Readers. Here’s a slightly updated column I wrote for my syndicate,Â Creators, this week.
What Happens When We Dangerize Childhood
This has been a big week for pointing fingers … including at me.
As the lady who started “Free-Range Kids” after letting my 9-year-old take the subway solo, Â I’ve spent a lot of time explaining that crime rate is actually LOWER than it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s,Â which means our kids should be able to enjoy the same kind of childhood WE had â€” playing outside, riding their bikes, even walking home at age 8.
But then a madman murdered 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was Â indeed just walking home from camp in Brooklyn. And suddenly, the idea of Free-Range Kids sounds about as sensible as letting children ride their trikes along the interstate. As the headline on one of the big “mommy blogs” read, “Boy Abducted Walking Home Alone: Is Free-Range Parenting Dangerous?”
To which I would like to pose a different question, based on the fact that 25 times more children die as car passengers than as abduction victims (that is, about 1,300 children younger than 14 die in cars annually, whereas about 50 are murdered by strangers): “Is Putting Your Kid in the Car Dangerous?”
I ask only because, as a society, we have decided to focus on the least likely, most horrific, most TV ratings-garnering child deaths and base a lot of our parenting decisions on them. Gever Tulley, an author andÂ educator in California, coined a term for this: dangerism.Â (And he wrote a book about it, too.)Â Â We decide, irrationally, which dangers are worth obsessing over and which we will shrug off as small, unavoidable risks.
So when I get a letter such as this one â€” “That little boy’s parents should have known better than to let him walk alone at such an early age” â€” I have to stifle a scream.
The parents should have “known better” than to trust their city â€” my city, too â€” where we are enjoying the lowest murder rate since 1961? Known better than to trust their neighborhood, which the state assemblyman described as a “no-crime area”? Known better than to trust their 8-year-old when, in most countries of the world, kids start walking to school at age 7? This is like saying the parents of the baby killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park last year should have known better than to stand under a tree.
We have yet to dangerize a walk in the park.Â But we are in the process of dangerizing any walk by any kid in any neighborhood, no matter how safe.
It is hard to get a grip on how uncommon a crime like the Kletzky murder is, because it is precisely those uncommon crimes that are exceedingly common on TV. They start out on the news and then get recycled in the crime dramas and “special investigations” and, eventually, on the anniversary shows (smarmily marketed as “tributes”), to the point where the story becomes indelible. Then, when we ask ourselves whether it is safe for our kids to walk outside, up pops Lieby Kletzky’s photo, like the top story in a Google search. And just like that top Google item, it seems the most relevant, even though actually it is the least. It is so easily accessible because it is so rare. If it were happening all the time â€” like kids being killed in car accidents â€” we’d search for an iconic image and draw a blank.
So the next time someone tells me, “I would NEVER let my child walk outside, because it’s just too dangerous,” here is how I will reply:
“I hope you NEVER put your children in a car. How could you ever forgive yourself if, God forbid, something terrible were to happen? It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep your children safe! Personally, I would rather have my kids stuck at home, unable to go anywhere, than take the TERRIBLE RISK of putting them in the car. Maybe at 13 or 14 they can start riding in a car, but seven or eight? Too young! Parents should know better! It’s just not worth a lifetime of regret.”
That’s how wacky â€” and stifling â€” we can get when we dangerize everyday life, so let’s try not to. (And let’s keep the blame-the-parents impulse in check, too.) — L.
Thanks, Lenore. It’s been a very sad week. I’ve thought often about this poor family, and just weep for them. I can’t even pretend to understand their grief, which is only compounded by all the pointing fingers. As tragic as this all is, I need to keep reminding myself that it doesn’t make my son any less safe to run around in our neighborhood. He’s just as safe as he was last week.
How long until a fictionalized version hits Law and Order: SVU? And people will believe these things really DO happen all the time. 🙁
I feel like it comes down to control. When you are the driver, you feel like you’re in control. The minute your kids are out of your sight – no control…and therefore very dangerous.
I do know that before I let my child walk anywhere on his own, we will walk the route dozens of times together. At least in the beginning. But that’s several years off, and by that time the fearmongers might have won and walking anywhere will be illegal, regardless of age. Sigh.
Recognizing and accepting that you are not in complete control, and sometimes things “happen” is a very freeing experience.
This column was in our local paper recently, and I instantly thought of you. Same “old” argument, with a twist.
Wasn’t Leiby Kletzky murdered by a neighbor in his own apartment complex? Chances are, that guy was someone he had at least seen around the building, even if he didn’t know the guy’s name. So, as is most often the case, the abductor/murderer was someone known to the child, not a stranger in a black van with candy.
I’m just waiting to hear about this from my neighbor. She worries a little about how my kids play out front without me and says she won’t let her daughter do that. That’s fine, as her daughter is only 3. My kids didn’t play out front without supervision at that age either. I’m not terribly interested in hearing how risky it is for my 6 and 9 year olds to play out there.
@Silver Fang, no, the it was someone in short distance of his home, tho.
But, if we parents want to take any learning points from this horrible tragedy it would be that your child should know the route they need to walk and that they should be coached on not leaving with anyone who is not part of their immediate family.
We tell our 8 year old son who is allowed out alone that the only people whose cars he should go in or whose homes he should enter or even leave his usual route with are people he’s related to by blood. He has safe havens in the neighbourhood that are businesses where we know the owners and employees and we’ve visited them and discussed the fact that we’ve designated those places as safe havens (a public place you can go if someone makes you nervous or tries anything weird, a place where you can use the phone to call home, a place where there are familiar faces who’ve known my sons since babies…). These are important safe practices for our children who roam the world without us.
Dangerize is an apt word. More broadly “The Culture of Fear,” by USC Sociologist, Barry Glassner, wrote of a whole kettle of fears made of distorted perceptions of risks in American life. Americans handily carry around their own rumpled fear map, and just as easily condemn those with a different map, even if it is more accurate.
Another sick aspect of this is that so many of us aren’t free to even make those decisions. I let my then 2nd grader walk half a block from the bus, on a quiet residential street, where I could see him the entire time, and my ex husband used that against me to help him get custody. If he gets the slightest bump or bruise while I have him, I”m back in court. I know that I’m not the only divorced mom that has these kind of problems.
Well said Lenore. I have been explaining this exact something to anyone who will listen (now I can just share it on facebook!)
@HSMum. I believe the question that Lenore is suggesting is:
Why isn’t there a tv show called “Law and Order:SUV”?
@Cass: LOL! Clever. 😀
Off topic, but there’s yet another dystopia on this subject right now:
I’m in total agreement and wrote about it on my blog. Here’s the link, if you or anyone else is interested. http://green-mangoes.com/?p=1805
I think the idea of anyone losing their child is so incredibly terrible, that people grasp at why that couldn’t happen to their own child. “Well I would never let my child walk alone, so that won’t happen to me”.
Instead of the risk of something incredibly unlikely happening, parents are amost guaranteeing that their kids are inactive, obese, uninterested and uninteresting adults.
What Happens When We Dangerize Childhood? “435.15 (3) No diving board or platform more than one meter above the pool or water level shall be permitted for general public use in any swimming pool.”
Massachusetts State Law
What is so sad to me is how little time is spent supporting the family during this terrible time. Instead of spending time sending white light their way, people get so caught up playing the “if only the parents had…” game because it gives them a false sense of control.
Not everything is within our control, and I’m thrilled that there’s a community of people on this site who embrace that fact. The family needs our condolences, not our judgment.
__(And letâ€™s keep the blame-the-parents impulse in check, too.)__
For me, this is the crucial point.
Let this be an opportunity to recognize Leiby’s parents, extended family, and community for being responsible, competent, caring folks thrust into unthinkably tragic circumstances.
Wow. I’m quite speechless.
I am the ultimate example of a dangerizing mother. My friends criticize me for it, but I come from very open-minded circles and just thought that they were the crazy ones, and that I was simply a bit more conservative when it came to how to raise my child.
I am an extremely apprehensive mother and child of the 80’s. Reading your article makes me realize the connection.
When I was my son’s age (8), my parents were sending me back and forth by myself on international flights. I thought it was really cool when I was little, feeling so independent. But now that I have my own child, I think they were crazy, and sometimes even question how much they loved me.
I was a very free child – out with friends on our bikes at 11pm on a summer night, could sleep over at a friend’s house whenever I wanted, and my mother wasn’t wondering if there was some pedophile uncle in the house. But I don’t let my boy spend the night anywhere away from me. I don’t let him walk to the park and I most definitely wouldn’t let him go on a plane by himself.
And true it is, I grew up watching talk-shows, child-abuse movies at school and on the television, horror movies, sensationalist news programs and serial murderer documentaries. That’s the difference. My parents weren’t exposed to that, or much television at all.
Even though I am so apprehensive, I had never looked up crime rates over the decades, and just assumed that ours was the most terrible of times – because that’s what I was taught, not by parents but by television. It’s embarrassing to admit, especially because I like to believe that I am a free thinker.
I stopped watching horror movies a long time ago because I realized that they didn’t help my paranoia. I don’t know if I can stop being afraid, fear is a powerful force. But you have made me aware of something I was conveniently overlooking.
Nothing wrong with horror movies and crime shows as long as you understand it’s all exaggerated fictional stories meant for entertainment purposes only. If they were about everyday events, then it wouldn’t be interesting would it?
@rebeleducation: welcome to the club! I had a similar epiphany myself when my toddler son became super fearful of strangers. I thought he was just really shy but then I realized when my mum would come to visit that he would loosen up and flirt, especially around pretty girls and little old ladies. I realized that it wasn’t a simple matter of his shy temperament, but that I was infecting him with my paranoia. Since then I’ve vowed to raise him as a free range kid, although letting go is hard to do!
I do think that there is also the issue of the type of harm, not just the statistical chance of it happening. While both are sad, the thought of my child dying the way Leiby did is much different than if she were to die in a car crash. Both would be tragic but the one makes me want to vomit. I think focusing only on statistical chance misses this point.
I, too, am grateful for the social perspective articulated by all those on this site.
Lenore, I can only imagine, that this has been a very difficult week for you. Do not waiver. I’ve mentioned this before…but I grew up in the shadow of a very violent child murder (my friend’s sister). I had to decide, at an early age, whether or not I would allow that to frame my world view. It does not.
Hang in there. You are right. Most people are decent, and there’s so much to gain from allowing our children direct and appropriate contact with the world. How will they develop judgment without experience?
I think focusing only on statistical chance misses this point.
I don’t know. I hope none of us is ever, EVER in a position to know and compare, but I think that no matter how you lose a child – through a car accident, a lingering illness, a rare freak occurrence such as a lightning strike, or some criminal activity – it must feel terrible.
It’s easy to say on the outside that maybe some ways are more horrific to experience as a loving relation, but I suspect that’s like saying that 500 degrees is hotter than 480 degrees. Either way, it’s really painful.
Additionally, even if it would feel worse, letting your emotions make the choices… well, it’s your life, but that’s not how all of us want to live. I refuse to act as though rare events are commonplace just because they hurt more.
The more I think about it, the more I believe that this fear of child-independence is becoming it’s own brand of phobia.
And to comment on the previous comment about statistics missing the point, I don’t think it totally does miss the point. Yes, it’s a sickening thought, but so is the idea that over-protecting my child today might create an adult who is so fearful and unexperienced of independence that he cannot function in public without me at his side.
