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Embrace that five-foot tree: 5 ways we can give our kids more freedom

I’ve been asked several times what we’ll miss when we return soon from our round-the-world travels, and there’s a laundry list response. I’m going to miss a lot of things. But if I’m honest, there’s one thing that makes my heart sink in quiet reflection about life back in the States, and what I wish simply wasn’t so. Here’s what I’ll miss:

In every place we’ve been, our kids have enjoyed more freedom than what they’re allowed in the States.

I love watching them soak it up, growing and learning as we give them a wider berth. The kids have walked safely through megacities and middle-of-nowhere grasslands, us nearby but not hovering, and with no one batting an eye at their independence. In a few European villages, our oldest, age 10, could go to the bakery unassisted, and this was perfectly normal. At playgrounds, all three of them left our eyesight, and a quick inventory a few times over an hour deemed them perfectly fine. They were doing what all the other kids around them did.

I’m going to miss this. Because quite honestly, they can’t have this much free rein in the States.

Not because it’s a more dangerous place. On the contrary—statistics show that things are safer in the U.S. than they’ve been for 30 years. It may not feel like it sometimes, because we’re privy to every event that happens all over the world within minutes of it happening, but it’s true. Crime is down. The world was actually more dangerous when we were kids.

queensland coast
The kids exploring the Queensland coast of Australia with their dad.

No, the reason I sadly don’t feel the freedom to give my kids the freedom they want—and have proven responsible in wielding it—is because I don’t want to be called out by a stranger who simply doesn’t know me. Because someone might jump to the wrong conclusion and call authorities in the midst of our kids being perfectly safe. Whether that’s walking to the nearby park by themselves, riding their bikes down the street without me hovering with worry, or otherwise being out in the world and out of my eyesight for a few minutes, it seems like Stateside culture has decided that the world is just too scary for kids to learn how to navigate.

I keep hearing stories of people widening their kids’ boundaries only to be met with unfounded skepticism—or worse. It’s sometimes gone as far as getting the authorities involved, therefore causing trauma on the children whose innocence was otherwise left intact. And this, my friends, makes me really, really sad.

pamukkale turkey
Finn, age 4, splashing in the wild waters of Pamukkale, Turkey.

On our trip we’ve spent time with American friends who live abroad, who’ve all said they’re grateful to live out of the U.S. for this simple reason. They love the freedom their kids safely enjoy. And quite frankly, this is the main reason I’m sometimes tempted to return to expat life.

Friends? This has got to stop. We have got to do a better job than this—of trusting each other’s parental instincts, or else our kids will be deprived of a healthy childhood (which obviously leads to a healthy adulthood). We’ve got to stop this collective mindset of assuming the worst and jumping to unfounded escalating conclusions. For the sake of our society, our kids need the freedom we had as kids, or else we’re looking at a generation fearful of imaginary bogeymen around every corner.

looking in the window in germany
Finn found some German teenagers to watch as they played foosball. They looked up, said hi, and went back to their game.

(And yes, there are statistics of unfathomable crime, that, albeit low, are one hundred percent if they happen to your kids. No doubt. But the same can be said of getting in a car, walking down the street, going to a store, and living with family members. In fact, those statistics show a much higher likelihood of danger.)

What can we do?

We collectively need to embrace the idea that, in most everyday situations, our kids instinctively employ a healthy, innocent, wide-eyed wonder of the world, and we need to give them the responsible space to pursue it. Here are a few ways we can do this a bit better, I think (and I’d love to hear your ideas in the comment section).

1. Know your neighbors.

This is probably the biggest one, and aside from exaggerating the danger from our instantaneous news, I think this is the main reason we jump to suspect. We simply don’t take the time to know each other anymore. We have to make a more intentional and friendly (meaning, assume the best) effort to become acquaintances or friends with our neighbors.

tate and the rowse boys
Tate, hanging out with some friends in Melbourne, Australia.

Once we better know our neighbors, we better cultivate our community mindset. We know the collective of kids, we watch out for them (in a reasonable, level-headed manner), and we talk to each other first before calling in needless authorities. We’re actually safer, too—statistics show that crime is lower on streets and in areas where families know each other.

2. Consume news with level-headed thinking.

Atrocities happen worldwide, and we need to care and we need to stay informed so we can be better global citizens. But we also need to remember a healthy sense of perspective. When Kyle and I lived in Kosovo back in 2000-2001 (we were both single at the time), we’d get emails from loving family and friends asking if we were okay because such-and-such happened—they saw it on the news. We’d have absolutely no idea what they were talking about, because the event happened on the other side of the country from us. (And it’s a tiny country.)

Stay in the know, but be careful not to blanket-statement newsworthy events as catastrophic in all circumstances, in all places. If you hear of something happening in the downtown part of your city, don’t unintentionally jump to the thought that that sort of thing happens all the time, in every corner of that area. Be smart, yes, but don’t be jumpy.

tate on a rope swing
Tate, age 10, playing in a park in Croatia.

3. Know your kids.

Is your kid a genuinely good kid? Tell her thanks by giving her a bit more freedom when she wants it. Trust your instinct, of course, but also be willing to widen her fence a bit more than you’re comfortable with if she’s proven again and again that she’s trustworthy. Let your default be yes to reasonable requests, so that you use the no card when it makes sense. Be careful to not let your default be no.

My kids have taught me, again and again, that even though it sometimes makes me nervous, they’re really great at being responsible within the space we give them. I communicate trust by letting them enjoy healthy freedom when they can, while still standing my ground when my gut tells me to play it safe.

4. Teach your kids.

There’s a saying from a Scandinavian country (can’t remember which one) that says, “The safest place for a child is at the top of a five-foot tree.” What’s meant by this is that in a short tree, a child is given the chance to learn how to climb a tree safely—six feet, and they might get hurt, and any shorter isn’t really learning the skill of tree-climbing. A necessity for safety.

We should teach our kids how to climb all sorts of five-foot trees, because they’ll be better equipped to function in the real world. Safely, but not fearfully.

park in austria
The kids enjoying an Austrian playground.

5. Recognize your need for perceived control.

I’ve heard it said the reason more people fear airplanes than cars is the loss of perceived control. All the statistics show that driving in a car is more dangerous than flying in an airplane, but most of us aren’t in the cockpit—we’re at the mercy of a pilot, usually whom we don’t know. Plus, there’s little we can do to control the turbulence, so it feels like we’re sitting ducks. When we’re driving a car, we steer and brake and change routes. We’re still more likely to die than when we’re in a plane, but at least we have a sense of what’s going on.

