What if? Indeed.
I was at the park last night and there was a couple there with kids the same ages as ours. As we pushed our kids on the swing, the mom and I chatted. I raved about how much I love, love the park. It is just perfect for us! With it being just a mere half a mile away, Arun can easily ride his bike there and back while we walk along with Anjali. In general, it is a beautiful, calm space with tons of shady trees nestled deep into a neighborhood without major crossroads buzzing with traffic.
While the mom agreed the park is wonderful, she lamented that the swings are so far away from the playground area (seriously, not more than 40 feet, folks!) and that when pushing her child on the swings, she has to turn her back to the area, thus leaving her older children vulnerable.
I tried to make light of the situation, mentioned Free Range Kids and urged her to read it. I also pointed out that statistically, a stranger is not going to whisk in steal her kid. Her response?
"Have you been to the KBI website? There are tons of pedophiles in this area! It's scary! I watch CNN and Nancy Grace all the time to keep up on that stuff."
I chose not to argue because I did not feel like facing it and potentially subjecting myself to the Lazy, Uncaring Mom role to which I have been assigned WAY too often. And yes, I knew damned well what she was getting at regarding the KBI (Kansas Bureau of Investigation) site, but could not argue because I did not have the facts. This morning, I dutifully went to the site and verified there are less than 100 sex offenders in my city which includes TWO zip codes area (Per this site, a sex offender is a generic term for all persons convicted of crimes involving sex, including rape, molestation, sexual harassment and pornography production or distribution. )
Yes, there are still 100 sex offenders around here, but I am going to get Glass Half Full all over your ass and say that there are only 100. And furthermore, this included ALL sex offenders. Which probably means that when 18 year old Jimmy Joe slept with his 16 year girlfriend and her father found out? Jimmy Joe got himself a listing on the website. And if Roger Sterling lived in Olathe and someone finally reported his sex harassing ass? Roger gets himself a listing on the website. And yes, rape and molestations are included in that list, but in short, all the folks on the list are not pedophiles lurking playgrounds prepared with lost puppies and candy so they can prey on your precious progeny.
Listen. I know things happen and I am not trying to push some Kumbaya Agenda onto y'all. Good grief, I had a Creepy Uncle and a Creepy Neighbor, too. Fortunately, my mom had talked to me about what to do and I did tell my parents what was going on before anything progressed into Scary Serious. In fact, I was so young during the Creepy Neighbor Incidence that I do not even remember it. But I did know enough to tell my parents. And when I was a sophomore in high school, my best friend and I were subject to the stereo-typical Gross Guy "asking for directions". No, we did not get in his truck. And yes, we reported his ass to my friend's parents, who called the police, who miraculously! managed to find the guy and arrest him. And then, we got to sit in court and watch him get sentenced.
Folks, these incidences did not scar me for life - in fact, while writing that last paragraph, I only just remembered the whole Gross Guy "Asking for Directions" Incident and realized it was relevant, so it should be included. Why did these incidences not scar me? Because I had been prepared to report them. My mother had created an environment where it was made clear that she wanted me to tell her when these things happened.
So, yes, I am teaching my kids to talk to strangers. But only if they are comfortable doing so. However! I am teaching them to never, ever actually go with a stranger. I do not want to teach them that all strangers are dangerous and I want them to learn how to trust their instincts. For reals, folks - Creepy Uncle? Gave us the willies from early on. As children, we knew something was not right. And lucky for me, my mom created an environment in which I felt comfortable telling her when things were not right.
Where the hell am I going with this??
I did finish reading Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry (Skenazy is the Official World's Worst Mom who let her 9 year old ride the NYC subway by himself and then began the Free Range Kids blog. A blog that should be required parent blogger reading, in my opinion.) This book was a breeze to read. It was reassuring, informative and Skenazy has a way with words that hit home. And now? I am cheering my decision for not allowing my children to sit in a Shopping Cart Condom, And, I can now eat raw cookie dough and raw snow with an easy heart. Thanks, Lenore!
