My Take on the Arrest of the Mom Who Let Her Kids Go to The Mall

Hi! Lenore here, feeling it is time to weigh in on the Montana mom case still causing a commenting frenzy.

This is the case where a mom named Bridget let her 12-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend, both experienced babysitters, take their siblings, age 3, 7 and 8, to the mall. After a morning of shopping and lunch, the group went to Macy’s. The 12-year-olds tried on some shirts while the other three waited in the handbag department — the 3-year-old now in a stroller. When the 12-year-olds returned a few minutes later, all five of them were scooped up by mall security, which called the cops. The cops arrested Bridget for child endangerment. Three hundred or so comments later I must say, first and foremost: Let’s try to keep the debate on a nicer, friendlier, agree-to-disagree tone, please.

But personally? I don’t think Bridget did anything wrong. Her kids were not in any danger unless a band of machete-wielding pedophiles happened to be parachuting into Macy’s that day, intent on that ever-popular crime of kidnapping three children at once while store employees look on.

The assumption that the 12-year-olds were wildly irresponsible for telling their younger siblings to, “Wait here,” while they tried on some clothes is strange to me, too. It’s normal to ask kids to wait for a little bit and that’s exactly what the kids were doing, in a safe place, not the Newark bus terminal at 3 a.m. (Sorry, Newark.)

And while I can understand that some people think 12 is too young to be responsible for younger kids — that’s certainly what the Bozeman authorities believed — somewhere between 40 – 80% of the world’s population is raised by older siblings, according to anthropologist David Lancy. Many a 6-year-old is in charge of her younger brother(s) and all the kids are expected to rise to the occasion, which can mean anything from helping to plant seeds, to running errands, to manning a shop.

This is not to say I’d send a 6-year-old to the mall with a gaggle of younger siblings, just that our current assumption of total kiddie incompetence until age 18 or so is new and unprecedented. Twelve is old enough to look after younger children — and the 12-year-olds we’re talking about did. To turn one’s back for a few minutes is not the invitation to instant death we have been lead to believe by CNN and CSI. To assume children are in danger from strangers every second of every day is to assume the only way to keep them safe would be with the kind of surveillance employed at maximum security prisons. Or, better still, to keep them IN maximum security prisons.

I have stated this before: We live in safe times that are represented as very UNsafe in the media, because that’s what drives ratings. We are squandering the incredible gift we have of living in 21st century America, where all crime has been declining for the last 15 years, and four times more children make it to their first birthday now than did the year that I was born. We are not in a famine, we are not engaged in a war at home, our children do not have to dodge bullets, militias and malaria-bearing mosquitoes to drag water home from a brackish well.

Free-Range Kids does not say there is no evil in the world. But our movement believes our children are more competent and more safe than the worst-case-scenario chorus. We believe children don’t have to do everything exactly right – and neither do parents – for them to still be extremely safe.

The bottom line is not just that nothing bad DID happen to those children, it’s that it was extremely unlike TO happen to those children. As I state in my book, if you actually, for some reason, WANTED your children to be kidnapped by a stranger, how long would you have to keep them outside, unattended (or in a mall!) for that to be statistically likely to happen? For them to be abducted, I mean?

Guess before you look at the number.

 In fact, I will let you guess now, below. And tomorrow I’ll tell you. (Or if you can’t wait – get the book!)

 Speaking of tomorrow, I will be on the Fox & Friends show at about 7:30 tomorrow (Tuseday) morning debating, “Free-Range Kids.” You may hear the answer then!

Yours – Lenore