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Set the kids free!
August 21, 2010 12:15 PM   Subscribe

Do we worry too much? Lenore Skenazy, who let her 9-year old ride the subway on his own and wrote about it, says yes. A lot of people were very unhappy about it. Now she finds herself at the head of a movement, complete with its own manual, to let kids be more self-reliant.

Previously on mefi:
posted by TNLNYC (125 comments total) 58 users marked this as a favorite

 
About time. My parents let me run fucking wild, and I turned out okay.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:16 PM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


So did anybody on MetaFilter ever do crazy things when they were young?
posted by Wolfdog at 12:19 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


I once ate a bug.
posted by TwelveTwo at 12:20 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


It seems there is a war between two factions: those who look at the word as fundamentally good and those who see danger lurking everywhere. I recently let my 4-year-old run from the barber next door to our apartment building all the way home. While running those 20 yards, he was watched by one of the barbers and our doorman. He then took an elevator up 8 floors (the one he takes everyday) with another person from the building and was on camera at the doorman's station the whole time.

He talked about that experience for weeks with great pride. When I recount this to most parent, they recoil in horror and it just saddens me that even when the environment is completely controlled (at no time was he not under the watch of an adult who knows him), people still felt it was too much freedom.
By comparison, at his age, I use to run around a large apartment complex in France (my best friend lived on the other end of the complex) and it seemed perfectly fine to everyone involved (well, we did get in trouble with some neighbors for being overly rowdy in the hallways but it was also considered OK for said neighbors to reprimand us).

I'm afraid that if we don't let our kids run around with a modicum of liberty, we're going to end up raising a generation of wimps.
posted by TNLNYC at 12:24 PM on August 21, 2010 [28 favorites]


Yeah, there's a way to let kids of the leash without being irresponsible. I wish more parents did that - I know that many of my best childhood memories involve times when my parents weren't around.
posted by V4V at 12:28 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm behind everything about this movement except for its title. I don't want to eat children.
posted by twirlypen at 12:29 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beaumont_children_disappearance#The_parents
posted by uncanny hengeman at 12:32 PM on August 21, 2010


My first international flight alone was at age 6 and 9 months. I was unaccompanied. The memory of that overnight flight taken decades ago on a BOAC plane has stayed with me. I think I might have been a little nervous but I don't remember traumatic fear or anxiety. And as an adult, I look back at that youngster with pride.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:34 PM on August 21, 2010


er, 6 years and 9 months ;p
posted by The Lady is a designer at 12:35 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


So did anybody on MetaFilter ever do crazy things when they were young?

Bike rides as far as we could go and still make it home that night, finding porn in the woods, rooftops we walked and pools we hopped, the huge pipe we'd sit on, our legs dangling, at the water reserve, the building there we broke into after scaling the ledge and hopping the fence, ninja-style, in broad daylight, the old Playboys we found in some workers desk, the time we thought we set the woods on fire, the danger of half-assed rope swings, calling each other out of school and taking the train into the city, walking into a houseparty where we didn't know anyone, climbing trees, descending into dams, running from the cops, running from other kids, running from creeps, running from our problems at home.


Nope, not really.
posted by defenestration at 12:36 PM on August 21, 2010 [55 favorites]


We played with rockets and played a game called "kill".
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 12:39 PM on August 21, 2010


Oh, what the fuck, this is Manhattan. Less safe than the monorail at Disney World but more safe than pretty much anywhere else. It isn't like the kid was from Billings, Montana and this was his first day in the city.

At worst the kid would be exposed to some crazy comments (at worst!), but let's see what happens when you grab him in midtown Manhattan and the kid starts yelling, "That's not my dad!"

If he gets lost, he'll probably run into some foreigner is all too happy to help him and they have this great inter-cultural moment and it ends up as an only-in-new-york NYT article.
posted by geoff. at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


Oh I forgot about the explosives and fireworks.
posted by defenestration at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I got all my best scars before I turned five.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 12:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [13 favorites]


I often wonder at how different my parents' rural upbringing must have been. Running as far as you like, with the only constraint being that you better damn well listen for that dinner bell and run home when it gets dark.

Of course there were plenty of dangers in the countryside, but those were real dangers. Today seem to be more afraid of the uncommon or the imagined.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 12:43 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Baby Zizzle has climbed a rope ladder on his own intended for five year olds and up. We supervise him from the bottom, but don't do any more than spot.

We've also let him run from one end of the park to the other. If his dad is playing basketball, and we're over by the slides, he can run to his dad and back again. We each keep an eye on him, but we're not on top of him.

He's not even two yet, but I suspect as he gets older we'll let him have the independence he demonstrates he's ready for, which probably wouldn't include riding a NYC subway line on his own but may include riding his bike around the neighborhood with some friends or going to a museum exhibit or walking to the playground or something cray like that.
posted by zizzle at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2010


Growing up in Queens in the 70's, the standard summer routine was wake up, eat a bowl of cereal, and bugger off until dinner time. My neighborhood was full of roving gangs of 6-12 year old kids without an adult in sight. We did some really stupid things now and the, sure, like jousting on bikes with broomsticks (we used garbage can lids as shields, and stuck old phone book sup our shirts for armor), and it was perhaps something of a surprise that none of us ever got seriously injured. But, we didn't, and those memories are very important to me.

I've honestly always thought it was horribly sad when kids got no time away from the hawk-like vision of their parents, to have the opportunity to just go out there and do the horribly dumb things that are so important to kids, like being kids.
posted by Aversion Therapy at 12:44 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


When I was seven, a few weeks after first arriving in the US, speaking no English, I somehow missed my mom waiting for me after school ended, so I started walking towards the UT shuttle bus stop myself. Still didn't see her there, so I got on the first bus that came, got off at the main transfer station at UT, and got on the shuttle bus to go to our apartment. Several of the college students were rather curious about a seven year old by himself on a university bus, but all I could offer were shrugs and some basic gestures.

Got to the apartment and nobody was home, so I just waited. Finally I hear mom and dad walking up the stairs and mom is bawling her eyes out, talking about how they never should have gotten me to the US, etc. They were soooooooo happy when they saw me. Apparently mom had been waiting where she usually did but somehow we just missed each other. There were cop cars and school buses searching for me. It was crazy.

Oh, also when I flew over to the US the Beijing to LA leg was by myself. But the flight attendants thought I was cute so they put me in first class. It was awesome. Tons of food, chocolate, wine, etc. There was so much food I actually had to refuse food for the first time in my life. But once we got to LA, they just abandoned me at customs. It took me panicing and crying before somebody paid attention to me and finally got me through to my mom so we could take the LA to Austin flight. Once we got to Austin though I remember being disappointed at the lack of huge skyscrapers. I thought everywhere in the US would be like downtown Manhattan.
posted by kmz at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


It seems there is a war between two factions: those who look at the word as fundamentally good and those who see danger lurking everywhere.

I imagine there's a big difference between letting kids loose in a posh suburb or rural area and a ghetto. Dunno, I know the whole 'germs are good for you and kids should be left alone' sentiment gets a big following on metafilter, but I like to think that parents should be able to gauge their local communities themselves and make the proper decision without a one-size fits all manual.

I also have some fun anecdotes about being unsupervised (I pretty much had free reign most of my years), but also so pretty horrible stories and events that could have been prevented with better parental responsibility. Not the least of which was being 9 or 10, walking home from the local Burger King, and having a couple guys in a truck yelling at me to "come on, get in the car, we know your parents."

I think at the end of the day a lot of this is a lot of hand-wringing over nothing. Even the most supervised kids can't be watched 24/7, even the cleanest kid is covered head-to-toe with germs and just being a kid means you're probably pretty filthy in general compared to an adult. It seems to me that parents complaining about how other parents raise their kids is something of a national sport in the US. Maybe we should just let each other do what we want.
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:47 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


In 1971, at age 5, climbing trees as high as the telephone wires and sticking chairs up in the branches to build forts and roaming the woods around a school with my older (7) friend and playing hide and seek in Northern New Jersey. Between 1972-1982, ages 6-15, wandering far and wide through the woods on a farm in Western Ohio and riding my bike 2-3 miles on lonely RR #2 to visit a friend on another farm. In 1974, at age 8, walking 1.5 miles to school every day and then back again, while roaming as far as we could get on foot and on bicycles on the old mining properties across from our subdivision (woods, copper residue-filled streams where we'd do creek hikes, bouldering, fishing, climbing through huge drainage pipes, walking the railroad tracks). In 1983, when I had a driver's license, driving for miles with my friends in SW PA, or going to house/golf course/reservoir parties with my cousins in NY right outside of Manhattan.

So, yeah. I was either a pretty lucky kid, or it isn't as dangerous out there as one would be led to believe by the media.
posted by jeanmari at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Err, that should be "do what they want" not "what we want."
posted by damn dirty ape at 12:49 PM on August 21, 2010


I got all my best scars before I turned five.

Me too. Injured my right hand twice, which I still suspect (against most scientific proof) contributed to me writing left handed.

Upon reflection, I feel there were more dangers in the era I was growing up (late 50s thru early 70s) than most parents realized butstill LESS than there are today. One of my favorite activities was riding my bike up the four-story parking structure of the nearest office building and zooming back down like I was going down a mountain. On weekends, of course; this was before they started installing cameras and gates in such structures; the good old days.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:53 PM on August 21, 2010


I think I might have been a little nervous but I don't remember traumatic fear or anxiety.

Heh, I remember being quite nervous actually, because apparently the only American movies China Central Television could afford and/or wanted to import were made for TV airplane disaster movies. I thought every airplane flight was absolutely fraught with peril.
posted by kmz at 12:55 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I wandered all over the place and rode my bike everywhere. I did not wear a helmet. Sometimes (okay, a bunch of times) I got sunburned. A few times, a pantsless pervert drove slowly through the neighborhood asking the kids for directions. I skinned my knees. I got kicked. I lost my glasses. I bought candy bars with my piggybank money. I took the bus, sometimes, but mostly I had to walk everywhere, including school -- a half mile each way for grade school, 1.1 miles each way for high school. There were no cellphones, and even if there were, I wouldn't have had one.

I knew not to go anywhere with strangers. I knew to find a grownup and ask them to call the cops if a pantsless pervert talked to me. I knew not to take candy or soda from someone I didn't know, but nobody ever offered me anything like that anyway. I knew to walk on the sidewalk, obey traffic signals, look both ways. My parents actually instilled quite a bit of fear into us, as I recall (my mom was afraid I'd slit my throat with a pulltab that might possibly fall into a soft drink can, whereas my father was afraid I would talk to black people), but they didn't actually prevent us from going out and doing stuff by ourselves. Pretty much every bad thing that ever did happen to me was done to me by someone in the family or someone I already knew very well.

I grew up in a Big Northeast City without ever being abducted by a stranger, hit by a car, razorbladed by Halloween candy, or mauled by a bear. But I guess I'm just one of the lucky ones, huh?
posted by Gator at 12:56 PM on August 21, 2010


The difference between kids who were under constant supervision and the others can be seen semester one away at college. Half the always supervised lose it, go on a freedom bender, and end up flunked out and back home.

