Some perspective from a parent and a kid

Free byzhbbzntb
I’m so glad about the conversation – and possibly new movement — going on below. Here are two letters that particularly struck me. I’ll highlight more as the weeks go by.

The first is from a 13-year-old who pleas – snarkily — for a little independence and parental perspective. Her friend’s dad is thinking of trailing the class field trip (for four days!) to make sure his daughter is safe.

If it’s getting to the point where a responsible adult cannot even trust other responsible adults – the ones at his kid’s school – I think we can agree that nothing outside of having his daughter sit in the living room will strike this dad as an acceptable risk.

The second letter might serve as a sobering reminder to him — and the rest of us: There is no place that is absolutely safe. Not even a living room. The letter speaks for itself in its poignancy and refusal to retreat from the world.

Here they are (slightly edited):

FROM THE 13-YEAR-OLD: Personally, I think all adults should let up on the OMG my son/ daughter can’t walk around the neighborhood alone to a friend’s house. I’ve done it before, and even on Halloween! But I am still alive and in one piece. Nothing has happened to me.

Also, parents need to let up on the protection a little bit. I’m going on a school trip this year with my friends for four days and one of my friends’ parents was going to follow us the whole time to make sure nothing happened to her! I’m not saying don’t protect us, I’m just saying let us make our own choices sometimes and let us be responsible.

Also, when you let your kid find his way home on the subway in New York, I thought that it was a great idea. I mean, for a young child, that is one of the best ways for us to learn how to be confident! Let us free for a while and let us make our own choices. If our parents make all of our choices, we’ll rebel and turn into the worst child on earth because we don’t have freedom.

LETTER 2: When I was a little 9 year old girl I rode the subways by myself for fun. Of course, that was in 1949, but so what, there were perverts around then too. Not as vicious as today, but they were there.

My daughter was murdered at the age of 31 in her apartment where she should have been safe. At the time her 18 year old sister was attending school in France. I didn’t stop the 18 year old from going back to school, from traveling to India by herself, from attending college in Ireland and Russia, from traveling to Shanghai. It was tough, believe me, but it would have seemed like I was punishing her if I stopped her from living her dream. Now she’s 24 and living in Greenpoint, hanging around in Williamsburg and Manhattan. I worry, sure I do, but we can’t stay in our bedrooms with the blankets pulled over our heads and the shades down.|

Too many people have become too cautious. We are becoming a nation of wimps, afraid of everything. I blame the media for hyping everything.

Thanks for these letters, and all the rest — Lenore

148 Responses to Some perspective from a parent and a kid

  1. Rachel H. April 21, 2008 at 8:01 am #

    Here’s an interesting thought … maybe the disconnect between the “free range” camp and the “helicopter mom” camp stems from different priorities. My mom’s group was talking about this website — I think you can guess I think it’s great! Another mom said “those people are on drugs” and that her #1 job as a parent was to keep her children safe.

    Then it occurred to me — I don’t have the same priorities as her. My #1 job is NOT to keep my children “safe” (whatever that means). My #1 job is to prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society. This means that I will always choose “training for life, with some risk” as ok, whereas my friend will choose “keep them safe, even if they miss a life lesson.”

  2. Jim K April 21, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    I think the biggest obstacle between helicopter parenting and free-range parenting is Dateline NBC and its ilk. These shows make all their money from showing us the horrible things that could happen to kids — “I turned my back on Billy for just a second and– he was gone forever!” There’s no money in a news program reporting “and today, 99.999% of kids lived their lives safely,” after all. But the constant, bleating exposure to the KIDS IN PERIL meme has caused thousands if not millions of parents to believe that their kids simply cannot be safe if they aren’t around. I’m confident that kids are no less safe today than they were in 1988, 1968, or 1948.

  3. Alex April 21, 2008 at 1:06 pm #

    “Then it occurred to me — I don’t have the same priorities as her. My #1 job is NOT to keep my children “safe” (whatever that means). My #1 job is to prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society. This means that I will always choose “training for life, with some risk” as ok, whereas my friend will choose “keep them safe, even if they miss a life lesson.”

    That’s a really brilliant analysis. Thanks.

    Of course, it goes a little further than that. How will those kids grow up? Will they be afraid of everything, and too-willing to vote their fears, no matter what liberties are at stake?

  4. Clare April 21, 2008 at 8:18 pm #

    I can’t remember how I found my way to this site but I love it, thank you. I have four kids and one is a 14-year-old with Down syndrome. I have flopped back and forth between the two attitudes but I feel like I’m doing a better job when I let them experience life. I’m having trouble convincing the high school, where he’s new this year, that he can take the bus, he doesn’t need an escort in the halls, my goal for him in independence in the community, and that shadowing him with adults all day is not going to help him attain that. Oh, and that he actually needs to learn, not just be babysat.


  5. Shig April 21, 2008 at 9:12 pm #

    I have to wonder how the dad in the first letter hopes to protect his daughter on the school trip. It seems to me the only thing he might gain from following the bus around is the opportunity to watch firsthand as it crashes into a ditch, rather than hear about it over the phone.

    I’m a brand-new parent–my son is just about to turn 2–so I can’t yet claim to understand what that instinct means. But right now it seems to have something to do with, “If you lose this child, and didn’t do everything in your power to protect him, you’ll regret it the rest of your life.” Which is not unreasonable… but I think I’d have plenty of regrets even if I did do everything I could. In any case, the logical extreme of that would have us locking our kids in Skinner boxes until they turned 18, and then only letting them out after wrapping them in six inches of foam rubber.

  6. Lenore (Ms. Free Range) April 21, 2008 at 11:13 pm #

    Lenore here. Hi. I just wanted to say that safety IS my priority — I just don’t happen to think the world is so dangerous that I have to keep my kids from exploring it. Getting our kids safely to adulthood is our job as parents, but paranoia doesn’t make them any safer. Letting them get some life skills, on the other hand, just may.

  7. Rob April 22, 2008 at 1:06 am #

    As a former TV news producer, I can tell you that news is all about fear. Sometimes, the first criteria we used when judging a story involving children or families was, “Is it scary enough?”

    Too many producers are young adults who have no kids of their own and assume that every minor trespass involving children will get the attention of all upscale parents – a lucrative demographic. As a new father, I know that were I still in the business, I would have a very different view of things.

    This is where the fear comes from – we’re bombarded with it from news sources we have historically believed to be a mirror in sharp, reflective focus of our society.


    The world has always, is, and will always house “bad” people. We cannot control that. But we can give our kids the wherewithal to make good decisions in the harsh light of dubious situations.

  8. Alex April 22, 2008 at 2:53 am #

    I just wanted to say that safety IS my priority — I just don’t happen to think the world is so dangerous that I have to keep my kids from exploring it. Getting our kids safely to adulthood is our job as parents, but paranoia doesn’t make them any safer. Letting them get some life skills, on the other hand, just may.”

    As I see it, the real problem is that people don’t assess the risks correctly. “Keep your kids safe” and “prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society (by letting them run freely.)” are not in conflict. The kidnapped child and the molested child are statistical outliers. The number of crimes against children falls every year.

    The question is “what tools does someone use to assess risk?”

    Besides the question of what the Justice Dept. statistics say, there are also local variables, like the sexual predator that is currently at large in the neighborhood of my child’s school… you can bet my youngest is not “ranging freely” right now, but I’m also tracking the situation, and he will range freely again when the situation is resolved.


  9. dadshouse April 22, 2008 at 3:23 am #

    I like the helicopter parent vs. free-range parent comparison Rachel H made. My number one priority as a parent is to love my kids and care for them. Part of keeping them safe is teaching them how to keep themselves safe. My son and his friends have been wandering the neighborhood for years (they’re 12 now) – on foot, skateboards, scooters, bikes, waveboards. They’re happier, healthier, more confident kids than neighborhood kids who have life shielded by their parents.

  10. Katen April 22, 2008 at 4:08 am #

    what a great blog! I don’t feel so alone!

  11. skyscraper April 22, 2008 at 5:32 am #

    I am so so happy there are other parents that ‘let’ their kids out of their sight! I was beginning to feel like the only one. Free range is my favorite new phrase.

  12. randy l April 22, 2008 at 5:57 am #

    Kudos on putting this together. I have not stopped worrying about my kids safety and health since they were born. And I’m sure that will never change even though my daughters are now 16 and 21.
    But may wife and I have tried to bring them up in a world that is safe, dangerous, wonderful, terrifying and all that’s in-between. They are independent and know that terrible things happen to good people and learned when I battled cancer 10 years ago that we have to live life and enjoy the good moments and experiences.

    I want them to take subways, meet new people, and explore life. Unlike alot of the kids I’ve met who are shielded by their parents, they don’t seem to have the need to breakaway and try new experiences as a reaction. C’mon, we all remember what happened to our friends in high school and college who finally had a chance to be on their own after dealing with severely overprotective parents. They were the first ones who went wild and made the bad decisions.

    A kid at 9 rides the subway by himself? Good for him. Let’s give our kids ways to prove themselves to us and for themselves. Going on the subway, walking to the store, etc. It’s all great.

  13. Lori April 22, 2008 at 6:56 am #

    First, I must state that I am NOT a helicopter parent! 🙂 But I have great empathy for them because of incidents in my sister’s childhood and my daughter’s.

    My mother always told my older-by-four-years sister not to go to the neighbor’s house when the parents weren’t home. They had eight kids: four boys, two of whom were high school age; four girls, two of whom were a year on either side of my sister’s age. One day when she was 11 she didn’t listen, and because she was 5’6″ and well developed, the two high school aged boys decided it was their right to threaten her into having sex with them. I didn’t find this out until more than 20 years later – 2004, to be exact – and then only because she had finally stopped blaming herself. Turns out they were also raping their sisters and forcing their younger brother to do the same. Nice, eh?

    That was 1981 in suburban Long Island, on the very street we’d grown up on, where we were allowed to play ball and ride our bikes without adult supervision.

    Flash forward to February of this year. My just-turned-12 niece and my 12-in-days daughter are both huge Jonas Brothers fans and since the Hannah Montana movie was playing at the Westbury Stadium 12, my husband and I bought them each a ticket as part of their birthday present. Just the two tickets, because we both loathe the House of Mouse and its sanitized pop. We – and my siblings-in-law – felt that they were mature enough to be dropped off and picked up at the theater. Once we dropped them off, my husband – the son of girl-protective Peruvian immigrants – insisted we sit in the lot until the line, which we could easily see because it was backed up to the glass doors, had been allowed in. While we were there, a county cop car pulled up, followed soon by two more. As we watched, they began quizzing a girl who couldn’t have been more than 7, whose mother and older sister were with her. Never did find out what happened, but you don’t call in three cars for a simple theft. Of course our girls were oblivious in their JoBro love, and we haven’t told them anything.

    Now, this would be enough to turn me into a helicopter parent, but for two things:
    1. My daughter is much smarter when I’m not there for her to rely on.
    2. My other sister-in-law, who was raised by girl-protective Peruvian immigrants, is 23 but has no common sense. At least her mom finally stopped making her sick calls for her, but only after the supervisor at her last job refused to accept them! It’s so bad that we’re expected to allow her to move in with us in two years when Dad’s factory closes and her parents move away! Yeah, right after Siouxsie Sioux realizes I’m her soulmate.

    As for my childhood…completely uneventful, even when I would cut out of school and take the N27 to Roosevelt Field, or the N21 to Flushing and the 7 to pre-Disney Times Square. Ah, the good old days of sex shops, shuttered movie palaces and semi-toxic gyros! Never got accosted, never even got food poisoning. 🙂

    The upside of all this? My daughter has more freedom than a lot of her peers – some of their parents were aghast that I left two 12 yr olds at a 9 pm showing! – but also a lot of paranoia, some of which I’m responsible for. It’s really tough to know when I’m being overprotective until after the fact. But then I look at my 23-going-on-14 sister-in-law and remember why I need to give her the room to make mistakes.

  14. jacidawn April 22, 2008 at 11:31 am #

    Wow. What a great post. I remember when I turned 20 and announced to the world that I was selling everything I owned to travel around the continental USA on a Greyhound bus. That was in 1977, and my parents took a lot of flak from their friends who were apalled that they would “allow” their 20 year old daughter to make such a bold move.

    My folks, to their credit, never said a negative word, but encouraged me to go. Sure, I encountered some scary situations (hindsight is always better than foresight, but I was not naive and I listened to my instincts), but I am so thankful my folks “allowed” me to go (I was 20 for crying out loud).

    If one of my kids came to me to say they were going to do the same thing, I’d have definite reservations and fears, but I’d want to emulate my parents, so I would let them go. Oh, shoot, I *did* let them go.

    Thankfully, I have not had to face the parent’s worst nightmare, but I would hope to be like the parent in your second letter: able to let go, again. We cannot be bound by fear.

  15. Mary April 22, 2008 at 12:08 pm #

    I am so glad I found this site. I’m not sure I would let my 9-year-old ride a subway alone, but I’m hoping to learn from people who would. (Full disclosure: I live in one of those states where the car is king and people think they’re really progressive if they carpool with one other person who works in the same office. Public transportation remains a mystery to me. If I ever visit NYC, maybe your son can show me how it’s done.)

    Just last week, my youngest son was climbing a tree. It wasn’t a sequoia or anything. Just a tree. And he was doing a great job. But I went into to hyper-worry mode and hovered too much. I can still see the look in his eyes at the exact moment my fear transferred to him. He not only became uncharacteristically afraid, but also was temporarily incapable of getting himself out of the tree. So, far from protecting him, my fear made him less safe. I felt like such a clod. Even as I write this 4 days later, I feel a pit in my heart. I hope I’ve learned my lesson.

  16. Bridget April 22, 2008 at 1:53 pm #

    While certainly not the first time I have heard the debate, this is the first time I’ve visited the site. Good job!

    I need to preface everything here by saying that I am not a mother. I am aunt to an amazing 2 year old girl, but that is the extent of my parenting experience. However, I am the oldest of four children, seven when step-siblings entered the equation, and have been capable of taking care of myself for many years. In some years it was necessity, in some years just a recognition that I was growing up, but my mother always let me make my own choices. But before I was put into any situation, she made darn sure that I knew what was what.

    And that began long before any self-made decisions became an option. She let us watch the news, and explained. She was sure to counter it with the funny stories in the Weird News section. We could walk to school and from school, but had to call right away if we went to a friend’s after. She knew my friend’s parents, taught us to make collect calls from a payphone, made us memorize 3 emergency contact numbers, gave us tips on walking alone, and gave us code words for pick ups. She explained what drugs were, what sex was, and as we got older the consequences of those actions were explained in more detail.

    A friend of mine (a mother of two) says that the job of every parent is to put themselves out of business. My mom put herself out of business with the assurance that we could take care of ourselves. Every one of my mom’s kids turned out healthy, successful, intelligent and SAFE. We never wanted to do anything to break our mom’s trust of us, simply because she gave it so freely.

  17. Chris April 22, 2008 at 6:55 pm #

    Thank goodness someone is making the plea for sanity and perspective in child rearing. I’m a pediatrician and I have seen the effects of helicopter parenting on children (anxiety) and parents (depression, ever present worry). Our culture has made it twice as hard to raise kids today. Parents don’t need to watch over kids 24-7. I’m reminded constantly of all the things I did in my youth that fostered independence (riding my bike across busy intersections to visit friends and staying at their house all day, before cellphones) that kids just aren’t allowed to do these days. It’s bad for the kids and bad for the parents.

  18. Lisa April 22, 2008 at 9:33 pm #

    I think it’s natural for mothers to worry about their children, and to want to keep them safe. But we don’t do them any favors to overprotect and baby them into adulthood.

    I have always tried to set my emotions to one side and analyze the real risk. So far,the riskiest thing that I allow my daughter to do is to travel by car, and I’m well aware that taking this risk may result in her premature death. This knowledge helps put all other risks I allow her to take into their proper perspective.

    When she was 3, she walked to her pre-school alone every morning. This may sound extreme, but we lived on a college campus in China, the school was just a block away, and I knew that dozens of caring eyes would be on her all the way to school. (There’s no such thing as being anonymous in China) She’s 12 now, and has been taking the city bus (in Phoenix, AZ) to school and back all year, and is learning other routes to travel around on her own, to the orthodontist and other locations she needs to get to. It’s very safe. The drivers are absolutely wonderful, and keep a close eye on everybody. But as you can imagine, few children take the bus, because their parents are so afraid of what “might” happen.

    It’s eerie when I remember my own childhood. Kids then rode their bikes all over the neighborhoods, and the general rule was a simple, “come home when it gets dark”. Now, when you drive through the neighborhoods, you almost never see any children. They don’t ride bikes, they don’t play in the street. All that’s left for them is to remain locked up inside playing video games or watching TV. No wonder there’s an obesity epidemic among our youth!

    My friend wouldn’t allow her 14 year old daughter to handle a knife, because she felt the kid was a klutz and might cut herself. She may be right, but I have allowed my child to use scissors and knives since she was big enough to handle them. I remember finding her cutting the tags out of her clothes with my scissors when she was only 2. (She cut a big whack out of her hair, too!) Seriously, instead of forbidding knives, I taught her knife safety, and kept the bandaids handy. In due course, she was promoted to using the microwave, and then the range and the oven. Now, at 12, she can prepare meals, and mostly be relied upon to follow the safety rules, and turn the heat off when she’s finished. I feel sure that by the time she leaves home, she will be fully ready to be an adult and take care of herself.

