I read that in the olden days kids got to play outside and go to the store! It's like Harry Potter!

What Happens When a 10-Year-Old Reads Her Mom’s Copy of Free-Range Kids?

A mom from Australia writes:

Dear Lenore: I had your Free Range Kids book lying around and home and my daughter starting reading it. Now, she is a huge devotee of the FRK movement, and she is doing a school project on it!
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Her favourite free-range things to do are going the park by herself, and going shopping by herself. Both the park and the shops are a short walk from our house, but do involve her taking her own pocket money and spending it, and crossing the road by herself.
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She really wants me to send you a photo of her eating unwrapped lollies at Halloween, which I have promised she can do (if we ever found anyone handing out unwrapped lollies!) later in the year.

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So I wrote a little note back to her and her daughter, and then the girl wrote me back herself:

Hi Lenore!
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OMG I have a million things to tell you!!!!!! I looked up this Halloween safety website and one of the tips was “Avoid masks because they can prevent breathing.” What???????????????????? And I read this safety book once and everybody was a dinosaur. That didn’t bother me. The bit that bothered me was the note to parents! I don’t remember everything in the note, but I do remember the first sentence: “Children are becoming an endangered species.” They. Are. NOT!!!!!!
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And I told one of my teachers that when you tell kids not to talk to strangers, you’re effectively removing hundreds of good people in the area who could be helping them (like you said in your book!) and she said “Yes, but we’re also removing hundreds of bad people in the area.” Uhh… wait a sec. She said “yes.” And “also.” And there are not hundreds of bad people in the area!!!!!!!
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And once a policeman came to my school- I don’t know how they picked that guy! He told us to come up with a list of “safe people.” Then he said that we had to be with those people all the time! And I was taken out when I objected!!!! —
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Your fan.
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PS I put a poster up for a Free-Range meeting at lunch organised by me and no one showed up😭!!!!!!!
Maybe it is time to ask our kids what they KNOW they are missing when society’s time constraints, social norms, city planning and safety rules conspire not to let them play outside, run an errand or take the bus.
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The Free-Range Kids Project does that. It’s a school project — free, fast, fun — whereby teachers tell the kids to go home and ask their parents if they can do ONE THING that they feel ready to do that, for one reason or another, they haven’t done yet: walk the dog, make dinner, get themselves to school.
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If you’re a teacher, principal or superintendent who’d like to consider the project, please drop me a note at lenore@letgrow.org . Happy to support you in any way I can. And meantime, remember: Crime today is no higher than when we were young. Let’s not deprive our kids of the part of childhood most of us remember as the best. – L

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I read that in the olden days kids got to play outside and go to the store! It’s like Harry Potter!

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20 Responses to What Happens When a 10-Year-Old Reads Her Mom’s Copy of Free-Range Kids?

  1. Anna September 11, 2017 at 10:21 am #

    “And once a policeman came to my school- I don’t know how they picked that guy! He told us to come up with a list of “safe people.” Then he said that we had to be with those people all the time! And I was taken out when I objected!!!! —”

    Unfortunately that’s par for the course for a policeman. I’ve noticed – at least based on the handful of policemen I’m acquainted with in real life – that becoming crazy paranoid and jaundiced about the entire human race seems to be an occupational hazard for law enforcement. I’m sure they think they’re just being “realistic” because they’re so much more experienced than the rest of us, but by the nature of the job, their experience skews toward scenes of crime, conflict, domestic violence, etc., and it seems they often end up feeling like those things are far more common than they actually are.

  2. SkepticProf September 11, 2017 at 11:04 am #

    Maybe enough parents will become concerned that their kids will find about about FRK that it will become a banned book!

    Then *every* kid will read it. Guaranteed.

  3. Emily September 11, 2017 at 12:13 pm #

    Who else here remembers Stay Alert, Stay Safe, with Bert and Gert, two anthropomorphized cartoon rabbits, dressed in hilariously awful fluorescent fashions of the 90’s? Anyway, they did PSA’s about safety, aimed at kids, both in paper form (posters and comics distributed in schools, recreation centres, and other kid-oriented places), and as TV ads, during Saturday morning cartoons and after school–so, basically, times when a lot of kids would likely be watching TV. Anyway, one TV ad showed things like, a boy being approached by an unknown man in a car when out walking, and asked for directions. He still gave the man directions, but took a step back on the sidewalk first, and the man just thanked the boy and drove off, so either he was legitimately lost, or if he was a pedophile, he decided to move on and grab a less-informed kid, who was unfamiliar with the teachings of Bert and Gert. Another PSA showed another boy answering the phone when home alone; just saying his parents couldn’t come to the phone, without disclosing that he was home alone.