[80% of the other half of the always supervised go on a freedom bender, nearly flunk out, and then get it together and claw their way back up the hill. The final 20% of the other half are so broken and fearful to begin with that they stay buckled in at all times and make their bland way through life without failing or doing anything noteworthy, dangerous, or exciting.]
posted by Babblesort at 12:57 PM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


. My neighborhood was full of roving gangs of 6-12 year old kids without an adult in sight.

This is the key here, I think and why there needs to be a "movement".
In my neighbor now, there are hardly ever any kids outside.

I think the scared parents might be a little more willing to let their children stray if they were in a group, safety in numbers so to speak.
As it is now, any child sent outside to play will be playing alone.
posted by madajb at 1:06 PM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


Wow, mefites sound like old men talking about how their marines were tougher than the marines of today.

I always thought that because it was their prime...and they're trying to preserve it by referring to the new generation as wimps or weak.

I guess it applies to mefites too...who probably were at their toughest at 6-9 years of age.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:08 PM on August 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


Half the always supervised lose it, go on a freedom bender, and end up flunked out and back home.

This.

I saw it when I went off again to the motherland for college after high school.

kmz, I can empathize with you but I can't remember my first flight or my first international. My solo flight was being sent back to my grandfather from abroad. Ironically its now that I worry more about flying, but more in a "when are the odds going to go against me" kind of way... I've racked up too many long haul flights, some simply going back and forth to my parents during the holidays for too long ... best not say anymore, I'm crossing continents again on Tuesday (breathe, breathe)
posted by The Lady is a designer at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2010


I imagine there's a big difference between letting kids loose in a posh suburb or rural area and a ghetto. Dunno, I know the whole 'germs are good for you and kids should be left alone' sentiment gets a big following on metafilter, but I like to think that parents should be able to gauge their local communities themselves and make the proper decision without a one-size fits all manual.

I work in the hood. It's not necessarily safe for adults, but there a shit-ton of happy kids running around.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:12 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently saw a father and two kids getting out of their minivan in a doctor's office parking lot. The older child, about six, was skipping ahead toward the entrance while the dad was walking the little one. "wait for me! said dad, but the older kid kept walking, so dad yelled "Don't blame me if you get stolen!"
posted by longsleeves at 1:27 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Wow, mefites sound like old men talking about how their marines were tougher than the marines of today.

I always thought that because it was their prime...and they're trying to preserve it by referring to the new generation as wimps or weak.


I think it has more to do with mefites getting older and having concerns about the next generation (as opposed to younger and more carefree about legacies).

From my end, as a parent (of a now 5-year-old), it's more of a concern about how to arm my kid for the world he will grow up in. What's the right thing to do and what isn't.

So there's a point of falling back on what you know and the experience of parenting most of us have is from having being a kid. So we try to figure out the difference between then and now and assume that we've turned out OK (although there is debate in some parts of the world as to whether anyone who spends time on mefi can really be considered as having turned out OK ;) ), leaving us scratching our heads about why some things we were allowed to do ("play with fire, chemical (chemistry sets), and explosives (firecrackers, fireworks), running around out of sight (or assuming we're out of sight) of parental supervision, etc...") are no longer allowed.

I think there is some element of the death of community at hand too as the mores seem to have moved away from "any parent can police secure behavior" (for example, a friend told me that she'd been told off by other parents for telling their kids to be careful (in one case, a kid was throwing a glass bottle around on a playground and the New York parent was explaining to him that it might break and hurt people when the mother told her to F*** off, giving the glass bottle back to her son. Later that day, 2 kids were hurt by broken glass on that playground).
posted by TNLNYC at 1:37 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm afraid that if we don't let our kids run around with a modicum of liberty, we're going to end up raising a generation of wimps.

"GOING TO"???? I can't imagine the American public has, at any time in history, been more cowardly and easily frightened than present day.
posted by LordSludge at 1:38 PM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


I'm having deja vu. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal!
posted by Brocktoon at 1:39 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I imagine there's a big difference between letting kids loose in a posh suburb or rural area and a ghetto.

Sure, but I imagine that there are more kids running around unsupervised in the latter than the former.
posted by atrazine at 1:44 PM on August 21, 2010


Abusive relatives must love this increased expectation that their kids are never out of their reach.

And of course if someone is going on about the dangers to their kids from strangers it always reminds me that statistically the most dangerous person in that kid's life is probably them.
posted by Space Coyote at 1:46 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh yay, another thread where people talk about how wonderfully unsupervised their childhoods were, and I get to sit here and remember how I wasn't allowed to cross a four-lane street (at the crosswalk) with three friends when I was twelve.
posted by Lucinda at 1:48 PM on August 21, 2010 [9 favorites]


About time. My parents let me run fucking wild, and I turned out okay.

I know y'all will think I'm a killjoy, but the logic here doesn't pan out. The kids who didn't get a chance to grow up aren't posting their anecdotal evidence to Metafilter. I certainly know individuals from my youth who died due to preventable accidents.

That being said: All things in moderation and Freerangekids seems to be for moderation. Good stuff.
posted by Skwirl at 1:49 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


One of the joys of my childhood was the fact that my parents let me roam Boston on my own. (The general rule in our house was simply that my parents needed to know where we were, including the phone number there if available, and when we'd be home.) My Dad used to drop me off every Saturday AM at the Boston Public Library. I'd start there, then tool around the neighborhood. I ate organic food before anyone had heard of it, knew about Szechuan cuisine when everyone else thought Chinese food was chop suey and drinks with umbrellas, and knew the architecture and history and churches of downtown Boston. Of course I ran into some creeps, including the old gent that tried to expose himself to me in the old library's Charles Dickens diorama alcove, but my Dad had talked to me about what to do if something like that happened, and was great when I told him about it too. Overall it was wonderful to have such freedom, and that has left me with lifelong confidence and enthusiasm for any new environment. I was widely envied among my classmates . . . and most of them still live in my home town, still a bit fearful of the big city of Boston.

It is amazing how insular people can be. Life is short, the world is wide, and kids thrive with the opportunity to show they are worthy of trust.
posted by bearwife at 1:51 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


The deathly afraid parents of today are what you get when you expose people to 30 years of Channel X Team Sensationalist TV "News" at 5:30 (tonight: "Your child will be kidnapped!") and Fox News at 6:00 (tonight: "A white woman who miraculously made it through childhood without being kidnapped has now been kidnapped!").
posted by maxwelton at 1:52 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


The issue isn't so much what the kids get up to so much as what is going on with the crazy adults around them.
posted by chairish at 1:56 PM on August 21, 2010


I'm behind everything about this movement except for its title. I don't want to eat children.

Yeah, let's keep the recipes to fighty metatalk threads.

The younger the child
the better the meat.
The less the years
the better to eat.

poems for cannibals vol. iii

posted by cjorgensen at 1:57 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh yay, another thread where people talk about how wonderfully unsupervised their childhoods were, and I get to sit here and remember how I wasn't allowed to cross a four-lane street (at the crosswalk) with three friends when I was twelve.

Where I grew up, we didn't have any four-lane streets, which might explain why we were allowed to roam more freely.
posted by madajb at 1:58 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


skwirl,

You bring up an interesting point in terms of preventable accidents. As you point out, it's about moderation. One thing, though, is that moderation extends to what you teach kids: they, too, should learn about moderation.

Too much of "modern parenting" seem to be focused on prohibition (trying to protect the kids by not exposing them to danger) and not education. I feel it's OK to let people fall and scrape themselves but it's important that parents also be there to prevent disaster (every parent, I suspect, has at some point found a close call. In my case, it was my son deciding he was going to cross the street on his own with his tricycle when the light was not in his favor. He scared the life almost out of me and got a good talking to about the dangers of cars afterwards and hasn't, to date, made the same mistake).

So the people that survived childhood are indeed a self-selecting group (or an evolved one, if you consider Darwin). However, kids who are not given a chance to learn those dangers by themselves, within certain constraints, are not being properly equipped, in my view, for the time when they will leave the house (and I hope most parent realize that they kids will eventually leave the house :) )

The balance is how far do you go as a parent. So, for example, I still insist that my son hold my hand when crossing the street but I'm perfectly OK for him to run ahead to the next street corner without me being right on him. Along the way, he may be stopping to look at stores, parking meters, pet dogs, etc... but he's learning some level of independence within a pre-defined set. And I think that's the idea behind the Free-range kid movement: it's not about abandoning kids to their own device completely but about providing them with freedom within what is considered a statistically safe realm.
posted by TNLNYC at 2:00 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


So did anybody on MetaFilter ever do crazy things when they were young?

Allowed to walk my grandparents' dogs unaccompanied by about age 8. Hours spent rambling around the woods by 9 or so. Rode my bike all over town (grocery store, movies, school, friends' houses) unaccompanied by about 11. Navigated public transportation alone, armed only with a map and a phrase book, in Vienna the summer I was 12. Rode in a 25-mile bike-a-thon on a frontage road outside of town, alone for long stretches of time, at 13. I guess these are all crazy by today's standards, but they sure didn't seem out of the ordinary back in the good ol' days of the 1970s and early '80s.
posted by scody at 2:03 PM on August 21, 2010


good ol' days of the 1970s and early '80s.

Is that the pattern then we're seeing here now? So, what changed with parenting in the intervening years that we need a "free range movement" for children? I suspect its a geographically limited shift that took place and a singular one in the history of mankind.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 2:08 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


. . . I have to be honest, though: I write all this in a kind of shaky mood because I just got a call from the police.

This is the knock-on effect that would prevent me from being a particularly cool mom or babysitter. The innocent have more to fear than the guilty from police interference.

Can't help remembering, though -- one of my favorite books as a kid was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, wherein kids lived on their own in Manhattan, sometime in the late '60s or '70s, without drawing a second look.

I wonder if life might not be different for American kids today if it wasn't that Etan Patz was just going on his first trip alone to the bus stop, and that his mother was nervous about it anyway.

uncanny hengeman -- the story of the Beaumont children is horrific, simply because of the mystery, and the suggestion that someone might have made a human -- well, I'll stop there. The simplest hypothesis is just that the children played unsupervised at a beach and drowned, each attempting to save the other, and were swept out to sea.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:12 PM on August 21, 2010


Just speculating, but satanic panic really got people going in the 80s.
posted by Gator at 2:13 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


From the Wire:
Colvin identified Two types of West Baltimore students: "stoop" kids, the kids who obey their parents' instructions to stay on the stoop or front steps of their house, go to school, and are respectful of authority; and "corner" kids, the kids who sell drugs on the corner, disrupt class, and are aspiring gangsters disrespectful of authority.

There are a depressing amount of youth killed every year by stray bullets from gangs. Sad how in some places letting your children run wild lets them explore the wonders of the city/nature while in other places it leads to greater chances of early death.
posted by SouthCNorthNY at 2:17 PM on August 21, 2010


I'm a nanny and I certainly won't be a "helicopter parent" in any sense. Even when not allowed out of my line of sight, I have had kids manage to do things like squirt bug repellent directly into their own eyes. I'm still not entirely sure how that one was possible, but sure enough...

Crap is going to happen and while it's not wise to put a kid in a situation that s/he isn't ready for, watching a kid every second of the day isn't going to keep them 100% safe. And I totally agree with the argument that coddling kids means that they'll have a harder time adjusting to doing things themselves as teenagers/adults.

