My Kid Ventured Outside at 3 a.m. at Age 6 in a Dangerous Neighborhood and…

Folks ieeenatksd
— This story comes to us a mom named Erica who lives in a converted warehouse in Oakland, CA, with her husband, two daughters, and her now-retired father. The event happened about eight years ago, when her younger daughter was six. Here’s a crime map of her nabe, and a crime comparison chart. Her note came as a response to my call for “Nothing bad happened when my kid…” stories. (But sort of goes beyond them!) L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Call this, “My kid discovered absolutely terrifying levels of freedom that no sane parent would consciously allow… and still, nothing bad happened.”

NOTHING BAD HAPPENED when my 6-year-old went walkabout in the middle of the night, in an inner-city crime-infested neighborhood next to a railroad and a freeway.

We woke up at seven one morning to a parent’s nightmare: the door slightly open and our younger daughter nowhere to be found. We scoured the neighborhood, yelling her name and getting the neighbors (strangers, all of them) to help look for her. After a few minutes of frantically checking nearby blocks and realizing she wasn’t in earshot, we called the police.

When I described her outfit — tie-dye t-shirt and yellow sweats — they said, “We picked her up a few hours ago. Since she didn’t know her address or phone number and nobody called in right away, we sent her to social services.” She’d been found almost 6 blocks away, near the shopping center (near two sets of train tracks, near a freeway entrance and a bridge).

We called social services; it took us a while to get anyone (Saturday morning on a holiday weekend) but we eventually got through. The weekend on-call worker came to our house, questioned us about what had happened (our little girl had figured out how to operate locks that we’d thought were out of her reach), confirmed that we hadn’t abandoned her and changed our minds, had us fill out some forms and go through some incredibly invasive questions, and… she was back.

NOTHING BAD HAPPENED. She thought she was “exploring, like Dora.” She wandered around at 3 in the morning in a neighborhood known for mugging and riots and car wrecks, and nobody could be bothered to attack a little girl walking around on her own. As soon as she was spotted, someone called the people we pay to protect our streets, and they turned her over to the people we pay to watch out for children in our community, and very soon, she was back with her family. No harm done except several hours of parental panic. (She thought she had an “adventure.”)

Even in very “bad” neighborhoods, people watch out for little kids.

I do know how much worse it could’ve been. [Lenore here: So do I! This is not introducing, “Send Your Kids Out at 3 a.m. Day.”] But I remind myself… she knew to walk on the sidewalk because we’d gone out together. She knew where the shopping center was, and went there instead of the unfamiliar freeway. And she knew not to hide from or fight strangers who approached her to help. Amen. – An Oakland Mom

Lenore here. I’m relieved by the happy endings all around: The girl didn’t go on highway, strangers responded with concern, and the authorities determined that the parents weren’t criminals — they just didn’t know, till that night, that their child could open the door. Like most of us, they had a family moment when things did not go as planned. And, like most of those moments, things turned out okay in the end. I present this story as a counterbalance to all the stories we hear in the media that are the other extreme: Terrible things happening all the time, in the blink of an eye, everywhere. – L. 

Oakland by Night

77 Responses to My Kid Ventured Outside at 3 a.m. at Age 6 in a Dangerous Neighborhood and…

  1. Angela July 22, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    I remember a friend recounting the night she found out her little girl was a sleepwalker. At some ungodly hour of the morning, a neighbor called and asked if she knew where her then-3 year old daughter was.

    “Of course,” my friend answered, “she’s in bed.”

    “Um, no. She’s in our living room.”

    My friend then had to put a chain lock up high on exterior doors, well out of her daughter’s reach.

  2. Eileen July 22, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    That’s a a nice story for a very fortunate family, but I don’t even like being out or driving at 3am due to sleepy/drunk drivers. I guess the takeaway is that if your child might be free range to that extent at age 6, they’d be served well by knowing their address.

    I’d be curious why a child would choose to wander out (and not even close the door) as opposed to waking up a family member. It’s good that the child knew how to stick to sidewalks, but I’d also wonder about a groggy/sleep walker (at any age) which might make decision making less accurate.

    Nice to hear that people called the police upon seeing her.

  3. Robin July 22, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I am reminded of how we determined it was time to take the younger kid out of the crib. At age 2 and a couple months, she climbed out and fell.

    (No permanent damage, thanks.)

  4. Powers July 22, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    Yeah, I’m wondering what six-year-old hasn’t been drilled on her address and phone number in this country? Usually elementary schools quiz them on that kind of stuff by 1st grade.

  5. Thomas Arbs July 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    Here’s the good news: Hundreds, thousands, countless numbers of events like this happen every day,every night, in the States and around the globe. Guardian angels work overtime, or good luck simply strikes, and – nothing happens. (BUT a six-year-old should be beyond Dora, shouldn’t she?)

  6. Katie July 22, 2013 at 4:05 pm #

    Which brings up a point I don’t think many parents understand. People aren’t interested in steeling kids. Credit cards, cash, and electronics or jewelry sure. But kids, can’t be used to buy stuff and don’t fetch much money on the resale market.

  7. Warren July 22, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    @Eileen and Thomas,
    Just have to find some sort of fault don’t you? Shameful.

  8. Beth July 22, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    “I guess the takeaway is that if your child might be free range to that extent at age 6 -”

    This really had nothing to do with free range – seriously, did you read the article? The child left the house in the middle of the night, unbeknownst to her parents. If you believe that is free range parenting, you have very, very little understanding of it.

  9. Eileen July 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    @Warren, I wasn’t trying to find fault, but I’m not sure this “nothing bad happened” story is as helpful/interesting as the ones that are shared about much more common and accepted situations (in free range terms).

    No one is going to advocate (as the story mentions) that a child should be wandering around at 3am.

    It’s fantastic that it all worked as we all hope. But (again as mentioned) it’s a scenario that every parent would want to avoid happening.

    But I agree with Katie…and was just reading the book “Call the Midwife” where it talked about the rough areas of London in the 50s and despite extreme violence and poverty, children and the elderly were rarely targets.

  10. Eileen July 22, 2013 at 5:09 pm #

    @beth, sorry that was very poorly worded on my part. I was making mention of how the parent talked about how the child knew to stay on the sidewalks and walk toward a familiar area….NOT that they chose to go out at 3am.

