Handy-Dandy Response to: “What if Something Bad Happens to Them?”

“What if something bad happens to them? Even if the danger is one in a million, that doesn’t matter when it’s YOUR kid.” That’s often the response that greets parents who let their kids do anything on their own. It’s certainly the reason Danielle ahesekbday
and Alexander Meitiv
are dealing with the authorities after letting their kids, 10 and 6, walk home from the park by themselves.  This comment to yesterday’s post about the Meitivs strikes me as a fantastic way to stump the worriers: Make them worry more about NOT letting their kids do anything on their own. It comes to us from Chicago Dad:

I don’t know about “statistics,” but how would you feel if something happened to you and your spouse, and your kids had no choice but to be more independent just to get by, and they weren’t ready for it? 

What if the future is just a little bit harder than the present,  a college education doesn’t mean a job,  and it’s hard to earn a living, will your kids be prepared to figure out their own path?

How could you live with yourself if it was your kid who was denied a childhood because of your overblown fears? How could you live with yourself if your fears and “see something, say something” attitude destroyed other families and ruined the childhoods of strangers?

It’s a different world out there, don’t you watch the news?  New technologies, less crime, a changing globe, but less common sense and less practical thinking with each passing day. Does constant surveillance and constant correction give your kids the tools to thrive in this new world? Or does it substitute their judgement with yours? Is your judgement really all that sound?

I hear you say these kids are too young to be trusted with independence and responsibilities until they are old enough to be treated with suspicion and fear.  I say they need independence and responsibilities when they are young so they won’t become the sort of teens you fear.

Yup. Ditto. – Lenore

What independence just might be preparing kids for.

What independence just might be preparing kids for.

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30 Responses to Handy-Dandy Response to: “What if Something Bad Happens to Them?”

  1. Linda January 16, 2015 at 11:37 am #

    This American Life had an episode called “Batman” this week. The main story is about a blind man who, thanks to his Free Range mom (my interpretation – they did not use that phrase), lives life with almost no limitations. I LOVED hearing her responses and inner turmoil when people asked her “What if he gets hurt?”

    Yes, she worried about it. A lot. No, she didn’t let her fear impose limitations. It’s a good, if long, listen.


  2. Nadine January 16, 2015 at 12:44 pm #

    The weekend after I left my parents house a friend of mine asked me to stay over so we could hang out some more and help her with her horses the next day. I still remember the complete panic of not knowing who to ask permission too. It was so bad that I had a mini panic attack. I called a housemate and asked if it was ok to say out!! Funny thing is they were high as a kite. I had learned everything, cook, clean, balance a checkbook. They learned me to think about life and society, politics and history, But untill I left home at 18 all my descissions were always referred to my parents. I never decided to do things, I was allowed to do things and it took a long time for me to learn to listen to myself and make my own.

  3. amother January 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    You’ll really love the Invisibilia episode this week on NPR about fear. But that’s not why I’m commenting.

    I had a meeting at school last week and one of the teachers kind of casually mentioned the measurable decline in creativity that the US has been experiencing for the past 20 years and their goal to create an environment to try to instill it in the kids. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to find that research, but I would expect that a little freedom goes a long way.

  4. amother January 16, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

    Found it:

  5. Cindy Karlan January 16, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    Wow! This is the best response ever! I’ve given several explanations along this line to people, but my explanations were never so well stated. Thanks for sharing this….

  6. Arianne January 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    amother, I just came here to post a link to that very Invisibilia episode. I am listening to it right now! And Linda, I LOVED that “Batman” episode of This American Life (which was actually just an introduction to the new NPR program, Invisibilia, by the way). The way that mother talked about how she decided to parent her blind son just blew me away!

  7. David January 16, 2015 at 1:18 pm #

    You could say that, yes. But you could also say something like this.

    Yes, terrible things do sometimes happen to children. But they are not limited to accidents or attacks by strangers outside the home. Terrible things such as brain tumours and leukaemia and meningitis also happen to children and those are beyond anyone’s power to prevent. If, God forbid, something like that happened to your child, would you at least have the small comfort of knowing they’d been allowed to make the most of the time they did have? Or would you always be haunted by the knowledge they had never been allowed to really live, never had the slightest opportunity to experience and discover the world on their own, never even experienced that heady thrill of independence and responsibility that comes from running an errand for mum to the local store on their own for the first time?

    That’s basically what I’d say

  8. Linda January 16, 2015 at 1:29 pm #

    David, your response is great!

    Arianne, yes, it was great. I was going to pull out some good excerpts from the transcript, but there were too many. Better to listen to the whole thing. Incidentally, I have a friend who is raising her blind daughter similarly. We were together in a play group when our girls were just toddlers, 10 years ago. Mine was afraid to climb up to the top of the slide, while her blind daughter was wailing down the slide head first, in sheer delight, while her mom and I chatted casually. I was in awe of both of them then, and still am.