One thing I've learned from a career in childcare is that the emergencies that happen with kids are never the ones you prepare yourselves for. Sure, there are the times when the kids fall down the stairs... but there are also the times when you have to take them to the doctor get a *clipboard* removed from their hand. Whatever you imagine is going to happen, well, probably isn't. And whatever does happen - you never even considered to be possible.
posted by sonika at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


OK, it's the Daily Mail, but here is a nice article mapping out the area in which three generations of children were free to roam. The safe back yard looks mighty small in comparison.
posted by anthill at 2:18 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I know y'all will think I'm a killjoy, but the logic here doesn't pan out. The kids who didn't get a chance to grow up aren't posting their anecdotal evidence to Metafilter. I certainly know individuals from my youth who died due to preventable accidents.

Kids can be educated to avoid preventable accidents.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 2:22 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


anthill -- good illustration, but the fact that it's in the Daily Mail goes along with what I just noticed. There's an oddly conservative odor over the free-range-kids blog. I don't know what it is, or why it should be a matter of liberal vs. conservative. Maybe it's all the blame-the-lawyers business; maybe it's just me.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:24 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Some time back, I was on a crowded NYC subway when a little boy about three came whooping through, away from his mother weighed down with a crying baby and stroller. His mother started calling down the car, "Detrick, Detrick, get back here Detrick," but the little boy ignored her, happily swinging around one of the poles near a door. I tell you, this may be jaded NYC, but at least fifty sets of concerned eyes of all ages, ethnicities, and classes, were pinned to that child, who grinned at us with his impish cherub cheeks. The sense of alarm, however, grew as we neared the next stop. A woman tried to coax young Detrick, "You better go back to mommy now," but he didn't budge. Dad (apparently Dad was there, too, down the car) also called out for Detrick, but neither Mom nor Dad came to get him. At the stop, people flowed in and out of the car around him. I, and I'm sure others, considered escorting him back to his parents myself, but one hesitates to touch someone else's child. People did, however, start yelling to the parents through the crowd, "You better come get your kid," and, "You better get him before someone else does."

Finally, a frustrated young father weaved through the passengers and grabbed hold of little Detrick, dragging him through the car. The rest of us laughed and shook our heads and looked at each other with relief. This was NYC, after all. I know, statistically, it's one of the safest cities in the country, but all you have to do is watch the evening news to know that all measure of terrible things happen every damn day (woman pushed in front of subway; eight shootings in one night in the Bronx; park worker raped in the park restroom at nine in the morning; a man shot and killed a couple blocks down from our apartment last month, yellow police tape blocking the street). It's a fine line between caution and paranoia, though. But caution's a good thing, I think. No amount of caution, though, will make the world safe. So I don't know.

In the course of a discussion last year, a student I was rather fond of (I teach high school in the Bronx) revealed that he carried a knife (not at school -- we have metal detectors -- but out in the streets), and I looked at him and asked why he felt he needed to carry a knife. He looked back at me with raised eyebrows and said, "I live in the Bronx." Fair enough.
posted by pips at 2:27 PM on August 21, 2010


I can think of worse things than a generation of wimps.
posted by hanncoll at 2:29 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I recently let my 4-year-old run from the barber next door to our apartment building
With scissors?

posted by unliteral at 2:30 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Kids can be educated to avoid preventable accidents.

Eh, yes and no. Kids can be taught to swim, but that doesn't mean they shouldn't also have at least some supervision at the pool. A lot of preventable accidents are things that kids, being kids, aren't really able to think through at the time - no matter how much "education" they get.

Just an example: choking. A kid can be taught to chew slowly and not jump up and down at the table, but can still choke. In that event, "education" means nothing since the child is most likely incapable of giving himself the Heimlich. See also: falling down the stairs. You can teach a kid to go slowly and not roughhouse on the stairs, but if s/he starts falling, any amount of "education" doesn't really help.

Constant supervision isn't the answer - the solution is necessary supervision. Kids should probably be supervised when swimming. Kids probably don't need to be supervised every time they eat. Depending on the child, walking across the street alone may or may not be a good idea. It's about identifying the risks for each child and managing them responsibly - yes, teaching kids safe behavior helps, but let's be honest, caretakers have a certain responsibility to mitigate disaster.

I think the point that Free Range Kids proponents are making is that when caretakers can identify what a child can do safely, there is no good reason not to let them do so. If you know that your child can safely ride their bike three blocks to the playground, there's no good reason why you should have to follow them every single time they do so. If, however, you have no idea whether or not they can handle this, sticking around until it's clear is in everyone's best interest. It's unfair to the child to place them in a potentially unsafe situation and just expect them to deal with it if you have no way of knowing that they can actually do so.
posted by sonika at 2:35 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


It's ok. When those kids turn 12, parents will just stop communicating with them entirely leading to sexting, rainbow parties, jelly bracelets, and binaural noise.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 2:37 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


You know what, though, the scrutiny we now place on parents when something bad does happen is much much higher than it was even 30 years ago. If a kid was playing in the street and got hit by a car when I was young, it was a damned shame. Nowadays, it means the other kids in the family get interviewed by CPS, the parents' names are all over the news, everyone weighs in on how they screwed up by not watching their kid 24/7, and they might even get hate mail and death threats.

I don't think it's that parents developed a whole new set of neuroses, I think it's that we treat childhood and children much differently than we used to. Also people have fewer kids, so the ones they do have, they have more attention for. And more time to worry about.

It's real easy for non-parents or even other parents to look at what you do as a parent and judge you lacking. You protect too much; You don't protect enough. You push too much, or you don't care enough to push. There is actually no point, as a parent, at which there isn't someone who thinks you are fucking your kid up for life. None. No matter what you do.

And to be a devil's advocate here, all of us that had supervision-free childhoods, hey, we're the survivors. Those kids who did get hit by cars or molested or shot their head off with Daddy's gun because they were home alone aren't here to tell their stories.

I actually don't think those stories are the majority, or that we should hover over our kids too much. But if I'd had a kid who got badly hurt or killed while I was letting them roam around, I'd feel differently, wouldn't I?
posted by emjaybee at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2010 [8 favorites]


I was a kid in the 70s and early 80s. I thought I was generally pretty heavily supervised, but I have nothing on some of these kids. In particular, I did unsupervised plane travel, with drop off and pickup by adults, but I was also an experienced traveller with my parents.

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure being a girl made a difference. My husband is the same age I am and has two sisters, one three years older and one three years younger. They lived at the end of a PATH line that went into Hoboken and from there to NYC. Guess which child of the three was allowed to roam unsupervised in NYC during their high school years and which ones weren't?
posted by immlass at 2:39 PM on August 21, 2010


Another free range kid here. From kindergarten through the third grade, I lived in downtown Detroit, in the heart of the Cass Corridor. My one year older sister and I walked back and forth the eleven blocks to school by ourselves. We were recent immigrants and I guess my parents were used to friends, family and neighbors living nearby who would keep an eye out for the kids so they pretty much let us play/wander without supervision. This was in the late 70s when white flight had taken its toll on the Motor City. We walked past junkies and prostitutes with some frequency but were never bothered besides the occasional, "You girls are so cute." I think it helped us to grow up to be pretty fearless.
posted by nikitabot at 2:40 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


In a small Colorado city (the Springs), my parents allowed me to wander around on my bicycle by myself wherever I wanted to go from a couple of months before my fourth birthday. I came home badly burned (there was a big rusty iron incinerator full of burning trash on the foundation slab of a home that never got built, I was riding around it in tight circles as fast as I could when my rear tire slipped on some gravel, I fell against the incinerator and was pinned there for a bit), with a badly broken nose from a rock fight (lots of blood and clear fluid, visits to a specialist), and badly cut up from falling into a ditch with a half buried broken whiskey bottle sticking up out of the bottom, and got into many other kinds of scrapes actually much worse than any of these, which resulted in beatings with fists from strange adult men three (my memory) or (according to my sister) four times-- all before I was six.

It was a very exciting life which I wouldn't have traded for anything.
posted by jamjam at 2:42 PM on August 21, 2010


when I was young, about 5 or 6, we lived in the wilds in Newfoundland. No running water, no electricity, etc etc... I had huge, and I mean HUGE amounts of unstructured free time and knew every inch of the woods, to the point where if some adult got lost, I was usually the first one sent to go looking for them. I once got stranded on a large rock when I feel asleep on it and the tide came in...
posted by edgeways at 3:08 PM on August 21, 2010


Back a few years ago, my 7-year-old boy was figuring out tree-climbing in the park. I was 15 feet away, at a picnic table, reading a book and keeping up with him via peripheral vision. His foot was flailing around a little, and he cried out "I can't get around!" I looked up from my book, assessed that if he fell four feet he would probably be OK, and told him "you'll be fine. just keep trying - there's a good knot right by your left foot". As he continued his struggle, a woman sitting nearby went over, picked him up, and moved him over to the part of the tree he was trying to get to. Then she walked over to me and, I swear to God, scolded me, saying "he could have been KILLED!"

Her own kid was on a leash.
posted by Cookiebastard at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2010 [7 favorites]


I'll play devil's advocate and suggest that most parents are ok, and most kids are ok, and most of the parents I see try to establish a healthy middle-ground between supervision and autonomy.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:12 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's interesting that many people who don't have kids, don't want them and generally have no interest in the topic have very strong feelings about over-protective parents who prohibit everything because they overreact to horror stories repeated endlessly in the media. But what if this story of the paranoid parent overreacting to the media is itself a media-generated horror story, creating paranoia in non-parents, who might imagine that adult entertainment are threatened by these censoring monsters. In the paranoid fantasy, the threatening Other is always simultaneously too close and too far - the child predator lurking behind every tree but somehow always able to escape the reach of law, the illegal Mexican immigrants who are everywhere but somehow the authorities are unable to identify them and get rid of them. Here, the overprotective parent is supposed to be an epidemic, yet they are always not us, no-one ever actually admits to it, in the same way no-one ever admits to being sucked into media-driven hysteria.

It's not that over-protective parents don't exist and it's all a myth, therefore being worried about it is a sign of paranoia. Even if overprotective parents really do exist, it's still potentially a sign of paranoia, in the same way that the actual existence of millions of illegal Mexican immigrants doesn't make the racist paranoid fantasy any less a fantasy. It's a direct reversal of Kurt Cobain's lyric: just because they're after you doesn't mean you're not just being paranoid.

But in some cases the overprotective parent myth really is just a myth. Judith Warner, who wrote Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety set her sights on a related concern: over-medication of children for behavioral problems. What she found in interviews with parents and psychiatrists was not just that this is a non-existence problem, the real problem is actually the opposite one: children with real mental health problems, often poor minorities, that go undiagnosed and untreated because they don't have access to mental health resources.
posted by AlsoMike at 3:19 PM on August 21, 2010 [15 favorites]


It's interesting that many people who don't have kids, don't want them and generally have no interest in the topic have very strong feelings about over-protective parents who prohibit everything because they overreact to horror stories repeated endlessly in the media.

Agreed, but it's not just limited to this one issue. People who don't have kids are just as quick to judge parents on what they allow their children to watch, eat, listen to, etc. as are people who do have children. Just because someone doesn't want kids doesn't mean that they don't view themselves as an authority on what all good parents should be doing. Usually, those people are advocating for permissive models of parenthood based on what their own parents allowed or what they feel like their imaginary non-existent children should "experience."