  11. Mimi July 22, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    Am I the only one who thought that if she had the freedom to explore like that, she wouldn’t have done that when her parents were asleep?

    I’m seriously wondering what kind of lock I could put on my doors that would deter a six year old from going outside. A lock that I keep the key in my pyjama? Really handy when I’ll have a teenager that is grounded… sorry for the sarcasm.

  12. Andromeda July 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm #

    So hey, speaking of six-year-olds talking to strangers!

    My six-year-old has gotten good enough at crossing streets that she’s allowed to go some places by herself. But this means I need to talk to her a lot more about interacting with strangers. She’s fairly poised about talking to people and I want her to keep that sense of confidence about interacting with the world, while still setting reasonable safety boundaries that a black-and-white-thinking six-year-old can understand. Any suggestions?

  13. Donna July 22, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    @Eileen –

    The point isn’t that this is an instructive “how to be free range” story. The point is that it just isn’t dangerous out there and there are damned few people who want to harm children.

    Society is so up in arms about how dangerous it is all the time that we can’t even let our kids out of our sight for a second on a Saturday afternoon in our nice, safe, quiet middle class neighborhoods and here is a 6 year old wandering alone in the worst conditions we can probably imagine in the US – late at night in an inner city high crime area – and still nothing happens. In fact, someone, who was very possibly a convicted criminal or drug addict or otherwise “unsavory” person (because there are that many fine upstanding citizens wandering around Oakland at 3am), stopped the child, kept her safe and called the police. Why? Because extremely few people want to rape, molest and kill children in this world.

  14. Renee Anne July 22, 2013 at 6:22 pm #

    I’m so torn with this story. I’ve been to Oakland and it can be a dangerous place (over the last couple of days, the stories we’ve been hearing on the news are about a missing 21-month old that was, apparently abducted, and a shooting that killed an 8-year old and wounded two other children and an adult)….but at the same time, this shows that it’s not always as horrible as we think.

  15. bmax July 22, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

    I don’t get what we’re supposed to take away from this story. I think this kid was incredibly lucky. Try it 9 more times, and I’d say on 4 of the occassions the results would not be so fortunate whether it would be a car/stranger/ or whatever.

  16. lollipoplover July 22, 2013 at 6:50 pm #

    The thing with Dora, she just had Boots the monkey as her companion and the Map that knew everything. She DID go on very cool adventures (though the grumpy old troll was kind of creepy) so I can see how a 6 yo would want to follow in her footsteps. Oakland or the Homeland, it doesn’t matter. Anything can happen anywhere.

    I was one of 10 kids and remember my older sister who was a “runner” and the many times she was picked up by police. Once, while on beach vacation, she lined up for her outdoor shower and wandered off to pick flowers (she was 4) when the police picked her up. She was naked and they asked her name and where she lived. She told them she was Jacqueline Onassis and that she lived in Jean’s room (her sister she shared a room wth) and showed them how to take her home. They drove her home and had some laughs with my parents. She is still a piece of work. And NOTHING BAD HAPPENED. Even in the ’70’s when crime was worse.

  17. AB July 22, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    I just had something crazy happen to me this past weekend. Saturday at midnight I woke up with at first I thought were cramps from “ladie’s issues”. After thirty minutes I figured out the pains were not a run of the mill visit from Aunt Flo, so I tried to figure out what to do. The hospital is just a ten minute walk from my apartment building, but I didn’t want to call an ambulance being that it cost $300 a ride and my insurance didn’t cover it. Taking a taxi would mean a 30 to 45 minute wait around here even though the hospital is a one minute ride from my place. My one room mate was at work, my mom cant drive due to health issues, and a call to a friend didn’t get a response, so I left a note saying I was going to the ER on my own. I didn’t want to wait for any friends to wake up to respond and give me a ride as the pain got worse. Well, my first thought was on getting there to the ER in my painful state not getting killed by some random wierdo. Turns out that I had appendicitis and waiting for a ride to the ER would have been a problem.

  18. Backroads July 22, 2013 at 7:24 pm #

    This is a great story. Again, I’m not supporting little girls being out at 3 AM. But, yes, everything ended well.

    My little brothers were notorious escape artists as toddlers. We had a deadbolt we had to keep moving further up because, with twin team work, they learned to knock it loose with a broom.

    Aside from an incident where they crashed the car of the former president of the NAACP into a lamp post, no major problems. The neighborhood watched out for them.

  19. Donna July 22, 2013 at 7:38 pm #

    I don’t think this family was incredibly lucky at all. I do think it fortunate that the child knew to stay on the sidewalks as drivers are clearly not looking for kids at 3am. It is also fortunate that the child ran into someone before she got lost and scared as even the ‘hood is not bustling with activity at 3am. It is also fortunate that CPS and the police didn’t do more (although that is not unexpected in high crime areas with lots of real problems to deal with).

    As for anything else, it just isn’t that common for strange children to be intentionally harmed even in high crime areas. It is certainly more dangerous for YOU but you have stuff. A young child is unlikely to have money, cellphones, ipads, ipods and other things that can be used to buy crack and even the dregs of society have a somewhat protective view of young children. And the odds of a lost child running across a child molester are very much lower at 3am then at 3pm since even child molesters are known to sleep.

    I’m not advocating kids running around free range in high crime areas at any time of the day or night. There are serious issues there. Gads of strangers looking to harm lost little kids is simply not one of them. Based on years of dealing with criminals and others in high crime areas, what happened here is exactly what I would have expected to happen.

  20. Jenna K. July 22, 2013 at 8:42 pm #

    @Powers–Actually, nobody has ever asked my kids at the school if they know their phone # and address and when my kids have had to call home, they get the number from the office. In this day and age, kids don’t have to know such trivial things because their parents take them everywhere and they all have phones with the numbers they need programmed into them. My kids all FINALLY know our phone number but even my oldest can’t ever remember our address. He’s ten. We review it ALL the time, but kids these days aren’t ever forced to memorize anything so they don’t know how to memorize stuff.

    I just found out last week that my 2-year-old can open the front door. Guess it’s time for a top lock with a chain.

