A Child Visitor to America Asks: “Where Are All The Kids?”

Hi snkikshzrd
Readers — This note was originally a comment on the post below this one. Its poignancy hit me particularly hard because today’s New York Times has a piece by Jane Brody – “Communities Learn Good Life Can be a Killer” –  about the effect of sprawl on health, autonomy and, of course,  childhood. I’m not sure how to suddenly re-urbanize vast swaths of suburbia, but I’m glad that city planners are looking into it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Before moving to my current home in Germany 6 years ago, I lived in a small town (about 5,000 people) in a different part of Germany. It was very Free-Range. Kids of all ages played outside in the smaller streets without adult supervision. The older kids watched out for the younger ones when a car drove by. Kids were always out playing in the neighborhood, either in the streets or at a local playground.

When my son was about 4 or 5, my family (husband, son, me) took a trip to California to visit family. In all of the neighborhoods where we stayed, nobody was on the streets. My son finally commented, “This must must be a really lonely place. Nobody is here.” He was so used to seeing the German streets in his neighborhood alive with kids playing and adults walking, cycling, or running. The empty streets in nice neighborhoods in California really threw him off.

During another CA trip, when my son was 9, he commented that he wouldn’t want to live there because you have to drive everywhere. He likes being able to walk or ride his bike over here and doesn’t really know anything different.

Kudos to Lori for making her town less of a “lonely place.” She is a beacon of hope for the Free-Range movement.  – Sue Biegeleisen

Helloooo? Anyone NOT home?

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52 Responses to A Child Visitor to America Asks: “Where Are All The Kids?”

  1. Tim Gill February 1, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    A poignant childs-eye-view on life in a car-dependent neighbourhood. Reminds me of my recent visit to Melbourne, Australia – where they really do suburban sprawl. I heard a talk by the Victoria State Child Safety Commissioner, where he said: “suburban growth corridors with poor infrastructure are a problem for children and families.” You can imagine the kind of issues that land on *his* desk, and yet there he was, saying (in part) “it’s the environment, stupid.” Yes, city planners do need to look into it. And your readers need to support them.

  2. SKL February 1, 2012 at 2:17 am #

    My kids are 5 and I still get horrified looks when I let them go outside on their own. I do it anyway, and the adults with me feel the need to go follow them. It bugs me! If this is the way people are going to be, it’s no wonder kids don’t get outside more.

  3. enyawface February 1, 2012 at 2:43 am #

    I ask the same thing now in Washington. Before moving to the Seattle area, I lived in in the Kansas City area, both at the Seminary I was attending and in the neighborhood of my church, kids and families were always seen outside,walking to the neighborhood store, playing in the yards, climbing trees, and even sometimes playing in the streets. without parents hovering over them. I even remember once while in my apartment on the grounds of the seminary, calling one of the parents because her oldest, 9, was in the top of a tree climbing out to retrieve a kite. My only concern, the top of the tree was just above the roof of their three story building and swaying, and being he was all alone at the top of the tree, just wanted to make sure she knew, so she could keep an eye out just in case, not to send her out running after her little boy.
    But anyhow, as said, I moved, now in Washington, and here, rarely see a child outside unless accompanied by an adult, and often wonder the purpose of the new basketball court in the subdivision next to us, as in 5 years, I have only seen it used 3 times. Once to actually play basketball and another time used to stage the contents of a moving truck before the family moved everything into the house next to the court.
    So the same question, were are all the kids?

  4. enyawface February 1, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    I think I have also mentioned before, here in the Seattle area, this is one of the places, several times, I have seen children as old as 7 and 8 in strollers, or with those stupid God forsaken harnesses and leashes. It is toitally beyond me why any child capable of waling needs to be in a stroller, or tethered to mom and dad like a dog.

  5. Danielle Meitiv February 1, 2012 at 2:54 am #

    I live in the DC metro area and see quiet streets wherever I go. It’s so frustrating. I grew up in NYC during the seventies, at the HEIGHT of the violent crime wave and my brother and I were always out and about with other kids. Now I fully expect to see tumbleweeds blowing down my suburban street…

    We’re trying to raise our kids Free Range but the streets are empty. Where are the other kids? Why is the playground down the street empty – or populated with a 1:1 ratio of parents and kids? I live on a dead end with a huge empty circle in front of it, the PERFECT spot for skateboards, bikes, ball games, street hockey… But it’s empty.