To boot, she has a great sense of humor:
The biggest fear on Halloween, of course, is that somehow, your nice, quiet neighbors - the ones you never got to know but somehow managed to live next to in peace and harmony the other 364 days of the year - have been waiting, like kids for Christmas, for this one day to murder local children. Murdering them on another day wouldn't be satisfying, I guess, which is why they've shown such remarkable restraint. But a child homicide on Halloween -- it just feels right.
For the record, there is no recorded evidence that a child has ever died via a contaminated Halloween treat.
However, I think the most important message of all from the book is this:
"Don't talk to strangers" is one of the most useless pieces of advice ever foisted on us to foist on our children. And I'm not the only one who thinks so.
"Our message is exactly the one you're trying to convey. We have been trying to debunk the myth of stranger danger, " say Ernie Allen.
What's stunning about this statement is that Allen is the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. The organization John Walsh helped found after his son was killed...... The organization that put the missing kids' pictures on the milk cartons and didn't tell us that most of them were runaways or abducted by family members.......
"Our message to parents is you don't have to live in fear, you don't have to feel you have to lock your children in a room," says Allen. What you have to do, he says, is to talk to them about how to to handle themselves confidently, among people they know and people they don't.
I guess we all could do with a little bit less Nancy Grace and a little bit more Fancy Nancy, eh?
So, here you go, folks. I bought this book with some of my birthday money and as a goodwill gesture, I am giving it away. Why? Because this is a cause that I truly believe in - turning off the drama-ridden media, letting go of the hysteria and mommy guilt. Allowing our children to explore their worlds. Furthermore, I am forfeiting my chance to get my copy signed by Skenazy herself - she is going to be at BlogHer this year and I will be doing my best to not stalk her. And now? And when I do get my chance to get all freaky fangirl on her, I will not even have a copy of the book to wave in her face.
But. If I can get one more mother to re-think letting her child play outside alone, then it will be worth it.
Also? I am weary of being treated like a half-assed, lazy mom who does not care about her children's safety. I will not judge you for putting your child on a leash, if you will back off on my decision to let my 3.5 year old run around in a playground that is a mere 40 feet away from me.
If you are a US resident and would like to be entered to get this book, please indicate in the comments before Midnight, CDT on Sunday, May 10th - yep. Mother's Day.
Do you have a Free Range story to tell?
Here's mine - when I was less than 4 years old, I was allowed to play in our front yard unattended. However, I was not allowed to cross the street. A very strict rule that I followed - in fact, my next door playmate of the same age did cross the forbidden street and I immediately ran inside to tell on her.
A born rat, I was.
Last time you mentioned the Free Range Kids website, I went there and looked around. I only have an 8 month old but I do wonder what we will do as he grows up. I grew up in the country, where I didn't have to worry about cars going down my street, much less strangers. We used to ride our bikes a mile to get to the gas station, crossing a major highway, alone. I want the same for my son, but I don't know how to do that now. I'd love to read her book!
I would LOVE the book.
The thing about sex offenders, is that the people listed are only the ones who are CAUGHT! Crime statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. Because the most dangerous people are the ones who are too smart to ever get caught.
I used to walk to the local drugstore with my friend, probably at the age of 9. It was at least a half a mile a way off a very busy road. I was told to look both ways when I crossed the street, given a quarter for a candy bar (YIKES -- CANDY!). And that was that.
I now let my 7.5 year old walk to friends' houses and bike on her own. She stays in our small, enclosed subdivision, so I'm fine with it. But I recently read something that said kids 10 and younger should be supervised while playing outside! I couldn't believe it. Maybe if they're playing with grenades!
I work in child abuse and while I do not agree entirely with her premise, I will say Don't Talk to strangers is a terrible message for children. Most children are abused by someone they know. Good touch bad touch is a much better lesson.
My free range story is that when my parents bought our house in our neighbourhood the neighbourhood "gang" (gaggle of boys and girls ages 4-8) came a callin' on their banana seat bikes.
Hello! We hear that two girls have moved in here! We want to meet them.
Except they were all French so they started with Bonjour.
Anyway, I have a ton of free range stories that go from my parents letting me and my sister run around Cambridge and Boston as teenagers to use the university research libraries to letting us run with the gang to being on the verge of sending us to boarding school in Montreal at 11 and 9 because the educational system where we lived sucked and that's what everyone did (we avoided that by moving to the US).
