A Sweet, Simple Free-Range Success Story

Hi Folks! In the midst of all the usual nuttiness, let’s celebrate a nice little moment, courtesy of a  mom of four in Nebraska. You’ll note, she takes a lot of precautions because this was a first. Eventually, she won’t need them and neither will her kids because they’ll all be more confident and competent,  which is pretty much the Free-Range goal! — L.


Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to send a little note about our own personal Free Range Success story. Our family recently moved from the Northern Virginia/DC suburbs to a small suburb of Omaha, Nebraska. It is much easier to be Free Range when all of your neighbors are doing it too! Kids walk and ride their bikes to school here by themselves, roam the neighborhoods, etc.
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Anyway, my kids were always trying to find ways to spend their allowances, but I was sick of the clutter they were bringing home. So I suggested that they think about using their money to attend a movie. We have four children, and taking everyone out to a show is cost prohibitive. But if two of the kids wanted to spend their own money to go by themselves. . .
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We decided on The Adventures of Tintin, as my older two (boy age 9 and girl age 11) have read the comics and it’s not a movie that my younger two would want to see. I picked a matinee hour, gave them notes to keep in their wallets in case someone questioned them or they needed to call me (similar to your “I am a Free-Range Kid” note), and we talked about the various scenarios that could go wrong and how they would handle them (movie never starts or is cancelled for techincal problems, I’m not waiting for them outside afterwards, etc.). I made them come out after buying their tickets so I could check that they had purchased the correct showing, and they went skipping back in to buy their snacks and watch their movie.
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Needless to say, they had a wonderful time. They shared a popcorn and pop and enjoyed the show. They realized my son’s wallet was missing, and asked for the lost-and-found. When it wasn’t there, they returned to their seats and found it wedged between the seat and the armrest. They came running out to find me waiting for them and to tell me all about it. My daughter had expressed surprise (and maybe disappointment?) that no one had questioned them. I told her that if they behave like adults, they will be treated like adults. They thanked me for letting them go. They were obviously very proud of themselves and I am obviously very proud of them.
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When I posted this adventure to Facebook, my brother commented that he and my younger sister were similar ages when they went to the movies by themselves. He said they sat in the front row and he spilled their pop all over the floor. Twenty years later, it’s still a fond memory for him.
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I would never have done this were it not for the Free-Range encouragement. Thank you for  making our society a saner place to live. – Nebraska Mom

Maybe it's time to let your kids escape to the movies...by themselves?

40 Responses to A Sweet, Simple Free-Range Success Story

  1. Stottmann Family February 8, 2012 at 11:21 pm #

    YES! Great story :)

  2. Renee Anne February 8, 2012 at 11:48 pm #

    I love this story.

    We’re constantly bombarded with these stories of all the awful things that can (and do sometimes) happen so it’s always nice to see kids riding their bikes and being allowed to walk home from school (albeit in groups but hey, we take what we can get)…..and, in this care, going to the movies by themselves (for the most part).

  3. Andy February 8, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    “Liberty Theater” — nice touch!

  4. LRH February 9, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    I hope the source of this reads this post, and what I am writing now, and I hope what I’m writing warms her heart as it’s meant to do.

    Dear Free Range Mother in Omaha NE,

    First of all, I want to welcome you to our community, headed by the wonderful Lenore Skenazy. Here you will find (mostly, not totally, but mostly) very helpful people, and we absolutely applaud and pat you on the back, shake your hand, hug you, and just all-around say “congratulations” to your epiphany and, most of all, the boldness to see it through.

    In doing what you have done, you have done a very wonderful thing in many respects. Most of all, you have done a good thing by your children. You have enabled them to have a wonderful childhood moment they will never forget as long as they have a memory & a pulse, and they will be able to share this with their children in 15-odd years. However, you have also pushed back against the tidal wave ludicrousness which exists in this society all too often nowadays and that says you can no longer parent that way because “in this day & age you can’t be too careful” or “what are you crazy, don’t you know all those weirdos that hang out in the theater” or “didn’t you hear what happened to Jaycee Dugard” etc. You have fired a shot over the bow of the enemy, and scored a hit for the mentality that says, first, I think parenting this way is not only fine but even good, and second, regardless of what you others think, I respectfully assert that I am the parent and these decisions, responsibly done, are mine to make.

