Back to School: Administrators Scold Parents who Let Their Kids Venture Outside

Readers fkdrihkkez
— Here are two letters I just got,  with but a single lesson: You are not allowed to trust your child in even the safest of circumstances simply because someone ELSE (or that someone’s insurance policy) can IMAGINE something TERRIBLE happening, no matter how fantastical. All children are too vulnerable to be out in the world, even for a minute. Bold face is mine. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I haven’t responded yet to this note from our elementary school principal.  Finding a respectful and non-snarky way to respond to the paranoia is proving difficult.  My daughter is in 1st grade and will be seven in December.  We live just two blocks from the school — rated one of the best in the state — and there’s a crossing guard.

Hi [Mother]

I hope all is going well for you and the family.

I had a concerned teacher share with me that she saw your daughter walking home by herself. I wanted to touch base with you as I am hearing this second hand, and I do not want to assume anything. I know you live close, but if she is walking on her own, I have concern for her safety. She is so young and vulnerable to someone approaching her. Hopefully, it is nothing, but I wanted to drop you a line.



And here’s another note from another mom: 

Dear Free-Range Kids:

I had a “lovely” non-Free-Range moment this evening. I was waiting outside to pick up my son from his gymnastics class, which is run by the park district and held at the local high school. I waited. And waited. Finally, I decided that he must have forgotten that he was supposed to come out to me, so I asked a dad who was walking in to ask my son to come out. He still didn’t come out. So I put the blinkers on and went in — and saw him sitting in the gym! I called to him, but he didn’t come. I had to get back to my car, because my 20-month-old was in it (and I was parked in the pickup lane), so I was grateful when another mom said that she’d go and get him.

When he came out, it was with the head of the gymnastics program. Who proceeded to tell me that my son, 7, was “too young” to be let out by himself. “Imagine what could happen!” I told her that yes, what I imagined happening was my tired toddler yanking her hand out of mine, taking off across the parking lot, and getting hit by a car. Or, best case scenario, having to literally wrestle my tired toddler back into her carseat.

“But we are responsible for him, and he is so young. What if he gets hit in the parking lot?” (This despite the fact that I was, as always, in the pickup lane so he could get directly from the sidewalk into my car. “Sometimes the lane is blocked by school buses, when there’s a meet.” As if in that situation I wouldn’t then come inside!) She then told me that I needed to find another parent to walk him out. When pressed, she said that he would be allowed out by himself if he had a note from me, but they would really prefer if he was supervised by another parent.

Even though he would be visible from them until the moment he stepped outside, and I would be right there. And even though, using my best judgment as a parent, I had decided that the risk of him being kidnapped (miniscule) was outweighed by the risk of my toddler being idiotic in the parking lot (likely).

It really is insane, to conflate liability and small chances of harm with certain doom. I have been picking him up like this for some time, but I guess tonight is the first time we got “caught.”

Anyway, my son (who wants teachers to like him) wants me to find a family to supervise him out, but I want to send him with a note instead. How would you help me convince him that it’s okay to be independent even if the teachers think he shouldn’t be?

Thanks, S.

Readers — That’s your cue. How should these parents respond in a way that will actually CHANGE the mindset of the authorities who see only danger and liability instead of independence and ACTUAL SAFETY??? I am beginning to contemplate writing a new edition of Free-Range Kids and if that comes to be,  I want to include letters and responses that other parents can use in situations like this. So — many thanks! – L.

You can't leave gymnastics without your mom coming in to walk you out.

You can’t leave gymnastics without your mom coming in to walk you out.

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71 Responses to Back to School: Administrators Scold Parents who Let Their Kids Venture Outside

  1. Melissa September 25, 2014 at 3:42 pm #

    1. The principal isn’t asking for a response or telling you to change your behavior. No reply is needed. She has “shared her concern”.

    2. Write the note.

  2. mystic_eye September 25, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    My first instinct is that if the boy is uncomfortable dealing with the teacher is to protect him, to call it an adult issue that should be dealt with between the adults – because of course there’s always that parent voice that wants to protect your kids, particularly when they’re being shy. Then of course I woke up. Being unable to stand up to a teacher is a huge issue, I’ve always taught my kids that it is ok to stand up to people in authority, cops, teachers, babysitters aren’t always right, they’re not always good people. Not to exaggerate the risks from teachers but about 10% of child molestation victims are abused by their teachers and it’s somewhere around that that are molested by real strangers – but it’s far more likely that a teacher will be otherwise abusive than a stranger.

    So I would have a talk about being true to yourself and not succumbing to pressure to fit in, or have people like you. Also have a talk about the fact that if teachers are making you uncomfortable, being mean to you or others you need to tell an adult (preferably the parents but if not another respected adult) If he’s still uncomfortable then perhaps work on it and try again in a bit. Don’t want to push kids too far out of the comfort zone.

