Can we have a supervised playdate?

Free-Range Parenting was NORMAL as Recently as E.T.

Remember, folks, what SEEMS like just a normal amount of supervision now — that is, constant — was not normal until very recently, as this clip from E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, reminds us.

Elliott, a “boy of 9 or 10,” stays home from school alone for a day. And his sister Gertie, 5, stays home for a short stint while her mom runs an errand.

Oh, and moms put MERCURY THERMOMETERS in their kids’ MOUTHS and no one called social services!

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Can we have a supervised playdate?

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46 Responses to Free-Range Parenting was NORMAL as Recently as E.T.

  1. marie May 23, 2017 at 9:08 am #

    In the original movie, ET and his friends are chased by scary federal agents carrying G U N S. Later, the movie was digitally re-magicked so that the agents are no longer carrying weapons. That’s one way to solve the problem of producing a beautiful movie about childhood right before childhood rules changed on us.

    “Alligators in the sewer.” Drew Barrymore was such a charmer.

  2. SKL May 23, 2017 at 9:30 am #

    My kids and I are listening to an audiobook for the middle school book club. In it a girl, maybe 9th grade (my kids think she is in high school), decides she needs a “mental health day.” She plays hooky by sneaking off somewhere and sneaking back home after her mom leaves for work. Alas, the school calls home, and she lets it go to voice mail. Next the school calls her mom. Mom calls her cell phone. She lets it ring. Mom is panicking now. She says she is on her way home. Teen thinks she has a little time, but then Mom calls neighbor, who has a house key and comes in looking for teen. Teen hides in closet. Neighbor sees and takes teen’s cell phone and leaves. Teen sneaks back out and looks for a way to contact her mom to tell her she’s OK. She pays $5 to go online at a copy shop to email her mom (who is now home and has sent her 3 frantic emails) saying she’s OK, just needed a mental health day, see ya later. That’s about as far as we’ve gotten so far.

    I told my kids: don’t you get any funny ideas from this. If you ever need a mental health day, you’d better square it with me first. I don’t need the school calling and the cops out searching for you.

    Myself, if I wanted to skip school I simply skipped school. Schools didn’t call the parents in those days. They reported attendance on our report cards. In the rare instance that someone knew we were skipping and bothered to cal our parents, our parents would deal with it after work. What is the big frickin panic for? Lil baby not gonna remember when to fill up her water bottle?

    If I believed my teen was skipping school, given modern technology, I might message her that I was on to her and that we’d talk later. I mean shoot. I’d rather my teen have access to my fridge and bathroom if she’s playing hooky.

  3. Matthew E May 23, 2017 at 9:34 am #

    That was, of course, two generations ago. The GenX kids in ET are the same generation as today’s helicopter parents. There’s a case to be made that many GenX kids were underprotected or neglected, and now that today’s kids are a new Artist generation, many are being overprotected or stifled. The latter is probably an overcorrection of the former. Stick around forty years and we’ll probably see it back the other way.

  4. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 9:45 am #

    Um… E.T. is clearly a fantasy movie, not a documentary. I wouldn’t take Peter Pan as gospel on the subject of kids getting along with minimal parental supervision, either.

  5. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    ” Schools didn’t call the parents in those days.”

    Respectfully, what days were those? They certainly did when I was in school, in the 70’s and early 80’s.

  6. SKL May 23, 2017 at 9:56 am #

    JP where I lived (which was in two different locations within the same US state), my elementary school (1970s) nor my high school (1980s) called parents when a kid simply didn’t show up in the morning. The elementary school started calling when my kid sister was in like 3rd grade, which was late 1980s. They would call and admonish the parents for not reporting their kids absent by X:00.

  7. Marie May 23, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    Myself, if I wanted to skip school I simply skipped school.

    THAT made me chuckle…because that is so true. My son planned to take part in senior sneak day and told me. He went to school and went to the classes he cares about and then left campus. An hour or so later, I got a call from the school, telling me he was absent. “Do you want to excuse this absense?” Heck yeah, please excuse my son.

    Kids these days can’t even skip school and get in trouble the way we did! Lol.

  8. WendyW May 23, 2017 at 10:06 am #

    I was just graduated from high school when ET came out, and I don’t remember schools calling home being a thing. When we returned to school we had to have a note from a parent to give the teacher/office. If our absences were not thus excused, then they spoke with the parents.