Sorry I accidentally pressed Send before I wrote my whole comment. Here it is in full:
What Happens When We Dangerize Childhood? â€œ435.15 (3) No diving board or platform more than one meter above the pool or water level shall be permitted for general public use in any swimming pool.â€
Source: Massachusetts State Law
It is extremely likely that safety was a major factor in the creation of this law. Let’s break down the reasoning behind this law. Roughly 1,000 spinal cord injuries occur due to diving every year. About 3/4 of these involve natural bodies of water. This leaves about 250 per year involving swimming pools. Only 1/10 of swimming pool diving accidents occur from a diving board. Of these 25 or so per year (tiny number… you are more likely to be struck by lightning), only ONE in the past 100 years has occurred in a public pool… and in all irony, this one occurred during a closed practice, so restricting public use would not have affected it one bit. Freak accidents will occur no matter what height the board is, and even a belly flop from the highest operating diving boards (OK, technically the ones 5-10 meters up are platforms), though extremely painful, is unlikely to cause permanent damage if the pool has a lifeguard.
In conclusion, I am not sure what the legislature of Massachusetts was thinking when they made that law, for when you take major action in an attempt to reduce an already small number (especially when it’s ZERO), you are playing with fire (or fat, as the collective removal of recess from about half of all American public schools will attest to).
Sources (remove spaces):
http : // www . sw . org / trauma-center / diving-safety
http : // www . divingboardsafety . net / MythBusters . pdf
http : // www . oocities . org / woras . geo / LastWord . htm
Beautifully written as always. If you want to play “hardball” you can start posting the stories of kids who are killed in car accidents–every day another story, with picture, and lurid details–I’m not seriously suggesting that, but I just don’t think people realize that all those deaths are *real people*. And then I always want to go one step farther and start posting pictures and stories of children who die of starvation in the third world while we pretend that poverty is the exception rather than the rule. All of these children are every bit as real and precious as Leiby Kletzky or even (drumroll please) Elian Gonzales. THERE’S perspective.
Lenore, yours is the only blog I follow daily. You are a voice of common sense (and humor) in the wilderness, and I find myself getting frustrated because the voices on the other side are so much more loud, and shrill, and well-funded, and successful, and despite all your efforts I only see things getting worse. But I am heartened to see all the other fans; I’m heartened when someone I know posts a link to your blog on Facebook; I’m heartened to read rebeleducation’s email above and think that maybe one Mom will think “maybe my parents weren’t crazy” and one kid will have something closer to a real childhood for it. That’s worth an awful lot.
Kathy McC: If you ask parents of kids with developmental disabilities what their biggest fear for their children is, the answer will usually be some variant of “what will happen to him/her when I’m gone.” Parents who stunt their typically-developing kids to the point where they can’t be independent adults will have to start coping with fears like this.
Been doing a lot of thinking this week, a lot of holding my kids close before sending them out with a pat on the butt to face what life holds for them on this day. Been thinking of the parents of hurt/missing/slain children, been thinking of you Lenore and all the parents who assume the risks they feel necessary. I appreciate doing this thinking… it’s so much better for me (and my kids) than succumbing to paranoia and irrational fear. When we think together, we learn together, and we realize we *are* together, no matter the differences in opinion or perspective. Understanding that is the greatest comfort I can have with my heart out there, walking around amongst humanity. We are together.
@Victoria — no, you’re not alone. I divorced when my daughters were 6 and 3, and my ex constantly criticized me for letting them play at OTHER PEOPLE’S HOUSES when I wasn’t there…it took years before I felt like I could let them ride their bicycles to the neighborhood park without working that CPS was going to show up on my doorstep.
Lenore, I so look forward to your sane, calm responses to such difficult situations. I am forever blowing your horn, as I seem to be surrounded by fearful folks who are ( intentionally or not) creating an incredibly limited, dependent future for their kids. And some of these are homeschoolers, supposedly free thinkers…. I feel like I am fighting a huge demon. People wonder why my kids are independent, capable, flexible– maybe it has something to do with the laissez faire parenting they have received? (I’d like to say I coined that, but Mothering magazine did a great article about just that in the early 90s when my kids were little. It affected me deeply).
I’ve posted this before, but I think it bears repeating.
I live in bear country; our bears are probably the biggest bears in the world. The population density of these animals is incredibly high–Wikipedia quotes 0.7 animals per square mile. They are inhumanly strong, incredibly fast, very inquisitive, and pretty much always hungry. They trash unattended vehicles near fishing streams. They break into remote cabins in search of food. They ransack campsites. They walk right through town to swim to nearby islands. They have killed people.
And yet, my family went camping for the Fourth of July. We chose an unimproved campsite that was so far from town that emergency services would have taken an hour to get there. We took a toddler, a preschooler, and a grade schooler into bear country and lay down and went to sleep there.
It all comes down to acceptable risk.
Two people have been killed by bears in my region in the past near-century: one in 1921 and one in 1999. I can’t find details about the victim in 1921, but the one in 1999 did everything right. The bear challenged him for ownership of a deer he had shot. He backed off. This has happened many, many times in local history and the bear always let the hunter go in exchange for the kill. This time, for whatever reason, it kept on coming and someone died.
We can do everything right. We can store our food in tightly sealed containers, away from the heart of the camp. We can burn or seal up all of our trash. We can scrub all scent of food off our hands and faces before we zip ourselves into our tents. We can always make noise before going around blind corners, avoid messing around where salmon are running, camp in groups because the overwhelming majority of bears don’t want to be around us and will leave as soon as they detect our presence, so the more obvious our presence the better. And still, there is the chance that the next bear down the beach will just plain want to kill somebody today, just like the one in 1999. And they are very big, very fast, and very hard to stop, even with a high-powered rifle. And there is no way to tell from the outside whether this one is going to be the one that wants to kill my children.
So why did we do it? Why did we take our kids into danger?
Because we saw the free-roaming ranch horses come over the rise in the early morning. We read the tracks of bison on the hillside. We woke to a chorus of birdsong louder than we had thought possible. Our kids spent the day wet, filthy, and exhilarated and gathered a bagful of treasure. We connected with generations of our family who had camped on the same site, around the same hearth. The chance that this was the year that one bear out of the approximately 3,600 bears alive at any one time in the archipelago would decide to repeat what that rogue had done in 1999, and do so right where we happened to be, was extremely remote. I decided not to deprive my children of a certain good in order to protect them from a barely possible evil.
Compare this with the year that a bear was known to have investigated the Dumpster just down the hill from our house. Bears return to known food sites. We chose not to camp on the lawn–obviously!–or send our kids out to play without our being right there, until hibernation season had begun. The bear did not return the following spring and we relaxed our vigilance.
It’s all about acceptable risk.
I agree with the general concept. The murder of Leiby Kletzky was a freak occurence. It does not mean that simply walking down the street is dangerous for children. It doesn’t even mean that 8 years old is too young to walk around by yourself – this kid was to walk two blocks along a known route. I’d expect 8-year-olds to be able to to do that to walk to a friend’s house or similar safely.
However, in this one particular case, a lot of things went very badly wrong, and I really can’t help but ask why.
– Left the park in completely the wrong direction.
– Did not attempt to backtrack or phone home (if he had change – it is not unreasonable to assume that there are payphones around).
– Got into the car of someone who was not known and trusted by him or his parents.
– Let the guy take him to the guy’s home. This is while this guy was offering to take the kid to a wedding a long way away or god knows what else. You know, clear signs of not being right in the head.
– Did not attempt to call the parents from that guy’s home.
I know it sounds insensetive, but I feel that it’s very much necessary (and true) to say that this is not normal behaviour for an eight year old boy.
I am glad to see this Lenore. It sounds like you’re starting to become far less defensive of free-range, much like prior interviews where I saw you remark “in my defense…,” and instead taking a stronger, but still not nasty, tone–one that’s very emphatic and proud as opposed to being almost apologetic in tone
Go get ’em, Lenore! You’re our free-range queen!
As Liz said above, the Kletzky family needs our condolences and support and not our judgement. His parents are hurting enough already without people telling them that they’re bad. They don’t need people’s judgement on top of their grief.
I read a statistic a while back which said that the number of people killed in the USA in car accidents every year is about two-thirds to four-fifths of the total number of US soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen who died during the entire Vietnam War. That’s between 30,000 and 40,000 people per year. The reason that car accidents don’t make the news is that they happen so frequently. Yet nobody is calling to ban cars.
Commercial air travel is statistically the safest mode of transportation. Yet when a plane crashes, or there is a hijacking, it’s all over the news. The reason for plane crashes or hijackings being newsworthy is because they are rare events. The average number of people killed in plane crashes in the States is 138 per year. But I never see calls for banning airplanes, or telling people not to fly, on the news after a crash or hijacking.
The reason that a child being abducted and murdered by a stranger makes the news is because it’s such a rare occurrence. About 50 kids are murdered by strangers in the US every year, which is even less than the average number of people who die in plane crashes. But there seems to be a big difference between car/plane accidents and child abductions. When a child dies in a car or plane crash, nobody blames the child or parents. You don’t hear, “Jimmy’s mother is bad because she put him in that car or on that plane.” But I’m reading all over the Internet about how Lieby’s parents were “bad” for letting him walk a few blocks by himself. I’m sure that in the States there will be even more restrictions on letting kids walk or ride their bikes places by themselves as a result of Lieby’s tragic death. I can even imagine a “Lieby’s Law” about letting kids walk on their own.
I seriously doubt that we’ll ever see a “Law & Order: SUV” show because the TV networks get so much revenue from motor-vehicle manufacturers.
What I want to know is out of ALL the people in New York city ( it was New York this terrible tragedy happened right?) why was it that THAT madman found him? Where were the other 8 999 999 odd people that live there that day? Why didn’t a “good” person help him? We all know WE would help a lost child find his way safely home right? Seems bizarre… so against the odds… there has GOT to be more to this story I am sure.
Free Ranger here. My two kids (11 and 7) are in Oregon with their grandparents running around our old neighborhood with friends. They know the rules and what’s expected of them, they follow the rules. They also have passwords should any adult say they have come to fetch them, even someone we know (since as we all know most child abductions/molestations) are by someone they know. My hubby and I miss them like crazy but are happy they’ve learned to separate and that we always come back for them!
The other day I went to a martial art lesson with a cousin and her son. AFter the lesson the 9 year old boy asked his mom if he could walk outside without his shoes. Her response “Isn’t that a little dangerous?” Dangerous!? What, the mad land piranas will get him, bombs exploding?
Interesting what we perceive as dangersous these days, isn’t it?
This topic came up a a local Quick Trip (ie corner gas station). I overheard 2 employees talk about how bad a mom she was for letting her son walk alone. I interrupted with the statistic about riding in autos. One didn’t reply, the other said “How else are they supposed to get around? I have to drive my kids, she didn’t have to let her son walk alone.” I then mentioned the crime statistic… deaf ears again. I really feel for these kids and parents who have let the latest news story grip them.
I am torn on offering a copy of your book or just letting it go. Just as with religion and politics, how do we get people to see the other side? This is about politics but I think it is very appropriate here:
It seems to me the parents that want to isolate their kids from the rest of the neighborhood are making them less safe. When we were kids and all of the local kids played outside we learned very quickly which ones seemed “off” and avoided them. They were the ones who spent more time torturing bugs than playing tag (neighbor boy who ended up in jail in his later years).
I got a notice from our town the other day for the National Night Out. It’s being “held” at the parking lot of the police station. Huh? Wasn’t that supposed to be when everyone just hung out on their front porches? Why does it have to be organized?
We need to get to know our neighbors better to better protect our kids.
I am touched by both your commentaries on this subject and I agree wholeheartedly. Such a horrific crime, but to blame the parents for letting their child be a child is what is truly unspeakable.
@Janis “I think focusing only on statistical chance misses this point.”
@Uly “I suspect thatâ€™s like saying that 500 degrees is hotter than 480 degrees” (vicious murder vs car accident)
I agree with Uly that to the parent who has lost a child, it likely doesn’t make a difference how the child died (tree branch vs car accident vs vicious murder), it would just be hell. However, I think Janis’s point is not about the parent who has lost their child but the parent who is contemplating the risks of it.
