Letting a Child Stay Home Alone, But Haunted by “What If?”s

Hi Readers! Sometimes I hear from Free-Range parents who feel alone and judged when they let their kids rise to some occasion. Here’s just such a mom in Australia. To her and everyone else trying to buck our fear-everyone/everything/all-the-time culture, I say: We are with you and support you! – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I recently started to allow my 7-year-old to walk home from school on her own. I make sure I get home from work by the time she is home. But last week I also allowed her to walk home to an empty house and wait for me to come home — about 30-40 mins later — instead of being bored at After School Care.

When she called me when she got home, she told me that the neighbour across the road had offered to take her with to her granddaughter’s horse riding lesson. I had to call the neighbour to talk her out of it — my daughter would have had to sit on a bench for 1.5 hrs! — and to assure her that my daughter was safe at home and that I would not have allowed her to stay home alone if I didn’t trust her.

So far I have not had ONE person that I have told about this agree with me when I explain why I did this. All of them treat me like I am irresponsible, negligent or even stupid. The latter launch into a list of “what-ifs,” as if I had not at all considered any risks before I made this decision. Child abductors, traffic, unruly teenagers, emergencies at home, “What if the dog runs out”…

To those who will listen I try to explain that I have done a risk/benefit analysis of all of those things and am doing this because I think it is the best thing to do for my child’s development. But I feel so alone in this right now. On a very selfish level, I DO think: “What if my child is the one in a million that gets abducted? Then all those people will say, ‘Told you so!’ and make life even more unbearable.”

Thank goodness for this website. I told someone today that I am NOT alone in this, and that there is a whole movement of “nutcase parents” like me out there and that I hope that they will get heard and gain popularity. – Aussie Mom

Let’s hear it for the nutcase network! – Lenore

Does Teacher’s Pet = Pedophile Alert?

Hi Folks — Here’s another little story that reminds us how  Worst-First thinking has become de rigeur when it comes to kids in the company of adults: A young Teach for America teacher took a student out for a hamburger and was immediately reprimanded by the school.

Yes, rules are rules, and he probably should have signed a lot of forms first, but sometimes — weirdly enough — a moment comes up that is not pre-scheduled and pre-approved and pre-notarized. It’s what we used to call “spontaneity.” (Now we call it “actionable.”) So off he and the kid went, got burgers and came right back.

The child’s mom sounds livid. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, she said, “He walked right out the front door with my child…This was not a role model.”

A better role model would NOT take an interest in her son?

I GET that we are terrified of adults grooming our kids into Sandusky  submission. The Miramonte stories shake me, too. But do we really want to treat every teacher-child interaction as prelude to perversion? My mentor, social studies teacher Genevieve MacDougall, took me out of high school for a few days, with my parents’ permission. She wanted me to drive her from Chicago down to Southern Illinois to check out a one-room school house she was thinking of buying. She paid for my meals and my room at a little hotel, and it is still one of the fondest memories of my life. I dedicated my Free-Range Kids book to her!

I doubt she’d be allowed to do that today. As the teacher in the hamburger story was quoted as saying:

“I care for my students and am trying to make a difference in their lives,” he said. “I try to build positive relationships with my students, and in that effort, I bought a student in my class a hamburger for lunch that we ate back at the school with others. I regret this mistake, but I am proud of YES Prep, and the work that I do there. I am glad that Yes Prep investigated the situation and found no reason that I should not continue to teach my students.”

As parents, we must (I say it every time this topic comes up) teach our kids to recognize, resist and report abuse. But we can NOT treat every teacher who dotes on our darlings as dangerous. Let’s bring that pendulum back to the middle, where it belongs. — L.

Outrage of The Week: Recess Gets Programmed

Hi Readers! Here’s what’s up at a grammar school outside of Chicago where the kids have apparently been getting it all wrong during recess. A local source writes:

 This past weekend I went over to visit a friend of mine who is a first grade teacher. When I walked in, she was watching a video demonstrating different outdoor games to teach children, like 4-square, tag, etc. I asked why she was watching and she said, “We are figuring out which games are appropriate to teach the kids at recess.”

 When I followed up I learned that during the past year, there were too many fights and “wandering” children during recess, so the school has decided that recess should be structured with the children being given the choice of playing any of three or four pre-taught games.

So now, at the beginning of the 20-minute recess, there will be 3-4 activities set up. Kids will be required to pick one and stick with it. Says our source, “They are toying around with rotating the kids through the activities or giving them the chance to switch halfway through recess, but 20 minutes just isn’t that long!”

 It sure isn’t. And neither is childhood, which is why this is just wrong.

If children need to learn the basics of some classic games, by all means: Teach them! That’s a great idea! But then – it is time to back off.

The whole idea of free play is FREE PLAY. That means the freedom to run around. To make up games. To CHANGE the game. One of the happiest days of my son’s life was when he came back from the park where he and his friends invented “7-square.” It was like they’d invented cold fusion — a brilliant idea the world had been dying for.

 Kids have structured time the rest of the day. From what I’ve seen, a lot of it will probably be spent preparing for standardized tests. Recess shouldn’t be the same as the rest of the day. It should be…what’s that word again?

 Oh yeah! A recess. – Lenore