Not sure if that’s entirely true, but it makes sense. We humans are hard-wired for a desire for control, and it’s no different with parenting our kids. They’re precious to us, so we instinctively want to protect them at all times. The thing is, though, is that we don’t really have a lot of control. Less than we’d like, anyway. And giving our kids a wider berth feels like losing control.

You know what? It is. But it’s also handing our kids the helm to steer their own rudder. It’s giving them a chance to navigate and learn the waves. And that’s what we want after all, right? We want our kids to be healthy, functioning adults, and the more opportunities they have to take risks with five-foot trees, the better they’ll be with those big ones that eventually come their way.

park in germany
Spinning on a super-cool merry-go-round in Germany.

I’m truly curious how we’ll re-enter the U.S. when we’re done traveling. Will we continue our modus operandi and cross our fingers that the majority of strangers give us the benefit of the doubt? Will we rein the kids in a bit? Probably somewhere in the middle. Regardless, I really do think it’s important that, collectively, we encourage each other to let our kids take more risks and give them a bit more reasonable freedom—for their sakes, and for all our sakes.

The thing is, many, many of my friends in the U.S. feel this way—I’d wager to say most of them do. I wonder if most of us really want to give our kids more freedom, but the collective cultural bias simply makes us nervous. I do see plenty of Stateside places where my kids can roam, and this gives me hope. It might not look the same as it does in other cultures, but it’s there. We do like our freedom.

For more reading on the matter, the book Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv does an excellent job explaining the sobering reality that if something doesn’t change, our kids will have no skills interacting with nature—and therefore, the real world. It’s a clarion call for letting our kids get dirty, get hurt, and get stronger from those five-foot (and beyond) trees. (I hear this book is good, too.)

What are your thoughts? What else should we do to encourage each other to give kids more of the freedom we had when we were younger?

Reading Time:

7 minutes





  1. Michelle Bonk

    I could not agree more! We live in Canada so I’m not sure if there are differences but it feels very similar to what you describe. Our four children (6-13, one with special needs) are offered much more freedom than many of their friends but we’re fine with that – how else are they to learn?
    Another pet peeve is this perception that our kids are somehow “safer” when they have a cell phone with them. I don’t necessarily agree. Many times they’re distracted and unaware iof their surroundings, making them much less safe!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Good point, Michelle!

    • Honey Rowland

      Och. We were just driving through our college town. Young adults walking and looking at their phones. One kid stepped right out into traffic….car was coming. Luckily, car swerved (also speeding ). Neither one was willing to take responsibility and both flipped one another off before speeding away and looking back at his phone while walking. So scary. Phones are dangerous in my opinion.

      The more I witness the more I want to move elsewhere.


  2. Helena

    You simply can’t know who you can trust. In fact you can’t trust anyone…. When I was a kid, I was terrorized by a neighbour. There are people who were also terrorized by people they know very well (their father, nephew, teacher). Mostly it isn’t a stranger who does this sort of horrible things. Although it’s difficult to let my kids play outside where I can’t always see them, I let them. It’s good for them. I’m not going to live with fear. I can be careful and trust my instincts. My kids know they can’t go away with someone, also not with someone they know. Even then you just never know. I can be hit by a bus when I go outside the door. You are lucky or you are not. Simple as that. So let kids be free and learn from real life. Being overprotective isn’t good for them. Here in The Netherlands people don’t call the police if you let your kids go alone in the neighbourhood, except if you neglect your kids.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Helena, because it sounds like you have a voice of reason despite a scary thing that’s happened to you. You’re an example of not letting fear win. Good for you. 🙂

  3. rachael

    I live in Canada – in a small town- and I don’t feel like its quite the same as how you’re describing the States. I see kids who are around 6 years old walking to school or to the park near my house. With no parents. We all know each other on my street, so maybe that helps? My daughter is almost 5 and we are already talking about what age is appropriate for her to walk to school or home from school alone. I let her and my two year old play in the back yard by themselves, with me just peeking out the kitchen window every once in a while to check. I had TONS of freedom as a child, playing by the creek, climbing trees, walking down the road alone in the countryside, and I think I learned a ton of life lessons this way. I wish the same for my kids.

  4. Amy

    I was talking to my grandma about this recently, trying to understand how things were different when my parents were kids. My own son is getting ready to start kindergarten i the fall, and we were talking about walking to school. My aunt walked several blocks to school as a first-grader. My grandma said that the moms took turns the first couple of weeks to make sure the kids knew where they were going and how to get there safely. And then the kids walked on their own.
    Then she told me something that surprised me: During that walk, once, one of the girls from my aunts class was molested. She had been by herself.This was in the 1960s.
    We think that crime and danger are new, but they aren’t. What has changed is our reaction to them. These days, if something like that happened, I can only imagine how parents would react. But my grandma said she and her friends continued to allow their kids to walk to school, they just made sure they knew they were always to walk in groups.

  5. Jess Townes

    I comepletely agree with you. Any freedom I withhold from my kids is based more on fear of someone’s overreaction than fear of danger. I feel acutely aware of this during school hours because we homeschool, and the sight of children outside of a school building during the day raises eyebrows and questions everywhere we go, even when I am with my kids. I don’t want them to have to field those questions on their own. I’m always trying to figure out how to balance their independence against our culture’s fearfulness.

    • Gigi

      This is exactly the boat I find myself in. Perfectly said. Tsh, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for being sensible.

  6. tamara

    This is a great post and I totally agree. When I was my boys’ ages I’d be outside all day – we lived in the country in Wisconsin – and I’d go to the local fair with a friend for hours, just the two of us. Media has put more awareness out there but more fear as well and I admit I too, am privy to it and that drives me a bit batty.

    That being said, once on my way home from school, a man tried to get me into his car. I was about 7 or 8 at the time. It was a small town, could have been a city. Things happen. But it’s also about teaching kids awareness too and part of that is letting go a bit.


    • judy

      Great. Things happen. Like being sexually abused at age 6. Are you kidding. Did that screw me up for life even with therapy. Hope that doesn’t happen to your kid or a kid you love. Oh, but wait. Things happen. Big deal, right.

  7. Mandi

    This is an excellent post and a lesson Americans need to pay particular attention to. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this!