  3. Heather September 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    “Dear Principal, I am aware that my daughter is walking the two blocks home from school. She is in sight of the crossing guard for X portion of the trip, which we have made together numerous times. I understand you’re concerned for her safety; I am more concerned with her intelligence and healthy development. To force her to accept accompaniment would be perceived as distrust of her. This short walk is fostering self-confidence in her, and isn’t that one of the important traits a child is supposed to learn? Yours sincerely, Her Mother”

  4. Ann in L.A. September 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    To the gymnastics program people: Let me get this straight…you guys run a program in a sport that requires tremendous courage, strength, and determination; it also requires a great deal of trust in others as you learn to do things with spotters and coaches; in addition, the sport involves complicated moves and equipment which can easily lead to injuries, possibly serious. But these same kids can not walk out of the building by themselves? How are they supposed to trust themselves, when you don’t trust them to walk out a door? How are they supposed to show courage, when you are afraid they can’t handle getting into a car by themselves?

  5. Greg September 25, 2014 at 4:22 pm #

    I remember taking an afterschool gymnastics class at the YMCA in the 70s. I took a bus from school to the YMCA. Took a bus back to my school, then walked several blocks home at dusk/early dark home for dinner. I was 6 years old. It’s amazing I am still alive to tell the tale.

  6. K2 September 25, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    I personally think that another family should not be involved for various reasons, including liability issues. They should not be expected to stay if the parent is late and what do they do if they don’t see the parent right away. What if the well meaning person who walks the kid out eventually does something unethical? I’m not a lawyer or an insurance expert, but I think everyone would be better off if the kid walked out by himself like kids have done in the past.

  7. Michelle September 25, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    What rubs me wrong about the second note is that the mother is claiming she can’t safely handle her own toddler, and in the same breath that she’s capable of deciding what’s safest for her older child. It makes her sound incompetent.

    Instead of saying she can’t get her toddler out of and back into that carseat and keep the child alive while walking across a parking lot, maybe she should stick to the fact that it’s not necessary.

  8. no rest for the weary September 25, 2014 at 4:54 pm #

    To (Concerned Authority):

    Thank you for letting me know about your (concerns / policies / rules). I trust that we both have my child’s well-being in mind when setting policies either at home or at (place where authority is employed).

    During (program / lesson / school) time, (where authority is employed)’s policies are what my child will follow. Once (program / lesson / school) time has officially ended, our family’s policies and choices around how to best ensure my child’s well-being are the ones my child will adhere to.

    It is our family’s policy that (child) has been taught how to safely navigate the greater community, has earned our trust, and is fully capable of (exiting the building / walking home / riding home / waiting outside for pickup).

    If you would like to discuss this further, please call me at (phone). I respectfully request that you do not speak to (child) about your concerns, nor prevent them in any way from (riding home / walking home / exiting the building) once (program / school / lesson) time has ended.

    Thank you for supporting us as a family to help our children grow into responsible, capable community members.



  9. Jenny Islander September 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    @Michelle: Toddlers do do incredibly dumb things like slithering their sweaty little hands out of yours* and darting blindly into traffic. 7-year-olds, OTOH, do walk to and from school all by themselves, crossing multiple streets. A mile each way, even (raises hand). Reminding the person who is making a fuss of basic facts is important, I think.

    *For this reason I recommend toddler leashes that clip to your belt.

  10. Bea September 25, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    I agree with Michelle, The second letter writer needn’t mention an out of control toddler; to be honest it reads to me like an excuse she’s made to not get out of the car. If this is really about fostering independence, then say so – no excuse needed.

  11. no rest for the weary September 25, 2014 at 4:59 pm #

    “Instead of saying she can’t get her toddler out of and back into that carseat and keep the child alive while walking across a parking lot, maybe she should stick to the fact that it’s not necessary.”

    I appreciate this mother shining a light on ACTUAL risks rather than imagined ones. Far more toddlers are injured in parking lots than grade-school-aged children are abducted exiting high schools where they just had a gymnastics class.

    Of course it isn’t necessary. But the drum that’s being beaten over and over again by policy-setters is SAFETY SAFETY SAFETY. So to put it in terms of SAFETY, leaving the toddler in the car is much more supportive of that.

  12. Sam September 25, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

    Wow. I would thank the principal for her concern and then say something like, “I am confident in my daughter’s ability to walk home independently.”

    I would take a similar approach with the gymnastics coach and send a note. I would also tell my child that I am confident in his ability to get from the gym to the car.

    My first grader would walk the three residential blocks from her school to her ballet lesson. Now that she is 8 and in 3rd grade she rides her bike the mile home from school. We don’t give kids enough credit. If we give them the tools to be independent, they can be!

  13. pentamom September 25, 2014 at 5:35 pm #

    “She is so young and vulnerable to someone approaching her. ”

    And she knows what to do if someone approaches her.

    Two blocks including a crossing guard? She’s probably not out of sight of either the school, the crossing guard, or home for more than 30 seconds anyway.

  14. Michelle September 25, 2014 at 5:40 pm #

    I have no idea. I can’t even get my kids’ Sunday School teachers to let them walk twenty feet across the hallway from their classroom to the big room where we all have breakfast. They have to be “checked out” by an adult with a special barcode sticker that we’re issued when we check them in. This lasts until 5th grade.

  15. Jill September 25, 2014 at 5:46 pm #

    The first one requires no response. The second issue can be solved by sending a note with the kid saying his mom lets him walk from the gym to the car.
    Too often idiots and their idiotic fears make us ragey, and feeling like we need to write a manifesto in response. It’s better to choose our battles, and let the little stuff go.

