Free Range FAIL

Hi Readers! Ah well — it doesn’t always work out as planned.  Read on:
Dear Free Range Kids:    One of my friends is a stay at home mom and went to a play group where your book was discussed.  One of the moms in the group decided to let her 8-year-old son spread his wings by having him walk a few blocks home from a friend’s house.  It’s a nice, safe neighborhood, and the little boy was making the walk in the middle of the day.
Well the mom went outside on the porch to wait for her son and she spotted him running toward her, looking quite scared!  A car was trailing him.
Apparently the woman in the car was a “concerned” citizen who stopped and asked the boy how old he was and why he was walking alone.  She was worried for his safety, but of course she only ended up frightening the poor kid who was trying out his independence.  God forbid an 8-year-old walk a few blocks in a nice neighborhood in the middle of sunny Saturday!!! — Jennifer

,

61 Responses to Free Range FAIL

  1. Jeff Craig October 13, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    Ah, yes. Because there is NOTHING creepy about being followed by a strange car, Ms Concerned Citizen.

  2. Anthony Hernandez October 13, 2010 at 5:37 am #

    Which is precisely why i’ve told my son that:

    – Most people are good; the bad ones are really rare.

    – Most of the questions/comments he gets will be because people are “concerned’ and scared.

    – He carries a letter written by me that he can show at any time and he also has a cell phone if things get that far.

    – He has the right to stand his ground and, while politeness is essential, does not have to answer their questions if he does not want to or if he has reason to think something bad is happening. “Thank you for your concern but what i’m up to is none of your business” is a perfectly valid response.

    – He is allowed to physically defend himself, including throwing the first punch/kick if he feels threatened. He is allowed to make a scene and do anything he feels he needs to do to get help if he feels the need.

    – UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES GO ANYWHERE with anyone who is not a public safety official.

    – Again, the vast majority of people are basically decent even if some of them are a little misinformed.

  3. EricS October 13, 2010 at 6:13 am #

    I don’t know, other than getting freaked out. The boy knew to avoid the stranger, run home and tell his mom. That’s a pass in my book. “Ms. Concerned Citizen” should probably brush on her own advise, and not scare children away. Be concerned, WHEN there is need of concern. Following a kid walking home in an otherwise quiet and safe neighborhood is just plain creepy. The mom should have called the cops on the woman. Seriously. She could have just used that as an excuse.

    It’s like a lot of us have mentioned, people are so engrossed in their holier than thou attitude, that they forget what the real point is.

  4. Kymlee October 13, 2010 at 6:56 am #

    I’m with EricS, I don’t think its a fail. Its a no brainer that being followed by a strange car is creepy, why on earth would Mrs. Concerned Citizen do something like that? I guess I’m lucky to live in a free range friendly neighborhood. The boy goes to the park by himself and has never once returned with stories of being harassed by someone who was worried for his safety. Jeez.

  5. Penni Russon October 13, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    When my daughter was born, my 80 year old dad looked at her and sighed and said “what sort of world have you been brought into?” What unlike the good old days when FIGHTER PLANES DROPPED BOMBS ON YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S HOUSE AND YOUR WHOLE BEDROOM WINDOW FELL IN ON YOU??? (the punchline to this story is that my dad slept through the whole thing, which really says something about childhood resilience.)

    This perception that the world is more dangerous and that parents should be ever vigilant (and therefore ever accountable) is bizarrely promoted by people who had much more freedom in their own childhoods, and in some cases lived with much more real threats to their safety.

    I always think it’s the anti-free-range brigade who frighten our children (and their parents) more than “strangers”, and there’s a lot more of them than pedophiles.

  6. Stephanie - Home with the Kids October 13, 2010 at 7:03 am #

    The kid passed. The woman in the car failed. You don’t follow a kid you don’t know in your car without clearing it with the kid first, and even then, THINK! Kid probably doesn’t need your help.

