You Think Your 9 & 6 Year Olds are Too Young to Ride Their Bikes to Their Friends?

Hi Readers! Laura Alves is a mom of 4 who has made a change in her  world — and beyond. As can we all! – L

Dear Free Range Kids: I’d like to share my little story (actually three) of Free-Range happiness in our small central Wisconsin town.

I have four kids, ages 9, 6, 4, 2. I generally allow and encourage (and sometimes require) my older two to ride their bikes. My philosophy is that if it is safe and reasonable for them to propel themselves somewhere, than they should. I have little kids at home who don’t want to spend their summer days in a minivan while I chauffeur the older two around. A neighbor, whose daughter is 10, asked me if I let my kids ride their bikes alone to the park, which is one and a half miles away with one busy County Highway to cross. I told him that yes, they’re allowed to ride there together. They know the safety rules of biking and of crossing busy roads. The neighbor said he’d been hesitant to let his daughter do this, but if she went with my kids, he’d feel better about it. So, they all went together and had a blast! He lets his daughter regularly bike to the park now.

My oldest daughter’s friend lives about a half mile away, across the same busy County Highway. The friend called one day and asked if my daughter could come over. I sent Charlie on her bike, and when she arrived, the other mother called me to see if I knew my girl had ridden alone there. I told her of course I knew! We talked about it and she agreed that even though it made her nervous, IT MADE SENSE to allow the girls to ride alone at this age. They are now BOTH coming to and from each others’ houses solo!

We are very good friends with a family whose oldest two kids are best friends with our oldest two kids. We were all talking one night about letting them do more stuff alone. Our friends said that they had been on the fence about letting their kids bike/walk to our house, the park, the school, etc. We shared our feelings about how it’s good and healthy for them to do things on their own. They agreed and now ALL the kids are riding their bikes around in a big pack, exploring, and having a blast. They’ve managed to stay safe, stay out of trouble, and have a ton of fun all summer long!!

I’m realizing that there are a lot of parents out there that WANT to give their kids more freedom. They just need a little push from someone letting them know it’s okay. The “safety” movement has created sort of a mob mentality with parents, but a lot of people don’t necessarily want to subscribe to it. They just think making a lot of rules and restrictions is what good parents do. I’m grateful that Free-Range-Kids has inspired me to break free of this delusion, and that I in turn have inspired these other parents to give their kids some much needed freedom. Perhaps these parents will inspire more. Perhaps by next summer our playgrounds and streets will be filled with kids having a safe, and happy-go-lucky summer with their friends. Could this be possible? Here’s to hoping!! – Laura Alves

No, there is actually no mention of wombats in this post. But kids on bikes, yes.

Permission Slips to Photograph Your OWN Kid at Sports

Furor — and Aftermath — Over Suspension of Biking Students

Hi Readers! Quite a few of you sent in this story, now gone viral, about the high school principal who suspended upward of 6o students for their “prank” — a mass bike ride to school. As WOOD TV reported:

Seniors called police for an escort, and even called Walker’s mayor, who rode in the parade.

“Police escort, with the mayor, who brought us donuts. …The mayor brought us donuts…” said a group of seniors following the ride.

But school official weren’t told in advance, hence the word prank, and were not happy with the event.

They kicked the seniors out of school for their last day and threatened to keep them from walking in graduation ceremonies set for May 30.

The principal was upset not only because the ride led to traffic snarling (and principal snarling, apparently), but also because, “”If you and your parents don’t have sense enough to know your brains could end up splattered on Three Mile and Kinney, Fruit Ridge, then maybe that’s my responsibility.”

Or maybe it’s not. Maybe things that go on outside of school have nothing to do with the principal. And maybe people who are 17 or 18 and are responsible enough to call the police AHEAD OF TIME are responsible enough to take a bike ride. And maybe bike riding is GOOD.

All these points seem to have occurred — belatedly — to the principal who has since issued an apology. Mostly it seems she was taken by surprise and overwhelmed with worry. In the cold light of dawn (and massive media attention) she realized this was not truly a “prank.” It was the way we’d like our kids to act pretty much all the time.

So — hats off to the biking seniors, and to a  principal willing to do the brave thing and say, “I was wrong.” Everyone is growing up so fast! – L.

2-year-old Bikes 3 Miles to Visit Sick Grandma!

Okay, you know I’m not advocating that other kids follow in this tyke’s bike-steps, but how cool that a 2-year-old in German managed to zoom three miles to visit his ailing grandma! In stocking feet! Because he was worried!

