See an Unsupervised Kid? Reach Out Instead of Dialing 911

Hi Readers! This note comes to us from Nandini Ramakrishna, who was raised Free-Range in India and now lives in Phoenix, AZ. She writes the blog Cactus Chronicles. and tweets at CactusChron. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Four years ago, I was involved in an incident where the state questioned my competence as a parent. After two stressful months, the charge of neglect  was dropped. I quickly pushed aside memories of this incident, until I read some distressing posts here about Free-Range parents misjudged as negligent. Those led me to write about my ordeal.

I joined the Free-Range parenting network many months after the event had ended. Even so, I got much solace from knowing that there are many parents who do not view lower vigilance levels as indications of negligence, nor hyper-vigilance as the gold standard. This validation from Free-Range Kids was invaluable, because when your parenting skills are scrutinized and judged by people, it shakes you to the core.

Today, my uber-vigilance over my kids is not the result of fears of abduction, but from the awareness that the public views round-the-clock vigilance as the norm. Having been bitten once, I now do as the Romans do.  However, while complying to avert imaginary dangers, my mind is aware of the real dangers:

Within one generation we have already managed to trigger tectonic shifts in our sense of security. We used to derive our sense of security from intangible powers – from our inner confidence, from the feeling of belonging in a community and faith in it. Now we have externalized our sense of security into the purely tangible: It has morphed into the ubiquitous devices that rule our lives – cell phones, security cameras, gates, etc.

We used to think we had a responsibility towards our children and others’. Now, whenever we see children not perpetually supervised, we reach for our cell-phones and turn into appendages of the police state. We accuse other parents of being unfit, forgetting that we are being remiss in not looking out for each other’s children.

Our sense of purpose too, has changed. We no longer value spontaneous, unsupervised play.  Instead, we prefer scheduled activities that purport to foster intelligence and talent. But a few decades ago we honed our own intelligence and talents by exploring our environment on our own child-like terms: We climbed trees and scaled walls. We played alone in parks and on streets. We made spur-of-the-moment decisions to convene in somebody’s house — decisions not pre-arranged by our parents.

We are bringing up our children on a corrosive diet of fear: fear of strangers, fear of the unknown, and fear of failure. We overlook statistics that confirm we live in safer times now than ever before. We ignore research showing that experience with handling failure and obstacles early in life is essential to building self-confidence.

With constant vigilance and parental intervention, how will our children learn to negotiate small and sudden changes that life is bound to throw their way? How will they learn to deal with the catastrophic changes that life sometimes brings our way? In short: How will they grow up?

Thanks — Nardini

Call on your compassion, not the cops.

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44 Responses to See an Unsupervised Kid? Reach Out Instead of Dialing 911

  1. Natalie April 22, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    I always thought the worry was death or heat injury. Which does happen to babies/toddlers left in cars, and isnt dependent on statistics but temperature and time.
    Prohibiting people from leaving babies/toddlers in the car removes that threat. I’m surprised they were harping on kidnapping. It’s heat injury and death that people should worry about. Especially in Phoenix.

  2. LRH April 22, 2013 at 8:02 am #

    “Having been bitten once, I now do as the Romans do.” I do NOT mean this to be ugly, I promise, but that was your first mistake. I know we often-times say “having your kids at home trumps free-range,” (well most people here say that) but at the same time, by assuming this stance, you’re only making it that much harder for you & others to push back from the insanity you’ve rightly observed. The proper response, I feel, is to fight back.

    Do like the woman in La Porte TX did last September, a neighbor called the police on her for “neglect,” she was actually arrested but released and exonerated. Her retort? She sued the police department, the police officer by name AND the neighbor for false arrest. (How she found out who called I don’t know.) I know we often-times complain about our culture suing for everything & how it causes us to “think like lawyers” with some things (removing playground equipment from the park etc), but that was a case where I not only thought it appropriate, but great. I applaud that woman.

    I know we aren’t all the same, but I think THAT should be your stance. How are you really that child’s parent at all if you have to edit your parenting style away from something perfectly legal & appropriate just because others don’t agree with you? Who cares what they think. Some things are worth fighting for, and i would say this is one of them.


  3. Warren April 22, 2013 at 8:14 am #

    This is all too true. Unfortunately, it is only going to get worse. Parents will not challenge the system, either out of fear or financial reasons. Even in here many of the parents have repeatedly stated they would not challenge the system, because it meant putting their kids in the middle, just to prove you are right. And the fear that the off chance that they may lose their child.