While statistically more likely, imagining the possibility of my child dying in a car accident doesn’t give me the same visceral repulsion of stranger abduction and murder. Possibly because car accidents happen all the time so they are less scary, less theoretical? The very fact that it is more common makes the prospect less frightening in the abstract? Definitely the thought of my child being in danger or hurt at the same time as being separated from me feels like a primal fear. The culture of fear perpetuated by media certainly gets some blame, but I think we need to face the fact that even without the media, parents evaluating the relative risk of car accidents vs. abduction are going to be more fearful of the freakishly rare but more horrifying event. Lenore has posted links before about how we are not rational with our fears. I think the statistics are the way to combat this irrationality, but it will take time and repetition and we need to be sensitive to the fact that statistics do not instantly negate instinctual fear of the horrific unknown.
“Dangerize”…what a fantastic coinage.
It’s so vital that we have the words to describe the things we seek to change. When we have the power to label something, it becomes that much easier to talk about and debate, and therefore eaiser to change.
Thanks for adding this word to my vocabulary!
I just added you “comment” in a comments thread where fear-mongering is rampant. Let’s see where it goes.
What I want to know is out of ALL the people in New York city ( it was New York this terrible tragedy happened right?) why was it that THAT madman found him? Where were the other 8 999 999 odd people that live there that day?
Well, most of them weren’t in Brooklyn and had no reason to be in that neighborhood.
Out of the people in that neighborhood – I don’t know. Maybe none of them realized he was lost, until he asked someone (the wrong person) for help.
Possibly because car accidents happen all the time so they are less scary, less theoretical?
So you’re saying one death is a tragedy, but a million is just a statistic?
I can see that.
â€œHow else are they supposed to get around? I have to drive my kids, she didnâ€™t have to let her son walk alone.â€
Oh my god, sometimes it’s like talking to a wall.
The only response is “You think you’re a better parent because every day you do something dangerous when she chooses to do something safe?”
Fter the lesson the 9 year old boy asked his mom if he could walk outside without his shoes. Her response â€œIsnâ€™t that a little dangerous?â€ Dangerous!? What, the mad land piranas will get him, bombs exploding?
And if you point out that there is NO glass on the ground, that your eyes work perfectly well and can see that there’s nothing on the ground, they just entrench and go “Well, there might be”. See earlier comment re: walls, talking to.
I had to tell my mother, over and over again, that the person responsible for the murder of that child is the murderer. Not his parents.
I was 12 years old when Ted Bundy escaped from the Glenwood Springs jail less than 3 hours from my house. He took many women in Colorado in the early 80’s. I firmly believe that that incident set the policy in my house that I would never be able to be able to jog or ride my bike out of sight of my dad until I left for college. Believe me, there are psychological risks to raising children in fear. We don’t think about those because they are less visceral. I realize how brave you have to be, knowing the possibilities that exist in the world, to let your children walk out the door. There are opportunities that they will miss if they never get to go.
I am reminded of a quote from the Princess Bride. “Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something. ” I think that is exactly what is happening. We are being sold on the idea that we can eradicate pain from out lives. We can not afford to buy it. Thank you Lenore for standing up to what is sensible. As many have also stated here, the parents of this child need our love and support, not our recriminations.
*(Maybe this has been addressed in a previous post — I read earlier entries that have touched upon this but didn’t quite answer it.)*
Could the reduction in crimes against children be at all related to the stricter, nigh-on-paranoid parenting trends we’ve seen in the past decade? I mean, while abductions-leading-to-murder by strangers 50 years ago was practically non-existent, there *are* fewer instances today. Any chance the helicoptering has actually made such abductions (albeit insanely rare ones) even more unlikely? That is to say, if most parents are now living in perpetual fear of the child killer prowling the suburbs in a sleazy van to the point of never letting their children play frisbee in the front yard, and if there really was somebody somewhere trying to kidnap and murder kids, maybe a handful of crimes were actually prevented?
Maybe a similar argument could be made for vehicle deaths — there are many, many more cars on the road now than in the 60s. The population is greater too. While safety regulations have become more stringent in recent years, the sheer volume of cars and people may keep the actual number of deaths relatively the same. Plus now we drive at 75mph with one hand operating an iphone, GPS, and 900-station radio.
(Please note I’m not actually arguing against FRK. I’ve been following this blog for a while and have pretty much the same philosophy. I’m really just posing a “devil’s advocate” question.)
About the car accident comparison – if (God forbid) my children got hurt in a car accident, I think I would be so much more upset with myself than if something happened while they were out walking. Precisely because I am supposed to be in control of what happens in my car. My own split-second action could have prevented this or that. I don’t think I would blame myself as much for not predicting that the rare psycho was going to cross paths with my kid on a given day.
Of course I speak from the comfortable, blessed position of not knowing from experience either way.
I see this as a general trend away from the actual experience of our own, human, fallible, beautiful lives. We live so much in our heads, which might not be such a bad thing if we knew how to use them properly. Unfortunately, most of us are badly trained in thinking, and believe that all sorts of daydreaming, worrying, imagining, and rationalising of emotion counts the same as clear, logical thought. We’re insulted if someone tells us otherwise. We fear death more at a time when death is (though inevitable) at the furthest remove from us it’s ever been. I submit that we will continue to fear death until we again make the conscious effort to understand life: its whole process, or field, which includes all kinds of sad and lovely things, including the inevitability of death and occasional sadness. We don’t know what it means to live, and so we try to avoid it, knowing on some level what it contains. I can only speculate about how this came about. Urbanisation, TV…alienation from others. If the stories that came most readily to mind came from our own lives or those of our neighbours, or our broader communities, rather than from TV news or other fiction, we might have a better sense of what is likely to happen. I really think that instead of educating our children so poorly in facts alone, we might try teaching them empathy, and how and when to use their brains AND their emotions. Maybe we could get back to the full experience of a real human life, instead of the mass of abstractions that most of us live in from day to day. Abstract thought has its place, but it’s a very limited tool, really, when you’re trying to live a life.
@Midtown: Let us assume that this IS true. Maybe 100 kids at the most are saved annually. Compare that to the number of kids who die of obesity-related reasons per year, most of which would have been directly prevented by a couple of good 1-mile walks per day.
@Midtown, as Lenore has pointed out, ALL crime is down, not just crimes against children. Hyper-vigilant parents have nothing to do with crimes against adults, property crime, burglary, etc.
That is, take drastic action to reduce an already small number and you run the risk of creating a much larger number, or, at best, creating another small number that is actually a bit larger (risk homeostasis).
@Midtown – I’d argue that even if that is true (which is entirely possible), this risk of a childhood in which one does not gradually learn to be an independent, competent, confident individual is greater than the risks posed by free-range parenting. Yes, some lives might be saved by this helicoptering, but if it means that society as a whole becomes completely codependent and unwilling to take even the slightest risk, is it really worth it?
When I was growing up, there was a convicted child molester who spent quite a bit of time right next door to my house (he didn’t live there, but was a relative of the people who did). Would I have been “safer” if my parents had never let me out of their sight? Sure. But instead they explained to me that there was a man at that house who had done bad things to kids, and that I should never talk to him and never, ever go anywhere with him. Then they let me play outside by myself.
I avoided that house like the plague, but I wasn’t afraid to explore the rest of the neighborhood, bearing in mind the rules that I should never get in the car or go into the house of someone I didn’t know.
My parents could have so easily sequestered me out of the (very real, in this case) risk of a child molester next door, but instead they taught me how to avoid getting into a bad situation in the first place, which was a much more beneficial course of action in the long run.
Reactionary parenting leads to revolt from the child being “protected. Cage anything long enough and you have two possible outcomes. Either the child will rebel against all the restrictive rules or they accept their caged life and all sense of creativity, adventure and self confidence are slowly destroyed.
In forbidding a childs natural instinct to explore, test boundaries and figure out solutions on their own, parents are hampering the way the human brain was evolved to develop.
If a child revolts,more often than not, the results are disasterous because they simply aren’t equipped with the right skills to handle the situation. They cave to peer pressure or engage in overly risky behavior because their lack of experience causes them to not recognize the inherent dangers of a situation.
“Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” Helen Keller
Ironically, I would not have even known about the Leiby Kletzsky murder if it were not for this article. When I hear about this kind of thing, if makes me nervous for my kids. Precisely why I choose not to read the news. Damn. Now I guess I have to stop reading this blog as well!!
Lenore, I am sorry for the correction, but Lieby was actually walking home from day camp, not the dentist. His abductor was on his way to his dentist’s office to pay a bill when lost Lieby asked him for help. While the abductor went in to pay the bill, Lieby waited out on the street, as he had been promised a ride home.
Actually, I believe that statistically, you are safer on the bus than in your living room. I can’t believe that parents are letting their kids off the bus – how irresponsible of them. Maybe it is the fear that when our children have a heart attack from their sedentary lifestyle, they might get a germ from the stranger giving them CPR – or the stranger might get arroused from giving them CPR.
I think this horrifying tragedy only proves that insane murderers can be found in any community, even in the most cloistered ones. So there is no point in preventing children from having a free childhood because of the “what if”s – we’ll never be able to prevent insane murderers from flying under the radar.
and this is precisely why I DON’T
own a car! because it’s just too DANGEROUS! OMG! what if…what if….what if…..
my budget gets too out of control and my children starve to death because I was soooo irresponsible as to own such a luxury item! Waste money on gas in a big city with a perfectly functioning transit system! What would I be thinking!!!!
For the record, I don’t own a car, the kids ride their bikes to the skating practise, swimming, their friends, the pre-teen dances, the drop-in afternoon centre. And I make them walk to the dollar store or the grocery store to pick up things for themselves or to grab some milk/eggs and the like when I’m busy with the toddler (or just to get them out of the house so I can breathe!). I also have the 11yo take the toddler out to the park that’s attached to our building for the 15 minutes the toddler will go outside for. That’s right…without me.
Oh, and I do question what that family was thinking having their son walk home alone when they obviously hadn’t taught him not to accept rides from strangers that are not police officers. I mean…hello!
My daughter at 9yo took the bus to the library (just down the street a mile-ish from home). As she came home, she was walking from the stop and heard a car horn and someone call “hello”. She glanced back, didn’t see anyone she recognized and kept walking. This continued until she was almost into the small park path that separated the street the stop was actually on and our home. Then the person called her name and actually got out of the car. It was gramma and gramma was lost getting to our place. She turned back and got in so she could lead gramma around the street access to our place. This boy died because he wasn’t adequately streetwise, not because walking home isn’t safe. That murderer wouldn’t have had the opportunity if the boy had properly gone into a business and either called home or called the police. That’s what my kids did when they got lost on a new bus route. It’s about training and being clear on the “what ifs” and testing them over and over until you’re sure they have it right…and then giving them small responsibilities to prove their skill first.
I’m really proud of my 9yo son. He finally passed the street crossing test I give them. I “forget” something back home and ask one of my children to run back in and get it and I’ll meet them across the quiet street. I then go a small distance past the corner so there is no unconscious signals from me on what to do. Then I watch. Yesterday, not only did he FINALLY look on the street he was crossing, he looked behind him to be sure no one was trying to turn in, AND he kept looking around him to be sure there wasn’t a speeding car that might pose a danger. This means, after a couple more reinforcements like this, I can send him to the corner store for items (or with his small allowance). Enough of that and the responsibilities will grow along with the priviledges. Soon, I won’t have to send his older sister with him if he wants to go swimming!
I was 12 years old when Ted Bundy escaped from the Glenwood Springs jail less than 3 hours from my house. He took many women in Colorado in the early 80â€²s. I firmly believe that that incident set the policy in my house that I would never be able to be able to jog or ride my bike out of sight of my dad until I left for college.
That’s rough. *hugs*
Another real concern is that children who are overprotected have no idea of danger, and they may go too far the other way. Instead of being scared of everything, they may be scared of nothing, because if their parents were crazy about mad axe murderers waiting every time you open the door, probably their parents were crazy about looking both ways before you cross the street!
