Readers! Can you help this mom? L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been reading your blog and readers’ comments for better than a year now. Never really thought I’d have an experience similar to the ones I read about on your blog, but yesterday it happened. My children are nearly-5 (boy) and 3.5 (girl). We live in a very safe neighborhood in the Midwest, with wide sidewalks. Thankfully, I can report that I frequently see many of children playing in their yards or at our local park (without helicoptering parents), and riding their bikes to our neighborhood school. There is definitely a Free-Range mentalilty among many of my neighbors.
Yesterday I was outside with my children, cleaning out the garage while they were playing out front. My daughter was riding her scooter up and down the sidewalk. She knows she can take it as far as the neighbors’ homes that are two away from us on each side. She never goes farther than she should, and at any given time, she’s no more than 50 feet from our front yard. My son was playing with his trains on the driveway. Periodically, I’d walk out of the garage (doors were open) to check on them. During one of these checks, I saw her at the neighbors’ driveway where she is allowed to stop and turn around. There was a minivan parked on the street and a lady getting into it. My daughter is a very friendly, chatty soul. If she sees someone near her, she’s going to say hello and chatter about whatever strikes her fancy. I also, however, have no doubt that if someone she didn’t know tried to get her to go with them, she’d scream and kick and struggle LOUDLY. I have no desire to quash her naturally friendly and open spirit.
The lady she was talking to was giving her a strange look. I assumed my daughter was annoying her and called my girl to come back. She did. The lady then got in her van and pulled it up to my driveway. She got out and waved me down. When I approached, she said to me, “You know, your daughter doesn’t know me at all, and she just started talking to me.” I replied, “Yes, she does that. She likes to talk to people.” She responded, “Well, you know, I run a home day care, and you really need to talk to her about speaking with strangers. There is a really good video that John Walsh put out about teaching kids who it is ok to talk to — you really should get it and have your children watch it. Because, you know, anything can happen, and they need to know not to talk to people they don’t know. I could have been anyone.” Um, okay. I was totally taken aback. I thanked her and headed back up to the garage with my daughter.
After the lady left, I thought about it and realized I was offended. While I know she thought she was only doing something nice — and, therefore, it wasn’t worth starting a fight over — it really was none of her business. I didn’t want to get into a debate with her at the time, which is why I just thanked her and ended the conversation. But what I really wanted to say was, “I understand you’ve bought into the media propaganda about the frequency of child abductions, but you really need to understand that crime is down significantly in this country. And yet, you’re recommending I show my kids a video that might scare them into not speaking to people. For what it’s worth, you obviously weren’t someone intending to do my child harm. In fact, the chance of her meeting such a person on our sidewalk in front of our house is less likely than her falling off her scooter and hitting her head.”
Probably wouldn’t have done any good, and she’d have driven away feeling even more self-righteously justified in having told me what she thought about my heathen parenting ways.
I’m not sure I handled the situation as best I could have, but then again, maybe just smiling and saying thank you without further engaging someone is best. I just don’t know. I would love to hear what your readers’ suggestions would be, regarding how to handle a situation like this. I’ve found they often have great advice that is sound and based in logic, rather than emotional fearmongering. Thanks. — Heather