Can children still run free in 2014?

As I discussed in my last post, my family and I just bought our first house. We moved only five miles away from our previous home of eight years, but in some ways it feels like we moved to an entirely new town.

One of the differences between our last neighborhood and our new neighborhood is that I now feel like it will soon be safe for my older daughter to ride her bike to the local park and elementary school – by herself. It’s one of the reasons we chose the house in the neighborhood that we did. The park is only .3 miles away, and the school is .7 miles. It seems pretty ideal.

She’s only seven years old now, and still a bit inexperienced on her bike, but I’m pretty sure that within the next six months to a year, she’ll be off and running – or biking, as the case may be.

Except…sometimes I wonder if I’m going to get arrested for child abuse if I let her go off on her own adventures at the tender age of seven or eight. Lately, it feels like every day I read another story on the news about a mom who was arrested for letting her child walk or bike alone in the neighborhood or to the park.

Sounds crazy, right? But most of us in our 30s and up probably remember roaming our neighborhoods unsupervised when we were kids. I know that I was pretty young when I started locking up the house in the morning (I was last to leave) and riding my bike the mile to school – it was maybe 2nd or 3rd grade.

And in the summertime, I would walk through a path in the woods at the end of our cul-de-sac to take the shortcut to swim team practice, in the wee hours all by myself, and no one thought a thing of it.

Now, this kind of freedom seems a rarity. Helicopter parenting has become the norm for many. I do think some parents are slowly starting to reject that concept, as research has shown time and time again that hovering over our kids does not make them stronger, braver, or more resilient; quite the opposite, in fact.

But as parents talk themselves into letting their children have more freedom and take more risks, it seems that society at large is now attempting to step in and “take up the slack.” Perfect strangers are calling the police when they see a child walking alone or playing by themselves at the park. A recent article referred to these strangers “bad Samaritans”, but I think that plenty of people would disagree with that title.

I always dreamed of raising my children on some acreage, where they could run free and climb trees, explore creeks and hills, catch frogs, and plop down to read under a shady oak. (I think my idea of the perfect childhood was heavily influenced by Anne of Green Gables.) Alas, that particular dream for my children has not come to pass and probably never will.

But I refuse to accept that my children can’t have freedom to run and play on their own in 2014 – especially considering that statistics in the U.S. show that things are generally safer now than they were 20-30 years ago.

The only question for me, really, is this: what does it mean about our culture when I am more worried about whether something bad will happen to ME (for letting them go to play unsupervised) than I am about whether something bad will happen to my children?

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94 Comments

  1. Anna

    My sister-in-law was arrested after a stranger called the police when he saw her 7yo and a friend out walking by themselves with backpacks on their backs. Nevermind that her daughter was within sight of their house, knew her address, phone number and parents’ names. The cops didn’t care, and neither did DCF. My SIL faces potential jail time, for “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.”

    • Mandi

      Oh my gosh — that’s horrible, Anna; I can’t even imagine what your family is going through as you face that!

      I don’t understand why — when study after study after study shows the importance of independence and unsupervised play for developing executive function — we continue to punish parents who are raising strong, independent kids!

      There are children who are actually living in horrible, dangerous, unimaginable situations. If social workers are stretched so thin (we know they are!), let’s focus on those cases instead of kids who are taught the proper skills and then allowed to practice their independence.

    • Missy Robinson

      I am shocked, but I guess I shouldn’t be. I’m so sorry your sister is having her parenting intentions questioned. Would you mind sharing this location?

    • Katie Fox

      Anna, I canNOT believe that. I wondered, when I wrote this post, whether any readers would say, “yep, that’s happened to me, or my friend.” I hoped not but man oh man, I am so sorry to hear this. I hope and pray that your SIL will get a lawyer and a judge with some common sense.

    • missy

      Sadly if this were to happen today, many kids would not make it home alive. I have a friend whose daughter someone tried to lure away from our very safe neighborhood, from the front yard. So no, I didn’t let my girls out of my site while outside. Not until they were 12. This is a different world we live in today, and I have to disagree with all of you. For these children cant defend themselves against strangers who mean them harm. If one of them notices your children out and about and the same park unattended they will take advantage of the situation. And can you imagine how the sibling would feel so responsible for the younger sibling to have had something happen? This is not something they are prepared for. And more often times parents who dont give a darn let thier kids roam the neighborhood bcs they are to busy with thier own lives to be bothered to go out and have some fun with the kids. If you dont live on a farm, or in the country, do not let your kids out alone under 10. Its not worth the chance. Period.

      • Lauren

        A to the MEN!!! I work in an apartment complex and the children roam free riding bikes through the parking lots, sit and walk across our 6ft brick wall (sign) destroy mulch and flowers, leave bikes all in the walkways…i don’t care if they play run skip hop or make noise, but PARENTS need to supervise their children not the management office. One parent called to tell me another kid pushed her child…I’m like well did you tell them to stop? Well when I went downstairs the kid was gone. If I see them again I’m bringing them to you…Uhhhhh WHY? It’s not my responsibility to watch your child…

  2. Lisa

    Such good questions. Until recently we had those creeks, those hills, that oak tree. Now we’re in a densely populated neighborhood – which certainly offers some joys that country living couldn’t – but I find myself missing the privacy of our acreage and worrying about these issues a lot. Hoping some other commenters will say some things to make me feel hopeful!

  3. Esther

    Katie–I completely agree! I grew up in the country and my grandparents lived on the farm up the road. My brother and I always played in the woods or would go back and forth between our home and their farm. If we didn’t come when called, my Mom called my grandparents and they would send us home. I never let our kids go exploring by themselves (ages 5 and 7). However, a few months ago we moved to Japan and live close to a huge selection of parks and a lake. After initial hesitation, I agreed to let the kids ride their bikes by themselves to the park. I send an iPhone with my daughter in case there’s a problem, but she usually just texts pictures back of the two of them having fun! 🙂 My son even fell off his bike and skinned up his elbow this past week and survived. 🙂 He presented it for cleaning and a band aid when they came back from playing. Chances are they won’t be able to play like this when we return to the States in 2 years, but allowing them to have these experiences of unchaperoned play right now is something that I feel privileged to have.

    • Faigie

      Esther, Japan is safer than the states. I have a friend who was there recently and he was telling us about it. The penal system there is so punitive that there is little crime

    • Katie Fox

      Sounds great, Esther! Enjoy that. And in 2 years, they’ll be 7 and 9, so who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to play outside on their own by then after all. 🙂

    • Kristen @ The Wandering Abode

      We are living in Japan now, and I see very young kids (preschool aged even) many times walking around unsupervised. It’s certainly a different culture…Safer and stricter. I would have no real issues letting my little one roam around our neighborhood here. In the States, it’s a completely different story. It really does all depend on where you live and how the culture addresses the issue. Unfortunately, it makes me worry about when we do head back stateside with our little guy. I feel like we’ll be fearful of all the societal problems again, and that’s no way to live or raise a child. That makes me sad, but I’m determined to find a way to give him little bits of independence at least.

