One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

Hi khbyibeits
Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!


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71 Responses to One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

  1. Anthony October 10, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    What are you talking about? Everyone knows that humans have only been around for six thousand years and that evolution is nothing more than the devil trying to keep us from believing in Jeepers Crispers!

  2. Hineata October 10, 2011 at 9:25 am #

    I do question the figures a bit, I must confess. It probably depends where you come from. I grew up in a small town and, while I could roam the whole thing, it was considerably smaller an area than my kids get to take themselves about in now. Of course, they don’t have the bush to play in, or the river to swim in – dairy farming having lowered water quality significantly in many places over the last generation – but they do have several pools, bikes, parks, school playgrounds and a decent bus system they can access, to take them a lot further than I was able to travel at their ages.

  3. Emily Osgood October 10, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    More like the Great un-indoors.

  4. Marie October 10, 2011 at 10:38 am #

    So if we’re tracking kids like birds, can I send mine out on a lark?

  5. Violet October 10, 2011 at 10:45 am #

    I went to the gym today with my son – we both have membership cards. There were three boys, maybe 14 or 15 years old who wanted to play basketball at the indoor court. They were turned away because they did not have an adult with them. I guess the city would rather have them wandering the streets …

  6. francesfromCanada October 10, 2011 at 1:03 pm #

    I’m curious as to how my child having only 1/9 the area to roam as I did means he’s trapped indoors. That would have to be a darn big building!

    I do get the point.

  7. Magnolia October 10, 2011 at 1:49 pm #

    I am ashamed to say, we did watch a bit of spongebob.

  8. Orielwen October 10, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

    This article is actually from 2004. Still true though.

  9. Ariel October 10, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    Area is squared. A child that was allowed to roam 3 miles and now only 1 mile is roaming 1/9th the area. Scale it down as you wish.

    In the summer of ’61, between 1st and 2nd grade, I could walk to my great-grandparents. Near two miles, I passed homes, a stream, and a dairy farm, walking on a dirt shoulder all the way. I was taught to watch for cars, and to never walk in front of a car aiming to enter the road I was on because the driver may not see me. This was in the San Gabriel Valley of California.

    Today, taking my girls to HS and Middle School, I have to watch for too many kids who step in front of my moving car without even a look, not a single glance. My oldest quizzed her friends why this stupid habit and found two common answers: it’s the driver’s responsibility not to hit them; and the car has brakes. Perhaps the shrinkage is needed…

  10. Cynthia October 10, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    Violet- I think this sort of think is getting to be more of a problem. For example, at my gym, they don’t allow kids on the walking track unless they’re with someone over 18. Now, I understand they don’t want kids going wild up there, but why can’t a nine year old walk around a track with a 16yo, or even a 12yo? The gym has the ability to throw them out and suspend their membership if they act up, so why have overly strict policies that make life harder for parents?

    Then there are issues like buying matches, which was brought up the other day, and delayed driving privilages, which studies have shown just move the increased number of fatalities from 16-17 to 18-19. Smart.

  11. Lollipoplover October 10, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    The habitat comparison of children to birds is quite interesting.

    We just adopted a pup from the Humane Society and had to provide vet references, backyard pictures (required fenced in yard), and answer questions relating to the high energy breed we adopted. The nice folks wanted to make sure that we would be providing ample exercise for our dog (which we do) because behavior problems are common in this breed when they don’t get enough play time outside.

    In contrast, I left the hospital with all 3 of my newborns and only needed to show that I had a car seat.

    Where’s the Humane Society for children?

  12. Dolly October 10, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    Anthony: There is no reason to start insulting Christians. That was very out of nowhere and not needed.

    FYI: I am a Christian and I believe nothing makes God happier than seeing us outside enjoying the beautiful world He created for us. I do not keep my kids trapped inside all the time for darn sure. We enjoy nature.

  13. Donna October 10, 2011 at 11:10 pm #

    “The gym has the ability to throw them out and suspend their membership if they act up, so why have overly strict policies that make life harder for parents?”

    I think the reason behind many of these rules – and also zero tolerance rules, bans on soccer balls, etc – is that nobody wants to deal with kids as individuals or engage troublemakers anymore. It is much easier to have a rule that parents must be present at all times than to have to confront troublemakers and throw them out. With so many parents reacting very negatively to anyone disciplining their children, I can’t blame them. When I was a kid, if I got kicked out of the gym for causing problems, I would have been in trouble at home. My parents would not have simply taken my word that I did nothing wrong and the gym manager just doesn’t like me (is discriminating against me or whatever). Today, if a kid gets kicked out of the gym, there’s a good chance that mom or dad will be showing up at the gym throwing a fit and threatening all kinds of things because the gym is picking on their poor innocent little baby. Why should they deal with that to make life easier for the parents?

    Not everything that seems anti-free range is so for helicopter reasons. Sometimes we have to live with the reactions to the world that we (society in general) created. If parents would stop overindulging and attacking everyone who dares to criticize their baby, maybe kids would be welcome more places alone.

  14. Donna October 11, 2011 at 12:05 am #

    Not completely related but —

    Yesterday afternoon, I walked with my kid and dog to the playground. There was a playgroup there having a Halloween Party and my daughter knew a couple of the kids with that group so she played with them (I knew one and her parents but not anyone else). I had the dog so I just vegged by myself while she played.