    Some neighbors have a trampoline. Of course, that scares me to pieces. So I did the research and discovered that most accidents occur when multiple children are jumping at the same time, and rather than forbidding my child, I gave her this information. She did have a trampoline accident, and twisted her ankle. It was a great learning opportunity for her, actually, because she had been jumping with 5 other children. I don’t know if she’ll remember my advice to take turns jumping, but hobbling around for a few days certainly will have taught her more than if she had simply been forbidden to go to the neighbors at all.

    I think parents need to keeping telling themselves that it is impossible to eliminate all risk for our children. The best thing we can do for them is to help them learn to analyze and manage the risk and make good choices in life, and then hope for the best. Fortunately, the odds are very good they will do fine.

  19. Zoe Brookes April 22, 2008 at 10:15 pm #

    Hooray! I just have to add my voice to this blog. I am so tired of hearing the quiver of disapproval in other adults’ voices when I tell them that my kid can cycle home from their playdate by him or herself. I would love to see a grass roots movement championing getting kids back ON the streets. Walking to school, biking to the store, taking the buses. It’s green, it’s friendly, it encourages other adults to be part of the village that’s raising our kids. What else can I do to shout this message loud?

  20. Meagan Francis April 22, 2008 at 10:37 pm #

    Thank you! I have made this point to other parents before: yes, horrible things can happen, but they can happen anywhere. Children are abducted off the street–rarely–but they are also abducted out of their beds when the doors are locked and parents are in the next room. Life is really one big calculated risk, and while I won’t put my children in unnecessary danger, I’m not going to spend our lives in fear of what could potentially happen to them.

    And when it comes to this kind of thing, parenting peer pressure is really illogical: after all, the single most dangerous thing I do to my children is put them in the car and drive them places….but I don’t get any snarky comments or looks of disapproval about that. So why does the school secretary keep talking to me in that TONE when I tell her the boys will be walking home today?

    By the way, there’s an interesting discussion about the free-range kid “movement” (and this blog) over at Shine:

  21. Amber in Albuquerque April 22, 2008 at 10:44 pm #

    I love this blog. And I love Rachel H’s assessment of the two types of parents. Problem in my house is that I tend to be a ‘free ranger’ who believes that my #1 priority is getting my kids to be functioning, content adults who are capable of keeping themselves safe; my husband is a borderline ‘helicopter parent’ who refuses to acknowledge that our kids face a greater risk from getting hit by a car speeding through the neighborhood than they do of being abducted by a stranger. I’d love to hear if other households have similar issues.

    I also believe that there is safety in numbers. A (childless) friend of mine once pointed out to me that people are less patient about children in stores, etc. because back in the day stay at home moms took their kids with them dang near everywhere. People were used to seeing lots of kids across a wide behavior range. I hope that this would be true in neighborhoods…when more kids are on the streets playing, people will come to expect that and slow down. Kids will warn each other about the ‘perverts’ like we used to do (creepy guy on corner of x and y streets, go the other way…bully hiding behind fence, etc.).

  22. Meagan Francis April 23, 2008 at 12:15 am #

    Amber, I do agree with this too! The more we bring our kids indoors the less safe it is for any of them out there in the world. Have you seen this cool website?

  23. Amy April 23, 2008 at 3:41 am #

    I am so happy to see other parents like me. My sister and brother-in-law live on our street, five houses down. They will not allow their 12-year-old daughter to ride her bike to our house without standing on the driveway to watch her. At 12, I was babysitting other people’s kids for money. My mom worked and I would start dinner for the family when I got home from school. I rode my bike all over our neighborhood to my friends’ houses. I had a great childhood but I learned how to be independent, how to cook, how to take care of things, etc. because my mom and dad LET us do those things. My husband and I agree that our children are NOT going to be as over-protected as our nieces and nephews; we would rather them be independent and capable.

  24. Karrine April 23, 2008 at 4:57 am #

    THANK YOU ! Our society’s demand for perfection is (I feel) the leading cause of DIVORCE in this country.

    I let my 9 year old son walk 5 blocks to school, in a residential area, in a small community where I know a large majority of my neighbours and I am labeled a “bad mom”. I sit on the PTA, I make home made lunches and raise three children as a single parent (self employed) …. the continued unrealistic expectations of our society on parents sets everyone up for failure.

    Theres no “right or wrong” in this debate, it’s about knowing your child, preparing your child, and determining as your child’s parent what is safe for your family.

    It’s time to stop “judging” other parents and time to start “supporting” each other, despite our differences.

  25. melissa April 23, 2008 at 8:25 am #

    I am a 25 year old woman who grew up free range. I was also molested at age 9. This was not because my parents let me out of the house to explore the neighborhood and some creep tracked me down and abused me. My best friend’s father molested me while I was sleeping over at his house. And statistics show that children are molested most often by people they know – family members, family friends, etc. I was an unfortunate case, but my parents couldn’t have done anything different. I’m fortunate in that I was able to work through the traumatic experience. But this was a man they knew and trusted and had no reason to not trust. It can really happen anywhere to anyone at any time.

    I don’t have children yet, but I fully intend to raise them free range when I do. Sure, I’ll be scared that something will happen to them – but like so many others have said, it’s more important to communicate ways they can protect themselves and still explore the world than simply keep them cooped up until they’re 18.

    Also: This blog is the basis of a group project I’m currently working on for my Developmental Psychology class as UCLA.

    Nice work!

  26. AndyJoy April 24, 2008 at 3:11 am #

    in 2003 when I was 20, I decided to spend the summer working at CedarPoint amusement park in Ohio. At the time, I was attending college in CA. My classmates and several professors were SHOCKED that I would go by myself to a place I’d never been where I didn’t know anyone. They were even more surprised when they learned I would be taking a plane, bus, and train, not flying directly.

    I couldn’t believe that they would expect a 20-year-old ADULT to find this daunting or odd! I think part of the disconnect between our views was that I grew up more “free range” in Idaho than they did in CA. I rode my bike to school when I was 10 w/my 8 year old sister, hung out at the library after school by myself, babysat and stayed home alone for extended periods at 11, flew to visit my grandparents alone at 14 (including changing planes), drove at 15, etc. Many of my college classmates had never had any of my experiences. They were driven everywhere, had cell phones, no driver’s licenses until 18 or 19, etc. I had trouble conceiving of being so smothered!

    When I was 18, I felt like an adult, because I had been groomed for adulthood, whereas they had been prepared for 4 or more years of extended childhood. From the time I was 12, my mom made me do the talking if I had to return an item to the store or call for information about something. I had college classmates whose parents called the administrators when ever their “child” had a problem! They stunted their kids and didn’t help them grow up.

  27. MikeT April 24, 2008 at 10:59 pm #

    It seems to me that the safety-first crowd are trading the minute possibility of something bad happening for the absolute certainty of a life of timidity and fear, combined with a lack of experience navigating life on your own.

    That strikes me as a bad bargain.

  28. Rose Godfrey April 25, 2008 at 2:45 am #

    I definitely shelter my children from some things, but I want them to learn how to make decisions and to know what is safe–or as safe as it gets–from their own experiences. I try to help them listen to that inner voice. My voice won’t always be around to nag them. I want to teach them to nag themselves 🙂

    We homeschool, so some people say my kids are sheltered. I consider it a system of trade offs. While your kids are in school, mine are out learning to do different things in the world.

    My kids don’t always make the right choices. It is difficult to stand back and watch sometimes, but I think it is a necessary dance. Training children to deal with the consequences–or benefits–of their actions is extremely important.

  29. anotherbadmom April 25, 2008 at 4:55 am #

    I am so happy to have discovered this movement – I guess that’s the right word. I’m the mom of an almost-4 year old boy. He’s awesome. We have a blast together – but he also has a blast alone. In my circle of friends I am considered negligent for letting him play in his perfectly child-proofed playroom ALONE. I am considered especially negligent for letting him outside in our fenced in backyard in suburbia ALL BY HIMSELF. So what? I do it anyway. It’s nice to know that I’m not the only one.

    My inlaws are raising their 9-year-old grandson and I constantly hear it from my MIL. My 3 year old has more freedom than the 9 year old, who sleeps in the same bedroom as my inlaws every night because they don’t think he would be safe in another room in their own house. Seriously. He’s not allowed to walk five houses down to play with a friend unless my MIL is watching him from door to door.

    I think most of the hovering parents mean well, but I do think there’s a certain amount of psychosis there. I want my kid to grow up knowing that he’s capable of taking care of himself. I think giving him the freedom to try is the first step.

  30. Natalie April 25, 2008 at 5:12 am #

    You are a great mom. You know your child best.

  31. Jessica Snell April 25, 2008 at 5:36 am #

    I have seen all kinds of parents from the good parents to the worst and belive me letting your nine year old ride the subway is not the worst. I am not saying I would but we don’t live in New York. I would be more concerned if she didn’t feel a little bit funny about it. Regardless she felt confident in her child and that is more important then anything. They look to us first for right and wrong but if all they see is fear then that is what they will learn. Then as they grow they will either continue to fear social situations or they will resent the person keeping them from it.. We ran around as kids in a world without airbags,cell phones and cars the size of small houses. We are still here. Think about it.

  32. Natalie P April 25, 2008 at 5:42 am #

    Following the Lindbergh kidnapping and just a year after the execution of Bruno Hauptmann, my 3 year old mother would be put alone on a night train in Houston and would picked up by her grandmother in Harlingen the next morning. When I asked my mother about this, she explained that she knew how to put herself to bed and that the porter would check on ther periodically. The next morning she would get out of her berth and go to the bathroom and get ready for her grandmother to pick her up. The porter would take her to the dining car and then would show her to her seat with her little suitcase until the train stopped.

    My experience was different. My father was in the military and we were stationed in France in the 1960’s. When I was just 8 and 9 years old, I would walk miles in the summer with a little girlfriend (same age). We traveled all over the village and made friends with some of the older people. They would invite us in for lemonade and snacks. These are some of my greatest memories. We were not allowed in the woods because of undetonated bombs from the previous wars. We did anyway and when we came across a bomb, we would have to fess up to our parents who would get the bomb squad to come out and clear the area.

    I could manage the subway in Paris alone just fine and actually would assist my parents in finding our way around. London, too.

    Because of my remarkable parents who taught me self-reliance and accountability, I have never been afraid to travel alone and have gone many wonderful places and made many wonderful friends.

    I depair that children are missing out on the best part of life. I wish they could just lie on a hillside and watch the clouds and daydream.

  33. Kim April 25, 2008 at 5:44 am #

    How can ANYONE ever grow without taking calculated risks?

    As long as you’ve confidently instilled some good old common sense and a solid core of values – I think allowing kids to a reasonable amount of independence is HEALTHY!

    I see 20-somehting’s who have been so coddled and sheltered that they are scarcely able to function as responsible adult citizens. Having my young children end up crippled like that scares the heck outta me WAY more than any perceived risks that might be associated with a little more independence.

  34. alex April 25, 2008 at 6:09 am #

    Mary said: “I am so glad I found this site. I’m not sure I would let my 9-year-old ride a subway alone, but I’m hoping to learn from people who would.”

    -That has got to be the bravest thing I’ve ever heard. Standing ovations to both this website and Mary, for making the world a safer place with courage and common sense.

  35. Sarah L. April 25, 2008 at 6:13 am #

    A good friend of mine sent me the link to your site and I loved it immediately. As someone who does not have kids I may not have the most unbaised of opinions. However, I have very fond memories of growing up in a neighborhood full of kids playing flashlight tag until 10pm without a second thought. And I clearly remember hearing of kids being kidnapped from their small towns and kids falling into wells or falling through ice and drowning….just as it happened then it happens now – but why the overprotective parenting? I was trying to think of what has changed…..and two thoughts came to mind: 1 – the media blows everything out of proportion and sensationalizes any and all crimes and 2 – maybe people aren’t as “neighborly” as they used to be. Growing up I knew everyone in my neighborhood and everyone offered their help at any time – no matter how grumpy they were! Maybe folks don’t want to be burdened with the responsiblity of others’ children? Unless parents expose their children to the dangers of the world and prepare them for what is out there, they won’t be able to defend themselves and know how to handle themselves when the situation presents itself.

  36. Elsa April 25, 2008 at 6:16 am #

    I just finished reading an article about you and this whole situation.

    Its dumb. I’m only 21 and that’s how I was raised. I walked, rode a bike, or took the bus to school. Both my parents worked full-time and left for work before I went to school and got back after I did.

    Hell, my parents didn’t even give me a cell phone until after I went off to college!

    If they want to call this child abuse, I’d suggest they take a look at their parenting style and see how well-adjusted their kids are.

    Before reading that article, I never would have even dreamed something like that would be so controversial!

  37. Elsa April 25, 2008 at 6:23 am #

    I’ve gone back up to the top and actually read the post you’ve made. The second letter almost made me cry. I feel bad for that woman, but she’s right, we can’t shelter ourselves and our children (or future children) to the point of suffocating them with our own fears.

    America needs to get over it and learn to deal with the fact that this has been happening since time was time and nothing’s going to change that. Punishing our children because of it is a conscious choice every parent has to make.

    I, for one, choose not to. I don’t want to terrorize my future children into thinking that stepping a foot outside without an adult will make a meteor crash down and kill them. And I’m not kidding, some people scare their children into thinking the most bizarre and horrible things WILL happen no matter, specifically to them if they do anything without their parents or their parent’s consent.

  38. miss whatsis April 25, 2008 at 6:24 am #

    I have four kids, ranging in age from 19 to 12. When the oldest was 6, almost 7, we lost a baby to SIDS. I was a good mother, didn’t smoke, nursed every child for at least a year, all that stuff. It was like falling off a cliff — for all of us. I nerved myself up and got pregnant again as quickly as I could because I didn’t want that death to be my children’s last experience with a baby. I wanted us all to go on living.

    When the unthinkable happened, (and we don’t really think that babies die, not healthy babies in our pretty houses) I knew that I could go either way: I could become frantically frightened or I could go on raising my kids the way I had started. I was lucky enough to be able to go on letting the kids have all the freedom they could eat.

    I was also lucky that my husband felt the same way — the result is that our kids (including the daughter who was born after the baby’s death) have grown up independent and able to do for themselves. They fly alone as soon as I can pass them as old enough for the airline rules, they take the train into the city (a 6 hour trip), they ride their bikes and walk all over town.

    And more importantly, when they screw up (and they did and still do) they deal with the clean-up themselves. They call and apologize when necessary, they talk to the teacher when they have an issue. If we want our children to be successful, engaged citizens we have to let them practice. No matter how hard it is to watch them practice or how much quicker we could do it ourselves.

  39. kerry April 25, 2008 at 6:26 am #

    i’m 16, which is older than the kids youre really talking about, but as far as kids my age go,

    its the ones whose parents are overprotective and check in every ten minutes who lie to their parents and do whatever they want anyway.

    its the ones who are allowed to do most things who actually listen when their parents say no.

    if you dont let them do anything, then they’ll do it anyway.

    but if you only stop them from the really dangerous stuff, they’ll prbably listen.

    i have a friend who’s 18, and a super responsible straight a student, but has to lie to his parents (who call every 15 minutes) to go get coffee with friends.

    how crazy is that?

    and letting kids make their own desicions about certain things is vital.

    if you raise them to know the difference in right and wrong and then let them know youre trusting their desicion, theyre much more likely to make the right on on their own.

    and then when they make the wrong choice, next time they’ll be more likely to do what they know you want them to.

    we all know wha our parents want us to do in most situations.

    the question in whether your kid is going to listen to your voice in his or her head.

    and it all depends on what your voice is saying. if its always nagging, then it will be tuned out.

  40. anne April 25, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    for myself, i believe in liberty before safety, and cant tolerate safety as the cost of freedom.

    its harder to feel that way about your childen, but its important to allow them the freedom to grow into themselves.

    spoon feeing teaches only the shape of the spoon.

    and in john miltons words, “i cannot praise a fugitive and cloister’d virtue, unexercis’d and unbreath’d…that virtue therefore which is but a youngling in the contemplation of evil, and known not the utmost that vice promises to her followers, and rejects it, is but a blank virtue, not a pure…”

    what hes saying it that it means nothing to be virtuous, or for your chiild to be a little angel, if youre only pure becuase thats all you know, if youre only virtuous becuase you know nothing of the evils of the world.

    its only true virtue to have known your other other options and rejected them.

    also a hard thing to apply to your child. let them know about all those evils you want to shield them from?

    but thats the only way that they’ll ever be truly good; if they know what theyre missing and choose to miss it anyway.

    not knowing about it only makes it alluring.

  41. Tammy T April 25, 2008 at 6:45 am #

    My husband and I now have a label; we’re Free Range Parents! We have 3 girls ages 4, 5, and 14 and people often balk at the idea of the amount of freedom we give our kids.

