header image


Readers — The “No Sleepover” article I just posted about inspired these lovely comments from you. Enjoy. – L

Good reasons to say Yes to Sleepovers (by “Albert”)

1. Your kids will get a chance to practice the manners you teach – it’s no good if they don’t, right?
2. Your kids will get to do and try different things – food, games, travel, etc. they may not otherwise, which is all part of making it a treat, yes? If it’s good for you, why isn’t it good for them??
3. Your kids will make new friends, and so will you, if you behave yourself.
4. Your kids will get to learn social boundaries and custom – how to behave in someone else’s house, car, etc. is different than behaving at home – and they only way to learn that is “on the road”.
5. You and your kids will have a chance to unwind and relax, away from the constant attention of each other.
6. You and your kids will be on the path of mutual trust, which has to start early.
7. Your kids will HAVE FUN.  That’s what’s its about. THEM HAVING FUN.

***    And a summary of the “No Sleepover” points, by CR Moewes    ***

AAAAAA.. I can’t keep reading that article my head will explode. But to save other people I will summarize the 9 slides

1. Things are different now (so if you did sleep overs and are normal your experience doesn’t invalidate our assumptions)

2. The kids will be too tired the next day from staying up all night. And your house will be dirty…. except that since there was no sleep over (or maybe it’s ok to host one, but then who would come over since you woulnd’t let your kids play with someone whose parents would let them sleep over) how is your house gonna get dirty.

3. Some kids aren’t ready for sleep overs so no one should have sleep overs.

4. You don’t like/trust some parents so you should just not let any sleep overs happen rather than explain to your kids that some things are ok and some things aren’t.

5. This seems like a repeat of #2 but instead of just a sleepy kid you will wind up with a stupid kid because one night of sleeping over will leave them so exhausted they will fall behind in their school work.

6. They might watch or hear something that you don’t approve of. Movies, TV,  etc. If they are at someone else’s house they may experience something outside the controlled environment you have at home.

7. They might do somehitng else you don’t approve…. i.e. DRUGS!!!! bumbumbuuummmm. Because since you can’t select whose house they sleep over at (see #4, all-or-nothing) you will have to let them sleep over at the neighborhood crack-mamas house and you know what that means.

8. Rape and Molestation… ‘nuf said here.

9. But it’s your call…. if you love your kids, you will not allow any sleep overs, but that’s only if you really love them… like we do our kids, so you decide for yourself.

And what if kids are allergic to pillows? Or each other? Or air? Did you think about THAT??? (Illus by waterwriter144, at Deviant Art)

To Anyone New Just Joining Us Here: Hello! Welcome! Glad you’re here! The Free-Range Movement is dedicated to the idea that our kids are safer and smarter than our society tells us they are, so we don’t have to worry quite as much as we do. That’s why I’m often asked:

Haven’t parents always worried about their kids?

Of course they have! I’m one of the worriers! Parents have always worried, because our job is to try to get our children all the way to adulthood, safe, reasonably happy, and ready for the real world. There are giant potholes brimming with worry on that road.

But what has really changed over the past generation or so is the new idea that our kids are in CONSTANT danger, from almost everything and everyone. Nowadays, many of us believe we can never take our eyes off our kids, because supposedly they can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. And the reason we’ve come to believe this is because we have been “trained” to think about all childhood activities in terms of what terrible thing COULD happen.

No matter how unlikely.


This is what I call “worst-first thinking” – thinking up the WORST case scenario FIRST and proceeding as if it is likely to happen. It’s the reason why upstate New York pre-schools no long allow liquid soap in the bathrooms. Kids MIGHT drink it.

Sure, it’s unlikely. It’s even a WEIRD thing to worry about. But thinking about the WORST case you can dream up is now considered prudent. (It’s the same reason another pre-k got rid of pencils. Kids COULD stab each other. And the same reason an advice columnist recently told parents to hire a babysitter for their 14-year-old: Just in CASE there was an emergency, the sitter could drive her to the hospital. Really, you can dream up a disaster for almost any occasion.)

But, on a more serious note, that’s what parents are now expected to do. So if you say, for instance, “I’m going to start letting Ava wait at the bus stop by herself,” it’s likely that someone else (perhaps even a spouse) will respond, “But what about Jaycee Dugard? Wasn’t SHE on her way to the bus stop when she was abducted?”

Regaining Perspective 

That she was. Horrible story. But in the 20 or so years since that fateful day, millions upon millions of kids have gotten to and from school without any incident whatsoever. Maybe they even got some exercise. Made friends. Brought home a stray dog. Those are all stories you will never hear. Jaycee’s story was so outrageously rare WE ALL KNOW HER NAME. So to use it as a parenting  benchmark is to seriously distort the odds.