    At some point, the kids decided to climb trees. These are small trees that my daughter has been climbing by herself since she was 3 or 4 so not a big deal. But she apparently went higher than the other kids and parents wanted her to go. First the other kids started freaking out. Then some of the parents came over. I heard my daughter repeatedly say that she could get down herself. I walked over to make sure she really wasn’t in danger. She wasn’t. While I was standing right there obviously not concerned about this situation, one of the other parents finally had enough and said “let’s get you out of there” and moved to take my child out of the tree. She said “I can do it” and I said “she’s fine.” He shot me a look as if I was the worst parent in the world and stormed off. Sure enough, a few minutes later my child easily climbed out of the tree without any help.

    I could hear everything said. At no point did my child ask for help, say she couldn’t get down or seem scared. She was laughing, saying “look at me” and then telling everyone she could get down herself. She was also not more than 5 feet or so off the ground. People need to stop panicking over mundane acts of childhood.

    I also rolled my eyes at every kid in the group getting an award for best costume, even those who didn’t come in costume, but that’s another topic.

  15. robynheud October 11, 2011 at 1:43 am #

    Speaking of 1/9th the freedom, this article talks about keeping kids safe on Halloween. It specifically says that kids are more likely to be hit by a car on that night than any other night of the year…perhaps because more parents are literally driving their kids from door to door to avoid predators and child snatchers.

  16. David October 11, 2011 at 2:00 am #

    Donna, I have to agree with your first comment. I work in a school and I’ve seen many examples of pupils who have attacked other pupils, insulted teachers even attacked teachers. Then when they’re punished one or both parents comes storming to the school to harange the teaching staff for ‘picking’ on their little angel.

    Yes, teachers and other adults do sometimes treat children unfairly, but parents need to be a bit more sceptical about their children’s version of events and not always assume they must be tellling the truth

  17. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 2:03 am #

    Donna is right about why these policies are put into place. Part of the problem is racism cries as well. If for example a white manager kicks some black children out for misbehaving the next thing you know you have everyone crying “RACISM!” and freaking out and it becomes a big deal. When he just as easily would have kicked out white kids for behaving the same way.

    That is how all this zero tolerance stuff gets implemented. They figure it is easier to piss everyone off a little rather than piss one person off a lot when they single them out and have to confront them and get into a conflict.

    I am not defending it or in favor of it. I have always been in favor of every person is in charge of themselves and everyone should be dealt with on a case by case basis. However, it seems that is no longer how things are done anymore.

  18. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Donna: In that parent’s defense, sometimes those type of situations are not so much because they are worried about YOUR child as they are worried about THEIR child. I often get a little freaked when big kids do dangerous or kinda risky stuff that maybe they can handle just fine, however next thing you know, my much smaller, less agile boys are trying to do that too and they on the other hand CANNOT handle that.

    So I have to either ask the big kids to stop doing it or remove my kids from the situation. It is not an insult on anyone, it is more, please help me keep my smaller kids from breaking their necks.

  19. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 2:11 am #

    David: right. Also it is up to the parent to not be delusional about your child. Now I was always a very good little girl who never got in trouble. So my parents tended to side with me and take my word first. Just because of my track record. They would still get to the bottom of it, but they usually sided with me at first. If they found something contrary to that, then they dealt with me. I can remember many cases where the adult was in the wrong and I as the child was in the right. I am glad my parents backed me and believed me.

    So you have to find a happy medium. If you know your child is trustworthy then believe them but investigate too. Then you can deal with the wrongdoer whether it be the adult or the child. If your child is not trustworthy then you can probably assume your kid was at fault at first, but again still investigate.

  20. Cheryl W October 11, 2011 at 2:17 am #

    Robynheud, my electric company sends out a news letter every other month or so. This one had an article about keeping safe on Halloween. I though, “Oh no, another bogus thing strangers and spiked candy.

    It was all about making sure that everything was plugged into safe, waterproof types of connections, and no wires where people would trip or get electrocuted because the cord was in a puddle.

    I thought it was a great safety article for Halloween!

  21. Cheryl W October 11, 2011 at 2:29 am #

    Dolly, I have a boy who is very aware of his body and able to climb most anything. That said, when we go to the park during morning hours, (we home school) I do tell him to follow the rules and not show the little kids things that they are not going to be safe doing.

    However, if we are at the park after school and there are lots of other school age kids…I don’t really care what my son does as long as he is a bit safe for himself and others, and we don’t go to the hospital.

    I guess the difference is in the afternoons that I expect the parents of the little kids then to tell them “Sorry, ‘our’ rule is you can’t do that, regardless of what the other kids are doing.” I have to do that all the time with my kids, or kids who come to my house. I will share our bikes, but as long as a kid is on one of our bikes, they have to follow our rule and wear a helmet, regardless of what they do at home.

    I am not saying that you are wrong in asking the older kids to stop, just, be fair about it and look and see the time of day and such as what they are doing may be very appropriate for them (as long as they are not falling off the tube onto your kids) and perhaps you need to enforce “your family rules” for your kids. The kids do get it, they really do. They may not like it, but they can understand that not all people are the same and not all families have the same rules. Lets face it, life is not fair.

  22. Lollipoplover October 11, 2011 at 2:37 am #

    I had to laugh at your tree climbing story as my kids are fanatical about finding great trees to climb wherever we go. I have encounter so many parents who think trees are dangerous, too.

