If a 6-y.o. Can Really Walk Around the Neighborhood…

Hi sbykdtefay
Readers! I gathered together a few of the 341 responses to  the other day’s post, “As Recently as 1979 a First Grader Could…,”to remind us of what kids are capable of (when we don’t give in to the fear-mongering media). Enjoy! – L

Jackie: When I lived in Panama, 6 year olds would scale a coconut tree (no side branches) with a machete, cut down a head of coconuts, slide down using their bare feet as brakes, and whack the heck out of a coconut with their machete until it was cleaned of the outer coat and had a nice, perfectly round little hole that I could drink the milk out of.  The first time I saw that, I was horrified.  The twentieth, thirtieth time I saw it, I realized we Americans are a bunch of namby-pambies.

Sherry B:  I have heard of child abductions.  Who hasn’t with Nancy Grace and all the news channels sensationalizing them?  I also hear of car accidents and drownings, which happen way too frequently and take away the lives of so many more children.  I’m just trying to be a rational parent here.

Let me tell you a story of my Mother-In-Law (who just loves her CNN news).  We spent the last week on an incredible vacation at the lake. Our house was on the water and the kids (and their friends they invited) were in heaven with fishing, swimming, boating, and dives off the floating dock. Playing outside all day, campfires every night, both kids and adults were in heaven.

Grandmom called EVERY DAY of our vacation.  She wanted to tell us DON’T LET THE KIDS GO IN THE LAKE.  Why?!  Because 3 people died of a brain-eating amoeba that was found in lakes in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia.  It was all over the news. So, all lakes are dangerous now.  See how spreading The Fear works?

Thankfully (for my children’s sake), we ignored her (though we did remind them to close their mouths in the water) and enjoyed old fashioned fun without the side of irrational fear.

derekmunson: this post made me realize that our shih-tzu puppy has more free range than our kids — and we live in coyote country! maybe it’s time to loosen the leash.



33 Responses to If a 6-y.o. Can Really Walk Around the Neighborhood…

  1. Kimberly Herbert September 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm #

    This post came up in my RSS reader at the same time as your post
    http://themeanestmom.blogspot.com/2011/09/energy-management-plan.html Her kids are running around the neighborhood and the neighbors are calling her to let her know they are running down the sidewalk.

  2. Marc September 23, 2011 at 9:01 pm #

    Coworker posted this on Facebook a couple days ago. It’s by Mike Rowe, who does Dirty Jobs on Discovery Channel, and involves a viewer questioning him on safety, and his very nice response. Pretty good read, and pretty applicable everywhere.


  3. Renee (Zerbel) West September 23, 2011 at 9:13 pm #

    I used to walk a mile and a half to school when I was in elementary school. Admittedly, I live in a small town, a “suburb” or sorts and this was 20 years ago. Kids that lived outside of town rode the bus or if they lived on the complete opposite end of whichever school they were headed to. High school aged kids were not “required” to ride the bus, I don’t think.

    Kids now are practically required to ride the bus if they don’t live within 5 or 6 blocks of the school. It’s a little silly.

    Yesterday, I had one of those “Fear” moments. I live on a corner by a school so I see the kids walking home every day. I had been feeding Little Man (11 months) when I saw a group of about 3 kids walk by. A van pulled up next to them and appeared to be engaging them in conversation. I kept thinking, “don’t get into the van, don’t get into the van” and none of them did, thankfully. I went outside to get the mail a few minutes later and saw the same group of kids (that had merged with a group that was ahead of them) that were gathered on the sidewalk and the same van was pulled up next to them. I had the same thought again…but I could hear the van driver, this time. “Don’t you be swinging that umbrella, you’re gonna smack someone. Don’t make me get outta this car and take that away from you.”

    It was one of the parents of one of the kids.

    After that, the thought I was having was, “Really? You’re allowing your child to walk home but you’re going to follow them in your van. Really?”

  4. Steven Barnes September 23, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Once upon a time, our communities were stronger, and we watched out for each other’s children. It takes a village to keep our children safe.


