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"Older respondents reported hopping on railway cars and stealing gin"
August 6, 2014 12:26 PM   Subscribe

The shortening leash on American children: We heard a lot about sneaking out, petty theft, amateur arson, drugs, and sexual experimentation from our older respondents. But as time passes, the picture of childhood looks a lot less wild and reckless and a lot more monitored. We asked parents how they would react if they caught their kids doing what they had done as kids. A typical response: "I'd probably freak out and turn my home into a prison."
posted by scody (165 comments total) 56 users marked this as a favorite

 
Disclosure: I took the survey; I was hoping my anecdote about hitchhiking home from an REM concert at the age of 15 would make it into the article, but alas, I'll just have to share it here. (July 3, 1984, at the Rainbow Music Room in Denver, on the Reckoning tour, with Dream Syndicate opening. Neither wild horses nor the lack of a ride from mom was going to keep me away.)
posted by scody at 12:31 PM on August 6 [19 favorites]


Damn kids today! So we'll behaved! I told them to get off my lawn, and you know what?? They did!
posted by jonmc at 12:38 PM on August 6 [43 favorites]


And like scody, I did plenty of stuff as a kid that would be scandalous today.
posted by jonmc at 12:39 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


It's an interesting study that Slate did. Their results seem compelling. If I were of a mind to call their validity into question, though, I'd point out that self-reporting is not the most reliable way to create data, and the effect of retrospective memory formation could be biasing the results of older cohorts' responses disproportionately, especially because there's widespread suspicion already among Americans that a change like this has taken place. Really interesting, though.
posted by clockzero at 12:39 PM on August 6 [12 favorites]


My husband had friends in middle school who built a chemistry lab in one boy's basement. Being completely unsupervised, they had some sort of accident that landed them both in the hospital for months. So, I mean, I get the whole "too tight leash" mentality, but you can't ignore the kid, either.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:41 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


I know it's sort of a jokey metaphor, but there are in fact leashes for kids.
posted by mrbigmuscles at 12:44 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


One of the interesting things I've found is that the sense of what is acceptable to the broader community dramatically impacts what I let my children do. My elder child is 8. When I was eight I would go all over town, walk/bike to friends' houses, take myself to the park, etc. Now, I can't send my son to a park on his own because people would be concerned for his well-being and interveen. I can't send him alone to a friend's house because the friend's parents would think I was full on nuts.
posted by lucasks at 12:44 PM on August 6 [29 favorites]


It's easy for someone without kids, like me, to roll their eyes at tales of parents freaking out when their kids don't respond to phone calls or texts, but whenever I try to get in touch with my wife and she doesn't respond in a timely manner I start to worry...just a bit...and then a lot. So that impulse would probably be immeasurably worse with children.

That said, I'm both glad I'm not a kid today and glad I don't have kids. In one generation we've gone from "Get out of the house and don't come back until dinner" to "NEVER LEAVE MY SIGHT." The next will probably feature microchipping and/or personal drones.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:46 PM on August 6 [17 favorites]


I have such mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I think there were a lot of really nice things about my relatively free-range childhood. I think I was more independent and self-sufficient than a lot of kids are today. On the other hand, we did a lot of stuff that was honestly pretty dangerous, and I think we tend to gloss over some of the bad stuff that happened as a result. I did, in fact, know some kids who burned their houses down or got really sick from smoking actual weeds that they found at the park or got terribly injured in car accidents that would probably not have been a big deal if they'd been in a car seat. I think part of the problem is that we aren't very good at perceiving the difference between real risks and fake risks. It's irrational to drive your kid to school because you're afraid he'll be kidnapped if he walks, but that doesn't mean that it's necessarily safe for kids to spend a lot of time hanging out in the back yard starting small fires. Fun, definitely, but probably not safe.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 12:46 PM on August 6 [18 favorites]


One big issue is how self-sustaining all of this stuff becomes. When I was a kid, my parents could let me wander down to the neighborhood park unsupervised, because there were bound to be many other unsupervised children there as well. I remember roaming the neighborhood on my bike, running into kids at the playground, the school, the store -- we were our own community that pretty much ruled the streets from 2pm until 5pm on schooldays and all day long during the summer. Nowadays, a kid on a bike would be lonely and if you let her go to the park, she'd be the only one by herself, which, let's face it, is a lot more dangerous than it would be if there were other kids to play with.
posted by artichoke_enthusiast at 12:48 PM on August 6 [43 favorites]


So adults did dangerous stuff as kids and say they wouldn't want their kids to do it. I'd love to hear the story from current kids about whether or not they actually do these things, though. I was a good kid, but my much younger sister did all sorts of the kinds of stuff that adults say they did and their kids cannot, and she wasn't doing them ALONE.
posted by jeather at 12:49 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


One more thought: I can really understand an iterative tightening of the leash as people age and look back on their actions and realize the magnitude of the risks they took. I was a very very good kid who almost universally followed the rules. The list of things I was able to do that very well could have killed me had I been even a bit less luck is surprisingly long. It's hard to resist the urge to do everything I can to ensure my kids don't make similar mistakes (even if they didn't end in tragedy for me personally).
posted by lucasks at 12:50 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I can't send him alone to a friend's house because the friend's parents would think I was full on nuts

I let my son walk six blocks to a friends house when he was 9 and I got a phone call stating that if I was too busy/whatever to drive him, she would have come and picked him up.

When I was 9, Chauncy (the dog) and I would pack a few sandwiches and sodas in a bag, strap on the pup tent and disappear into the woods a few miles from the house for a night or two.

Later that same year, after I walked the 8-9 blocks home from school, I would then have to walk 10 blocks to hockey practice - which was only called off if the temps were -30 or colder - and then walk back. In the dark, because the sun goes down at 430 in the winter in MN.

My cow-orker has to leave work every day at 3 to go pick his kids up from school and drive them the 4 blocks home.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 12:52 PM on August 6 [43 favorites]


My parents used to send me to the store to buy them cigarettes beginning when I was about seven.
posted by octothorpe at 12:54 PM on August 6 [46 favorites]


I had one of those childhoods where I never went anywhere or did anything unsupervised, but I had free run of the internet. I was careless with my personal information, chatted with strangers, pretended to be 18 in adult chat rooms, and basically did all the stuff you aren't supposed to let kids do or look at right now, but which our parents didn't know enough about to keep us from then.

I turned out fine, but I still think when I have kids, I am not letting them anywhere near the internet until they are 25.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 12:57 PM on August 6 [19 favorites]


I also used to buy my dad cigarettes. Kool Filters please! I took this survey and forgot about my best anecdote. I used to ride my bike on I-95 (it wasn't finished yet but it was full of dangerous construction equipment).
posted by interplanetjanet at 12:57 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


With the availability of cheap mobile phones, some kid activities are probably safer now than they were in the 1970s. I feel perfectly safe letting my kids go to the park if they bring a phone.

(But if they bring an expensive phone, it's probably more dangerous...)
posted by Triplanetary at 1:02 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I know it's sort of a jokey metaphor, but there are in fact leashes for kids.

From the front page of the other internet today.
posted by phunniemee at 1:05 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


I also used to buy my dad cigarettes.

Buy? Don't you mean steal?
posted by goethean at 1:06 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Buy? Don't you mean steal?

Buy the cigarettes. Steal the candy.
posted by scody at 1:07 PM on August 6 [21 favorites]


My parents Had. No. Idea. what I was getting up to in my bedroom. Or rather, they had an idea but no real inkling. 15 kV experimental generators that could throw a boy three metres backwards? The least of it. And yes, I walked to school alone, spent days exploring the countryside, and acquired things that the police had to be called to take away. Gingerly.

The kid two doors down from us spent a year in a coma after a car accident which also put my best friend out of action for a month or so. Happens when you're 17, want to be a rally driver, and throw an ancient Mini down country roads in the dark. But who wants to stop their kids from learning to drive? Not my parents, who were always particularly keen on fostering independence. (I always have been vaguely scared of driving and find fear in general unpleasant, so in this case... safe enough. But if I had been keen on motor racing, I'm sure my parents would have encouraged me. They're that sort.)

On the other hand, my father used to electroplate knives and forks when he was a kid, by wiring them straight up to the light socket (DC mains, to forestall any niggling) and dunking them in vats of highly poisonous gunk, so perhaps they just had particularly good guardian angels retained.

I have never been unduly concerned about my own son's antics. You take an interest, you dispense advice, you let it be known that what doesn't necessarily kill you might not be a good idea nonetheless, and you run a nice line in terrifying stories and an unflappable "if you're not sure, telling me is not going to be a bad idea" general policy. Then you let them get on with it.

Until we achieve the glorious revolution for which I actively work - the bringing-up of all children in VR-equipped vats on a large remote island - I think this is the best we can do.
posted by Devonian at 1:09 PM on August 6 [13 favorites]


Surely someone can provide an anecorrelation to the effect that crime is down because of helicopter parenting.
posted by clawsoon at 1:11 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


When I was in first grade had a two mile walk each way to school, which I did mostly alone as it was private school (all the other neighborhood kids went to the public school) .
A co-worker of mine leaves work every afternoon so he can drive his high school age son to his summer job which is about 3 miles from their home!

I have 2 young children (9 and 6), we have gotten calls from neighbors when we sent them out to get the mail.
That said, our children do seem less inclined to wander and explore than I was as a child. I feel we would allow them more freedom than many other parents in the area allow their children but the do not take advantage of the opportunity.
posted by evilelf at 1:13 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


My dad never sent me to the store to buy smokes, but he and his friends would sometimes give me money for the cigarette vending machine when we were at the golf course and tell me to keep the change.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:14 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


One of the things I read tied this to the breakdown of a sense of community. Like there used to be a neighborhood of adults that'd keep their eyes on roaming kids--I knew if I got caught doing any antics by The Adults, the great Adult Telephone would fire up and call my mom and I might be in trouble before I even got home--but now if you correct someone's child in public, they get defensive or start screaming that you're a pedo. Likewise, if it started raining or something while you were out, someone in the neighborhood would probably wave you inside and it was okay to hang out there while they called your parents to come pick you up or just tell them where you were sheltering, whereas now an adult alone with a kid would cause all manner of terrible suspicion. It squared with my experience, though it's hardly universal. Personally I won't get involved with other people's kids at all if I can avoid it because I just do NOT need whatever hassles may ensue, which is, of course, part of the problem.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:15 PM on August 6 [41 favorites]


From Mitch Albom In the Detroit Free Press
posted by TDavis at 1:16 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Odd contradiction though, my dad and his siblings were given less restrictions in some ways, like getting to roam around the city, play in the streets and all, but at the same time were much more harshly disciplined. According to my aunt, if my grandpa didn't like what you said at the dinner table, he'd throw a fork at you. I'm not thrilled with today's over protectiveness, but I don't want that back either.
posted by jonmc at 1:17 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


if my grandpa didn't like what you said at the dinner table, he'd throw a dork at you

Must have sucked for the dorks, too.
posted by jeather at 1:17 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


So we should backward extrapolate from this trend that our grandparents' grandparents grew up in a state of chaotic nature, children roaming the lands, barbarians as far as their short legs and arms would let them terrorize?
posted by Atreides at 1:18 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


More or less, I think. My great-grandmother started working in a sweatshop when she was like 8, so I think part of it was that they were too busy with child labor to spend much time terrorizing anyone.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 1:20 PM on August 6 [14 favorites]


Ditto here--grew up in the 1960s; walked every day .6 mile to elementary school, regardless of the weather; rode my bike, usually with siblings, to the beach 1.2 miles each way, played for hours at the park with whoever was there; walked .4 miles to the library and hung out for hours, etc. What's disturbing is how these cases have morphed from concern for kids to arrest of the mother. There was another one yesterday where a mom left her 7 year old in playing in a Legos store at the mall while she shopped in another store and she got arrested for failure to supervise. (THis one is complicated because she also got arrested for a separate, unrelated issue). We used to go to the mall all the time and hang out, at the same age, while our parents shopped.

We also went without seatbelts and car seats, which was terrible, so I'm not just pining for a pre-nanny state life. Lots of rules and regulations have made kids safer. But we're criminalizing parents, especially moms, and demanding more and more control over kids, whether it's the cops in schools, the drugkits available to parents to test their kids or this nonsense of requiring parents to be on scene for everything.
I don't think that's healthy for us in the long run, and I blame John Walsh and others who have made a career out of freaking out the rest of us.

It's no wonder kids act up on the internet or get to college and soon drink themselves to death.
posted by etaoin at 1:20 PM on August 6 [15 favorites]


I would have been fine with letting my son walk to school but we lived in a township with zero sidewalks and very narrow, hilly, winding roads that were too dangerous for adults to walk on.
posted by octothorpe at 1:20 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Our grandparents' grandparents were working 60 hours a week on the farm from age 8. They had no time to roam.
posted by COD at 1:21 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


My mom grew up in The Bronx and talked about being a little kid in the '40s and how her parents would send her off on city buses to visit her grandparents by herself.
posted by octothorpe at 1:26 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


> I have 2 young children (9 and 6), we have gotten calls from neighbors when we sent them out to get the mail.