It was awesome and I made into adulthood alive.
I grew up in the small town of New London, MO so I *do* think it is a bit different than if I was living in Dallas, Texas....BUT,I do remember that my Mom always said, "Don't cross Main Street!"
3/4 of the town was on our side of Main Street, haha.
I do consider my parenting philosophy almost entirely free range. I think it's important to not to downplay or minimize the threats out there in the world (not that I think you are, either.) I like a lot of parts of Gavin De Becker's books (The Gift of Fear, Protecting The Gift) because it lays out ways to do some of the flip side things of the free range movement - some of the stuff you mentioned like trusting your instincts, making an environment where your kids know whom to talk to in difficult situations, and arming them with the knowledge and information about how to protect themselves. Somehow, in my mind, I don't have any problem rectifying these two in my head... In fact, it seems to me that they're two sides of the same coin.
I definitely want to check out her book at some point. I love her blog. It's hard for me, my kids are still little enough that I have a hard time envisioning them being trustworthy around city streets. But I know it will happen - I never thought I'd be able to leave my daughter overnight with the grandparents and now we both love those weekends. :) Parenting is a process of growing away from each other (in a happy, though bittersweet way), and we can't do that if we don't let go just a little.
And I can do you one better - for our 3 staircases (4 level split level house), we have one baby gate, and it's only to keep the dogs downstairs and out of the kitchen. The babies just have to learn to deal with stairs.
I don't have kids, so perhaps I shouldn't be commenting on this post, but I'm very, very pro free range parenting - it's how both my husband and I were raised.
Stories of Free Ranging, well...
When Aditya was a kid - 8, 9 - he was free to go anywhere on his bike in his "small" Indian town of 700,000 or so. Prior to that he was regularly sent to the local market to bargain for the day's groceries.
By third grade I was biking half way across town (about 3 miles) by myself to and from school. I was latchkey from 5th grade on, and responsible for getting myself to and from the junior high 10 miles away by either city bus or bike.
I thought of you this afternoon as I watched Tyler walk across the soccer field and down some steps to where she thought her sister was. One of the Moms sitting beside me asked me if I was worried I told her no, if Abby isn't there Tyler will come back and sure enough she came back to me until Abby came back.
As for myself, I grew up in neighborhood where the only rule was be home by dark and even sometimes we could stay out late playing flashlight tag in the dark and once I was 13 I could go wherever my bike took me and it took me all over town. I remember the freedom all too well.
I don't have a free range story because I was not allowed to leave the house EVAH. Which is I think why I struggle so with my kids, I want them to be able to handle situations but I'm not sure how to teach them those skills
Am totally addicted to the free range site because I love to throw out numbers that are actually backed up with sources (my husband's family is that sort..)
I grew up in the boonies and my parents taught me to drive when I was 12. If there was an emergency, it could be faster to drive then wait for an ambulance. By 14, my best friend and I were allowed to drive to each other's houses about 7 miles apart as long as we stuck to the back roads. It taught us responsibility and gave our parents some freedom.
I'm just starting this parenting gig with my 5 week old, but I'm already seeing the value in exposing her to new experiences. Case in point: bathtime. She howeled during baths, of course, and it sent my blood pressure rising. But, my husband stayed calm and kept on gently pouring water over her head and down her face. Three or four baths later and she is the picture of zen during bathtime. Even falling asleep as the warm water is poured over her head.
I must get that book for my husband. He is constantly criticizing me for letting Caleb get more than a few feet away or letting him climb. Maybe criticizing isn't the right word. He jumps up to follow if I'm not right there watching. I have to find a way to make him more comfortable with letting him run free. He is in law enforcement but surprisingly isn't worried about the stranger danger but more the snake and fire ant danger (we live in the country).
I struggle with the "what if" scenarios but I try to remind myself that if the worst did happen wouldn't be better to have lived a happy, fun life than to have lived in fear?
By the way before I had kids I was so critical of the way some moms seemed to pay no attention to what their babies were doing. Now, I understand the whole "eyes in the back of your head" thing so much better.
