Free Range Kids
April 11, 2008 7:14 PM   Subscribe

She writes about an NBC website poll that asks if other parents would let their kid try and make their way home alone, and that half said no while another 20% said maybe. I can understand why, even though I agree with her point—because knowing objectively that random violence is statistically unlikely and extremely hard to prevent, and then taking that thought and trotting it over to "I trust my kid will not be a victim of that random violence today" is difficult when your kid is worth so much to you. It's an easy bet to take when it's someone else's kid, and much harder when it's your own.

That said, I started taking the subway in Toronto to get to school each day when I was 12. My mom came with me the first day to make sure I was alright, and then I was on my own. I'm still here!
posted by chrominance at 7:24 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, when I first read this story, I thought there must have been something missing -- where was the part that sparked such outrage? After realizing the mere horrifying act was letting a 9 year old boy ride the subway alone, I was awestruck that people were so up in arms over it.

I grew in NYC. I got a scholarship to music school on the Upper East Side which meant travelling to classes every Saturday morning by myself on the subway. Two transfers, about a 45 minute trip. I was 8 years old, with two tokens, a dime for a phone call, a snack and a satchel full of piano music. It was the 70s.

Not only am I still alive, but from that point on, nowhere in New York was out of my reach. It was like learning to drive but better. And I firmly believe that doing that travelling early helped me be able to grow up to be independent, resourceful and less afraid that my more sheltered contemporaries.
posted by ltracey at 7:30 PM on April 11, 2008 [29 favorites]

I started taking the public bus by myself everyday in 2nd grade. That would make me 7 or 8. I had been taking public transportation with my brothers since kindergardten, so its not like I was figuring stuff out for myself. I just got tired of y brothers making me late in the mornings

It was in big city DC, and I never remember having a serious problem.
posted by Suparnova at 7:32 PM on April 11, 2008

I live in an absurdly safe suburb of washington DC. My parents were wary about me walking around on my own until about 14. Meanwhile my dad told stories about hitchiking to New York City to rendezvous with a girl the summer after his sophomore year of high school.
posted by phrontist at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

This seems like a good place for a "back when I was a kid" response.

Back when I was a kid, I would go off into the farmer's property next door to our house and wander through fields and forest, down streams, up hills until I was good and lost. I never once imagined I wouldn't be able to find my way home eventually, and I always did. I was sometimes gone for six or seven hours. This was when I was like in first and second grade.

I'd ask my mom if I could go over to my friend's house several blocks away and would then ride my bike there. If my mom had any concerns about the trip, it was whether it would be ok with my friends' mother if I was over there for a while. The worst thing that ever happened to me peddling over there would be when the dirt road was wet and the bike would get slogged in.

One time, my cousin and I were off in the woods without parental supervision and we found the neighbor's cat and tried to pick it up. Not because we were going to do anything bad with it, but because we liked cats. When I picked it up, it went ape shit and left me covered with scratches. My cousin, being the sort of guy who'd do this, then tried to pick up the cat and got covered with scratches. We went home, they covered us with bactine and bandages and booted us back outside, where we got in more mischief.

What about those kidnappers? Well, they were there back then, too, because I remember my mom regularly telling me not to talk to strangers or get in the car with strangers. That seemed to be reasonably effective, as nobody I know or knew was ever kidnapped.

The world is not considerably more dangerous these days. I lament the fact that most kids aren't learning to get by on their own, or to put trusting and not trusting appropriate people into practice, or learning how to judge whether a situation (like picking up the neighbor's cat in the woods) is a good idea or a bad idea. Experience is one of the greatest teachers. Authentic, unplanned, unguarded experiences.

What was one of those lies that guy tells his three year old? I'll always be there for you?

Bah humbug. Kids Parents these days!
posted by Joey Michaels at 7:35 PM on April 11, 2008 [17 favorites]

the kid's probably so full of Ritalin it doesn't really make a difference if an adult's there or not -- he wouldn't even notice
posted by matteo at 7:37 PM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

we're people upset about this because they think NY subway is still unsafe?
posted by bhnyc at 7:37 PM on April 11, 2008

Same for me*. I'd go out at age 12 or so "on my bike" with my friends. That was all the location I needed to give. Other than "don't play on the railway" (which we duly ignored, but were super careful because we knew if we got caught there we'd be fried) we needed no guidance beyond the obvious 'don't talk to strangers'.

I remember cycling to various local villages - to my mate's house 6 miles away or more - and it never being an issue other than being late home. I used to bike across fields and along country roads all over the place trying to quench my fascination with 'cutting through' to somewhere else a new way.

What a load of fuss.

*England, 1984 onwards
posted by Brockles at 7:41 PM on April 11, 2008

because they think NY subway is still unsafe?

Exactly. Except for a few stations in remote areas (and maybe in the wee hours when the kid should be at home anyway) the subways are a lot safer these days. the most you'll encounter these days is a panhandler.
posted by jonmc at 7:43 PM on April 11, 2008

I remember, not too long ago in the days of my youth probably when I was about fifteen, going to a dental appointment.

From this dental appointment I went to my friends house and we got drunk together and crashed out on his floor.

From his floor at about two pm the next day we went into town, met up with some other friends, drank some more, headed back to a different friends house and passed out on a different floor.

From this floor I got up at about two o clock the next day and got a bus home, eventually staggering in at about three o clock. My dad looked up from his computer to me and said,

"Oh hey, how was the dentists?"

but then, between nine and fifteen is a pretty big difference, if I'd done this back then I doubt my parents would ever have forgiven me.
posted by emperor.seamus at 7:45 PM on April 11, 2008

There was a really amazing article out of England about a year ago about the distances youths travel. Basically, the grandfather would walk several Km to his favorite fishing hole as a child, and he never fell in, never drowned, never died, never got raped or molested. Then the father (the author of the article) as a child would routinely travel several hundred yards away from home as a young child to visit his favorite swimming hole, alone, or with friends...and he was always fine, and that was the 60's/70's. Now this guy has a kid, and that kid isn't allowed outside of his yard, and the author basically just discussed the affects of quashing the exploratory and independent side of young boys.

As a youth (gasp, late 80's) I would often do crazy things like go for multi-mile hikes with just my dog and a bottle of water. As a 7 year old in 1987 I would often walk to my mom's office from school, about 2 miles and through a city...across streets w/o crossing guards. I guess there's a difference between that and the big city, but...whatever. Kudos to her kid for being grown up.
posted by TomMelee at 7:48 PM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Back when I was a kid, I would go off into the farmer's property next door to our house and wander through fields and forest, down streams, up hills until I was good and lost. I never once imagined I wouldn't be able to find my way home eventually, and I always did. I was sometimes gone for six or seven hours. This was when I was like in first and second grade.

This was my exact life. We may have been neighbors!
posted by jessamyn at 7:49 PM on April 11, 2008

Yeah, I had been taking the subway since I was about 11. That being said, I did get hounded on several occasions by the same pedophile who kept on inviting me out for coffee and staring at me like I was a juicy piece of delicious filet mignon.

But I was street-smart enough to know not to trust this old perv.

I guess it depends on the kid. If he wants his/her independence, he/she might be more likely to do well out in the big city. If he/she doesn't, well, I guess one shouldn't force it on them.
posted by bitteroldman at 7:50 PM on April 11, 2008

I'm pretty sure that, once you're among the demographic of those whose loins have borne fruit, conversations on how to raise your children should be given the same treatment as conversations about politics and religion. That is, everybody needs to calm the fug down and/or shut the fug up unless they wanna fight about it. But of course, some people do wanna fight about it. This Skenazy lady is surely trolling, but I admit it must be fun to provoke the people she is.

When I have mine, I'm going to sew my kid a superhero outfit and give them a pair of scissors, and tell them to run (yeah! run!) through the mall liberating all those kids who are attached to their parents by a leash.
posted by krippledkonscious at 7:57 PM on April 11, 2008 [3 favorites]

Talk about cognitive dissonance. When I heard about this my first reaction was, "What a horribly irresponsible parent." But then I remembered being allowed to do much the same myself (admittedly in a small rural town) and getting on just fine. In fact I'm proud of the extent to which I wandered as a child. But part of my mind freaks right the fuck out at the prospect of my child wandering around unsupervised. It's totally irrational, but I can't help it.
posted by lekvar at 7:58 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was about 9 or 10 I used to walk up and down the block, visiting my (usually elderly) neighbors and hitting them up for candy or soda. I was a lonely child and I think alot of the old folks on my block were a bit lonely too. They always seemed to enjoy my presence and were very generous with the candy.

The sad thing, though, is that if I had a son nowadays, I'm not so sure I'd let him do stuff like that. I understand, in a logical sort of way, that the chances of anything bad happening are infinitesimally small, so on and so forth. But 25 years of being constantly bombarded with FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR FOR YOUR CHILDREN OR MONSTERS WILL EAT THEM FEAR FEAR FEAR FEAR 24/7, 365 have given me some kind of Pavlovian-response to letting children out of earshot. I honestly believe that, in a certain sense, I've been literally brainwashed by the media to have these irrational fears that I never had as a child.
posted by Avenger at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2008 [13 favorites]

I used to take the subways home, drunk at 1am, when I was 14. When were the subways unsafe? Prior to that, I must assume.
posted by birdie birdington at 8:00 PM on April 11, 2008

Subways, plural? Okay, maybe I'm drunk now too.
posted by birdie birdington at 8:03 PM on April 11, 2008

Most kids, especially those raised in big cities, have good instincts and can spot the pervs and other assorted weirdos better than their parents. I'm on the subway (NYC) last weekend taking my 7 yo niece to her piano lessons when some clean-cut suit walks up and asks for directions. After I offer him help and he goes on his way, my niece says, "that guy's a total freak". I always trust her appraisals.
posted by hojoki at 8:05 PM on April 11, 2008 [16 favorites]

We took the public bus starting in 1st or 2nd grade. The biggest danger was the older kids looking for someone to pick on.
posted by fshgrl at 8:06 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

This woman was on talk of the nation this week, it was a pretty good segment.
posted by OldReliable at 8:19 PM on April 11, 2008

I think Lenore Skenazy is missing the point. Most people were ok with letting their kids on the subway, just at a later age. Nine does seem a bit young in general, but yeah if you know the kid it's much easier to make the call on whether they'll be ok.

This reads like another democrat/republican "issue" where people take their sides and bitch about the other and in the end no one has learned a thing.


finest childhood memory? Having some friends come over one winer day and suggest "Let's ride our bikes to Patapsco Park". We were gone all day, exploring old rock quarrys and riding our bikes on ice covered lakes and sharing a couple of candy bars for lunch. When I got back home, mom asked where I had been all done, I told her and she just said "Oh, you rode your bikes all the way out there and back? You'll sleep good tonight." She was right.

Second favorite: exploring the woods behind our suburban house and discovering that farms, real live farms existed on the other side of the woods. I quickly took note of where the electric towers were to orient myself and had a ball exploring vast fields of corn.

Third favorite memory of childhood: Rachelle.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:21 PM on April 11, 2008

Does anyone have a link to the subway poll? I question how it was worded - I mean, parents who don't regularly use public transit with their children, aka the vast majority of US parents, have every right to be more wary about letting their kid out on the train alone.
posted by fermezporte at 8:24 PM on April 11, 2008

I don't think my mother would let me ride the NY subway, and I'm 34.
posted by Lucinda at 8:26 PM on April 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

What she saying is that her 9 year old is very smart - at least smarter than 2 out of 3 nine year olds that have lived in this household.
My kids discovered the wonders of the CTA towards 12 or 13, when they had places to go. We live a half block from an EL station and they figure out how to get to Chinatown for Dim Sum.
Oh, for the good old days when you got a monthly pass with unlimited trips. Nowadays they have to pay per trip, and they have limited discretionary spending. Getting rides from parents is cheaper.
posted by readery at 8:39 PM on April 11, 2008

I allow my 5 year old daughter to do a lot more things than most parents will allow for their kids of the same age. Things like: using the toaster, cutting with a blunt knife, operating household appliances that aren't likely to boil over on her, crush her, or remove limbs, make telephone calls by herself, leave the yard to go 3 houses down to her friend's yard without me hovering over her, use the bathroom in public places with me standing outside the door waiting, and going to different aisles in the store to fetch items when I can't see her... etc.

I've been called an irresponsible parent a few times for letting her do things I think are sort of trivial. I don't agree with that at all. Yet, the same parent who told me I shouldn't let my daughter put things in the toaster "because she could get shocked!" has a 12 year old who can't do anything on his own and she's always complaining that he's helpless and she has to do everything for him. I wouldn't let my kindergartener to take the bus across town alone at this point, but there will come a day when she's allowed to do that too. Because I know her and I think I'll know when she's responsible enough to handle that, just like with everything else.

You know what? Every time I let the leash out just a tiny bit more, I feel anxious and nervous and a little scared. It makes me want to reel her back in and not let her go. It makes me feel sad that I'm losing my "baby". I'm sure this woman felt the same way. But I think she's doing her son a great service to let him try some of this stuff out.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 8:43 PM on April 11, 2008 [26 favorites]

Fear is the mind killer. Both parent and child.
posted by Freen at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2008 [4 favorites]

From the time I was 12 I traveled alone from the Bronx to Manhattan every day.

I feel sorry for kids growing up today being shielded from everything and being made to fear everything. The truth is things AREN'T any different now than they were 30-40 years ago. TV, Radio, and the internet just make it seem like it's more dangerous thanks to the hysterical reporting.
posted by mike3k at 8:56 PM on April 11, 2008

My 13 year old nephew has been taking the subway alone for at least a couple years, and not because he's selling candy to stay out of trouble. Admittedly, the kid is street savvy and self-assured but there's very little to fear from the subways these days.

As a geeky 11 year old, I would ride the train to go spend my meager savings at the Compleat Strategist. When I'd get back, new hardbound D&D rulebook in hand, my mother would sigh, "oh great, you made it."
posted by JaredSeth at 9:01 PM on April 11, 2008

Lots of anecdotes here. I wonder how you could empirically answer the question. Is the world inherently less safe for kids these days than in the past?

I don't have kids yet but with my friends' kids, it seems like life is sooo supervised and scheduled. I can't imagine any of them sending them off on their bikes with $5 in their pocket and being totally happy not to hear from them for 10 hours the way I grew up. Pretty sad actually now that I thik about it.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 9:09 PM on April 11, 2008

> The truth is things AREN'T any different now than they were 30-40 years ago.

Actually, in many places, they're significantly safer now. (Although I don't think that even at the height of the crime problems in NYC that children were ever a major target. If you're going to mug someone, a 9-year-old with a couple of bucks and a train token isn't exactly the way to go.)

I think what's happened is that as cities have actually gotten safer, with less everyday street crime going on, the news networks have started spending more ink on the really rare, really weird stuff; stuff that's always existed ("don't take candy from strangers" was good advice long before 1990), but just got lost in the noise. Now, as we've made some inroads on traditional, economically-motivated crime, people are left with a perception that the really weird stuff -- which doesn't respond as well to rational incentives -- is on the rise. My gut tells me that it isn't. Even back in the 'good old days,' every town had a few pretty awful skeletons; now we're scaring ourselves silly with them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:14 PM on April 11, 2008 [8 favorites]

Kadin, did you read the collection a few threads down of "nasty shit happens" newspaper articles circa 1885 or so?
posted by Naberius at 9:19 PM on April 11, 2008

When my parents bought their new house on the North Shore, and found me getting under their feet on moving day, they drew me a little map of the neighbourhood, put the dog on a leash, and told me to take her for a walk and go and check out my new school, which was not far-- about five blocks-- but was up and over a hill and certainly out of eyeshot. I found the school by locating landmarks ("go past the big willow tree"), sat on the swings in the playground for a while, then headed back, bursting to report what I had found.

I was six. This level of independence for young children used to be considered completely normal.
posted by jokeefe at 9:20 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, something probably very obvious just occurred to me.

One of the things I remember from my childhood was the abundance of kids running around doing whatever they pleased. Sometimes we played by ourselves but usually had a sibling or friends to take along. And also, you could be 100% certain that if you were doing something wrong the nosy neighbor lady would be on the phone to your parents somewhere down the line.

What I think makes people feel like the world is less safe is a lack of community. It's hard to know your neighbors in a lot of cities. It seems like people keep to themselves much more than they did when I was younger.

And if you are the type to let your kids go "free range", sometimes there aren't very many other kids for them to roam around with. That also takes away one of the things that probably kept us safer. The bigger kids looked out for the smaller kids and we were also being watched by the adults who were around, even if we didn't know it.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:24 PM on April 11, 2008 [23 favorites]

I can't even begin to imagine what a crazy beast I would have been if I didn't spend every waking hour tromping all over creation, from morning until well past nightfall. The farm next door? Check, and the one over there, and the one over there until someone told me to "GET OFFA MY PROPITTY!" Bike rides to the lake? Oh yes. Falling out of trees, getting bitten by everything that could bite me, tangled up in bike chains and barbed wire? That's what tetanus shots are for.

On top of all that, the guy in the car that pulls up and says "hey little girl, need a ride?" Actually happened to me outside the elementary school. Those exact words. Did my parents freak out and suddenly assume we were all going to be abducted and murdered, and keep us cloistered in the house all day? Well, since I had enough sense to say "no" that course of action clearly wasn't necessary. Anyone who says that makes them "irresponsible" or "bad" parents gets a boot in the ass.
posted by louche mustachio at 9:26 PM on April 11, 2008 [6 favorites]

I was raised free range in the suburbs of Ann Arbor, MI. At age seven my normal range was about a mile in any direction.

One day I was at the downtown YMCA and due to a miscommunication between parents I was left waiting for a ride (it turned out later they were an hour off). After 45 minutes I decided to walk home, a route that I was certain I could navigate. It was about 4 miles.

Two miles into it as I was walking along a more rustic part of the route, a van pulled over and the man inside asked me if I wanted a ride. I said no. He kept trying to convince me. I kept saying no. Eventually he got out of the van and attempted to physically force me into it.