    My daughter was forced to rest this weekend (too much trampoline and a hurt ankle) and was watching the movie “Pollyanna” on TV (the Disney one with Hayley Mills.) I watched part of it with her, where old Mr. Prendergast yells at her and her male friend for trying to climb his tree (the best climbing tree in town.) He tells them that if they fall, their parents could sue him. They say that’s not the case, they are orphans (smart kids).
    In the end, Pollyanna falls out of her aunt’s tree and loses use of her legs. I told my daughter I didn’t remember that happening in the book.
    Sure enough, we got it out of the library today and at the end, Pollyanna is struck by a motor car, not a fall from a tree, to lose use of her legs.
    Leave it to Disney Pollyanna for making trees the bad guy.

  23. Donna October 11, 2011 at 2:49 am #

    Dolly, I might agree except all the other kids involved were OLDER than my child. The only younger children were toddlers (under 2) and could not get into the trees at all. And ALL the older kids were climbing trees. It really was just a matter of someone else taking it upon themselves to decide that my child was too high in the tree.

    I also have a problem with some stranger trying to physically remove my child from a tree against her wishes (except maybe a park employee). I would not have a problem with someone helping if she had, in fact, been stuck and/or asking for help. Or if there was some miscommunication and he thought she needed help. But she repeatedly told him to leave her alone and that she could and wanted to get down herself. Only once I intervened and made it very clear that he was not taking my child out of that tree did he stop harassing my child.

  24. Donna October 11, 2011 at 3:04 am #

    “So I have to either ask the big kids to stop doing it or remove my kids from the situation. It is not an insult on anyone, it is more, please help me keep my smaller kids from breaking their necks.”

    I also question why you think that older children should stop doing age-appropriate activities because your children are too young to do them. I would ask my child not to go into the toddler section of the playground and hang off of the equipment, but I see no reason to stop my child from engaging in age-appropriate activities in an age-appropriate setting because some children on the playground are younger. With that mentality, we all have to play like toddlers since there are always 2 year olds on the playground.

    Nor would I expect the opposite. If some older kids are at the park doing things that I don’t think my child can handle, I’ll tell her “no,” not the big kids. She needs to become very accustomed the fact that older kids can do things that she cannot since it will be a fact of her life for the next 15 years until she hits 21.

  25. Taradlion October 11, 2011 at 3:55 am #

    I wouldn’t ask older kids, or more capable kids (the same age) to not do things my kids couldn’t handel. I never did, and my son loved watching and copying older boys. Wanted a 2 wheeled scooter by 3 and training wheels off by 4. He climbed crazy things. I felt it was important for him to learn his limits (and I sometimes needed to impose limits on him). I would hope no one would now ask my dare devil 7 year-old to stop doing something if he wasn’t breaking any rules. I do, by the way ask him to set a good example for behavior indoors (for example when at synagogue)

    Frequently when we are at a pool with friends, I ask my son to play with his friend in the shallow water (if the friend is not a strong swimmer), so as not to abandon the friend. However, both my kids swim in the deep end and he drives and flips of the board (where allowed) even if other kids aren’t comfortable doing so when we are there without friends, but other kids are there swimming. He has been swimming in the deep end and independently going off diving boards since he was 4. (And, he did learn to flip from older kids this summer).

  26. pentamom October 11, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    I agree, with Donna’s first comment as well. Once again, a lot of this traces back to loss of community and rejection of personal responsibility. Instead of taking responsibility for our own domains (including our kids and the places they go and the things they do) and engaging with the community to address situations that come up when there’s an actual negative event, we just want the whole world structured so that nothing undesirable can ever happen.

    It’s as though all of society is being “childproofed,” not just in the sense of physical safety, but in the sense of taking out every possibility of harm or conflict at the price of freedom, creativity, and productivity.

  27. robynheud October 11, 2011 at 4:04 am #

    Will the insanity never end? I’ve never heard of a 7-year old choking on a balloon…

  28. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    Donna: I don’t ask the big kids not to do things they are allowed to do like the monkey bars but if they are climbing up the wrong side of the playground structure or jumping off the top of the blow up slide the wrong way, I absolutely will tell them to stop. Because I don’t want my kids emulating them nor do I want them accidentally falling on top of my kids while they do something they are not supposed to be doing in the first place. I have and will get management involved in matters like this if the parents don’t step in and stop it.

  29. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 4:07 am #

    and yes I do step in and tell my kids “That kid may be doing that, but you are too small to do that right now or you are not allowed to do that since it is against the rules”.

  30. Donna October 11, 2011 at 4:28 am #

    Who says that kids are not allowed to climb up the outside of the playground structure, jump off the top or go up the slide? Certain places, like McD’s, have such rules but not the playgrounds by my house. There are no posted rules. Parks people see the kids do these things all the time and never say anything. It seems like some parents don’t want their children to do these things and make up rules that don’t exist.

    I do tell my daughter not to go up slides if other people are using them or do things that could hurt other kids but otherwise she can have fun.

  31. Stephanie October 11, 2011 at 4:52 am #

    This kind of thing is making me really adore my son’s first grade teacher. She came to his soccer game this weekend, really sweet of her, and her only comment to my daughter about climbing a tree was to ask if she could get any higher.

  32. Cheryl W October 11, 2011 at 5:12 am #

    I personally, would be afraid that if someone were to try to remove my child from a tree that THEY would end up getting hurt when the child hangs on. Removing a child from a tree is like removing a kitten or scared cat from a tree. It is really best to let them do it on their own so that no one gets hurt.

