“I Am at a Loss”

Tonight rndransnkf
I’m speaking on a panel in Ridgewood, NJ, organized by local activist extraordinaire Jeanne Johnson on “Moving Forward Together: Fostering a Pedestrian Friendly Community.” Her initiative is called Walktoberfest.
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Getting all of us back outside, walking around our neighborhoods, is good for our bodies, souls, friendships, local businesses and even property values. The only downside is you don’t get to spend more time in your car. Darn!
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Meantime, here’s what happens if we all stay inside, and the kids do, too:
Dear Free-Range Kids:
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I am at a loss. I grew up in Chicago and now pay a ridiculous amount in property taxes to live in a leafy suburban paradise about 40 miles northwest of the city. My oldest son, who turned 9 this spring, was so excited to have a free-range summer on his bicycle in hopes of meeting school friends at the park or in our neighborhood. I was home with his younger siblings and thought he would find buddies. I was wrong.
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At Back to School Night two others approached me to say they were shocked to see my oldest son at the park (one block from our home) alone. Another told me she is a proud “helicopter mom” and does not allow her daughter (my son’s friend in his gifted class) to cross the street, although she had asked to ride her bike to our home to see him. The creepiest was the mom who told me her oldest son is 19-years-old and away at college, but she tracks him via his smartphone and blows it up when he has been out too late or traveled somewhere she thinks is unsafe.
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My son often comes home from school with plans to meet a fellow 9 or 10-year-old at the neighborhood park, only to be told the next day they are not actually allowed to go to the park by themselves (these friends also live within a block a couple blocks). I totally understand not wanting random kids to drop in on you, I just don’t understand why kids are not out playing to find each other in our subdivision in our little town at this age. So frustrated for my boy.
– K.
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I’m frustrated, too! Soon I’ll be starting a new non-profit to further the Free-Range mission (stay tuned!), and one of our early goals is to help people connect so that they don’t feel alone in sending their kids back out to play. And of course we also have to get neighborhoods, cities and states to announce that they actively SUPPORT having kids back out and about, and will not automatically consider unsupervised kids “neglected.” And then we have to give kids back some FREE TIME so they can go out and explore, instead of another three hours at [fill in the name of structured, supervised activity].
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Consider this Walktober by you, too!  – L.

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Stay in, stay in, wherever you are!

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31 Responses to “I Am at a Loss”

  1. Ann in L.A. September 26, 2017 at 9:45 am #

    Lots of people spend a fortune building and moving to expensive “safe” communities, only to turn around, lock their doors, and treat their house as a bunker in the midst of a zombie apocalypse happening in that nice, safe neighborhood.

  2. JM September 26, 2017 at 9:54 am #

    Congratulations to the Helicopter Parents, assuaging their own fears by ruining and restraining human independence.

  3. SKL September 26, 2017 at 9:59 am #

    Whenever anyone questions me about what I let my kids do, I say some variation of “didn’t you do that when you were their age?” The answer is always “yes, but…” I comment that crime is down since then and they can look up the statistics if they don’t believe me.

    Some of them believe they are just better moms than I am, but that isn’t my problem. I won’t let it be my kids’ problem.

  4. Sarah September 26, 2017 at 10:18 am #

    I wish there was a way to look up “free-range” statistics before moving. We moved to a bigger house in the same suburb, 2 miles from where we used to live. To my [thrilled] surprise, on this block kids come knocking to play, whereas on our old block people looked crossways at us for letting our 8yo outside on his bike up and down the block. If we could have found that kind of thing out we would have moved years earlier!

  5. Tami September 26, 2017 at 11:39 am #

    That’s what our neighborhood park looks like in the summer, because the equipment is too hot to play on. Any time the sun starts to set though, the kids come out in droves to play at the park or ride bikes in the street. I did overhear a mom the other day telling her son not to talk to anyone as he rode around the block, even if they offered him $100. Being a social worker, I wanted to go talk to her about how the “stranger” is not usually the person to worry about. Thankfully most folks in our neighborhood are fairly free range.