I was born in 1973. In grade one I was walking to school by myself (about five blocks). In grade four I was riding my bike across my mid-sized town to piano lessons (about two miles). By grade six or so I was allowed to ride my bike anywhere I wanted. When I was 14 I got up at dawn for my job at a golf course and rode my bike there (about seven miles). I took the bus to the movies all the time. And that's just the transportation-related stuff. I regularly went snorkeling in Lake Huron by myself. My brother and I were allowed to go off by ourselves and/or with other kids and splash through nearby ponds and streams, fishing and looking for crawfish. My brother would get on his BMX and ride across town to a track the city had set up and be there all day. When we went camping I would often see my parents four times a day; breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. The rest of the time we were off with the other kids, doing kid stuff. And so on.

I never thought I'd be one of those "In my day..." types, but it's hard not to be when I walk past elementary schools and see traffic jams* of SUVs full of parents waiting to drive their kids to a home a few blocks away.

* seriously, with honking and everything
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:27 PM on August 6 [16 favorites]



Odd contradiction though, my dad and his siblings were given less restrictions in some ways, like getting to roam around the city, play in the streets and all, but at the same time were much more harshly disciplined.


This is very true, too. Even in my generation, getting a belt or a spoon wasn't unheard of. My parents - mom especially - could flip their shit and you would get such a whooping. I usually preferred it coming from Dad. He would swat your ass a few times and that would be that. Mom would harangue and scream and slap and carry on. And my experience was not uncommon from that of my peers.

So, it seems we have traded harsh punishments for greater supervsion, and largely, that is probably a net benefit.

That said, I still think my son lacks a lot of the independence and self-reliance I had, and I kinda blame myself for giving into the judgement of others for that.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 1:30 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


I'd be interested in hearing if this pattern holds outside the U.S., and if there are any significant differences among kids who live in cities, suburbs, and more rural areas.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:31 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


So we should backward extrapolate from this trend that our grandparents' grandparents grew up in a state of chaotic nature, children roaming the lands, barbarians as far as their short legs and arms would let them terrorize?

Indeed. It wasn't until the early 1800s that children's material forms settled into the configuration we now know, less constrained were they by the tyranny of matter. Earlier than that they were amorphous blobs of flesh, and before that clouds of gas, earlier still they were energy waveforms.

From the 1400s backwards children were zero point singularities. It was a better time.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:31 PM on August 6 [62 favorites]


Personally I won't get involved with other people's kids at all if I can avoid it because I just do NOT need whatever hassles may ensue, which is, of course, part of the problem.

I don't know if this is down to something as general as a "breakdown of community" as it is the very specific obsession to the point of hysteria we've developed around "child molesters" and "sex offenders." I think there's a very strong argument to be made that those fears make children much much more unsafe because, as you noted, people who would otherwise provide help and safety are loath to even speak to or approach someone else's child, for fear of being attacked by a frothing hysterical mob of "Amber Alert" vigilantes.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:34 PM on August 6 [18 favorites]


My gut feeling based on where I live now in the Pittsburgh suburbs is that the slider is set a bit too far to the helicopter extreme. Kids can't even walk a half a block unaccompanied to their bus stop -- the parents are there in their SUVs watching the whole time. That seems excessive to me.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:34 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Poor latchkey kid here, a child of a single-parent home in the 70s. We had to learn how to keep house and cook at a young age, because when we got home from school, no one was going to cook for my cousin and me if we were hungry.

He'd not obey his mother's rule to stay inside after school, though, dumping off his books and being gone for 3 hours, and would time hanging out with his friends to get back within a few minutes before his mother got home at 6pm, whereas I was the good kid reading a book, preparing dinner, or drawing pictures and not leaving the house.

I went on errands to the store for my aunt by 5, went exploring alone all over the neighborhood all day during the summer starting at 7; I'd pack a lunch and go, keys tied around my wrist, and I still remember my phone number from those days. While there were men who'd tried to accost me (I was very small and grabbable until ~17), I wasn't stupid, and no, I didn't want candy or to see anyone's kitten in the back of a car. Plus I was a little endurance runner, and if I felt threatened, I ran. I'd go by myself to the library, and to summer day camp and vacation bible school, all of which were at least a half mile's walk from our flat. I even would go down to the train tracks after a good rain, because there would be gullies near the tracks filled with water that I could actually "sail" down for a while, in the sort of wood flat or box you'd find in such spots, not the least worried about splinters or rusty nails. And I'd seen a few homeless guys, watching in awe as they'd jump into the boxcars while the trains sped by.

I have no kids, but if I had, I would not let them go down to the train tracks now, or leave them unsupervised in the park to do the tricks on the equipment, like riding the front of a horse swing and trying to do backflips while jumping off. How I didn't crack my skull open, I don't know. And I did some bad things to other people's property, too, that I'd be very upset to know any child of mine had done.

By 1982, I was working as a babysitter and papergirl because I had to, and "graduated" to the food court at the mall and McDonald's when I was 15 1/2, as provided for by law. School clothes didn't buy themselves! Seeing how the jobs of my youth have now gone to adults, I feel badly for kids who can't make their own money to buy what they need.
posted by droplet at 1:35 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


scody: “ I took the survey; I was hoping my anecdote[…]”
They didn't use my anecdote either. My younger brother got a recurve bow and target arrows from our "uncle" for Christmas one year. (I got a fishing pole.) We were maybe 10 and 8. It wasn't really a good choice. Dad never knew how that perfectly round hole about three feet off the ground got in the edge of side door of the house we lived in then until I told him about it a few months ago.
posted by ob1quixote at 1:36 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


My son starts kindergarten in two weeks. We live a block and a half from the school and specifically bought this house to be a block and a half from the school. He will never, ever be able to walk to school by himself because people call the police. A few fourth- and fifth-graders are allowed to walk three blocks or less, carrying cell phones, but that's it. People would think I had lost my mind if I let my kid walk to school alone.

When I was in kindergarten, in the 80s, I met a group of kids on the corner near my house at 8:30 and walked 3/4 of a mile, across two busy roads, with just those other kids. And home again, as long as I had at least one other person to walk with until I was 7. (After that, I was on my own.)

Like lots of other posters, when I was 8 I was walking or bike-riding myself to play dates, the library, the little downtown convenience store. My parents were pretty strict, and I was an obedient kid, so this wasn't seen as at all dangerous. I don't really know anybody who lets their kids do that until they're old enough for a work permit.

When I was 11 I was babysitting easy-age kids for money; when I was 13 people were hiring me to babysit infants and families of four. Lots of people are SHOCKED when I suggest hiring a teenager (a 16 year old!) to watch my kids. Others who babysat as teenagers and think it's fine to hire teenagers would never do it themselves for their own kids. The find it irresponsible.

It's not so much the "starting tire fires, oh, the nostalgia!" for me, but the fairly stunning lack of independence and responsibility. The lack of modern kid-herds in the neighborhood is a problem, but the biggest thing for me is that kids are just never unsupervised, not even in a benign way. And they don't chafe at it the way I remember chafing at constant adult presence when it happened, because they've never lived in a world where they DON'T always have an adult around. We try to mindfully create a lot of space for unstructured and semi-unsupervised play in our kids' lives, but we can only unsupervise them so far.

Actually, maybe in a couple years when my kids are a bit older I will start a PTA movement for kids to walk to and from school alone, with "block parent" houses who keep an eye on the foot commuters and neighborhood education that it's okay for kids to walk alone and some kind of check-in with the school because God only knows if they'd even release your kid if a parent didn't come get them. That sounds like my kind of cause.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:37 PM on August 6 [32 favorites]


I was a free range kid. Actually, I was pretty much a latchkey kid, a fact that my mother refuses to admit to. I wandered around some, got into a little trouble, but mostly I roamed up to my room to read whatever had just come from the Science Fiction Book Club.

The one time I remember my parents freaking out about me being gone for a long time and them panicking about where I was, I was at another kid's house, watching a Dr. Who marathon.

In summary: Science fiction.
posted by maxsparber at 1:37 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


That also has the useful effect of keeping them from having sex until their 20s. Brilliant! (I kid, I kid).
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 1:40 PM on August 6


This article just feeds into already popular ideas rather than actually delving all that deep into what might or might not be happening. When I read stuff like this the impression I'm left with is not so much "helicopter parents are ruining childhoods" but rather "older, settled people really like retelling their wild youth stories," which is fine and entertaining but drop the stupid charts and just tell the stories.

I wish it had actually dealt with the class issues more and taken into consideration the differences between growing up in the city, suburbs, and rural areas. And what about the effects of technology? People (with the resources) generally monitor and have control over more and more of their lives, it makes sense that would include parenting.
posted by AtoBtoA at 1:42 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee: "the fairly stunning lack of independence and responsibility"

By which I meant to say, kids are given no opportunities to BE independent or responsible, not that they are lacking the ability to develop those qualities.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:43 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


FWIW, according to the HRSA between 1970 and 2007, the rate of deaths in kids age 5-14 for "accidental injuries" is down 13% with gains consistently being seen the most in white families.
posted by Poldo at 1:45 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


OH YES ALSO it is literally against the law for me to leave my five-year-old in the car for two minutes while I go into the plate-glass-fronted pizza place that my car is parked 3 feet from to pick grab my pizza and hand them a $20. No, no, every trip to the pizza place involves unstrapping everyone from the car seats they must be in UNTIL THEY ARE EIGHT, herding children into the store, keeping them from destroying the store, herding them back out while carrying pizzas, and strapping everyone back in. THIS IS MADNESS. I have a friend who had the cops called when she left her kids in the car to drop her dog at the groomer -- literally parked six feet away, took the dog to the door and handed him to the groomer, and someone saw her leaving the kids and called the cops, who chased her down based on her license plate and told her that was unsafe. She was like, "It was six below and the sidewalk was completely iced over, it would have been a lot more dangerous to get them OUT of the car!"

I don't go to gas stations without pay-at-the-pump anymore because I HAVE NO IDEA if it's legal for me to leave my kids in the car while I go in to pay for the gas.

/End biggest complaint about modern parenting hysteria
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:53 PM on August 6 [50 favorites]


the car seats they must be in UNTIL THEY ARE EIGHT

So no one carpools anymore?
posted by jeather at 1:56 PM on August 6


One of the things I read tied this to the breakdown of a sense of community. Like there used to be a neighborhood of adults that'd keep their eyes on roaming kids--I knew if I got caught doing any antics by The Adults, the great Adult Telephone would fire up and call my mom and I might be in trouble before I even got
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 4:15 PM on August 6

I can't begin to explain what it means for a neighborhood to also be an internally-responsible community.

We live in the Mile End neighborhood of Montreal, on a block where nearly half the residents -- and nearly all the children -- are Hasidic. These kids run wild. There are four year-olds pushing two year-olds in strollers. Kids play tag until dark. There are scooters everywhere. I think it's paradise, and, I imagine, it feels like how many neighborhoods felt in another age.

It also drives my mother-in-law (who's not from Montreal) up the wall when she comes to visit. From her perspective, lack of supervision is the same as neglect. But the thing to remember is that this is a very tight-knit community, and people watch out for each other. People know each other -- because they see each other at social events, and because they're used to talking to each other across fences, and because culturally it's ok to be all up in someone else's business.

The other thing to remember is that many -- perhaps most -- Hasidic women in this community don't work outside the house. Building close-knit, mutually self-supporting communities takes an enormous amount of time. Trust doesn't come cheap.
posted by awenner at 2:03 PM on August 6 [11 favorites]


jeather: "So no one carpools anymore?"

It's much more difficult. Once they're four or five they can be in "just" a booster, so parents who carpool invest in an extra booster or two. But when they're younger than that and have to be in a full carseat, no, nobody carpools because you have to schlep car seats around everywhere and they're a pain in the ass to install and remove. (Which, it's good they're well-secured to the car. But PAIN IN THE ASS.) But yeah, carpooling elementary school students now involves a monetary outlay for extra booster seats.

It also makes it a really big hassle when you have an emergency and a friend comes to help you out by taking your kids -- do you swap cars? Move car seats? Put the kids in regular seat belts and hope your friend doesn't get pulled over?

I also think carseat laws put a (tiny, but there) downward pressure on family size, because you can't put kids in the front seat until they're like 12 or 15 these days, and you can't fit more than two kids in the back seat because the carseats are so big (and you can't really fit a third person in between two car seats, even if they're not in a car seat). I've had friends who had one kid and then their second (planned) pregnancy turned out to be (unplanned) twins and they had to go BUY A BIGGER CAR because you can't put three kids in a sedan. People who have two will outright say, "We've been thinking about a third, but I don't know, college costs are so high, and we'd have to get a bigger car ... it's a huge financial commitment." Not saying smaller families are bad, just that this thicket of rules surrounding parenting has unintended consequences. Like for any corporation, increased regulation leads to increased compliance costs, which reduces available investment in increased production. Compliance costs to parenting can be shockingly high sometimes.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:05 PM on August 6 [21 favorites]


Compliance costs to parenting can be shockingly high sometimes.

And of course even just having to drive your kids to school on your own adds a lot of time and money -- instead of breaking out the 10 trips among 5 families, you need to do them all yourself.
posted by jeather at 2:07 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


My older sister and I were talking about this over dinner the other night with our parents. It was roughly half a mile from our house to the elementary school. When my sister started the first grade and I started kindergarten (half day only), mom sent us off to school alone together (or, more precisely, alone with two other first graders on the block). I walked home at noon by myself.

My sister now lives a few doors down and across the street from her son's kindergarten. But he does not walk there alone.

