Australian Police Chide Parents Who Let their Children Walk Outside

Hi Readers! Down in Australia I’m sort of happy to say a tempest is brewing over whether it is up to parents or police to decide when a child is “old enough” to walk around outside. According to this bdzsdaaszr
 on the home page of the Sydney Morning Herald:

Officers told a Hornsby mother it was ”inappropriate” for her 10-year-old daughter to catch a bus unaccompanied, and warned a Manly father whose seven-year-old son walked alone to a local shop that while they would not alert DOCS [Dept. of Community Services], they would file a report.

Really? File a report to say a child was suspiciously…fine? Tell another parent that her  child is doing something “inappropriate” by…being competent?

Are these officers doing anyone an ounce of good? Don’t they realize that if they have nothing to do but warn parents about their perfectly poised offspring,  there probably isn’t a whole lot of crime going on for anyone to worry about?

And of course the bigger issue is, as always: Who decides what is “safe enough” when it comes to our kids? Free-Range Kids would rather not leave it up to   power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, infantilizing  busybodies with badges. – L.

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60 Responses to Australian Police Chide Parents Who Let their Children Walk Outside

  1. Bob February 9, 2012 at 6:21 am #

    Amen, Lenore.

  2. Silver Fang February 9, 2012 at 6:28 am #

    power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, infantilizing busybodies with badges Love it! Love it!

  3. hineata February 9, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Good to note that the comments accompanying the article were almost all against the police stance. I can’t believe that most Australians would pay any attention to such nonsense. At least, as you say though, it has people talking.

  4. Rachael February 9, 2012 at 6:31 am #

    This is completely off topic but I have tried asking this question several other ways (and so have many people judging by the unanswered questions on the FAQs page). How do I contact you? If I wanted to send you a story or a link to an news item how can I do so? I tried posting on facebook but was unable to leave a comment on your wall. I looked for an address here but, if it is listed here, it is certainly not easy to find.

  5. Sasha February 9, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Well put! Yes, I don’t envy our Aussie police their job (I’m sure there really are bad guys out there) but it gets very frustrating when they put their energy in to drunk people harmlessly walking home, and children displaying their independence and aptitude!

  6. Dave February 9, 2012 at 6:54 am #

    It is the role of the police to make the neighborhood safe enough for ten year olds to ride the bus alone and for seven year old to walk safely through a store. If the neighborhood is not safe who holds the police accountable? It is up to the police to make it safe so parents can decide what their children are capable of doing on their own. We have it all backwards.

  7. Michelle February 9, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    @Rachael, I have been wondering that, too. I’ve also been wishing there was like a forum or something where the community could support each other and answer each other’s questions. Maybe we should start one on Reddit (

  8. John February 9, 2012 at 7:32 am #

    This surprises me that this happened in Australia. I thought that it was only here in America where people were obsessed with the overprotection of our youth! Perhaps Australia became too Americanized.

  9. LRH February 9, 2012 at 8:01 am #

    Rachael You can find her email address on her Twitter site (that’s a clickable link).

    I also loved Lenore’s power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, infantilizing busybodies with badges comment. I have found, too, that often-times spouses or relatives of law enforcement are VERY easily offended if you dare suggest that sometimes policeman can be and are that way and that it’s wrong. I mean they are touchy about it, big-time.

    Sorry, but yes, sometimes the police are wrong, and this is clearly one of them. Dare I say it, that police officer needs to be out & out fired.


  10. This girl loves to talk February 9, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    oh dear! I’m in australia and am thinking of my 10 year old catching the bus this year.

    I have been looking for a way to teach my kids to catch a bus (quicker to walk to school, etc ) and thought of perhaps sending them to the city to meet my husband at work (I couldnt think of anywhere else) when a mother approached me about our daughters catching a bus to school band (its at 7:45 am at another school as ours is too small for a band) I hadnt even thought of it and glad she knew that I was totally approachable for this type of thing and we share similar values (our children started walking to school last year a few days a week – we live kinda inner city so alot of people worry about the cars – they cross several roads that dont have walk lights and the weirdos that hang around) I’ve never had a problem so knew my kids wouldnt either. Its been really great.

    that said I know a family of 5 kids that catch 2 buses and swap buses in the city – maybe cause they are in a group noone cares? so It is done here.