  16. lollipoplover September 25, 2014 at 5:54 pm #

    “She is so young and vulnerable to someone approaching her. Hopefully, it is nothing, but I wanted to drop you a line.”

    Dear Paranoid Principal,

    It is nothing.
    How my family commutes to school is not of your concern.

    She is almost 7. Walking 2 blocks home, in view of a crossing guard, does not make her vulnerable but empowers her to develop independence and confidence. Walking to school, as young children have done for centuries, is actually quite beneficial for her. Please reference the wealth of information available from our government on the many benefits of walking to school independently before judging a child as “vulnerable”.
    Competent Parent

    “Some children today have less independence than their parents did and this lack of independence can negatively impact their social behavior development.(6) Driving a child from home to school limits the child’s opportunities to interact with their neighborhood and other children. Children who spend more time in supervised structured activities have fewer opportunities to explore their neighborhoods. Children may lose some relatively “safe” opportunities to make decisions independently. They miss some of the lessons gained from learning from mistakes and the confidence that comes with success.”

  17. GRS September 25, 2014 at 6:01 pm #


    Security is one thing, but paranoia is another. No church has any business being THAT gripped in fear–or of passing such fear (read: spiritual bondage!), explicitly or implicitly, to children. Furthermore, if there is such fear (or nonsense!) on this issue, it is fair to ask what other nonsense will you and/or your children be asked to endure.

    I would talk to the powers that be in your church (pastors, elders, etc.) about this. If that gets nowhere, the next question to ask yourself is “Is such a fear driven place, AND THE FEAR OF THE WORLD THAT IS BEING REVEALED BY IT, a place where I want my children to learn about God?” If the answer is a loud enough NO, then perhaps it is time to start looking for another church.

  18. Michelle September 25, 2014 at 6:10 pm #

    GRS, this is standard for churches around here. It’s not even really about fear, but about trying to be modern and having fancy computer systems for checking kids in and out and oooh, computer-printed nametags! Wow! It’s stupid.

  19. Michelle September 25, 2014 at 6:16 pm #

    (And then, after the kids get picked up from Sunday School, they’re all running around the church playing with their friends, while the parents sit in the great room and talk and eat breakfast tacos. When we go to service, a lot of kids don’t even sit with their parents, and no one minds as long as they behave. But, oh no, they can’t leave the classroom if they aren’t CHECKED OUT. My 9yo once sat in the classroom for half an hour and missed breakfast because I thought her father had gotten her, and he thought I had. Seems like the money spent on special computer programs and nametag printers could have gone to the poor or something.)

  20. Ann September 25, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

    Unfortunately, the gymnastics teacher is worried about the ONE parent who would be suing if they allowed the children to just all leave the building by themselves. Better err on the overprotective side rather than incur the wrath of a helicopter parent.

  21. Amy Utzinger September 25, 2014 at 7:03 pm #

    I’m having a similar issue with my 10 year old. I can’t be at the park when his team practices soccer for 15 minutes after they are done. I thought this was no big deal, since the soccer field is literally right next to a library, I mean a few yards away. So I told him to just walk to the library, read his favorite comic book, and wait a bit for me to arrive. But I got a call from his coach saying it was against the soccer league’s regulations to let him leave without an adult. I protested (nicely) the stupidity of this rule, and I got a call from the head of the soccer league saying that their insurance made them adhere to this rule for liability reasons.

    What the heck? He can’t walk a few yards, plop down in a comfy library for 15 minutes, because the league might be liable? How can I fight this?

  22. SteveS September 25, 2014 at 7:26 pm #

    I agree with Melissa in the first post. They aren’t demanding a change, just expressing concern, albeit misplaced concern. I know this is going to sound like worst first thinking, but for all the good parents out there, principals have to deal with plenty of crappy parents. It might be best to take an educational approach and present the benefits of free-range parenting.

    You could thank the principal for her concern and explain that your family has carefully considered the many benefits (you could list them here) and the very remote likelihood that anything bad would happen. Your child knows the route well, You have done this route with her and are confident that she can continue to do it on her own. Thank her again for her concern and let her know that if she has any other questions, she can contact you.

    You were polite and she has no reason to be defensive. You have challenged her belief that it is dangerous and presented a compelling argument as to why most kids that age would be perfectly fine walking that distance to and from school.

  23. Rick September 25, 2014 at 8:33 pm #

    Here’s one suggestion. Propose that any adult walking outside might be hit by a meteorite, therefore he/she should be walked out with an astronomer who scans the sky beforehand to make sure it’s safe. Or perhaps, he/she should be walked out by (name your expert) to be sure (name your tragedy) doesn’t happen. Here’s a thought, what if everyone started homeschooling?

  24. no rest for the weary September 25, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    Yeah, when my kid was 9 or 10 he walked two blocks to the baseball field in our pristine little town and the coach went cuckoo on him and said, “We don’t want to lose our star catcher!”


    Lose how?

    I took that opportunity to explain to my son that some adults have become confused about what is actually dangerous and what is not. Still, my son felt totally mortified to be “corrected” by an authority figure, and ended up lying that I was there in the park, even though I wasn’t.

    We’ve struggled for years with this, him being the “only” kid who “has to ride a bike to practice” and all that crap. When you’ve got so many adults telling your kid that it’s “wrong” they should do this, it’s easy for the kid to think YOU’RE the crazy one, and tell you so.