  9. Ally January 16, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

    Why did the chicken cross the road? It was a free-range chicken. What happened to that chicken? Did it a) get hit by an applecart b) become brave and cross more roads c) find
    a greener pasture d) get eaten by a fox or e) get back to the coop safely and
    peck at the ground. Beware of
    polarizing with labels, of
    oversimplifications and
    generalizations. Make a point with
    civil discourse and then listen. Child
    rearing is a nuanced, messy process. There are more nuances, gradations

    gray areas and questions then answers. There isn’t a manual. Your way is one way, and the are millions of others. Take your own advice less seriously. While it is good for starting discussion and selling books, a chicken is still a chicken.

  10. lollipoplover January 16, 2015 at 2:45 pm #

    “I hear you say these kids are too young to be trusted with independence and responsibilities until they are old enough to be treated with suspicion and fear.”

    I am reading “All The Light We Cannot See” By Anthony Doerr about the lives of Marie-Laure who lives in Paris with her widowed father right before the Nazis occupied it in WWII. When she is six, she goes blind and her father builds her a perfect miniature model of her neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. He has her practice, even as she cries and gets frustrated so she can be prepared in the event they get separated.
    It love this book so much I want to marry it.

  11. Tony January 16, 2015 at 2:46 pm #

    Helicopter parents who are motivated by “What if something happens to them?” might find different motivation in thinking “What if something happens to me?” In the latter scenario the best thing you could do would be to have confident free-range kids.

  12. CrazyCatLady January 16, 2015 at 2:57 pm #

    AMother, here is some research for you: http://www.slate.com/articles/double_x/doublex/2011/03/why_preschool_shouldnt_be_like_school.html

    But I can honestly say that the teachers won’t like this, because to get creative responses, you need to have the teachers stop teaching.

    This is a HUGE mind-change for most teachers, but is very common for homeschoolers, particularly unschooler/child led learning advocates. I will say it was a whole mindset change for me when I started homeschooling. Slowly I have come to realize that I need to, like in the study, introduce topics, and then let the kids run with them. If they are excited, they will learn a lot about the topic and think of it in ways that may be very different any lesson plans, but are creative. If the kid is not interested in the topic, I can tell you without a doubt that the child will not remember much in the long term anyhow.

  13. BH January 16, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    I always say “like what” and ask them to get very specific.

  14. Simon Elliott January 16, 2015 at 4:24 pm #

    The recommendation of the child protection people is to should keep our kids cocooned and not give them any independence. We drive them everywhere until they are 16, when we give them the keys to 2 tons of high powered metal. They are not allowed to touch alcohol until they are 21, living on their own, and away from their parents. They remain driving everywhere because the world is a dangerous place.

    This is supposed to keep them safe. But safe from what?

    In the USA the leading cause of death in people from 1 to 44 in USA are accidents, chiefly car accidents. The leading cause of death ages 44 onwards is a tussle between cancer and heart disease. You have kept your kids safe from the lurking pedophile, but increased their risks from the biggest killers.

    They used to build houses out asbestos so they wouldn’t catch fire, too

  15. BL January 16, 2015 at 6:16 pm #

    “They used to build houses out asbestos so they wouldn’t catch fire, too”

    Interesting. I was just reading a book about the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City. There was a major exhibit on the wonders of asbestos. That one didn’t work out so well, did it?

  16. LatelyEuroDad January 16, 2015 at 7:47 pm #

    We recently got back from several years living in Belgium. Belgium: nanny state, socialized medicine, 50%+ taxes, public EVERYTHING. And, amazingly, very independent kids. I saw every day 10-12 year old kids on public transportation making their way to school, sometimes bringing along a younger sibling. Also, I let my 16-year-old take the metro (gasp) into the city to meet friends. Alone. At night. It may shock opposed readers to learn that he (1) always came home safely and (2) learned a great deal about being an independent person, for which he has THANKED us. Lenore / FRK, thanks for what you are doing! Children need a healthy balance of freedom and guidance, and the state has no business appointing bureaucrats to second-guess parents in the VAST majority of situations.

  17. Papilio January 16, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    @BH: Or say ‘Like what’, and then guess diabetis, depression, obesity and other possible, more likely bad things that could happen to kids who sit inside on their butt all day.

  18. Joy January 16, 2015 at 8:48 pm #

    I think as a parent one of the most important skills you can help your child achieve is self-reliance. It begins with small steps when they are young and grows with their maturity level. When my daughters and a friends daughter off to college the friend worried had she taught her daughter everything she needed to know. I didn’t worry. I had many telephone conversations with them and they often asked my opinion. Sometimes I would offer advice. Most times I simply asked them what they thought and was able to respond “I trust your judgement”. Self reliance is an earned life skill and gives young children a sense of confidence. They should never be deprived of it.

  19. hineata January 16, 2015 at 11:30 pm #

    Just a couple of weeks ago a slight curveball happened for our family. Four of us went on our usual camping trip followed by a week in civilisation way to the north of us, while Boy, who is 18 now and has just finished high school, went in another direction for a casual job and then came home for his more regular summer job. He wasn’t feeling that crash-hot when he came back from the casual job but had a mate stay over the day after he got back anyway.