  5. Marcela September 23, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Here is what two six year olds were doing in my neighborhood yesterday: a older group of girls was participating in a running club and they were, together with several teachers, running around the school. The two six year old decided to go to the farthest corner, out of sight of their parents (who were also watching the younger kids on the playground). They laid on the sidewalk and the runners pretended they were going to step on them as they ran by. Something that maybe only a six year old could see the appeal of. We were alerted to the situation by a person driving by who informed us how dangerous it was for them to be laying on the sidewalk. We agreed, sort of. Later my daughter told me that was the most fun she had all week. Isn’t it fun to do something that feels a little dangerous?

  6. paul wallich September 23, 2011 at 10:23 pm #

    I do wonder what percentage of kids in 1979 lived in places where there were sidewalks, and no multi-lane roads between them and anywhere interesting they might like to walk to. Where I grew up it was four or five blocks to the neighborhood grocery, a couple more to the drugstore. Where we live now (yeah, I know, my mistake) it’s a mile and a half.

  7. Dolly September 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    OMG the comment about the lake ameoba thing reminds me of my mother. She is always telling me about some random horrible thing she heard on the news and freaking out about it with her grandsons. Even though I was raised fairly free range by her. I blame her watching the news all the time and also it being easy to tell someone to not let your grandbabies do so and so when you are not the parent that has to enforce it or be the one put out by it. Also she just has gotten way more paranoid and skittish. To her it would be the end of the world if I let my boys do something that she had me do at that age. I asked her what changed and she spouts the stuff about times changing and what nots. I told her that crime is actually down. She didn’t get it.

  8. Ellen Castelbuono Vitale September 24, 2011 at 1:02 am #

    When I was four years old, I used to walk around the block and play outside with all the neighborhood kids. I didn’t come home until I was hungry and that was fine with mom. I never died or got kidnapped. Sometimes I fell off a bike or swing and got a skinned knee and mom never felt that it was her fault for not being there. Usually my scrapes and bruises were not even enough to go home for. Now I’m a parent of four boys and people are amazed that when my kids fall, they generally don’t freak out. Here is my big secret. When your kid falls, starting at the age when he can walk, give him a minute to collect himself and stand back up. Often times he will, without even crying, because kids are built to take spills. Don’t automatically run to him screaming like something terrible has happened and scoop him up, if it was just a regular old spill. If he’s hurt, he’ll let you know. It’s not the other way around. Obviously, if he’s really unlucky and actually broke bones or lost consciousness, it will be obvious in a few seconds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a kid fall and then immediately turn around and look at the parent. They are asking– Am I okay? Do we need to freak out? How are you going to answer? Do you think your kid might be able to feel his own pain and wellness? I do.

  9. Marie September 24, 2011 at 1:28 am #

    Loving that bit about the 6 year olds and the machetes, especially after watching Survivor the other day, and John commented about his mother not wanting him to use the machete unsupervised.

  10. Orual September 24, 2011 at 1:31 am #

    @ Ellen, I totally agree. I sit back and wait when my daugterfalls, sometimes she looks at me as if to ask how bad was it. I just say your ok, and she gets up and goes on her way. If it’s bad enough she cries and then she gets cuddles and such.

    It’s really scary how paranoid some people are getting.

  11. Skyfire September 24, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    My ten year old girl walks the half-mile home from school by herself. I go with her in the morning, not because I’m afraid, but because I can and it’s a good way to get exercise and hang out with my daughter. In the morning it’s not so bad, but in the afternoon when the kids get out of school, the parking lot is a disaster of cars, cars parked illegally, cars with impatient parents sitting in them doing the internet on their phones.

    I know exactly what I’m going to say to anyone who questions why I let my child walk home alone. Statistically, she’s better off walking home alone on the sidewalk than every one of those many, many, children whose parents pick them up from school every day. Especially in that zoo!

