking lot, and almost everything was minuscule in comparison. I’ve tried to keep that perspective as they’ve grown. I’ve watched the “protected” children of my relatives, finally given their freedom with the car keys at 16, get into trouble because they really didn’t know how to stay out of it. I’d rather them learn with bicycles and feet. I’d rather them have the confidence to handle themselves in public before they go off to college – so they can go off to college, instead of being so afraid that they feel they have to stay home to stay safe.

    We’re not raising children to be children their entire lives. We’re raising them to have the ingenuity and strength to save this planet from the mess than we and our parents and our grandparents have made of it. They don’t get that staying inside playing video games. Be strong for them. I know you can.

  50. Sex sells. Fear sells. Sex offenders sell. Fear of sex sells. Fear of sex offenders sell.

    How much does fear sell? This is a multi-BILLION dollar a year industry. There are public registries, PRIVATE/ CORPORATE LISTS like Family Watchmutt or “Offender Watch.” There are companies hocking GPS, child trackers, software to Big Brother your kids online activities, home security, etc.

    Don’t forget all those organizations hitting you up for money.

    And don’t forget that the NCMEC, John Walsh’s organization, gets money every time the Adamn Walsh Act is funded, which means Walsh gets a big fat check every time that retarded law gets funded. Any wonder every Walsh interview includes the AWA now?

  51. I don’t have any advice, I just want to hug this Mom of Four. That’s a rough spot to be in.

  52. I used to think that if I didn’t watch a t.v. show or read a news story about a tragedy that it meant I was heartless. I felt as if it was my duty to share these unfortunate peoples’ pain! Now I realize that I have to limit my exposure to those things just for my own sanity. It does no one any good if I am crippled by fear or kept awake by nightmares.

    So sometimes I’ll read the headlines only. I try to focus on factual rather than emotional news reports. I avoid t.v. news because it tends to be more sensational and sucks you in like a black hole. When you start to realize that a lot of the news media is focused on just grabbing your attention, you can start to be more selective about what you read and watch.

  53. Mom of Four – I understand your fears. I also agree with all the comments above about how fear sells and keeps us from living our lives. If you are trying to take a rational approach, and protect your kids- the two most important things you need to do
    a) don’t ever let your kids in an automobile
    b) don’t let you kids swim or go near water.

    (I don’t recommend either of those things, but just trying to point out the ludicrousness of trying to protect your kid from every possible danger.)

    Also, I want to say I actually think it’s dangerous TO overprotect your kids. Childhood is a time to learn and grow increasingly independent. If you deny your kids that opportunity, you truly are endangering them.

    I love what kate June 18, 2012 at 10:25 wrote. That is beautiful.

  54. OK, I’m going to go out of my way to be gentle here, because you seem like a reasonable person, but I have to warn you: my opinion is not one you are going to enjoy hearing.
    I don’t think there is anything that can be said to you that will convince you that you are doing your children a horrible disservice by shadowing them and shielding them from these “risks”. You sound, based on your letter, like someone who is going to choose to live your life drowning in anxiety and paranoia, regardless of anything anyone can show you or tell you. And unfortunately, that will project onto your children and shape them into timid, socially maladjusted adults who have no real idea of how to make their way in the world without you standing beside them directing their every move.
    Children are not goldfish, to be placed in a bowl on our mantles, only to be admired by visitors and fed occasionally. Our responsibilities as parents do not end with their nourishment and their safety. As parents, our most important duty is to raise strong, moral, independent adults that have the ambition and strength to change the world. Your job is not to teach them that the world is made up of horrifying tragedies, which lurk around every corner. Your job is to give them the freedom to make their own decisions (and sometimes mistakes). It is only after a child has learned a sense of independence and confidence that they can develop sound judgement and be better prepared for some of the situations that paralyze you.
    Bad things happen, this can’t be debated, however it is far more likely that your smothering will do more damage to your children’s future than the miniscule risk a predator actually represents. I wish you the best of luck, yet my gut tells me your course, and your children’s course, is already set…
    ArrogantSOB
    Arrogant-sob.com
    (Look Lenore, I didn’t even curse once!)

  55. When people say things like that they are raising their child the way they “feel” is right, what that generally means is that they are doing something completely irrational that can actually do harm to their kids in some way, but they are going to continue to do it because they “feel” better when they do it. It’s all about feelings and not about reality and what is logical and healthiest for their kids.

    When you shelter your children because of irrational hysteria, you are doing your child harm. They do not reach appropriate developmental milestones. They don’t learn to assess risk and understand it for what it really is. They don’t learn to feel confident and independent on their own. We are seeing the results of the first generation to raise their children as prisoners. We have parents calling college professors for their children (even though professors can’t legally divulge info about an adult student.) we have parents showing up at job interviews, calling bosses, etc… for ADULT children. We also have college grads that no one wants to hire because they aren’t independent enough to take the initiave on the job; they can’t do anything on their own. It’s so bad that adults are having to stay on their parent’s insurance until 26, b/c they can’t manage to get their own. And, despite the fact that new grads are far less costly to employers than experienced workers, and generally, businesses would save money by hiring them, no one wants to b/c they just can’t function (I’ve seen article after article on this.) Then, the parents placate them by blaming the economy for the 53% unemployment rate among college grads. Never mind that it’s below 10% for everyone else, and that during my generation, no one had issues finding jobs out of college because we were independent and could function and do what needed to be done. Employers say that they would rather hire older workers b/c their job ethic is plain better, despite them being expensive.

  56. I get the fear, but the thing that enrages me is the idea that children who are sexually abused are better off dead (“…kids who end up being lucky to be dead after the rape and torture they endure.”). So if a child is abused or raped, he or she is ruined and is no longer worthy of life? Wow. Alive is, generally speaking, better than dead and it has a distinct advantage – as long as you’re alive you can avail yourself of opportunities to deal with and move past a horrific experience. In addition to the many anonymous adult survivors of assault and abuse, there are a number of rather well-known survivors of kidnappings and abuse available for this woman’s media consumption. I have to say, they seem perfectly happy to not be dead and moving on with their lives. Didn’t Elizabeth Smart just get married? I highly doubt that she would appreciate the thought that she would have been better off dead.

  57. Imagine the devastation that will be felt when children continue to die despite having been protected from everything. This type of thinking only serves to give parents a warped sense of the control they have (or think they should have) over the destiny of their children, and the tranquility of their lives.

    Another thought. Parenting is the only enterprise I know where most of the focus is on avoiding the downside, less on preparing for the upside. Since my kids have a very good chance of living to adulthood and beyond, I choose to put most of my efforts in to preparing them for that journey, both in terms of success and enjoyment.