  7. Around the Island October 13, 2010 at 7:15 am #

    Things like this make me very glad I live in Israel, where children are still not only allowed but encouraged to be free-range kids. So different from what we see when we visit our family in the US each summer.

    Not only does my 9.5 year old walk all over town on his own, I also hand him money and send him to the store for milk if I run out and often have him drop off or pick up his sister (turning 7 tomorrow) from neighborhood playdates. He’d walk with her to school each morning too if she hadn’t ended up in a different school (long unrelated but highly frustrating story).

    When did so many Americans lose all their common sense, and how do we help them get it back?

    ———————————–
    My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!

  8. Christina October 13, 2010 at 7:16 am #

    I’m with EricS and the others – this was not a FAIL. At least not by the mother or her son. I hope the “concerned citizen” was duly ripped a new one.

    The really annoying part, in my opinion? That woman thought it was perfectly ok to follow that little boy in her car because she was a female. A man trailing you in a car is a pedophile, a woman is just a “concerned citizen”. Ack!

  9. LG October 13, 2010 at 7:39 am #

    I’m still confused about how we got to a state wherein people who had lots of freedom when they themselves were kids have completely forgotten this and can’t imagine kids of the same age walking a couple blocks. Sure, I can understand how it’s hard for me to imagine my great grandfather as a boy riding a horse 20 miles (I’m making that up as an example), but in the span of a single generation, a parent gives radically restricted freedoms compared to when they were kids? I don’t get it. Are we Americans really that daft?

  10. spwdbookthieves October 13, 2010 at 7:47 am #

    This is the problem when there are so few children out on the streets alone.
    I walked to school, alone, at a very young age (6). I don’t remember others walking too, although I now assume there must’ve been. The only thing my mother worried about was me being seen on dark winter mornings (this was England in the early 1970s) and making me wear a hated flourescent armband which I always took off immediately I turned the first corner and was out of sight of the house.
    I have been very pleased this week, as our NSW children start back for their last term of the academic year, to see lots of children, high school and primary, walking and cycling to school without adult supervision. There is also a skatepark nearby which is well-frequented by unsupervised children – it’s in full view of the main road, perhaps that helps.
    When my boys were little we walked into town nearly every day and, as they got that little bit older, I would point out the houses and shops en route where we knew people and that they could run to if they felt worried or scared if they were out and about by themselves.
    In fact, walking often had plenty of benefits, not only for their health. Walking my sons daily with or without the dogs got us known in the neighbourhood and among the shop keepers – people either stopped and talked to us because they were twins, or to talk to the dog.
    As they got older it meant that people were looking out for them and knew where they belonged. They would be dobbed in if they did the wrong thing too.
    Being involved in the community means you increase the net of people with an interest in the welfare of your family. We have been involved in school, scouts, sports and now the Rural Fire Service and the number of friends and acquaintances has grown with each organisation we’ve joined. In fact, to this day, there is hardly anything they can do without it getting back to me somehow. Now THAT freaks my boys out!!

    Heidi, Springwood, NSW, Australia

  11. Jessika October 13, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    It’s not free range that failed, it was the woman following the child in her car. Who wouldn’t be freaked out by that? No reason to stop the child from venturing out on his/her own. An optimal opportunity to teach kids about that there’s grown-up’s and then there’s grownups. What the woman did would, in any other circumstance, be regarded as stalking.
    I guess here she was doing well, what she was doing.
    She should certainly not be lauded for it.

  12. Bob L October 13, 2010 at 8:47 am #

    If it had been a man in that car, he would have in all likelihood been arrested.

  13. Lihtox October 13, 2010 at 8:59 am #

    @LG: Two reasons: the big one is that people think it’s more dangerous today than it was then, so their experiences don’t apply. “The good old days” syndrome, exacerbated by 24-hour news channels. (Maybe having the Soviets around as our bogeyman helped too; maybe we were less afraid of individual people because we were too busy being afraid of nuclear annihilation? This only works for older parents, of course; I’m 35 and the Berlin Wall came down when I was a teenager.)

