To the Women Who Called the Cops When They Saw My Sons Walking to the Store

Readers — What a perfect way to start 2014, with a great story of two boys walking to the store and the mom who fought for that right.

Yes, that RIGHT. It is OUR RIGHT to believe in our kids.  And it is our kids’ right to grow up FREE from the limits imposed by delusions of danger.This story was sent in by Ben Rossiter, head of Victoria Walks, an Australian non-profit dedicated to getting people back to doing just what these boys did: Walking around their neighborhoods. How radical. – L.

Women call police after spotting young boys walking alone to Port Fairy shop — but mum is not happy

By Jarrod Woolley

PATRICK Blythe doesn’t understand why a group of women stopped their car and told him and his brother William to go home when they were walking to the shop yesterday morning. …“I was holding Will’s hand, we weren’t running and we stopped and looked properly when we had to cross the road,” the six-year-old said yesterday.

“I told them Mum said we could go, but they just said go home. It made me feel sad, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

It was the first time the brothers had been allowed to walk to the shop without their mum Kelly, a walk they had made together hundreds of times.

“I KNOW MY CHILDREN, AND I KNOW THEY ARE MORE THAN CAPABLE OF WALKING 300 METRES ON THEIR OWN.”

…Ms Blythe said she understood why the women stopped their car to check on her boys, aged six and four…. But what she can’t comprehend is why they called in the police.

Read the rest of the story here. Then MAKE YOUR DAY by reading the mom’s incredibly wonderful, Free-Range letter to a local paper that begins:

To the car of women who pulled over and stopped my two sons on their first unchaperoned walk to the shop to purchase milk, I would first like to acknowledge your concerns about the welfare of my children and I appreciate that you may have a different opinion about whether they were old enough to undertake such a task without adult supervision.

I understand that we do not live in an ideal world where we can presume our children are always going to be safe.

I would love to think that I could protect my children from any sort of harm and I shudder with horror like any parent when I hear about child abductions and other abhorrent abuses innocent children suffer, which are reported by all forms of the media on a daily basis.

I do not, however, want my children to grow up being afraid of the world.

I am a teacher and in my job I am responsible for the welfare and education of my students on a daily basis.

I teach many students who have limited independence and their reliance on myself and others to help them navigate their way through their daily world leaves me concerned about how they will cope with the realities of life once they leave school and have to look after themselves…

Here’s the rest! It ends:

I believe in raising my children to be intelligent, independent beings who will have a lot to offer the world as adults. I am teaching them to be aware of the dangers and realities of life, but to not be afraid of it. Yours sincerely, Kelly Blythe

Kelly is my hero! – L 

PORT FAIRY, VICTORIA: What a terrifying looking town!

PORT FAIRY, VICTORIA: What a terrifying looking town!

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30 Responses to To the Women Who Called the Cops When They Saw My Sons Walking to the Store

  1. Bose in St. Peter MN January 1, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    Kudos to Kelly for the gentle yet assertive response in the letter… and to the police for recognizing the facts on the ground panic-free.

  2. Tony January 1, 2014 at 10:29 am #

    I was amazed by the reasonable response of the police officers. Then I realized that this did not happen in the USA.

  3. Emily January 1, 2014 at 11:38 am #

    Great letter, but I’m not surprised that this took place in Australia, rather than North America. I lived in Australia for two years, and it was just a much more free-range culture than we have across the pond. Kids walked, biked, Rollerbladed, and skateboarded around themselves, kids played at playgrounds by themselves, kids (middle elementary age and up) took public transit to and from school by themselves, kids went swimming at the pool, and swimming/surfing at the beach, by themselves, and in fact, a lot of kids’ bikes were made with racks on the backs to accommodate surfboards, for precisely this purpose. I volunteered in two Girl Guide units (Rangers and Brownies), and all of the Brownie parents would drop their kids off; even the one girl in the group who was blind. Her mother took the leader aside before the camp-out and outlined what special help her daughter would need because she was blind, but she was still allowed to go, without her parents, like any other Brownie Guide would be. None of this was perceived as odd or dangerous, because it was just life. There were other things that came part and parcel with this culture; for example, most people didn’t have cable TV; just five channels or so on free-to-air. Maybe it was because we didn’t get blasted with “news” about how “dangerous” the world was fifty times a day, that things were more relaxed, or maybe it was because the weather was nice enough to be outside for most of the year, that people didn’t see the need for so many TV channels. True, we could have seen all of this online (although the quality of Internet service in Australia isn’t as good as what we have here), we would have had to actively go looking for it, and the idea of deliberately LOOKING for danger, is just crazy enough that most people wouldn’t bother. So, within the context of a typical neighbourhood in Australia, the idea of a six-year-old walking to a nearby store to buy milk/bread/Vegemite (awful stuff, by the way), wouldn’t be out of the ordinary.