    I love your blog and now know how to give my kid more freedom but not how to get OTHER folks to let their kids off the leash. Sigh.

  6. mamataney February 1, 2012 at 3:00 am #

    The weather where we are has been far from wintery, and instead in the 50’s and even today the upper 60’s. We’ve spent as much time as we could at the playground, though all most every time my sons were the only kids there. My 8 year old really noticed, asking if I would text & call the mothers to let them know we were here, and why wasn’t anyone else coming.
    With the exception of adults walking for exercise, which you see a LOT of, you rarely see kids out. When we do see teenagers out walking, several of the “helicopters” tend to get very ancy .. to the point of almost calling the police.
    What is the point of big back yards, parks and playgrounds all around, and living where you can walk to so many things if you NEVER go outside?!?

  7. Lollipoplover February 1, 2012 at 3:03 am #

    I too am baffled about the double speak we give our kids. We want them to “Get Up and Move” yet restrict their freedom to play truly actively. My child’s gym teacher this year started giving out pedometers to see the amount of steps these kids are actually getting. It’s hard to get moving when you are driven everywhere.

    Thankfully, we live in a great free range neighborhood. I actively sought it out. It’s the one with people walking dogs, moms pushing babies, and all the kids outside! My kids bike to school each day and walk in the bad weather. It’s actually easier (for all of us) than driving them 3 miles and takes less time. They get to school wide awake and ready to learn. They can bike to swim practice at our pool in the summer. In the winter, they can sled on the many hills on the golf course (plus ice skate on the water traps!) The water traps are also great fishing holes for catch and release (and to try and catch Big Mona, the rumored catfish of 4 feet).
    We still need to drive to stores, but my kids hate shopping so it’s not an inconvenience. And neighborhoods like mine get the ice cream trucks and girl scouts selling their cookies on a very routine basis.
    Childhood is short, let’s not hijack it from our kids by being fearful of our own neighborhoods. And kids are a lot like puppies, when the get long runs they tend to misbehave less because they are worn out.

  8. mbm February 1, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    In our area of California, the streets are empty of children. They are all playing at the beach!

  9. EricS February 1, 2012 at 3:58 am #

    Lol! Reading this article I’m suddenly reminded of the old west. When everyone runs inside to duck and cover, grabbing the children who interestingly observe. The town is quiet as a mouse, hearing nothing but the wind, and tumbleweeds rolling about, as two gunslingers face off. Which really isn’t far from fact, with all the paranoia goin on these days.

  10. EricS February 1, 2012 at 4:06 am #

    @Lollipoplover: That’s why I’ve always said, when it comes to the parents, it’s not so much about the children, but THEIR own fears. And the need to satisfy their paranoia and distrust. If it were really about the kids, these parents wouldn’t be picking and choosing which fears to be ok with and which to succumb to. Their mentality of “there is a possible danger in everything and in every corner”, should not allow them to pick their fears out of convenience. Fear is fear, “danger” is “danger” according to how they react to things. Shows lack of logic and common sense used by many over protective parents.

  11. kiesha February 1, 2012 at 4:16 am #

    @enyawface – There’s always the chance that an older child in a stroller or harness has a disability or a behavioral issue that makes it easier on everyone if he or she is ‘contained’ in some way.

    My favorite too-old-to-be-in-a-stroller story happened a few years ago when I was working in a bookstore. I was restocking magazines when a mother pulled up with her child in one of those bare-bones beach chair-style strollers. The kid was about four, I’d say. He looked down at the lap restraint on the stroller and then said, “What happened to the other stroller?”

    The mother said, “We had to get rid of it. You were too big for it.”

    The little boy looked down again with a bit of a sneer and then said, “I liked the other one better. It had a cup holder.”

    I almost had to bite down on a magazine to stop from laughing.

  12. Peter Brülls February 1, 2012 at 4:34 am #

    @kiesha Well yes, any individual case may be fully justified, which is a pretty good reason not to judge individuals rashly.

    But it’s the same as with being overweight: While there are people around who simply cannot help it, it’s simply not the case for the majority of us.

    When there’s an abundance on kids on leashes, large kids in strollers and nearly no kids away from adults, it’s a clear sign of a systematic fault, not a fear occurrence of statistics.