    The smaller reason is that it’s difficult to remember back to specific years in one’s childhood. I don’t really remember being 6 or 8 or 10, not very well, and so I can’t really say what my now 3-year-old daughter will be able to handle at those ages. And when I do remember back to those times, my memories reveal a child who had perfectly rational reasons for everything he did. What may seem like rational reasons to an 8-year-old, however, may seem silly or even dangerously irrational to that child’s parent.

  14. Julie in NJ October 13, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    Hi Lenore – just wanted to counter with my own SUCCESSFUL free-range encounter. My kids are pretty free range, we live in a NYC suburb that is more like a village (sidewalks, corner store, etc). My son is 10, daughter 7 1/2. This summer I started letting them walk together 2 blocks into “town” to get bagels or pizza for lunch (they are given $10, allowed to eat at the pizzeria, allowed to use the change in the drugstore on gum, and come back home). The other day, they came back from a pizza trip (on their bikes !!) and said “the police stopped us !!” . Turns out they were stopped by the local police – not for being un-supervised or too young or anything of the sort. They were stopped because they had their helmets ON and they were given FREE ICE CREAM certificates for being good citizens. So, there IS still sanity in the world. Amen !

  15. Anthony Hernandez October 13, 2010 at 9:48 am #

    @Julie, now THAT is a free-range WIN. Congratulations!

    I am also pleased to report that my son Logan (who rides to school with helmet, lights, etc.) was greeted by an officer who simply smiled at him and said, “Stay safe!”

    May I ask where you live? I’m in San Francisco and could really see a lot of benefits to doing that sort of thing here.

  16. JeninCanada October 13, 2010 at 10:06 am #

    @Julie: Yay! Thanks for sharing your story with us!

  17. Kacie October 13, 2010 at 10:33 am #

    @ Julie – Yay!!!!! :))

  18. tracey October 13, 2010 at 10:54 am #

    Bob, you are 100% correct. Sad, isn’t it?

  19. Scott October 13, 2010 at 12:55 pm #

    Creepily following a kid around in your car like this is not normal behavior. It seems just as likely she was hoping to catch and abduct him, but when he managed to run to his mom, the abductor made up an absurd story about stalking the child for his own good. Kid did the right thing. This may have been one of the rare cases where there was a real danger. Might have been worth it to hold the stalker there until the police could come and check her story out.

  20. anonymousmagic October 13, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

    I don’t consider this a fail. The boy simply wasn’t ready to handle strangers yet. The woman was looking out for the kid; the parent decided to let him have a go. Everyone had the best intentions.

  21. Kacie October 13, 2010 at 3:20 pm #

    People just need to mind their own damn business.

  22. Emily October 13, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    Unfortunately, chances are, the experience probably soured the poor boy on walking anywhere by himself for awhile.

    At least it would’ve me!

  23. Tara October 13, 2010 at 9:15 pm #

    This is actually a darned if you do darned if you don’t situation. We’ve all read that tale on here where a little girl drowned because nobody took a minute to see if she was okay. I’d put this in a similar book. She was concerned, yes. She had a responsibility to ask the boy if he was okay and if he knew where he was going or if he was lost. I think by following him in the car she took it a step far, particularly if the boy said he was just walking home from a friend’s house! I have done the same thing short of following a kid. If I see a little little child (under 6ish or so) alone in the store I’ll watch to make sure they get to a grown up. If they start looking a little panicky I’ll ask them if they need help finding their grown up. Never have I been accused of kidnapping, but never have I been thanked for helping either.

  24. Gareth October 13, 2010 at 9:18 pm #

    I dunno. That sounds an awful lot like grooming to me. (kidding, mostly). I’m sure it freaked the kid out, for good reason – he correctly identified a stranger following him down the block as aberrant behavior.

    Calling the police would be overkill, but a more appropriate response would be using her to teach the boy a lesson about how to behave when adults act aberrantly. “You did a good job identifying an adult acting weirdly, son. Now what we do next is write down her plate and ask to see some identification. If she refuses to identify herself…”

  25. Paul Baxter October 13, 2010 at 9:57 pm #

    @Julie in NJ,

    I’m lost. It’s a safe neighborhood but the police want kids to wear helmets when walking to the store?