  8. MelD

    Yes, this is something that is a big problem for English-speaking countries and the biggest reason I am so glad we brought our girls up here in Switzerland, despite early temptations to embrace other parts of our identities.
    How ridiculous it seems to us to over-protect kids till the age of 18 and then throw them to the lions as they are all sent away to university, a freedom many cannot cope well with including the over-consumption of alcohol and drugs (and sex). Seems strange to me now, even dangerous.
    Our kids were sent to the nearby store to pick up bread or some other simple article from the age of 4-5, around the same time they started KG, when they were (still are) expected to walk without parental accompaniment after an initial period (as another commenter described). They wear an orange fluorescent sash which identifies them and alerts drivers to slow down and pay attention. First graders switch to a neon yellow sash, in some places now it’s a good-sized waistcoat that fits over even the thickest winter jacket and school backpack. The police comes into KG to help the young kids to learn to manage crossing roads. After the age of 7 it is actually illegal to ride a bicycle on the pavement (sidewalk). My grandson walks about a mile to KG, returning home as all Swiss kids do, for lunch (i.e. four times a day), a little further than my daughters used to walk – and mostly in a group of friends. Yes, occasionally I would have to get the bike out and go looking for one of them when they weren’t home on time at lunchtime, distracted by playing or the stream running through the village, but they all learned eventually. In fact, the school asked that parents do not drive their kids to school or pick them up unless absolutely necessary for appointments etc. Kids who lived further away arranged to leave their bikes at the edge of town and walk the rest of the way with their friends. It’s considered important for social development, too.
    Secondary (high) school is often some distance away and the kids were expected to bike, again four times a day, in our case about 3 miles each way. Keeps them all pretty fit! There are far fewer organised activities “after school”, they seem to have other stuff to do – homework and play, for instance, though music lessons are popular.
    Apart from this element, things that are considered terribly “liberal” by English and north Americans seem to work fine for us. Beer and wine are permitted to kids from the age of 16 and we don’t have “binge culture” or big problems with kids drinking, on the whole they act very responsibly with this liberty. They don’t get to drive till 18, anyway (nowadays this is also when you come of age, it was 20 until 1996), when they also get to vote – we vote on everything!! The age of consent is 16 and we have some of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the world with a healthier attitude to normal behaviours (in my view, anyway). Repression seems to me to push kids the opposite way.
    A relatively low proportion of kids stays at school till 18-20 and goes on to study at a university. By far the majority leave school at 15/16 and do a 3-4 year apprenticeship with a day-release study method; because there is an apprenticeship for almost every occupation, we have little or no casual work – the teens are working full time anyhow so don’t need casual work. By 18/19, they have a profession and are generally far more adult and independent than any English-speaking kids I have come across… somehow, we seem to be doing something right!
    No place is perfect, of course, but overall, I feel lucky to have brought my kids up here and not in my own culture.

    • Lola

      This sounds wonderful!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Thank you for sharing more of the Swiss way of life, MelD!

    • Amy

      Sounds like a wonderful place to live!

  9. AliTX

    Just a few weeks ago we were in mass and I allowed my 7 year old daughter to go to the restroom on her own. She was delighted at the freedom. We attend a very small mission in TX with around 50 people (maybe less on some days). A woman that had recently began attending mass afterwards comes to me and reprimands me for “not taking care of my child” and she “Couldn’t believe I trusted the situation.”

    -I also would like to note that my husband and I are living in the same small town we grew up in, and that most of the people in the congregation either watched us grow up, or grew up with us.

    That being said, I know exactly what you mean! It is not that our children won’t be safe, it’s that other people will involve themselves in our decision making and may call authorities too quickly and freely without knowledge of the entire situation.

  10. kariane

    Thank you for writing this. This is such an important message for everyone to hear. Kids are capable of a lot more things, and a lot better judgement, than most people give them credit for. My boys are always astounded when they encounter the difference in rules, even between homes here in the US, that show such a huge difference in the amount of trust people have in their children and in the world around them. Fear permeates so many lives. I hope that together we can bring about change.

    • Tsh Oxenreider


  11. sm

    Wait and see. Maybe you won’t need to worry about this. As you said 1) Know your neighbors – even a mile away if they are on the route of your independent child(ren). And know the businesses employees too. Make sure your kids know them too. With that, they will greet your child with the warmth of the community as they pass when walking to the bakery, scooting to the park, or biking to school. They’ll help with a flat tire too! I live in the US and my children regularly walk places together or with a buddy. They know many people on their routes and it totally works. They have also developed their own adult allies(the secretary at the superintendent office, the cashier at the gas station). I have heard these people publicly advocate for my children and their friends who walk and ride 2 miles to school. The world can be pretty good! Also a ten year old will be much “older” than the 9 year old you left with. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      SM, oh, I totally agree that a 9-year-old really is different than a 10-year-old—she has matured in leaps and bounds on this trip. And yep, I absolutely trust my kids… So what you’ve said is correct: it’s all about knowing your community, and letting them know you. Looking forward to that. 🙂

  12. Traci

    I wonder if our compulsion (because that’s what it feels like to me) to keep our kids close is linked to the increased mobility of our society. I grew up in a small town of 15,000, the same town my mother and her mother and her grandmother grew up in, and from a young age, my siblings & I would leave the house on our bicycles to spend hours roaming the neighborhood. We were told to be careful, respect other’s property, avoid highly trafficked streets, and be home before dinner.
    My husband and I now live in a city five times the size of my hometown (so still relatively small), and I have a tough time imagining giving my own kids that same liberty someday. I think my hesitation finds its footing in being somewhere that is not quite as “home” as the town where we were raised, and I’ll admit that when I visit my hometown, I actually still feel more comfortable being outside, on foot or bike, than I do in our current city.
    I wonder if the increase in parental hovering comes from so many of us moving out of hometown to larger cities, where life is not as unfamiliar and where we actually can run an errand without ever seeing someone we know. Just a thought! And a long one, sorry!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Hmm… an interesting thought. And yeah, I do see a wee bit more parental freedom in my adopted town of Bend, OR than I do in my much, much bigger hometown of Austin, TX. Food for thought, Traci. Thanks.

  13. Elizabeth

    Thank you for writing about this. I spend a lot of time thinking about how I can give my kids the same freedom outside that I enjoyed as a kid. All of your tips are very helpful. I see a lot of kids in my neighborhood playing outside which is encouraging. A lot of my neighbors are here from Asia which it’s interesting to see how their kids seem to do less afterschool activities and play outside more compared to my American neighbors (we live in NJ). I do find my immediate surrounding neighbors are overly protective of their kids. My one neighbor only lets her 12 year old ride her bike in a loop in front of their house. Seriously – what fun is that? What gets me is why do people think it’s safer and healthier to have their kids inside in front of screens all the time?