  12. Colleen September 24, 2011 at 3:26 am #

    This really rings true. A couple weeks ago my six-year-old daughter did what all kids do at least once – she went to a friend’s house three doors down without telling us first. Next thing I know we’re being told by another neighbor and a police officer that we are negligent parents because we allow our child to play outside in her own yard and along the sidewalk near our home without the benefit of a parent hovering overhead the entire time.

    Independence in children is being treated as if it were a disease parents must do everything possible to prevent them from contracting.

  13. Heather P. September 24, 2011 at 4:38 am #

    This past weekend we went to a local church festival–the kind with portable carnival rides, porta-potties, food tent, etc. After a couple hours, I at 8 months pregnant had enough walking around so we decided to get some deep fried Oreos as a parting snack. Daddy waited in line and our “big 3” took off to use up the remaining tickets on rides. The girls (10 and 7) chose the same ride and stuck together–and so returned together. The Boy (8) chose something else, then later changed his mind. While Daddy took the other 4 (littles being 3 and almost 2) to the car, I scoped the grounds looking for Son #1. I didn’t panic but I did call Daddy to see if perchance he’d gone to the car (he hadn’t). I was trying to remember what he’d been wearing and where the security station was as I backtracked previous points, since he wasn’t at the ride he’d told us.
    Turns out, as I said before, he’d changed his mind on which ride he wanted to finish with and was backtracking to the portapotties in search of us. Was he scared or upset? Not at all. And neither was I, because I was telling myself the same things repeated on this site over and over. He’s more likely to get sick from the fried Oreos or the Tilt-A-Whirl than get grabbed by a stranger.
    And thus the day was remembered fondly by all instead of a terrifying experience in parental paranoia.

  14. Lori W. September 24, 2011 at 5:11 am #

    Today I decided to live dangerously. I ate some cantaloupe and fed some to my daughter, despite the news reports of listeria tainted cantaloupe found in other states. I did have to tell my daughter not to tell her grandmother (who of course had called to tell us NOT to eat any cantaloupe because a few elderly and infirmfolks had died from listeria poisoning.)

  15. Jennifer September 24, 2011 at 8:24 am #

    Today I needed to return our books to the library that were due today. My daughter fell asleep in the car (we live about 15 km from the library) so I asked my 7 year old son to go take the books to the counter for me. It was one of those `lesser of two evils’: leave my daughter asleep in a locked car, or allow my 7 year old to practice his independence and return the books into a building he has been in on a regular basis since birth. I chose the latter and my son was bursting with pride when he returned. When I asked him if anyone spoke to him (out of my own curiosity) he said, “The librarian said that I’m getting really big since I can come in on my own!” Our library policy is that children under 10 can’t be unattended but clearly this librarian used good judgement and realized my son was fine on his own.

  16. justanotherjen September 24, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    My dad told me a story about one of his chores he had at 6. It was his job to get up in the morning in the winter and walk the 6 or 7 blocks to the local coal yard, load up his little red wagon with coal and bring it back to his aunt’s house. He only had to do it on weekends when he wasn’t in school but it was his job.

    Of course, that was the 1950s, in Chicago. He also used to walk 3 blocks to the drug store to pick up prescriptions for his mom or cigarettes for his dad (with a note). He also grabbed groceries for his mom, too. All at 6.

    Amazing how kids today are so less capable. Most 6 year olds don’t even know how to cross a street now-a-days because it’s too dangerous.

    My 5 1/2 year old is allowed all over if she is with her older siblings. Along she can be on our side of the loop and walks down the street to her friend’s house around the corner. It’s about 4 houses to the corner and then she has to cross a street (it’s a culdesac) and then her friend’s house in on the corner. Or the other is on that culdesac. She comes and goes from there as she pleases if she tells me first.