  33. Cheryl W October 11, 2011 at 5:15 am #

    I feel blessed where I live right now (knock on wood) because no one assumes that my kids should be inside, not walk to the mail box a 1/4 mile down the road, or ride their bikes. One neighbor assumes that my 11 year old is responsible enough to have access to the key to her house and can feed and water her cats when they go away for the weekend….without me.

  34. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 5:30 am #

    Umm well it is pretty much accepted that if a playground is crowded you don’t climb up the slide. Its rude and potentially dangerous and just backlogs the slide so that nobody gets to use it. So that is one thing. My kids like to climb slides too now, but I make sure they don’t do it if there are kids trying to go down the slide.

    For inflatables it is definitely against the rules to jump off from the top of the big slide into the playing area where smaller kids are walking around. Inflatable places already have a lot of worry about law suits and injuries and anything crazy like that is against the rules. Same with sliding down an inflatable anyway but feet first. I check the rules that are posted and go by that.

    Climbing on top of a playground structure on the outside is not what they built that structure for or for what it is intended either. I am pretty sure if I consulted the authorities they are going to be on my side on that one too since again, that could end up being a law suit for the city.

    There is no reason that kids cannot follow the basic rules and still have a great time on a playground or inflatable and still get exercise. If you want your kids to be able to do whatever they want when it comes to that kind of stuff then nothing is stopping you from buying your own playground system for your yard or your own inflatable etc. Then you can make the rules however you want and your kid can do whatever they want. But as long as you are using one that other people use, you do have to follow the rules and use them as intended.

  35. Tracy October 11, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Dolly and Donna, you just have different perspectives cos your kids are at different ages. Mine are older now and fool about a lot. They probably do have disrespectful kids at a lot of playgrounds. It can make those with young ‘uns nervous. A little give, a little take. None of this really is grounds for batting back and forth on playground etiquette is it? Not on a site meant for comments on the article…

  36. LRH October 11, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    I will say this about the “backwards up a slide” thing–I 100% don’t allow it, even if no other kids are there, just because it logically makes no sense to me. It’s backwards, and that’s reason enough I don’t allow it. (And yes, it is selfish and interferes with its intended use.)

    But I handle it in a very “hands” off matter somewhat–one of my kids kept going up the slide backwards, and did so when another child, who was considerably bigger, was trying to go down. They didn’t see each other. I said nothing, and the child going down smashed into mine. Neither was hurt, but mine was understandably crying quite a bit getting smashed into. My response: “that’s what you GET, serves you right.” She hasn’t done it once since.


  37. Jynet October 11, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    I think that the entire purpose of “free play” is to be “free” specifically FREE of rules like only using equipment in one way.

    Of course the “right way” to use a slide is to go down it… and of course you can get hurt if you use it in a different way… so what? The ‘right way’ is also to line up in a tidy row and wait thier turn individually to climb the ladder and slide at a sedate, safe speed down the slide feet first landing carefully on both feet and clearing the area before the next child starts… but that doesn’t sound like much fun to me. And I’m pretty sure it doesn’t sound like much fun to a kid either!

    Going up a slide teaches kids a lot. It teaches them about physics (gravity). They learn about communication (‘please don’t come down until i’ve come up’). They learn about thier limitations (I can do it on the small slide but not the big one), etc. etc. Most importantly it teaches them about failure and about perseverance… how rewarding it is to FINALLY get up that slide after so many attempts and failures.

    This holds true for other equipment too. Yes, smaller kids are going to see bigger kids doing things they aren’t capable of doing… that is part of how they learn from each other. Why would we want to restrict them from learning from each other?

  38. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 7:26 am #

    Right with you, LRH – nothing like natural consequences for making a rule stick!

    @Dolly, many playgrounds these days are rather boring. Currently I am sitting in our town library, outside of which there used to be a wonderful, deliciously dangerous playground which provided thrills to kids at least up to the age of ten, and a few nerveracking moments for mums of preschoolers. Then the party-poopers (otherwise known as the city council) came along and ripped it out. In it’s place they put a structure that only interests kids under the age of 2.5, or the physically disabled (who should, of course, have play opportunities too, but they were generally doing just fine with the old one). The only way kids can get any kind of thrill out of the thing is to climb around it in ways not intended in the original design.

    You might say people could find alternative places to play, and you’d be right. These days the kids all risk being yelled at by interfering adults while climbing the centuries-old oak trees in the carpark. Fun, but way more ‘dangerous’ than the old playground ever was.

    NZ has lots of playgrounds, but the safety police are slowly destroying them. Tragic, in a country where there are laws that actually prevent people suing in case of accidents

  39. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 7:39 am #

    Jynet: well your theory works out for kids that same age and size, but at playgrounds where you have from 2 year olds to 12 year olds that is not going to work. A 12 year old slamming into a 2 year old climbing up a slide could seriously injure the 2 year old. A 12 year old falling off a playground structure they were climbing up the wrong way could seriously injure the 2 year old. That is why some rules do need to be set. It is about common decency and manners which is something kids need to learn.

    I made sure bigger kids watched out for my kids when they were little and now as they get bigger I make sure they watch out for the next generation of little kids as well. That is a great lesson for kids. Consideration of others and finding a way for everyone to play nicely together. I see kids have plenty of fun using playgrounds and following the rules. The kids that can’t manage that must not have a lot of creativity. The kids chase each other around down the slide, but still go down the slide rather than up for example.