  58. This prompted to look up the CDC numbers for the causes of death for 1-15 year olds:

    Top 6 listed only

    Accidents 3782
    Congenital defects 920
    Assault 744
    Cancer 891
    Heart Disease 414
    Suicide 180

    total 10343 (doesn’t add up because there are a lot more than the 6 I listed)

    So assuming that the 115 number for “stranger danger” deaths is legit, there were 5x as many kids killed by non-strangers…. Makes you wonder.

    More kids die of heart disease than kidnappings. More kids die of suicide than kidnappings.

    Where’s the paranoia of heart disease?

  59. Yan, it would be interesting to see how the rate of heart disease for that age group has changed over time, and how it corresponds with the rise of irrational parental fears. It’s hard to keep kids active when they have to be supervised every second of the day, aren’t allowed near the road, near “strange” animals, on hills or trees or around water . . . or God forbid, anything dirty . . . .

  60. That would take more statistical analysis than I have time/skills for… A good graduate public health research topic though….

  61. SKL, so true. When I hear people say that kids no longer play outdoors because of computers and video games, I laugh. Yes, I do believe that it is a part of the problem, but I think the bigger problem is the hysteria and paranoia of helicopter parenting.
    If I would have been confined to a 12 foot radius around my driveway when I was a kid, or had to have my parents sitting there supervising me as I played, believe me, I would have gotten bored as heck in 5 minutes. I would have retreated to the basement to play in a virtual world too.
    Really imagine having the constraints of today’s kids. That’s why they don’t play outdoors, there truly is “nothing to do”.

  62. @Sam – According to this, the police didn’t bring Walsh to identify his son’s killer (who has never been conclusively identified) but to identify his son. That is indeed ridiculous. First, back in Walsh’s pre-internet days, if they had the tapes they usually had the killer or at least his identity. Second, unless you torture your own child and are frequently exposed to his anguished screams, there is no way you can identify your child’s anguished screams that would have any authority whatsoever.

  63. Bravo!

  64. SKL, It is also difficult to keep kids active when they must be supervised constantly, but you, the supervisor, have other things to do. Most parents that I know are not wealthy enough to have staffs. I can’t dedicate my life to watching my kids play outside because I have to cook meals, clean house, do laundry, mow lawns, do yard work, pay bills, and the plethora of other things that keep a house running. Kids that must have eyes on them at all times are stuck inside watching TV while mom and dad take care of things that have to get done if the household is to function.

  65. That reminds me of Saturday night. We were at a graduation party in a friend’s yard. The yard was surrounded by shrubbery, then a sidewalk, then the street. My 5yo thought it was fun to pass through the imaginary wall made by the shrubbery and play on the other side briefly. Every time she went through to the other side, some concerned parent would get my attention and make sure I was properly worried. I even heard the ever-popular “what if that 1% chance happens, and you won’t have your kid any more.” Sigh.

    So I guess I need to be either running after my athletic kid with my middle-aged body, or forcing her to sit near me the entire evening. Sorry. Man, it makes me tired to have to go over this with people again and again. Maybe I should tell people they are really 13-year-old midgets. Or teach them to cuss. That would make the other parents happy to see them run off.

  66. I am offering no advise for you, A Mom of 4. You can parent your child as you see fit. I am raising my 3 kids MY way too. I just want the right to do it without it being a crime. I can only offer their real life experiences as my “isolated example”.
    Take yesterday, our Free Range Father’s Day, if you will. My son just turned 11. He went golfing yesterday with his Dad and friends. He was so proud. Not for the golfing, or scores, or any of that. It’s how he go there.
    My son started a “business” last year. He sells used golf balls, drinks, and snacks on our golf course. He’s not really interested in the money. He’s not a spender. He just loves exploring the woods around our neighborhood on bikes with his buddies- and they are full of balls! He started a collection that quickly turned our garage into an episode of Hoarders. He and his friend came with the idea of a stand and have been tweaking their “business” all winter.
    The boys figured out which ones are the most valuable (Pro-v’s) and organized their inventory. I don’t help them with any of this. They ask to go to Costco(with their list and coupons) because they need to buy the drinks and snacks. Honestly, if they could get there on bike, they’d do it themselves. We divide up in the front (they get their own cart) and I meet them at the registers in 15 minutes to let them use my card. They made up signs- my favorite, the “ArnAld Palmer” and opened for business last week.
    School’s out, so they bike to swim team practice each morning and work in the afternoon. They went to the library on Monday and got their books for the week, chipping away at the summer reading list early. THey worked 4 days last week. They had friends join them, but mostly the worked and read. And thought about what to get their dads for Father’s Day.
    Each day, the would “scout” out the parking lot at the golf course clubhouse to see how crowded it was. The asked the ranger how much it was to golf on the course and how do you get on? They made a reservation. They biked back with the money (mostly one’s) and paid for it. They took their Dads golfing. I don’t think my husband could have been any prouder of the way he spent his Father’s Day yesterday, courtesy of his Free Range kid.
    I could keep him under my watchful eye all day long to reduce “risk” but I won’t. The “anything could happen” arguments runs both ways. But how can anything happen if we don’t trust our kids to be out of our sight? How can they surprise you with remarkable acts?

  67. Etan Patz – disappeared 1979
    Adam Walsh – died 1981
    Polly Klaas – died 1993

    These names stay with us because, thank goodness, these sorts of violent abductions are mercifully rare. On the day that Adam Walsh was kidnapped, millions of U.S. children were likewise out of their parents’ line of sight for much of the day and were just fine, and continued to be fine for the rest of their childhoods.

  68. @lollipoplover: That’s a great tale. You have an awesome kid! That truly is a remarkable act.

  69. @KATE…
    “Ultimately, as awful as it sounds to say it outright…I’d rather my child had a wide range of enriching and humanizing experiences, because no matter what precautions I take there is a chance he will die young, and I want his life to have been as full as it possibly can have been no matter how long or short his time is. If he could be snatched from his bed, I’d rather he have had years of exploration and experiences to draw courage and resilience from, rather than leave too soon a life full of ‘when you are older’ unfulfilled potentials”
    You literally brought a tear to my eye with this! While I canNOT control others behavior, I too aim to raise my children to make good decisions and to have the skills necessary to live a productive, and fulfilling life. Another way to look at it is this – what if the PARENT dies young? Have you done all you can to make sure that they have the skills necessary to survive without YOU? We have known several young couples who have lost one and/or both lives to just tragic illnesses or accidents. At this point my children are 16/13/11 and I truly believe that if something happens and today is my last day, that I know that they have the skills necessary to survive without me. They also know that no matter what, that they are deeply loved, and trusted. Even in my absence, I think that they have the life skills necessary to carry on, and the only reason they have them is becasuse I have tried my very best to teach them how to handle themselves, and any adversity that might come thier way, on the path to becoming independant adults.