    So as parents, you are beat down by a system that for the most part not many will challenge. Even when they do challenge, the court of public opinion has already convicted them, no matter what the outcome.

    No accountability for ruining the lives of innocent people, gives the system all the power, with none of the responsibility. The systems in place to protect children need to be torn down and rebuilt. They are well past the point of just being able to tweek a few things to make it effective.

  4. AW13 April 22, 2013 at 8:23 am #

    “We used to think we had a responsibility towards our children and others’. Now, whenever we see children not perpetually supervised, we reach for our cell-phones and turn into appendages of the police state. We accuse other parents of being unfit, forgetting that we are being remiss in not looking out for each other’s children.”

    I’ve been thinking this for a long time now, but have not been able to put it into words this eloquently. Thank you.

    And…some good news: ever since we’ve moved in, I’ve allowed kiddo to ride his bike out in front. Sometimes I’m out there, sometimes I’m not. He’s also played with the grandkids of the neighbors down the street and the girls a few doors down, tearing up and down the sidewalk and through the yards. Yesterday, for the first time, I saw the kids next door out and about. Later on, the little neighbor boy came out, by himself, to play with my son. I haven’t seen these kids at all – except to hustle from the house to the car and back again – since we moved in about 9 mos. ago. I made it a point to chat with the mom for a few seconds, when I saw her, as I make it a point to chat with or at least wave to all the neighbors. So we’re building a community here, a little at a time!

  5. gap.runner April 22, 2013 at 8:52 am #

    Truth really is stranger than fiction.

    If Child Protective Services was called for every unsupervised child in Germany, they would spend all of their time prosecuting the unsupervised children’s parents while kids who really were abused or neglected are ignored.

    We have scheduled activities for kids here in Germany, but kids only do one or two of them at the most. The rest of the non-study or school time is spent doing free, unsupervised play. On weekend mornings or after school my son and his friends are on the phone making plans to go to the pool or play at a park. They make their own rules for 3-on-3 baseball, football, or soccer. He is basically having the same type of childhood that I had.

    It is also common to see kids riding buses or trains by themselves here. My son rode the bus a lot last summer because the local transit company let local students under 16 ride for free. Even though riding his bike would have been faster to get to and from some places, it was a good experience for him to take the bus. When he goes to university in another city he will know how to use the public transportation.

    I never understood the philosophy of doing everything for your child until he turns 18, then sending him off to college without any life skills. I have even read several articles about how parents in the States now accompany their college graduate children on job interviews. When do parents expect kids to grow up and do things on their own?

  6. pentamom April 22, 2013 at 10:00 am #

    gap.runner’s comment rang a bell for me. In my (admittedly limited) experience, abused and neglected kids are usually not that far out of sight of their parents, it’s just that their parents do not act appropriately toward them. They might be RIGHT THERE WITH THEM, hitting them, not providing them medical care, keeping them clean, feeding them properly. Abuse and neglect is not about being left in the car while mom goes to pay for gas, or about being allowed to go to the park when you’re 8, or about being allowed to do normal things that might get you a skinned knee or even a broken arm. It’s rarely about physical proximity or the ability for the parent to physically see the child, or about too much freedom of movement, it’s about what the parent is doing or NOT doing while in the child’s presence. (You probably hear the most about the cases where it’s about lack of proximity, such as leaving three kids under six home while somebody goes to the bar, because those things are non-subjective enough to be crimes. The kind of abuse and neglect that results in a legitimate CPS intervention without an immediate arrest, though, is usually more subjective and happens with one or both parents/parent figures right there all the time.) To conflate the two is just to completely miss what abuse and neglect really are.

  7. Silver Fang April 22, 2013 at 10:14 am #

    Don’t do what the Romans do! Send your kid outside alone with a letter in their pocket that says they are a proud Free Range kid! Talk with other parents on your block and spread the word about the Free Range lifestyle.

  8. Melanie April 22, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    Unfortunately, we’ve instilled such a fear of others into our children that we can’t reach out to them, either- in my residential neighborhood this winter, I came across a 13ish-year-old girl walking by herself after dark in shorts in a t-shirt. It was barely over 30 degrees and she was clearly cold. I asked her if she needed a ride, but she declined. I then offered to loan her my cell phone to call some one, but she was clearly uncomfortable with that idea, too, so I had to let it go and drive home. I really can’t make the assumption of abuse/neglect- many kids don’t have the sense to take a jacket to school, and she had probably visited a friend afterward and had to take herself home. But really, I don’t know what she thought I was going to do to her. Are 32-year-old women the new stranger-danger?