You can't win at parenting. As has been pointed out, if you're permissive - even within the bounds of being reasonably safe - you're judged as endangering your child. If you're more cautious, you're judging as being overbearing. Parenting in the US has become one of those subjects on which everyone has an opinion and everyone feels their need to share their opinion with you and how you're screwing up your children for life. I'm not old enough to know if this is a recent trend or if it's always been like this, but I have enough experience with the subject to know that raising a kid now is a minefield for the parents in that nearly every single decision (from stuff as serious as vaccination to things as benign as using plastic cups) sparks a possible social fallout.

If you're doing your best as a parent, you're probably not damaging your children. Kids are pretty resilient. Everyone who is an adult has managed to survive childhood somehow, albeit some with a few more scars than others. That's not to say that everything is ok, but rather, no matter which course of action you take you're going to be wrong in someone's eyes. The only person whose opinion actually matters in the end is your child when they become an adult - if you've done right by them, that's the only measure of success that matters.
posted by sonika at 3:28 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


This was in 1976, so I would have been roughly 6. In one of the larger Vermont towns where I grew up, I used to walk home from school to my dad's place of work where he would then take me home, about 5 miles away.

I suppose even the 10 minute walk from school to his work would be somewhat unique today for many first graders, but one day I arrived and my dad wasn't there. So I took it upon myself to walk the entire way home. It seemed logical enough at the time, but my 6 year old brain didn't really account for the section of the highway I would have to traverse, at least two miles on a 55 mph road.

After 20 minutes of walking and perhaps 1/2 mile on the highway, two teenage girls on bikes noticed what must have been an odd sight and stopped. They took it upon themselves to give me a ride home. When we pulled into the driveway and my dad came out of the house (he had misread the schedule), I will never forget the look on his face as it turned from befuddlement to shock while hearing the story.

This has turned into a good anecdote over the years, but even at age 6 what the hell was I thinking?
posted by jeremias at 3:29 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems I had a childhood exactly like defenestration, as I'm sure many of us have. But there were two particular incidents that I always remember as rather creepy. The lesser of the two was just this guy who drove up to the curb where I was walking and offered me a ride. When I refused he followed me around for a bit then gave up. The worse one was this bus. It was a run down grey mini school bus style. It stopped when it saw a small group of my friends and I walking along the street. We were about seven years old at the time. Out of the bus streamed about half a dozen people, a couple of them dressed as really poorly put-together clowns. They even had balloons. Most of my friends didn't even notice but I was lagging behind watching this weird thing happen. They came up to me and offered me candy and fun and games, if I just come along with them. I told them to go away. I actually considered myself pretty lucky at the time they didn't just grab me since all my other friends were already pretty far away and completely unconcerned. These two incidents had more of an impact on me than all of the other experiences intentionally tempting death I had as a child.
posted by effwerd at 3:43 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


We live near the downtown of a small regional city of about 250,000 (including surrounding suburbs). We're right a the border of the downtown core and an older neighbourhood with lots of Victorian-era homes, as well as small hotels and B&Bs (it's the tourist district), and apartment blocks.

Our son is seven years old, and I let him walk around the corner to a corner store. We're near a school that's home to a beautiful play area with large boulders, tall grass to hide in, and groves of trees.

However, the one thing that really sucks is that it is just too dangerous to bicycle around here. The other day, going for a bike ride, he was almost struck by a car backing out blindly into the street. Today the same thing happened - my son sensibly stopped before a driveway flanked by hedges, and an SUV came roaring out of the driveway and onto the street, without even stopping.

I think the one big thing that has changed over the past 30 years or so is the sheer number of cars on the road. There are more of them, and they're increasing all the time.
posted by KokuRyu at 3:55 PM on August 21, 2010 [4 favorites]


We shot air rifles, BB guns, wrist rockets, and jarts at each other, pretty much without malice. We piloted dirt bikes, snowmobiles, mopeds, and a tractor, never helmeted, sometimes in the direction of those shooting at us. We played in the woods, in abandoned buildings, in tree houses without zoning clearance, and in construction sites, and went sailing by ourselves in the dark.

On the other hand, my parents knew about very little of this, and were of the typed that attempted to make me wait for an hour after eating before I could swim.

So it is possible that things are going on without coming to our attention.

P.S. Here begin the tangent about rampant middle school BJs. For which I would have swapped the tractor in a heartbeat.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 4:04 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Alsomike, there's lots of evidence for the overprotective parenting thing whereas the "overmedicated" kid thing was always much shorter on reliable data. You can show from survey data that the amount of time spent playing outdoors freely, the range children are allowed to roam, the amount of time spent in structured activity have all changed dramatically in the last 20-30 years. You can also simply look at carseat rules and playground equipment.

Whereas with the medication thing, it's hard to know about how many kids "should" be medicated. When you interview parents of medicated children, however, you always find that they tried 20 other things first rather than simply "drug" their kids on command. The myth is of the person who just throws drugs as a first solution to child behavior problems-- not of the actual rise in medication, which is real and measurable.
posted by Maias at 4:12 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


When I was a kid, I shot rifles, rode horses, took a bike trip deep into the Nicolet National Forest (camping overnight), started fires, learned to light a match with a hatchet, and played with knives. This was under the neglectful eyes of the Boy Scouts of America.

My parents never let me do anything, though.
posted by drezdn at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


Parenting in the US has become one of those subjects on which everyone has an opinion and everyone feels their need to share their opinion with you and how you're screwing up your children for life.

I look at it from the point of view that you cant not screw up your child's life. In other words, no one has a perfect childhood. Yes, you want it to be great and safe but there is nothing you can do to provide a picture-perfect childhood. You're better off spending your time teaching them how to cope with difficulties and set priorities.
posted by SirOmega at 4:23 PM on August 21, 2010


Skenazy is dead-on in the first link, there. The overprotective thing gets to me, too. I was borderline neglected as a kid, though not fearfully so. I walked about 5 blocks to school in first grade, and let myself into the house after school. In second, we moved a couple blocks closer, and I actually had an after-school babysitter next door to our house. One day, I walked into the babysitter's, and there was a bunch of strange men in suits. Turns out the babysitter's husband was busted with multiple lbs. of pot. Mom had to come bail me out of the police station after work. I Guess I was what -- seven?

By third grade, I was riding the SF Muni busses from the Castro across the Fillmore to a school at the north end of Divisadero. I can still remember the Greek-run mom & pop shop on the corner that set the gold standard for Baklava. I was never afraid of a damn thing. What was to be afraid of?

By 4th grade, I was living in Houston, and the neighborhood kids would form gangs on bikes and we would raise hell until around sunset, when we were expected back in. I recall having a couple pretty cool bike jumps set up in one of the 6-foot-deep rain runoff ditches, and that "getting air," as much of it as possible, was the goal of racing down one side of the ditch and up the other. Sometimes, your bike came down on top of you. It was a motor-skill building experience.

I have also survived those horrid metal merry-go-rounds, those dangerous teeter-totters, and the hell that is a metal jungle gym. Swings were for riding as high as they'd go - up above the crossbar that held the chains, then jumping off into space.

By the time I was 13, I was back in SF and street-riding on a longboard. We would catch the #6 Parnassus at 9th & Judah, and ride it to the top of the hill, like a ski lift, then skate back down, dodging cars the whole way. We had some great routes around Buena Vista and Mt. Sutro, too. One time at lunch, I tried to ride all the way down O'Shaugnessey, and wiped out after getting "the wobs." I lost about 2 hours with a concussion, and came to sitting in my 6th period journalism class. Good times.

Now that I'm a parent, I do see a lot of fear around me in other parents, and I think it is media-driven. If you're an observant parent, you see your kids making little moves further and further away from you as they test their independence, and by the time you child is 3 or 4, you should have a pretty good sense of whether the kid is good at assessing their own boundaries, and whether you're going to have to step in. Personally, I have pretty carefully assessed my children's level of caution, and determined that 2 out of 3 are cautious enough people to pretty much set their own boundaries. They tend to stay further inside of boundaries that I'd set for them if they got pushed -- it just hasn't been an issue. Out of three kids, we have one who's a boundary-pusher. She's always getting herself into shitty situations that she needs extrication from, but it's mostly her own doing, and not because of some scary "other" danger, like kidnappers. Also, because she's determined, and not concerned in the east bit with consequences, we couldn't really constrain her, anyway, as "grounding" went unheeded and tying kids down or locking the doors from the outside is dangerous and illegal. She's 18, and moved out now, so we hope she figures it out, soon, as it's pretty stressful to watch her endanger herself, despite all our efforts to keep her safe, mostly from herself and her poor judgement. The other two tend to self-regulate pretty well, so I leave 'em to it.
posted by Devils Rancher at 4:29 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


Agreed, but it's not just limited to this one issue. People who don't have kids are just as quick to judge parents on what they allow their children to watch, eat, listen to, etc. as are people who do have children.

Except, we were all kids at some point, and presumably remember some of that even if we haven't had kids.

Personally, seeing the sophistication level of the average human being, I'm shocked. I had genuinely assumed that I would become exponentially smarter as I aged, or something, since adults/parents were touted as paragons of truth and direction and I just couldn't for the life of me see any of it. But no, that never happened. The questionable parental authority was proven hollow, and if my parents were really only as experienced as me when I was born (I'm 25, they would have been years younger when I was born) frankly I wonder how I survived. Maybe I was too smart too early, or something, but I am totally disillusioned about parenthood and the wisdom of parents. "Don't talk back" translated roughly into "You are likely correct, but because it feels wrong for a child to correct a parent, I will ignore you now. Anyway, this isn't about you being right so much as it's about whatever I want you to do right now."

That's most of why I'm reluctant to have kids. I thought parents really were smarter, like I was told, but turns out "growing up" was largely mythical in my case (and most others, as best I can tell.) I don't question why intolerance, abusive behaviors, and lack of academic interest stick around anymore. Learning everything I know now, which my parents tell me is more than they knew, has really only shown me how little I know. I've met very few people thus far who I'd trust to have kids. That probably makes me sound like some kind of ridiculous elitist but I've heard the exact same thing from my childless peers--"Seriously? This is what 'knowing better' is like? I'm surrounded by adults I wouldn't trust with a dog. And certainly not me!"

I don't really think kids should be more physically/mobility self-reliant (which seems to be the point of the discussion), but I don't think building mental barriers like withholding violent video games, or porn, or other "adult" content actually serves any purpose. Most of that seems to come from a Puritanical "protect the children!" impulse I don't understand. It does seem as though the kids that are kept from running wild occasionally, or looking at erotic material, or trying alcohol or whatever, are being cursed to abuse these magical taboos later in life.
posted by Phyltre at 5:02 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I was a kid, (80's) I remember tons of media about "latchkey kids" and what a sad, dangerous existence that is. I'd bet that influence is not lost on my generation as they now become parents. I bet many of us are trying to make sure our kids aren't those sad faces we saw on TV.