  14. Melissa

    Please don’t rein in your kids when you come back! I don’t like to label myself, but my husband and I lean toward free-range philosophies in much of our parenting. I always love hearing about people that are normalizing unaccompanied playtime, because it is NORMAL! There’s a website where you can search for other parents in your area that have a similar mindset –
    I’m already prepping my six-year-old to be able to walk to Grandma’s house by herself (3/4 of a mile, crossing several streets) and to swim lessons (1/4 away). She could probably do it now, but I want to “practice” a few more times before I let her loose. Maybe we’ll make cookies for all the folks along the route, just so we have an excuse to get to know our neighbors. 😀

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Yes, I love what Lenore has done with Free-Range Friend! Thanks for sharing that link for everyone.

  15. Christina

    I don’t have kids yet, but I wonder if people’s attitudes about this issue vary much by neighborhood within the US. My husband and I deliberately chose to live in a walkable urban neighborhood, even though it meant buying a more expensive, smaller house. We’ve gotten to know most of our neighbors and their kids because everyone stops to chat while walking or biking to the park or store. My parents, though, just moved to a suburb in the same city, and they haven’t met a single neighbor yet! Everyone drives everywhere and the houses are far apart, so there are fewer opportunities to interact. And I would think in an area where it’s rare to see someone walking in general, people are more likely to react badly to seeing a kid playing or walking alone, because it’s already out of the norm not to be in a car. The good news is that a lot of my friends (we’re in our 20s) seem to be on the same page about this; we don’t ever want a big, lonely house in the suburbs the way our parents’ generation did.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I think you’re right, Christina—and I have hope that younger and younger parents are more on board with a freer mentality for their kids.

  16. Susan

    I am blessed to live in a small town where my boys can roam free. In the summer they are gone for hours.

  17. Laura

    This has definitely been the one of the hardest things about returning from six months in Europe (along with the structure of US school days). We’ve been trying to figure out the best ways to give them the freedoms and safe physical risks they need to grow.

  18. Christi {Jealous Hands}

    I agree with this so much! I haven’t read the comments to know if this has already been mentioned – but one thing I’d add is to take back some control of our parenting from the government. From public schools to doctor’s offices, the government is either telling us how to raise our children or actually raising them. This has happened so gradually that it is “normal” now, but people: no government can raise your children better than YOU!

    • Jill

      this was my favorite comment – just wanted you to know 🙂

    • brandy carlson

      It’s funny (but not) that you say this because my fears are not based upon what mischief my child may fall upon while playing, discovering, learning and growing. My fears are not overwhelmingly directed at kidnappings, molestations, murder, accidents. I know these things happen but this is where you must be able to determine “safe risk” for your child. Unfortunately my fears are based upon the prying, judging eyes of those who never involve themselves unless they feel they can throw judgement (and the authorities) my way. The government who thinks they love this child I bore more than I do. Child Protective Services who seems to think that, though most have no children of their own, they know what’s best for MY child. This is the reality of America today. My America anyway. Overbearing government and busybodies. This is the crime that frightens me. Tearing families apart and traumatizing children. Statistically speaking, this is what worries me every single time my child leaves my sight. Not so funny, really. “The safest place for a child is at the top of a five-foot tree.” Damn them all! She WILL climb that tree.

      • Tsh Oxenreider

        Damn right, Brandy! Amen. 😉

  19. Sarah

    Tsh, thank you for starting this conversation. I am, coincidentally, in the middle of Louve’s book, and felt the only drawback to my intentions to more outdoor time and fostering more independent play in my kids is what others would think. It is so sad, as you say, to imagine a child’s innocence taken by precautionary trips with police officers/child services because someone else was worried about their independent, outdoor activities. I hope if we can all continue this conversation with those watching our children, neighbours, teachers, friends, family, then the norm will be the confident 8-year-old going to the store for milk on his own.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Oh, I would absolutely love that as the norm, Sarah. Sounds so good.

  20. Hinds

    I am guessing you have not lived long enough in France or the Netherlands, because these issues are definitely there as well as in the States. They will not call you out if you are a foreigner (well, the Dutch might), but they definitely will share their opinion about your parenting if you are living along side them, speaking their languages. 🙂 I personally have found far more freedom for my kids since we moved to the States than I ever did in western Europe.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      It definitely depends on where you are, Hinds, that’s for sure, but since we’re traveling around the world (not relocating), we’re getting a small sample-sized taste of many different places. And on the whole, most places seem a bit more hands-off with their kids than in the States. Just our experience though. Thanks for reading and commenting!

      • Hinds

        Yes, but my point is, you were comparing apples (places you visit temporarily) to oranges (a country you were completely ‘ingeburgeerd’/naturalized in). The people in other countries see only a snippet of you and realize you are a foreigner, and keep their thoughts about your children/parenting to themself… the people in your home country expect you to know the local parenting norms, and make comments. Does not matter which country you are visiting, or which one is the home country. Home expects more of you, temporary places silently think you’re just an odd foreigner. I have done some world traveling, too. 😉

  21. Sarah M

    I agree 100%, and a book I reviewed years ago, Free-Range Kids, by Lenore Skenazy has sort of become the bible for that particular movement. ( )

    I just recently found my 6 year old daughter up 20 FEET in a tree (really great climbing tree for all the close-together, peg-like branches, but still). I tried to keep my face calm while telling her that’s just a *bit* too close to a broken arm at that age…. phew. She’s capable, but when you SEE what they can do, it can be quite shocking!!
    Sarah M

  22. Hannah

    This is a really important topic, thank you so much for addressing it!
    For our family, One of the best things about living overseas was the opportunity to evaluate many of our assumptions, including those about how much freedom to give our kids.
    I’ve had my parenting challenged in Italy, France, Israel, and the US. But our 5 kids are healthy and have had such a broad range of experiences (with relatively few injuries) because I realized that my fear isn’t what keeps them safe.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      “my fear isn’t what keeps them safe.”

      I love that, Hannah! So true.

  23. Stacy @awellstockedlife

    For a short time I worked at a news station. The education I received about how I should and should not watch the news was so beneficial. Why do you hear every bad thing that is happening in the world around you–because it draws an audience. It is kind of like driving by a scene of an accident and everybody slows down to look. The price to run a commercial during the news hour is often a premium price because we tune in and we keep tuning in and the reels of bad news become the only news we see (its holds us) we are intrigued…want to be prepared…and feel like we have control if we know what is going on “around” us (often it isn’t even very near us)–our perception of the world around becomes warped. And so today I feel and the neighborhood feels like I can’t let my child wait for the bus alone. So for me–I have to turn it off. It is too overwhelming, and I’ll just have to catch the weather on the radio or online again and again. My daughter had a chance to play in the woods with friends the other day–nobody obstructed their play and it was so delightfully ordinary and wonderful–sadly, though it was also a bit unordinary. Tsh, excellent post! Amen!

