Are Kids Safer Because We Never Let Them Out Anymore?

Hi Readers!

After hearing me on zizzkfbryt
NPR on Tuesday
talking about the fact that the crime rate is lower now than  in the 1970s and ’80s when many of us parents were  playing outside, a couple of commenters to this blog said: That’s because we’re keeping our kids inside now!

They even suggested that I was editing out their comments.

No, actually I welcome them (I only edit out obscenities), because I know a lot of people are wondering if what they’re suggesting is true.

It’s not.

The fact is that ALL crime is down since the early ‘90s, not just crimes against children. So it’s not that children are safer because we’re keeping them inside, it’s that the United States is  safer, period. Safer indoors and outdoors, for adults and children (and for all I know, pets). There are several reasons for this that  I have outlined before and will now outline again. But first, here are the stats in all their non-alarmist glory:

All U.S. homicides: Down 40% 1992 -2005.

Juvenile homicide: Down 36% 1993 – 2005 (kids under age 14)

Juvenile homicide: Down 60% 1993 – 2005 (age 14 – 17)

Forcible rape: Down 28% 1992 – 2006

Sex Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 51%

Physical Abuse Substantiations of Children, 1990 – 2005: Down 46%

Juvenile Sex victimization trends, 1993 – 2003: Down 79%

These stats were collected and crunched by the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which gets its numbers from the U.S. Dept. of Justice. David Finkelhor, head of the center, says that clearly something is driving ALL crime down. Nationally, violent crime – not just against children — just went down another 2.5% according to FBI stats released last week.  Finkelhor credits these factors:

* More policing.

* More aggressive prosecution of wrongdoers.

*Less tolerance of abuse in the family. You know how nowadays, if your kid goes to school with a black eye, the nurse or social worker probes to find out what happened? That kind of intervention is bringing more abuse to the attention of the authorities, who investigate and, when necessary, prosecute. (That’s why crime IN the home has been going down even as we bring more children inside.)

*Cell phones. These are a crime fighting tool two ways: First, we can use them to report any crime, anywhere – and even take pictures. Second? Criminals know this.

*Psychiatric meds. Finkelhor calls this the “sleeper” reason crime is down. More and more troubled people are being prescribed medicine to quell their demons. When the criminally insane feel less insane, they are also less criminal. Also, as Finkelhor points out, some of the medicine has a libido-dampening effect, too.

Taken together, these factors have contributed to the stunning drop in crime. A drop my book likens to “a graph of Hummer sales, Miami condo prices or birthday cards to Bernie Madoff. An unbelievably dramatic jackknife down.”  

It’s not just kids who are safer, it’s everyone. Rather than keeping kids locked inside, we should feel less leery about sending them back out.

So, thank you to the folks who asked and thought the only way to keep kids safe is to keep them at home with the doors locked. I hope this makes you feel more comfortable allowing your children outside this summer. – Lenore

51 Responses to Are Kids Safer Because We Never Let Them Out Anymore?

  1. Jon June 11, 2009 at 4:40 am #

    So what does it mean for those of us in Des Moines, where the crime rate is up from the 70s and 80s? I’m a believer in free range kids, but unfortunately cannot use statistics to back up my belief.

  2. Thad Moren June 11, 2009 at 4:53 am #

    Love this article. “Does anyone remember what happened to Dusty Baker’s kid?”

    One freak accident that caused no damage to anyone and…. sidelines are the most dangerous place that kids could be.

  3. Jen June 11, 2009 at 4:57 am #

    Jon, unfortunately while crime is at an all time overall low, some areas may still be experiencing a rise, or just be plain dangerous. Every parent needs to take their own neighbourhood and individual child’s abilities into consideration. What will work for me and my kid up here in quiet Northern Ontario might not work for a mom in the inner city in Detroit or L.A. Do what you can with what you have and good luck!

    Lenore: Thanks again for posting this up.

  4. snarkyFish June 11, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    The other major theory about the decline in crime since the 70’s is by freakonomics author Stephen Levitt:

    Basically, Roe V. Wade in the 70’s resulted in less unwanted children, the assumption being that unwanted children are more likely to grow up to become criminals.

    Correlation != Causation… but, it fits pretty well..

  5. Uly June 11, 2009 at 7:06 am #

    Jon, Jen is absolutely correct.

    You have to figure out if your area is safe or not. If it’s truly not safe, you’re in a special category, along with people whose children are truly disabled when it comes to making good choices. Nobody is saying that there aren’t people who can’t let their kids roam more freely, just that those of us who *can* should not be motivated by false fears.

  6. Ross June 11, 2009 at 7:07 am #

    Neil Howe and William Strauss also predicted this drop in their landmark book “Generations”. Wiki does a good job of explaining the theory:

  7. dar205 June 11, 2009 at 8:48 am #

    If child abuse and rape are down, and we have (as I understand) more thorough reporting of these crimes, it is probably down even more than the numbers suggest.

