Yes. Sorry. These really happened. (Flick photo by Jazback)

THE TOP 10 WORST FREE-RANGE MOMENTS OF 2016 (Well…the Top 11, actually.)

It tdzsrhsbsf
was the year of Pokemon Panic—any toy that gets kids outside must be stopped! —and the year a Florida school cancelled its “Powder Puff” all-girl football game (suggesting the girls bob for apples instead). It was the year that we saw the first academic study of bouncy house temperatures—”something that no one had really examined in the published literature,” according to one of the researchers. Imagine that.

But in all, it was a particularly great year for busybodies.

This video went viral—a man screaming at a woman who had the gall to pop into the gas station while her kid waited in the car—and so did this one, of parents who got their food at a buffet while their baby waited at the table. How dare they?! Cops asked this mom to leave a football game because onlookers thought her baby looked cold, while this mom’s kids were ordered to undergo a physical because she let them wait in the car while she got a Starbucks. And this mom—my friend Julie Gunlock—got chewed out by an FBI agent for running in to get a rotisserie chicken while her boys, 9, 7 and 5, waited in the car. She certainly is Public Enemy #1.

And then there were these stories:

The 11 Worst Free-Range Moments of 2016

1 – The police chief of New Albany, Ohio, helpfully revealed the age that kids are old enough to start going outside on their own: 16. “I think that’s the threshold where you see children getting a little bit more freedom.”

2 – Local TV news in Fargo, North Dakota, reported that a mom “felt scared” at the grocery because she kept running into the same couple in several aisles, “And when I went to the checkout they were right there.” Yep.

3 – Kids at the Learning Collaborative, a pre-school in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Charlotte, North Carolina, were not allowed to play on their new swings because the grass and dirt underneath are “too dangerous.” First the school must raise $1,100 to replace the grass with six-inch-deep mulch.

4 – The Beaverton, Oregon, library will not allow children under 10 on the premises unless “within sightlines of parents” at all times. If an “adult/responsible caregiver cannot be located within 5 minutes, library staff will call the Beaverton Police Department.”

5 – When afternoon rain was predicted, parents at a New Mexico school received an email describing the pick-up protocol: “Walkers will proceed to the cafeteria until safe outdoor conditions can be confirmed. If there is no lightning and it is not raining too heavily, students can be released to walk home. If parents want to pick up students from the cafeteria, you will need to do so through the front office and we will radio for your students….Teachers will direct and supervise the students’ transition to the vehicles….We appreciate your help to keep all students safe and dry.”

6 – A 14-year-old Iowa girl, “Nancy Doe,” took two racy pictures of herself—one in a sports bra and boy shorts, one bra-less but with her hair covering her breasts—and texted them to a boy. A few weeks later, she was accused of sexual exploitation of a minor: herself.

7 – The CDC advised all women who are not on birth control not to drink any alcohol until they reach menopause. Explained Princeton sociologist Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong, “The idea is that any woman of reproductive age should be treated as potentially pregnant at all times.”

8 – Rhode Island legislators introduced a bill that would ban recess if temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

9 – A 6-months-pregnant mom in Lexington County, South Carolina, was arrested for letting her kids wait in the air-conditioned car for 3-5 minutes while she ran an errand. Newberry County Sheriff Lee Foster said that a parent simply stepping out of the car is one thing, but “if someone has abandoned a child, even for a short time, that’s another matter.” The errand qualified as abandonment, and the mom spent the night in jail.

10 – A dying, wheelchair-bound sex offender with Alzheimer’s must move out of the Boynton Beach, Florida, hospice he’s in because it is too close to a pre-school.

11 – Nine hundred middle school students in Grand Island, Nebraska, were evacuated when a staff member noticed an unfamiliar box in the band room. The state’s bomb squad was summoned to open it, and discovered it held what some would indeed consider a threat to the community’s wellbeing.

An accordion.


Yes. Sorry. These really happened. (Flick photo by Jazbeck)


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34 Responses to THE TOP 10 WORST FREE-RANGE MOMENTS OF 2016 (Well…the Top 11, actually.)