  24. Jennifer

    I cannot agree more. I find myself dreading taking my littles to “kiddie places” because frankly I don’t want to deal with the other parents. I like to sit back and let them explore.
    If they fall down I don’t like to rush over and make a big fuss. Once my daughter found a headband on the ground and was holding it- a little girl came over and asked for it back. I was waiting for my daughter to process the situation and the other mom swooped in yelling “is this your daughter?!?! To everyone around in a panic. We have to prepare our children for the path, not the path for our children. It was a chance for 2 kids to communicate. Lost learning opportunity. I fear we are creating a generation that can’t handle themselves in society.

  25. Alissa

    Knowing our neighbors is so critical. For the reasons you mention, but also because we need our community to function as a community – to work together to keep our kids safe AND to teach our kids responsible behavior.

    I’ve observed a great unwillingness from adults to step in and BE ADULTS when they see a child doing something in appropriate. Two examples:
    1. We had an incident last year when a bunch of parents were complaining about kids who had taken shortcuts during our school’s fundraiser run. And yet, none of them had the guts to simply say, “Hey, stay on the course.” while it was happening.
    2. I have friends posting on facebook questions like, “What should I do about the older child saying mean things to my toddler on the playground?” or “What should I do about the neighbor kid stepping on my flowers?” My answer: Say something to the older child!

    What does it tell us when adults are afraid to confront children? It says that we are afraid to ENGAGE with anyone. And then, our societal default is to call authorities when we see kids out alone, instead of simply saying to the child, “Do your parents know you are here?” Answer, “Yes” Response, “Great.” End of story.

    Kids need to know that the adults of this world are paying attention. That we care about their behavior. That the rules of polite behavior apply all the time… not just when mom and dad are watching. And, if we are more willing to pay attention and ENGAGE each other, then we’d be able to trust each other in our decision making.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Good thoughts, Alissa! Thanks for adding them to this discussion.

  26. Bethann


    Love this article and especially the imagery/concept of the 5 foot tree.

    I grew up in the 1970s and we had way more freedom than today’s children for sure. Just the other day, one of our teenage girls asked permission to unbuckle her seatbelt to retrieve something in the back of our minivan. My husband and I just laughed remembering all the times we climbed front to back in station wagons and cars never once thinking about buckling up.

    The five foot tree concept is comparable to an child developmental education philosophy called “scaffolding” (can’t remember the educator who coined this term) where you teach children concepts just beyond their present grasp so as they continue to learn, they get the “aha” moment for themselves! The teaching acts as scaffolding so as the student continues to learn, the framework is already in place to understand the newer more complex concepts.

    Another thing, as a past girls summer camp director, I fielded waaaayyy more questions from hovering/overprotective moms who weren’t ready to send their 10 year old daughters to a week long overnight camp and thus robbed their daughters of that developmental milestone as well. While completely understanding about today’s dangers, my explaining procedures, background checks, protocols, etc. wasn’t enough to sooth the mom’s mind. Several moms even insisted they stay in the cabin with their daughter! I always ended those conversations with “Maybe your daughter will be ready for overnight camp next summer!”

    Finally, super love your point that we don’t engage with children, because we’re all tooo afraid to parent one another’s children when they’re acting up, bullying, etc. Preach it more and amen!!


    • Mandi

      I will admit that while I’m a huge proponent of freedom for kids, sleepaway camps terrify me. Unfortunately, I feel like the statistics *are* there for the dangers of molestation in that situation, and it scares me so much more than kidnapping or the kids falling and getting hurt! I’m not sure how to balance caution and freedom in that situation, and I know my kids are missing out on a potentially great experience because of it!

  27. Jill

    Great post! We live on a 220 acre ranch…but are getting ready to move to a downtown area of a small (25k) city. Our 8 year old daughter goes over to the neighbor’s house a couple times a week – walking down our quarter-mile driveway, crossing the country road, to their house. I called the other day to ask her to come home, and when I asked the mom, she said she would go find them to tell her. Lo and behold, my daughter opened our door when we were on the phone, and it didn’t bother me a bit :). We know they will come in when they need something, whether it be on our property or on theirs, but it didn’t matter in the least that she didn’t know she had already left – we thought it was funny in fact. We let them do what they want and give them freedom. I am, however, worried more about moving to the city…my daughter is an outdoor girl and while we will have boundaries about where she can go without telling us, I want to be like my mom and just say – go play outside! It’s what we are used to so it will be interesting to see how I feel about it in our new place…about how other people will perceive the freedom we give her.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      I understand completely, Jill! More freedom to explore the outdoors is definitely one of the benefits of living more out in the country.

  28. Melissa

    Great post Tsh! As my kids get older, I’ve been thinking a lot about freedoms. Sometimes I think we have gotten away from giving kids the appropriate freedoms at the appropriate times. We give kids crazy amounts of freedoms in areas they aren’t ready for and yet hold them back in areas they ARE ready for. I appreciate you speaking into this. I can let my irrational fear take ahold of me when I KNOW my child is ready. Thank for your encouraging words.

    • Kimberly

      Tsh and Melissa,
      I couldn’t agree with the both of you more. I live in the US and I have seen a huge shift in people not wanting to take responsibility for their actions yet they feel as if they a right to judge others in their decisions. As a counselor I find that we are not preparing our children adequately for life’s challenges and teaching them coping skills to deal with what’s ahead of them – good and bad things. I want my children to be able to travel abroad by themselves when they are older and feel confident that they can handle themselves and situations. We need to be cautious but not overly fearful as to not miss out, or our children miss out, on the beauty around us. Bravo, Tsh!!

  29. Rebecca

    Yes, yes, yes. Nodding in agreement to my screen. Such a loss of our children to be so limited.

  30. Lindsey Swinborne

    Here in small-town Wyoming, we have a LOT more freedom than most places in America in this area. My kids routinely walk to the park and play for an hour or so and go to their Grammy’s house by themselves and my kids whittle with pocket knives. Their friends trap beaver, dogsled, throw tomohawks and the girls are just as likely to be in Shooting Club or Muzzle Loading as the boys. In fact, many people here are packin’ as a matter of survival. (My dad just saw a Grizzly 40 feet from him while horseback riding in the mountains the other day. It could have meant death for him if it hadn’t decided to walk away, even though he had a gun for protection.)

    I think this is a huge problem in most of America. We are very against this kind of helicopter parenting. Case in point, my 6 year built a zipline last week with a halter rope and jumped out of a tree on it using a stick as his handles! My boys ride in the dirt jump park and the nearby skate park and we hike/climb/wade in the nearby canyon. My kids are happy, healthy, and VERY self-sufficient.

    Great article, as usual Tsh!