  8. Marvin Merton June 11, 2009 at 9:38 am #

    As usual, I am in general agreement. My only caveat is that I see no hard evidence to back up Finkelhor’s “sleeper” reason (psychiatric meds). First, to argue this ignores the reality that the most severely mentally ill among us were usually institutionalized in the past. Second, it also may very well be playing up the role of mental illness in crime.

    Now, I am not saying that mental illness does not play a role in crime. It certainly does. However, in general the public has lived with irrational fears of the mentally ill and the developmentally disabled being violent for a long time. To my knowledge these fears have not been supported by logic, in terms of the numbers of people with a certain illness being violent.

    In other words, the data is quite clear but the subjective assessment seems to be wanting.

  9. Nicola June 11, 2009 at 10:45 am #

    I send my kids outside so much that they sometimes beg to stay inside (to which I tell them their job is to be a kid and play, ha ha ha, logic!). It amazes me that they know the names of neighbors that I don’t know (I know where they live, but never met them), the names of their pets, how many kids and animals they have… and I feel somehow at ease knowing that my kids aren’t afraid, but are learning how to be neighborly.

    Of course, if I lived in a bad neighborhood like Jon up there, I’d never dream of letting my kids troll around – but where I live, our statistics are at most the occasional break-in and our neighbors call each other up to let everyone know to double check the locks and keep an eye out for any suspicious activity. Our neighbors wave at one another when we pass on the streets… if I didn’t know any better, I might be living in 1950! 😉

  10. JPB June 11, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Define “bad neighborhood”.

    Face it, most of the USA, even the bad parts, are still better than a lot of the world. Talk to older, thriving immigrants and they’ll tell you stories about their own childhoods that would probably make your “bad neighborhood” look okay by comparison.

  11. DeAnn Tilton June 11, 2009 at 12:07 pm #

    As a kid growing up in the ’70s, my mom’s mantra was: “find something to do or I’ll find it for you” which we all knew meant chores.

    Times were different, families were bigger. Sadly, my parents had more children than they could properly care for, leaving us lacking in parental guidance and involvement.

    But, how I appreciate both the freedom and responsibilitiy we had- the confidence and pleasure that come from thinking for yourself and getting out and about on your own.

    Raising our own rather cautious kid in our city neighborhood, I was thrilled when he recently started riding his trike in front of our hedges (which means I can’t always see him) in order to chat up the neighbors and greet people walking by.

    I listen through the screen door, watch through the window, imagine the thrill of that newfound freedom and feel happy for him.

  12. Alida June 11, 2009 at 12:28 pm #

    My mom was always warning us about potential predators. So much so, that I often wondered if she had been abused as a child. I grew up in the 70’s and paranoid as I thought she was, I was always outside playing with the neighborhood kids. I would walk home from school sometimes (but knew which apartment building to avoid walking past) and would even run errands for her by going to Rite Aid to pick up something or other we needed. I was 10 years old.

  13. Sierra June 11, 2009 at 12:29 pm #

    I love letting my kids play outdoors without me, but I only do it for a few minutes at a stretch – they are very young, and we live in a very urban neighborhood with a lot of hazards in it (traffic, trains, etc).

    I wonder sometimes though, if a kid outdoors without a parent is like a car with a broken window in a “bad neighborhood” – begging to be vandalized because it seems like no one is caring for it. Sure, most kids might be safer these days, but in a world where an unsupervised child is a rare find, do those kids become more heavily targeted by creeps?

    I still think creepiness is incredibly rare, and I don’t worry about this much for my own kids. I’m just curious how the math works out on an academic level.

  14. joshv June 11, 2009 at 12:50 pm #

    I don’t understand how you can entirely discount the dramatic absence of unattended children in public as a possible contributiong cause for the drop in abduction rates. Yes, crime rates have fallen as well, but lacking a good means of determining exact causes (which I am sure differ for every type of crime), all we can do is speculate.

    I speculate that one of the reasons children are abducted less than they were in the past is that they are locked up indoors with their parents, or escorted around in cars to school and play dates. There is no data to prove this speculation true or false. Just as there is no way to prove your claim that such child sequestration has no effect.

    I do know that my claim is much less absolute, and thus more logically defensible. I merely claim that increasing child sequestration *could* be a cause for decreasing rates of child abduction. You make an absolute claim that this is most definitely *not* a factor, a claim that requires a much higher bar for proof – proof that is not provided by citing correlation with other crime statistics.

    Don’t get me wrong. I plan on raising my soon to arrive first born as FreeRange as possible, but I want to be realistic about the risk. By letting my child roam around alone, I will in fact be exposing them to a great risk of accident or abduction. And if lots of folks do this, I would find it very odd if abduction rates didn’t rise. But still, I agree that the risk are tiny, and are far outweighed by the benefits.

