Two Moms Write: “I Was Scared, but I Let My Son Get to School on His Own”

A khbedkzfia
Biker mom in Pa writes:

Dear Free-Range Kids? I could have written this letter [about being scared to let a child, 10, walk to school on his own] 4 years ago.  We lost our bus service and most parents opted to drive their kids to school but a small group of students (my son was one) wanted to bike to school. So I let him.

We did practice runs before school started and had lots of conversations about “what ifs”.  Learning together the route and where safe places to go along the way helped a lot. His circle of friends expanded to include his commuting friends.  They are a close knit bunch and great kids. I bet your 10 year-old knows others who walk to school and that’s why he is asking for this independence.  Maybe you can have him meet up with friends (strength in numbers!)to help you with giving him freedom.  

The responsibility of biking to school transferred into other areas of his life.

His grades improved (he was always the first one in class each morning) from B’s to A’s.  He is more confident and independent- he can get his baseball gear together and ready for practice without being asked.  He gets odd jobs (dog walking, shoveling snow,watering plants, babysitting) because neighbors recognize him and know he is a responsible kid and trustworthy.  He biked 5 younger kids (three 1st graders) last year to school and won a citizenship award for community service. He was beaming.

As for cell phones, we didn’t get one until he turned 12 and needed it for middle school.  They can be more of a distraction and crutch for parents. Most of the problems that came up were handled without any adults needed.  Busted bike? He just ran the bike home.  Wipeout and shredded knees?  Bandaids and encouraging words from friends got them home to get cleaned up by a parent.  Kids this age have the capacity to solve most problems without needing to call an adult for every glitch. So go for it!  He sounds like a great kid.

And here’s ANOTHER letter!

When my son was 10, he decided he wanted to bike to school. In lobbying me, he even went on Mapquest to measure the route – 1.61 miles – and show me the path he would take. Since he had to cross a major street (with stoplights but no crossing guard), what I did was ride my bike with him the first week, to make sure that he was indeed paying attention to traffic and crossing with the light (he has ADHD/borderline ASD, so impulse control was a concern), then let him go to it. There were a few times the crossing guard at the school had words with him because he kept “forgetting” to get off and walk his bike once he was on school property, but losing his biking privileges a couple times got the message across.

Benefits – not only did he get extra exercise twice a day, but he also ended up making friends with other walkers/bikers. For a kid who struggled to connect with other kids, this was huge.

The glow on his face when he’d come home and tell me how he and his friends had stopped at the local deli to buy lemonade and cookies on the way home was priceless. And even better, when I would pick up lunch at that same deli, the workers would compliment his behavior and tell me how polite he was. (All this, while the school considered him a behavior problem in the classroom for not being able to sit still and work quietly.)

Three years later, he’s still walking or biking when the weather is good, classroom problems have nearly disappeared (in a new school that understands active boys much better), and still glows when he talks about stopping for a snack at local businesses with his friends. 🙂


Caution: Tasks may be easier than they appear.

Caution: Tasks may be easier than they appear.



29 Responses to Two Moms Write: “I Was Scared, but I Let My Son Get to School on His Own”

  1. BL April 10, 2014 at 9:16 am #

    And again I’m left to wonder: why is this considered so extraordinary?

    I think I’ve said this before, but …

    When I was eight years old (OK, very nearly nine), we moved to a new town, a small town of about 5000 people.

    While the big moving van was being unloaded, I took off on my bicycle (one of the first items out of the van) and went off to explore my new home town. By myself. Without any prior knowledge of it.

    I didn’t think it was extraordinary then. Nor did my parents or anyone else. I still don’t.

  2. SOA April 10, 2014 at 9:26 am #

    I think its great. I wish more kids walked. We have a ton of kids in our neighborhood and even on perfectly lovely days their parents still pick them up and the walk would be totally short. Like take less than 10 minutes. And this is an area with zero traffic really.

    I don’t get it.

  3. Papilio April 10, 2014 at 10:20 am #

    Yay for safe routes to school and everything that little freedom can give children. Come on USA…!

