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overprotective parents

Readers — There is something poignant, sweet, weird and wonderful about what you’re about to read. Remember it when friends say they can’t possibly go Free-Range because it’s too scary. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Back in ’09 I read your book, and allowed my boys to walk to get ice-cream for the first time. About a 5-7 min. walk from our house.  Rob was 12, and Isaac would be 11 in a few months.

I had written you a few times back then. I had experienced a stranger abduction when my pastor’s daughter was abducted and murdered in an area pretty country and quiet. So letting go was huge for me.

Anyhow, my boys are 15 and 16 today, and this fall I put them in public school after homeschooling them exclusively their whole lives. We just finished their first quarter, and I finally got to read my son Rob’s personal narrative. The story he chose to write about was — the first time I let them go. I was gripped by how much I had scared my boys — apparently the older more than the younger. That this is what made the biggest impression on him in his life.

I thought I’d share it with you if you’re interested.

Deb Turner

My Turning Point, by Rob Turner

The summer’s breath filled the air as I stare down M. road, towards that busier street which I didn’t remember the name of.  Rather, I attempted to stare – there was an annoying amount of shrubbery blocking the view from our yard.  Normally this would be a blessing, because nobody really wants a better view of a busy road, except that the shrubbery also blocked the rest of M. leading up to it. In other words, I could never figure out whether a car was coming or not, except by sound. And the fact that you could usually hear cars either way, going up or down that busy street, did not help at all.  Of course, the reality was that I was being paranoid; it wasn’t especially difficult to differentiate the noise of a car on M. and on the other road. But it was hard not to be, given what I was about to do.

Normally, I would only even be thinking about crossing the road because I was going to get the mail, or… well, that was really about it.  I didn’t see the neighbors across the street — they threw snowballs at cars, so we weren’t allowed to be friends — and I didn’t get on any school buses, and I never walked anyplace at all – at least, not without some sort of parental supervision.  That last one, I guessed, was about to change.

For any other kid, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal.  But to me, well.  From a very young age I’d been taught about the danger of strangers, and how you should never walk alone, and how to escape the grip of a captor — probably too often for my own good. To be fair, it was mostly because the previous pastor of our church had had his daughter kidnapped, which kind of shook up basically everyone, but that had taken place either when I was an infant or yet to be born.  In any case, my mother had finally come to terms with the fact that it wasn’t exactly a regular occurrence, so she decided it was finally time to let my younger brother Isaac and I walk down to the C. Ice Cream Parlor by ourselves.

It was probably mostly because Isaac had been pushing for it for a while, but it was happening nonetheless.  I was still somewhat apprehensive, of course, but Isaac could be pretty convincing when he felt like it.  He managed to cross the road (still taking precautions, of course, but quite a bit faster) and, since he went through the trouble of assuring me that no cars were coming, I followed him.  From there, it was an easy walk, going down a paved hill and finally seeing the ever-so-busy street ahead.

It wasn’t actually that busy, I decided.  Just the busiest road that I encountered with any sort of regularity.  And then, of course, we’d have to cross it again to get to the ice cream parlor.  The long, rocky driveway ate away at my shoes as I walked to the familiar, and yet now so different, building. I’d been here before, of course, but never without my parents, or at least my older brother to watch me.  I could feel the protective bubble around my home stretching to accommodate me. I could feel it pressing against my skin as I took step after step past its boundaries, until I finally went through it. But I couldn’t back down now; I had to do this.  My mother had assured me that she had probably been wrong, and not literally every person was a kidnapper, so I would be fine.  I took five dollars out of my pocket and held onto them like they were precious gems, but once I realized I was doing this I loosened my hand, because I did not want to appear nervous. My brother asked for the money and I said, “No, I’ll do it.”

After figuring out exactly what ice-cream we would buy (chocolate peanut butter cup and moose tracks for me, mint chocolate chip and peanut butter cup for him), I faced down the ice-cream guy, and, albeit with a few “umms” and “uhhs,” I made my order.

The man seemed somewhat suspicious of us, like we were the ones out of place in this busy and somewhat terrifying land that was so close to our home.  When he asked how we got there, I told him we walked, and when he asked where we lived, I apprehensively said that we lived up the road. Being rather nervous (oh no, why did I tell him where we live, now he’s gonna kidnap us), I made my best effort to not participate in this questioning any longer, and when we got our ice-cream we circled over to the side of the place, where there were tables with umbrellas and a fair number of bees.