  9. Warren April 22, 2013 at 10:41 am #

    “Do what the Roman’s do.”?

    How far back are we going, because back when they were Romans, as soon as a boy could hold a sword, they taught them how to hold a shield.

    Have to stop living in fear of busybody adults. Have to stop worrying about what others think. Be the parent, that you want to be, and to hell with the rest.

    My kids, my rules, my authority. You dont like the way I parent, sucks to be you. Do not like seeing my kids out playing by themselves, then do not look at them. If you do not like seeing my kids on the bus by themselves, then get off and take another bus. But the most important thing is, unless my kids are causing you or your property harm, leave them alone. It is really that simple.

    I have said it before. Yes there is the whole ….it takes a village………..thing. But a good village knows when to get involved and when to keep thier mouth shut.

  10. Lisa April 22, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    Melanie, it doesn’t sound that either you or the teen did anything wrong. My daughter is free-range, but I would expect her to decline a ride home too. Hopefully the girl was polite about it, but honestly, the message I’ve given my own kid is that *talking* to strangers is not dangerous, but that she should never *go* anywhere with someone she doesn’t know. She’s allowed to accept a ride only from people that she and I both know. As for using the phone, my guess would be that she had either already called someone, or knew that if she did call and ask a parent for a ride because she was cold, the answer would be “no”. I don’t know why, but it seems teens are intent on dressing inappropriately for the weather, and I can see her being uncomfortable with the offer of using a phone to call someone for a ride because she knew she was cold as a result of her own poor choice.

  11. Papilio April 22, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    “Do as the Romans do”

    Maybe someone from Italy can tell us what the Romans nowadays do, exactly? They can’t do more hovering than hysterical Americans, so it might be not so bad 😀

  12. pentamom April 22, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

    It comes from the expression, “When in Rome, do what the Romans do,” a paraphrase of St. Augustine’s advice to a bishop who was would be visiting among people who observed different Christian practices. She’s not literally talking about acting like a Roman, she’s talking about fitting in with your surroundings to get by.

  13. pentamom April 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm #

    Or I should say, she is “literally” talking about acting like an actual Roman, but she does not intend it literally.

    And Warren, I don’t think you have to go back at all to find Romans, you just have to go to Italy.

  14. Warren April 22, 2013 at 12:50 pm #

    It was a joke. Sheesh, where has everyone’s sense of humour gone?

  15. Captain America April 22, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    As a child, I lived and breathed free, unsupervised neighborhood activities. Tremendously valuable to my development, and I’m passing this eleemosynary methodology onward to the next generation.

  16. pentamom April 22, 2013 at 1:20 pm #

    I wasn’t sure, Warren. Sorry.

  17. Warren April 22, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

    No problem pentamom. But when you think about it, back a few centuries Roman sons were training with swords and shields, and today kids of the same age are being arrested for wearing a Tshirt with the picture of a gun on them.

  18. Kerry April 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm #

    My husband and I recently let our five year old stay in the car while we did groceries. She was exhausted and wanted to stay in her carseat and play on my phone (which she knows how to use if she needs me). We parked immediately outside the store (we could look out the window and see her), and are in a very safe neighbourhood.

    My husband came out twice to check on her, and two women were standing near our car smoking, and giving him a bit of an evil eye as he did so. We were gone a total of about 15 minutes, and sure enough, when we came out with our groceries, a police officer had just arrived. Yep, the smokers called us in.

    I have to admit that I almost enjoyed my conversation with him. He had no children, and was clearly just reciting the “rules” as he had been taught. I smiled (which he didn’t like) as I told him that yes, I know that a car can be stolen in less than a minute, but I also know that statistically, the likelihood of this happening immediately outside my grocery store, in my neighbourhood, with my neighbours passing by constantly, with my car doors locked, my daughter with a phone, my husband checking on her regularly, and two women standing right in front of the car, was pretty much nil. And that I choose to believe she is safe. I felt liberated, informed, and thoughtful. I had made a decision NOT to expect the worst.

    He just couldn’t get his head around it. And the two women stood there glaring and self-righteous, and I wondered to myself whether they’ve ever considered the danger they put their kids in when they smoke …. but that’s another story.

    Luckily, the threat of child services was removed, and he let us go on with our day…. but this was an important day for me, taking a very intentional stand against the norm and perhaps beginning this movement in my community….

