In June, to celebrate the last week of school, I let my kids walk to school by themselves. It’s about a 3 minute walk, in which they pass roughly 800,000 friends and schoolmates (give or take) that they know. I debated about it for months, however.
My kids are highly responsible. The route to school involves no major streets to cross. They know how to look both ways and make eye contact with a driver at stop signs before they cross. They know about stranger dangers. In the end, it seemed a sensible choice.
We did about 16 practice runs first, in which I walked behind them and pretended I wasn’t there. They were marvelous. (Or as marvelous as a child can be doing something as mundane as walking a few blocks.) So when I sent them off that one morning–watching them the entire way, but don’t tell them that–it was monumental. A big step for both of us. A major milestone crossed off, another one of the small freedoms a parent starts to bestow on a responsible tween who has earned it.
And yet I confess I was terrified to write about it here.
Not because I feared for my children’s safety, but because I feared how I’d be judged for my decision.
And now, look at us. Look at the news right now.
“It’s a different world today,” they keep repeating as they report about Nicole Gainey, a mother who is arrested for letting her 7-year-old walk to the park, at the same time Debra Harrell faces felony charges after her 9 year old played in a playground alone all day while she worked.
It most certainly is.
It’s a world with a 24/7 cable news cycle.
It’s a world in which the media survives by creating the most sensational headlines possible, then throwing them at us all day long until our imaginations surpass reason and common sense.
It’s a world in which 99.5% of people in the US will never be the victim of a violent crime.
It’s a world in which fear of crime is at an all-time high despite actual crimes hitting new lows.
It’s a world in which children playing alone have access to cell phones–or at least to kind strangers and neighbors who also have cell phones. No need to carry a quarter and hope a phone booth or a police call box is nearby in an emergency.
It’s a world where another parent, seeing a child playing alone, is more interested in reporting the mother for criminal neglect and scoring Concerned Mom Points, than simply keeping a protective eye on the child, like any good adult might have done at one time.
It’s a world where playground signs are written by lawyers who need to warn children that pushing another child “may cause injury.”
So yes, it’s a different world today.
At 7 I was outside playing in the street with neighbor children by myself. We looked for cars. We didn’t get hit by them.
At 8, I “walked to town” a half mile with my friend Ellen, and spent the afternoon window shopping and eating pizza. I bought my first article of clothing with my own money: A navy and white striped tube top for $2. (You could probably be arrested for letting your kid wear those now, too.)
At 9 I rode my bike to and from school every day, sometimes with my best friend Hally, sometimes alone.
At 10, I started taking the commuter rail into Manhattan to visit my dad every other Friday with my 8 year-old brother. On Sundays, we took it back home again.
Don’t we all have a similar story of our own childhoods? Those childhoods in which crime was higher and cell phones didn’t exist?
I don’t always agree with Lenore Skenazy of Free-Range Kids on all things, but she is a voice of reason in this (and the source of so many of these links). She puts child abductions in perspective, citing that the number of children reported missing each year is 800,000. Of them, one thousand are murdered by family members and acquaintances. 115 of them are abducted in stereotypical kidnapping by strangers for ransom and so on. That’s .13% of all missing children.
Or, that’s .00015% of all children in the US, who are abducted by strangers.
The statistic doesn’t make it any less horrific; that number should be 0. But it does make it less probable than we all probably imagine in our heads. I include myself here. Of course I think about worst-case scenarios in nearly all parenting choices I make. But I can’t let it deter me from letting my children grow up. And so I push those thoughts out of my head, and slowly cut the strands of the proverbial cord, little by little, each day.
Parenting isn’t just about holding on. It’s knowing when to let go.
So you can imagine why I die a little when I see the plight of these mothers on TV, accused by their communities and local law enforcement of child neglect. Could that be me up on the TV screen? Posting bail? Defending my parenting choices? Or, if we can be brutally honest here, would I somehow get a pass for not being Black?