  4. Leigh

    Thank you for writing about this issue! I have put a lot of thought into the freedoms I want to allow my children after reading Lenore Skenazy’s “Free Range Kids” a couple years ago. Like you, I am worried about the possibility that well-meaning neighbors will try to step in. For now, I allow my young children (ages 6 and 4) to play at the playground in our apartment complex unsupervised. To get to the playground, they cross one very safe “street” in the parking lot, with crosswalk, speed bumps, and a 10 MPH sign, and I require that they hold hands (which they do — I have spied on them!). The playground is not visible from my apartment, so I send them each with a digital watch and set the alarm for when it is time for them to come home. And they always do — safe, dirty, and with stories to tell. Several other families in our complex feel the same, so there are always other kids to play with at the playground. Sometimes a mom or dad will come out with lemonade or cookies, or sit a while and watch, but for the most part, the kids get to play on their own. I know that this sort of trusting community is very rare, and I wish that more kids could experience this kind of independence.

    • Laura

      I’ve recently read Free Range Kids as well. What struck me the most, when fears are countered with imagining the worst case scenario and rationalizing those fears…my fear is that society will chastise me for parenting the way I feel convicted and that my children will be deprived of me. In our current culture, that doesn’t seem unrealistic at all. As more parents hover, and micro manage a brood of fewer children, I feel it becomes less a choice they are making and more judgement on others that don’t. I do feel that if I don’t micromanage my own children, I am at risk of being judged as negligent and unequipped to parent my 5. Honestly, I wouldn’t parent 2 any differently.

    • Katie Fox

      Leigh, that sounds really awesome. Way to go for teaching your kids well about this, and setting up systems and plans so that they can play in freedom. I’m impressed!

  5. Sue

    I have tried very hard to allow my DD (5 yo, will be 6 in Feb.) some freedoms in her life. We live on a cul de sac and there are about six or seven kids total who range in age from 2.5 to 8 or 9 who all play in the general area of our homes. I will go out to check on them every once in a while (20 min to 30 min) and they will come in and play inside for a bit sometimes, but overall, they play outside quite happily. I don’t feel the need to sit and watch them constantly because I feel like it restricts them and makes my daughter more likely to whine and complain and expect me to intervene. My MIL came this weekend to visit and when my DD went outside, she went out to “sit and watch” her play and during that short time, she intervened in multiple play sessions, didn’t let them move play equipment (a play kitchen and some table and chairs I have outside for her), and came in very concerned about the “rough” play – I went out and asked them about it and they said “we were just playing”. I think the media has done a pretty good job of scaring a lot of people into thinking that every situation is dangerous for kids now and I could see that my MIL was not pleased that I would let my daughter go out and play without following along myself. But, I think developing independence, critical thinking skills, social empowerment, etc. is so important. I trust my daughter and I trust the other kids. They are kids – sometimes they play rough or do ridiculous things or move toys around, but it is all part of learning and developing and I don’t want my daughter to miss out on all of that. But, it is hard not to feel judged or threatened…I hope that as a society we can learn to give kids some ability to develop themselves without adult intervention.

    • Katie Fox

      Sounds like you’re doing things right. It’s funny, a number of commenters have mentioned conflict with their parents or in-laws on this topic – but aren’t they the same generation of parents who let their own kids roam free when we were young?

  6. Kristin

    I can’t even begin to imagine not being able to let my kids out to play on their own. Here in Switzerland it is the norm and even encouraged. Kids are taught to walk to and from kindergarten with just their friends at age 5 and 6.

    As I didn’t grow up here, I had a hard time adjusting to the mentality but now I am so glad my kids can experience this freedom and independence. I give my kids strict boundaries when playing outside without adults, and strict instructions what to do when – including a password if they were to ever be approached by a stranger.

    • Katie Fox

      The password idea is a good one!

  7. Elizabeth

    I’m so glad you brought this subject up. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this and feel sad that my kids may not experience the free outside play that my siblings and I enjoyed in the 80’s and early 90’s. I had no idea that things had changed until I had my own kids and started noticing the neighborhood dynamics. I notice my immediate surrounding neighbors do not seem to let their kids out to play/roam the neighborhood freely but I have also noticed many kids in different parts of the neighborhood playing in groups, mostly sports and biking around. I feel conflicted because I know my surrounding neighbors would judge me if I let my kids out into the neighborhood without me. My 6 1/2 year old is mature and I feel would be able to handle himself while my 4 year old daughter probably still needs supervision (I still don’t trust her to look both ways!). Anyway, I just wonder what the “rules” are these days. Last winter my 6 year old was roaming our front yard and when I went out to check on him my next door neighbor wanted to know why he was outside alone. I mean come on!!

  8. Deborah

    We moved into a master plan community in the Houston suburbs two years ago and, on my first morning walk with my baby, I saw ten upper-elementary school kids biking to school. It brought me so much joy to see that level of freedom in a big city suburb! Now we live in a gated compound in Saudi Arabia. It’s very much how I imagine small-town life was for lots of folks in earlier decades in the States. Everyone knows everyone else. As soon as a child knows how to get home, his parents let him go play at the playground or basketball court or soccer field. They’ll send their kids to the mini mart for milk or butter or salt, too, which is so handy. In some ways, it’s unsupervised. In other ways, we all watch out for everyone else’s children, and we’re all aware that they can’t get too far away. It is, after all, a gated community with watchful security guards!

    • Katie Fox

      You guys have a unique situation – it’s a community in more ways than one. Very cool that you can offer your kids that freedom within such tight boundaries.

  9. Betsy

    Thanks for raising this interesting issue, Katie. I always ASSUMED that people didn’t let their kids roam around anymore because it wasn’t SAFE in America, but the statistics you mention are interesting.What I can’t believe is that people get arrested for letting their kids walk or play alone. That does sound a bit like Big Brother is Watching.

    Here in Turkey–in a city of 4 million– I loved being able to let my kids play in the park without me. I knew almost anyone else out there knew exactly who they were and would intervene if anything happened to them. My son has navigated the city alone on various modes of transport since he was 12.

    • Katie Fox

      That’s awesome, Betsy, about your son! I would love for my kiddos to have that kind of independence and self-reliance.

  10. Alanna

    I’m so glad to see this article. (And I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one heavily influenced by Anne of Green Gables!) My boys are 2 and 4. I let them play on the front porch by themselves, and the neighbors ask if “Their mommy knows you are outside?” I watch intermittently from the window, they know they are not allowed off the porch, and we live in one of those small midwestern towns that has almost no crime… but I still worry. However, my fear of their growing up underneath someone always hovering over them is greater. I want so much for them to experience freedom, but I’m not sure how to give them that in this current culture.

    • Katie Fox

      Anne Shirley lovers unite. 🙂 Good for you for letting them play on the porch – hopefully your neighbors will acclimate.

  11. Alanna

    Oh, and for perspective, my grandmother said she used to let my father, when he was 2 years old, take the 18 month old next door for a walk AROUND THE BLOCK by themselves. I couldn’t believe it.