    ET is a fantasy due to the alien, not the parenting. Other than the alien, it was pretty spot-on re: the family life, especially with a single mother who was still trying to figure things out. My mom left us along for short periods when we were 6 & 8, and we were latch-key kids by 8 & 10. My own daughter was left alone for 10 or so min. at a time by age 6. (My son definitely was NOT)

  9. test May 23, 2017 at 10:31 am #

    @SKL If I would skip the school, I would get report. Three of those per half a year and it goes to end year report which would severely limited my choice of high school (or later college). Skipping school was big huge disciplinary problem only biggest troublemakers did.

  10. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 10:35 am #

    “I was just graduated from high school when ET came out, and I don’t remember schools calling home being a thing”

    I graduated just after, and schools calling home was DEFINITELY a thing in my youth.
    My skills as a hacker were such that I got into the school district’s computer and changed my home address (no more report cards mailed home) and phone number (no more attendance calls.) That turned around and bit me, because the counselor’s office, which did college applications, couldn’t communicate with me, either, and so I wasn’t accepted to university until after graduation.

    We had a system… the first 3 classes skipped were free. The fourth, however, bought you “Saturday School”… four hours of detention in the cafeteria. Don’t show up for Saturday School and (horrors!) you get suspended the following Monday. Yep. The punishment for not showing up for class was, ultimately, being told not to come to school. But, there was another rule lurking… accumulate 12 absences in a semester, and you fail the class, regardless of how well you actually learned the subject. I did Outdoor School every semester; that was 5 days off. Skip a class 4 times, and get suspended for not going to Saturday School, and that’s another 5. Get sick for two days, and boom. I miscounted in my last semester, and had to actually show up for the last Saturday School of the school year, because if I was suspended on the last Monday of the school year, I’d have 12 absences in a class required for graduation. Oops.

  11. Juluho May 23, 2017 at 10:43 am #

    But maybe don’t be so free range you miss the fact your kids are hiding an alien. Balance.

  12. SnoCone May 23, 2017 at 10:52 am #

    I went to a small high school in the 80’s. One day, a couple of my classmates didn’t show up, opting, instead, to stay home and play basketball in the driveway. The principal noticed. He drove to the house of one of the kids, and that is where he found them in the driveway. He told them to get in the car and he brought them to school. That was the end of that.

  13. K May 23, 2017 at 10:57 am #

    “THAT made me chuckle…because that is so true. My son planned to take part in senior sneak day and told me. He went to school and went to the classes he cares about and then left campus. An hour or so later, I got a call from the school, telling me he was absent. “Do you want to excuse this absense?” Heck yeah, please excuse my son.

    Kids these days can’t even skip school and get in trouble the way we did! Lol.”

    Interesting. I know my schools called home if someone was absent, but I’m pretty sure that they did NOT on Senior Cut Day. Or maybe my mom had called in early and excused my absence? She knew I was cutting (the only time I ever did – I was just that kind of kid), as did the vice principal:

    The day before Senior Cut Day, I was trying to work out a technical issue for a club I was in, and ended up talking to the vice principal after school was out. “Can’t IT help you with it tomorrow?” I stumbled over something along the lines, “Uh, I, uh, I’m not sure I’m going to be feeling well tomorrow.” He just laughed at me and helped me get the projector or whatever it was fixed that afternoon.

  14. Jessica May 23, 2017 at 11:28 am #

    @juluho
    I’m cracking up!

  15. SKL May 23, 2017 at 11:40 am #

    I was gonna say, free range or not, I would notice the smell if there was an alien in my kid’s closet.

    Then I thought, well maybe not, depending on which kid’s closet ….

  16. Edward Hafner May 23, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    They put thermometers in OTHER PLACES too and no one was called either – except maybe the doctor if necessary.

  17. bmj2k May 23, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    Wow that really is sci-fi!

  18. Jennifer C May 23, 2017 at 12:26 pm #

    When this movie came out I was about the same age as Elliot–we went to see this movie in the theater multiple times. And yeah, I often stayed at home alone when I was sick–unless someone was needed to take me to the doctor, both parents still had to go to work. My mom would call the school from her work and check in on me during lunch break.

  19. Jennifer C May 23, 2017 at 12:29 pm #

    I graduated in 1991 and our Senior Skip Day was sort of unofficial/official–the parents called us in sick and the school kind of winked and looked the other way. Though I was required to turn in my English Term Paper that morning before leaving–my friends and I spent the whole day at the beach.

