On Her Own for 12 Weeks Over the Summer: An 8-year-old

Readers — Here’s the story of a girl who had a great summer, thanks to confident parents, an abundance of local kids and a dearth of 911-dialing neighbors. It was a good reminder even for ME that kids can be on their own a lot more than we’ve gotten used to, or even feel comfortable with. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: As a Free-Range mom who was raised Free-Range herself, I just had to share this story.  We live in Southern California, about 30 miles north of San Diego, in a city of 150,000.  This summer I decided to let my 8-year-old daughter follow in my childhood footsteps, and spend the summer at home alone.  I was originally planning to enroll her in some day camps for, but since none of their hours worked with my work schedule and they were a reach, financially, I decided to let her find her own fun for 12 weeks.

My husband and I work close to home, so God forbid there would be some HORRIBLE CATASTROPHE (GASP!!!), both of us could be home within 10 minutes.  So, armed with a pre-paid cell phone, a house key on a lanyard, and some good common sense from being raised Free-Range her whole life, my 8-year-old set out for her summer of freedom (and fun!).

With the exception of my husband coming home for a half hour at lunch each day, my 8-year-old was alone from 7 am to 4:30 pm Monday through Friday.  Most days I would get home at 4:30 and I wouldn’t even see her until dinner rolled around at 6 or 7.  Why?  Because she was out with her friends, HAVING FUN!

Thank goodness there are a lot of kids in our apartment complex whose parents apparently are Free-Rangers as well.  My daughter and her buddies went swimming at the pool, rode their bikes and scooters, and even made good friends with the ladies in the rental office.  They invented a “dirt board,” which is basically a skateboard without wheels, and went dirt boarding on the hill behind our building.  They even explored the wooded ravine that borders the back end of the complex.  And by far the coolest thing they did was when they discovered a rainwater overflow pipe, about 4 feet in diameter, that runs from the ravine, under the 4-lane freeway that borders one side of the complex, and out into the shopping center on the other side.  Yes, she and her buddies played in that pipe, and no one got cut, scratched, or abducted by child molesters who were lurking underground, just waiting for some 8-year-olds to come stumbling through!

Did I worry about her being home alone all day for 12 weeks?  I’ll admit that once or twice I did have a thought or two about “What if?”  But I reminded myself that my daughter is smart, capable, and has a good head on her shoulders.  She knows what to do in an emergency, and she knows how to use her head and her common sense to make safe choices.  Why?  Because I raised her to think for herself.  And you know what?  She had a blast. – One Delighted Mom 

Spending all day outside with friends didn't used to be a radical act.

Spending all day outside with friends didn’t used to be a radical act.

 

42 Responses to On Her Own for 12 Weeks Over the Summer: An 8-year-old

  1. Filioque September 13, 2013 at 2:27 pm #

    I love this post! My kids are getting to the age where they’re getting too old for summer camp, but I’ve wondered what they’ll do since they’re too young for jobs and cars.

  2. Michelle September 13, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

    That’s awesome! Personally, I think 8 is a bit young for this, but I’m sure this mom knows her daughter well enough to make that decision without my input, and clearly everything went well and resulted in a fantastic summer. So yay! 😀

  3. Steve September 13, 2013 at 2:47 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this. Great to hear.

    Back when I was 8, 9, 10, etc., I used to roam around the nearby college campus (where my dad taught) exploring the acres and acres of woods, visiting the men’s dormitories, meeting foreign students and asking them for stamps off their letters from home. I loved wandering around the biology and chemistry labs, talking to professors and students…finding usable test tubes and stained beakers in the trash cans to take home…going to the baseball diamond to see student ball games…watching the marching band practice on the football field, visiting the art building, etc. Of course this wasn’t done only in the summer. And we had no cell phones. My parents were not “concerned” about where in the world I might be. I was always home for supper.

  4. Warren September 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Kids are so capable of much more than most people give them credit for. This is just proof of that.

    You should be very proud of your daughter.

  5. DaveS September 13, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Sounds like the girl is having loads of fun.
    Would suggest a little caution with the rain pipe.