  6. Theresa Hall September 26, 2017 at 11:46 am #

    If I was the 19 yr old whose mom wouldn’t let go even a bit especially while I’m at college I would seriously looking for way to block her control over my phone. If she can’t let go while he at college what he going do when her time comes and she boss him around. My mom may drive crazy with worrying at times but part of it because she cares and the other part is anxiety issues. She tries not worry too much even though at times it’s hard for her but at least we can always work things out for the most part.
    A little worrying just means you care but this is going overboard and isn’t good for anyone

  7. Cristabel September 26, 2017 at 11:53 am #

    Man, amen to ALL this. My kid would LOVE to find other kids to play with in the neighborhood but they’re NEVER outside so he ends up connecting to other kids online via computer games. It really bums me out. The only time he gets to play with other kids is when I take time to arrange a play date (difficult, since most kids have 13 after school activities to work around) or when he participates in adult-directed sports (which we only do in the spring because I refuse to be tied to those insane schedules and he doesn’t like it either). I’m always hearing other parents say variations of “you just can’t be too careful these days.” Yes, you can. YES YOU CAN.

  8. Meg Raminiak September 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Hello NW ‘burbs mama! I’m Meg. Nice to meet ya. Not sure where you are out here in Chicagoland, but I’m a free range mama in Arlington Heights and if you’re ever anywhere nearby, we’ve got a great community of kids who spend their downtime riding bikes, walking along the creek next to our house and all sorts of other various kid adventures! My daughter is 8 and my son is 11. Feel free to shoot me an email.

    [email protected]

  9. Jennifer Davy September 26, 2017 at 12:06 pm #

    This is why our family loves camping. They get around and out, meeting new friends and have an absolute blast.

    As opposed to our old cul de sac over priced home in the burbs of MA, where the buses stopped every few houses to pick up the kids at their front doors. Insane!

    The fantastic community park – only used with parents in tow.

    Camping has saved our free roaming desires.

  10. A Reader September 26, 2017 at 12:34 pm #

    OT (though maybe not entirely, these factors all contribute to the exact situation described in this post), but have you seen this preschool newsletter? Read it and weep: http://www.scarymommy.com/preschool-teacher-absurd-letter/

  11. Rae Pica September 26, 2017 at 12:39 pm #

    So sad. Those proud parents are seriously delusional…and messing up their kids, big-time.

  12. Wendy W September 26, 2017 at 12:42 pm #

    If I was the 19yo mentioned, I’d be leaving that cell phone at home, to be checked daily for mom-messages, and getting myself a pre-paid phone to use at all other times.

  13. Anne Allman September 26, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    I applaud your new efforts and campaigned for coordinated action!!! You are a force of nature Lenore!

  14. Kenny Felder September 26, 2017 at 1:02 pm #

    I will be waiting in line to donate.

  15. Mya Greene September 26, 2017 at 1:06 pm #

    I was not surprised to find out that the girl mentioned is in a gifted program. I was, while not ever officially in my school’s gifted program, part of an outside society for those deemed “profoundly gifted” via the organization’s IQ and/or SAT score standards.

    A common stereotype amongst the parents was that the smarter the child, the worse the common sense, and that this warranted increased supervision because of “inevitable” asynchronous development. My parents bought into this a little bit. It was a classic example of a community deforming the science of asynchronous development into a blanket sentiment to fit its fearful needs.

    Some of the kids I met in the program when I was a member later admitted that they found the level of parental presence at the gatherings ( even for adult alumni ) infuriating.

  16. C. S. P. Schofield September 26, 2017 at 1:07 pm #

    “The creepiest was the mom who told me her oldest son is 19-years-old and away at college, but she tracks him via his smartphone and blows it up when he has been out too late or traveled somewhere she thinks is unsafe.”

    This woman is never going to comprehend why, as soon as he gains any degree of financial independence, sonny boy moves to some third world country and never talks to her again.