  26. Meagan October 13, 2010 at 10:41 pm #

    Devil’s advocate: Please remember that people without children have a hard time judging the ages of children, and development of children. A woman without children may not have a good concept of whether this is ok, they might just see a little kid wandering by himself. I can totally see my husband doing this for example: it seems like he can’t tell the difference between 3 and 10. And before you jump in with a “why don’t they mind their own business!” please ALSO remember that poor toddler who drowned because the people who saw her alone were afraid to offer help. It’s not like this lady called the cops. We WANT the concerned citizens checking up on our kids, because that’s part of what makes it safer to be free range. We want the nosy old man down the street to call us when our kids are doing something stupid, even if it turns out to be a parent approved stupid. We want the single lady a block over to go to our son when he hurts himself in front of her appartment. This is the meaning of community and it is the best possible help for raising a free range kid.

    Maybe this lady does not have the excuse of not having children, maybe she knew exactly how old the boy was and really thought it was inappropriate for him to be playing outside alone. It doesn’t matter. She was worried about a stance boy, so she stopped to check that he was ok. This is a GOOD thing people.

  27. Meagan October 13, 2010 at 10:47 pm #

    @Gareth Ok I’m sorry but are you seriously suggesting that the correct way for a child to respond to being followed by a strange car is to STOP long enough to get a license plate number, then APPROACH the driver and ask for ID?

  28. frootbat31 October 13, 2010 at 11:02 pm #

    Why was the kid so freaked out? Doesn’t he know the difference between a concerned citizen and a freak? It seems he might be a bit young to be on his own then…in my humble opinion.
    Free Range doesn’t mean having our kids go out in the world on their own before they are ready.

  29. Beth October 13, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    Meagan, she didn’t stop to check and see if he was OK. She creeped along behind him, in her car, all the way home. And somehow I think she would have done the same thing even if he’d said “My mom knows I’m doing this and I have her permission to walk home from my friend’s house.” Because really, what does the mother of the child know, compared to a concerned citizen?

  30. Meagan October 14, 2010 at 12:17 am #

    @Beth

    Half the commenters so far think she is an unacceptably overprotective citizen. The other half (ok, maybe third) think her creepy actions prove she was actually likely a kidnapper herself. We are getting this story second, or even third hand (I read it as all events the kid reported rather than the woman actually following the kid all the way home, which I’ll admit does sound rather weird). So why are we presuming to know what this woman was thinking? Chances are she was just trying to help. If she did this by following a kid creepily all the way back to his house her manner was inappropriate. My point is that reaching out to members of our community, talking to them about imagined dangers, and even expressing pride in our childrens’ independence: these should be our first tools in dealing with overly concerned neighbors. Not condemnation, anger and scorn. She didn’t call the cops or child services, so there’s no reason to believe she didn’t ultimately trust the mother’s judgement.

  31. Meagan October 14, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    Ok, ok… only 2 commenters so far suggested that she might in fact have been a kidnapper.

  32. KarenW October 14, 2010 at 12:24 am #

    I would have called the police on her, for two reasons: first, to teach her a lesson on meddling, of course. Second, because I want my kids to be suspicious of strangers following them around when they are walking alone. Now mind you, I don’t think this woman was really a kidnapper or whatever. But no, it’s not ok to be following a child around in your car, and it’s reasonable to consider that to be suspicious behavior.

  33. pentamom October 14, 2010 at 12:27 am #

    I think Meagan has a good point. I don’t think the lady’s actions were really appropriate, but then again, in this messed-up world where the relationships between children and unknown adults (aka STRANGERS) have been thrown so far out of whack, it’s hard to blame someone for taking the wrong tack.