  1. BL December 21, 2016 at 9:07 am #

    I was just reading an article slamming nostalgia for the 1960s. It pointed out that our “standard of living” is higher today.

    You look at these sort of things and wonder what exactly they consider “standard of living”.

    Better to be confined to a MacMansion until age 16 than to have to run of a tract-home neighborhood at 7 or 8?

    Better to spend a substantial part of one’s waking hours going through a “pick-up protocol” instead of walking home or to a bus stop? Parents and children both.

    Better for a woman to have an occasional beer or wine while youthful or middle-aged or wait until menopause sets in?

    Ah, but we didn’t have “social media” in the 1960s so we all sat around doing nothing.

    The hell we did.

  2. Fred December 21, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    Regarding the Beaverton OR library and their rule about children under 10 must be in the sight of their parents, I am wondering if it is a veiled attempt to deal with unruly hippy kids. I see this a lot here in LA. Mama treats the library as a babysitting agency so she can play on her phone while the undisciplined kids run riot all over the place. The do a similar thing at the mall where they have a play area set up. The perfect storm of hippy parents with their unruly children running all over the place is colliding with the fretful helicopter parents who won’t let their kids out of their car seats until they are 14.

  3. theresa December 21, 2016 at 9:48 am #

    Lets not forget the guy who due paperwork errors can’t live in his own home just because he is on the list. Or all the kids who are worse thanks to doctors who had to save the kids from loving families.

  4. Dienne December 21, 2016 at 11:04 am #

    I dunno, I can’t argue with No. 11. Those things are deadly! 😉

  5. Andy Harris December 21, 2016 at 12:22 pm #

    Now with lunatics firmly in control following the election, it’s going to get much worse.

  6. Denise December 21, 2016 at 12:37 pm #

    So, when you printed the library regulations for Beaverton, I checked with my local library, and yep, they do not allow kids without parents. Then yesterday I sent the post about Police advice to my local police department and they thought it was all sound and good suggestions to follow with the exception of calling 911 immediately. I guess when you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  7. Christopher Byrne December 21, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    The danger of the accordion has never been appropriately explored. It has been known to incite people to polka, for instance. It has inspired generations of poor fashion choices, not to mention the severe physical risk of dislocating a shoulder or slipping on the bubbles that are the traditional back up for accordion players.

    If I went somewhere and I was afraid there might be accordion music, I wouldn’t want my kids to be exposed. But how do I leave them in the car while I check? They could fall victim to a squeezebox-o-phile.

    I’m not sure how I get through 2017.

  8. Xena December 21, 2016 at 2:46 pm #

    Christopher Byrne – put some noise-cancelling headphones on your kids and take them with you when you go to scope out the possibility of accordion music in an unfamiliar venue. If it’s an accordion-free zone, remove the headphones.

  9. Alicia December 21, 2016 at 2:48 pm #

    I don’t understand what the big deal is about #10. Yeah, he’s in a wheel-chair and dying, but he’s a sex offender so I have zero concern about him having to move. He’s not a victim here. He’s a sex offender. Who cares what happens to him?

  10. Beth December 21, 2016 at 2:55 pm #

    @Alicia, how is any child made safer by a wheelchair-bound elderly man with dementia being kicked out of his hospice? That is the purpose of the registry, right? To keep children safe?

  11. Beth December 21, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

    (Oh, and if you actually read the linked article, his offense had nothing to do with children either.)

  12. Havva December 21, 2016 at 3:35 pm #

    The age based rule is almost certainly a response to behavior that the library doesn’t like. But it is worse than useless as a response.

    I grew up in a town that started imposing restrictions based on age when I was a kid. It started out with fairly reasonable age limits. Then everything spiraled out of control. The behavior people were concerned about got worse and the age restrictions got raised again, and again, and again. I specifically remember the roller ring being the first age restriction I saw added, it was a year or two above my age, and stayed a year or two above my age until I no longer cared. It got so bad that I opened my first bank account (unaccompanied) before I was allowed to go to the roller rink alone. I spent 2-1/2 weeks with free run of one of the 25 largest cities in the US and signed myself up for classes at a major ballet company, before I was allowed in the store catering to teen fashion in my home town.

