A Child Visitor to America Asks: “Where Are All The Kids?”

Hi Readers — This note was originally a comment on the post below this one. Its poignancy hit me particularly hard because today’s New York Times has a piece by Jane Brody — “Communities Learn Good Life Can be a Killer” —  about the effect of sprawl on health, autonomy and, of course,  childhood. I’m not sure how to suddenly re-urbanize vast swaths of suburbia, but I’m glad that city planners are looking into it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Before moving to my current home in Germany 6 years ago, I lived in a small town (about 5,000 people) in a different part of Germany. It was very Free-Range. Kids of all ages played outside in the smaller streets without adult supervision. The older kids watched out for the younger ones when a car drove by. Kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, either in the streets or at a local playground.

When my son was about 4 or 5, my family (husband, son, me) took a trip to California to visit family. In all of the neighborhoods where we stayed, nobody was on the streets. My son finally commented, “This must must be a really lonely place. Nobody is here.” He was so used to seeing the German streets in his neighborhood alive with kids playing and adults walking, cycling, or running. The empty streets in nice neighborhoods in California really threw him off.

During another CA trip, when my son was 9, he commented that he wouldn’t want to live there because you have to drive everywhere. He likes being able to walk or ride his bike over here and doesn’t really know anything different.

Kudos to Lori for making her town less of a “lonely place.” She is a beacon of hope for the Free-Range movement.  — Sue Biegeleisen

Helloooo? Anyone NOT home?

Welcome, Wall Street Journal Readers!

Hi Readers — All of you, including the new ones who caught my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. It was all about the fact that so few kids are walking to school these days — about one in ten. And here’s a note that sums up the whole craziness:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  My son started kindergarten and the dismissal procedure is for the teacher to open her classroom door to the outside and let the kids out if she sees a parent or person assigned to pick up the child. When I asked another parent about letting the kids walk home – they laughed and said the kids can’t walk home until 2nd or 3rd grade.

WHAT???? I live exactly 1 mile from the school. My son would have to walk down a residential street, cross a busy street – with a crossing guard – and then walk in another residential area to get home. I would have no problem with him walking home. He might take a while because he wants to look at the birds or a stick on the ground, but hey, he is almost 6 and that is to be expected.

It takes me at least 20 minutes to pick up each day. I have to drive to the school, trying to maneuver around the other parents trying to get a parking spot, park my car across the street in the junior high parking lot, load a sleeping toddler (who I just plucked from a nap) into a stroller, try and cross the street that the other parents are trying to maneuver to decide where to park, and wait for my child to be released. To me it is a nightmare!

Me, too. And here’s a piece that should make us all think twice: In Germany, the newspapers are trying to convince parents NOT to drive their kids to school. Good parents (they say) should think about all the time, gas, pollution, and opportunity for exercise and socialization that are wasted when they act as their children’s chauffeurs. Agreed! — Lenore

P.S. The link to the Journal piece works now — possibly only for today!

P.P. S.  Let’s try to keep the discussions here helpful and supportive. Especially (spoken like a mom) because today we have guests! L.

Not Every Country Bubblewraps Its Kids

Hi Readers — It’s hard to believe, but the rest of the world is not exactly like America except with different condiments at McDonald’s. Here’s a note from far away:

Dear Free-Range Kids: We have definitely tried to embrace as much of the Free-Rangeness as possible into our kids’ life. One twist we have is that our children are both Type1 diabetic, which makes us a bit overprotective to begin with (how do you feel, are you feeling low, tell us before you eat, yadda yadda yadda).

Our family recently moved to Germany for a work opportunity. Our kids are 6 (Girl) and 8 (Boy). Both are confident and great at dealing with change. Upon arrival, the thing that was absolutely shocking to me was how un-overprotective the Germans were with their kids. You might see, for example, a pack of 6-year-old kids walking to school with no parents in sight. 8-year-olds riding the train by themselves to get to school. Giant rope parks and cool huge slides that had no safety devices you would expect to see in the States (and the parents OK with it).

Our view of the world changed again when we enrolled the kids into German public school. The lady who finds schools for kids was Type1 diabetic herself. Her first question was, “Is the 8-year-old giving himself his own insulin shots?”

Excuse me?! The thought hand’t  even crossed our minds. Apparently all Type1 kids in Germany learn to give themselves injections when they are diagnosed. No such recommendation was ever given to us in the States (and we take the kids to a progressive university research hospital).

In a note the headmistress at school sent home to the parents, there were quotes like, “Please don’t come upstairs with your kids to drop them off,” and, “Wait outside for the children when you pick them up, they know where to go.” And, “Don’t wait around – drop your kids off and leave.”

If you look around German life, this type of upbringing makes sense. The country is filled with strong, independent people who can fend for themselves in the world. It also helps that they have a VERY orderly and rules-based society, but raising kids to be confident has a massive impact on society.

My wife and I talk about this almost every night. It’s truly amazing how much just a little more leeway with your kids can bring out even more confidence in their life. Aiden (8) is learning to give himself his own insulin and he has exceeded our expectations in this matter. Why didn’t we think of this before? Makes me wonder how we will adapt back to the bubble-wrapped world of the USA when we return. — Fred Thiel

Boy Ticketed for Climbing a Tree — But This is NOT Our “Outrage of the Week”

So here’s the story, as reported in The Daily Mail: A 9-year-old boy from Germany visits his five cousins in England. They go to a park, the boy climbs a tree, a neighbor complains that the kids are being rowdy, the tree-climber gets a ticket.

It’s crazy to ticket a boy for climing a tree. But I have to say, while I would normally make this an “Outrage of the Week!” the boy’s dad  blew it for me by saying that now his son will be too scared to come back to England.

The whole problem with the world today (since you asked) is seen here twice. What is it? OVER-REACTING! The police over-reacted to a boy in a tree by giving him a ticket, for gosh sakes. But the dad is over-reacting, too, as if this one weird incident is going to traumatize his son for life. Let’s give a little credit to human resiliency, shall we? This will be a strange memory and possibly, in time,  a treasured family story. It’s not a plane crash.


Remembering that kids are resilient is KEY to raising a Free-Range Kid. If every sad, scary, or just plain screwed up event is seen as permanently scarring — or cause for a law suit — there’s no way we could let children do anything on their own. We’d have to HELICOPTER around, making sure everything is perfectly fine, all the time.

The world is not perfectly fine. We are babies, and we treat our kids like babies, when we insist it has to be. For the dad and the policeman I have one suggestion: 

Go climb a tree! — Lenore

Six-Year-Olds Build Nuclear Reactor (Or So the Cops Think)

Another story of strangely advanced kids — or is it strangely inept cops? — this time from Germany. Enjoy! — Lenore