    It seems to me the simple solution would have been for the lady to stop the car and say, “Are you lost?” Of course, if the kid had been “properly trained” in stranger danger, he would have started running at that point, and she wouldn’t have been much help. But the thing is, if kids are trained to respond that way, a lost kid can’t be helped, so it would have been fruitless either way. At least if she had stopped the car and asked, she might have had a chance of helping a child who wasn’t more scared of her than some real danger he might have been in. As it was, her intentions might well have been good (and appropriate — wanting to help a child who might be lost is NOT necessarily being an interfering busybody) but her method really couldn’t have been helpful in any situation.

    I don’t like the way some people want to tip the pendulum so far the other say — “Don’t you dare imagine that anything could be wrong if my child is out by himself! How DARE YOU interfere in my parenting that way!” Sometimes kids DO get lost or ARE doing things they shouldn’t be — yes, even Anthony’s kid might someday do something stupid or need some kind of help.

    If we just each kids to respond to attempts at help with appreciate thanks and explanations that they’re fine, we don’t need all this defensiveness. Not all efforts to help kids are disrespectful sabotage of your parenting, people. Some of them might not be as well-judged as they ought to be, but my judgment isn’t always perfect, either — is yours?

  34. pentamom October 14, 2010 at 12:29 am #

    Try that again:

    If we just Teach kids to respond to attempts at help with appreciatIVE thanks…

  35. Anthony Hernandez October 14, 2010 at 12:36 am #

    Big difference between needing help and having the gumption to ask for it, and being followed home by a stranger of either gender. In the latter situation, there is nothing wrong with a confrontational approach.

  36. Gareth October 14, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    @Meagan

    No, what I’m suggesting is that it’s entirely appropriate and correct for a child to inform a responsible adult when a stranger is behaving aberrantly with regard to him, and that the correct action on the part of that adult is to confront the stranger. If his mother were not available, he should speak to a neighbor he knows, a merchant he knows, a parent he knows, or a uniformed officer. The child should not be taught to just ignore it when adults behave weirdly or threateningly, and his concerns should be completely addressed.

  37. Donna October 14, 2010 at 2:15 am #

    @ Meagan – The problem with your theory is that kids have not changed so physically in the last 30 years that it is more difficult to discern the 5 year old from the 10 year old today. And 30 years of evolution has not altered the ability of an adult to accurately guess the age of the child. The point being that 30 years ago the same exact issue would have existed, and yet, nobody ever stopped me from walking to friends house or riding a bike to ask if I needed help because it was perfectly obvious to them that I didn’t. I didn’t look scared or nervous. I didn’t look lost. I wasn’t up to anything at that moment that could be construed as “up to no good.” I was simply a kid out doing what kids did. However, if I ever was lost or hurt (happened a few times), an adult ALWAYS stopped to ask if I needed help.

    Today, it is assumed that EVERY kid who is out without a parent needs assistance because kids are simply not to be out on their own. There is no attempt to discern if something is wrong with the picture; the very fact that a child is without supervisions means that something MUST be wrong with the picture.

    The fact is that I at this point I don’t want “concerned citizens” stopping to interrogate my child every time she leaves the house alone. I’m not going to just assume “well, they meant no harm and just thought that she was younger than she is.” Harassing kids by themselves for no reason other than they are by themselves is rude, off-putting and more likely to scare them than anything else.

  38. Anthony Hernandez October 14, 2010 at 2:19 am #

    @Donna, AMEN!

  39. Christina October 14, 2010 at 3:45 am #

    If your actions are freaking a kid out, then you need to be looking at your actions, not the kid. For those who are pooh-poohing this kid’s reaction and giving the car lady a pass (which would NOT be happening if it had been a man) – I hope if your kid is ever in the same situation that you back him/her up and not dismiss his/her legitimate concern. One of the best ways to undermine a kid’s self-confidence is to tell him/her that his/her reactions are “wrong”. I don’t care how “good” this lady thought she was, she is clearly divorced from reality on some significant level. If you don’t notice your actions are causing someone else (adult or child) to freak out, you have a problem.