  12. Andrea

    I remember roaming the neighborhood as a kid and ridding our bikes for miles. There were two rules 1) don’t go in anyone’s house/ backyard unless you call and ask first and 2) be home for dinner. Now we did have a few instances where a creepy guy would follow us and tried telling my sister that her best friend was hurt at his house and she needed to come home with him. 🙁 Fortunately we knew better.
    As a parent now those memories make me more hesitant. My son just turned 6 and he is allowed to go a few doors down to play with the kids down the street. But he is not allowed to cross the street or go in backyards without asking permission first. Or he can ride his bike on the sidewalk and I can’t entirely see him from the house. My mother in law thinks we are horrible parents for letting him go off on his own at all or even play in the backyard without supervision.

  13. Kelly A

    I always worry about which activity will get me into more trouble, running into the store by myself to grab a gallon of milk, or sending my 10 yr and 9 yr old to go buy it for me.

    I have five children, two are still harnessed and a pain to buckle, it would take me longer to get them out and into the store than it would to run in and do what I need to do. My 10 yr old has a cell phone, the car is locked and the older kids are capable of getting the littles out of their carseats and out of the car if an emergency arose in the short amount of time.

    ( exchange milk for post office to grab a stamp, bank to use the ATM, restaurant to pick up a take out order) “am I going to be arrested for this?” is absolutely something that crosses my mind every time and it shouldn’t.

    I have a friend whose then 2 yr old escaped her house while mom was going to the bathroom. An older sibling didn’t close the door all the way and she got out for maybe 2 minutes. ( She was also going through a naked phase). My friend shot outside as soon as she realized the girl was missing, (again 2 or 3 minutes). She found a woman talking trying to talk to the little girl and then proceeded to scream at my friend. My friend ended up dealing with DCF for two months, for an accident. She is one of the best mothers I know and she was a wreck the whole time.

    • Missy Robinson

      I run into the store when I can see the car from the storefront windows. But I often worry that someone will accuse me of being “less than” proper mother.

    • Katie Fox

      I know that dilemma, Kelly! But actually, sending your kids in to the store for you is a great idea. I have been trying to teach my older daughter to do things like that on her own for quite awhile. She hasn’t been sent into a store without me yet (she’s 7) but I send her up to the register at Chik-Fil-A to ask for refills, or up to the librarian to ask for a book by herself, and things like that. You gotta start somewhere. These are important life skills!

  14. Missy Robinson

    Last year I moved from the suburbs to an urban center, though still in a smaller city (Knoxville). I have always been intentional about providing freedom for my children, who are now elementary-ages. My 10 year old is allowed to ride his bike in about a one-mile radius, with a watch to know what time to come home. He loves this independence. The younger two have freedom to ride around the block when I’m outside with them…we don’t stay together, but I see them passing by and we meet back at the stop sign after a certain number of laps.

    We are blessed to have some land and they can wander freely on ours plus the neighbors (who have a pond!). But the nearby roads are too hazardous.

    When we visit the Greenways, they are allowed to run ahead but stay on the trail. Nature and freedom are essential, in my opinion and we have to be intentional to provide these to our next generation.

  15. Thora

    I feel the same as you – I worry more about what people would do or say than I do about my kids being out. I let my kids (8, 6, 4, and 2) play in the front yard – they have never had any problems, except over the years the occasional neighbor who is worried about them. But they know their boundaries, and not to go in the road – plus I am always keeping an eye on them through the windows in the front part of the house.

    This post brings to the forefront a lot of anxiety and frustration I feel about the modern culture nowdays – that hovering is so expected, and that people are so worried (although it is safer than when we were kids) that our children have a really hard time having any sort of independence. I try and give as much as I can to my kids, but it is hard to do in today’s world. I wish I knew great places in America that had more freedom, or better methods to deal with people who want to call CPS on you for giving kids independence.

  16. Josie

    What I see know that bothers me a lot: so many people on phones & texting that they don’t see my children on the sidewalk or maybe in the street getting a ball. Drivers are so consumed with their cell phones that they aren’t paying attention for children, especially when backing out of and/or pulling into driveways.

    I want to give my boys the world. I crave for them to be able to explore it on THEIR TERMS & they ways/needs.

    I am slowly loosing the reins & using common sense.

    Those who feel the need to hurt children aren’t using common sense, so we can’t assume their are thinking like we do ):

    • Katie Fox

      Good points, Josie.

  17. Karen

    This is an important subject. Our children need the freedom and space to build confidence and competence. My kids are 5 and 6 and I long to give them that opportunity but I too am afraid of having DFS called and entering into that nightmare.

  18. Samantha

    I would love to have the positive thoughts that my son (age 7, Autistic/ADHD) would be safe outside and have the freedom that I had when I was growing up. However, it’s not that I mind what other people would think or say of me doing so but my son’s safety and protection is my main priority. I don’t trust people in the world nowadays. All the horrifying, wretched and gut-wrenching things people do to others on the news and newspaper has me completely scared! I give him some freedom outside our apartment or at the playground but I am ALWAYS within eyesight of him. Anything could happen or someone could take him in a matter of seconds. He is able to use his imagination and explore and discover new things. I don’t shelter him in daily fear that something might happen but my responsibility is to make sure that something doesn’t happen if it’s preventable. As he gets older and proves his responsibility to me then he’ll slowly have more freedom, little by little. A 7 or 8 year old isn’t going to be able to defend themselves or even try to fight if a 40 year old man approaches them and grabs them up.

    • Karen

      I understand your fear but if you really look at the facts, there are far fewer abductions than when I was a kid in the 70’s. You children is substantial more likely to be abused or taken by a relative. Over 90% of cases are by someone the child intimately knows. The world is really no worse off than oh so many decades ago. In fact, there is much to point to it being better. But now we have the internet and 24 hour cable news stations that have to fill up time. Every time anything happens it is shoved down our throats and repeated over and over in minute and gory detail. I am not saying this to change your mind but maybe give you something to think about.

      • Tsh

        Agreed, Karen.

    • Heather

      As the mom of an almost-three-year-old with autism, I had the exact same thought, Samantha. These are great ideas in theory, but what a lot of posters aren’t thinking about when they comment with statistics on there being fewer abductions is that danger has increased in *other* areas. There are many, many more cars on the road. Neighbors don’t know each other anymore. Though perhaps abductions are fewer in number, there isn’t the safety net of “Mrs. Brown down the street” anymore. Some are lucky to have this; the vast majority don’t. In most neighborhoods, a house is literally an island. It’s unwise to insist these cultural changes (more cars, fewer relationships, not to mention an increasing number of developmental and neurological disorders in our kids that impede them from fully understanding danger) shouldn’t affect our parenting. Elopement is a huge concern for kids with autism; for anyone that isn’t familiar with it, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=auJvlpWhb5E#t=306 Elopement can be deady for ASD kids and it worries me that special needs families might read this and think they are not providing enough freedom. What’s important in teaching our ASD kids independence and life skills is to observe from a distance–we let my son climb on our two-story swing set in the backyard without following him. He plays on his own, but I am either on the back porch or near a big window watching and, of course, our backyard is fenced and padlocked because our son *has* eloped before. I’m sure I’ll get reprimanded by some free-range parents for this, but until you’ve lived life with an ASD kid, please withhold judgment. 🙂 The truth is, parenting is going to look different based on the kid and based on the parent and based on the neighborhood and based on the city.