  25. Lance Mitaro September 25, 2014 at 8:43 pm #

    What the Hell?

    You should send this to those letter writers:

    Pretty soon, we’re gonna start seeing worry-wart moms transporting their kids in dog kennels at this rate.

  26. Mar September 26, 2014 at 1:04 am #

    The church issue is a sensitive one for me. I admit to fear there and don’tind the extra security. We had a church shooting in our town and two adults were killed, both trying to shield others. I can’t get that fact out of my head. So I happily sign my kid in and out via the security system.

  27. caveat September 26, 2014 at 1:54 am #

    Ironically gymnastics is a genuinely somewhat dangerous activity (fantastic activity to learn though!), but somehow walking out of the building is viewed as WAY too dangerous for the young gymnasts.

  28. Cynthia812 September 26, 2014 at 6:54 am #

    You all see this? A new mall play area has ipads instead of playground equipment.

  29. not really SOA September 26, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    @Mar – I’m sorry such a tragedy occurred in your community, but I’m curious as to how you believe sign in/out policies are an effective response to such a tragedy.

  30. Roger the Shrubber September 26, 2014 at 8:41 am #

    @Mar – I’m sorry such a tragedy has occurred in your community. Similar incidents have occurred in mine as well, most recently at a psychiatric hospital. But I’m curious as to why you would think sign in/out policies are an appropriate response to such incidents or how they would be an effective deterrent.

  31. Sarah September 26, 2014 at 9:19 am #


    I am the writer of the second letter, and I am not saying that my toddler is out of control. It is simply past her bedtime when my son finishes gymnastics, and she is therefore cranky and uncooperative. When I put her in the car to go and pick him up, I often have to literally wrestle her into the carseat. Doing that twice is ridiculous! And while she is normally a cooperative girl, when she is tired and cranky she does stupid toddler things like trying to run away from me. So I am trying to highlight actual dangers / difficulties rather than the remote possibility of something happening to my son during the short walk from the building to my car.

    And yes, Jenny, I have a leash I can put on my toddler’s wrist, which I use when she is being particularly toddler-esque. However, since I am handicapped, I cannot simply scoop her up to keep her out of danger and it’s not safe for either of us to be standing in the middle of the parking lot if she decides to lay on the ground and refuse to move – something she does when it’s late and she doesn’t want to get back in the car.

  32. CrazyCatLady September 26, 2014 at 10:03 am #

    Amy Utzinger, here is how I would change the coach’s view on letting your son go to the library after soccer practice.

    You send a note, giving your permission for him to go to the library. Then you tell the coach that he can decide to either let your son go to the library, or can stay with your son. If you don’t see the coach and son, you will assume he is at the library.

  33. SKL September 26, 2014 at 10:04 am #

    My kids’ gymnastics place lets them go outside to their parents’ car if the parents are out there. (And I drop them off from outside too. And there is no sign in / sign out.)

    That said… Over the summer I had my kids sometimes going from morning camps to afternoon camps in a college student’s car. I didn’t want my kids eating in her car, so I told my kids to eat their packed lunch on the sidewalk in front of the gym. (The front wall is all windows so they can be seen, if that matters for 7yos eating lunch at noon.) I sent an email to the gym owner saying that this was my plan, because I did not want my kids dropping food in their facility. The owner (who knows my kids well) said he’d rather they eat inside, even if they dropped food. He lets his own tiny 4yo run around outside on that sidewalk, but he isn’t willing to take the risk of anything happening to someone else’s much bigger kids out there. Whatever, it is his place and it doesn’t hurt anything, but I found it a bit sad.

  34. SKL September 26, 2014 at 10:08 am #

    I don’t think I would respond to the note about walking home. I would just keep having my kid walk home, unless I got another communication saying I can’t. At that point I would ask them to cite the law that says they can’t, and if there isn’t one, ask if they would like my blanket permission slip to keep on file in the extremely unlikely event that anything ever happened to my kid.

  35. Warren September 26, 2014 at 10:15 am #

    I really get a kick out of people saying they would thank the principal for her concern. Why? The have questioned your parenting and insulted you, and yet you will thank them for that?

    When a person expresses concern that is fine. When a person in a position of authority does it, it is not concern, it is not. They are trying to tell you to change your ways.
    You don’t thank them. You tell them to back off.

  36. Emily September 26, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    1. Warren, it’s possible to “thank someone for their concern” sarcastically. It usually only takes once, and then they back off. Also, the principal might have meant well, and not realized that the child walking home alone was part of a greater plan to develop independence, but rather, an unfortunate necessity because there was no adult available for pick-up. The principal also might not have known how far “home” was from school. They have everyone’s addresses on file, but it’s not possible to remember off-hand where hundreds of people live. Anyway, I think this situation calls for “Thanks for your concern. This is our plan for Child, because we believe in fostering independence, and two blocks each way is fine for a six-year-old.” That’s what the letter writer did, and I think it’s a good approach. Also, if the principal has that in writing, then it’ll override any teachers expressing similar concerns.