    Lenore, I’ve meant to email this story to you for awhile now – this is Kerry in Vancouver, and I wanted to thank you for empowering me that day. :)

  19. Papilio April 22, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    @Pentamom: Even I know that expression, but thanks for the extra info :-)
    But when you DO take it literally (and 21st century), it might be a good idea. So it was kind of half a joke I suppose…

  20. Emily April 22, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

    I forgot to ask before, is anyone here a fan of “Calvin and Hobbes?” In that comic series, six-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger, Hobbes (who Calvin sees as a real tiger) engage in all kinds of free-range adventures, but their favourite was a game called “Calvinball.” The rules of Calvinball are very simple–you make them up as you go along. Therefore, failure doesn’t really happen with Calvinball–if you get stuck, you make up a new rule to get unstuck. This stands out in my mind, because the series shows Calvin not really fitting in at school, or at Boy Scouts (so, the Boy Scouts storyline is gradually phased out), and one particular storyline shows Calvin being brow-beaten into joining the school baseball team, because Moe the bully calls him a “sissy” when he says he doesn’t want to. In the end, Calvin doesn’t understand the rules of organized baseball, and gets a bloody nose while practicing in the yard with his dad, and when his teammates witness his ineptitude, they’re absolutely EVIL to him, and the coach doesn’t say a word, except to call Calvin a “quitter” when he says he doesn’t want to play anymore. So, I think unstructured play is especially valuable to kids who aren’t suited for organized activities, because it helps them find themselves on their own time, and their own terms, while their “joiner” peers may find themselves instead on the soccer field, in the karate dojo, at band or choir practice, or in the Girl Guide hall. If you take that away from kids, then a lot of the “Calvins” of the world will grow up feeling like they aren’t really good at anything, when they may just be introverted, creative spirits who are best left to their own devices.

  21. pentamom April 22, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Sure, Warren, you don’t have to go all the way back to the Romans — boys were still being sent to sea at 11 or 12 to train as officers in the Napoleonic Wars.

  22. Katie April 22, 2013 at 4:07 pm #

    It’s far less dangerous to leave a kid sleeping in a car, than it is to actually be driving around in a car particularly with all the gas guzzling tanks being driven by the helicopter mom’s.

    There are many good points in this post. I went over and read some of the blog linked to and enjoyed it.

    I also wanted to comment on the structured activity thing. Yeah it is totally out of control. I had a friend of my husbands say they wanted to hang out which someone turned into they wanted to bring their kids over to my place so my husband could teach the kids wrestling as apparently even an organized wrestling practice is to risky for these kids. I said hell no you won’t in my living room. We can take the kids to the park. They can even go wrestle in the gym. But why must a hangout session involving their kids turn into a formal activity? Can’t the kids just play.

  23. K April 22, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

    Just this past weekend – I was at a public aquarium. In the rest room, I heard a little girl get help using a stall and washing her hands. Then, her mother asked her to come back into the stall so that that mother could use it (reasonable). This little tot (two or three, I think), didn’t want to. She said “mama, I don’t need to use it again”.

    Her mother responded, “But, you have to come in with me – or someone will STEAL you”.

    Way to instill confidence and indepdendence in your kid, lady… why didn’t she just say that she’d be worried if her child wandered away?

  24. Papilio April 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    Why give a reason at all to a three-year-old? Just stay here, period.

  25. anonymous this time April 22, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

    “Call on your compassion, not on the cops.”

    Words to live by.

    Thanks, Lenore.

  26. Captain America April 22, 2013 at 6:53 pm #

    @Kerry. . . having once been a single young male, I can attest that you putting a five year old in your car makes that car MUCH less valuable and theft-worthy!

  27. Warren April 22, 2013 at 7:13 pm #

    The whole hysteria of car thiefs taking a car with a child in it is insane. Most car thiefs are pro’s and the last thing they want is a child in the car, the resulting Amber Alert, and then the kidnapping conviction. They will risk the slap on the wrist for the car, but they most certainly will not want kidnapping tacked on.

    The most cold hearted of car thieves would most likely take the seat out and leave the child there, than take the child with them.

    In reality, they won’t touch a car with a kid in it.

  28. Caleb April 22, 2013 at 8:09 pm #

    Wow! This is a powerful and wonderful sentence,

    “Now, whenever we see children not perpetually supervised, we reach for our cell-phones and turn into appendages of the police state.”

  29. Sue Luttner April 22, 2013 at 9:39 pm #

    Thank you, Nardini, for a clear-eyed and compelling statement.