  11. baby-paramedic February 9, 2012 at 8:26 am #

    Happy to report elsewhere in Australia the police still let the children roam the streets. Or at least in my area they do!

  12. EricS February 9, 2012 at 8:37 am #

    Scardy cat cops. Need I say more? Lol

  13. Elizabeth February 9, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I moved from Brooklyn, where I often saw middle-schoolers taking subways and buses to school, to suburban Ohio, where a lot of kids walk to and from school. In both places there is a lot of police presence and no interference with kids travel – I guess I should be glad that our “public safety officers” around here do see their job as keeping the streets safe for children (and everyone else) rather than spreading fear.

  14. Violet February 9, 2012 at 9:48 am #

    Rachel- sign up for email updates, or like the page on FB.

  15. Puzzled February 9, 2012 at 9:58 am #

    @Dave – you ask who holds the police accountable. You’re absolutely right, they aren’t held accountable for their failures. In fact, police departments can count on getting more funding, not less, when crime rises, and vice-versa. Why is this? Because this function has been taken out of markets and monopolized. This is how political provision differs from market provision. In markets, we punish poor providers with loses – in government, they receive more funding.

  16. mollie February 9, 2012 at 10:01 am #

    Ah, see, these kinds of actions by police are what my ex-husband would trot out to bolster his claims that what I was doing was “against the law,” as in, “It’s not okay to let our grade 2 son walk to school by himself. I think the authorities would be *very* interested in this if I told them about it.”

    Sadly, he’s right! The authorities *are* very interested in this kind of carefully-considered, growth-supporting parenting. Unfortunately, their interest isn’t in celebrating it, it’s in condemning it.

    Sites like this, though, and the discussions that get started, are all about saying, “Get over yourselves!” to the folks who have morphed our towns and cities into hotbeds of prurient fantasies about strangers perpetrating violence against children.

    Take back your town, your city, your country, your world! Parents have rights to make decisions about what their children are capable of, and take them to their “growing edge!” It’s something to celebrate and celebrate again! It’s the hope for the future! Children MUST become capable of independent decision-making, and it doesn’t happen in the back seat of a minivan!!!!

  17. Senga February 9, 2012 at 10:03 am #

    I’m an Australian reader who thought of you when I read the paper this morning! Just the tip of the iceberg, I’m afraid.

    My 5 year old has just started school, and in her enrolment pack we received a 140 A4-page booklet on child safety. You can see extracts online here: The booklet is written in the second person to a child or young person, and covers potential dangers including sun safety, keeping the kitchen free from bacteria, avoiding online predators, first aid, sexual abuse etc etc. Check out the ‘public property section of the website. I had to stop reading about halfway through (predators in cars pulling up alongside you). Terrifying stuff!

  18. pentamom February 9, 2012 at 10:57 am #

    I have an FB friend from Melbourne who posted a link to this article and apparently takes the view that it’s a Sydney thing — that people from outside Sydney pretty much think it’s crazy how that town is run.

    So maybe it’s not so much an “Australian” thing. Just another perspective.

  19. Nerida February 9, 2012 at 11:34 am #

    Having just read the comments on SMH that went along with the article, the majority of people thought the police action was excessive. So it isn’t a general Aussie mentality, or even a Sydney one. I live in Sydney, my 10 year old catches a public bus to school and before we moved house she walked 20 minutes to school alone from the age of 7, having walked with her older sisters before that. She loves feeling capable and having us believe she is capable of looking after herself.

  20. Rachael February 9, 2012 at 11:49 am #

    Violet: I am not looking to find out when articles are posted. I am trying get in contact with the website or Lenore. As far as I can tell, the only place any contact info is listed is on the twitter account page despite the fact that there are multiple requests from a lot of people other than myself trying to find a contact address.

