She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.  They are ages 2 and 4.  My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.  He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.  I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.  It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.  I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.  He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.  Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.  During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.  I instinctively went with the most logical scenario:  He’s 2.  He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).  It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.  It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.


Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

Clown Teaching Kids to be “Berry Berry Safe”…Except from Berry Berry Creepy Clowns

Hi Folks — Let me state upfront that I agree with this, uh, guy: Teach your kids never to go off with   stranger.

But is there anyone stranger than this blue-haired, baby-tawking clown who keeps showing up out of nowhere?  The lesson he seems intent on teaching kids: Never go anywhere without a possibly imaginary, predator-obsessed prig in a blue wig.

4-year-old Girl Sits Next to a Man on a Bus and Then…

Hi Readers — Had to share this response to the posts below this one, about Virgin Air making a man move because he was seated next to two unaccompanied minors.  – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This just seems outrageous to me.  I would like to share a story from my childhood which has left a lasting impression on not only myself, but my mother as well.
When I was about 4 my very young single mother was travelling across the country via a Greyhound bus with my 4 year old self and my 1 year old sister.  Mum was given some bad information at the start of the journey and found halfway through the trip that she would have to buy and extra ticket for my toddler ticket and would run out of funds before we would reach our destination.
At some point when we had to change buses the bus driver told my mother that each of the children would have to sit in their own seat.  As the bus only had paired seats she had to put either my sister or myself in a seat next to a stranger.  As I was the oldest and presumably the more responsible, she seated me a few rows ahead of her in an available seat next to a US military member travelling in uniform.  I’m sure I talked the poor guy’s ear off most of the trip but apparently he liked me because he passed me a $100 bill before disembarking the bus and told me to give the money to my mom.
Due to this man’s generosity we were able to make it to our destination and I know I enjoyed the independence and responsibility of sitting with a stranger. This just goes to show you that not every “stranger” is dangerous, and sometimes they can save us when we most need a hand up in the world. – Brandi

Sure you can sit by me, little girl!

A Reader Who Believes Men Should NOT Be Allowed to Sit Next to Kids on Planes

Hi Readers! It takes all kinds…even the kind that thinks men are raping random children on planes, I guess. Here’s a note that came in response to my post below this one, about Virgin Air’s policy of not allowing males to sit next to unaccompanied minors:

I agree with the policy. It is too bad that the airline did not arrange the seating ahead of time to avoid an embarrassing moment but as a mother I would not want my child seating next to a strange man on a plane.

The fact is 99% of paedophiles are male. I’m sure this man is a lovely person but the fact is he is 100 times more likely to rape a child than a woman.

Are we now going to sue the insurance companies who charge men more in insurance because men are 100 times more likely to have an accident?

It’s called statistics. It’s called trying to prevent the most horrifying incidence by calculating and diminishing risks.

Why doesn’t this man put his energy into fighting paedophiles, who are from his sex rather than demonizing a society trying to protect itself from a deadly disease within the male.  – Pastiche

Man on Plane Must Change Seats — He’s Next to 2 Boys. Australians Outraged!

Hey Folks! Encouraging news in our war on predator panic! Over in Australia, on Virgin, a man named Johnny McGirr, 33, was seated next to two unaccompanied boys, aged about 8 and 10. The stewardess made him move because that’s the airline’s policy: Women can sit next to kids, men are apparently just too likely to pounce.

McGirr — a fireman — was understandably embarrassed. He blogged about it and now he’s everywhere in the Australian media today, saying: “[The attitude of the airline] is ‘we respect you but as soon as you board a Virgin airline you are a potential paedophile’, and that strips away all the good that any male does regardless of his standing in society, his profession or his moral attitudes.”

He also had a new suggestion for Virgin, to keep people safe:

No male should sit next to anyone. A spare seat will be allocated next to any male at any time to ensure the safety of women and children.

Virgin — Jeez what a name for this story — is now reconsidering its policy, the way British Airways did a few years back. (Remember this incident? And its outcome?) But perhaps even better is that the Sydney Morning Herald reports more than 44,000 readers nationwide responded to an online poll about  the policy, and 87 % agreed it’s  ‘‘sexist and suggests all men are potential pedophiles.”

They sound like Free-Rangers!  – L

Maybe all children are not in danger from all men at all times?

If You Are Male, You Are Under Suspicion

Hi Folks — Two letters I got, two days apart:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have always wanted to have something to share about my experience as a Free-Range Kid parent, but today I don’t get to do that. My story is of how the 9 or 10-year-old girl from down the street came over and said she can only play if my wife is at home. I said “Oh, really?” and marched her home and confronted her mom and sure enough, it’s not acceptable for me to be the only parent in the house when she over. “It’s to protect both her and you” she says. I guess we live in a world where all men are perps. – T.F.