    Unlike what naysayers probably suggest, we are NOT a cult. We are merely a group of people who wish to (mostly) legally raise our children the raise prior generations were raised, insomuch that we want them to have a happy childhood where we do take care of their needs but don’t feel compelled to be joined at the hip with them 24/7 either. We want them to play outdoors without us having to be there, thus (a) interrupting our life unnecessarily and (b) allowing them to have a normal childhood where adults aren’t looking over your shoulder every minute. In all that we do, we seek out wisdom in regards to what is age-appropriate, and once it passes that standard, we wish to empower them thus.

    We want the right to do this without naysayers butting in where they’re not wanted and, all too often, using social services as their tool by which they do so. Those who wish to raise their child in a more “helicopter”-ish manner, that is their prerogative and right no matter what we think of it, and they deserve the right to parent as such as they see fit. We only ask for, and (frankly) assume, to have the same rights.

    I congratulate you, I salute you, and I close in saying this–if & when you encounter resistance, stand strong. Know that you are RIGHT in what you are doing. You are not an awful, lazy, selfish or indifferent mother for what you did, and don’t let the naysayers try & make you think otherwise. Be strong, be vigilant, be responsible in doing so, and don’t let the naysayers take the joy out of your parenting journey in the same way that they seem oh so intent on doing to the joy of a child being able to actually have a childhood.

    Respectfully,

    Your Brother in Free-Range
    LRH

    (PS–I badly, badly hope that I didn’t overlook any typos or spelling errors in this.)

  5. Neener February 9, 2012 at 12:09 am #

    Love this! Sadly, I’ve tried several times to send my daughter (almost 12) off to movies with a friend…because, really, how much kid fare can one adult take?…but she’s unable to find a SINGLE FRIEND whose mom will allow it. Frustration for both of us.

  6. Llamabean February 9, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    Loved this story, makes me feel a little better about the fate of the world when I see parents doing their best to make their children stronger and more independent. Thank you for sharing!

  7. sarah February 9, 2012 at 12:17 am #

    @Neener: we have the same problem. The parents of my kids’ friends don’t allow their kids to go to public places alone, and even walk them to the bus stops for school AND WAIT until the bus comes! We just keep letting our kids go and hope that when they see (repeatedly) nothing bad has happened maybe they will get the message.

  8. pentamom February 9, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Neener and sarah, I share your pain. I had a similar incident last summer when my 13 year old daughter wanted to walk four blocks to the Dollar General with her 10 year old brother and the 11 year old neighbor girl.

    The neighbor’s dad made them wait until he was ready to go with them. Fortunately it wasn’t terribly long and they still got to go that afternoon, but sheesh. Meanwhile, my kids do this by themselves all the time, or sometimes with other neighbors’ kids who have more freedom. (In fairness, the neighbor girl lives here part time in a shared custody situation; who knows what is being insisted upon by either parent.)

    Sometimes I think the only way to deal with this is just to let our own kids do it, and hopefully set an example. Some people won’t profit from it, but others just might.

  9. Shaby February 9, 2012 at 12:33 am #

    Way to go!! Reading the other comments here, I’m thankful that my husband and I are having our kids close together in age (2.5 y, 10 months, and soon a newborn). They are able to do age-appropriate free-range things together that my friends would NEVER let their kids do with my kids (eg, run around freely in our fenced backyard while I stay in the kitchen, where I can check on them through the window. Or have “room time” where they play independently in their shared room for an hour a day, without mommy having to entertain them or “direct” their playtime). My friends think I’m crazy but my kids are happy, independent, and safe. I may not win Mommy of the Year from the child safety commissioner, but I sure do feel like the best mom when I see my toddler and my baby are able to play quietly together without any input from me, and somehow live to tell the tale. :-)

  10. damigiana February 9, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    My kids (12, 9 and 9) went to see a movie based on the Famous Five book series. We drove them to the cinema, and they returned home on their own (subway+bus). Completely normal – in Germany.