  15. Uly June 11, 2009 at 1:01 pm #

    Nicola, we don’t know if Jon does live in a bad neighborhood.

    We know that crime rates in Des Moines are rising (well, I haven’t checked that yet, but let’s assume he’s not just spreading misinformation for the heck of it), but that doesn’t mean they’re actually high at this time, just that they’re rising.

    Even if the crime rate is high, that doesn’t necessarily mean his child in danger – the rate of violent crime may still be low.

    Even if *that* is high his kid might *still* be safe – he may live in a particularily safe neighborhood. He’d need to see crime statistics for his city that break things down neighborhood by neighborhood, because in any large-sized city some parts are going to be safer than others, and the larger it is the more this is amplified.

    Of course, he might actually live in a dangerous area. I don’t know, I don’t know him, nor do I know Des Moines at all.

    Actually… *googles* it looks like Des Moines has a violent crime rate that’s 40% lower than the national average.

  16. Jen June 11, 2009 at 8:39 pm #

    I speculate that one of the reasons children are abducted less than they were in the past is that they are locked up indoors with their parents, or escorted around in cars to school and play dates. There is no data to prove this speculation true or false. Just as there is no way to prove your claim that such child sequestration has no effect.~Joshv

    This is some good speculation; you’re right that noone can for sure know exactly why certain kinds of crime are down, only guess that it’s a combination of contributing factors. Good luck and have fun with your baby-to-be!

  17. Elizabeth June 11, 2009 at 10:11 pm #

    I kind of wish the discussion of Free Range could move past the idea of “unattended” children and examine the broad spectrum in between a child being with a parent at all times or never being with a parent.

    We need to remember that just as we need to keep in mind the area in which we live and the crime rates we also need to keep in mind the child, his/her skills, age, interests, and experiences. There is an enormous difference between letting a 3 year old walk to pre-school a mile from her home and letting a 14 year old go to a different counter at the mall food court and meet her mom back at the table.

    This is not a binary choice between neglect and smothering. There are myriad options for letting kids have new experiences that are safe and develop independence.

    We also need to remember that it is never about just kicking the kids out the front door and shouting “fend for yourself!” Free Range is about teaching them how to navigate the world by giving them incremental freedoms and opportunities and EDUCATING them about how to make choices in the world.

  18. KBF June 11, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

    If there is any correlation between keeping kids indoors and a lower crime rate it might not be because we are keeping the victims away from the criminals but because the very kids we are keeping inside are the criminals. That might seem like a stretch, but what I’m thinking about here is from my criminology classes in college that talked about the bell shaped age curve associated with criminal behaviors. Adolescence to early twenties is when criminal behavior is at it’s highest, so if we are keeping our older kids home more that could explain some of the drops in crime. But I also believe that crime statistics, like so many others, are cyclical and shouldn’t always be used to justify one belief over another any way. Nearly any thought can be backed up by one study or another if we just look hard enough, right?

  19. sylvia_rachel June 11, 2009 at 10:43 pm #

    Thanks for this, Lenore. (I know it’s in the book, too–but this gets it out to more people.)

    I don’t suppose any similar stats breakdown is available for Canada? I am trying so hard to change my husband’s conviction that “things are different from when we were kids” and it’s not safe to send our 6-year-old next door to the Hasty Market for a loaf of bread …

    Here’s another thing somebody said to me recently that I’m hoping you or someone else on here can refute (or, at least, address): “The way crime stats are reported has changed since the 1970s [I had said something about the cognitive dissonance between parents’ belief that one must watch one’s kids 24/7 and the fact that crime rates are actually down across the board since our 1970s childhood], and EMTs and paramedics now use heroic measures to save more lives of crime victims, and if someone dies from complications after surgery, it doesn’t ‘count’ as homicide, so it looks like murder rates are lower.”

    This makes no sense to me–for one thing, if the number of attempted murders had risen or held steady while the number of successful “heroic measures” rose sufficiently to create the illusion of declining homicide rates, wouldn’t you then expect to see a concomitant rise in the number of attempted murders, aggravated assaults, etc.? But there doesn’t seem to have been one. For another thing, in these we-must-be-seen-to-be-tough-on-crime-to-keep-paranoid-voters-happy times, I can’t believe that police and Crown prosecutors (or equivalent thing in the US) don’t keep tabs on what happens to victims of violent crime, so that they can prosecute the accused for manslaughter or murder if the victim dies.

