Children: Please Remember, The Library Is No Place for You

Hi Readers! This poster comes to us from Ann Sattley, author of  the book and blog Technically, That’s Illegal. In case you can’t read the fine print, it says, “Please remember that the library, though a fun and entertaining place to be, is a busy public facility and all public places do present hazards for unsupervised children.”

Aside from the extraneous “do” (which I thought was confined to stewardess-speak) and referring to the library as a public facility, which somehow makes it sound like a giant john, this is a bald admission of the mainstream outlook today:  Children should never be any place in public unsupervised, as they are at risk — and you’ve been warned.

It might be “fun” and “exciting” to be at the library, but kids should wait until an adult has scads of free time to be there with them, or just live without library time. Who needs all that reading anyway? Kids might get the wrong idea from books like From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and start having “adventures.” I shudder to think. – L.

Is a Child “Unaccompanied” if the Parent Is Close By?

Hi Readers! Here’s a recent letter that makes me hot under the collar (but not hot enough to turn on the A.C.). — L. (who can’t figure out how to get rid of this LINE!!)

Dear Free-Range Kids: Well, I did it again: I sent my 4.5-year-old inside the library to walk the 20 feet to the elevator and make it to the children’s floor without me… and, like the last few times, I was twenty seconds behind him.  But this time I was accosted by the librarian at the check out desk: “Was that YOUR little boy?! He MUST be ACCOMPANIED!”
I replied as calmly as I could, “Thank you for your concern, but it builds his confidence to navigate a bit by himself.” She looked angry and then pounded the desk with both hands (I’m not kidding!) while announcing, “Under 13 must be ACCOMPANIED. It is POLICY.”
Now, I didn’t drop him off and go to the grocery store, I simply let him out, parked the car in a very close parking spot, and walked directly inside. It’s also not like she’s never seen us before, we’ve been at that library several times a month since my son could look at the books without chewing them.
Then, I got upstairs and found my son had been detained by a police officer and told to sit and wait for me! Again, not kidding.
Now, these are my questions for you and for the readers: First, while I understand that it is policy that under 13 be accompanied, was my son really unaccompanied? Does being twenty to thirty seconds behind him count?! Second, what do I do with that pit-of-the-stomach feeling that I had been caught doing something naughty and was going to the principal’s office? I know intellectually that teaching my son to navigate in simple situations (like a familiar library) is a good thing, but it took me several hours to get over that feeling. Also, my son was clearly confused by the situation and thought I had instructed him to do something wrong. How do I handle THAT?
I need some clarity as this is the first time I’ve had my Free-Range Parenting challenged. — L.A.
Dear Rattled Mom: My sympathies and suggestions. As for the policy at the library, see if you can talk to the head librarian. Tell him or her that you find this rule a little anti-literacy (at least I do), in that it discourages all children under 13 from coming to the library on their own. Ask: Were there problems with some disruptive kids? If so, suggest the library’s rules be changed to address that — “Anyone disruptive will be asked to leave” — rather than forbidding anyone under puberty from using the library solo.
Also ask to talk about the idea of accompaniment: Does the adult have to be physically attached to the child for it to count as “accompanying”? If not, then how about some sensible leeway?
As for the pit-of the-stomach feelings, all I can say is: I get those, too. I’m not sure they’re avoidable, but if you CAN possibly engage the police officer in a chat about his own youth, you MAY be able to get him to remember that no one’s mom was expected to be as hovering as today. And once he’s all jolly about his reminiscences, tell him that’s just the kind of childhood you want to give your kid, too. The kind his mom gave HIM. Leave him to chew on that (not a book).
And remember: You ARE a good girl and did nothing wrong. It’s just our crazy, terrified, anti-community, eager-to-blame culture you’re up against. That’s all. — L

Past puberty? Then YOU can enjoy the library without your mom. 

“You’re a Horrible Mother” — PART II

Hi Readers! Here’s a follow-up to You’re a Horrible Mother, Part I. Get ready to seethe — and cheer! (And by the way, I am off for a week’s vacation with my family, so the postings may be sparse for the next few days.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Almost exactly a year ago – when Lenore published a piece over at ParentDish about a 5 year-old who’d been (purposely, after a discussion with her mother and the children’s librarian) left to play alone in the children’s section of the library for a couple of minutes while the mom went to a different section to get a book – more than 1,000 comments were left in under 24 hours. (She also linked to the piece from this website, and the discussion here, too.)  The great majority of the ParentDish comments were exceedingly negative and condemning, with many calling the mother horrible names. Some even went so far as to declare – like the lovely letter writer who just wrote to Lenore – that CPS should take the child away, that the child deserved to be molested (so the mother could see how awful her actions were), or even that the mother herself be KILLED so that the child could be raised by someone else.