Regina Harrell looks like a smart, lovely 9-year-old. Dominic Gainey seems like a cool, level-headed 7-year-old. They are each the same age as my children. I would love it if one day, they all get to play in a park together sometime. Maybe even alone.
I bet they’d like each other.
106 thoughts on “The world has changed.”
It’s a tough road for parents these days. “Helicopter Parent” if we hover to closely, “Negligent Parent” if we don’t. I recently left my 9yo and 6yo at home alone while I made a quick run to the store, which is a big milestone in this car-centric part of the world. But, like you, I worried about the judgment of others, at the same time that I was so proud of my boys for becoming so self-sufficient and brave.
Anyway, thanks for sharing. The more teaching self-sufficiency becomes the norm, rather than the exception, the better off we’ll all be.
Liz: I don’t think that the world has changed that much, but what has changed is the pace of communications. There were no cell phones when you were ten; CNN had just started, but there wasn’t instant news. And there was no internet.
Sadly, no one wants to read or hear about a seven or nine year old walking to school safely.
My goodness, if then were today, your mother or I could be arrested for allowing you to take the train into the city or back to your Westchester home (did you mention that you were always met at the station?). Even then, every time you did it, my heart was in my mouth.
Hopefully, the charges will be dropped against the two women you mentioned. I saw an interview with the mother who allowed her son to walk to the park. She was dumbfounded. And I don’t blame her. Kids need to learn. And is a seven year old boy any more vulnerable than a 10 or 12 year old?
These are tough decisions which all parents face. So much of that decision depends on place and circumstances. Fortunately, you live in a residential, low traffic neighborhood, which influenced your decision.
“No one wants to read about a seven year old walking to school safely.”
The charges it seems will be dropped against the mother of the seven-year old, but sadly, the other woman is not only being convicted of a felony, she lost her crap job at McDonalds that didn’t even pay her enough to hire childcare in the first place.
I am a pretty free range parent and I’ve also found myself afraid to speak up and acknowledge the freedoms I allow my 9 and 7 year old girls for fear of getting into trouble. In this crazy new world, when IS is supposedly okay to start letting your kids learn street smarts and responsibility? It’s not like you can flip a switch at 14 and let the kid who’s never gone to the park alone babysit.
I wonder and this is just a guess, but were the cops called in those instances because the kid was alone? I still think it’s absolutely ridiculous, but I doubt if there were even two kids anyone would have noticed.
I grew up in West Los Angeles and I wasn’t allowed to play outside alone. Ever. However, with my siblings, we had free control to go and play wherever. Hi roller blading in the school during summer and the aqueducts. Heh. We bussed to the beach. We walked miles to watch movies or go to the mall. As long as we were home when they expected us home, they were fine. No questions about what we did all day. My parents theory was a group of kids is safe, but a single child is a risk? No clue really. (Or as my dad so nicely put it when I was visiting him last month, if they’d taken you all, they’d of brought you back with apologies to me in minutes.)
My girls ride their bikes to school. My son will join them this year. He wasn’t allowed last year. Not by me, but because it was a kindergarten school rule. As a first grader I’m not sure I’d let him ride alone (even though it’s literally two blocks away) but with his big sister, I see no problem with it. We do live in the suburbs in Colorado which is a whole new world for me.
Yes, it rarely happens where a child is taken. However, Jessica Ridgeway was taken. In my community, while walking to school and that one ended horribly. (That one still feels to me like a terrible episode of Criminal Minds. Except it was real.) After that a lot of parents around here started taking their kids to school. Once more time passed however, we all had to relinquish control a bit. I still see more parents hanging out on their front porch watching their kids walk/bike to school though than I ever did before. It’s a whole new world. I doubt their is any more crime or horrific events than when we were kids. Yet, we are inundated with it by the media and that makes us fear it more than our parents did. Or that’s my theory.
You bring up an excellent question about the children being alone vs with another child. Really excellent. (I also had my girls walk to school together.)