  17. David September 24, 2011 at 4:57 pm #

    I was struck by the comment about the amoeba like organism Naegleria Fowleri. telling your children to keep their mouths closed will NOT protect them. The infection is aquired when water harboring the organism is forcibly injected into the nose, usually during diving or splashing. it cannot be contracted by swallowing. The most sensible precaution would be nose clips or nose plugs.

    it’s true the disease is very rare, but the symptoms are horrifying and the mortality rate nearly 100%. In a way it’s similar to rabies. if you are bitten by an animal where the disease is endemic the probabilty is it was not infected. but it would still be sensible to get treatment. We should avoid panic and hysteria yes, but that’s not the same as being foolhardy

  18. Beth September 24, 2011 at 9:29 pm #

    Hey, I want to know more about those deep-fried Oreos!

  19. pentamom September 24, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    Deep-fried oreos — the oreo is encased in something similar to doughnut dough, and then fried. A friend once encountered them at a medieval faire where they were called dragon eggs.

  20. Christine Whitley (@2pinklines) September 24, 2011 at 10:15 pm #

    I wrote the post from ChicagoNow that spurred this discussion. It’s great to see so many people on board with greater freedom and responsibility for our children! Thank you, Lenore, for linking to my blog.

  21. Heather P. September 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm #

    The Oreos were truly delicious. 🙂 With 5 kids (#6 due any minute), we needed two orders.
    I’ve learned that it’s impossible to be a helicopter parent with more than 2. That letting go, trusting the child you’ve raised to use the common sense you’ve instilled, is required unless you expect a 10-year-old to be involved in the same activities as a 2-year-old. Not likely.

    And Jennifer, it sounds like the librarian is EXACTLY the type of person you want working at such a place. She recognized your son from repeated visits and used her common sense, too.

  22. kimsch September 25, 2011 at 1:42 am #

    In late August (just before school started) our almost eleven year was doing his regular roaming of the neighborhood looking for someone to play with. He came home because he couldn’t find anyone and a few minutes later a policewoman came to the door. Someone though The Little Guy was a six year old wandering around. They did know where we lived, however, because they told the police where to go about this wandering child.

    The Little Guy has been going to his friends’ houses since he was four. One friend lives four houses down and across the street that’s perpendicular to ours. The poor Little Guy had been running home between going to different friends’ houses within a four block radius of our house to tell us which friend’s house he was at so we got him a cell phone with GPS. He calls us every time he’s ready to go to someone else’s house. We can also look online and make sure he’s where he’s supposed to be.

    We told the policewoman that he’s nearly eleven, although a small child and that he has a phone. He came to the door too and spoke with her.

    Of course, this is the child who, when he was four, took a twenty out of my wallet, went out his bedroom window (ranch house), got on his bike (2 wheeler) and rode a mile to Walmart, crossing a four lane road (at a light waiting for the crossing light) and went to the toy department to buy a Thomas Train. Management at Walmart called the police because there was a little boy all alone in the store. The policeman helped him purchase his train, put his bike in the trunk, and brought him home. I didn’t even know he was gone because he snuck out. I thought he was napping.

    The policeman was quite impressed with The Little Guy. TLG told him about riding to the store and crossing at the crosswalk. TLG knew his address, knew where in the store to go for his toy, and knew that he had to have money to get his toy.

    After reading some of the stories here, I am amazed that I wasn’t jailed.

  23. NZ mum September 25, 2011 at 10:13 am #

    Wow I must be the worst mother in the world! My two boys who are 4 and 2 are playing outside in the yard (okay it’s fully fenced) while I have a cup of coffee inside! At present it sounds like they are trying to catch bumble bees.

    On my way home from work I saw a park full of twenty kids all under 10 and one parent who was with a baby. I must live in a pretty free range neighourhood, even though our crime rate is high….

  24. teamolympians September 25, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    Not necessarily a neighborhood thing, but my 9-year old walks from school to my work each day after school (I’m a high school teacher/coach). He usually waits for my practice to end before we go home. Two weeks ago instead of coming to my work, he walked to the Junior High from his elementary school to watch his sister play volleyball. The plan was for me to pick them both up when the game was over, the game was slated to start @ 3:30. I get a call from my son frantic and crying @ 3:15 when he arrived at the game…. they wouldn’t let him in alone!