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Your kids’ childhood sounds straight out of a classic children’s book! Love it, Lindsey. Thanks for sharing.

  31. Lauren

    This post really resonated with me. My husband and I have five children and live in Melbourne, where our kids have a fair amount of freedom. Our 10 and 12 year olds walk to the park down the road by themselves and are expected to be back at home at an agreed-to time. They have a phone with them should they run into any trouble, and have been taught since they were young how to cross the roads safely. Our four year olds regularly play outside for hours on their own, needing little more than a snack and an occasional check from me. I was staggered when we visited the States at the end of last year how different our childrens’ experiences were and how very often people stopped to comment on something one of our kids was doing. (In one instance, someone pointed out one of our four year olds was playing with a stick, and tsked-tsked when I said that was okay. In other, someone told me I had ‘lost one’ only for me to turn around and see my ‘lost’ child dawdling along not three metres behind me.) We found it incredibly frustrating and a little bit worrying. There was so much we loved about our trip and the U.S. is a wonderful country with wonderful people, but it was definitely a relief to come home, throw open the doors and let the kids run outside…without worrying whether they were playing with sticks or scrapping around in the dirt.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Sigh… We absolutely loved Melbourne on our travels, Lauren. You’ve got a great city there—thanks for sharing.

  32. se7en

    Such a great post and I love the photographs of your kids all over the world!!! This is quite a hot topic you have touched on!!! My kids really love the freedom and responsibility that comes with growing up… yes they run errands and they do go to the store, yes they have to cross a road or two. And yes they have to talk to folk they might not know… they may not know the person behind the bread counter on the day. I think what began as a culture of “don’t talk to strangers” (which is another whole story, we all have to talk to strangers all the time) has become a culture of strangers watching out for parents who are “making mistakes,” and judging them is not enough. I am always surprised when friends say they could never let their children do that. I find it fairly alarming that children that aren’t allowed to learn how to cross roads safely, for example, but when they leave home for college they must have a feel for road safety… and are suddenly expected to get into a car and drive it responsibly because they have turned a certain age. It is ridiculous really… and that’s just crossing the road!!! Never mind learning how to buy groceries from “strangers.” Recently someone told me that they were horrified that a friend of theirs had let their child go running with his friends on the beach, what did I think…. “the child” was seventeen. Recently my my teenagers went to the library without me, the librarians were fine, but my word at least four adults asked them if they were okay and where their parents were. Seriously, kids have to start learning how to get by in the world before they are old enough to drive and head for college in another city. I would much rather my kids were learning step by step, and they didn’t have to suddenly know how to do everything because they have become a certain age.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      “I think what began as a culture of ‘don’t talk to strangers’ (which is another whole story, we all have to talk to strangers all the time) has become a culture of strangers watching out for parents who are “making mistakes”…

      I think this is a really valid point you’ve made here, Se7en. Our “stranger danger” upbringing might have put us collectively in more danger than was ever intended. Thanks for sharing your experience.

  33. Vanessa

    I completely agree and know I am a fairly relaxed parent in terms of giving the kids freedom to play. My three year old scootered off out of my sight – down the road and around the corner – today on the way home from school. I know our neighbours and know friends who would look out for him. I know he won’t go too far and sure enough, he turned around and came back. I think the fear comes from the 1% what if factor. Bad things do happen but I agree, our kids need to learn to navigate their freedom gradually, otherwise they will be overwhelmed as adults.

  34. Sara McD

    I agree with you and my husband and I have arranged our lives so that our kids can have a great deal of freedom, but just to play devil’s advocate –

    a) what if crime against children is down because of the increased vigilance of the past twenty or so years and

    b) It is difficult to know the neighbors because there are very few stay at home parents. There are no kind neighbors to give my kid a sandwich and a bandaid and to call me if there’s trouble because everyone is at work.

    As I said, I give my children a lot of liberty so I’m hoping these two fears of mine are unnecessary.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      Good points, Sara. I personally think that crime could be down because of increased vigilance, but we’ve become more vigilant while simultaneously not taught our kids basic life skills, like outdoor survival, the good strangers to talk to, the basics of buying simple groceries, etc. Neglecting these tasks at the cost of increased vigilance doesn’t make the vigilance a good thing, I don’t think. So maybe we need to employ a different kind of vigilance? One where we teach our kids how to interact with the world, and not just avoid it?

      And as to the fewer stay-at-home parents… That might be the case, but I was a latchkey kid, as were many other kids on our street. In my experience, I feel like I know more SAHPs than when I was a kid. But maybe that’s just me…

      Thanks for your thoughts, Sara!

  35. Amy

    Thank you Tsh! It’s nice to know I’m not the only one who believes that kids need some freedom.

    We recently spent a year living in the same small town as my sister. We had a very hilly yard, so I let my boys (ages 7 & 4) play out in our street (a cul-de-sac). We talked about moving to the side when cars came, and we never, ever had a problem.

    Unfortunately my sister disagreed with my parenting style and so she never allowed her kids to come play at my house (hers are 5 & 3.5). This upset my boys to no end (they love their cousins) and honestly, caused a lot of hurt feelings between the adults. (She didn’t tell me this was the reason she wouldn’t let them come over until we were getting ready to move away, so I just thought she didn’t trust me…a guess technically she didn’t…)

  36. Andrea

    I live in BC, Canada and just yesterday in the news: (Here’s the short version of story). Dad washing car with 2 boys, water fight ensues, 4 yr. old wet, takes off his clothes, runs around yard naked. Neighbour calls police. Police come by the next day to warn parents of ????? So crazy culture both sides of border. Don’t kid yourselves Canadians. At least the story made the news and almost all the news story comments were of outrage at the silliness. I’m encouraged.

    • Tsh Oxenreider

      That’s definitely crazy, Andrea.

  37. JennC

    My situation is similar to a commenter or two above who pointed out that they’re more fearful of someone calling in CPS, etc. than they are of what could happen in terms of stranger danger.

    I have legally (as in they were old enough according to local law) left my kids in the car for just a minute or two and had people approach me about it saying it was against the law. I have actually taught my kids to say “It’s legal for me to be alone in the car. My mom/dad will be right back. I am not allowed to talk to you anymore because you are a stranger.”

    I am also considering teaching the kids what to say is someone does call the police while they’re out and about and the police do come and try to take the kids into custody. Something along the lines of asking if they are being detained and if not then they will continue to exercise their rights as free citizens.

  38. Myquillyn

    a few years ago we lived in a sweet neighborhood right across from the elementary school–I could hear the kids playing at recess from our driveway. We were new and were transferring our three boys 5th, 2nd and 1st grade at the time and asked about a crossing guard and bike rack for them to ride their bikes to school, the school secretary looked at us like we had just told her we were going to burn the school down.