I think class and race plays a huge part. If a child was walking home in J Crew khakis and a Lacoste shirt with a fancy backpack, would the mother be hauled in?
I’ve wondered that myself and it just sucks. I do wonder if you or I would get a slap on the wrist, you know? Our little white girls may not have even been looked at twice. It’s hard to know really. A friend and I were discussing this last night and we’ve pretty much agreed that at this point, most adults will ignore kids in a group, no matter the age. It being a single child, playing alone, is likely what triggered someone to call the cops.
It’s terrible that the one woman lost her shitty job over it too.
Well, if you talk to Meagan Francis and Julie Marsh (or see their comments below), you know that Mothers of Color are not the only ones subjected to this. On the other hand, neither of them were arrested. So I just don’t know.
A few years ago a man CALLED 911 ON ME when I ran our dog home from the park and made the snap decision to let my boys, who were about 7 and 5 at the time, stay there until I got back. We had been hanging out in the dog park with about two dozen “regulars” who knew us by sight, and there were a bunch of other parents in the playground area who I was familiar with as well. We lived at the top of the hill bordering the park and I could see the kids from our backyard. I was back in maybe fifteen minutes and the guy had his phone out and was dialing. I couldn’t freaking believe it. Now he didn’t know us – and wasn’t even FROM the area, as he admitted to me when I stood there openmouthed as he told the dispatcher to forget it – but still. **911**??? When there are any number of other kids and adults around and he SAW me leave with the dog and tell the kids I would be back soon? Yes, my boys were pretty little at the time and maybe I didn’t make the right decision, I don’t know. But at the time it felt totally logical and reasonable, and if he was THAT concerned, he couldn’t ask around if anyone knew where we lived, or even maybe ask MY KIDS where they lived? They could easily have just made the three-minute walk home on their own, or he could have followed if he wanted to make sure.
The saddest part was that I knew they were in no danger, logically, and yet all I felt was SHAME as he chastised me for neglecting my kids because, you know, “anything can happen.” Ugh, I still feel sick to my stomach when I think about that day…but it won’t stop me from giving my kids the gift of independence and freedom now (though I do admit, half the time I do it with a lot of glancing over my shoulder.)
Yes, it only takes a moment to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. I think some of these crimes against children are crimes of opportunity that is presented at the moment. Also, the world has changed…we no longer have many services available for mental health and there are no long term care facilities…so compromised individuals, who have no access to medication or choose not to take it are now on the streets along with criminals, who years ago would be incarcerated or at least had rehab and follow-up. We are not allowed to profile either, but we do it every day in order to be safe in unsafe places… My generation opened the doors to the mental institutions and then neglected to help those who had no where to go for treatment…and wound up in crime and homeless. Our world is indeed different and our children and grandchildren are trying to deal with the world their parents and grandparents left them. I am not advocating for bringing back the 50’s but I am saying yes the world is different and there are reasons for it.
Lorette, did you click the links I posted? Crime is down. Violent crime is down. Murders are down.
Indeed there are plenty of problems regarding treatment of the mentally ill that need to be addressed (and I know that’s a point of focus for you); but I feel I have to point out that this place you describe–an anarchic world of lawless psychopaths freely roaming the streets to prey on children–doesn’t exist except in cable news headlines and our own sordid imaginations.
So my question is, how do we change this? How do we start looking at facts to help us return to parenting with less fear?
This is appalling Meagan. I’m just…wow.
And it’s so important that you bring up shame. I think shame is the reason we’re afraid to make decisions we’d ordinarily make. And as I said elsewhere, I think that the amount of shaming and finger-pointing and judging directed towards parents these days is exactly what makes them call the police to prove that they are “good” parents.
Meagan, I’m sorry to say that I know exactly how you feel. I had to defend myself to a county sheriff in my own home a couple years ago, after a woman trailed my child home in her car, scolded me, and called the cops.