I remember it very well because *I* was the mother who left my 5 year-old daughter in the library!  I’d told Lenore the story when she’d come to my city to do a book reading/talk.  It was absolutely incredible to me to see the viciousness of the comments, to almost literally *feel* the outright hatred aimed at the mom – at ME! – despite the fact that NONE of these complete strangers knew ANYTHING about me as a person or a parent.  Even though I was entirely anonymous, it stung.

So, albeit in a very small way, I can relate to Lenore’s experience and I can say that it sucks!

But also?  It made me think.  It made me re-assess how I DO parent, and made me look more carefully at WHY I parent as I do.  And the outcome?  I’ve become even more Free-Range!  If  THAT’S the mentality of others out there – paranoid, terrified, helicopter-ish to the max – then I know I *HAVE* to continue with Free-Range thinking and parenting more than ever, to ensure that my daughters grow up to be confident, strong, and capable, and to look at the world knowing that dangers do NOT lurk around every corner, that most people ARE good, and that they, themselves, are competent.

Were it not for Lenore and this site, I never would have attended that book reading,  and my story never would have been published on ParentDish, and I never would have been called a terrible mother by thousands of strangers, and I never would have re-examined my parenting beliefs — and my wonderfully smart, confident, trusting, capable, beautiful, HAPPY children might not have the childhood filled with kid-made sandwiches, scraped knees, hours of unsupervised outdoor play, time “alone” at the library while I look for a book, and more laughs than we can count – that they do.

So Free-Rangers: Keep on keeping on.  🙂 — Emily in Rochester, NY

The 3-Year-Old at the Library

Hi Readers — Just a little day brightener from the Free-Range Front. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids — I have a parenting theory: I never do for a child what that child can do for himself.  For the past few months I’ve given my three-year-old daughter my library card and stood a few feet behind her while she checks out her books in the children’s section of the library.  This morning I decided to take it a step further.  I gave her my card and told her to go check out her books on her own. (I did tell her to make sure she got her “ticket” receipt so I would know she completed her mission.)  She took the card and confidently strode off in the direction of the check out desk.

My little daughter was positively beaming from ear to ear when she returned from her errand!  She then trotted off happily to an area of the library where older (elementary aged) kids sit and read.  I guess she thought if she was old enough to check out her own library books, she was old enough to sit where the big kids sit!  🙂

Thanks much for encouraging me in letting my daughter take care of her own business! — Tara Kluth

Picture Books Too Babyish (i.e., FUN??) For Kindergarteners

Another day, another New York Times story that you wish wasn’t true. And yet, it seems pretty solid: The sale of picture books for kids in going down, and the reasons range from the fact that they’re high priced (which makes some sense) to the idea that kids should be reading chapter books sooner rather than later (which makes no sense at all).

The article, by Julie Bosman, quotes authors, book stores and publishers, all of whom concur: the picture book is fading. While kids still read Seuss, they’re off to Steinbeck sooner rather than later, in part because their parents don’t want them piddling around with pictures. The parents want them doing “real” reading.

Except that…picture books ARE real reading. I was talking with Gever Tulley the other day — yes, the founder of The Tinkering School — and he said that kids who read non-fiction comic books tend to remember the facts and stories better because of the leap their minds make between the panels. Having to create the connection from one picture to the next engages the brain and cements the lesson better than just plain ol’ reading. So take THAT,  pushy parents who want their kids diving into Stendahl instead of Stinky Cheese Man.

Pretty much any book that engages a child is a book worth reading. It gets kids into the groove. It must be turning on their brains, or they’d put it down. And if the kids are reading picture books even into their double digit years, well, ’tis better to read than to not read. My 12-year-old reads Peanuts like the bible — it is his joy in life, his comfort, his compass. To yank that away and say, “Time for ‘Crime & Punishment, kid,” would BE a crime and a punishment.

Picture books: good. Chapter books: good. Reading: good. Simple as that. — Lenore

The Pervert Lady in the Library

Hi Readers — This story makes me sad and sick but it doesn’t surprise me. The same thing is happening at playgrounds: No adults are allowed without a kid — as if every adult who LIKES or even LOVES kids must also want to MOLEST them. Good ol’ “worst first” thinking. Anyway, here’s the latest:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Thought you might be interested in what happened to me today. My husband and I had some appointments and arranged to meet afterwards at the recently renovated Cambridge Public Library. I had brought my laptop and my husband some paperwork, and we planned to do a little work while we were there. I suggested we visit the children’s room: a huge, sunny, room with a ceiling papered to look like a leafy canopy, pillars decorated as tree trunks, and a rug sculpted to look like a stream bed of river stones.