  19. Elizabeth Trull

    I find it so sad that we as parents have to worry about getting into trouble for encouraging our kids to become more independent. I definitely remember being fairly young when I started walking to the bus stop on my own and being able to roam the neighborhood by myself after school. My son is 6 and I am thankful every day that we live in a fairly quiet neighborhood with lots of other kids who all play outside together after school. Sometimes parents are outside sitting on their porches, sometimes not but all the kids know where everyone else lives so if someone gets hurt they know just where to go for help. And all the parents in the neighborhood help out with the other kids too, I can’t count the number of times I’ve gone out to put a bandaid on a scraped knee that didn’t belong to my child, or had him come home with a new scrape bandaged by another parent. I know we won’t be in this apartment forever and I get sad just thinking that we probably won’t find this kind of neighborhood again.

  20. Amy

    Great thoughts! As I type this my girls (5 and 3) are out in our yard playing by themselves. I’m watching from the window, but there are many times that I wonder what other neighbors think and whether or not someone will eventually stick their nose in our business. We have been seriously talking about moving out to the country so that our girls will be surrounded by nature. I love watching them explore and discover new things in our yard, but I long for them to have more freedom to roam.

    I’ve also allowed them a fair amount of freedom at the park to explore and try new things. It’s amazing how many times people interject because they are afraid my girls are going to fall or get hurt. I want them to try new things and feel confident in themselves when they conquer a new challenge. It certainly seems that the mantra at the playground is “safety always no matter what”. I purposely let them play without my intervention because i want them to learn independence.

    • Katie Fox

      Yes…I’ve definitely been the mom that’s getting dirty looks from another mom when one of my children has gotten hurt or seems about to get hurt at a playground..as though as I was supposed to be right by their side to catch them the moment they began to fall?!?! I dunno.

  21. PrairieGirl89

    Katie, you hit the nail on the head! We live out in the country with a huge yard and tons of room for the kids to run and play, so I don’t worry about being reported at all here. But a few months ago we were thinking of moving into town and that was THE ONE worry I had about it… it completely stressed me out. We ended up dropping the idea and are staying out here in the country and I’m very thankful for the opportunity that gives our children to explore and learn in their own free time. I’m so glad to hear there are other parents out there who feel the same, who realize that kids need space to grow into mature, responsible adults. And I’m deeply appalled at what complete strangers will do, thinking they are protecting kids and helping the future generation, but in the end hurting entire families who are doing the best they possibly can for their children’s development. Talk about irony. Thank you so much for writing this!

    • Katie Fox

      “And I’m deeply appalled at what complete strangers will do, thinking they are protecting kids and helping the future generation, but in the end hurting entire families who are doing the best they possibly can for their children’s development. Talk about irony. ”

      YES to this. Just YES.

  22. Michele

    Thanks for raising this important topic. It seems that many people are so quick to assume the worst in an effort to “protect.” Last summer, a young man said something rude to me as he was driving by (and kept driving — so i could not educate him) for leaving my car running as I ran into the hardware store (I think the law is that you’re not allowed to leave car idling for longer than 5 mins). I could see my car, and I was only 3 mins, but the reason I left it running was because I had my dog in the car and it was unbearably hot outside. That same person would have gotten on me for leaving a dog in the car! Whatever happened to assuming the best, trying to help? I’ve been tempted to offer to a fellow mom, a mere stranger, “I’ll sit in the car with your sleeping toddler why you just run in,” but how weird would I seem to be?!!

    So how do we look out for each other instead? I guess it pays to get to know your neighbors.

    I reframe certain thoughts for myself. I don’t call it helicoptering when I walk with my kids while they ride their bike, etc. I call it quality time! Sometimes their quality time comes from when I’m present, and sometimes it’s when they are without adult supervision.

    • Katie Fox

      Good points. Yes, I think getting to know our neighbors and our community is key. And of course there are still times we are all outside together. Both ways are important.

  23. Susanna

    I love this article because it rings so true for me. I have much faith in my kids ability to take care of themselves but constantly face harassment about it. My daughter rode her bike to school, a whopping .5 mile crossing NO large intersections, out of site of an adult for about 5 minutes if she was slow and I heard no end of it! She was 8. I want to move to acreage too just so my kids can be free to explore and learn a little without being paranoid about my getting in trouble. I’m not sending them downtown! Sigh, looks like I have stronger feelings than I realized 🙂 great article.

    • Katie Fox

      Susanna, I’m curious who gave you such a hard time about that – family, strangers? Seems a bit crazy to me. 🙂 Sounds like you knew she was ready and she did a great job!

  24. Dee

    Thanks for calling attention to this! We have let go of so many of our own freedoms and our children’s freedoms. And we’ve done this ourselves! I’ve tried very hard to raise my son to be independent. I work at a graduate school and we are now seeing parents coming to open houses and even intervening on their adult children’s behalf! I want my son to know how to handle himself without me. You can’t get there without giving everyday way so of doing that along the way.

    • Dee

      Oops, that last line is “ways of doing that…”

    • Katie Fox

      Oh my gosh – IN GRADUATE SCHOOL?!?!? You’ve got to be kidding me!

  25. Laura

    I want to agree with this, and that kind of childhood sounds dreamy. In a way, I grew up similarly- we backed up to a park, knew all our neighbors, etc… But we recently found out that my brother with mental health issues was groomed and raped by a neighbor during this idyllic childhood my family often spoke of. Now I can’t help but wonder if that was what pushed him over the edge. It is a hard call, and I hate to be “that mom,” but I’m not letting my wee ones out of sight in the neighborhood for a long time.

    • Katie Fox

      Laura, I am so, so sorry that happened to your brother. 🙁 That is truly terrible and sad. I understand why you’d be wary now. But try to remember how rare that kind of event really is – the chances of that happening to your kiddos are incredibly slim – and that if we can get to know our neighbors, it will go a long way toward helping to keep our children safe. Also, the rates for that kind of crime is actually lower now than when we were kids. Maybe that will help you a bit? Of course, ultimately you have to do what you know is best for your family.

      • Laura

        Thank you- Parenting is a tough balance!

  26. Christina English

    Our school is pushing for kids and families to walk or bike to school, to cut back on the amount of traffic around the school.

    My 9yo daughter #thekid has been asking about when she can ride her bike to school….the morning traffic in our neighborhood can get so crazy!

    She does have a friend whose mom said she could if she has a friend with her…this might be her opportunity:)

    I

    • Katie Fox

      Yes! That’s so great.

  27. Jessica

    Thank you so much for sharing. I feel the exact same way. I worry so much about what other people are thinking and whether or not they will report me for my parenting styles or choices. My three year old sometimes likes to play outside on the deck by himself while I cook dinner. Even with the windows open and overlooking the deck I worry that my neighbors might think that I’m neglecting him. When I lose my temper at home and yell my first worry isn’t about my son’s emotional well-being, but whether or not a neighbor heard me yell. I loved riding my bike and exploring wooded areas with my neighborhood friends when I was a kid. I fear my kids will never have that type of experience. In fact, where i live in a safe suburban town I have NEVER ONCE seen kids underneath the age of 12 playing outside. How can we parent effectively when we are constantly worried about strangers, neighbors, and potentially even friends judging us on every move?