  70. I like what Dory in “Finding Nemo” says:

    Marlin: I promised I’d never let anything happen to him.
    Dory: Hmm. That’s a funny thing to promise.
    Marlin: What?
    Dory: Well, you can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo.

    I constantly remind myself that my job as Mom is to gradually work myself out of the job, so that my children are ready to face the world by themselves when the time comes. This means I must be a student of my children so that I know how to teach them, because each child is different in their ability to handle risks.
    I have three girls. And believe me, those scary thoughts and what-ifs pop into my mind whenever we are out and about. But, I keep them at bay by doing a couple of things. First, I remember that historically children have faced much greater risks in past generations. And second, I look at my girls and ask myself what kind of adults I hope they’ll be in 10,15, and 20 years from now.
    It is difficult as a parent to keep things in perspective. Being alive is risky. But being a child in this country NOW involves less risk than it ever has.
    There have always been people who would do harm to children, but children of previous generations faced that risk along with far greater risks on a daily basis, and thrived. My grandfather lived underneath a covered wagon for the first year of his life while his immigrant parents built a house in the middle of the prairie. When he was 14, he got a job driving truck solo across the country so he could send his paycheck home to help support his Mom & younger siblings during the Depression. My own father began at age 5 to work with farm implements, machinery and livestock every day.
    Children of the past in this country were placed in risky situations (and taught to manage them) on a daily basis. Real, tangible risks of injury, loss of limb or life. I can’t imagine placing my own kids in those kinds of situations, and I’m grateful that I don’t have to.
    There is no “magic age” where our children who have been sheltered their whole life are suddenly old enough and able to handle the real world.Terrible crimes are committed against adults too.Trying to keep our children away from all perceived danger will, in fact, give them a false sense of security.Our job as parents is to teach our children to navigate and manage the inherent risks of being alive so that they will be independent, resourceful, strong adults. Keeping them away from all possible danger does not do that. They won’t wake up one day and suddenly BE independent and resourceful. We have to teach them when they are young so they can live up to their potential. Our children are capable of doing amazing things if we are willing to let them take managed risks!
    For their own good, I choose to set aside my fears and teach my children how to live in the world.

    My suggestion is instead of listening to the bad media reports, read the autobiography “Little Britches” by Ralph Moody, watch “Finding Nemo,” and continue to read this blog 🙂

  71. I want to know how old the kids are that Mom of 4 has. It really does make a difference, from her view point.

    Young kids do tend to need a little more supervision. It is hard to imagine your toddler out roaming the woods, because the child is a toddler and doesn’t have the skills yet.

    But when the child is 8 (for instance) it is much easier to see that the child would be fine in a few acres of woods. The child has developed observational skills, has a better idea of direction, has more life experience.

    I have seen this often in the posts here: “I could never let my child who is now 18 months ride their bike down the road.” Parents of older kids have no trouble seeing that it is possible because they have seen the skills that their kids have developed. These parents try to convince the parents of younger kids, but it is a leap that a parent not familiar with the age group can grasp.

    Mom of 4, if you have young kids, give it some time. If your kids are a bit older, allow small steps for yourself. Let them roam the library while you sit and read. Don’t make everyone stick together at the park. Most people are very good people, as evidenced by the fact that you quoted of 50 kids a year. Out of a population of about 300,000,000.

  72. Let me start by saying I know the fear of which she speaks. Even as a Free Range parent, my mind goes some crazy places when my kids are gone a little longer than I thought they would be, or I can not see them from the end of my block when they are riding their bikes.

    However, the thing I always think of is that one day my kids will be 15, 18, 25. And, you know what, horrible things happen to people of those ages too. I actually think the chances are a lot higher of a violent crime happening to say an 18 year old woman over an 8 year old girl.

    However, the idea of an 18 year old girl being out and about on her own does not frighten me at all. When I hear about a case of a college-aged girl who is missing (and there are several local cases at all time), I do not scan the internet daily (full disclosure: hourly!) to see if they have found her yet or not.

    I don’t know why, but my brain does not grab a hold of an adult being abducted or murdered like it does a child, even though I know full well if that were my child, it would hurt as much if they were 18 or 25 as it would if they were 8.

    I really think sometimes it’s more about being seen as a good mommy rather than the safety of my child. And, further, that if I am not a good mommy, then fate will intervene to punish me for not being vigilant enough.

    I whole heartedly believe that part of being a good mom is too push my comfort envelope and to give up some peace of mind in order to let my children develop independence and confidence.

  73. Mom of 4,

    I have no advice. You have made your decision and if you believe it’s the right one, then it is the right one for you. But I do have a comment.

    I’m glad you weren’t my mom.

    I’m glad my mom was okay with throwing me in harms way on occasion. I’m glad I had the chance to do things I didn’t think I could tell her about back then, and which make her cringe when I tell her about them now. I’m glad she allowed me to make mistakes, and get myself out of danger, and learn that the world is what you make of it (safe or dangerous). I’m glad that she could look in the eye our small community’s tragedy of a young boy dying while ice skating with his family, and still allow me to continue to go out with my friends on the ice. I’m glad that when she heard names like Adam Walsh and the others you mention, she did not immediately jumpt to the conclusion that the same thing would ever happen to me.

    I am 5 months pregnant this week, and I can’t wait to be a mom like my mom.

  74. The problem with viewing this from the parentcentric angle being taken here is that you fail to consider the advantages and disadvantages to the child. The costs and benefits being analyzed are strictly those of the parent. The only direct benefit to the parent of free range parenting is really free time. It is easy to see why considering your own free time over the possibility, however minute, that your child will be harmed while out of your sight is selfish. It is easy to see how 30 minutes of free time would come in a distant second to even a remote possibility of a lifetime without the child, especially when free time can be purchased without leaving the child unsupervised.

    However, the interests of the parents are not the only interests concerned here. Any decision you make must take into account, not only your costs and benefits, but also the costs and benefits to your children of making that decision. There are many benefits to children of being able to exist without an adult always around to intervene. They learn responsibility, decision making and consequences a lot more effectively than if you are there to tell them what to do. They learn to settle disputes themselves and even deal effectively with bullies if you are not always there it intercede on their behalf. They learn to think for themselves. They learn how to get around places on their own. And a myriad of other things. THOSE are the things that need to be in the benefits column when comparing it to the cost of a 50 to 300,000,000 chance of being kidnapped and murdered.