    The problems with age based, rather than behavior based rules intended to address poor behavior common to youth are numerous and interconnected. The most problematic being:

    –Good behavior gets you nothing different than bad behavior.

    –Age based restriction means there is zero motivation to behave.

    –Because the rules aren’t about behavior, kids over the age line can get away with things they couldn’t before.

    –It convinces some kids that their impulses are inherently uncontrollable, so they don’t even try.

    –Even if the kid does try, they are abruptly expected to take on responsibility with no practice, and don’t live up to expectations of what they “should be capable of”. This convinces many kids that there is something wrong with them personally.

    –It makes misbehavior more rewarding than behaving. (Some of the larger kids can lie about their age and get away with things until they get caught, and the only punishment is to be removed. The “punishment” is simply to be forced to obey the rules, the reward is far more than those obeying the rules will ever get.) This behavior spreads to other areas.

    — People eventually decide that kids are just inherently out of control little [curse word]s. It kills community.

    There is a night and day difference between what I grew up with and where I am now.

    I frequent a library that is located adjacent to an elementary school and low income housing. The place is absolutely mobbed with accompanied and unaccompanied children, not to mention a good number of unaccompanied adults. It is a hub of the community and an fine place for people of all ages. After one of these library stories I interviewed one of the librarians about the library rules. The rules that keep the library running smoothly, despite the flood of young unaccompanied minors, are behavior based. The exact same rules apply to adults. Behave properly or be kicked out. Make it a pattern, and you won’t be allowed in.

    There are only a few extra procedures that don’t apply to adults all related to what to do if a child has been stranded/abandoned at the library. And all are likely to lead to CPS (which seems appropriate for children who have no ability to go home at night, and abandoned children incapable of self care).

    My daughter is 5 and in a winter program, run by the same county as the library, that actually lets her and the other school age kids, go out to the playground and from room to room whenever they like. They use the good old fashioned buddy system. And radios to find the kids when a parent arrives for pick up.

  13. jimc5499 December 21, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

    This is nothing personal Alicia, but, attitudes like yours is what creates some of these problems in the first place. The original idea behind the registries was not a bad one, but, over time the registries have mutated. Several years ago a State Park got the reputation of homosexual men meeting on the hiking trails and having sex in the woods. The local police formed a “task force” to investigate this. They didn’t find any homosexual men having sex, but, they did cite several fishermen and hikers for “indecent exposure” for relieving themselves in the woods.

    The “Sex Offender’s Registry” where I live is ran by the County District Attorney’s Office. It get FUNDING from the State and Federal Government. In order to obtain funding, they have to report the number of “incidents” that people were put on the registry for. If they went by the type of incidents that the registry was originally intended for, they would lose their funding, so they expanded they types of incidents that put people on the registry. Guess what? All of those fishermen and hikers ended up on the registry. When these people complained to the County Commissioners, the Commissioners found out that if they stood up for these people, their political opponents would use it against them when they ran for re-election. The District Attorney’s Office created a “special category” for these people. They do not have to report in and there is no restriction on where they can live or go. All they are there for is to inflate the number of people on the registry.

  14. donald December 21, 2016 at 4:17 pm #

    2 – Local TV news in Fargo, North Dakota, reported that a mom “felt scared” at the grocery because she kept running into the same couple in several aisles, “And when I went to the checkout they were right there.” Yep.

    I just had a rant about the dangers of anxiety and how the fear hysteria is making it grow. This leads to problems that are 10,000’s of times more likely to occur than many of the ‘imagined’ dangers. DV is one example. The paranoia of the above story is another. This poor woman must be going through hell if she is afraid of her own shadow!

  15. Jen December 21, 2016 at 4:27 pm #

    # 8 We only keep our students inside for recess if the temp drops to -13*F or below, those Rhode Islanders are a fragile lot.