  21. mary February 9, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

    I’m in Sydney and think it’s so sad that children alone are seen now as somehow bizarre. My kids are in their low teens now – they started walking to school on their own when they were around 10. [Contrast this with me, who went to school without adult supervision from day 1! Caught the bus with older siblings from the day I started kindergarten – that was normal back in the 60s.] I know that when I occasionally see a younger child (say 8, 9) on the street on their own, I notice, but I don’t call the police! Of course cars are the main danger to children, but the more children who are on the streets, the more of a culture of adults looking out for them and children finding their own way in small groups would develop. I tried to ‘free range’ my kids when they were younger and sometimes came up against their friends’ parents’ nervousness about letting them go to the park (literally one minute’s walk from home) without adults at say, age 7. I would say my 13 year old is now living the kind of neighbourhood life I lived at age 9. he is literally years behind me in terms of his experience of independence. I wonder what that will mean for him as an adult?

  22. gap.runner February 9, 2012 at 3:41 pm #

    @Rachael, if you want to send a link, you have a couple of options:
    1. Make a comment to the current thread and include the link.
    2. Comment in the “for or against” section with the link.

    I know from experience that Lenore reads all of the comments and even takes the time to reply to many of them.

    The image that came to my mind after reading the article above was that Australian cities are full of kidnapper kangaroos who hide in the bushes and abduct children in the blink of an eye. The kangaroos snatch the kids, stuff them in their pouches, then hop away. That’s why we parents should bind our kids to us with super glue and never, ever blink our eyes.

    Or maybe there are vans like this cruising all over Sydney and that’s why kids shouldn’t be walking about on their own (warning: this is a bit sick and twisted, especially some of the comments).

    Seriously, I can’t believe that this madness is spreading to all corners of the globe. Fortunately it hasn’t come to Germany yet. We need to find a way to get the media to broadcast stories of kids who walked, cycled, or took public transportation by themselves and got to their destinations without any problems. If more “good news” stories are published, then maybe parents will realize that the world is a safe place and that most people are good. The problem is that it will take about 1000 good stories to counteract one child abduction story.

  23. Enviromum February 9, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Hi, I have recently discovered the free-range kids website and was going to pass this article onto you…but you have well and truly beat me to it! I am another Aussie who can’t believe this is seriously happening in our country, maybe the streets would be perceived as safer if there were more kids out there using them – talk about a catch-22!

    You might be interested in studies by Professor Paul Tranter that look at these issues around children, safety, play and urban environments.

  24. Lola February 9, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    I would’ve thought the Police’s job is not only to provide a safe environment to let our kids roam, but to actually help them to do so.
    I mean, when we let our kids catch a bus on their own for the first time, are we supposed to tell them to ask a cop for help if they get lost? Or better hide from them because they can get us in trouble?

  25. Lollipoplover February 9, 2012 at 9:21 pm #

    I had an argument with a busybody mom about my kids biking to school each day. It went like this:

    Busybody: “I saw your kids biking this morning to school. Do you know it might snow this afternoon?”

    Me: “Yes. My son checks the weather every morning. He said there’s a 70% chance of snow showers.”

    Busybody: “So you KNOW it might snow, and you let them go anyway?! I would NEVER put my kids in that kind of danger!”

    Me: “Sucks to be your kids. Mine have common sense and know if the conditions are slippery, they can get off their bike and walk it. Since your driving your kids, please be aware that most car accidents occur at the beginning of the snow fall. I am very concerned for your kids, because auto accidents are the leading cause of DEATH among children. I would never put MY kids in that kind of danger.”

    For the record: It was snowing lightly when they left school. They said it was the most beautiful bike ride and enjoyed “drawing” in the fresh coat of snow with their bike tires for hours after school.

  26. pentamom February 9, 2012 at 9:48 pm #

    Busybody is also assuming that Mom can’t respond to changing conditions. Even if it were sudden blinding blizzard that would result in the kids taking their very lives into their hands if they tried to make their way home, Mom could *then realize that she needs to go pick them up.*

    It’s not just that people don’t know how to think anymore, it’s that they’ve abandoned all attempt to do so. Or sometimes so it seems.

  27. pentamom February 9, 2012 at 9:49 pm #

    “So it isn’t a general Aussie mentality, or even a Sydney one. ”

    Sorry, I was trying to say it’s how people from the rest of Australia perceive the authorities in Sydney, not necessarily the general population.