  4. David DeLugas January 1, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Good observation by Tony that this did not happen in the USA. In the USA, too often, Kelly (the “Mum” how she spelled it) would have had the police show up with her son and, later, a child protective services agent, without a warrant, but with an attitude. Our resources are being consumed with what I term the “low hanging fruit,” that is, parents whose children have NOT been hurt, but can be investigated and made to do exactly as “requested” by child protective services out of fear that their child will be taken from them. We need an attitude adjustment in the USA so that children actually hurt intentionally or through gross negligence are held accountable and parents are not subjected to an inquisition when children are not hurt or are hurt as part of an ordinary life. Thank goodness for Free Range Kids and Lenore! The National Association of Parents is a member association of parents, speaking for mothers and fathers, married and unmarried, and providing the “push-back” against such absurdities. Please look into the National Association of Parents (Lenore is a member) and consider becoming a member and thereby giving your support to our mission for parents and their children. https://www.parentsusa.org

  5. Hillary January 1, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    How frustrating! I’m glad the mother is sticking up for herself and those kids…very sweet and brave of the six year old to speak so candidly about his feelings. I don’t understand why people are so reactionary about kids acting independently. A few days ago, my daughter (almost eight) was stopped by a neighbor as she rode her scooter on the sidewalk. The woman reprimanded her for being alone and asked where her parents were. I was half a block behind, pushing the baby in a stroller. Ridiculous.

  6. Anonymous_this_time January 1, 2014 at 1:28 pm #

    People in western cultures are so starved for meaning that some try to find it in the process of constantly scanning the horizon for “wrongdoing” or “suspicious behaviour.” If we were animals being observed in a laboratory, we’d be marked down as exhibiting aberrant behaviours, and the conclusion would be that our relative isolation and lack of community is driving us mad. To think that people who interfere with children walking down a street in broad daylight are heroically preventing disaster is equivalent to saying that all women ought to have their breasts removed during puberty in order to 100% eradicate the possibility of their death from breast cancer. In effect, we want to amputate risk from all children’s lives, and think ourselves heroic for doing so. This “heroism” gives a sense of meaning and purpose. Pull way back from the whole scene and look objectively, and see how tragically unhealthy we as a society have become.

  7. Papilio January 1, 2014 at 2:49 pm #

    All I want to know is what kind of neighborhood it is, how many streets they had to cross and what the traffic and infrastructure is like. In other words, what kind of 300 meters was this?

    Not that calling the cops would be justified in any case, btw. I wonder what cops think about this? “We used to get calls about robbers and murders and now we get called to escort 6yos 100 meters home… Yawn.”

  8. J.T. Wenting January 1, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    hmm, what about “children are not supposed to listen to strangers” :)
    As a kid, were this to have happened to me, I’d have ignored the women in that car and made my way to where a car can’t follow, then to the nearest store or other public place…

  9. BL January 1, 2014 at 4:40 pm #

    It takes a village idiot.

    Sigh.

  10. Jenna K. January 1, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    Good story. Glad it had a good outcome and not one that ended in the mother being investigated by child services or arrested.

  11. CAHOLO January 1, 2014 at 8:46 pm #

    We live in a small town and I allowed my son to ride his bike to the Post Office about 2 blocks away to check mail and pick up a package. This was during the school day. My son is homeschooled. People were worried about him. My son isn’t 4 or 6, but he is 10 years old! He is just short for his age, so he looks closer to 6-8 yrs old. He is special needs, but is high functioning. I have been slowly allowing him to do more and more things on his own. Our town is centered around a busy highway with lighted pedestrian controlled crosswalks. I even allowed my son to take his bike to the library on the other side of the highway, when I felt he was ready to do it alone. I did follow him in my van (I am physically limited) to make sure he was safe and that he followed the safety rules of crossing the highway. He did very well. He isn’t the only kid doing this and some even younger than him. I took longer, due to his special needs, but needed to make sure he understood and followed the rules. When he was 3-7 yrs old, he had a problem with taking off, which is why I was very careful with him.

  12. baby-paramedic January 2, 2014 at 12:05 am #

    I know Port Fairy fairly well, so to answer some questions.

    It is a little tourist village. There are not many cars apart from on the one main road (which is the highway going through the town, from memory 60km/hr). The rest of the town has 50km/hr streets. There are not many footpaths, but there are places to walk on the grass(just have to be careful if you’re a short person, as cars on some streets park on the grass, but not on all of them). A familiar 300m walk would be perfectly appropriate for a responsible six year old in this village, provided it didn’t cross the highway nor be on the busier streets (for example where the medical centre is located, as cars park on the grass there, so not as safe to walk for a short person).
    Some people from the state capital pass through the area, as it is on a popular tourist drive, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was city folk who made the comments, but of course it may not have been.
    I am more surprised that there are two police cars in the village!