    Much of the Southwest US is notorious for flash floods even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky.

    Of course, if the source of any water in the pipe is local, well play on.

  6. Melanie Jones September 13, 2013 at 4:58 pm #

    This is how I grew up too. What was wonderful is I could always call on my neighbors if I needed help. I never really did, but I never felt like I was ‘left home alone’.

  7. anonymous this time September 13, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Woot! Woot!

  8. Rob September 13, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    In Florida, or at least in Jacksonville you could be arrested for that. Children are not allowed to be left alone until they are 12 years old. When I found out about this I was rather surprised. My brothers and I all grew up free range in a small town in Illinois in the 60 and loved every second of it. From 8 years old on I roamed half of the town and all surrounding countryside and woods, knew and played with all the kids on that side of town and they were all the same way, free to do what they wanted as long as they were home in time for supper. One thing I have noticed as I get older is that I hardly ever see kids outside playing like we used to. I weep for America.

  9. Jenna K. September 13, 2013 at 6:56 pm #

    I love stories like this to confirm that I am not alone.

  10. JM September 13, 2013 at 8:25 pm #

    Rob that might be only in Jacksonville but you should check because as far as I know Florida has no official age and in the Orlando area children are officially able to take care of themselves at 9 (that’s when the childcare help ( 4C ) cuts off.) According to family members who have worked as DCF investigators any child can be left alone as long as you can prove that they responsible (of course you will have a hard time proving a small child is responsible) and have food and a phone to use in an emergency. They will only take action if something bad happens such as a fire or a drowning or a kid gets lost or something else crazy. Then again it is up to the individual worker to decide to take further action.

  11. highwayman September 13, 2013 at 8:44 pm #

    Both Thumbs Up! Waaayyyyyy UP!

    I want to see more stories like this.

  12. Reziac September 13, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    Same way I grew up. About the extent of checking in was to ask if we could have a dime to go to the swimming pool for the afternoon (which involved crossing a busy six-lane street). If mom came home from work and our bikes were gone, it was a safe assumption we were either at the park or grandma’s house or maybe had gone downtown to window-shop, rather than panic and a call to 911 and the OMG-abduction squad. BTW, we were all of 8 and 4 when we started our “summers on our own”.

  13. Brooke September 13, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

    I don’t think this mom should feel guilty about wondering “What if?” Parents are going to worry – it’s normal, healthy, and kids sometimes appreciate it. It’s when you let worry keep your children from growing up to be independent and self-reliant that it’s a problem.

  14. Stevie September 13, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    So here’s what jumps out at me. The fact that camps are a bit of a financial strain and that the apartment complex is right next to a 4 lane highway. From that info I’m going to make the big assumption that we are talking about a normal middle class family—not a family living in a $3000/month complex and with the ability to go the exclusive summer camps costing $800/week. It has always been my opinion that free range parenting is a cornerstone of the families of moderate means and common sense. Helicopter parenting is (to me) very linked to money and the lifestyle that is attached to it—enough money for a parent to be home and present at all times instead of at work, 2 or more vehicles so that children can be chauffeured everywhere they want to go, discretionary funds for enrichment camps and athletic classes as early as 3 or 4 years old, etc. The result is that allowing your kids to manage themselves while an adult is at work, to use buses, bikes, walking or public transportation, to glue and paste at home instead of in a crafts camp and other free range parenting is now seen as lower class, ignorant, and even a sign that these parents don’t love their children as much b/c they obviously don’t care what happens to them. The wide acceptance of helicopter parenting as the norm and free range as abnormal is just another sign to me that the divide in the socioeconomic classes is getting larger and larger in this country. I’m glad free range is still normal in some neighborhoods. Notice that the more McMansions in a neighborhood, the fewer kids that are playing loose outside. It’s really sad.

  15. Gina September 14, 2013 at 12:46 am #

    LOL…when I first read the title of the article, I thought she had left her 8-year-old alone all summer, as in nobody coming home at night…That’s where my free-range brain went and I couldn’t wait to see how it turned out.
    Anyway…sounds like an amazing summer..wish I could do that!