    I was going to ask him to be a trooper for the cause and just sit outside until they called the cops on me for being a bad parent letting my children be there for each other. But, he was pretty heart broken, so I left to pick him up.

  25. Hineata September 25, 2011 at 3:52 pm #

    NZ Mum, I am so with you, though also an NZ mum, so maybe things are just easier for us:-) …@Kimsch, I too have a little one, just turned 12 but tiny, and it’s only been in the last year or so that she has been able to go far by herself without being approached by concerned citizens wondering where Mum is. Should be pleased people are keeping an eye on her, I guess, but it does get a bit irritating for her….particularly when her ‘little’ sister (physically much bigger) can go almost anywhere without issue!


  26. nobody@nowhere September 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    Back when I was a kid, most of us boys ran around barefoot all summer long. Heck, most of the time we just wore a pair of shorts or swimming trunks. Our feet would get so tough that by August we could run over the roughest gravel without giving it a second thought. I was just watching Star Wars and remembering the first time I saw it in the theater back when I was seven years old. Two of my best friends and I rode our bikes two miles to the little movie theater in town on a blistering hot July day. We bought our tickets and walked into the theater and I was instantly struck by how cold it was inside. The marble floor felt like ice under my bare feet. To say the least, we were three well-chilled boys when we left the theater after the movie. It actually felt good for a little while to be back out in the heat. After that experience, we always remembered to bring shoes and shirts with us when we were going to see a movie.

  27. Jonas September 26, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

    When I was about 9 or 10 years old, I had a best friend who lived on the other side of town (a city of about 90,000 people). I always rode my bicycle to school, so naturally, because I managed to ride the one and a half miles to school by myself every morning without problems, I was also allowed to ride to my friend’s house every other afternoon, about two miles from home. Although that term didn’t even exist back then, we were about as free-range as it got. His family lived near a vast military training ground, which meant several square miles of open (and rarely patrolled) space for us to do what 10 year old boys like to get up to. The two of us and some other kids from school would play cops and robbers or pretend to be soldiers with stick rifles as we roamed the woods.

    Our parents were ok with it. Well, they didn’t know that we often went to that training ground (which was admittedly just a little bit dangerous), but pretty much the only thing I remember my mom saying was always “ok have fun at your friend’s, just be home for dinner!”. It goes to show two things. One, even when you don’t exactly know where your kids are, they are probably going to be just fine. And two, thanks to my upbringing with parents who trusted me and let me be free to roam, I have those wonderful childhood memories to talk about, which I probably wouldn’t have now if my parents had never let me go do things on my own, without their supervision.

    People always say childhood should be a special time in your life. Well, my childhood was certainly that. What made it special was that I grew up without overblown fears of kidnappers and child molesters behind every tree or street corner (although, if you look at crime statistics, the odds of that happening were certainly greater 25 years ago). And in some ways, I think my love for adventure and the outdoors that I still have now as an adult was formed in those days. Something which I guess many kids today never really get to experience anymore.

  28. kimsch September 26, 2011 at 10:21 pm #

    My house had a gravel drive when I was a kid. We had very tough feet by the end of June!

    We were all quite free range as kids. We mostly just stayed within “whistle distance” of home. My dad could do a long, loud whistle with his pinkies at the sides of his mouth. When that whistle was heard in the neighborhood everyone knew it was time for Kim and Jenny to go home and the rest usually went home as well. Parents in the neighborhood knew to expect their kids home soon after they heard the Whistle too.

  29. survivinginsweden September 26, 2011 at 11:58 pm #

    I’m sure you’ve covered it before, but I was watching TV last night here in Sweden – we get mostly American TV shows. 3 shows in a row, one of the Law and Orders, Cold Case and some other cop show, back to back all had kidnapping cases and violence towards children as their main storyline. I flipped past once I caught onto the story line (two of which involved cars stopping and snatching kids from the street).

    I am incredibly grateful to how TV programs have done wonders by showing women as being powerful and professional, and by portraying gay characters as being multifaceted members of society, but this idea of children as prey has also been perpetuated by that same media, and it is incredibly depressing.