    We let our 4 and 5 year olds play outside in our unfenced yard without hovering over them (unlike our neighbors). Our 14 year old is going away to Canada for 3 weeks this summer to camp without knowing a single soul on the trip (we live in MN), then she’s off to Iowa for a week for a writer’s camp. The reactions of other parents are often humorous. “I could never let my child out of my sight for that long!” Yes, God forbid they learn how to get along without YOU.

    I agree, keeping our kids safe is important but it is not Job #1. I believe my job as a parent, from day 1, is to teach my kids to grow their own wings and become self-sufficient. I also believe that helicopter parents often feed their own egos by thinking they’re more important than they actually are.

  42. Liz April 25, 2008 at 6:51 am #

    We seriously underestimate our children. My family moved overseas in the mid 1970’s when I was 9. At 12 I flew from Saudi Arabia to London to JFK to LAX with an overnight in NYC on my own without little plastic wings and a flight attendant to hold my hand. At 14 I went to Seould Korea for 3 days on a shopping trip with a family aquaintance and had my own room. At 17 I could navigate my way through any international airport with no trouble even if I didn’t know the local language. We have babied our children into ineptitude. I now own a business and can’t find employees who can’t seem to find their way back from the restroom let alone across the country or across the world.

    Please, give your children a little rein and see what happens. It may be the best thing that ever happened to them or to you.

  43. making me think April 25, 2008 at 7:16 am #

    WOW! Reading this website makes me think I need to instill a little more independence in my own children. I still walk with my 8YO son across the street to the bus stop in the morning. Not really for safety but because I cherish those few moments that we spend together before he starts his day.

    Thinking back to when I was in high school, my SF had a car dealership and he would fly me to some city usually in the same state. He would then give me a map, $20 and a credit card for gas and I would pick up the car that was to be driven back to the dealership. I was 16 YO. I thought it was great fun, an adventure!

    This is a great site! I think more of us just need to be “shaken up” a little to get out of the helicopter mode.

  44. bedrestchronicles08 April 25, 2008 at 7:17 am #

    I spent 2 years of my early childhood in the early 80s in affluent Scarsdale New York (from about 9 to 11 yrs old). We used to ride our bikes everywhere and anywhere with the understanding that we’d be home by dark. I often went to the library by myself. One day while sitting at a table in the children’s section reading a book, an older white male came, sat next to me and asked me if I would help him with something. Being a young, naive and generally eager to help little girl, I waited for him to tell me what it is that he needed my help with. He then told me that he needed help zipping up his pants. We both look at his pants and I notice that his zipper is undone and his limp penis is hanging out–which means that in order for me to have helped him, I would’ve had to have touched him to put it back in before zipping him back up. The sight of it scared me and of course I was intuitive enough to know that this scene wasnt right. I must’ve been about 10 at the time. So I got up and bolted out of the library, straight for my bike and headed home. I never told my parents what happened (we weren’t that open as a household). I hope that he didnt find a younger, less scared victim than I was but in all likelihood if he hung out at that library long enough he probably did. My point is, this was in 82/83. I dont think sexual predators are a new thing. Im not sure that we were any safer back then than we are now, I am more inclined to think that the difference with then and now is the level of reporting that is done on all the dangers out there. Perhaps if the parents of the 60s, 70s and 80s knew that Mr. Bill down the street was a pedophile and that there are a lot of mentally maladjusted people out there they too would’ve been Helicopter parents. I do not believe in Helicopter parenting (although I can understand the paranoia) but I just think that if you make the decision to bring kids into today’s world with all the good and bad, then you should also make the decision to try your best to be balanced in how you raise them, not too much freedom nor too much surveillance. Everyone has to grow up some time and shit happens to people of all ages.

  45. Ann April 25, 2008 at 7:20 am #

    At 12 my daughter was a professional actress. We live in Houston and many of her auditions were in Dallas and Austin. I would regularly take her to the airport where by herself she would fly to Austin or Dallas, take a cab to the audition, by herself, get back to the airport, by herself and fly back to Houston where I would meet her at the airport. The flight attendants knew her by name and she gained confidence that has served her well. She was always treated with respect and never once received one of those plastic wings or was considered an “unaccompanied minor.” She got on and off with the rest of the passengers. I believed if she had the ability to be asked to audition, she had the presence and maturity, even at 12, to travel on her own.

  46. Cher April 25, 2008 at 7:31 am #

    This article and site is a breath of fresh air! which is what most of our children need! Get outside- explore the world. I am a mom of 6 kids- ages 31 to 8 and let me tell you just how much grief I get even from my older boys! I let them go to the store on their own and explore their world. Of course there were precautions but for the most part they could learn to be independant. My kids love to walk to the library and the parks and even our rec center! I have to remind the older boys that they survived. It’s hard when everyone around you has the leash attitude. My 8yr old commented that she wanted a cell phone and her little friend started begging her mom for a cell at the same time. I asked her why she needed a cell when her parents never leave her side? This is now more typical than not. Let’s get back to the way it was when we were kids! Imagine, there were no cell phones and we managed to survive exploring! Great site- thanks!

  47. Angie April 25, 2008 at 7:38 am #

    My 10 year old rides her bike to the library, martial arts classes, friend’s houses, even to Starbucks to buy herself a toffee steamer (with her own money). Not only do I find people are appalled at this small “freedom” – which I thought was merely an age-appropriate step – but I recently came under fire for leaving the same 10 year old home alone for an hour while I ran some errands she found boring.

    At 14 I walked across 2 states under the supervision of several hundred adults, none of whom were related to me. At 16 I lived in a campground for 3 weeks doing a research project for school. At 17 I lived in my own apartment. By 25 I had traveled abroad solo and in pairs. And I faced scary situations. I face scary situations today with no one to protect me.

  48. Kathryn April 25, 2008 at 7:46 am #

    I have a 2-year-old, and what a breath of fresh air it was to read about your decision. I am also a middle school teacher, and I see the devastating results of too much hovering. We need to remember that self-esteem doesn’t come from telling kids they’re great; it comes from them taking on and accomplishing challenging tasks.

  49. Brian A. April 25, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Bravo to this writer-mother for opening the discussion on the possibility that overprotecting children might be doing them real harm.

    I currently teach college and am appalled at the inability of the so-called Millenials to take care of themselves. The helicopter parents have raised a generation of people who still think and act like children well into their 20s.

  50. Amy April 25, 2008 at 8:00 am #

    I don’t live in New York, so the idea of me navigating the subway muchless letting my kids do it alone freaks me out…but had we lived there all of there lives and that be part of our normal, I could see it! My Daughter attends a private schools whose mission statement includes the need for wise freedom to allow children to grow into wise, independent adults. I am a non traditional student and I definetly see the need for more parents to stop making their children so dependent!

    If we don’t believe they can do things by themselves it is unlikely that they will believe they can do things by themselves!

  51. Barbara April 25, 2008 at 8:05 am #

    I became a parent at 42 when I offered to help my sister raise her two young children when divorce was imminent. We moved in together and I had to start making decisions that I had decided decades before would be too complicated and dagerous for me or children, but immediately became a “free range” parent. I have had calls from parents offering to bring my 12 year old nephew home from a scout meeting in their car. I told them that perhaps the scouting skills would help him navigate the two blocks home. I received this call because my children knew never to get into a car with anyone, scout leader included, without letting us know. I have hundreds of such stories that happened over the years until they each went to college. Perhaps both being single women, people felt they had a right to question our judgment, but I found it very disconcerting. My nephew received a full ride to Cornell and my niece the same with Bryn Mawr and when they each went to school we were questioned about how we could let them live so far away from home. Some even asked if we would be moving there. One of us to each town, or what? By the time they were in high school and planning for college, I watc hed each of their friends be “bribed” with cars or apartments to stay in the state of Florida. One classmate was accepted to Princeton, top graduate in the class, and her parents would not permit it! This is just crazy! Our kids weren’t even latch key kids – we didn’t and still don’t lock anything. With all the glass in the houses we have lived in, I probably wouldn’t pick to try to bust in the front door. I wanted my children to feel safe, loved, and especially in light of all the publicized threats to children, confident in making their own decisions about interactions. ALL summers were spent in programs that ranged from three or four weeks to the entire summer receiving enrichment, education and exposure that they would not have had in the two states we have lived in. They were both greatly missed, but never feared for. Its the mind killer, for them and for us. Arrange, supervise, have expectations, get tutors, all that and more, then go to work and have of life of your own and let them have theirs!

  52. Rev. Grady April 25, 2008 at 8:21 am #

    Interesting site. Difficult subject. Raised in west Texas it was nothing for me at the same age as this boy to take off on bike or horse early on Saturday morning and not return until sunset. Mom would call around the town and near countryside to various people to get a report on my movements. In west Texas in the fifties, every parent was your parent. Misbehavior was punished out and about and discipline was repeated when you got home. Also people in my community were aware of who I was and who needed to be around me.
    That being said, I have served for years as counselor for the Texas Corrections and I’ve known my share of sexual abusers, gangbangers, and dealers. In numbers unknown to us in the era of my childhood. I truly believe it is more dangerous today. It would be nice to beleive that I was able to teach my own children awareness and sensibility, but these deviates have been able to play even me, with all my my related training.
    I cannot say where to clearly draw the line, but at times I just gave my kids to God, gave them all the savvy I could and put them out there. Hard as it seems, sometimes I just felt it would be better to live a short well-lived life than exist interminally in a cacoon.
    My two graduated with scholastic honors, multiple sports letters, and a sense of adventure. I couldn’t have been all wrong. If so then may God forgive me.

  53. ChrisG April 25, 2008 at 8:48 am #

    Hallelujah! A sane parent!
    Would I let my rural raised 9 -year old kid ride the subway in NY alone? No. Would I let my 9 year old NY raised kid ride the subway alone during daylight hours on a workday? Yes.
    My daughter is heading to college 400 miles from home this fall. When I went to college, the parents were tagging along for a day. Now it’s a three day extravaganza, including a “sharing and caring” session with counselors….gack,ralph,hurl…I’ve been over this with her – from my college days, the only thing I could add would be never let someone else get you a drink at a party and if you set your drink down and leave it, get another.
    I gave her a plaque a couple years ago that says, “Daughter -I want you to fly higher than I, for I gave you more courage and better designed wings.”
    Too bad so many parents think their kids are posessions and not individuals…

  54. Brenda April 25, 2008 at 9:12 am #

    This may have been mentioned, but the other reason we sometimes feel “forced” to hover is from the fear of being arrested or reported on the front page of the paper, like Lenore! What about the woman who was arrested for leaving her sleeping toddler in a car seat in the car, right next to her, while she helped her older children put coins in the Salvation Army kettle? Crazy.

  55. Holly April 25, 2008 at 9:55 am #

    I’m not actually a parent, but I still love what you’re saying here. It scares me, the kind of kids these “helicopter parents” are raising..

  56. T23 April 25, 2008 at 9:56 am #

    [Just to note, I also posted on the initial page, where overall I was an ‘anti kid on the subway’ guy]

    I’d like to point out here that you could let your kid ride the subway from 207th street to Far Rockaway (google it, non nyc-ers), but if you undercut them with with disloyalty and sarcasm too often, even in jest, (“Oh, well, YESTERDAY Cheerios was your favorite cereal”), or making deals on Monday because you hope they forget by Tuesday, or never conceding, or always conceding (consistency being a myth of parenting), then you will not create an independent, thoughtful adult.

    In fact, in my opinion, love, affection, trust, family, fun, silliness, discipline, sharing, safe exploration, openness, loyalty, honesty, all make a foundation so strong that a solo subway ride is irrelevant.

  57. Irene April 25, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    Bravo! I watched your interview on television not long ago and can empathize with you relative to the finger-pointing, nay-sayers. Please continue to encourage independence and individuality with your son. I applaud you and anyone that has the courage to promote a positive learing experience as opposed to neurotic, negative victimatization. Thank you for making my day and the day of many others who only want the best for their children. It is the power of “positive example” that will quiet negativity.

  58. Auntlettie April 25, 2008 at 10:07 am #

    Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! We have been looking around at what we felt was such a disservice to our children and society. Stifling children’s independence and self-reliance under the protective parent umbrella… We have established that one our primary jobs as parents is to prepare our children for their adult lives. Protecting children does not always serve our children well. We look around and see teenagers who cannot even think for themselves, wouldn’t even know how to figure out public transportation if they had too, can’t fill out an application by themselves, etc. We are responsible parents who look for every opportunity to increase our children’s self-esteem and self-reliance. I have been so saddened and disgusted at some responses… I could not even respond to that negativity. We all make choices to the best of our abilities as parents. We all make mistakes, we have things happen that are out of our control, we all live and learn… and so do our children… if we let them. There is no black and white here… we have to take each child and each circumstance in and of itself. My son is 5 and evry day I am faced by his strong will and sense of independence. I have decisions to make every day, and every day I make those decisions from my head, heart, and gut.

  59. Julie April 25, 2008 at 10:17 am #

    Rachel and Alex,

    You are right on track, in my opinion. My children are 17-23. They are independent, confident, self-reliant people living at home, in a medium sized city and in a large one. I worried about everything I did with them when they were young, but always tried to give them the space they needed to do what they felt was right. My mantra was “follow your gut”…if you are aware of your surroundings and know safety rules, you can handle most situations.

    In the long run, I found out that most of the issues I was hypersensitive about were not as big a deal as they seemed when the kids were young. What they needed were experiences that allowed them to be successful. I just had to suck it up, hold my breath and hope that what we had learned and worked on together would pay off — not be afraid and intimidated by news stories and statistics that felt worse than they were.

    I can’t say that I am not concerned about their safety, but they consider themselves safety conscious and aware, so I do too. Even now, we talk about safety and have a plan. So far, it has worked. I think the key is continuing to communicate about being safe, aware and listening to your gut. The world is a scary place…especially for adults.

    We are doing our kids a disservice by instilling them with fear. We need to focus on awareness and confidence to help them be productive, confident adults.

  60. Kari April 25, 2008 at 10:39 am #

    I love the discussion on this blog and I must admit that it makes me feel better about my own parenting choices. I cannot say whether I would have let my child ride the subway in NYC at age 9 because I live in Minnesota for one, and for two, each and every child is different as many have pointed out. I have 3 kids: 15, 9, and 6. They each have their own unique personality and with that comes the need for individualized parenting plans. While I strive for fairness and consistency in many areas, I also recognize the need to customize my decisions based on each child’s maturity level and ability to learn independence without being scared or feeling forced. My 15 year old is very outgoing but has always been afraid that somebody is going to nab her and to this day, still locks all the doors in broad daylight if home alone and will lock herself in the vehicle if she doesn’t want to come into the store…crazy kid! My 9 year old started coming home from school on her own on the bus in 2nd grade. Granted she only had to walk short distance to our house and was only home alone for about 1-1 1/2 hours, but she was very casual about all of it and was never nerved by any of it. My 15 year old would not have been capable of that at the same age. I think recognizing those differences in your children and molding your parenting decisions around them is the key to how much independence you grant your children and at what age. There is not a perfect one size fits all kind of answer because each child is so different, even within the same family.

    I have many friends that coddle their children the way many of you have mentioned. I think that because of all of the technology available to us, there are too many kids who run straight to Mommy or Daddy for every single issue instead of trying to problem solve and take accountability for themselves. I have gone many rounds with my 15 year old who believes she is practically abused for not being allowed to have her own cell phone. We have an “extra” cell phone that she has with her many days depending on her after school activities, but she is not allowed to just carry it with her non stop for entertainment purposes or even worse, for me to be available to her at the drop of a dime. This generation of kids will never learn to be independent by relying on everybody else to take care of everything for them.

    Raising kids is the toughest job any of us will ever have but I feel that I made the choice to be a parent and I owe it to my kids to be able to make the same type of important decisions for themselves someday and that requires teaching them to think and be independent.

    Thank you to all of you for sharing your thoughts!

  61. ella2831 April 25, 2008 at 12:01 pm #

    Wow…people can sure be crazy. I generally avoid discussion boards and the like…I guess I like good old fashioned communication in person or via phone best, but I had to contribute to this.

    I am a 35 year old single mom with a wonderful fourth grade son who will be 11 this summer. We live in a semi-suburban area of a large West-Coast city, and he has been allowed to ride his scooter around our neighborhood for the last year, alone. He gets himself to school, he takes himself to the park, he goes to the candy store around the corner by himself. He has never given me any reason not to trust him, and not once has he ever been harassed. True, I almost had a heart attack last summer when we were in the downtown area and I strapped my watch on his wrist, gave him the digital camera to take pictures for his comic books, and told him he had 45 minutes to roam. It’s also true that, once I decided it was “ok” to let him experience more independence, I did buy him a cell phone, but what the hey. I’m sure that if we’d had pre-paid cell phones in the 80’s I would have had one, too. Anyway, he is much, much more confident, and, as a single mom, I enjoy knowing that he is capable of enough independence and common sense that I can *gasp!* trust him with a set of housekeys (it’s been a year, he hasn’t lost ’em) and let him stay home by himself should it ever be necessary – which it is, from time to time.