  28. Donna February 10, 2012 at 1:47 am #

    Hmmm, maybe I’ve just been living out of the snow for too long but what exactly is this exceptional danger from biking in snow? The biggest danger that I see is a CAR losing control in the snow and hitting said biker. But that sounds like more of a reason for the CAR not to be on the roads, not the bike. I remember biking on the frozen lake when I was a kid. That was a challenge.

    While American Samoa itself is very free range, this fear that the US is so dangerous for kids is even down here. The court clerk asked me last week if my daughter liked it here. I said that she loved it. He commented that this is a great place to raise children because you don’t have to worry about kidnapping all the time. So this man who lives on an island in the South Pacific believes that it is too dangerous to allow your children to roam in the states. He may have lived in the states at one point, but really, other than the media (we get American tv via Hawaii) and the American contract workers, I have no idea where he’d get this view.

  29. beth Nixon February 10, 2012 at 2:06 am #

    Off topic, but if you haven’t seen the story about the 7-year old almost abducted at a Walmart, you should search for it. The comments people are making are shocking . . . never let your child out of your sight, the mother is to blame, etc . . . I just refuse to let my children to live in constant fear and to think all strangers are bad. Yes, it was horrifying and terrifying to watch. But the girl did the right thing and the man was caught.

    A perfect media story of fear.

  30. Lollipoplover February 10, 2012 at 2:07 am #

    @pentamom- Yes, thinking and adapting to changing conditions are just so retro. This busybody is a dipshit, and her poor son has never been free from her paranoid eye (they live across the street from my daughter’s best friend but we only discovered this a few months ago- she never lets her son play outside.)
    @Donna- Biking in snow with mountain bike tires is quite fun, actually. I just came back from walking my dogs on the same route that my kids had biked this morning and noticed their tire marks on the grass where they went around the “tricky” spots. Kids are capable of using their own brains when we give them the opportunity.

  31. pentamom February 10, 2012 at 2:24 am #

    I guess if you don’t realize that if the kids actually do have a serious problem getting home, Mom can come to the rescue, you’re also assuming that if the kids try to bike home, and it starts snowing too heavily for the bikes to go safely or at all, the children will just stand there next to their unusable bikes and freeze to death.

    Because they wouldn’t be able to figure out the part about walking their bikes, without Mom doing all the thinking for them in advance and making sure that situation could never occur in the first place.

  32. Lollipoplover February 10, 2012 at 2:51 am #

    Yes, and on the unusable bikes in their backpacks is the emergency snack that they couldn’t eat because it wasn’t pre-cut.

    @beth Nixon- I just watched that video of the child NOT getting abducted from a Walmart. We don’t shop at Walmart so this does not apply to my family 🙂 Also, I would expect my kids to leave that man on the ground, craddling his groin area, moaning in pain if they ever picked up by a strange man.

  33. noamelimelech February 10, 2012 at 3:12 am #

    Hi Lenore, have you seen this story?
    She had good free-range training!!

  34. Barb February 10, 2012 at 3:17 am #

    For those looking for contact information go to the Speaking Engagements link and at the bottom there are email addresses.

  35. Lisa February 10, 2012 at 3:29 am #

    He encouraged parents to be cautious, but said ”95 per cent of assaults on children are perpetrated by people they know or are related to, so that’s of greater concern”

    This article was in the Sydney Morning Herald this morning – as we all know its a tiny number of children that are in danger of being assaulted by a stranger. I would like to the see the stats on children injured in car accidents.

    Read more:

  36. Lollipoplover February 10, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    On a slightly positive note, I just saw this:

    I only hope the walking safety buses with adults is for they younger of the bunch.

  37. Havva February 10, 2012 at 4:47 am #

    All this emphasis made in the media about what *age* is appropriate (with inconsistent answers given), would seem to short circuit the types of ability based questions adults asked when I first got free range. More disconcertingly the implication behind fears of “snatching” is that it isn’t really about age, or capability, but rather about size. In which case, for my daughter, any age is likely to be viewed as inadequate.