  16. Really Bad Mum September 14, 2013 at 12:53 am #

    @Gina, lol me too. Although running away for 12 weeks is what I think of doing when they driving me nuts lol.

  17. anonymous this time September 14, 2013 at 1:49 am #

    Stevie: yes, and yes. Affluence has done more to isolate us from each other and build expectations of impossible standards of supervision for children than anything else. It takes incredible amounts of resources to arrange for adult supervision of a child 24 /7, and the irony of it all is that the child is WORSE OFF being supervised constantly than if they were receiving “less than optimal care” by the standards of today’s “no cost is too much, no inconvenience too great, no law or policy too draconian if it saves the life of ONE CHILD” society. Gah. Give me the days of “lower” standards of living, along with the attendant sense of community and resourcefulness all humans need to thrive.

  18. FSR September 14, 2013 at 4:07 am #

    What Gina and Really Bad Mum said. After the title and intro paragraph, I was all set to hear the story of an 8-year-old who managed without her parents for the entire summer (and apparently wasn’t taken into government custody in the process). Oh well. Thanks Lenore for all your work promoting the free-range kids concept and helping people share ideas.

  19. Donna September 14, 2013 at 7:53 am #

    Stevie – I agree. I live in an area where camps and extracurriculars are extremely affordable and they run on a sliding scale down to free for those who can’t afford them. As a result, it is true that my kid is involved in far more camps and extracurriculars than she would be if we lived elsewhere. Not because I think she needs to be supervised but because she wants to do all this stuff and it is affordable. And since I now work from home, some camp will have to happen in the summer as I need to work and I’d rather have her elsewhere while I do and not whining at me all day (which she will if I am right there to whine at).

  20. lihtox September 14, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    It occurs to me that when I was growing up, the difference between “parents at home” and “parents not at home” was a really big deal: if my mom was running errands there was no way to contact her, and while my Dad did have a phone number at work, I’d have to ask somebody to use their phone to call them. With cellphones today, the distinction is blurred. If a child is old enough to be out roaming the neighborhood without adult supervision, does it really matter so much that her parents are home while she does, so long as they can be reached and can come to them quickly in an emergency?

    Cellphones as a tool for free-ranging instead of helicoptering! 🙂

  21. Papilio September 14, 2013 at 10:29 am #

    Yeah, count me with the people who thought the parents were out of town for 3 months… This was more like ‘no babysitter during the summer’.

  22. hineata September 14, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    @Reallybadmum- I always think of that cool Aussie ‘true’ story ‘An Ordinary Life’ when I read this sort of title. Do you know the one? Not so cool I guess in that the mum actually ditches the kid and siblings when he was 8, but by age 11 he’s running a sheep station, probably as big as some US states, for months while the boss is off droving. Kids can do anything 🙂 .

    Not so dramatic as either story, but my kids have almost survived their three weeks of taking care of each other while we are out of the country. Have hardly had to cook, though – sympathetic friends keep turning up with food!:-)

  23. Steve September 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    Papilio said:
    “Yeah, count me with the people who thought the parents were out of town for 3 months… This was more like ‘no babysitter during the summer’.”

    Are you really saying the story as posted was NO BIG DEAL? Really?
    The entire reason this blog exists is because the posted story is SO RARE! And YES! I’M SHOUTING!!! It’s RARE!!!

    And lihtox said:

    “Cellphones as a tool for free-ranging instead of helicoptering!”

    Yes. The idea that helicopter parents DO NOT see a cellphone as a way to allow their kids freedom illustrates just how irrational and poorly thought out their behavior is. But I’m not a fan of cellphones. And here’s one reason why. Kid has cellphone. Kid gets lost. Kid calls mom or dad…or a friend. WHY? Because it’s easy. It’s comfortable, it’s familiar. His parents have said, “Don’t talk to strangers, and a lot of other stuff to scare him to death. “Strangers might abduct you. Bad people are everywhere. You can only trust the people you know.”

    Without a phone, kid might have to talk to a stranger. Might learn risk assessment. Might make a new friend.