  17. Michael Fandal September 26, 2017 at 2:02 pm #

    I grew up in Coney Island seconds from the boardwalk beach and ocean. Some mom may have always had an eye on us but it never stopped at least two of us from playing on beach or swimming in area protected by lifeguards. Often we would walk a few blocks towards amusement area or towards private community Sea Gate in shore up to our knees. Sometimes we even jumped in for a swim. We were not afraid of our shadows as we inhaled fresh ocean air. A backyard money could not buy.

  18. Mya Greene September 26, 2017 at 2:58 pm #

    With the tracking technology, my mother once tried to do this nonsense on both me and my dad at the same time. The funny thing is that the app she chose was wildly inaccurate and misplaced us by thousands of miles. She eventually just gave up on that.

    Years before, she tried the Megan’s Law app, and would try to see if she could spot sex offenders in the flesh. She got excited one day when she thought she had spotted a registered child molester at the dog park with his dogs.

  19. Judas Peckerwood September 26, 2017 at 3:28 pm #

    There’s a name for the kind of parent who would stalk their 19-year-old child at college via his phone. It’s “psycho”.

  20. Carherine September 26, 2017 at 4:07 pm #

    My son is 4 (albeit a mature, responsible 4). We are in a Chicago suburb about 14 miles due west of downtown. He looooves grocery shopping and he learns “processes” extremely well. Gradually, I’ve begun allowing him to have his own short list of grocery items and to take his cart around to find them while I shop for other things (with my twin 2 yr olds). Most of the store employees now know him and will just smile or chat with him, but EVERY SINGLE WEEK I have some other shoppers who follow him back to me and give me hell because I let him roam (Mariano’s) alone. Some people are kind but incredulous. “But he’s only 4!” Yeah, and I’m his mom and want him to learn how to be a competent, independent adult. It’s so frustrating that few people understand and NO ONE does the same.

  21. C. S. P. Schofield September 26, 2017 at 4:08 pm #

    @ Judas Peckerwood,

    “There’s a name for the kind of parent who would stalk their 19-year-old child at college via his phone. It’s “psycho”.”

    I prefer “Smother”. Not original with me, I just liked it when I ran into it.

  22. Emily September 26, 2017 at 4:28 pm #

    >>If I was the 19yo mentioned, I’d be leaving that cell phone at home, to be checked daily for mom-messages, and getting myself a pre-paid phone to use at all other times.<<

    When I was in university, I knew a girl who was 18 or 19 (so, in her first year), and her mother had put a tracking chip in her phone too. She got around it by simply leaving the phone in her residence room, and going where she wanted, only now she was actually LESS safe, because, without her phone, she had less ability to call for help (friend, Foot Patrol, taxi, ambulance) in the event that she should get in trouble. I know, I know, her parents bought the phone, so they were free to attach whatever strings they wanted…..but I think they might have actually required their daughter to take that phone to university……and, I know, I know, they were supporting their daughter financially through university, so again, they were free to attach whatever strings they wanted……but, at a certain point, that line of reasoning becomes detrimental to a young person–either they'll accept the (over) control that comes with the parental support, and maybe take that mentality into their future relationships, and end up similarly controlled by a romantic partner, or in a workplace situation, or they'll find a way to be independent, and cut their parents off completely out of sheer resentment. My parents kept me on a fairly short leash growing up (although, they eased off a lot when I was in high school), but it never would have occurred to them to attempt to track my every move while I was off at university.

  23. Warren September 26, 2017 at 5:03 pm #

    I recommend the college student have her mother charged with stalking.

  24. Jp Merzetti September 26, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    Well, it looks like a scenario where neighborhood parents (started by one parent) would actually have to find other like-minded parents to get in on the game….all allowing their kids to meet up with one another (and keeping track of the activity without leaning on their ability to act autonomously.)
    Wow.
    In order for the kids to like each other and make friends, the parents have to like each other and make friends, too.
    I keep thinking about that one kid.
    That one kid who heads off on his bike, to find – our new and improved dead-zone world.
    That’s all it ever takes…..one kid.
    Which might eventually lead to…..two.