    This idea that since we know crime stats show an overall decline, yet we feel as though the world is more dangerous, the stats must in some way be wrong, seems to me like a perfect example of people trying to resolve cognitive dissonance through incredible mental gymnastics. But I have no direct evidence for my position, and no Canadian numbers, so …

  20. Robin June 11, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    Actually, I am pretty sure that if a victim dies from complications that arose from an assault, that can be prosecuted as murder, even years later.

  21. Katie June 12, 2009 at 1:14 am #

    @joshv, most child abduction reports involve custody disputes or the abductor is a family member. Being inside a house or a car does not prevent that.

  22. SheWhoPicksUpToys June 12, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    sylvia_rachel, it also doesn’t work because the stats people (including Lenore) usually cite aren’t just about murder, but about crimes against children in general. Even if it were true that a death that later results from assault isn’t counted as a murder (which is in fact false), or that someone who might have died 30 years ago is now more likely to survive, the assault would still be recorded as a violent crime. So if it were simply a matter of fewer crimes resulting in actual murder, what would happen would be that the total number of crimes against children would be the same, but there would be fewer murders and more assaults. Your friend is grasping at straws to make things look worse, which is a bit odd.

  23. SheWhoPicksUpToys June 12, 2009 at 4:46 am #

    BTW, I’m not saying your friend is odd, but how often do people grasp at straws to make things WORSE? This debate is one of the few places where it happens, or so it seems to me.

  24. Jim Susky June 12, 2009 at 7:27 am #

    I don’t put much credence to speculation offered by the head of Crimes Against Children Research (David Finkelhor) as to *WHY* crime rates are lower – this is properly left to social science professionals (though I hesitate to use the word “social” and “science” together).

    In fact, I don’t actually care why crime rates are lower – I am just glad that they are.

    KBF referred to:

    “criminology classes in college that talked about the bell shaped age curve associated with criminal behaviors. Adolescence to early twenties is when criminal behavior is at it’s highest”

    Which speaks to a demographic reason for less crime (though still not proven) – namely that the baby boomer bulge has aged past the youthful high-crime age.

    Lower crime is largely driven by fewer criminals. All those boomers who were in the high-crime 15-29-year age group in the 70’s are now in a low-crime 50-64-year-old group.

    (said another way, young criminals have grown old and tired)

    There are fewer 15-29-year-old’s now – hence less crime.

    Still unproven – but credible.

  25. Judd Langley June 12, 2009 at 7:37 am #

    sylvia et al,

    I would highly recommend the book Risk: The Science and Politics of Fear by Dan Gardner. He is Canadian but the book is written equally about the U.S. and Canada (the world really).
    He explains in depth how our psychology is working against us and for all of the fear mongers who sell us sensational news, security alarms and child tracking devices among other things. It’s a good read for anyone who’s ever questioned the fear prevalent in today’s society.

  26. sylvia_rachel June 12, 2009 at 7:49 am #

    @SheWho… — not a friend, actually, just someone I was washing dishes with in the community centre’s kitchen a couple of weeks ago. (I’d have argued more vigorously with a friend, probably — I’m a deeply non-confrontational person IRL, and am not all that comfortable saying “That’s stupid!” to someone I don’t know well. Plus I get flustered and don’t think of the good rebuttals till later.) But, yeah, that was my (mental) argument exactly.

    It is weird how far people will go to convince themselves that everything is terrible. I understand that there are sound psychological reasons, but …

    @JuddLangley — yes, excellent book! I enjoy Gardner’s columns in the Ottawa Citizen and his blog, too — slightly snarky and very smart and relevant.

  27. Gillian June 12, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    I was going to mention the Freakonomics theory too. It’s an interesting, if not a little controversial spin on things. A good book to read on all sorts of studies, not just the crime rate one.

  28. Sarah June 13, 2009 at 1:15 am #

    Hi everyone,

    Yup you are right…Good post.

  29. duo June 13, 2009 at 11:06 pm #

    yes, contrarianism gets attention and we Boomer parents are often hyper control freaks

    but is not ego extension or vicarious thrills that create most “in your business” parenting – its the fact that for most of us our own “free range” childhoods sucked

    the truth is that most kids are not “resilient” – “good divorces” damage children in ways that never heal, and can only be accommodated

    beyond the not-so-subtle message that your life as a child has less value than mom or dad’s golf game, book group or “date” , children simply lose options when they are ignored. yes, they can be infantilized, yes many of my peers are ridiculously self-righteous in their manipulative overcontrolling, but that is the easily mockable, book-selling extreme

    you will have your kids for about 15 years when they will want to be a part of their lives – intelligent nurture is better than justification of self-indulgence in this small part of a normal lifespan

    and altho stats can poo-poo the Etan Patz probability, it is the irreversable spectre that demands no-holds-barred parental pre-emption – just like home-birthing has a tiny risk for the vast majority of parents the extreme consequences of the downside of its risks overwhelm the benefits any “personal growth/expression” that it allows

    parents, like any other group, are subject to trend and media hype herding and thus can practice defensive overburdening of their children’s lives – but on balance, for most kids, too much care is better than too little care, just ask us “free range kids” who really hated the experience

  30. Uly June 14, 2009 at 12:29 am #

    Duo, nobody is suggesting that you ignore your child. They’re suggesting that you respect their abilities and allow them to use them.