A big part of the reason he does not walk there alone is traffic. In fact, it's the primary reason (although we suspect he'd get distracted and not get to school without someone to walk with and keep him on task). My sister and I went to elementary school in nearly-rural suburbia. If two cars drove down the roads we crossed to get to school after all the dads had left for work in the morning (until the dads started coming home), it was a surprise.

My sister lives in dense urban big city. If five minutes pass without someone driving egregiously fast down the side street she lives on, it's a shock. I can count on one hand the number of times I have crossed the street between the elementary school and her house where a driver has actually come to a complete stop behind the crosswalk or actually waited until the pedestrians were out of the street to start inching forward. No way in hell I'd let a child out alone in this neighborhood, simply because the drivers are all dicks. It's a far cry days of yore.

(My anecdote, which was not about traffic, also was not used. It was about spending the weekend alone with my sister when I was a junior in high school. Of course we threw a party! But the truth was no-one brought beer or drugs, although several folks smoked plain old cigarettes at the party.)
posted by crush-onastick at 2:07 PM on August 6


Born in the mid-70s and I was expected to live by the rule of the whistle. I had to remain close enough to not only hear my dad's whistle when it was time to come home, but I also had to be close enough to get home in time before he got frustrated. I could hear his whistle from about 8 blocks away, but unless I was on my bike I couldn't get home fast enough from there.

My parents only just recently found out about our King of the Tree games (like King of the Hill but in a maple tree) and my 13 year old godson was scandalized to find out his mother and I both snuck out of the house at his age. I still have the scar from the Mary Poppins experiment and the broken finger from skateboarding while grounded. I was free range before such a term existed and I can't imagine how it would be to grow up being escorted everywhere.

At the same time, the very idea of knowing an out teenager was beyond the pale in high school. Despite the epic freedom I had about where I went and what I did, so many things had to be kept secret or at least only talked about minimally. The godson that was scandalized, he's grown up with gay friends and he's been encouraged from day one to be himself, whoever that may be. He's grown up in a world that while it's not perfect, it's a hell of a lot more free that it used to be. His mom and I were sneaking out to find a world that was slightly less uptight and restricted than the one our parents forced us into, and he was born into that more open-minded world. Childhood is about learning the limits of the world around you, and the modern world is more physically restrictive than it used to be while at the same time being much, much more open.
posted by teleri025 at 2:08 PM on August 6 [13 favorites]


We live on a cul-de-sac, and there are a ton of kids here at the end. They are outside doing stuff, we can all see them from inside and/or outside. Pretty idyllic for our modern mindset.
posted by Windopaene at 2:09 PM on August 6


I'd sum up my 1970s childhood by saying that our parents never had the slightest idea where we were, and it's funny now to stun them with stories about what we got up to.

Most of my friends were the same way, though there was a certain correlation between higher income bracket and getting driven around by your parents more.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:13 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Also do any of these kinds of articles take into account whether people are raising children in the communities in which they were raised or if they've settled in new places after moving around for awhile?

I don't know why this article annoyed me do much.
posted by AtoBtoA at 2:13 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Summer was an equally free roaming period for me, too. Granted, I lived in a rather exclusive neighborhood (no gates/guards (except at night)), but after breakfast at around 7ish something, I was out the door and walking the three miles to the nearby sports club where I would hang out with friends until dinner time, then walk back. If I didn't go there, I would just walk out the door into the woods, though thanks to the acoustics of the ravine, even a mile away was in yelling distance. There were plenty of times, I'd come home and find out that my parents had tried yelling for me to come in, and when I didn't show, they simply shrugged and went back to what they were doing.

It's sort of strange that in a time when everyone claims to be always busy, parents don't leap at the idea of giving themselves time off from constant supervision.

When I got a car, I had a curfew and a rule, if I wasn't going to be back by curfew, simply call and let 'em know I would be crashing somewhere else. Where I went and what I did, it was a mystery to my parents. My sisters were on a little bit shorter leash, but still had generally the same freedom.

The Parent Chat Line.

We knew parents would hear about certain things, and we always knew that it generally was because someone, not necessarily in the immediate group of friends, was the leak. We never tried to out these people, but it did kind of stick in the back of our minds that if we got up to something, there would probably be one person who would the next day just happily go chat up their mom or dad about what everyone had gotten up to. Meh.

While there were men who'd tried to accost me (I was very small and grabbable until ~17), I wasn't stupid, and no, I didn't want candy or to see anyone's kitten in the back of a car. Plus I was a little endurance runner, and if I felt threatened, I ran.

So what you're saying is that all the paranoia and fears of today's parents were actually true?

And...Geez, ride the school bus people! Are there any parents who drive their kids to school because they don't want them on the bus? What's your rationale? Curious!
posted by Atreides at 2:16 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


A child in my grandmother's neighbourbood when she was a child drowned in the 'doggy'. The doggy was a pool where people threw their dead dogs.

You're all soft.
posted by biffa at 2:18 PM on August 6 [10 favorites]


Windopaene: We live on a cul-de-sac, and there are a ton of kids here at the end. They are outside doing stuff, we can all see them from inside and/or outside. Pretty idyllic for our modern mindset.

Sounds like an inverse suburban panopticon.
posted by clawsoon at 2:22 PM on August 6


There's a ravine behind our cul de sac where the neighborhood kids play. I'd never been back there when I gave permission for my daughter to join them; one of the other moms had, and her kids were allowed to play there, so I just said ok. Lily loves it, she's almost 8. Alden is almost 4, he's not allowed to go yet.

Last week, Lily had her BFF over, and they wanted to go "down the mountain to the forest," as it goes in the local kid parlance. They had a bigger kid with them, the 11 year old next door, so I texted her mom, who said sure. Well, 45 minutes later, the 11 year old and my daughter turned up at the front door, my kid sobbing, saying "um. . . Lily's friend was too scared to come back up the mountain." So I left the 11 year old with my 3 year old and headed back there with Lily for the first time to talk her friend back up.

So here's what I see when I climb through the hole in the chain link that the neighbor has carefully propped open with a board: there's a very steep bluff, probably 20 feet high, with a very unstable thin edge along the top. At one end of the bluff, there are several saplings that have been wedged together into the crotch of a tree at the bottom of the bluff to make a bridge; there are random boards nailed to the tree to make a ladder. At the other end, there's a very loose, unstable steep hillside that one could slip and slide down. At the bottom, there's a loose structure made of plywood with "seating" inside consisting of a brokedown office chair that somebody dumped there and an old bathtub that the kids have turned over. Lily's friend is freaking out because there's no handrail to climb up the ladder, and if she wants to scramble up the hillside, she has to deal with spiderwebs and brambles.

I got everyone calmed down, told the friend that she was an Adventure Princess like Anna or Merida, and she figured out that she could grab a stick to clear the spiderwebs and pin down the brambles. It all ended really well. But if I'd seen that place before I gave permission, I don't know if I'd have said yes, because it's not really safe. It's not DANGEROUS, but it's not SAFE, in the sense that there's no engineering, no build testing, nobody's checked the hillside for stability or those saplings for weight bearing capacity. And yet, it's clearly fine! Not just fine but good! Because as kids get older, they will encounter situations that haven't been pre-cleared by psychologists and engineers, and they'll need the practice in evaluating and negotiating those systems!

Lily's friend's mother and I discussed the situation -- she was fine with it, and glad that her daughter had had the experience -- and part of the problem is that she and her husband both work, and have to put their kid into after school care. And after school care IS safe. It has to be safe. Her neighborhood is full of two-income families, so there aren't kids on the street all the time, unlike my street. The situation my kids are growing up in is an unusual one these days, and it's not because of me, it's because of everyone else here. Playing in the ravine behind the cul de sac is a really different situation in a pack of kids than it is by yourself.
posted by KathrynT at 2:22 PM on August 6 [19 favorites]


You guys should all move to Wisconsin. About three dozen third graders walk, scooter, and bike by my house on their way to elementary school every morning. Next year my kid will be one of them. Nobody calls the cops, I promise.
posted by escabeche at 2:25 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


It is interesting to see a weird form of helicopter parenting taking place at my daughter's elementary school. Our school district has no busing, all the children walk to school - and the majority do indeed walk (the 'city' is highly compressed - maybe 4 miles square at best, with about 10k people). Kids will be out in the morning and afternoon walking to/from school. After that, it's very rare to see them out and about in feral packs, as I recall my childhood. So parents seem to think it's fine to send them out to be run over as they cross the streets on the way to/from school, but it's far too risky to send them out after school. Very strange.
posted by combinatorial explosion at 2:28 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I can't resist feeling like this thread dovetails with the one yesterday about the Trivago Guy, wherein seeing a regular-to-good-looking, but less than perfect, late 40s guy in a television ad was apparently enough to give a lot of people the creeps (he wasn't wearing a belt, the deviant).

Essentially, I wonder if these two disparate threads, and so many more, are really about the same thing at root: the kind of generalized anxiety that seems to afflict so many, particularly about other people, latching on to stuff. Just here it's parents unable to imagine their children not constantly meeting with disaster, e.g. kidnappers on every block, and there, an instinctive reaction that a guy not made up to his TV best must be a suspicious character.
posted by pace at 2:28 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


My brother and I basically grew up as feral children in a rural enclave, surrounded by a dozen or so kids all within four years of our own ages, so we had the older ones to emulate and the younger ones to protect, and our little society sort of self-regulated in that manner. We knew if any of us attempted anything really stupid, one of the younger kids would likely try to imitate us and then get hurt and the whole enterprise would be discovered and brought to a rapid end by The Adults. It was a good way to grow up, I think: learn which leaders are worth following and which are idiots who will get you in trouble, and always look out for those weaker than you.

Then again, there was that episode with gasoline and a home-made dirt bike track and jumping bikes through fire and while I look back at it very fondly, there is also a bit of, "Where the hell were our parents?!"

I'm part of Generation Y and I've got a few years before I start worrying about whether my hypothetical kids will be psychologically damaged by being latch-key children or if helicopter parenting really is the way to go... but I look back on my adventures with my brother and our friends and see something my kids will likely never experience.
posted by none of these will bring disaster at 2:30 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


One of the high schools I went to as a kid didn't offer bus service if you lived within a mile of the school. Not a safety problem, but it was up a BIG hill from where we lived.

I have similar anecdotes to all of you from my 1970s childhood. I don't even know what I would have done if we didn't have woods and such nearby. Hell, most of the time we weren't even allowed to be inside if it was nice out.
posted by maxwelton at 2:34 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I grew up in a suburb in the late 60's and into the 70's. I remember walking myself home from kindergarten down a street, through a park, and across a block-sized vacant lot after my first day of kindergarten. It not only wasn't a big deal, I remember my folks were proud of my independence. And they were definitely on the protective side. Times change.

I grew up on a cul-de-sac that at one point had 36 kids spread across 14 houses. We had epic water balloon fights in the summer, climbed (and fell from) the trees in the middle of the cul-de-sac, and generally ran the show. Crazy shit went on. I can't say we actively watched out for one another, but we were aware of each other and were somewhat self-policing.

Fast forward to now. We now live in a suburb about 15 minutes away from the one in which I grew up. It's a safe neighborhood. Our middle schooler gets himself to and from school each day -- yay for that! -- but we are uncomfortable letting our about-to-start-fifth grade daughter walk to school, specifically because of the stupid traffic issues caused by all of the other parents that drive their kids to school. I don't worry that she'll get snatched, but I do worry about distracted adults and her tendency to not look both ways before crossing the street. Which is a skill she's probably have if she got out more on her own. We have encouraged her to scooter around the neighborhood, though, so hopefully this is something we can work towards this year. She definitely wants more independence, but she may be an exception in her peer group...
posted by mosk at 2:34 PM on August 6


I do have to say this may also be a class thing. I just visited my mom's neighborhood, same working class area I grew up in, and the street was as full of children running around unsupervised as it was when I was a child. The only difference I could see is that they all had electric scooters instead of bikes.
posted by interplanetjanet at 2:48 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


When I was 12 years old, my dad dropped me off in the mountains with backpacking gear and a topo map and told me I had 3 days and 2 nights to get to a specific spot where he would pick me up at noon on the dot - and don't be late, or I'd be left.* We'd been working toward that trip for years in terms of my outdoor skills.

It was the most important event of my childhood; talk about a confidence builder for a young girl. It wasn't just about my outdoor skills, it was about being self-aware, self-sufficient, and self-trusting. It wasn't just the confidence I built from doing that, it was the confidence my dad had in me.

If he did that today? Arrested, I'm sure. And at the time, it was the biggest fight he ever got in with my mother, who was positive that being a girl I didn't need those skills or the trip, and that it was way too dangerous for a girl. My dad standing up for my right and ability to do it also had a huge effect on me.

Looking back on it now, I realize a good part of it was my dad recognizing certain...traits...a kind of wildness and independence I had he was helping me learn to tame and channel. Also he foresaw my teens and early 20s, activities and events that would have occurred due to our location, regardless of whether or not I was raised in an outdoor way. The skills he gave me saved my hide on numerous occasions, and probably even my life once or twice. He knew what he was doing; that trip sealed everything together.

So when I read people on here commenting on how if they let their kids do certain things, they'd get the police called on them by other parents, it's worrisome. Calling the police like that is not for the child, it's for someone's self-image. I'm not a parent, but surely individual parents know best, on the whole, what their kid needs and can do? My father made a specific parenting decision for a specific child, and it's sad he would get in so much trouble today for something so beneficial.