    I will play playground cop if I have to and say something to other people’s kids if they are not being considerate or doing something that might injure themselves or another kid. If their parents want to get into it with me, they are welcome to and I guarantee they will lose because I am the one following the rules and they are not.

  40. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 7:40 am #

    Also, Dolly, I thought your comments about racism were ‘on the nose’. When a person is part of the ‘majority’ culture in a country, it’s easy to say that we should all take responsibility for ourselves, and be judged on our own actions. As a white-skinned child with brown-skinned ancestry, and plenty of white, brown and now ‘yellow’ (awful, I mean Asian 🙂 relatives, I am old enough now to have seen plenty of incidents where my darker-skinned brethren were judged in a lump with less salubrious people who happened to share their skin colour. My husban has been verbally abused because he has ‘slitty eyes’. All my darker-skinned brethren of any nationality would very much love to be judged as individuals… too often though, they are not.

    I doubt very much that things are that different in the states. We had a group of couples from churches in the Us visit our area some time ago. The group happened to be composed of mainly ‘white’ couples, with one ‘black’ couple in the mix. Our friends were out to lunch with this group, and noticed the ‘black couple sitting at a table by themselves. After enjoying each other’s company, the ‘black’ couple made the sad comment that in the month they had been travelling together, our friends ewere the first ‘white’ couple to speak to them. All the tour group were American, all were ‘Christian’. Very sad.

  41. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 7:43 am #

    and our city is a very nice city in that we have a lot of super cool and fun playgrounds. So kids don’t need to break the rules or get crazy to have fun on them.

    I am not a stickler for the rules, like I said if no one else is around or trying to use the slide, by all means, climb up it to your heart’s content. But once someone else comes to slide down it, you need to get out of the way. I had my son boo hoo once because he sat at the top of a slide for 5 minutes trying to slide down and every time he would go another kid would climb up the slide. He could have been pushy and just rammed into them and I actually told him to do so to teach the kids a lesson, but he was trying to just wait his turn. Finally I had to step in and guard the bottom of the slide so he could slide down. He was asking them to stop climbing up and they just kept rudely ignoring him. This is the kinda stuff that I feel is inappropriate.

  42. Donna October 11, 2011 at 7:44 am #

    Many kids climb on the outside of the play structure at my neighborhood park. Nobody in authority (and the playground is right outside the head of the division that runs all the parks in town) has never told anyone to stop despite being on the playground and watching them do it. Of course, I assume that the manufacturers of the playscape built it for kids to climb inside but the park doesn’t seem to mind kids doing it the other way or they’d tell people to stop or post signs (like they have at McD’s and Chick Fil A).

    Yes, we can keep kids in neat little boxes that say you only do A, B and C because that is what the manufacturers intended. I prefer to teach my kid that it’s okay to think outside the box. I don’t let her stop other kids from playing on the equipment so no going up the slide when it’s busy. But I’m not overly concerned about your child trying to copy my child. You can tell your child “no” just like I tell my child “no” when she is trying to copy other kids in doing things that I don’t want her to do.

    Tracy, I believe that mine and Dolly’s kids are fairly close in age. If I remember correctly her twins are 4 and my daughter is 5. In some ways I do think this relates to free range kids. We seem to want kids to engage their world in one-dimensional, safe ways and then want the entire population to cater to us. Again, I’m not saying that kids should be inconsiderate of others and prevent others from using the equipment but if climbing on the outside of the tube slide is not preventing those who want to go down the slide from using it, I don’t see a problem.

  43. LRH October 11, 2011 at 7:45 am #

    The thing is Jynet for me it’s about respecting boundaries and that the “right way to do things” is the right way for a REASON, and if you find it boring–tough. Things belong in their place.

    I’m a paradox, I know it. I’m free-range, I really am, yet I believe in the prior paragraph as well.

    As for “please don’t come down until I come up,” why should that be the case? The one coming up isn’t supposed to be doing that at all to start with, the one going down is doing it the RIGHT way. I say the one going up should observe this & move, or else the one going down should go ahead on & in knocking the tar feathers out of the one going up, the one going up learns real quickly–oops, guess I’m doing it the wrong way. In fact, upon thinking it over, I got my story backwards–my daughter was (properly) going down, someone else’s child was going up, so someone else’s child learned the hard way. But if it had been my child going up, I’d done the same thing.

    A good example of what this is meant to teach them as they get older: I used to have problems, when going to a public basketball court as a 30-something adult living in a large city, with kids at the playground playing on the basketball court doing things such as riding their bikes or the hula-hoop, when the basketball court is FOR PLAYING BASKETBALL. That’s SORT of fine if no-one is there, but if someone shows up wanting to play basketball, that is what is supposed to be respected. Their desire to do other things deserves no respect at all at that point, because it’s not what a basketball court is for, and there are other facilities around anyway. (And even if there weren’t, tough.)

    Towards that end, whenever this would happen, I got to where I would just play basketball anyway, and in fact play rather aggressively. I would deliberately shoot long & wild shots that, when they missed, would head straight for the kids. Also, as I chased the balls to retrieve them, I MYSELF was heading straight for the kids, and I deliberately did so in a very rapid & “break neck” fashion.

