A Question About Dad Driving the Babysitter

Dear Readers — This letter got me wondering, too. Eagerly awaiting your answers. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I found your blog recently and have been going through all of your past posts (driving my hubby crazy with “listen to this…..!”).  I have been a Free-Range mom for years now (10 years, 5 kids), and I am glad to now realize that I am not as alone as I had previously thought.  My son is 10 going on 30 and organizes his own lemonade stand, bikes to the library by himself, runs into the grocery store for me so I can sit in the van with the kids…. now my 7-year-old daughter is starting to follow in his footsteps.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes with these freedoms.

Now the reason I write is to ask you this:  In my community it is understood that the father NEVER drives the babysitter (typically a girl) home.  I am convinced that this is a conspiracy concocted by men who do not want to be the designated driver.  But, the mothers all say that this is just for the babysitters’ safety, and for the man’s safety because “misunderstandings” and false accusations do happen.  Plus, it’s awkward for a man to be alone in a car with a teenage girl, they say.  My driver’s license is recently suspended due to a seizure and I cannot drive the babysitter home anymore.  My son can’t take the babysitter course for another year, and I know he isn’t ready for these responsibilities just yet.  Is it really unreasonable to have my husband drive the babysitter home? And is this policy a universal one? Just curious! — Courtenay

Only mom can drive the babysitter home?

You Can Babysit at 12…But You Must Be Dropped Off at the Babysitting Class by Your Mom

Hi Readers! Let’s call this a “Catch 12”: you are old enough to do something independent, but not allowed to do it independently: 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve got my 11 & 12 year old sons registered to take a babysitting class through our local children’s medical center.  The reminder email stated:

Accompany your child into the building and to the classroom. Please allow 5 minutes to park, find the room, and to check your child in.

Please send a water bottle, lunch and snack with your child. There is no cafeteria available.  (Because clearly, neither I nor my kids would think of this on our own for a class that runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.!)

Class ends promptly at 2 p.m. Please arrive to the classroom by 1:50 p.m. for a summary of the day and to pick up your child. For your child’s safety please let the instructor know if you plan to have someone other than yourself pick up your child from the classroom.

So I replied:

Hi, my kids have been learning how to bus around town this summer.  Are they not allowed to arrive without an adult?  What about leaving on their own?

Thanks, Cheryl

Here’s their response:

Cheryl,

We really appreciate you checking in on this ahead of time. Due to safety concerns, it is our standard practice to ask that a parent or caregiver accompany the child to the class. The instructor checks each student in and confirms an emergency contact number with the adult. We also ask that the instructor see each child leave with a parent, caregiver or designated adult.

I apologize if this causes any scheduling concerns for you. If you’d like to schedule your child for a different class that occurs when you can accompany them, we’d be happy to waive the transfer fee and schedule them in a class with availability. Let me know if you want to do that or if you have any questions.

Thanks again for contacting us with the question. I hope your child enjoys the upcoming class!

And my reply:

I can make it happen, it’s just kind of silly that kids who are to be responsible for little ones aren’t given a chance to be responsible for themselves. It’s also not good for the environment, my time or our gas budget.

Does it make a difference if it’s two siblings that would be traveling together?

I haven’t heard back from them yet.  Isn’t this just ridiculous?!  I won’t stop being a Free-Range Parent, but goodness, sometimes it’s just so dang tiring dealing with friends, family, society, etc. that think I’m crazy for letting my kids do things like walk, bike, and bus around town; for working for neighbors; and you know the rest! ~~Cheryl 

14-y.o. Boy Babysitting Younger Siblings Shoots Armed Intruder

Hi Readers — This story is just so wild, I had to put it here and ask YOU to parse it. Long and short of it: Someone knocked on the door of a Phoenix, AZ home during the afternoon, when a 14-year-old boy was babysitting his three younger siblings. He didn’t recognize the woman so he didn’t answer the door.

Soon after, the teen heard a bang on the door, rushed his siblings upstairs and got a handgun from his parent’s bedroom. When he got to the top of the stairs, he saw a man breaking through the front door and point a gun at him.

The boy shot the 37-year-old man, who is in critical condition but expected to survive and be booked into jail.

So — on the one hand, this shows just how competent a young person can be, even under unbelievable pressure. On the other hand, I worry that this will make even more parents AFRAID to let even their teenage children babysit because “look what can happen when they’re home without an adult!” I also wonder, somewhat perversely, what would have happened if the kids HAD answered the door when the strangers knocked. Maybe if the intruders knew there was someone at home, they would have skipped that house and looked for an empty one. Certainly most burglars prefer an unoccupied house.

And then I also wonder what this says about guns in the home.  BUT I don’t want this to become a forum for or against gun control. I’m really just interested in what went down.

So I am putting this out for you to chew on. And, on a completely different topic, I hope some of you attended a Free-Range picnic this weekend and had a great time! — L.

Disturbing? Cool? Both! 3 Kids Take Plane Trip W/Out Informing Parents

Hi Readers! This is just one strange story. A 15 year old Florida girl, Bridget Brown, saved up $700 in babysitting money and used it to take her friend, 13,  and younger brother, 11,  on a plane ride from Jacksonville to Nashville.

The trio cabbed it to the airport, boarded the flight without any problems (Southwest allows kids age 12 and up to travel without adult supervision), and got to their destination. They called their parents from there and immediately flew home.  Bridget is quoted as saying the impetus for this trip was simply this: she just wanted to fly somewhere — and had the money.