  13. Kimberly February 1, 2012 at 5:12 am #

    I like the harnesses for transitioning from stroller to walking. In my case it is the adult not the child that has a problem. Holding hands is painful for me due to a skin condition. I often take my niece and nephew out to crowded areas.

    With their parents permission, both kids wore a monkey backpack the summers they were 2 yo. It had a long tail/handle. More often that not I just held on to the backpack, in crowded situations were they might be seperated from me by the crowd, at intersections, and in parking lots. Now they are old enough 4 and 7 to yell out, give people my name and phone number, and go to our if you get lost meet at X place.

  14. Beth February 1, 2012 at 5:20 am #

    Any child capable of walking should not be in a stroller? Sorry, free-range or not, I can’t buy into this. There were plenty of times I and my one-year-old were in a situation where it simply was not practical to have him walk and I refuse to feel guilty because I used a stroller. When my son was 3, we went to Washington, DC; vacationing there is ALL walking, and I don’t know what we would have done without our lightweight umbrella stroller. I think people need to stop being quite so judgemental about stroller use for toddlers.

  15. Alexandra February 1, 2012 at 5:41 am #

    I would love to know more about how Lori learned how to improve the sidewalks and convince city council members and stuff. I am inspired! I also want to figure out how to see you speak in Seattle when you’re here.

  16. Lollipoplover February 1, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    @EricS- I totally agree. Most of the parents around me have let their kids out to play, but I’ve run into a few at social gatherings that live by me and have kids that I’ve never seen out. One of the moms said she won’t let her kids bike or walk to school because of all the weirdos. I wanted to know who were the weirdos and asked for names. We know just about all of the families by now on the route to school, but she said she was just speaking generally. I was having fun, and asked is it the Smiths? The Joneses? WHO are the weirdos and I think she got the point not to stereotype good people who would likely be looking out for your kid if you ever let them out of your controlling sight.

  17. North of 49 February 1, 2012 at 5:59 am #

    I can see the tethering if the child is autistic or developmentally delayed, or if the traffic was especially dangerous, but not a normal child on average North American streets.

    Here, a suburb, a small city that barely gets called a city, kids are not seen regularly. I live right beside a school’s playground and it should be filthy with kids. Instead, it is a ghostland and empty.

  18. Stottmann Family February 1, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    I just want to thank you for showing me that there is another way of parenting and not to be scared of the entire world. Parents do not get this message anywhere else. I see my child’s childhood through brand new eyes. <3

  19. cheryl February 1, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    In this county (Suburban & Rural) there is a lovely asphalt trail that meanders for approx 15 miles connecting two counties. It has all sorts of historic markers and it passes near orchards, over rivers and streams. However, it is lightly used.
    The problem is that starts a mile or two out of town, & two fields away from the closest civilization (a shopping center). The closest neighborhood is approx 1 mile away across more fields and behind the shopping center. The other end of the trail?? Is at the county Jail.
    This is rather silly use of infrastructure. It starts no where and ends, well, no where. It could easily be extended TO the shopping center (ok, well not so easily, it would have taken planning by the State and talking to the local community!) and PAST the Jail to a neighborhood OR the main street of the next town (approx 1 mile further along).
    Or perhaps add a branch off of it to the very large community sports complex a few miles away.
    At this time – people almost HAVE to drive in order to access this trail. What a shame.

  20. LRH February 1, 2012 at 7:37 am #

    Well regarding the age of strollers issue (Beth, kiesha and enyawface), I will say–NOT to be ugly–but I do think that once a child is old enough to walk, that is what they should do most of the time.

    There may be times (crowded-crazy places, longer strolls where little legs maybe can’t handle that sort of length yet) where a stroller as an EXCEPTION to the rule would be fine, but I personally think that once a child is old enough, they should, frankly, get off their lazy tush and walk.

    It’s funny–on one hand, as free-rangers we want to empower kids to do for themselves when they can & in doing so often-times not only do we experience the joy & pride of seeing this, but the children themselves are proud. However, you will find some children who bask in having everything done for them, even things that they are clearly old enough to do for themselves, and sometimes you have to be firm with them that they’re old enough to do whatever themselves & you’re not going to do it for them. To that end, booting them from the stroller when they’re old enough & making them walk whether they like it or not, that’s a GOOD thing to do.