And not for nothing, parents aren't stupid. I'd bet good money we were more supervised than we think we were. We don't know whether our parents (or some friend/neighbor) were just out of eyeshot keeping an eye on things or not. I bet they were, at least the first few times we tested our boundaries.
posted by gjc at 5:04 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


I loved being a "latchkey kid" in the '80s. I came home from school, fixed my own snack, watched TV until about whenever the first parental unit would get home, then started homework. Having a parent around when I got home would have been kind of a buzzkill.
posted by Cookiebastard at 5:23 PM on August 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


I nearly killed myself at least once that my mom *knows about* when I was a kid. I basically almost hung myself pretending that I could fly (I needed the rope so I wouldn't fall down, right? Right.) Even then, by the time she found me, I'd managed to, um, swing back to solid ground and disentangle myself. If that happened NOW to some kid, she would never, ever be let out of her parents' sight again. Me, then? I was a little scared and rightly so of course, and I never did something like that again, but I was off on unsupervised bike rides and other loads of self-entertainment pretty much right away.

Then again, my mom rode HER bike on 285 here in Atlanta when it was under construction and her sister got her off to a good start in life by whacking her with a glass baby bottle. My dad grew up on a farm. So I guess actual bodily harm was something with which they were intimately familiar. Whatever the case, what I got from growing up making near life-threatening mistakes out of sight of my parents was the ability to know when shit was getting real. You're about to get caught, you're about to do enough for someone to call the cops, you are about to really hurt yourself - because I'd either gotten close or seen someone else do something similarly stupid. I knew how far you could push the envelope, and managed to avoid grievous bodily harm, getting arrested, or being in car wrecks that were my fault.

Did I get close to screwing up? Yeah. But I could extricate myself. I had the benefit of learning that from shit that was NOT gonna get real when I was 8, rather than waiting to get in actual trouble when I was 18. I don't know what anyone else would prefer, but I'm pretty sure getting arrested sucks.
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:29 PM on August 21, 2010


I imagine there's a big difference between letting kids loose in a posh suburb or rural area and a ghetto.

Indeed. In the ghetto, there are more likely to be adults around during the daytime who can summon help if the kids need it. In the suburb, on the other hand, the kid is much more likely to be creamed by a car.

NOT SUBURBIST -- I grew up in a suburb and I'm raising my kids in one now.
posted by escabeche at 5:32 PM on August 21, 2010


What's interesting to me is the stark difference between this thread and the thread about Andrew Therrien, who died saving his three-year-old daughter from being killed in a crash at an off-road rally. There, lots of commenters (who I think are completely disjoint from the commenters on this thread) really tore into this guy for bringing his kid to an event where a car might hurtle into the stands at 100+mph.

But it seems like Therrien and Sarkozy aren't that different; they both take the point of view that you can't spend your life hiding from highly unlikely dangers. Sarkozy's kid might have fallen onto the tracks and gotten smashed by the 1; but that's pretty improbable, and it didn't happen. Therrien's kid might have been in the path of a flying car, but that's also pretty improbable. In his case, unfortunately, it did happen.

I imagine the kids who grew up going to off-road rallies value that experience in much the same way commenters on this thread value running around unsupervised, and are grateful to their parents in the same way. Why shouldn't they be?

I wonder whether the difference in tone between the two threads has to do with the fact that Sarkozy is offering his kid experiences that most MeFites value (exploring a big city) and Therrien was offering his kid experiences that most MeFites don't value (watching really loud cars driving really fast.)
posted by escabeche at 5:40 PM on August 21, 2010 [5 favorites]


One of the things I've really enjoyed about Japan is watching little kids get around on their own. The first day I was here I saw two girls, probably about 6 years old, tooling through the subway station in Ueno, hand in hand, not at all worried. I've seen kids just running down the street, not in a panic, but in that little kid, I'm-a-kid-and-I'm-running-like-a-spaz run. I've seen kids on trains traveling three or four towns over by themselves, and it's no big deal. It just happens here.
posted by gc at 5:45 PM on August 21, 2010


I was what is probably a free-range kid -- I biked around (10-20 minutes) alone or with friends to get ice cream or whatever we did by 9, walked to stores alone or with friends by 11, started taking public transit downtown alone or with friends at 12 -- and this was about normal, most people I knew had about this much supervision. My youngest sister, however, though *allowed* to do the same things as I was, never could, because her friends weren't allowed to (for instance) see movies alone at 10. (Not go there alone, sit in the theatre without adult supervision.) So by default, she was sheltered/helicoptered/whatevered. There's a certain amount of vicious circle in this.
posted by jeather at 5:45 PM on August 21, 2010


Man, stupid things I done aplenty. Things I could never do these days. If there was a TXT file about it on my BBS, I tried it.

Biggest failure: (tie) 1. Accidentally tipping a stolen bottle of extremely high concentration Nitric Acid in my sack filled with other chemicals, causing my sack to dissolve, causing me to freak, causing me to jam on my bicycle brakes and throw the remains of said sack to the ground in a horrorshow of broken glass, causing chemical reactions unknown, causing me to freak more. 2. Attempting to substitute Pine-sy Suds Ammonia when making Nitrogen triiodide. Spoiler: it doesn't work.

Biggest win: Up there would have to be b&e into the Empire State Building's top floor under the telecommunications array with my then-girlfriend. These days that's like instantly-sent-to-Syria.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:54 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Way to close those italics, me.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:56 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Except, we were all kids at some point, and presumably remember some of that even if we haven't had kids.

It's a good point, but in all fairness, raising a child is very different from being a child. Even in my job, I can see clearly that caring for a child during the day and raising a child through its entire life are very, very different tasks and the latter involves a hell of a lot more responsibility. It's easy to be a Monday morning quarterback to other people's parenting, but much harder to actually do it.

. I've met very few people thus far who I'd trust to have kids. That probably makes me sound like some kind of ridiculous elitist but I've heard the exact same thing from my childless peers--"Seriously? This is what 'knowing better' is like? I'm surrounded by adults I wouldn't trust with a dog. And certainly not me!"

Well, yeah, and on the other hand... it's NOT rocket science. Parenting is hard, but you do get a knack for it. I've seen people who have had absolutely zero previous experience with children become amazingly wonderful parents. I've definitely learned to tell that the number one predictor if someone's going to be a good parent is how much they want to do it. By which I mean, how much they want to parent and not how much they want to have a cute little baby. The people I know who have waited to have children until they were ready to commit vast quantities of time and energy to their kids have been by and large awesome parents. I've yet to see any of my friends who have really put a lot of thought and effort into having kids be shitty parents. Sincerely.

I've definitely seen shitty parents in my line of work - and I can tell you that in every single case it was either with people who didn't want to spend time on their kids and just wanted to get on to whatever the next thing was in their day or with people who were so convinced that their child was perfect and they were the most ideal parents that they blamed any difficulty with said child on other children and/or the childcare providers.

I look at it from the point of view that you cant not screw up your child's life. In other words, no one has a perfect childhood. Yes, you want it to be great and safe but there is nothing you can do to provide a picture-perfect childhood. You're better off spending your time teaching them how to cope with difficulties and set priorities.

Totally agreed and it's why I (quasi-jokingly) say that I want to have kids so that I can screw them up in my own particular idiom.
posted by sonika at 6:22 PM on August 21, 2010 [2 favorites]


There's over-protective, there's free-rangers, and then there are those like my mother who hated other people (claims everyone is out to get her, this formed ENTIRELY based on experience with coworkers) so much that she just didn't want the hassle of having to deal with other kids and their parents.

She begrudgingly put up with going to school plays and such until around 5th grade and then started using work as an excuse to not show up (and in the process declining permission for me to participate-- at my school, your parents had to sign a form promising they will attend or else you couldn't participate, and you'd be made to do busywork during play practice instead... and of course the other kids would tease you).

Essentially when school let out for the day, so ended our social lives as well. We had this awesome tree in the front yard that would have been PERFECT to read or generally slack under but we were never allowed outside. (enforced through my brother, who drank the kool-aid and was given authority to yell at and even hit me and my sister if we tried to go out; he now severely regrets doing so) There was the back yard, but when there's nothing there but a restless dog that we could never take for walks... and, well, trying to maintain friendships over a fence doesn't really work. If you weren't able to play outside or go to other kids' houses after school/on weekends, you were ignored or otherwise deemed not worth someone's time.

It's not that we didn't know common-sense safety rules and such-- that stuff got drilled in at school. We were forced shut-ins because my mother couldn't separate her opinion of her coworkers from the rest of humanity, and imposed it on the rest of us.

To compensate for being stripped of the ability to socialize outside of school... all the video games and movies and toys we could ever want. R-rated movies and violent video games? Sure, why not? (No harm really came of that. It's not like we could go out and reenact those scenes anyway...) You would think this was the ultimate tradeoff, that no kid could EVER see the downside to trading away their ability to go play outside for video games, but in hindsight it was really, really lonely.
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 6:28 PM on August 21, 2010


TL;DR version: I couldn't play outside because my mother hated people. I want a goddamn reboot of my childhood!
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 6:32 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


This whole thing is a fucking beat-up without any actual evidence, allowing us the dubious dual satisfaction of pretending we're much tougher than anyone younger than us, and feeling superior to a legion of straw parents who keep their kids on leashes or something.

I worked in childcare for 5 years. There were some over-protective parents, maybe 5% - just as I'm sure there were in fifties, and sixties, and seventies and eighties. But most parents were not like that, didn't give a shit, wanted their kids to be independent.

I tell you what, though: Everybody had an opinion about the exponentially multiplying yet invisible group of helicopter parents preventing an entire generation from growing up without experiencing any autonomy.
posted by smoke at 7:10 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


If you weren't able to play outside or go to other kids' houses after school/on weekends, you were ignored or otherwise deemed not worth someone's time.

Definitely seeing myself here...never once allowed to visit friends' houses, or do whatever, and so I never really had any out-of-school friends until halfway through college, and even then, only one or two. Never learned how that stuff's supposed to work, so really looking back I can't say I was ever invited to any parties or anything else at any point. Being a shut-in spending every waking hour with family probably sounds great to someone who just wishes their parents cared, but being perpetually around someone whenever you're not at school/work is a recipe for all kinds of malcontent...
posted by Phyltre at 7:12 PM on August 21, 2010


Nothing very interesting happened to me as a child in Townsville. I used to sometimes go up the laneway and cross the road to the train tracks, and I would set fires there. One day I set a fire and because of the brake oil or whatever that black sticky shit is you find on the side of train tracks, the dry super-flammable grass went up for about ten meters in either direction and just kept going. That scared me a bit, but luckily a disapproving old lady was watching me from her front yard and I ran over to her and she said "Take this bucket, you stupid child", and it was filled with water, and I ran back and forth like that for about ten minutes, dousing a raging brushfire with this bucket and this cranky lady tutting at me, which just put me under more stress. I was going to tell her to shove her stupid bucket but then she said "If you don't get this under control soon I will have to call the fire brigade", so that gave me the kick in the pants I needed. Eventually it was done and I gave her back her bucket and choked out a "thank you" and ran home. When I got home mum said I stank of smoke. I didn't want to own up to setting fire to Railway Estate (our suburb) so I cleverly told a lie about finding a half-empty pack of Winfields and smoking a few of them. She shook her head and told me to have a shower. What I have learned since then is that Winfields are awful and if I was going to lie about smoking cigarettes I could have at least mentioned a halfway decent brand like Marlboro or something.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:43 PM on August 21, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'll add (from my experience. Hurrah for anecdotes!) that if children aren't aware of the city/town layouts where all the fun places to race around are, they aren't going to do shit. I roamed the neighborhoods of my 80-thousand plus city on my bike while growing up in the '90s. Those kids I did see were with their parents. Nowadays, it's mostly the Mexican (Central & South American, to be fair) families who take their kids to the park for family. The only roaming groups of people seem to be highschool or college students-- basically my peers +/- 3 years.