    2. Caveat–I agree with you on the irony of the gymnastics class situation. All of these adults who are wringing their hands over how “unsafe” it is for the kids to walk from gymnastics class to a parent’s waiting vehicle outside, are perfectly fine with their kids taking gymnastics in the first place. Climb up a rope all the way to the ceiling where you might fall? Sure!!! Back handsprings on the beam, where you might land wrong and smash your head? Bring it on!!! Walk a few feet from the front door to your mom’s car after practice? No, we can’t allow that; that’s dangerous.

    3. Lenore, I think it’s cool that you took the time to find a photo of a boy gymnast, rather than a girl, since the gymnast in today’s story happens to be a boy.

  37. SteveS September 26, 2014 at 12:03 pm #

    Warren, I agree that there may be a time to just tell them to back off, but I don’t think that should be the first response, in this case. I would prefer to gain a “convert.” If she responded with anything other than, “That makes sense” or “sounds like a great idea”, then it is time to be more forceful.

  38. Roger the Shrubber September 26, 2014 at 12:16 pm #

    Warren – One of my favorite replies to excuse makers is ‘Everything before the ‘but’ is BS’. So replying to the principal ‘I appreciate your concern, but…’ is perfectly appropriate.

  39. Christine Kraemer September 26, 2014 at 12:40 pm #

    I’ve been thinking, with regards to these kinds of situations, maybe we as parents need to be more proactive. In other words, before someone expresses concern about the way we’re raising our kids, we need to talk to people with authority in our school about their policies, present them with information and statistics, and try to enlist their support in raising competent, independent kids. It puts us in a weak position to be primarily reacting to others’ complaints.

  40. C. S. P. Schofield September 26, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    Dear Principal,

    You say you are concerned that my child is walking two blocks to and from school. Is she showing a developmental problem that I am unaware of?

    Confused Mother

  41. lollipoplover September 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    Last year, my daughter was held back at dismissal a total of 3 times because she was *alone* (she was 7 at the time). But she wasn’t alone, she was biking with friends and neighbors, just not her older sister who usually accompanies her(she had afterschool activities). It was the dismissal aide who for some reason, felt my daughter (who has been biking/walking since kindergarten) was too young/vulnerable/creeperbait/useless to bike with the next-door neighbors she bikes with everyday and sent her to the office until they called me to find out what my dismissal plan was. It was the one they were ruining…duh.

    The first phone call I was nice and sincere and probably thanked them for their concern but emphatically said to let her go, she bikes with neighbors, don’t hold her back.

    The second time I was not as nice on the phone, told them that by holding her back they just messed up the dismissals of the 4 other students she bikes with and to LET HER GO.

    The third time my daughter refused to go to the office and waited outside with her biking group until the office resolved it over walkie-talkies. The office apologized and I asked that they please discuss with this aide that her job description does not entail insulting capable children and interfering with eco-friendly families utilizing the walking and biking trails. They don’t mess with us anymore.

  42. Andi September 26, 2014 at 1:11 pm #

    In response to the first and second letter. I think it imperative that we train our generation to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we desire them to navigate this world with confidence and security rather than fear, therefore, these “well-minding adults” with a different notion are wrong. Sit your children down and explain to them the confidence you have in the, how proud you are of them that they can do so many things, and that no matter what others say, you are going to advocate for them to do so. I also would present this to the school and gym leadership as such. Tell them your belief in allowing children the right to accomplish safe freedoms to better build them for the future. Remind them of your parental rights to govern and make good decisions for your children. Make it clear that you will do whatever it is needed to allow your children the freedom and right to pursue safe accomplishments such as walking home, and walking out to a car – for goodness sake! Thus, wirte a letter to both establishments, and offer tto talk with the principle.
    I had a similar experience where teachers and a principle told me that they did not want to “allow” my children to talk to a park literally yards down the street from the school. It was unsafe by their standards, and even steered toward acting as if they knew I would not be so negligent and maybe they “misunderstood” my request to allow such “activity” (as if it were criminal.) We were waiting at the park for a surprise party, and they had a straight shot from the field connecting the park and school. We could even see them walk out of the building to where we were. After visiting with those concerned, I wrote a note clearly explaining my wishes. I explained my parental judgement as sound, and made note of all things said in all conversations for personal record. I made sure they knew that I was doing this ‘for’ rather than ‘to’ my children. I asserted my right as their parent, to allow such a freedom from my good judgement. Our kids need to see this done with dignity and grace. I did not belittle the establishment to my children, but I let my kids know that sometimes you have to stand up for your rights kindly but with assertiveness. My children were still “escorted” half way, and thought it ridiculous, but it was still a small victory for free range living and for my children.

  43. Stacy September 26, 2014 at 1:12 pm #

    Our church must be free range, or not very modern. They like to see a parent or older sibling before they let the littlest ones out of Sunday school, but there’s no checking anyone out and kids over age six are expected to find their own way to the sanctuary, usually grabbing a cookie on the way. Technically we’re supposed to use check in sheets in the nursery, but even that’s pretty relaxed. When the kids have Wednesday evening classes, it’s normal to drop them off and pick them up in the parking lot.

    I do understand being a little paranoid because something bad really happened in your town. We had a serial killer in our community many years ago who actually entered strangers’ homes in the middle of the day, so I understand why my mom warns me to lock my doors in broad daylight. But I try to remember three things: the odds of something bad happening are very low, there will always be bad things that we haven’t protected against, and meanwhile we can’t live in fear or fail to give our children independence. My mom still let me walk home from school at age five and stay home alone at a young age.