Great post! I agree - give kids information and a framework in which to place events (i.e., good touch bad touch) and help them learn to make good decisions. I am raising FUTURE ADULTS, not just current kids and I want my kids to be able to analyze situations well. I want my kids to be the "responsible" ones.
I am concerned about safety -- they wear bike helmets and seat belts. They aren't given power tools and no supervision. They aren't allowed to play catch on the roof or in the bed of a moving truck. But the safety I worry about is the very realistic and immediate possibilities of harm, not the phantom boogeymen of "what ifs".
I'd love to read the book! Sounds like it's right up my alley!
Happened upon your blog from Lenore Skenazy's blog, whose feed I subscribe to. Nice to know that there are other free-range minded parents in the KC area. I'd love to ask which park you were referring to in your post, but then you might think I want to come by and abduct your children. I am an almost 40 year old male after all, and everybody knows that men who enjoy spending time around their children (and -- *GASP* -- even other people's children) are up to no good... :)
My son is 10 months now and I am glad that so far I have found myself to be a free range mom. Eating dirt? Great. Lightly smashed fingers? Life lesson.
I dearly hope that others will come around in time for me to be able to send my son outside to play until the sun goes down, just as I did. My friends and I would navigate the system of overflow ditches behind the houses in the neighborhood, building forts, eating wild blackberries, and getting lots of dirt under our nails.
Best days ever.
So what if, just a thought, she stood on the other side of her child to push the swing. Most swings, including baby swings, can be used FROM EITHER DIRECTION. Beauty.
We live in a pretty protective neighborhood. Almost every family has a (rarely used) full fort style swing set in the back yard instead of using the neighborhood park. When we go to that park it is always empty. For some reason the kids in the neighborhood tend to stay inside. I don't know whether it's protective parents, too much homework, or videogames keeping them inside but it's eerie on a Saturday afternoon how few children are out even though I see minivans shuttling them places all the time.
My parents were pretty "free range" or normal for the 70s and 80s. A dentist who wouldn't let mom come back to the chairs with her 4 year old twin girls? Mom left immediately and never went back. But we played in the yard unsupervised from an early age. By middle school summers we had the freedom to ride our bikes all over town, a town of about 70,000 people. We could ride miles to the record store, our friends houses, the pools... And once my mom was back in college we just left her a note on the kitchen table. "Did the chores, went to Vicki's house, be back by dinner"
I hope we can provide the same for our sons.
I love that other people have experienced criticism for letting their children loose. We live on 30 acres in MN but there is a traveled road next to our property. The kids know the rules are they aren't allowed to go past the ditch water, and if anyone stops their car, they run into the middle of the field and towards the house screaming. We tried a phase of not running away on our property, but the only cars that stopped were people who were going to chastize them or me for being so far away from the house. Now we have no problems.
They are also the most polite children you have ever seen...I am blaming it on all the dirt and sticks they ate when younger!
I hear what you're saying and I would love to read this book so for sure enter me in your giveaway.
I will say this though: My concern for my kids (particularly my son) is not about "The Crazies" out there but that he has that type of personality where he never sees danger. He will run out into the street no matter how many times I explain that he can't and why he can't so I could not let him run off too far from me because he knows no fear. I know it's probably his age (just about to turn 3) and he'll probably outgrow that (oh man, I hope so). I can see letting them play outside unassisted when they're older but not now at 3 and 1 1/2.
I'd be interested to know if this writer speaks about what ages this idea is appropriate for. And what about when you have a neighbor who has one of those above ground swimming pools and doesn't cover it. That stuff concerns me as a mom of little ones who can't swim. I can totally see my son climbing the ladder and falling in. He's an explorer and would for sure find that intriguing.
Excellent post. People are way too paranoid. And not just parents either. I know adults who won't talk to strangers. They are missing out!
I lean more toward the Free Range end of things and frankly, watching Nancy Grace is just torturing one's self needlessly.
I don't usually comment on your blog, but this post really irritated me. Not because I don't agree with you about raising children to trust their instincts and giving them the freedom to develop that trust, but because of the judgment you've made about this mom at the park.
