Free-Range Kids: I have been reading your blog and it is like a breath of fresh air in today’s world! My daughter is now 6 and I try to encourage her to walk on her own in our neighborhood, to the park, to the store, and EVERY time she is stopped by a well-meaning adult saying she should not be by herself, and one guy calling me (she knows my cell phone number) and then threatening to call 911! So now she is afraid to walk alone because of these well meaning adults, not because of fear of getting lost, or someone kidnapping her etc. Grrr. — Free-Range Mom
Dear Grrr/Free-Range Mom: This is distressing all around. How I wish that the people stopping your child would recognize what they’re doing: THEY ARE LOOKING OUT FOR HER!
They are not the exception. They are the rule! That means that when your daughter is out and about, the adults nearby are taking heed and keeping her safe. And, as those adults might also notice, she IS safe. She isn’t darting into traffic, she isn’t far from home, she isn’t running away.
Why do people keep believing that anytime a child is unsupervised that child is in danger? Why would anyone threaten to sic the authorities on a Free-Range parent, as if having a mom threatened or thrown in jail, or a child removed to foster care, makes that family SAFER?
In about a week I am addressing a national convention of state lawmakers convening in Arizona, and I am making this plea: We must take not criminalize parents who trust their kids! And we must not criminalize kids out in public without their parents. This is a civil rights issue! Our kids have the RIGHT to be in public, just like every other citizen. And in fact, once we DO get our kids walking, biking, skipping, hopping and playing outside again, the whole COUNTRY benefits, as we will be raising confident, healthy, problem-solving individuals. These are individuals ready to deal with surprises and setbacks because they will have faced them already, as kids.
One of the country’s concerns of late has been the college students convinced they will be “unsafe” even if they have to share their campus with a speaker who does not agree with their perception of the world. I worry that having told from infancy onward that everyone and everything is out to get them is what has made young people so excessively fearful.
The antidote to fear is knowing that you are resourceful and resilient. You can’t know this until you’ve had a chance to see it for yourself. And you can’t see — or develop — any of this power if someone older and “wiser” is always there to intervene to keep you “safe,” even on a simple, exhilarating walk in your own neighborhood.
So, dear frustrated Free-Range Mom, just shorten this idea to a sentence or two and tell that to the well-meaning folks who are intent on stunting your child and filling her with fear. And don’t forget to arm her with a “Free-Range Kids” membership card, too. (It’s free!)
Good luck! – L.