We all of us want our kids to grow up neither too scared nor too UNscared. There ARE some real risks out there, and even some small risks that are easy to mitigate without unduly affecting our lives. (For example, most strangers aren’t going to harm you even if you DO walk off with them, but it’s just as useful to have them call your mom or give you directions without taking you anywhere, and the small risk of being abducted is even smaller when you don’t help them out.)
@Kristi and everyone: I recommend the Phineas and Ferb episode entitled “Phineas and Ferb Get Busted”.
I just wanted to leave a comment for all the people who keep saying that these parents obviously didn’t teach their kid enough to let him walk alone.
It must be wonderful to be a perfect human being. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to look back on your life as a child and adult and never see a single mistake that could have resulted in your rape and murder if you were unfortunate enough to encounter an insane and violent person. I know I’ve walked in a parking garage at night *gasp* accepted a homemade cookie from a person I barely knew *gasp* and even opened my door when a stranger knocked. *double gasp!*
You can rest easy knowing that you and your children are indeed perfect and nobody can ever harm you because you never have a lapse in judgment or make a mistake because you are tired or frightened. You can snuggle down in your bed and smugly think about how everyone who has ever suffered a tragedy must have had it coming because they did something wrong or because they were stupid or because they just weren’t nearly as perfect as YOU.
This wasn’t the kid’s fault and it wasn’t his parents’ fault either. ALL of the blame lies at the feet of the sick nutjob who committed the crime.
Sometimes really shitty things happen to people. It sucks but sometimes it happens. Trying to come up with reasons to blame the victim of one of these really shitty things indicates serious personality flaws. If you have to look down on and insult the parents of a murdered child in order to sleep soundly at night, get some therapy. You desperately need it.
Another real concern is that children who are overprotected have no idea of danger, and they may go too far the other way. Instead of being scared of everything, they may be scared of nothing, because if their parents were crazy about mad axe murderers waiting every time you open the door, probably their parents were crazy about looking both ways before you cross the street!
My dad especially was pretty paranoid about danger that way. With him, every risk or bit of danger was blown way out of proportion. He was pretty paranoid about damn near everything when I was a kid.
My mother was a bit too, but she was more of the abduction/robbery/rape/murder crowd. Both her and her sister still believe that me (adult) walking around in the middle of the city at night (surrounded by large amounts of businesses and rich people’s homes) is going to cause all four of those to happen to me, guaranteed.
When I left home, I went through a period of terror (oh god I’m all on my own I’m scared where’s my parents?????), then a period of reckless overconfidence (pffft. My parents are terrified of everything. Is there really any danger here?) and finally equilibrated out to a healthy level of fear, more or less.
The main problem was that I hadn’t developed my own risk assessment tools. All I had to go on was my parents’ model of risk assessment, without the actual parents. When I discarded that, I had… nothing. There was then a dangerous period where I was an adult needing to make adult mistakes with adult consequences in order to develop my own.
Not ideal, I can tell you.
In the past week an on-line community of parents of kids with brain tumors lost THREE warriors: Tony (forever 6), Jed (forever 6) and Fredrick (forever 10). This happened in a week to a very small subset of the whole pediatric cancer population. These kids don’t make the news. It is no less tragic, heartbreaking or random than what happened to little Leiby; it just isn’t sensationalized. I wish every time one of our kids lost their battle they made the news. Maybe then there would be public outcry and effort poured into research to DO something. Because pediatric cancer is a tragedy we can reduce the frequency of, unlike stranger abductions.
RIP Leiby, Tony, Jed, Fredrick, and all the other kids who left this world too early.
34 Children A DAY are diagnosed with cancer. 7 WILL DIE TODAY. (source: acco.org)
With hope and peace.
See, that is something that needs to be sensationalized. Something that can get better with a little more effort and focus. I couldn’t do paediatric nursing because just the thought of a child dying to some illness or cancer and it being so slow and almost inevitable….I would go insane. Or I would become the biggest and loudest and most abnoxious advocate for funding and research ever! and possibly chase away all the funders because of that abnoxiousness…..
Blessed be the medical teams that do what they can and still live on to help as best they can! That takes a certain something something that most people just don’t have.
Use the crime shows as teachable moments and a basis for discussion. Talk back to the TV.
When I watched crime shows or adventure shows with my parents, we were usually critiquing the errors in the plots, and they were asking “what would you do?” as the character in distress got further into danger.
@Jenny Islander I decided not to deprive my children of a certain good in order to protect them from a barely possible evil. YES! That’s why my parents let us roam. Take the necessary precautions and then go for it.
One of my vivid childhood memories is finding a newborn calf, lying hidden in a small clump of bushes where its mother had left it. It was curly and damp with lick marks, its hooves were still soft, and it let me pet it. The cow was off way across the pasture (they don’t defend calves at this stage, they rely on concealment).
I would never have seen it if I weren’t allowed to wander across pastures.
Car accidents are less scary? Let me tell you a story that might change your mind.
When I was a reporter, I had to write a story about two girls who were killed in a car crash. They were traveling down a side road and preparing to cross an intersection of a more major road. Two boys in two cars were drag racing each other down the major road at some ungodly speed – 80 or 90 mph. One boy was winning. When the girls pulled out across the major road, the boy who was winning the drag race slammed into the driver’s side and spun the car 180 degrees. Then the boy who was losing the drag race slammed into the passenger side.
When the paramedics came, they thought there was only one girl in the car.
Car crashes seem just as horrifying to me as being dismembered by a lunatic.
@Binxcat1Why didnâ€™t a â€œgoodâ€ person help him? We all know WE would help a lost child find his way safely home right? Seems bizarreâ€¦ so against the oddsâ€¦ there has GOT to be more to this story I am sure.
Yes, it’s “against the odds”, but even extremely high odds say that eventually someone will be standing on the sidewalk when the falling safe lands on that spot.
@ Rebeleducation, I shut off the TV several years ago. At the time, I’d spent two years living in the middle of nowhere, where the TV was my only entertainment. I got so hooked on Law and Order reruns that I’d often imagine the detectives doing voice-overs of stuff I did: I’d take out my trash and I’d hear Lenny Briscoe going “The apartment manager found her out by the dumpsters,” things like that. Kind of creepy, and unnecessarily fear-inducing. I had no cable whatsoever for two years, and have it now for my partner, but I rarely watch. It feels good. Life feels less scary. And I’m pleased not to know every single detail of the Casey Anthony case.
Keep telling us this, because I for one need to keep hearing it.
My son and I found a great book at the library today called Cottonwool Colin, about a small mouse whose mother is afraid to let him go outside and play. It’s a fabulous read and something I thought you all might like. Here’s a link to a synopsis:
“I think the idea of anyone losing their child is so incredibly terrible, that people grasp at why that couldnâ€™t happen to their own child. â€œWell I would never let my child walk alone, so that wonâ€™t happen to meâ€.”
I think this is at the heart of all the parental blame. We don’t want to believe that our children could possibly fall victim of some random horrible act. As a result, we blame the parents because if the parents did something wrong then our children are not at risk. It is the same reason we blame the victim in rape cases – if she hadn’t been dressed like that, she wouldn’t have been raped, and, since I don’t wear slutty clothes I won’t be raped. Anything that makes us feel less vulnerable to a random act of violence.
I have really thought hard about free range parenting for the last few years, following your blog and news stories out there.
There is a great focus on murders and deaths in the news, which in reality are fortunately very rare.
My issue with the free range parenting movement, is that there are other dangers out there that exist now, and existed when I grew up in the 80’s, that do not make the news because they do not result in death.
One reason I will walk my child to school (or have another relative do so), is that when I was a child, I had a friend who was molested by a neighbor while waiting for me. Also, I was literally run over by a mean kid on his bicycle (tire treads were visible through my clothes on my back). I was also, at a young age, ‘egged’ by older kids.
A lot of crap happens to kids by other kids and adults that does not make the news. I was allowed at age 6 to walk to school by myself & I had to go home to an empty house (for an hour) each day after school. I did not like either. I did not feel comfortable doing either and I wanted a parent with me. Even at 8,9,10 — I still felt the same.
When the above incidents happened, nothing changed. I still walked to school alone and disliked it, but I had no choice. If an adult was around, I’m not sure any of the above would have happened. I am certain none of the above events helped my self-esteem. I still remember feeling scared, awkward and weak when something happened and I didn’t know what to do about it. I’m all for allowing kids to learn to be independent and street-smart. But I’m not for having them learn by trial and error. Encountering the above on my own did not make my life better in any way, did not make me more independent, nor did it teach me anything other than some people stink.
Of course, Erin, learning that some people are just rotten individuals is pretty important.
But seriously (well, more ontopicly), I think few of us want to say “Do things that make your kid unhappy just because” unless there’s a REALLY good reason for it. (Like, kids are unhappy when they get shots, but it’s for their own good. If there is literally no way to manage the schedule that doesn’t involve either spending $300 a month on childcare OR having the seven year old home alone for an hour, somebody’s gonna have to suck it up – and if you don’t have that money, you don’t have it.) We shouldn’t be organizing our lives with the goal of having our kids be happy all the time, but few people would want to push more independence on their children than their children really are ready for. (And no, I don’t think most six year olds should routinely be on their own for an hour, although I do not think it is or should be criminal.)
If your kid is saying “Look, I don’t like walking alone, I really want you with me, the other kids…”, well, I think most of us would listen to that.
@Erin: “…nor did it teach me anything other than some people stink.”
I’d agree with Uly, this is a valuable lesson to learn. And I say this as a kid who was bullied relentlessly in middle school. As an adult, I’m glad my parents didn’t insist on interfering with that situation, because I learned a lot more by dealing with it on my own, and I’m stronger because of it. It did suck when I was a kid though, I just wanted those jerks to leave me alone. 😛
I’d also argue that trial and error is not a bad way for kids to learn, as long as the consequences of error are not too dire. Lessons learned from doing something stupid and suffering the consequences stuck a lot better than my parents just telling me “don’t do that.” 😉
“it is not unreasonable to assume that there are payphones around”
In this day and age, you can no longer trust that there will ever be a functioning payphone nearby. Most places have removed their payphones, or failed to have them repaired when they break. (I personally finally got a cellphone for that reason, but I’m bad about carrying it, which is why I know firsthand that even in major cities, it’s often very difficult to find a working payphone.)
And businesses are very unwilling to let someone use their phone.
Sadly, even though we may not want our kids to have cell phones, this is one good argument for giving a Free-Ranging kid their own cell phone, even if it’s locked down so they can only call mommy or daddy.
(Of course, in my step-daughter’s middle school, the language teacher had them get their cell phones from their lockers and call each other to record and play their language speech practice. Presumably if you didn’t have a cell phone, you got teamed with a buddy who did. Back in the 1980s we had language labs for this *rolls eyes*)
I love this!!! My thoughts. People often ask how I can be so “calm” with my kids outside playing or at what age I let my kids play outside on their own. I have never over parented. I have always believed that street smarts are learned and one should instil that very device in their children at a young age. Don’t stand over them, let them play, pretend you aren’t watching or listening and, if you watch them from the corner of your eye, you will see that they are doing just fine. To imply a boogieman of sorts lives behind every corner is putting fear into kids which can stifle creativity and that ability to just be a kid. Kids need to play and create and just be kids!
When my 9 year old announced that he would be walking to school by himself (a little under a mile in an large urban area) we said, “not until you have a cell phone and some rules, Little Mister.” My 11 year old also walks to school (or takes the train).