  21. Jenn July 22, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

    One reason children may not know their phone numbers is that many families choose not to have a landline and have cell phones only. If they’re on a pay as you go plan, the phone number may change frequently. I’ve taught 12 year olds who don’t know their parents’ phone numbers. As they get older, they still don’t, because the kids have the numbers programmed into *their* cell phones so they rarely (if ever) have to actually dial a number.

  22. pentamom July 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm #

    “I’d be curious why a child would choose to wander out (and not even close the door) as opposed to waking up a family member. ”

    “Am I the only one who thought that if she had the freedom to explore like that, she wouldn’t have done that when her parents were asleep? ”

    There is NOTHING necessarily amiss when a three year old does something unsafe and apparently pointless to an adult, because she doesn’t know better and doesn’t understand why it’s wrong, and doesn’t have the same idea of what would “make sense” to do. To the first person, likely she didn’t yet fully grasp the distinction between “okay to walk around with Mommy and Daddy,” and “okay to walk around, period.” To the second, no, not necessarily. Knowing a three year old, she just thought it would be fun to go outside and wander around and hadn’t yet learned why that wasn’t a good idea at 3 a.m. alone, she wasn’t compensating for some deep, unfulfilled urge to get out and about.

    Kids that age wander because kids that age wander. Some are less curious, and don’t. Some, like the child in the story, will figure out locks that their parents were sure were proof against them. It happens, it doesn’t have to be the result of some strange behavior on the child’s part or some lack in parenting.

  23. pentamom July 22, 2013 at 9:16 pm #

    Sorry, six year old. That’s perhaps a bit odder, but some kids are wanderers, and don’t always do the “reasonable” thing quite apart from what you or I would be motivated to do, and apart from what opportunities they have to do things under more reasonable conditions.

  24. Natalie July 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    Nothing bad happened…
    In our interaction with DSS.

  25. BronxGirl July 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm #

    The most telling line here is: “And she knew not to hide from or fight strangers who approached her to help.” She knew that stranger does not necessarily equal danger. In fact the opposite. Such an important lesson!!

  26. hineata July 22, 2013 at 10:07 pm #


    ‘Just have to find some sort of fault don’t you? Shameful. -‘

    You really are funnier than Saturday Night Live some days. Know the meaning of ‘irony’? Thanks for providing one of my laughs for the day.

    @Eileen – I expect she really did just want to go on a little adventure, as Dora does. And waking Mum and Dad would have certainly put the kaibosh on that, LOL!

    Personally I never thought to tell my kids not to wander the streets at that time of the morning – it simply never entered my consciousness that they might/could do that. They did, the little brats, wake up one midnight, dress themselves in black and sneak from the garage roof across a fence and down into the neighbour’s garden. (They were 9,5 and 4 at the time). I didn’t find out for a couple of years. While our neighbourhood is light years removed in danger from Oakland – it was only the next door backyard, and no-one nearby has access to guns, thank God – we obviously can’t plan for everything in our kids’ childhoods, including their sometimes dumb behaviour, and we can just be thankful that most times everything still turns out okay 🙂

    @Thomas – my ‘baby’ still loved Dora at age six – I think it was the Spanish component she enjoyed, plus the fact that Dora was brownish, and talked with an accent sort-of like some of her aunties and uncles. As a total aside, she talked with a non-Kiwi accent till well after she started school, the only one of my three who did – maybe she watched too much Dora!

  27. hineata July 22, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    @Backroads – pray tell more, please! They sound hilarious!

  28. Jenny Islander July 22, 2013 at 11:14 pm #

    Totally agree with everyone who said that stranger danger was not an issue in this case. I would worry more about mean stray dogs or careless drivers. Also hypothermia, but I live in Alaska.

    To the people shoulding on the parents in this story: Kids do incredibly inventive and adventurous stupid things sometimes. They do not logic the same way adults do. For one thing, their brains are not completely developed, and for another, they don’t have the same database of previous experience.

  29. Ann July 22, 2013 at 11:30 pm #

    I do think that “bad” neighborhoods aren’t bad all the time, and the things that make them “bad” or “dangerous”: gangs, drugs, shootings, aren’t going to be the things that are that dangerous to a 6 year old. Even gang members have a sense of family and concern for a little child. They’re not going to feel like they have to shoot them over gang loyalty, try to sell them drugs, and they’re not the types who go in for child molestation. I think I’d be less worried about my 6 year old in a gang-infested neighborhood than my 14 year old son!

  30. Megan Keller July 22, 2013 at 11:43 pm #

    I’m surprised everyone doesn’t want to ban Dora now! haha

  31. CrazyCatLady July 23, 2013 at 12:54 am #

    I suspect that she was not fully awake when she started, and that is why the door was not closed.

    We recently had an issue sort of like this, but not (thankfully) as drawn out.) We were visiting friends who live in family housing on the Berkley campus. We had gotten up early for our drive to see them, and stayed up late. As it is a two room apartment, 5 kids were sleeping in one bedroom, two adults in another bedroom, and my husband and I in the living room, in front of the door going out to their ground floor balcony.

    At about 3 am, my youngest, 8, walked past my husband and I without stepping on us (small place, there wasn’t much room) and went out the door. My husband woke up when he heard my son fiddling with the balcony gate. He got up when he saw the door open, went out and asked my son what he was doing. He said he was going the the car, which was several blocks away in the few guest parking spots. The next morning my son had no idea he had even been up in the night.

    The rest of the trip we were extra careful about where we had him sleep, worried that he would repeat. It is still a possibility that he could do this at home, and at 8, there really is no way that we could put locks high enough to prevent him from leaving.

  32. Reziac July 23, 2013 at 2:29 am #

    Read the list of crimes in this kid’s neighborhood.

    Burglary, car theft, robbery, domestic violence.

    Notice what’s missing?

    Go on, read it again.

    Child abduction. There are no child abductions on the list, in a high-crime neighborhood. Could it be that no one wants to steal kids?! Could this be why the pawn shops just don’t have kids in their inventories? 😉

  33. Natalie July 23, 2013 at 6:10 am #

    I don’t see this as fitting in with the “nothing bad happened…” stories. The nothing bad stories, as I see them, are stories about kids doing things that some would consider dangerous, even though they’re not, and being fine afterwards.