    When I was a kid strangers were happy enough (and a little wigged out) when they determined that I wasn’t an escaped toddler. But if adults including cops are looking for some squishy sense of a kid being big enough….. errr….”old enough,” to be “safe” is there any defense for a short person, aside from being an adult with rights?

    Of course if any “power-drunk, horror-hallucinating, initializing busybodies” (with or without badges) followed/dragged my daughter home, I would be asking them just that question. If the busybody doesn’t actually know her age, the question should get some bonus impact from the fact that I am the size of an average 11 year old girl.

  38. Janet February 10, 2012 at 5:00 am #

    The subject was still being discussed on the radio here yesterday evening. I was driving home listening to the “Journos’ forum”, and one of the journalists was saying how absolutely irresponsible and horrifying it is to see 3- and 4-year-olds walking “40-50 meters behind their mothers on the footpath.”

    Honestly, have people ever hear of a judgment call? I let my 3yo twins walk or scoot a log way ahead of me in our quiet suburban street, where I know the movements of most residents and that there are not going to be cars coming out of driveways.

    I let my 5yo, who just started school last week, walk to school with just her 7yo sister and 6yo neighbour. It only about 150m, with no roads to cross. On the other hand, my very responsible 9yo is not allowe to walk home from the bus stop, as it involves one very hairy pedestrian crossing at which both her father and I have been involved in near-misses.

  39. Janet February 10, 2012 at 5:03 am #

    Oh, and the same journalist commented “Anyone could take them,” in relation to these poor preschoolers whose neglectful mothers let them dawdle or run on ahead. It was enough to make me do something illegal myself (text the radio station while I was driving)!

  40. Martienne February 10, 2012 at 5:14 am #

    I thought the person who suggested a Reddit community had a great idea, and checked back this morning to see if it had been created by anyone. Since it hadn’t I went ahead and took the initiative to do so. You can visit it at and add your links to news stories or uplifting blog entries.

  41. christina February 10, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    I liked the response in the post from a week or so ago. Call the police chief with “wow, I had no idea our area was so dangerous. Could you give me the statistics for our neighborhood? And what are we doing to make our neighborhood safe for our children to play in?”

    Any appointed or elected official (many of them are in the U.S., I have no idea about Australia) with two brain cells will recognize the subtext – “If you aren’t keeping our neighborhoods safe for our children, someone else might do a better job.”

  42. Jane February 10, 2012 at 6:15 am #

    The presence of more kids on the street would make it seem more normal for kids to be on the street! Of course, one lone kid who is the only kid to be seen for blocks and blocks seems like an outlier, but if they’re ALL on the street, walking to school or to the park or to friends’ houses, no one will think anything of it.

    In the 1950’s, I took the city bus by myself downtown, to go Christmas shopping. I was far from the only kid on the bus.

  43. Cass February 10, 2012 at 6:16 am #

    I do love that the article is scornful of the police involvement.

  44. C. S. P. Schofield February 10, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    Is it too much to hope to see an article; “Buttinski Police chased from independent child’s home by broom-weilding mother, barricade themselves in locker room crying for their mommies.”?

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  46. owen59 February 10, 2012 at 3:08 pm #

    The hilarious thing about this is that the police haven’t asked DOCS (Dept of Children Services). DOCS can’t even support children who are known to be at risk in Australia because of known abuse. A number of children who are known to DOCS, are murdered every year by a parent of partner of a parent. The cases noted in responses to the SMH of abduction by unknown persons are one per decade. There are far more young adult females abducted. I noticed people equating the ‘nanny state’ with the good life. Children in Australia are more likely to be hit by a car as they make the final crossing to the school premises, than any other incident.

  47. owen59 February 10, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    PS On the police issue, there probably is a role for higher profile ‘beat’ officers in neighbourhoods to get to know neighbourhoods, people, quick response, not to dictate but support community. Police officers who are community trained rather than just policing trained would have huge value. But I get the feeling police departments are not so keen.

  48. pentamom February 10, 2012 at 10:47 pm #

    owen59, it’s probably a staffing issue. I know in my fairly small U.S. city, there is just isn’t the manpower to have officers hanging around the community, instead of answering actual calls, or actively looking out for misdeeds in progress. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the way it is.