    The only reservation I have about my son taking public transportation in our area has to do with several random, extreme acts of violence that unfortunately have taken place at train stops in our area; there has also been an increase in racist and anti-semitic gangs in the area, too, and because these folks make liberal use of our publicly funded transportation system, I have made the decision that for now, I don’t want him to ride the rails alone. This is not to say, however, that once we move closer to synagogue, I won’t ship him off on his bike or scooter or his own two feet to Hebrew school AS OFTEN AS I CAN. Gives mom a chance to have a glass of wine and put her feet up….alone. 🙂

  62. Bourbon Cowboy April 25, 2008 at 12:07 pm #

    I think the very fact that (as with everything else) we’ve divided parenting into two camps (“less filling” and “tastes great”) leads me to believe the real story is parents who look beyond themselves when it comes to parental decision-making. The use of the word “free range” is itself disturbing. We’re talking about children, not livestock, right? Or are we? When a parent uses his or her child’s image and likeness for their own personal professional gain, they are no longer parenting. They are pimping (exploiting). If a parent thinks his/her 9 year-old is mature enough to ride the subway, so be it. It doesn’t make the parent “good” or “bad”. And just as the parent is prepared to revel in the positive “attention” (Today Show, CNN, etc., etc.), he/she must consider the “America’s Most Wanted” or “Nancy Grace” potential as well. As a single father, my question is; where’s dad? This whole story stinks.

  63. Monette April 25, 2008 at 12:31 pm #

    What blows me away about this whole issue is that it became an issue! I think this says more about today’s parent . . . THEY don’t feel adequate unless they are involved in every little detail of their child’s life. Get a life and allow your child to develop a life of their own with skills that will help them become independent and learn good judgement about the world. And guess what? They will learn so much more than you “telling” them how you see things . . . they may even get their own life eperiences and have real stories of their own!

  64. Sophi April 25, 2008 at 2:38 pm #

    I am a mom of 4. I have 2 blue eyed, light haired girls ages 4 and 5. And 2 dark featured boys ages 9 and13. Until recently we lived in the Los Angels area. While living there The Probabtion officer who lived across the street made a comment to me that I should watch my kids closely because I had a “pedifile smorgishborg (sp?).” That was rather unnerving to me and when I checked the registered offenders in our area there were tons! Needless to say I felt like a crazy woman and was nervous when the kids would play in the front yard alone. It was everything I could do each time the boys wanted to ride to the store together, but I forced myself to let them.
    We recently move to Eastern Europe and to my horror they leave their baby carriages (with baby inside) outside the stores while they shop. Young school aged kids must walk on the freeway to get to the bus stop and many many kids are on their own most of the day since both parents must work to survive here (Lithuania). My kids also have a lot more autonomy here and can take a bus across town to go to the mall and all in a foreign language. I have seen my 13 year old blossom into a man. He is our main babysitter for his siblings and that would have never happened if I had not been willing to release him to go it alone sometimes. He is confident now like he was not before. I can see how what I thought was “instinct” was shear cultural fear that had been ingrained in me from the media. I am still afraid for my kids safety, but I am learning as they experience the freedom of choice, they are getting stronger and are no longer victims waiting to be victimized. Most recently my 9 year old left school with a classmate of the same age, caught a bus across the city to spend the weekend at his house. A whole weekend out of my sight in a foreign country. I prayed A LOT that weekend, but I know he is better for it. I can see the confidence brimming in his eyes and he wants to do it again. I can breath a little easier knowing it was a success:) It is hard to let go isn’t it. We have poured our life into these little beings and even though I want desperately to hold on forever I know it is the most loving thing I can do to release them to discover life for themselves at the appropriate times.

  65. chubbles April 25, 2008 at 4:37 pm #

    Thank god I am not raising my kids in America!

    My 6 yr.old rode his little bike to school from day one in Germany, rain, sleet, wind, heat, he lives on!

    At 12 , now having lived in 6 countries he can fly alone to summer camp, a 24 hr. long haul with 2 stop overs, manage his camp trunk and make it back alive at the end of the summer-and he does not have a PHONE!

    He can speak 3 languages, so can communicate very well. Eats basically anything, never sick a day in his life!
    Freedom is a good thing! I cannot fathom all this protection and overbearingness that poeple put on their kids. Yes helments are good, seatbelts a must, but let them learn to cross the street!

    I read about kids who cannot control themselves at uni because of binge drinking, overt sexual behaviors, because they have never had to set personal limits.
    Same with over eating, children never seem to know when to stop or how or why. Someone has to do it for them.

    I never hear of ADHD, or ADD in ther parts of the world. People have time for family and leisure, in the US they focus on that poor kid and give them problems to keep themselves busy!

    Lighten up! Flunking a Math test is ok, the child will study next time. Wearing a dirty t-shirt can’t get any dirtier, so why not wear it again! After a belly ache from two much cake, they will learn.
    Get over it!
    We survived didn’t we?

  66. Mike Lanza April 26, 2008 at 2:44 am #

    Here’s an article that’s extremely relevant to Lenore’s original article: it’s about how four generations of males in Sheffield, England whose range of free roaming has decreased tremendously. The map here is *quite* telling.

    <a href=”″How Children Have Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations

  67. Mike Lanza April 26, 2008 at 2:45 am #

    Here’s an article that’s extremely relevant to Lenore’s original article: it’s about how four generations of males in Sheffield, England whose range of free roaming has decreased tremendously. The map here is *quite* telling.

    How Children Have Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations

  68. Alex Dupuy April 26, 2008 at 3:38 am #

    Mike didn’t have much luck pasting the link to this article (the second one has a trailing right-double-quote embedded in the URL that gives a blank page), but I’ll try again:

    How Children Have Lost the Right to Roam in Four Generations

    I saw this graphic in Bruce Schneier’s blog posting referencing Lenore’s NY Sun Op-Ed (if you haven’t got enough comments to read here, there are another 300 there).

    I’ll also note that Mike Lanza (who tried posting the link here) is the founder of the Playborhood site, which addresses these issues as well, and is well worth reading.


  69. Nicole April 26, 2008 at 2:27 pm #

    WOO HOO! I’m so happy there are other free-range parents out there! My daughter is now 20. But, when she was as young as 5, she was riding the state ferry systems alone, by 7 was taking Amtrack between Seattle and Portland alone, by 15 she was traveling to foreign countries alone or with a friend with no adult supervision. I merely trained her from a very early age certain skills that allowed her to be safe and independent.

    One of the “tricks” she learned that really helped out a lot was how to pick a “safe stranger.” When boarding public transportation she’d look around and see if she could spot an elderly lady, or a public transportation worker, or a woman with small children in tow. She never talked to them, but she’d situate herself near them; then made sure that “safe stranger” was never out of her sight. In the event someone bothered her, she could and would scream like a banshee. She never had to though.

    As she got older, the safe stranger technique actually made her a lot of really neat older friends on long train and plane trips.

    Kids are just really too coddled today. If you never allow them to fail, how will they learn to succeed?

  70. Norma April 26, 2008 at 9:53 pm #

    I applaud all Free Range Parents!

    I am not a parent, but I am constantly amazed–appalled?–at the things my friends do not let their children do.

    I lived in a small town as a child, so “public transportation” was my own two feet, or whatever contraption I could find to take me places. By age 6, I was walking to and from school everyday–about six blocks–unsupervised. By age 8 I was riding a school bus, walking, letting myself in the house with my own key, fixing myself a snack and occupying myself for two or three hours until the rest of the family came home. I was also allowed to roam about our neighborhood at will, as long as I checked in from time to time.

    By age 10, I was allowed to ride my bike anywhere in town, again, as long as I checked in via payphone every few hours or so. It was completely common to leave my home after breakfast and not return until nearly dark. My grandmother worried more than my mother–about HEAT STROKE. ha ha

    We didn’t have enough money to go anywhere, but I saved up and traveled quite a bit in my college years and 20s. Alone. Without a cell phone. My friends now think even that is bizarre and few of them have ever been anywhere by themselves. Now they have children who aren’t allowed to ride a bike a few blocks to a friend’s house or grandparent’s…because you just never know what could happen.

    I have a pretty good idea what could happen. They could either grow up afraid like their parents and perpetuate the cycle, or something really could happen to them because they’ve never been taught how to deal with different people and situations and how to handle them.

    Carry on brave parents!!! I support you!!!

  71. Mindy April 27, 2008 at 8:56 am #

    If you want to go to the opposite side of the spectrum of parental supervision read the accounts of Jean Liedloff in “The Continuum Concept”. While I don’t give much credence to her “Concept”, or any developmental theory for that matter, her observations in the jungles of South America are interesting. Parents let their infants crawl around on their own without babyproofing. 5-year olds take full care and responsibility of other infants. 7-year olds go on boating and fishing expeditions without adults. Children are generally trusted to make their own decisions from the earliest age and eventually they all conform.
    Of course, this may not translate well to our environment. But you would think the real jungle is as similarly dangerous a place as the “city jungle”.

  72. Kathy April 27, 2008 at 8:29 pm #

    I am a professor of American history at a small liberal arts university.

    Writing from the perspective of my occupation:

    Helicopter parents don’t even stop hovering when their kids go off to university now!

    As an advisor and a teacher of freshman-level courses, I see incoming students whose parents even choose their course schedules for them.

    Helicopter parents do not hesitate to insert themselves into situations that really should be managed by their (now young adult) offspring independently. I see more and more university students whose ability to be responsible and independent is severely stunted as a result.

    I teach a course in US since 1945 that emphasizes society and culture. The 1940s-1950s was actually a time when parents feared child molesters, the “stranger in a car with candy” idea. So even though kids rode their bikes or walked to school, teachers and parents worried and drilled them on what to do if the fabled stranger in a car offered them candy. (Say no. Shout or scream if he attempts to touch you. Run away. Tell an adult you trust. All very familiar coaching in my own early childhood of the 1950s.)

    Some cultural historians attribute this to a general sense of societal insecurity and loss of control (Red Scare period, nuclear arms race looming, Korea, McCarthy, etc. etc.).

    Likewise, the past decade or so, especially post-9/11, has seen an acceleration of a new, even more intrusive concept, helicopter parenting. I would see the 1980s and 1990s as an earlier rising stage of this new age of anxiety as well, advanced by 24/7 cable news, but it has really skyrocketed since 2001, at least from what I have observed.

    Such parents cannot control the truly frightening things of this world, so they focus on what they think they CAN control, the lives of their children.

    The technology of our own time (cell phones, GPS, nanny-cams, etc. etc.) exacerbates this, as does the 24/7 cable news media. So we go from post-WWII concerned parents to modern, technology-driven helicopters.

    In fact, our function as parents is to raise offspring who will live their own independent, fully realized lives.

    Independence carries risk. Independence must be practiced.

    We owe it to our kids to help them on this path by giving them opportunities that are appropriate to their developmental maturity.

    Would I have allowed my daughter (I don’t have a son) at nine years old to take a short subway ride from a department store home? Probably so, if she were enthusiastic about it. Especially on a familiar route, with a pre-existing understanding of what to do if a scary situation with a stranger happened. (See 1940s-1950s above; the advice has not changed in 60 years.)

    On the other hand, I would fear for a child in that same situation who, at nine, had been raised by helicopter parents.

    Such a child would be sadly unprepared for even that small step of independence!

  73. gethane April 27, 2008 at 9:15 pm #

    I’m very glad to see discussion on this issue. I have 5 children and am raising them in a small town in Nebraska. Over the years I have been amazed at the number of parents who wouldn’t let their child walk home the 6 blocks from the movies with mine , even as old as 12 and 13. It’s six blocks! In rural Nebraska! People have completely lost sight of how to assess real risk.

    My daughters (at 14 and 15) are expected to manage their own schoolwork and activites, letting me know when they need extra supplies, or a ride, etc. When they leave my home in just a few years I’m not going to be there to check their assignment book, remind them about a school project, or give them lunch money before they ask.

    Childhood is training for being an adult. How in the word can children get that training if we wrap them in foam and put them in an electronic cage every day?

  74. Chris Clark April 27, 2008 at 9:18 pm #

    This if, of course, a step in the right direction. But what about completely allowing for your child’s freedom? Instead of categorizing them by their age, shuffling them through the regimented public school system – seek out alternatives! It’s clear that the style of parenting which is often remarked as “helicopter parenting” or even beyond that – average parenting – isn’t working. Children are depressed, medicated, anxious, confused, apathetic.. the list is growing. The way in which our public school systems are creating subservient workers with a heightened sense of social hierarchy and domination and competition is ruining a child’s freedom. Look for Free Schools in your area. If there isn’t one, the best education you can give is letting your child get a library card to the public library and read.

    This type of idea that you have going – about children’s freedom – should not stop solely at letting children ride public transportation alone. This conversation should continue in how are we molding our children, how are we letting others mold our children. Is punishment and coercion within the household okay? Is this sense of strict discipline working at all? Are these even okay in our schools? Is compulsory learning working anymore? What are my children learning in school? There are so many questions to be asked that stem off of the idea of children’s freedom and how they learn. This is, as I said, a step in the right direction – but there is so much more to be said about creating a world in which children can direct themselves and define themselves within their own boundaries – not what the social norms are setting for them.

    If you’re interested in talking, conversing, or learning more about this idea, check out these books or of course, email me:

    The Teenage Liberation Handbook – Grace Llewellyn
    The Radical Papers – Harold Sobel and Arthur Salz
    Rethinking Education – An Agenda For Change – Levine
    Our Underachieving Colleges – Derek Bok

  75. Angie April 27, 2008 at 9:21 pm #

    I am a mother of 5, ages 4-28. I believe in letting kids make mistakes and learn from them while providing them with plenty of guidance. However, as a divorced mom, I have found that letting your kids make their own mistakes can result in costly custody battles. Ex-spouses will use mistakes such as bad grades as a reason to gain custody. I don’t worry about my 15 years old sons safety when I let him hang out downtown with his friends. I trust his judgement and I know he is safe. I worry that my ex-husband will use it as a reason to attack me in the court. And I also have to worry about police and child protective services. There seems to be a trend in our society where we fear youth who are not participating in a regulated, supervised event. God knows what they might do given half and hour of undictated activity!

    I wonder how much of this over-protective trend is because of fear of reprisal from others in our society regarding our actions as parents. I have a friend who was issued a warrant for her arrest because her son missed too many days of school. (turns out the school attendence records were wrong but she had to go to court to prove it) When you start punishing parents for fairly normal mistakes their children make, you take accountability away from the children and make them less responsible in the long run. I am way too involved in my kid’s homework but I do it because I don’t want my ex-husband to come after me for custody. I know it makes them less responsible and that the best thing is for their homework to be owned by them. But I can’t risk the court battle. And I even had CPS, as a result of my ex-spouses accusations, tell me I was a neglectful parent because I encouraged too much willfulness in my children. That was all they could come up with but they still threatened to place my kids in foster care for it. As ridiculous as the whole custody mess was, it was terrifying to know that they could remove my well-behaved, non-violent, wonderful children from my home just because they thought I wasn’t controlling enough.

    I’m delighted to find this site and to know that Lenora is willing to stand in the public eye. My hat’s off to you because I know how quickly government officials will decide that they need to correct parents. You might not even realize the risk you were taking. I live in the South and maybe it’s worse down here, but our government agencies are part of the problem when they come into our homes and tell us how to raise our children when we intuitively know how already. The agencies that were created by society to help children (public schools, CPS, family court) are now hindering them and breaking up families who give their children more freedom. We as a society need to put a stop to that. Hopefully your blog will help.

  76. Venessa April 27, 2008 at 9:31 pm #

    This is a wonderful site! We need a more balanced approach to parenting and the “total parenting” ideology is slowly killing mothers, fathers and children! I think it is telling the number of people responding to these posts who say, “Thank you!”, “a sane parent,” “I have felt the same way.” I have an-almost three year old and I did the supermom thing for about two weeks, then thought, “This is ridiculous, neither of us are going to come out of this with our sanity.” Bravo to everyone who wants independent, competent children who can play, study and THINK alone!

  77. Rashad April 27, 2008 at 9:47 pm #

    Think I’m in love. Also think there are a lot of really awesome parents here (If the first posts any indication)

    We’re babied from childhood, and insulated from the world. That keeps us safe, but that’s doesn’t really do the whole “prepare the child for the world” schtick all that well. I’m so glad to see there are so many people who think this way about parenting.
    Almost makes me want to have kids of my own in the near future. Almost 😛

  78. ASHS April 27, 2008 at 10:37 pm #

    This is such an awesome sight.

    I too am struggling with the line between being a helicopter parent and letting my son have some of the freedoms I enjoyed as a child.
    Our situation is a little different than most, he is 9.5 years old and only 3.5 feet tall. When most people look at him they only see his size.
    I do let him roam the toy dept at Walmart while I shop in another section, I also let him use the men’s room alone- in some stores. I have started letting him play in the front yard without direct eye contact as long as the screen door is open and I can hear him.
    I have given him as much info as I can about talking to strangers and we have a very distinctive and unique emergency signal that can be heard all the way across walmart. He is also a 6th degree brown belt and has been taught techniques to use to defend himself- while he may not be stronger than any potential predator he can make enough of a fuss to get some attention.
    I know in military housing, the rule was line of sight contact on the child by a responsible adult until they are 10 years of age.