  16. donald December 21, 2016 at 5:19 pm #

    @Alicia and Beth

    You brought up a good point. The man had a ‘sex offender’ label placed on him. He got this label in a way that had nothing to do with children. As a doctor, his patients complained about his procedures that happened WITH A NURSE PRESENT! However, that’s irrelevant. He has the sex offender label. He’s the enemy! Whether or not his label is warranted doesn’t matter. It could have been given to him by a political grandstander or a District attorney that wants to improve his sex conviction statistics. If they say that he’s a danger to children, that’s good enough for me. I can’t be bothered to think for myself. It’s more fun to condemn people.

    Who cares if he is dangerous to children. It’s immaterial if he is physically capable of doing any harm.

    He is a label. He is no longer a person. “He’s a sex offender. Who cares what happens to him?”

  17. James December 21, 2016 at 5:26 pm #

    @Alicia: The sex offender registration process is so broken as to be worse than useless. The girl who took pictures of herself in #6 could be placed on that list. So could almost any teenage boy who gets caught with his girlfriend. Strictly speaking *I* could be placed on that list–a few times I had my wife drive me to the office, and we kissed good-by, which is against a city ordinance. My wife could be charged with rape because a few times when I’d had a few drinks with friends we made love later in the night. Neither of these is a joke; I’ve spoken to lawyers I know about both (casual conversations, but still), and was told that if it came to trial, the results would be that I’m a sex offender and my wife is a rapist.

    Do you really think that a man who gives his wife a kiss good-by when she leaves for a month away from home should be moved out of a hospice in his old age? If not, you see the objection.

    If the guy committed an actual crime yeah, I’ve no sympathy for him; the fact that he lived to be old enough to be in a hospice is too good for him. But the issue is, because the laws in the USA are so broadly applied, insanely conservative, and the sex offender registry sweeps up so many different types of “crimes” (most of which amount to “It makes me feel icky so no one should be allowed to do it” back in the 1700s!!), a one-size-fits-all approach to addressing people on the registry simply doesn’t make sense.

  18. theresa December 21, 2016 at 5:53 pm #

    James has sense when it comes to the list. Half the list is probably horny teens or former teens who unlucky enough to get a cop in their lives admitted to being horny teens. And how is the guy who can’t take care of himself gonna commit another crime.

  19. Andrea Drummond December 21, 2016 at 6:16 pm #

    I’m about to finish reading “Beezus and Ramona” by Beverly Cleary to my five-year-old. When I read these books as a kid I thought nothing of it but now as a modern parent I am AMAZED. Beezus, age 9, walks Ramona, age 4, BY HERSELF downtown to the LIBRARY. When Beezus is taking an art class at the rec center, she has been instructed by their mother to LEAVE RAMONA ALONE OUTSIDE in the sand pile to play until she’s done. Ramona, without asking permission, invites a bunch of kids over for a party and ALL OF THE PARENTS leave their kids at the Quimbys’ house until they’re ready to be picked up. They tell a story about how Ramona went to find the gold at the end of the rainbow once and was found wandering alone and HER PARENTS WEREN’T INVESTIGATED OR ARRESTED. Their mother asks Beezus to watch Ramona BY HERSELF while she goes to the grocery store. It’s absolutely mindboggling what kids were allowed to do back in 1955 when the book was published. An unrecognizable landscape.

  20. Kimberly December 21, 2016 at 6:55 pm #

    I would like to report a good free range experience. I was at the Health Museum in Houston with my niece. They were having a program for boy scouts. The boys were not being shepherded from exhibit to exhibit. THey were given an assignment went of to do it, and then back to the classroom for their next thing to do. When we were leaving several of the boys were sitting on the grass watching the street. When their ride pulled up they went and got into the car just off the street. (if the parent pulled into the parking lot there was a charge). There was no adult watching over them.

    Also in the Cell lab exhibit you could do things like type your own blood, create a slide and see the cells in sheep’s blood, look at your cheek cells, extract DNA’s wheat germ, and even work with ecoli and staph viruses.

  21. derfel cadarn December 21, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

    Sadly, there is no limit to stupid.

  22. John B. December 22, 2016 at 12:41 am #

    @Alicia……The purpose of the sex offender registry is to keep the innocent public, children in particular, safe from ravenous sex offenders. It is not put in place for vindictiveness.