It was 9:00 am and the department was empty except for the librarians. We were the only patrons. We found a corner and settled in until one of the staff came over and informed us that the children’s room was reserved for people “accompanying children.” She was a little apologetic, and explained that it would get busy and loud shortly and there were plenty of other, quieter places for us to work in the library. (True.)

So we settled down in another part of the library and did some work, and when it came time to leave I went in search of the information desk to find the audiobooks for kids. I got directions and asked the woman behind the desk about why we had been shooed from the children’s department. It was explained to me that “they can’t have people hanging out there, looking at little children.” I somehow felt dirty for even having questioned the policy.

This isn’t really about my rights being infringed or really even inconvenienced: I can use the rest of the gorgeous library and am free to use the children’s room, so long as my son chaperones me. But I think this is a chilling development, and I hate what it says about how fearful we have become as a society.

I’m a parent of a 10 year old, a published children’s book author, and I grew up in and around libraries…working as a library page at my hometown library in Falls Church, VA, and at various libraries in college. I love to browse and hang out in the children’s rooms, to watch how kids and their parents interact with books, and to work surrounded by “the canon” of authors who have gone before me. I’m baffled and sad that a library would decide that a huge segment of their patrons are assumed to be dangerous to their youngest patrons. The reasoning seems to be that if you don’t have a child in tow, you can have no legitimate, innocent reason for being in a children’s section of a library. If we’re trending toward a society in which the only people with access to minor children are their parents, teachers, and caregivers, everyone loses, potentially the kids most of all. — Ann Downer

What The “Child Molested at a Library” Incident Teaches Us

Hi Readers — Yesterday, under my post about “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day,” someone named Upstate Librarian  wrote: “…why dont you call the mother of the 9 year old that was raped today in the library in New York City. I’m sure she would agree with you on your feelings about leaving children for a few minutes in safe public environments.”

Here’s a response to THAT response, from frequent commenter Uly. Take it away, Uly!

“Dear Upstate Librarian. I’m sure you mean well. No, let me start over. I’m sure you do NOT mean well, that you intend only to shame and scare rather than to educate or learn, but I’m going to act like you mean well anyway.

Stranger molestation does happen. It does. Nobody here has ever claimed otherwise.

It happens very *rarely*, though. The vast majority of child molesters – hell, the vast majority of ALL rapists! – target people they know. For children, that’s almost always relatives.

One nine year old getting raped in a library is sad and unfortunate, but it should not affect your behavior unless, perhaps, there’s been a string of these incidents in your own community.

Likewise, many, many children die in car accidents every year, far more than get raped by strangers (and in fact car accidents are THE leading cause of death for Americans 15 and under), but this simple fact will probably not cause you to stop driving your kid around. (Heck, it doesn’t even convince people to use safer carseats!) Why? Because that would be silly.

When I was a kid I saw a kid get her shoelaces sucked into an escalator and my dad had to help cut her loose. My mother once saw a child fall and get her HAIR stuck in an escalator, which was very nearly tragic. Elevator accidents are more common than most people realize, but plenty of people still use elevators and allow their children to do so. Why? Because you can’t live your life scared of things that occasionally happen to some people.

When your child goes to the park with you, NOTHING is stopping them from being struck by lightning out of the clear blue sky (somewhere around 700 people are struck by lightning in the US yearly) or stung to death by a surprise attack of killer bees (moving northward) or randomly hit by an off-kilter bus. Your presence does not make your child safe. But you go ahead and send your child out in the world anyway, right? Because your kid can’t stay home all the time.

Heck, I bet you even send your child to school with other kids. And why not? That’s what most people do, right? Teachers are far, far, FAR more likely to molest their students than strangers are (although they still come in well under “parents”). Why is sending your child to school without you “safe” when sending your child to the park or the library is “unsafe”?

Because one is something you’re used to doing and seeing, and another is something you’re no longer used to doing and seeing. That’s all.

I don’t mean for you to start seeing the world as the terribly unsafe place it really is, of course. But you have GOT to put these things in perspective. I’m very upset for that poor girl, of course, but I don’t see how an isolated event should make me change my behavior and keep me from doing something that is, in fact, relatively safe. — Uly

Only Perverts Talk to Kids

Hi Readers! Just got this wonderful little clip from The Big Bang Theory (which happens to be my older son’s favorite show. Yes, even Free-Rangers end up watching some TV.) It’s all about what happens when a stranger talks to a kid. Sheldon, the main character, is — as you will soon see — socially awkward. Enjoy! — Lenore (who thanks Lin for sending this in!)