A commenter to this blog came up with a great way to get some perspective on the fact we are living in very safe times. Safer, even, than when we were kids. (Here are the stats on that. And here’s a piece about how it’s not because  kids are cooped up that they’re safer. Adults are safer now, too, and they’re not cooped up. Crime is just down.) Anyway:

To live with the fear of your child being abducted – a fear that a majority of Americans share – deal with it “the same way you deal with the fear of him falling in the bathtub, or being struck by lightning: You admit that it’s something that could possibly happen. But it’s not likely and you’re not going to have much of a life if you spend all your time trying to prevent any situation where anything like that could occur.”

Do try to make your children safe. Do not aim for a 100% risk-free life, lest you somehow actually give it to them.

And take away everything else.  - L


Kids can entertain themselves some of the time.

Readers —  The fear of kidnapping is so huge, it is overwhelming a lot of parents. How can they possibly put it in perspective? Here’s some help — from you! Both comments appeared on the post below this one, about a mom who lets her son ride his bike around town:

…I’d  like to know how deal with the worry of something happening on the way to and from these activities? I honestly think it’s a great idea (I have a 2 year old so I’m far from this age but am always reading about every age group) but I know the main reason I wouldn’t want to let my (hypothetical)12 year old do that is the fear of kidnappers etc snatching him. How do you personally deal with that?- Rachel

An honest question from an open mind. Here’s the answer, from a reader named Chuck:

Rachel, I’d honestly say that you deal with the fear of your son being snatched, while riding his bike in public, in the middle of the day, the same way you deal with the fear of him falling in the bathtub or being struck by lightning:  You admit it’s something that could possibly happen, but it’s not likely, and you’re not going to have much of a life if you spend all your life trying to prevent any situation where anything like that could occur.

That is just brilliant. It doesn’t negate the fear, it puts it into the same file as other fears. Contextualizes it. I am going to use that from now on. All the time. Sooo helpful. – L.

Hi Readers — This insightful note comes to us from reader/commenter Linda Wightman, who says she is “passionate about ‘small’ in the big things of life:  birth, education, parenting, homemaking, health, church, conservation, farming, business and more.  Except for families, where large is good:  seven Free-Range grandchildren and counting!” She blogs about all this and more at Lift Up Your Hearts! . And meantime, from me, hi from Bulgaria! – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Hey, worst-first thinking has a psychological category all its own!  Look at this excerpt from Difficult Personalities by Helen McGrath and Hazel Edwards.

Protective pessimism can take many forms, but essentially it is about always assuming the worst will happen and behaving accordingly.  Protective pessimists believe that if something can go wrong, it will.  If something bad can happen, it will happen, and it will happen to them.  Rarely do they expect good outcomes.  So they miss out on the joy of anticipation and dwelling pleasurably on the “nice” aspects, in case the gap between pleasurable “dreams” and the reality is too great. They are not game to tempt fate by hoping, dreaming, or wanting, in case they get caught unprepared by negatives.  They prepare for disillusionment, sadness and tragedy by protecting their projections with pessimism so they will not get caught by future disappointments.  Instead of living up to expectations, they live down, and are often negative in other ways.  Other people don’t like being around pessimistic people because they can be contagious.

Lenore here: The two things that interest me most about this are the way worst-first thinking sucks the joy out of life by infusing each moment with potential doom. And, two, that it’s contagious.

So Is Worst-First thinking the best friend a marketer can have? After all, it makes us ready to buy anything promising safety. But also, by spreading misery, it makes us even more desperate for something that can cheer us up. Maybe something we can buy. And so instead of embracing life, we embrace stuff.

Hmm. – L. 

Don’t give the gift that keeps on giving: Fear.

Readers — I was just responding to a woman who bravely lets her kids play outside even though she is almost consumed by horrible thoughts of the Cleveland kidnappings. For her, it’s personal: She used to live near there. But others feel it, too. So what I’m wondering about, that maybe some psychologists can explain, is this: Is this utter despair and empathy with victims new?

I mean, I know we have always felt sympathy for crime victims. And certainly my mom must have heard about kidnappings and child crimes. But I don’t think parents of her era felt as personally burdened by them as folks do today.

Of course the media play a role in keeping the saddest stories in front of us. But just as drunks get jolly in some countries and morose in others, depending on the social norm, there  seems to be a new social norm about how we RESPOND to tragedy. And that’s what interests me: How did “dwelling” on tragedy, or sort of “mentally checking in on it” slip into the pantheon of normal feelings? How did we get so much more sensitive to sad news? It’s as if a layer of skin was peeled off. But somehow this new sensitivity doesn’t make us better people, just more scared and depressed.