At about that same time a woman from my neighborhood happened to be driving by and pulled over. The guy hopped back into the van and took off.

Then the neighbor woman had to force me into her car, as I had set out to walk home and I was pretty annoyed with people's continuing interference with that plan.

As we drew near her house a police car starting following us, and when we got there the police officer got out and started asking questions. It turned out that a man in a tall apartment building on a hill near where I had been picked up had seen the altercation and called the police, but by the time he got down to the street all he could do was get the license plate of my neighbor's car.

My mother was certainly much more traumatized by the whole thing than I was, and I've never thought much about the possibilities until earlier this very year while reading through the transcript in this thread.

[Forrest Gump impression]: And that's all I have to say about that...
posted by tkolar at 10:04 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

On top of all that, the guy in the car that pulls up and says "hey little girl, need a ride?" Actually happened to me outside the elementary school. Those exact words. Did my parents freak out and suddenly assume we were all going to be abducted and murdered, and keep us cloistered in the house all day? Well, since I had enough sense to say "no" that course of action clearly wasn't necessary. Anyone who says that makes them "irresponsible" or "bad" parents gets a boot in the ass.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:26 AM on April 12 [1 favorite -] Favorite added! [!]

Exactly right. A friend of mine was nearly kidnapped off the street of a suburb of Boston. After asking for directions, he reached through the window and starting hauling her into the car. Luckily a teenager saw it happen, ran to the car screaming, grabbed hold of her and dragged her back out and the creep drove away.

That was 35 years ago.

Since then we have been bombarded with nothing but exaggerated fears about kids being stolen. The fear is way out of proportion to reality. I hope there's a special place reserved in hell, in my opinion, for the fear mongers who have created a society has so many people living in fear. I'm all for teaching kids safety tips but at the same time, they should know how very unlikely it is that this kind of stuff will happen to them.

Unless this woman has been proven to be a terrible mother, she is the best judge of what her kid can handle. If he's taking a fairly straightforward route and/or is quite comfortable with the train, he should be able to ride and everyone who objects should just buzz off.
posted by etaoin at 10:05 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

What I think makes people feel like the world is less safe is a lack of community. It's hard to know your neighbors in a lot of cities. It seems like people keep to themselves much more than they did when I was younger.

I recently left a neighborhood that was magically old-timey like that. Kids up and down the block, shouting, and playing street hockey or riding their bikes. And everyone kept an eye on the kids, from us (the childless couple) to the single guy a few doors down to the elderly woman next door. When my cat went missing, for two weeks every child in the neighborhood was crawling under sheds or calling for him in between games. My new neighborhood's fancier, but I'm only now realizing what a rare gift my old one was and specifically how much easier it must be to be a parent there than here (or most places).
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:07 PM on April 11, 2008

When I was 3 or 4 (this would be about '74) my older sisters were supposed to be watching me, and then they came in the house and my mom asked "where's your brother?" and they said "we dunno."

Eventually my mother found me a block away, having pedaled my big wheel around a corner, across a side street, and into the grade school parking lot, where I was riding in circles.

The amount of time that passed between then (which scared my mother to death, obviously) and the age I started riding my bicycle around in the forest preserve bike trails on the north side of Chicago wasn't very much; I believe I was around 9 or 10 when I started doing that. No cell phone, no itinerary, just a time to be home and an admonishment to be careful. Oh, and no bike helmet, either.

By the time I was 13, I was riding my bicycle for 10-15 miles to the Chicago Botanical Gardens, or Golf Mill Mall, or other places, and my parents were groovy with that. Heck, I remember being 14 and caught in a rainstorm trying to ride my bike home in the downpour from my girlfriend's house in Niles, raining so bad I could see better without my glasses, and managing to get myself turned around and almost all the way back to her house by the time I figured it out.

Do I think I'd do this with my kids? Honestly, my answer is colored by two things that have changed since I was a kid: first, that I now live in Los Angeles and there's a dearth of mostly deserted wooded area here, and second, that even if nothing happened I'd be vilified as a parent as this woman was, and if something *did* happen I'd have a lot more to deal with than just whatever it was that happened.

Meanwhile, I have a fenced backyard that I can observe almost every square foot of from my living room windows, and still had to convince my wife that it would be safe to let them run around the yard without us physically out there, at age 2.5. Sigh.
posted by davejay at 10:08 PM on April 11, 2008

One of the things I remember from my childhood was the abundance of kids running around doing whatever they pleased.

Yep. We ran all over hell and gone. Ding dong ditch. Hide and go seek. Pursey pursey. Throw dirt clods at cars. Burn down the Simpson Timber Forest.

Where are all the kids?

Sounds like snark. But for reals. Where did all the kids go?
posted by notyou at 10:09 PM on April 11, 2008

A few years ago I was doing laundry at my apartment complex. I was by myself for a while, until a man and his daughter, about seven years old, came in with a load of clothes. They loaded it all into the washers, and got things started. Then the man left, leaving his daughter with the machines. The girl would mostly just goof around—she clearly had something going in her imagination, and sometimes she would sneak around the walls like a secret agent—with interruptions to ask me some blunt question, the kind of thing that passes for small talk when you're that age.

I think it was ten minutes or so after the man left that my laundry finished. I folded it all up and put it in my basket, and the man still hadn't returned. So I decided I'd stick around to keep an eye on the girl. It was a quiet Sunday morning; it's not that I expected anyone to come kidnap her or anything, but occasionally she would hang on a machine and, I didn't know, maybe one might tip over or something.

So I sat back down to listen to the radio, and she went on playing whatever game she had in mind, with the occasional question. After five more minutes or so of that, she chimed in, "You don't have to stay here."

Kids are smarter than adults give them credit for. Even I was starting to forget, and I'd just barely hit my twenties.
posted by brett at 10:20 PM on April 11, 2008 [7 favorites]

This seems like a good place for a "back when I was a kid" response.

When I was in middle school and high school, I would roll a pillow into a sleeping bag, tie it onto the handlebars of my bicycle and yell, "I'm going campin', see you tomorrow!" Sometimes I would hear a response, other times I didn't, I would just pedal off into the woods anyway.
One day, some friends and I found a twotrack that we never saw before, so we pedaled and pedaled, up and down these steep Northern Michigan hills and found this awesome field. We made camp there and set everything up everything right, including a nice fire. Just before sundown, about a hundred Harleys came roaring up the twotrack, followed by a couple of trucks loaded down with kegs. It was the Flint chapter of The Tribe and they threw a howling party. We wandered over and they got us real fucked up. Good times, good times.
It's pretty funny, really. People getting worried about a kid on the subway when the real danger is letting your kids camp east of East Jesus 'cause there's gonna be a biker gang party eventually. And those dudes are going to get your kids fuuuuuucked uuuuuup.
posted by NoMich at 10:20 PM on April 11, 2008 [34 favorites]

TomMelee: there's a thread about that article here on Mefi.

Kadin2048: I remember reading about this often ignored factor in regards to children. But I'm having serious trouble finding the statistics to back it up. Kids are much safer out there in the cities. I guess it's easier to demonize a mysterious stranger than it is to aknowledge that the vast majority of crimes against children are commited by people known to their parents, or by the parents themselves.

howrobotsaremade: You raise a very valid point. The phenomena of helicopter parenting results in kids that can't look after themselves. The job of parents is to turn anarchistic little monsters into self-suffient human beings. They aren't going to be self-sufficient if the parent keeps them locked in a padded box and does everything for them until they're in their goddamn thirties. I hope I can have the bollocks to let my own spawn live like your daughter when they come along.
posted by Jilder at 10:23 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

We're having a good ol' time reminiscing about being a kid and doing fuck-all and there not being any consequences.

Somebody's gonna come along with a dark tale and screw it all up.
posted by notyou at 10:25 PM on April 11, 2008

well, notyou, it won't be me. I can tell you all this - I don't *remember* when I started to take the bus and metro when I was a kid going to school 45 minutes away. I remember that I was taking a bus service when I was a little girl, then at some point I started taking public transport.

It was a non-issue.

I was taking a couple of buses, a metro and another bus to get to school. Was I a teen? Not yet a teen? Montreal was like that back then, and it is today as well.

Those folks in the article are over-reacting.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:36 PM on April 11, 2008

Overprotected kids turn out really weird and unhappy, I shit you not.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:43 PM on April 11, 2008

I'm glad, seawallrunner. Cause I don't want to read any dark tales.

I really do wonder what happened to all the kids and I'm sad they aren't around.

Although, now that I am a property owner, and recalling all the damage my friends and I did to other people's property, and the pranks we played, and so on, I am also a little glad that the kids aren't around.
posted by notyou at 10:44 PM on April 11, 2008

When that article came out with the English family and how great-grandad used to walk miles to fish, I started calculating my own childhood range. I worked out that it was one square mile, all contained within a box formed by four busy Tulsa streets. I spent a lot of summers on my bike riding from my house to the park a mile away.

I now live less than a block from a city park. I don't know if I'd let my daughter go down there alone before she's 12.

When I was 6 I rode my tricycle around the corner from my grandmother's house in McAlester. I don't think I'd let my daughter ride her trike on our streets... but then, we do live on a hill.

Either way, I don't know why I have these irrational fears where I had a much wider area to work with. Is it because she's a girl? Is it because I'm secretly afraid of the Pedophile Scourge? Is it because she's my only child (so far)? I don't know. I know I should be less fearful, but the world has proven itself so untrustworthy I'm not sure I can trust my own child.
posted by dw at 10:45 PM on April 11, 2008

This is a fascinating thread. Let me, too, express my gratitude that I was allowed to wander at an early age. . . This would be in Des Moines, IA, circa 1980. . . the property line through our backyard ended in a small ravine, which could be followed all the way to the river, and the abandoned amusement park, where I once got tadpoles in my shoes while exploring the remnants of the tunnel of love. There were intriguing railroad tracks, too, to be followed. Another route looped around to the farthest border of our neighborhood park, where the odd, gnarly trees were; we called them "the boob trees"--excellent climbing. But I remember the shift that happened in our perception of safety. First was the disappearance of Johnny Gosch. A few years later, another paper boy, Eugene Martin, disappeared. Soon there were pictures of missing children on milk cartons--I wonder to what degree this alone was responsible for a paranoid shift in public consciousness. The same year that Johnny Gosch disappeared (1982), several people were killed when they took Tylenol that had been poisoned with cyanide. This led to a complete shift in the way all sorts of products were packaged. The little paper foil thing you have to peel of the mouth of a milk bottle?--didn't exist prior to 82. And does anyone else remember that suddenly one year we were afraid of getting poisoned halloween candy, or apples with razorblades in them? Does anyone else remember that there were neighborhood centers set up where you took your candy to be inspected by trained volunteers?

Still I wonder. . .Is human society growing more, or less, safe? All the modern monsters--child abductors, school shooters, serial killers--do they represent something new, or have we changed the way we relate to a violent potential that has always been inherent in human beings?
posted by flotson at 10:50 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've seen the results of overprotecting parenting in four years as a university administrator. Working in the advising office for two years, I can't tell you how many times parents intervened in situations that their (legally adult) offspring couldn't or wouldn't or weren't allowed to handle on their own. I felt so sad the day a lovely student who'd worked for us casually told me sadly how she had to change her major because her father wouldn't let her take her chosen one. So many times parents would call up and demand to know if their child was passing their classes or whether or not they had registered for the right courses, when by law we couldn't even so much as confirm the enrollment of the student. Parents would march right into advising meetings with their silent child in tow... or sometimes even without the student's presence. If my mom had done such a thing I would have been furious, and insulted at the implication that I couldn't handle things on my own, and that I couldn't handle the consequences if I failed to. These are adults who are 18, 19, 20 years old. I hate this trend. Where does it stop?
posted by loiseau at 10:52 PM on April 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

It's a different and safer place than New York, but kids younger than 9 in Tokyo most definitely get around the city on their own before and after school. It all depends on the individual kid, of course.
posted by zardoz at 11:01 PM on April 11, 2008

Still I wonder. . .Is human society growing more, or less, safe? All the modern monsters--child abductors, school shooters, serial killers--do they represent something new, or have we changed the way we relate to a violent potential that has always been inherent in human beings?

Please refer to this thoughtful comment, as it says what I would have said, better, and without throwing any chairs through windows.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 11:04 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

My parents wouldn't let me walk four blocks to a friends house in the middle of the day, or take my bike out of earshot. Then again, my mother was a psych nurse and routinely told stories of the pedophiles etc. she saw at work. Of course, I just ignored that and went wherever I wanted either walking or taking the subway. This was the early nineties, and I thought that getting driven everywhere was super wasteful.
The one time I was approached by some guy in a car, I was on my front lawn.
posted by sgrass at 11:14 PM on April 11, 2008

While I was growing up (1988 onward), my parents never, ever let me wander around alone, but once I got to be about ten, if I was with a friend or two, they would routinely let us go down to the park and play in the creek by ourselves. Trouble was, there weren't that many kids my age that lived within walking distance. Almost always, these adventures were preceded by a phone call and a drive across town (and a reminder to be home or call by a certain time). Just kicking me out the door wasn't really an option.

I don't think this has hampered my ability to take care of myself in the slightest. I've been able to perform all the basic functions to take care of myself since I was in fifth or sixth grade. By that age, I could make pancakes and bacon, do laundry (I actually learned that one when I was seven or eight), wash dishes, and handle money, as well as read a map, lay a fire in the fireplace, walk home from school (currently no longer allowed by my old middle school), follow politics, and read Hermann Hess. Some people don't learn this sort of stuff until they get to college, or later. Sure, six year olds wandering around the woods are good, and I wish I could have done that, but there's nothing wrong with good parenting, either.
posted by Commander Rachek at 11:14 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

I saw it said, not too long ago, that never before in history has any human population been so safe, and yet feared so much.
posted by Malor at 11:16 PM on April 11, 2008 [13 favorites]

I grew up in a small but expanding subdivision, literally at the limits of the suburbs, right where it meets the country. I spent all my time trudging through the woods and fields of the as-yet-undeveloped sections, the unruined bits. One day, I might have been eight or nine, we built a fort in a pit dug for the basement of a new home, and had a sort of war with some other boys. Things got a little rough, and since it was a construction site there were all these pipes and boards and things, and, well, long story short, I got bashed over the head with a copper pipe, which gushed blood as head wounds do, and came home with blood streaming down my face and feeling dizzy.

It's about then that I started reading more, playing outside less. I know it's mostly just adutl nostalgia, but I miss it: getting poison ivy every summer, going further out each year as our boldness and endurance grew, pretending to be explorers and pirates and commandos. I don't really blame the kid who hit me: I threw the first punch, he just escalated it. I know it sounds all fake-poetical, but it really was boring bourgeois semi-detached ambition that killed the outdoors for us. It bulldozed the fields and forest and left us with nothing to do but squabble over a hole in the mud.
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:20 PM on April 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Over-protecting kids is almost as worse as if some random harm happen to them, the only problem is that over-protection is much more frequent.
posted by zouhair at 11:21 PM on April 11, 2008

I bet it is more than a "tinge", it's more like a 'tingle', " He'll be okay, worse if I look.
posted by Mblue at 11:43 PM on April 11, 2008

Back when I was a kid, I was brushing off evangelical Jesus freaks without my parents around (shit, they could sniff out a group of kids on BMX bikes!--fucking predatory Xtians) . At least they were kinda crafty. Child abductors weren't even an issue.
posted by sourwookie at 12:22 AM on April 12, 2008

And we learned to recognize that glazed (not)happy sheen in their vacuous eyes. Seriously, the bane of our neighborhood. We would have been happy to jump into a molesters panel van to escape that neighborhood menace.
posted by sourwookie at 12:28 AM on April 12, 2008

When I was a kid, I always thought my parents were oppressively overprotective because my wandering range was confined to a mere mile during sunlight hours. Now I've got a neighbor that won't let her 5 yr old run on the sidewalk, and another that won't allow his middle schooler to play in his own front yard without adult supervision. I received quite the tongue lashing from one the day my son rode down the walk on a scooter without a helmet- I defended my choice to allow him to go headgear free by saying something along the lines of "We all fell down as kids and sometimes we got hurt, isn't that the way we learned to distinguish a scrape from a mortal wound?" I might as well had needles hanging off my forearms. Scrapes are NO LONGER ALLOWED. Nor is, in my neck of the woods, walking to school alone, non-organized sports, or tap water.

Jesus, having kids is Lovecraftian- you think you're living in a perfectly rational world until the day you wake up and find the flimsy veil of reason lifted forever.
posted by maryh at 12:34 AM on April 12, 2008 [13 favorites]

Wow. This was interesting. Good mom.

Whatmore, I left home and went out on my own when I was 14. Sure, I stuck around the general area (until I was 19), but I was in school, working a full-time job, and holding down an apartment when I was 16.

And btw I had my share of approaches from freaks, and not the good kind. But that worked out because I was taught about that kind of stuff early on. "Ride? No thanks."
posted by humannaire at 12:37 AM on April 12, 2008

[Incidentally, I am glad I missed that thread tkolar links to; my opinions on mortally anti-social individuals is pretty well established. Nonetheless, when it comes to individuals who have been proven to have harmed any child in a monsterous manner, my lack of empathy is conscientious.]
posted by humannaire at 12:37 AM on April 12, 2008

Living in Mormon Country has some disadvantages but one good thing I've noticed about my neighborhood is how the kids get to live the way I did. My neighborhood is on the slopes of the Uintas, bordering National Forest land. On my long hikes with the dogs, if it's after school, I'll often see kids roaming here and there without adult supervision. Recently had a long conversation with my 11 yr old neighbor about her explorations in a local canyon and about the cave she and her friends found.