  11. Uly February 9, 2012 at 12:47 am #

    Regarding this link:

    I just am NOT going to worry about this: The idea that “spoon feeding” babies makes them fat. http://t.co/hVlAvCWx 23 hours ago

    Isn’t it more in keeping with your general views that a method of child-feeding that lets the KID control what they eat, allowing the parents to work less, and that is avoided only because of much overblown fears of “choking” is something to be supported?

  12. gap.runner February 9, 2012 at 12:56 am #

    Dear Nebraska Mom, Welcome to the community of free-range parents. In the long run you’ll have kids who are independent and able to think for themselves. When they graduate from college or trade school, they won’t need you to go on job interviews or to negotiate their salaries for them (I just read the NPR piece that Lenore posted about helicopter parents in the workplace).

    I wouldn’t worry about sending your kids to a movie together. Forget about the naysayers who want to scare you by talking about the perverts and kidnappers who hang out behind the bushes or everywhere in the community just waiting to snatch your kids. They’re extremely rare. You are doing the right thing by bucking the trend of helicopter parenting. If more parents would do little things like sending their kids to the movies by themselves, and these things were publicized, we would all realize that the world really is a safe place.

  13. Elissa February 9, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    Dear Nebraska Mom,
    Welcome and congrats on your new home! I was born and raised in Omaha (have since moved away to Phoenix after college at Iowa State) but feel that it was a great place to grow up. I hope your kids enjoy it as much as I did.
    ~Elissa

  14. anthony@coachanthony.com February 9, 2012 at 1:29 am #

    My son just turned 10 and I am about to “pull a Lenore” by letting him take the metro downtown, watch a movie, and come home by himself. Print his ticket on Fandango, make sure he has his cell phone (on vibrate) and his wallet with ID and note, and send him off!

  15. Sherri February 9, 2012 at 1:31 am #

    Good for you. I want to do this soon as well. The movie theatre is too far from home for my 6 and 9 year olds to get to and from on their own, and it wouldn’t be worthwhile to drive all the way home after I drop them off, so I am waiting until there is a movie I want to see starting around the same time as theirs, then we can watch our own movies in different theatres and meet up in the lobby after. It would be nice if I could get some of their friends parents on board too.

  16. anthony@coachanthony.com February 9, 2012 at 1:36 am #

    @Sherri, here’s a possible idea for you: Logan wanted to see some movie (Chipmunks?) that I absolutely refused to waste two hours of my life on… so my wife and I bought him a ticket, gave him cash for the snack stand, and repaired to a nearby tea lounge to read and relax. Two hours later, he strolled in and off we went.

    (We also did the separate theaters thing when we were in San Antonio at a mall where all the rest of the shops were closed at that hour. So both ideas work!)

  17. Violet February 9, 2012 at 1:40 am #

    I was at dinner with my 12-year-old son, my brother, and his girlfriend. We were eating at a mall and sat in the tables outside of the restaurant but there were large picture windows where we could see inside. When we were finished, I handed the check and my debit card to my son and told him to go pay (he has the passcode). My brother’s girlfriend had a heart attack! She was craning her neck to watch him and told me that I can never let him out of my sight! He is twelve – not four!

  18. Donna February 9, 2012 at 1:54 am #

    Stories like this are almost enough to make me wish I had another child. I know it’s going to be hard to find kids who can go to the movie with my daughter when she’s older.