  28. Helen Helicopter

    I’m a helicopter mom. I’ll admit it. I have one child that I waited a long time to have and having her did not come easy. My daughter is very young – almost 5. I don’t think kids her age can “handle it” – it being the world at large. They need guidance and practice. It is my job as a parent to provide those things. I recently read a fantastic book called “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker. He is one of the leading experts on security and I have given copies of this book to several of my friends. The information contained in it is invaluable. It is not in any way, shape, or form alarmist. It has taught me how to have conversations with my daughter that are both meaningful and relevant to the age we live in.

    • Katie Fox

      Helen, I, too, have read that book and loved it and recommend it all the time! But my takeaway was sort of opposite from yours. I thought that the author’s intention was to help parents understand where TRUE dangers are so that we can lighten up a bit about the other things that aren’t actually a threat. Reading that book helped me STOP being a helicopter mom. 🙂

  29. Rita

    I would be kidding myself if I didn’t think about these things as well. We used to live in a relatively small town, in a neighborhood that was pretty safe (at least by my observations.) Kids walking with their friends to and from school, playing in the streets etc.
    But, still I found myself often worrying about just letting my kids play in the yard alone. Not worried about their safety, but worried about how it would reflect on me as a parent. I also have read many troubling articles about good parents facing neglect charges for letting kids have a childhood. I agree this is a very troubling trend in our culture. But, I am convinced that if we are to see the change we need to be the change. For, us it started with popping my head out the door when someone walking past had the worried look on their face, me with a big smile and a cheery hello. When we moved to the country it mean’t walking to nearly every neighbor on the street and introducing ourselves, offering the opportunity to get to know each other. My idea to dispel fear is to put my own aside and engage the culture. I figure if my neighbors know me they will feel more at ease when they see our family living our own lives, out doors and in full view (whether Its all of us or just the kids.) The rest I have to leave in the Lords hands. He will see us through. And as for those times when I have the whole gang with me, then I choose to accept that as a culture I must be courteous to others and drag everyone in and out of car seats for quick errands or opt to schedule my short trips when my husband can stay home with the kids. Its not a perfect solution, but I hope that at least getting to know my neighbors it better than doing nothing and living in fear.

    • Katie Fox

      Great wisdom here, Rita. I think you’re exactly right – we need to be the change. I’m hopeful we can really get to know our new neighbors and be the change here where we are.

  30. Tsh

    Katie, I am SO GLAD you wrote about this. It’s been on my mind a lot as we gear up for our Big Trip, and honestly, it almost makes me sadder and sadder to raise our kids in the U.S. these days. If we still lived in Turkey, Tate (age 9) would be allowed to run to the store by herself and get some groceries. She could play with her friends outside, out of my sight, and be trusted to come home in time for dinner. She begs for more freedom, and I SO wish I could give it to her… but you’re right, I’m more concerned about judgment from other parents than I am her safety. Statistically-speaking, she’s more likely to be abducted by a relative than a stranger; to be in a car accident with me at the wheel than to be hit by a drunk driver while she’s on the sidewalk.

    I think fear of the world has to do with a perceived sense of control, and we parents want to hold on to control, even if it’s not real. This sense of control is why people are more afraid of airplanes than cars—technically, it’s much more dangerous to be in a car, but in an airplane, we’re not at the wheel and we feel trapped. We’re out of control. I think it’s the same with parenting—if we let them out of our sight, we lose a sense of control… but we never had that control to begin with. Our day to day life has TONS of risks that we don’t take in to consideration.

    And then finally, I’d argue that we’re actually endangering kids if we DON’T let them loose. All sorts of statistics show that kids are losing the ability to fend for themselves, identify and cooperate with nature, and know how to talk to nice strangers (because most strangers aren’t bad) because culturally, we no longer understand and value those things as essential for basic human function. We are making our kids less safe, not more, when we hover.

    Gah. This is one of my biggest soapboxes today, if you can’t tell… 😉

    • Katie Fox

      Yep, yep, and yep. And yep some more. 🙂

    • Joanna

      Just shared this article on FB w/ your comment quoted. Yes, yes and more yes. 🙂 Though I’m certain to get some pushback from others.

  31. Lynnette

    Here’s one (partial) option – find a good camp. Your child will learn independence (away from you) but still be under supervision. Look for a camp that emphasizes being outside, in nature, learning skills, has small cabin groups, experienced counselors. I have served at a girls’ camp for 32 years and love watching them grow in their love of nature. We are ACA approved (safety), and have great staff who supervise but also let the girls explore within the safe limits of the campground. It’s a great week for kids to be safe (and for parents to be safe!) while learning independence and exploring creation.

    • Katie Fox

      Lynnette, great comment – I really want to send my girls to camp! Love that idea. But I don’t know if one week a year is enough…though it’s better than nothing! 🙂

  32. Kim

    This is a subject near and dear to my heart! “Back in the day” in the summertime I would leave home after breakfast and not come home until lunch, then head back out until dinner. Nobody scheduled my day or filled it with activities so I wouldn’t get bored. Our neighbors all knew who I was and where I belonged. Maybe I’ve been living in a bubble, but I’ve raised/am raising three daughters (ages 26, 13, and 10) and I’ve let them roam, if not freely, at least within certain boundaries. We just moved to a new state and the neighborhood we live in seems to be pretty close-knit, and I am already letting my 13 year old walk to and from the community park by herself. She likes to sit on the swings and listen to her iPad, and it’s less than a mile each way. It’s also good exercise. And then I read all the stories about parents getting reported for such things! What?? If she was misbehaving, by all means do something about it. For instance, you might want to tell her to STOP what she’s doing and then you might want to let her parent (me) know about it. Does anybody else remember when you wouldn’t dare do anything “bad” because your neighbors might catch you and 1) fuss at you; and 2) tell your Mama? Nowadays there are people who will SUE you if you say anything to their child. The concept of personal responsibility is well on its way to extinct. I don’t particularly care for Hillary Clinton but she was right about it taking a village to raise children. Too many people stay locked up in their houses and don’t take the time to know their neighbors, much less help each other out. We were made for community and relationship, right? I think we Believers are going to have to step out and lead the way. (Whew! Clearly I have strong feelings on this subject.)

    • Katie Fox

      “Does anybody else remember when you wouldn’t dare do anything “bad” because your neighbors might catch you and 1) fuss at you; and 2) tell your Mama? Nowadays there are people who will SUE you if you say anything to their child. The concept of personal responsibility is well on its way to extinct.” HA! Yes! Good points, Kim!