“Anything can happen, even in a neighborhood like this,” the sheriff told me. I was simultaneously humiliated and livid.
However, contrast that with another neighborhood mom this summer who extended her jog to see my child (a different one) home, introduced herself to me at a later time, and laughed about how well I’d taught him – “He just kept pedaling furiously, telling me he was fine, so I kept an eye on him from a distance.”
She was kind and compassionate, and I appreciated her concern sans judgment.
We need more of the second kind of parents in our communities.
Julie, I am so sorry that happened to you…but can I say I feel SO much better having shared this and knowing that somebody I know is an awesome mom (you) was in a similar situation?
We need to all speak up about this stuff more and stop hiding behind the very real worry of judgment. Especially those of us with the privilege of having a platform to speak and NOT being part of a group that’s particularly targeted by authority figures, because we can normalize NORMAL behavior and maybe make it easier for everyone else.
The next time someone tells you that anything can happen, ask that person if they are a sex offender and are saying that they intended to kidnap your kids. Keep hammering away at them, asking if this is a veiled confession. They’ll shut up.
Mmmm…maybe not the most productive way to change hearts nad minds. Maybe responding, nicely, with some of the facts linked above might help snap people out of “repeat what I hear on Fox news” mode.
Well put! And, yes, I die a little too when I see Moms being arrested when no harm was done. Of course, CPS gets another case to “manage”. Oh dear, don’t get me started on them now! 😉
We were left alone for hours and days throughout my childhood, playing in streets, and wandering through hot deserts and waist-high cotton (for fun and adventure). Admittedly, we haven’t given our kids that loose of a leash, relatively speaking, but they do a number of things on their own, because that’s how you grow up. People need to calm down.
Times have changed…and my kids don’t know the thrill (or my stress levels) of them riding their bikes down a busy street to to play at the public playground. I was outside all day during the summer and I don’t recall my mom ever coming to look for me or parents in the neighborhood concerned that I was outside of shouting distance from my home.
My son now goes to a school 15 miles away, which means he has no friends within walking distance and playdates have to be setup weeks in advance. It’s so much harder to be a parent, or a child, these days, and yet we’re blaming parents for raising kids who still need them when they become adults because we don’t allow them to take these baby steps, as you mentioned, along the way.
*We, meaning society, of course.
In a world that has more kind and good people than bad we sometimes get stuck having to deal with the judgment impaired mental midgets who cannot conceive that parenting differently than they would isn’t wrong.
I heard a mother tell another woman that she thinks that people should be arrested for feeding fast food to their children. These idiots would encase their children in bubble wrap and then wonder why 15 years later their kids are incapable of taking care of themselves.
It just makes me sad to see people lose their common sense.
I’ve seen mothers suggest (and not hyperbolically) arrests/calls to CPS/removal of children from the home for fast food too. Also, formula-feeding, circumcision, daycare, returning to work. It’s out of control.
While our children were somewhere out in the neighborhood playing yesterday, my neighbor came over to talk to me about these two kids and their families. We both commented on how we would be in trouble because of how free-range our neighborhood is. We don’t come running when there is conflict, we give them neighborhood boundaries and trust that they will keep them (they do.) The other neighbors have eyes and ears out for them, too. So far this summer, they have had numerous lemonade stands, made three separate “forts” in the area, complete with a rope swing, climbed trees, run through sprinklers, done slip n slides, had bike races and learned tricks on their scooters. We call them in when the sun is almost set.
When I was 6 years old, I was allowed to walk with a friend to the 7-11 to get Slurpees – I had to cross a busy street with no cross walk. Now? Because my mom is strongly attached to the 24/7 news cycle, she criticizes me for not being outside while the kids are playing, and letting them out of my sight.
And none of this addresses a deeper issue – the nine year old’s mom was arrested and then FIRED from her job. Her job that didn’t pay her enough to hire a sitter or send her child to camps. A friend of mine is a case worker for CPS, and she says she gets angry and frustrated at cases like these because she has to investigate them, and that takes time and resources away from the kids who are truly at risk in their own homes.