  75. I don’t know if my comments will help, or even matter, but here goes. I became a single mother very young. I had no family to turn to and no one I thought of to help out. This was in 1965. I just decided it was my job to take care of my baby and do everything I could to keep him safe and let him grow up healthy. But the way I figured to do that might surprise Mom of Four: I had the completely irrational fear that if something should happen and I died, my son would have NO ONE to take care of him, so I had to teach him all the things he would need to know to take care of himself. Like Mowgli, I suppose.

    I was always looking for opportunities to show him how to fend for himself in the world, like how to cross the street safely, what to do if he felt afraid of someone, how to get to school and back, what to do if he was lost, all that stuff. I also taught him how to cook because, jeeze, how could he take care of himself if he was starving? Many times I had to bite my lip and hold my breath while I allowed him to do something that scared me half to death, like take his bike down the road and across a busy street when he was eight, to the gas station where the friendly owner had a policy of fixing kids’ flat bike tires for free.

    My competent son is now 46 years old and takes very good care of himself and others. Always has. He’s also had a fine life so far. And, as an added bonus, he grew up to be a chef.

    I’m helping to do the same things with my grandson, not because there will be no one to raise him, but because it works out so well.

  76. I had to skim through most of the later comments. But the one that made me go “Yes!” was Kate’s.

    I do get the ‘What ifs’. And I find dealing with them doesn’t get easier when you decide to not let them rule your life by letting your child go, one little step at a time. There are moments when I think: “So what if? Then everyone will blame me for letting my child out of my sight.” And I realise how selfish that sounds and work through those thoughts and take a few deep breaths.

    We are all just human. And parenting is the biggest and most important thing we will ever do in our lives. But for me, that is why I decided I cannot allow myself to take decisions about my child’s life based on fear. I want to make decisions based on positive criteria. And to see that look of pride on my daughter’s face when she takes a new step towards independence is so much more rewarding than the thought that there is an infinitely small chance that I have prevented her from being abducted by picking her up from school or going to the park with her.

    And I do understand that to you it doesn’t matter how small the chance is, it is the consequences that matter. But do ask yourself why you allow your kids to ride in the car when that poses a much, much greater risk of them dying prematurely? That will teach you a lot about your motivation to give in to the fear of predators.

  77. Dear Mom of 4:
    Every mom has her tolerance of risk and how that manifests itself into daily activities. For me, I know for a fact car crashes are a leading cause of death in kids so my car is one that has more airbags than cupholders.

    I also know drowning is a “top 5 killer” so swimming lessons are non-negotiable every summer.

    Suicide is also a “top 5 killer” therefor I look for ways for the kids to get the self esteem they need by doing things on their own and also encounter people who may be flat out mean. They need to be able to handle themselves confidently and social poise to fend off bullies and deal with the things life throws at them. It’s through this confidence they can ask for help and, fingers crossed, find other ways to deal with the pain and anxiety of teen hood without doing the unthinkable. To me one child who takes his or her own life is too many. That’s my POV though. And the suicide rates for teens is much higher than the John Walsh kids I assure you and in my mind, more disturbing.

    As others have pointed out, there are several John Walsh cases where the parents was righthtere and were still powerless to keep their child from being abducted.

    The end point being, you can do everything “right” and still have things turn out miserably wrong. There are somethings that are completely out of our control and the question then becomes, what will benefit my child the most in the long run? Only you can answer that for your family. I’d just ask you to give some balance to your answer.

    Kindly,
    Ali

  78. I get through these stories by comparing risks–50 dead per year by stranger abductions and murders, versus 2000 dead and 250,000 injured per year in car accidents. Of course, those don’t get reported–because they’re not rare at all.

    Why would someone who takes all the effort to keep all strangers from unsupervised contact with her children, allow them to ride in cars, which are a lot more dangerous to children than strangers?

    The idea that “any risk is unacceptable” is ridiculous. You can’t have children without risk. You can’t *live* without risk. Just as ridiculous is “but *this* risk is horrific, ugly, and terrifying.”

    Yes, it is… but if you’re going to let that child attend school, ride in cars, and eat unsterilized food, you’ve already accepted that your goal as a parent isn’t to keep them in a bubble until their 18th birthday.

  79. If the tiny risk of having something horrific happen to your child is “unacceptable”, why isn’t the 100% risk of your child never having the kind of healthy social interactions, normal life, and maturing experiences that life is supposed contain, “unacceptable?”

    You see, there’s no risk-free path, ever. Either you risk *some* level of “danger,” or you assume the much larger risks associated with denying your child a healthy relationship with the outside world.

    BTW, I wonder how many severe abuse victims would be pleased to hear that they’ve been deemed unfortunate still to be alive? Some perhaps, but surely not all.

  80. If I used that kind of reasoning I would never put my kids in a car or let them cross a street. what about when you are not with them like at school or a friend or relatives house. You can drive yourself nuts with what if’s you have a better chance of being hit by lightning.

  81. I wonder what John Walsh would say

  82. She lets her kids ride in cars? Is she a homicidal maniac?

  83. From the comments it seems I’m one of a minority of men who read this blog (hard to tell with some handles). So often stories on here are about mom this, mom that. That’s OK, Lenore is a mom and it’s her blog. But this topic has come up a couple of times and I figured it was time to put it out there.

    You see, I so rarely see the fathers mentioned in discussions like this. They’re the fears of moms, discussed by other moms. I doubt Lenore or most other women on here disrepect the male perspective. But this is not a mom blog, it is a blog about raising kids.

    When I see the kind of fear that “Mom of Four” and other moms on here have expressed, I can’t help thinking that when your wife gets like that, that’s when you as a man have to step up, give them a big hug, and tell them that the child will be okay, help calm them down. It’s a woman’s job to worry about her children, to nurture them and kiss their boo-boos and all that. I think it’s a dad’s job to be sure that the other side is kept up – the risk-taking, free-range side. Women get caught up in the “what ifs”. A man can be calmer, point out the statistics; by our nature we’re just more detached (we never carried that life though we did help create it).

    The point is, the outrages this blog chronicles happen when things get out of BALANCE. Men and women are different, and the man is there to help make that balance, between risk and safety. My wife will always worry about our daughter, and I will too, just in a different way. My job is to help our daughter explore that crazy world outside – and help her come back to the loving home my wife has created.

  84. nebuchadnezzar, that was the biggest load of misogynistic garbage I’ve come across in a long time.

  85. “A man can be calmer” my butt. Some people are worriers and some are not. It has no connection with whether they can pee standing up or not. The biggest worrywart I know on the topic of what could happen to loved ones is a big tall strong deep-voiced hairy-chested empeened person.