  21. LRH February 1, 2012 at 7:41 am #

    Where it regards the original issue, one of the main rebuttals I hear which I hate, when you mention how other places (in this case, Germany) do things this other way & maybe we should look into it, is “we’re not in Germany,” as if that means we shouldn’t at least CONSIDER doing it that way.

    People are bad about that though. My thoughts–if you visit a Middle Eastern country & see women being treated horribly & point out how in the US and other countries women aren’t mistreated that way, does the reply “well you’re not in the US” make the mistreatment okay?



  22. Stephanie February 1, 2012 at 10:05 am #

    I’ll admit my toddler uses a stroller. Not for much longer, but when walking to the school, it’s much simpler to have her in there and not worry about being late because my youngest needed to examine a leaf or felt like being chased in the wrong direction. She also eats breakfast really well in there. After school, she’s usually tired and may fall asleep in the stroller, which means I get my best chance at her taking a nap that day. Make her walk at that time, and she’s cranky and uncooperative.

    My older kids do go out and play on their own, some of the very few kids to do so. The situation is improving a little as some of the neighborhood kids get a bit older, but most are still only out with parents in view. I’m just glad that there are other kids out there for them to play with a little more often now, as our lovely sidewalks were barely used for the longest time by neighborhood kids.

  23. Anne B. February 1, 2012 at 10:15 am #

    A tangent on the NY Times parenting blog today: http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/what-is-car-culture-doing-to-our-children/

  24. suse February 1, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    Thought you might find this article about the Australian response to US guidelines on testing children’s cholesterol levels.

  25. Kay February 1, 2012 at 10:16 am #

    I suppose if they’re not inside doing homework, they are at an adult organized activity or sport. Such is the way it is today where kids don’t have the free time anymore. But I do agree parental fear plays a part, too.

  26. Cheryl W February 1, 2012 at 10:35 am #

    I had the same thought when we moved to WA (Eastern.) We used to live in a self described “4-H” town that consisted of mostly one block and a couple of side streets. All the families (excepting a few with split families) were out walking the streets with kids and or dogs. The local park around the corner was the meeting place for most kids (including a few drug dealers that I ran off – it was a park – go someplace else for your deals!) At Halloween, all the kids who lived up in the hills around the town would come and go trick or treating on the one block. We would get over 300 kids, not counting the ones who went around twice.

    Then we moved. Yes it is more rural, a small private road. But when you look on Bing Maps or such, there are trampolines, kiddie pools and such. The first day here, we met one kid, who was visiting his grandmother. He thought it was great to have someone to play with at Nana’s. But that was it. For about two months. There was still a trampoline, but I figured the kids must be a split family, as I never saw them.

    About two months into things, we met the girls behind us when the dad picked them up at the mailbox when they got off the bus. (My kids and I had walked to the mailbox to check it. I do let the kids go alone, but I need exercise too.) There were two girls about my daughter’s age. My daughter didn’t play with them for another few months, when she finally saw them outside and asked if she could play. An other mom about the same time, stopped by. Turns out she was homeschooling too, but I never heard or saw her kids either. They now come around a bit and play. I they don’t homeschool anymore, so it is harder for me to send my kids over because I don’t know when they have homework and such.

    The only kid who has hung around outside (besides my kids) was the grandson of a neighbor. His mother lost her housing, and moved in with family. The kid was nice, but mom used meth while pregnant, and had her baby taken away until she completed rehab. My mom instinct told me after a couple of incidents that her son could play here, but my son wasn’t going to play there. Things are going better for the family now, and we don’t see the boy as much because mom has a house, and when the boy visits, he spends time with family instead of being shoved out the door. (He was shoved out to the extreme. I didn’t doubt him before rehab when I told him to go home and see his mother some that he was correct when he said she didn’t want to see him.)

  27. Lisa Baker February 1, 2012 at 10:54 am #

    We chose a walkable neighborhood when we bought our house (as walkable as you can get in our sprawling city, anyway), but even though you see lots of people out and walking, it’s rare to see kids alone, at least kids younger than middle schoolers. I guess I should be glad that at least middle schoolers are allowed out of the house around here!–but I really want to let my kids walk to places without me when they’re a LOT younger than that. I’ve been working on educating my neighbors in the hopes that by the time my kids are old enough to walk or bike to school without me, there will be other kids doing it, too. (My oldest is 3 so I figure I have a couple of years.) Today at the playground, I was teasing some moms (of slightly younger kids) about how they didn’t want to let their kids out of sight for even a second. “I’m afraid of him being abducted,” one of them told me, quite seriously. This in broad daylight, in a nice neighborhood, in a brand-new playground with great visibility all around it, and nobody there but moms & kids. I told her that crime is lower now than anytime since when we were kids and that abduction is incredibly rare and usually perpetrated by family members, not strangers, and all the moms I was talking to were shocked. I referred them to this blog!