(Apparently the cave hooks into a system that goes for possibly miles with multiple exits. Modern graffiti on the walls is mixed with some much older stuff from the early settlers and possibly even older writing from the original tribes of the region. I really wanted to ask her to take me there and show me, since my own search for it was futile, but that request, in these paranoid times, would be incredibly inappropriate.)
posted by pandaharma at 12:44 AM on April 12, 2008

"Subway", pshaw.

When I was 9 years old I had to get up at 4, walk 12 miles to school -- uphill, through the snow -- got home after walking back 12 miles -- again uphill -- before my stepfather beat me to sleep.
posted by sour cream at 2:12 AM on April 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

Okay, I'll chime in.

My family lived til I was five in a city in Norway, where it was okay for mum to send me, aged four, a few blocks away to the supermarket (they had miniature trolleys for children! So much fun!). I was a happy little consumer; no harm done. When we returned to Britain (this was in the early nineties) the newspapers and TV were filled with the story of a recent child abduction and murder. Even living in the countryside it seems people were more freaked out by child safety than they had been in an urban area in Norway. I'd guess that fear was partly fed by the media.

My mother's child-rearing policy was one of benign neglect. My brothers and I spent a lot of time climbing trees, starting bonfires and falling over. Now my mum runs an outdoor nursery where she takes children (three to five years old) to the woods and they do pretty much those things, taking due care re:safety. She says filling in the risk-assessment paperwork is a bit of a palaver though.

So, the article? No, certainly not America's Worst Mom.
posted by eponymouse at 2:39 AM on April 12, 2008

NYC 1976-1982, age 9-15, male.

For the first year, I think my folks accompanied me to school (about ten blocks uptown, in Greenwich Village). But we'd be around the neighbourhood alone for lunch, and to walk back home.
At 10 I changed schools (about 10 blocks downtown) and went alone there and back. In the afternoon we'd play unsupervised in Washington Square; I eventually made friends with the kooky Yippies. Was I ever nervous? Yeah, there were folks whispering offers of drugs, and there were groups that came across as threatening, but nothing of note ever happened.
At twelve I changed schools again, and took the subway from Astor Place to 86th street (and back) every day, alone, of course (sometimes meeting friends along the way).
There were incidents. Once I went sledding in Central Park alone, and I remember a man sitting down next to me in the subway, telling me he knew a great place for sledding in the park. He wasn't particularly weird, but I clearly registered this as creepy. Sure it got me nervous, but my decision to say a quick thanks but no thanks and jump out a station early before he could follow - well, it worked, and I remember feeling pretty cool about how I'd handled that.
Another time I got mugged for the little money I had. It was pretty frightening. What really stuck with me, though, was when a few days later I met the same kid who'd mugged me. I wasn't quick enough changing sidewalks for him to notice and come up to me. He had me scared pretty stiff - but then he said: "Don't worry, I'm not gonna mug you, I'm nice now. Do you have a dollar you can lend me?" This was so unexpected and surreal a turn of things, that I somehow seized the opportunity to affirm his newly assumed friendly identity - I said I was sorry, I didn't have any money on me, but did he want some gum? (I can't remember if he accepted or not - the main thing was, again, the feeling of having handled/solved the problem.)
The last incident I remember: I was 14, and decided, with the specific idea of challenging my own habits&prejudices, to walk home the length of Manhattan, from a friend's house on the Upper East Side back home on 8th street. It took ages, but it was pretty amazing to experience the city like this. I already saw myself on the home stretch, when, sure enough, around 21st street a guy comes up from behind, puts a knife to my throat and takes me around the corner. I was scared shitless, and fuming about my idiotic decision. He told me to show him what I had on me, which wasn't a lot. Pretty quickly he said to give him my watch, which I did. and then told me to fuck off, and not dare turn around, which I made sure I didn't. I got home pretty out of breath, and angry. At the same time, I felt lucky. And looking back on it now, the experience of that day was well worth losing my watch over.
We have two young boys, and I see it as my/our mission to ensure the rampant paranoia (and I live in Italy, where unfortunately it's as common and spreading as it seems in the U.S. and the U.K.) isn't allowed to encroach on the liberty and acquisition of the sense of capability I had had the permission to develop. Kudos to America's Worst Mom.
posted by progosk at 2:45 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hey all - interesting topic. Just a follow-on from Kadin2048's comment above (which I enjoyed reading, and agree with).

Let's say the incidence of the "really weird stuff" (i.e. child abduction/rape/murder) has remained constant over time. Wouldn't the increasing propensity of parents to oversupervise their kids result in increased risk to the fewer remaining free range kids of being victims of this sort of crime? And if this is the case, wouldn't there be a point where it's actually a rational decision (Nash-stylee) to be an oversupervising parent, despite our intrinsic preference to let them roam where they will? And, conversely, that letting your kids roam free is indeed bad parenting (because of the effect of the choices of other parents)?
posted by laumry at 3:07 AM on April 12, 2008

I grew up in NYC and started taking myself the 16 blocks to school at around 9. In one direction, I would walk; in the other direction, I'd take the 104 bus. This was in 1981, the same year Adam Walsh was abducted, and Adam Walsh was very much on my mother's mind. Unknown to me, she called my school from her office every day to check that I had indeed arrived.

I had very clear instructions, and I followed them. I was to say hello to all of the doormen on the way; I was to sit next to a woman on the bus on the way home whenever possible; I was to keep a dime in my penny loafer with which to call home should I need to; I was not to cross the intersection at 96th street without other pedestrians, because while I knew how to cross a street, New Jersey drivers coming off the Bridge didn't know how to drive. If I got into trouble, I was to yell FIRE at the top of my lungs.

Here is the thing. While I encountered the occasional creep on the mean streets of the big city, nothing ever happened except an afternoon drunk showing me his penis, which I found scary because it was unexpected but not threatening because he was at least 6 feet away. Here is the other thing: that year, I actually did encounter a pedophile, who assaulted me. At my very expensive, vetted and background checked summer camp for the children of the well off.

NYC is much, much safer than it was when I was 9. Subways have other people. NYC streets have other people. While my views are going to be filtered through my own experiences, I have to say that the jam-packed city seems way safer for kids than isolated rural environments. Grass still makes me nervous.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:11 AM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

When I was nine years old, I would walk the highway to the bus stop, get on that bus for 25 minutes, reach the train station, take the train in to Stockholm which took a good 45 minutes and go shopping for birthdays & holidays. If my brother (much older) was around I'd take the subway to his apartment and have tea with him before going home, else I'd go to my favorite café in his neighborhood and treat myself to a blueberry pie. I did this so often I even had keys to my brothers apartment and let myself in if he wasn't home. One day when he wasn't in, I found awesome wrapping paper there and decided to borrow some for my gifts, and I listened to a Sade album I found in his closet while having some tea which I made on his (gasp!) gas stove. He came home after I had left and called my mom all freaked out: "I think I've been burgled" -"Really? What was taken?" -"uh.. That's the weird part, some wrapping paper and..uh.... they've made tea.. And they've listened to the album I got my sister for Christmas."
posted by dabitch at 3:38 AM on April 12, 2008 [6 favorites]

This thread is a bit self-selecting, in some ways. Of course we're not hearing from anyone who had benignly neglectful parents but perhaps regret that fact now ...

Or rather, would regret it if they could, because they're all HORRIBLY DEAD!!!!!

Just kidding. I walked and biked all over the place as a kid. No idea why everyone is so uptight about it these days.
posted by kyrademon at 4:38 AM on April 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

laumry: That is a fascinating hypothesis, actually. I hate to say it, but you might have a point. I lack the background in social science to offer any proof for your hypothesis, though. I'd love to read a discussion on it.
posted by Joey Michaels at 4:43 AM on April 12, 2008

I think it's incredibly responsible of the parent to let her 9-year-old take the subway home. As a proof of concept, if nothing else. Let's say that someday in the next year or two there's a family crisis and no one can pick the kid up from school - panicky and in the midst of a crisis is NOT the time you want to have to figure out the subway system for the first time.
posted by Jeanne at 4:49 AM on April 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

One more story from an earlier era....

Growing up in the 50's in in Minneapolis I had a father who was a train buff and an eccentric. At the time there were several trains that went between the Minneapolis and St.Paul train stations. Not subways but trains, for which you needed a ticket. At the age of eight, my father bought a round trip ticket for me to take the train by myself to St. Paul, in the evening, to see the model train exhibit there and return back to Minneapolis and catch the public bus home.

The plan probably would have worked except for the fact that when I got to St. Paul I lost my return ticket. I remember crying and the police and the train conductor putting me on the train back to Minneapolis where i took the bus home. Child abuse?? Not in the fifties, the term didn't exist.

As I write this I am reminded how quick most parents are to trust the airlines with their unaccompanied minor children. Weird things can happen on planes too. Why can't we trust our children to make good decisions.
posted by Xurando at 4:53 AM on April 12, 2008

I agree with DarlingBri-- places where there are people always seem much safer to me than rural grassy quiet areas. I think it would be really difficult for a kid to get in trouble in the middle of the day in Manhattan, especially if he or she knows what to do if anyone is creepy or whatever. As she experienced, which is the story I've heard from a lot of friends, unfortunately, it's usually a teacher or counselor who successfully molests children. (I'm sorry that happened to you, DarlingBri.)

Until I was in the 6th grade my family lived in a cul-de-sac off a fairly major road in Poughkeepsie. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood of various ages and a bunch of woods, and we pretty much wandered around, making forts, and playing, for hours. The only creepy thing that ever happened to me was with one of the older boys in the neighborhood. I was the only girl there, and quite the tomboy; I always wore overalls or jeans, never dresses. One day we were playing and he took me aside and said, "Are you really a girl? You're not really a girl." And I got all indignant and said of course I was. He got a really weird expression on his face and said, "why don't you prove it. Show me." I was utterly weirded out-- I knew there was something wrong-- and I kind of backed away and told him no. I never told my parents about it but I always avoided that boy after that.

I also got in a bike accident when I tried to ride around the block by myself prior to being taught how to use the brakes. I got a wicked lump on my head but I was fine.

I loved the freedom I had as a kid. We were all minimally supervised but we were fine.

I think this mom is smart to teach her son independence.

BTW whoever said above that her parents told her to sit next to a woman on the train or bus-- I got exactly the same advice! I wonder if that was commonly accepted as the rule for kids on public transport.
posted by miss tea at 5:17 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It might still be actually, if I'm alone on a bus or train, smaller children who travel alone (6-9 years old) choose to sit next to me. The first time I noticed I realized that I'd quite suddenly reached that "mom look".
posted by dabitch at 5:25 AM on April 12, 2008

When I was a kid I used to ride my bike for literally miles and miles, maybe 30 or 40 miles in a day, on the small (and in some cases, not so small) roads between the towns and villages of north Hertfordshire and south Bedfordshire.

Independent of the threat of weirdos, the thing that would prevent me from letting my kids ride their bikes the same way today is that there is infinitely more traffic today, and, even worse, in the small towns, so many more cars parked along the sides of the road that the traffic that uses them is squished into a very narrow space.
posted by kcds at 5:58 AM on April 12, 2008

I totally forgot about my little kid in NYC story until now but Xurando's story jogged my memory. When we were little my sister and I were put on the bus from time to time to go visit friends or relatives who lived a few hours away. Often this just meant taking a Greyhound to Boston or Western MA but sometimes I'd take the bus to Port Authority where my grandmother would pick me up. I remember two OMG-in-hindsight stories

1. When I went to Boston once I got off at the wrong Boston stop. There were a few stops that were technically labelled Boston and I think I maybe got off one too early. I wandered around the bus station and marvelled at the pay-televisions and just sort of stood there until the family friends I was coming to stay with figured out what had happened and came to fetch me. I don't think I even knew how to use a pay phone at that point. I told my friend's Dad that I'd sat next to some nice guy on the bus (probably a hippie of some stripe) who had given me some gum. I got a shocked expression and a "don't take candy from strangers" lecture.

2. One time my grandmother was late to come get me at Port Authority. She was usually there when I got off the bus but this time she just wasn't. I wandered around, probably nine or ten (so 1978 or so?) with a little flowered suitcase, looking a little lost. I distincly remember a few men coming up to me and asking if I needed a place to stay. I told them no. At some point my grandmother showed up.

I turned out okay.
posted by jessamyn at 6:17 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeah, yeah, yeah, back in the day.
Vote - how many actual parents of 9 year old kids here would really let them not only ride the subway in NYC but do it sans cell phone and without specific directions?
posted by caddis at 6:35 AM on April 12, 2008

I think an in-depth Nash style analysis of the risks to the remaining "free range" kids should also take into account a smarter predator (and predators in nature tend to be comparably smart). A smarter predator would avoid a free-range child, who probably has some common sense, and would instead select a docile, easily-manipulated child who could be terrorized into keeping secrets.

I believe in unconscious conspiracies - linked actions from masses of people who never quite know why they might do something or maintain a certain preference, if that question ever arises to the forefronts of their minds.

And I believe we are raising the next generation of very tractable employees/citizens - afraid of risk of any sort, perfectly willing to hand over decision-making to whatever parent substitute is handy (boss or law enforcement official), anxiously eager to trade anything for a false sense of security, unable to judge probability levels and cumulative risk for themselves, without even the sense to be angry at what they have lost.

It's perfect, really. The company lawyers get a reduced risk profile. Governments have citizens who will hysterically vote for almost any security measure so long as a boogeyman is waved nearby. Bosses have employees who will stay in any awful job because they're too scared to search around. The various media outlets has a rapt populace who will stay indoors because anything but "nesting" is scary, and enough eyeballs to make bank on commercials for things you can enjoy in the safety of our own homes. Food delivery services to keep us fat in our nests and supermodels to keep us ashamed of it. There is a gym in the bottom of the apartment complex, but there's that sketchy guy who seems to be in there a lot ...

I don't think that a bunch of old guys sat around in some kind of dark room filled with cigarette smoke and secrets, deciding, "Hey, if we keep this new generation wetting themselves with terror, we'll own them!" However, the decision-making has been very convenient for everyone involved, somewhere between the more litigious members of society and a journalistic practice which, when the latest celebrity nosedive has burned out, will handily turn to anything "panickable." When the big West Nile scare was on, I pointed out that more people had died the previous year from St. Louis encaphalitis, also mosquito-borne, and where was the fuss about that?

That information, though, didn't sell.
posted by adipocere at 6:36 AM on April 12, 2008 [26 favorites]

dasein:I would be more worried about my kid getting pulled into a car on a rural road where no one is around than in Manhattan.

A good point, but far from a guarantee. With more people apt to mind their business and turn a blind eye to things, a person with a kicking child is usually dismissed as a parent with a tantruming kid. Think of the Kitty Genovese phenomena that, interestingly enough, happened in the 5 boroughs.
posted by dr_dank at 6:50 AM on April 12, 2008

I used to go up to the neighbor's dairy farm and help call the cows in for milking. Sometimes I'd be in the barn, clinging to the ladder when the cows came rushing by. I also rode my bike by myself to the corners store for penny candy. It was about a mile, maybe more. My brothers and sister and I went out in the woods sledding and were gone for hours at a time.

When we lived in the Chicago area, my brother and I would go far and wide, biking and walking around Glenview and Roselle. As I recall, there was a tennis court near Medinah that we frequented and it was pretty far from home.

In central Maine, we lived on a lake. One time it snowed so much that we couldn't get the car out of the driveway (he could drive by then). We walked across the frozen lake, which had an 80-foot channel running through it.

My biggest concern for my kids was traffic. We lived on the other side of a busy 4-lane road, so they had to walk the back streets up to the light and use the crossing guard. My daughter's biggest problem in Jr. High was not adults, it was other girls who used to pick on each other at the bus stop.

One time, I asked my son what he would do if a man tried to kidnap him or worse. "I'd kick him in the nuts!" he replied. I think he was about 10. Now he's 5'10" and I highly doubt anyone would try it. He just took a trip to visit relatives in Florida on his own (age 15) and made his own connection in Newark, which airport still freaks the bejesus out of me.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 6:53 AM on April 12, 2008

My anecdote is from the late 70's. I'd have been around 9 or 10. We were in the street playing the classic kids-on-bikes game with a couple of bricks and a bit of plywood to make a ramp, challenging each other to jump higher. The street we lived on was otherwise empty when my friend managed to land badly, making a bloody mess of his face. Within moments, as if from nowhere, the street seemed filled with adults, within a few minutes friend and his mom were away in the ambulance. There must have been plenty of folks keeping an eye on us. Nowadays I live on a quiet residential street and the local kids roll past our front window on their bikes and skateboards and my wife and I find ourselves doing the same thing - glancing out to check on things, and we don't even have any kids of our own. The difference now is that they're all kitted out in helmets and pads, and I hear parents telling their kids not to go further than the end of the street.
posted by normy at 7:18 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I grew up in San Bernardino, CA in the late eighties/early nineties, and from the age of 9 would traipse all over my neighborhood unattended, usually with my bike. At 10 my friend and I would bike to nearby Redlands to catch a movie, or to the local ball park to watch minor league games. I was left alone during the summers and would walk all over, stopping for pizza or climbing a tree or making my way to the little league field just to see what was going on.

I had a guy try to "give me a ride" outside an elementary school near my house - I refused, he insisted, then I ran inside the school hoping to find someone, but it was empty. So I waited for about 20 minutes, cut across the field, hopped the fence and took the back way home. Once I encountered a drunk driver hitting speeds of 50 - 60 mph near that same school - so I went home and called the police. The next night, my mother and I were driving to Target and I saw the same guy splayed against the hood of his car, the sherriffs handcuffing him.

I was bussed all over the county for school, and briefly considered attending one school for ROTC so I could get a scholarship, but changed my mind when I realized I'd have to take a public bus into one of the worst gang neighborhoods I knew of, then walk by myself for six blocks to get back and forth every day. I ended up going to the high school nearest my house, so I could ride my bike. What strikes me about that now is that my parents weren't involved in this decision at all - I didn't even discuss it with them. I was the one who monitored my *own* safety, as I'd been taught. I was expected to do that, and it never seemed odd.