    Back to actual fruitful discussion here–The problem is so much fear being expended on something that might happen, could happen, but is impossible to eliminate by controlling the environment, and is also much less likely than other risks that can be eliminated by controlling the environment. Given the existence of somebody who is dedicated to hurting any child at hand, there is no way to eliminate that risk. Home? Windows. School? Mad gunman spraying bullets. Store? Any random shopper around any random corner. Playground? All those strangers! Meanwhile, the person expending all the fear on studying every stranger for the signs that they are a ravening murderous monster may not be thinking about, say, checking that the car safety seat is effectively installed–to quote only one much more likely cause of harm to children. Or the things they do may actually increase danger. Think of that silly police officer who told parents to make their kids (and babies, I presume) stand by the gas pump on the off chance that somebody might steal their car while it was being fueled up, notice kids in the back, and decide to kill them (instead of blurting, “Oh, shit!” and ditching the car) because hey, kids right there, why not become a monster this afternoon?

    Teach your children to refuse to go with strangers. Teach them that they don’t have to be nice children if people are trying to make them do things. They can kick and scream and bite and make a huge scene and draw blood. This may not always work because sadistic serial killers have occasionally dressed up as cops in order to fool their victims. But this raises the old problem of living with bears.

    I live in bear country. They are the biggest bears in the world, or close to it. Bears den within an hour’s walk of where I am sitting right now and I live downtown. Bears, like people, generally prefer to go do their thing and be left alone. Like people, some bears will, given the opportunity, steal and/or break your stuff. If the situation goes sour, the bear may severely injure or even kill the person. And every decade or so, a bear decides to eat a human being.

    The ordinary thing to do is to let the bear know you are coming so that it can go on doing its peaceful thing somewhere away from you. You can avoid tempting a bear to steal and destroy by following a few simple precautions at home and in camp, mostly involving keeping food well packaged and out of sight. If you don’t startle the bear, or walk too close to its food, or get between a sow bear and her cubs, you can avoid nearly all bear attacks. But if a bear decides to kill and eat you, nothing will change its mind.

    There are two ways to deal with this knowledge. The first is to accept that if you want to enjoy life on the island, there is the remote yet real possibility that you may end up fighting for your life against a predator. The second is to hide in your house and car all the time.

    Now, along with the biggest bears in the world, we have a large Coast Guard base. Every year there are new transfers. And every year there are Coast Guard dependents who never leave the base because they are afraid that a bear will jump out and eat them.

    They never go to restaurants in town, or the first-run movie theater, or the parks–we have a lot of parks–or the beaches–all free access, all the time–or just walking in the woods. They miss the spring community festival, the full schedule of summer children’s activities at the library and the visitor center, hiking in the fall with the Audubon Society, and the arts council’s winter schedule of concerts and plays. Because although nobody has ever been mauled by a bear in or near town, it could happen.

    Obviously we don’t put our children at risk of likely situations that we couldn’t get them out of; we don’t wander through thick undergrowth with them in tow, for example, or send them around curves in the river out of our sight while the salmon are running. But we refuse to stop living our lives in case the bears that occasionally come right through our area want to eat our children. A bear could be right outside my door, right now. I am still going to work in the morning. My daughter will still walk to the library for big kids’ game time in the afternoon. There is a small possibility that one of the adults visiting the library tomorrow is a pervert and that despite everything I have told her about calling me if somebody wants her to do something we didn’t plan, she will go with that person. It’s also possible that somebody will have a psychotic break or be angry-drunk on a Tuesday afternoon in the library. There is a much greater possibility that she will miss her childhood if I assume that every bear is a man-eater.

  86. Nebuchadnezzer, I don’t agree that’s really a gender thing at the parent level. My dad was very protective of his daughters. I can remember calling him on it (re my baby sister) and having him tell me “when you’re a parent, you’ll see the whole picture and then you can have an opinion.” Similarly, my brother never seemed to think independence was something his daughter needed to develop.

    My life experience tells me that fathers are no more likely than mothers to encourage their girls’ independence; it can be quite the opposite. It might be different when it comes to boys, I don’t know.

  87. @nebuchadnezzar: I rarely get confronted with sexism on this website, but that post truly made me cringe.

    And it was as helpful to ‘Mom of four’ as a hole in the head. I am sure she is very capable of thinking for herself and making her own decisions without needing a man to take control.

  88. Statistically, men are greater risk takers (look at the death rate from “risky” activities; men die 10x more often than women from Darwin Award activities). Then again, free range is about teaching kids the real risks, not total risk avoidance (the oft-said X number of child deaths is unacceptable to me) and not risk ignorance (Hey Bubba, watch this!).

    I suspect both men’s and women’s attitudes are shaped by not being taught the real risks.

    Learn the real risks, then either mitigate them or accept them.

    But don’t pretend that a) risks don’t exist and b) some minor risk far outweighs other, more significant risks.

    @Jenny Islander: Love the bear story, BTW. We have the same thing here, except with mountain lions. People ask me if I go armed to fight off the mountain lions. That’s just so wrong on so many levels….. I’m more likely to die from accidentally shooting myself in the foot than I am from a mountain lion attack.

  89. Nebuchadnezzer, by your logic children raised by single mothers couldn’t grow up free-range. But they do because your argument is false. Half the over-protective parents I’ve met in the world are fathers. And as Lin pointed out, none of that was helpful to the mother who wrote the letter or any parent who is lurking and reading. Although they may make different choices than I would implying it’s because they don’t have a man to be logical for them or because they are more detached than their wives is bull.

  90. It’s not just mothers who are overprotective, even though that’s the stereotype. I encountered a helicopter dad last year.
    http://gap-runner.blogspot.com/2011/04/helicopter-dad.html

  91. I would like to add my two cents from the perspective of someone who was raised in a very protective helicopter-mum family.

    Please please please do not let fear and social pressure rule you.

    As a parent, you obviously want to protect your kids and I can understand that. But it’s a balance. You cannot control your child’s environment 24/7, you cannot be with them 24/7. What you CAN do, is help your child build the confidence they need so they know what to do in any situation. You can’t do that by keeping them in a protective bubble.

    My mum is on the extreme side but she was heavily influenced by the “danger-around-ever-corner” theory and was scared by everything and everyone. We were kept on a pretty tight leash and everything was “dangerous” and to be avoided. There was a constant air of fear and believe me, kids pick up on that. They did not prepare me for adulthood (or you know, living in a world with lots of different people) at all. Thankfully I have always been a pragmatic and fairly independent person.

    Result: I have always suffered from general anxiety and depression. I have had panic attacks. I am incredibly shy and it has been a struggle building confidence in myself. Because I didn’t get the same experiences my friends did (going out to play etc) I would say I’ve always been playing catch-up socially.

    The only upside – I realised how completely irrational and paranoid my mum was early on and and learned to find the truth out myself (thank goodness for the internet).

    Teach your kids to enjoy life, have fun, be courageous – if you give your kids the right knowledge and tools, they’ll be able to face any situation and adapt.