And to comment on parks: There was a kick-ass playstructure when I was about 10 made of huge pieces of wood. Creaky, thrillingly unpredictable and wonderful. It was torn down and replaced with a plastic & metal thing. I refused to play on the newer one because it was boring and more difficult to run/climb on.

I don't really blame kids for not wanting to go out and about. It doesn't seem very interesting out there, not in the area I grew up. And when all the backyards seem to be dead grass, it's sometimes more fun just to wrestle indoors or play video games with the friends you have when parents are about. (After all, the "HAY! You have a bike, I have rope and roller blades. How about I tie this rope to your bike and you pull me around the neighborhood!" probably wouldn't have been approved of....)

turgid dahlia, heh, nothing like a good fuckup to deter a kid. It or outright public humiliation. I still prefer private fuckups to public humiliation.
posted by SallySpades at 7:52 PM on August 21, 2010


I grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta during the Atlanta child murders. I wasn't male or black but we didn't know while they were going on that those would be the victims. The stories dominated the local stations, I remember the fear and conversations that went on. I had a little freedom in my upper middle class neighborhood, I could roam about as far as my mother could yell, a few hundred yards. Today, I have a very difficult time letting my child get out of my site, I'm trying to let her roam, I often wonder if that is a result of growing up during that terrifying time.
posted by pearlybob at 8:00 PM on August 21, 2010


We had a similar thread a while back. I mentioned that I let my daughter, (who I think was about five years old at the time) play outside and walk to the neighbor's house and things like that. I remember getting some MeMail about it. Nothing too vitriolic, but my decision was questioned a bit.

We moved, and my daughter is now seven. We live really close to her school, so I let her walk by herself. She can also ride her bike or walk over to the school playground, which is usually loaded with kids until dark. I can see it from my house, so I don't worry too much. I worry the most about traffic.

One day during this summer vacation, I let her ride her bike down there while I mowed the grass. She came back about 10 minutes later; I saw her pedaling up the street like a bat out of hell. When I asked her what was wrong, she said there was a creepy guy out there and so she came right home. I asked if he said anything to her, and she said no, but he was staring at her "all weird" and nobody else was at the playground.

I told her she did exactly the right thing, and to always trust that weird feeling. She didn't seem traumatized and I still let her out on her own, although I prefer she takes friends.

Our new neighborhood has a lot more kids in it since it's close to the school. Even though I used to let her roam a little before, I feel better about letting her go around on her own now since there are usually other kids and adults outside. I work from home and I have a tendency to make sure I'm outside and visible whenever I can be too. We sit out on the porch a lot around here.

There are some overprotective parents around here, but we live in a fairly blue collar town and it's not really the norm. When I was married and we lived in an upper class suburb everyone drove their kids everywhere, even just a couple blocks. I like it better here. It feels more normal to me for some reason. Probably because it's closer to how I grew up.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 8:12 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is very apropos to me; I'm the mother of a 3-year-old girl. I'm also very lucky, in that I live on a cul-de-sac with three other families with school-age children (although my daughter is the youngest), and the other three families more or less share my parenting philosophy. Which is basically that kids will get hurt, that if they get hurt young they'll learn how to not get hurt when they're older, that we all have health insurance and that emergency room doctors are really good at their jobs. And while breaking your arm or needing stitches in your scalp sucks, the wounds caused by keeping children from making decisions or taking any risks suck more and take way, way longer to heal.

I really had to work at it to get here, though. And honestly, it was the "emergency room doctors are good at their jobs" thing that got me through. I still have trouble when there's an identifiable possibility that she could be hurt worse than the ER could fix; getting hit by a car, for example, or falling into a river. Those are my anxious moments, particularly the car ones. I'm much, much more able to relax when my kid is playing somewhere where there's a sturdy barrier between her and any traffic. But I still let her go out into the street, the cul-de-sac that is, with the 5 year old and the 7 year old and the 8 year old and the two 9-year olds, and they just run around and, you know, play.
posted by KathrynT at 8:15 PM on August 21, 2010


My daughter got her first stupidity-induced doctor's visit a couple weeks ago. I'm surprised it took that long.

She and her friend had hitched our dogs to a wooden sled and tried to make the dogs pull them across a grassy field like it was Iditarod or something. Since my daughter is the smaller of the two, she and her friend decided she would be the one to test things out. Of course, my daughter and her friend are also not very good at sled racing and my dogs are not highly trained at pulling a sled and this ended in disaster.

Since they used about a bajillion feet of rope to tie everything together, the dogs ran out to the end of the line and then flipped the sled over onto my daughter. Then the dogs ran back to see what was going on and somehow everyone got tangled up in all the extra rope. She ended up with 3 stitches on her chin and a bunch of rope burns and minor cuts. Her friend was fine.

I asked her if she learned any lessons from that and she said, "Yeah. Always make your friends go first."

So yeah, I'm predicting there's probably going to be at least one major ER visit in our future.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 8:36 PM on August 21, 2010 [6 favorites]


It seems like I had what would today be considered unprecedented freedom as a kid. It sure didn't feel like it, but from the time I was five or so I could pretty much go do whatever I wanted. I was told not to get in the car with strangers or take things from them, and that was about the extent of it. At that point I had to actually tell someone when I was leaving the house and a general description of where I might be. At the time that meant either in the yard, at a friend's house down the street or across the street at the playground.

At six, I got to essentially come and go as I pleased during the day, with the caveats that I had to make myself breakfast and get myself to school in the morning, I couldn't cross any four lane roads, and I had to be home by dark. At the time that left me with a lot of space to do whatever. For some reason, I liked to pick up tennis balls that bounced into the woods next to the racquet club, and golf balls from the country club up the hill.

The most fun was riding bikes with my friends through the woods down some ridiculously steep trails, climbing trees taller than three story houses (once I fell out of one onto the concrete drainage swale below and miraculously didn't break anything), skateboarding down my neighbors' super-steep driveways, walking along the top of the brick wall surrounding my back yard, getting lost in the woods out by our lake house after following some dogs out beyond the area I knew well and having to go all the way out to the highway and follow it back (took like three hours, man!), climbing on roofs, and who knows what other stuff that would probably be considered too dangerous these days.

Primarily the "come and go as you please" aspect would probably bother folks today. My parents grew up in small towns, we didn't live in a large city (only 70,000 people at the time), and I had a good sense of direction and usually had a dime to call them from a payphone, so they figured I'd be alright. It made my childhood much nicer, as I pretty much got to go over to friends' houses or do whatever else until it got dark. Thinking back, they might ought to have made me come home for dinner, but I guess microwaved dinner is just as good as fresh cooked when you're that young.

Ironically, I always loved to get up super early and do stuff in the morning before school. Soon as I hit 7th grade or so, I had a hard time getting up anywhere near early enough to make the bus. It was much nicer having school a five minute bike ride away as I did in elementary school. Gave me something to look forward to other than waiting for the bus and then standing outside waiting for the school to open.

Even then there were a couple of kids with supremely overprotective parents. One of them couldn't even answer the door when his parents weren't home. I thought that was creepy. Still do, now that I think about it. If most kids had been that way, my life would have been a lot more boring, since most of my friends' parents were often not home after school.
posted by wierdo at 9:05 PM on August 21, 2010


There's an oddly conservative odor over the free-range-kids blog. I don't know what it is, or why it should be a matter of liberal vs. conservative. Maybe it's all the blame-the-lawyers business; maybe it's just me.
posted by Countess Elena


Great observation.

I'd say that's because having at least one of the birth parents directly supervising a child is the only possible circumstance in which a responsible adult could escape serious consequences if a kid was harmed in the course of exercising the greater freedom granted him or her by putting the free range movement into practice.

A nanny like sonika would have her reputation completely ruined if one of her charges were to be badly hurt while she was allowing the child to range freely-- assuming that she didn't actually face criminal indictment.

Since men are typically earning more in the first place, and their careers are not as disrupted by pregnancy and childbirth, implementing the free range movement in a modern context will tend to keep women out of the workforce and in the home.

And that seems to be one of the big goals of conservatism around the world.
posted by jamjam at 9:08 PM on August 21, 2010


This is slightly orthogonal to the main topic, but:

and when all the backyards seem to be dead grass, it's sometimes more fun just to wrestle indoors or play video games with the friends you have when parents are about.

One of the things that's truly been depleted for our children is the diversity of spaces for them to play in when outdoors (cf. Last Child in the Woods) -- there aren't woods to wander, and try finding a stream to build a dam on where you won't get in trouble.

We planted out our all-grass backyard with a variety of plants; the back area, notably, has an oval plot of native prairie plants, probably 30 feet across and 20 feet deep, with a grassy walk ringing it. In one shady corner there's a play structure and a hammock nearby. On the sunny side, there are fruit trees and strawberries and sunflowers and grapes climbing the (very ugly) fence. Everyone was shocked -- "You're having kids, where will they play?" Well, we'd ask, where did YOU play in your backyard -- in the grassy area, or crawling through the bushes?

Duh, bushes.

Our front yard is grassy and we live just a few blocks from a park with playing fields, so there's plenty of space for throwing or kicking around a ball. But we had a bunch of friends over with their kids for a barbecue, and were pleased to get proof-of-concept on the yard: the kids were running round and round the center plot, screaming bloody murder, leaping out at each other, hunting through the tall grasses. (Our toddler basically thinks the circle of grasses never ends and keeps going around and around while startling the crap out of the ground-nesting birds near the edge of the plot.) They all proclaimed our yard "awesome."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:17 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Decades back now, I lived on a rooftop in Scaggsville. I didn't properly live there, but it was a refuge for me, the place I'd go where no one could interfere with my reading and daydreaming. Our house had a disjointed series of ridges and valleys where the late-seventies addition merged into the 1913 addition and then crossed over to where the 170 year-old log addition met the 190 year-old original log house. I'd climb onto the rail at the back stoop, sling myself up onto the shed roof there, then climb up onto the cast iron sewer vent pipe, so that I could creep into the little wedge between two gables and haul myself into a little hidey-hole behind a chimney.

I used to pretend the house was flying, and that the landscape twenty-five feet below was really a mile down, and I'd sit up there and read and watch the branches of the oak trees around the house moving in a gentle breeze until it was time to go inside. I'd drop off the edge of the east-west gable onto the shallow roof of the front porch, having to tuck and roll to catch myself so I could climb into my window. Once in a while, I'd misjudge it and roll off, dropping ten feet into the overgrown azaleas, but bones are flexible at that age, so it was fine.