*I found out years later that he & my grandpa kept track of me the entire time.
posted by barchan at 2:59 PM on August 6 [71 favorites]


I do have to say this may also be a class thing. I just visited my mom's neighborhood, same working class area I grew up in, and the street was as full of children running around unsupervised as it was when I was a child.

I agree -- this is acknowledged in passing in the article, but I was hoping to see it explored more in depth. (The survey asked respondents to self-identify for class, both in terms of how they grew up and at present, as well as whether they were in an urban, suburban, small-town or rural environment.)
posted by scody at 3:01 PM on August 6


I think what we seeing recently with the moms getting arrested for various bad deeds is a little different from helicopter parenting--it seems more like a determination to cause someone trouble. The cases I can think of all involve minority women; I"m not sure about the people who report them. It really does seem to move into the area of judgmental, presumption of terrible parenting. Honestly, if I'm at a park and see a kid playing by herself, I'd keep an eye on her. I might ask if she's okay but cripes, my first, second or third thought wouldn't be to call the cops.
posted by etaoin at 3:01 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


My neighborhood's got plenty of apparently-unsupervised children running around, which is great because it gives me the opportunity to dispense Disinterested Adult Wisdom, such as: "climbing fences is harder when you're wearing flip-flops," or "as long as you're gonna bike down the stairs, good thing you're wearing a helmet."
posted by asperity at 3:02 PM on August 6 [14 favorites]


I have no idea what my teenagers get up to when they're out doing whatever it is they're doing. Probably looking at Tumblr on their phones, so I don't worry too much.
posted by Biblio at 3:02 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


When I was a teenager my mother left us alone to do visiting nursing. She'd be out of town for days and days and we never even bothered to ask when she'd come back. So I spent my entire weekend life as a teen in New Orleans hanging out at strip clubs and bars.

I'm still alive.

I'm probably somewhat of an outlier in that I'm from Florida where all the crime comes from, but I grew up in the days when you called the kids into the house when it got dark (maybe 8pm at that latitude) and no one really freaked out if you were an hour late. I also grew up in the old days (I'm not even actually even that old) when half my neighborhood were relatives or people my family had known for multiple decades and I knew if it started raining/some other thing happened I could just run into any house around.

I sound like I'm from some William Faulkner novel. This isn't far off the case.
posted by syncope at 3:09 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision than those of us waxing poetically over roaming free till dark to buy cigarettes and make bombs: what does this sound like to you? Does it sound appealing, or appalling? I'm genuinely curious.
posted by scody at 3:12 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I do have to say this may also be a class thing.

I wonder about that too. My neighborhood is historically quite working class (one of the Deadliest Catch captains grew up less than a mile from my house) and even now, my husband is one of only two or three people on my street who has a "put on a nice shirt and work in an office all day" job. We have a big truck mechanic, a fine-dining maitre d', a freight manager for Amtrak, a guy who installs networking and PBX infrastructure, a Metro bus driver, a retired Journey roadie, a forklift driver, a couple of CNAs, a woman who runs her own housecleaning business, etc. Mostly they are folks who have arranged their lives such that their kids don't need care outside the home, usually by working opposite shifts or having a parent at home. But that definitely means we have the critical mass of kids running around.
posted by KathrynT at 3:12 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


opportunity to dispense Disinterested Adult Wisdom, such as: "climbing fences is harder when you're wearing flip-flops," or "as long as you're gonna bike down the stairs, good thing you're wearing a helmet."

"Well, that's what happens when you drive your remote control car in the middle of the road. Now you know what loss feels like."
posted by turbid dahlia at 3:14 PM on August 6 [12 favorites]


One of the things that I miss about the relatively small town in North Dakota where my last job was, is that there are still packs of feral kids doing their kid thing and no one freaks out. Granted, I lived about half a block from an elementary school. Still, though it really was quite heartening to see groups of kids on bikes racing down my street in summer. Kept the adults to a reasonable driving speed, too.

For myself, I walked (uphill both ways because there were multiple hills, dammit) the mile to my high school and took the school bus unaccompanied from age five onwards (my mom didn't meet me at the bus stop past kindergarten either). My childhood BFF lived down the street from me and my teenage years BFF lived about a half-mile away so I was always walking to their homes. Compared to some of y'all that's not free range at all but compared to children these days it's positively extravagant.
posted by librarylis at 3:16 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I had one of those childhoods where I never went anywhere or did anything unsupervised, but I had free run of the internet.

Hush now, the grown-ups are talking.
posted by The Tensor at 3:25 PM on August 6 [26 favorites]


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond

I was born in '85 and probably had an equal amount of freedom. I wasn't particularly prone to taking big risks but definitely had my fair share of long unsupervised bike rides, lighting things on fire, wandering through the woods, wandering through town, etc. And I think it's very relevant that I grew up in a small, poor town on the edge of a rural farm community.

While I'm sure a lot has changed in parenting styles, I think the world a lot of the voices here and in the article are lamenting still exists in many parts of the country. These stories are often told drenched in nostalgia and I enjoy reading about people's fun childhood adventures but it bugs me when it gets twisted into a "weren't things better for everybody back then, look at the world today!" narrative. It doesn't actually say anything all that interesting about parenting styles and their larger effects on society.
posted by AtoBtoA at 3:28 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


It's no wonder kids act up on the internet or get to college and soon drink themselves to death.

Some of us managed to grow up "free range" and still managed to get drunk a lot and be jerks on the internet. I am truly a Renaissance Man.
posted by Hoopo at 3:30 PM on August 6 [12 favorites]


Geez, ride the school bus people! Are there any parents who drive their kids to school because they don't want them on the bus? What's your rationale? Curious!

A lot of schools, especially in urban areas, don't have buses anymore. Buses are expensive, and underfunded school districts don't have the resources to maintain and operate them. So the parents are obligated to drive the kids to school, which penalizes the parents who don't have time for that, and penalizes the kids in that they get even less unsupervised time. (Although to be fair, the worst bullying I ever experienced was on the bus to school...)

Where I live now, once they hit junior high/middle school, a lot of kids start taking the public bus to school, although upper class kids are still often driven by their parents.
posted by suelac at 3:31 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Some of us managed to grow up "free range" and still managed to get drunk a lot and be jerks on the internet

Managed ?

Fuck, If I weren't at work, I'd be doing it now.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:32 PM on August 6 [4 favorites]


When I was little in the early 90s my mom would have let me ride my bike and do all kinds of stuff that I couldn't do because my friends weren't allowed to. Those same friends who all had babies by the time they were 20. I don't get it.

Nowadays the kids who aren't allowed to roam are too busy building their resumes for college.
posted by bleep at 3:36 PM on August 6



A lot of schools, especially in urban areas, don't have buses anymore

Or if you are inside some border (2 miles, when I was growing up), there is no bus service. In my case, I lived on the street that was the 2 mile border. On one side, you got a free bus pass. On the other, you had to buy it.

So, I walked or rode my bike to school a lot. My parents only had the one car, anyway, so even if mom was inclined to give me a ride (and, no, she was not) it wasn't going to happen.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:36 PM on August 6


I was a latchkey kid by 9, but sucked at remembering to bring my key with me. So instead I became expert at prying off the screen of the kitchen window and climbing in the house that way. Then I would go outside and put the screen back and no one was the wiser. My mom would call sometimes to check on me, but otherwise, I could pretty much do what I wanted, so long as I stayed on our property.

After I turned 10, I had no more babysitters ever and was pretty much on my own all summer, or at night if my parents went out. I slept in, ate what I wanted, watched too much TV, then went wandering with friends. So long as I was home by 5-ish, I was good.

But I also know that my mom had the phone numbers of all the kids' houses where I was likely to be, and the one time I did get in trouble, I went off in my inflatable boat down the canal and didn't tell anyone and she didn't know where I was. So she probably knew a lot more about where I was than I thought she did.

I don't think she ever found out about the window though.

Lucky for her, my friends weren't really pyromaniacs, though we did do a lot of unsupervised swimming in my friend's pool and the canal. But we were also good swimmers, and nobody drowned.
posted by emjaybee at 3:40 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


> A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision

I dunno, apparently I was pretty unsupervised in retrospect? But I didn't feel that way? KatherynT's description of a communal gorge sounds about right, although at that age it was a treehouse in a huckleberry tree down by the crick and sometimes we got to help burn the prairie.

none of these will bring disaster's mention of bike jumps and gasoline also sounds familiar, although I would have been older at that point: strictly middle school and up.

However, Pogo_Fuzzybutt running off into the woods for days on end at 9 years old is beyond the pale. My folks would have come looking, and they would have been panicked.

Other than that (and buying cigs for your parents) this all sounds pretty normal. The childhood experience described in the OP is not familiar and sounds more suburban than anything, but I believe people when they say there's been a sea change. If nothing else, popular imagination seems to worry about childhood more/differently.
posted by postcommunism at 3:40 PM on August 6


let me ride my bike and do all kinds of stuff that I couldn't do because my friends weren't allowed to. Those same friends who all had babies by the time they were 20. I don't get it.

They were all having crazy monkey sex while you pootled around on your bike. It probably seems obvious now someone has pointed it out.
posted by biffa at 3:46 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


We raised our now-20-something kids as free-range as possible. They seemed to turn-out just fine.
Helicopter parents drive me nuts.
posted by Thorzdad at 3:49 PM on August 6


More anecdata:

When I was in first grade, I missed the bus to school. There was snow on the ground and it was about a mile away. My mother made me walk. (She told me much much later that she had followed some distance behind me in the car to make sure that everything went okay.)

When I was nine, I was a "crossing guard" helping the younger kids cross a somewhat-busy street safely to get to school.

When I was eleven, I used our lawn mower to mow neighbor's lawns for $5. The throttle cable was broken, so I had to use a screwdriver to turn the engine off when I was done.

I was born in 1969.
posted by Slothrup at 3:50 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision than those of us waxing poetically over roaming free till dark to buy cigarettes and make bombs: what does this sound like to you? Does it sound appealing, or appalling? I'm genuinely curious.

I don't know, i grew up in the 90s and me and my friends did all this kind of shit. My friend blew up a full sized dumpster when he was 14 or 15. For my other friends 16 birthday, we dammed a small creek with beer(like, 100s and 100s of cans). I grew up in a major city too, not out in the boonies.

Who the fuck would get the cops called on them? The only real rule we had was "always call home and tell us where you are/who you're with/what you're doing". A couple of us even had cell phones, so it wasn't a big deal.

I remember before i was even in high school busing to different cities for hours to go hang out at friends houses. Riding bikes all over the place, getting concussions because we were stupid and walking it off. The bike i had all the way through college had slightly bent handlebars from my looking over my shoulder and running into the mirror of a parked car(and busting it off, i swear that fucking thing flew 50 feet) going like 30mph down a huge hill.

I got a moped for my 11th birthday. I think that taught me more about my own mortality than anything that wasn't psychedelic. Half of my friends crashed it at some point. Eventually it didn't even have brakes from getting wrecked so many times.



The weirdest thing about all this is that my mom was SUPER strict until i was about 11 or 12. I wasn't allowed to go anywhere by myself really, even the 7-11 a block away to get a slurpee on a sunny day she'd freak out if my dad let me go. I was never allowed to walk the 3 blocks from elementary school to the boys and girls club, even though a ton of kids did it and i wouldn't have been alone, etc. Then i got a phone(which was a big deal, in 2002 or whatever i remember that even just a flip phone was like $200+), and the entire thing just completely reversed. I was literally allowed to do whatever i wanted outside the house for the rest of my teens with the exception of a friends parents offering to take me to burning man, and my mom saying hell no.

I also think it's worth noting that we were all pretty solidly middle class. We all had computers, and piles of videogames, and all the other stuff you'd expect a middle class tween/teen to have.

God did we learn a lot of shit we probably shouldn't have though. I am an absolute wizard at popping open doors with a library card(they're way more thin and flexible than most plastic cards, at least here), i know which part of a U lock to cut, and i can second-story just about any house because we'd get locked out so much.

We also always had a list of every mini mart that would sell us beer, and i know the whole transit system like the back of my hand. And the vast majority of streets in town.

I regret basically nothing, and feel bad for the kids who didn't just get to fuck off like that. It helped me hit my 20s not drinking myself to death in college, or having just discovered the magic of weed, or whatever.
posted by emptythought at 3:51 PM on August 6


I've lived within a block of two different elementary schools during the past 8 years. You'd hardly know it because kids walking on the street are an unusual sight indeed. What I do see every day of the school year is massive traffic jams of parents cars vying for a position to pick up their kids. When I was a kid, a ride in a car to school was very unusual, like maybe 3-4 times a year.
posted by telstar at 4:04 PM on August 6


opportunity to dispense Disinterested Adult Wisdom

Or the Disinterested Hopefully This Experience Will Teach You Something, à la my mother, but with an agrarian lifestyle twist:

As she's tweezing shotgun induced rock salt out of my backside: "I'm not going to feel sorry for you. Old man Johnson told you a hundred times not to swim in his pond again. Hopefully these scars will teach you to listen."

...as she's tweezing concrete chunks out of my backside: "I'm not going to feel sorry for you. Why on earth would you think it's okay to slide down the irrigation spillway in your swimming suit. Hopefully these scars will teach you to not to do stupid things in the dark."