Yeah….there are no pay phones anymore. My kids don’t watch tv, or go on the computer…but they have cell phones to allow greater independence, and for that reason, I’m a fan of kids having cell phones—-although I took the texting option off…because…apparently, while I want them to be independent, I don’t want them to have any fun.:)
Did it occur to you that maybe the reason things like the Kletzky murder don’t happen is precisely because people don’t let their kids walk home from school? Sure more kids die in car accidents. More kids ride in cars than walk home from school.
You can recite statistics all day long and shift them any way you want to fit your opinion. But the fact remains that there a lot of psychos out there waiting to prey on unwitting children. What could a 7 year old possibly do to defend himself against a predator?
Maybe riding in a car is more dangerous, but accidents will happen. I feel its irresponsible to let a kid walk home until they’re mature enough to handle the kind of responsibility that comes with it. The child should know to walk with a group and not to talk to strangers. And whatever other rules we learned as a child, like looking both ways before crossing the street. My children are 11 and still don’t look both ways before running out into the street no matter how many times I yell at them or punish them for doing so.
So, no, my children won’t walk home from school. Both because of the possible dangers of a criminal and the far more likely instance where they go somewhere they are not supposed to or for not paying attention and running out in front of a car.
Furthermore, you are no one to tell anyone else how to raise their child(ren). Every parent has the right to raise their child(ren) the way they see fit. Every child is different and they mature at different rates. One 10 year old may be responsible enough to walk by his or herself and the next might not be.
There is nothing wrong with your approach and nothing wrong with mine. Yours works for you and mine works for me. You don’t have to like it, but you also have no right to judge how other parents raise their children.
@angelicagallant – I’m a bit confused. Wasn’t the boy a hasidic Jew or something? Although I don’t think I know any Jews personally, as they are a fairly small minority group here, I know people from a number of other ‘minority ‘ groups, and often children are taught to trust someone from their own community as well as police – language issues etc. Just very, very sad…
Also, are you from a fairly large metropolitan area? It’s just that 9 seems fairly old to be letting a kid cross the road by himself. My kids have been taking themselves to school etc since they were 5 or 6, but we do live in what you would probably call a town, 70,000 or so people, so probably less traffic. Their current school is a half hour bike ride away, so we have been getting lazy over winter, and they usually catch the bus, or, gasp, I endanger them greatly by driving them 🙂 Hopefully over summer they’ll get back into routine and bike….
Have a good week……
Ultimately, you can’t reason with irrational people. If irrational parents believe it is far safer to put their kids in a car than let them walk to the park, no amount of facts will sway them.
Lenore wrote: “To which I would like to pose a different question, based on the fact that 25 times more children die as car passengers than as abduction victims (that is, about 1,300 children younger than 14 die in cars annually, whereas about 50 are murdered by strangers): â€œIs Putting Your Kid in the Car Dangerous?â€
Here’s another person who has the same question, he loves his children, takes ALL the precautions while driving, but has to wonder, should he really be taking such a chance with their lives by putting them in the car for multiple trips every week?
“After perinatal conditions, which are problems that occur near or in the immediate months after childbirth, the leading cause of death amongst children ages 0 to 19 is auto accidents. For accidental causes of mortality, there is no close second. Even drowning, which we are militant about here in terms of baths, pools and time at the lake, is just a fraction of auto accidents. Imagine two 9/11 attacks each year that killed just kids and you still would not have the number of child fatalities America has each year from auto accidents.”
TWO 9/11 attacks every year that killed only kids? Are we really taking this seriously enough?
Sure we make cars safer, enclose them in crash resistant seats – but the low tech alternative, to take them out of cars and get them back out into the world under their own steam has worked in other countries, most notably in the Netherlands. Granted, not everything that works in one place will work in another, but they DID actively pursue the avenue of getting kids out of cars as a CHILD SAFETY issue.
(Stop Child Murder is a translation of the name of the campaign that led to developing ways to get more people, including children onto bikes and out of cars)
Pertinent to this discussion is this fact: In 1972, a total of 3264 people were killed on Dutch roads, and at around the same time, in 1973, 450 road deaths were of children. (Remember Holland is a much smaller country).
“Road casualties in the Netherlands have dropped steeply, even as cycling rates have risen. Now approximately 720 people per year die on Dutch roads. 180 of them are cyclists, and 22 of those are children. The cycling figures may sound high, but they are in part a reflection of the number of cycle journeys made. The Dutch now experience an overall risk which is less than a quarter of that in 1973, and for children it’s now a twentieth of that in 1973. Dutch cyclists are now the safest in the world. Of course, the campaign goes on to reduce the figures.”
And if you’ve ever seen the Dutch on bicycles you’ll know that they never wear helmets.
Maybe we’ll never get schools that are accessible by bike or foot until we start framing the issue not as cyclists against the world, but as a child safety issue.
This is brilliant. I love the term “free-range parenting” too. As a former teacher, an outdoor educator and now a step-parent, I think that children need to wander just a little further from the leash so many parents feel compelled to strap to them. There will never be a time as safe as childhood to stretch themselves this way. Granted, no life is 100% safe. But no one ever promised that, anyway.
I have been thinking A LOT about Free Range parenting over the past week and how it could work in my neighbourhood and with my kids. I have two boys who are 4 and 2. Obviously walking to school is out right now 🙂 but I want to investigate teaching them some independence at an age appropriate level. Another complication is that my 4 year old has autism. I don’t want him to grow up fearful, but by the same token I realise he has limitations.
Are there any other parents out there with Free Range kids on the spectrum? I have realised I am turning into a fearful parent which can’t be good.
You might enjoying reading – or even linking up with/communicating with – Frank Furedi. He’s an academic and writer who has written and talked a lot about this very subject in the UK. He’s one of the main “go to” people on this – and is a generally interesting bloke. (He was also a lecturer at my university.)
Well said, Lenore.
Back in the late ’90’s, I worked for a large pharmaceutical company. Their main drug, an antidepressant, was targeted to the anxious, stressed out mom. I didn’t have kids at the time, but doctors I spoke with talked about how many women they treated for this mixed anxiety- trouble sleeping, fear of bad things happening to their kids. I no longer work outside the home, but have seen “The Fear” in many parents, and it spreads like bad poison ivy.
Childhood is far too precious to live in fear. Just walking out the door everyday is a risk, but I will gladly take it to give my family experiences and memories.
Twindaddy asks, “What could a 7 year old possibly do to defend himself against a predator?”
1 – Stay out of the predator’s car.
2 – Stay in public places, go to stores if you need help.
3 – Run like hell to a store or other public place if you have to.
4 – If caught, scratch, kick crotches, bite ears, gouge eyes, and make a large amount of noise.
5 – “Pile on” if you are in a group, like crows mobbing a hawk, and bring him down.
Inside every white fluffy kitten is a spitting, hand-mangling wildcat, and if you tell a child it’s possible, the cute 5-year old can release her inner Viking berserker.
When she was about 5, my niece “Annie” was playing in her front yard with a friend. They had a makeshift catwalk made of scrap lumber and were marching their dollies down it.
A true stranger abduction attempt was made: a guy stopped his car next to them, walked over and and grabbed the friend. She started yelling loudly for her mom. Annie picked up the 2×4 they were using for the runway and started beating the would-be abductor on the legs, screaming loudly, “Bite his ear, Mary! Scratch his face! Kick him!”
When people from the surrounding houses came running to see what the noise was about, Annie was between the abductor and his car, beating on him and screaming “Drop her!”, Mary was screaming, kicking, scratching at his eyes and doing damage with her teeth in between screams. He saw the people coming towards him, dropped Mary, shoved Annie aside, dove into his car and sped off.
One of the neighbors got a partial license plate, another got a make on the car, and the cops alerted local hospitals and clinics to be looking for a man with a lacerated ear, facial scratches, puncture wounds (the 2×4 had nails in it), and bruising on his legs.
Annie told the police that she was going to hit him until he fell down and then hit him over the head real hard with the nail side of the stick until he turned Mary loose and they could run inside the house and lock the door.
Her inspiration for her actions? I think it was a TV crime show re-enacting a kidnapping where a child was grabbed in front of a group of his friends … and my sister pointed out that mobbing the abductor and beating on him with anything available would have been a good strategy, because he couldn’t hold the victim and defend himself at the same time.
They both had some scrapes and bruises from hitting the pavement. Asked it it hurt, Mary said, “Yes, but I bet I hurt him worse”.
Both girls got counseling, but neither one had much stress over it – they were chuffed at the damage they had done to the bad guy and that the self-defense succeeded. The counselor warned the parents to NOT get into the scenario of what might have happened.
The girls realized much, much later how dangerous the situation had been, but Annie’s only regret at the time was that her older brother hadn’t been out there to help hit the guy with more boards with nails.
The abductor was arrested a couple of days later when he went to an ER to get his infected leg wounds treated. He said he had fallen into some rose bushes. I don’t know what the final results of the case were, because Annie didn’t have to testify.
@Tsu Dho Nimh – Go, “Annie”!!!!
I’m not advocating raising violent kids or anything, but it’s important for them to know that there are certain situations where it IS okay to open a can of whoop-ass. 😉
I was still extremely young when my mom imparted *her* mom’s words of wisdom to me: “Kick to kill, God will forgive you.” Not that I needed that advice. Pretty sure I’ve recounted stories here from my toddler-hood in which I opened said can of whoop-ass on my own parents every time they tried to spank me. You think an unarmed stranger would have stood a fighting chance against my rage? HELL no. 😉
Haha… I totally just got all kinds of fired up typing that. I think I need to take up karate again, let some of that aggression out. 😛
Of course context should always play a role in any decision. But I also think that statistics, understood properly, are part of that context. I agree that statistics are often decontextualised and made (often dishonestly) to serve purposes for which they were never intended. I really do fault politicians and the media for that. But I don’t honestly get that impression from either Lenore or other posters here. I honestly think that it can be a liberating thing to suddenly be brought short by some new bit of information, especially if it is something that you were SURE you were right about. Those moments where I am confronted with a blind spot of my own are like jewels in my development. A shattering of a bias is a lovely sound. I remember really believing when I was a kid that breaking a ring of mushrooms would bring the vengeance of the Good Folk, and I was terrified to fall asleep under the rowan tree on our front yard for fear of abduction to Faerieland. I remember getting really upset at other people if they stepped on mushroom rings. It was terribly stressful, and probably didn’t endear me to them. My point is that unexamined fears are really not much different from superstition. For a more ‘real world’ example, though, how about the tomato?
I’m told that people used to be very nervous about the tomato plant. It’s in the nightshade family, and people thought eating it was dangerous. Finally, somebody just stood up in public, ate a tomato, and said, “Look, it’s just not true. It’s a delicious fruit. Don’t eat the leaves – they ARE slightly toxic – but the fruit is good and wholesome. What we all assumed to be true is not true, and the REAL truth is quite nice and adds a lot to our quality of life. We don’t need to hang onto those old beliefs anymore; so long as the tomato plant is used properly, it’s not dangerous. Eat it in good health!” I imagine that many people thought they were crazy, or reckless, but they were simply right, and eventually people twigged to it.
Context still matters: if your garden is full of pesticides, or grows in toxic soil, or if you have some sort of allergy, then I’d be careful. But the wonderful thing about the statistics that people are ‘quoting’ is that they are liberating. They release us from the burden of fear, and allow us to make the fear-generating situation more manageable. We know where to put our energy to greatest effect. In the end, you’re still not in full control of your child’s safety. I know somebody who, while walking their child to school, lost them to a drunk driver who came out of nowhere and sideswiped them both from behind. But that’s what life is like…we take what precautions are reasonable, and when ‘reasonable’ means that our quality of life suffers disproportionately, we stop and just do our best. Things will probably still happen. Eventually. That’s the law of statistics, too. But the good, safe, learning opportunities will VASTLY outnumber those ‘bad’ events. And lives will be richer, which I have to think will AID in those hard times. It might even DIMINISH the number of those incidents to have communities full of people with rich experiences and backgrounds. That’s my belief.
