The Talk of the Town

Welcome, New Yorker readers and anyone else just hearing about Free-Range Kids!

The lovely write ahbiyshnir
up about me
in this week’s “Talk of the Town” pretty much sums up what I’m like — a worrier mom who nonetheless believes kids don’t need a security detail every time they leave the house.

There are so many of us who share this outlook and have been trying to give our kids the freedom to bike around the neighborhood, play at the park, or actually walk home from it, like the Meitivs in Maryland, without this being a big (or criminal!) deal. But a few things get in the way:

1 – No other kids outside to play or walk with!

2- Busybodies convinced that any child alone is a child in danger (and the parents must be BAD!).

3 – Laws and law enforcement operating on that same belief.

So here at Free-Range kids were are fighting for the right of kids to be part of the world, and for parents giving their kids that freedom.

How are we going about that?

First, by creating community, both online here, where we (usually) support each other. And by providing a handy list of crime stats the prove “times have changed” in a GOOD way: Our kids are safer today than when WE were playing outside. And by providing a Free-Range Kids membership card kids can carry, to prove that their parents approve of them being outside on their own.

Also here, as of yesterday, is a tab called Find a Free-Range Friend ( It may seem ridiculous to sign up to find other nearby parents who don’t want to supervise every playdate. But until our streets are once again teaming with kids (or our sidewalks, anyway), it makes some sense for like-minded parents to be able to find each other and say: “My kids are free on Saturday mornings but there’s no one at the park. Want to send yours?”

Another way we’re trying to create a more Free-Range world is has backfired a little — temporarily. It’s by highlighting here and at the cases where loving parents are investigated for neglect simply because they trust their kids to be fine on their own for a little bit. The upshot is that now some parents who’d like to Free-Range are worried now because they have read stories about people like Debra Harrell, arrested for letting her 9-year-old play in the park, or Kim Brooks, arrested for letting her son wait in the car for five minutes, or dozens of others. (Here’s a doozy!)

But I see these stories as serving the bigger purpose of calling attention to the way the government has been allowed to second-guess loving parents who don’t make their daily decisions based on what I call “worst-first thinking” — thinking up the very WORST case FIRST and proceeding as if it’s likely to happen. So to arrest a mom who let her son wait in the car a few minutes as if she actually put him in danger — that’s a true injustice. And we can’t fight injustice until we recognize it.

Hence, the Free-Range Kids and Parents Bill of Rights that we would like to see adopted by cities and towns across America and, eventually become the law of the land.

Heck, a gal can dream, right?

And to make Free-Ranging normal again, not just legally, I give talks everywhere from PTAs to conferences to corporations (like Microsoft!)  about how we got so scared for our kids, and how to fight the fear being shoved down our throats. And when I speak at schools, I have been encouraging them to adopt the Free-Range Kids Project, which is really simple and cool and changes the kids and parents almost overnight. It’s based on the same premise as my TV show, World’s Worst Mom, where I swoop in, Supernanny-like, to help anxious parents finally see their kids as competent, confident young men and women, instead of adorable but vulnerable babies.

So there’s a lot going on Free-Range wise these days. Please join in the conversation. We are so glad you’re here! – L

Not a bad place to find us!

Not a bad place to find us!

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4 Responses to The Talk of the Town

  1. Surani February 16, 2015 at 5:07 pm #

    This is such a great idea! I went to look at how many people in my area are signed up but I don’t have any kids yet so I didn’t want to sign up. Do you think you could add a US map that just puts pinpricks on it for everyone so we can see the distribution, etc?

    Also, I wanted to ask if your system “anonymizes” emails. By that, I mean that when you put your info on craigslist, the person who contacts you actually sends email to a temporary craigslist address that routes straight to the address you submitted. They only see your real email address if you choose to reply. I would suggest doing that, if you haven’t already, to keep people’s addresses from being grabbed for spam, etc. and also to provide an extra layer of protection against whackadoodles hate-emailing members.

  2. Vicky February 16, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

    Lenore, you’ve been busy! What would kids do without you batting for them!?! May G-d continue to bless your efforts.

  3. Becks February 17, 2015 at 8:19 am #

    I was so pleased to see the Find a Free Range Friend page but it seems I’m the only one registered within 3000 miles!! I’ll live in hope that this catches on in Glasgow, Scotland.