    Later today, I was having lunch with my dad, and I let my daughter go get herself a popsicle. The ice cream chest is around a slight corner from where we were sitting, so we couldn’t actually see my daughter while she was doing this. However, this is in a tiny restaurant where we go every week, where I know all the staff by name (and they know my daughter by name), and where the vast majority of patrons are parents with kids who live in the neighborhood. And my dad looked at me and said, “I’m afraid she’s going to be kidnapped.” Because we couldn’t actually see her for about thirty seconds. !?!?!?!?!?! Seriously?!? I mean, I was a little worried she might walk out the front door and wander down to the playground by herself (but I knew if she tried that that one of the waiters would stop her). But kidnapped?!? Um, right.

    Ugh, I just get so frustrated running into these fears all the time. And I live in a safe neighborhood. But it would be a lot safer, IMO, if some of the other parents would lighten up and let their kids out of the house! So grateful for this blog!–I’m hoping your information will help convert my neighbors so in a few years we’ll have a free-range community here, with well-populated sidewalks!

  28. Ann February 1, 2012 at 11:16 am #

    It is lonely to go to larger cities and not see children playing. Makes me glad that I live in a small country town. Just tonight daughter who is 13 just went on a run around town at 8pm and it was dark. She is a smart girl and I wasn’t worried about a stranger taking her. More worried that she would come across a skunk and be sprayed!

  29. enyawface February 1, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    I never mentioned anything about toddlers, I am talking about the common European practice, to place children as old as 8 9 and even 10, hardly toddlers, not physically or mentally challenged in any way, in a stroller, for travel, the practice is becoming the norm here in the Seattle area, i wonder if we will also adopt the practice of putting older children in diapers, often referred to as “nappies” to make extended travel or outdoor periods more convenient and avoid the danger of visits to dangerous public restrooms? Why stop there? We should just go from diaper and stroller in preschool to depends and ensure in grade school.When you think that exercise is tossing the Wii i front of the TV, and socialization is what we do when we post our status on Facebook,why not just go to the inevitable? Become the indistinguishable blobs as we saw in Wall- E.

  30. ThOR February 1, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

    To begin with, keep in mind that there are large urban expanses in California’s coastal centers that have few children in residence. San Francisco has roughly half the number of residents under the age of 18 of the national average (13% compared to 24%) and the vast majority of those children live in poor, ethnic neighborhoods seldom visited by tourists. Even on a citywide basis, this means that fewer than 5 percent of the residents are grammar school-aged children. In more fashionable neighborhoods, the number of children of grade school age in residence can be as low as 1 or 2 percent. You don’t see children because they are not here.

    California, it should be pointed out, is the epicenter for cutting edge urban planning in the U.S. I have worked as an urban planner in California for much of my adult life. The absence of children playing in the streets is a byproduct of our handiwork. This is primarily accomplished through land use restrictions that drive up housing costs and effectively price young families out of the market. Where affordable housing does exist, the quality of public education is so low that families with school aged children choose to live elsewhere. Experiments in family-friendly urban planning, such as Disney’s “Celebration” master-planned community in Osceola County, Florida, are the subject of open derision among local urban planning professionals. We’re far too sophisticated for that. Don’t let your planner-friend con you into thinking that planners are the solution to what you perceive as an undesirable lack of family-friendliness, at least not here in the Golden State.

    In the San Francisco Bay Area, it is only in the most segregated urban centers – the barrio and ghetto neighborhoods – that you actually see children playing in the streets. Otherwise, if you’d like to see kid friendly neighborhoods in this part of Northern California, you’ll have to visit “exurban” areas closer to the Central Valley, where the grip of urban planners is not so tight and family-friendly communities are still being built. I’m not trying to be glib, but the absence of children is what we, as a community, have in mind.