    This “leafy paradise” is a sham and a shame. Because for all its beautified promises, it will never be known by the consciousness or sensibility of a kid’s personal examination……OUTSIDE of the insulated, sanitized, securitized, scrutinized, supervised, organized, totally controlled world of adults.
    But – “Let’s move there, honey. It’ll be good for the kids!”

    I dunno. Who do we build these places for, anyway?

  25. Tom September 26, 2017 at 9:42 pm #

    In the more affluent suburbs the kids are so over schduled with organized activities there is no time to be outside. That being said for years my kids were always outside after school but hardly anyone else was out there so now we have given up. In my town you can even meet other kids at the school bus stop since it seems like everyone has their own individual stop which they are driven to by a parent so they can sit in the car while they wait for the bus. Often at car is driven to the end of the driveway!

  26. lollipoplover September 26, 2017 at 9:47 pm #

    @jp merzetti-

    We researched neighborhoods quite a bit as I was pregnant when we moved into our first home. I actually tallied basketball nets on streets and whether we saw kids out biking, adults out pushing strollers, and if kids actually were at local parks. We decided on an older neighborhood that had smaller houses but was chock full of kiddos…real live ones, not indoor kids.

    16 years later, we have outgrown our house but not the neighborhood (we put an addition on). Kids still bike to school and parks and I’ve found many, many free range parents that moved here for the same lifestyle for their families. I’ve met helicopter parents, too. They can be reasoned with sometimes. Positive peer pressure helps. There’s been the moms that say, “I’d never let my child bike to school” to which I counter, “She’s been biking for 6 years now. She bikes better than most adults. I can’t imagine driving and wasting time and money on gas when their bodies are perfectly capable of making a 5 minute trip to school. Such a waste of energy, sitting in the back of a car in traffic.”

  27. Suzanne Lucas September 27, 2017 at 2:42 am #

    First, be the mom that volunteers to take all the 9 year olds to the park. Focus on your littles and ignore the 9 year olds.

    Playing at the park will become a normal activity, and it will seem more safe and after a few weeks, when the 9 year olds have gotten in the habit of playing at the park, you can start talking about how “safe” the park is, etc, and then slowly back off.

    Stealth free-ranging.

    That said, I live in a free range country. All the kids play outside without parental supervision.

  28. Jan smith September 27, 2017 at 2:52 am #

    Truly insane!

  29. JTW September 27, 2017 at 7:26 am #

    “Whenever anyone questions me about what I let my kids do, I say some variation of “didn’t you do that when you were their age?” The answer is always “yes, but…” I comment that crime is down since then and they can look up the statistics if they don’t believe me.”

    To which the helicopter parent could (incorrectly, but logically) retort that “yes, crime is down because we don’t expose our children to stranger danger”.

    I see the same around here. Playgrounds and parks are empty except for groups of bored teen boys hanging around smoking cigarettes and drinking beer they’re not supposed to have (the legal age to buy either here is 18), leering and shouting at passing pedestrians (who are usually older people walking their dog or on the way to or from a bus stop).

    Even the sidewalks are empty, nobody goes outside unless it’s to walk to a bus stop or to their car.
    And tbh neither do I more often than not, I’ve had enough trouble with those groups of teens who’ve tried to break into my house and vandalised my property more than once, after one of them decided I must be a pedophile because I parked near a school (which happens to be located next door to the neighbourhood store).

  30. pentamom September 27, 2017 at 9:27 am #

    “That’s all it ever takes…..one kid.”

    My kids could tell you different. They were allowed out and about a good bit, but that never did anything to loosen the strings on the other kids.

  31. AmyP September 27, 2017 at 6:28 pm #

    My kids have the same problem in my new neighborhood. Nobody has mentioned anything about them playing outside or walking to the store but although I know there are kids around they can’t seem to find them after school. The funny thing is prior to living in the nicer area I do now, I lived in a rough area of a city that’s infamous for its violent crime rate. They were able to run around the neighborhood with other kids just fine when we lived there.