We heard from twindaddy the following: the fact remains that there a lot of psychos out there waiting to prey on unwitting children.
Well it seems the statistics are more what we define as “facts,” and your statement is more a statement of a theory. I’m taking the facts over the statement of theory in this case, and will go further–I believe your statement of theory is wrong. “There are a lot of psychos out there”–that’s just a perception, and I think it’s a wrong one. You can feel how you do, but I don’t agree with it, I’m not going to base my parenting on YOUR statement–and yes, who are YOU to say otherwise?
Moreover you say you also have no right to judge how other parents raise their children but this is AFTER you say I feel its irresponsible to let a kid walk home until theyâ€™re mature enough to handle the kind of responsibility that comes with it. The child should know to walk with a group and not to talk to strangers. Well, besides the fact that you mis-used its (there should be an apostrophe, but NOT if the statement is “the dog is wagging its tail,” no apostrophe then), more relevant–it sounds as if you are, in fact, judging other’s parenting. So which is? Do you NOT have the right to judge, or do you?
I will say–I think a person DOES have the right to judge, insomuch that they have the right to observe whatever and state that they don’t agree with it. Where it becomes wrong is when they are condemning the person, especially in person, or use the government to meddle in their affairs, or are critical in their tone. It is okay for me to say “I think it’s wrong for a parent to not allow their child to play outside while they get fat watching television all day–BUT they’re the parents, it’s up to them.” But to confront them personally and criticize them as awful parents, that is where one is wrong.
Did it occur to you that maybe the reason things like the Kletzky murder donâ€™t happen is precisely because people donâ€™t let their kids walk home from school?
Gosh, I don’t think anybody has brought that up here before! At least, not in the past… oh, day or so.
Actually… not so much. Because countries where children routinely get along on their own aren’t up to their necks in crimes against kids, we can see that unless the US really is special in this disturbing way, that’s not likely to be the case.
Also, the crime rate for EVERYBODY has decreased in the past few decades. It’s not just kids.
And, of course, there’s the fact that most violent crimes, in all demographics, are committed by people known to the victim. If somebody is going to kill a kid, or molest them, or otherwise harm them, it’s almost always going to be somebody in the same family.
You can recite statistics all day long and shift them any way you want to fit your opinion. But the fact remains that there a lot of psychos out there waiting to prey on unwitting children.
How do you know this “fact”? Where is your evidence? Where is your proof? You criticize the statistics, where is the evidence that predators who attack strangers are common? You cannot make up your own facts, so go ahead – show one scrap of evidence that this sort of criminal is common. ANYthing.
What could a 7 year old possibly do to defend himself against a predator?
Judging from what I’ve endured from my seven year old niece, when I have nothing but her best interests at heart? Run faster than grown-ups, climb higher than grown-ups, hide better than grown-ups, bite harder, butt you with her head in your teeth or wherever she could reach (and she’s kinda short, so where she can reach will really hurt!), kick hard, and scream like a banshee.
Of course, if I thought strangers were really lurking behind every bush, waiting to snatch up small children, I’d be more wary. But I know that’s not the case. (I’ve even checked the bushes!)
Maybe riding in a car is more dangerous, but accidents will happen.
And if your child dies in a preventable accident, that’s fine, you’re not irresponsible because you made a bad choice!
I feel its irresponsible to let a kid walk home until theyâ€™re mature enough to handle the kind of responsibility that comes with it.
Because if a kid dies in a rare, unlikely crime, then it’s irresponsible… even though driving is more likely to kill your kid. God, that doesn’t even make sense It’s not earth logic here, it’s like some crazy insane moon logic or something.
The child should know to walk with a group and not to talk to strangers. And whatever other rules we learned as a child, like looking both ways before crossing the street. My children are 11 and still donâ€™t look both ways before running out into the street no matter how many times I yell at them or punish them for doing so.
Well, yeah. Because you’re always with them ready to yell at them and punish them. What else have you done? By the time my nieces were four, they were the designated “is it safe” people. I never cross a street without checking in with them to make sure it’s safe for me to cross. Oh, sure, I know – but this way they’re getting enforced practice, every single time.
Unfortunately, teaching children is harder than just yelling at them when they get it wrong, and saying “Gosh, I guess it’s another year before you can act your age”.
Furthermore, you are no one to tell anyone else how to raise their child(ren).
You mean like you just did, saying it’s irresponsible for the people here to raise their kids in the way they think is okay? Hypocrisy is an ugly, ugly thing.
There is nothing wrong with your approach and nothing wrong with mine. Yours works for you and mine works for me. You donâ€™t have to like it, but you also have no right to judge how other parents raise their children.
Sure she does. Just like YOU have a right to judge US. Everybody judges sometimes. It may not be tactful to mention when you’re doing it, and it probably doesn’t help your reasoning any, but we all have the right to think whatever we want in our own heads. That’s where we have ALL the rights, inside our heads.
But if we’re talking about judging, you just did that. If you want to go “Oh, don’t judge me”, you should set the example.
Iâ€™m told that people used to be very nervous about the tomato plant. Itâ€™s in the nightshade family, and people thought eating it was dangerous.
Not all people, just Europeans. Native Americans, of course, had domesticated it ages ago. (And it really does look similar to nightshade! We have nightshade, both deadly and bitter, growing all over the place here, and the flowers and the leaves are near identical, though nightshade has much smaller berries.)
Oh, and before you ask, my response to the nightshade is to carefully point it out to the nieces and tell them that I *know* it is poison and they must not eat it.
But I’ve found, with them, that telling them a few plants they CAN eat works better to keep them away from the ones they can’t or that I don’t know if they can. So they can recognize mint at 20 paces, I can trust them to pick basil and rosemary and oregano in the garden without being directed, and they know the difference between red and white mulberries.
Uly, I have to tell you how much I enjoy your comments.
I’ve been “free range” all my life – grew up that way (and I’m a product of the 80s!) partly because I’m the oldest of 8 kids. My kids and grandkids are free-range – I spend all summer trying to kick them out of the house.
Mine know what to do if they get lost in a store (I’ve been paged several times), what to do if a stranger approaches them, and who they are and are not allowed to get into a car with.
I would much rather have them truly live while they are alive then vegetate in front of the TV. I teach them street-smarts as much as I can, and insist they learn to do things on their own.
They often can’t find anyone else to play with because no one else is allowed to roam the neighborhood – and that’s just sad.
Y’know, Donna, I’m not sure if the nieces know what to do if lost in stores, but they’ve been drilled relentlessly on what to do if we get separated on the train or bus. (Stay put. Unless you’re on the vehicle still, in which case get off at the next stop, and then stay put. Do NOT go wandering around looking for a grown-up to help you. You’re perfectly qualified to stand still for five minutes while we come back for you. Do not go wandering off with anybody. Not even a cop. They can wait with you if they like, they can call us, whatever, but YOU stay PUT.) Theoretically that rule generalizes, kids stay put while grown-ups find them, but I should probably make sure they’re clear on it.
Another dose of sanity from Lenore!
I have never been more convinced that Free-Range is the way to go.
did you see this?
Dangerizing hasn’t hit German and Austria yet. The Kletterwald (climbing forest) in my city is very popular. There are 5 of them in Germany and Austria. Kids are up in the trees at heights of 3 to 17 meters (1 meter is about 1.1 yards). There are several courses. The ones at “lower” heights (3 – 5 meters) are for kids age 6 and up. The higher, and more difficult courses, are for kids 14 and older. My son has been to our local Kletterwald several times and always had a great time. Here is the link to the Kletterwald’s website. It’s in German and doesn’t have an English translation. To see what the kids do at the Kletterwald, click on “Bildergalerie” (picture gallery) on the menu on the left side.
gap.runner, I first saw those when I lived in Germany years ago, and we have two of them near me in Quebec. They’re great! I personally feel that they are almost ridiculously safe, in the sense that you wear a harness and (for some reason) a helmet at all times. The only chance you’d have of falling is when you switch your harness line to the next obstacle, or if a rope broke. They’re great confidence builders in kids; the poor things get told so often that they can’t do stuff that they actually begin to believe it…I’m pretty sure this is a major cause of teenage listlessness (which by the way, is a pretty uniquely North American phenomenon…I don’t know other cultures who have it outside of the English-speaking world).
Actually, now that I think of it, I wonder if parochialism and insularity are to blame for a lot of these attitudes. If more people lived abroad for a spell, it strikes me that they’d gain perspective they otherwise seem sorely to lack. I know the U.S. has a reputation (fair or not) for insularity, and the U.K. is an island…it would be interesting to see what kind of correlation there is between irrational paranoid behaviour concerning children and a lack of worldliness…
It’s my understanding that the tomato plant IS poisonous! Just not the fruit. Am I wrong about that?
I think Stephanie (way up there) has a great point: why should we punish our children – or ourselves – because there is evil in the world?
When I went to Europe to study for a semester, my mom and grandmother were terrified. “What if your plane gets hijacked by terrorists? what if the subway has a bomb? what if …. ” I was 20, and I looked them straight in the eyes and said, “you will know that I will have lived my life the way I wanted to live it, not cowering in the shadows wishing I could do things but not doing them just in case evil should happen to me.”
I still feel that way. I want to live, not merely exist. And I want that for my children, too.
As far as I understand it, the tomato plant does contain low levels of alkaloids in the leaves and stems. The fruit apparently has levels too low to be a health risk. Recently a woman in Kent died of a rare allergy to tomatoes, but I’m not sure of any cases of actual poisoning. My point in bringing up tomato history was just that before about 1830, the tomato was a source of fear, and now that we understand it better, it’s not. In fact, it adds a lot to our lives. Mostly, when we’re afraid of something, it’s because we don’t understand it well enough, and when some useful person does research to show that we don’t NEED to be afraid, it’s a wonderful thing. I didn’t really understand twindad’s antipathy to research, and thought the tomato was a fair parallel. Imagine walking around in fear of tomatoes.
Of course when I wrote ‘people’, I didn’t intend to mean “all people”. I meant it contextually to colonists. The Aztecs seem to have trumped the Europeans there, as in many other areas.
Of course when I wrote â€˜peopleâ€™, I didnâ€™t intend to mean â€œall peopleâ€. I meant it contextually to colonists.
Then you should’ve said that. I’ve actually met people who think that Native Americans or Gypsies are made up and not real, so, y’know, I think we should all say what we mean instead of saying other things that aren’t what we mean and that help contribute to the idiocy of stupid people.
Itâ€™s my understanding that the tomato plant IS poisonous! Just not the fruit. Am I wrong about that?
No, you’re not. Same thing with potatoes (part of the same family), the only part you can eat is the, well, the potato. (But not the eyes, please.)
But that’s the same with many plants.
gap.runner … That’s so COOL! I want this soooo bad. Do they get to go whoosh down the last drop?
This kid’s face says it all:
I also notice that everyone is wearing a helmet, good shoes, and a climber’s harness with a properly tied off safety line to the safety cord, and the right knots.
InTheTrenches … The helmet protects your head against twigs and bark. If you scrape a tree with your ear, the ear loses.
@Uly: Not to flog a dead horse, but I don’t actually think that saying ‘people’ excludes any race. People did think the tomato was dangerous. Maybe not all people in all situations, and clearly nobody still thinks this. It was a general statement not intended to exclude anyone…a shorthand for expediency’s sake, kind of like a pronoun helps us not to have to name everybody we talk about all the time. For the record, I’m part Native, and I’m pretty convinced of my own reality. Anyway, I enjoy your posts, and this is a bit of a sidetrack.
@TsuDhoNimh (great name, btw)
Makes sense, I guess…seems a little excessive to me still. I spent time in Laos on a much higher and more remote rope course, and though we had harnesses, we didn’t wear helmets. One fellow did manage to get ropeburn on his forehead, so maybe it would’ve helped…dunno. I do know that there’s no reliable health care in Laos at all, and yet people on the whole seem less concerned (but maybe more competent).
oops…last post cut off…..