    I didn’t usually go to the movies by myself as a child as you couldn’t walk to the theater – the closest one was a good 30 minute drive as a young child and then bumped up to an hour when we moved. It was rare that a parent wanted to drive us and then hang out in the mall for two hours. But I do remember as young as 8 or 9 going to one movie with my friends while my parents went to another.

  19. anthony@coachanthony.com February 9, 2012 at 1:58 am #

    @Donna, if you’re in or near San Francisco, I’ll introduce your kid to my kid.

  20. Maggie February 9, 2012 at 2:04 am #

    We are lucky enough to have a single screen theater about 6 blocks from our house, which is also 2 blocks from the bookstore we own. I started letting oldest kids go there alone as soon as it opened. At the time they were 8 and 7. I tried letting the 5 year-old go with them once, but don’t anymore. Not because anyone harrassed me about it or I was worried, but because my 8 year-old said she didn’t stay in her seat. I don’t want people complaining about unattended kids bothering them, so she’ll have to wait til she’s older and can sit still for 90 minutes.

  21. Linnea February 9, 2012 at 2:36 am #

    Right on about showing them that if you act like adults you’ll be treated like adults. And they made you proud, too! Good on you, Mom!

  22. ThatDeborahGirl February 9, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    All this stuff about kids having a “free range note” reminds me of slaves on a plantation having to have a pass from Massa or Missy just to go from Point A to Point B.

    Maybe it’s time we started a a movement to push back against people of all ages being stopped by the cops for any random reason. Read up on minorities and “stop and frisk”. Why do we accept this for our children?

    This is 2012 not 1812. It’s time we started acting like it.

  23. Lollipoplover February 9, 2012 at 2:48 am #

    “I told her if they behaved like adults, they would be treated like adults.”

    This is the essence of parenting. Giving them the freedom to attempt this should be praised, especially something as safe as attending a movie.
    I find it so baffling the parents who bragged about the milestones their kids hit so early; “She walked at 9 months!”, “He can read at age 4″, but “They went to the movies at 9 and 11″ makes us take pause about whether this is right or wrong.

  24. pentamom February 9, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    “Isn’t it more in keeping with your general views that a method of child-feeding that lets the KID control what they eat, allowing the parents to work less, and that is avoided only because of much overblown fears of “choking” is something to be supported?”

    There may be a good case to be made that way, but I think Lenore’s point is more about resisting the idea that every parenting choice has a dire consequence if made wrong, and that perfectly normal behavior sets you up for horrible outcomes.

  25. hineata February 9, 2012 at 3:08 am #

    This is wonderful! You are lucky though that the theatre allows it. I used to send my girls, then aged 9&10 by themselves, and then after a year or so of this the theatre staff started saying that they couldn’t go alone until they were at least 12, sometimes 14, depending on who you talked to. I am almost positive that this has nothing to do with free range and everything to do with kids being s@#$%%s in the theatre, but still! My son ended up going with them to some movies I just couldn’t bear to be in…..

    @Donna, take a vacation in NZ, it’s only a plane ride from Western Samoa! My girls will take yours’ rockclimbing, biking, anywhere you like….They would love it :-)

    @ Renee – personally I think going places in pairs or groups is probably a good idea anyway, not really anti free-range. It works out practically for my two girls as they head in the same direction and when one takes a tumble off her bike (which seems to happen semi-regularly!) the other can patch her up without any panicked calls to mum. The boy, who heads off in the other direction, just has to take his chances, LOL!

  26. Otto Henderson February 9, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    Well there’s a story to warm the bitter old cockles of my heart. I was born and raised in the heart of Omaha, on 45th street. The next major street east of ours was Military Avenue, which led, oh, gosh, maybe a mile or so to The Military Theater.
    Being an only child, I walked to that theater more Saturdays than I can remember, from about 7 years of age onward. I would come out of a Saturday Matinee, during which there had been a serial, an intermission with a drawing for prizes, and more excitement than my little head could handle into bright sunlight and the world seemed more magical for a time.
    I saw the first run of ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ there, and it remains to this day one of the most fascinating films I ever saw. I also ‘2001’ there, years later.
    And I walked there, by myself, or rarely with a buddy, every Saturday, rain, snow, or sunshine.
    Never once did I nor my parents fear for my safety. I was, of course, repeatedly lectured about watching out for cars, but other than that, I was expected to act with common sense and enjoy my time.
    And something else: when my best bud and I would go together, we would buy a candy bar, a box of Boston Baked Bean Candy, and a pop. (All for under a dollar – – yeah, I’m that old..) Anyway, we would save the candy wrappers and the bean boxes and after the movie we would wrap the silver insides of the candy bar wrappers around small twigs and stuff them into the bean boxes, pretending they were walkie-talkies. I fondly remember the ridiculously fun fantasies we would engage in that required a handy little walkie-talkie. Anyway, we now converse with cell phones no larger than those old bean boxes. It is indeed a fun and fascinating time to be alive.
    Would we have done that if our parents were hovering about us like the Secret Service hoods do around the President? I doubt it. We were left to our play and we grew up fine and healthy with imaginations sparked by entertaining movies and sated by natural play.

  27. hineata February 9, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    @Donna, also, I know you are in American Samoa, but they’re right next door to each other, aren’t they? I am too lazy to look at the map! :-)

    On a more serious note, hope you have found some more free range people over there your daughter can mix with….

  28. Julie February 9, 2012 at 3:52 am #

    Meanwhile, in a nice part of town in San Jose, CA–my not-quite 7-year-old son was a block and a half away from home yesterday afternoon unsupervised. This resulted in no fewer than 3 neighbors getting involved AND the police getting called. I honestly appreciate the neighbors looking out for him (especially since this was a miscommunication between mom and son and he ended up over there without me knowing) but honestly, he walks that route with me every single day to school and he was NOT lost or in danger. One lady just freaked out and called 911. I don’t mind the concern. But it’s a bummer that she never asked him for our home phone number–which he knows–so she could have called me instead.

    My kid was not out of the house for more than 10 minutes and the cops got called. This is going to be interesting as I increase his freedom in the coming year.

  29. FreeRangeKiwi February 9, 2012 at 4:50 am #

    Oh, the movies! The first movie I went to on my own was Independence Day, I think I was 12? Whole family was going to the Muppets, but there wasn’t enough seats for us all due to a birthday party booked in. So, being the oldest I got to wait 1/2 an hour, then go to a grown-ups movie on my own! Made a huge impression, REALLY enjoyed it (and still do, brings back all the memories of being “grown up”) and look forward to letting my kids do it too.

  30. hineata February 9, 2012 at 5:05 am #

    Good on you, FreeRangeKiwi! Sounds like I’m probably a bit older than you, as I went most Saturdays with sibling and/or friends, and the only movie that made a real impact was ‘Jaws’ the original.. And Mum warned us all it was a silly idea(I was about 10 at the time) but did we listen?! We all spent that summer out of the water! Or swimming in the river, where only the eels could get us…..

    Did you roll your Jaffas down the aisle? Gosh I miss doing that!

  31. Bronte February 9, 2012 at 6:57 am #

    @ Hineata We didn’t roll Jaffa’s down the aisle. We launched Tangy Fruits.

    Our local cinema was an old theatre (since upgraded and a convention centre), We usually sat upstairs where the railing was one of those ones with a dimple running along it and it was curved to have an extra couple of rows in the middle.The trick was to roll your tangy fruits along the railing see if you could get your Tangy Fruit to round the bend in the dimple. They never did and would either stop or fly over the balcony and downstairs.

    I don’t remember when I first went to the cinema alone. I do remember meeting a friend there age 13 and it not being a big deal, so it must have been before that.

  32. CrazyCatLady February 9, 2012 at 7:35 am #

    Not quiet the movie theater, but….I had to go to the bank today. The line was long. One child went back to the car to read. The next one, 9, was spinning around the poles in the building. I called him over, gave him some money, and told him to go get milk at the store across the somewhat busy road. I asked him if he wanted his older sister to go with him and he said “No Way!” So he went alone. When I got done I went over to pick him up. He told me it “Was the greatest thing he has ever done!”

  33. hineata February 9, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    @Bronte – I’d forgotten Tangy Fruits! Oh to be able to get away with scoffing down that much sugar at a sitting again! Did you ever hit any little old ladies underneath? From memory I think the adults in our little town stayed away from the pictures on a Saturday arvo (quite sensible, really!).

  34. Jenn February 9, 2012 at 9:44 am #

    My husband thought I was crazy because I let our experienced skiing 5 year old on the bunny hill solo. I supervise a ski club with my school and if I can’t get childcare, I bring my kids along. Sometimes I ski with my own children and students but last week it was my turn to sit in the chalet and be the school contact. My daughter has been skiing since she was 15 months, lessons since she was 3, and now skiing expert hills with an adult, so she is able to get up and down the bunny hill without incident. Since the chalet looks out onto the bunny hill and she has spent two days a week at this ski hill for the past three years, I figured she’d be okay on the bunny hill alone. She knows how to take her skis off, knows where to leave her skis, knows where our meeting place is in the chalet so I figured why have her sit in the chalet with me if she could have some fun on the bunny hill. She had a blast and her confidence soared so much that when she was tested at her lesson on the weekend, she surpassed all the requirements for pre-schoolers.

  35. Sherri February 9, 2012 at 11:44 am #

    When I was in grades 5 and 6 I was a school safety patrol. One of the perks was they often gave us a free movie ticket to use on the weekend. I used to ride the bus all the way down town by myself or with a couple of other patrols to see the movie. Of course that was back in the days when the safety patrols actually stood on corners and helped the little ones across the street. Now all the safety patrols do (at my sons school) is line the little ones up in the hallway so the parents can come collect them.

  36. Donna February 9, 2012 at 11:58 am #

    @ Hineata – Am. and West. Samoa are right next to each other and I have to fly to Western Samoa to get anywhere except Hawaii. New Zealand is definitely on my list of places to do while down here. I can’t wait until we can get there.

    The Samoans are very free range. I see packs of kids alone everywhere I go. The Americans, not so much. My daughter just needs to make some Samoan friends.

  37. ShadowL February 9, 2012 at 1:26 pm #

    There seems to be a prevalence of “first time at the movies alone” stories. Mine was the “Secret of Nimh”. I remember mom dropping me off, getting some popcorn and my ticket and walking the few blocks to where she worked after wards.

    I was 9.

    and I will admit, were I not living in the smallish town I am in and living in the large suburbs I grew up in, I would likely be a more helicoptery parent than I am.

  38. Shelli February 10, 2012 at 1:38 pm #

    it’s interesting that someone brings up the opponent’s argument of Jaycee Dugard’s event. I just finished her autobiography today and she makes a specific note about how she is the 1% and she cannot parent her daughters in response to the fact that she just happened to get kidnapped. If Jaycee can work her way toward a free range concept, everyone should!

  39. Rob February 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm #

    When I was 10, my buddy and I took the bus downtown to watch a double-feature of Watership Down and Lord of the Rings (Bakshi) in a vintage theatre. We’re still close friends today, and that afternoon is one of our classic shared memories.

    I hope my kids will have those kind of memories. I’m glad they’re twins, and they’ll be able to do things together, because I have my doubts that many of their peers will be allowed that sort of independence.

  40. Charlotte February 11, 2012 at 2:28 am #

    Our local small-town Montana movie theater runs a kids matinee every Saturday for two bucks. The woman who owns our tiny theater also quite often comps kids for whose families $2 a kid is a stretch. It’s a small, 2-screen theater, and every Saturday afternoon there’s a mess of kids’ bikes strewn outside, and a theater full of kids, by themselves, having a good time.
    Community support goes a long way …