    I haven’t checked the crime stats page yet but I hope it covers stats from Scotland or the UK as I need some facts to back up my POV when I try to raise this issue with other parents. I’ve just moved into a new house in a lovely street where another 8 yr old boy lives so my son has a new friend. Our houses are set down a grassy embankment from the pavement but when they went out to play his mum told him not to go up to the pavement! ‘Why?’ I wondered, but I felt I couldn’t ask her as we’d just met.

    This site has really reinforced what I already believed but was too scared to follow through on simply because of what others might say. But I have managed to get my husband on board enough that he trusts I would never put our children in danger and that what I want them to have the freedom to do allows them to grow into self reliant, confident and independent young people which, after all, is our job as parents. The bad things that happen are usually freak accidents not common occurences. In my whole life I was never approached by a bad stranger nor was anyone I know so why are we, as a society, so scared?!

    Keep up the good work and I’ll try to lead by example here 🙂

  4. JP Merzetti February 17, 2015 at 11:57 am #

    Here’s what puzzles me:
    There’s a certain chronology given to the path followed by the development of the North American suburb.
    The original ‘burbs were of streetcar design, and go back a century or more.
    The big boom happened after WW2….and was going strong into the 1950’s, when I was growing up.
    Now almost 75% of North America is burbanized.

    But here’s the thing: for half the life of modern suburbia, kids have been free range (not called or referred to as such – just lived as a matter of course.)
    I would put that as 1950 to at least the mid 1980’s.

    So even in its original inception – community design did not in itself impede free range.
    What happened in the meantime?
    Considering that modern sprawl is often designed in incredibily kid-unfriendly landscaping….this leads to a natural response in many people that of course – kids have to be protected from the design of the very community they live in.
    Especially in terms of getting around. Mobility.
    Which to me, is the central point of a free range existence. Getting from here to there.
    By definition: if they can do that on their own, they’re free range.
    If they can’t, then they’re something else.

    Does this require a fundamental shift in thinking….in some cases?
    Is a community environment really dangerous because it actually physically happens to be (in terms of kids getting around) or is it dangerous because we decide that it is?

    I see a paradox:
    When I was a kid, I had the distinct impression that the adult community controlled my environment – in order for kids to be free range. (moving around without adult accompaniment)
    Compare that to control that now discourages this, or doesn’t allow it.
    Same control – different results.

    I’ve driven around and through a lot of suburbia in my life. I live in a city whose basic greater metro area is probably 85% suburban – and it’s easy to see that much of its design is decidedly not with any free range mobility in mind.
    So the designers and planners have forced the issue.
    Can this be changed? Not easily.

    If my inner city community adopts anti-free range policy….this feels like the influence of suburbia come calling downtown. A suburban philosophy and way of living that imposes itself politically because of numbers.
    (Which is what happens anyway, in regional political elections.)

    So – is it all attitude versus environment?
    We create the environment – and then figure out later what to do with it.

    Original town and city designs weren’t created with kid-friendliness in mind….they just happened to be that way anyhow.
    The changes that have happened in the past three decades have all led to the reinforcement of attitudes that promote child-control… increasing scales, in communties that are kid-vicious.
    That weird paradox again: communities full of child-protectors.
    Endless rules and regulations. Schools that resemble prisons. Lockups and lockdowns.
    Miles and miles of arterials that spread 4 or 6 or 8 lanes of high-speed traffic.
    Miles and miles to get anywhere….off the fortress household property.
    Community design that happens to work fine……if you drive.
    Which means if you’re old enough to pilot a car.
    Anything else doesn’t register in the lexicon.
    And there’s the rub.
    How to have free range, if common sense dictates that the public realm wasn’t built for it?

    We may be charmed by the small town of It’s a Wonderful Life…..but our wonderful lives don’t live there anymore.
    They live somewhere else.
    The Beav, Dennis the Menace and the Brady Bunch all apparently lived in some form of a California suburbia – and there wouldn’t have been a story worth televising if they hadn’t been free range.
    But that was a “different” suburbia…..not just a different time.

    So do the fundamental changes happen with shifting attitude?
    It is up to adults to do that. The kids can’t. Not by themselves.
    An environment can be controlled. For purposes of freedom, public good, and full enjoyment and participation by all.
    Rather than to be taken over by imaginary bogeymen and televised hysteria.
    (or some idea that kids are naturally prone to self-damage, inflicted during normal play and just getting around)

    One of nature’s better accomplishments is the instinct of self-preservation.
    This is learned one baby-step at a time, layer by layer, through trial and error.
    It has stood the test of time, otherwise we would have died out long ago.
    It’s a time-tested and time-trusted attribute.
    Only human, after all.