The kids in Laos are the happiest kids I’ve ever seen, anywhere in the world. Their material wealth is nil, and the hospitals are nonexistent, and the government doesn’t seem to care, but they are ALWAYS grinning. Not like here, oddly. Maybe it’s because those kids KNOW that they can handle a whole lot more than what we allow kids here. There’s a certain amount of relativity involved.
There’s also a certain amount of debate about helmets and helmet laws, and how useful they are in the end. I’m not entirely sure where I sit on that issue yet. Maybe I’m just still used to the images of my own, helmet-free childhood.
Trenches, I disagree. Your comment actually was unclear as to what you meant or understood. People is six letters. Europeans is nine. It would’ve been just as easy to say what you meant instead of saying something vaguer, that only includes some people.
If I say “People used to wear dresses all the time” when I meant “Women used to wear dresses all the time”, everybody would point out the wrongness of that statement.
Uly, I disagree in return. I don’t think anyone would be confused as to what I meant if I were to say that people used to wear dresses. If I were to always add something like, “Of course I don’t mean men, unless you mean cross-dressers, or boys dressing up for Hallowe’en, or British comedians, and of course I exclude sarongs in the East, and kilts in Scotland, etc. etc. etc., ” sentences would quickly become ungainly. I think most people would get what I meant pretty much instinctively: “There were people, of indeterminate gender or ethnicity, who once wore dresses…..I imagine he’s probably talking about women; otherwise, he would probably specify.”
And of course not EVERY European believed that the tomato was poisonous. I think I remember reading once that Thomas Jefferson grew them for culinary purposes. By your argument, you yourself ought to have been more specific. My understanding was that tomato cultivation originated in South America, and spread to Mesoamerica. Your assertion that “Native Americans” grew them is vague, too: I’m Cree on my mother’s side, and I know for sure that our traditions don’t involve tomato cultivation, at least until the Europeans made my great-great grandparents into farmers. There’s irony! 🙂
Anyway, maybe the reason I generalised my statement was to show the universality of my actual point, which was just that we (humans of all types) often are afraid of things for no good reason, and finding out through whatever means that we don’t need to be afraid after all is a positive experience. Or should be. That’s all.
GREAT article. We’ve been living on the road full time for more than three years now with our four kids (aged 9-15 at the moment) They are FREE RANGE KIDS and are confident, capable, street saavy and not ruled by fear, all of which I value highly for them.
Dangerizing childhood is a HUGE issue, especially in the USA and Canada (where we call ‘home’). What we NEED is not more helicopter parents, but less media input and the hashing and rehashing that leads to gripping fear of our neighbors. My two cents. Keep up the great work!
Well, I realize that the main point was about the fruit not being poisonous. But someone made a reference to the “tomato plant” not being poisonous, and as a plant, it is — just not every part of it.
Just like a lot of things we eat — as referenced, the potato, and also rhubarb, asparagus, and many others.
Uly, I think you’re wrong about Trenches and the “people” thing. I understand your concern about not wanting to exclude some kinds of people from “people,” and about not acting like Western European history = history, but when someone says, “People say…” or “people think…” they never mean “all people” or even “all kinds of people.” They’re referring to the fact that there *are people who* etc. It wasn’t vague or dismissive or exclusive, it was the ordinary way people talk.
Well, I think you’re both wrong, but I’m willing to stop talking about it if you are. I actually don’t care that much… maybe a little. (I care about being right, anyway, but who doesn’t?)
Hee hee….I can’t stop thinking about that great scene in the Life of Brian, where he’s trying to tell a parable, and people keep calling him on his facts. “There were these two brothers….” “Oh yeah? What were their names?” “It doesn’t matter. There were these two brothers…” and so on. Language plays all kinds of roles in human social interaction, only a small part of which is actual transmission of information. And it’s all contextual, of course. Which makes communication so hard. I’m really not insensitive to these issues – in fact I teach a course on Postcolonial literature, which focuses on just those types of uses of language – but in this particular context I think they’re mostly absent.
Back to the original message behind the first post: We are still facing a kind of angst left over from the Enlightenment, in my opinion. Broadly, I see my own community divided between people who are willing to let research and facts affect their decision-making process, and those who prefer to trust their OWN experience. The problem with the latter, as I see it, is that most people’s experiences are either a) too specific to only them, or b) second-hand, often through media, rumour, etc. There’s a deep distrust of “intellectuals”, and even our government will ignore data in favour of ideologies. This is the fundamental choice, I think: Will we make our decisions based on what is really a type of superstitious impulse, or will we actually do some hard work and find out the truth behind the rumours and fears?
There are some decent books by Dan Gardner, who I once saw speak, on the subject of irrational fears and our innate uselessness as human beings to deal well with risk assessment. Understanding why people (many people) make such poor choices is one thing; educating them so that they don’t make them part of policy is another. Maybe it should be part of a school curriculum.
I suppose this is a difficult subject for me…. as the child of a free-range parent, I have seen the danger that is out there and experienced it first hand. I lived in a nice development growing up in the 80’s with a Heritage’s convenient store at the end of our street. My parents, from the time I was 6 allowed me to walk to the end of the street unsupervised to pick up groceries, or a treat, etc etc. No one ever thought any thing of it, it’s only the end of the block and we live in a nice neighborhood, right? Sadly, it only takes a moment for someone to offer a little girl a ride home in the parking lot after he realizes she had no parents with her, and when she refuses, it only takes a second for him to push her in his van and molest her…..
Getting away was a fluke. He didn’t lock the door so the little girl jumped out of the moving car, sustaining numerous injuries, and ran home.
I didn’t want to stigmatize my son and put what happened to me on him, so do I allow him to roam around our property, play with friends, and explore the world on his own… (we own 55 acres of preserved Pinelands). My son races quarter-midget cars and he is allowed to roam around the track with his friends… There is one requirement though: he must have a walkie-talkie with him so he can contact me.
However, when we are out elsewhere, in the city, the park, or at the beach, or anywhere for that matter, and he wants to wander off, I like to keep him in my line of vision. For example, the ice cream truck is only a block or so away from the beach, so you can be sure that I walk him to the beginning of the block and watch as he continues the rest of the way on his own. I don’t hover over him, but he is in my sight.
It doesn’t matter that we have the lowest crime rate in 100 years. People who want to hurt our children are out there have been there 10, 20, 30 years ago. The numbers of the don’t matter, If ONE pedophile lives near me, that’s one too many. They have ALWAYS been out there and I feel it IS my job to walk that line of protecting my child and NOT being a hover mother. What does matter to me is that It only takes a SECOND for a child to be lost forever, and I don’t want to take that chance. Maybe I am a danger mom, but from someone who has been through a horrifying experience, I never want my child to experience anything like that so I can prove that good exists in the world. There are so many other ways to teach that to my son, and I am not willing to turn my head and compromise his safety.
I do not condemn those out there who want to be free range people. And I am not one who thinks thats things are the way they are because of “this time and age.” It’s been since the beginning of humanity to nurture and care for, and protect, our young…. I am certain that WAYYYYYY back in the day, bad humans existed then too and hurt little ones. And, when that happened, I am certain that our ancient ancestors hugged their little ones closer then too.
My son is 7 by the way. lol
Love this article. Of course this is every parent’s worst nightmare, but the chances of such a horrific thing happening are staggeringly low. My greater fear is actually what I see as far more likely (based on statistics) — my kids being so non-functional that they’ll want to live with me until they are 30!
And that’s the way-too-common result of kids being so sheltered that they do not build their judgement or problem-solving skills. If kids are not given opportunities to do things on their own like play unsupervised or walking home, if their parents are constantly supervising play dates and driving them everywhere and protecting them from everything, the kids never have to use their own common sense, never learn to take small, manageable risks and develop judgement and critical thinking skills, and they never have to rely on themselves. These skills don’t just magically appear at 14yo (or 27yo), they must be developed with practice that starts at a young age with appropriate and ever-growing degrees of independence. This protected childhood leaves us with a generation of “adults” who are totally dependent on their parents, incapable of functioning in the world, get and keep a job, pay rent and bills, etc. — a generation of 20-somethings living in their parents’ basements.
That is my biggest fear for my kids. And that is why I steel myself against my own fear of the possible (but improbable) boogeyman in the bushes to let my kids play and take on age-appropriate responsibilities and independence, so they can build their skills, independence, creativity, accomplishment, judgement, critical thinking, risk taking, and common sense. And hopefully be better prepared for the world when they grow up so they can function as independent adults.
I may not have kids by myself but i vividly remember my childhood(which was in the 90s)
I know that I walked to school from age 6 and back , my curfew was to get home at 7 (for dinner) or when in winter it was until I was 8 or 9 years old when it was dark(which could be bad in winter because it would get dark between 4 and 5)(less fun in the snow)
and if it was sunny outside and I was seen hanging in my room I was sent outside to play there.
I have never had any problems. I had the talk don’t go with strangers don’t take any thing from stranger and to avoid roads which werent lit well when I came home in the evening.
Subsequently there wasn’t anything happening to me.
of course there are always cases where kids get abducted and even murdered but this is not the rule, and as you exclaimed it doesnt happen that often(and I believe even less in Europe than in the US)
I think I would do it the same when I have kids (which I am hopefully not too far away from).
I was quite surprised when I read on a family forum( a worldwide one with focus in the UK and US) that even if the school isnt far away they wouldnt let their children walk to school or even play outside out of their sight.
Or even arrange the play dates between the parents and then drive the kids there. It is understandable if one lives 10 km away from thekid which may be possible in the US or Canada but if the child only lives 1 or 2 km away it is kind of superflouous.
(although parents arranging the playdates with their classmates may be a different topic? I arranged myself when I wanted to play with somebody and we knew whether we had time or not.
So far it does nt seem to be gripping that much over here yet as I see lots of children being with their freinds in the afternoon without being watched by a parent. It does increase thoug I think.
With the Jaycee Dugard book being released, expect parents to get alot more paranoid. Jaycee was kidnapped walking home from school. While it’s a very sad story, when I read that in a magazine recently, all I could do was groan at the inevitable fact that parents are going to see this and be even less likely to let their kids walk to school.
Thanks for the poignant thoughts, and the step back from sensationalized irrationality.
It inspired my own blog post @ rickrood.wordpress.com
You write: “We have yet to dangerize a walk in the park” – but I’m afraid this is not true. Recently, I was walking with my four year old daughter on the newly opened northern section of the High Line Park in Chelsea – probably the safest place in all of New York City, with a crime rate of *zero* since opening (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/11/nyregion/the-high-line-park-is-elevated-its-crime-rate-is-not.html). The park is basically a straight line, so it is virtually impossible to get lost, although it is often crowded and you can lose sight of somebody if they are at a moderate distance.
My daughter was being a bit cranky, and ended up walking ahead of us, and at some point when she looked back, she didn’t see us. She must have been a bit upset about this, because when I looked for her, she was walking and holding the hand of one of two women walking north as we were. (They apparently asked her if she was okay). I was walking about fifty feet behind them, and being a sane and rational person, I was not at all concerned that my daughter was holding a stranger’s hand as she walked. Eventually my daughter turned around and saw us walking toward her, and came back to us.
The nice woman who was holding her hand also came back, but just to criticize me for letting my daughter go off alone in dangerous dangerous New York City. When I asked what would happen to her, get lost? fall off the side? – the woman replied that my daughter could be abducted by a stranger. I kind of lost my cool and ended up shouting at her that I grew up and walked around on my own in this neighborhood back in the day when it actually was dangerous (not really even that much, back in the late sixties – eighties). But I’m sure this had no effect on the woman, because after all, the one crime that did occur on the High Line was a terrible murder – on an episode of Law & Order: SVU.