    I’m sure there were other similar Stay Alert, Stay Safe ads, with other scenarios, but my point is, this campaign began from the assumption that, of COURSE school-age kids are going to stay home alone sometimes, and traverse the neighbourhood independently, and so, instead of trying to prevent kids from doing that, the best thing to do is to give them tools to use to protect themselves as needed.

    So, I think it’d be a good idea to return to that model of child safety education, and I think that Lenore would be the perfect person to lead that charge–maybe with a YouTube channel, and/or a free app, to teach kids how to keep themselves safe, at home alone, out in the world, or online, without an adult hovering. Then, the kids can show their adults that they know how to handle themselves, and they’re ready for some increased freedoms, and corresponding responsibilities. I mean, writing the book Free-Range Kids, and starting this website, and doing the TV show (which unfortunately got cancelled for some reason) were all a good start, but these things seem to target adults, who might be open to it, or they might stubbornly stand firm on the idea that it’s somehow “dangerous” for their kids to walk a few blocks to school, through a safe neighbourhood. But, by also targeting kids, it might make for a stronger message; the same way that commercials for kids’ toys, TV shows, movies, snack foods, and sugary breakfast cereals used to work–target the kids, because they’re the intended market. Likewise with Free-Range Kids; it’s the kids who are the intended market, and I think it’s possible to make a stronger case for this movement, than for yet another video game, Happy Meal toy, or movie that’s basically a feature-length toy commercial, because free-ranging actually benefits kids in the long run, as well as benefitting adults in the short run, because life is just easier when you don’t have to have your eyes (or another set of background-checked adult eyes) on your children 24-7, from birth until university drop-off.

  4. Lydia September 11, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    I think it’s the term “free range.” It’s too far for most people. They associate it with chickens, and they think you’re an idiot for wanting your kid to be attacked miles from home. I think if there were a more neutral- or conservative-sounding term, more people would tolerate it. Perhaps “traditional parenting” (as opposed to modern, more scaredy-cat parenting) or “intentional parenting” or “partner parenting” (as opposed to authoritarian parenting) or something like that. I know it’s too late to change the name of the book, but I would never refer to myself as a “free-range parent” for this reason. I think it invites CPS.

  5. Mya Greene September 11, 2017 at 1:19 pm #

    Lydia,

    I think that the terms that you suggested are just as problematic as “free-range”, but for different reasons. “Traditional Parenting” runs the risk of lumping in the bits of old-fashioned parenting that may be undesirable to some, such as spanking, emotional detachment, and greater emphasis on gender roles, whereas “free-range” gets a bit more specific. “Intentional Parenting” and “Partner Parenting” are a really vague, and could be argued to apply to most parents, whether free-range or not. I am sure most overprotective parents would argue that they are parenting with plenty of intention, and that they are in some sort of partnership with either the other parent, the child, or perhaps the government.
    And of course “free-range” is a bit dehumanizing, and perhaps falsely implies an overly permissive parenting style, although it certainly captures the spirit well.
    But what terminology would we use? It’s tough to find something good. I don’t even know if the movement should be so parent centered. Maybe something like, “Latchkey Parenting”, “Mobility Parenting”, or “Children’s Independent Mobility Movement” work work, but I am not entirely sure.

    Also, I think it is safe to say that the issues going on fall under the general umbrella of age discrimination against younger people. So maybe we could frame it as part of a broader spectrum of youth civil rights issues.

    Anyhow, I think it is great that a kid is reading up on this. Hopefully, more will follow suit, and the child’s voice will become a bigger part of the movement.

  6. Kimberly Albertson September 11, 2017 at 2:00 pm #

    I really hope this girl continues to speak up despite the push back from the adults. I can’t imagine anything worse than if she decides to stop speaking up because she stops seeing the point if no one will listen or take her seriously.

  7. Workshop September 11, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    What does it say when a 10-year-old is smarter than the adults who are supposed to be educating her?

  8. Donald September 11, 2017 at 3:52 pm #

    I sure enjoyed the letter from the young girl in Australia. I certainly hope that she starts joining in on this blog.

  9. Sarah M September 11, 2017 at 5:17 pm #

    Keep up the good work, kiddo!