  40. Scott October 14, 2010 at 5:44 am #

    Two mentions above of “what about the toddler that drowned.”

    Folks, are we really comparing a toddler who is in the process of drowning with an 8 yr old going for a stroll on a sidewalk in no distress in a neighborhood with kids? I’d say they are not the same thing at all.

    On a different topic, there was an interesting mention of a great-grandfather who rode his horse 20 miles. I think 20 miles is not too bad for a kid really, that’s a decent day hike and when I was 12 I’d walk 10-15 miles each way late at night on weekends when my friends would visit and we’d decide to go see something interesting like a graveyard or a hobo encampment.

    My own great-grandfather though told the story of how when he left home at 17 back in the 1870s he walked to another town where he had some distant cousins, which checking just now on google maps, is now 840 miles away using a fairly straight path along a couple of interstate highways. All he took with him was what he could fit in one of those kits, a tied bandanna attached to a stick. There were no id cards, drivers licenses, cars or safety helmets back then, and for most of the trip there was nothing that would nowadays be considered a road.

  41. Scott October 14, 2010 at 5:59 am #

    “Meagan, she didn’t stop to check and see if he was OK. She creeped along behind him, in her car, all the way home.”

    This comment summarizes how I see it as well. If she slowed down and said “Are you lost little boy” and he said “I am on my way home” or “No” or “I am going for a walk’ or ran away, then the answer is ‘no’ and she should have gone home. Silently following him is completely bizarre and inappropriate. Talk to any single woman about how it feels to be walking back to your car alone and have someone following you without saying anything! No one things that that is an unthreatening or helpful situation and anyone who does engage in this sort of stalking is by definition being an aggressor and is a threat. Now sometimes the person was just going the same way, but this wasn’t the case, the woman was definitely following him and she admitted it when confronted by the mom when the kid ran up screaming.

    To kids in this situation I might suggest turning to face the adult and ask them “Maam, are you lost? Can I help you find your way home?”

  42. Meagan October 14, 2010 at 6:18 am #

    @Scott & Beth I may have misread it, your reading lines up better with the article, I just took it to mean the kid’s reporting. As I said, I agree that creeping along behink a kid for blocks is inappropriate but I don’t think it necessarily warrants the fury we are expressing. And yes, I am ABSOLUTELY bringing up the fear to approach a toddler as related to an attitude of “stay away from my kid.” Older kids can need help too and an involved, rather than intimidated, community, is what we should be aiming for.

    @ Gareth I’m sorry, I misunderstood.

    @ Donna But we DO live in a different world. 30 years ago, kids swarmed their neighborhoods, walked to the 7-11 in feral packs of icee craving 9 year olds, and generally ruled their streets. These days, as we are constently lamenting, most kids stay inside parked in front of a TV or video game rather than exploring the outdooors. Granted, this varies from place to place (fortunately). Even so, a kid roaming alone is not necessarily a familiar sight anymore. Is it really that surprising that an adult has more trouble knowing when to be concerned, or how to respond. We’ve lost a lot of those social cues. That’s why I think education is a better response than disgust.

  43. Meagan October 14, 2010 at 6:24 am #

    @Christina I don’t believe anyone here has said the boy’s actions were wrong.

  44. Donna October 14, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    @ Meagan – But we haven’t lost all those social cues. I am 99.9% certain that this lady has never once stopped a random adult walking alone down a residential street on a nice, sunny afternoon and asked if he or she needed help. She doesn’t do that because she does actually know how to read whether someone is in trouble or not. She, and all the other “concerned citizens,” just choose to ignore the social cues when it comes to children. They think that there is absolutely no reason for a child to be out unsupervised so something clearly must be amiss. They don’t take the time to acknowledge that this is a happy, not fearful, child walking down the street who isn’t giving a single hint of needing help.

  45. Gary October 14, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    I hope the mom of the 8 year old got the license plate on that womans car. She should call the police and report the stranger who was “following my son with her car”. For all anyone knows she could have been following him with intent to harm, and the mom seeing her son in time is all that stopped something horrid from occuring. Most likely the above is a putrid fantasy, but still…to make a point it sounds good eh?