    Many times they got the point & moved, but of course there was the occasional self-righteous parent that would come around & berate me, often times with the typical comment of “my kids were there first” or “I don’t see a sign with your name on it or saying it’s for basketball only.” I reminded them–regardless, it is a BASKETBALL COURT, that’s what it’s FOR. It’s not for anything else, and I’m here to play basketball. Your kids need to respect boundaries. Otherwise, maybe I should go dribble my basketball in the sandbox when your kids are in it, I mean, there’s no sign saying “for Ms Smith & her kids only” or “this is a sandbox not meant for playing basketball.”

    That they did whatever when no one was around–okay I guess, but only so long as once someone shows up using the space for its intended purpose you respect that & yield to it. Yes free-range is great, I totally advocate it, but I also strongly advocate for boundaries too.


  44. Donna October 11, 2011 at 8:17 am #

    I don’t disagree with you Larry. Basketball courts are for basketball and bikes need to give up the courts to people who want to play basketball. If other kids want to go down the slides, you shouldn’t try to go up.

    That is different than what was presented. Dolly’s original point was that it was okay for a parent to tell another child to stop doing something solely because her child would want to do it and can’t. If a kid is climbing on the outside of the structure and isn’t impacting the “proper” use, I don’t see a reason to stop him (unless he’s yours). It’s not your kid so you don’t have to pay the medical bills if he falls. He’s not harming your kid in any way. Back off and let him climb. If a kid is bothering other kids, then interfere however you want. I have no problem telling an obnoxious kid to stop being a pest; I see no reason to tell someone else’s child to get out of a tree.

  45. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 8:29 am #

    Amen Donna.

  46. Cheryl W October 11, 2011 at 9:11 am #

    Speaking of telling other people’s kids what to do, I just saw the news article about how the EU is outlawing balloons to unsupervised kids under 8 (I think) and other things like those blow toys with the paper that rolls out like a frog tongue for kids under 14. 14??? Maybe under 3 or 4 for most kids!

    I am so glad I am not there – those blow toys were required speech therapy items for my son. Sad to think that kids can’t use them any more. I guess there are always bubbles – oh, wait, they might be too toxic too.

  47. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 9:22 am #

    Well in my example the boys jumping off the wrong way of the tall slide on the inflatable into the play area where small kids including mine were jumping around COULD effect my kids. If your kid jumps off and lands on top of mine, I am going to be paying medical bills and dealing with a hurt kid and mighty pissed off. So that is the type of situation I am talking about here. If your kid is doing something dangerous and wrong but no way could it effect my kids, then I will ignore it. But if it could effect my kids like they could fall on top of my kids or if your kids are throwing corn at kids heads hard (this happened at a farm this weekend in the “corn crib”” Then I am going to say something to them and stop the situation even though really their parents should be the one stopping it in the first place since that is not my job to parent their kid.

  48. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Their parents are possibly enjoying the sights and sounds of the fair in peace for a few minutes, and will be mighty embarassed when they come back and discover what their kids were up to. As for it not being your responsibilty to parent other people’s kids, being part of a community means occasionally needing to correct a child whose parents aren’t around and who are doing something dangerous.

    The issue appears to be, as always, defining what, actually, is dangerous…..

    Also, when it comes to pools, where are the lifeguards? Having the uniforms and all, they are probably more effective at telling children where and what they should be doing with regard to equipment than random adults are…

  49. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    I was not referring to pools but not all pools have lifeguards since you bring it up.

    Honestly, as we were talking about earlier in this thread, a lot of parents are not embarrassed when they find out their kid is being a brat or breaking rules. I have corrected children that were doing something against the rules and potentially dangerous only to have that kid run and tell their parent I said something to them and then the parent give me a “Go to hell” look. It usually does not escalate further than a dirty look but I have gotten into some verbal smackdowns once or twice over this. One happened when I was not even a mother yet but was an employee at a toy store and had to tell a child to stop climbing on a stack of blow up pools and the mother started mouthing off to me.

    Unfortunately I see a lot of parents who really don’t care what their kid is doing as long as they are not bothering them at the moment.

    As for this being free range, I actually enjoy playing with my kids some on playgrounds or inflatables or whatever. I won’t do it the whole time because I don’t have that kind of energy, but I will do it some. So that is how I run into a lot of these situations. I also supervise my kids meaning even when I am not playing with them, I am still keeping an eye on them and notice this stuff and intervene when necessary. My kids are still young and that is my job at this point.

  50. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 10:41 am #

    Good on you. My kids are older now, and so are often only minimally supervised by me, the oldest being 15 and the youngest 10, so obviously they are pretty independent now. I too would have been keeping a close eye on my kids when they were younger.

    Have actually had an incident where one of my kids fell off equipment and took a baby out with her on the way down. In that case though
    a/ she wasn’t doing anything inherently dangerous, just climbing a ladder – the baby happened to be climbing a couple of feet below her..
    b/she was only three,
    c/ she had an obviously broken arm, and at the time I was too concerned about her to stop and ask questions about the baby, who was obviously upset but who appeared at a cursory glance to be ‘whole’…I just scooped up my kid and ran, basically! I was a bit embarassed to have neglected the other child after, but its mother was right there too, and quite capable of looking after it…

    A bummer that some parents think their children are angels, too…As a teacher I come across my fair share of that. I lean too far the other way, usually….

    It’s a shame that not all of your pools have lifeguards – I would have thought they were essential in a country as libellous as the U.S. We don’t really have unsupervised pools that the general public has access to, so I haven’t been in your situation regrding pools. Wouldn’t be much fun having to correct other peoples’ kids at a pool…..