Just When You Thought Free-Range Kids Was Catching On…

Hi Readers — Here’s a link to my essay on ParentDish, “Can a Mom Leave Her Kid Alone at the Library for Three Minutes?” It’s about a mom who left her kid in the children’s room to run upstairs and check out a book in the adult department. She told the librarian she’d be back in a few minutes and the librarian warned her that this was okay, but that the dangers of the real world lurk in the library too.  My piece said that while I don’t think librarians should be treated like babysitters, this seemed like a fine, short, safe thing for the mom to do. And by the way: There was no one else in the children’s room!

Well the piece has garnered 1300 responses so far.  Here’s a typical one:


And another:

“Here is an example of the social contract. When you decided to become a parent, you accepted that being a parent means Every. Single. Second. There is no such thing as a free range parent.”

And another:


Personally, I’ve gotten so used to reading the comments here on Free-Range Kids that I was stunned anew by the  conviction that children are in grave danger for their lives EVERY SECOND their parents’ eyes are not upon them.

Not to mention the usual vitriol, and the joy in blaming a mom for something that did not end up tragically. But, you know, COULD have. — Lenore

Job description: Have child. Never let go. Ever.

Does This Library WANT to Make Kids Feel Unwelcome?

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a Free-Ranger named Cari Noga. Let’s give her some ideas! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just posted this in the “ideas” section on your blog, but thought I’d send it direct, too. On your blog you ask, “Do you ever let your kid ride a bike to the library?” My question is, “What do you do if the library won’t let your kid in?”   After two recent incidents I’m looking for ideas on how to positively approach my local library about its policy on “unattended children.”

Currently it states that “children under age 8 must be accompanied at all times by a person at least 14 years old. Upon discovering an unattended child, staff will attempt to locate the person responsible for that child. If the proper person cannot be located within one half-hour, authorities will be called to take the child into custody.” (It doesn’t say whose custody.)

I always thought this policy was intended to prevent people from using the library as a babysitter. But after my own recent incidents, I’m beginning to think “accompanied” literally means within arm’s reach.

Incident one: I was with both my kids (ages 1 and 4) in the children’s section, while husband was in another wing, perhaps 50 yards away, on the same floor of the building. Four-year-old son asked if he could go over to Dad. We have visited the library on approximately a weekly basis since he was an infant, so I said okay. He went over to dad, then back to me, then over to dad again. Going back and forth meant he had to pass in front of the children’s librarians’ desk. The librarian wound up remonstrating my husband for letting our son go back and forth, using the “You just never know/world is a scary place” rationale.

Incident two: Took both kids by myself and stopped at the main desk (ironically to see if my reserve of Free-Range Kids had arrived)! My one-year-old daughter walked on about 30 feet further, to the Christmas tree on display. She did shake the bottom branches a bit, but nothing fell off or even wobbled. My son, meanwhile, ran into the children’s section ahead of me. A librarian came out of that section and shooed my daughter away from the tree. Seeing me, she asked if I was also with a boy. When I confirmed it, she made my son leave the children’s section and wait in the main corridor until I finished my conversation at the main desk and entered with him.

At the time I did not handle it well, as I was so upset. (After all, you certainly wouldn’t want a four-year-old dashing into the library.) I suppose technically we had violated the policy in both instances, although you could also argue that, per the policy, the librarians should have backed off after confirming my kids weren’t there alone. I wound up getting the name of the library director. I haven’t yet called her – incident two just happened last week – because I wanted to be prepared. Here are my questions for you and your readers:

1. Is this policy reasonable/typical?

2. If not, what parts need to change? The minimum age? The definition of “accompanied?”

3. Any model policies I could suggest?

4. Is there a case to be made for no policy at all, simply librarian discretion if kids – of any age – are being disruptive?

Thanks in advance for your help and book. Santa brought me a copy, so I can get the library’s back to them. They certainly need to read it.

Yours, Cari Noga, Michigan

Hi Cari! I certainly think it makes sense to check in with the head librarian and talk about how much you and your kids love the library, how you want to obey the rules and how you’d like to make sure you understand them correctly. That way you’re on the library’s side and can join the librarian in wanting the place to be well-run, kid-friendly and safe. Then you might agree that the world is a scary place, which is why you are trying to bring up little buggers prepared for the real risks out there. Not abductions from libraries, which are exceedingly rare (she can look it up!),  but things like ILLITERACY. Then ask her to recommend some kiddie books! Good luck! — Lenore