  33. M J

    I am so happy to read that I am not the only one thinking about this. We are from Europe and spend most of the summer there where our kids (2,5, and 9) have so much more freedom.
    Coming back to the US I am worried to get into trouble.
    My daughter was an exception walking to and from school in 3rd grade and even now in 4th grade she is one of the only kids walking by herself.
    I do agree with what Tsh says and I think that there are certain things you should learn when you are young, like getting around in traffic on a bike or crossing a busy road. Here are crossing guards and school busses and the kids learn that every body stops for them, which I think is more dangerous in the long run.

  34. Thalia M

    Decades ago when I was a kid, I could go out if I went with other kids or if my mom could see me or call me from our house. I was also occasionally sent to the store a couple blocks away on my bike alone in daylight. So I allowed my kids to go to the park within walking distance as long as they went together and they still thought I sheltered them. But I think it depends on where you live. If crime is high in your neighborhood, that should factor into your decisions. Even if statistics show less crime, I would not want to bet my child’s safety on it. I’d take precautions where I could, like sending them together or with a dog or phone, etc. As for the busy-bodies, sadly, people have become cocooned and don’t get to know their neighbors as much anymore. As a kid, I knew all my neighbors pretty much. So that sense of community is lost. Plus there are more lawyers now.

  35. Crystal

    I found this in my research.

    http://www.dshs.wa.gov/pdf/media/052912HomeAlone.pdf

    I would assume the rules would also be the same for at the play ground. Unless there are active signs of neglect, I don’t see why the police would legally be involved. Also, I’d check the rules for the park and town. The town might have a rule on the books that would require an adult to be with a child when at the playground. I don’t think that is an arrestable offense either.

  36. Wendy

    I have such mixed feelings on this. First of all, this is something my husband and I think through intentionally when we’re making parenting decisions. We are grateful to live in a small town, in a place where independence is valued and nosiness is not (small mountain town in AK). We deliberately fight against “helicoptering,” and let our kids gain independence as they’re able to handle it. The 12 year old has his own lawn mowing business, and is out about town by himself all summer. He has a walkie talkie that he can call back if needed, and a few key people in town he can go to for help if needed. We let the 9 and 7 year old go on bikes up to about a mile and half away from our house if they are with the 12 year old. About a 1/2 mile either way on the bike path from our house if by themselves. Hiking we have to stay together on account of bears, but they do roam around our house and play in the woods unsupervised (except by our big dogs). My 4 year old plays out in the yard by herself, and will take it upon herself to go pick berries all over our property (a little over a 1/2 acre). The freedom and responsibility I give my kids about killed a relationship with a friend, whose 3 year old I babysat over the summer. He is an only child, completely helicoptered, and if she’d had other options she would have taken them. But she didn’t, and I made it clear I wasn’t going to change my parenting for her wishes…and he did have far less freedom than the others because of his age. It was great to see him blossom, though!
    BUT…we are privileged to be in the place that we live so that we can let our kids be like this. 15 years ago, my mom was glad to be moving to a new house just a mile down the road from the school my little sister (who was about 12 at the time) attended. She would walk to and from school daily. And then a teenage girl, walking to school along the same route, was abducted & raped. Her parents didn’t know to be worried b/c she walked to school every day. The school just assumed she was out sick for the day. The entire day came and went without help for her. Needless to say, that’s the last day my sister walked to school by herself.
    In the next town over from where I live, in a relatively small city (pop. 4000), there have been 2 attempted abductions in the past 6 months at a playground.
    So where’s the balance? I think it’s easy to be critical of other parents who seem to hover more than we do…but if it was ours our their child whom was nearly abducted? The trauma and guilt then? I don’t know where the balance is in general…I know we’ve found our comfort zone for now, and we intentionally train our kids on what to do if someone were to try to kidnap them, etc…but there has to be a balance.
    I think a way to make this article more helpful than just an opinion is to offer some stats…prove that it’s really safer now than when we were kids. Line out the real vs. imagined dangers, and give strategies for helping kids cope on their own, and for helping us let go!

  37. Laura

    As a parent of a one year old (my first), I’m still pretty new to parenting. I realize that parenting a one year old is much different than parenting a an older more independent child, but I try my best to not be too much of a “helicopter” parent and allow my daughter little freedoms as she begins to become more interactive with her environment. I also remember the days of playing outside all day and night without ever once checking in with mom/dad unless there was a need for a bathroom, snack, or a minor injury. HOWEVER, I must admit that the idea of allowing my daughter to roam freely as I did terrifies me. I’m not sure why I have such a negative feeling about the current state of the world – if it’s a product of the media, a product of where I live, or just a normal worry of a new parent. I’m very interested in the Statistics that are being mentioned – any chance you could share a few sources for those? I’m interested in seeing the actual numbers, and very surprised to hear that the world we live in today is safer than 20-30 years ago. Thanks for the post – it’s something I think about often.

  38. Liisa R

    Interesting post. We don’t have kids yet, but I do have one other thought to add to the thread. The incredibly easy access to online porn and child porn is one thing that is quite different from when I was a kid in the 80’s. There are sooooo many adults and even more teens that are addicted and are wanting to act out in this area and it seems to be a growing problem that changes the game significantly. We personally know former music students of ours who are locked into this invisible world, and it is quite scary when you have 10-17 year olds addicted to that kind of material and acting out with half-siblings, neighborhood kids, etc.

    That isn’t to say we want to parent out of fear, but I think it is worth mentioning. I have no idea where we’ll be living if/when we have kids, and I HUGELY value independence and self-reliance for children. There is nothing more that I want for our kids and I don’t want to be that helicopter mom b/c I’ve seen it and it is ridiculous although somewhat understandable! But I definitely want to use discernment and follow my gut on a daily basis. I do think that as adults who are aware of the times, letting go of ideals may be the best thing for our kids sometimes. I think it is probably different in every situation, but I don’t think I will be forgetting the many peoples’ stories (who we know personally) around this issue any time soon. I think this stuff happens far more than we realize or hear about. Food for thought!

  39. Liz H

    We live just out of town on 5 acres surrounded by hundreds of acres of woods. My twin girls, age 5, are allowed to play in our yard unsupervised although they never seem to go far. My mother is always worried about them being outside and getting kidnapped, lol. All I can think is that no one can even see our house from the road, how would they know anyone was here? This is the same mother who allowed us to roam about our neighborhood from kindergarten age on unescorted except by our friends! My girls are also given real tools to use to build “projects” and are being taught about gardening and cooking. Yes, we even let them stir big pits of boiling water. Eek! Of course, THAT is supervised and they aren’t allowed to turn anything on with out help. Most of my friends have bigger families than I do a( I have 4 total) and I see from them that allowing children to have more freedom to explore and learn, the kids become much more independent at an earlier age and aren’t clinging to mom and dad for every speck of entertainment. My girls in turn are very good at imaginative play and can entertain themselves for hours at a time. They also look out for each other even as they sometimes fight like cats and dogs! Our kids need more not less freedom to be kids. Sometimes I hear of what is going on with moms being arrested and I just ant to flee the country. So sad.

  40. Hayley

    I don’t have any kids of my own, but if I were concerned enough to call the cops, I think that the first step may be to ask the child directly if they are okay. If they are okay and know their way home, let kids be kids. I hope to one day live in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone else and we can all keep an eye out for each other.