    Your memories describe my own childhood, not in India but in southeast Los Angeles:

    “But a few decades ago we honed our own intelligence and talents by exploring our environment on our own child-like terms: We climbed trees and scaled walls. We played alone in parks and on streets. We made spur-of-the-moment decisions to convene in somebody’s house — decisions not pre-arranged by our parents.”

    My unfortunate sons have never known the joy of the itinerant neighborhood kid-world.

  30. Danielle Meitiv April 23, 2013 at 9:30 am #

    Two years ago my husband and I were late to pick up my 6.5 year-old son from his karate lesson in Northwest Washington, DC. He was in a synagogue that was filled with people so we weren’t worried but by the time we got there he was gone.

    We panicked for a moment then realized he’d probably decided to take himself home. We walk to synagogue each week so he knew that he knew the way.

    My husband was about to leave the synagogue to drive the route when a police car pulled up with my son in the backseat. He had indeed started to walk home and had been stopped by a “concerned” adult. He told her the story and that he was walking home. Instead of inviting him in or even calling us – HIS PARENTS! – she called the police.

    The “incident” was reported to DC’s children’s services. Even though we live just over the Maryland border the whole family had to report to their downtown headquarters to confirm that our kid wasn’t being neglected or some other such nonsense. ALL because a smart, competent 6.5 year old decided to walk home and some idiot adult couldn’t think of anything more productive to do than to call the cops.

    PS – My son thought it was great fun to ride in the police car and whenever we walk past the corner where the cops picked up my son we joke that that’s where “the law caught up with him.”

  31. Jessica April 23, 2013 at 10:03 am #

    Can I get the opinion of the free-range kid community on this one?

    I love that kids on my street are always outside, playing on bikes and fighting off imaginary monsters with sticks. I love that I can look out of my window and watch the ongoing dramas of the under-ten set.

    But here’s the thing: My neighbor’s just-turned-three year old twins keeping turning up unsupervised on my porch. Sometimes, it’s cold, and they don’t have pants. One time, one of them was naked. I’ve got a two year old, so I’m sympathetic toward small children’s nudist tendencies. But, still, that’s not cool. Non-verbal three year olds shouldn’t be wandering unsupervised.

    When it happens, I take them by the hand and lead them back home. Twice, no one answered when I pounded on the door, and I eventually had walk inside with the kids and starting calling, “Hey, it’s Jessica from next door! I have your kids!”

    I support free-ranging kids, but I doubt any free-ranging advocate is going to think this is a good idea. But what should I do here? It makes me feel uneasy.

  32. anonymous this time April 23, 2013 at 11:18 am #

    Hey Jessica,

    How about this: Ask the mom if she’d like to have coffee at your place sometime soon. If she is willing, after some warm-up chit-chat, you could say, “I want to talk about something, but I want to talk about it in a way that won’t sound at all like judgement, so if it sounds like judgement, please stop me, and I’ll try again.”

    If she’s willing to listen, you could start with your vulnerability: “This is really awkward for me. I feel so nervous! I mean, I know that I’m coming from a place of caring, but still it is hard to start. Okay. Deep breath.”

    Then you can give this woman a clear, objective observation of what you saw or heard that triggered concern for you. Avoid words like “always,” “never,” and “most times.” Just pick one moment, freeze it, and present it to her as “just the facts, Ma’am.” Maybe it would be this: “Last Tuesday, Sandy and Sally knocked on my door at about 2:30. Sandy was wearing a t-shirt and underwear, and said, ‘I’m cold.'”

    Continue with what it is that you care about and want to see more of in this situation. “I guess I felt uneasy and concerned, because I really just want to know there is care and comfort for these kids.”

    You might state your intention again: “Is this sounding like judgment, or can you hear my concern being about care and comfort?”

    Or you could just ask what is going on for her: “When you hear me say this, I’m wondering what is going on for you. It’s a little scary for me to say all of this to you, I’d love to know how you’re hearing it.”

    Or you could just call the cops. 😉

  33. EricS April 23, 2013 at 11:19 am #

    It’s so ironic (and even unjust), that the people with holier than thou attitudes, who report every incident to the authorities because THEY feel it’s wrong, are the one that are actually “ruining” their childrens’ lives. By instilling fear and paranoia. Giving them false senses of security and confidence. Teaching them to be spoiled, because god forbid, their children feel any form of discipline or correction. These are forms of neglect compared to natural child rearing. And when I say “natural”, I’m referring to the how children have always been raised since the dawn of man, up to the time when parents started succumbing to fear and raising their children in that state. Today’s parenting mentality is not natural. It’s social and media driven. Perpetuated by marketing companies and ignorant authorities.