  4. Steve Cournoyer April 10, 2014 at 10:56 am #

    “And again I’m left to wonder: why is this considered so extraordinary?”
    this is normal….or rather what normal today should be…or what normal was when I grew up

  5. Donna April 10, 2014 at 11:25 am #

    It isn’t extraordinary, but let’s please stop poo pooing people who are making an effort to be more free range. They should be encouraged in their efforts instead of being knocked for not being free range enough in others opinions.

  6. Tiny Tim April 10, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Usual caveats: every kids is different, walking to school more desirable when other kids are doing it, too.

    But while I am very glad for these parents, I also can’t comprehend the climbing Mt. Everest accomplishment tone of them. Exaggeration, of course, but a 10-year-old walking to school just should not be seen as some major accomplishment. I walked to school daily when I was 6. I don’t remember thinking it was a big deal. I hated school, but I didn’t think the fact that I walked to it was strange. It wasn’t very far, and probably even closer than I remember, but still.

  7. Havva April 10, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    I was talking about the difficulty of letting go with a grandma at a kid’s birthday party, and she told me an illuminating story. At 5 the birthday boy’s dad was allowed to ride his bike in the neighborhood around the house. One day (after a longer than usual time out riding) he came in and told his mom he had gotten lost. She got a lump in her throat, but since he was standing there, she told herself not to panic whatever he said. Then she asked him what he saw along the way, and how he got home. Based on his description she figured he had missed a critical turn before this road left the neighborhood. And he had gotten about a mile and a half from home. When he figured out that the twisting road wasn’t going to let him back into his neighborhood he decided that he ought to backtrack. She noted it was the same thing she would have done if lost. She concluded based on that, that he was quite sensible and didn’t really need boundaries. A conclusion she says she would never would have reached so soon if he hadn’t gotten lost and un-lost on his own.

    She showed me that when something goes wrong and nothing bad happens, you shouldn’t think ‘OMG something horrible nearly happened/ this was a near disaster’ but rather should realize that your child has more skills than you realized.

    Makes sense, if a 5 year old couldn’t get un-lost, our grandparents would never have sent them to kindergarten alone.

  8. BL April 10, 2014 at 12:54 pm #

    “It isn’t extraordinary, but let’s please stop poo pooing people who are making an effort to be more free range. They should be encouraged in their efforts instead of being knocked for not being free range enough in others opinions.”

    The trouble with that idea is: if a walk to school is considered extraordinary (but doable), other non-extraordinary things will be regarded as “impossible”, “too dangerous”, etc.

    In other words, they’ve reached the top of Mount Everest, and now they don’t have to go any higher.

  9. Donna April 10, 2014 at 1:10 pm #

    BL, your attitude is certainly going to make them want to continue to subscribe to Free Range Kids and make greater strides for their children’s independence [to be read dripping with sarcasm].

  10. Rick April 10, 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    Yeah, this isn’t that extraordinary if you’re over 40. Having biked to kindergarten and walked 2 miles to school, crossing major intersections, by myself in 6th grade this isn’t that remarkable. However, the day and age make it exceptional.

  11. BL April 10, 2014 at 1:20 pm #

    “your attitude is certainly going to make them want to continue to subscribe to Free Range Kids”

    I doubt that I (or my “attitude”) can “make them” do anything.

  12. John April 10, 2014 at 1:38 pm #

    @Tiny Tim…believe it or not, there was an AMERICAN kid, yes AMERICAN kid (Think his name was Jordan Romero, something like that) who was the youngest person ever to reach the summit of Mount Everest! By age 15, he conquered all of the major summits! I’m guessing that Jordan is 18 by now so it was just a few short years ago.

    I’m absolutely surprised, but delighted, that his father wasn’t arrested and charged with child abuse in our “bubble-wrapping of kids” American society.

  13. John April 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Oh, Jordan was 13-years-old when he climbed Mount Everest with his dad and reached the top!

  14. John April 10, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Yep, it was Jordan Romero, age 13. Of course, it didn’t come without concerns from the West (((sigh))) and now there are age restrictions, but Jordan did just great!