  31. duo June 14, 2009 at 12:43 am #

    sorry, you can’t have it both ways – if the attitude is to assume their “ability” to walk is enough to allow them to take the subway, or even to walk to school in a city, then you are over estimating their abilities until they can fully understand transportation systems and predators

    “ability” is not the issue – and no one can restrain any child from using anything they have in their developing maturity – there really are no effective straightjackets for kids – only temproray protections

    the issue is the classic overparenting that makes a market for a book for those who see its absurdities – but its a little like saying that my kid has the “ability “to eat ice cream, and it won’t kill him, so eat!

    the danger is that everyone wants an easier way to parent – less stress, less guilt, and yes, less effort – giving your kid “free range” relieves all 3, “reasonable range” means the chickens, er kids, are kept away from crossing the road (so to speak)

    I am afraid that stress, guilt and exhaustion are the inevitabilities of parenting, feel good rationalizations can simply gloss over the risks that even the most maniacally over-prescriptive parents take

    “free” isn’t free

  32. Uly June 14, 2009 at 12:52 am #

    What risks? Go out – don’t just rant – and look up the risks. Look up the actual statistics and the actual facts, then report back on what you have learned. (Also? Look up the proper use of capital letters. Your goal is to sound like a grown-up yourself, not like a child.)

    Letting your kids do for themselves isn’t easier – it’s harder. Much harder, because you have to pay attention and know what they’re ready for. (And yes, a child who grew up in a city is perfectly capable of walking six blocks in that city alone. A child who grew up riding trains is perfectly capable of taking the train to school – and they’d better be, because school bus service in NYC cuts off in the 6th grade! This isn’t an assumption based on the child’s ability to walk – nobody is suggesting letting ten month olds wander about – but based upon an honest and fair assessment of an average nine or ten year old child’s abilities.)

    Predators? Most predators – by which I mean *ninety percent* – target children known to them. Strangers aren’t even in the picture. Your child is more at risk from YOU than from anybody on the train. (And the more people on the train, the less likely anything is gonna happen. Who has the nerve to hurt a kid in front of 40 witnesses? NOBODY, that’s who. I suppose it’s possible to randomly end up in a train filled with nothing but sociopaths, but none of them knows that, do they?)

    Is there a risk in this? No doubt. But there’s a risk in driving your kid to school – a greater risk, given that car accidents (that’s kids IN cars!) is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 15. Heck, I could be sitting in my house and be struck down by a meteorite. There’s a risk in living.

    The goal is to perform and honest and clear assessment of the risks – one based on facts, not random feelings that have no bearing on anything – and make your choices based upon that.

    And nobody is saying you can’t spend time with your kid as well, either.

  33. duo June 14, 2009 at 1:16 am #

    risk assessment as a ratio is for business deals, but for kids its a toggle switch – too risky means “no” and, after 19.5 years of parenting, for me, no matter how you think of it, “no” is harder than “yes” when dealing with kids

    adults can create their own reality and it really has no impact on anyone else 99% of the time, but in pre-nest-leaving time every reality parents create impacts their kids – whether we admit it our not – typically more care taking means less danger – not no danger, and no parent exercises no care – but kids are kids and parents are not

    an 18 year old in our town just overdosed – I am sure his parents performed many risk assessments, but whatever they did it did not prevent a life-destroying act – to me this means overcontrolling ultimately trumps faith-based parenting, the consequences of too tight control are delayed maturity and perhaps tough acclimation to a parent-free zone, less than enough control can mean irreversable damage or tragedy

    no-brainer for this Boomer Nazi Parent (caps intentional)

  34. Bob June 14, 2009 at 4:36 am #

    “Most predators – by which I mean *ninety percent* – target children known to them. Strangers aren’t even in the picture. ”

    First of all, ten percent is enough to be “in the picture.” Just because it’s “only ten percent” doesn’t mean there’s no need to take reasonable precautions.

    Second, “someone known to them” includes neighbors, etc., not just family members. It’s just common sense. If a kid is wandering around unsupervised, who is most likely to recognize that there’s nobody watching the kid? Someone in the neighborhood. Moreover, even if a kid has been taught how and when to talk to strangers, they’re more likely to let their guard down for someone they’ve seen in the neighborhood even if it’s not someone the family is close to.