  20. steve May 23, 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    The mom didn’t leave them home alone without an adult, E.T. was 500 years old!

  21. Wendy May 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    When I was in — oh I wanna say 1st Grade… I would start my morning by going across the street to my same-age neighbor’s house. Our mother’s both went to work earlier. Then we would go catch the bus together. Our signal that it was time to leave for the bus was an older neighbor girl (Liz) walking by headed for her bus stop. One day the older girl was home sick…. so she never walked by.
    So, we never left.
    So, we missed our bus.
    So, we stayed home. The school called my mother at work. My mother attempted to call friend’s house — we did not answer the phone. We were not allowed to answer the phone. My then-frantic mother dispatched my grandmother to check on us. We heard someone banging on the door and hid in the closet. Quite some time later my friend’s mother showed up and came into the house and found us (terrified by the scary person banging on the door). We were barely in trouble, we were told that in the future we should leave based on the time on the clock — not on Liz walking by.
    /End -horrifying-missing-children-story.

  22. sexhysteria May 23, 2017 at 12:55 pm #

    According to the book “Last Night in Paradise,” 1980 is when the mass hysteria over sex began, thanks to the discovery od AIDS.

  23. Dienne May 23, 2017 at 1:24 pm #

    There has been mass hysteria about sex at least since the Bible was written.

  24. SKL May 23, 2017 at 1:40 pm #

    And speaking of kids being left home alone to get themselves off to school – that reminds me of one of the Ramona Quimby stories. Ramona assured her mother she knew when to leave for school – “a quarter after.” A quarter, she knew, was 25c, therefore “quarter after” meant 8:25. Surprisingly she got to school late, but otherwise unscathed. 😛

    My parents also left us “alone” when they went to work, with orders to finish getting ready and leave for school on time. (We walked to school.) Other than being a minute or so tardy at times, that worked fine too.

  25. LGB May 23, 2017 at 3:26 pm #

    @SKL Grace Llewellyn actually encourages “mental health days” for kids in her excellent book, Guerilla Learning. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/464536.Guerrilla_Learning

  26. LGB May 23, 2017 at 3:43 pm #

    “Um… E.T. is clearly a fantasy movie, not a documentary. I wouldn’t take Peter Pan as gospel on the subject of kids getting along with minimal parental supervision, either.”

    Lenore never claimed that E.T. was a documentary. But movies do reflect cultural attitudes. Spielberg, especially, was behind a slew of movies in the 80s that treated kids as smart, resilient, intrepid, courageous, and capable–The Goonies, Stand by Me, Young Sherlock Holmes and even Temple of Doom come to mind. Today, social workers probably would have been waiting at Cannon Beach to take Brand and Mikey Walsh into state custody.

    @Matthew E, as a Gen-Xer, I remember being raised in the 80s with erratic inconsistency. On the one hand, I heard terrifying things about stranger danger and poured milk on my breakfast cereal from cartons adorned with missing child photos. I also roamed the neighborhood at leisure and walk a two miles round-trip to and from school. I must have lived during a cultural transition.

  27. Rebel mom May 23, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    This movie came out when I was a young kid (under 7) and through the many times I watched it the only thing off was the alien. That’s the point of the movie. Normal family meets alien – see what happens. In my head the world should be the same for my kids. I try and bribe them to go off alone to a park or just bike around but it’s usually a non start. No one else is out so it’s boring to zip to the park. No other kids can bike or walk to us by parental fiat. I just today stood up against Stranger Danger talk with another mom. I hope it helped. My hope is faltering. On the plus side, those exciting internships to Alaska, Switzerland or Tahiti will be theirs for the taking once they’re older. No one else’s precious offspring would be allowed to think of it!

  28. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 5:21 pm #

    “Lenore never claimed that E.T. was a documentary.”
    That’s what’s called a “joke”.

    “But movies do reflect cultural attitudes.”
    Do they? There’s room for a GIANT debate there. Pretty close to no movies are dead-on, straight reflections of reality… for the very good reason that reality is mostly boring, and people pay their money to be entertained. Taking any single movie as emblematic of an entire cultural milieu is probably wrong.

    “Spielberg, especially, was behind a slew of movies in the 80s that treated kids as smart, resilient, intrepid, courageous, and capable–The Goonies, Stand by Me, Young Sherlock Holmes and even Temple of Doom come to mind.”