  46. kari October 14, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    We had the same thing happen to my 4 yr old. he was walking around our block because he was “running away” with my husband watching him at a distance, never out of sight. This woman was creeping along behind him, then next to him for quite some ways.My husband got annoyed and stepped into the middle of the street to let the woman see him. Well, she drove up to my husband and ranted at him for letting him walk around the block by himself (a block he has gone around a thousand times since he was born). Then she told him that if this were the next town over that DCFS would have been involved!! The nerve! AND we live down the street from a church! He should have asked her if SHE was one of the people we should be watching out for. Drives me batty!

  47. KarenW October 14, 2010 at 10:30 am #

    Not to give this woman any slack, but it occured to me that this was the boy’s first time taking a walk by himself, so it’s possible that he was visibly nervous. Still, look at the lady’s questions: How old are you? Why are you walking alone? Not – Are you ok? Do you need help? I don’t blame the boy for being scared. I would be scared too, if some stranger (yes, even a female) was asking me questions that were none of her business and following me around.

  48. pentamom October 14, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Yeah, I don’t want to make it seem like I’m really defending the lady. That was boneheaded at best. I’m just saying that our reaction to it shouldn’t be based on the idea that it’s better for people to never try to help because you might be “interfering” with something that’s “none of your business.” Isn’t one of Lenore’s themes the idea that caring, responsible adults make for a generally safe world out there, because they want to help, rather than harm, children?

    So by all means criticize the lady because her methods were creepy and her behavior did not reflect a genuinely helpful attitude. Let’s just not start promoting the idea that there’s something wrong about caring or wondering if a child may or may not be safe in certain circumstances, so long as we handle it appropriately. And let’s not create some myth that every child out by himself is there under ideal conditions, incapable of getting into difficulties or making trouble, in the service of promoting Free Range. If you, reader, are not doing this, then the shoe doesn’t fit. 😉

  49. Scott October 14, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    But asking someone who actually looks like they might need help if they need help, and silently stalking them, are completely different things.

  50. Donna October 14, 2010 at 11:28 am #

    I agree that we should watch out for one another – adults and children alike. By all means, if you see a kid (or an adult) who appears to be lost or in distress, stop and ask if he needs help. If you see a kid (or an adult) who is heading into some trouble, intervene. If you see a situation that your gut tells you is just not right, stop and engage the person in conversation to feel out what is going on. But if a child is just merrily walking down the street with no signs of distress, leave them be as you would an adult. You are not their keeper nor do you know better how to parent that child than the parent. And if you do read the situation wrong and the kid says “I don’t need help; I’m just walking home,” then leave the child be. The child doesn’t have to explain himself to you. The parent doesn’t have to explain himself to you. You don’t have to like or approve of the parent’s parenting choice. It’s not your business; butt out.

    We can and do correctly read signals of when someone needs help or is up to something in adults all the time. We used to be willing and able to do the same with children. Now we just chose not to bother to look when it comes to children, or we let our fears that there is a child molester on every street corner lying in wait for the first child to cross his path control common sense. People should actually take the time to look for signs of problems BEFORE interfering rather than assuming that all unsupervised children need help or are in danger.

  51. Silver Fang October 14, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    I think the boy should have been trained in what to do if someone approached him. He could have just been taught to say, “Thanks for your concern, but I am OK. My mother allows me to be out by myself and I know how to take care of myself. Have a nice day”, then walk away.

  52. su N October 14, 2010 at 9:52 pm #

    Stopping to help children who are in need is one thing, but following a kid home in a car? Seriously, on what planet is that a good idea?
    I would have let her know that the police find this kind of activity suspicious and with all the fear in society, perhaps she should make better choices around children?
    Turn it around on her and let her know how it feels to be harrassed when you are going about your daily business (or in her case, everyone elses daily business).
    Well at least the child got a good lesson in running away from questionable people.

