Dear Free-Range Kids: This happened to me the other day. I was talking to a co-worker about how, as a child, my parents would send me to spend my summers with family in America… alone. I was an “UM” (Unaccompanied Minor) on the flights, which meant that a steward(ess) would meet me at the gate, take me to the plane, and plunk me down on my seat. When the plane landed, s/he would get me and walk me to my parents. While I was technically unattended during the 8 hours or so of the flight, it’s not like I could go very far!
Well, my co-worker was mind-boggled. “I won’t even let my daughter walk to the corner shop by herself!” I asked him why not. He gave the usual waffling of, “Well, you never know what could happen.” He talked about a couple cases of children who have been abducted. His examples were all from over a decade ago. So I told him about how the media works, how these things are so shocking that they are drilled into our consciousness because everyone talks about them, but that in actual fact they are very rare.
“But what if it happens to MY daughter? That something is rare is poor comfort for a grieving parent.” So I told him about confidence, about how letting kids take care of themselves a bit and do ‘grown-up things’ like walking to the corner shop prepares them far better for dealing with possible nasty situations. After all, I said, you don’t want to dump a sheltered girl at college!
He seemed unconvinced. He was stuck on the “what if.” But the great news is that a couple weeks later, he came into work beaming with pride and told us all about how he was running short on time that morning and desperately needed something from the corner store. So he gave his daughter money and let her go ahead while he finished getting ready. She bought what he needed (candy canes, as it so happens) and waited for him outside. When he finished getting ready, he drove by the corner store, picked her up, and off they went.
All he talked about for the next week or so was how grown-up his daughter was, and how proud of herself she was for accomplishing her little errand. Finally, a happy ending!