One more thought – the arrest of these mothers has now cause FAR more trauma and upheaval in the lives of these kids than an afternoon playing in a park without their parent hovering around them.
YES YES YES.
Indeed, and will the poor woman be able to get another job any time soon? Or will she be stigmatized because of her arrest record? SO STUPID.
I’m glad you brought up the arrest and firing. That’s like a whole other post, so I didn’t get into it but that is the most shameful aspect of it all and I hope that McDonald’s that fired her goes down in (proverbial) flames over this. A lot of funds have circulated to help the mother raise money; that’s the community of mothers I’d like to be a part of.
Thanks for a thoughtful comment as always Karen.
When I was perhaps 2, I decided to have a tantrum in the grocery store, because my mother wouldn’t buy me something I wanted. She took me out of the store, put me in the car (on a cool day, NO DANGER of overheating or freezing), and then went and stood where she could see me but I could not see her. She watched to make sure I was safe. This lasted perhaps 5 minutes (I was only 2, so that was a reasonable length of time). She was not far away. I never threw a tantrum in the store again, not because I was so traumatized by the experience (it was boring, but not uncomfortable, and I was not afraid of being abducted or anything like today’s kids might be), but because I did not get what I wanted, and thus it proved pointless.
So now, if a kid throws a tantrum in the store, everyone is angry that the parent doesn’t discipline their child. But if the parent TRIES to discipline their child, they are in danger of losing their child. Not a good situation.
I’m glad you included statistics on actual dangers for kids. Now I didn’t let my daughter walk to school alone until she was in middle school, but that’s because there is a MAJORLY busy street on the way, and people are making an unprotected right turn, while looking left for traffic, instead of ahead for pedestrians. VERY unsafe. They’ve put in a pedestrian bridge since that time. If it had been there, she could easily have walked alone. I don’t THINK I would have been arrested for endangering her, but who knows.
I think we all have to be empowered to make decisions based on the information we have, and the children we have. Like I said…we have no high-traffic streets en route to school. If we were in Manhattan I might feel differently. I don’t want any parent to feel bad about not letting their kids walk to school alone–we all have to do what we think is right. Hopefully we make those choices out of rational fears and not irrational ones.
Exactly. I didn’t send my daughter because I thought it was not safe. It likely was not safe. But that doesn’t mean it’s not safe where you are, or where other people are.
Well, my problem is that I don’t think that crimes that concern me are down in my area. I don’t want my child to be a victim under my watch. In my 18 years of living in Chicago (city proper, but all in lovely, desirable, low-crime areas with high property taxes, good schools and rents/property prices that are out-of-bounds to the vast majority of people without incomes at 6 figures and beyond) I personally have been the victim of the following crimes: 2 bike thefts by cut locks; 1 “bike-jacking” – bike was stolen from within arm’s reach while I watched as sitting in a park reading a book; 3 different cars broken into (2 windows smashed, 1 steering column stripped, 1 radio stolen, 1 trunk lock punched); 2 homes with attempted break-ins while I was present; 1 pick-pocketed wallet (my fault – left purse on floor) in an upscale restaurant in a good neighborhood. I won’t even count all the ass-grabs on packed subway cars by pervs that hop out the door when you start shouting at them. And that’s just me, personally – not any friends, etc. Then, we have all the very legitimate “attempted child abductions” within a 2 mile area that are broadcast by the police on community warning posters or published in the local papers from the police report beat. We also have a street corner to cross to school where even the crossing guard has trouble making cars stop. I do long stare-downs from 1/2 block away before I push the stroller out in the crosswalk.
So I guess I know exactly what it’s like out there and I don’t want my child to have to face it before they have to. Will I when they are really old enough to understand and take in all the risks and act appropriately in response? Of course. What age is that? Not sure yet, but I know it isn’t right now for our 7 y.o. She’s not allowed to play in the front-yard by herself or go to the park without an adult and won’t be for a little longer.