A few months before we moved out of San Bernardino and into the mountains (I was 14), I had a gun pulled on me by a group of six boys. I hit the deck, and the next thing I knew three police cars and one truant officer pulled up - apparently they'd been tailing the boys. I waited a second to see if they'd want to speak to me, then I hightailed it home. I never told my mom.

Now, I cringe when we stop for gas in the same neighborhood, but by all statistics it's only gotten safer. My 5 yr. old goddaughter has never played by herself outside - I was 3 when I first started roaming the breadth of the apartment complex I grew up in. I got to know a lot of my neighbors.
posted by annathea at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I don't have kids. A few years ago I was having a conversation with a woman at a dinner party who had a couple of kids of school age. We were discussing the then-recent Cecilia Zhang murder (which was still unsolved at that point) and I said that while it was undoubtably tragic, it was a shame that parents let sensational cases like that influence their behaviour because violent crime against kids has been dropping for a long time, statistically your kids have a much higher chance of being abused/assaulted by someone they know than a random stranger, etc., etc., etc. She looked at me like I had a third eye and said "You don't have children! You don't understand!". And I certainly didn't have anything I could say in response to that. It's one thing to know, rationally, that your kids are probably going to be just fine if you let them take the subway/go to the playground by themselves, and another thing altogether to be able to let go of your fear and let them do it.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:34 AM on April 12, 2008

It's kind of heartwarming to know that I've been in a similar situation as a child: though I lived in one of those leafy out-of-the-middle-of-town suburbs in the UK, I took a train every day from the age of 8 to 14 two towns over to a big swanky private school, which involved a lot of street-pounding through the middle of our village in the dark and a lot of waiting at stations.

And this was back in the 1980s when trains didn't have windowless doors that completely closed on automatic, but instead had hatch-like handles and windows you could pull down and stick your head out of to enjoy the breeze or, if you believed the schoolboy myths, you could lean out juuust thaaat faaaar and almost get decapitated, and of course everyone at the time thought that was awesome.

At the same time it's kind of saddening to realise that I'm not sure I'd trust my town now to be as kind to my children, the onset of chavscum at about 5/6pm on Fridays and Saturdays being mostly to blame for that. Though it's no crime on par with abduction or murder or [insert paranoid subway crime here], getting punched in the face by a random stranger is a) far more likely recently and b) still not something I'd want happening to my kid.
posted by stelas at 7:40 AM on April 12, 2008

Add my voice to the chorus of people who have great memories of being allowed to roam free as a kid. I grew up in a mid-sized (about 70,000) town and once I reached the age of 7 or 8 I was allowed to ride my bike pretty much anywhere I wanted, provided I was back in time for dinner/bedtime. My folks liked to have a general idea of who I was with and where I was going, but I certainly didn't have to check in with them throughout the day.

That said, when I was really young (3 or thereabouts) I once rode my big wheel downtown (which was maybe a five minute walk away). At that point in time I wasn't supposed leave the street we lived on, so when my mom came out onto the front porch and couldn't see me, she panicked and called the cops. They picked me up in a cruiser a few blocks away and gave me a ride home. I don't really remember the experience, but my mom tells me that riding in the back of the cop car was pretty much the thrill of my young life.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:05 AM on April 12, 2008

I grew up in Milwaukee. My grandma taught my sister and I what buses to take where: 21 will take you to the Mall in Wauwatosa; the 31 will take you downtown. Here's how transfers work! I was probably 10. "Like learning to drive but better" sums it up really well: I had the run of the city and I could read at the same time.

My BMX-based radius was probably 3 miles, which, as a kid on a dirt bike, felt like crazy-ass ultra-distance.

I feel very sorry for kids and parents these days.
posted by everichon at 8:08 AM on April 12, 2008

> My BMX-based radius was probably 3 miles, which, as a kid on a dirt bike, felt like crazy-ass ultra-distance.

Let me just add that the feeling of freedom and mobility I gained when I earned my driver's license was nothing compared to the sheer exhilaration of tooling around town on a two-wheel bike as a little kid. The difference? You couldn't drive your car through the woods/over ramps/into the lake, for one thing. Nor could you get together with your friends and pretend to be WWII fighter pilots, using crab apples that you'd throw at each other as "ammo".
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:14 AM on April 12, 2008

I was always within three blocks of home (mostly we explored in the woods around the back end of the housing development) up until I was 11, when we moved from our insular, everybody-knew-everybody semi-rural suburb on Cape Breton Island to a suburb of Dartmouth (which is itself kind of a suburb of the capital city of Halifax) where they have public transit. Suddenly I could take the bus almost anywhere I wanted to go. I don't remember discussing it with my parents, but I remember I was expected to only take the bus during daylight hours - if it was dark out, Mom or Dad would come get me.

I had a guy follow me off the bus and grab my ass (I turned and screamed at him to let me go and a guy watering his lawn turned and watched us very closely and I'm sure would intervened if the guy had grabbed me again - he left me alone). More than once, I had a person who was probably mentally ill sit behind me and stroke my hair until I told him to stop (my bus route went past a mental hospital). I had a variety of men sit too close to me and lean up against me as though they didn't have enough room on their seat when they totally did, and I learned to be pretty assertive with my elbows. As somebody mentioned up thread, I sat next to women wherever possible, and I learned how to go into the overdrive of screaming non-compliance which makes you no longer a palatable victim. I think that learning to trust my own instincts on when a situation is not right was really important.

But I was 12, not 9. I'm not sure I would have been ready for that at 9. Probably some kids are, though. I'm certainly not willing to say this woman is wrong.
posted by joannemerriam at 8:29 AM on April 12, 2008

BTW whoever said above that her parents told her to sit next to a woman on the train or bus-- I got exactly the same advice! I wonder if that was commonly accepted as the rule for kids on public transport.

I've told my daughter a similar thing. If I lose her, I said to look for someone with a uniform like a police officer or someone who works there, or a mom or a dad with kids, or if she can't find either of those, a woman.

At the same time, advising her to find a woman (failing choices one or two) seems a little sexist and OMGPedophiles!. But those were our rules when I was growing up and they kept us out of trouble. I tend to raise my daughter the same way I was, minus all the crazy stuff my parents also did.

So now we have a lot of those same rules. Honestly, I think having them just makes me feel better. But we talk a lot and I'm confident that if something creepy happened, she would know what to do.

I was once walking with my daughter somewhere and a guy pulled up in a car along side us and asked if we wanted a ride. I said no, the guy kept following us and talking. Then I yelled, "I said no! Leave us alone!" and the guy drove off. I think seeing how I handled that and then talking about it (instead of going into panic mode) will help her if she ever gets into a situation like that. It gave me a chance to talk about not getting into the car with someone she doesn't know, and I could explain that if someone was bothering her, she needed to make a lot of noise to draw attention and then go to a safe place.

Someone upthread asked how many people here would really let their 9 year old take the subway alone. We don't live in a big city and there is no subway. This scenario doesn't really apply in my case because we live in a medium sized town, so there's just the bus and I don't see that as being something too dangerous for a 9 year old to negotiate. If I had raised my child in a city where we were already familiar with the subway, I don't see how it would be that terrible of a thing to try, since I'm sure this kid has been riding it his whole life. But no, I wouldn't travel to NY, never having taken a subway and then let my child of that age go by herself without understanding how it works. I'm all about common sense.

This thread is timely. I have often felt like the "bad" parent for letting my daughter spread her wings a little and it's nice to see that other people want to get back to that a little more. Even my ex-husband is extremely overprotective. I've had more than my fair share of acquaintances and neighbors chastise me for letting my child ride down to the corner on her big wheel or take something next door to the neighbor's or well... a lot of things that I let her do. I'm not stupid and negligent, but you would think I am sometimes for all of the disapproval I get in real life. Kind of nice to have at least part of the internets on my side for once.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 8:42 AM on April 12, 2008

Vote - how many actual parents of 9 year old kids here would really let them not only ride the subway in NYC but do it sans cell phone and without specific directions?

One thing we are not discussing here is the peer pressure between parents re being watchful over their kids. I'm not a parent (and I suspect many of us respondents in this thread are not, either), so I don't know the full brunt of this. When I listen to folks who are parents discuss their kids in the lunchroom or whatnot, I hear the 'safety' message now and again.

The author of the article is reasonable to let her kid experience the subway at 9. But imagine her peer circle for a moment. Do other mothers in her social circle hold the same views? I hope so. Or is she distancing herself from her peers, and risking ridicule/isolation there (never mind the readers of the article)

I wonder whether this over-protectiveness is indicative of the loosening of the social net overall, and the tightening of one's peer value strictures as a result. People trust the 'general society' less, and put more emphasis on 'what will my neighbors/friends think' than our parents did, a generation ago? Just throwing this out there.
posted by seawallrunner at 8:43 AM on April 12, 2008

I think a lot about this impending struggle. I think, not infrequently, "thank God he's only three" - Opinion on letting him ride mass transit solo is mercifully pretty much 100%, masking my (at least partially inherited, once bitterly resented in my own parents) overprotective tendencies.

And I come with my own set of standard issue anecdotes, despite my parents being somewhat uptight, I too pedaled my bike over miles of gravel roads in rural Minnesota back roads, and trekked all over deserted nature alone, before I was 10. With a knife in my pocket. But I know I'm going to be fighting my own fear and paranoia when the time come for my child.

I'm glad this conversation is occurring, because I think we have driven ourself mental as a culture dwelling on the most horrifying outlier events in existence (and ignoring facts such as the "routine" accidents that outstrip things like homicide by an order of magnitude, with car accidents leading over all). Although I have to say the author lost some of my sympathy when she compared her plight as a contrarian on child rearing norms to that of Soviet dissidents at the height of the cold war...
posted by nanojath at 8:59 AM on April 12, 2008

I have suffered the negative consequences of overprotectivness by parents and I still wouldn't let my kids do half the things you guys were allowed to do. I mean, really, letting your five year old leave the yard to go 3 houses down to her friend's yard without me hovering over her?! Wow, no.

I can see that yard from my window. I can hear and see the kids yelling and playing and running around. Her friend has a couple older siblings that are usually outside, too. I know the parents who live in this house and we share the same rule about not letting the kids play out in the street. They keep an eye out and so do I. In my mind, this is not really a big deal. They run back and forth between the yards and up and down the sidewalk. They might come play in my backyard or the other little girl's. My daughter is actually allowed to go the length of the block without me, but won't go down to the other corner because those people have a scary barking dog in their fence. I think it's a pretty good deal, since we're square in the middle of our block and I can see down to both ends. That really is not very far. She's not allowed to cross over without me watching yet, but will probably be allowed to do that fairly soon since she's great about looking both ways.

Half the time I'm standing around yakking to that neighbor or her husband or someone else out in the yard or doing something outside anyway. But yes, I allow my daughter out of the fenced back yard and to play in front of the house. I want her world to be filled with neighbors and friends and dogs and bossy older siblings sometimes, and bikes and adventures, and the games that kids invent when adults aren't calling the shots. Like mine was when I was that age. I don't feel that this is very risky or dangerous at all.

It makes our neighbors into people, actual human beings. Not strangers to be feared. There are only two houses on our block on the other side of the street where we haven't at least spoken to the neighbors once or twice. Most of them, we know their names. We've trick or treated at their houses, picked up their papers when they're out of town, or brought back their mail that we got by mistake.

But I get this reaction all.the.time. I'm not trying to pick on you in particular, liquorice. You just happened to say something that a lot of people have said to me. But in my opinion it's a rather extreme position that's driven by fear. Had I said that I let my 5 year old go 6 blocks over by herself, crossing several streets, I could understand this. However, in my neighborhood, the lot size for most houses is small and so that means she's maybe 120 feet away from me at any given moment. She's an arm's length away and if you think of it that way, it doesn't seem so scary, does it?

My daughter is the most precious thing in the world to me and the thought of anything happening to her makes my blood run cold. Honestly. But keeping her at my side all the time doesn't make her her any safer than letting her learn to handle herself- first in a controlled environment and then by letting her out a little at a time as she gets more responsible.
posted by howrobotsaremade at 9:24 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I was a kid, I flew by myself from California to Russia every single summer. I usually had a 8 hour layover in Helsinki. The first two times, the stewardess led me to the "kids' room" which was a large, carpeted room with a dozen chairs, some blocks (I was ten, so I rolled my eyes at the blocks), some random kids who didn't speak English or Russian, and weird foreign news on a little TV. I have never been more bored. There was no way to sleep, there was nothing to do, read, or play with. The third year, I told the stewardess that I wasn't going, and she just walked away. I wandered around the airport and got a hot chocolate (which made me feel very adult). It was an incredible feeling to be my own boss.
posted by prefpara at 9:26 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Hm. I live in NYC and don't know if I'd let a nine-year-old ride the train alone. Depends on the kid, I'd say. I do know that when I see kids who look like they're alone on the train, I keep an eye on them, and wonder where their parents might be

As background, I grew up in a rural/suburban area with lots of woods. We ran around unsupervised all the time, and I'm still alive, still have all my limbs, etc.

I don't think people are more or less evil than they were a couple generations ago. I reckon there's always been a degree of danger for isolated kids.

My dad told me a story about his cousin who was kidnapped by the gypsies, though. There was a gypsy caravan parked near town, the kid was on the way home from school, never made it home, and the gypsies left that night. From the way dad told the story, it happened in the late 1930s/early 1940s. At the time, I thought this was pretty AWESOME, and wondered where on earth my first cousin, once removed, might be. I was less aware of what the parents might have felt.
posted by dubold at 9:41 AM on April 12, 2008

Vote - how many actual parents of 9 year old kids here

It would depend on the kid's personality. Some are ready for this at 9, some aren't and some are a little too ready for it. It comes down to knowing your kid, recognizing their weak spots and then teaching them how to overcome that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:52 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

On second thought, I'm kinda surprised at the number of near-miss pedophile stories in this thread. I had no idea how common those experiences seem to be.
posted by Avenger at 10:00 AM on April 12, 2008

I ride the bus to work 5 months out of the year, during winter, which also happens to be the school year. A bunch of schoolkids ride public transportation, alone, and y'know what, everybody on the bus looks out for them.

"Hey, wake up, this is your stop."
"You dropped a glove!"

They aren't our kids but they are our kids.
posted by sciurus at 10:01 AM on April 12, 2008 [8 favorites]

One thing we are not discussing here is the peer pressure between parents re being watchful over their kids.

Exactly. I would be more afraid of the damage done by some busybody calling the police or CPS than a roving pedophile. Of course, there would be no actual neglect involved in a well-informed child traveling a safe route by herself, but do you want to explain that to a government agent? (This too is fear, of an unhealthy type to teach a child.)
posted by Countess Elena at 10:59 AM on April 12, 2008

fshgrl writes "We took the public bus starting in 1st or 2nd grade. The biggest danger was the older kids looking for someone to pick on."

I took public tranist from kindergarten until we moved into town around grade 2. Mind you the bus happened to stop right at the end of our half mile drive and dropped us off at the school so both ends were covered.

caddis writes "Vote - how many actual parents of 9 year old kids here would really let them not only ride the subway in NYC but do it sans cell phone and without specific directions?"

I'll be getting my daughter a cell once she's allowed to roam like this. Mostly because unlike when I was a kid roaming all over town their just aren't any pay phones around. When I was a kid there was a pay phone every couple of blocks and half the service business (restaurants, corner stores, theatres, super markets etc.) had them in their entrance/vestibule/lobby. Now you really have to hunt for a pay phone, at least around here.
posted by Mitheral at 11:17 AM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

The brainwashing of fear seems to have gotten to me as well, in part. There is no way in hell I would let my daughter do some of the things I did when I was a kid. I'm sure this whole generation of kids is going to turn out poorer for it, a lot of the kids sense the parents' fear and think there is something evil in the world and are actually afraid of going out unsupervised as a result.

When I was a kid living in Saskatoon (population about 150,000 at the time), I recall that I was going outside and playing with my friends blocks away from the house at parks or in fields when we were 6. When we were 8, we would ride our bikes all over the city, the only limit was how far *we* thought it was worth riding for the adventure of someplace new, and I'll tell you we saw an awful lot of the city. I'm sure as a kid on a bike I had driven through more streets, districts and neighborhoods in Saskatoon than I have in a car now in Vancouver. And we never thought anything of it.

I was proud of the fact that with my bike I could be anywhere in the city within an hour, even clear across it. Hell, I remember our elementary schools all had a big sports day thing once every year or so held somewhere down by 8th Street, which was pretty close to all the way across the city from our school's location, and the school provided a couple of buses but most of the kids in grades 5 and above made their own way down to it from their houses that day instead, a lot of us riding with groups of our friends on bikes. Can you imagine the screaming today if it was even suggested that kids made their own way to a school sanctioned event without adult supervision every inch of the way?
posted by barc0001 at 11:46 AM on April 12, 2008

They aren't our kids but they are our kids.

This has been my experience as well. I'm sure that the vast, vast majority of adults have a healthy, functional instinct to protect children. I'm not a "kid person," but I know when I see children on their own I naturally want them to be safe - I won't interfere with them, but I also watch for anything that seems distressed or off about the situation. I wonder, though, with the media saturation of child abductions, pedophiles, and stranger danger scares if there isn't a subversion of our protective social instincts. Children are afraid to talk to any adult they don't know for any reason, parents suspect the motives of every adult that talks to their children, adults are so afraid of their intentions being misconstrued that they won't dare interact with children they don't know. Ironically, it's that, if anything, that makes children less safe. We're afraid to be kind to one another, afraid of being told to mind our own business or being accused of being nosy or creepy, afraid to be neighbors and friends rather than semi-familiar strangers, and ultimately, afraid of letting children become people, fully developed, independent human beings with the sense to take care of themselves and the self-esteem that comes with it. This fear is closing us off from the best of our humanity, and its kind of heartbreaking.
posted by louche mustachio at 12:58 PM on April 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

I grew up in the mid-to-late 90s in suburbia and am apparently one of the products of this trend. We were allowed to ride our bikes around the block and to the adjacent park without supervision, but not much farther than that. I remember getting grounded once for not telling my mom I was going to the house on the end of the street to pet the woman's dog. Whether it was a product of my brittle bone disease that made the threat of me not coming home a distinct possibility or just general anxiety about the big bad world, I had to call my parents at work when I came home from school or left for/arrived at a friend's house well until high school.