There wasn't much in Scaggsville back then, but you don't need much at a certain age. There were broad farm fields where mean horses named Casey and Butter would chase me as I cut across on my way walking to school, which I did because the bus was so much more dangerous, a closed-in rolling box of bullies with my name always on their lips. There were scrubby woods full of abandoned Packards and houses left intact with the departure of their owners, and creeks full of more amazing animals than you'd see at a zoo.

I had my bike and my green canvas military knapsack my mother bought at the army surplus store, and I'd bike from Scaggsville to Laurel, a drive of just a few miles, but an odyssey by bicycle, through sketchy High Ridge and along a few dicey roads, and there was the library and the arcade and the mall and the bus station where our family friend who ran the place would let me sit in the office, writing simple computer programs on his APF Imagination Machine, a strange little computer from the dawn of the appliance machine that docked a video game console in a keyboard/cassette deck unit. I wrote programs to automate the "mojo book," little books the guy sold that promised lucky numbers and winning lottery combinations, and that was more or less the beginning and ending of my career as a programmer.

I live in Laurel now, and have lived in my little apartment here for twenty-two years, and I am an inveterate pedestrian, a cyclist and ursine scootician who's still fascinated by how much of the wonder of discovery is right here, within a mile in every direction. There's the horse track and the river and the ruins of the old dam that fed the local mills and the rail line that leads from here to everywhere else in the world. The route my high school girlfriend, Lurleen, and I took between her trailer park and the movie theater where we watch Purple Rain over and over is still there, but something's changed.

I worry about overprotective parents, overcautious nanny-state paranoia out of control, but there's something worse, something more insidious.

I go out exploring, and my adventures are blissful and undisturbed; no one crosses my path, or enters the frame of the long view. I am alone in the acres of abandoned parking lot across the tracks from the race track, and I am alone on a bike on the sidewalk heading east to Fort Meade. I'm alone walking the train tracks, noticing how the buildings there used to be built to be serviced by rail, with railside loading docks long abandoned, and doors bricked in with cinderblocks. There's never anyone there, and I don't think I'm the only one of me left in the world, with the interests I have, and the love of a small-world jaunt through nowheresville, but everyone is missing.

There weren't a lot of fellow travelers back in my day, either, but there were some intrepid trespassers following the overgrown grassy trail under the high tension lines and walking through the rail tunnels and swimming in the culverts under Route 216. It was never this quiet, or this empty.

I'm not sure it's overprotective parents, though I guess that's a part of it all.

It feels like something else, though, like a loss of will.

Neither of my nieces has ridden or even owned a bicycle in years, and they live on the next block. Laurel's not the most bike-friendly place out there, but it should be full of kids with nothing better to do than to get out and roam, to explore the astonishingly-complete sub-grid of alleys that this town retains against all modernity. It should be annoyingly busy with loudmouthed kids doing bad things to their bikes and pushing boundaries, but it isn't.

Maybe it's demographics. Maybe it's a valley in the population stats, where all the kids have grown up and haven't yet had kids of their own. I just don't know.

I go for nighttime walks, and every single house has at least one window that's lit up in blue-white, the lighthouse of the LCD screen, playing out stories that are probably more interesting than what I'm seeing, but I'm out here. Where is everyone? In a town with a population of 25,000 and a greater area pushing 50 or 75 thousand, am I really the only one who thought, "hey, I think I'll go for a walk?"

Have kids suddenly lost all interest in defying their parents to sneak out for a rangy tour of the town?

Of course, this should be bliss. Kids annoy me.

I should be happy to finally have the streets to myself, but I just...can't.

Annoying as they are, I think they deserve the world, just like I had, and it's not a different world than I had, either. I've been here almost all my life. It's the same place.

Is anyone out there? Anyone at all?

I like to think that, well, my awareness of this defines my role. I tell a good story when I set my mind to it, and I can be pretty persuasive, but thus far, I've failed. My nieces are smart and talented and interested in the world, and yet I've never convinced them why they should have a bicycle, or why they should sneak out and explore. I'm up against greater odds and the forces of a hyperactive media culture that breeds contempt for simplicity, I suppose, but it just feels horribly, horribly sad to me--all these empty streets and pathways, but I'm out of touch.

Still, I roam.
posted by sonascope at 9:25 PM on August 21, 2010 [11 favorites]


This whole thing is a fucking beat-up without any actual evidence, allowing us the dubious dual satisfaction of pretending we're much tougher than anyone younger than us, and feeling superior to a legion of straw parents who keep their kids on leashes or something.

I worked in childcare for 5 years. There were some over-protective parents, maybe 5% - just as I'm sure there were in fifties, and sixties, and seventies and eighties. But most parents were not like that, didn't give a shit, wanted their kids to be independent.

I tell you what, though: Everybody had an opinion about the exponentially multiplying yet invisible group of helicopter parents preventing an entire generation from growing up without experiencing any autonomy.


There's something here I'm still trying to wrap my brain around. That 5% often seems like 50%, and I'm trying to figure out why. Could be the broadcast media, looking for any possible controversy to create news for the eternal news cycle. Could be the internet, which allows for focused consumption of any single topic to the extent that it seems to be prevalent in the world. Could be a generation gap, where free-range survivors, leery of exposing their children to the same experiences they had, over protect them. Could be corporations which leverage parental fears directly or indirectly to sell products (cellphones, video games, etc...). Maybe all of the above, or none.
posted by ZeusHumms at 9:41 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine with 20-something kids described his parenting philosophy as "benign neglect," and that's been a goal of ours. So when I started reading the Free Range Kid book, a lot of it rang true, and gave me some facts and arguments to back up what I was already thinking.

So many parents are super paranoid. A friend of mine won't let her daughter play alone in the fenced backyard because she's worried the daughter will get kidnapped. She won't let her stand within five feet of a small pond that's about three inches deep, even when several other kids are there.

The thing is that that parents like this (not this friend of mine, but others) can be super critical of parents who aren't so overprotective. And, as has been mentioned, since they aren't letting their kids outside alone, it makes it harder for those of us who do.

The Free Range Kids book gave me some specific ideas of what we could do to encourage some more independence in our kids. My 7 year old was so proud when he got to walk himself to school on his last day of first grade. He'll be walking alone to school this fall, probably. And now everyday he walks the dog around the block in the morning. It's perfect--gets me out of a chore, and gets him some responsibility, independence, and a bit of money.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:02 PM on August 21, 2010


If I were a kid today, I'm not sure if I would I choose riding my bike around the neighborhood over exploring the entire world via the internet.
posted by Kloryne at 10:16 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


sonascope wrote: "Maybe it's demographics. Maybe it's a valley in the population stats, where all the kids have grown up and haven't yet had kids of their own. I just don't know."

As much as I'd like to blame the decline of parenting, I think it's more likely due to kids having so much structured activity these days. Various classes/activities, play dates, etc. All scheduled well in advance. It leaves little room for spontaneity and roaming, even when parents are willing to let their kids roam.

And FWIW, in my neighborhood, which is admittedly near a four year college, there are constantly people walking up and down the street. Well, perhaps not constantly, but regularly. In the evenings 10-20 people an hour pass by on foot or bicycle. It's a ghost town during the day though, aside from the mailperson, the package delivery people, and the various tradesmen passing by on their rounds.
posted by wierdo at 10:41 PM on August 21, 2010


Oh, let me tell you young people, about the days of cocktail moms and cocktail dads, back when there was such a thing as a "middle class," and jobs were stable enough that people got to know their neighbors well enough to trust them. "Home" meant "home" in those days, and not just the transient place that family was living for some indeterminate amount of time.

In those days it was considered not just polite or friendly, but necessary, to know one's neighbors. Those who stayed isolated were viewed with fear, rather than the other way around. There were downsides, of course. Mob-mentality and yard-of-the-month contests, but in general, it allowed the parents, exhausted at the end of their days, to curl up on their porches with a drink and let the kids run free, knowing that they'd be under the eye of all the other cocktail moms and dads also curled up on their porches.

In those days - believe it or not, youngsters - kids were admonished for not going outside and exploring enough.

Thankfully we've learned to fear enough now that we don't know our neighbors and have no desire to do so, and can't trust our own children to be safe on their own. We are a safe world now. Thank god.
posted by Navelgazer at 11:15 PM on August 21, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh yay, another thread where people talk about how wonderfully unsupervised their childhoods were, and I get to sit here and remember how I wasn't allowed to cross a four-lane street (at the crosswalk) with three friends when I was twelve.

Yeah, me too. I wasn't allowed to ride my bike down a sidewalk (which was the norm there) on a two-lane highway to middle school, either, for fear of gods-know-what.

On the other hand, I babysat other people's children from the age of 12. My friends with 12 year olds won't let them stay home alone.
posted by desuetude at 12:17 AM on August 22, 2010


My sister has two kids and lives in Canada. I have friends in the US with kids. The difference is dramatic. My sister is very solicitous of the kids, but lets them roam around, fall over and things like that. My friends here treat their kids like they're little Ming vases...
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:42 AM on August 22, 2010


Oh, and it's not the "too many activities" - I grew up in the 60s and 70s and you'd better believe I had music classes, judo, swimming, German school... my parents were reading a book call "The Hurried Child" and I said, "That's me!"

But I still wandered around in small gangs with other kids, went biking for miles to undisclosed locations and got lost, and that sort of thing.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 12:43 AM on August 22, 2010


Even when not allowed out of my line of sight, I have had kids manage to do things like squirt bug repellent directly into their own eyes. I'm still not entirely sure how that one was possible, but sure enough...

I can, um, sort of understand how a kid might want to get a close look at what bug spray looks like as it comes out the squirter and fail to carefully consider the likely result of such observation. A theoretical kid, of course. cough
posted by Balonious Assault at 2:22 AM on August 22, 2010


i'm all for letting my son (21 months) run on his own at airports, etc. and i get plenty of concerned folks looking frantically about, the other day someone even ran yelling when he was walking towards an escalator, saying "danger, danger!" i get into arguments and discussions about how over protective our (american) society is. spouting such things as a kid is more likely to be struck by lightning then be abducted by a stranger, or that currently crime is less now then in the sixties or seventies or some such. but part of me wonders about such things as juking the stats (the wire) or if crime stats may be affected by the over parenting.
posted by andywolf at 2:57 AM on August 22, 2010


It was a run down grey mini school bus style. It stopped when it saw a small group of my friends and I walking along the street. We were about seven years old at the time. Out of the bus streamed about half a dozen people, a couple of them dressed as really poorly put-together clowns. They even had balloons. Most of my friends didn't even notice but I was lagging behind watching this weird thing happen. They came up to me and offered me candy and fun and games, if I just come along with them

I hate Improv Everywhere.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:25 AM on August 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


there are constantly people walking up and down the street. Well, perhaps not constantly, but regularly. In the evenings 10-20 people an hour pass by on foot or bicycle. It's a ghost town during the day though, aside from the mailperson, the package delivery people, and the various tradesmen passing by on their rounds.

This is an important difference. There are very, very few at-home parents these days. I live in a traditional mixed-class neighborhood that still has some roving gangs of kids -- between 6 and 8 p.m. Both parents work. Both get off work at 5. Pick up the kids, get them home, finish any homework that wasn't finished during aftercare; maybe there are activities two or three nights a week; so a couple nights a week, they may get to roam for a couple hours.

During the summer, the parents' jobs don't disappear or become less just because the kids are out of school; no, the parents are struggling to cobble together a patchwork of care options that can keep the kids from 8 to 6.