On the other hand, do I judge anyone who parents differently? Internally, sure – don’t we all if we are being truly honest? But I would never call the cops unless I saw something where I truly thought a child was in danger. I would ask a kid where mom/dad was and if they were comfortable with the answer and not in any obvious harm’s way, so be it. If they seemed upset or were playing with fire/in the street, etc., then I would call and let the police decide what to do.
Do I wish it was the way it was when I grew up? Sure. But I just don’t think it is and so I worry.
You say you don’t “think” the world is like it was when you grew up in Chicago. Meanwhile, I also grew up in Chicago, and I remember Missy Ackerman and Jeneane Nicarico. There were child abductions when we were kids in the ’80s, too.
Also, you’re talking a lot about property crime, as though a criminal would just as soon steal a child as a bike or a car radio. That’s not the case.
As I read all the previous comments I became progressively sadder with each one. I am a 64 year old mother of 3 daughters. My youngest is now 28 with kids of her own- I have a total of four grandkids, and I treasure each and every one. I won’t go into the “..when I was young” thing, but let’s say I was raised when it took a little time and thought to place a phone call to the police. Police were respected, as were parents – admittedly sometimes TOO respected. Yes, common sense has “gone out the window”, and yes, the last of my children was the most difficult because I had to abide by societal rules and regs- I now look back and feel society raised her, not me. I allowed that to happen, but in my own defense, I was powerless to do otherwise. I was a respected mom because I cow-towed to rules others had set for me, and now? I’m sorry I missed out-copped out- on her childhood- I was the “stepford mom”, with a little bit of me here and there. My father used to say life and its “moods” are a pendulum, and that once it reaches its apex, it then begins to swing the other way- and I believe that. Someday it won’t be this way. It will be totally different, though I don’t see how children will ever be safe again- from society. Society is US, and only WE can change this.
Candace, your statement “I now look back and feel society raised her, not me,” is the most powerful thing I read on this post. That is a bold, brave statement, and one helluva perspective we all should remember.
Everyone should read this comment Candace. Thank you so much for adding to the discussion with your perspective. It hit me in the gut.
Somewhere along the line we all bought into the old proverb, “It takes a village…..” Which, in and of itself, is a nice idea.
We’ve somehow morphed it into, “It takes a village of attack helicopters to police everyone and make sure they’re doing it ‘right.'”
Great post. For many of us the environment we’re raising our children in is safer than when we were kids, but the expectations of parents have changed a lot. It drives me a little crazy when people criticize parents now for not letting our kids roam the way we did, not realizing that maybe enough of us experienced things while roaming unsupervised that didn’t work out well, or that when we thought back on later didn’t sit right. It was the convention then, but the convention has changed for real reasons.
Anyway, I struggle with the same concerns. Differently than you do in such a large city, but it’s hard to know where the lines are sometimes. I’m glad you let your girls walk to school without you.
All of these stories make me crazy and sad. Starting from when I was in 3rd grade (so, around 8), I was expected to commute — alone, after school — from my home to my parents’ bodega in Jamaica Plain (which back then was completely sketchy). This involved: 1) walking to the bus stop 10 minutes away; 2) riding the bus to Harvard Square; 3) taking the red line to Downtown Crossing; 4) changing to the orange line and riding it all the way to the end (Forest Hills), and 5) walking about a mile to my parents store through a questionable neighborhood. I did it countless times and survived (and I almost never had change for the pay phone…that would have been the smart thing to do!).
Looking back I find this absurd, but I learned to keep my eyes open and have a plan if something happened. I so want my kids to grow up aware and grounded in how to handle themselves out in the world.