Moral? Never underestimate the power of a toddler. (Or love!) – L

One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

Hi Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!

 

Safety Tip? “Children Under Five Don’t Ride Bikes”

Hi Readers!  Lisa, the mother of a 3-year-old, who lives in Atlanta and blogs at Organic Baby Atlanta found this “tip” at safekids.org when she was researching bike safety for toddlers:

“Because they are not ready to ride bicycles, children under the age of five ride tricycles. “

Notes Lisa:

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Wow. What a blanket statement. So there’s never been a single 4-year-old on a real bike? Not one? Funny, because I see kids under age five riding real bikes in my neighborhood all the time. And–oh, wait–isn’t my daughter under five? Yeah, that’s right: she’s three, and she’s been practicing on a pedal-less balance bike since she was 18 months old. She’s now riding it well and will soon graduate to a real bike with pedals. No training wheels. Even more shocking, she’s only had one or two falls (she’s a cautious kid). But I must just be seeing things when I think I see little kids on bikes, because, “Kids under the age of five ride tricycles.” Maybe those bikes actually have an invisible third wheel?
Or maybe there are just a lot of really short 5-year-olds in my neighborhood. — Lisa
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Notes Lenore: The more we dangerize normal childhood activities, the less normal an active childhood becomes. Let’s hear it for sedentary kids, obesity and the great indoors!  

Criminally Confident in Our Kids

Hi Readers — Here’s my syndicated column from last week. Sorry it took me to long to get to the Tennessee bike rider story. Got overwhelmed by other stuff. Here goes! – L

CALLING ALL COPS…OFF

So, a mom in Tennessee, Teresa Tryon, has been told by the police that she was wrong to allow her 10-year-old daughter to bike to and from school. Do it again before the police discuss this with Child Protective Services, she was warned, and she could face charges of child neglect.

Though Tryon believed her child was safe, the police officer didn’t. And that was enough to put the mom on thin legal ice.

The bike ride is less than 10 minutes each way. The mom herself said she passed a total of eight cars on her two journeys on that same route that same day. Moreover, she had her daughter take a bike safety class before any of this.

Does it get any safer than that? Perhaps the girl should just never get on a bike at all. That would probably satisfy the cop. But what about the kid, who wants a childhood? And the mom, who wants an active, independent little girl? And the town, which could be buzzing with kids playing outside or could be just a barren expanse of empty lawns?

The cooped-up kids and lifeless lawns are collateral damage in the war against terror — the terror we are supposed to feel whenever we think of children doing anything on their own. If you don’t share that terror, you risk trouble with the law.

I know because it happened to me, too. After I let my son ride the subway solo at age 9 a few years back, I also let him ride the commuter train out to the burbs when he turned 10. He went back and forth to his friend’s house many times, but then, one time, one of the conductors noticed him and went ballistic. “You should NOT be riding alone!” he said. Izzy offered to let the man talk to me on the phone, but he wouldn’t hear of it. Instead, he radioed ahead to the cops, who were waiting when my son got off the train.

Also waiting, by the way, was the family of the kid my son was going to see.  They always pick him up.

You’d think that would be proof enough that this was a situation both families felt comfortable with, but instead, the train was held for several minutes while the police questioned the friend’s family and then called me. Finally, the cop conceded this was probably OK, so the conductor got back on the train, and that was that.

Until about a month later, when it all happened again.

The same cop called me. And when I said that Izzy was now carrying a printout from the train’s own website that said kids as young as eight can ride alone,  and that furthermore that I personally felt my son was safe — at rush hour, surrounded by hundreds of commuters — the officer said, “But what if someone tries to abduct him?”

I said that in that very unlikely scenario, I thought the other people would help him.

Countered the cop: “What if TWO guys try to abduct him?”

This is what I call “Worst-First” thinking — jumping to the very WORST scenario FIRST and acting as if it were likely to happen. Two guys waiting at a commuter train platform just in case a 10-year-old might happen to be riding by himself that day and they could somehow grab each arm with no one noticing? (And as my son asked later,  “Isn’t the policeman there to KEEP me safe?”)

Of course, there are police officers who understand that kids are not in constant danger and allow them to go about the business of learning to navigate the world. But when a cop comes knocking on your door or calling you from the train platform, you realize that until we abolish “Worst-First” thinking, kids can’t be kids — and the police get to parent.