    I say fight and stand up for what we believe to be true. What is, and not what people have been lead to believe in the last 15-20 years. No laws are being broken. But our civil liberties have. Just like helicopter parents have selective fearing, so do authorities have selective judging. All based on THEIR opinions. No facts, no specifics, no concrete evidence. Just because they feel and say so. It’s like putting someone who is deathly afraid of dogs in charge of the SPCA.

  34. EricS April 23, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    @Jessica: For one thing, your neighbor isn’t “Free-Range”, that’s neglect. I’m pretty certain most of us here would never let our under 5 run off on their own (half clothed or naked), and not know where they have gone to. I’m guessing this by what you said about them not answering their door after you banged on it.

    But before sicking the CPS on them, I would have a cordial discussion with them. Tell them what has transpired in recent time, and voice your concerns. Not judgmentally, but objectively. Find out if they are aware that their twins are coming over and playing on your porch half clothed or sometimes naked. That you understand kids will be kids, and that you don’t even mind keeping an eye on them. But there may be other neighbors who aren’t as understanding, and will call the authorities on them. But you first have to establish their mentality towards the situation, and the condition of their family. Sometimes things aren’t all what they seem to be, and sometimes when you see an apple, it’s really just an apple. Let common sense and logic guide you. As neighbors and a community, we aren’t here to persecute each other. We are here to watch out for one another. Even if it means from themselves. Keep it in the community, until it goes beyond the community and authorities do really need to step in.

  35. Lisa April 23, 2013 at 1:00 pm #

    Yes, I would definitely talk to them first… it *could* be that their kids have, unbeknownst to them, figured out how to unlock the front door and are coming over to your house when the parents think they’re playing in another room! My daughter never left the house without permission, but I know people whose kids *did*… and twins could be egging each other on, and feel braver because there are two of them. And I don’t always answer my door, especially if I’m taking a nap, in the basement doing laundry, etc. They might be horrified and embarrassed, and have a good talking-to with their kids (with some consequences thrown in for good measure!) Or they could be neglecting their kids, and you might end up feeling the need to report them to CPS. Either way, no matter how free-range one is, I doubt anyone would think this is ok!

  36. Liz L April 23, 2013 at 2:50 pm #

    I consider myself outside the social norms, have stood up to authority since I was a teenager, and don’t really care what others think; however, I have not found a seemless transition into free-range parenting. I have a 6 yr old and an 8 yr old who are practicing being unsupervised. We live in a very safe neighborhood, many people know each other, kids are required to walk or bike to school if they live within 1.5 miles, etc. This spring I have started leaving them home alone for short errands (at most an hour), let them go to one o fthe nearby parks (within a mile or so) by themselves, and generally “go outside and play, be back in a couple of hours” kind of thing. These activities may seem pedestrian to all of you, but they are not without some hesitation on my part. I am as free-range thinking as it gets, but acting on unsupervised activites is harder than I thought.

    This just to say thanks for the statistics, the letters, and the blog posts. I feel fully armed with information when I am challenged by my parenting choices.

  37. Amanda Matthews April 23, 2013 at 4:57 pm #

    “I’m pretty certain most of us here would never let our under 5 run off on their own (half clothed or naked), and not know where they have gone to.”

    Now I agree they shouldn’t be naked, but why the assumption that their mom doesn’t know where they are?

    I’d let my 3 year old go to a neighbor’s house if there were any kids around his age that he could play with. I might check occasionally from a window, but I’d see nothing wrong with a mentally capable (by the parent’s judgement) 3 year old going to a neighbor’s house. (Though if they can’t keep their pants on, I personally would consider that not mentally capable of going to the neighbor’s house. But maybe they are putting their pants back on before mom notices.)

    Since the only kids around my 3 year old’s age are across the street with parents that don’t like us for some reason (as they take their kids inside every time my kids come out or try to talk to them in passing), he plays in our back yard “unsupervised” (with his older siblings running around the neighborhood, occasionally running through the back yard, and me a few feet away in the house). When he was younger he hated wearing pants, and since we did elimination communication, much of the time while inside I didn’t force him to wear pants. I know that many people allow this outside too (in their own yards), and that it wouldn’t be too unlikely that a 3 year old would slip over to a neighbor’s porch.