TOTALLY. I have been prodding my children toward these milestones and the only reason I’m not more aggressive is the fear of other parents’ judgements. My son (9) walked himself home from baseball practice this season, a walk that sounds comparable to T + S’s walk to school. He was terribly proud every week when he arrived home on his own two feet, and I know it was the right step forward.
I’ve been sending my kids to make small purchases at the store around the corner, and to play together at the elementary school across the street from our house (we don’t go there because… lottery) and worried that someone would ask them, march them home, or otherwise intervene. Each time I try to shake it off — what kind of community isn’t comfortable with grade school kids playing on a playground. They HAVE to be able to do that, right!?
It’s like our kids need to wear shirts that say I’M ALLOWED TO BE HERE.
Yes, let’s make those shirts!!
There are crazy cat ladies in my neighborhood who try to “rescue” cats that would easily find their way home if left alone, so my cat has a tag on her collar that says “Please let me go, I know my way home.” Maybe I should make bigger tags and put them on my kids.
Bahahahahaha! What a great idea!
So well said Liz. When my daughter wanted to start walking home from school last year (she was nine), I asked a couple of her friends’ parents if they could walk together. They all went pale and said no. So Fiona started walking home alone. The media has changed, but so has the sense of community. When I send my kids outside to play, it’s a little sad, because I know they’ll probably be the only ones out there.
This topic makes me so angry I am not sure I can write a coherent comment. I agree that the parents who end up in serious trouble over giving their kids more freedom than someone else thinks they should are disproportionately people of color. I know that my white skin and social standing would protect me, and that makes me angry. So very angry. But as Megan Francis’ story above shows- I am also not immune from the judgement and interference of strangers. And that makes me scared. Meanwhile, some of my friends without kids roll their eyes at “helicopter parents” not letting their kids have the freedoms we had as kids and I just want to yell at them that they have no idea how different it is to try to parent now. I guess I’ll take being judged to be a helicopter parent over a visit from Child Protective Services, but I also worry about how I will teach my kids the independence and self-reliance I know they need to learn to succeed in this world. How old do they have to be before I can start giving them the chance to learn those things without worrying about someone calling the cops on me?
And I also wonder whether we as a society will ever actually try to HELP parents instead of judging them. Do all those people who are calling 911 on these parents also vote for child care subsidies? Because really, what choices are we giving parents who are struggling to make it? What help are we actually offering? Precious little.
Frankly, I might have called 911 for Shanesha Taylor’s kids. It gets so very hot in Arizona, even in the winter. I don’t think people who have never been there truly understand that and how dangerous it can be. But damn, in calling for help I wouldn’t have wanted to call for what ended up happening to her and her kids. I want to be able to call for actual HELP. Sadly, very little of that seems to exist.
I understand your point of view. I believe there are actually laws for leaving children alone in cars–but not for when children can play by themselves outside.
And yes to the idea of helping. It’s not always my first instinct either; I’d love to start thinking that way more. “How can I help” is a great question to ask yourself first.
I certainly wouldn’t call 911 on a kid at the park alone, unless something bad actually happened- i.e., they fell and got seriously hurt. Also, the story from the mother who was arrested for leaving a much older child in the car alone while she ran some errands… that seemed wrong to me, too. I think my line would be if the kid could get out of the car if it started to get too hot. The story out of Arizona was just a little different for me, because I grew up there. Cars get really, really hot. But I don’t think she is a bad mother. I think she is a mother in a very difficult situation that most of us can only barely imagine, faced with essentially no good options. She tried to do the best she could. I donated to her legal defense fund.
As far as walking to and from school– my sister and I did it all the time. We were latch key kids from the time I was in 1st grade and my sister was in 3rd grade. I *liked* being a latch key kid. I still think my kids will probably do it once they’re a little older (the little one isn’t even IN school yet!) but I guess I’ll have to see how all of this turns out. We live just a few blocks from their school.