    • Fiona

      I completely agree.

  41. Susan

    Excellent article. I, too, feel more panic about how I will be judged by neighbors or cops than about the “danger” my kids might face by playing outside without me.

    I’m thankful that at least my state (Maryland) has a law with actual ages describing what it too young to be unsupervised in a home, outdoors, or car. It’s 8. (13 to babysit a child under 8) When I first heard about that law, it seemed ridiculous to me. What, we need a law for that? But as I’ve read more and more of these stories, I’ve become so thankful for it (though I’d like to see the age lowered). So as my oldest approaches 8, I’m looking forward to the day when he can be free to ride his bike around the block without me fearing the police. I wish every state would pass laws like this–setting an age at which it is explicitly NOT neglect to simply be alone.

  42. Katie Harding

    What a great post, I often think about how my childhood was so different than my own kids. We are fortunate enough to live on a very private drive so our kids have a bit more freedom but for the most part I feel much safer when the boys are confined to our back yard.

  43. Fiona

    We live in a small city in Ontario. My 8 and 10 year old walk/bike/scoot to school by themselves and have for a few years. The school is just over a kilometre from our house. Lots of kids walk by themselves. Any time I walk to the school, I watch out for all children, not just my own, and I know other parents do the same.

    We like to hike and often go with other families. The kids are always eager to explore on their own, so we give them a time and a meeting place and enjoy some adult time while they enjoy their independence. The rule is that they stick together. The big ones help the younger kids and they figure it out. They have gotten lost on occasion but we are always impressed with their solutions – once they couldn’t find the meeting spot but knew where we were parked. They went there knowing our car would be unlocked and likely my phone inside, and they phoned another parent to let them know they were waiting at the cars.

    We canoe in the backcountry and always let the kids explore on their own. They have both bear bells and whistles. they know that they blow their whistles only if they are in trouble and never for fun. They take the canoe out by themselves and from shore we enjoy the sibling negotiations/battles involved in paddling a canoe in a vaguely straight line.

    I want to raise strong, independent, resourceful children. I don’t believe that they are in danger every time they leave the house and I don’t want them to believe that either. We should stop underestimating our children.

    It is very sad that fear of being reported (a legitimate fear) is influencing how we raise our children.

  44. Lisa Monique Kent

    I grew up on a farm with five siblings, and so often my mom would kick us out of the house with the order: Go Play! So we’d head into the woods (about 360 acres) and lose ourselves to hide and seek and cowboys and Indians. My girls are 12 and 18 now and my parents fret about their entering the very same woods we were encouraged to play in. Still, they’ve had lots of adventures in the woods, sleeping over in our old sugar house, snowshoeing, skiing, riding their dirt bikes, exploring. But, they go in pairs, never alone. Of course I worry. I don’t show them my anxiety, and they are thriving, but it’s hard! Right now my oldest is in her first year at a large university, and every night I wonder, “Is she safe?” We’ve taught her how to take care of herself and she is so ready to be on her own, but I had a hard time letting her go. Of course, when they leave, there’s not much of a choice. Our town is small and quiet. We live right near the public elementary school and there’s a big soccer field to run and play in. My youngest goes by herself to run, and she also goes to the library by herself. I keep an eye on her with my heart. I don’t want her to grow up in fear, so I encourage the explorations that I can stretch to, trying to remember what I wanted to do at her age, which was to have no tether except when I needed it. My parents loved us and kept an eye out, so I never got total freedom (farm work makes that an impossibility anyway) but I sure felt like I did, and I got to run and climb. That’s what I want for her. Thanks for getting us all thinking.

    Lisa Monique Kent, author of Peace Cottage and blogging at lisamoniquekent.wordpress.com

  45. Rivki Silver

    Oh, this post so resonates with me! Embarrassingly, I’ve been guilty of judging other parents for free play. When I had only very, very small children (2 and under), I would watch with dismay as a neighbor’s 4 and 6 year old played unsupervised in the communal apartment green space. Of course, these kids would often bother other, smaller and similarly unsupervised children (like chase them around with a baseball bat, or veer very close to them on a bicycle), so, to me, there was what to be concerned about. I never would have dreamed about calling the authorities, though! I just talked to the mother if I saw something very problematic (like the baseball bat thing). It also wasn’t the safest area, so that factor combined with my own inexperience made it easy to judge (not that I’m proud of that, obviously).

    But now that we’re in a house and my children are a little older (5, nearly 4 and 2), I totally let my older two play outside with light supervision (I’ll check on them from the window). I let all three of them in the backyard on the trampoline while I make dinner or stay in the kitchen, where I can mostly hear them. But our yard is not fenced (yet), and I do worry sometimes if someone will judge me harshly. Their idea of supervision might be very different than mine. We’ve only been in this house for a year, and I haven’t gotten to know all the neighbors, and many neighbors do not have children, so may not be predisposed to judging me favorably.

  46. Deidra

    I agree with so much of what’s been written, both in the comments and the post. I’ve been feeling very strongly about this since reading Free Range Kids years ago (before I had kids). My big questions is “How do we change it? How do we start a movement to stop the craziness of parents being reported?” (Admittedly, I wonder if those reports are just as blown up as the reports about child danger.) There are parents who neglect and harm their children, so how do we separate those cases from parents doing their best to foster independence?

  47. My Special Kind of Crazy

    My husband and I both ran free as kids. He lived in a small rural-ish town with his house backed onto the woods, where he and his siblings spend many a weekend running around. I grew up spending summers at the beach, where we would ride our bikes (w/o helmets, I must add!) around the neighborhood at 8 years old.
    We just moved to the suburbs from the city- where my 5 year old learned how to cross the street safely and follow pedestrian rules. Now that we are on a cul-de-sac, I feel comfortable with her riding her scooter on the sidewalk around the cul de sac without me present. I took the opportunity at the annual cul de sac bbq to let my neighbors know that we allow our daughter to do this and we are usually on the front porch or front room supervising from afar. When she is in 4th grade she will have the option to ride her bike to school- which we fully intend to allow her to do. stranger/child abduction has not increased. Children these days are more likely to be abducted/abused by a family member/close friend or to be injured or killed in their home than they are to be injured/abducted/killed by a stranger. Last I heard, no one was arrested for letting their kid stay home alone with Uncle Jimmy.

  48. Taryn Botha

    I have been recently trying to give my kids more freedom. Aged 5.1/2 and 3.1/2 And also been forced to as we have a new baby in the family, and during the many feeds ect the kids still wanted to go out and play, this time unsupervised or me keeping an eye out from the kitchen. We live in a cul de sac with loads of kids who are all great friends but i still cant seem to feel not guilty if i let them out front on their own. Thinking of scenarios like cars coming in and them not getting out the way or other aweful things like being abducted or something … Crazy i know … But how could i live with myself if it happened … How do we not follow helicopter parenting styles and be responsible enough with their safety?

