Best & Worst Free-Range Kids Moments of 2012

Hi Readers! Over at the Huffington Post today you can read about a bunch of 2012 Free-Range Kids FAILS, including the stories of  parents in two different states arrested for letting their kids play outside unsupervised. (Only one did jail time.) Thanks to Lisa Belkin for requesting the round up!

Meantime, a few weeks back I asked you for best and worst Free-Range moments of 2012. Here are a few — and some more are recounted in the HuffPo post. Let’s toast to a 2013 free of unnecessary fears and restrictions for our kids, and a whole lot of joy. – L.

BEST:  Debra, a new mom in Australia, was in the throes of post-partum depression and her son would not stop crying. “On one of his worst evenings,” she writes, “I lost it. He’d been screaming non-stop for about three hours.… I went into the other room to scream and cry desperately myself when I heard a knock on the door.” There stood a new-ish neighbor. “She said, ‘Hi, what’s his name? How about I take him for a little walk, okay?’” Debra handed over her son and 10 minutes later thought: Oh my God — WHAT HAVE I DONE?  “I hadn’t even asked her name!” Reminding herself that most people are NOT kidnappers, she hurried over to the house she guessed was the woman’s. Ushered in, “I found my baby snuggled well and finally sleeping.” A few days later, Debra dropped by with a thank you box of chocolates. Better still: She knows she can drop by again, with her baby.

BEST: “My 7-year-old stays at school for after-care till around 5. We signed him up for soccer at a park one block away at 4:30,” wrote a mom named Amy. She wanted him to be allowed to leave early, on his own, so she began gearing up for a battle with the authorities: “I calculated how long it would take for him to walk and found crime statistics for the neighborhood.” At last she met with the principal who said…great idea! Now the boy walks to soccer and loves his independence.

WORST: “Just received this email from the school district,” announced a mom named Marie, pasting in the letter: “’Dear Parents: We want to make you aware of an incident this morning that occurred in or near your children’s school attendance area.” What incident? A man in a van attempted to ask a high school student a question. That’s it. A guy asked a question – and inspired school-wide panic.

 WORST: “My two not-so-bad ‘worst’ experiences weren’t  so much personal problems as examples of bureaucratic stupidity that I had to put up with. Both involved my then-19-year-old son,” wrote Pentamom.

“The first one was the permission slip for the traditional last day of school ‘Senior Slip ‘n Slide.’ They set up a slip n’ slide in the stadium that adjoins the school, and the seniors get to play on it for a couple of hours. This is a college-prep magnet school with a very low rate of serious disciplinary problems.

“But still, for a kid who is old enough to be in Afghanistan, learning to be a firefighter, or driving a delivery truck, I had to sign a permission slip that contained the sentence, ‘I understand that my student WILL GET WET.’

“A couple of weeks later we dealt with the clearances for his summer job. In order for him to work cleaning and painting an EMPTY elementary school over the summer, he had to get three clearances — at the cost of ~$50 plus a two-week hiring delay until the clearances came through. All because ‘Better safe than sorry!'”

How about a new motto for next year for, readers? If you’ve got one, send it in! – L.  

17 Responses to Best & Worst Free-Range Kids Moments of 2012

  1. Krista December 31, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Debra’s story warms my heart. I wish I had that sort of support during my PPD.

  2. Sara December 31, 2012 at 6:03 pm #

    A new motto for next year? I quite enjoy Ms Frizzle’s advice in The Magic School Bus books…. “Take chances, Make mistakes, Get messy!!!”

  3. Denny December 31, 2012 at 6:40 pm #

    I like Sara’s motto!

  4. Donald December 31, 2012 at 7:45 pm #

    Raising kids is hard work. There are times that it can be so draining that you can struggle to keep your sanity! This was portrayed beautifully in the movie Mr Mom starring Micheal and Teri Garr. Michael was yelling at Terri and telling her that he was losing it. “Yesterday I yelled at Johnny for coloring outside the lines!”

    Parents have always needed help from relatives and the community. Without this support, the child suffers as they absorb the stress. However, never before in history have families and communities been so distant thus leaving the parents (or sole parent) to do the entire job!

    Of course the children will absorb more stress. Of course they will grow up and have children of their own. Of course this will inflame insecurity, anxiety, and depression. Of course this will feed the fear hysteria. Of course this will break down communities even further. Of course this is a perpetuating downward spiral.


    To break this cycle we need to strengthen communities. We need to start trusting each other again.

    Debra’s story is a beautiful one.

  5. Donald December 31, 2012 at 9:08 pm #

    Michael Keaton and Teri Garr

  6. C. S. P. Schofield January 1, 2013 at 7:03 am #

    “Don’t child-proof the world, world-proof the child!”

  7. Cyn January 1, 2013 at 7:05 am #

    Wanted to tell you of another “worst first” incident that was in a conversation I had a week or two ago.