  79. Crystal April 27, 2008 at 10:43 pm #

    I hadn’t really thought about it, but I guess we’re free range parents too. My son is 12 and I’ve been finding more and more opportunities for him to stretch himself. Walk to meet me 12 blocks away or chose whether or not to go to the library or teen center (about 6 blocks apart). Trying to get him to consider the bus home. (2 stops?) Our job is not just to keep him safe, but to teach him to keep himself safe. It’s tough, trying to find that balance between not raising a paranoid kid, but one that understands that even traditional authority figures can be suspect. Trying to explain that it is the behavior you need to look out for, not the type of person.

    I still struggle myself not to fall into sterotypes of who is “safe” and who is “dangerous.” Funny thing for me, it was the realization that I couldn’t trust anyone but my kid.

    As for the cel phone thing. Start early We’re only about 75% there, but I am determined that by the time he is 16, he’ll have the “Don’t leave the house without cel phone (a 3rd time hand me down. After 2 years, he didn’t lose it, his grandfather did! LOL), wallet, and a plan.

    1. Where do you need to be.
    2. When do you need to be there.
    3. What do you need to bring.

    Wish me luck. He’s my only one, but so far, so good.

  80. megancase April 27, 2008 at 10:48 pm #

    I read about this blog on and just wanted to say I think it’s great. I don’t have any kids, but I’m an American who has lived in Russia and in Sweden and I’m really interested in the ways people in different cultures raise their children. I definitely think that overprotecting and infantilizing children is bad for the children themselves and society as a whole. I support all you free-range parents out there.

  81. Theresa April 27, 2008 at 11:07 pm #

    So, I just ran across an article about what you did with your son, letting him ride the subway, and the first thing I wanted to do was throw you a little party. Seriously. I’m so sick of hearing about parents that are being stupidly over protective! I’m a 21 year old, college junior who used to ride around our neighborhood on my bike until 10pm, climb and fall out of trees, break the rules in Girl Scouts and go off on my own, and try to prove I was independent anyway that I could without being completely stupid and getting hurt. By the time I 11, my parents, who couldn’t really afford a baby-sitter, were trusting me to take care of myself, -and- ,y 8yr old brother after school and in the summer. I knew how to call and talk to people at 911, and I knew both parents work numbers, and the numbers of my friends houses or their parents work numbers, just in case.

    Kids are NOT stupid! They know they have to be more careful. They know that some places are more dangerous than others and that there are bad people in the world. How do these parents expect their kids to go off to college, or live on their own when they’ve never had a sense of independence before? All these kids that sit inside and play video games all day, or watch TV, mommy and daddy have to do everything for them, are NOT being prepared to function in a society that pretty much says ‘You’re on your own.’ when you are 18. It’s going to become a major problem, I think.

    Oh and about cell phones, I started asking for one when I was 15. I tried the ‘But see, then you could keep track of me better. I’d be safer. etc.” I thought that would work for sure. Instead I was told, “You already are supposed to call us when you need to. If you don’t break rule #1 we will already know where you are, and it’s not that much safer, you still have to be able to dial 911, and since there are usually payphones everywhere, you should be fine.” I ended up not getting one until i was 19, and that was only because my first roommate hogged the phone, so I never got to talk to my parents.

    I had 3 big rules to follow that I -still- sometimes use.
    1. Let us know where you are, and if you are going somewhere else, call us and let us know.
    2. Always have change on you for a payphone
    3. Be smart and safe. Don’t do something you know you can get hurt doing.

  82. Karen April 27, 2008 at 11:29 pm #

    Yay! How good for me to have found this website. Paranoia looms large in my heart and I worry constantly. I want to be free of it and free my children from it, so they can free-range in this lovely town where I adventured through my childhood. Thanks for putting me into check to feel better about working my way out of it. Will check back often!

  83. rundeep April 27, 2008 at 11:33 pm #

    Love the blog, love the story. Kudos to you for understanding that the job of a parent is to raise an adult, not a large child. I’ve been critcized by other parents for allowing my 11 year old to stay at home alone, in safe neighborhood and with a large dog, for 2 hours in the middle of the day. Are they kidding? Are they media-delusioned? Or are they just making up for being away from their children when working by excessive attachment parenting when they are around? The only thing I know for sure is that for them the parenting is about the parent and not the child.
    Well done.

  84. Kramish April 27, 2008 at 11:41 pm #

    This is just like the time a few (many) years ago when my father wanted to help chaperone at the State Latin Convention when I was fifteen. He wanted to come to make sure that I would be safe. Obviously, I was mad. what bad things could happen at a Latin Convention?

  85. Addley April 28, 2008 at 12:12 am #

    I just wanted to say, I think that you guys have the right idea. I’m only 18, but I can see the difference between the way my ultra-sheltered elementary school peers grew up and the way I did. They’re all sticking close to home for school and don’t know what to do with their lives without Mommy and Daddy’s support. I moved cross-state to the school of my dreams in a big city and I wouldn’t regret at thing. It drives me nuts to see parents trying to shelter their kids from every little thing in the world. Don’t they know that growing up isn’t supposed to be ‘easy’ or ‘safe’? Growing up is the time you make mistakes, while you still have mom and dad to help you through them!

  86. Angie in Texas April 28, 2008 at 12:14 am #

    Yay for you and other “free range” parents! I am SOO sick and tired of people judging me (and others like us) as being irresponsible and not caring. There are TOO many young adults who lack a sense of responsibility and accountability because they’ve never been given the opportunity to exercise their independence. (I teach at a local large university and have worked with college students for years.)

    as a parent, OBVIOUSLY safety is priority, but letting your child – whom you know best – ride the subway, walk 5 blocks alone or eat snow, is NOT going to be the end of the world.

    Baby steps people! Don’t let your suburban, non-city dwelling 12 year old, who’s never been out of your sight, ride the subway alone . . . Duh! But letting a city-wise 9 year old, who’s confident, do it is okay. Double duh!

    (I think this is a great site – and a public forum for free range parenting is LONG over due!) =)

  87. Ashily April 28, 2008 at 12:18 am #

    I’m fifteen and I’ve got to say, I commend you for giving your son his independence.
    I’ve been both coddled and allowed free range through out my life (I wasn’t allowed to use the oven until a year ago when I decided to make some cupcakes. My house is still in one piece and they tasted just fine) and I must say that being allowed at least some freedom is a wonderful thing.
    I was accepted at a prestigious boarding highschool during my last year of middle school, and I went from living at home with 24/7 supervision to living with a roommate I had never met before, who was certainly not going to baby me.
    If my mom had been the type of mom to never let me do anything for myself then how would my first year of school gone? Badly, I’d expect.

    Furthermore, I have been allowed to roam around my town on my own, with friends for a long time and I have not been raped. I’m fifteen, female, small, a perfect “victim” but here I am, untouched and still living my life. Its very unfortunate for those who are molested by strangers, but lets keep in mind this is a much smaller percentage. Mothers should be more cautious of their own family if they really want to put a stop to molestation.

    I have a cell phone, I call my parents when plans change, when I need rides, etc. I don’t approach shady individuals, I don’t go out late by myself. Really, if kids have common sense then they should be find.

  88. Once a free range kid April 28, 2008 at 12:40 am #

    I’m 37, grew up in a beach town in Florida (where all the weirdos go to live – serial killers, etc) and had strict parents. However, I rode my bicycle to and from school with three of my friends – without secret service agents – about a mile and half each way. We fell, scraped our knees but kept right on riding and growing. We also encountered a man in the neighborhood (a transplant from another state) who exposed himself to us one morning on our ride. We quickly told our teacher and principle (we were in fifth grade) and the police and our parents got involved. Did our parents freak out? Of course. The man was apprehended and put in jail b/c he was wanted in another state for the same type of activity. Did our parents forbid us from bike riding anymore? No, b/c that could have caused major psychological damage to each of us. For the first month after the incident two sets of moms secretly trailed us to school in the morning – none of us knew this until we were well into our 20s. But we maintained our independence and all four of us girls are now happy, well-adjusted, independent women. Things could’ve turned out much worse – but we were aware and knew to report what happened immediately. We knew not to talk to strangers, out parents taught us well. Life is a risk. I applaud all the parents who instill a realistic view of life into their children and give them the proper tools to navigate it – strong values and common sense – and a knowledge of how to be aware of your surroundings.

  89. ArtzeeChris April 28, 2008 at 12:41 am #

    I do agree that we (parents) have been indoctrinated into believing that if we let our kids walk around the block by themselves, the boogyman could climb out of a car and sntach them away. I remember growing up in the surburbs of Washington DC in the mid 1970’s when two young girls (The Lyon Sisters) who’s father was a local radio celebrity were abducted from the local shopping plaza. It was a national story that received tons of exposure, because there were also ransom calls that came afterwards. No one ever knew if the calls were a hoax or not. The girls were never found and the case has never been solved to this day. I was 11 years old at the time and used to ride my bike by myself all over the place, walk to the grocery store, get gas for dad for the lawn mower at the gas station, and walk a good mile to my Jr. High. My world changed the day that these girls went missing. I remember the fear instilled in me from my folks and the media that still haunts me to this day. I lost my freedom and sense of innocence. I think we parents need to put things into perspective and then make educated decisions on what is best for our kids.

    Statistics really bring home the actual chances your child has of being abducted by a total stranger. Of the approximate 75 million children in the us about 3243 kids are abducted by strangers each year, or 1 child in 23,127.
    The chances of a child dieing in a car accident are 1 in 10,000
    The chances of your child having Autism (which both my chldren do) is 1 in 150.

    In reality every parent’s worst nightmare is such a small fraction of a percentage that you probably are more likely to get struck by lightning or hit the megamillions lotto before you child would be abducted.

    Now that being said, I unfortunately can’t let my autistic son walk to school, the grocery store, go to a friends house unsupervised because he does not have the capability to do so. He has Aspergers Syndrome, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, and BiPolar Disorder. One day he asked me if I was afraid a stranger might take him, and I said, not really, because they would have you for about 5 minutes, realize what they were up against and then throw you back on the curb.

    It’s also interesting to note that in countries like Norway, the mom’s actually park their sleeping babies in their carriages in front of cafes and have lunch while their children nap. My Norwegian neighbor used to say, it would never occur to anyone to actually think of taking someone’s child. It’s unheard of their country.

    Now I’m not sure if I could park my baby in front of the local TGIFriday’s while I lunch, but it is ashame that the media sensationalizes the country into unrealistic fear that has no real merit.

  90. lucelu April 28, 2008 at 1:01 am #

    I had always considered myself to be a “permissive parent” but the free range term seems to work as well. I was in shock that my neighbor felt that letting our boys (mine was 12 , hers was 10) go on their own to a local park (a green area with playground equipment and basketball court in our suburb) was too risky. I considered that if I had just let them go and she found out, she would have been upset and scandalized and there would be less parents willing to allow their kids to come and play with my son. Also, those stupid children’s movies like Sponge Bob etc. — what is wrong with dropping them off there? Do I really need to have the latest Pokemon drill a spike through my brain in order to make sure they are “safe”? So long as I buy their tickets, the kids are capable of walking to the correct theater and I am there at the door when they get out.

    Another point. Parents are wrecking Boy Scouts. When boy scouts go to camp, they do not need the parents there. That defeats the purpose of boy scouts. They are supposed to plan and lead their own camp. By attending Sabattis with your scouts, you are acting as a crutch and an impediment to their independence. If the troop leader needs a parent, he will ask for one.

    My son is now 15. He has the freedom to take the bus into the village or walk home from high school on his own. I don’t care for him traipsing around our local city on his own because he does not know the neighborhoods and there are youth gangs that are very territorial. They would not bother me but they would another adolescent boy on his own. I am not worried about kidnappers. If there is a child perp who is out for your kid, he will take them out of their bedrooms (re: Polly Klass).

    I feel I teach my son decent values and he is a good kid who spurns the drugs. He has good friends and spends lots of time online involved in role playing games and has an active imagination and is very creative and active with his drawing and writing. He is not a good student, and does not enjoy team or organized sports. I assume he will eventually “get it” when it comes to his studies but honestly, academics were not my priority at 15 either and a less than stellar high school performance is nothing that 2 years of community college and a McJob won’t cure. Some of us are late bloomers. What matters to me is that he has an independent creative spirit, courage to try things on his own, and a kind heart.

    If we raise people to expect everything to be programmed for them and have their hands held for everything (as well as a wish fulfillment fairy), we are in bigger trouble than we thought.

  91. Bad Mom April 28, 2008 at 1:23 am #

    It is about time that someone regained their senses about child rearing. I grew up one of those overly protected children in the 90s and I must say soon as I gained my freedom in high school, I went bananas.I chose to live with my grandparents back then. They were very strict and monitored my actions in a family dominated neighborhood. I always felt like I was missing something because of it. Flash forward to my mom’s house, she let me have the run of whatever it is I wanted. That is equally as dangerous. I had no rules. No guidance at all.

    When it was time for me to go to college I did as I pleased but nothing was new or exciting to me because of it. I made many mistakes then because I didn’t know much better. I was afraid of people and things. It hindered my growth. I did not even know how to create an entire meal for myself. It was a sad situation.

    With my daughter, I am allowing her to roam free like I wish I had but with boundaries. She will be allowed to walk/ skate/bike/run/ or whatever she chooses to do around my neighborhood with her friends and such because that’s what children are suppose to do. She can play in my fenced in yard alone when she is older. Why not? If we lived closer to school she would walk there. Its aright of passage where I am from. These people that choke the independence out of their children should have their children removed. That is far more unhealthy than most of the things that can happen to the happy, independent, intelligent children I will raise.

  92. Ella April 28, 2008 at 1:31 am #

    This blog is fantastic. I am an early 30s aged pediatrician (though not yet a parent) and I wholeheartedly agree that children need appropriate independence in order to mature and learn to make good decisions.

    I clearly remember being allowed to take a Greyhound bus to a camp program with a friend at age 16 (the drop-off at Port Authority watched over by my parents, and the pick-up at the end well-organized). I flew alone at age 13 with similar supervision. I had to help prepare dinner from age 13 if my parents were at work- including the use of the stove while I was alone! I was allowed to walk to and from friends’ houses, and walked the almost 2 miles home from school most days. My middle school aged friends and I would stop and get snacks at a diner, and learned about paying restaurant bills and how much to tip (asking the waitress was a good way to start).

    Did these things make me nervous sometimes? Absolutely. Did they make me think about what I would do in the event something didn’t go right – kitchen fire, problem with the bus, being approached by a stranger on the street (which, of course, I had been carefully coached about by my parents)? Absolutely. This was part of the process. I learned how to navigate the world, problem-solve and master new skillls independently. I felt confident and competent doing these things.

    Since I am not yet a parent, I know there is a part of this discussion I cannot yet understand fully. However, I firmly believe that knowing one’s own child, and allowing them to safely be independent at appropriate times is the best way to foster confident, competent kids.

  93. AnthonyS April 28, 2008 at 1:35 am #

    Kudos to you for starting this conversation– I have a slightly different perspective, as I am not a parent. I am a college professor, and I can tell you that many, many of the young women and men who have overprotective parents are at a severe disadvantage when they go to college. I’ve actually received e-mails from parents (some of which are hundreds of miles away) inquiring about their kids’ grades (which I cannot divulge because of FERPA, thankfully), or letting me know that they are sick and won’t be coming to class.

    This kind of coddling is so detrimental to a young person’s ability to mature and grow into a responsible adult. This “helicopter parent” (including the “Blackhawk” kind that every professor fears) mentality is becoming more and more pervasive, and I see the results first-hand. These students, versus other peers, are generally unready for college life, make poor decisions, and have a much harder time graduating.

    Thanks for taking a strong stand and for letting your kid “grow up” in the fullest meaning of the phrase.

  94. Barb April 28, 2008 at 1:41 am #

    I need to direct some of the members of my online mom’s group to your blog! I

    am considered something of a “bad mom” because I allow my sons, 4 and 6, to play outside in our unfenced yard “unsupervised” while I am in the house (with the windows open) doing housework. Never mind that we live in a town of fewer than 2,000 people, that everyone in town knows who I am (I have taught in the local school for almost 10 yrs), that 3 of our 5 immediate neighbors work at the prison with my hubs, that there has never been a kidnapping in our town or that we haven’t had a violent crime in nearly a decade!

    Last summer my older son mouthed off to some bigger boys in the neighborhood and they roughed him up a bit. Yes, it upset me, and yes, I went and talked to their mother, but I also considered it a valuable life lesson learned for him. If he had been where he was supposed to be (at another neighbor’s house) or doing what he was supposed to be doing (playing nicely with her three kids) then he wouldn’t have gotten himself into trouble. And after I got done cleaning his scrapes and mopping his tears we had a chat about the wisdom of talking trash to someone bigger and/or meaner than you and the possible consequences of doing so. I’d rather he learned that lesson at 5 yrs old and at the price of a few scrapes and bruises than at 25 yrs old in a bar fight where he might lose his life.