  15. lollipoplover April 10, 2014 at 4:49 pm #

    Sadly, this is NOT the norm in the United States. Kids biking or walking has dropped dramatically in the past few decades. What was once normal is now considered neglect or lazy parenting. There is an entire generation that is being driven EVERYWHERE. Parent pick-up didn’t exist when I was growing up. Now the drop-off and pick-up procedures at most schools rival a nuclear reactor shut down.

    It’s not Everest to bike to school. Growing up, most kids walked to my elementary school and I was always jealous at dismissal because I had a long bus ride home. Now, this same school makes parents sign a waiver if they want their child to opt out of mandatory busing. The school offers valet parking for parents because the parking lot cannot accomodate the amount of cars and has to use an off-site parking lot for the overflow. Car culture rules.

    Most kids can bike or walk to school without adult supervision. But most parents won’t let them. THAT is the problem. Getting kids on bikes or walking is actually shown to improve performance at school. But first you have to get the parents to let them go.

  16. Michelle April 10, 2014 at 5:02 pm #

    A 10yo biking to school is not a huge achievement. However, a parent and child breaking free of the “common wisdom” of our entire society, overcoming dread fears that are driven into them from every direction, and recognizing that this can be done without serious risk — and then going through with it knowing how others may view such “neglect”? For that I say congratulations!

  17. Reziac April 10, 2014 at 9:23 pm #

    From Lollipoplover’s link, an even more important article:

    A few years ago I knew someone, then age 27, who had been driven everywhere by parents his whole life, and had absolutely NO idea how to get anywhere. Our clubhouse was just 3 blocks from his home, yet he didn’t understand that even if it was pointed out on a map, and was utterly lost the moment he set foot on the street. Mind you, this was a very intelligent kid who could connect the dots for anything he had experience with… but he had NO EXPERIENCE at finding his way around, not even around his own block.

    An extreme case, yes, but don’t think your kids have any more clues about where they are if they’ve no experience at finding their way.

  18. Tiny Tim April 10, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    And when I was 8, living somewhere else, I walked a mile to school. I know this because my father still lives there so I know this address and can google it. The bus was an option – I think you were supposed to opt in or out – but when the bus drivers were on strike there was no question about whether kids (6+) could walk to school.

  19. hineata April 10, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

    @John, good on Jordan, I think, but I’m glad they put age restrictions on now. This ‘youngest person’ nonsense is getting over the top. Abby Sunderland’s ridiculous sailing quest ended up costing the Australian taxpayers millions, all for something that any person who’s ever walked down Lambton Quay, Wellington in winter could have told you was going to fail.

    Walking and biking to school – excellent! “Youngest” feats – ridiculous publicity-grabbing stunts.

    Now, if those kids had simply left town one day and done those things quietly and unaided, well, good luck to them, they were obviously ready. Otherwise, just ludicrous.

  20. Donna April 11, 2014 at 7:28 am #

    Good grief. Nobody considers biking to school the same as climbing Mt. Everest. Give it a rest.

    It absolutely IS an achievement to overcome a fear, regardless of what that fear is. This post isn’t about biking to school. Or kids and what they can do. It is about PARENTS overcoming the fear for their children that society takes great efforts to instill in them. Now that they’ve gotten over the initial hurdle of conquering their fear the first time, most will probably allow more freedom. There isn’t a single person who tackled Mt. Everest as their first hike. Every single one had countless smaller goals and got lots of kudos well before they even conceived of climbing Everest.

  21. ank April 11, 2014 at 10:27 am #

    love it! I love hearing stories from other parents who gave their kid the freedoms they had and how it turned out (hopefully well). Yesterday I took my two girls to a park with a creek that the girls wanted to go look for interesting rocks. I have a new baby so we stayed on the blanket while the girls played in the creek. We’re in the park but they are completely out of my sight. When my friend showed up, I showed her where the kids were playing and she let her two kids run off too! No big deal, just some kid having fun 🙂

  22. Jenny Islander April 11, 2014 at 12:26 pm #

    So I finally got to read that article in Atlantic. You know, I’ve gotten so used to being free range that I had forgotten how downright countercultural I actually am.