    Yours truly,


  31. Donna February 1, 2012 at 1:09 pm #

    I agree about the cars but the rest is very outside of my experience living in San Diego and Orange Co, CA for several years. It is perpetually sunny and 72 degrees. Everyone was always outside. If a neighborhood had kids, those kids were usually outside. Adults were often out with them. I don’t know if that is helicopter parenting or the fact that it’s perpetually sunny and 72 degrees. I was shocked when I move back to Georgia as saw how few kids were out playing (it was summer) compared to the mobs I was used to in So CAL.

  32. Donna February 1, 2012 at 1:30 pm #

    I agree with Thor that CA is a kinda unique place as well. Southern California substantially different than Northern California. In most areas of the US, suburban, single family neighborhoods equal a large number of children. In the southern California world of massive suburban sprawl, everything is suburban, single family neighborhoods. There is little other housing outside of the barrios, ‘hoods and the very small downtowns of LA and San Diego. Neighborhoods that look like they should be slap-full of kids, may simply not have many due to the demographics of that particular neighborhood.

    My ex’s neighborhood was full of 0-12 year old kids. There were always at least a dozen kids out playing on his street. His parents lived a short walk away in an almost identical-looking, but drastically different, neighborhood. That neighborhood had some high school kids and the occasional grandkid floating around but few young kids. As a result it was rare to see kids outside. You’d see a couple here or there in the yard of the odd house that had young kids but not large numbers of them.

  33. Beth February 1, 2012 at 4:52 pm #

    @enyawface, this is what you said, and I quote “It is toitally beyond me why any child capable of walking needs to be in a stroller.” ANY child. I tried to explain why someone with a 1-3 year old might find a stroller an appropriate choice in certain situations. Do you need more examples?

    The leap from that to putting older kids in diapers was ridiculous.

  34. Kenny Felder February 1, 2012 at 6:20 pm #

    True story: my mother just got back from a weekend in California. The first thing she told me was “Kenny, you’re going to love this. They have a park–a public park run by the city of Berkeley–where the kids play with actual saws, hammers, and nails. They sled down a huge pile of dirt. There is no guard of any kind, just a sign that says ‘No children under 7 without adult supervision’ or some such.” I keep being reminded that there are these little oasises (oases?) in the desert. The thing I don’t know is whether they represent a trend or just the dying gasp of childhood.

  35. gap.runner February 1, 2012 at 8:42 pm #

    @enyawface, When did you see older kids in strollers in Europe? In my almost 20 years in Germany, I’ve noticed that kids here stop riding in strollers earlier than their American counterparts. I’ve been on 10 km (6.2 mile) hikes with German families who required their kids age 3 and up to walk the whole way. We went at a fairly slow pace and took many breaks, but the little ones walked the whole 10 km. People here do carry their kids in backpacks on hikes, but the kids are usually 2 or under. The only older child that I’ve seen in a stroller in Germany was one boy at my son’s preschool. He had a medical condition and couldn’t walk, so he was in a large stroller/small wheelchair.

  36. Marcy February 1, 2012 at 9:40 pm #

    OT: My 6 year old son wishes we were still in Switzerland where we didn’t have to drive everywhere. We live in a townhouse complex, and there are always kids playing. A complex this size would have been mandated to have a playground built in Geneva, but here in Halifax they resort to playing in the parking lot. It makes me a little nervous, but it is better than staying inside. The complex is definitely lower middle class. I sometimes feel that I should move into a better socioeconomic neighbourhood, but it seems there are more kids playing outside here than in the more “affluent” hoods, so here we stay.

    Stroller topic: I have seen older kids in Europe in strollers more than in North America. I figure it is a result of North Americans driving everywhere so kids don’t have far to walk at the best of times. In Europe, there is a lot more walking longer distance. I’ve noticed a lot of moms at the park using the stroller as a chair for themselves as they chat with the other moms while the kids play. That said, I think the older kid in the stroller is the exception, not the rule. It is noticeable simply because it looks so bizarre.

  37. Randy Rood February 1, 2012 at 10:23 pm #

    When I was stationed in Germany the first time (1977 – 1981), kids were always playing in the streets in the little town my wife and I lived in. The older ones looked out for the younger ones, also. I could and did let my 2 year old daughter play with the kids and never once had to worry about her. Since we were the only Americans in the village, everyone knew where she lived. I miss those day and am sad today’s kids do not get to enjoy what my daughter did and by the way, me also. I grew in a small Nebraska town too.