Of course, being completely terrified of bees, I wanted to just eat and walk home at the same time and be done with the whole thing. But they weren’t especially near us, so I just nervously edged away from any that flew within a ten foot radius of me.  So we ate our ice-cream (which was somewhat melty, but that only made the rich chocolate even more delicious), and threw away our messy napkins. Then we walked back home, retracing a few confusing steps, and when we got there our mom was sitting on the porch because she was so nervous. But we were fine.  Our dogs were rather exceptionally excited to see us, it seemed, like when we would come home from family camp, and we were somewhat excited as well, both due to the ‘ice-cream whenever we want now’ aspect and the somewhat increased freedom it gave us. We forgot about any sort of suspicious man entirely, which actually turned out fine.

In any case, the barrier of my home slipped over me once more, ever prepared to guard me from the dangers of the outside world, but it would only become easier to escape, each walk we took down to the ice cream parlor taking less and less resistance until it hardly seemed a bother at all.  But while I was inside it, there was nothing on Earth which could break through the impenetrable barrier. And I rather liked it that way. – Rob

It's hard to be brave after being held back.

It’s hard to be brave after being held back.

Hey Readers — I got this very honest note today:

Hey there. My name is J. and I am currently 16 so I’m a bit biased. I briefly skimmed the comments and would like to say that I love the Free-Range concept. All I know is that there is something wrong with the idea of a 16 year old (myself) not knowing how to take a bus. Forget the subway. I was never taught this and can’t bring myself to risk getting lost.

To which I responded:

Actually, it will be GREAT if you get lost. Then you’ll get yourself UN-lost one way or another, and then — poof — you’ll realize it’s not that big deal. I am going to post your note on my site and you will get lots of encouragement! I hope you will write us back after you’ve taken a trip — even a really short one — on your own! – L

I should have added that it also makes sense to just ask someone to teach him how the bus system works, and to not feel bad he doesn’t know it yet. Anyway, readers — encourage away!


Hop on!

Time to hop on!

Readers — I’m in Bulgaria, running on caffeine and excitement (and feta  cheese), but even so, I don’t think it’s my hopped up status that is making me feel dizzy after reading this article. I think it’s the parents of the kids in question. Here’s how WHAM13, an ABC channel, reports the incident:

Clyde, N.Y. — A Wayne County man is now facing four charges for Endangering the Welfare of a Child after he interrupted an act of vandalism at a home he was renovating for his father-in-law.
The incident unfolded around 9 p.m. Saturday when Jesse Daniels said he told his wife to call 911 after he heard loud noises coming from the home next door and saw an individual striking a wall with a hammer.

Daniels tells 13WHAM News he ran next door and found four children, ages eight and ten, doing damage to the property.  Daniels said he took a hammer from one of the kids and corralled them into a closet while he waited for police to arrive.  Daniels estimated that the damage to his father-in-law’s property exceeds $40,000….

Clyde Village Police took the children back to their parents and filed felony criminal charges of Burglary 2nd Degree and Criminal Mischief 2nd Degree…. On Monday police returned to Daniels’ home and arrested him on four counts of Endangering the Welfare of a Child.

The parents of the alleged mini miscreants claim Daniels traumatized and mistreated their kids. While I don’t want any kids mistreated either, it does feel as if the parents’ anger is slightly mis-directed. What think ye? – L.