It doesn't seem like you know much about her but chose to use her as an example to fuel your rant and simultaneously pat yourself on the back for your superior method of parenting. I think this is terribly unfair. I tried rereading your post from the perspective of someone (a dear friend of mine) whose child was was molested in public, in broad daylight, in front of two other friends, with one of her parents nearby, and I want to scream, "Wow, you really don't get it!"
The issue is not one about teaching your child about good and bad touch touch, or talking/not talking to strangers, or how to play outside safely within the set boundaries of the yard. The overall issue is that really unfortunate things can happen to your children despite all of your careful or free-range parenting, and even in front of your face -- and some parents feel helpless when faced with this reality. Sure, the likelihood may not be in proportion to the concern, but the point is that you can keep your child in a bubble or you can adopt the free range style or something in between and none of these are bullet-proof methods for protecting a child from being violated.
Moreover, faulting a parent for their (however misplaced) vigilance in an effort to save their child from the unwarranted pain of being molested is mean spirited. Further, your suggestion that these acts are not permanently scarring seems pretty callous to the various realities each of us have as human beings. Kuddos to you for reaching your 30's without being scarred by the events that you experienced as a young girl. Not all children are as fortunate (perhaps you would fault the parents' for this lack of industry).
Maybe this mom was over the top. I don't know. But I will tell you that I much prefer to view other moms as trying to do right by their kids, rather than what you've done here.
Anonymous @11:06 PM
When I indicated to the mom that we lived in a safe area, the tone of her voice when she asked me if I had looked at the KBI site was that of her talking to an idiot mom who did not care for her children's safety.
I was amused by your comment that I was judging other mothers so harshly. I have been judged for nearly 3 years now for a variety of offenses. Not putting up bumpers on my tables or hearth. Letting my son get out of my arm's reach. Not bolting gates to my staircases. The list goes on.
Yes, I did not know the mother and actually, she was very nice. But when someone refers to CNN and Nancy Grace as some trusted source of information? Get real. It is in media's best interest to hype stranger abductions to get ratings. Skenazy has some excellent quotes from media executives regarding this.
Also, I was NOT molested as a child. Period. Nor, did I indicate that I was. To suggest that I take molestations lightly or am "callous" about them is a serious charge. While I have not been molested, I know firsthand through loved ones that it does, indeed, scar a person for LIFE.
Yes, we all have our perspectives. Thank you for sharing yours.
You know I am not afraid to let Hudson run around the back yard unattended, and pretty soon the front yard. That also left me open to Hudson using his new Sunday shoes as a fun! toy! in the mud hole. Oh, well. He'll be able to ride his bike unattended and I don't make him stand next to me at the zoo. As long as there's no blood, fire, permanent disfigurement or serious property damage, I'm ok with it.
We ran around all summer alone in our farm micro town. We rode our bikes to the club to swim and out to the hay barn and to the dump (Sounds thrilling, I know.)
Tim's the one I have to convince to let go.
We live in a hood (one street) where there's always kids outside playing basketball, riding bikes or something. While my son has boundaries, he does get to play outside in the front and back yard with friends and run back and forth between his friends' houses. I just looked at it that he's an energetic little boy who's outside running around and playing with friends - building happy childhood memories. I'd rather him do that than come home each day and sit in front of the tv or some gaming system, isolated and not moving. He does check in with me often so it works well for us.
I think the free range gets a bad rap when you have people out there who let their kids roam the area without ever checking on the kid or setting boundaries. We have a neighbor like this. They let the little girl roam around even on a school night at 8:30 in the winter.(Shes in first grade.) The little girl is at our house so much - can easily be here for 8 hours on a Saturday - staying for breakfast, lunch and snacks. I make sure her parents know she's here but they don't even call or ask her to check in with them. They've ended up loosing her several times because she roams so much. They don't set boundaries and they don't make her check in with them. Her parents would probably say they subscribe to the "free range" philosophy but in reality, they are just lazy and don't want to deal with their very active child. (Which is probably why the little girl likes to come to our house so much.... In fact, there have been times, she comes over on the weekends with bed head in her jammies!)
P.S. I think you're an awesome mom. And your kids will learn far more than the kids of a mom who controls every step they take! Ya know?