  53. su N October 14, 2010 at 10:07 pm #

    The more I think about it the more I am convinced I would be concerned if someone in a car was following ME home and I am an adult!

  54. John Deever October 14, 2010 at 11:26 pm #

    When I go for a walk, people — sometimes strangers — always pull over to offer me rides! Part of the weirdness is that in some places people are out of the habit of walking!

  55. pentamom October 15, 2010 at 12:52 am #

    Scott — agreed. I’m just trying to say what Donna said better. Stalking is bad, but I’m concerned about an overreaction in the other direction that says that adults should just be handsoff WRT to children because nothing could possibly be wrong and it’s none of their business to care if it is. There is certainly a difference between a kid who doesn’t look like he needs help and one who does, or might, but I get a sense in some quarters that even to suspect that Junior may not be universally competent and fully trusted by his parents to do whatever it is he’s doing and go wherever it is he’s going, is itself some kind of crime. Kids don’t always need to be watched like hawks but let’s not turn that into the idea that we should all turn a blind eye.

  56. Anthony Hernandez October 15, 2010 at 12:59 am #

    This is really simple:

    – Noticing children and passively determining if they look like they need help (and getting help if help is obvously needed) = A

    – Stopping to ask a chid if they need help in the absence of clear reason to believe something is amiss and then driving off = B

    – Calling the police to report a child walking/biking/etc. alone in the absence of any other indication that something is wrong = C

    – Following a kid just because your own life is so bankrupt that you can no longer tell normalcy from your own hindquarters = D

    – Not intervening when a child is in obvious distress and needs the help = F

    – Harming a child yourself = capital offense (at least it ought to be!)

  57. ShadowL October 15, 2010 at 11:14 am #

    I would like to add my own Free Range Kid story….

    My oldest son is 15, I know, not much of a “kid” anymore but you would be so surprised at how many other parents of non-driving teens freak out about their kids going anywhere in my town.

    My son let me know he was going to a friends house to watch a movie (a GIRLS house no less, but we have been having variations of “the talk” since he was 10.) Her house was a couple of blocks away from home.

    At about 8:30, after dark this time of year, he calls me and asks if I can come pick him up explaining that he walked a friend home across town.

    He realized he was tired, it was dark, he was a little bit lost (he knew the intersection he was at but not how it related to home) and he called me……Just like I had told him to do.

    He wasn’t drunk, stoned or anything like that, just walked a female friend of his home because she was uncomfortable walking in the dark alone (son is 6ft tall). Hes a good kid.

    I trusted him enough to take care of himself and when he thought it was getting out of his control, he stayed put and called for help.

    My free range kid is quickly turning into a free range adult before my eyes!

  58. baby-paramedic October 15, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    Child identified an issue (being tailed)
    Child dealt with issue (sprinting to mother)
    Child passed.

  59. Lisha October 16, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    We had a gathering of people in a park one evening around a camp fire (there were allowed there) and one of the little ones (8 years old) was getting kind of cold and tired so she asked is she could go laydown in the van. Dad said yes took her over layed her down and covered her with a quilt. we couldn’t be more then 50 feet away. She was fine and reading a book when a group of five women and a man began looking into the into the window, well she was scared and began to cry. We saw this right away and went trucking over to see what the hell was going on. They then gave dad shit for leaving her there, she was scared and crying. Couldn’t hold back at the way these nosie people were talking to us. “She was fine, she wanted to be there, we could see her fine and she is scared because you old bats scared her by shoving your face in the window and tapped on it.” They huffed and stalked off. We also think it was because they wanted the place we were in but had booked through the city.

  60. Jer October 19, 2010 at 11:36 am #

    If I was in that neighborhood and saw an 8 year old walking by himself, I would have just drove past him and moved on with my life.

  61. Anne February 13, 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    This reminds me of the filmstrips we used to watch in elementary school about not talking to strangers. I just realized that most kids today will never watch these type of videos because there’s no need. They’re never allowed to walk down the street without a trusted adult present.

    How sad.