  92. When I was 15, I didn’t know any of the following people:
    My first boss, my first serious girlfriend, my first wife, any of the people I started my first business with or my local pub landlord and any more besides.

    Because I was raised in a way that left me confident interacting with strangers, I’ve built a career, married a wonderful woman, traveled the world (often on someone else’s dime) and had a lifetime of amazing experiences.

    My ability to build relationships with people I’ve just met is what will set me apart from a helicopter kid when we’re interviewing for a job, and I’ll be earning while he’s still living with you.

    I’m all for people keeping their kids on a leash – it frees up more of the world for me. Of course, for that exact reason, you shouldn’t be leashing them!

  93. amazing the things that happen everyday and people go about like nothing is wrong in this world.

  94. Donna, that is an excellent point about the reasoning being parent-centered rather than what’s *really* to the child’s benefit. Sometimes taking or permitting a risk is really harder for us, and not just in a superficial emotional sense, but really *harder.* But doing the hard thing is what we’re there for, why they have parents instead of raising themselves.

  95. When I was a child and teenager, if we were watching a TV show with crime, diseases, wild animals or other perilous situations, my parents would play “spot the errors” and “what would you do in that situation” with us.

    Instead of freaking out at all the danger, they looked on these shows as a learning tool, a way to teach us how to recognize trouble, how to stay out of trouble, and the best-chance way out of it if you get into it.

  96. I think the real reason so many parents are afraid to let their kids out to do stuff by themselves is all these douche bag neighbors who have CPS on speed dial.

  97. @Jenny Islander: Good point on learning the real risks. If you are ready for bears, you are ready for almost anything, because you have to stay alert for bears.

    An Air Force wife I used to work with sent us a couple of snapshots from their new Alaskan assignment.

    A sign on the base laundromat that said, “CLOSED! Polar Bear asleep inside!” and a shot of the large white mound of fur blocking the aisle. It woke up and wandered out, but that was her intro to polar bears.

  98. That’s cool Tsu Dho Nimh. I like the idea of remembering we have to empower our kids. I don’t want to go to worst-case scenario thinking about parents dying, but it’s true, if you are *really* worried about your kids’ safety, then overprotecting them and making them incapable of good judgement is risky. That means if some day they’re under the care of someone less vigilant than you are, they could be in trouble (i.e. not knowing when to cross the street, how to fend off strangers, where to go if they are lost, or just coming across as naive and unprepared, not very street-wise and therefore more of a potential “target” (not that I like to even think in those terms because it’s rather ludicrous if you’re lucky enough to live in a country as peaceful as ours).

  99. There was an article in our paper yesterday about “couch surfing” (Google it if you don’t know the concept.) They interviewed a 31-year-old single woman who participates by opening her home to well-screened surfers, and they asked if she wasn’t worried about doing that. She pointed out she’d been in the Air Force in a combat zone and knew how to protect herself, so she wasn’t really worried.

    Not that we can so totally prepare our kids that they have “nothing to worry about” in even the direst situations, but it is interesting how preparation mitigates fear and opens up possibilities, isn’t it?

  100. “Since my kids have a very good chance of living to adulthood and beyond, I choose to put most of my efforts in to preparing them for that journey, both in terms of success and enjoyment.”

    Right on, SKL, right ON.

  101. Teach your kids to scream. No matter what, even if the worst happens and the psychopath threatens to kill them. Even if he does follow through, wouldn’t you rather have your child in your arms, chances are he’ll freak out and try to get out of there before he gets caught.. There’s no way a child’s scream could be missed in the middle of the night, or in a grocery store. Teach your kids that it’s not ok to go anywhere with a stranger, no one is going to get out of a store with your kid if he’s screaming, which gets your attention, and you scream that someone is abducting your child.

  102. Is there something about the *way* in which a child is harmed or lost that makes some acceptable and some not?

    Maybe there are parents who arrange their lives around avoiding the most common ways children are harmed or lost, but it doesn’t seem like that’s the case at all. Why is this? If it were just the threat of loss or harm that motivated all of our decisions as parents, what would that look and sound like?

    “Oh, I don’t let him eat breakfast or take a shower. I read a story about a kid who choked to death on his cereal. Cereal! And another who died eating scrambled eggs! So we’ve decided eating is just too dangerous, and we don’t let him bathe, either, since I read that x many kids each year are paralyzed from a fall in the shower.”

    No need to discuss this. Too crazy to consider.

    “No way do I put my child in the car and take him over to his grandparents’ house. Are you crazy? Do you know how many kids die or are paralyzed in car accidents? Even if they are in safety restraints? Forget it. And never mind how many children are molested by people they know, love and trust. Their closest family members are the ones who are the most threatening to them! I’m not putting my child at risk of being diddled by Grandpa! And I’ve already run my husband out of the house, since there’s a substantial statistical risk that he might sexually abuse the kids. Well, I myself am more likely to hit or harm the kids than anyone else, so I’ve decided to place them in foster care.”

    For most of us living in suburban areas, if you didn’t take your child anywhere in the car, you would live a life of complete isolation socially. And of course unless there is a history of abuse, we encourage our kids to have relationships with their closest family members, and we figure children are safe with their parents because without that, society wouldn’t really function… would it?

    “I can’t believe you let your kid go to school. That’s insane. Why, he could fall down the stairs and break his neck there! He could choke on his lunch! He could be taken advantage of by a coach or trusted teacher! He could end up being so harassed by peers that he takes his own life! That’s why I don’t send my kids to school. It’s too dangerous.”

    Of course this isn’t the case, because most of us value growth and competence, participation and community enough to either send our kids to school or homeschool in a way that supports those values.

    “I can’t believe you had a child, what with your family’s history of heart disease, depression and cancer. That’s just too dangerous. Why, your child is doomed from the start. You shouldn’t reproduce.”

    This, of course, is preposterous, and we don’t operate this way, even though heart disease, suicide and cancer are some of the top killers of kids.

    “I just can’t allow my daughter to walk alone up the street to get to her friend’s house. There are too many creeps out there, you never know what might happen, and I couldn’t live with myself if somebody ever did something to her or she were taken. Remember Etan Patz?”

    Wow. Amazingly, we as a society go with this one. Of all the “crazy” risk avoidance examples I cited above, this last one is considered not only sane, but prudent— even though statistically, it’s the most ridiculous and far-fetched. Not to mention what goes on the chopping block when we give our kids the message that to be safe, they can never be apart from us.