But I don't think it's really negatively affected me in the way a lot of the people here seem to think it would have. While all my young-childhood stories confined to the area immediately around my house, my older-childhood world expanded significantly when I got my driver's license. I remember feeling dizzy with excitement when I sat behind the wheel of my car for the first time. I was still required to call home to alert my parents to my whereabouts and was subject to random calls, but that was my era of freedom where I learned how to take care of myself. My town didn't have a very good public transportation system, but even the kids without their own transportation managed to get away from the house and wander around town unrestricted. Sure, it was a little scary facing the world for the first time, but I did it and everyone I know did it too.

Don't forget that kids today aren't taking their parents' hyper-vigilance lying down. They look forward to wandering around alone too, and to that end they're really good at subverting that hyper-vigilance. Just because you tell your mom you're going to the movies doesn't mean you're not actually three towns over or at your boyfriend's house, after all. They might be getting their independence later and having to fight for it more, but most of the kids I know aren't sitting at home brainwashed and living in fear, unable to do anything for themselves.
posted by lilac girl at 12:59 PM on April 12, 2008

I also love everyone's stories. I want to build forts with you, and show you the foundations of ruined farmhouses, where we can dig for iridescent bottles. If we're very quiet, we might see a fox.
posted by louche mustachio at 1:03 PM on April 12, 2008 [32 favorites]

I'm a member of the HORRIBLE PARALYZING FEAR generation, but I managed to start riding to school on the subway/bus when I was 11, after having switched from a school that only went up to grade 5 to a middle school that was much farther away.
posted by tehloki at 1:07 PM on April 12, 2008

This is a bit of a non sequitur, but this story made me realize that one reason why Spirited Away was so great is that it captured the constant improvisation that comes with exploring when you're young. A feeling that most of us apparently remember vividly. Yeah, the world is scary and unpredictable, but just as often as not there are strangers who become instantly familiar and are willing to stick their neck out for you.

Anyway, I grew up in suburbs of D.C. and would sometimes disappear all day biking and hiking through Rock Creek Park (no helmet). I mean, subway or not, once a kid has access to a bike the world gets a lot bigger. And yeah, a old drunk guy asked me if I wanted a ride while I was waiting for a bus to head to the YMCA, but I said no and off he went. Life is really not that scary.
posted by Taargus Taargus at 1:09 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

What I think is ironic about this trend to overprotect our kids is that US culture also places a great value on teaching infants to be independent. We're encouraged not to pick up and cuddle them too much, to leave them with sitters, send them to "School" while still infants, get them sleeping on their own from birth and weaning them early. And then they get bigger and we lock them in the house and wrap them in bubble wrap.

My 13 year old is allowed pretty free range around our small town. One thing he has noticed is that the kids he encounters at the park and playground are the older disaffected youth who hang out and smoke and swear and make fun of other kids. The kids more like my son are nowhere to be found. They either aren't allowed out or are at some kind of organized activity.

My kids are homeschooled, which many people see as a kind of super overprotective thing. I grant my kids a lot of independence, though. It's just too bad that they can't seem to find a pack of nice kids in the neighborhood to roam around with.
posted by Biblio at 1:29 PM on April 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

I wonder, though, with the media saturation of child abductions, pedophiles, and stranger danger scares if there isn't a subversion of our protective social instincts.

Every so often I read an article, or a self-report on some comment board, about men refusing to interact with children for any reason, lest they accidentally find themselves at the middle of some pedophile witch hunt. I am torn between finding these to be giant contemptible manchildren, and wishing there was some kind of societal action that could be taken to reassure ordinary people that there is no new danger in speaking to children.
posted by Countess Elena at 2:07 PM on April 12, 2008

Oversharing for a sec:

Former overprotected kid here. Adipocere's description* of the fallout from an overly-sheltered childhood is dead on, with one exception. I have the sense to be very angry at what I've lost.

Reading everyone's experiences growing up 'free range' really illustrated how much I'm still recovering from how I was raised. One small example: I've always thought I was just 'bad at directions.' To this day, I can't read a map to save my life. It's always embarrassed me and I just assumed it was some sort of learning disability. What I never realized was that this was just another in a long list of skills I was 'sheltered' from learning in my formative years. In the spirit of 'protecting' me (from what, I'll never know) my parents either did too much for me, robbing me of the opportunity to learn to do for myself; or didn't allow me to do things at all, robbing me of the experience itself. Either way, I was left with a crushing lack of confidence in my own abilities which I am only now starting to truly overcome. (After all, if your parents judge you incompetent to run your own life....)

Their helpful, well-meaning efforts to keep me safe from the world could have effectively hobbled me for life. They certainly did try.

Since this has already strayed into public therapy session, I'll end with this. I read a long time ago that when you're a parent, you're not raising a child, you're raising an adult.

Congratulations to Ms. Skenazy for equipping her son to be a fine adult.

*afraid of risk of any sort, perfectly willing to hand over decision-making to whatever parent substitute is handy (boss or law enforcement official), anxiously eager to trade anything for a false sense of security, unable to judge probability levels and cumulative risk for themselves, without even the sense to be angry at what they have lost.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:12 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

Wonder how much of the criticism she received is from people who don't understand transit. I have colleagues who can't understand how I function without a car; and despite the fact that we live a 5 minute walk from a subway station and 10 min walk from a streetcar stop, the kids across the street from me have never used public transit with or without their parents. And this is in Toronto, where the transit is nowhere near as world-class as NY, but is still pretty good and very convenient. If in your world only poor people or hipsters or something use transit maybe the idea of your little angel alone on the subway is completely off the wall.

I echo whoever up above mentioned about the fact that "when we were young" and everything was perfect, the fact that so many kids played outside, there were so many stay at home mums looking out their windows, and everyone within a few blocks knew each other made everyone feel their kids were safe. I rarely see kids playing on the street I live in now.
posted by jamesonandwater at 2:15 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Avenger, I think the important part to take away is that in most cases, we all used what we were taught about strangers and deflected any harm.

My sister (4) and I(6) had a guy try and get us to unlock the doors when our mom ran in to a store to pick up a few things (Do parents even do that anymore?). We screamed and honked the horn until she came out, and he was gone before she even got out of the store.

At an older age, my sister was flashed by a pervert that followed her on the way home from school. Her response was to throw a full can of soda at his head and start yelling, and the guy ran off.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 2:19 PM on April 12, 2008

I was also one of the "free to roam" kids like many here. I took public transportation (the No 8 bus in Baltimore) to grade school starting in 1st grade. I didn't have any problems, and my parents weren't overly concerned, and I'm grateful that I was allowed to roam very freely - I could walk anywhere I wanted in the city.

I don't think it's any more dangerous now than it was then, and I don't think that most people believe it is, despite the media. I do think that people have less tolerance for risk than they used to, just like they have less tolerance for any discomfort in general.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:43 PM on April 12, 2008

[insert clever name here] writes "My sister (4) and I(6) had a guy try and get us to unlock the doors when our mom ran in to a store to pick up a few things (Do parents even do that anymore?). "

Only if they want to crucified on the evening news.
posted by Mitheral at 2:55 PM on April 12, 2008

When I was five or so, I was molested by a guy in my driveway, as I was getting ready to go on a bike ride. It didn't bother me though, as I eventually learned that anytime I went anywhere by myself I was likely to get harrassed by males. I had boobs and hips by the time I was nine, and my periods started then as well. When riding my bike, I had my ass grabbed more times then I care to remember by teenagers who thought it was funny to get so close to me on a bike when they were in a moving car. I apparently grew up surrounded by all the perverts who apparently didn't live anywhere near you all.

The people in this thread are totally ignoring what happens to girls who develope early, and are totally unprepared to deal with asshole men.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 3:23 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I would bet at least a dollar that the same people who can spew vitriolic hatred at this woman are the same people who lament how video games and non-stop media are causing childhood obesity. It's interesting how people can raise their children like veal calves and wonder how they ended up mal-adjusted and pudgy. Better yet, I bet these are the same parents who medicate their mal-adjusted pudgy children with drugs because they are mal-adjusted and pudgy. (begin recursive cycle of doom)
If only people would attack the root of the problem, rather than the symptoms.

Granted I grew up knee deep in my grandmother's river, huzzah for being outside kids!
posted by JimmyJames at 3:24 PM on April 12, 2008

The part that got me most about this story, was the fact that she wouldn't let him have a cell phone... in case he lost it. Apparently she thought it was okay to for him to potentially be lost, but lose a cell phone? Heck no, those are expensive. [The other way of looking at that is that apparently she thought he wasn't responsible enough to take care of it, but somehow was responsible enough to go home on his own?]

I also thought it was just generally stupid of her not to let him have a cell phone. Adults carry the things around in case of emergency, so why couldn't he have one for the same reason?
posted by Zinger at 3:25 PM on April 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

lest they accidentally find themselves at the middle of some pedophile witch hunt

As irrational as it seems this is a concern. I'm always super-observant in that very "turn and look" obvious way like the man watering his lawn upthread when I see an unaccompanied child in the wild. I don't think I'd get within an arm's length or two unless there was a substantial, immediate physical threat, in which case obviously you do what you have to.

Since the FEARFEARFEAR of pedophilia means the accused is guilty until, well forever, there is a substantial risk that's just not worth it unless someone is going to get hit by a train or something.

I'm trying to remember how old I was when I started taking the subway to school, seventh grade so twelve or thirteen. I can't even contribute a zomg-in-retrospect story, my commutes were pretty boring. If her nine year old is mature enough to do it, and some are, more power to them both.

When I have kids I'll have to decide between the middle-of-nowhere woods life or the different type of freedom they'll have in the city. Probably some combination of the two. Cellphones make the city much smaller and safer when you're only a phone call away from a Responsible Adult.
posted by Skorgu at 3:30 PM on April 12, 2008

Countess Elena: Every so often I read an article, or a self-report on some comment board, about men refusing to interact with children for any reason, lest they accidentally find themselves at the middle of some pedophile witch hunt. I am torn between finding these to be giant contemptible manchildren, and wishing there was some kind of societal action that could be taken to reassure ordinary people that there is no new danger in speaking to children.

I work in a school and periodically we have the school's lawyer come by and explain to us that if we make *any* physical contact with anyone under 18 (or, in fact, most other human beings) we are placing ourselves and the school at risk for a lawsuit.

We have been advised not to meet one on one with students if we can help it and, if we do, we should leave the door wide open.

I love my students and interact with them all the time and, yes, sometimes shake their hands or give them hugs (if they initiate it) or an appropriate pat on the back. Other teachers have cautioned me that I'm risking my job - and they're right, so I try to do this as infrequently as possible. I'm more likely to shake hands with them when I see them off campus in a public place than on campus.

So, yeah, we're also working on making U.S. society safer from any form of friendly physical contact because every male teacher is a potential pedophile in the eyes of the law. Yay.
posted by Joey Michaels at 3:33 PM on April 12, 2008 [4 favorites]

I grew up in NYC and switched to taking the E train by myself when I started middle school in 6th grade. Before that I took the school bus from Spring street, and mom walked me to the bus stop. One of my classmates was abducted walking to the same bus stop by himself, though.

Seems basically like a decision with lots of factors, and something it's reasonable in general to respect parental choice about. 9 sounds slightly on the young side to me, but I guess I was only 11, and I don't remember it seeming out of place or scary or anything. On the other hand, when you're a kid, 11 seems so much older than 9... 6th grade versus 4th grade? it's light years apart.
posted by mdn at 3:43 PM on April 12, 2008

What is this, BBC Have Your Say? All these anecdotal stories are interesting and all, but completely useless when trying to decide as a society how safe the NY subway is for minors. "Playing in my neighbor's farm fields in 1978" is not only anecdotal and unscientific, but not even remotely comparable to traveling on big city mass transit in 2008.

Personally, I think it's a criminal act to let a child of 9 wander the big city alone. Doing so does not somehow make you a more progressive, enlightened parent. The bottom line is that you are putting a huge burden on big city society to protect your child from big city society. It's not the big city's burden; IT'S YOUR BURDEN.

Joey: Do you have children? There is no way I'd approve of a male teacher hugging my male sons. I don't know about other parents, but I don't like any men touching my children who are not close family (even my boss of 10 years). Maybe that makes me paranoid, but either way I don't like it, and as long as I am responsible for their safety and well being, I'm sure I will continue to not like it. I'm certain that many if not most involved parents feel the same way.
posted by Brocktoon at 4:41 PM on April 12, 2008

I really wish I could chime in along with most of the people on this thread about how my childhood was free and unfettered, how I walked for miles through the woods unharmed and am a happy, healthy adult for it.

But I can't.

None of the restrictions these kids are put through are new to me. Even though I was born in 1970. I was never allowed to leave our yard unsupervised until I was about ten; in fact, it was an uphill battle for me to convince my mother that I could ride my bike along the front of our yard, because, you know, it was next to the road and there were trees in our front yard so I'd be out of sight of the house.

I didn't go on a bus anywhere by myself until I was sixteen. I was never taught to make anything in the kitchen that might involve turning on the stove or a burner because I might burn myself. I needed to have supervision if I was going to use a drill or go up a ladder.

All of this finally ended one night after I'd turned eighteen, after I'd started going to college, when I told my mother that I was heading back up to the University District that night to go dancing with friends, and when I put aside her protests as gently as possible by informing her that I wasn't asking her permission -- I was letting her know where I'd be.

Of course, by then it was too late. This pattern of learned helplessness had already been deeply ingrained.

So how did I turn out? Frankly? I'm kind of a wreck. I've battled depression and anxiety attacks since my early teens. There are so many simple domestic day-to-day tasks that I just can't make myself deal with -- here's an example -- because I really never did learn how to deal with anything by myself, because I never really developed any confidence that I would make the right decision.

I know my mother loves me. I know she didn't mean for me to turn out like this. I don't know what happened that made her want to shelter me that much. My sister's theory is that since I was an unexpected baby, born late in my mom's life, I was so precious and rare to her that I had to be protected at all costs.

I suppose I get that. I can't really imagine being a parent and having the courage to let my children go off by themselves and have the formative experiences they need to have. (But you know what? That's part of the reason I don't have kids.)

I don't think the world is any more dangerous now than the one I spent the first few years of my life in. But the future, the world I'm going to spend the last years of my life in -- a world run entirely by people like me -- that world scares me to death.
posted by webmutant at 4:49 PM on April 12, 2008 [7 favorites]

"So, yeah, we're also working on making U.S. society safer from any form of friendly physical contact because every male teacher is a potential pedophile in the eyes of the law. Yay."

While I understand that this attitude is inherently insulting for all the genuinely nice people, what it is also saying is that the nice people having their freedom is more important then protecting the more vulnerable from potentially harmful situations.

Which kinda leaves one to wonder just how nice they really are.

I've been looking at property recently, and would you believe that those terrible real estate agents won't just meet me for the first time at a deserted building? They insist on my going to their office first, and somebody copies my driver's license. They're limiting my freedom to be a potential asshole, and I don't mind -- for the simple fact that I sympathize with their need to minimize their own risk.
posted by bravelittletoaster at 5:02 PM on April 12, 2008

brocktoon: As I said, the only time I hug a student (male or female) is when they initiate it. Even then, it is just a quick pat on the back from me. I should note that I work with high school students. The ones that have hugged me? Generally students that I've had for three or four years in class, as club members and in shows. Why do they hug me? Well, typically it is after we've had a successful performance or they've won something at a speech and debate tournament.

It isn't as if I just walk around hugging people I barely know. I barely hug adults.

I am suspecting you are talking about younger children, though, since that is the context of this particular discussion.

There is a world of difference between a "I just got into college thanks in part to your letter of recomendation and the work you did with me on how to give a good interview" hug initiated by an excited student and a "I like to have small children hug me" hug initiated by an adult.

I mean, surely you've seen high school atheletes hugging, for example, their basketball coach after a big victory? I can't believe you'd think there was anything untoward about that. Again, I am sure you mean younger kids, right?

bravelittletoaster: This is a matter of degrees. I don't think meeting anyone you don't know extremely well in a dangerous location is a wise idea, but that is a different thing than being afraid of shaking hands for fear of getting sued for inappropriate contact.

I'm not sure this is 100% a freedom vs safety issue. I don't believe that any of us have the unaliable freedom to touch another human being without their permission - even for a handshake. But should we be afraid of shaking hands with somebody we've known for a decent amount of time?

The answer I get from our legal folks is "yes, you should. Don't touch them, adult or child."

Anyhow, my response was to this:

Every so often I read an article, or a self-report on some comment board, about men refusing to interact with children for any reason, lest they accidentally find themselves at the middle of some pedophile witch hunt. I am torn between finding these to be giant contemptible manchildren, and wishing there was some kind of societal action that could be taken to reassure ordinary people that there is no new danger in speaking to children.

I think that brocktoon's response and, to a lesser extent, your response demonstrates that adult males have good reason to be afraid of interacting with children (or, to some extent, any stranger) in any way.