    Which turned out to be just as well, because he rang briefly for a bit of a chat and mentioned that he thought he might go to the doctor. He didn’t mention that he had a swollen face, but his mate thought he looked really odd and decided to get his Grandad to take them to after hours. Five days in hospital with a post-strep kidney condition, and he is still well overweight. We did travel back home early because, even at his age, there’s something a bit bizarre about enjoying yourself on the beach when your progeny has uncertain issues with major organs :-).

    What’s the point of all that? Simply that if he wasn’t used to doing things for himself (and he is a naturally anxious type, so proof positive that anyone can learn to do for themselves) and if his friends weren’t similarly well-versed in attending to life, he could have been in real trouble. We aren’t always around when our ‘kids’ (or rather young adults) need us, so they better be prepared to look out for themselves and each other.

  20. Nadine January 17, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    LatelyEuroDad, the big difference I see between my dutch hometown and the USA is that when something goes wrong, like a dangerous intersection that claims kids lives, the intersection is changed so it becomes better manageble by all the users. Nobody even thinks about making kids taking part in traffic alone illegal. That would go against their rights!

  21. amother January 17, 2015 at 5:27 pm #

    Thanks CrazyCatLady. You might enjoy the Sugata Mitra TED talks – The child driven education is pretty fun. I love how they employed grandmothers.

  22. Michelle January 17, 2015 at 6:06 pm #

    Nadine, I assume you mean that in your hometown they would change the intersection, not in the US. I wanted to petition my county (in Texas) to add in sidewalks along the busy street that runs past my neighborhood so that kids could walk to more places, including the library. Then I found out that there’s actually a rule AGAINST putting in new sidewalks except where they connect a neighborhood to a school! Since the local school is *in* our neighborhood, that makes putting in a new sidewalk to give more freedom of movement completely out of the question. 🙁

  23. Elizabeth January 18, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    I was a free range parent before I knew there was such a thing. My oldest always had boundaries, but was always encouraged to be free within them. He was allowed to ride to his bike (sometimes 35 miles a day) all over town. He was responsible enough in grades 6-8 to get himself to school, to the dentist and the orthodontist. There were times I defintely worried, but also had communication.
    Many of my friends were horrified at the freedom I allowed my son. They are now amazed at what a well adjusted, quick thinking and independent person he has grown into.
    I used to tell anyone that questioned my motives that “my job was to ensure survival with good descions should anything ever happen to me” sometimes that was startling for folks to hear, sometimes it was enlightenment for them. The school was a hard sell.
    I am pleased that parents are now letting go a little and letting young folks explore their world and explore their limits. It is a good thing, regardless what others may think – I have raised a man, not a boy.

  24. kate January 18, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    Obviously I would be devastated if something happended to my child. How would you feel if you were driving your child somewhere and your child was killed by another driver? The odds of an accident happening while driving are much higher than the probablity of kidnapping.
    What if your toddler slipped from your grasp while you are walking through a parking lot of parked SUVs? Wouldn’t you blame yourself if someone backed over your child?

  25. Papilio January 18, 2015 at 3:01 pm #

    “Then I found out that there’s actually a rule AGAINST putting in new sidewalks except where they connect a neighborhood to a school! Since the local school is *in* our neighborhood, that makes putting in a new sidewalk to give more freedom of movement completely out of the question. :(”

    Can’t you read that as ‘connecting the streets in the neighborhood to the school’? I mean, if you build a highway between two cities, it can’t just *stop* right at the edge of the city, you need roads IN the city as well, so until that’s the case, you can’t say those cities are connected in any meaningful way…
    I guess I’m naïve :-/

  26. Ann January 18, 2015 at 6:04 pm #

    You could hide your kid at home all day and lock the world’s “dangers” out and something could STILL happen to him. He could fall off the couch, hit his head and get a concussion. He could trip and fall down the stairs. He could drown in the bathtub. He could choke on some food. You can’t account for absolutely everything that *might* happen. Things happen, sure, but should we worry about everything that only has a .001 percent chance of happening?

  27. BL January 18, 2015 at 9:04 pm #

    “You could hide your kid at home all day and lock the world’s “dangers” out and something could STILL happen to him.”

    He would be guaranteed to remain infantile.

  28. Papilio January 19, 2015 at 10:19 am #

    “You could hide your kid at home all day and lock the world’s “dangers” out”

    Like Genie? That worked out well…

  29. Socrates Reader January 19, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    Socrates said that it’s always better to choose something that may or may not be bad than something you know to be evil. That kind of reasoning completely destroys all criticisms of free-range.

  30. Sarah J January 24, 2015 at 2:29 pm #

    Very well-said! Yes, there are a risk that something bad can happen to your kid when they go out. But if your kid is never allowed to do anything that might have some risk, well, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have problems as a result. Say you never let your kids prepare food because they might hurt themselves with the knife. Okay, but they’ll have to learn to prepare food eventually, and the longer you wait, the harder it is for them to adjust and learn.