    I guess it comes down to this: If your kid dies in a car accident, it’s so sad. It’s tragic. Unless you’ve been drinking or texting, you’re absolved of any responsibility. You have our condolences. If your kid falls down the stairs at home, wow, what a shame. We might initially wonder if you pushed him, but once it’s established that it was a fluke, we just marvel at how life is so unpredictable, and we shake our heads. You have our condolences. Likewise if your kid chokes, gets cancer, or drops dead of a congenital heart defect or aneurism. We’re with you, poor parent, how could you have known that would happen? Even with suicide, we cluck our tongues, say yeah, I knew a kid in high school who took his own life, what a tragedy for those parents, it could never be my kid, that’s such a shame. If your child is molested by his parent or uncle or grandparent, well, we don’t know about it, because it’s not something people run around broadcasting: “Hey! My aunt fondled my son! My dad showed my daughter pornography! My older son gave my younger son alcohol and performed oral sex on him!” We just don’t know these things happened. Maybe you don’t either.

    Ah, but “stereotypical stranger abduction,” especially with a sexual abuse theme — yes, this is the one to hang your hat on. It’s “every parent’s worst nightmare” — any why is that? Why is it the *worst* nightmare? Wouldn’t just any harm or death be a nightmare? Why is this one the worst? Is it the idea that the trauma is somehow greater than, say, lifelong paralysis due to a motor vehicle collision? Is it the notion that it’s more preventable than, say, suicide… and we as parents are solely responsible to run interference and prevent this from happening? Is it just that this is what has been used as “thrill and chill” fodder for so long, for three or four solid decades, by news media and entertainment producers, that we have habituated around this thrill, become almost cravers of this chill, and replay these scenes again and again in our minds because they stimulate us so?

    I wonder.

  103. Please, please read Lenore’s book and keep up with this blog. It sure opened my eyes !!!!

    I’ve often wondered what John Walsh thinks of Lenore and her book? Has he ever commented publicly about it? Just curious.

  104. I was sexually assaulted as a child, teenager, and adult. My mother was as a teen, my step-mother as a teen, and even my daughter at 4 was assaulted. But you know what, we are all doing okay, things happen, and you move on..

    But you know who is not okay? The kids I knew growing up that were on a tight leash, one died from alcohol poisoning the moment he was ‘free’, because he never had it before, and did not know his limits. Another had a child at a young age, to be taken away and she is now in and out of rehab, because her mother never told her about safe-sex, and they never discussed drugs. The other ones I know that were on a tight leash growing up are struggling supporting themselves, or do not know how to fail and move on, some are stuck doing the same things they were doing in high-school because they never learned how to take risks, and it’s ‘safe’ so why change?

    The point is that the world is what it is. If you never let your child make mistakes, if you never let your child fall down, fail, how are they going to know how to fix it, if you never let your kid experience risk, how are they going to know how to react to it when it presents itself?

    Bad things happen, Good things happen, Things, Happen. Things that you do not prepare for, but when you do prepare for the worst, you’ll know better how to react incase that happens, and I was always taught Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.

    I love this quote, and its from a Blind and Deaf woman, Blind, and deaf.. “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” – Helen Keller

  105. “Ah, but “stereotypical stranger abduction,” especially with a sexual abuse theme — yes, this is the one to hang your hat on. It’s “every parent’s worst nightmare” — any why is that?”

    I think it is the possibly of not knowing that is every parent’s worst nightmare, not the death itself. I can honestly say that, although my child dying in any way would be a tragedy, if my child HAS to die, I’d rather it be in a car wreck or cancer than an abduction. If your child dies of cancer or in a car wreck, it is horrible but the knowledge of the death is immediate. You can have a funeral, mourn and, hopefully, eventually move on with your life the best that you can. With a child abduction, the tragedy is ongoing until the child or his body is found. Parents of abducted children spend a substantial period of time, sometimes the rest of their lives, stuck in limbo of not knowing if their child is dead or alive and being tortured at that very second.

    The risk these people are unwilling to accept is absolutely NOT the risk that that their child will die but the risk that they will be stuck not knowing if their child is dead or alive.

  106. Donna, I don’t know if it’s the uncertainty or the certainty that triggers so much strong feeling. I think there’s a kind of primal thing going on, the whole “nobody better lay a hand on my kid or I’ll kill them” idea, similar to what I’ve heard from even the mildest-mannered, along with, “If anyone ever touched a hair on my wife’s head” sort of language.

    I guess I hear as often as “my kid could be abducted” things like “there are so many creeps out there who prey on kids,” and to my ears, that sounds like a real fear of kids experiencing sexual abuse at the hands of a rank stranger. So the idea that your child would be sexually touched by a stranger, and killed in a way that caused them pain, seems to trigger more of a freak-out than simply “this case remains unresolved,” but I’m only guessing.

    And as far as suffering goes, well, kids who require multiple operations or rounds of chemotherapy trigger a lot of sadness in me, but I certainly don’t freeze in terror every time my kid gets a headache or think there’s some way to avoid that scenario. It will happen or not. I feel the same way about abduction. It will happen or not, it would be sad, tragic, like anything that came out of the blue and took my kid.

  107. Can you guess who said the following?

    “my younger brother **** and I — were ordinarily in the back row with the old women and nuns, wearing the black eyes and split lips that we’d pick up in fist fights the Saturday night before…”

    “My nose was broken at least four times by the time I graduated from college, and it was usually at least partly my doing.”

    “I fought over girls, I fought for my honor… I fought for the love of fighting.”

    “My brother and I had been self-centered and arrogant. Selfish, arrogant little boys.”

    “I was a great swimmer and made an A in the final, but I never showed up for class. The instructor said, ‘You never came to class the whole term. I’m going to give you a D.’ I told him, ‘I know more than you do about swimming. Why should I come here and sit, freezing my ass off in this pool in the morning?’ He said, ‘Because I say so. That’s why. And you still get the D.”

    “Girls love bad boys, and I’d get caught all the time, sneaking out of their houses, parking with them in cars, bringing them into the living room. Their fathers wanted to kill me, and there were lots of ‘You keep your son away from my daughter’ confrontations. But those never worked. It only made the girls want to see you more.”

    “She looked about 20. She was beautiful, and she had a body. Boy this incredible, centerfold body… I never gave much thought to how much **** was. She was pretty, and she dressed sharp. And there was also that body…. Then one night **** was sitting around at my place and picked up a copy of that days **** Evening News. In it was a picture of ****, who had just won an art contest. ‘Holy Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,’ *** said. ‘There’s a picture of **** in the paper, ****, and she’s 16 years old. But you know, she had this way about her. She had a certain presence. And after a while I just got over how young she was. She was way more sophisticated than anybody in her high school and she always dated older guys. She had a fake ID. That’s how she got into [the bar where they met]. She was bored with high school…. We had a good time together [wink wink nudge nudge], and I relaxed a little after she turned 17. She was beautiful, she was caring, and she was up for anything .”