...as she's tweezing bits of running-full-speed-into-a-barbwire-fence-at-night induced denim jean out of my backside: "I'm not going to feel sorry for you. Old man Johnson told you and your friends a hundred times if he catches you drinking in his hay field again he'd call the sheriff. Hopefully these scars will teach you....oh for shit's sake, just pass me the goddamn iodine."
posted by barchan at 4:06 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


I guess the next survey needs more backside-related questions.
posted by tonycpsu at 4:07 PM on August 6


> A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision

Meh? I grew up in a city that's pretty urban away from most parks and I don't really feel I missed out on much. I certainly was busy a lot with sports and other activities too, but I don't think I feel like I missed out on all that. That may be because I was usually happier reading or doing more generally indoor activities mind you. So not appalling, but not something that was likely even possible for me even if I was interested.
posted by Carillon at 4:12 PM on August 6


It would also be interesting, scody, to see the breakdown between siblings of much freedom they felt they had, or the amount of freedom modern parents let younger children have versus older children.
posted by barchan at 4:19 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


The WSJ has a good essay on this called "When Summer Was Easy"
posted by freakazoid at 4:23 PM on August 6


Grew up around the turn of the millennium. I basically did not have freedom as a kid before 7th grade. I had people watching us for up to 3 hours after private school ended. Once I hit 8th grade, I transferred to a public school, upon which I spent ~5 hours unsupervised every day, which carried over when I started high school in Taiwan.

And yeah, this helicopter parenting seems like an American thing. I often see kids on their own in China and Taiwan.
posted by halifix at 4:27 PM on August 6


AtoBtoA: "Also do any of these kinds of articles take into account whether people are raising children in the communities in which they were raised or if they've settled in new places after moving around for awhile?"

The more serious academic studies do, and in general, yes, children have less freedom to roam and less unsupervised time than their parents or grandparents did in similar cultural milieus.

Atreides: "And...Geez, ride the school bus people! Are there any parents who drive their kids to school because they don't want them on the bus? What's your rationale? Curious!"

In the 1960s 2/3 of American households had K-12 age children; today about 1/3 do. At the same time, housing lots have gotten significantly larger/density has gone down, and families have gotten smaller. So even with everything else being equal, schools tend to have a larger cachement area (two to five times as much physical area to get the same number of students, in my area), and it's much more difficult to plan a bus route with a dropoff point that can serve a dozen kids on one block. The buses have to drive longer routes, and make more stops, to drop the same number of kids off. Urban and suburban bus routes can run 90 minutes (rural routes can too, but that has to do with being rural), and almost all of them run 60 minutes now. That's just a long time to be on the bus.

The other thing is that behavior on the bus, as these rides have gotten longer, and especially now with social media, has become kind-of a flashpoint issue. I think some of it is just hysteria over "Kids today!" but some of it is that buses are, for whatever reasons, a real nexus for problem behavior and "discipline incidents."

So what I've observed from bus-refusing parents is a combination of reluctance to subject kids to long commutes, problems fitting the bus into the parents' work schedule, a reluctance to subject their child to the "problems" on the bus, and extracurricular scheduling, since parents basically have to drive kids to all of those and stay there and watch anyway. Kids with dance classes or T-ball practice or whatever, their parents have to pick them up anyway.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:29 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


Being a kid today sounds terrible. I can't imagine growing up with so little freedom.
posted by Justinian at 4:33 PM on August 6 [3 favorites]


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision than those of us waxing poetically over roaming free till dark to buy cigarettes and make bombs: what does this sound like to you? Does it sound appealing, or appalling? I'm genuinely curious.

I grew up in residential neighborhoods (we moved a lot, for various reasons) and I remember learning a couple of years ago that when we moved to the housing addition a couple of miles out of town, it was in part because there were few kids our age there, making it harder for us to get into trouble.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:38 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Now that I think about it think about it though, my dad tells anecdotes about his own parents and siblings that are way beyond any lack of supervision I ever enjoyed.

Older mefites, what would you consider the limit of parental disengagement in general for kids who grew up 50s-70s? Would people, say, leave their kids behind while they went overseas? At what age?
posted by postcommunism at 4:42 PM on August 6


Pet peeve. I'm totally irrational about this. To the point I found myself exhorting my daughter and her friend to hop the train and go see show in NYC. I thought later that her friend's mom and dad may have felt differently so I vowed to not do it again. Against my better judgement.

Stanhope does a great bit about this, how we are the first generation to complain about the kids not being wild enough. 'Gonna start start piss testing for adrenaline in the workplace.'

But, my suburban/city center neighborhood just had a guy crack off 10 rounds from a .40 handgun just a couple weeks ago. So, theres that.
posted by sfts2 at 4:48 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1975. When I was 13, I was hired to babysit three children, ages 4, 2, and 5 weeks old, for three days solid, living in the house, while the parents dealt with the sudden illness of a family member. My mom was right down the block and helped a lot, but still.
posted by KathrynT at 4:57 PM on August 6


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision than those of us waxing poetically over roaming free till dark to buy cigarettes and make bombs: what does this sound like to you?

Definitely appealing - I've dabbled with some... improvised explosives... among friends in the past few years anyway, now that we're adults and can decide what that means.

But then, I was raised by the dad who had me ride my bike everywhere. He figured he was saving money by not driving me around at the IRS calculated cost of 50 odd cents a mile, so I was paid 10¢/mile (logged by bike computer) at the end of each quarter.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 4:59 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


teleri025: “Born in the mid-70s and I was expected to live by the rule of the whistle.”
Mom had a ship's bell. We could go anywhere as long as we could still hear the bell. Which meant we couldn't go into people's houses without the parents making arrangements.
posted by ob1quixote at 5:11 PM on August 6


Older mefites, what would you consider the limit of parental disengagement in general for kids who grew up 50s-70s? Would people, say, leave their kids behind while they went overseas? At what age?

My parents took their first trip to Europe when my sister was about 5 and I was about a year old, and we stayed with our grandparents for the month. I learned to walk while they were away, which was always considered semi-hilarious in my family (parents miss baby's first steps!) -- mom tells the story of arriving home and being doubly excited when I ran out to greet her.

When we moved to Europe as I was older, my sister and I were given plenty of freedom, even though we were in a foreign country. We lived for a year in London when she was 12 and I was 8, and we were routinely allowed to navigate (within reason) around the city -- for example, the four of us might take the train from our neighborhood to a particular museum, and if my sister and I wanted to split off and go do our thing on our own, that was fine. When we lived in Vienna four years later, I was allowed to navigate around the city entirely on my own, armed with only a map, a phrase book, and some cash. I was 12. It was amazing.

Even when things got dicey, it was fine. When we were in Florence, my sister and I went off on our own for the day. She got mad at me for some reason (hey, I was 12; she was 16; I'm sure I was awful) and stormed off, taking the guidebook and money with her. I didn't panic; I just wandered around till I found the plaza where we were supposed to meet up with my folks.
posted by scody at 5:18 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I learned to walk while they were away,

and the cat's in the cradle and the silver spoon...

sorry
posted by jonmc at 5:19 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


Meanwhile, 7 year olds from El Salvador and Honduras (etc.) are traveling over 1000 miles through some of the most dangerous areas in the world in order to live someplace safe...
posted by nikoniko at 5:28 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


I was born in 71 and grew up in the suburbs on a circle that is pretty much the most suburby suburb that ever suburbed - I had a ton of freedom, as soon as I could ride my bike my friends and I were all over the neighbourhood. Thinking back on it, I'm a little surprised, because my mother is a worrier by nature, and while I was a good kid, I got into a few small scrapes here and there.

Now that I have kids of my own, we decided to move to a small town from the city to raise our kids. One of the tipping points was a co-worker ranting about how a friend let his 14-YEAR-OLD walk to school. It was way too dangerous. I couldn't believe it.

I have a 6 year old now who is extremely responsible and likes to follow rules. We push her to expand her horizons, and she's walked to her friends' houses a few blocks away a few times now, and is excited about walking to school on her own in grade 1 (she wasn't allowed to leave without a parent in K). We have had a few parents give us funny looks about her doing things on her own, but in general, we live in a safe, supportive environment.

My mother on the other had thinks we're crazy and can't sleep because her granddaughter is going to get kidnapped. It doesn't matter that I walked to school by myself at 6.

I worry about the kids who get constantly supervised. I remember some of them at University. They left home for the first time and had their first beer and just went off the rails. It wasn't good for anyone.
posted by sauril at 5:42 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


My cow-orker has to leave work every day at 3 to go pick his kids up from school and drive them the 4 blocks home.
Yeah, um, I have to leave early because of the um, kids... :]
posted by sexyrobot at 5:44 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Our grandparents' grandparents were working 60 hours a week on the farm from age 8. They had no time to roam.

My father, who was old enough to be my grandfather and I am old enough to be the parent of some folks here, grew up on a farm and he began working at age 4.

At that age, he got up at like 4am to go out to the barn with his father and uncle (probably the same uncle who was injured by mustard gas in WWI and thus was basically disabled) and his job was to stand in the trough with a lantern on his head in order to get the light up high enough so they could see at all. They would work for an hour or two in the dark and then go have breakfast because there was no such thing as refrigerators or microwaves or any number of other modern conveniences. So food was basically all prepared from scratch for every meal and that meant they worked on an empty stomach while the lady of the house prepared breakfast.
posted by Michele in California at 5:50 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I let my kids watch Bob's Burgers a couple of times. Isn't that enough?
posted by sneebler at 6:01 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


I don't have kids but if I did I'd rather they bum around the neighborhood than spend all day surfing the 'net. Have you seen the 'net? I have, and I like it, but then I'm an adult. I think I'd rather my kids discovered meatspin on the street.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 6:08 PM on August 6


In the 1960s 2/3 of American households had K-12 age children; today about 1/3 do.

This isn't the whole story, but it's key. When I was a kid in the 1970s there were herds of kids all over because almost every house had one or two children. Now the neighborhood I live in is mostly houses with no kids, and a few houses with batches.

I had a fairly free range childhood and there was a lot that was good, but there was bad also. A few injuries, but nothing that bad; mostly it was things like pretty much all of my friends being beat by their parents -- it was normal and unexceptional to be beating with belts and wooden spoons and sticks for super minor infractions. Now I'd hope people would get reported for that, but then it was just sort of background noise to life. In the summer you could sometimes hear screaming and the sound of the smacks through open windows. (My father, who was born in the 1940s, says that when he was a kid any adult in the neighborhood could give a misbehaving kid a beating, so at least that had changed by the time I was born.)

If there's a way to have more of the good without the egregious bad, I'm all for it. Lower traffic speeds, emphasize urban design that gets people out on front porches and walking on the sidewalks, and it might be easier to reestablish the norm of letting kids run around the neighborhood.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:10 PM on August 6 [2 favorites]


when I was a kid, me and my friends stopped Hitler's advance at Stalingrad. It's true.
posted by philip-random at 7:17 PM on August 6 [8 favorites]


Older mefites, what would you consider the limit of parental disengagement in general for kids who grew up 50s-70s? Would people, say, leave their kids behind while they went overseas? At what age?
posted by postcommunism at 7:42 PM on August 6


(I'm an extreme case, and I was not a little kid when this happened (early '70s), but your question strikes a chord for me.)

My mom died when I was 16; my dad's work involved lots of overseas travel. The option of me transferring to the American School in Weisbaden was discussed (but rejected as not actually an improvement); so I was actually left home pretty much unsupervised for much (maybe half?) of the remainder of my high school career.

It was certainly an interesting position to put a teenager in: plenty of freedom, but with the knowledge and responsibility that getting in any trouble at all could mean serious repercussions. (Which meant I got myself up and got myself to school, for one thing: even something as simple as producing a parental absence note would have to had involved forgery.)

So I kept my head down, kept house, did my work, stayed out of trouble.
(Years later, when my own kids were teenagers, I usually thought that my wife coddled them too much: "You're driving them to school?? Why, when I was their age...")
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:21 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


when I was a kid, me and my friends stopped Hitler's advance at Stalingrad. It's true.
posted by philip-random at 10:17 PM on August 6


I LOL'd, but I'm reminded that someplace in The Greatest Generation, Brokaw tells the story of the young man who spent the night of his 18th birthday stopping a banzai charge on Guadalcanal.
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 7:25 PM on August 6


I grew up in the late 90s/early 00s, and some of the free-ranginess I hear about in this thread sounds appealing. The reason I didn't have as much of it, I think, is not as much about legal restrictions as it is about poor suburban planning.

From the time I was about 5 to 11, I lived on a block with a bunch of other kids I was allowed to play with freely. Swam in the girl across the street's pool with only intermittent supervision. Walked all around my cul-de-sac, doing whatever. Mom still drove me to and from my school, about a mile away, and I still had to go to the after school program while she and dad worked, but by 4th grade I could occasionally walk home after she'd signed me out of after-care, as a treat.

Then I went to the township-wide middle school on the other side of town, and I drifted from the neighborhood kids as friendships started to be more about shared interests and less about geographical convenience. And even though I was older, things were a lot more constrained, because suddenly all my new friends lived across an uncrossable highway. This was not a matter of my parents being protective; you don't fuck around with US 1 in central Jersey.