  24. everydayrose September 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm #

    Love this story!
    I’m a single mom of two girls who are now 12 and 9 and have been free ranging it for a while. We live a couple of miles from the WA State Fair and they had their fair day a couple of days ago. I had to work so I told them if they wanted to go they were on their own until I could get there. I left them some cash for bracelets and quarters for the bus. As they were walking in they got into a conversation with some older girls who were amazed that they were allowed to go on their own like that. The girls told them they would NEVER have been allowed to do such a thing at that age. Unfortunately they hear comments like this all the time. It’s amazing to me that people expect kids that age to be so helpless.

    Of course they managed to buy their bracelets and had a great time riding rides on their own until I could get there. Not that it made any difference since they just ditched me anyway as soon as they caught me up on all the excitement of the day.

    The worst thing that happened was when the nine year old threw up in the parking lot on the way home after too much junk food and too many rides!

  25. Donna September 14, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    “Yeah, count me with the people who thought the parents were out of town for 3 months… This was more like ‘no babysitter during the summer’.”

    Are you really saying the story as posted was NO BIG DEAL? Really?”

    And are you really saying that leaving an 8 year old home alone for 3 months is rational and something we should be applauding on Free Range Kids? Apparently my free rangeness misses a HUGE mark because that sounds like complete neglect and something that child services SHOULD be involved in to me.

  26. Peter September 14, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Kid has cellphone. Kid gets lost. Kid calls mom or dad…or a friend. WHY? Because it’s easy.

    I chuckle about this because my roomate will occasionally call me when she gets lost (she’s in her 50s) because I’ve inevitably got the computer or smartphone.

    That said, if you’ve ever tried to give someone directions when they’re not really sure where they are, it’s a lot easier to say, “Just go ask someone nearby.”

  27. Gina September 14, 2013 at 8:55 pm #

    @Donna..NO..absolutely not saying that at all. If that had been the case, my comment would have been entirely different!

    @Hineata…How old were your kids went you left them alone while you were away? I think the youngest I’d do that is 15 or so.

  28. Jenny Islander September 15, 2013 at 2:17 am #

    I was a primary-age kid in the late ’70s and this was just my life. The idea that I would have needed a *snort* babysitter during the day when I could go to the bathroom by myself would have provoked giant eyerolling and verbal italics of gol, mom, jeez. Babysitters were still needed at night, mostly, IIRC, to make sure that kids went to bed and didn’t pig out on ice cream.

  29. hineata September 15, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    @Gina – am actually still away 🙂 . Oldest is a 16/ nearly 17 year old boy, older than I was when I left home, but still a responsible type who isn’t into throwing wild parties, or we would never have done it 🙂 . The two girls are fourteen and twelve, so all very capable, and we have wonderful friends and neighbors who have been ringing/giving lifts to night events/donating food, evidently, so the ‘wee darlings’ haven’t had to do a lot at all, lol:-) .Also Grandma keeps popping in. Community is cool!

    The only thing that gave us any real pause was the unfortunate surge of earthquakes the week before we left, but the emergency supplies are all in place, the kids are well versed in procedure, and you can’t control where you’ll be at the time. They are just as likely to be where I would be of no direct help to them whether in the country or out, so we all agreed that it wasn’t worth worrying about…. 🙂

  30. Papilio September 15, 2013 at 11:25 am #

    @Steve: “Yeah, count me with the people who thought the parents were out of town for 3 months… This was more like ‘no babysitter during the summer’.”

    Are you really saying the story as posted was NO BIG DEAL?

    How on earth did you launch yourself to that conclusion?? I honestly don’t see how my agreeing the title suggests something else leads to ‘it was no big deal’…!
    Like Donna I was relieved to read that she wasn’t left alone 24/7, because that sounds like neglect to me too.

  31. lihtox September 15, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    @Donna: Sometimes Lenore posts stories about kids that are in non-ideal situations, but they get through them anyway because they’re resourceful.