So what makes this disturbing? That the kids didn’t tell their parents. (Yes, even Free-Range me thinks kids should let their parents know when they’re flying off to another state.) Also that Southwest didn’t ask any of them for IDs, at least according to this MSNBC account. That’s weird.

What makes it cool? The kids’ spirit of adventure. Their competence in the adult world. The fact they got their money refunded in the end.

Which just may mean a sequel. — Lenore

Lessons from The Baby-sitters Club

Hi Folks! Here’s a lovely essay by The Wall Street Journal’s Laura Vanderkam about, well, the cultural significance of The Baby-sitters Club.

Yes, I know how ridiculous (or at least American Studies for Dummies) that sounds. And yet — you don’t sell 176 million copies of any series without making some kind of impression on society. And the impression young readers got from the girls in the Club was that kids their age could actually be responsible and make money. Like adults! As Ms. Vanderkam puts it:

Hidden in the plots that show that friendship is good and that teasing, racism and bossy boyfriends are bad, [author Ann M.] Martin imparts two more important messages that modern readers need to hear: Teen girls are capable of handling far more responsibility than we give them credit for, and they, like the rest of us, can choose to make their own way in the world.

Right on! One of the Free-Range notions is that kids long to be adults, and that’s a good thing. The human desire to grow up motivates kids to learn and strive and get a paper route. (Remember paper routes? Remember papers?) It is our job to help them along that path, rather than putting up a big, “CAUTION!” sign and marching them back to the ExerSaucer.

About a year ago I posted a query asking, “What age did you babysit? And what age babysitter would you hire now?” The discrepancies amazed me. Grown women who had cared for kids, even infants, at age 10 or 11 now wouldn’t let their 13-year-old stay home for an hour alone at night. And they sure wouldn’t trust their toddlers to a 12-year-old.

Scholastic’s Baby-sitters Club, about to be re-issued (with a new prequel, too!), reminds us that not very long ago at all, we trusted “tweens” to do more than just text. God, maybe we didn’t even call them tweens. — Lenore

Commonsense Rearing Its Uncommon Head. Yay!

Hi Readers — You’ve probably seen this story, closely mirroring the one in England where the two moms sharing a job TRIED to share babysitting duty, too — and found out this was against the law. Here in the States, a Michigan mom takes in the kids of three friends each morning before the bus comes. Suddenly, the mom — Lisa Snyder — was informed this is illegal, as she is not a licensed day care operator.

Amazingly, she did not go to jail. The case got the attention of no less than the governor, who immediately instructed the child welfare agency to draft some kind of law making normal human decency legal again. Imagine that.

Meantime, my friend Chris Byrne, editor of timetoplaymag.com, had this to say:

It seems to me that what’s happening is that the very legal system that is supposed to establish and protect community standards is being so narrowly applied that it undermines them. The utter lack of common sense and the insistence on applying the letter of the law indicates much more than just misguided application, it’s a deterioration in the ability of people to think about the realities of a situation. Keeping a kid at home for an hour is not daycare!

I have always said, “Those who don’t read Dickens are doomed to live it.” This is the hidebound attachment to literalness that he decries as soul-numbing in “Hard Times.”

Well, I have to admit, I have not read Hard Times (I did read David Copperfield!), but I feel in my icy bones exactly what he’s talking about: The idea that using your own brain and heart is verboten, and that bureaucracy must be exalted. It’s the same thing we see when parents get hauled in for “negligence” for leaving their kid in the car when they go to return a Blockbuster video. Same thing we see when a parent is not allowed into the kindergarten Christmas party because her background check has yet to clear. Same thing we see when a teacher is chastised for hugging a pre-schooler. Rules were not only made to be broken, there are a lot of stupid rules out there that should never have been made at all.
Kudos to the governor of Michigan for wrestling this rigid rule right away, but how many more are lurking? How many parents will be persecuted because of draconian laws and brain-dead bureaucrats? (That’s a rhetorical question, of course. I guess the real answer is, “A lot,” which would be dull way to end this post but…we are moving today and it’s chaotic around here and my brain is in some box with our cooking utensils. So — talk to you again soon, readers! We are off to beautiful Queens, New York!)  — Lenore

Outrage of the Weekend Update (Re: Moms Punished for Helping Each Other)

Remember the Outrage of the Weekend? Two moms sharing a job were trading off taking care of each other’s kids. Or at least they were until this was declared illegal because they are not licensed day care workers. Well it looks like the authorities over there in jolly ol’ England are realizing this may actually be one of mankind’s stupider ideas. Take heart! Here’s the piece — a lovely essay in The Guardian.

Note at the end: “Unsurprisingly, given the debate this case has generated, the children’s minister has now ordered a review of the ‘babysitting ban.'” Huzzah huzzah! — Lenore

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

ABC News Weighs in On Mom Who Let 12-Year-Olds Take Younger Sibs to Mall

Here it is — ABCnews.com looking into the case of Bridget Kevane, the mom who trusted her 12-year-old daughter and the daughter’s friend to take their younger siblings to the mall. For which she got arrested.

ABC found that most people felt support Kevane and believe the authorities overreacted, as do I. And a little later today I’ll post my thoughts on same. Meantime, here is the ABC piece. — Lenore