  13. baby-paramedic January 2, 2014 at 12:11 am #

    Also, I doubt the local cops are getting called to murders in that area. Unless it has a darkside I have never noticed!

  14. Alex January 2, 2014 at 12:47 am #

    Thanks for this, Lenore. This story reminds me of last spring, when someone called the cops because my kids were playing at the park behind our house without me there. Wha?

    I love this woman’s response via the media. And I think that’s what we need to do when this kind of thing happens: take it to the people who can get the conversation started. That’s radio. That’s newspapers. That’s magazines. That’s television.

    Let’s keep shocking the world, people. We owe it to our children.
    Alex

  15. K January 2, 2014 at 1:11 am #

    @Emily- I think things have changed a bit now. Kids still do do all those things by themselves but at a later age (probably about year 4-5), though some kids do walk home earlier (which horrifies my overprotective mum). Not that many primary school kids take public transport- a few do, but they are few and far between. This could be more to do with the fact that people tend to attend local primary schools within walking distance though.

    Of course, being sheltered as a kid, I could be totally wrong on this one. My classmates could’ve been doing all kinds of things while I was at home playing video games because my only concept of meeting up with them was to get our parents to arrange it 😛

    Also our TV service has improved. Not sure what normal cable TV is like but a lot of people have Foxtel which has lots of channels on it. Reality TV shows seem to be quite popular as well- once Tony Abbott and Julia Gillard were meant to be having some “leaders’ debate” or something but loads of people were unhappy because it was originally scheduled to take place during the Masterchef finals. In the end they had to change it to a different day. As for the Internet, I’m not sure how our service compares to the USA but we do have broadband Internet and stuff. Plus ninemsn I think is a common default homepage and that has news stuff on it. Unfortunately my mum likes looking around on that site and I have to constantly remind her not to latch on to everything that she reads…

  16. Anonymous January 2, 2014 at 9:06 am #

    K-I live in Canada now, not the U.S.A., and I lived in Australia from approximately 2010-2011, so have things really changed there that much in such a short amount of time? Anyway, the majority of kids I saw going to school on public transit were probably twelve and up, but I also saw younger kids on the buses, going to the beach, library, etc., with just a friend, and no adults. As for the TV thing, honestly, I’m not disparaging it at all. In North America, you have to pay for ANY kind of TV service, because there’s no such thing as free-to-air. When I was in Australia, I found that everyone got along fine with just the five or so channels that we got, and more people watched the same kinds of things, which (sort of) fostered community, like what you said about everyone protesting a political debate being held at the same time as the Master Chef finals, because Master Chef has become part of the culture. As for the Internet service, maybe that was just our provider–International House, and the postgrad house I lived (and later mentored) in, all used Everywhere Internet, and we didn’t have another option.

  17. Really Bad Mum January 2, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    @ Emily.. Vegemite is the best… But it has to be done properly hot toast, loads of butter and a really thin layer of Vegemite… It is also good to put on a lamb roast before cooking…

  18. Emily January 2, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    Whoops; I’m “Anonymous.” I posted with the wrong account. Anyway, yeah. I definitely saw kids younger than high school age (twelve in Australia) taking buses alone, although not necessarily to school. I also thought having only five TV channels made life a bit simpler, and created a bit of “community” around everyone watching the same things, because that’s all there was (without paying the premium for proper cable TV, that is). Anyway, I miss the free-range culture there, and I wish more North Americans would take a cue from Australia, and loosen up the reins a bit.

  19. hineata January 2, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    @ReallyBadMum – sorry, usually love your comments, but you are way out on this one. Vegemite is only a poor substitute for Marmite, the world’s superfood :-). We as a country have only recently gotten over the trauma of running out of it for a period. Happy New Year.

  20. Really Bad Mum January 2, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    @ Hineata…marmite may have been first but everything needs a rough first draft before the final, better product is produced and the mistakes of the first one are fix lol… ( nananaana)

  21. Susanna K. January 2, 2014 at 3:08 pm #

    Very timely. Today, my two boys (ages 7 and 5) got to walk to their friends’ house around the corner unsupervised for the first time ever. They got there fine, had fun, and arrived home when they were supposed to, and they were thrilled to get to do this by themselves!

  22. Greg Allan January 2, 2014 at 6:17 pm #

    Those two boys DID encounter predators.

  23. marie January 3, 2014 at 12:53 am #

    Greg Allan, your comment made me laugh but then I thought…yeah. Those predators weren’t preying on little boys as much as they were preying on fear. There is something really bizarre about people who get satisfaction from the feeling of fear, whether it is feeling it themselves or trying to generate fear in others.