I was allowed to take the bus home from school and stay alone by 7th grade, but all sorts of basic things my parents would have otherwise totally let me do on my own--walk to friends' houses, go to the library, bum around the Wawa and buy candy--were foiled by fucking US 1. This is also, incidentally, around the time I went from not thinking much about my surroundings to actively hating my hometown and yearning to break free. Some of that was just thirteen year-old hormones, but a lot of it was directly tied to having so little freedom to move around.

High school got a little better, though, when my mom was the cool parent who took my friends and I to New York, and even *gasp* sometimes let us wander alone for a bit. To this day I am a city dweller who associates dense buildings and subways with freedom.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:23 PM on August 6 [5 favorites]


I was about 9 or 10 when I built my first crossbow out of scrap. A couple of years later I found some ammunition and wondered about building a rifle, but I was too chickenshit. Oh yeah, and there were also the roman candle fights me and my friends would have, before the fireworks ban. Good times!
posted by um at 8:38 PM on August 6


Born in '83 here, so I'm in that weird generation gap where I'm not really a millennial, but I'm not really GenX, either. Whenever we lived close enough (military family) to my school, I walked. Otherwise, I carpooled or took the bus.

As soon as I started school, I don't really remember being supervised. My friends and I weren't to be in our respective houses unless it was thunderstorming outside or it was close to bedtime. You left the house in the morning and you came back for dinner, and you left again until about 10 on weekend nights and during the summer. The rule was that if you were going inside a friend's house, you had to call your parents, because how could they yell for you if you were in a house? But what were you doing in a house, anyway? You'd better get your ass back outside.

We rode bikes and played baseball and hockey and football and built forts and listened to music and threw pinecones ("grenades") at each other and ran through sprinklers and made up games. Our parents had a vague idea of where we were, but unless someone was hurt or getting bullied, a parent never really showed up.

I could stay alone at the house (but not overnight) in third grade, when I was 8. Which was when I learned how to cook and do laundry and yard work. I frequently remember my mom making me tag along with her for errands prior to that, and if I didn't feel like going in the store, I sat in the car and read a book. And that was that.

I started babysitting in high school, for infants even. I also mowed yards.

When I was in high school, my curfew was early: 10 PM on school nights and midnight on the weekends. Most of my friends didn't have curfews. I was class of 2001, for reference. And we kind of interacted with adults, mostly when we were trying to call a friend to find out if they were home, but we tried to be as independent as possible in our own teenage world, which consisted of hanging out at parks and the mall and cruising in someone's car.

I got a cellphone when I went to college because it was cheaper to pay for minutes than it was to pay the toll call between Winston-Salem and Greensboro and my roommate was on the phone all the time anyway.

My SOs kids are just now in college; when he speaks about them, I can't comprehend their childhoods/teenaged years. Despite the fact that I am in the middle of his age and their ages, my childhood was much more similar to his than theirs', and I end up being quiet because I feel like I was much more independent when I left home at 17 than they are at this point in their college careers; I wonder how much of that has to do with the fact that I was expected to have lived my own life at an earlier age. His kids hang out at the house ALL THE TIME, and did when they were in high school, as well. And that's not a bad thing, but I cannot understand whyyyyyy. The last thing I wanted when I was a kid was to be at the HOUSE with my PARENTS; I wanted to be out with my friends and having pseudo-philosophical conversations whilst smoking unfiltered Camels and paying for cups of coffee with pennies at the Waffle House and sneaking a can of Beast from a cooler in a car trunk that someone had stolen from their dad or older brother.

TL;DR: I'm not a parent. I don't want to be a parent. I would be a horrible parent, because I would teach my kids the same shit I learned and I'd be all "ok. Now get the hell out of the house. Be back for dinner."
posted by sara is disenchanted at 8:41 PM on August 6 [6 favorites]


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond

Born at the end of '79, so grew up in the 80s in the middle of San Diego. My neighborhood was squarely middle-class (gentrified pretty hard at this point) crossed by a range of canyons. My parents were cool with my brother and I going on bike rides by ourselves, roaming through the canyons, etc during the day. We were pretty non-adventurous, so the worst we ever got up to was constantly coming home with cases of poison oak.

Rode the bus (back when they had magnet schools) to schools in Skyline, Barrio Logan, ending up at San Diego High right downtown. That was great for our development, meeting kids of all social classes, ethnicities, and lived experiences. When San Diego Unified had the huge teachers strike in 97-98 we took off from school and walked all the way across downtown to Kansas City Barbeque.

Now that I'm expecting my own daughters, I'm worried about the level of legal and societal pressure to protect them at all times. I'm not sure how it's going to work out, but I do want them to have autonomy and to go to good public schools with people from varied social and ethnic backgrounds. Not sure how well that will work out here in Seattle.
posted by Existential Dread at 8:53 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


Someone brought up the freedom of self-expression and discovering one's sexuality, as a modern counterpoint to physical freedom. I agree that's likely to be a fair trade if that's what kids are getting now.

But I worry that there are still a lot of kids out there who lack both, in ways that interact. That was certainly the case for me: my lack of physical freedom and mobility as a teenager really exacerbated having a tense, unsupportive environment at home; on the other hand, my coming out resulted in a lot more scrutiny and tighter restrictions on my behavior. (For reference, this would have been in the late 90s in a very blue state.)

So yeah, scody, to give an answer to your question, having more personal freedom growing up was something I wanted pretty desperately and still think would have been good for me.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:34 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much of this is a class and race thing? In my neighborhood the neighborhood high school age kids at least are regularly walking to school up to a mile away.

Also, frankly, back in the day when us older mefites were kids, families had about 2-3 kids each, so there was a spare should one be lost. These days even a single child is a huge investment, so if it gets hurt or killed, then all of that money and time is down the drain.
posted by happyroach at 9:46 PM on August 6


This was not a matter of my parents being protective; you don't fuck around with US 1 in central Jersey. ... I was allowed to take the bus home from school and stay alone by 7th grade, but all sorts of basic things my parents would have otherwise totally let me do on my own--walk to friends' houses, go to the library, bum around the Wawa and buy candy--were foiled by fucking US 1.

Oh man, I sympathize. (Also, it's kind of hilarisad how well this described my adult life in central NJ.)
posted by en forme de poire at 9:49 PM on August 6 [1 favorite]


I was born in 1985. We always walked to school; around the time I was 7, my mom let me start walking by myself (actually with a gang of other kids, chaperoning my younger brother). The summer I was 8, I got to go to the 7-11 by myself for the first time. I rode my bike all over to visit friends, too, but then the fall that I was 8, Polly Klaas was murdered in the town where we lived. The parental reins were tightened so fast. We still walked to school by ourselves, but there was no more wandering all over the place.

We moved to a different state not too long after that, and I always bussed to school after that -- it was far away. The only time I was driven to school was when I briefly attended a private school with no bus service, so my mom and another mom arranged a car pool. In high school, before I could drive, my mom picked me up to drive me to voice lessons in the city, but even then, she met me around the corner from school in the neighborhood so she wouldn't have to wait in line with all the other cars.

We lived in textbook contemporary suburbia at that point, and I'd ride my bike to the public library often. I was the only person I ever saw riding my bike to and from the library, which is just a bit more than a mile from my parents' house.

I'm significantly older than my youngest brother, who is your classic millennial, and my parents were WEIRD by the standards of his friends' parents. He had to walk to school, but starting around middle school friends' parents would "take pity" and drive him the 3/4 mile home. Once he reached high school, he made friends with kids who drove, and he never had to walk again.

I also notice a class and race issue with this. Our current neighborhood is gentrifying, and I see loads of kids walking or taking the city bus to school during the school year by themselves. They're all black. I do see older white kids riding their bikes. And I rarely see kids alone at the neighborhood playground, except at the free lunch programs in the summer. I have no idea what my own kids will do; they're still preschool-aged, with no older kids around to shepherd them, and for all my ideals of allowing them increasing freedom and independence as they grow, I don't know if I'll be able to stand up against what everyone else is doing.
posted by linettasky at 10:19 PM on August 6


Born in 1973. I grew up in a small suburban neighborhood that was surrounded by two extremely busy streets, so I took the bus to school. The bus stop was a block and a half from my house. (There were two stops in my neighborhood, one at each end.) These days, most of the school buses (at least the ones in the town where I live now) stop at pretty much _every_ individual house on the route. There are maybe 2 or 3 houses between stops. It's crazy.

There were several kids in my neighborhood, and I remember many, many epic games of tag and other things - even after dark. My best friend lived two houses down from me and we used to play in the woods behind her house all the time. As long as my parents knew where I was going and who I was with, it wasn't a big deal at all.

(And let's not even talk about the playground equipment back in the day!)
posted by SisterHavana at 10:34 PM on August 6


Like sara is disenchanted, I was born in 1983 and graduated HS in 2001. My experience growing up was very similar to the hers. I realized at some point during my 9th grade year (14 or 15) that I didn't have a curfew and never looked back. I loved my family, but there was no way I was going spend anymore time with them than I absolutely had to once I was free.

Growing up (1990s), we walked to and from elementary, and took the school bus for middle school. We were pretty much wholly unsupervised during the summers we elected not to attend summer school (pretty much every summer) and Friday and Saturdays we stayed out as late as midnight as long as parent's had an idea of where we were (usually at a friend's at that hour). During the work week, after school let out, we were generally on our own until our parents got home from work, generally around 5 or 6. We would do homework, make a snack, invite friends over or whatever. We did this all on our own, from probably 8 or 9 years old. None of us died, strangely enough.

Looking back on my childhood, there were a few times that things could have easily gone horribly wrong (setting an old mattress on fire in the middle of the woods, for example), but I think having that relative freedom made it so, once I got into high school, I had enough experience under my belt to where doing something totally stupid seemed, well, stupid. I think, too, that the fact that I didn't maim or kill anybody or myself gave my parents confidence in my ability to take care of myself once I got into HS. At 18 I left home, moved 2000 miles away to attend college and have been independent since.

I sometimes feel like folks around my age were one of the last group of kids to experience the joys and terrors of being out in the world as a kid on your own. I don't know if our experience is better or worse . . . I guess that's hard to say for sure, but I'm sad when I see 12 year olds being shuttled from one activity to the next. Also, it's weird to me that teenagers apparently like hanging around their family so much. What's wrong with these kids today??
posted by the lake is above, the water below at 12:09 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I was born in 84. I heard the term 'Orwell babies' at university; my friends and I used to call each other that, because it just about captures the vague and persistent sense of dread that I think characterises our mini-generation. My mother was super protective; I can't remember when I was first allowed down the road to the shops on my own. But I was an introverted child and had an indoor free-range childhood - lots of experimental crafts, cooking according to my own recipes, reading my parents' books that I got off the bookshelf (one of my favourites was a book on the analysis of dreams) and so forth. I guess I suffered the introvert's version of an unsupervised accident in that I started suffering terrible depression at 12 but didn't really get any help for it until over a decade later. I didn't understand what headrushes for and for several years was quite sure I was suffering from a terrible neurological condition. I got really into Bertrand Russell for some reason. I lived in a world that was half fantasy. I think a lot of my life was semi-feral even though I wasn't allowed outdoors alone.
posted by Acheman at 12:48 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


You know what my parents let me do as a kid? Resize web pages on my iPad browser. But these days, more and more parents are forbidding their children from resizing web pages by disabling the option for anyone using an iPad browser. Particularly the parents at Slate. Which is a shame.
posted by koeselitz at 12:49 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


"Apparently, the fears that have gripped American parents since the ’80s pretty specifically center around public spaces—malls, playgrounds, and eventually the Internet."

I think this is the key point.
It's sort of self-reinforcing trend.

I'm perfectly comfortable with my child going around the block unsupervised or over the street to the playground.
But the thing is, she would be the only kid there.

When I was child, yes, we roamed without parents, but we rarely roamed alone.
We ran in packs, there were parents at home, kids riding by, always someone to go for help or discourage the (admittedly very rare, even then) shady van guy.

I'm not all that comfortable with my child out in the empty spaces of my town alone, so I take her to activities, I take her to play places, etc.
Which leaves one less kid out on the playground, out in the neighborhood for the next kid to play with, whose parents then conclude "There's no one out there" and take their kids to organized activities, and so on.

Thankfully, in my town, there is hope. Schools are encouraging kids to walk/ride to school (in the name of health), which could lead to more kids outside, which could even lead to kids playing by themselves!
I'm hoping to organize a "bus carpool" in the coming school years, trying to get some of the kids to share bus routes, to save all of us parents lining up like lemmings in cars every morning.
posted by madajb at 1:44 AM on August 7


phillip-random: when I was a kid, me and my friends stopped Hitler's advance at Stalingrad.

Hitlers mom got so mad about tearing his good trousers, he couldn't play for a week!
posted by dr_dank at 4:50 AM on August 7


I gotta say, I'm a little surprised at all the notes about kids not walking to school anymore in here. We just moved into a house down the block from a middle school, and there are groups of kids walking around here all the time. It's actually pretty nice. Crossing guards at all the big intersections when school lets out, too.

We've got an infant at home, so I'm hoping the environment around here doesn't change too much. It's a pretty good place for kids--we're in the suburbs, but with an honest-to-god walkable little town that's starting to make a pretty good comeback from some rough years in the 90s and 00s--and it'd be a shame if parents didn't let them wander free to ... eat pizza and shoplift? Whatever kids do.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:15 AM on August 7


I was allowed to climb one of the mountains in Kootenay Plains Provincial Park by myself when I was a kid, where I crossed tracks with a couple of small bears and met a silent stranger at the peak. I was an avid reader of Tom Brown's Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, so nothing about it seemed unusual to me at the time.