    I’m not particularly impressed with Spielberg. He sold a lot of tickets… that’s inarguable… but look at this list… The Goonies is popular, but that might be local bias, since it was made here. Stand By Me was a good movie… directed by Rob Reiner. Young Sherlock Holmes I remember nothing about. Temple of Doom was the worst of the Indiana Jones movies (and it was Last Crusade that had the extended Young Indy sequence).

    Strong capable children having adventures is a fairly old field of storytelling. Alice explores Wonderland. Peter Pan defeats Hook. Dorothy saves Oz from the Wicked Witches (and the Wizard). Heck, pick up pretty much any of the juvenile novels by Robert Heinlein. All well before Mr. Spielberg arrived on the scene. (Keep in mind that by the mid 90’s, Spielberg had put his name on the Animaniacs, with the central thesis that if your kids are too high-energy, you should lock them up.)

  29. donald May 23, 2017 at 6:10 pm #

    James. Your right. E.T. was a fantasy and so was Peter Pan. However, I don’t understand the comparison. Lenore used the movie to show that it was common for parents to leave children at home by themselves. Are you saying that this was a fantasy?

  30. SKL May 23, 2017 at 6:18 pm #

    As an indication of how things have changed, my kids would ask “where are their parents” when watching / listening to free-range stories. My kid brother, who was around 6-7 when ET came out, would never have asked such a question. He himself was off by himself until dark (or after) every night, having whatever adventures struck his fancy, and we didn’t even know where to look for him if we wanted him home sooner than his stomach dictated.

  31. Kirsten May 23, 2017 at 7:40 pm #

    I recently read the classic British children’s book Swallows and Amazons where 4 siblings roughly aged 7 to 12 are allowed to sail by themselves from their summer rental house to a nearby uninhabited island and basically live there in tents and cook their own food and fend for themselves. It’s fiction so I won’t assume anything about parenting in the late 1920s. But it’s the kind of story I loved more than anything as a child because of all the freedom.

    I used to roam the woods for hours as a child and I was a ‘latchkey kid.’ I am Gen X and haven’t managed to have kids yet, but when I do I will *NOT* be helicoptering them.

  32. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 8:12 pm #

    “Lenore used the movie to show that it was common for parents to leave children at home by themselves.”

    Would you object if someone tried to use Peter Pan to support the claim that if you don’t leave your child’s windows locked tight, a stranger will come in the window and abduct them?
    It happened in the movie so that must be what really happens.
    Or Stand By Me… according to that movie, letting your children run free will result in 25% of them not surviving into adulthood.
    Hey, Terminator 2 proved that it’s necessary to keep an absolutely constant watch on your kid… the danger to them could come from anyone, not just guys that look and sound like Austrian bodybuilders. It’s absolutely vital to keep your kid under constant supervision.
    OR
    is the right response to each of these four cases “It’s just a movie.”

    “Are you saying that this was a fantasy?”
    Yes. Movies are fantasy, not reality.

    The truth is, before, as now, some children were given considerable freedom to roam their environment. Then, as now, some children were not. Most, but probably not quite all, of the readers here have a preference for one over the other, although there is nowhere near unanimity over exactly how much freedom is the right amount of freedom. (which is fine, because there are as many right answers to that question as there are children.) Then, as now, there were people who believed they know better how to raise your kids than you do. A small number of them are probably right… the trick is figuring out which ones to listen to and which ones to filter out.

    Let me give an example. When I was young, I lived at the edge of suburbia, meaning that some of the kids I went to school with were suburban kids, and some were farm kids. Most of the farm kids did NOT have carefree afternoons and weekends to do with as they pleased… farms need work, and everyone who lives on a farm contributes what they’re able. That used to be “normal”. Children with free time are a modern invention.

  33. donald May 23, 2017 at 9:41 pm #

    I just said, “You’re right. E.T. is a fantasy.” I don’t understand your argument. The question that I asked was, 10-year-olds (in the 70’s) staying at home by themselves a fantasy?

  34. James Pollock May 23, 2017 at 10:12 pm #

    “The question that I asked was, 10-year-olds (in the 70’s) staying at home by themselves a fantasy?”

    And, surprisingly enough, that’s a question I answered.

  35. Beth May 24, 2017 at 9:32 am #

    I graduated from high school in 1977, and parents getting a call if a kid wasn’t at school was never a thing during any of my school years. (city of 250,000, high school population 2000) If I was sick, my mom sent a note with me the day I went back to school, and after age 18 we could right our own notes. That’s how it was done.