  10. Theresa Hall September 11, 2017 at 9:36 pm #

    Poor kid doesn’t know that adults really don’t want people who can think. Follow orders yes. The kid who can actually challenge authority and think for themselves the horror. We can’t who could actually shape our world just like Lincoln and Washington .

  11. Beth September 11, 2017 at 9:36 pm #

    She seems like a really fun, smart girl! I’m glad Lenore used her original punctuation because it totally added to the message.

  12. Wendy W September 12, 2017 at 9:50 am #

    I don’t remember Bert and Gert, and googled to take a look. I found the back-story of why they were created. As many child-safety movements are, this campaign was the result of a tragic child-abduction. But this mom had a different attitude. I think it’s safe to say she was probably a free-range mom.

    “Following her daughter’s death, Parrott… rejected fear-based approaches to streetproofing. She then launched her own streetproofing campaign… with a message focused on empowering children.”

    I think it’s time for Bert and Gert to be resurrected. I found their PSAs on YouTube. We can spread them around on social media.

  13. Emily September 12, 2017 at 10:02 am #

    >>I think it’s time for Bert and Gert to be resurrected. I found their PSAs on YouTube. We can spread them around on social media.<<

    No, I think we need something new. Bert and Gert are obviously from a different time, judging from their clothes, and the situations in the PSA's. Today, most people wouldn't ask a child for directions (if they even saw a child out walking/biking/skating alone); they'd use Google Maps. Most people wouldn't need to go to a person's house to use the phone if their car broke down; they'd have a cell phone as a matter of course……..and most people, sadly enough, wouldn't react so calmly to a child out in the world without an adult, or a child at home alone without any adults, like people did in the era of Bert and Gert.

    So, "Stay Alert, Stay Safe" was a perfectly good safety campaign when it was launched, but now, it'd be irrelevant. People would look at it and think, "I'd never let my elementary-aged child walk to school/the park/the library/the swimming pool/whatever, without an adult," or "I'd never let my middle-schooler use the stove," or "I'd never let my twelve-year-old stay home alone," or "I'd never let my high-schooler babysit at night," et cetera, so in their minds, that would "fix" any potential problems before they even start……even though they'd just be deferring the potential problems until their children are legally adults, and off at university/college/living in their first apartments, unable to fend for themselves whatsoever. What we need now is something like, "Stay alert, stay safe, but first stop being paranoid. Middle ground, folks."

  14. Theresa Hall September 12, 2017 at 11:15 am #

    If you’re alert you can stay pretty safe. There are always things that you prepare for and just have do your best to deal with. Like say a crazy drunk driver goes off the road and hits you.. or tree falls on the house. Life sometimes throws you a curve ball sometimes you just have to deal.

  15. Roger the Shrubber September 12, 2017 at 1:23 pm #

    SkepticProf – Donate a copy of FRK to your local Junior High school and see what happens!

  16. Andrea D. September 12, 2017 at 2:06 pm #

    Awesome kid!

  17. Papilio September 12, 2017 at 5:44 pm #

    What Beth said 😉

    As for the bad people who were in the area: they’re probably more interested in emptying your parents’ bank account…