Nowadays I won't even let my kid ride the elevator by herself.
posted by clawsoon at 5:25 AM on August 7


Also, on the kids-today-are-too-good line, I was actually rooting for shenanigans a few weeks ago, but it turned out to be totally innocent.

You see, we've got some very polite neighbor kids--maybe 14, 15 years old--who have rung our doorbell a few times when they've thrown their frisbee into our back yard. No big deal, go back there anytime. A few weeks ago, the doorbell rang right after I had gotten home from work and was in the gent's, so I couldn't answer.

A few minutes later--longer than it would take to retrieve a frisbee--I looked into the back yard and saw two teenagers skulking around behind the detached garage at the back of the yard. It's a great place to hide, basically invisible to anybody in the area (the way the houses on the surrounding blocks are situated, you can see into just about everybody's yard from anywhere, but that spot is pretty well-covered).

My assumption, naturally, was that they thought we weren't home and were smoking dope or otherwise up to no good back there. Good for them, I thought. Then I realized that I should probably be the adult and go out and see.

Turned out the frisbee was on the roof of the garage and they were waiting for their friend to hand a ladder over the fence. I was genuinely disappointed. I wanted to bring out some beers or something.
posted by uncleozzy at 5:32 AM on August 7 [5 favorites]


I was born in the early 1980s and I think that in some ways, I was on the cusp of this thing. I lived close to my grade school (about a mile away) but there was one very busy road I would have to cross to walk to it and no crosswalk so I didn't walk often but occasionally when I was in 7th and 8th grade, I would walk home with a few friends when it got warm out. One day, we walked home after school and my mother was out when I got home so I listened to the messages on the answering machine. A teacher (who did not like me very much) had left a message saying that I was in a lot of trouble and had broken a very serious school rule. After classes were finished for the day, my friends and I just left the school and walked home instead of waiting in the gym for all of the buses to leave. We Could Have Been Hit By A Bus.

I loved riding my bike. By the time I was a high school student, I would occasionally ride my bike to visit a friend about 5 miles away - not far but there were plenty of busy roads along the way. My friend and I would take off on our bikes and go all over the place. I don't think my parents knew where we went and they probably would not have been happy about it but we weren't bothering them so it was all good.

The nice thing about where I lived was it was a suburb but there were enough places within walking distance for me to feel like I was stretching my legs without getting into trouble. I have visited the place where my husband grew up and thought it was a bummer that there are so few sidewalks. We could walk to a public pool, playgrounds, public library, a market, drug store, ice cream shop, pizza place, lots of bagel shops. It wasn't this idyllic place and it was frequently too cold and snowy to wander but it wasn't bad. I had a few friends within blocks of our house. The most trouble that we ever got into was when we (though I don't think I was there ...) got kicked out of a movie (The American President) for making fun of it too loudly.

This stuff makes me nervous about becoming a parent. I think I've read that parents are expected now, when a kid is invited to another kid's house, to stay the whole time? Or at kids' birthday parties, parents are supposed to go too? I'm worried enough about being a bad parent that it blows my mind that I also should be worried about being perceived as a bad parent.
posted by kat518 at 6:46 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Late 80's child, 90's kid. I got the tail end of freedom and a taste of the craziness to come. Parents are both expat Brits and thought of me heading out alone with the local cul-de-sac feral pack as normal (and delightful in that I wasn't taking up all their time).

We would sneak tools out into the woods by wagon, pick up bits of wood from construction site waste bins, and hammer together crude huts with plastic wrap walls and patchy ceilings. Learning that triangles are strong in school is one thing, knowing before hand that because the one kid liked triangles and his was the only side to not collapse is something of a 'mind blown' moment to a trig class student.

Later on we would dig or build in trees. As above, the 'ladders' up trees were awful but we wouldn't sit back if a step was wobbly, we'd put more nails through it to properly fix it to the tree. We were ignorant of the dangers of building shoddy wooden boxes 20ft up in a tree without adult supervision but we weren't willfully stupid in our going about that process.

As construction sites finished up and the convenient scraps vanished we moved to digging. Like trenches you could play paintball in. Then one night, while we were digging and excavating and shoring up the sides with rock and twigs by kerosene lamp at 9pm, some lady none of us knew started taking photos with the flash on (which is what tipped us off to her presence at night). None of us knew her and we all just ran, thinking she was some crazy who would yell at the cops with her photos until they did something (had happened to a friend). Our first taste of the overprotective, intrusive, suburban clique culture bullshit that would consume the could-have-been adventures of the generations after us.

So we moved to potato cannons made in garages (late teens now, with access to cars and jobs and the Lowes supplies that can be gotten with both). Graduated upward through those until we got to a 7 foot long two inch wide monster that was fed through a sharp edged breach (to core fat potatoes, guaranteeing a good seal to prevent gases escaping) and powered by kerosene and a barbecue igniter. Open up the combustion chamber, pump in kerosene while counting, seal it quick, and fire. I think we sent a potato half a mile once. Heard others demolishing canopy twigs for seconds as they left our neighborhood. Of course it almost exploded twice (potato fit too well and the gas had to vent through poor sealant of the combustion chamber) before we retired the thing.

I wouldn't want to have a kid that couldn't live like that.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:12 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


If anything, this just brings up a lot of resentment about my childhood. Growing up in the early 70s, my parents were extremely self-absorbed and from about age 4 or so, I had to read the memos from school (e.g., wear sneakers on Friday because it's Field Day) because my parents would forget to. I took the public bus the 2 miles to school starting at age 7, which was pretty scary and loud. (My 9-year-old sister was supposed to accompany me, and sometimes did, but more often than not would go off with her friends and take a later bus.) I did all my own laundry by age 10, for no other reason that my mother was Oh So Busy with her plans to write the Great American Novel, among other things.

I don't have kids so I'm already seen at work as The One Who Can't Possibly Understand, but once in a while when my co-worker complains about driving her 16-year-old daughter to work or taking her clothes shopping, I'll quietly say "maybe that is something she could do herself?" And she'll reply "yes, you're right, I know you're right, but I can't help it/she makes me feel guilty." Huh?
posted by sockerpup at 7:22 AM on August 7 [3 favorites]


The injuries served a purpose too: the scrapes, broken bones, stitches, sprains, cuts, bruises, and general damage that wasn't life threatening showed us how far these frail physical forms could go. And after a golf club to the back of the head by an idiot child who tried to ignore the group rule of only taking one swing, two broken arms, sprained knee, and innumerable superficial wounds that might have actually required stitches but-fuck-it-lets-just-band-aid-and-super-glue-this-one-don't-want-to-alarm-mom I think I've got a pretty good idea of how far this particular body will go.
posted by Slackermagee at 7:24 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I think I've read that parents are expected now, when a kid is invited to another kid's house, to stay the whole time? Or at kids' birthday parties, parents are supposed to go too?

Only for very little kids. In my experience: when the kids are in kindergarten, you stay. First grade, mixed. After that, no. I mean unless you are actually friends with the parents and want to hang out; it's not like you're not allowed to stay.
posted by escabeche at 7:47 AM on August 7


As construction sites finished up and the convenient scraps vanished we moved to digging. Like trenches you could play paintball in.

Inspired by Hogan's Heroes and The Great Escape, I began work on a tunnel under the backyard fence. I guess I was about 9. It would come out in the woods, right by the remains of Amelia Earhart's plane (which was actually a pickup truck bed or something, but we BELIEVED).

Digging is hard work, real hard, and my laziness probably saved me from being killed by a collapsing hole. While I agree that the insane culture of fear and overprotection has gone too far, way too far, I'd like to know if my child was digging his own grave out behind the house, and put a stop to it.
posted by thelonius at 7:55 AM on August 7


Kids still get a beating though? I would hate to see them denied that.
posted by biffa at 8:23 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


We were just having this conversation at home last night. This week is vacation bible school, where I noticed that people who do not attend the church and don't know anyone at the church are coming and dropping their kids off and then leaving. The ages range from 4 years old to about 10. The older kids I can understand, but I can't imagine just dropping a 4yo off with complete strangers and then leaving for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, like so many above, I was the kindegartener who walked to school alone, the latch-key kid in elementary school, the kid who rode her bike miles from home, pre- cell phones.

Even though we had those "nostalgic" days of our childhoods, when I look back on it now, I view it as neglect. Benign neglect, to be sure, but if I really had gotten hurt, or worse, I would have been so scared knowing that I was so completely on my own. Those experiences during my formative years are absolutely the basis of the lack of trust I have for my parents, who always characterized me as being "so independent", and used that to justify their choices. Being left alone all the time? Yeah, no shit, I had no other choice but to be independent.

Since those days (the 70's), all of these fears and safety precautions have come about as a response to what happened to children like Polly Klass or Jaycee Dugard, or kids that were molested at supposedly safe locations, like churches. The dawning of realization of what could have happened to the rest of us, but for luck and circumstance.

I fully believe that the internet, or rather unfettered access to questionable material and the ever-increasing need to ramp up the shock and excitement factors, has fueled more attacks on not just children, but people in general. People have become more objectified in the eyes of more and more individuals, for the sake of their own entertainment, and profit.

And now our responses range from "OMG, keep my children safe!" to more interest in things like jiu jitsu, MMA, crossfit, and other quasi self-defense "sports". I believe adults in general feel less safe in our society, which we are carrying over, in an abundance of caution and well-meaning, to our children.

I'm not embarrassed to be protective of my kid.
posted by vignettist at 8:45 AM on August 7


Those experiences during my formative years are absolutely the basis of the lack of trust I have for my parents, who always characterized me as being "so independent", and used that to justify their choices. Being left alone all the time? Yeah, no shit, I had no other choice but to be independent.

This is an interesting -- and important -- distinction, I think, and another one that I wish the survey had gone into. They asked respondents to identify their parents' parenting styles from four categories: Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive, Uninvolved, and to identify which style they themselves use (if they are parents). It would have been good to see how different (adult) children of different styles look back on their childhoods (freedom vs. neglect).

It also would have been interesting to see how much children's independence/freedom was a function of generations and not just parenting styles -- that is, the degree to which kids with authoritative or even authoritarian parents still had a comparable level of independence relative to kids with permissive or uninvolved parents depending on the decade. I'm thinking of my dad, for example, whose parents were certainly authoritative-bordering-on-authoritarian, and he still basically had free range of the town where he grew up in the '40s and '50s by the time he was 7 or 8, because that was just the norm.
posted by scody at 9:09 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


I was born in the early 80s and had lots of unsupervised time, but unlike many people, I think it was actually a bad thing. Granted, the pendulum seems to have swung waaaay too far the other way with people calling the cops on kids walking to school alone, but some bad shit happened in our neighborhood and a little more adult supervision would have been helpful.

In my case, it had to do with the neighborhood bully terrorizing the younger/weaker kids and there being no recourse. It was especially bad when this kid and his friends hit puberty and the younger, smaller kids (i.e. me) were left with no protection when they wanted to explore their newfound sexual urges. It got pretty rough for a while, and my parents would FREAK OUT if they knew what was happening (as they should). It wasn't the scary guy in the van to worry about, but the bigger kid down the block.

I'm about to have my first kid, and I am hoping to strike a balance where I'm present enough to know if my kid's being terrorized/abused by their "friends" but not full-on helicoptering. I don't feel a lot of nostalgia for my childhood and my ability to ride my bike on the side of a busy 4-lane road, just because I know that the cost of that was being left with people who didn't see some really bad behavior that should have been stopped. I was too young at the time to know that this is something I should be telling the adults about, and the older kids would have soundly kicked my ass if I told on them anyway.

My mom quit her job when I was a teenager and had a lot of misplaced fears about my safety. She was so worried about strangers, when the people who did the most damage were the neighbors she saw everyday. It's hard to say this because I don't want to stoke fears about neighbors, but there is some truth to the fact that you can't assume someone is ok just cause they live on your block. I think kids should have this community, and packs, but someone needs to be aware of what's happening in those packs and intervening when shit gets rough.
posted by ohisee at 9:39 AM on August 7 [6 favorites]


Stanhope does a great bit about this, how we are the first generation to complain about the kids not being wild enough. 'Gonna start start piss testing for adrenaline in the workplace.'

Rollins had a great bit in 1999 about this.

Future Kid: [crying] "And then.. he made me listen to Danzig and Black Sabbath and Slayer really loud.... and then we went in his car and we ran over shit all night and then he put me back in my room ... and said, 'Now that's partying, you little prick!'"
posted by entropicamericana at 9:53 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Honestly, if I'm at a park and see a kid playing by herself, I'd keep an eye on her. I might ask if she's okay but cripes, my first, second or third thought wouldn't be to call the cops.

I think this is tough, and I suspect some of how much the nature of our interconnectedness has changed impacts it. When I'm with my boy at the park/playground it's hard enough for me to keep track of him (at 1y8m he just needs herding) that I don't see myself noting a lone kiddo, though I notice when H isn't the only under-5 kid without a parent arm's reach away. I can't see myself calling cops, or even necessarily asking the kiddo where her adult is.

But.