    This kid was wandering around at night and didn’t even know her address, who knows if she knew how to get home? Who knows how far she went? I’m not judging the parents, as some have done here. Stuff happens. Maybe my girl will decide that she wants to explore in the night. She can certainly operate the locks. Who knows? I don’t know what the kid was thinking at the time.

    But this kind of story would be more in line with not wearing your seatbelts in the car. If you dont get in an accident then nothing bad happened. Or letting your non-swimmer in the pool in the shallow end without supervision. If they stay in the shallow end, they’ll be fine and nothing bad will happen.

    The “nothing bad happened” stories are supposed to encourage families to let their kids do the event in question, so this story doesn’t fit. I know that Lenore added the bit about not letting your child out at 3 am, but then what’s the point? That it’s actually safe to let your child wander around unsupervised (when they don’t know the address/number of the parents) at night? No.

    Which is why it sounds now as if I could write a post about how one of our seatbelts was broken and I had to pick up a bunch of kids and put my daughter in the space without. Nothing happened, and I wouldn’t do it again. I count our car now as having one less seat.

    I was lucky. I’m not going to court disaster.

    This family was lucky. If the child had wandered on the streets (and who’s to say she wouldn’t, leaving the house at night at 6 is pretty unpredictable) she could have easily gotten hit by a car. Drivers don’t expect pint sized pedestrians at 3 am. And it’s harder to see at night.

    I don’t like the way this post is framed at all.

  34. John July 23, 2013 at 6:45 am #

    @bmax……I certainly wouldn’t risk sending this little girl out on the streets of Oakland again at 3 am but my hunch is you’re wrong. She’d probably be safe again 9 out of 9 times. Criminals generally don’t want children, they want money and they’re not gonna get money from a 6-year-old child.

  35. Cindy July 23, 2013 at 9:00 am #

    We moved often so my kids didn’t know their address by 6. And yes, discovered one of my twins could open the locked door when I took a shower one day. He was two. Bells went onto doors.

  36. Natalie July 23, 2013 at 9:34 am #

    @ Hineata-
    You guys watch SNL in New Zealand? Is it that popular?

  37. Warren July 23, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    The gangs that strike fear into the community, would be more likely to help this child, than ignore or harm the kid.
    1. Gangs usually have a strong sense of family.

    2. Gangs would not want their turf turned inside out by a search for a missing child. Just what a gang involved in criminal actiivity wants is the streets full of people and cops, searching.

  38. pentamom July 23, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    Natalie, I think you’re missing the underlying point of the other “nothing bad happened” stories. It’s not just that “we did something totally safe, that other people don’t think is safe, so nothing bad happened.” If it were that, then we’d just be helicopter parents with slightly laxer standards about what’s safe.

    It’s also that “we did something that wasn’t completely safe, because safety wasn’t the overriding concern, and nothing bad happened.” So this does fit with that, to the extent that this is a situation where something bad *could* have happened, but nothing did.

    Of course it doesn’t exactly fit with those other stories, because those other stories were about good situations, and this one was not a good situation, even though it turned out fine. That’s the disjunction. But the commonality is that even when kids do things that aren’t “safe,” the vast majority of the time no actual danger comes to them. As others have pointed out, though there are obviously reasons you don’t encourage your 6 year old to wander around at 3 a.m., it is not because something horrible happening to them is *more likely than not,* it is because those dangers do exist and the value of wandering around at 3 a.m.when you’re 6 years old, does not really justify the risk. You don’t have to be “incredibly lucky” in almost any situation short of a war zone or an ongoing natural disaster to avoid personal disaster, you just have to not be unlucky. But that doesn’t make the risk always desirable.

  39. Amy O July 23, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Andromeda @ 5:46:

    I would say teach your child it’s okay to talk to strangers, but it’s not okay to go anywhere with a stranger. Hopefully that’s easy enough to remember.

  40. Warren July 23, 2013 at 12:10 pm #

    I am wondering if this was the first time for the little adventurer, or was this the first time being caught?

  41. lollipoplover July 23, 2013 at 12:14 pm #

    This is an interesting study-

    Why are kids dying in seemingly *safer* rural areas? Car accidents.

  42. Natalie July 23, 2013 at 1:12 pm #

    If you go back and look, The “nothing bad happened” stories are mentioned to encourage more independence in children, to help parents become more free range. Not to rely on luck for safety, but to enable their children to deal with challenges.

    This story is more akin to “we didn’t buckle our seatbelts, and nothing happened.” Which is why Lenore puts about 50 disclaimers in this post. It’s not a story to inspire your child to do the action in question, like going down to the corner store, or riding their bike around the neighborhood, or using a Swiss Army knife. This is an action to be avoided.

    The positive in the story is that no one is really after kids. I think that’s a good message. The way it’s framed with the “nothing happened when” makes it sound like carelessness, like not wearing your seatbelt. Not that I’m saying the parents are careless.

    The “nothing happened when” posts are to encourage more of the actions in question.

  43. Donna July 23, 2013 at 2:29 pm #


    The “nothing bad happened” stories were not to encourage independence in children. Children are not Lenore’s target audience and she writes nothing that is tailored towards children and their development of independence. It was to help parents understand that the world is safe enough for kids to be alone in it. This story clearly showed that, even at some of its worst, America is just not dangerous to children.

    Nor did anyone here rely on luck for safety. The fact that they could have been incredibly unlucky and had a tragedy occur in this situation (as could anyone in any situation) doesn’t make it lucky that no tragedy occurred. It makes it expected.

    I’m having a really hard time grasping why a walk down the block at 3pm is a positive free range activity and a walk down the exact same block at 3am is suddenly a death-defying experience that only the lucky survive. I’m not suggesting that kids should be roaming at 3am. I am suggesting that it is not such a huge amount more dangerous that it suddenly becomes a near-death experience that they are incredibly lucky to survive. Good grief, what is it that you all think is going on in the world at 3am?

  44. David July 23, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    “Good grief, what is it that you all think is going on in the world at 3am?”