    I would have a hard time not giving a snarky response to the principal, because of the way that letter was written…the principal doesn’t want to assume you’d do anything that crazy.

  44. EricS September 26, 2014 at 1:22 pm #

    For the first one, the principal has concerns, and that’s normal. What isn’t normal, is his reason for concern. “I have concern for her safety. She is so young and vulnerable to someone approaching her.” How does he know she’s “vulnerable”? Most children are extremely resilient. More resilient than many adults. These fears of people DO affect children, whether they realize it or not.

    Which leads me to the second letter. The boy is already being affected one way or another, as he is complying to what his teachers are telling him. He’s already becoming fearful.

    These stories are just another example of adults using children as an excuse to not face and litigation. They are MORE concerned they’ll get sued, than actually doing what is best for the kids.

    To mother of the first child, reply to the principal, and let him/her know you understand her concerns. But rest assured, my daughter is more than capable of walking home by herself. That you and your husband have made sure of that. And that in the last (couple) of years, she has not given you and your husband any reason to distrust her. In fact, she’s proven time and time again that she is more than capable. You may want to also let him/her know, that you want to teach your children how to be independent and confident. And how many child development experts, and studies show that this is the best time to teach your children those things. Showing, and enforcing concerns, will only scare her, and set her back from what we have been teaching her. And with all due respect, unless your child is in actual danger, to let her continue to do what she feels comfortable doing.

    To the second mother, encourage your son, that he is old enough to do those things without teachers. Teachers are only there for when you REALLY need them. Like when you are in trouble, hurt, or lost. Explain to him that they are just scared, and don’t want to get into trouble. So this note, will allow them not to feel so scared, and let you do big boy things on your own. Even tell him, to tell them, “don’t worry about me, I can take care of myself. You don’t have to be scared.” 😉 That would be a bit of a shocker for them. May even make them feel pretty silly and little, that a kid is telling them to “chill out”. lol

  45. JulieC September 26, 2014 at 1:23 pm #

    I think the idea of accusing (gently) principals and other authorities of being anti-environment is a great option!

    In our community, the schools have a “Walk or Bike to School” day and you will catch hell and tons of dirty looks if you drive your kid that day!

  46. Warren September 26, 2014 at 1:55 pm #

    Walking home from school is not something a parent needs permission from the school. It is also not something that you really want to start with a letter, then a phone call then a meeting. End it, before it starts. First time they contact you with their concern.

    Dear Principal,

    How my child gets to and from school is my call. Please leave your concerns out of it. I will thank you in advance for this no longer being an issue.

    That is how you handle it. You try to be diplomatic, spare their ego and feelings, and it becomes a long drawn out process of them trying to convince you to change. You need to let them know up front, that they won’t change you.

  47. Puzzled September 26, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    I hope the principal wasn’t an English teacher prior to her promotion.

  48. Heather September 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm #

    Melissa, read the note from the principal again. Sugarcoating removed, it says, “If you keep allowing your kid to walk home alone, we will call CPS”. Guaranteed or your money back.

  49. Philip Horner September 26, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Dear R.,

    I have forwarded your concern to the local police and have requested an armed escort for my daughter to and from school daily. I await their reply.



  50. SteveS September 26, 2014 at 3:52 pm #

    I can’t speak for all churches, but I attended (and was the attorney for) a church that had a sign in/sign out policy and it was a requirement of the insurance carrier.

  51. Mar September 26, 2014 at 6:02 pm #

    Roger and Not Really- I know the sign out policy would not stop a shooting. That policy is part of an overall security policy. We also have people positioned at the hallway doors who prevent you from entering the children’s wing unless you have a sticker badge. That badge is the same thing you use to check out the kids. I’m aware that it’s completely irrational to think that either of these can prevent a violent crime. It just placates me to know that someone out there is trying to do something.

  52. hineata September 26, 2014 at 6:23 pm #

    For Michelle and Mar – I find it sad that churches are buying into the madness. Frankly, according to the Bible, the book Christian churches are expected to follow, God numbers our days, and there is nothing we can do about when or by what means they will actually end. That doesn’t mean we don’t take sensible precautions, like refraining from, say, through our kids off the bell tower (wish our church had a bell tower!) or making sure each other’s toddlers aren’t running willy-nilly into the busy street outside, but really? Using bar codes on kids?

    And as for the shootings, that’s sad, but must be extremely rare, surely? So why worry about it? Heaven is a better place anyway :-).

  53. SKL September 26, 2014 at 6:25 pm #

    The church talk reminds me – I almost forgot – this fall for the first time I was asked to sign papers stating who is allowed to pick up my kids from Sunday School. Sad.

  54. hineata September 26, 2014 at 6:35 pm #

    As for the OP, for the principal no reply is necessary, but if you want one, a simple, polite ‘Thank you for your concern, but I am happy with our arrangement’ is fine.

    For Warren, part of being a mature member of a civil society is following certain social conventions at times, and a “Thank you for your concern” is nothing more than a social convention. All societies since the Stone Age (and probably even then) have followed such conventions – they merely differ between cultures.