    Many of the other moms scold me frequently because I’m not outside in a lawn chair supervising every breath my boys take. Of course, they also disapprove of the fact that I don’t interfer with spats between the boys unless someone is crying (real tears, no crocodiles) or bleeding. Anyway, from now on I’ll just tell them “oh, I’m raising free range kids!” and let them figure out what that means!

  95. Karen (from Our Deer Baby) April 28, 2008 at 1:56 am #

    I am a mom to seven, ranging from 3yo to 16yo, and always tried to give my kids a ‘free range life’.

    I grew up in the Netherlands, and am sad that it is harder in the US to bike and walk places, at least where I live. I feel it was easier to be independent when houses and services were closer together and reachable without using a car. We have public transportation here, but it rides only once an hour, goes to a very limited number of places, and doesn’t run in the weekends.

    This is a great web site, great initiative, and I feel that you as a parent are the highest expert on your kid. You would know whether he is able to ride the subway or not.

    There are dangers anywhere, both at home and away from the home. The best we can do is take reasonable precautions, and hope for the best. I refuse to live in fear of things which are very unlikely to happen. If they do happen, I will deal with them.


  96. Jennifer Moyes April 28, 2008 at 3:17 am #

    This is brilliant. Children require a certain amount of autonomy and independence so that they can learn to make decisions on their own. You want to educate your children, teach them to be safe and to avoid dangerous situations, but you have to give them the chance to utilise the knowledge you give them.
    Giving children independence doesn’t just teach them decision-making, it also teaches them accountability; the cause and effect of life and how their decisions influence themselves and those around them. I’m not saying let your kids run around and do dangerous things, but if you don’t let them make some decisions (and yes, some mistakes too) they won’t learn how to deal with these issues when they’re adults and they have no choice.
    You should be there for them if they mess up and need help, but give them just enough free-range to succeed (or even fail, and learn from it).
    Just my thoughts.

  97. Kim April 28, 2008 at 3:32 am #

    Dear Ms. Skanazy,
    I applaud you for having some sensibility. One co-terminus point – the children who grow up with helicopter parents are often the ones who become rebellious teens – drinking, hanging out with older teens/college kids – because these children:

    1. did not acquire the skills to handle themselves when a parent is absent; and
    2. never had fun as a child, what with the don’t-do-that-you’ll-hurt-yourself attitude.

    I don’t have children yet but appreciate your voice of sanity in this world of media hysteria.


  98. sassafrass April 28, 2008 at 4:14 am #

    By 8 years old i was walking to and from school. This was in ’88. About a 7-minute walk. By 9, despite the fact that i had my grandmother living in my building and went there alot, i still sometimes went home to an empty apt, cooked for myself (with real fire!!!) and even fed my parents when they came home sometimes. I was not forced to sleep, eat, or stop watching tv. but i learned to make those decisions and limits on my own. Sometimes i stayed up way too late, but i learned my lesson. I read lots of books. We sat at a table and ate dinner together every night till i moved out. By 17, i stopped depending on my parents for $. I applied to schools on my own. i even made my own decision as to what high school i wanted to try out for. I am eternally grateful to them for not treating me like a complete and helpless little idiot.

  99. Rita April 28, 2008 at 4:17 am #

    I am a 61 year old mom of one, and grandma of 3. I grew up in Brooklyn, New York in the 50s. I was a latch key kid back when stay at home moms was the norm. I rode the buses from the time I was 10. The first time I rode subway alone I was 12. I rode the subway to school every day from the time I was 13 (in rush hour and yes, I saw my share of perverts, but somehow survived). I walked all over my neighborhood in Flatbush.

    I raised my daughter to be independent. I was a single mom, and she was also a latch key kid. From the time of 2nd grade, she knew if I wasn’t home from work or school when she got home from school, she was to go to the neigbors and wait for me. Her first day of school (barely 5) in kindergarten, she got on the wrong bus. She was fine she got home about 2 hours later than she should have, and Mom was in a panic, but she was fine. That’s how she was raised. She is now raising her three children the same. Free Range – Go for it!!!!

    Sure, Moms worry, but that is part of being a parent.

    BUT – you have to let them go, you have to let them make mistakes.

    Evenin Girl

  100. Angela April 28, 2008 at 4:18 am #

    I have 6 kids, ages 13-24. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! I’ve been saying this stuff for years! I’ve been reproved for allowing my kids to walk to and from Elementary School that’s half a mile from home in the suburbs. And for letting my 14 year old daughter ride the DC subway and walk 1 block in DC unsupervised. OMG, let’ em grow up! I’m tired of all this “safety” stuff. I think it’s the media that has made us a very fearful people. It’s probably a perspective of safety vs freedom. I’ll take freedom any day!

  101. Rita April 28, 2008 at 4:21 am #

    Sorry, I hit the wrong key and it sent the message without me finishing it.

    A parent’s job is to work themselves out of a job. You do less and less for the child as they do more and more, and eventually you sit back and take a bow. You can watch them walk down the aisle for college graduation (twice now for one daughter B.A. and J.D.) and also for the wedding (only once, for 10 years now).

    You may not always agree with them, but they are now independent adults, with minds of their own, because that is the way you grew them.


  102. Charity E. April 28, 2008 at 4:23 am #

    I’m a teacher of 4-5 grade boys and if I let my kids run off across the street, out of my sight, and someone got hurt I’d be fired. The same would go for if I stepped out of the classroom and two kids got in a fight. Parents expect vigilance from everyone except themselves.

    I think, in regards to my own kids, I want them to learn natural consequences and in order to do that they do need some freedom and even a little risk. However, I think letting a 9-year-old take the subway alone is lazy, to be honest. Does a parent have to have a 9-year-old in his or her sight at all times? Well, probably not but if I were in that situation, I would probably say, “I’ll meet you in an hour and travel with you,” instead of putting my own desire to bail on a shopping trip and take care of my own “needs” before the safety of my child.

    Furthermore, I think the people who believe kids know how to be “safe” on their own, whether it be because they’ve been guided to be or because of their “instinct” need to do a little research (the scientific kind) on when kids understand long-term consequences. Kids’ brains don’t develop completely until they are in their late teens and ignoring brain-based pathologies is very foolish.

    Lastly, someone noted that shows like DATELINE, which are out to make money, scare us into being “helicopter parents.” While I believe MOST media in this country is sensationalized beyond belief and people are made to believe the worst case scenario is always around the corner, what is not reported on is common sense. And, my guess is, while we’re talking about money, the subway-allowing mom is going to be cashing in big time on all this so remember that when you’re waving your banners.

    Oh, and to all you “parents” who make comments like, “We survived, didn’t we?”; I’d like more than just “survival” for my daughters.


  103. Sarah April 28, 2008 at 5:19 am #

    As a 21 year old college student in a major city I often find myself laughing at my peers. I grew up a military brat. I flew cross country alone as early as the airlines would allow it. I flew internationally alone before my 10th birthday. Somehow I managed to survive delayed flights, changing gates, diversions to unknown cities and foreign language speaking customs agents before I could drive a car. I carried housekeys in elementary school- let myself in, made myself a snack, did my homework, and locked the door after leaving a note for my parents when I left. I didnt have a cell phone until I was 17 and paid for it myself. I took my first real job 3000 miles from where my parents lived and their only objection was that I needed to buy another pair of sneakers before I left.
    Today, I have classmates, entirely reasonable and intellegent young people who can barely cross the street to Starbucks alone. They cant cook, grocery shop, do dishes by hand (we dont have dishwashers), do their own laundry, or traverse the city alone. Having to get themselves to or from anywhere, including their parents homes incites panic attacks and elaborate travel plans so they can have a “buddy”.
    Now I wont say that I dont call home for help- I had no idea how to get algie out of kakhis until my Mom told me- but I dont need Mommy and Daddy (and yes- I do still call them Mommy and Daddy) to take care of me.
    Parents need to give themselves a break. If you stress out all the time about the exact coordinates of your child, if you do everything for them forever- you will be doing exactly that- everything for you child forever, becuase they will never grow up, and you will never get a break.
    Teach your child to be an adult, and one day you’ll get to be one agian too.

  104. Ellie April 28, 2008 at 6:43 am #

    The whole idea of “Free Range Parenting” vs. “Helicoptor Parenting” concerns me. So many things in parenting are controversial, and as parents we are made to feel like we must take a side. But parenting is not like that! So many times we take a little of this, and a little of that, and do what is best for ourselves and our children.

    That’s where I stand on this concept–I am overprotective–some might say overly so. Yet I do want my young children (ages 6&2) to grow up to be self-sufficient, independent, and smart thinkers. I don’t let them play outside alone–I think they are too young. I don’t let them wander out of my sight in a store, I walk my kindergartner all the way INTO school every day, I worry about them when they aren’t with me. I guess that makes me a “helicoptor” parent by your terms. But I also teach them to make decisions alone, to deal with the consequences in a way that is appropriate to their ages, and to be responsible for their jobs around the house. My children dress themselves, clear the table, and pick up their own toys. They have had sleepovers with cousins. My oldest has gone to birthday parties without me, but she’s also gone to parties where I waited there for her because I didn’t know the parents. I make my parenting decisions on a case-by-case basis, not because I’ve fallen into one camp or the other.

    As parents, we need to support and respect each other instead of bashing someone who doesn’t do things the way we do. We all think we know the best way to raise children, but the truth is, we only know what’s best for OUR children. Know what’s important to you, and stand by what you believe. But be careful not to judge another parent who doesn’t do things the same way you do. And don’t assume you have to take a side in any parenting issue–just do what’s right for you!

  105. Alex April 28, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    My name is Alex and as a twenty year old college student I am proud to say I was a free range kid. My mother was always at work at Sothebys, a famous antique dealer, and my father was always at work for NBC. Some people feel bad for me that I had such a ‘loveless childhood’, as they put it. On the contrary, I feel blessed by my childhood experience. I saw my mother as a strong woman and aspired to be like her. I had a sense of independence that my sheltered friend with their soccer moms never felt.

    I grew up in a small town in Westchester, NY. I was allowed to walk to school, walk into town, walk to my friends houses, all when I was in third grade. My other friends were never allowed to do any of that, and they envied my freedom. They thought I was so mature for my age that I would be allowed to do that, and their sense of awe made me feel more grown up, something any third grade girl wants to feel.

    Throughout middle and high school I earned great grades by watching my mothers work ethic and imitating it. I got into the accelerated science program and became interested in biology, something a lot of girls thought was a boy subject.

    By seventh grade I wanted to take the train into NYC, a forty minute metro ride, with my friends to go to the Met. My mother was ecstatic that I was interested in the arts on my own accord but could not take me because of her busy work schedule and the fact that I had an eight year old sister she had to care for. Eight year olds do not like fantastic art so she suggested my friends and I go by ourselves. My other friends parents were appalled and we never were able to all take the train together into the city by ourselves until we were sixteen years old, all because of their parents. So I began to explore the city by myself as a ninth grader. I gained a sense of a world beyond my suburb that my friends didn’t gain until they went away to college, when they were alone in a strange place.

    I am now a smart, educated college student on my way to becoming a doctor. I have a strong sense of self as well as the world around me. I was never raped, stalked, or tricked into a van with sweets thanks to my mother who never wanted to smother me with ‘love’. What other parents exhibit is not love, its obsession. Obsession that smothers and hinders the growth of todays children into functioning adults who are not afraid of the world around them.

  106. Diane April 28, 2008 at 7:41 am #

    In the early to mid-80s, mybrother and I, age 9 years and 7 years respectively at first, were “latch-key” kids as our single mom worked the evening shift at the local hospital. I learned to cook most of our dinners (and not just the frozen kind, often chicken and broccoli or green beans and some sort of starch) and my brother cleaned up after. We got ourselves home from school without any trouble, even though we had to walk over half a mile. We did our best to stay together and made sure the doors were locked whether we were inside or out of the house but that was about the only “security” we really needed. Mom always got home at 11 PM to find us in our beds asleep. I agree that we can allow our kids freedom to be and do what they would like, with rules to follow (we always went home first and called to let Mom know we were okay, but that was something she had requested we do, trusting us to take care of ourselves) but nothing too strick. Once she knew we had made it home, Mom generally did not call to check on us unless she had heard something on the news to concern her. And this in one of the most racially and culturally diverse cities in the US, Sacramento, CA. If you teach your kids to do the right thing and show you trust them to do it when you’re not around to monitor them, whether physically or remotely, they will “step up to the plate” and prove you right. That’s what we did, as well as all of our friends who were “latch-key kids” too. Back when all the fear about leaving children alone began to blossom. Will they be hurt or hurt themselves or another? Will they stay out of trouble with (whatever authority you want to consider)? Will they keep away from drugs/gangs/underage drinking? Will I be considered a bad parent for making my child/ren get home and take care of himself/herself/themselves with no adult (mature?) help or supervision? I was aware of these concerns “back in the day” and they were just as prevalent then as now, the media just did not advertise it as much in the 80s. I know this because my nephews who are now in high school tell me of the exact same struggles that I went through. Nothing is more or less available to our kids today than in the past. (I knew someone in middle school who got addicted to her mother’s prescription pain pills.) Parents, and society really, have simply become more paranoid and reactive. Instead of teaching our kids what to fear (including themselves), we need to teach them to trust their own judgements when faced with life-changing choices. And make them face up to the consequences. We also need to STOP catering to their every whim and fancy because we feel guilty for whatever “wrong” they may have “suffered”. If either my brother or I had dared to begin to act as I’ve seen kids acting today our immediate next step was back home, a smack on the butt, and to our rooms. No questions asked and no correcting advice given because we already knew where we had erred. I don’t know what has happened to make parents think they have to be friends with their kids but it clearly isn’t doing the kids any good. Tantrums and such are to be dealt with not apologized for. It’s the same as making sure your kid has a cell phone so you can monitor their every movement and putting a GPS device into their car to make sure they’re not speeding (I didn’t get any real access to a car until I was 20 years old and my mom decided that the 6 to 7-hour drive to the university I attended was too far). Permissive, paranoid parents are crippling their kids from becoming assured, accomplished adults. THAT is bad parenting, not letting a fourth-grader learn independence and confidence by allowing him/her to ride public transportation alone.

  107. Alex April 28, 2008 at 8:23 am #

    I will be telling my dad who works for the NBC news about you to spread your sane word.

  108. Carol April 28, 2008 at 10:15 am #

    Thank you so much for this site! I am the mother of an almost ten year old daughter and a seven year old son. I give my kids as much freedom as I can, mainly because I never had any as a child. I was never allowed to go to summer camp, and rarely allowed to go to sleepovers. I had to go to my senior prom with a friend of the family because I wasn’t allowed to date.
    A few days ago, I was waiting in a salon, and my children were with me. My daughter needed to use the restroom and the salon’s was out of order. I let her go to a restaurant a few doors down to use theirs. While she was gone, a thought struck me. My mother would have never let me do that as a child. My children can think for themselves, make spur of the moment decisions, and for the most part, they do the right thing. I became an independent person in spite of my mother’s well intentioned but suffocating parenting style. I want to encourage my children to be well rounded and independent individuals. As parents, we will never lose that feeling in the pit of our stomachs, fearing that we have made the wrong decisions in raising our children. That is just part of parenting. I know I try every day to listen to the “mommy instinct”, and then temper it with a little common sense. I don’t want to worry so much that I miss the beauty of my childrens’ childhood .

  109. FunWithWarCrimes April 28, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    Girl, you go! Sounds like he’s a smart and savy kid. Every mother should be as lucky as you. Let your kids ride the subway in New York? Yes.
    Mingle with politicians in Washington DC? NO.
    ha ,ha….

  110. Chris April 28, 2008 at 11:32 am #

    Thank you Lenore for writing about your son’s subway trip, putting yourself in the public eye, and for this absolutely sensible website. I truly hope that as my 2 year-old daughter and her sister-to-be grow up, I will have the courage to let go and give them the tools they need to make smart decisions. My #1 priority is to help them grow into confident, independent, aware, worldly, loving, and conscientious individuals. Thank you again and keep at it- those of us with younger children truly need this movement to grow stronger!

  111. Jeff April 28, 2008 at 11:56 am #

    I am a father of 4 we lived in Philadelphia for 16 years and I always let my kids roam free until 3 years ago when my son started getting jumped on his way home. I then looked at the part of the city we lived in and how it had changed (not for the better). But I didn’t lock my kids up in the house and bar the doors (why should they be incarcerated for others poor parenting skills). Instead….we moved.. what a novel idea… If you don’t feel your kids are safe where you are and really want to protect them live someplace that you can all feel safer. So it means a longer commute or even changing jobs I prefer to take that burden on myself for the betterment of my children’s overall wellbeing (Independence and safety). Instead the “helicopter” parents would rather inconvenience and smother the child so that they feel better never mind what the end result of this action will have on the overall development of the child (poor social skills, indecisivenesses and the lack of the ability to choose between there life’s course and the one mom and dad would pick for them) in the end we would end up with a generation of paranoid, indecisive, young adults that will look to someone else to make the “big” decisions for them. So if the children are our future then I dread what the future holds “Vote for me….my mom said it’s safe”

  112. George April 28, 2008 at 10:09 pm #

    As a former Scout leader we always taught the parents that boys (I only have sons – the same may be true for girls?) ONLY really learn by failure.