    Sleepy drivers in low light situations. Not to mention most violent crimes statistically tend to happen after dark. Not to say a wandering 6 year old would be a target – just perhaps caught in the crossfire.

  45. Natalie July 23, 2013 at 3:33 pm #

    I’m not sure how you want me to respond. I wasn’t claiming any of those things.

  46. Donna July 23, 2013 at 6:02 pm #

    @David – I’d like to see your statistics on violent crime, particularly those saying it is prevalent at 3am.

    As for drivers, I imagine statistically the drowsiness, darkness (although it is no darker at 3am than it is at say 7pm in February) and drunkenness factors are counteracted by the substantial decrease in cars on the road. Yes, each car that passes you has a greater chance of hitting you but far fewer cars pass you, making your overall probability of being struck by a car no higher at 3am than at 3pm.

    Again, I am not saying that kids should be roaming at 3 am but some seem hung up on the late hour as so dangerous itself. Kids wandering off without parental knowledge is never a good thing, but the only real time-related dangers that I see are that mom and dad are sleeping so several hours will pass before missing kid is discovered and the scarcity of cognizant people around at that hour to intercept her, both of which could lead to a young child getting too far out of her usual orbit and panicking and panicked people do dumb things that they wouldn’t normally do. Oh and the higher likelihood of police and CPS interference due to the fact that the kid was out at 3am. I just don’t see the additional worry about violence and drivers as substantial.

    @Natalie – You’ve asserted that this family was lucky that nothing bad happened in every post on the subject. I assumed, based on your presence here, that you don’t believe that it is always just dumb luck that brings roaming kids home safely and it seemed that the 3am was key to this distinction. I suppose that I could have assumed wrong.

  47. Warren July 23, 2013 at 6:03 pm #

    Hate to burst your bubble, but statistically speaking, more drivers are sleepy and distracted on their morning commute. You then factor in that traffic is most likely at its lowest volume at 3am…….all sums up to it being the safest time traffic wise, for her little expedition.

    Wouldn’t worry bout the crossfire either, as it would all be over her head.

  48. hineata July 23, 2013 at 6:31 pm #

    @Natalie – no, YouTube! Used to love ‘In Living Colour’, but wasn’t sure anyone would remember that, LOL! Most US humour we get to see is a little insipid for my tastes – Kiwis, like Aussies and Brits, have a harsher sense of humour than Hollywood usually allows, methinks, but I wanted a reference N. Americans might understand…. 🙂

    About this girl wandering about at this hour, do your pubs have a closing time? That would be one point of extra danger regarding traffic – down here I usually try and stay off the road around pub closing time, which is earlier btw than 3am – but otherwise you’d expect the traffic to be not too bad, wouldn’t you?

  49. everydayrose July 23, 2013 at 10:04 pm #

    I love this. This was posted the same day that my two daughters flew home (alone) after spending three weeks in Oakland with their dad. Am I worried about sending them back. Nope.

    Meanwhile, while they were gone, in our very safe, child friendly, kids playing outside all day long neighborhood in Washington, a 7 year old girl was raped and choked and left for dead in the woods by a 14 year old boy. These are children that my kids were playing with every time they went outside, and I’m SO GLAD they were in crime ridden Oakland when all this happened.

    You just never know.

  50. David July 23, 2013 at 10:38 pm #

    Warren, actually, statistically speaking of drowsy driving: “Most crashes or near misses occur between 4:00 – 6:00 a.m.; midnight – 2:00 a.m. and 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. are also peak times for crashes to occur. Nearly one-quarter of adults (23%) say they know someone personally who has crashed due to falling asleep at the wheel.”


    Typical morning commutes start at 6:00 am – after the peak time for crashes from drowsy drivers.

    Yes, there are less drivers, but the combination of drowsiness and the dark, I think still would increase the odds of a small child not being seen, even if there were less cars. Unfortunately there are no statistics I can find for Oakland on this, so we’ll just have to have our own opinions on this one.

    And Donna, as for the statistics for violent crimes occurring after dark that you were looking for,
    Here is one link that shows multiple cites and various crimes:

    If you scroll over each city you can see the various types of crimes it shows. I was actually surprised. I figured violent crimes would still be prevalent, but drop after midnight, but I was wrong. They actually stay quite high throughout the middle of the night. (Again, look at assaults and shootings.) Now the robberies, thefts, vandalism, etc. tend to happen more during the day. One more interesting statistic is in Oakland CA, (where this story took place) the highest number of assaults (48%) happen between 2:00am and 3:00am.
    So, again, I still say it wasn’t as safe for her to be wandering around in the dark in such a rough neighborhood at 3:00 am as it would have been at 3:00pm. (Although in this particular city, I don’t think I’d be letting a little 6 year old girl wander around alone at any time of day. Go ahead and call me a helicopter dad, but to me, it would just not seem like a good idea.)

  51. Natalie July 24, 2013 at 5:51 am #


    Yes, I absolutely believe that the parents were lucky, that the girl was lucky.

    “I don’t think this family was incredibly lucky at all. I do think it fortunate that the child knew to stay on the sidewalks as drivers are clearly not looking for kids at 3am. It is also fortunate that the child ran into someone before she got lost and scared as even the ‘hood is not bustling with activity at 3am.”

    You seem to also feel that way somewhat as your first statement contradicts your second and third.

    As for 3 am not being more problematic than 3 pm, you’ve said it yourself:

    “I’’m not advocating kids running around free range in high crime areas at any time of the day or night. There are serious issues there.”

    Well then, what are they?
    Drivers are more tired, less aware, possibly drunk or buzzed (2 – 3 am coincides with “last call” in some states), and yes, no one wants to say it but we are talking about Oakland, CA. People who have committed a crime, robbed the local 7-11 (or the cops rushing to the scene) are not going to be the most careful drivers at 3 am.

    None of these people are going to be looking for, or expect, a child to be wandering around and honing her street crossing skills. That there’s less traffic I don’t think is particularly relevant. The drivers that are on the road are worse, and not aware. Furthermore, the child could wander about and possibly get lost and/or go somewhere she shouldn’t – like the railroad tracks or freeway, or maybe not stay on the sidewalk. Who knows? (as you aptly explained, kids panic and do uncharacteristic things)

    This is already a strange situation. Not saying the kid or parents are strange, just that I wouldn’t think a 6 yr old would leave the house to wander in the middle of the night. Obviously, the parents didn’t think their daughter capable of that either. So it’s already a night of unpredictable behavior.