And my sibs and I were total free range kids years ago. We lived in a rural area and didn't have much freedom in any other area of our life but if we wanted to take a bike ride to the creek or to the (at the time) new highway being built, we were always able to do so.... And that was awesome.
I've read the Free Range book and love the blog...so I don't need to win.
Two Free Range stories for you.
My son is 10. He and his friends make silly videos (mostly burping because that's what 10 year old boys do). They use my YouTube account to post them for their friends. One day a man wanted to be their "friend" on YouTube. My son came to me and said "This 27 year old guy who lives at home with his Mom wants to be our friend. That's weird. I'm blocking him." I monitor the account so I would have found out anyway...but I really helped me know that he is prepared for "weird" situations like that.
We also let my 10 year old walk to his golf lesson, about 1/2 mile away through the woods. One day, on his way home he calls me on a cell (just telling me how his lesson went...I was out of town) and he says "OH.MY.GOSH!!" and stops talking. I freak out for about 10 seconds (seemed like an hour). He starts talking again and tells me how a 3 foot long snake slithered across the path in front of him and how he quietly backed away from it. YAY!!! I have the confidence that my son knows how to handle himself if he ever runs into another snake.
DooneyBug, I think you do have to tailor the FreeRange thing depending on the kid and depending on the situation. Some 5 year olds are ready for some independence, some would never make it back home if they were let out the yard.
On the swimming pool thing...they are DANGEROUS for kids...and I've never been afraid to scare the crap out of my kids about those dangers. Mine are old enough now to swim, but when my youngest was 4 our next door neighbor put in a pool...and we have wrought iron fences, so I knew he could get to their yard in a heartbeat. Frankly, I just told him that he would DIE if he went into their backyard...and I had no qualms about scaring (or scarring) him with that information.
Great commentary. I just re-visited the Free-Range Kids blog after a Newsweek article prompted me. I was reading your post on there and thinking about how this could have been me at the park. Then I saw "K"BI and thought, ah, small world. Read farther and very small world. I'm sure we've been at your park many times.
I do crazy things like let my 5 year old climb trees and play weird tag/dodgeball/hide/seek games with the neighbors. Oh, and I cut my grass with my two year old distracted with play-dough on the deck.
Good to see things are going well for you. I know we crossed paths a couple times three or so years ago.
First, I totally think you should stalk Lenore at BlogHer and get her to sign something else for you.
She might even be amused by your book give-away.
Second, good on you for not being a helicopter. My old-school parents were horrifically overprotective in some ways, and I think that resulted in diminished self confidence for both me and my sister. Worse, I see some of the same What If parenting repackaged as "avoiding preventable accidents..."
Great post Cagey. I've really been thinking about this since your last one. Please enter me in the drawing.
My five siblings & I were totally free range as kids. The only rule- be home when the street lights came on.
I grew up a free range kid, as did all the kids I grew up with. I've nannied for multiple families before having kids of my own, and never had to take any of them to the ER despite giving them a lot of freedom to move about in my presence. (It wouldn't have been appropriate for me to let them roam as I was being paid to be with them.)
In many ways I'm a very easy going mom, letting my kids learn how to do things on their own without worrying too much about them getting hurt, but, my oldest is the kind of kid who I've had to watch like a hawk because he will take off without a moments notice, and never turn around to see if anyone's aware that he's gone. He's gotten a lot better over the years and now that he's 5 he's a lot more trustworthy. I know however, that many people have percieved me as being overprotective because I couldn't look away from him to talk without him disappearing. I was far less worried about anyone taking him as I was about him getting away and not even having the skills to tell someone who he was. He was also a late talker who would go mum when spoken to. I frequently considered getting a leash for him, because he was just that fast, and I was very afraid to take him into crowded places, again, not because of what someone might do to him, but because he was likely to just slip out of sight.
All that being said, I try to create as old fashioned a childhood I can for my kids, exposing them to the outdoors, giving them a lot of room to roam and climb and be kids, and I think there is more to fear from teaching our kids to be scared of strangers than teaching them that if someone is trying to hurt you, most strangers would step in for you if you let them know you were being bothered by someone you don't know.
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