  35. Ross June 14, 2009 at 5:33 am #

    >>>to me this means overcontrolling ultimately trumps faith-based parenting…


    It seems as though you are equating “Free Range” with abandonment or neglect, and are tarring many of us with a very broad brush. From my understanding, Lenore is advocating that we try to raise children who will become healthy, independent adults, and that our current culture of fear and mistrust makes that very difficult. That’s all.

    Raising “Free Range” children demands that we, as parents, equip our children in age-appropriate increments, to be able to make good decisions. To me, that’s the ultimate goal of parenting. As a previous commenter pointed out, it takes much much more time and energy to teach your children to be discerning than it does to shield them from every potential risk. Shielding them might make you look like you’re a super-mother to your friends and family, but you can’t tell me that you wouldn’t rather have mature and responsible kids that you don’t need to fret over 24/7.

    Ross (Who recently let his 15-yo daughter take the train ALONE from DC to NYC to spend a week with friends… and yes, she did great and had a blast)

  36. Uly June 14, 2009 at 7:21 am #

    Duo, an 18 year old is an adult, and no longer legally under his parents control.

    Furthermore, you do NOT know the circumstances of his death, or you would have shared him. For all you know, he overdosed because as soon as he got out of his parents’ thumb, as they were so overcontrolling, he went crazy.

    “First of all, ten percent is enough to be “in the picture.” Just because it’s “only ten percent” doesn’t mean there’s no need to take reasonable precautions.”

    Except that 100% of all predators are still a tiny, insignificant part of the population. 10% of of that *is* not even in the picture. After all, you don’t feel inclined to hurt your own kid, do you? Do you think most parents you know do? Probably not. And yet, 50% of all child molestors harm their own kids. Another 30% target other family members and family friends. Those who go after random neighbors are still a small percentage of all predators, and an even smaller percentage of the general population.

    4% of the population suffers from pedophilia. MANY of that 4% never acts on their urges, difficult as it is to get help for that.

    But even assuming that they all did, that means *workworkwork* about 2% of the population targets somebody other than their own children to molest or harm. .4% of the population goes after strangers. That’s less than half of a percent.

    No, I’m not going to make life choices based on less than half of a percent of the population.

  37. sylvia_rachel June 14, 2009 at 8:37 am #


    but is not ego extension or vicarious thrills that create most “in your business” parenting – its the fact that for most of us our own “free range” childhoods sucked

    the truth is that most kids are not “resilient” – “good divorces” damage children in ways that never heal, and can only be accommodated

    Can I ask what the point is of bringing divorces (“good” or otherwise) into this discussion? And on what basis you claim that “for most of us our own ‘free range’ childhoods sucked”?

    Admittedly, the 1960s–1980s, when most people who are now parents were kids, were not all fun and games all the time. That’s actually part of the point of Lenore’s post above: the world “out there” was actually more dangerous when we, as kids, were out wandering around in it, yet many of us are — paradoxically — convinced that the dangers have multiplied exponentially between our childhoods and our own kids’.

    I can only speak for myself and my close friends, so obviously what I’m about to say is anecdotes, not data; but I can say with perfect truth that our relatively free-range childhoods did not suck — or, to be more precise, that those aspects of our childhoods that did suck (because everyone’s childhood had some of those!) were not the “free range” aspects. I’m sorry that your childhood sucked. But mine didn’t — and by the time I was 18 and off to uni on the other side of the country, I could cook, do laundry, navigate my new city independently, pay bills, keep track of expenses … and, yes, talk to strangers.

    As Uly and Ross have pointed out above, “Free Range” doesn’t mean neglecting your kids, abandoning them outside all day, or pushing them to do things they’re not ready for. To the contrary, it means giving them the amount of freedom they can handle at each age and stage. So, no, it’s not easier than trying to protect them from every possible risk: it means knowing your kids’ individual capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and considering their readiness for a particular task/activity/adventure rather than defaulting to “no, you can’t do that” or “let me do it for you”.

    One of the hardest things we do as parents, IMO, is to stand back and let our kids do something independently — whether it’s crossing the street, biking to school, going on a trip, driving a car, whatever — for the first time. But it’s also one of the most important things we do. The moment of letting go has to be the tip of an iceberg of practice and parental scaffolding — again, nobody here is advocating dropping your two-year-old at the park for three hours while you go for coffee! — but it doesn’t have to be terrifying, if you trust your kids and you trust your own knowledge of them.

  38. duo June 14, 2009 at 8:35 pm #

    the death of an 18 year old by his own hand was a tragedy that had a thousand choices the parents and the child made over his entire life. The tiny odds of being hit by lightning does not mean you walk out into an open field during a lightning storm. The cost/benefit ratio of letting an 8 year old walk 2 blocks alone to school when you could walk with him do not justify the risk of losing him forever, when the independance gained by him walking alone when he could defend himself later was a fatal error.