  38. librarian February 1, 2012 at 10:52 pm #

    More research in favor of free-range:
    Deny your kid essential life-experience and decision-making training == prolong his/her painful adolescence.


    In the past, to become a good gatherer or hunter, cook or caregiver, you would actually practice gathering, hunting, cooking and taking care of children all through middle childhood and early adolescence—tuning up just the prefrontal wiring you’d need as an adult. But you’d do all that under expert adult supervision and in the protected world of childhood, where the impact of your inevitable failures would be blunted. When the motivational juice of puberty arrived, you’d be ready to go after the real rewards, in the world outside, with new intensity and exuberance, but you’d also have the skill and control to do it effectively and reasonably safely.

    In contemporary life, the relationship between these two systems has changed dramatically. Puberty arrives earlier, and the motivational system kicks in earlier too.

    At the same time, contemporary children have very little experience with the kinds of tasks that they’ll have to perform as grown-ups. Children have increasingly little chance to practice even basic skills like cooking and caregiving. Contemporary adolescents and pre-adolescents often don’t do much of anything except go to school. Even the paper route and the baby-sitting job have largely disappeared.

  39. renee miller February 1, 2012 at 11:35 pm #

    My kids noticed the same thing from the opposite side of the coin. We were lucky enough to visit Europe this fall (Germany, France and Monaco). In Monaco especially my kids (ages 13,13,10) noticed that kids were all around and seemingly unsupervised. It is a VERY small place with lots of great public transportation. But it also has TONS of tourists (strangers!). My 13 yr olds thought it would be great to be able to roam around the whole city alone!

  40. Lollipoplover February 1, 2012 at 11:49 pm #

    As for the European references, I read this article in the Philadelphia Inquirer today reviewing a new parenting book asserting the wisdom of French parenting:


    Ms. Heller is dead on with parenting advise I totally agree with-

    “Both the French and Americans sound selfish, the French for being so invested in their marriages and themselves, the Americans for viewing children as the reflection of their labor and love.

    I worry about busy women spending precious free time reading books like Bebe in the pursuit of becoming better mothers, as if it’s a career. Really, they should devote free time to reading novels or great biographies, books that make them happier, calmer, and free them from the notion that parenting is a sport.”

    And I would add if we could all just let them play outside freely each day …

  41. Tim Gill February 1, 2012 at 11:52 pm #

    @Kenny Felder – what your mother came across was an honest-to-goodness adventure playground. There would have been staff or volunteers somewhere, but they would have been in the background letting the kids get on with it (if they were doing their job right). Denmark and Germany have hundreds of them. In the UK we have a fair few (though not so many with the saws, hammers and nails). Japan has a dozen or so. The US? Two or three: the one your mom found in Berkeley, and one or two elsewhere in CA. At their best they are truly magical places. Here in the UK, the last Government provided federal funding to create 30 new ones. The current Government has not continued that funding, and the economic climate means the future of all adventure playgrounds is very uncertain.

  42. Peter Brülls February 2, 2012 at 12:10 am #

    Where in Europe are those stroller-bound kids supposed to be? ’cause I don’t see them in Germany.

    I’ve started to see some kids in strollers who looked like they were three years old, but that’s about it.

    I sometimes see older kids riding in handcarts, which are mostly being used to transport the groups’s stuff (like bags and foodstuffs four adults and four kids) but only for short distances.

  43. Susie February 2, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    A lot of the comments mention how empty the streets and playgrounds are in their suburbs. You moved there, probably “for the children”. If you have learned that your family life was not improved by moving to a non-human-range environment, then acknowledge that.

    Those of us who raised our children in the city have had to endure a lot of “don’t you want the best for your children?” over the years. Now that the pendulum is swinging back in our direction, please consider admitting that maybe we weren’t such awful parents after all.