    All of it sums up to be: dangerous situation, girl was lucky.

    And no, that doesn’t mean it is a “huge amount more dangerous that it suddenly becomes a near-death experience that they are incredibly lucky to survive.”

    Which is why I cited the examples of not wearing a seat belt or a non-swimmer in the shallow end without any adult supervision lifeguard or otherwise. These are not near death experiences, but they are dangerous nonetheless.

  52. Natalie July 24, 2013 at 6:05 am #


    Nope, you’re not helicopter.

    A lack of dangerous people out to harm children does not mean a lack of dangerous people or dangerous situations. Each parent has to make the decisions that they feel are best for their child.

    I don’t know what kind of rules I would impose on my daughter as the only experience I have with Oakland is landing in the airport and taking the subway to San Francisco. I didn’t even know that the city had such a high crime rate until now, or that it was considered one of the 10 most dangerous cities in the US.

  53. Natalie July 24, 2013 at 6:21 am #

    Ab Fab? Benny Hill?

  54. Warren July 24, 2013 at 10:50 am #


    For one thing do not give me stats from an orgaization that derives it’s very funding from overstating those stats. You are just on the bandwagon for drowsy drivers. It is like anything else safety related. Society is finally getting a handle on drinkng and driving, so you move on to the next one, and then the next one.

    With all your traffic stats David, before you get all worked into a frenzy, there is something you have to do. Eliminate all data related to highway incidents. Then come back with something.

    Until you can tell us the number of 6, or to be fair 4 to 10 year olds that get raped every year, mugged every year, assaulted every year, run over by cars every year, hit by get away drivers, hit by emergency vehicles, or whatever, in Oakland, while out for a walk between 2am and 4am. You find those numbers, you prove how dangerouse it is for that age group, before you say she was lucky.

    Let’s face it. Most of the horrific crimes commited against children are not crimes of opportunity, as much as they are planned, hunted, stalked. Which means the people that target kids, for crimes, do so when kids are normally out and about. I highly doubt they are out coming the streets at 3am, when there are not any kids normally around.

    So untill you can actually prove how dangerous it is, she was not lucky. She was a 6 yr old that snuck out and got busted. For all we know, this isn’t the first time she has done this. Just the first time she was caught.

  55. pentamom July 24, 2013 at 2:09 pm #

    “Not to rely on luck for safety, but to enable their children to deal with challenges.”

    As others have pointed out:

    1) The point of this article isn’t what anyone should or shouldn’t do, or should or shouldn’t rely on. This was obviously a situation that arose by mistake, rather than something a parent intended to let the child do.

    2) However, it did not require “luck” for a child to survive being out at 3 a.m. because, despite the potential for bad things to happen at that time, the potential *is not so great* that it requires some extra benefice of “luck” for a kid to survive it. The chances of a bad outcome are *higher* at that time, perhaps; they are not HIGH. Even most gun-toting drug dealers and people who drive when there are drunks on the same road will survive *on any given night.*

    Hence the point: even at 3 a.m., the world *really is not all that dangerous,* even if it is dangerous enough at 3 a.m. that letting a 6 year old wander around alone at that time isn’t a great idea and shouldn’t be done deliberately.

    Even if drivers are *more likely* to hit kids at 3 a.m., even if violent criminals are *more likely* to be active at that time, both of which are good reasons not to *deliberately* let a child wander around at that time, it is still not like the world becomes a carpet of out of control cars and flying bullets.

    The point isn’t “what you should do,” it is “the world is a pretty low-risk place, even when it isn’t perfectly safe.” Which is EXACTLY the same point as the previous “nothing bad happened” stories.

  56. pentamom July 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm #

    IOW, it is not intended as a guideline for why it’s perfectly fine for 6 year olds to wander at 3 a.m., it’s intended as a counter to the idea that a child doing an “unsafe” thing is almost guaranteed to be dragged off, run over, or shot the first moment that he is not being hovered over — and a lot of people operate as if they believe that is true. And for that purpose, it works fine.

  57. pentamom July 24, 2013 at 2:32 pm #

    I don’t think Donna’s statements that it was fortunate that the child knew to stay on the sidewalks and ran into someone helpful contradict the idea that no special “luck” was needed. That’s because a six year old knowing that, and a helpful person helping a child rather than otherwise are not functions of some unusual “luck,” but are NORMAL situations.

    That it wasn’t worse isn’t so much luck in those two respects, it’s the expected outcome. It’s like saying, “I walked outside on a rainy day, it’s really lucky I didn’t get struck by lightning.” For someone who knows to go back in if there’s thunder and lightning, that’s really not “luck” at all, and not all rain brings lightning.

  58. Warren July 24, 2013 at 3:52 pm #


    You could extend that even further. That walking during a thunderstorm and saying you are lucky you didn’t get hit by lightening was sheer luck. When actually no it is not. Although the possibility is there, the odds of it happening are minimal. No if you were walking while carrying a 40 ft length of copper pipe overhead, in the middle of a field, then I might give luck a little credit.


    For people to say she is lucky nothing happened, is the same as saying something should have happened, and the little one just beat the odds. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  59. Natalie July 24, 2013 at 8:34 pm #


    My opening premise (and my problem with the way this story is framed, albeit unintentionally) is that this story doesn’t mesh with the tone of the “nothing happened when” stories. Some others were confused with the take-away message despite Lenore’s disclaimers, I pointed out why as I thought the message was a bit muddled myself.

    You don’t agree with my opening premise, so we’re not going to agree on anything based on it.

    About luck. Your rain/lightning analogy is appropriate for people targeting children for violent crimes. Not for this. Drunk/tired/distracted/unexpecting-6-yr-old-pedestrian/unaware drivers dealing with poor lighting, and yes, the ramifications of a possible crime being committed, as this is a high-crime area, are actually there. We all know people who have been in a car accident, fatal or near-fatal. And most people have probably been involved in a fender bender (or two, depending on the driver). Which is why I keep stating the analogy of the lack of a seatbelt or the non-swimmer.