    Now, when my kids were in school, if they were sick I had to call the automated “sick call” line, or they would call after taking attendance. This was, of course, for safety, but I never had to identify myself in any way when I called them in sick. Well, I had to give my name, of course, but no other identifying info that would indicate that I had the authority to call them in. The KIDNAPPER could call them in sick as long as he know my name and the kid’s name!!! Not that I expected that to ever happen, but shows that sometimes authorities don’t quite think “safety” through.

  36. SKL May 24, 2017 at 10:41 am #

    Beth, I noticed that too the last time I called in for my kid. They didn’t ask who I was, and how would they know if I was telling the truth anyway? But I’m not gonna say anything, lest they come up with additional security measures like giving a code word etc. 😛

  37. Mike Tang May 24, 2017 at 3:36 pm #

    Poor James Pollock,

    Desperately grasping at straws and now resorting to attacking movies he grew up with to thwart the free range movement. If only his parents gave him fidget spinners to play with in a padded white room, he might’ve turned out differently rather than second-guessing the culture which essentially created him.

    So which is it gonna be? Admitting the culture of the 80’s-90’s is fine and that you turned out fine? Or saying there’s a problem with that culture which influenced you negatively and you didn’t turn out fine? (well that would explain why you’re constantly hovering around here). Which is it going to be, I wonder..? Decisions, decisions…

    Or perhaps our resident Siskel & Ebert here could name a few modern movies which show kids running off alone on their own without adult supervision… just name one…I’m holding my breath now….

  38. James Pollock May 24, 2017 at 3:59 pm #

    “Desperately grasping at straws and now resorting to attacking movies he grew up with to thwart the free range movement.”

    Am I supposed to take you seriously, sir? I mean, in any way, shape, or form? Isn’t there a windmill you could tilt at, instead?

    “Or perhaps our resident Siskel & Ebert here could name a few modern movies which show kids running off alone on their own without adult supervision… just name one…I’m holding my breath now”

    Do you want to build a snowman? Let it go…

    But by all means, hold your breath as long as you like

  39. test May 24, 2017 at 4:54 pm #

    @Mike Tang lego ninja go, winx club, last lego batman had such character, my little pony i think, all that on top of hear without searching. We also have quite a few such book (through done have crappy quality).

  40. DejahThoris May 25, 2017 at 6:13 pm #

    We recently watched both ET and Stranger Things, which seemed to capture exactly the feel of what we remember about our childhoods in the late 70’s, early 80’s in suburbia (barring the supernatural events, of course). Both of us commented about how just within our lifetimes these movies seem so unrealistic – kids wouldn’t have the ability to have such adventures now. The aliens seem more believable than our kids being able to have the freedoms we had.

  41. James K. May 26, 2017 at 10:16 pm #

    Marie: I believe Spielberg later concluded that this had been a mistake and restored the guns to the currently available version.

  42. Dingbat May 30, 2017 at 12:31 am #

    @Marie

    Replace with Walkie Talkies… what a load of

    They did not have the right to erase parts of a movie cherished by my generation because (I am one, and a rural gun owning one…) city dwelling liberal helicopters were hysterical over their snot nose snowflakes. It’s bad enough people insist on horribly remaking almost every good movies from my childhood.

  43. Dingbat May 30, 2017 at 12:36 am #

    … While filling them full of politically correct identity politics, of course. We can’t have people making their own new works. No! Got to remake everything else and include the proper, non traumatizing, message, and then watch it tank.

    This is a disease.

  44. Dingbat May 30, 2017 at 12:46 am #

    @ DejahT

    I loved Stranger Things. It is proper 80s nostalgia, though I am afraid the second season will be tainted due to this…

    https://youtu.be/c996ra7Wqn0

    Wynona Ryder’s facial expressions said it all.

    Comic books, video games, movies, shows… any and every platform you can imagine has content tanking because of political messages saturating it that are not wanted by the fans. They want a bit of escapism from it.

    Considering this guy is an actor, and an incredibly good one appreciated by fans, I don’t know how much of this was his own narcissistic tangent with no thoughts to the actual writers… creators… but SIGH!!! I hope they keep it at childhood nostalgia and superb writing first v. political narrative first and the rest as an aside.

  45. Vaughan Evans June 1, 2017 at 4:43 pm #

    Nowadays, if a school had the residence and/or work phone of BOTH parents, all you might receive is Voice Message?

    -What do you expect-in a society where both parents work-and oarents of BOTH sexes delivery round-the-clock chauffeuring services.