    If I saw these images day in and day out, I would be a little paranoid too, but that’s why I change the channel.

  30. backroadsem September 27, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    I work for the BSA. This summer we had a couple of tragedies in our area: two Scouts died while at summer camp. I can’t think of anything sadder, I truly can’t. I have worked 5 summers at these camps and find them to be magical places. 1 kid was caught in a current, did not know how to swim, and drowned before rescue got to him. The other kid was struck by lightning.

    I spent the rest of the summer hearing mothers say they probably would never send their boys to Scout Camp again because it was so darn risky. Risk? I”m sure there are always ways to make waterfront activities safer, but lightning? That’s a pure act of God.

    And, as a coworker said, at least at Scout Camp they often learn how NOT to die.

  31. Erica Shaw September 28, 2011 at 12:18 pm #

    I’m on vacation in LA. Today I took my 6yr old son and 2mo old baby to Redondo Beach for the first time by myself. My husband wasn’t feeling up to going, and my son and I were really looking forward to it. When I came home, my In Laws went on and on about how their has been so many baby snatchings in the area lately, and they were surprised, disappointed and worried that I went by myself.

    “Do you think you could have run after someone who snatched your baby?” they asked.
    I said “I held her the entire time. You think they would snatch her right from my arms?” (all the while I’m thinking… you think THEY could run away fast enough through the sand to get away with my baby?)
    “Oh sure! It’s happening all the time! It’s all over the news! People are snatching babies from people everywhere. There are Amber alerts every day here”
    I assured them ” So you know… someone would have to kill me to get to my children. And by then, I’m sure someone would have intervened.”
    Some silence….
    I asked “By the way, ever hear the outcome of these snatchings?”
    They said “oh… well you know, they are all over the milk cartons, and sometimes they don’t get these kids back until they are all grown up”
    More silence…

    I just smiled and moved the conversation along. Mind you, I find many opportunities to get on my soap box, but this didn’t seem like the right time, especially since it was two against one since my husband wasn’t there. Maybe I will send them a link to your blog. I think it would help them get over some of the hysteria caused from media hypes.

    For the record, my children had a great time. My son frolicked in the water, made some friends with other boys, while I stayed on the beach with the baby, basking in the sun and letting her feet kick the sand. Nobody tried to snatch them from me…. this time! 😀

  32. pentamom September 29, 2011 at 11:27 am #

    You know, it occurs to me — if you were really in danger of having your kids snatched right out of your arms every time you went out in public without a bodyguard (I assume that’s what Erica’s in-laws thought her husband was supposed to be there for, otherwise what difference would his being there make?) wouldn’t we all know more people who have had babies physically snatched from their arms? And wouldn’t we walk around figuring that some percentage of our own friends and relatives were (not might be, WERE) babies-out-of-people’s-arms-snatchers?

    I mean, if something is actually COMMON, wouldn’t people you actually know actually have real EXPERIENCE with it, rather than just being able to cite how it’s all over the media?

    People hitting deer with their cars — that’s common. I know several people that’s happened to. People being permanently disabled in accidents of various kinds — unfortunately common enough that I know some such people, and I don’t work or volunteer with some group that assists disabled people particularly. People having to have their yards dug up and destroyed because the water or sewer goes bad underneath — yep, known a few people in that situation.

    But babies snatched out of people’s arms, or people who have snatched babies out of other people’s arms? Nope. But Erica’s in-laws, and lots of people, think it happens “all the time.”

  33. Kristin Jackson October 1, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

    Not sure if I’m putting this in the right spot but we have a 17 year old Chinese exchange student staying with us and she handed me a post it note the other day with the word Salmonella then it’s a kind of germ, epidemic in America and melons No. Her mother had sent this to her so she could make sure I would not feed her melons. So if this scare was in Minnesota were we live I might think twice but the problem has been in Colorado! I found it interesting that she felt it was an Epidemic!!