    We took the scoutrs out into the woods and let them fail. We never promised their kids would eat good food on an outing – (though they almost always did) the scouts were responsible for choosing, buying, bringing and cooking their food. If someone failed they went hungry – or ate our leftovers in return for cleaning our dishes.

    I saw boots outside in the rain overnight. I saw milk not put back in the cooler for breakfast the next day. I saw tents set up so that rain would not stay out. I saw sleeping bags left out of the tent as rain was falling. I once saw a scout on a 20 mile backpacking trips with a BOX of comic books (in the rain).

    But – I almost never saw these things from the same scout a second time.

    We ALWAYS made sure they were safe and sound and protected – but while we took extra efforts to create a safe environment we made sure that safe environment allowed the opportunity for failure.

    Some parents embraced this process. Others did not.

  113. Kat April 28, 2008 at 10:41 pm #

    My children are 18, 18, 13, and 10. All of them were riding their bikes to and from school as soon as they were able to make the ride without becoming exhausted. Usually around the age of 8. When the twins were that age they actually had to cross a major road in our city. There was a crossing guard to assist and they knew when and how to cross correctly. We now live in a smaller town in another state and my youngest has been riding his bike to school and back since the age of 8. Until last year he had his sister to ride with and now he rides alone. Unless it is raining outside, he rides or walks to school and back.

    We have a local park that my kids ride their bikes to all the time. Do I worry? NO. Life now is no different than when I was growing up in the 70s and 80s. It is just that all the bad is now put out there by the news media. You cannot go a week without some news agency doing some special on child abductions, child rape, etc.

    My child is more likely to be in a horrible automobile accident than be abducted off the street. Does this mean that I no longer allow my child in a motor vechicle….no it does not.

    I feel it is more important to equip my children to be able to navigate life on their own than to keep them wrapped in the bubble wrap of motherhood that so many mothers feel neccessary to raising a child in the 2000s. One of my 18 yr old sons went off to college this year. He is attending a small state school 7 hours from our house where most of his schoolmates live within an hour of their own homes. He said that so many of them go home every weekend and call home on those oh so lovely cells phones every day because they cannot function without a parent. My son’s 1st semester found him meeting us at a relative’s house for Thanksgiving and coming home at the semester’s end. This second semester he came home a couple of times, but those were to see his girlfriend more than to see his parents. Its wonderful that I do not have to worry that he cannot make decisions on his own. He is able to drive the 7 hrs from school to home without getting lost or needing to talk to us the entire time on the cell.

    My job as a mother is not to keep my children safe 100% of the time. My job as a mother is to raise children that will be 100% self-sufficent in today’s society.

  114. Mike Lanza April 28, 2008 at 11:42 pm #

    Indeed, Kat, the commenter above, is absolutely right – kids are *far* more likely to be killed as passengers in an automobile accident than they are likely to be abducted by a stranger and killed. In fact, they about are three times more likely to be killed as passengers of an automobile accident than the sum of the three most prominent causes of death from “roaming” – death by stranger abduction, death as pedestrian, and death as bicyclist.

    See the following article on

    Is Driving Your Kids Around Safer Than Letting Them Roam Outside on Their Own?

  115. sally April 29, 2008 at 12:22 am #

    After becoming a mother, I asked my parents how they could send me to another country for a whole year at the tender age of 15. That protective instinct had kicked in and I couldn’t believe they had let me do that. Their answer, “We taught you well and trusted you to make good choices.” And yes I was fine. Coming from a small town and living in a big city in Germany taught me many skills that I hope someday my children realize they have and that I’m attempting to teach them now. I want to be able to say to them that I taught you well and trust you to make good choices so go off and have the time of your life.
    While traveling around Europe, I didn’t always feel completely safe, but I knew what to do in those situations. At college, I couldn’t believe it when friends of mine were too scared to ride the bus 30 minutes to get somewhere or the fact that they had never even been on public transportation. Now my oldest is going on to a magnet middle school so no school buses and I am planning on sending him on public transportation. Some are questioning my parenting, but I can’t wait for him to feel that independence.

  116. k bumgardner April 29, 2008 at 12:36 am #

    I think what we’re all missing here is this: there must be a happy medium between helicopter parents and free-range parenting. I am a helicopter parent to the extreme and I must step back and let my child have some independence. It is so hard to do, however and it will be forced and very emotional for me at first. BUT this is about the child who will be ecstatic at his new found freedom. I love my kids with all my heart and because I love them I must not only protect them, but let them take the reins sometimes in order to develop confidence, courage, etc.

  117. PreschoolMom April 29, 2008 at 5:52 am #

    There’s no need for a happy medium between this and so-called “helicopter parenting,” because they’re not at two ends of a parenting spectrum.

    From the start, our twins have had the freedom to fall down and learn from their missteps. We felt we were on the right track when our pediatrician commented my daughter had “the requisite number of bruises” on her shins during a regular checkup. 🙂

    My view is, if I’m not giving my kids the opportunities to make mistakes and learn from them, I’m not doing my job. I’m aggravated by other parents I see trying to “protect” their kids from things that seem like part of the natural order of things. Growing up into capable adults means that kids will have to build skills over time–they won’t turn 18 and magically know how to choose a job, sign a lease, pay bills, cook meals, keep their vehicles running or manage public transportation, etc. They need to increase their levels of competence as they mature.

    All this crap about “protecting” kids from hurt feelings so that we don’t damage their self esteem is a waste of time. The way to help kids build self esteem is to let them build competence. We as parents have to provide room for kids to make mistakes, to remind them that mistakes are _part of the learning process_, and to teach them about risks. (I said TEACH them ABOUT risks, not instruct them to avoid all risks.)

    My 5-year olds hold a parent’s hand in the parking lot. They ride bikes in our driveway unsupervised. They are responsible for feeding the dog and scooping her doody in the yard. They are allowed to use safety scissors when doing art projects. They do not get “dropped off” for playdates except with their cousin. They are expected to clean up their own messes. They don’t get bandages for boo-boos unless blood leaks out. They have both driven the lawn tractor (with Dad walking alongside), but they are not allowed to use power tools.

    Does that make us free-range parents or helicopter parents? Doesn’t matter. Our goal as parents is to raise them to be responsible, competent adults who can cope with the consequences of their decisions and actions–and with the random stuff that life sometimes “offers” when you’re not expecting it.

  118. anymom April 29, 2008 at 8:39 am #

    I’m with you. I wrote about you – and this issue – on Blog Fabulous.

    Free range sane parenting! I’m for that movement!

  119. Amy April 30, 2008 at 12:38 am #

    I am a Free Range Parent. I was raised by Free Range Parents. I have been criticized for letting my 11 year old stay home by himself if I go out at night (we live in Montana people so don’t be calling CPS on me). I bought a place that is in the school district I wanted for the specific reason that he could ride his bike to school year round (yes, even in the snow……). We live near a grocery store which he walks over to and can get something if he needs it. He prefers to use the self checkout and can use my debit card to pay. I feel I am teaching him valuble lessons. He has always been able to go and visit family for extensive periods of time, and gets to go to summer camp every year. When we ski, he will do his own runs with his friends and he can also go to movies with them (well, the ones who let their kids out of their sight for more than 5 minutes)

    My son is in a very unique position. His dad is no longer living and since his dad passed away he’s had to grow up. He knows about all the evils of the world (life, death, drugs, molestation, kidnapping, etc) however, he also knows how to combat those evils and make decisions.

    As a kid ,my sister and I were responsible for raising ourselves from a early age (7 and 9) but we knew what was expected of us and we lived up to those expectations. Kids aren’t stupid, if you tell them what is expected of them in plain english, they understand, but they also need to know there are consequences if they step beyond the boundries. My dad always told us “if you get into trouble, you better make sure you can get yourself out” and we knew he was serious. That really effects your decision making as a teenager knowing that if you got caught drinking or with drugs that you would sit in jail with no one to come and get you.

    I have been criticized by other parents, told that I don’t care, and told that my son is “abused”. If you ask him though he doesn’t see it that way. He loves the fact that he makes great chicken enchiladas that his aunt taught him to make and has a huge sense of pride when he can make me dinner (this includes grilling chicken which he is fantastic at). He also goes and works in my sisters store every year and knows how to sell the stuff that she sells, interacts with the customers, and I am proud to say is the best 11 year old barista (she has a coffee bar in her store) around. My son could go to Albertsons and bag groceries or get a job at Starbucks and do a better job than most of the employees already working there. He can do his own laundry, cleans his own room, takes care of a dog, and takes care of his own school work. (he’s a 3.75 student)

    I love my son dearly and I want him to be a productive member of society. Sending kids who are ill prepared for the world out in to it is why so many kids go to college, get kicked out for partying too much, then return home only to be coddled by their parents. Parents need to quit blaming the outside world for their 25 year old kids living in their basements and make them grow up. I remember being a senior in high school and for graduation I got luggage. At the time I though “huh, that’s kind of a weird gift” but then I realized I got it so I could use it. I left home to my own apt. a week after high school, moved 150 miles away to college, got 2 jobs, went to school, and never returned home unless it was a holiday. It’s not abuse…it’s independence.

    I say we focus not on which camp we belong to “helicopter” or “free range” but focus on raising functioning humans. Don’t stunt your kids growth by doing everything for them, let them experience life and not just get through life. If they don’t experience tough times then the slightest problem will send them crumbling to the ground. CUT THE CORD PEOPLE!

  120. qja April 30, 2008 at 3:11 am #

    Honestly, I’ve always thought of myself a little more on the helicopter side of things, but trying to strike a reasonable balance between this and “free range.” I had no idea how crazy some people can be, though. Here’s my story. I have a 3-year-old, and he and I walk on the sidewalks in our “sleepy midwestern city” neighborhood every evening. When he was a baby, it was in a stroller, then he toddled while holding my hand, and now he runs or rides his trike with glee…right up until he gets to the line in the sidewalk right before the intersection…then he stops (and every time he does, I know that I taught him well). Me? I stroll calmly, but observantely, behind (keeping an eye out for cars pulling into and out of driveways, approaching older kids on bikes/skateboards, dogs off their leash, and other things that might be dangerous or freak him out). Then when I catch up to him at the intersection, we cross together. Last night, I was stopped by a “friendly” neighbor from a few streets away and told how DANGEROUS it is for me to let my little guy “tear around the neighborhood on his trike” because he might get hit by a car. OMG. “Tearing around the neighborhood” like he was a member of Hell’s Angels? “He might get hit by a car?” Or struck by a meteor, or skin his knee, or become president of the United States. There are a lot of mights. But saying that a three year old can’t ride his trike on the sidewalk because it’s too dangerous — that is insane. Don’t these people understand that you’re supposed to have FUN when you’re a kid?

  121. Jen April 30, 2008 at 7:21 am #

    It is amazing to me the number of people who think you are a bad parent because you are giving your child the gift of self-reliance. It can be a tough decision to encourage independence in this day and age of fear-mongering, but I applaud you and everyone else who dares to trust their child.

    I know as a young girl, into my teens and even in my twenties, I was trusted by one parent and ‘coddled’ by another. The irony is that the parent who ‘coddled’ me was rarely around. He worked a full-time job, spent hours volunteering on various boards and went back to school for years. However, when he was home, or even by phone, he was extraordinarily overprotective and sheltering. Was it healthy for me?

    No! To this day I rue not being less afraid. I cannot say I wasn’t independent, but I was scared to death of everything. My father managed to convince me danger and death were lurking everywhere and the moment I wast not careful enough would be the end for me.

    I was berated for everything from not having the outside lights on (before it got dark) to lighting a candle while I was taking a bath (wow, the candle might get extinguished if it fell in the water!). This parent rarely ever talked to me and to this day, doesn’t really listen. I now have to be very careful as I have noticed he is treating my children the same way.

    Last year, while we were visiting, we went to the zoo. I had to take my younger daughter to the bathroom, so the older one (age NINE) was playing on the playground, in site of said grandparent. She later told me when I was in the bathroom, he made her stop playing as she might “fall and hurt herself” on the playground!

    He will never learn, but it reminded me of what I went through as a child and how I have to be ever so vigilant so as not to repeat the sins of my father. Keep up the great work with the blog!

  122. Virginia April 30, 2008 at 9:22 pm #

    My kids’ karate teacher tells them that there are two kinds of strangers: Someone they don’t know and someone they do know that they don’t have permission to go with. That is a simple concept that even young children can grasp and it builds the sense of self-reliance and sanity that is so central to your message.

    I spent my childhood playing outside in the neighborhood, listening for the bell–this was pre-cell phones– that meant mom needed to see me or my sisters or we needed to come in for a meal. By nine, I was allowed to walk to the town library by myself.

    Since moving back to my hometown with my kids, I have struggled to defend that kind of childhood against the fear that seems to shape so much of the parental decision-making around me. I adopted both my kids from Russian orphanages, and felt that they had already spent too much of their lives in confinement.

    Two months ago, a friend recommended that I read Richard Louv’s book “Last Child In The Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder”. Reading it solidified my belief that my kids need freedom to explore and play to become strong, self-confident adults. Louv writes: “Children with generous exposure to nature, those who learn to see the world directly, may be more likely to develop the psychological survival skills that will help them detect real danger, and they are therefore less likely to seek out phony danger later in life.”

    Count me among your supporters, Lenore!

  123. andrea May 1, 2008 at 10:52 am #

    at 15 i dread crossing the street alone. lol

    so i’ve started subjecting myself to “harsh reality” so to speak. it has to happen sometime.

  124. Mary H May 1, 2008 at 11:08 am #

    Wow… you mean there are other parents like me who let their kids play *outside*??? Who allow their children to go to the bathroom alone?!??

    This is fantastic. I love it.

    My kids (ages 10 and 8) are learning to develop their own instincts, to learn by trial and error, to experience freedom, and to learn who they are — not who I want or need them to be in order to gratify my own ego. I don’t want to control every aspect of their lives. I want them to become their own persons, and they can’t do that if I am constantly hovering over them. I want to be their mother, not their keeper.

    Great site, Lenore. Please keep spreading the word — we don’t have to raise our children to be coddled victims of invisible foes!

  125. Kim May 1, 2008 at 7:43 pm #

    Loved the story about your 9-year old on the subway the other day when I heard it on NPR. Just thought I’d share a quick thought about the whole free-range idea. I live in a neighborhood in Chapel Hill, NC in the “walking zone” of the nearby elementary school. I see kids walking to school by themselves all the time on our streets, and my daughter has been walking herself to school alone since she was in 2nd grade with no concern on my part as to her safety.

    I think an important aspect of neighborhood and kid safety is making sure kids know that WE SEE THEM. I make eye contact with all the kids I pass when I’m out walking and I greet them, whether I know their names or not. I think this goes a long way towards making kids feel at home in their world and confident that there are NICE adults out there they can go to if they needed to. Just a thought…

  126. Kari @ InThisStorm May 2, 2008 at 10:01 pm #

    Yes, but that woman’s other daughter was EIGHTEEN, not NINE.

  127. Shawna May 3, 2008 at 9:52 pm #

    Around the time of 9/11 my 10th grade son was flying to Mexico with a touring group hosted by his school teacher. Many people felt I should not let him go considering. He loved traveling! He loved being with people and seeing new places and being away on his own. Why would I take that from him because of a “what-if?”

    My response was always, I would rather he die doing what he loves than living his life in complete fear–what kind of living is that?

    The looks I got were not friendly, but my child agreed… and came home safely from that trip and another to Europe and two more to Canada (those were completely alone!) all before he graduated high school.

    Living in fear or living in the boundaries of all the what-ifs is not living, it is existing.

  128. Mary H May 5, 2008 at 11:13 am #

    “Living in fear or living in the boundaries of all the what-ifs is not living, it is existing.”

    Shawna, I think you’re absolutely right. And that applies to parents, not just kids. If we’re always fearful, we will raise fearful children. And we’ll all end up with ulcers or nervous breakdowns.

    We’ve got a swingset in our back yard, and my two kids do all kinds of insane things on it. They pull the same stunts that my sisters and I used to do, swinging upside down and acting like little monkeys. It about scared me to death, even though I used to do exactly the same things when I played and I survived to adulthood.

    I asked my aunt, who raised 5 very healthy children to maturity, how she did it without having a nervous breakdown. She told me, “Don’t watch. Check on them every once in a while, but if you watch them the whole time, it’ll make you crazy.”

    She’s right. I took her advice to heart, and periodically I peek out the window to make sure nobody is hurt and both of them are still there, but otherwise I let them play and be kids. They have fun, and I keep my sanity.

    The what-if’s will send ya to the psych ward.

  129. ebohlman May 14, 2008 at 10:32 pm #

    On April 28, Kim made a really good point. The group of children most likely to be “snatched” is…drumroll please…teenage girls who hang around with older guys. A freerange kid would be less likely than a smothered kid to think that hanging around with 22-year-old guys at 15 was “exciting” or “cool” and would be more likely to think “they just want to use me.” When you spend all your time terrified of imaginary risks, it becomes easy to overlook real ones.

    [I’m a 49-year-old childless male who grew up freerange under circumstances much riskier than those of today (living four miles away from a military installation that would have almost certainly have been nuked if the Cold War had gone hot).]