    I am not talking about 15 year olds taking public transportation – our olderechild spent 1/2 of his high school day for 4 years navigating between 3 schools of music in a small downtown – but arguing that the Patz tragedy was not a grave parental error is wishful thinking . I am not surprised the micromanagement of kids by parents like me creates a publishing opportunity in the form of a backlash – but its simply self serving to think that pre-teens left to themselves are safer than those who getting direct care.

    “First do no harm” – all the rest is a judgment call – over parenting makes problems, but under parenting can create the worst problems that can be made.

  39. Ross June 14, 2009 at 9:25 pm #

    I don’t hear anyone here advocating “under-parenting”… not sure where that is coming from Duo. We’re talking about the age-appropriate transfer of responsibility and accountability to children to best ready them for real life, Letting children raise themselves, or whatever other misguided impression you seem to have gotten of Free Range, would be an abdication of responsibility – not a transfer.

  40. Uly June 15, 2009 at 1:07 am #

    Duo, I’m done talking with you.

    You’re taking a tragedy you clearly know nothing about – as I said, if you knew the cause you’d tell it to us – and using it to justify your irrational argument. You don’t know WHAT caused this boy to OD. It may have been underparenting when he was still a child, or it may have been overparenting, or it may not be connected to parenting whatsoever. At what point do you say a person makes their own choices, independent of their parents and childhood?

    You continue to equate teaching children responsibility to “leaving them to themselves”, despite being informed repeatedly that this is not what anybody means. (And if you think this boy died because he walked to school when he was 8, you are seriously deluded and need help.)

    You have repeatedly attempted to connect unrelated subjects (allowing a child to take the train and OD’ing as an adult is only the most appalling of these) in order to make your point. If your point could stand, you would not need to do this.

    Perhaps you were neglected as a child, and I am sorry to hear that, but nobody here is suggesting that you simply let your eight year old child do whatever, just that you allow them to walk to school (probably not alone, but with friends, as children are wont to do) if they are capable of doing so. That’s not neglect. That’s parenting.

    Besides, you type like a five year old. CAPITALIZATION. That shift button, provided you don’t START SHOUTING, is your friend. (I admit that this last paragraph is petty and a logical flaw on its own, but man, I just find deliberate poor writing to be *insulting*. Am I alone in that?)

  41. Jeanie June 15, 2009 at 3:56 am #

    Good Judgment and not fear is my choice. If you have a strong feeling that something might happen to your child than go for it. Don’t listen to others, listen to your heart. If in your heart you know you are unreasonable paranoid, then seek help, do yoga, breathe. Just make sure you provide healthy activities for your child. If you need to be with them then be with them, but back away a good bit and don’t always be in their head. Let them have free time for their own mind development.

  42. duo June 15, 2009 at 9:43 pm #

    here is the central point:

    while its clear that those in my ilk (the “helicopter” crowd ) create very mockable caricatures, this book trades on that obvious silliness to create its own world that uses stats to justify very personal choices parents make that should not be based on stats, but on the infinitely personal specifics of any family – location, personalities, jobs, etc.

    having written 6 books (sorry for the ee cummings typing, its just easier) I know how marketing sells book proposals – edgy POV’s, large demographic appeal, good writing – and this book has all of that

    but it also has a central problem – its message can be logically and legitimately extended to rationalize decisions that can have really bad outcomes.

    in the same way the “good divorce” construct ignored the real impact of any divorce not rescuing an abused spouse from a dangerous relationship has on almost every child affected, “free range” has a downside that can’t be wished away.

    the anecdotal is only a statistical incidental until it happens to you. so when you home birth the tiny chance of enhanced risk is easily rationalized – until a baby of someone you know is avoidably affected. letting your child walk to the movies at 8, like I did, may seem empowering for the child to the parent, but it did not feel that way to me, or my siblings

    trust me, no one advocates underparenting – but to sell books the common sense of trusting your child without the freakish over-dominence of so many of my piers becomes “free-range”

    “free-range” means you poo-poo Etan Patz and every other preventable parent error of risk assessment as being so improbable that those anecdotes are made to seem insignificant – that is simply ridiculous, absurd on its face – no matter how you fudge it ,over-parenting has fewer risks than under-parenting

    and since I do not think I have perfect judgment, I (and my spouse) err, knowingly, on the side of over-control and hyper vigilence

    the downsides of stunted maturity and time dumped into all the hands-on care are there, but they pass and can be overcome – a child permanently hurt, or worse ended is not a reversable outcome

  43. Sandra June 15, 2009 at 9:49 pm #

    Ah, those stats came at just the right time… I needed them to prove to a group of people that my children were not being stalked by a molester in our bushes out front.

    My head hurts from the blades of the helicopter parents whoosh whoosh whooshing over me.