You can do a lot more roaming when you're home all summer and out of school and home at 3 p.m. during the school year.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:25 AM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can, um, sort of understand how a kid might want to get a close look at what bug spray looks like as it comes out the squirter and fail to carefully consider the likely result of such observation. A theoretical kid, of course. cough

Oh, definitely. My only confusion on the subject is "How did you do that while I was sitting right next to you without me, y'know, CATCHING ON that you were going to squirt that directly into your face?"

Kids are amazing.

A nanny like sonika would have her reputation completely ruined if one of her charges were to be badly hurt while she was allowing the child to range freely-- assuming that she didn't actually face criminal indictment.

Yes, this is a very good point. As a nanny, I'm a zillion times more careful than I would be with my own kids, and I'm even stricter than the kids' parents are with them about safety. I explain it to the kids like this "If you get hurt, mommy and daddy can fix you. I, on the other hand, have to be sure that you're safe and in one piece at the end of the day." Even with my nieces, I'm way more lenient than I am with work-kids.

It's also a much trickier decision making process for me when one of the kids does get hurt. Like with the bug spray thing - I couldn't immediately reach the kiddo's parents and had to make the decision whether or not to take him to the ER. Ultimately, I helped him out with a cold compress on his eyes and decided that if they turned red, I would take him in whether or not I could get in touch with the parents because I'm not going to take chances with a kid's vision. Were it my own kid, I wouldn't have been second-guessing my decision making skills in a minor emergency. I did manage to get in touch with the parents, who were, as I suspected, much more relaxed about "Wait and see what happens" than I was - but did agree that if his eyes started to get worse that going to the ER would be prudent.

(His eyes were totally fine. I gave him a tiny bit of kid's Benadryl to take the edge off the itchiness and he was completely 100% ok.)

And also, of course, I worry that if a kid gets hurt - not only am I going to have a hurt kid, but am I going to be out of a job? Even if it's not my fault, if something happens on my watch, am I going to be blamed for it? It's tough.
posted by sonika at 6:57 AM on August 22, 2010


My son is 6, recently started first grade of elementary school. This morning I saw him off at our local train station and he rode 4 stops to the terminal station, transferred to another line, rode the express, transferred to a local train, and met his grandma at the other end.

He rewarded my trust by winning me a WHOLE FUCKING CASE OF KIRIN LAGER in the children's festival of the dead raffle!

Viva Japan!
posted by planetkyoto at 8:50 AM on August 22, 2010 [4 favorites]


Very late to the thread, but in case anyone's still listening, just wanted to point out what I always point out to the nervous parents of my five-year-old daughter's friend I meet, some of whom are disturbed by how much leeway we give our daughter to play by herself on the trampoline in our backyard or ride her bike up the block:

Statistically speaking, the single most dangerous thing any of us in North America do to our kids, by a substantial margin, is strap them into the back seats of cars and hit the road.

Curiously enough, the volumes of parents (and others) zipping around everywhere by car is also the most dangerous thing about letting your kids roam the neighbourhood on their own and a leading cause of the social isolation that has eroded the eyes-on-the-street community spirit that used to protect previous generations of free-roaming kids.

Cars Kill Kids. Cars Kill Communities. Spread the word.
posted by gompa at 9:33 AM on August 22, 2010 [3 favorites]


I walked a good quarter-mile to elementary school, often by myself. My friend's kid, who's 5 years older than I was then, is forced by the school district to take the bus.

Their school is across the street from their house.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 9:51 AM on August 22, 2010


When I was in kindergarten we lived in Frankfurt, Germany, and I would take public transit across the city to go to school. Then we moved to Fairfax, Virginia, where I started second grade. I'd walk about half a mile to elementary school. I used to play along a creek that ran through the woods behind our house. It seemed like it was the wilderness then, but looking at the map now I see I'd only go about a quarter mile or so.
posted by kirkaracha at 10:34 AM on August 22, 2010


I'm all for giving kids their necessary freedom, but to the parents of that one kid in the neighborhood who is ALWAYS wandering around, alone, getting into trouble: this child needs a leash.
posted by gjc at 10:40 AM on August 22, 2010


Not sure if anyone is reading any more, but I just read this highly favorited comment on one of the linked MeFi threads which I thought was a perfect illustration of how parents are the figure of paranoid conspiracy theories, at least in some circles. In it, adipocere suggests that the overprotective parent is prepared to sacrifice anything in exchange for a little security, implying that really, parents are ultimately the ones who are responsible for the erosion of our civil liberties in the face of terrorism.

My question is, what is it about parents that is supposed to make then more susceptible to political fear-mongering? Isn't it their excessive love for their children? In the same way that the child predator's Otherness is in his strange sexual appetite for children, the problem with parents, their strangeness lies in the fact that they have made a basically permanent, substantial commitment that cannot be easily undone. They are unlike "us" with our flexible, polymorphous identities engaged in an endless process of self-discovery and self-construction, marked by hipster irony and unseriousness. One cannot be an ironic parent, nor drop one's identity as a parent when it becomes inconvenient, boring or out of fashion. The AskMe reflex to "Dump the motherfucker already" applied to virtually all of life's problems, (i.e. undo your choices, reinvent yourself if you face difficulties) simply cannot apply to the problems faced by a parent. The usual advice to "really think about" whether you're ready to have kids is another indication of how parenthood seems to exist on another plane, removed from the usual norms of flexible post-modern identity and requiring extraordinary self-interrogation well beyond something like choosing one's wardrobe.

In a way, parents are something like fundamentalists - their excessive, sincere, unironic love for God/their children is what marks them as Other. No wonder that, in the mind of the urban cosmopolitan hipster, the combination of both of these factors is the threat that captures the imagination.

Returning to adipocere's analysis, the implication is that the substantial commitment of parenthood makes one unable to properly accommodate oneself to the new risks that capitalism requires us to endure in exchange for the endless pursuit of growth and profit: terrorism, economic insecurity, environmental disasters and ecological catastrophes, etc. The ironic hipster without significant attachments that he or she would protect from creative destruction is the ideal capitalist subject, perfectly at home with Marx's notion of capitalism: "Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones."
posted by AlsoMike at 12:36 PM on August 22, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm all for giving kids their necessary freedom, but to the parents of that one kid in the neighborhood who is ALWAYS wandering around, alone, getting into trouble: this child needs a leash.

I believe my mother's worst day as a parent came during the year I was five, when she opened the door to a knock one morning and was presented with a petition signed by more than twenty neighbor families insisting that I be institutionalized or that we move, one or the other.

I had no idea anything like this had ever happened until five or six years later, and it never became an acceptable topic of conversation for the rest of her life.
posted by jamjam at 3:01 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


Were you hurting their kids? I mean, I'm confused about why else this would have happened.
posted by escabeche at 3:08 PM on August 22, 2010


It was the era of "let boys be boys", which in my neighborhood had degenerated into a kind of informal MMA tournament for five year olds, yet from my point of view they were almost always fair fights, though after I got in so much trouble I really tried to avoid starting things.

Once I got the reputation, any new 'tough' kid in the neighborhood was almost certain to come after me sooner rather than later, and the fight would eventuate as the climax of a campaign that usually began with 'you don't look so tough to me', insults about what a coward and a sissy I was, then pushing, tripping, throwing rocks and trying to knock me off my bike.

But yes, there was a constant stream of injured boys to the doctor or the emergency room from these fights, and sometimes the injuries weren't so trivial, probably because I did kind of flip out during some of them.

There were also incidents such as the time I broke more than a dozen windows in the back of an apartment building in a few moments one afternoon by throwing rocks at them for reasons I can't remember at all, except that the first one happened purely by accident. It would have been more, but the maintenance man (I think the owner) happened to be there at the time and rushed out and grabbed me by the right arm with his left hand and hit me hard with his right fist at least a few times before he could stop himself. Then he started crying (the father of a kid I'd fought with did almost the same thing, but hit me a bunch more times, then fell to one knee and wrapped both arms around me, sobbing and crying and begging me not to tell what he had done, and I didn't until I was 24 and asked my dad if he'd known about it; he said yes). I wasn't mad about the beating, I thought I deserved it and it saved me some of the guilt. My parents paid for the windows.

Those neighbors had a lot of justification for the way they felt. There was something, or a number of things seriously wrong with me. I was impulse ridden to an extremely unusual degree, and I was an abnormally, relentlessly active kid who had shown himself over and over again to be capable of serious violence. I woke up very early in the morning in those days and usually left the house by 4 or 5 AM, even in winter, then came home for breakfast hours later. I saw hundreds of beautiful sunrises, and I used to help the twelve year old local paper boy deliver his route just for something to do. I occasionally wish I could give the people I caused so much trouble the small satisfaction of knowing that everything I did then has somehow caused me to become more than a little terrified of the little boys in my own neighborhood now, even though they never do anything!
posted by jamjam at 7:24 PM on August 22, 2010 [1 favorite]


I was one of those latchkey/free-range kids back in the early-to-mid 80s, and was left to my own devices most of the time I was out and about when I was little. As much as my parents warned me about "stranger danger" (a phrase I never heard until a few years ago, BTW), we were taught to be more wary of traffic. Drivers are crazy.

And now that I'm a parent, it has been difficult to some extent to tell myself "He's going to be fine. You need to trust him." but not impossible. Moms and dads need to give their kids a chance to be kids. I regret intensely that my child (who is this very morning starting his first day of high school!) hasn't had a real childhood like the one I had, complete with scraped knees, bike riding, staying out after dusk to catch fireflies, setting off firecrackers, climbing trees, playing full-on tackle football with friends in a grassy field, playing every known variation of Tag, playing stickball in the front yard, and various other awesome things I did growing up. Instead, he was holing up in his room, "safe" from the dangers of the outside world, including Vitamin D.

*sigh*
posted by grubi at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2010


Took my 7-year-old son for a bike ride in the downtown core yesterday, hairy enough in most cities, but the hairiness is exponentially greater here because we live in a tourist town, and tourists generally seem to leave their brain at home when driving their Lincoln Navigators.

He seems to be doing okay - he can listen to directions and generally behaves safely, but I'm always worried about that one "accident" that will end it all.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:49 AM on August 23, 2010


I regret intensely that my child (who is this very morning starting his first day of high school!) hasn't had a real childhood like the one I had

There are many kinds of childhood and pretty much all of them are "real." Does he regret his childhood?

Good lord, you guys, I was a latchkey kid in the 80s and I never rode the rails after school or even broke a limb. Most of the time I hung out at home and read, or watched TV, or made myself that all important 4pm meal. And that is a childhood. And I don't seem to be unable to meet life's challenges as an adult.

I mean, yeah, I was free to play in the neighborhood with other kids, outside my parents' line of sight. Just like kids that age do today, all the time, here in Madison, WI, and I find it really hard to believe that Madison is a bizarre island of throwback parenting.
posted by escabeche at 9:06 AM on August 23, 2010


The premise of the show はじめてのおつかい (First Errand) is filming little kids off on errands around town by themselves.

If you can find it among the crazy number of ads, there is a video of a toddler taking the train to deliver some clothes to his father in a nearby town.
posted by lucidprose at 4:07 PM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


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