  32. Donna September 15, 2013 at 3:48 pm #

    Lihtox – An 8 year old left home completely alone for 3 months is well beyond “less than ideal.” It is should-be-prosecuted child neglect no matter how resourceful the child or whether things work out okay. While Lenore will occasionally post some less than ideal situations that work out okay, I’ve never known her to support child neglect.

  33. Papilio September 15, 2013 at 4:37 pm #

    It’s hard enough as it is for ‘some’ people to understand the difference between free-range kids and neglected kids – no need to make things even fuzzier…

  34. JP Merzetti September 15, 2013 at 5:50 pm #

    A remarkable and heartening story – proving once again the resiliency, common sense and intelligence of children.
    It was of course, up to you to decide how capable she was of handling the mandate, and it appears she came through with flying colors.
    One can only imagine how this will pay off a little later in life…how priceless is that opportunity, and how necessary it is for the well-being and development of children.
    Bravo!

  35. Katie September 15, 2013 at 6:08 pm #

    @those saying it’s a money thing

    Not all upper-middle class or wealthy mom’s helicopter over there kids, just because they can. Granted some certainly do, but plenty particularly some of the more urban mom’s don’t.

  36. lihtox September 15, 2013 at 8:50 pm #

    @Donna: I didn’t make myself clear (partly because I had to submit it before my toddler could “help”). Consider a story where a 9-year-old gets lost in the woods for three days, but is eventually discovered because he signalled an airplane, or he’s built himself a shelter, or whatever. If this happened, that would be a *great* story to post here, to say “See how clever kids can be!”, even though we all know that it’s not good for people to get lost in the woods, and that the kid had been lucky to make it out okay.

  37. lora September 16, 2013 at 8:04 am #

    Did she swim in the pool without a lifeguard? That’s the only part of this that freaks me out.

  38. Kay September 16, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    This is a beautiful story.

    No, it is NOT neglect when the parents are keeping tabs on her, she is capable of using her cell phone. The mom said they work ten minutes away! She probably lives in a state when there are NO LAWS that dictate how old a child must be in order to stay home alone. This isn’t a CPS case unless someone (cue busybody neighbor) wants to get nasty about it, like we’ve seen in other countless stories on here! A case can be argued as neglect because that is the mentality of society today! The girl had her wits about her, was fed, sheltered, and safe!

  39. Donna September 16, 2013 at 12:25 pm #

    Kay, nobody said that THIS is a case of neglect. Several said that they first believed that this was going to be a story about an 8 year old left home all alone – as in 24/7 with parents elsewhere – for 3 months and some of us said THAT would be neglect and not something free range kids should support.

  40. Kay September 16, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

    Sorry for the misunderstanding, Donna. Good to hear!

  41. BMS September 17, 2013 at 9:23 am #

    I too ‘abandoned’ my sons for much of the summer. They went to two weeks of resident camp. For the rest of the time, they hung out at home (they are 11 and 13). They played video games. They built things in the backyard. They walked to the train station, by themselves, to meet some friends and their friends’ mom for a trip to a museum. They went for ice cream with buddies. They experimented on ants. If I didn’t have anything going on Fridays, we went places together, and my husband either made sure he fixed them breakfast before he left or left homemade muffins for them. Lunch was whatever they made for themselves. Result: everyone was happier. They didn’t need to get woken up at the crack of dawn to get to a day camp, I didn’t have to listen to them whining about how they hated day camp, they had fun, and no issues arose. We’ll probably do more of the same next summer (except more time at resident camp to earn more Boy Scout merit badges!)

  42. Hugo S. Cunningham September 17, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    !
    @Stevie–

    Your comment made me think of an episode in Booth Tarkington’s Penrod series, from an society with great economic inequality, but less social deference to the undeserving.

    http://www.classicreader.com/book/1207/16/

    You can skip ahead to the first mention of “Rena Magsworth.”

    Rich boy Roderick Magsworth Bitts has been too sheltered to understand that the new admiration from his previously un-impressed middle-class neighbor kids might have a downside…

    The episode continues in the next chapter.
    http://www.classicreader.com/book/1207/17/

    Don’t miss the deliberation and verdict of the middle-class parents at the end.