  44. Daniel J. Lynch June 15, 2009 at 10:28 pm #

    I resonate with most of the issues and cases mentioned in this blog. I also think that there are a lot of factors to consider. The main thing is to choose one’s battles — because there are literally hundreds of them, and they can’t all be fought.

    I haven’t read in this blog one of my own frequent observations: kids are often the people in the parent-child dynamic who demand to be cooped-up. It’s a chicken and egg thing — but often the enforcers of children’s safety appears to be kids themselves, who want to be led around by their mommy phones like their peers. They demand more parental attention in this era — time and space that my generation independently took as our own, back in the day.

    So a free range parent will often be in the position of denying a child’s demand or need for the parental tether. It’s a pushing back that, if taken to extremes, creates whole new set of problems.

  45. Terje Bolef April 23, 2010 at 1:04 am #

    I am a longtime and avid reader of the terrific Free Range Blog and concur with most of what I read here. I would like to add to these comments that another reason why the crime rate in our nation has gone down is that more and more law abiding citizens are purchasing personal firearms and many are getting a Concealed Carry License from their state. This leads to criminals not knowing if the person they may potentially attack, assault, rob, etc. may be carrying a personal firearm and thus be less likely to bother them in the first place. Not to mention the frequent occurrence of stopping a criminal’s actions by merely displaying the firearm during or when said attack is imminent.
    I have three wonderful young children, all three of which are in either the Boy or Girl Scouting program (and I am an Assistant Scoutmaster). I resist wherever I can the urge to be a helicopter parent. I also actively participate in their school-time field trips where I can, attend all their evening concerts, attend all Parent/Teacher conferences, make sure that they do their homework first thing after school and give them guidance when asked, take them to their ball practice or games, remind them to practice their instruments, take them to their Scout meetings, attend or go on their Scout camping trips or events year round, bring them to Sunday school (which they love) and services (I am in the current rotation to teach children’s Sunday school though not their classes), read to them often before bed (they usually ask and they also do a lot of independent reading), watch movies with them at home over popcorn, etc., etc. It may not sound like it, but they do still have a lot of free time.
    I tell them I love them several times a day, it’s the last thing they hear before lights out at night. Hugs are big. I get a lot of love back from my kids!
    My oldest has made straight A’s the last three school years and my other two make A’s and B’s.
    I hope and pray that I am bringing them up well.

  46. Catherine Scott May 3, 2010 at 7:31 am #

    A few years back I saw the results of some research, done here in Australia maybe but, even if it was, of universal application, which showed that the best predictor of crime rate in a neighbourhood was how many other residents people who lived within 15 minutes walk of their homes. Knowing lots of neighbours -> low crime rate.

    I saw this myself when I lived in an inner city neighbourhood that was going through a mini crime wave, due to a gang of house breakers from a different location operating in the area. My ‘nosy neighbours’ who kept an eye on each others’ properties and knew who should and shouldn’t be hanging around, helped to identify the thieves concerned. Crime wave over.

    It occurs to me that locking our families inside our fortress homes for fear of crime is in fact likely to contribute to the very crime we fear.


  47. Laura July 8, 2010 at 2:39 am #

    I was a ‘free range’ child in the 70s, and I don’t think it was this great idyllic reality. I’m very wary of nostalgia. I do allow my kids to play outside, walk home from the bus, ride bikes, etc. However, I would never allow them to have to lack of supervision that I had growing up as a child.

    When I grew up, children were frequently bullied, molested, and harmed by other children and adults. I remember being scared being home alone, it wasn’t great.

    Sure, I want my children to know how to get around their town, which they can do with me. Just because they’re with a parent, doesn’t mean they are always in a car. There is a balance between the two extremes, and just because we are concerned about our kids and know where they are doesn’t mean we’re helicopter parents. I know where my kids are, but I don’t interfere with what they are doing. There is a distinction.

    And talk about danger–my child would absolutely not be allowed to visit a home with a loaded gun. My cousin was killed in a gun accident; some of her friends thought it would be cool to check out dad’s gun–while being free range.

    Abuse of children is down for a variety of reasons, but the largest reason is probably what I call Awareness–parental and child (educating children about abuse and how to take care of themselves and protect themselves). Some of what you advocate reinforces and supports this awareness, and part of it seems to undermine it. One in 4 girls is still sexually abused–and you can bet that this is going to make sure I know with whom and where my daughter is.

    And lastly, this is purely anecdotal, but as I was waiting to pick my son up from school I struck up a conversation about this with another parent. I said maybe we’re just more paranoid, because of the media, etc. His response saddened me, and made this more then a statistic. He said that he was fine with his kids going to the park, until his son’s friend was kidnapped from the park. All the kids were at the park, and the little brother was there with his big brother. The little boy just disappeared–and that big brother feels horrible even today.


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