  18. Sarah September 19, 2017 at 9:33 am #

    I just read Emily’s comment. I never heard of Bert and Gert as I’m not from the USA, but I would like to comment on that anyway. We have lived in Germany until last year and during the last school year, I terribly neglected my children and left them to fend for themselves: I left them alone all day! Ok, there were 3 people in the house, but I stupidly used the word alone because no one was babysitting them. Let me briefly explain: I stayed at a family friend’s house the first year I was in the us. He’s super rich and has a house with 5 stories in which a cook, a driver/houseman, and a manager/butler, were present. The owner, whom the kids knew and liked, even though he irritated them slightly sometimes because he was 80 and didn’t always understand what they said, worked in the building next door. There was a way to cross and even though the kids knew they weren’t supposed to cross during office hours, they also knew that in case of an emergency, that rule didn’t hold up. Also, they knew he might need hearing aids and was not as knowledgeable about video games as they would have liked, but was not senile or unfriendly. The younger one, almost 8 at the time, had a slight fever and a cold, I wanted to keep him home as he has a history of frequent bronchitis and has once been in the hospital with pneumonia. The older one had a cough and could have gone to school, he is also the best student in his class (even though he hates school). I had started a job that week and could have stayed home, but wanted to avoid it. If I had left the youngest one by himself he would have been scared and followed the house staff around all day, babbling incessantly. Anyway, he didn’t want to stay by himself. My older son saw his chance to miss school and offered to “babysit”. If they were hungry, the cook in the kitchen would feed them, and they could always FaceTime me, anyway, my job was 2 blocks away… I left the kids “alone” for 4 hours in the morning and 3 in the afternoon. That night, cps showed up. The allegation: I leave my kids alone 8 hours at a time and leave the oldest to care for his mentally retarded brother!!! He might be scared by himself and not always concentrate that well in school, but he is definitely not retarded! Anyway, the case ended up being closed as unfounded, but it led to some interesting discussions with my oldest: even if we had been alone, we’re old enough, no? What could happen?
    Hmm, I guess they figure you might get scared and not know what to do?
    What?! Why?! That’s stupid. Plus, we could call you if we were scared.
    Hmm, but if there was an emergency, like a fire that broke out.
    Well duh, we would run out. It’s not cold out so it wouldn’t matter if we ran out without shoes or pants. Once outside, we get someone to call 911.
    But what if there was too much smoke?
    Well, everyone knows that! We take towels out of the bathroom, make them really wet, cover our faces, wrap another one around our arms and run out.
    Where did you learn all that anyway?
    Well in school of course, remember when the policeman came? And we visited the firemen?
    Hmm, you remember it well, but what do you do if there are just too many flames for you to get out?
    You close the door, take the blankets, make them wet, put them against the door, open the window and call for help.
    Hmm, I don’t know, in a panic, you might not remember? (I was running out of arguments)
    He made a face like I was insulting him and said: well, with all the people in the house don’t you think someone would save us?
    Point taken, but you might, ehm, go to the bathroom and drink all the Clorox?
    Mom? That’s stupid! We go to the bathroom by ourselves in school and even the kindergarten kids don’t drink out of the toilet!!
    No, Clorox is the product you put in the toilet to clean it, not the toilet water. (In German, Klo means toilet, hence the confusion)
    That’s even more ridiculous then, no kid does that!
    Ok, ok, what if your brother had diarrhea all over the bed?
    I’d roll up the sheets and tell him to take a shower. And then we would go sit on your bed and close the door of the room, I don’t want our dog to touch the diarrhea.
    I ran out of dangers after that. Thing is, the kids were brought up in Germany and the school really did give out coloring books in kindergarten explaining what to do in case of a fire (as well as warnings not to play with power outlets and to ask an adult before handling fire) and giving some stories of 5 year olds who saved their family when they woke up to find granny passed out from co2 poisoning and smoke coming from the kitchen because he had been taught what to do. This was followed with a visit by a policeman at some point: how to cross a road, whom to talk to when you are lost or feel threatened or scared for any reason. In essence, ask someone but not anyone: if there is no policeman around, ask for help in a store – many shopkeepers put a sign with two little kids on the door to indicate that they are a “safe place”, or ask someone on the street, preferably a parent on a playground or pushing a pram. Stay away from people they feel dodgy about and don’t let anyone give them a ride home, they can point them in the right direction or call your parents or the police for them. Both kids needed help at some point: the older one was riding home with the bicycle in broad daylight and there was a group of drunken people sitting on the path being obnoxious; he was scared of passing them. He asked a mother to call us (I always made sure my kids could recite my phone number) and we told him to take the other path home. The younger one walked off one day while walking the dog with a friend of mine, it was next to the river and my friend was scared he had fallen in the water and was running up and down looking for a drowning child. Of course, 5 year olds normally don’t throw themselves in the water with their coat on, my son just hadn’t seen my friend anymore and had walked to the street to find him. He hated being by himself and probably shed a couple tears. He found a man at the bus stop, he couldn’t understand him so well he said and he didn’t think the guy could go looking with him so they called the cops. My son’s instinct turned out to be pretty good: the man was mentally retarded and did pull out his phone to call the cops, but was slightly overwhelmed with the situation. The cops reunited everyone and walked them home to make sure everything was alright. I showed them my ID and thanked them, but because it was Germany, i never got a follow up from cps…

  19. Sarah September 19, 2017 at 9:36 am #

    Sorry, I just reread the beginning of my last post: for clarity, we lived in Germany until two years ago and then moved to the us, the story of leaving the kids alone happened during the last school days of our first year. The other stories are from our time in Germany

  20. Sarah September 19, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    Theresa, I just read your answer and thought I heard my mother speaking, I used to tell people: omg, stop breathing, stop breathing immediately!! There could be a poison in the air! It’s too dangerous, better not take the risk!