I remember when the Lulu Lemon murder happened and there was a lot of hand-wringing about how the neigboring workers in the Apple store didn't call or involve the cops because they heard raised voices and some thumping. I seemed to be in the minority position when I said of course they didn't - a weekend night at a busyish mall and there's yelling? Of course there's yelling. Even if they can tell it's from next door why would you assume the rare event of a nutter fabricating an attack and murdering her coworker?

But somehow we're still expecting our fellow citizens to be looking out for each other even when they can't recognize their neighbor from two doors down. At least there's a sizable cultural pushback of outrage at the woman who got arrested for leaving her kid safely in the car for five minutes or letting junior play in the park. I wouldn't expect any mercy if you'd seen the now-missing little blonde girl in the park on her own and Didn't Do The Right Thing. I suspect some of these calls happen because people don't want to see Nancy Grace yelling at their photo.
posted by phearlez at 10:02 AM on August 7


Nowadays I won't even let my kid ride the elevator by herself.

why?
posted by philip-random at 10:15 AM on August 7


I think I've read that parents are expected now, when a kid is invited to another kid's house, to stay the whole time? Or at kids' birthday parties, parents are supposed to go too?

Haven't quite figured this one out myself.

Part of the problem is that a lot of the birthday parties my child is going to are friends from school.
Since we all come in and out at different times, I don't actually know the parents, in some cases, I've never even seen the parents.

The other is sort of the changing expectations of parents.
I'd certainly be ok with stopping by, saying hello, then coming back 2 hours later to pick up my child, but I'm not sure that the hosting parents are at all prepared for anything like that.

As a consequence, a lot of parties (at this age) are sort of BBQs with a birthday party attached.
It's awkward and time-consuming, with a party almost every weekend in the summer, but there you go.
Maybe there is an AskMe about it.
posted by madajb at 10:25 AM on August 7


A question for younger Mefites who were raised in the '80s/'90s/beyond with more supervision than those of us waxing poetically over roaming free till dark to buy cigarettes and make bombs: what does this sound like to you? Does it sound appealing, or appalling? I'm genuinely curious.

I'm not a younger Mefi (born 1973) but I had a very supervised, protected childhood. (The general examples I give are that when I was 12 I wasn't allowed to cross a four-lane busy street at the crosswalk with three of my friends, as a teenager when the next door neighbor boys were running their dirt bikes up and down their driveway I had to come into the house, having a midnight curfew as a 22 year old after college.)

My reaction to threads like this is anger.

I have a lot of regrets in my life about things I didn't/couldn't do for fear of going against my parents' rules. It gave me a screwed-up outlook on relationships. I suppose it's made me more adventurous as an adult, but I like to think that I'd be that way anyway even if my folks had let me do some of the more innocuous things my friends were allowed to do.

(After I'd moved out of the house, my mom started being treated for her anxiety issues. I honestly took it as "too little too late". Eventually we were able to reconcile everything.)

My son turned 13 a few months ago. I'm trying my best not to be as protective. Our neighborhood helps - there are sidewalks everywhere, lots of interesting things to do close by. Still, I had to go against my knee-jerk reaction when he asked if he could bike over to his friend's house a mile away and then go exploring in the woods at the end of their street and say "sure, have fun, just be home by 5".

(interesting anecdote: he goes to summer camp and the pickup point is at a school that's about two blocks from our house. He's been going to it for many years and for the last two years or so, I'd just let him walk home. Last week, for the first time I had to sign a form saying it was okay for him to walk home.)
posted by Lucinda at 10:25 AM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Lucinda: Mine went much farther. Severe agoraphobia, which she transferred to her children. She couldn't handle us walking to the mailbox at the end of the driveway. Many, many bizarre rules that pretty much kept us in the house and sometimes on lockdown in our rooms.

Anyway, I longed for the future where I could find all the people at play, and relished the chance to raise a child who could go out and rip it up when I never could. And guess what? The world moved much closer to where my mother was. Curses.
posted by argybarg at 10:38 AM on August 7 [2 favorites]


Some of the comments above regarding letting your kids free-range possibly being a form of neglect, or predation by the neighborhood bullies, or even possibly getting called out by Nancy Grace on TV, have prompted me to come forth with my own story of free-range childhood. Born in 1964, and I lived in rural or small-town settings until I was thirteen, so it was pretty much the norm for kids to ride their bicycles all over the place, build forts, pretty much supervise themselves all summer long, etc.

But it also helped me escape, at least for a little while, a dysfunctional alcoholic household, especially since the heads of it (my aunt and uncle) were very concerned about keeping up appearances in their small community, and couldn't keep me grounded all the time. (I literally shudder to think about what my childhood would have been like today, where the opposite expectation is in play.) I'd always take the long way home, give myself a razor-thin margin of time in getting home before dinner, find excuses to dawdle on my after-school paper route, and eagerly absorbed as much about wilderness survival as I could from Boy Scouts to fuel my fantasies of running away and living off the land. Eventually, my guardians gave up and sent me to counseling, where after some time my counselor and I figured out what the real problem was.

So, yes, poor Adam Walsh, poor Polly Klaas, poor Amber Alert kid of the month. But also poor kids who are being homejailed.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:03 AM on August 7 [7 favorites]


I worry about the kids who get constantly supervised. I remember some of them at University. They left home for the first time and had their first beer and just went off the rails. It wasn't good for anyone.

Yep. It reminds me of my friends sister, who wasn't EVER allowed to eat candy. Not even once. All her friends parent were in on it, etc. I think she maybe managed to sneak a few.

When she finally moved out for college, she became INCREDIBLY fat. Like, morbidly obese. She just ate candy and junk food all day every day because she could.

I also have a friend whose mom forced him to be vegetarian until he moved out.(This is actually a pretty common thing in seattle, if you had granola-y parents, which are probably of the highest concentration of anywhere on the planet outside of the bay area here) Upon moving out, he quickly got a job at a sandwich shop and ate triple meat subs all day every day piled with bacon and shit.

Parents who lament #YOLO-esque kegstanding, four loko and chugging pills deaths in the news "youth culture" don't realize how complicit they were in creating it.

All i'm saying is, no one i know who grew up like me and my friends basically getting to do what we wanted from our tweens/early teens on fell off the wagon of life like a lot of the sheltered kids i've met did. I'm not saying i haven't known any alcoholics or drug addicts, but it wasn't a 0-60 in two seconds out of nowhere at 18 thing.
posted by emptythought at 3:14 PM on August 7 [7 favorites]


I was born in 1984, but my parents lived (live) quite a ways out in the sticks -- about 5 miles from the nearest gas station, and 10 miles from "town" (school, grocery store, etc.). So I was a "free range kid" on our land, which was about 40 acres, but I couldn't really go into town by myself at age 8 because it's a really long walk and even a long bike ride for an 8 year old. By the time I was probably 12 or 13 I was to the point where I would bike to baseball practice in the summer, but it still wasn't the sort of thing I'd want to bike in the 20-below winters in central Minnesota.

Once I hit 16 though, it was a different story. Had a car and a job waiting tables within a few weeks of turning 16 and was pretty independent from that point on. I was expected to give my parents a general idea of where I'd be at. They had a pretty clever way of keeping me to my curfew - they'd set a loud alarm for midnight, and if I got home in time I'd turn it off. If not, they'd be up waiting.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:40 PM on August 7


I fully believe that the internet, or rather unfettered access to questionable material and the ever-increasing need to ramp up the shock and excitement factors, has fueled more attacks on not just children, but people in general.

Crime is down though, pretty much across the board. You're blaming the internet for a trend that doesn't exist.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 5:01 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Crime is down though, pretty much across the board. You're blaming the internet for a trend that doesn't exist.

Yeah, this is really important. Crime rates in general have been falling steadily since the 1990s, and children are no more likely to be attacked or abducted by a stranger now than they were in the 1970s. In fact, the violent crime rate in the United States is where it was in 1963.

The perception that crime is increasing is a real, society-wide phenomenon -- driven, I think, by a combination of the creation of the 24-hour cable news cycle in the 1980s, the "tough on crime" political trends of the '90s, and now the internet's ability to spread frightening or lurid stories like wildfire. We hear constantly about crime, so we perceive the threat of it as equally constant. But it's not.
posted by scody at 6:35 PM on August 7 [4 favorites]


I was born in 1985 and grew up in the suburbs of Los Angeles. I never walked to school because I went to magnet schools, never managed to get confident enough on a bike to ride it much of anywhere, and didn't have a single friend within reasonable walking distance. For all I know kids in my neighborhood were having all sorts of wild times, but I commuted to school and thus was not invited.
posted by town of cats at 8:26 PM on August 7 [1 favorite]


Oh, yeah, jeez, the bike thing. My dad actually vetoed my learning to ride a bike growing up. I only eventually learned because I had to for P.E. in high school, where I was one out of only two students who didn't know how. (Even after P.E. I would never have been allowed to go anywhere on a bike by myself. As it turned out, I love biking and bike to work now, go figure.) My dad also only stopped telling me to look both ways before crossing the street quite literally when I went away to college.

Meanwhile, my sister's oldest daughter has been permitted to go all kinds of places by herself in her own car since she turned 16, and that appeared to be totally unremarkable in their immediate family, so go them. Some hope for the younger generation.
posted by en forme de poire at 2:04 AM on August 8


(Oh yeah, I was high school class of 2001, FWIW.)
posted by en forme de poire at 2:06 AM on August 8


When she finally moved out for college, she became INCREDIBLY fat. Like, morbidly obese. She just ate candy and junk food all day every day because she could.

My wife had a coworker who did the same thing with sugar cereal. The first day of college, she went out and bought boxes of the different types to try out and eat. She avoided the morbidly obese thing, tho'.
posted by Atreides at 6:53 AM on August 8


Articles like this---and subsequent discussion threads---are a major reason why it's getting difficult for me to contemplate moving to the US from Finland. As I write this, my soon-to-start-first-grade kids (twins) are out at the nearby grocery shop by themselves, buying candy with their weekly allowance. Most of this summer we've spent nominally at home, which in practice means that the've been roaming the yard and the neighbourhood with their mates and coming home to eat & sleep. Next week, they're starting school, to which they'll get walked perhaps on the first few days; after that, people would look at us funny if we didn't let them go by themselves.

Of course it's a bit different from when I was small; now they have a mobile phone that they have to call us with if they're left alone at home and want to go visit a friend. Back then I'd've just left a note.
posted by eemeli at 7:30 AM on August 8


I think about this as I bring up my daughters, now 3 and 5. We don't have sidewalks and many other kids close by, but they do make excursions into the woods. We're trying to walk a line. I was given a bit more autonomy as a kid than I probably should have had, got lucky sometimes not seriously hurting myself, cherished that independence, and I'm sure it has contributed positively to my adult life. But the parental protectiveness instinct is strong, and sometimes I have to make an effort to let go. In the long run I believe sheltering is a less effective safety strategy than giving them opportunties to learn by taking risks good and bad.

Recently I was wondering when the eldest should have her first pocketknife. She hasn't even realized that is a theoretical possibility, but the day is coming when she will have not only the longing but the requisite motor skills and judgment. An online research spree revealed a range of attitudes. I liked these:

A Girl, Age 8, and Her Very Own Knife

Topic: First Pocket Knife for Kids

This one is a bit heavier on the "no reason to give a kid a knife, omg weapon at school, recipe for disaster" thing:

Babycenter Pocketknife debate

I have a couple small swiss army knives, one for each girl when the time is right. The blade doesn't lock, but my first didn't either, and I think the scissor is actually important because it discourages using a blade inappropriately. Meanwhile, I make a point to give them guidance in safe tool use and doing things with their hands. I'll know what the "right age" is for each of them by direct observation, and will be interested to observe how their peers are treated in such matters as they grow up.
posted by maniabug at 8:49 AM on August 8 [1 favorite]


I recall getting good knife safety instruction as a Girl Scout, but don't recall precisely what age I got it. It was while I was a Brownie, so presumably the other girls in my troop/camp would've had knives at the same age I did. I think I must have used pocket knives before that, but under more direct supervision, and it was after I got my knife safety training (was there a badge?) that I felt really trusted with them.
posted by asperity at 12:22 PM on August 8


Meanwhile, my sister's oldest daughter has been permitted to go all kinds of places by herself in her own car since she turned 16, and that appeared to be totally unremarkable in their immediate family, so go them. Some hope for the younger generation.

This, at least in my area, is so so much a suburbs thing. I don't know a single kid who grew up in the city and got a car right when they turned 16. I know 1-2 people who inherited grandpas beater at some point(but not right then), and a couple people who were allowed to drive their parents car. That was it. I'd say a solid 8/10 of us didn't even get our license, and our parents didn't even really want to help us at all.

On the other hand, the kids I knew from the suburbs or nearby small towns had the reverse split going on. Almost all of them had licenses, like 9/10, and probably 7 or 8/10 of them had cars.

And I mean, I got it at the time. Those were places where there was NOTHING to do if you couldn't drive, for the most part. But the way I was raised whenever those kids would come hang out id end up thinking, if not saying, "wait, why would we drive there? It's not that big of a walk/it's only like a 15 minute bus ride". Heh.

This wasn't a class thing either. Several of the kids I knew in high school had solidly rich parents, huge houses, and their parents had multiple cars. None of them even had licenses with maybe one exception.
posted by emptythought at 1:10 PM on August 8 [2 favorites]


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