Readers — This letter comes to us from a mom in Alberta, Canada, who is giving me a lot of hope. Change can be swift and, since it makes everyone happier, lasting.
Meantime, this intro  comes to you from Vienna, where I just flew in (arms tired, etc.) to give a talk tomorrow at the international Velo-City conference. Guten tag! – L
Dear Free-Range Kids:  I started a new job about 2 years ago at a small non-profit with about 20 employees.  Most of my coworkers were from a suburb  that is known for being….well a bit uppity and above everyone else.  It’s A LOT about appearances out there.  Anyway, we have a great workplace culture made up of mostly mothers, but it was definitely a culture of overprotecting being what made you a good parent.
I had always stayed quiet because I was new and about 10 years younger than most of them.  But, I remember one coworker coming in and being all hush hush because she had to leave her nine year old daughter home by herself for an hour.  She literally whispered it to us, seemed ashamed by it, and went on about how she would never do that normally and all the safety precautions she had taken that might make it ok just this once, etc, etc.
Although there had always been a “you can never be too safe” mentality, I took that moment to step up and say that I didn’t think that was a big deal at all and if she thinks her daughter is mature enough (which she did) that of course she can stay home for an hour, even without excessive safety precautions.  The look of relief on her face was quite satisfying!
After I chose not be ashamed of the Free-Range moments we have, and started sharing them with the group.  I also started questioning the overprotective parents about what they were truly afraid of, and gently challenged them on their fears when the situation arose.
About a year later, we were sitting at the lunchroom table and the issue of parenting came up, and I noticed that it was the parents preaching about “teaching kids to be safe” and empowering them to be independent and embracing their abilities who were loud, outspoken and confident, and it was overprotective parents who seemed quiet and not wanting to share their tales of how they keep their kids safe.
The norm had shifted. Before, being overprotective was the accepted parenting norm, and now it was the opposite.  Given that we have a very strong culture, I was amazed at the shift in such a relatively short time. – A Free-Ranger Up North
Lunchroom chats can change the world!

Hi Readers! Here’s one to get your blood (and water) boiling, direct from The Mirror, in England. – L.

Mums have been told they cannot have a cup of coffee while looking after their toddlers at a children’s centre – because it’s against health and safety rules.

Council officers told the group to change its name from Coffee and Play to Baby Play – and swap biscuits for fruit and breadsticks as snacks – because it’s against health and safety rules.

No children have been hurt in the five years the group has been running but the council said hot drinks were dangerous – even in special safety flasks.

How I remember the months when I was home on maternity leave and our giant Manhattan apartment complex had a community room. What brought many of us down there was the joy of having someplace to hang out with our kids (and by kids I mean “other adults”). What kept us sane was: Free coffee!

I don’t doubt that coffee presents a hazard. I just think that NO coffee presents TWO hazards: 1 – Insane parents. 2 – Insane law creep. When we start taking age-old, pretty darn safe practices and squinting at them them through the danger microscope, we will start outlawing everything normal and good, including moms drinking coffee….

Oh wait. – L.

Arrest this dangerous hussy?

Hi Folks! As I finish up my last few days of vacation (Mexico!), here’s a letter to chew on. — L.

Dear Free Range Kids: My son started school a few weeks ago and has already made a new friend. The boys want to have a playdate and after discussion with the other child’s mother, we arranged to have the first one here. Then she informed me that on the day of the playdate, she would pick her son up from school and follow me and my son back to our house, so she could “check it out.”

While it’s not something I’m taking personally, I am offended — and confused. Does she think our house would be suitable for my son but not for hers? Doesn’t she realize that if there was anything that would mark our house as unsuitable for a playdate, I’d be sure to cover it up, pack it away or simply hide it before she arrived?   How far is “‘checking it out” likely to go? Just the areas the kids will be playing in or every room in the house?

Is this a typical thing? Am I over reacting or is she? Part of me would dearly love to tell her what she can do with the playdate, but I don’t want to break the hearts of two 5-year-old boys.  Any advice would be dearly appreciated! – Mom with Nothing to Hide

Hi Readers! I am thrilled to present to you a post by David Pimentel, a professor of law and author of a scholarly article on how to keep overprotective parenting from becoming the law. As he writes in his abstract:

…the powerful influence of media has sensationalized the risks to children, skewing popular perceptions of the genuine risks children face and of what constitutes a reasonable or appropriate response to such risks. Consequently, individuals who do not buy into Intensive Parenting norms, including those from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds, may be subjecting themselves to criminal prosecution for child neglect and endangerment.

The criminal statutes are, for the most part, very vague, leaving these prosecutions—which amount to little more than one person’s second-guessing the parenting choices of another—in the discretion of prosecutors, who bring the charges, and of juries, who render verdicts. If prosecutors and jurors share the media-fed misperceptions of risk, overprotective parenting becomes the de facto legal standard of care.

Terrifying!! He’s fighting it where it counts — in the court of legal opinion. Please click on his site and then download his article to show that there is genuine, even passionate interest in the topic! (The legal world takes note of how many downloads he gets.) And later this week  I will share a post by him. — L.

Where are their parents? Headed for jail?