  49. pentamom February 10, 2012 at 10:48 pm #

    Though in some of the more troubled neighborhoods, “community officers” have been assigned with some success. But there isn’t the manpower for coverage everywhere, so if you live in a “nice” neighborhood, the police aren’t going to hang around unless there’s something that requires their immediate attention — or they think it does.

  50. hineata February 11, 2012 at 11:29 am #

    @Havva – feel for your daughter! We parents are normalish height for adults, but my older daughter, now twelve, looks like a 7 year old, and trying to get into the movies, go shopping alone or even walking down the street at times is a hassle – even in our relatively free range culture. While I am sort of pleased that people take an interest in a child’s safety, she does get sick of having to explain herself. Quite often we take the lazy way out and make her go out with the 10 year old, who looks a lot older, but just sometimes she would love to be able to go out alone.

    Equal rights for short people, I say!!!

  51. pentamom February 14, 2012 at 4:19 am #

    Havva and hineata, that’s us, too. My 13 year old looks like a nine-year-old. Now that she’s getting a bit of a figure it’s less so, but until quite recently it wasn’t just her height, it was her overall appearance that gave the look of a much younger child. (And when wearing a winter coat the figure doesn’t help.) And yet she’s very mature (in the ways relevant to this topic) and responsible, so I don’t hesitate to let her go places on her own for her own sake. But she does get hassled sometimes. When she was 11 or 12, she got stopped by a busybody when biking 1/4 mile from home, asking if her parents knew she was out alone, and told she “really shouldn’t be.” Just last week she was yelled at out of a car window by someone who thought such a little kid shouldn’t be out alone. I’m tempted to discourage her from going out on her own just so she doesn’t have to be subjected to that kind of nonsense, but I generally allow her, and she handles it reasonably well despite getting pretty annoyed when it happens.

  52. Tanya February 21, 2012 at 12:23 am #

    Here’s a story about a mother who was fined for making her son walk to school. This happened in the US last week.

    Absolutely ridiculous!

  53. Courtney February 27, 2012 at 12:39 am #

    Take it from someone in Australia, this is flipping ridiculous! It’s a sad day when we do not allow our children some independence outside of the home. I was walking to school on my own from 6yrs old (gasp) and I turned out fine, but hey Manly and Hornsby coppers are pretty, well lets just say messed up. you’d think they’d have better things too do, like find actual abusive parents or criminals?

  54. MrPopularSentiment March 1, 2012 at 4:40 am #

    For some perspective, I grew up in Switzerland and I was walking with a group of kids (no adult) to school at 4years, and then alone at 6. But hey, kids these days, amiright?

  55. suzy March 1, 2012 at 6:06 am #

    Another Australian article yesterday with a very different perspective:

  56. Catherine March 2, 2012 at 9:06 am #

    This is very bizarre. We live near Hornsby and it is a very family oriented area with loads of schools and the public transport normally full of independent travelling school kids (including my own tiny 12yo who started catched two buses and a train to school last year when she was still 11yo!). My kids have also been walking around to the local shop since about age 7 or 8 or so. Think the shop owner would probably go out of business if not for all the local kids that frequent his candy and slurpee department with pocket money burning holes in their pockets!

  57. Catherine March 2, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    Oh and a funny story, my niece (also in Australia) also got hassled by the police recently. In the police’s defence, she was driving a manual car around a paddock – age 9! The police couldn’t actually do anything about it as she was on private property at the time. They did suggest to the adult with her that “maybe it wasn’t such a good idea” for her to be doing that. Lol. I love this kid. She is the ultimate FRK pin-up girl. I have a great photo of her stunt jumping on her dirt bike (helmet on but wearing a swimsuit adn totally unsuitable shoes!). She also rides horses, turns cartwheels down the main street (to her grandmother’s embarrassment) and swims better than most adults I know (most of her swimming is in the ocean as there is no public pool where she lives). She is the youngest of 5 and lives in a very remote community so tends to run wild a fair bit.

  58. awombatsweb August 14, 2012 at 10:22 pm #

    There are a lot of nervous parents and Police after a young Daniel Morcombe was abducted from a bus stop to be murdered. Took years to find his body.


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