    For the second letter writer – I quite understand you, and no toddler is under perfect control all the time. Just send the note – it is not worth it to try to force your child at that age to stand up for himself against an adult he rightly should be respecting. Though I agree the adult is nuts…what in the world is going to happen between the door and the car?

    Except, I suppose, Captain Kirk could choose that moment to transport the child aboard the Enterprise…….and what kid would want to be saved from that?!

  55. Heather September 26, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    Not to criticize your fear, but how would the requirement to check kids in and out prevent the tragic shooting that you spoke of? I would go nuts trying to check my four kids ion and out of things. We have been to a few activities that require it and I avoid taking my kids to those. It’s especially irritating when the rules seem arbitrary. At Girls, inc. I am required to check my 5th grader out and show a picture ID. There is a sign in the pick-up lane warning not to leave children in the car or police will be called. So if the other kids are sleeping, I have to wake them or more likely carry both of them in with me. The alternative is to sign her up as a “walker” if she lives less than a mile away. Then she can leave by herself and walk home with no supervision. So walking home alone, in the dark, in the worst neighborhood in the city (which is still really safe)at 7:15 is safe. Walking 6 feet to the car, in the pick-up lane is dangerous.

  56. Warren September 26, 2014 at 9:53 pm #


    I have found with a firmer stance, you put an end to things, right there and then. When you try to be diplomatic, all it does is open up a discussion, on an issue that you have no intention of changing.

    If it is something you are willing to discuss, and have no problem changing or compromising on, then diplomacy is fine.
    If they are questioning you, on something you are not going to change or compromise, then you end it.

    Social conventions are bullcrap. Standing your ground is not.

  57. Warren September 26, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    Why are social conventions bullcrap?
    Because in this day and age it is a social convention to not let your kids out of your sight for any amount of time.
    It is social convention to call the police and other authorities on differences in parenting styles.

    So you go ahead and follow with the rest of the sheep, I prefer to be myself.

  58. hineata September 26, 2014 at 10:53 pm #

    @Warren – hmm….you actually have a good point, about it being social convention not to let kids out of your sight, in some parts of the world (well, the US, and maybe parts of OZ) at least.

    Luckily, it’s not so here. Or not yet. So I can still afford to be polite, because it’s never come up, and better not start! ‘My’ diplomacy, thank goodness, is purely theoretical.

    There are a few kids wandering around up and down our street right now, no adults in sight. Thinking about it, if the local principal ever decided to write to parents over how their kids get to school, I expect there would be a riot. So quite possibly in this instance you are right – polite replies would be unnecessary.

  59. hineata September 26, 2014 at 10:59 pm #

    But for goodness sake, stop putting down sheep. Have you ever met one?

    Sheep are quite capable of being obnoxious little sods – my dad quit the only job he ever quit when the farm owner started requiring him to allow the prize ram (3000 pounds worth – money, that is, not weight!) to play in Dad’s bedroom whenever he wanted.

  60. Roger the Shrubber September 27, 2014 at 11:07 am #

    SteveS – I have no doubt that liability insurance is one of the driving forces in the establishment of these policies. Without serious tort reform in this country, we have no chance of moving for the current social convention that treats every unvetted person as a threat every child.

    I’m aware that it’s completely irrational to think that either of these can prevent a violent crime. It just placates me to know that someone out there is trying to do something.
    You realize that you are being irrational, yet are still placated on the rational of CHILD SAFETY. And by implication, in the ‘irrational’ belief that your actions are creating a safer environment for your children, every member of your congregation that does not wear the appropriate badge is treated as a potential threat. Yet everyone pats themselves on the back for their irrational justifications of their fears. Meanwhile, I and likeminded people who are able see that this mindset is detrimental to bringing up our children as self-reliant independent individuals, and understand that we are instead creating dysfunctional communities that are in fear of eachother, are portrayed as threats to our own children because we refuse to buy into the new ‘social conventions.’

    Please don’t take this as a personal attack. I, too, fell victim to a similar mindset after 9-11, and it took me many years to learn that the fear that I, and seemingly everyone else was living in, was the exact objective of those who perpetrated that attack.

    I would like to go on but my boy is insisting that we throw some ball on a beautiful day.

  61. Mar September 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm #

    Roger, I consider myself a mom who attempts to free range. It’s just the church thing that bothers me. It’s my personal issue. Sometimes I sit in church worrying about the very shooting that occurred years ago. Just something I can’t yet get over.

  62. Donna September 27, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Warren – being cordial to someone that you and your child are going to be dealing with for the better part of the next 5 years is just a smart life choice. Nobody is saying that she should bow down to what the principal wants; she should simply decline to do so politlely (If she chooses to reply at all since I see no reason that she needs to reply). Most people don’t actually want to turn their kid’s school administrators into enemies for no reason, especially when their kid is only in 1st grade.

  63. Lea September 27, 2014 at 6:56 pm #

    I would deal with the principle by simply saying that I’m aware my daughter is walking home alone. She is capable of doing this safely and enjoys doing so. There are few if any real dangers to her doing it. She will continue to walk herself to and from school. Short sweet and to the point. It isn’t snarky or rude but it also doesn’t leave the door open for any further discussion on it.