    Yesterday afternoon, I have no idea where my 10- and 7-year-old were, except that my 7-year-old was not allowed to go bike riding downtown unsupervised with her 6-year-old friend because neither of them has a thorough grasp on traffic safety yet. So she took her old tricycle to the nearby vacant lot and came home with dirt all over her pants and a scrape on her hand. I only know this because she made a quick pit stop before rejoining her friend. At some point they were playing hospital in the side yard with a structure built out of last winter’s toboggans and some buckets. I sent the friend home at 5:00 so my girl could eat an early dinner and go to Sunbeams (they build and launch rockets, it’s awesome). Meanwhile her big sister was around somewhere or other, I think with her friend from up the hill. I wasn’t worried; if I really needed to call her in early, she had the old dumb phone we keep around for the kids.

    After homeschool, lunch, and chores, they disappear. And that’s fine.

  23. John April 11, 2014 at 2:22 pm #

    @hineata….yes, but I find it somewhat ironic that before Jordan, the youngest to climb Everest was a 15-year-old girl from Nepal. But now that Jordan Romero, a western kid (boy), successfully reached the summit of Everest, you all-of-a-sudden have an age restriction. Obviously this rule was pushed by Western societies who bubble-wrap their children much more than Asian societies do.

  24. hineata April 11, 2014 at 2:58 pm #

    @Donna – am sure it wasn’t a first hike. But I think a thirteen year old climbing a major mountain is simply a publicity stunt, like Sunderland’s fool’s errand, except that as he was accompanied by sensible natives he had a reasonable chance of success. His parents were not fearful, they were, imho, publicity hounds. And we often go off topic on this blog, me being a frequent offender, so am not going to apologize for doing so at this point. 🙂

    @John – maybe it was the West, but from what I can see on Wikipedia (hardly the fount of all knowledge, I know, but fast 🙂 , it appears to have been a Nepalese body who put on the restrictions and no mention of the West at all. Except a chap who stated that these days there’s so many chains etc that people are practically winched up by Sherpas. So maybe Sherpas simply thought they’d be having to winch up younger and younger kids so those kids and parents could sign book deals, and cut the idea out permanently.

  25. C. S. P. Schofield April 11, 2014 at 6:32 pm #

    When I went to elementary school, I walked. I think, maybe, the very youngest kids who lived as far away as I did were driven … for about half the first year, and after that their parents were discouraged from clogging up the road. I remember about eight blocks, but there may have been more. Near the school, where there were some busy roads, some of the older kids (still below middle school, remember) were given orange belt-bandoliers and flags; everybody expected that traffic would stop for them, too. I remember that some kid in pre-history had started to bang a telephone pole by one crossing with the butt of his flag, and this had become a tradition. The holes were about 4″ deep in my time. God alone knows how long that had taken.

    Why isn’t this normal today? Why do we even LISTEN to the hysterics?

  26. JP April 12, 2014 at 12:11 pm #

    You said it, Lollipoplover.

    Car culture does rule.
    A bike used to be like a kid’s third leg. They were always on them – going somewhere.
    A drive is a drive…but always was and always will be an absolute form of control.
    It presents its own form of tyranny.
    (and of course….the driver’s “third leg” becomes those 4 wheels) with a sort of suckie soother provided by steerage.
    Many of us hate, despise and loathe that car-dependency.
    But we chose to design our “public” domain the way it is.
    Should a Martian ever one day happen to re-discover America, he/she/it will no doubt spring to the obvious conclusion -that the ruling sentient being is the car.
    Just look what we do for it!

  27. Papilio April 12, 2014 at 1:08 pm #

    “But we chose to design our “public” domain the way it is.”

    Yes. It is man-made. Keep that in mind, as it means it can be changed.

  28. Papilio April 12, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    Oh look – this is how it was done: (~45min)

    So sneaky!
    Makes me glad I was born *after* the car-dominant era.

  29. John April 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    @hineata….yes, but I do believe that imposing the age restriction for climbing Everest was due to pressure from the West.