Anyhow, I've helped derail an otherwise excellent discussion. I'm happy to discuss this more via email.
posted by Joey Michaels at 5:22 PM on April 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

I knew we were officially a nanny state when they started passing bike (bicycle) helmet laws.
posted by notreally at 5:54 PM on April 12, 2008

Regarding the vote, I still don't see any parents who are willing to let their own kids do this. All I see are a lot of people saying that they had freedom when they themselves were kids. That was then and this is now. This woman has made a very bold move by allowing such a young kid that much freedom. I would not have done it with my children at 9. Very few upper middle class parents would. Check out the poor neighborhoods though and it is more like when you grew up. Kids get lots of freedom. I don't know who is right or wrong. I do believe that kids are too protected and I am always looking for ways to give my kids reasonable freedoms, but a 9 years old on the NYC subway, and no cell phone, that is way beyond my comfort zone.
posted by caddis at 6:02 PM on April 12, 2008

I grew up free range in Toronto, starting taking the TTC on my own in 1993 at age 8. I took it to school, ballet classes, acting classes, the museum, movies, art galleries, friend's houses, but my favourite was the solitary streetcar rides going no where in particular, just to watch my city and it's people. I had a lot of free range friends too, but some of our friends were kept in their yards until they were in their teens. These kids got into a lot of trouble the minute they were let off their leashes, and one of them is dead now, thanks in part to her total lack of street smarts.
posted by zarah at 6:14 PM on April 12, 2008

The further infantalization of America. By the time I was 10 I was wandering all over the city I lived in, I had earlier in my life then then been sent of fin the woods routinely, where we lived at that time, to find grown-ups who got lost.
posted by edgeways at 6:34 PM on April 12, 2008

I don't get it. Starting at age 7 I walked miles to school when we were stationed in a foreign countries. We walked to school even where there was civil war going on. (If it got real bad maybe a hired goon would drive us — who, looking back, was even more likely to kidnap us). Once back in the states I rode my bike to school in places with insane traffic.

The subway certainly can't be any more dangerous than that.

Statistically America is safer now than it ever has been. There are not more pedophiles or child murderers now than there were before. Probably less. The problem is people lead such anesthetized lives they have to invent things to be afraid of. Shameful.
posted by tkchrist at 6:45 PM on April 12, 2008

Again, your anecdotal testimony featuring a different era in a different city in a different country, is NOT COMPARABLE.

Violent crime occurrences per 100,000 people in Toronto, 1993: 25

Violent crime occurrences per 100,000 people in New York City, 2006: 638

Sources: City of Toronto, Task Force on Community Safety; FBI 2006 UCR data
posted by Brocktoon at 6:49 PM on April 12, 2008

Regarding the vote, I still don't see any parents who are willing to let their own kids do this.

I did it before with my daughter and I'd do it again. Though she's 16 now, she was given a wide berth and at times, essentially kicked outta the house to go play because kids need that. Was there a risk there? Of course, but how else will a kid learn to handle themselves unless they're given space to do so?

This is not rocket science, it's taking the measure of your kid as they're growing up and strengthening their weak spots. Some are ready for this at 9, some aren't and as a parent it's your job to know these things.

As for a teacher hugging my kid? Sure, as long as my kid was comfortable with it. The world could use more hugs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Well, at the risk of being totally tacky, the 9 year old is a hell of a lot safer on the subway than he would be in schools. How many kids murdered on the subway last year? Zero.

How many shot to death at school? I haven't counted but definitely more than zero.
And I don't mean to get into a statistics argument but only to say that people cannot protect their children 100 percent of the time and should stop trying.

And as far as where are all the kids now? I suspect in my minivan, where they're being driven to team sports, the mall, parties and their friends' houses. Nothing solo these days. Unfortunately, most kids would feel deprived, I think, if sent out to fend for themselves for the day, though I am sorely tempted to put my teenager on the commuter train to NYC one of these days and have her meet me in town from there.
posted by etaoin at 7:36 PM on April 12, 2008

And as far as where are all the kids now? I suspect in my minivan

Oh. Oh, dear.
posted by ColdChef at 7:48 PM on April 12, 2008 [5 favorites]

My mother was (and still is) of the worrying sort, but nevertheless I was still always granted more freedom than The Kids Today (and I'm not that old).

I lived in an intermediate zone between the city and the suburbs, and was allowed to do whatever I wanted just as long as I called home around dinner to tell them when I was coming back. I was 7.

I started riding the bus unaccompanied at 12, since that is when I first needed to take the bus anywhere. I never liked getting rides, and would always walk/bike/bus to friends' houses.

Bad things happen - but they happen so rarely that I believe it is worth the small risk to ensure that your child can grow up to be independent and happy. I applaud Ms. Skenazy's decision.
posted by wsp at 8:32 PM on April 12, 2008

I grew up in southern California in the 80's, near the edge of development and wilderness. From ages 6-12, I wandered in the hills with coyotes, bobcats, tarantulas, rattlesnakes and the occasional mountain lion.
I came around a corner once and met up at 20 feet with a coyote, he ran off, and I thought it was cool. My older (dumber) friend baited tarantulas to fight with some sort of giant wasp, and shot baby rattle snakes with his BB gun.
We snuck inside the fence of the nearby resorvoir, the one that had a slick, sloped, concrete bank and was probably 100 feet deep.
We had BMX tracks and skateboard ramps in the Powell-Peralta era.
I once flipped off my bike, over the handlebars, landed on my back on concrete, didn't get a concussion, and laughed about it with my friends.
We made blowtorches to burn ants with matches and WD-40 cans, highly dangerous.
This was all during the 'Night Stalker' murder roving southern california.

I'm probably a bigger pussy now at 34 then my 10 year old self, but I'm alive.

Get over it parents. Part of growing up is doing crazy stuff your parents never find out about, this woman was just in on the game and signed off on it. Same stuff happens every day, and 'most' kids don't freakin die.

I'm glad this kid is not afraid to leave his brownstone stoop, maybe he'll invent something important, become a diplomat, write a book, or just become a non-ass-kissing-douchebag member of society when I'm old.
The risk is worth it.

[ After 5 years, this is the post that made me join, hmmm.]
posted by so_articulate at 8:42 PM on April 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm curious - I see lots of posts on this thread about how various MeFites apparently wandered about unattended when they were kids... but how many of these same MeFites have kids now, and would they let them do the same thing?

It's one thing to say, pssht, heck when I was a kid, I did [whatever], it's quite another thing to contemplate your own children doing things like that.

If for no other reason, when you're nine, you don't think of the 1001 things that could go wrong... whereas as a parent, you do and then some.
posted by Zinger at 9:06 PM on April 12, 2008

My parents both worked full-time and went to school to finish their master's at night. If not for my ocassional MBTA trips, I would have never gotten to school. I was taking two buses across Brooklyn at 9. Granted, I didn't do this every school day, only when I missed my school's private bus. That said, I'm not sure I'd let my 9 year old do this now.
posted by notjustfoxybrown at 10:46 PM on April 12, 2008

I think a comparison of responses to how much freedom should kids have against socio-economic background would be very interesting indeed. I recently went through training for a tutoring program in which some tutoring sessions may take place in the library. The trainer said specifically, "Remember, these are kids from low-income families; they might take the bus by themselves, they may show up without a parent." Surely the amount of time parents can spend hovering over their children's every move is directly proportional to the amount of time they (the parents) aren't working. Aren't kids who take the bus to school, as opposed to getting driven by minivan to violin practice, essentially doing the same thing everyday?

So, I guess my question is; who here lives below the poverty line and thinks letting kids go "free range" is a bad idea or negligent parenting?

Also, jameson's got a point vis-à-vis perception of public transit by those who use it and those who don't.

To throw another anecdotal data point in the NOT COMPARABLE mix, my grandpa was driving when he was 13.
posted by HE Amb. T. S. L. DuVal at 2:35 AM on April 13, 2008 [1 favorite]

Silly caddis, was just point out that bravelittletoaster was wrong about people not not being aware of the differences of raising girls. Apologies for not making it clearer.

If for no other reason, when you're nine, you don't think of the 1001 things that could go wrong... whereas as a parent, you do and then some.

There are 10 different things that could wrong with your kid in the house alone. As a parent you worry and fret and wonder, but you can not live this life of fear. It's bad for you and bad for your kids. At some point when they're young, they have to learn some basic things about life, such as being able to explore their world, how to handle getting lost, reading a map, and most importantly, being able to read people.

I remember going to summer camp at Loyola College in downtown Baltimore. I had to catch two buses from the surburbs and naturally got lost the first time I did it. There was a few minutes of sheer panice, sure, but I figured out it out and it doing so learned a lesson: if you really want to learn a city, get lost on it's bus system for an afternoon, heh.

As I said before upthread, not every kid is ready for these things at a specific age. It's up to the parents to recognize this and keep the kid close 'till they're ready.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:30 AM on April 13, 2008

I do agree that some 9-year-olds will not be ready for this. But some will.

I have a co-worker whose nine-year-old son still gets a babysitter when he stays at home alone, which honestly I think is a little unusual. But according to her he is immature.

I admit that I don't have any children, so perhaps the people in this thread who say that my opinion would be different if I did might be right, I have no way of judging. On the other hand, I have heard that said about a lot of issues-- "when you have kids" you'll think differently about going to church; or public schools; or moving to the suburbs; etc. I am skeptical about all of those statements.

Regarding bravelittletoaster's experience of developing early and having men grab her ass everywhere-- it sounds terrible. But I'm not sure that keeping her inside would have solved the problem-- perhaps just postponed it. Maybe martial arts or something similar would have helped her retaliate/protect herself? I'd be interested in her opinion on that.
posted by miss tea at 5:47 AM on April 13, 2008

Again, your anecdotal testimony featuring a different era in a different city in a different country, is NOT COMPARABLE.

I dunno, when a kid feels comfortable handling themselves out in the woods all day, big cities can seem as just a more crowded woods. The point is that once a kid gains the self confidence of being independent, there's not much they can't do. Reducing it to a numbers overlooks the importance of actually dealing with people and the environment they're in.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:25 AM on April 13, 2008

Well, I was treated as an adult by the time I was 8 years old (I did my own laundry, cooked my own dinner, walked to and from school, and occasionally slept overnight at home alone). By 15 I had a job. As a girl, yeah, I got hassled... but I dealt with it.

I too wandered and did whatever I wanted. I didn't go unscathed, but I'm a very happy and well-adjusted adult. A couple of black eyes and the occasional visit to the principal's office for fighting is pretty normal.

My two little sisters who came along 12 years later were massively overprotected. They were treated like little gilded eggs.

One was married with babies by 18. The other one has had recurring depression and has already been engaged twice (she's 21 now).

Neither girl can do anything for herself and both suffer from mental health issues. One has already been divorced twice (she's 24).

I believe that their life paths (getting married/pregnant by high school graduation) were knee-jerk reactions on their parts in order to be perceived as adults because they were overly babied when they were still children.

I got beat up and messed with a lot, but it made me wary and careful and self-sufficient. My sisters were sheltered from any kind of stress or need to protect themselves (or even basic problem-solving) and they can barely function (and periodically end up living with mom and dad again... well, THEIR mom and MY dad, I should say).

You can protect a child, but sometimes the bad things that happen to them help them learn basic survival and protection skills. Isn't that skill set something children NEED to develop?
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 8:40 AM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Maybe a happy medium is a school like in this article (about an outdoor school where kids get rained on and find dead birds and pee in the woods and so forth). I know when we discussed it at work everyone - including those with kids - loved it, rhapsodized (as in this thread) about their idyllic childhood and wondered aloud about local versions.
posted by jamesonandwater at 8:53 AM on April 13, 2008

When I was nine, I wanted to go see the Lipizzan horse show downtown. None of my friends being as horse-obsessed as I was, nobody else wanted to go. I asked my mom if I could go alone. Her feeling was that if I, at nine, felt comfortable enough to go downtown on the bus, buy a ticket, and go see the show by myself, she wasn't going to discourage me.

I still remember the headiness of that day. And I give props to my mom, whose 12-year-old brother died in an accident when he was out running around with two other kids; any fears she had from that did not cause her to hover over us in overprotective mode. I ran all over the city after that. (Ironically, the only time I ever got approached by a man who showed me his penis was on the playground after school... and now that I think of it, where would you be more likely to find a pedophile?)
posted by OolooKitty at 10:24 AM on April 13, 2008

True OolooKitty, the only time I got close to a pedo (and all girls my age in my building, there were four the same age leaving the building at the same time every morning) was walking to school. He sat in his car watching every morning as we left the building for a week or two, and one morning he had the door open and was playing with himself motioning to me - I walked alone, hated to be late - to get in to the car and was hollering something I didn't even understand. I didn't look at him, I didn't make any move to acknowledge that I had seen him, trying so hard to keep my shoulders and back straight as I walked away knowing full well that he was watching, I just kept walking, one block away I ran into the subway and called my mom, giving her his car registration number, color and make so that she may call the cops. I was 13 but looked more like eleven because I was tiny. The car as it turned out belonged to his common-law wife who said that he had just borrowed it to take it to the shop for her, by the way. Every morning for two weeks he was taking it to the shop. Uh-huh. Sheesh. Talk about sheltered people.
posted by dabitch at 11:03 AM on April 13, 2008

BB, my comment was sort of in jest as I figured that you just borked the link. That you actually intended to link to bravelittletoaster's comment I find rather disturbing. I also find it disturbing that the mods, in their infinite wisdom, have now twice deleted my dig at you. What is up with that? Email me mods if you have an issue with that.
posted by caddis at 3:16 PM on April 13, 2008

Brocktoon: do you feel that way only about male teachers, or about all teachers?

I had this conversation with a colleague a few weeks ago, about how he loves children and likes to make funny faces at toddlers when he sees them in grocery stores/the park, but is always getting strange looks for it. I think it's a sad day when we start viewing every man as being a potential pedophiliac/rapist/molester.

Another anecdote: I, too, was allowed to wander as a kid, though if i was going far (off my back country road) I had to have a brother/sister/friend with me. I was never inappropriately propositioned, and it was somebody I knew who molested me.
posted by rosethorn at 3:30 PM on April 13, 2008

How white this discussion is.

Kids whose parents both work (if they have two parents) and who don't have nannies mustfend for themselves.

Middle-class parents then encounter these tough, assertive (and yes, usually brown) kids and regard them as a Social Problem. The kids' usual mode of interaction strikes the white parents / teachers as disrespectful.

White free-range kids hanging out in a middle-class neighborhood? OK, as long as they aren't yet teenagers. Brown kids hanging out? "Loitering." A matter for the police, even if the kids are as young as ten -- middle class people have heard too much about "superpredators."

The overprotected middle-class white kids presumably grow into the next generation of middle-class white people paranoiacally afraid of crime, who choose to live in gated suburban communities and vote Republican, and the consolidation of America as an apartheid state is assured.
posted by bad grammar at 4:15 PM on April 13, 2008 [2 favorites]

How white this discussion is.

Quite true. Kids with darker skin color who live in lower class neighborhoods seem to get a hell of a lot more freedom, and it isn't because their environment is safer, and frankly I doubt it is because their parents care less. This is a white, middle class vibe.
posted by caddis at 5:38 PM on April 13, 2008

How white this discussion is.

Quite true.

Nah, I'm black and the story I related above was about me and a couple of black friends from my pretty evenly mixed middle class neighborhood. The only fending we did riding to the store to buy candy bars or deciding whether to eat chicken, turkey or beef pot pies (microwaves were still new and not had by many yet).
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:59 PM on April 13, 2008

Since someone expressed the thought in MefiMail that I wasn't clear on this question....

Vote - how many actual parents of 9 year old kids here would really let them not only ride the subway in NYC but do it sans cell phone and without specific directions?

...let me cheerfully raise my hand my hand and yell "Me, damn you, ME!" For christs sakes people, this is not a big deal, especially for a kid growing up in New York..

All clear now? Good.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:42 PM on April 13, 2008 [3 favorites]

Um, I'm white and my parents both worked. Not all white kids have nannies and not all white kids have a parent who stays at home.
posted by OolooKitty at 10:50 PM on April 13, 2008

The other half of happy childhood stories is to actually support parents when something bad happens to kids when they are out and about on their own, trusting the parents' judgement, believing it was bad luck, and not going on about what they should have done differently.

Also some of the stories here sound like neglect to me. Of course we're usually invested in either how we turned out all right or how it's all our parents' fault that we didn't, so self reporting isn't necessarily so reliable.
posted by Salamandrous at 3:29 AM on April 14, 2008

Um, I'm white and my parents both worked. Not all white kids have nannies and not all white kids have a parent who stays at home.

Yeah, me too. But I agree that the trend is generally that this issue is only an issue for white middle-class folks. When I lived in Brooklyn and Queens there were always lots of Hispanic kids running around independently.

Now, here in Maine, I do see lots of kids by themselves... but I live a block away from an elementary school with a big playground. I live next door to an enormous family (8 kids, I think... it's hard to keep track!) and they are always running around outside playing. It's really nice to see. All the neighborhood kids are nice kids, too. When I am out with the dog they always want to come up and pet him, and they're always very polite and careful about it. My neighborhood is very mixed-ethnicity-- my neighbors are Cambodian, and there are Somali, other African, African-American, white, and many other ethnicities of kids around. Most lower middle class, I'd say.

I am so glad I don't live in the suburbs. I know folks who live out in Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth whose kids are never alone. Even at 9, 10, 11. At that age I took the (school) bus to a different part of our neighborhood and had an afterschool job walking someone's dog; then I walked about a mile home. It was great!
posted by miss tea at 4:24 AM on April 14, 2008

So yesterday my six year old kid decided he wanted to jump down the [uncarpeted, hardwood] stairs while in his sleeping bag.

And going by some of the responses in this thread, I should be letting him roam free, unsupervised, for hours on end.

Yeah, that'll happen.
posted by Lucinda at 4:34 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lucinda--you do realize that a 9 year old is 50% older than a 6 year old, right?

Also, have you considered your 6 year old's lack of personal protective skills is largely due to the fact that there's always someone there to catch him, warn him, kiss him, bandaid him, and generally make sure that he doesn't have to worry about these things?