  23. sexhysteria December 22, 2016 at 1:46 am #

    Since many pregnancies are unplanned, any fertile woman who is sexually active shouldn’t drink. But even fertile women who aren’t sexually active such as nuns???

  24. Katie G December 22, 2016 at 9:08 am #

    If you ask me, the fasest way to clear up the list and separate the truly depraved
    (who ought to be sentenced for any years) is o start ruining the lives of those nive girls who send racy pictures, prefere=aly if their daddies are high profile and rich.

  25. jimc5499 December 22, 2016 at 10:11 am #


    How long have you had your copy of “Beezus and Ramona” ?

    I’m asking because I went to get some of those books for my seven year old great niece and found that some of them had been rewritten. The story lines had been changed to reflect our modern “politically correct” society.

    I first found “Free Range Kids” from the Overlawyered site. At the time there was a big push to remove certain books from the Children’s Section of libraries because there were traces of lead in the ink of some books. The Director of our library threw away most of the books in the Children’s Section and replaced them with new politically correct versions. I firmly believe that she was more interested in the content of the books than any lead that they might have had, when she decided which ones to discard.

  26. James Pollock December 22, 2016 at 10:28 am #

    “Since many pregnancies are unplanned, any fertile woman who is sexually active shouldn’t drink. But even fertile women who aren’t sexually active such as nuns???”

    Anyone who was previously not sexually active may change their minds at at any time.
    Unfortunately, some of them aren’t given a choice in whether or not they are going to start being sexually active.

  27. Workshop December 22, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

    “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” This quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson (although frequently misquoted), seems to apply to every single story listed.

    It is the reason why bureaucracies do not produce the great men and women that society needs to make the great advances to mankind. Indeed, it is why bureaucracies are populated most often by people for whom thinking is a far greater effort than walking up a flight of stairs.

  28. Neil M December 22, 2016 at 12:14 pm #

    #2 is my favorite. McCloud is either an attention-seeker or just weird, because what happened to her is more commonly called “shopping.” The news item about it is, literally, “Today, a woman was NOT stalked.” One can imagine so many headlines! “Man does not die from heart attack” or “Nebraska woman does not get into auto accident.” Sheesh.

  29. Mike December 22, 2016 at 12:17 pm #

    Alicia, good to see you have absolutely no idea what justice is about and have given up your own ability to think rationally and instead just parrot the usual hysterics. I, for one, don’t care what happens to you as long as it is a healthy dose of Karma.

    Andy Harris, Not sure what fake news you are reading but you do realize Hillary lost, right? So don’t worry, all will be just fine.

  30. SKL December 22, 2016 at 2:45 pm #

    Fun list!

    I don’t remember reading about the alcohol / pregnant thing. That’s hilarious. What next – will they require pregnancy tests along with breathalyzers at bars?

  31. jimc5499 December 23, 2016 at 2:30 pm #

    No. They will just charge you with endangering the welfare of a child. I remember reading where a pregnant woman ordered a glass of wine and the server called the police.

  32. DocHal December 23, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

    Concerning number 6 (racy pictures of self = sexual exploitation of a minor). Brook Shields was 11 or 12 when she was in Pretty Baby. Why wasn’t that considered child pornography and/or sexual exploitation of a minor? A Google search of her in the movie will find full frontal nudity (with no covering up) pictures of her, yet the movie is praised and no one is accused of any crime.

  33. Archimedes December 24, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

    Whether intended or not, James Pollock’s comment is sexist and cretinous, and a horrible reflection on men as a gender.

    The implication that women should account for rape in their behavioral choices, either not drinking, or staying on birth control, in case of such an event,or the suggestion it is reasonable to think they should do so is appalling.

    As is the ignorance of actual science. Moderate drinking has repeatedly been shown to not have a measurable effect (the confidence is low but they actually show a small positive effect on average).

    This type of attitude is unacceptable.

  34. Dottie December 26, 2016 at 11:05 pm #

    In re:#5 In New Mexico, it is not uncommon for people to drown in the giant uncovered drains, called arroyos. They are almost always empty, dry, fun-looking like a skate park, but when the water comes – adiós.