    Maybe the principle really does thing walking home alone is practically handing your child over to the boogie man. That would be a ridiculous fear driven by the power of anything could happen, rather than facts and logic. Even so it’s none of their business and you don’t have to believe in the same fear they chose to.If this is the motive behind the letter you’ll probably hear from them again and in that case just continue to repeat the above, maybe throw in some true stats about abductions, and the wonderful exercise and independence she gets from the walk.

    Maybe they have had complaints/concerns from other parents and teachers and decided to simply address it so they could say they had. If this is the case then you probably won’t hear from them again over it.

    With the gym, send in the note. Tell your son the coaches are not going to dislike him simply because they don’t agree with you over This. Be clear that you are the parent and your rules and decisions always trump others and this is what you need to happen. Your son might not be tickled with it but it will be a non issue and he’ll move on. I’ve had to tell my kids we’re doing it different, it doesn’t matter what another mom/dad/coach/teacher thinks, we do it this way because it’s what best for us so go with it.

    If we want our kids to grow into strong, independent people that make reasonable choices based in facts rather than other peoples fears or issues, then we have to model that for them. It’s hard when we seem to encounter a stream of crazies who think the sky is falling if we let a six year old walk out a door alone, but it needs to be done.

  64. SKL September 28, 2014 at 7:32 am #

    We had a scene yesterday because my kid wanted to walk to the park alone (her sister didn’t want to go) and the aunties had a fit. I didn’t want to send her alone for a couple of reasons. (It’s a mile away, she’s physically small, and people are cop happy around here.) I tried to work out a compromise with me meeting her at the park (she walks, I drive a different route) but she was upset because she feels strongly that she’s being treated like a baby, while the aunties are convinced the cops will take my kid and also that it’s “very common” for people to snatch young girls and sell them as sex slaves. (Nobody could think of anyone they knew who lost a daughter that way, but I’m told that’s because we don’t know very many people ???) Finally my daughter said never mind, I don’t want to go to the park any more. In her words, auntie “focuses too much on danger.”

    I should note this was in the middle of a beautiful Saturday afternoon, and many people in the neighborhood were out enjoying it, which in my opinion makes it a safe situation for a kid to walk down the street.

    My kid is almost 8yo, but she is small, so she has to deal with people assuming she is much younger. It really bugs her. What can be done about it? She is articulate and not scared to speak up for herself if confronted, but I am not sure that would be enough for some busybodies.

    Sick of having to feel like letting my kid go play is a subversive act.

  65. Papilio September 28, 2014 at 12:41 pm #

    Dear Principal, You must be confused. The child I let walk home is 6, not 3.

    “I am not saying that my toddler is out of control. It is simply past her bedtime when my son finishes gymnastics, and she is therefore cranky and uncooperative.”

    Well – MY profoundly negligent ( 😀 ) mom would most likely just have put her in bed and brought a baby phone to the neighbors to keep an ear on her…

  66. EB September 28, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    Sigh. In the 50’s and 60’s, parents had to figure out a strategy to provide extra supervision, if it was needed. For example, for a child recovering from serious illness, a developmentally delayed child, a child who had just moved to anew neighborhood, or some such. Now, parents have to figure out a special strategy if they want to provide less (i.e. appropriate, not hovering) supervision and make sure they don’t run afoul of CPS.

  67. MamaTod September 28, 2014 at 8:34 pm #

    The church policy is probably put in place to keep non-custodial parents from coming in and taking the kids from class without knowledge of the custodial parent. That’s far more likely than stranger abduction.

    Our church uses the parent pagers instead of bar codes. When you check your child in, you are given a pager in case you are needed for an emergency. The person holding the pager gets the child at the end of the service, so parents can trade off who’s doing pick-up or send an older child or a grandparent to get their little one simply by handing over the pager. It also guarantees those pagers don’t go home in purses or get left in the pews. 🙂

  68. Flurry September 28, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    At the risk of sounding like Warren, I have to say that I’m really tired of having my children’s freedoms curtailed and my parenting decisions overridden because of other people’s custody issues.

  69. Hellen September 29, 2014 at 10:14 am #

    To the gymnastics mom: Maybe emphasize to your son how proud you are of him because he is grown up enough to be able to walk out of the class by himself to meet you and how he helps you and his little brother/sister when he does that.

  70. MaryW September 29, 2014 at 11:06 am #

    It’s a good thing my kid is all grown up. I can’t tell you how mad I get reading the stupid shit that comes out of people who are supposedly in charge at schools/after school activities these days. It’s like they’ve lost ALL common sense. I would take it as an insult that they didn’t think I would know what was best for my child.

  71. Erin October 2, 2014 at 4:42 pm #

    I understand being protective of your children, I am probably considered over protective (working on that)but at some point it becomes insane the lengths the schools are going to in the name of protecting children. My daughter used to go to an elementary school here that was so over protective on recess that it seemed almost pointless to have recess. If it rained or snowed the children had to stay on the blacktop. There was no going out and playing in the snow, no building snowmen, no snow angels. When I was a kid that was one of the best times to be at recess. If it rained or had rained and there was **gasp** mud on the field they weren’t allowed off the black top. I guess they were wrong about dirt not hurting you???? While I know this doesn’t really go with the whole whether a child should be able to walk from the door to the car on their own I do think it is yet another example of schools jumping off into the deep end.