    Next door is a new house being built, and it has a great sledding hill. I went to an open house to look at the insides, and mentioned to the realtor that the sledding hill would be a great selling point for a family. “I can’t do that” he said “because if someone’s kid got hurt sledding, I could be sued.”

    Let’s review that again: If someone’s kid got hurt sledding on their own property, the realtor that sold them the house could be sued. This is ridiculous. If the kid falls down the second floor stairs that the realtor pointed out, could he be sued also?

  8. Helena January 1, 2013 at 8:00 am #

    *gulp* I’m all for free-ranging, but there is no way I would have let my then 7 yo walk a block away by himself – horses for courses though!

  9. Jespren January 1, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    “The Stranger is not a ‘danger'” is my oft-repeated free-range phrase.

  10. Tamara January 1, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    I was very excited to read Debra’s story, truly a a great “best” story. I wish this is how we all could be. I have been in her position, without the helpful knock on the door. This good neighbor didn’t think twice about offering help! Imagine! I plan to start 2013 with that attitude. No more fear about fear. If it looks like someone can use some help, I will offer it too. Much more often.

  11. CrazyCatLady January 1, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    Helena, why is walking to soccer after school different than walking to school in the morning? So many kids of all ages do this every school day, many often leaving home after their parents have gone to work.

  12. Joe Power January 1, 2013 at 12:13 pm #

    a new motto? “Free-Ranged or De-Ranged, Your Choice!”

  13. Karon January 1, 2013 at 3:12 pm #

    I was told earlier this year that my 10-year-old wasn’t allowed to leave school campus to walk home when he was sick, despite the following facts:

    1. The school nurse had called, while he was in her office, to let me know he wasn’t feeling well.

    2. He walks to and from school every day.

    3. He has a key to the front door.

    4. We live less than 200 feet from the school parking lot.

    5. He was not ill enough to warrant a visit to the doctor or necessitate adult supervision at home, though going home to sleep was a good idea.

    I would have loved to have an administrator like Amy’s that day!

  14. hineata January 1, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    @Helena – I wonder if blocks are bigger where you are. Friend just got back from a first visit to the US, and they reported cities stretching to the horizon (Las Vegas and LA) and things they heard described as blocks which seemed a mile or more long on each side (must surely have had culdesacs in them?). Whereas a block where I live is probably a couple of hundred metres one way, maybe fifty the other, usually. And must be not much bigger than that in small towns, even in the US. So, maybe a block in your sense would be too big for a 7 year old, and not in Amy’s? Anyway just a thought…..

    About the parenting thing, Donald, agree with you completely. Have just had a few ‘Duh’ moments myself refreshing for Uni courses this year, on reading a study on Maori parenting. Now, I’m a mongrel breed myself, but lots of things you don’t talk about in families, they just are, and about all I knew is that Pakehas and Maoris (who were/are basically a tribal society) do things very differently. Anyway for lots of Maori groups up until the last generation or so, evidently parents didn’t have automatic rights to even name their children. Neither did they get to raise them themselves if the grandparents/older generation deemed that somebody else either was better suited, or needed that child more, for a heap of reasons (my great-grandmother lost two of her children in quick succession, and so turned up at her cousin’s place when cousin had just delivered her baby and took that baby, with the blessings of the child’s grandparents). Also, parents seldom praised their own children – that was seen as outside the realm of their role. Praise had to be bestowed by other relatives, as did things like money for schooling etc. Which worked fine enough when extended families lived very close to each other. Now most Maori, like most Pakeha, are living scattered in the cities, issues are caused because the internalised ways of ‘parenting’, and who does what, don’t work nearly so well when you’re isolated in your little nuclear family unit..

    Anyway my point in raising it here is that

    a) where did we ever get the idea that we two parents even had ungarnered right to our ‘own’ children, let alone that we were responsible for every aspect of their lives?

    b) and how do we build that community back? While tribal societies (like all societies) have never been perfect, they do often have the advantage of completely sharing the load of chidrearing.

    So how do we build our urban tribes?

    Maybe that will be my motto for the year : Urban Tribe….

  15. Lee Lee January 2, 2013 at 7:39 am #

    one of my worst reads on this site was the schools that required background checks on parents to attend sports day, family lunches, school plays etc. How do schools expect parental involvement when they are made to feel like criminals just for comging school? My best read was the story about the college payng the students tuition when her parents refused to pay after they pretty much stalked her at school.

  16. Bec from Melbourne January 5, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    I have quoted Debra’s story several times during the year, and also the one where the lady with newborn twins was on an international flight and a (famous and unexpected) stranger came and held one of her babies for her, sang to the baby and generally calmed the whole flight down.

    The story where the two kids were driven to the police station because the librarians didn’t think they should walk home was infuriating.


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