Who can explain this? Or even tell me if “this” is the case? – L.

P.S. Was about to press “Publish” when a reader sent in this excerpt from a blog post by actor/writer/blogger/raconteur Wil Wheaton. He was at the Phoenix Comic Con recently, when a fire alarm cleared the convention hall:

I will share one observation: I’m 40, and I’ve been dealing with this sort of thing my whole life. Fire alarms go off, and most of the time it’s a false alarm. No big deal. But when I looked around at the younger people, the teenagers and the twentysomethings, I saw a real fear in their eyes as they waited to find out what was going on. I heard lots of them talking about the bombing in Boston, and how they were genuinely afraid that there was some kind of bomb or something inside the building.  It says something about the different worlds we’ve grown up in, that my first reaction was “not this again” and theirs was “oh shit I hope it’s not a bomb.”

The immediacy of fatalism and terror — how did we get to this? It’s as if our whole society feels that optimism is such a pleasant feeling that we don’t deserve it. – L

Modern expressionism. (Well, a modern expression.)

Readers — Please spread the word, especially to nervous parents: If 2013 keeps going the way it has BEEN going, crime-wise, we are about to experience the LOWEST MURDER RATE SINCE 1906. That’s according to Rick Nevin, an economic consultant and anti-lead activist. (See his chart, below.)


Yes indeed. That’s not just lower than when WE were kids. That’s lower than when our grannies and even great-grandparents were kids, and I am pretty sure their parents didn’t make them wear GPS watches to track them every second. Nor did their parents nervously drive them to the bus stop, or forbid them to play on the front lawn unsupervised. Nor were the cops picking them up when the walked to town at age 7, or 11. And yet they were in MORE DANGER of being MURDERED than our kids are today. 

Note: The decline is not a result of helicopter parenting, as most murder victims are adults and we have not been helicoptering them. And we certainly weren’t helicoptering back in the ’40s and ’50s, when crime was also low. In other words: This is simply good crime news. Nevin believes it’s a result of lowering the amount of lead exposure, which has meant less brain-addling. I’ve heard other rationales, too, from more police to better drugs for treating the mental illnesses that can lead to criminality.

Whatever the cause(s), maybe this is a sign that we should start allowing out kids back out into the world, rather than “protecting” them from it. Or, as policy analyst Ben Miller of Common Good says: Maybe it’s “a sign that our priority should be promoting common sense, instead of letting fear of every conceivable risk take control of our laws and rules. While our communities grow safer, we keep thinking up new fears — and rules — that prevent us and our children from enjoying the benefits of our safety.”

Let’s not look this gift horse  in the mouth. For one thing: Ick. All those teeth and horse breath. But also: A gift is to be appreciated. And what a lovely one to give our kids. – L.

least murder ever

Hi Folks! This lovely photo and note come to us from Paul Beard, who describes himself as growing up a Free-Range Kid “before we knew what it was.” He now lives with his wife and two high school kids in Seattle, where he “involuntarily retired from Internet technology to become COO/GM of domestic affairs, now considering options post-graduation (theirs, not mine).” He tweets here, blogs here and here he is again, on Linked In! (Intriguing resume.) – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: As a fan of the Free-Range ethos and a lover of old photographs or ephemera of the past, this Retronaut picture jumped out at me as an idea we need to revisit:
There are two things I think Free-Ranging brings us:
One, the sense of community — the idea that there is a big world outside our door and everyone has a role to play, a purpose. And it’s not to harm children. The big fear that a child will be hurt (or worse) if they’re out of sight of their parents is really the fear that something might happen and no one will be there to help. But if you watch children at play, they care about each other. If someone gets hurt, the game stops and everyone comes to help. I see it every day. But they can’t exercise that kind of compassion if they’re locked up in the house. We’re robbing them of the chance to express the kindness they have in them. If you’re afraid your child will be left hurt on the street, ask yourself: Would you do that if it were someone else’s child? Did you leave your friends behind if they were hurt?
Two, we have to remember that WE own the streets and public places, not the creeps and bad guys, and we need to take those places back. We need more kids (and adults) on the sidewalks and streets of every city and town. We outnumber them. What are we afraid of? – Paul Beard
Lenore here: My own neighborhood, Jackson Heights, Queens, has turned one through-street into a blocked-off “play street” and it is wonderful — a simple, cheap and apparently historic way to give kids a safe place to play.  Please let me know if you get one going in your neighborhood.