  44. Heather February 2, 2012 at 3:59 am #

    We’ve lived in too many places to count, but the last few were Columbus, Spokane, a Seattle suburb, and a San Francisco suburb. Generally, we lived in neighborhoods highly populated with kids…but you’d never know it. In Columbus (midwest US) you’d only see kids out in cul-de-sacs with parents seated in camp chairs at the end of driveways. In Spokane, we lived on a quiet street, luckily with a couple other free-range families so kids could be found running a muck any time they weren’t in school. Near Seattle kids walked to school (unless they moved there from CA then the parents drove them the .75 mile to school and dropped them off. No joke!). Most of the time the kids were holed up inside playing video games due to the weather, but sometimes kids would venture out and head to the vacant lot or woods to explore. Often you could have kids living next door and not know it for a year. Now in CA there are no buses and unless the kids are 4th gr or older, parents must drop off or walk with the kid to school (now I understand about Seattle). However, the weather is fantastic with parks everywhere and still no kids. People drive like maniacs in CA and appear to be so self-focused that they don’t realize they aren’t the only ones on the road so its a tad dangerous for kids to walk or ride their bikes. If you want to find kids–they are at the library–with their tutors. And then they go to music practice…and sports practice…and then dance or art class…then rush home for dinner…then more homework and studying. On the weekends its “family time” so kids can’t play. When school’s on vacation the parents are (both) still working so kids get farmed out to camps. My 3 kids are very disappointed that there’s rarely anyone to play with.

  45. Lisa February 2, 2012 at 7:04 am #

    My grandmother visited us in September and remarked that our (brand-new suburban) neighborhood was a ghost town. No kids out playing or riding bikes. We live in an upper-middle class area with nice streets, sidewalks, low crime and low traffic. No reason for kids not to be out playing, but they’re not.

    Personally I think the solution is either small towns (where most neighborhoods are within walking distance of “downtown” and kids can access most things on foot or bike) or urban areas where people aren’t really using cars at all. I prefer the former, but for now we’re in the suburbs.

    It’s an interesting state of affairs we’ve created for ourselves.

  46. wellcraftedtoo February 2, 2012 at 8:38 am #

    I thought perhaps I was imagining it, but in the last year or two it seems as if the kids out and about in our neighborhood (inner ring, older ‘burb with trees, sidewalks, nice parks, etc just north of Chicago) are fewer and far between. This was an issue for me when my two were young (they’re now in their early 20’s) but a number of us ‘die hards’ encouraged ours to be out, so my two did find others…

    Could I be witnessing yet a further decline in the presence of kids out of doors?

    Ack, how dreary it all is!

    Can childhood be saved?

  47. wellcraftedtoo February 2, 2012 at 8:44 am #

    @Kenny–Leave it to Berkeley to set up such a park for its kids!

    It’s an expensive place to live, but time to pack a bag anyway??

  48. Anon February 3, 2012 at 2:02 am #

    I am not surprised. In our sprawled subdivision, kids run the risk of being squished by geezers in land yachts and twits with SUVs and iPhones.

    In fact, that is the main killer of children nowadays. If I were living in an exurb, I would not let my child go free-range either.

  49. Celeste February 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm #

    In my 20’s, I raised my first set of kids in the Lower East Side of Manhattan. They were free range by necessity (though I don’t think the term had been coined yet back then). Since I was a single mother with a full-time job, I taught my kids how to do lots of things for themselves, and they were walking themselves to and from school and getting around town on their own at a very early age. It was great for them, and they’re turning out to be terrific adults (They’re in their early 20’s now.) I got remarried in my 30’s and started my “Round 2” family six years ago, this time in Los Angeles. Different city. Still great for kids though. In our community in the San Fernando valley, my kids (ages 6 and 3) can ring the neighbor’s doorbell and ask if their friends can come out to play, then play outside while the parents are inside relaxing or getting stuff done. Most of our neighbors in the surrounding few blocks know us and we know them. As other posters have mentioned, our gorgeous weather means we’re outside more, not less. At least that’s my experience. But, the problem here occurs when we venture outside our immediate area: 6-lane Boulevards + little short people who can’t be seen very well from way up there in the SUVs drivers seats = NOT a good combo! Which is why my “Round 2” kids here in L.A. will not be walking on their own to the corner store at the same age my “Round 1” kids did, in pedestrian-friendly NYC. But, hey. They’ll get there eventually. You give a little, take a little. Every place has its merits and drawbacks.

  50. suzy February 3, 2012 at 3:51 pm #

    Just saw a lovely sight here in an Australian city. When we walked past with our dogs on a rainy day, a woman was standing watching her two kids, age 4 and 5, jumping over a big puddle on the side of the quiet street. When we walked back 10 minutes later, they were still there, but now the kids, a boy and girl, were totally nude and running through the puddle. Big smiles all round as we walked past.


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