    Actually, the non-swimmer is a really good analogy to this. Let’s say that you have a 6 yr old non-swimmer without a floatie that went down to a local lake (unbeknownst to you) while you took a nap. Your kid is unsupervised by you, or anyone. There’s no one there, no life guard, no one. Your child, the non-swimmer, knows to only stay in the shallow end where he/she can stand. After about an hour or so, you wake up, notice that your child is missing, rush down to the lake after not finding him/her at your house or in your yard.

    You find your child there, safe, happily playing in the shallow end of the lake as they were taught to do, no one else in site.

    Do you agree that this is more or less an appropriate analogy to the OP’s story? If so, then we’re just disagreeing over semantics. We have different associations with the word “luck” and you don’t feel it’s appropriate for this situation while I do. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t consider this a disagreement at all.

    If you think the OP’s story is more akin to rain/lightning, well then, we’ve got huge differences on how we see the possible dangers of this situation.

  60. pentamom July 24, 2013 at 9:58 pm #

    “Drunk/tired/distracted/unexpecting-6-yr-old-pedestrian/unaware drivers dealing with poor lighting, and yes, the ramifications of a possible crime being committed, as this is a high-crime area, are actually there.”

    And most people who go out into those situations, even if they’re drunk or helpless themselves DO NOT DIE or suffer any harm at all.

    It is not a smart risk to take, but the point is, the mathematical odds of surviving that situation are ON YOUR SIDE, not against you.

    Therefore it’s not just “luck” that a child survives going out at 3 am., it is the normal, expected outcome. The risk of something really bad happening is high enough particularly compared to the value of a kid wandering around alone in the middle of the night (none, that I can think of) that of course no one would ever promote it, and of course any normal parent would worry if it happened. But the odds of anything bad ACTUALLY happening in a single, given case of a child being out at night are still overwhelmingly negative. “They were lucky” implies that the stronger likelihood is of the bad thing happening, otherwise “luck” has no real meaning in the context.

    Do I agree that any of those bad things could have happened? Of course. But they were highly unlikely, even though they are a lot more likely than something bad happening to a child playing in a well-maintained park in a good neighborhood with friendly neighbors around in broad daylight. As I said, even the overwhelming majority of gun-toting gangbangers survive any given night.

  61. pentamom July 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm #

    BTW, Lenore e-mailed me agreeing that I got the premise of the previous “nothing bad happened” stories right.

  62. Warren July 24, 2013 at 11:18 pm #


    The young girl knows to walk on sidewalks. So have you figured out how many cars driven by drunks, distracted or tired drivers jump the curb every night in Oakland, and run someone down?

    You keep claiming that so many factors contribute to dangerous driving that severely endangered this girl, but where is your facts to back it up?

  63. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 6:26 am #

    4 to 1 odds are on your side. 10 to 1 odds are on your side. But as you say, it’s not a smart risk to take. Which is why I cited the non-swimmer in the shallow end, alone. So what you’re saying is that a non-swimmer unattended in the shallow end of the lake for an hour was not lucky. I say there was luck involved. We agree on the level of danger, and that the action should not be repeated.

    The way I see it, we are only disagreeing over semantics. We’re not disagreeing over the level of danger of the situation.

    You’ve got different baggage associated with the word “luck” than me. Luck, for you, only means the odds are not on your side. That’s your interpretation. I’ve got different associations with the English language. I don’t see a point in arguing over word usage when we are agreeing on everything else.

  64. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 6:36 am #


    The “nothing happened thread” is chock full of stories about things that parents would continue to let their children do whether the first time was intentional or unintentional.
    My thought was to tell you to go and pick out a story that meshes with how you see it, but then I found this:

    “Here’s a variant you might want to do at another time: Something slightly bad happened (a relatively minor injury, getting lost or separated, something like that), but my kid survived and it wasn’t the end of the world.”

    Posted by, guess who? You!

    And a quick skim shows that the thread started to incorporate those kinds of stories in as well following your post. So that’s why we have different impressions of the thread.

  65. pentamom July 25, 2013 at 11:09 am #

    Natalie, the odds are more like 1000 to 1. That’s my point. Even though they’re too high for various reasons (who would want to take an unnecessary risk that you could die doing 1 out 1000 times, that wasn’t actually particularly useful or fun?) they’re still overwhelming. People go out and do stupid, dangerous stuff ALL THE TIME and don’t die. That doesn’t mean you should do them. That means that the world is not a booby-trap waiting to swallow up the under-cautious, it’s a place full of calculable risks.

  66. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 11:45 am #


    I have no idea what the odds are. You can say 1000 to 1, I can say 10 to 1, but rhe number is meaningless. The numbers we pull out of thin air are from our subjective impressions of what a 6 yr old that we dont know may or may not do in this situation, and what this particular city is like at 3 am. “People” going out for a stroll at 3 am in the city is not the same as the OP’s story.

    I’m not saying the world is a booby trap, or that people don’t do stupid things and live to tell the tale, you’re extrapolating too much. I’m saying that the fact that there are not child molesters out to get this girl doesn’t mean that roaming around a city at 3 am for an undetermined amount of time, unknown to her parents, is not dangerous.

    Again, I bring the non-swimmer in the shallow end of the lake analogy. I don’t know what the odds are of drowning for a non-swimmer playing alone in the shallow end of a lake after being told to stay there. 1000 to 1? 10 to 1? It’s meaningless. The number you pull out of thin air is subjective.

    Are we really disagreeing here? It seems like you have to exaggerate/extrapolate what I’m saying in order to disagree. We disagree on the use of the word “luck” yes, but I’m not sure it’s much else.

  67. Eileen July 25, 2013 at 12:45 pm #

    The thing that I guess is a sticking point to me is that a child made a bad decision (leaving home w/out telling her parents, leaving home at 3am) and then it’s pointed out that she made good decisions (staying on sidewalk, walking to familiar area) following. I guess every parent could pick/choose what decisions their kids made in order to commend them.

    Same thing for the non-swimmer that goes in the water unsupervised but is smart enough to stay in the shallow end. That doesn’t make sense to me. They made a terrible decision to enter the water alone. If a child is “taught” to stay in the shallow end, they certainly have been “taught” to not swim alone. On right decision after a very wrong one.