    (Though my 3 year old isn’t nonverbal… nonverbal 3 year olds might be concerning to me, unless they seem to be showing cryptophasia…)

    Personally my reaction would be to let my 2 year old play with them when they’re dressed, and to tell them “Johnny can’t play right now” or “Johnny can’t come out until you put some clothes on” when needed. And adding on “go home” if they don’t get the picture. If they continue to stand on your porch naked after being told to go home, then I would tell their mother that if they continue to do that, you will call the police – not for neglect reasons, but for trespassing reasons. At least, that would be my reaction.

    If they’re nonverbal there’s no way to know if they are cold really… they may be naked or pantsless in the cold, but kids feel the cold differently than adults do. Now if you see the mom putting them out on the porch of their own house, naked in the cold, and they bang on the door without being let in… that would be abuse. But just the fact that they are outside does not mean anything imo. I don’t see why this has to be looked at from a neglect angle rather than simply a “kids coming over wanting to play with your kids… and not yet knowing your family’s boundaries or the ages you feel it’s appropriate” angle.

  38. Lisa April 23, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

    @Amanda, while I can see your point, I don’t think I’d let my 3 year old go to a neighbor’s house uninvited. But then, it used to drive me crazy when my daughter’s half-sister’s friends (middle school at the time) would show up uninvited… sometimes at 9pm. I couldn’t really punish HER for it, since she would never have done that and she truly hadn’t invited them. But it drove me crazy all the same. My 10 year old often goes to friends’ houses to play, and sometimes it is spontaneous… but she calls first to see if they are available, and then unless a parent *invites* the other kid over, they go play elsewhere.
    The thing that really stood out as concerning, though, was noone answered the door when the kids were brought home. If I did allow a child that young out in the neighborhood (not the same as being allowed to play in their own yard), I think I’d be pretty aware of where they were, and I would answer if the doorbell rang. I assume that parents not answering meant that they didn’t know the kids were out, since most people’s 3 year olds don’t have house keys!

  39. Amanda Matthews April 23, 2013 at 5:51 pm #

    I didn’t even realize that drove some people crazy! I did not know the phone numbers of any of the other kids in my neighborhood as a kid. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that calling each other on the phone was a thing. And even then it was more to organize things like who would give us a ride somewhere. Just going outside or to the other’s house on a regular basis did not warrant a call first.

    My oldest (12) is the only one that calls his friends on the phone. My other kids don’t even know the phone numbers of their friends. My 6 year old talks to some friends on xbox live, but doesn’t know their phone numbers, and the only time they use that to discuss coming over beforehand, is the rare times when they both happen to be on xbox live at the same time and both decide they want to go outside and play. Other than that, they just come over/go over unannounced, and discuss if they can come out and play, or if they can come play inside, or go to the other kid’s house.

    We don’t have a landline, and I don’t want my kids hogging up my cellphone (my oldest has his own)… heck I don’t even want my kids’ friends having my cellphone number. I wouldn’t expect my 3 year old to be able to remember and call a friend’s number anyway, so of course I would have to be the go-between, which I don’t want to do. But I think it would be fine for my 3 year old to have some friends (not “friends” where I am friends with the other kid’s mom and they are just friends by association) if he could find some.

    *shrug* Like I said, just a case of not understanding the family’s boundaries.

    The door was unlocked if she went in. I often shut my door when the kids are outside. If I was in the bathroom or busy in the kitchen and I didn’t hear a voice I recognized, I’d probably think it was the kids playing around or one of their friends that didn’t realize they’re around back yet.

  40. Jenna K. April 25, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    This is interesting. It’s rarely occurred to me to call the police when I see a child unattended. If they look like they are lost or need help, I help them. If they look like they know what they’re doing, I leave them alone, unless they are really young (like under five). Maybe it’s because my kids are free range and our neighborhood is a pretty free range neighborhood (we have kids as young as two who play outside without adults present–with older kids), but it’s not a first reaction of mine to assume that a parent is negligent if I see a child out alone. I’ve seen kids around the ages of eight and nine riding their bikes to the nearby McDonald’s and I applaud it. I’m just grateful that I live where I live, even though there is a lot I hate about where I live. I do love that my kids can have a free range childhood and most other adults around here are like me and let them have it.

  41. JP April 25, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Ah Nardini, so well-written it left me almost (but not quite) speechless.
    Seems to me in bygone eras neighbors were just as nosy, and societal “norms” were just as ferociously applied….but I think the shift in modern times is something different. We are, unfortunately, buffeted about by pretty brutal newthink (and its apologetic handmaidens and clueless footmen.)