I'm not advocating that a 6 year old be left to his or her own devices for a long time, but I would argue that a 7 year old should be out exploring.
posted by TomMelee at 5:37 AM on April 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lucinda -

Was he hurt? Really hurt - not just a bump or a scrape?
posted by Irontom at 2:54 PM on April 14, 2008

Also, have you considered your 6 year old's lack of personal protective skills is largely due to the fact that there's always someone there to catch him, warn him, kiss him, bandaid him, and generally make sure that he doesn't have to worry about these things?

No, I think it's largely due to the fact that he is an almost seven year old boy.

Irontom > he got down about four steps (to the landing), perfectly fine, before we saw what he was doing and made him stop.
posted by Lucinda at 6:10 PM on April 14, 2008

Oh, so because absolutely nothing bad at all happened, you want to keep him locked in the house?
posted by Brockles at 6:33 PM on April 14, 2008

Oh, so because absolutely nothing bad at all happened, you want to keep him locked in the house?

I didn't realize those were the only options when it came to parenting. Silly me.
posted by Lucinda at 7:15 PM on April 14, 2008

But your example doesn't make sense. Your son did something that had no consequences, save those in your mind, yet you use it as an example of being irresponsible.

He didn't hurt himself, and he didn't even fall over. He hopped down just four stairs. Without incident.

Why would that mean he is unable to play outside unsupervised? You stated in your initial post that you had no intention of letting him go outside unsupervised, and this is the whole point. You are protecting him from what might happen, which is where the paranoia stems from that this thread is all about hoping will disperse (as I read it). You are by no means an extreme example, and your son is much younger than the age most of the people here think is suitable for wandering off, and I'm not really criticising but poniting out the same logic. But even if your son HAD fallen down the stairs, he'd have just got a bump on the head if that (assuming no other health issues existed).

So? How did you learn not to do things as a kid?

(disclaimer: I used to 'glow worm' down a full flight of stairs as a kid in my sleeping bag. As a cub and scout, we used to camp out in the local scout hut, turn the lights off and bounce at each other in 'glow worm fights' fully encased in our sleeping bags. It was ace fun, and yes a few people got banged heads. Nobody received any injuries they even remembered two days later. I don't think your son was doing anything that would suggest he shouldn't be outside by himself, personally).

People worry not only too much about their kids getting kidnapped, but also panic that they'll hurt themselves, perhaps forgetting how astonishingly fast kids heal, and how quickly they learn 'not to do that again'. The more extreme (within reason) the deeper the lesson is learned:

1: "Don't climb the tree, it's dangerous"

-whatever, mum. Kid climbs tree as soon as mum's back is turned on as many occasions as he can.

2: Kid climbs tree from an early age, gets scared so doesn't go too high and falls out. Hurts self. Learns to be careful in trees. has fun in trees, but is much more careful than in the first example.

I think the first kid is more likely to seriously injure or kill themselves climbing trees. Protecting the kid just means their rate of learning of trees is slowed, and they are that bit braver (ie higher) when they finally fall out. Splat.
posted by Brockles at 7:54 PM on April 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Fine. You think I'm a helicopter parent. I think that you and TomMelee aren't parents so you have no idea what you're talking about, and that you can't read for comprehension to save your lives. The thread is four days old, let's move on.
posted by Lucinda at 6:29 AM on April 15, 2008

It's too bad this one derailed at you Lucinda---and I apologize if you took anything I said as offensive. I am not a parent, but up until last year I did take care of them for a living. And not just one at at time either, more like 50-100 at a time. Would you believe that in that 10 years a few kids got hurt through no fault of my own? And would you believe that most didn't? None died, none came close, and many learned that when you fight gravity---gravity wins.

When I work with kids who insist on doing things like jumping down stairs, I'll tell them once and then let them fall. And then they lay on the ground trying to decide whether to cry by judging the concern on my face, I grin real big at them and say "OH MY GOSH IS THE FLOOR OK? YOU HIT IT PRETTY HARD AND WE CAN'T AFFORD TO FIX IT." And then if they have a bump on their noggin, I tell their parents they got in a tussle with gravity and gravity won.

Yes, kids decide how to react to accidents by judging the look on the adults faces. Do you sprint over and goo-goo over it, crooning and asking if they're ok? Or, do you grin at them and encourage the effort and continue whatever you were doing. That's not to day I haven't actually had to do real first aid before---but it's never a big deal. Bruises and scars should be badges of honor---not things we squirm away from. Especially for little boys---and in teaching little girls not to be dependent on everyone and everything.

One of my other favorite games is to help kids come up with "the lie." Like, they're running across the gym and fall and bust their chin open, so now they've got a bandaid. Admitting you fell while running to people who ask "what happened to you?" is pretty lame, so we come up with fabulous stories about saving kittens from trees and it turned out to be a bobcat, and about chasing bullies away from our sisters. That sort of thing.

So in conclusion: I am not a parent, but I do allow children to hurt themselves sometimes. I also encourage them to tell lies about it. Taken completely out of context, like we've done with the lady in question in this story--I am a monster. I also guarantee you that you know few people who are as unanimously loved and respected by everyone from kindergardners and pissed off teenagers to overbearing parents.
posted by TomMelee at 8:00 AM on April 15, 2008 [16 favorites]

Tom, you can watch my kids.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:14 AM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

When we were young, my siblings and I were basically wild animals from sun up to sundown.
posted by Crumpled Farm at 7:14 PM on April 21, 2008

I recently started a college job as a pizza delivery guy, and recently got an icy stare and no tip from a mother when I said hello to her ~4 year old daughter who ran to the door cheering. Since that, I'm more cautious about interacting with children when I'm on my runs, but I'm a sadder, darker man for it.

For crying out loud, what danger did she think her kid was in?
posted by lostburner at 8:15 PM on April 21, 2008

There is no way I'd approve of a male teacher hugging my male sons. I don't know about other parents, but I don't like any men touching my children who are not close family (even my boss of 10 years). Maybe that makes me paranoid, but either way I don't like it, and as long as I am responsible for their safety and well being, I'm sure I will continue to not like it. I'm certain that many if not most involved parents feel the same way.

Whew. So many thoughts, and I should be sleeping.

Matt, thanks for putting this up on the sidebar.

Brocktoon, your comment makes me so sad. I'm the mother of a 21 month old boy and both E's father and I are involved parents. It would horrify me if a teacher, friend, or coach felt like they couldn't hug (or even pat on the back or touch!) my son. Touching each other is a basic human connection. How terrible it must be for you to spend your life distrusting every man that comes into your sons' life. How terrible for them, too, because its going to affect their ability to interact with others as they get older.

Now that the snow has melted, my husband has begun stopping at a local playground with my son as they come home from work/daycare. So there he is, this 6'5" daddy with his tiny blonde toddler son, surrounded by playground moms with their kids. Oh my god, did he get the stinkeye from the moms the first few times they went. I still don't think some of the mothers are comfortable with him being there, even after seeing how much my son adores him and even seeing us visit there as a family a few times. And for what? Because he's a man alone with a little boy who wants to play on the slide?

Last Wednesday a girl fell from at the top of the slide, and hit her head as she slid down the slide sort of sideways and backwards. She was clearly terrified, and her head was bleeding, and because my husband was supervising our son on the toddler slide on the other side he was the first adult there. (Her mom was outside the fence.) He helped her to her feet and produced a baby wipe for her, but he said afterwards all he could think about was "I shouldn't touch her, I shouldn't touch her, I shouldn't touch her" -- an idea that was borne out by the mother, who, rather than thanking him for helping her sobbing, bleeding daughter instead told him curtly "We're all set now" ... not even a Thank you.

Christ, what a sick society we've become when a man is thought less of for trying to help a fellow human in pain.

On the original topic .... I grew up on a 100 acre tree farm, and as a young child there were no other children my age around for several miles, so I couldn't really have a gang. I did, however, from my earliest memories, play outside on our (very large) lawn. I ran around in the woods by myself - sometimes walking at least a mile up an old dirt road to the original homestead site on the farm. I crossed streams by walking on the Beaver dam. I climbed trees in the middle of the forest, then sat up there alone, reading. I played in the (empty) hayloft of the barn where the boards were just laid across the joists, not nailed in. Eventually (around 4th grade) I got a bike and had enough independence to ride to see friends from school, the closest of which lived about three miles away down country roads.

My family still owns that house, and I want so much to move back there so my son can enjoy the same free-range freedom I had when I was growing up. My biggest fear, honestly, isn't that he would hurt himself or be abducted -- no, my biggest fear is other parents - frightened people like Brocktoon who might report me to DHS for letting my son roam free.

Still, even without moving, we're pretty lucky. We live in a neighborhood now where I see packs of kids on bikes - some even riding on handlebars without helmets or towing a friend on a Skateboard behind the bike via jump rope. But I have no way of knowing if there will be playmates for my son his own age for him to pal around with.

I want my son to be the same independent, strong, confident person his father is, and roaming "free range" was a big part of what shaped my husband into the man he is today. I hope we will be able to provide my son with the same confident space to enable him to have the same adventures.
posted by anastasiav at 8:28 PM on April 21, 2008 [15 favorites]

Speaking as a painfully overprotected kid: good on her!
posted by flibbertigibbet at 8:48 PM on April 21, 2008

Is this where we offer data points on how free-range we were as kids?

In my case, I'd say "very", although I think it was reasonably typical of the kids in my area. Buses to & from school from kindergarten age onwards, or else doing the same trip on feet for up to 3 kilometres. After-school hours mostly spent traversing the suburb to play with friends, often mucking around in the bush (yeh, with all the snakes & spiders & things - along the lines of what so_articulate wrote) until after dark. That would've been from age 5 or so.

My parents were a little slow in letting me have my own bike, though. That came when I was about 9, and increased my roaming range to about 10km in any direction from home. Looking back on all the fun adventures we used to have, it really saddens me that I rarely see kids playing outside on their own these days, presumably for parental fear of predators. I'm guessing that the dangers were probably not that much greater back then than they are today, and I'm sure glad I had the childhood that I did, rather than today's paranoid, indoors-or-supervised model.

Of course, I can only say that because nothing significantly bad ever happened to me.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:47 PM on April 21, 2008

I snuck out of the house, wandering the south side of Chicago, starting at age two. The cops brought me home many times until I was about 5 or so, when I started to understand navigation better (and build a mental map of my neighborhood).

I think the exploration did my brain good. But it wasn't all gravy. Bad things happened that were unfortunately far beyond my childhood power to stop.

Would I let my child go "free range"? I really don't know. I don't know whether cities are safe enough.
posted by Jpfed at 12:31 AM on April 22, 2008

I miss the wild freedom of a metallic green banana seat bike, pocket knife, cola and an endless summer to kill.
posted by srboisvert at 4:58 AM on April 22, 2008 [3 favorites]

I miss the wild freedom of a metallic green banana seat bike, pocket knife, cola and an endless summer to kill.

Mine was that sparkle-Bat-Man-blue.

Oh. Yeah. I can still hear lawn mowers and sprinklers and the ice cream man. I still smell Pop-rocks and bike chain grease mixed with WD-40. I can feel the sunburn itching on my neck. I can taste the chlorine from the city pool.

Do you remember riding your bike to a new neighborhood and that intense excited feeling like you were scouting enemy territory. The stares you'd get from the other kids. A stranger.

I remember taking notes. Gathering intelligence. Hudson Street: Slip and slide... a real one not just a blue tarp with a hose. They play with Nerf Spiral Day-Glo Football, not a real Spalding Joe Namath like us. Oooh. Full size basketball court! Uh. Oh. Big kid with a crew cut straddling his bike by his mailbox... wood-pecker painted on the mailbox. Are... are those water baloons? ABORT! ABORT!
posted by tkchrist at 4:44 PM on April 22, 2008

Countess Elena writes:

Every so often I read an article, or a self-report on some comment board, about men refusing to interact with children for any reason, lest they accidentally find themselves at the middle of some pedophile witch hunt. I am torn between finding these to be giant contemptible manchildren, and wishing there was some kind of societal action that could be taken to reassure ordinary people that there is no new danger in speaking to children.

In previous discussions, we've had parents, here, saying DO NOT speak to my child alone if I don't know you. Ensure you are never alone with my child EVER!
This is not an uncommon attitude today.

I can understand you thinking that refusing interaction of any kind out of fear of false prosecution is over the top, but I think you're underplaying some subtler points. Firstly, I don't really see much distinction of merit between foregoing interaction with children, and the alternative that modern parents are demanding - that if we interact, we must constantly police our actions WRT how they could be misconstrued. (Or tactfully ignore the parent's wishes and reap whatever consequences may result).
Secondly, there is much less joy in interactions when you must be constantly policing the situation for appearances. It sounds like a simple enough demand, but having to be aware of it can really takes the fun out of things, especially when suddenly I'm put in a situation that directly contravenes aforementioned parental demands.
Thirdly, the risk is not necessarily to myself - the parental peer-pressure thing and gossip circle can easily render one parent's house as off-limits to the kids of other parents, if it is deemed that that parent is not sufficiently vigilant when "strangers" are sharing the house. That hurts their kids when their friends can't come over and play.

I suspect that this refusing of all interaction is more often not based on fear of something exotic like false prosecutions, but something more mundane - it's often simply easier to avoid kids than always having to be jumping through these hoops that are so massively important to overprotective parents. Put simply, when it's not fun any more, why bother?

That said, I would like to be reassured, so reassure away! :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:58 PM on April 22, 2008

It's interesting because your comment sounds a lot like the concerns that women have when interacting with men. Are they trustworthy? How will they interpret our actions? Will they hold them against us? What about our 'reputations'? Is it safe to be alone with him? and so on.
posted by Salamandrous at 6:15 PM on April 22, 2008

Hmmm, it's especially similar to cultures where a woman is expected to be always chaperoned in the presence of men, and her virtue/honour is at risk of suspicion simply by being in a room unchaperoned with someone else.

Or coming the other way, "Men must be chaperoned at all times around children" is a pretty succinct description of today's "NEVER be alone with my child" attitude.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:33 PM on April 22, 2008

I spent a great deal of my son's childhood with my stomach in knots wondering where he was, when he'd turn up, if he was okay. Then he'd get home, safe & sound, and I'd be all nonchalant and "Hey, did you have fun? What did you do? Yeah, I wish you'd let me know where you are. I worry, ya know" but not a huge deal. And part of me worried that if he were hurt, I'd be crucified by my ex- and the press and the public. But I wanted him to have fun, be adventurous and learn stuff. I taught him the home phone number and address as early as possible, taught him who to ask for help if he was lost, made him wear a bike helmet. Like most divorced parents, there was some fear that the other parent would take off with him.

Really, the most dangerous place for your kid is in a car, but everybody drives their kids everywhere.

When I was a kid, I was accosted on the way home more than once. Maybe sometimes it really was somebody who knew my folks. I had 2 near-drowning experiences. A young man in my high school drowned; a young woman died in an accident on a hiking trip. Bad things do happen to kids, and it's tragedy, every time.

So you balance the fears against the benefits, you teach your child as many skills as possible, and you try to build a society that doesn't tolerate violence towards kids or anybody else. 9 seems a little young to me, but the Mom seems to have her head on straight. New York is plenty dangerous, but there is no guarantee of safety anywhere.
posted by theora55 at 7:41 PM on April 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

You know, as a male who is both generally pretty happy *and* loves to be around kids, I most often get the "you suck dick boy? you a fag?" from those who are wary. Like I said though, I've run afterschool programs and summer camps and all that, and once parents realize you're just doing what you do, having fun, they back off and start to encourage their kids to enjoy hanging out with you.

Since I stopped that job (and I only stopped because they couldn't pay me enough to support me, you know, actually eating.) I've had a ton of parents stop me in stores and restaurants to tell me how much they genuinely appreciate the impact I had on their kids lives. It sometimes starts "You know, I wasn't too sure about you when I first met you..." and it it results in "but he really respects you---I think more than he does me." There's often a "I've seen you be stricter than I've ever been" and a "but man you know how to make them feel good about themselves", but it generally results in "Can you come over for a cookout this summer? JoeRandomKid would really love to see you."

I'm also the guy who tells them, straight to their face, that their kid told me to "Fuck off and die" today, and that as a result they've been chilling on the bench for the last hour. I'm the one who tells them that the reason their kid wasn't standing by the road was because I make parents come inside, that we're not a drive through. I've told parents in front of their children that they're too drunk to drive their kid home, and that they need to phone someone for a ride because I'm not letting them drive out of the parking lot drunk when there's kids all over the place. The point is that not caring is the fucking problem.

It's happening now that I'm a soccer coach (u-12 girls). I've had a bunch of parents tell me they're so glad their daughter had me as a coach, that I made them love the game and excited for practice and games. I'm always sort of flabbergasted...aren't sports supposed to

And that's what it's about. Seriously. If you want your kid to grow up scared and angry and vindictive, then teach them that a pat on the back isn't acceptable. Scream at people when you see them speaking to your child. Don't ruffle their hair or give them wet willies or let them play dodgeball. Tell them that predators lurk around every corner, tell them every man wants in their pants and that every girl is too stupid and vulnerable to catch on. Certainly don't let them learn to use a lawnmower or weedwhacker. Also---make sure their actions don't have consequences, and make sure you apologize every single time you make them cry. Teach them that other people will clean up their messes, that they always need help, and that their opinions and desires are the only ones that matter. If you do all these things, you can be the proud parent of Everything That's Wrong With Society.

I's your choice.

It astounds me the number of people who don't actually understand the psychological and physiological effects of a simple touch, or who actually think it's *wrong.*
posted by TomMelee at 8:38 PM on April 22, 2008 [7 favorites]

I respect so much of what you said till you got to the last line. Many of the 'people' you're talking about are probably women who have experienced simple touches that after all aren't so simple as they seemed. (men too, probably). You can probably wait with self righteous lecturing of parents until we've managed to reduce the rate of sexual harassment and assault on children (if I remember correctly, most sexual abuse takes place before a person is eighteen, and a person who is abused once is much more likely to be abused repeatedly).