  130. Gina L. May 17, 2008 at 3:27 am #

    In the modern day United States my parents would be considered criminally negligent. They let me get around on my own since I could make up in words where that was I was going,left me alone overnight since i wasn’t even in preschool and never sorted through my friends case by case. I’m grateful for that.

    It’s wonderful to be able to asses the risks on your own,to have common sense and understanding that ,in fact, you are the one responsible for whatever happens.

    *Free Range parenting* makes for safer,more responsible children that think other then blindly follow the lead.

    I have a 2 and a half year old daughter now and my goal is to help her grow into a thinking person.My job is not to stop her from getting in trouble by locking her up in my parental paranoia facility,but by presenting the risks to her and have her asses them and make her own decisions and learn from it. After all mistakes made at 2 don’t compare in the severity of consequences to the ones an unprepared person can make at 18.

  131. Ananke May 25, 2008 at 12:56 pm #

    Just another point of view (from someone who moved out of home at 17, cooked from a young age, used scissors, roamed free etc) I think most of you forget – these ‘nice strangers’ aren’t caretakers for your kids. The subway attendant, the librarian, the bus driver and the shopkeepers aren’t child care workers and certainly shouldn’t be having to take their eye off the road/not serve people, because you’ve sent your kid out to ‘learn’ – I managed to learn how to care for myself without my mother outsourcing it to others. Sure we roamed, cooked and looked after ourselves, but if we actually required supervision? She did it or it didn’t happen (we couldn’t afford to pay carers).

    I’m a youth librarian. In the past week I’ve had an attempted molestation/possible aduction in the kids area and I’ve had to argue with a parent that I don’t care how awesome her son is, he’s nine and it is illegal (in my state) for him to be left alone. Particularly since he’s being taught to lie about his age to make it seem like it’s okay. When you leave your kid to it’s own devices in a public space, others end up responsible. We’ve had four year olds left so mum can grab a coffee. Nine year olds left while mum works her night shift. So we end up trying to do our jobs AND care for a child. Because my job isn’t looking after kids, unless I’m a child care worker. I’m not reponsible for your child and apart from the fact as a public space it isn’t safe (I don’t care if the attempted molestation/exposure etc didn’t hurt you, it isn’t acceptable) and I’m not a caretaker. It’s really awful to expect people doing their job to look after your child (not to mention that we’re in trouble if that child is hurt, even if you were stupid enough to leave them in a public space by themselves).

    The attempted molestation/aduction was interrupted by a concerned patron (not the parent) and the little girl was damn smart about it. But smug platitudes about ‘lessons learnt’ and ‘independence’ don’t make up for the fact she was left alone before she was capable of even communicating properly (even though dad was just up the other end of the library). But hey, she’s learning to be an adult, right?

  132. rhoda May 26, 2008 at 7:04 am #

    I walked to school in an unfamiliar town alone when I was in kindergarten, walked through rural fields and picked up things for breakfast at around four years old, and could handle being alone in the house, even an unfamiliar house, as far back as I can remember. I made meals for myself at kindergarten age without being told, asked or suggested. No one had to tell me what I could eat. I went without toys entirely for periods and put myself to sleep. I helped shop for groceries — actually helped, not hung on screaming and demanding treats. I was probably four, maybe three.
    It seems to me the sanest generations in US history were the 14-29-year-olds of 1930-1967, who were 4-14 between 1920 and 1952. These were kids who worked, spent time wandering alone, and read classics because there were few other entertainments. They helped with siblings because it was needed. The neglect of earlier, tougher ages was a thing of the past for most and the obsessive manipulation and fearfulness of today’s parents was inconceivable.

  133. Terri May 29, 2008 at 11:44 am #

    I was raised as a free-range child (born 1962) in a town of 10,000. I raised my oldest son in the same town and he was also free-range. What he didn’t always realize, though, was that since many people knew who he was, I was kept aware of his actions. I knew when he tried to hitchhike and when he was throwing rocks at cars in a parking lot. He learned that his actions have consequences – just like I did. My younger son is 15 years younger than his brother and we now live in a city of 50,000+. I am still a free-range parent. My son is known by the people in our neighborhood and I hear if he is riding his bike unsafely or cussing. Both my boys (26 & 11) know how to cook, do laundry, clean house, find their way home, etc. I feel that teaching them the skills that they will need as adults is my job. They have learned to communicate with others – kids and adults. They have learned when to ask for help. They are not perfect kids – one is an adult now and I think that they are stronger because of the freedom that had as children.

  134. Victoria June 2, 2008 at 1:41 am #

    My son is very independent. During movies, he insists on going to the restroom unaccompanied while his siblings and I stay in the theatre. I worry that someone will accuse me of not providing proper supervision. He’s 4 i/2. At 3, other parents used to warn me that my son was climbing the chains on the playground.

    On the military posts, where we lived before, we had to comply with very strict regulations about child supervision. Now that we live in our own (civilian) home, I am having to learn to let go f the fear that some MP or other cop is going to arrest me for letting my 9-year-old daughter go down exploring the creek on our property. We already had one parent of a 11 year old get annoyed at us for allowing the two girls to walk to a fast food joint 2 blocks away to get ice cream and visit a pet shop along the way. Walmart employees are always demanding my kids stay by my side, even if I am just one aisle over and they are simply and carefully shopping to spend their own money!

    Unlike the library worker above, there are some public spaces where the employees define their jobs to freely include watching out for the safety of unaccompanied kids: in Portland, Oregon, the Tri-Met busdrivers all have background checks, facilitating the designation of all the buses ” McGruff houses”, like those of neighbors who put the sign in their windows to show it was okay for a latch-key kid who had a problem to ask them for help.

    My sister was 11 when she began watching me (an infant at the time) and my other sister, who was 3, while our parents worked. She took us to the movies and playgrounds, cooked and cleaned, even when there was no washer and had to boil any hot water she needed. She had a job dusting knicknacks for a neighbor, too.

  135. A Dad June 2, 2008 at 2:35 am #


    It’s crazy how some people think there must be something wrong if they see kids without adults. My my two girls (4 and 2) were having a grand time “driving” the car (i.e. sitting in the front seat and playing with the steering wheel) which was parked all of 10 yards from our open front door. Some guy came up our steps to ask if our kids were in the car and then to berate us for letting them out of our sight.

    Do unaccompanied kids make people nervous? If so, why not just ask the kids if they’re ok? Crazy.

  136. sarah June 9, 2008 at 10:01 pm #

    I live in Thailand and the contrast between the expat (British, American etc.) kids’ lifestyles, and those of the Thai kids is laughable.

    Thai kids aged around 3 run around the busy roads – but never seem to get hurt, by age 7 they are playing late-night games of football down the street, by 11 they are taking their younger siblings to school on a motorbike and working in the family business after doing their homework (in which they are usually totally unaided). For the most part, they grow up into hardworking and safe adults.

    Meanwhile, the farang (foreign) kids grow up on gated compounds. They are shipped off in their 4×4 to school, and to after-school activities. Their parents employ tutors to do their homework, or complete their projects for them. And it’s the farang kids who, aged 16, are sneaking off at night to frequent the bars, drunkenly crashing mopeds and generally getting much more hurt than their unsupervised counterparts.

    Kids who get too much supervision are the ones who can’t cope when they get out into real life. If you want to put them in cotton wool now, you have to keep them in it forever. And it’s not going to work.

  137. Tai June 14, 2008 at 3:52 am #

    For the most part, I’m pleased to hear there’s parents out there letting their kids actually have a bit of independence. My sister let her six-year-old start walking to school on his own last month. It’s three blocks, low traffic, and she can watch him the whole way – And she still gets other parents looking at her like she’s insane! They all drive their kids to school.

    So yay for a bit of indepedence, and good for you! 🙂

    The thing is, both the Helicopter-style parents and the Free-Range-style parents are sort of missing the whole point on keeping your kid safe: It’s not strangers who’re going to hurt your kids. It’s not swing sets or whatever playground equipment has been declared un-safe now. It’s the people you know and trust. I went to five well-recommended, clean, and organized home daycares in my childhood, and in three out of five if you happened to fall into the preferred gender/age-range, you were out of luck. Babysitters have husbands and sons, after all.

    It’s easy to get a seven year old to shut up and hide the evidence. You want to raise a balanced, independent child? Give them opportunities to play on their own and accomplish things, but most importantly, teach them to TALK to you. Actually listen when they babble on for an hour and a half about the new toy they want or their friends at school got in a fight, even though you’re tired and you’d give your left arm for a bit of peace and quiet.

    Helicopter parenting seems to make kids MORE dependent on adults, teaching them to go along with whatever they’re told without using their own judgment. Some of the comments here seem to be saying that there’s nothing to fear; no real threats to your kids. But there is. There always has been. I doubt they’re particularly more or less, but for pity’s sake, don’t dismiss the possibilities. Because your kid needs to know you’re going to listen, and think.

  138. Joni June 14, 2008 at 10:33 pm #

    My children are 4th generation in the same small town where their great grandmother was born. Many of their classmates have similar circumstances with generations of their families living here. And even with that continuity, many in my peer parenting group worry more about “safety” than our parents did. This notion festered into my own children from their friends. I had to reassure my kids that their town was safe. Bad things can happen anywhere so it is best to use good judgement in situations. They are happy and independent and using good judgement!

  139. Jill June 16, 2008 at 1:02 am #

    There’s a very good (and profitable, but not for most of us) reason why we should all be watching our kids every second. It’s explained in great detail on

  140. Jen June 21, 2008 at 12:05 am #

    I am so glad I have read these articles and posts. My 13 year old plays golf and takes lessons. She of course needs practice, and I really don’t want to accompany her all the time. She goes with a fried sometimes, but that is not always possible. I have been debating dropping her off at the course alone, and having her call me when she’s ready to be picked up. Reading all this seals the deal. I’m going to do it.

  141. Ananke June 26, 2008 at 7:53 am #

    Victoria – I have the police checks and the background to look after kids. I do it. I still think it’s absolutely stupid to expect strangers to look after your kids and make sure they’re okay – not acquaintances, likeneighbours, but actual strangers. This isn’t sending kids to play in the woods, or the playground, or the yard. It’s sending them into public spaces where it is expected that me, or the drivers, or the assistants, will keep an eye on your kid.Ontop of their existing job. On top of the other ‘free-range’ kids that are running rampant. Don’t forget the ‘supervised’ kids that aren’t actually disciplined. This isn’t an “ask us for help if you need it” situation (part of our job) or a designated time/space where we are keeping an eye on the kid.

    I’m not advocating continual supervision – I’m pointing out that some of this hands off stuff is happening because you expect people to stop doing parts of their job to supervise your kids.

  142. Liz August 11, 2008 at 1:08 pm #

    I grew up being expected by my parents to behave responsibly without them having to hang over me (and so I did), and tried to raise my own kids the same way. Like many of you, I encountered people who accused me of neglecting my children.

    When my daughter was 15, she decided to tell me she was studying at a friend’s house and go to a party instead. Around 10pm, she called me, owned up to where she was and asked if I would come get her, as the party had gotten rowdy and people were handing out drugs. When I arrived at the location, she had three other girls with her who had been afraid to call their parents. They were amazed that I didn’t immediately start yelling at my daughter for being there, and that I was willing to drive them home (and not tell their parents where they had been).

    Part of letting my kids learn some things the hard way was also teaching them that they could ask for help if they got into trouble. The other girls’ parents were so paranoid about allowing their children to experience life that the kids were afraid to ask for help when they needed it. The party was raided by the police not long after we left, and if my daughter had been afraid to call me, I–and the parents of the other girls–would have been going to the police station to pick them up. Part of raising free range kids is giving them the confidence that their parents will come to their aid if they need it, without blaming them for needing it.

  143. Dree August 28, 2008 at 4:06 am #

    “Then it occurred to me — I don’t have the same priorities as her. My #1 job is NOT to keep my children “safe” (whatever that means). My #1 job is to prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society.”

    This is brilliant. Just yesterday my neighbor admitted she’ll “never be able to” let her kids, “especially the girls” out of her site because they might be abducted. Her oldest is almost 10 and plays with my almost 9 all the time. I let them play and scooter out front alone. I can’t see them–even from the porch. Mom next door doesn’t like it–she will go out and water to keep them “safe”. It’s driving me and ds nuts!

  144. Annika September 4, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    When I was in high school (I’m 25 now), I remember being out late and thinking “I could be doing drugs, smoking, having sex, my mom wouldn’t even know. She never checks on me – she’s not a very good mom” One day I said something to her about how she was the only mom who allowed co-ed movie nights (not sleep-overs). She replied that “you guys never close the door” so she figured we weren’t doing anything we didn’t want her to see. And she was right. Looking back, she was a great mom, who checked on us but did so discreetly.

  145. Kate October 1, 2008 at 1:22 am #

    i think there is a lot of grey area, and not one thing is right for everyone. if you saw me at the park with my three year old, you would think i was a helicopter parent. but my son is a special needs kid. he has sensory integration issues which make many things a typically developing 3 year old can do, very difficult for him. believe me, this is not what i expected when i had children. i thought i would be very hands off, and i wish i could be. from a distance, he looks like a very typical child. so, while i agree with the free range theory, i want to remind people that a rush to judgment will only create conflict and division. there are no clear cut answers to raising children successfully. we just do the best we can and parent to who that individual child truly is, not who one thinks one can make the child be. i wish my child would be capable of riding the subway at age nine. i also wish he could feed himself yogurt; it makes my job harder since he can’t and it breaks my heart because i want so much for him to learn self-mastery. but if you see me on the playground following him closely, don’t assume i’m wrong. assume i’m doing the best i can for my unique and wonderful child.

  146. Calypso October 10, 2008 at 9:38 am #

    I’m so glad to read that there are actually parents who believe as I and my husband do! I grew up in a semi-rural/suburban area of New York State and spent hours alone in the woods and on the beach. I would tell my parents that I was going “out,” but then had the freedom to roam anywhere I wanted, limited only by my interest, and the need to be home for dinner. I could have fallen in the woods or on a rock at the beach and no one would have known where I was or how to find me. It was great!! I could explore, experiment and think on my own, not to mention getting absorbed and mentally lost in whatever caught my fancy. And really, I never was hurt or seriously frightened. Now, I live in a suburb of New Jersey where all of the parents need to be able to see or hear their kids at all times. Me, I let my kids walk two blocks down the street alone, and I get the hairy eyeball from other parents all the time. What is really amusing is that parents (and the media) bemoan all the kids who sit in front of computers and TVs all day instead of playing outside. Of course they don’t play outside–they aren’t allowed outside alone, and parents are too busy to stare at them all of the time!

    Kids today just don’t get any time away–away from mom’s eye and voice, away from their siblings, away from expectations, away from Big Brother. I feel like we are raising a generation of frightened, physically and intellectually limited, over-supervised people who can’t believe they can be free to be alone.

  147. Dee Smith May 14, 2009 at 6:26 pm #

    I’m new to your blog, but have read several posts this sitting. Also, I’m familiar w/ all the hype about your kids’ subway ride. Much of what I’v read sounds discouragingly like a rant. Angry rhetoric will only, in my very humble opinion, turn off some people to what is actually a needed part of childhood.

    Kids need some freedom to experience life on their own terms-free to stop and spend a hour gazing at clouds, looking for that lucky clover, or playing a complicated game of pokeman or bakugons or house…A chance to create their own scenarios rather than adhere to the ‘grown-ups’ rules of the game. They also must gain a sense of competence via negotiating some tasks, geared to their developmental level. With that comes real self esteem gained from real-world accomplishments.

    That said; kids also must have guidance. Parents who really know their kids and safe-guard them from danger. It’s a complicated world we live in and I think that we, as parents, must never assume anything about any situation-even with a “mom, I’ve done it a hundred times!”; even if we believe them…

    I always knew were my daughters were going and when they[d be home. I knew the parents and had all the phone numbers. And yet, my youngest was raped at 12 (she’s 23 now and still having a tough time). I did all the right things that night and still couldn’t protect her. Four years later, my eldest daughter, then 18, never awoke the morning after a night at her best friends house. They had been at home with the parents the night before and still! she died of an accidental oxycontin overdose. Seven years later and I still feel like a piece of me has been riped away. So, no simple answers,

  148. ariel January 20, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    @lenore: ferris beuller, you’re my hero…
    i’d say that was my dad in the letter from the 13 year old, except i never got to do such a trip. in COLLEGE,(22 years old) MY 3RD YEAR OF COLLEGE, we (oops, THEY) were going to a conference in manhattan. we (me and my parents, and the college) were along lake erie in the southtowns of ny. mom came by the lab some time before the trip, while the lab club’s president was going over the list of attendees. i told them i was a ‘maybe’. my mom was asked if i was a definite or not. she says “can i come too? ariel doesnt go anywhere without me;” . needless to say, i didnt go.

    on one hand, my mom and dad say they’d like to have an ’empty nest’ and say that theyre kinda making things less accommodating for me to stay home. but on the other hand, they watch things like the episode of Hoarders, with the woman who inherited her parents house and didnt know how to do anything, and worry that thats what will happen to me.