    When one considers the rest of our sad misadventures in the modern era, it is not surprising to discover that along with losing control over many other aspects of our political economy, we have lost control over the right to raise kids as we see fit.
    Have we forgotten how to establish a common consensus of how this is done? It would seem so.

    My father (and other fathers along with him) thought nothing of allowing a bunch of jousting brats to spin like dirvishes in the backs of station wagons (unbelted) while being driven hither and yon.
    Did that make him (or others) a particular danger to blessed childhood? Not a bit of it. His secret? He drove accordingly. Which meant – carefully.

    I laugh heartily along with my peers about this now. You see – we all survived, quite nicely.
    As we so survived from divers hordes of parental “ignorance” back in that latter era. Why?
    Short answer: we were allowed to. By the state, the church, and the whole damned polity in all its blessed magnificence. Wondrous stuff, that.
    Said “polity” has taken a righteously malignant shift.

    You speak of submission to it. No doubt. It is a murderous beast, after all.
    I thank all the gods and goddesses that I somehow managed to raise my brood *before* all this nonsense started. Yes, I do indeed feel that lucky.

    With all due arrogance, I speak highly of the common sense I employed on that job.
    And there’s the rub.
    Kids of course, need to be safe, and protected, and nourished and nurtured and no end of all the other good things we can provide them…..
    but most importantly: until they are indeed, old enough to truly do this for themselves – they need us (adults) to know what the hell we’re doing. That’s for sure.
    Because we have far too much damned power over them in their lives, for our screwups to not do them significant damage.

    We don’t kill them to save them. We just kill their freedom. Some…..might think that’s the same thing.
    If a child, as a child – never knows freedom, as a child – then what does freedom mean to them later in life?
    We aspouse no end of rhetoric about this concept, and gaze lovingly and longingly at all its constructs we have created around ourselves – yet must somehow deny this to those we hold precious above all else.
    (or do we?)

    A world we have managed to fictitiously imagine, has enough clear and present dangers in its corporeal makeup to defy the fairytale dreams we want to believe in (along with all the minefields we must now guide our present innocents through.)

    How sad then – how ridiculous… be so distracted by vague and desultory worries over a political “correctness” that steams like a dog’s droppings upon the lawn.
    Illusionists perfect one simple trick: distract them well enough, and you can actually hide an elephant from them! Easy. Too easy.

    Ah… fight so hard for children – by having to give up the fight.
    I sure hope we find a better way.


  42. Paul April 26, 2013 at 6:49 pm #

    Thanks Nardini, for giving us one of the more eloquent posts on this topic I have seen.

  43. Chris May 7, 2013 at 11:09 pm #

    Sure brings back memories of when I was raised free range. Especially summertime when we would only have to show up in the house when the street lights came on which meant dinner time. We had no fears or concerns which is quite contrary to the stresses and stranger danger fears of today. Thanks for the blog.

  44. johnhenry July 31, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    wow! If any of you had an inkling of how little reason the state dcs or cps or other aptly named agency need to remove your kids from your home you would be shocked! im with your thinking 100% but if they come knocking i guaruntee your kids will be in the state foster system for a minimum of six months! my brothers and i were raised as free as birds and thrived on the experiance. Children have become the thin end of the wedge for govt. agencys to gain entrence into your home and lives. the burden of proof of neglect or abuse that they have to demonstrate in a juvinile protective court is so weak and minimal they can effectivly remove nearly any child if you give them 15 minits to snoop thru your life for a reason. if they knock on your door dont open w/o a warrent. 4th and 14th ammendmnt rights against unlawful search and seizure. im so serious! take your kids and get out! you wont believe how many have been taken into the system for playing outside w/o the parents direct supervision! my God dont give them an excuse! they can and will remove your precious ones if they become aware of you. this system is dependent on removing between 750,000 and 900,000 kids per year nationwide. the federal govt will reimburse the state agency any where from 25,000 to 65,000 depending on wheather they are special needs or not. if you are black or latino consider yourself blessed! this movment favors caucausin children for some reason. i know you think im some sort of nutty conspiricy guy but im a sane normal hardworking person. some kind of safe child act in 1997 put the federal money up for this shift in the system and it has gone very awry! i hate losing my own choices about my kids freedom but there is a govt agency looking for parents that agree w you. believe me and protect your kids from the real threat to them. DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE what these people have the power to do! look on or for some degree of conformation. fewer parents physically abuse thier kids these days due to some degree of cultural enlightenment in child rearing so thse agencys have to passoff more and more flimsy reasons to remove kids and continue to grow the agency beuaracracy and therefore funding and manpower.. may God protect you