  49. tincancozy

    All of the 30 somethings had free reign in our neighborhoods, towns, etc. Walking through the woods to school, riding your bike to town for candy, hiking in the woods behind the house. All things we did. It’s sad that we live in a society where in some places it isn’t safe and if it is, we are still policed by strangers. Like the woman who left her child (almost 10 or so) in the car while she ran in to grab something before they went back home that day. Her son decided he didn’t want to go in, it wasn’t hot that day (michigan) and he was quietly playing a game while him mom ran in. Someone video taped the entire thing and the mom was arrested and had to go to court. I like in the video you posted about the Port St Lucie mom that was arrested..the cop told her it was bad parenting to let her son walk to the park alone because there are sex offenders in the area. Aren’t they supposed to be living a distance from parks, schools, etc. That mom should be able to let her kid have some freedoms to help him mature. Its sad that we are in this time. Wouldn’t a simpler time be nice. A time when I could let me daughter walk a few houses down to visit a friend and not worry that she gets picked up or I get arrested for letting her do it. Maybe if we all let our kids run free….

  50. Jessica B

    Twice in a two week period I had the cops show up at my house and/ or call looking for me because of calls from strangers about my children. The first time I was babysitting and the kids were playing outside and went inside their own shed next to the house to get toys out. The caller stated that they knew for fact there was a hazard present in the shed. The shed also held an old piece of furniture that had a glass piece to it and they were worried the kids would break it and get hurt. The next one, less than a week later, was a call because I left my 9 year old in the car reading his book on a dreary day while I ran my 5 year old into a restroom for a potty emergency. Obviously a dangerous situation… I do feel that this was a bit of discrimination on the part of the callers as I had recently dyed my hair pink, purple and turquoise ombre and we live in a conservative location. I do worry about people judging my parenting and calling on me because it happens. The two examples are just the ones from this summer, but I have had multiple meetings with CPS because of different reports on me that they have to check out. They always are super nice about it and tell me not to worry, just keep on keeping on, but it really does put a strain on you to have these people randomly showing up with the potential for legal issues afterward. Quit wasting the time of these agencies that have so much on their plate already.

  51. Amber

    ~I look forward to reading the book commented on about protecting the gift.

    ~Reading some of these comments on the states being safer now then back decades ago have me more concerned then seeing my my kids raised “free.” Know that I’m all about roaming in the creeks to catch crawdads and building forts in the woods without an adult’s help.
    But are we educated about the state side sex trafficking of OUR children? I mean children in our own “backyards.” No, it’s not strangers that snatch them every time. This multi billion dollar industry is gaining children daily by using children recruiters. Recruiters the same age as our children that blend in and become a familiar face at the parks, ball games, malls, etc. It’s not always done in minutes; these recruiters work kids for weeks gaining their trust and learning patterns.
    No intentions of trying to put fear of letting our children breathe without us in any parent, but if we don’t become educated in what is in our backyard, we can’t properly train and guard our children while they still need our wisdom and discernmemt. It was eye opening to me that our children are being sold within the US (one kids is sold for sex multiple times a day bringing their life expectancy down to 7 years once they are in the trafficking ring).
    If we are educated, and educate our children, we will have a greater chance in parenting free range children.

  52. Amber

    ~I’m in complete agreement with the post about not knowing our neighbors and most of today’s homes in the US being an island. This makes a big difference in little Johnny playing outside “alone.” My adult neighbors wouldn’t even know what my children looked like if we had to form a search party.
    And I do understand that NO ONE desires to feel judged as a parent. Then again I think about it, and I believe that I would rather have to deal with child protective services grilling me over a concerned neighbor “turning me in” than searching & worrying at no end for my child because no one took a moment to be recognize an unsupervised child.
    My 3 yrs old son walk away from me (& three other adults) in a shoe store. He walked 9 stores down the mall before stopping in a holiday store to look at toys. Not one adult took enough notice of a 3 yr to seek me out. That was the longest 20 minutes of my life. Running from store to store searching and getting the attention of others to help search, the thought of him disapearing out those automatic mall doors into the world forever constantly played again and again in my mind. I can’t imagine if I was still searching, wondering year later.

  53. Sunny

    I fully acknowledge the developmental merit for allowing our children greater autonomy and independence. And while my children are very young now (1 and 3), it’s a value I am working toward. However, one thing I always wonder when the research is cited regarding the safety stats in this country is if it’s possible that there are fewer violent crimes and abductions because our generation of parents have tightened the reigns? I haven’t read the sources myself, so this issue may indeed be addressed and refuted, but it’s certainly something that comes to my mind.

  54. Dona Haggerty

    I totally understand everything that you are saying, Katie. I am 61 years old and my husband and I have raised 7 children…ages 34 to 19. When our older ones were younger we lived next door to our church in California. There was a large parking lot where they went as a group with their friends, over to the church every single day. They would ride bikes, play rollerblade hockey, shoot baskets and just be kids. I never thought anything about it. But today….they are all married and most have children themselves. I wouldn’t even think of allowing my grandchildren this same privilege. I feel sorry for them…but I would be scared to death that someone would take them and I’d never see them again. Ride their bikes around the block? No way! It is sad that our world has changed that much in one generation. But I certainly wouldn’t call the police and report you if you chose to do so. That is ridiculous!!!

  55. Cristina

    I was 8 when I started going to school on my own, bit I can’t even remember how young I was when I was left to roam my village with my friends of the same age. 3 may be?

  56. Laura

    On the string of moms debating whether to send your older children into the store for you, I say wholeheartedly, “YES!” I’m definitely a worrier and often have to coach myself about giving my kids (ages 12 and 9) opportunities for independence. But I started letting my older one go into the store for me at age 10 and he loves it. Not too long ago, I even sent him in with my debit card and a list of five things to buy for his soccer team snacks. My mother was incredulous, “Do you think he can really do that?” she asked. “We’re about to find out,” I replied. Not only did he succeed, but reported choosing the lower-priced snacks offered with the store’s loyalty card. Score 1 for both of us!

    However, about two months ago, I let both kids and two of their friends (with parental permission) ride their bikes to a McDonalds less than a mile from home. The kids reported being approached by a woman who asked, “Does your mother know where you are? That street out there is dangerous. I can’t believe she’d let you come here. You be careful going home.” Really?! It was hard enough for me to grant that completely reasonable request to my children — and I was worried the whole time, even calling their father reassurance. But I persisted because I knew that together, they were responsible enough to handle it. Yet someone not only felt compelled to question my kids but also to judge the quality of my parenting. For so many reasons, it’s hard to give our kids the independence they need. But I continue to believe it’s a goal worth pursuing.

  57. Suzie

    So I totally agree that the ideal is to let your kids roam. I was walking to school alone and roaming our neighborhood at (probably) age 5 or 6 in England. However, I just read an article about a girl who was strangled in a small town in the US where everyone knew everyone. She had very strict restrictions (4 blocks this way, 2 that way, something along those lines). The father is trying to have the parents of child murderers put in jail as well. It’s unsettling. And now having kids of my own I completely respect those who choose to keep their children within sight and sound. I don’t think I’d ever call the police if I saw a child/children walking alone, but I definitely think there’s a proper balance between helicopter parenting and trying to make sure our kids aren’t taking unnecessary risks.

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