  51. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 10:46 am #

    BTW, I don’t mean, when I say that my supervision is minimal, that I let my kids go anywhere or do anything. My rule is that I need to know where they are at all times, and that stupid actions incur consequences. I just mean that they are free to go to school, playgrounds etc by themselves – in fact most places during the day, and a few at night.

    Still can’t get over the lifeguard thing – but as an island nation we have, statistically speaking, a high number of drownings, and a lot of people here are pedantic about water safety.

  52. FrancesfromCanada October 11, 2011 at 11:35 am #

    Hineata — dunno about the US but in Canada all publicly owned pools have lifeguards, but private pools in hotels or housing complexes or campgrounds (or backyards, in parts of the country where that’s common) probably don’t. They are supposed to be fenced and the lack of lifeguards posted. Then you take personal responsibility for yourself and your kids.

    I figure the slide thing is easy. Take turns. If you want to use your turn to climb up instead of sliding down, go for it. But no fair climbing up then sliding back down over and over and over, blocking the slide for everyone else. Ditto for the parents who let their toddlers stand at the bottom covering the slide with rocks….take a break, let someone else play too.

  53. J.T. Wenting October 11, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    “I grew up in a small town and, while I could roam the whole thing, it was considerably smaller an area than my kids get to take themselves about in now.”

    sure, in theory your kids have the whole city. But for most kids their “roaming space” stops at the front door, and often doesn’t even include the back yard (which is called that because it’s often just a few square yards in size…).

    I grew up outside a small town, in the woods. My roaming space was effectively unlimited, call it 6-10 acres.
    My sister, who lives in a small city/large town, doesn’t let her kids play outside unsupervised, even in her own walled garden with a locked gate they can’t get out of as they don’t have the key! Too dangerous, they could get hurt, blah blah blah. She herself was always climbing trees, running around, etc., as a kid, didn’t think anything of the few scrapes and bruises we turned up with.

    THAT’s the attitude Lenore is trying to change.

  54. Myriam October 11, 2011 at 4:58 pm #

    Nice article Tim Gill, more power to your elbow.

  55. Hineata October 11, 2011 at 5:11 pm #

    Good point, Frances, I had forgotten about hotel pools and the like. Though it’s usually too darn cold to use them around here, LOL.

    J.T. Wenting, I see your point. Hope your sister loosens up some time, or the kids are in for a fairly boring time….Like a lot we read about through this site, I guess. Sad….

  56. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 7:22 pm #

    Hineata: Mostly apartments in my area have pools for the residents to use. They never have lifeguards. Same with hotels. It is swim at your own risk. Pools at like the community park or the YMCA will have lifeguards.

  57. Dolly October 11, 2011 at 7:28 pm #

    Man I would love to have a fenced in yard that I could just send the kids out in and not worry. Our yard is hella weird because its long but not wide and the front yard is bigger than the back by a lot. So a fence is not affordable or practical. I have to go out with mine. I am at the point now I can go in to get water or whatever and leave them out there a few minutes alone since they know not to run in the street or go wandering away. I still feel I have to come out there though some since if they decide to go rouge nothing is stopping them from running away or big dogs etc could get at them.

    It will be nice in another 2 years or so when I won’t have to go out there anymore. We are working on road safety right now. I got a bike and I go with them up and down the street when we ride our bikes. I am teaching them to watch for cars and look both ways before going into the street and to stop at the corner and check for cars. Once they have that down really well then they can ride up and down the street on their own in a year or two.

  58. Lisa October 12, 2011 at 3:13 am #

    I think this is a great piece. Yeah some of the numbers don’t apply but the message is the same. Our kids are cooped up in our homes like birds in cages. It isn’t right. It explains why my brand new neighborhood with plenty of young children is a “ghost town” according to my grandmother. ie, silent… you rarely hear the kids playing. Where are they?? Mine are 3 and 1, a bit young to play out in front by themselves, but I don’t see older kids out there either. It’s sad.

  59. LRH October 12, 2011 at 3:22 am #

    Dolly I hear you. We DO have such a fenced-in area in the front yard (not QUITE the WHOLE yard), and the sense of relief it provides–they’re outdoors, but not a mile away–is just great. And to see them entertain THEMSELVES shoveling and scooping and pouring dirt? Priceless.


  60. FrancesfromCanada October 12, 2011 at 8:19 am #

    Yep, saving up for the front yard fence. next spring, yippee!

    I wonder if anyone actually has any numbers that “most” kids are spending all their time indoors? We all have examples, and I agree it’s a problem, but is it really “most”? Judging by the parks where I live, not so. Kids are usually accompanied, but people are going outside.

  61. Hineata October 12, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Echo you LRH. We have a wonderful fenced yard, and it was so great when the kids were little and could play outside for a time while I was cooking or whatever. Could see them from the kitchen window…..What a luxury….Nowadays it is mostly used by the chickens, the rabbit and the cat, as its much to small for teenagers to kick a ball around in.

    Feel for you Dolly, that must be a real pain. Sounds like your kids are nearly there though, in terms of being able to look after themselves. Before you know it they’ll be the ones in the cars you’re warning them about now 🙂

  62. JenniferM October 12, 2011 at 11:00 pm #

    I never understood the don’t run up the slide rule. As a pre school teacher it was one that i only enforced when someone who cared was around. Recently when i was working with older kids (4th and 5th graders) we were having a run up the slide contest that I started they had a brand new playground with a tall slide i took off running up the slide but didn’t make it and slid back down and then the kids went for it it was pretty fun. I also ignored the no monkey bars during aftercare rule too and didn’t require my kids to only use one small area of the playground…. but in the end I got fired from there b/c a girl went home and told her dad I was bullying her since I made her do her homework and didn’t let her act like a heathen and the answer i got from the program that if she felt that I was bullying her then that was her perceived reality and so that’s what happened but really its that the dad said that he would sue if I wasn’t gone didn’t even come by to ask what the situation was just wrote a letter to the corporate offices threatening to sue with some crazy made up stories… (but that’s just my venting rant) It turned out for the best though in the end so maybe that girl did me a favor….

  63. racheljoyhatten October 12, 2011 at 11:33 pm #


    Wow!!! “It’s the driver’s responsibility not to hit me”!?!?

    Sheesh. You’d think people these days don’t take ownership over their actions…

  64. Donna October 13, 2011 at 2:56 am #

    “If your kid is doing something dangerous and wrong but no way could it effect my kids, then I will ignore it. But if it could effect my kids like they could fall on top of my kids”

    Well you would have to define “could.” Anything could hurt your kid. If my child is doing something that is likely to hurt other kids (throwing corn or launching herself off the inflatible slide into a pack of kids, for example), I’ll tell her to stop and would back up anyone else who told her to stop. If my kid is doing something that could possibly under certain circumstances hurt another child but there isn’t a true threat (climbing the outside of the tube slide which she could fall off of and land on another kid but it is very unlikely), you can talk to her to your heart’s content. I will tell her that she has my permission to continue doing whatever it is that she is doing and to ignore you.

    My back yard is fenced. It was really nice when my daughter was little and I could leave her outside playing while I cooked dinner. Now she plays more often in the front yard for some reason. I have no problem with her playing out there alone. She’s not going to wander off.

  65. Ann Botsis October 15, 2011 at 11:52 pm #

    To Dolly: Part of the problem is that parents don’t KNOW how to deal with their offspring anymore, because they are so accustomed to the schools dealing with all their behaviors! It’s not just that they don’t care, it’s also that they don’t seem to know HOW to care – or how to be ACTIVELY involved in the molding/correcting. From schools, they just get notification of their child misbehaving, and the only response expected is anger/criticism TOWARDS the child, and then improvement BY the child in the future………….. a method that doesn’t really involve any actual caring or meaningful interaction by the parent..

    This meaningful interaction in a child’s day-to-day mistake-making, learning, and growing is one of the HUGE benefits of “homeschooling” (or any direct, parent-guided schooling). I don’t “homeschool” my kids because I’m concerned with them outperforming the public school kids, or to seperate them from society, it’s because I cherish the chance to be an active, caring and involved part of my kids’ daily growth process (at least part of my reasoning anyway!)…… I push them to BE involved in society from day 1, make thoughtful decisions or reasonable choices, occasionally make mistakes, learn how to take constructive criticism and grow from it. Granted, I don’t expect them to simply cower just because someone doesn’t LIKE what they are doing, but I DO value others’ opinions (and teach my children the same), and have no qualms whatsoever with someone correcting my children for genuine misbehavior, or asking them to quit doing something simply because it’s not acceptable at that particular location. I feel this helps my kids learn to respect variations on behavior expectations, and to shape and adapt their actions in said location accordingly.
    That would be tough (or impossible) to teach in an institutional setting unfortunately…..

  66. Annie October 22, 2011 at 11:01 am #

    I’m joining this conversation late but I simply need to add, mostly for Dolly’s sake, that those “rules” for the playground exist only in your head (unless you’re talking about the posted notices about not drinking alcohol). If my kid wants to spend his turn on the slide climbing up rather than sliding down, how does this effect you or your children? I am one of those parents who would “not be embarrassed” because the idea that there is a “proper” way to play is ludicrous. (And since I’m calling you out, I’ll note that Anthony was poking fun at flat-earth creationists, not Christians in general.)

    On a happier, free-range note, I was waiting for the subway the other day with my almost 5 year old. There was another kid on the platform about her age. My daughter started climbing on the exterior (the cast iron railing) of the stairs, and the little boy followed her. His mother immediately told him to stop, even though there was no one on the stairs and the kids were less than 2 feet off the ground. I shrugged and said, “if she’s entertaining herself, I tend to allow it.” The other mother replied “I think I say no too often, it’s a reflex.”–and told her son he could climb up the railing (which because of the architecture of the space, would only allow them to get about 5 feet from the ground!). We waited almost 10 minutes for the train and if we had both been constantly telling our kids not to climb on the railing because of our fears over their safety or because of “rules” it would have been an agonizing wait–but as it was, the kids enjoyed themselves, didn’t bother anyone, and the adults got to have a peaceful respite in our day.

  67. An Onny October 24, 2011 at 5:22 am #

    But you know, in the days where kids WERE allowed a lot more freedom to wander around by themselves all day (and I was one of them who could go down to the playground by myself at age 5 and 6) were the times that all the child molestation was going on. You talk to adults of today and there is an unbelievable amount of people who were molested…by neighbors, people in authority, older neighborhood kids, etc. Parents trusted the community to watch out for the kids and it didn’t turn out well at all.


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