OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Cops Threaten Mom for Letting Son Play Outside

Hi Readers! This mom, Kimberlee Morrison of kimleeisawesome, needs a pep talk from all of us — and perhaps some legal advice. You’ll see why. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been warned. Literally. By the police. My son left the park, went to El Pollo Loco and asked for water. A stranger asked him if he was hungry, the Boy, thinking the guy was being nice, said sure. The guy bought him some food — and called the police.

The police called me and insisted it was not safe for me to let my 8-year-old “wander the streets alone.” They hit me with the normal fear tactics: He could have been hit by a car, he could have been kidnapped. What if he had wandered off somewhere else and the stranger hadn’t been nice enough to involve the authorities?

To which I countered that there is no law against letting my son go to the park, and that the only problem right now is that the supposedly nice person HAD involved the authorities, even though my son was fine. My son was not lost, he wasn’t injured, he wasn’t afraid, he was just thirsty. I was told that since others thought something was wrong, I should too. Now I’m questioning my Free-Range philosophy.

By law, he is old enough to be alone, but the police insisted that the only reason I wasn’t going to jail is because they had decided it wasn’t necessary. They did, however ask to see where we lived, which I agreed to in the spirit of being cooperative.

Now we’re a little shaken up here, mostly by the threat of, “I could take you to jail right now,” and the fear that the Boy might not be allowed to go to the park anymore without me hovering. None of the other kids in our community are allowed outside the gate. So what do I do? Keep him locked inside? Hover? I want to be Free-Range, but not at the risk of my son being thrown into the system because of it.
.
Oh, yeah, I asked what age would be appropriate for him to go to the park and was told 13 or 14. So he has to be a teenager before he’s allowed to navigate the world without me at his side.
.
I’m so sad. Kids are supposed to be able to go outside and play. But everyone is so afraid. I don’t know what to do. I could use a pep talk right now, and some guidance. – Kimberlee
.
Dear Kimberlee: I’m shaken up, too. My blood curdles when the authorities use their own fears and prejudices to decide what is “good parenting,” or even “safe,” rather than consulting the law OR the actual statistics, which show we are living in very safe times. (Crime has been going down for 16 years and is now back at the level of 1974. It was higher in the ’70s and ’80s, when most of today’s parents — and cops — were growing up.)
.
The idea of curbing your son’s happy, normal childhood and locking him inside for the next five years is tragic. It’s ironic, too, considering that cops are supposed to MAKE the town safe, not tell people, “We can’t! Just stay inside.”
.
I know, that beyond this site, many folks would say, “The boy CAN go outside! She just has to supervise him.” But since when do adults spend from 3-6 p.m. outside, then come in for dinner, and then head outside again? And spend all day Saturdays outside? And Sundays? A summers? The idea that parents should be in the same place as their 8-year-old children all the time is a new one, born of unreasonable fear.
.
So what should this mom do?
.
Well, I’d certainly arm my son with a note from me that says I approve of him being outside, and that he knows how to contact me, and you, concerned stranger, can, too.  Then I’d include my phone number. As in my Free-Range Kids membership card (you can find it in my book), I’d add some statistics about things like the fact he’d be more in danger IN MY CAR than in the park.  And I guess I’d go Xerox any local ordinances that say a child of his age can legally be outside, unsupervised.
.
Then again, I actually did that when my younger son was 10 and taking a commuter train. I gave him a phone, I printed out the Transit Authority’s home page that said children age 8 and up are allowed to travel unaccompanied, and I still got a call from the police after the conductor felt “nervous” about seeing a boy traveling alone and called the cops. They ended up letting my son go (after asking me the inevitable, “What if some guys had tried to abduct him?”), but the whole thing was unsettling. And who wants the threat of legal action going any further?
.
After that episode, we continued to allow our son to travel solo, but it became a little nerve-wracking. And Kimberlee had an even closer police encounter regarding an even more everyday activity: playing. I’d like the cops to think about what the parks are for if NOT for kids to play? No wonder so many playgrounds are empty!
.
So my suggestion, heart-in-mouth, Kim, is to let your son go back outside. If he can find a friend to go with him, so much the better. If you want to give him a phone so he can contact you, I guess that might make some sense (even though, if he’s anything like my own sons, then he’ll spend at least part of his outdoor time fiddling with the phone).
.
Our Free-Range goal, when you get right down to it, is to change this terrified society. I am pretty terrified of the authorities myself. But I am really terrified of a society that keeps children locked inside — just like the kidnappers it is obsessed by — for no reason other than misplaced fear.
.
I wish you and your son everything good. And, for what it’s worth, I am in your corner and will support you whatever way I can, if and when you need it. But I sure hope you don’t. — Lenore

Sorry, comments and trackbacks have now been closed.