    I remember so many of my friends riding their bikes to school and walking in elementary school and I was so jealous of them.

    What. In. The. World.

    Needless to say, a school bus picked them up every morning.

    • Myquillyn

      PS, I still probably wouldn’t have let our little guys ride their bikes unattended, but we weren’t even able to WALK them there ourselves. I’m remembering now, that part seemed the craziest.

      • Anitra

        Unfortunately, this is nothing new in some places. Growing up, my next-door neighbor went to public school (I did not) – the elementary school was about 1/4 mile away. The school district’s rule was that all kindergarteners must ride the bus, so his mom was not allowed to walk him to school. Instead they were required to walk to the bus stop… farther away! (they actually had to walk PAST the closest entrance to school grounds to get there).

  39. Michele

    Its easy for you to write a post like this when no harm has come to your children. Would you still feel this way if say one of your children had been kidnapped and noone ever found them. How would you feel for the rest of your life…Regret! I know this is one of the worst case scenarios, but it happens all over the world, to innocent children. And it happens to children of good parents who probably felt like you do about this issue. I doubt that any parent who has had something terrible happen to their children would not afterwards feel total regret for not being more protective. I am not willing to take that chance with my children. I dont feel they will grow up being harmed if i dont give them the so called freedom that your describing. Why do they have to be roaming the streets alone to be considered “freedom”. And why do they have to be in the woods by themselves to be able to explore nature. Why cant we as parents explore nature and this world together with our children. The sad truth is that, yes we have become more protective of our kids, which in deed is why crime against children is down, but we as parents havent adjusted our lifestyles to balance the need for us to be protective and for our kids to explore nature. As a culture we work to much and have to many social events and are kids are involved in to many activities. What happen to family time, its not important anymore. My children will not be nature deprived becuase we bike, hike, garden, and explore as much as the weather allows, but we do it together as a family, and for me that feels safe and i find balance in that. Children can still get the childhood that they need, nowadays parents just need to be willing to be present with them to provide that to them. And I dont see why that is so hard to do. Whats more important than your children, its worth sacrificing that invitation to an event, or those things on the “to do” list. Get out and feel the
    “Freedom” together.

    • Anitra

      But when do your children learn to do things independently, if mom or dad are always there watching? The example another commenter gave above was great: if we won’t even let them cross the street by themselves, turning 16 won’t magically make them comfortable with the rules of the road.

      I’m not saying to take stupid risks, but remember that your goal is not just to keep children safe, but to help them grow and mature into adulthood.

  40. Laura @ Hollywood Housewife

    I think about this concept so much, it seems harder to live the “Free-range” life in Los Angeles, but we’re trying.

  41. Joanne

    Amen! I’ve been having this conversation with my high school students! We watched a film about a 9 year old boy in Argentina and they couldn’t fathom that he takes buses alone, goes to buy pasta, alone, and has freedom. They said “won’t he get kidnapped???” The fear that my teenagers feel is sad, they won’t take the bus or public transport due to their fear.

  42. Laura

    I have heard that too, that our society is now statistically safer. I had a lot of freedom as a kid and want to give that to my kids as well. But, I am really starting to question WHY exactly our society is safer now. Is it because kids are not allowed as much freedom now thus not put in situations that could cause them harm? My takeaway as a child from the 80’s raising kids today is to teach them not to trust all adults, to have a certain degree of wariness, and a voice to say no.

  43. Melanie Johnson

    This is a topic that has been on my mind for awhile now. I have two boys, ages 5 and 3. This past fall my boys were playing in our front yard (we do live on a very busy street) and I ran inside to put a pizza in the oven. I noticed a car pull into our driveway. I went out and a woman got out of her car and started berating me for letting them play unattended IN OUR OWN YARD. She tried to tell me that she had just flagged down a cop to report me (which I highly doubt she did). I was terrified and FURIOUS. I felt so judged and shamed. I don’t want to live in fear but now I’m hesitant to ever let them play in the front yard unless I’m out there with them. They do have free reign in the back yard though. 🙂

  44. Lisa @ Four Under Six

    I love this. Thank you for your perspective as a traveler and ex-pat. I wholeheartedly agree with you. My neighborhood is chock full of children (I’d guess 80% of the homes have kids) and they’re all safely tucked away indoors, at the computer, at the piano, at soccer games. Somewhere where they can’t be outside playing with one another and taking risks. It’s frustrating because I do not share this philosophy of over-scheduling and over-protecting our children with my neighbors. But I do feel like a movement is growing to give our children more freedom. Whether it’s in a suburban neighborhood, an urban playground or a rural field. I hope it continues to take off, everywhere.

  45. Boyink

    I really appreciated this article – even just getting out of the suburbs in the US and on the road our kids have had so many more chances for freedom and independence.

    We are spending the summer in a almost-Bradburian small farming town in Michigan where our now-16 year old daughter is biking several miles daily between volunteering and working. I love seeing her have the confidence to to that.

    I’ll be quoting & linking to this post from our weekly blog roundup- this week it’s about kids and Freedom, schooling, and socialization.

    Hope to send some traffic your way!

  46. Samantha

    I completely agree with your points,Tsh, and have for awhile. As my children get older (currently 7, 5, and 16 months), I want to allow them more freedom, but the thing that bothers me isn’t fear of what others will say or fear of crime, etc., it is truly fear of drivers. I know that may sound a bit crazy, but here’s what I see – I see drivers who completely (and I mean completely) ignore the stop sign directly in front of our house, drivers who wouldn’t even think of looking to make sure there’s no kid biking, scootering, even just walking, etc. nearby as they back out of their driveway. Maybe it’s just the high-paced area I live in (suburban city just south of San Francisco), or is it just that there are no kids out anymore, so drivers don’t feel the need to pay attention? I don’t know. But how do I teach my kids to be responsible bikers, scooterers, etc., and keep an eye out for cars when I can’t trust drivers to even follow basic safety rules of the road?

  47. Vonnie

    Although I understand your main argument, this article is written from a very Eurocentric perspective. I have visited Europe and have noted how children there seem to be more independent, but this does not mean that this is the norm worldwide. You make it sound as if children in the U.S. have less freedom to roam and explore than any other country on Earth and that simply is not the case. For example, my husband is from South Africa and most of his family still live there. My nieces were never allowed to go anywhere without an adult, preferably more than one since there is safety in groups. My in-laws, who have since passed, used to marvel at how I would let my son play outside by himself.