So apparently even a walk in the (safest) park has been dangerized already.
I was with you until you mentioned 13-14 year olds. It really kills your analogy.
The risk of abduction goes down significantly as children get older. The risk of death in a car accident probably goes up, or at least holds steady.
Hi, I agree wholeheartedly that as a society, we should stop spreading fear and paranoia, or dangerize life in general, and I’m glad that crime nationally is down. We don’t invite the news into our house for that reason. However, on checking out the crime charts, I find that crime in Maryland is up 2-3 times, even when looking at the crimes per 100K people (more meaningful to me than the overall, trends up or down are clearer). I would also be interested in seeing stats specific to child abduction or murder, but that’s just me being analytical. I think *reasonable* caution is wise, but let’s not take it to extremes.
Tom: Actually, the risk of abduction is worst for tweens/young teens, especially if it’s abduction for purposes of molestation (once kids hit puberty, they become targets for run-of-the-mill rapists, of whom there are a lot more than pedophiles). They just don’t make as sympathetic victims as younger kids, so news stories about them don’t move as many boxes of Tide.
gayle71: When looking at, say, murder statistics, you have to go beyond the raw numbers and look at circumstances to see who’s really at risk. In most cities, for example, a little more than half the murders will be domestic. Domestic violence is a horrible epidemic, but it’s not something you can protect yourself from by staying off the streets, and if you’re not in an abusive relationship, you’re not at personal risk for it. Another big group of murder victims is people who were engaging in criminal activity when they were killed (e.g. gangbangers shot by rivals). Yet another is people in particularly risky occupations (liquor or convenience store clerks or cabdrivers killed in holdups).
Once you exclude these categories, you’re left with the rare but newsworthy random murders that do get news coverage. That’s the actual rate you have to look to when making decisions about the safety of you and yours. But you can’t look to the news to see how great that risk is.
I came across this post earlier on facebook. I read and thought about it for the rest of the night. I am probably one of those parents in between ideals. On one hand, I was raised “free range” and long for my 7 year old son to have the same freedom…playing hide and go seek until after dark with the neighbourhood kids. Swimming in the river all day. Riding our bikes into nearby rural areas, where there were no parents around.
Sure, we were responsible. As responsible as you can be at 9, 10, 11, 12. And we had a great time. So why, you might ask, do I not give my son the same freedom? Because, although you might state that crime rates are down, the world is a different place. Things are harder, faster, tougher and meaner. Drugs are different, people are different, problems are different. Maybe crime rates are down, but from WHAT? We know that about 1/3 girls are sexually assaulted. In my town, the average age for trying drugs is 8. So I’m supposed to assume that the world is the same place I grew up in and let my son go? Free range?
Give me a break.
There are ways to allow our children to interact with the world and build confidence, while still walking them to school, keeping them from riding the subway and slowing them down from living the freedom that we had as kids. I was a “free range” kid. But, due to the bad experiences I had (among the good), I choose to watch my son, be there to take him to school and know when to keep him close rather than let him go and think that all is well.
If your town is safer, well, let ’em go if you choose. I live in the average Canadian town, and we have plenty of drugs, alcohol, sexual abuse, you name it. We’re NORMAL. If you are thinking “my town doesn’t have those things”, you’re WRONG. No matter the size.
If your town has a subway, you have it ten fold. Wake up, realize what your kids are about to be exposed to and reel them in. Let them “free range” your back yard. Play in the garden until their hearts content. Climb on the playground, test the deep end of the pool, whatever it is that makes you comfortable and them SAFE. Because frankly, I’ve been on the subway, walked home alone, and rode my bike to school. …all as an adult, and every step along the way encountered things that a child shouldn’t experience without the guidance of an adult- if at all.
The world isn’t the same. If you think it is, you’re kidding yourself. If you know it isn’t and you let them loose, you are putting them at risk.
One more thing… you write “â€œI hope you NEVER put your children in a car. How could you ever forgive yourself if, God forbid, something terrible were to happen? It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep your children safe! Personally, I would rather have my kids stuck at home, unable to go anywhere, than take the TERRIBLE RISK of putting them in the car. Maybe at 13 or 14 they can start riding in a car, but seven or eight? Too young! Parents should know better! Itâ€™s just not worth a lifetime of regret.â€”
How does this even make sense?! First of all, everyone relies on some form of transportation to get their needs met. Cars, buses, trains, walking, bikes. SOMETHING. If I was in a car accident (bike accident, whatever accident) tomorrow, running an errand for a NEED (diabetic strips), how is that the same as letting a 9 year old on subway, surrounded by adults (doings and saying adult things-you’d be amazed at what people do on a subway), leaving him/her to make adult choices in an adult world, and deal with the adult consequences well into their actual adult life?! It isn’t the same!
And, FYI, but the mindset and decision making, judgement and readiness of a 7 year old vs. a 14 year old? How can you begin to compare it?
A child SITTING IN A SEAT, MAKING NO CHOICES while the adult drives VS. a child NAVIGATING THEMSELVES THROUGH THE WORLD, ALONE, are very different things.
Emily – I’d be more inclined to take you seriously if you proofread before posting. Half of your post doesn’t make any sense on first reading. I had to read it four times to understand what you were saying. It doesn’t help your case when you destroy grammatical conventions that are used to help differentiate meanings in text.
Onwards to your argument. It’s the second post of yours that bugs me so much. You see, you may not think that a 9 year old should be exposed to the REAL WORLD (see, I am capable of yelling too!) but I see the situation from a different perspective. I too live in an average Canadian city. It has problems that it is famous for in the form of the Downtown Eastside, car theft in Surrey, Marijuana “grow-ops” and riots over Canucks games.
I have lived here my entire life. I did not grow up free range for the most part. I started out free-range enough but when I was accepted into the long-term foster home that ended. The farthest I was ever able to go alone after that was the cul-de-sac that started one house over. If I was able to catch my foster father rather than my foster mother I was able to go as far as the Elementary School (5 minutes away) with the other children unsupervised. This was a disastrous way to grow up.
You see, when it finally came time for me to do things on my own I didn’t know how. I had no idea how the bus system worked and ended up cities away from my intended destinations at times. I wish that I had been allowed to learn the system early rather than be driven everywhere. I wish that I had had a chance to learn the system with the fallback of being able to contact an adult if I needed. Instead I got to learn by trial and error at 16 having never ridden a bus in my life. You tell me what’s worse?
As to being exposed to adult language and “adult things” as you put it I take exception to this. Having spent a lot of time in the Downtown Eastside Area as both a child and an adult there are many valuable lessons that children can learn. Did you know that here in Vancouver, even on the most undesirable blocks surrounding Main and Hastings that if a child is present the call goes out “baby on the block” and everyone puts away their drugs and weapons? Here, in the most derelict part of society there is still decency.
Would you have your children not learn about the adverse effects of drugs first-hand from those whose lives they have ruined? Or see the effects of alcoholism? What about teaching compassion? I volunteered in the worst areas as a young teenager and I learned a lot about how people ended up on the streets and why they stayed. If your children are sheltered from these very real parts of life then they are missing out on one of the best learning experiences that a parent can give a child. Seeing people like this is what kept me from trying drugs when all of my friends were getting high. It was the same with drinking. Being exposed to adult things at a young age can be educational and a source of personal growth. Just because you don’t see it that way doesn’t make it any less true.
I have never been in danger in this area which is bordered by the Skytrain (our equivalent of a subway) or been solicited for anything except for change. Maybe those eight-year-olds who are shooting up should be exposed to the effects of drugs instead of just being told about them. I bet it would have more of an effect.
The world that I live in now is actually much safer than the one I grew up in. Whether you agree or disagree this is my experience. As a child I was once almost kidnapped (by a stranger) but I got away. The only kidnappings I’ve seen in the past few years have been of adults. As a matter of fact, the last high profile child kidnapping was Heather Thomas in 2001. The other kidnappings that have made the news have been caught by the Amber Alert system and were family members. Therefore, I’m not very concerned about kidnappings.
As to 1/3 women being sexually assaulted I am one of them. I have been raped and molested by both males and females. Does that mean that I should be afraid of everyone who crosses my path because they *MIGHT* be a predator? No, it doesn’t. If I live in fear then they won and I refuse to let that happen. Each and every time I was molested or raped I was at home. The perpetrators were known to me. I stand in the majority on that. Most women who are sexually assaulted know their attacker. Therefore, the idea that the streets are somehow so much more dangerous because 1/3 of women are sexually assaulted is beyond ridiculous. Not to mention that the definition of sexual assault has been watered down to the point that someone accidentally brushing up against a breast or what have you can be considered sexual assault. At one point, on the news, there was even a story about how a man was charged with sexual harassment for putting his hand on a woman’s shoulder. The statistics are misleading due to changing definitions.
Personally, I worry more when my other half is driving our family around than I am walking the Downtown Eastside with my son in his stroller. Why? Because the odds of something untoward happening are higher and there is nothing that I can do to prevent it. The point of Lenore’s post was to point out that there is risk in everything and that something untoward happening when driving is more likely than something untoward happening when you are walking home or doing another free-range activity (even if you’re a child). You say that you NEED to drive to the store to pick up diabetic strips but if I was playing devil’s advocate I could point out that many places deliver these sorts of medications and that there is actually no NEED to drive to get them. Driving is not a NEED. It is a CONVENIENCE. There is a difference.
Wendy- While you were so busy critiquing my grammatical mistakes, you somehow twisted what I said to suit your agenda. I never once said that the 8 year old kids in my town were “shooting up”, or that they were kids who were raised by restrictive parents. You don’t know my community, its issues or the background of these kids. The truth is, most aren’t shooting up, although I’m sure some of them are. Some are doing crack and smoking pot, although most are too poor to afford that. The majority of them are using inhalants. They aren’t from restricted homes, they are mostly the children of drug addicts and alcoholics. These kids are doing drugs because they aren’t being supervised and not in a “free range” way.
I agree that there are lessons for kids to learn on the DTES, but “decency” isn’t one of them. I’ve lived around addicts, our neighbourhood in Nanaimo (when we lived there) was known for prostitution and drug use. When I’d walk with my son in the stroller, never once did they call out that there was a child present. Never once did they put away the drugs and weapons. They’d smoke crack, shoot up and do their deals right there in front of us. We’d have to leave the park daily due to the activities there, or just not visit at all.
I understand there is risk in everything. It is our responsibility as parents to assess the risk and guide our children through. In my opinion, allowing your kids to have appropriate and guided exposure to the world is a way to ensure that they learn to navigate safely. I don’t feel that putting a kid on a subway in the 4th grade is an appropriate way to do so. Personally, I’d rather my child learning about “decency” in other ways than the laughable example of an addict on the DTES putting away his weapon in the presence of your kid.
To each their own.
What’s funny is that Levi Aron, the murderer, had originally tried to help Leiby Kletzky, but “panicked” when he realized that he would be accused of being a child molester and tried to hide the evidence by killing the witness.
Now that’s a crazy response, and all evidence suggests that Levi had more than a few screws loose in general, but I’m reminded eerily of the story of Abigail Rae, where a male bricklayer who saw her before she drowned “did not stop to help in case he was suspected of abducting her”.
Might Leiby be alive if Levi (who, until the murder, hadn’t harmed a hair on his head), wasn’t so terrified of just sending him home?
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As to the “what were the parents thinking” BS, I really get upset at the blame the victims mentality! Why should the victim be the ones to do anything? They aren’t the ones to solicit the abduction or crime! This is why women live in fear. Because society tells them to stop inviting the crime. As if we were looking for it? Like we asked to be victims? Children do not ask to be victims and do nothing wrong when things happen to them. It’s all the criminal’s fault and we need to remember that! We need to keep the responsibility on the head of the one that actually committed the act! The criminal hurt those children and people, the people didn’t make the criminal do that.