There are lots of predators, and they are mostly people known to the victims, there are lots of men who want into girls' pants, and lots of girls too stupid (I would say naive, generous-minded, etc) to catch on. And you know, when it comes to people touching you, it seems to me that teaching children that their opinions and desires are the only ones that matter is exactly the right thing.

I agree with you that simple touch can have tremendous value. But I also think that it's the person being touched and not the person doing the touching that has the right to decide what the nature of the touch they're experiencing is. A lot of, at best, sleaziness, happens in the name of simple physical touch.
posted by Salamandrous at 2:06 AM on April 23, 2008

Many of the 'people' you're talking about are probably women who have experienced simple touches that after all aren't so simple as they seemed. (men too, probably). You can probably wait with self righteous lecturing of parents until we've managed to reduce the rate of sexual harassment and assault on children

I don't believe that claim at all. 'Many' of them? This is a prevalent attitude among a majority of parents, as witnessed by people in this thread. Yet you are suggesting that the majority of mothers have been abused?

That utterly doesn't pan out with the statistics for abuse unless they are massively inaccurate.

I think this attitude would be understandable with someone that had been abused, but I find it extremely difficult to believe that the majority of parents have been abused and so are trying to remove that threat from their children. I suspect that the 'bark is worse than it's bite' concept is at play and in fact 'Many' (ie most) of the people are concerned as to what might happen because they have heard horrific stories. I struggle to see that this attitude has become prevalent predominately through previous generations of abuse.

There are lots of predators, and they are mostly people known to the victims, there are lots of men who want into girls' pants,

Again, statistics really don't back that claim up. You are suggesting that the over protective attitude is entirely reasonable, as there are active, predatory paedophiles around every corner waiting to pounce, and that, as such, this level of protection is justified. This isn't backed up by any statistical evidence I can find.
posted by Brockles at 5:18 AM on April 23, 2008

I concede that there are those people who shouldn't be touched. I've worked w/ a lot of them, several even in youth group home settings. However, even with that said, it's an important part of their treatment that they work to learn to trust again, and that they encounter some physical touch.

There's a huge difference between "Give me some knuckle toughguy" and dragging a kid around by the wrist, triggering some forgotten memory.

I'm not talking about smacking them on the ass, or long affectionate hugs. You'll notice that youth-professionals don't generally bend down to hug kids, we let them hug our legs. I'm talking about pats on the back, a ruffle of the hair, a "gimmie 10---don't leave me hangin!" and hand on the shoulder with a "man--I'm really impressed with you, you handled that really well. I can't wait to tell your mom."
posted by TomMelee at 5:37 AM on April 23, 2008

I would guess that ALL mothers have experienced being inappropriately touched or groped during their childhood or adolescence. Because pretty much all women have. And a LOT of girls do experience abuse (as opposed to 'simple' touching, groping, or harassment) from adult men in their lives. There have been generations of abuse, what's changed in the last generation is that girls and women now talk about it, are aware of it, and hopefully feel more empowered to do something even if it means taking the risk of offending some men's feelings.

Yes, this new awareness requires new carefulness. But I don't think that kids will be impoverished if they have to go without the kind of supportive touches TomMelee describes when they're alone with an adult, and that seems like a worst case scenario.

I imagine suspicious looks (and admonishments) can be uncomfortable, but a bit of discomfort for adults seems like a bearable compromise in the wake of (yes) generations of exploitation of adult proximity to children.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:19 AM on April 23, 2008

I never EVER said anything about ALONE. We never let doors close behind us, always multiple adults and kids present, yadda yadda yadda.

And yes, I believe it is actually bad to not engage in casual contact with your kids. I'm not saying to run around poking and hugging and loving and massaging---the casual and random and less-than-everyday occurrence is what makes it special.
posted by TomMelee at 7:25 AM on April 23, 2008

I would guess that ALL mothers have experienced being inappropriately touched or groped during their childhood or adolescence.

I think either your definition of 'inappropriately touched' is radically different than mine, or your perception is way out of whack. I am assuming you are not including any "No, not there" touching during adolescent making out, as that is hardly the same thing at all.

ALL mothers? By which I assume you must mean ALL women? (Being as at the time of touching it is impossible to determine if they will eventually have kids).

ALL women have been abused to some extent?

I find that impossible to believe that someone even considers that likely, let alone it being true.
posted by Brockles at 7:26 AM on April 23, 2008

TomMelee, sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you meant alone - the opposite, it seemed clear to me that you were describing something open and public. I also agree with you about the importance of touch (as you wrote, touching *your* kids).

Brockles, I find it pretty hard to believe that you're so sure it's not true. Groping, (starting, if you're lucky, only when your body starts to look 'mature') is so common it's barely considered remarkable, which is why surveys have to ask very specific questions to get accurate information about sexual assault; most women wouldn't mention it; either it pales compares to the worse abuse they've suffered, or they consider themselves lucky that that's' as bad as it got.

(I'm not sure what you mean by 'no, not there' during adolescent making out, and I wasn't thinking about making out at all, but if one person says 'no, not there', and the other person goes ahead anyway, that *is* also abuse).
posted by Salamandrous at 9:46 AM on April 23, 2008

I'm not sure what you mean by 'no, not there' during adolescent making out

Kind of. Like smooching and running your hand on someone's leg, until they tell you to stop. That is, if you had prior information, inappropriate touching in the strictest sense. To the girl it may be anyway (as she knew where she wanted the guy to touch beforehand, presumably), but it's hardly traumatic abuse, is it, unless it is forced after a 'no'. That is not 'sexual abuse' it is 'establishing boundaries and personal comfort levels'.

Groping, (starting, if you're lucky, only when your body starts to look 'mature') is so common it's barely considered remarkable

I think perhaps your personal experiences and anecdotal evidence are completely out of alignment with the society I grew up in, or see around me wherever I go. Maybe Montreal is completely full of perverts, though. I have no idea as I've only been there a couple of times. But unless that is the case, the idea that 'groping is barely considered remarkable' is simply not true. I think you are massively overstating the case.

Others: Am I going crazy here? This is a person suggesting that every single woman not only gets groped as a matter of course through their life, but also that it so often and common that they hardly notice (and so don't mention it when filling out sexual abuse surveys). Surely this is not at all a realistic view?
posted by Brockles at 10:19 AM on April 23, 2008

I very rarely evaluate a man as if he might be a sexual predator. The questions Salamandrous posted: Are they trustworthy? How will they interpret our actions? Will they hold them against us? What about our 'reputations'? Is it safe to be alone with him? and so on., I honestly don't think about. Well, maybe the one about interpreting actions, which is something I apply to everyone, and has more to do with trying to fit in to society and not make an ass of myself than wondering if I'm suddenly going to be attacked.

I have male friends, and there isn't one of them I worry about being alone with. I just don't think about it. Sure, there have been guys I've known that creep me out, but I avoid them.

I also wander around my home town alone, frequently, even at night, and while I am more alert for trouble at that point, I'm not hurrying head down fearing I might get jumped and raped at any moment. I don't think twice about going on vacation alone, or giving a male friend a ride home (alone!), or working late and crossing the parking lot alone. Apparantly I am in the minority on this, which I find sad.

Part of this I put down to being allowed to roam as a child, armed with some streetwise advice (keep an eye out, no means no, your body is yours, etc), a very good sense of my own boundaries and what I find acceptable behaviour, and the rest to an evidently very lucky life where my independance and a mild sense of adventure has been rewarded.
posted by sandraregina at 1:09 PM on April 23, 2008 [2 favorites]

anastasiav: I know you think that you're so very progressive and some such, but:

"Touching each other is a basic human connection."

My 3 boy's get plenty of "basic human connection" from their parents, each other, a very large extended family, and their friends. They are not at some sort of disadvantage in this regard. Let's keep our pocket psychology in our pockets, mkay?

"How terrible it must be for you to spend your life distrusting every man that comes into your sons' life."

How terrible it must be for you to spend your life passing judgment on playground mothers' actions or intentions. Could it possibly be that the child your husband "rescued" had been abused in the past? Don't let such thoughts clarify your judgement, though, as it's not YOUR child, eh?

"How terrible for them, too, because its going to affect their ability to interact with others as they get older."

It just won't stay in that pocket, will it? You have one child, barely 2 years old, and all of sudden you're an expert in child development?

"My biggest fear, honestly, isn't that he would hurt himself or be abducted -- no, my biggest fear is other parents - frightened people like Brocktoon who might report me to DHS for letting my son roam free."

So, you're child's physical safety is what, your 2nd biggest fear? I think perhaps YOU are not having enough "basic human connection" with your child, as physical harm befalling my children is definitely number 1 on my list of things I do not want happening, as opposed to some shadowy, nebulous government sanction that you actually know nothing about. Pretty low on my list, actually.

"I want my son to be the same independent, strong, confident person his father is, and roaming "free range" was a big part of what shaped my husband into the man he is today. I hope we will be able to provide my son with the same confident space to enable him to have the same adventures."

But, if not, how terrible, awful, and sad it will be, eh?
posted by Brocktoon at 3:30 PM on April 25, 2008

Brocktoon-I can see how you might take something that someone has said as an attack or an affront to your skills or priorities as a parent. I wish you didn't feel that way. Every parent has a duty and an obligation to do what they think is best for their individual child and his or her wellbeing. We all know that.

You didn't address anything I said, but I'll just say that realistically, sometimes, the best thing for a childs overall wellbeing is to get hurt. Bleed a little. Learn to fall, and learn that bleeding stops and life carries on and you stand back up.

I want to discuss something you've said before and bring up again---that your kids don't need any positive reinforcement from people who aren't you or their friends/family. That's the attitude I see from a lot of people who homeschool---"I can show my kid everything he needs, forever." You can't, and it boggles my mind that anyone thinks they possibly could.

Furthermore, and I hope you get the opportunity to learn this in a way that doesn't hurt you, your kid needs adults who they're not related to. It's one thing for your parent to say "Wow johnny I'm so proud of you!" Kids aren't stupid, they know you're obligated to say that. Hearing it from someone who just knows you though---that's something else. Being told by someone other than your parent "She's a pretty girl, go talk to her!" or "Seriously, you could do way better than him. Have you seen that thing he does with his eyeball?" or "Whoa, you got EVERY ONE of those multiplication problems right? WOW, the 7's really kicked my butt back in grade school!"...means a lot.

Just tonight I was talking to a 14 year old I've known since she was about 6. She hasn't seen me in months, but she ran up to give me a big hug and show me her report card, she was SOOO excited because she ALMOST got a 2.0, the BEST she's ever done. She wanted to tell me all about the good classes and complain about the bad classes and talk about how she's been working reallllllly hard so she won't have to go to summer school. We're pulling some strings and making it happen so that she can go be a junior volunteer at a daycamp this summer, and she's ecstatic. Do you really think that she'd get the same level of excitement from telling her mum? Prolly not.

Before you judge her, or her family, or the situation, remember that you've just admonished us to keep our dimestore psychology in our pockets and stop passing judgement on other children's mothers.

I hope that as your children grow, you're able to take the long view and start to trust that there are those of us who actually don't give 1 half of one iota of 1 particle of shit about what you think about us---so long as your kids are getting everything they need to grow and succeed as individuals, whatever that means.
posted by TomMelee at 8:58 PM on April 25, 2008

"I can see how you might take something that someone has said as an attack"

I did not take that. She gave it freely.

""I can show my kid everything he needs, forever." You can't, and it boggles my mind that anyone thinks they possibly could."

That's not my attitude, and I'm boggled as to how you turned my statement about men touching my children into "show my kid everything he needs, forever". Please don't bother to clarify. You can't, and it boggles my mind that anyone thinks they possibly could.

"I hope you get the opportunity to learn this"

More patronizing.

"Before you judge her, or her family, or the situation"

You're not making any sense, I think you may still be boggled. I'm boggled by your cute story and boggled as to how it relates in any way to anything I've said.

"1 half of one iota of 1 particle of shit about what you think about us"

Delusions of grandeur (and not necessarily a full iota of grandeur; maybe just a third). I didn't even read your original comment(s), or comment on any of them, yet here you come right at me with your "iotas" and "particles" and "shit". Really, Tom, it's not Brocktoon the Terrible (Sad, Awful, etc.) vs. Tom and His Enlightened Free Range Friends, it's just comments on Metafilter.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:27 AM on April 26, 2008

Lol, fastly:
There is no way I'd approve of a male teacher hugging my male sons. ... but I don't like any men touching my children who are not close family...

...get plenty of "basic human connection" from their parents, each other, a very large extended family, and their friends...

So, you're child's physical safety is what, your 2nd biggest fear?
Pretty sure more parents worry about their long term success as a parent than if someone is going to abscond with their kid in a playground.

Re: getting the opportunity (for clarification)
I hope that when you realize that your "male sons" ARE talking to other NON FAMILY males about sex, girls, drugs, whatever, that it's not when that person calls you to say "Brocktoon, I'm really having a hard time deciding if I should tell you this, but Brocktoonmini and I were talking today and he told me that he thinks about hurting himself." that you realize that it's ok for these conversations and friendships to happen, and that most of the time your kids won't tell you lots of things they'll willingly tell an adult male they trust.

Re: judging her
My bad, I figured you'd have a great response about how her GPA and eagerness to share it showed some level of duplicity in her parenting. I told the story because I'm an adult non-family-friend, non-family-member who hugged her and gave her five. I realize she's not a male son, but I've done the same for her brother.

Re: the poop
No delusions of gradeur. Not even related to YOU. Those adult males who work with kids who have already responded to this thread are maybe a little more wary knowing that should we ever encounter brocktoonmini and have the audacity to give him 5 you'll likely call the 5.0, but we're not going to stop the way we do what we do, and you'll never make us believe that it's possibly a bad thing. I didn't mean that comment as aggressive---I meant it completely the opposite. In the same way you're mad because you think people are judging you as a parent, we're sad because you [seem to be] judging us as people who wish to harm your [or any] children simply by having positive adult relationships with them.

Back on topic: I was talking about this thread and story last night to some people I've worked with for a long time, about how it's an interesting commentary on parenting styles and maturity levels of kids. I think it's really pretty awesome that this thread has everyone from people who would pretty much let their kid wander the Serengeti if they had a plane ticket to people who wouldn't let their kid go to the other side of the playground. Good talk metafilter---gimmie some knuckle.
posted by TomMelee at 5:19 AM on April 26, 2008

Tom, I don't have the desire to continue addressing all of your false assumptions and non sequiturs, but I will address:

"In the same way you're mad because you think people are judging you as a parent"

This does not make me "mad", and if I have not made it obvious enough, it's the patronization and pseudo-enlightenment that chafes.

Ultimately, my dislike of "males who work with kids" touching my children is not some sort of obsession; I do not hover over them 24/7, batting away Tom and other "males", nor do I lock them in the house under my constant supervision. I apologize if these facts somehow conflict with your victimhood.
posted by Brocktoon at 12:15 PM on April 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm thrilled to find this discussion. As a formerly relatively protected kid, I totally side with TomMelee, anastasiav, and the mom who lets her nine year old go on the subway. I grew up in suburban Pasadena, CA, but I've lived in New York City for nine years, spending extensive time in the South Bronx and Harlem, frequently after dark. I can vouch for the subway -- it's safe as milk. In fact, I feel safer there than when I go back to Pasadena these days. On the subway, if something goes wrong, there's usually a half-dozen grandmothers and aunties there to chide you (as they did the stupid kids I saw defacing an ad during the rush hour commute), big burly folks to help break up a fight (and I've only seen one which came to that), or plainclothes cops to hassle you (as they did the hapless, unescorted black kid of about 12 years of age I saw jumping a turnstile a few months back. And actually, I felt moved to warn him about the plainclothes the moment I saw him jump, so there were two people looking out for him). In Pasadena, I can walk around and not see another human being for hours. Nobody's there to hear me scream when that hypothetical axe murderer comes after me.

The level of paranoia about kids' safety these days is a serious problem, and it has lasting repercussions. It took me a long time to get over the way my worrywart father used to deliver lectures whose central point was "what if you died???!" every time I went out without saying where I was headed. And as far as sexual predators go, I don't think enough people are paying attention to the negative impact that hysteria has on kids who are never molested. I know of two families where unfounded allegations of molestation were thrown around -- one from jealous neighbors, another within an acrimonious divorce case -- and it makes the kids involved anxious about sexuality and suspicious of their own parents.
posted by gusandrews at 9:36 AM on April 27, 2008

Free range kids taste more like kids did about a century ago. Today's kids, being raised on intertubes, corn syrup, and fast-food, and kept indoors, taste a lot more bland than, say, that street waif you lured into an alleyway, or some rural child who wandered into your pit trap. Not only was their meat richer-tasting and better for you, but you also could sit back with a bellyfull and a smile on your face, as you recount in your mind the preceding hunt, punctuated by those savory kid-tasting burps.

On preview: hungry g2g bye
posted by not_on_display at 11:54 AM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

As a parent on an 18 month old girl, I can't wait for her to make friends, get a bike, and go riding off to wherever she wants. Of course, being confident in her ability to take care of herself will play a huge role in our (I include my wife here) decision to let her go, but I expect she'll be ready to go before we are, but we'll see.

As a kid, I would often walk or ride to the nearest mall, about 3 km away, and all my mom said was "Wow, you went that far?" Of course, another time we decided to go across the street to the park after dark, and boy did we get in trouble for that one. The way I see it is that all parents worry, but you have to give some freedom to your kids, and during the day between breakfast and supper is probably the best time to let them loose, so to speak.

Also, please watch "Finding Nemo".
posted by Vindaloo at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2008

I don't know what's scarier - that kids aren't allowed to travel these days, or that SO many posters in this thread recall being approached by strangers asking if they can give them a ride. Whoah! I went everywhere as a kid, but I never experienced that!
posted by xammerboy at 12:53 PM on May 8, 2008

« Older The master of black and white   |   Backfilling the Uncanny Valley Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments