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Walk to School / Stay Home Alone / Wait in Car

Folks, Canadian school bus driver Kendra Lindon was about to pick up kids on a freezing cold day when her bus broke down. Other recent times this had happened, she recalled, no replacement bus arrived. And so, with windchill temperatures dipping to -37 C (-34 F),  she took matters into her own hands and picked up the few students along her route in her own SUV.

From there, Lindon planned to keep the kids, including her own son, warm until another bus arrived — no frostbite, no problems.

Or so she thought.

It turns out another parent had watched Lindon picking up the kids, including two boys who had to sit in the rear cargo hold, where there were no seat belts.

Concerned, the parent contacted First Student — and that afternoon, Lindon was fired.

Parents have since been writing letters on Lindon’s behalf, but so far, it seems, there is no chance of an appeal, because rules are rules. 

This is a Free-Range issue because those rules are most likely in place to keep children safe from ALL adults, on the assumption that many are out to hurt them. Forget the fact that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that we are capable of distinguishing the two. No, all adults are treated the same: they’re suspects.

Moreover, even though I am a HUGE fan of safety belts (ask anyone!), having two kids sit belt-less in a cargo hold for a few minutes, or even get driven a short way, does not mean INSTANT DOOM. Yes, it makes sense to buckle up whenever possible. But once in a while circumstance dictates less than optimal accommodations, and that’s okay. It’s not the best. But it’s okay. We are so attuned to “best practices” that we forget that “not quite the best practice” is not the same as, “hideous danger.”

It’s not.  - L

When a school bus doesn't show, is it WRONG to pick kids up in an SUV?

A school bus driver using her heart and head is punished by those unable to use either. 

Readers — This just in:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to bring your attention to this bill proposed in the Rhode Island legislature. Here’s what I posted on my FB wall:

Attention all parents: Here’s a bill proposed by reps Williams, Edwards, O’Brien, Messier, and Slater. They don’t think your children are safe enough and have introduced H-7578 which would “require that for school bus transportation provided to children enrolled in grades kindergarten through six (6), a parent, guardian or authorized person be present at the child’s designated bus stops.”

AND if that’s not enough the bill requires the parent to “notify the school in writing with the name, age and relationship of the person authorized to accept the child at the designated home bound bus stop; provided, no authorization shall be allowed for persons under the age of sixteen (16) years old.”

So your 12-year-old child is not old enough to wait at the bus stop alone or get off the bus and walk home by themselves. PLEASE — Emma walked a mile to school in 6th grade and managed to wait for and get home from the bus alone starting in 3rd grade. Can we all say Nanny State? Hopefully this one won’t go anywhere — but really — what are these reps thinking? Here are their emails:

Anastasia P. Williams E-mail: rep-williams@rilin.state.ri.us

John G. Edwards E-mail: rep-edwards@rilin.state.ri.us

William W. O’Brien  E-mail: Rep-obrien@rilin.state.ri.us

Mary Duffy Messier E-mail: rep-messier@rilin.state.ri.us

Scott Slater  E-mail: Rep-slater@rilin.state.ri.us

 Thanks — Beth

Lenore here: Great letter, great cause. And think of the repercussions: How will any parent ever think it’s safe for a kid to walk to school, or play outside, if even taking the bus requires door-to-door adult supervision? 

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a professional woman who became a stay at home mother to a 10-year-old boy. I would describe him as very bright, highly energetic and reasonable. Here is my dilemma: We live in a city of about 50,000 in North NJ.  He has recently made it very clear that he wants to walk home from school by himself across a number of streets (about 1+ mile).

It has now started to impact his mood and I am worried. I want to give him independence and see him succeed.  Having done it myself (in Brooklyn) when I was his age, I know how exciting it can be to have that adventure, but I am admittedly very anxious and not sure how to take that first step of feeling comfortable enough to let him try.  I honestly need a guide.  I just bought your book and hope to learn what you  have so obviously perfected with your own child.  While I am waiting for it to arrive, what would you say is  the most important thing to think about [other than statistics for non-death are on my side :) ]  as I seek to simultaneously let him grow up and let go.

Thanks for any advice, D.

To which I replied:

Dear D. – It is cool that you are considering both his desires/readiness AND the real stats about safety. Our job as parents is to try to prepare kids for the world (as opposed to trying to childproof the world), so I’m sure you know you have to teach him how to cross the street safely (no texting while on the street!), and not to get into a car with anyone, and the basics like that.

Then I’d do the walk with him once or twice to make sure he knows the route and there’s nothing egregious along the way, like train tracks with a malfunctioning warning light. And then, one nice afternoon, let him do it.

At least, that’s what I’d suggest. Because it will be SO COOL when he comes home. That’s just about the only thing I’ve seen break any parent’s fear/terror/worry — seeing their kid happy and confident after doing something on their own. Then suddenly what was so scary becomes normal.

Better still, your kid sees something really crucial: That you believe in him. That’s the wind beneath ALL our wings — knowing that someone we love thinks we are ready to take on some independence.

I actually have started a biz where I come to people’s homes to help them as they “let go” — freerangehousecalls.com. But it’s costs a fair bit and you really don’t need me. You can do it on your own. Anyone can. The business is just for folks who’d like some hand-holding. (Of the adult — not the kid!)

Just remember two things: 1 – Risk is inherent in ALL life. No activity is completely risk-free, whether it’s being driven somewhere, walking somewhere, or even going down the steps to the basement. Trying to eliminate all risk is impossible.

2 – Until this modern era of 24-hour news, no one thought walking to school was a horribly dangerous undertaking. Most kids in the rest of the world still do begin at age 7. And still in much of the world a 10-year-old child would be tasked with getting water from the well, shepherding the family’s flock, taking care of three or four younger siblings, walking 5 miles to school, defending the family against intruders…all sorts of stuff. So try to keep some perspective. And let me know how it goes!!!

Good luck to you both! – Lenore (who, alas, has not “perfected” anything. But that’s ok. Kids don’t need perfection!)

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.


What a good idea! If any of you try this (or decide to give up worrying for a specific amount of time, just as an experiment), please let me know how it goes! – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: The other day I let my 5 and 2 year-old kids walk down the block. It was a big deal. It was a rainy day, they wanted to go puddle splashing, but they had never walked that far alone. It involved crossing one street. We live in an area that doesn’t get much traffic. But I told my daughter (the five year-old) to hold her brother’s hand and not step one foot into the road if she saw a car coming from any direction.

My husband and I stood outside our house and watched them. They waited while one car about half a mile down the road passed them and then finally stepped into the street. They carefully crossed it, got to the other side, walked two houses down to the “succulent house” with their favorite plants, and walked back. Just as they were approaching me (my husband had run inside to make them hot chocolate) a man pulled up in a car and started yelling at me. He told me that if he were still a police officer he would have me arrested. How could I let them walk down the street alone, they could have been hit by a car! It was raining and where was my husband?!

In retrospect he sounds ludicrous, but I was really shaken. It took me a couple of days to think through the whole scenario and believe that we had made the right choice. Did I mention my kids were beaming with pride when they got back? All this lead me to your book, which I’m very grateful to have read. I didn’t even realize how immersed our country is in fear until I started to think about all of the assumptions that I have about danger and how far-fetched most of them are. Now I’ve given up worrying —  not planning, not taking precautions, but worrying – for Lent.

Yours,  Determined Mom of Two

Maybe this says, "Thou shalt not freak out about unlikely dangers."

“Thou shalt not freak out about unlikely dangers.”


UPDATE: Good news! Following talks with the Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, the school district will allow an “orientation and mobility instructor” to appraise Deven’s situation, and possibly allow him to get off the bus on his own (with some caveats). The update is here

Readers — This  story about a blind kid who doesn’t want to be babied by his (lawsuit-fearing) school  is all about making a Free-Range Kid into an invalid:

Born blind, Deven Phillips has been in Nazareth Area schools his entire life. His mother, Paula Smith, has made every effort to raise her 13-year-old son to be independent. But after a year and a half of getting off his school bus unattended, the school district informed his mother that policy must change.

Briefly: Deven had been driven “curb to curb” until sixth grade. Then, at last!, he was ready to join his peers on regular school bus. For the past year and a half now he’d been let off at his bus stop, same as any other kid.  But one day this winter, when snow and ice blocked the regular stop, he got  a little turned around when he got off and the bus driver had to tell him which direction to walk. That was all it took for his school to go nuts with worry, either for his safety, or its own liability. School Superintendent Dennis Riker wrote to the mom:

“The major concern with the bus stop is Deven’s orientation when he exits the bus. … Therefore, it’s my recommendation to our transportation office that an individual be required to be at the bus stop to assist Deven, or our transportation department will provide curb-to-curb service. Both of these options, supported by the (school district’s) attorney, would be in place on a permanent basis, even when the inclement weather season ends.”

Yes, even when it’s nice outside, the proud and independent young man will be treated like he’s helpless.

This story hits close to home for me. My husband’s dad went blind at 16 and his parents fought to have him stay in his mainstream school, where he’d been a failing student. He struggled to finish, and went on to law school where he graduated…valedictorian.

Meantime, Deven’s school is teaching him this life lesson: “You think you can make in the world, but you can’t.” Lovely. – L

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: "Life is a daring adventure...so make sure someone is always taking care of you. Also, avoid lawsuits."

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: “Life is a daring adventure…so avoid it.” 

From my piece on Time.com today. (Time writes the headlines, not me):

How Kitty Genovese Destroyed Childhood

We once may have been too slow to call the cops. Now we’ll dial 911 if we see a couple kids walking alone to get pizza.

by Lenore Skenazy

Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death 50 years ago today. She was 28. A tragedy. The press reported 38 onlookers heard her screams and decided not to intervene. That account has since come under fire, but it nonetheless created a perception of ourselves (and certainly New Yorkers) as unconscionably reluctant to get involved.

We’ve been making up for it ever since — and that’s too bad.

We may once have been too slow to call the cops (though that’s still disputed), but today we are definitely too fast. Oh, I don’t mean we shouldn’t dial 911 if we see someone being murdered, or threatened, or hurt. Of course we should! In fact, the simple 911 number to call for emergencies was developed partly in response to the Genovese murder: Now everyone could have a quick, easy way to summon the cops anytime, anyplace. A great leap forward.

The leap sideways, or perhaps downward, came as the general public gradually became convinced that it not only had an obligation to help anyone in danger, it had the obligation to call the cops anytime it noticed people who could be in danger, especially kids, even if they were fine and dandy at the time. This has given rise to a near mania for calling the cops when people spot a child on his or her own anywhere in public.

Read the rest here.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.


Readers, as you might recall, I gave a Free-Range talk last week in Alexandria, VA, at St. Stephens & St. Agnes School. It was a (funny) look at how we became so scared for our kids, and how to fight the fear that seeps into almost every aspect of childrearing.

Two days later a man knocked on the door of a local Alexandria pre-k music teacher. She opened the door, he shot her dead. He also injured another woman in the home. The suspect is still at large, and there’s conjecture that he may have been involved in a similar, seemingly random murder last year, and maybe even before that.

And so, understandably, some of the parents who were at my talk have written to ask: What now? Here’s a part of one letter:

Dear Lenore: 

…More than 10 schools in the area (including ours) were put on lock down for several hours that day by the police while they looked for the perpetrator (policy helicopters, dogs, the whole nine yards).  Unfortunately, they did not catch anyone yet, nor is there any theory about whether there was a motive for the killing (or, if so, what it was).  Many of us took classes with our children from Ruthanne over the years. We are all so saddened by this senseless violence—and many of us wish that your talk had been scheduled for this week so you could help us put this in perspective.

While very unsettled by the entire incident and situation (and the fact that the perpetrator remains at large), my husband  and I (and others in the community) are working hard to not let fear get the best of us.  While it was not without some hesitation, I did still let my 12-year-old get dropped off for lunch and window shopping in Del Ray (the local “Main Street”) Saturday afternoon. 

 Still embracing Free-Range principles—and grateful for your voice of sense amidst the many factors that make us all so scared and crazy!

Thank you again for your great work-

To which I replied:

Yes, I heard about that tragedy. It is so bizarre as to be almost unheard of, except I know that there were, over the years, two other incidents it seems to echo. My bet is that they catch the guy, even though they didn’t the other times.

Meantime, I congratulate you on letting your daughter go window shopping. The thing about random violence, especially RARE violence, is that you can’t organize your life around it because IT isn’t organized. It’s like organizing your life around chandeliers falling, or cars careening into storefronts. It just doesn’t happen often or predictably enough for you to plan any way to make you or your loved ones any safer.

The hard thing for any of us to realize is that when we DO say, “Well, that’s it. I’m going to make sure my family is safe! My kids will NEVER walk to school” (for instance), it doesn’t make them safer from kidnapping, because they are already safe from kidnapping just by living in 2014 America, rather than 2014 Sudan, or some place where violence IS rampant. But because a mom who drives her kids to school sees that they ARE safe and she FEELS safe, she can make the false correlation, “I drove them, so they didn’t get kidnapped.”

It’s really hard to prove a negative — as in, “No, that’s not why they’re safe. They’d have been safe if they walked, too!”

So in a way, I’m glad I spoke at your school BEFORE this incident. It’s hard to speak rationally — or be heard — when fear is high. That’s just evolution: self-preservation trumps all other brain work, including calm thought.                                                                                                          

My first wish is for the killer to be caught. My second is for this tragedy not to irrevocably change childhood for the kids in your neighborhood. Please keep me posted. – L.

Police sketch of the Alexandria, VA killer.

Police sketch of the Alexandria, VA killer.