    “We would hustle money playing pool all the time.”

    “Someone in college who was therefore a barbarian and way too old for her. **** was thinking, ‘Well she hasn’t brought him home yet, which means he must be 58 years old and married with children.’ For a long time I would drop **** off down the block, do anything not to be seen around her house.”

    So who was this violent womanizing poll-hustling predator?

    Thiese are the words of JOHN WALSH from his book “Tears of Rage.” You don’t even have to read far into the book to see it.

  108. @Donna and Yan Seiner – fantastic points. Especially Donna about the deaths (more common than child deaths, but fortunately still relatively uncommon..) of adult ‘children’. It must be hellishly difficult to deal with the death of your ‘child’ at any age….

    @Jenny Islander – might have to save your response somewhere if I can work out how to do so. As a prime example of totally irrational fear, I have a niggling worry that if my family and I get over to North America to visit family, we will not survive long enough to be abducted by perverts and sadistic murderers (who everyone knows, from the news, CSI, Criminal Minds etc, run rampant in the NA continent) – we will all be consumed by bears or Yan’s mountain lions before we make it to the hotel. Frankly, cows and occasionally manic sheep (anyone see “Black Sheep”) are no preparation for – help, is it Brown, Black, Kodiak or Polar Bears that are the dangerous ones? Or all four?

    See, Mom of Four, most of our fears are irrational.I have other even weirder fears I could share. And on another note to do with fear, I had to spend a good half hour calming my fifteen-year old down the other night because of scenes in an action movie involving human trafficking (he wasn’t worried for himself, incidentally, just really upset about the realities of life for some very unfortunate Eastern European and Asian women). He intends translating his fear into finding some way he can contribute to stopping this really awful trade.

    And I think that is what you need to do. Start translating your fear into action. Take your children out with you, point out what are genuine hazards around. Discuss how to avoid/deal with those hazards. Talk about what to do in XYZ. Even if the scenarios are slightly paranoid (my dad taught us as preschoolers what to do if we were inadvertantly locked in a wool press while playing hide-and-seek in the woolshed, hilarious seeing as townies we didnt get to play in one till I was at least ten). Just whatever comes into your mind. Then begin to back slowly away. Send them off down the street and back. Then around the corner. Then all the way to school by themselves.

    They are most likely to be just fine….:-).

  109. @hineata: your post made me laugh. I’m not afraid of bears or mountain lions, but once when I was surveying I got trapped in a cow field, and the cows came over and started head bumping me. I thought I would **** in my pants. I still remember that far more vividly than my encounters with bears. (No encounters with live mountains to date; they’re even bigger cowards than me.)

    We are afraid of the unknown. And most of our fears are irrational.

  110. Manic sheep? What kind of country do you have down there? Perverts and sadistic killers on every corner are one thing, but manic sheep are just unacceptable.

  111. Turn off the TV.

    My grandma is the same way. A steady diet of TV makes otherwise sane people stupid. It’s to keep your bass chained to the chair for the $$$$$commercials. 😀

  112. @hineata: Black bears, the smallest North American species, are most likely to stalk human beings with the intent to kill and eat, but they can be deterred by a confident attitude; one hiker drove away two of them with a stick even though they were treating him exactly like a tasty-looking elk that had wandered away from the herd. Brown bears (the Kodiak is a subspecies of the brown bear) are more likely to wreck your campsite or smack you hard and then run away because you startled them–or beat you up a bit to tell you to stay away from their kill or their cubs, although “a bit” means “you will be in physical therapy for a year” in human terms. Brownies tend to bluff-charge a lot, so mimicking the body language of a bear that doesn’t want any trouble may head off an attack. If the attack goes forward and you don’t have a firearm, curl up around your vital areas and wait until it gets bored, because the bear can outrun and outclimb you. Polar bears are also predatory toward humans, but not to the extent of the black bear; if its natural prey is nearby, the bear will go for the big, fatty, meaty wild animal rather than the relatively small, scrawny human. Polar bears that have fattened up are often quite peaceful; they have been photographed playing gently with domestic dogs.

    Every community and ranger station in bear country has printed recommendations for how to avoid most confrontations with bears and what to do if you encounter one. Remember, most of the time, they just want to do their beary thing and not get hassled.

  113. I understand the fear. It’s hard to have something so precious knowing that it could be taken away from you, and you may or may not have any control over if or when that happens. Parents lose their kids everyday, to strangers, the other parent, car wrecks, fires, cancer, sometimes accidents as unpredictable as a branch falling from a tree and killing a six month baby in his mother’s arms. My aunt lost her healthy teenage daughter to a freak brain aneurism at her kitchen table. It’s terrifying, and it’s tempting to think that if you could JUST watch them enough, JUST make sure to eliminate enough danger from their lives, you could keep them safe from all that, and ensure you never have to know that kind of heartache. But you can’t. You never can.

    I remember when I was a kid, I was obsessed with the idea that somebody would break into our house in the middle of the night. I was almost positive that it would happen eventually and I used to lie awake at night listening out my window for every little noise. I begged my mom to get an alarm system, even though we lived in a pretty safe neighborhood. To me, the fact that it COULD happen was unacceptable, no matter how small the risk, and I spent years trying to come to terms with it and find a way deal with the fact of having to live in a world you can’t always control. There was no “ah-hah” moment with that, but I can say that I’ve gradually come to be a less anxious person. I know what irrational fear feels like, and everyday I make a conscience decision that I’m not going to let fear consume me or stop me from doing things, within reason.

    I know it’s ten times harder when the fear you feel is for your kids, but the principal is the same. It’s true that it doesn’t always require alot of extra effort to monitor your kids, or helicopter them, so you may think there’s no good reason not to. In many ways, it’s easier because you don’t have to feel that worry and try to come to terms with it. All I can say about that is, for me, the only thing I’ve found that keeps me grounded is to be against irrational fear on principal, in all situations, and not just when it’s convenient. I’ve made logic over fear a life-philosophy. I take risks whenever I believe that the benefits of doing so outweigh the potential consequences. Because it’s a part of my life, it spills over into parenting as well.

  114. This post has struck a nerve, and all of the responses I read seem well reasoned and non-judgemental. Bravo!
    What always got me through my fears (and husbands) of free ranging kids was this:
    It is no more dangerous than when I was a kid.
    The ONLY differance from when I was a kid is TV & internet taking each tiny kernal of anything and blowing it into world stopping proportions.
    The results of free range parenting?:
    Sunday night, 2 AM, my 17yo (w friends) blew the engine of his car and it caught fire. He kept calm, got the car out of the road, everyone to safety, put out the fire, called a tow truck, then called us to let us know. I am SO proud of him!!

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