    Kids are kids, I get that. But I don’t understand embracing careful behavior after really poor decision making.

    And yes, I realize that this part of the discussion was not the intention of the post. It’s an article that says “something bad didn’t happen in a situation that most people would (and should) avoid”.

  68. Eileen July 25, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    And just so I’m clear. It’s great that one bad decision didn’t lead to another. To me it just points out that kids are not always reliable…which is the challenge for parents who struggle with moving to the free range mentality.

  69. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Eileen, that last post of yours really hits home for me. I want my 6 yr old to walk home this september about a half mile from the bus stop. We’ve been honing her street crossing skills for about a year in preparation. Most times, she’s fine crossing the street and errs on the side of caution. Like when drivers stop for her to let her cross, she is still confused by that, and it generally takes them waving her on 3 – 4 times before she goes. But just yesterday, she saw her friend and ran across the street to join her without looking, which makes me wonder if I’m forcing the issue, and should put this off some more.
    So yes, it’s a challenge.

  70. Eileen July 25, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    I hear you Natalie. And that’s why I think it’s always shades of grey. I have 2 kids. Clearly raised in the same house their entire lives. One of them NEVER treated a parking lot like they did a street crossing and I swear we must have said “no running in parking lots” a thousand times. He just never seemed to be aware (or look for) cars backing out or looking both ways when crossing from a lot to a store. I don’t ever remember having to talk to my other child about parking lots. He was always more cautious and alert.

  71. Warren July 25, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

    Anyone waiting for the time that their child will never forget the rules, and run into the street without looking………..well you are in for one very long wait. No matter what, it will happen from time to time.

    You just have to accept it, and realize that when they do it, it is the exception to the norm for them.

  72. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    I think siblings have diametrically opposite behavior on purpose. Otherwise, you may start to think you’re getting a handle on this thing called parenting. And predict cause/effect.

    They can’t have that!

  73. Eileen July 25, 2013 at 3:17 pm #

    Warren, I agree with you. Which is why every parent has to evaluate the situation/child for themselves to come up with their ‘plan’. Natalie has to evaluate her daughter’s walk home for distance, street crossings, traffic, and whether she’s going to be alert enough to be considered ready.

    For me, I used to walk my kids to the bus stop in the morning because it was much busier car traffic during morning commute and our neighborhood does not have sidewalks. I let them walk home from the bus stop in the afternoons because it was FAR less busy, and I knew the teen drivers (who were by far the most worrisome) had not yet been released from school.

    Of course, there’s always risk, but there are things that make it a different calculated risk for each scenario/child.

  74. Natalie July 25, 2013 at 3:55 pm #

    She comes home around 4:15-4:30, which is the beginning of the evening commute, lots of cars. Lots of people anxious to get home. Like you said, it’s really not so straightforward. And it’s not the end of the world to put it off for a few months or even a year if she’s not ready. I don’t see any reason to rush things.
    The other option is to have her cut through the forest. It’s a bit longer, but no streets. My husband doesn’t like that idea at all! Lol

  75. pentamom July 25, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    ” I’m saying that the fact that there are not child molesters out to get this girl doesn’t mean that roaming around a city at 3 am for an undetermined amount of time, unknown to her parents, is not dangerous.”

    I’ve repeatedly said it’s dangerous.

    But there’s STILL a difference between “it’s dangerous” and “something bad will probably happen.”

    It’s dangerous to be a gun-toting drug dealer. Most will survive the night. It’s dangerous to be on the road in close proximity to a drunk driver. Most of the time you’ll avoid the actual accident. Those are REAL dangers, I’m not minimizing them, I’m simply saying that even REAL dangers usually don’t result in bad outcomes, because they’re dangers, not actual negative events. Only in a situation like a war zone or having a tornado pass directly through your town or actually BEING in the middle of a shoot-out is a danger almost the same thing as a bad event. In those cases, you’re lucky if something bad doesn’t happen to you. In a case like the one described, you just managed to not be unlucky despite being vulnerable to a lot of ways in which you could have been.

    I think we do disagree on the meaning of the word luck, but I’m willing to call that not important. What I do think is a bit more important is your continuing to argue that Lenore, who knows why Lenore posted this, is not agreeing with herself about what she means by the “nothing bad happened” trope, because you insist on imposing a meaning that “this was not such a bad thing” when the point is more like, “even though this was a bad thing, the world is not so VERY fraught with terror and death that even undesirable situations don’t always result in something bad happening, so we can relax a bit in the way we are careful.” Not that we shouldn’t be careful, but that we shouldn’t believe the helicopter mentality that the world is out to get our kids the SECOND our guard is down, and only by PERFECTLY assessing every risk and then PERFECTLY preventing it, can we hope to see our kids reach the age of majority unscathed. That’s exactly why, bad on the “nothing bad” thread, I suggested people tell stories of negative events that didn’t actually result in anything bad after all.

    After all, that’s pretty much why she wrote “Free Range Kids” in the first place. Since I offered an interpretation of how this fits in with “nothing bad happened” by offering a different perspective from yours, and Lenore endorsed my interpretation, why do you keep pushing yours, when Lenore is the one who knows what she means?

  76. Natalie July 26, 2013 at 5:38 am #

    Why? Because you keep asking!

    I really think we have a communication problem here, because I find little to disagree with in your post.

    Let’s try this, and return to the seatbelt analogy that I put in my very first post.

    Here are two stories.

    1) Kid gets lost at Disneyland, parents later find the kid. Strangers helped. Nothing bad happened!

    2) Kid didn’t buckle seatbelt on 4 hour trip to grandparents, parents didn’t notice until arrival. Nothing bad happened!

    Do both of these stories fit in with the thread? My point is that story number 2 doesn’t. The message is muddled because the OPs post has elements of story number 1 and story number 2.

    And that’s it.

    I think we’ve beaten the dead horse, flattened it with a steam roller, poured gasoline on its remains, threw a match on it and scattered the ashes to the wind.

    Still don’t agree? That’s okay. We don’t have to.

  77. pentamom July 26, 2013 at 10:04 am #

    Fair enough. 🙂