  24. K January 3, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    @Emily- Maybe my part of Australia is different to where you were staying? As I said though my view might also be distorted by the fact that both my mum and my friend’s mum are both quite overprotective. Also I just wanted to clarify that I didn’t feel that you were disparaging our TV service, I just wanted to provide it as a comparison, since you suggested that perhaps the limited access to news might have been a contributing factor to how laid-back we are.

    With regards to public transport- I thought that you were talking mainly about younger kids (8-12). I do see lots of kids 12 and up (high school age) going on public transport here by themselves though- that definitely hasn’t changed. I was one of them, taking the train to high school every day (but I got dropped off at the train station because I don’t like the bus service here… hehe). During our last week of year 12 our form class went to nearby cafes as a kind of treat, and our form teacher told us that we could go to any of the nearby cafes as long as we stayed in groups of 4, which our class found amusing because the cafes are situated between one of the nearby train stations and our school- a walk that many of us take on our own.

    With regards to everything else- perhaps my view is a bit tainted by the fact that I’ve always been a bit overprotected and thus I wouldn’t have noticed any of the kids going to the parks etc. The times that I’ve driven/been driven/walked past the park, though, there’s been nobody there, but I think more people go to my primary school’s oval to play soccer and whatnot (there’s no pond to worry about there, plus the ground is flatter than at my local park).

    Oh, and one last point about community. I feel very lucky where I live because I know quite a few of my neighbours. I know my neighbours on either side of me, my neighbours across the road from me, their next door neighbours (on one side), the next door neighbours of the next door neighbours, and a few other people who live at various other places along my street. Recently I’ve been getting the sense that that knowing your neighbours isn’t entirely common in the Western world, so I just wanted to put that one out there 😉

  25. baby-paramedic January 3, 2014 at 6:29 am #

    Internet in Australia is (predominantly) significantly subpar to internet speeds and reliability available in, say, Europe and the US (and so many other places).

  26. Marcy January 3, 2014 at 9:07 am #

    I think “Alex” hit on the best idea for combatting the culture of fear. We do need to write letter’s to the editor just like Kelly did. And then post them here too for inspiration for the rest of us. I know personally I am always plagued with “I should’ve said this or that” after the situation. This way we CAN say “this or that” to a wider audience and probably to better effect if we have a cooling off period before writing. I think we should have a Free Range Pledge to try our best to write to the paper / call the radio / contact the local news / make a public post on Facebook or a personal blog every time we encounter an event like the ones Lenore describes. The more we do it, the easier it will be and the more people will hear the message of sanity.

  27. nina January 3, 2014 at 10:23 am #

    I want to say that there are at least a few good and reasonable cops in US. We had a close encounter with them a few weeks ago and it ended up to be a positive experience. We put our 3 yo to bed and left her with her 13 and 11 yo brothers at home while we went to have some tea at our friends’ house. At about 10 pm our oldest son called us to let us know that he’s going to activate security alarm system bc they were going to sleep (2 out of 3 kids have been known tossleep walk on occasion, so we always keep alarm on when they go to bed). Anyway he went to take a shower and forgot to tell his brother that he activated the alarm. His brother thought he heard our cat in the garage and opened the door and set off the alarm system. He couldn’t remember the code and by the time he made it upstairs to ask his brother in the shower the security protocol got activated. Kids called us and we called the alarm company right away but they already sent the police to investigate. When we heard that police were on their way we headed home immediately and arrived about 5 min later. In that short span of time police came and went. When we got home everything was quiet. Our sons told us that they spoke to two officers and explained them what happened. They told them to stay out of trouble and left. End of story. I was glad to learn that the police response time was under 2 minutes and more importantly that they didn’t give my kids a hard time.

  28. Papilio January 3, 2014 at 3:17 pm #

    “everything needs a rough first draft before the final, better product is produced and the mistakes of the first one are fix”

    In one side of my family we make that joke about children…

  29. E January 6, 2014 at 12:14 pm #

    I think the letter is great. Society has become programmed to see this as danger. Perhaps adults should be more able to consider other scenarios, but we are products of what surrounds us (from media). I dislike when this site labels people “busy bodies” because at the root of their actions, was actual concern. Perhaps it was misplaced and they were over-reactionary, but that’s what makes the Mom’s letter great. It educates. :-)

  30. Eve January 6, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    Can I use Kelly’s articulate and sane letter as a template? I just received a visit from CPS following up on a call that my daughter and her friend were not properly supervised at the park a couple days ago. I was ACROSS THE STREET in our yard, WATCHING them. There are not many cars and there are clearly marked stop signs and cross walks which they used well. The person knew I was watching because they gave CPS our address and said “the mother” was on her phone in the yard. They also said our house was 10 blocks away. hmm…

    The ironic thing is that I run a non profit for child safety with similar ideas as free range kids. Teach children how to be safe and responsible at their own pace and ability.

    Thanks to those of you who support engaging the media. I think I will.

    Luckily the CPS worker