And here’s Letter #2, from Nicholas Martin, executive director of the Consumer Health Education Council, who was at the beach with his 9-year-old daughter and two of her friends.

Dear Free- Range Kids: I took my 9-year-old daughter and two of her friends to  swim today at Brookville Lake, an Indiana state park. I was shooting them from the beach with a telephoto lens when I was approached by two park guides who asked if I was photographing my own kids or other people’s. I responded that I had the legal and constitutional right to photograph anyone. I asked if there was a complaint and a female guide responded that one beachgoer had motioned them over to question my picture taking.


The guide said that she was just ensuring the safety of the children. I said that it was ridiculous to think that a man shooting with a large camera and lens on an open beach was a potential threat to kids, and pointed out that probably hundreds of people on the beach had cell phone cameras that could take pictures without being noticed. The guides were unfailingly cordial and respectful and we bid each other a friendly goodbye.

Minutes later the ladies next to our beach tent pointed out the woman nearby who had made the complaint to the guides. She was with three other women, all apparently in their thirties and with no accompanying kids. Seconds later one of the four women lifted her cell phone and began taking pictures of one of her friends standing in from of the water. Or she could have been taking pictures of the children behind her for all I know. I approached the woman who had complained and asked if we should notify the guides about her friend’s picture taking. She responded by asking me if I would want a stranger taking pictures of my child at the beach. I said it would be fine with me since it presented no threat.
Later my kids heard some people in the water complaining about my picture taking. One of them said, “He better put that camera away.” It is not far-fetched to imagine a mob of people driven by a sufficient frenzy to inflict “justice” on a photographer at that beach. What if I hadn’t had any kids with me and was just shooting some beach scenes, with kids, adults, and lapping waves? The American mania regarding sexual predation is not to be toyed with. [NOTE FROM LENORE: Sure isn’t. A man on the sex offender list for having sex with his younger girlfriend as a teen was murdered by a vigilante last week.] 
Though they never should have approached me, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources guides deserve credit for acknowledging my rights and being pleasant in their questioning. In my view, this is another case of “guilty of being male.”  Perhaps area photographers should show up at the beach for a Photo Freedom Day to publicize and defend the right to do photography. – N.M.
Lenore here: I like the idea of organizing a Photo Freedom Day. I like the idea of organizing any kind of “Return to Normalcy Day” (like my “Take Our Kids to the Park…And Leave Them There Day”) and alerting the press. 

What kind of creep took this photo? I see KIDS in it!

Fire vs. Predator: Which Does Society Protect Kids From?

Hi Folks! I found this story fascinating, in how starkly it prioritizes our fears.  — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently had a conversation with a firefighter that stopped me in my tracks and I wanted to share it with you.

I was writing a story about how to do a home fire drill for our local paper. Here’s my article. For the story, a firefighter came to my home and taught us about fire safety and even helped us conduct our own fire drill.

In the course of interviewing him, I asked him about the red reflective circles that we all used to have on our bedroom windows in the ’70s and ’80s — remember those? — to alert firefighters there might be children in those rooms. “Why don’t we have those anymore?” I asked.

He hemmed and hawed for a minute before he responded something to the effect that “society” anymore doesn’t really approve of those. “Society?” I was thinking. “What part of society could object to notifying firefighters where children sleep…?”

Aha. It sunk into my thick (Free-Range reinforced) skull: By having red stickers in kids’ bedroom windows, we would be advertising to all predators that a child lives in this house!

Of course, there is no other way for a predator to know where a child lives. The chalk designs on the sidewalk, the bikes in the garage, nevermind all the comings and goings of the family. None of those communicate that there are children as much as that red dot in the window. Why, predators would be lining up — or climbing in!

Now, given that more than 90% of child sexual abuse cases and more than 95% of child abduction cases involve someone the child knows — many of whom are family members — most predators not only know where the child lives, but also where she sleeps.

The firefighter told me that those red dots were helpful back in the day, showing firefighters where to put their ladders to track down children as quickly as possible. But “society” has chosen to protect us from potential boogey men instead of fires. Has it made the right choice? — Emily Mulligan, mom of 2, Lawrence, Kansas

No it hasn’t! Although for the record, those red things always did pose one other  question for me: How many of us remove them when our kids grow up and leave? I’d hate to think of a firefighter risking his life for an outdated red circle. But anyway, point well taken: Fear of abduction trumps common sense, and safety. — L.

But at least no predators got in!