    I also lived a short while in Israel in the 80s and it was understood that everyone knew which neighborhood they belonged in and kids knew better than to stray from it. The self-imposed apartheid in that country is very unfortunate and there is not much the average person can do about it other than do their best to make sure they and their children stay in their own safety zones.

    My point is although American parents should probably give our children more free range than we do and the current child welfare laws need to reflect that, things aren’t as bad here as they are in some places.

    • Tess

      That’s a good point!

  48. Vonnie

    Although I understand your main argument, this article is written from a very Eurocentric perspective. I have visited Europe and have noted how children there seem to be more independent, but this does not mean that this is the norm worldwide. You make it sound as if children in the U.S. have less freedom to roam and explore than any other country on Earth and that simply is not the case. For example, my husband is from South Africa and most of his family still live there. My nieces were never allowed to go anywhere without an adult, preferably more than one since there is safety in groups. My in-laws, who have since passed, used to marvel at how I would let my son play outside by himself.

    I also lived a short while in Israel in the 80s and it was understood that everyone knew which neighborhood they belonged in and kids knew better than to stray from it. The self-imposed apartheid in that country is very unfortunate and there is not much the average person can do about it other than do their best to make sure they and their children stay in their own safety zones. Also, I’m pretty sure Jewish parents in Paris do not feel as comfortable letting their children roam the city unsupervised in light of recent attacks.

    My point is although American parents should probably give our children more free range than we do and the current child welfare laws need to reflect that, things aren’t as bad here as they are in some places.

  49. Katherine

    It’s very sobering to look at the reality of modern childhood in the US today. Our twins are 1 year old, and while they aren’t being left to their own devices outside, they do have a whole floor of the house where they roam freely and are in and out of direct supervision. Even having thoroughly baby proofed it, I’ve had comments made about how can i just let them out of sight, what if they get hurt? Sometimes this is in awe of my ‘daring’ decision but more often it is pointedly said. We’ll see how things go as they grow up but i truly want them to be able to have responsible freedoms. It’s just incredibly frustrating to have restrictions being socially imposed already.

  50. Amy

    We are Americans raising two boys (2 and 4) in New Zealand. School kids here walk and bike everywhere (in groups of course). Although my boys are too young to venture out on their own yet but they play in our fenced yard with little supervision. The great thing is that they also are learning to entertain themselves and I think that is vital for their growing minds and creativity. Like others have mentioned, why don’t we fear the harm and damage done from keeping kids indoors, over-using technology or having every last minute scheduled and structured leaving no time for exploration (not to mention, obesity and health issues from lack of activity). We love NZ for the freedom it allows children. Not too little, not too much. Just today my 4 year old had a road safety demonstration in his kindergarten. All kids are given a bike helmet and a reflective safety vest on their 4th birthday (and they actually wear them!).

  51. Sam

    I love this post because it is so true. My three kids are free range. My 9 year old has been getting herself to ballet after school since first grade (3 blocks from school). Now that she is in 3rd grade, she rides her bike the 3/4 mike to and from school. I also let her take her two 6-year-old sisters to the public park 5 blocks away. My neighbors know them, they all know not to go off with anyone, and my friends frequently see them out and about. They inspire other kids and it is wonderful. My only recommendation is to know the laws in your state re: children who are by themselves and plan accordingly. Also, through the Free Range Kids website you can find other families who are raising their kids the European/ traditional way.

  52. Lenora

    I totally appreciate what you are getting at. I have five kids, live in suburban NJ, and give my kids a fair amount of freedom. We live in a town which has a lot of families who themselves grew up in this town. I think that helps. It’s pretty normal for middle school kids to roam around with friends. My twelve year old daughter goes out for hour long bike rides by herself, or goes garage saleing with a friend on her bike all over town. My ten year old son goes fishing at the local lake, usually with a friend, but mot always. I give him my cell phone, but that’s just a precaution. We talk about talking to strangers… To trust your instincts if something feels weird etc. i don’t want him to be paranoid and refuse to talk to anyone else who’s fishing….
    That said, I do worry about the reactions of others… Someone calling cps etc.

  53. Tess

    I noticed this as well traveling abroad this summer. I feel like there are a number of things that cause this “helicopter” parenting in the US. 1) is the infrastructure of our cities: most US cities aren’t pedestrian friendly. No sidewalks or biking paths, etc. America is a car culture which means roads, highways, parking garages take priority over green spaces. It struck me all the 2 lane, 1 track roads in Europe but if they expanded it into major highways not only would it take away from the natural beauty but also make traffic heavier and green spaces more commercialized. I honestly fear my child getting hit by a car more while riding his bike than I do a stranger snatching him.
    2) organized activities: I feel like the US is obsessed with making sure your kids are enrolled in as many activities as possible… Art camp, soccer, baseball, piano. And if you don’t do these activities year round, not only are you a bad parent but you are failing your children’s future success. Whatever happened to just letting kids explore and play hide’n go seek, there is no time for hide’n go seek anymore!!
    3) culture of appearing perfect: I think most people parent these days out of how they want other people to perceive them than out of common sense.

  54. Shelly Miller

    I’m an expat living in London and I couldn’t agree more with what you’ve said here. I have two teenagers. Before we left the US, I had so many people worried about our living in London because of fear set in by watching world news. Our kids are wandering around the city, navigating public transportation on their own and I’m watching it do some really good work in cultivating maturity and trust on new levels. In general, I find people just aren’t as fearful in Europe as they are in the US. So glad you wrote this.

  55. Karen

    Your words are wise and true, Tsh! When my first two kids were 4 – 5ish and staying at grandma’s, my folks would not let them play in the fenced in 1/2 acre backyard because something might happen to them. We lived there for a while and it ended up fostering a fearful attitude in my oldest son that took years to change.

    This past April I was in Oregon visiting that same son and his wife. There is a sense of freedom there that is absent here in the midwest.

  56. Carol

    Allowing my son to roam free in our neighborhood does cause me to feel anxious. Just last night, 6 police officers were at my neighbors house searching for her errant grandson (in his 20s) to serve a warrant for god knows what, and we live in a “good” neighborhood. Lately we’ve been splitting up the grocery shopping list. At the store, we both grab carts and go our separate ways and then meet at a designated spot when we are finished. Of course I’m worried that some “good samaritan” will see my child in the store, on his own, in the middle of the school day (we homeschool) and cause a scene. But, I figure it’s a closed environment, he’s 9 and can handle all kinds of questions about why he’s out and about on a “school day”, and he’s not going to leave the store with anyone but me. I’ve also allowed him to walk home from the bagel shop (has to cross 2 slightly busy roads), and he can walk to grandma’s house (in the same neighborhood). He’s ready for the freedom, I have to be ready to allow him to experience it.

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