Even I am too young to remember McCarthyism, but it was a grim time in history when every one turned on everyone else in order to take the attention off of themselves- at that time the government was hunting Communists in America. Are we on the eve of that? Who really is capable of raising children perfectly? Aren’t our choices our own until we give them away? I believe we’ve become so fear-based-thanks to the media playing up the tragedies that happen (what we focus on, we become)- that we’re frozen- afraid to do anything for fear it will be perceived to be wrong. Back in 1957 I was 7 years old and walked to and from school, a 2 mile trek, every day. I was nearly abducted one afternoon on the way home. My parents had taught me that if anyone seemed threatening, to run into the nearest house- no knocking, just barge right in and explain what was happening, give them our telephone number, and wait for one of them to come and get me. Well, I did that, only to confront a man in only jockey shorts wondering why I’d barged in on him! I honestly didn’t know whether to run back out- it was a tense minute there for both of us. But you know what? I wasn’t molested, instead, after getting some clothes on, the man called my mother and the rest is history. It was all based on averages and trust. The average person won’t hurt you, we trust, and the majority of the time it works. What I’m trying to get at is we need to ask ourselves what it is we fear and what are the averages? I know none of our children should be gambled with-, but I propose we begin to test the water- hide behind the telephone poles and covertly watch them walking to school by themselves until we can rest assured that the averages are pretty darn good (especially with the population explosion) that they will arrive at school and home safely. Smarter minds than mine need to come up with a plan to make our world safe again for our kids and grandkids, and the first step is making our own choices and standing behind each others’ right to do it. This is America- let’s act like it!
I got shivers at the reference to McCarthyism. I think the comparison is eerily accurate in some ways.
Considering I walked EVERY DAY to the same elementary school as your daughters when I was in 1st-4th grade this post hits me particularly hard. It saddens, and yes angers, me that we live in a world where any parent, but especially you since I know you, should be so fearful of being judged by others for permitting their child to do something that was PERFECTLY NORMAL AND ACCEPTED for years just hurts. It makes me wince. It makes me tearful. The fun my group of walkers (there were 5 of us) experienced together as we hiked the 6 blocks or so, is a vivid memory. Holding our breath as we ran across a street called Lover’s Lane because we all believed that if we didn’t some boy with cooties would get too close and holding our collective breath from one side of the street to the other was the proven way to repel it from happening. Stopping in the store and buying our 5 cent candy before school started. I could go on and on. Adults are ruining childhood. And it is profoundly sad. Let your kids walk to school, and I hope you’ll tell them about another 6 year old, who used to cross that street and hold her breath. 🙂
Bravo Liz! I couldn’t agree more obviously when I pined for my children to be experiencing childhood like I did people jumped all over me citing how scary the world is. I love that you say “Parenting isn’t just about holding on. It’s knowing when to let go.” And, as the kids get older, it becomes more necessary even though we want to protect them. The best way we can, is by preparing them for life, which is unpredictable. Thank you for this. Such a beautiful post.
I remember talking to Amy (Selfish Mom) about this last year. At the time I was despairing that my then 7 1/2 year old son (now almost 9) would never be ready to walk home alone. It was actually more about trusting him than other people harming him. We live in Queens and next year he will be at the closer location of his elementary school (one is across the street, one is two blocks away). He has ADHD and a few other special needs, plus he isn’t very mature. But he is getting there (and rising up to challenges that I never though he could), that I think he will actually be able to handle crossing our not-very-busy street in the next year or so (but I don’t know when I’ll be able to have him cross the major streets like Queens Blvd or Union Turnpike, it’s just so crazy here).
Knowing your own kid = awesome parenting.
I remember that conversation, Nancy. I’m having a much different experience with Fiona at this stage than I did with Jake. Jake has a great sense of direction, is fairly unflappable, and is big for his age. These things all combined to make him very independent by sixth grade. Fiona is going into fifth, and has none of those things. She has a terrible sense of direction (like me), is very “flappable” and is still a peanut. She knows herself well, and said spontaneously a few weeks ago, “I’m not going to ride the bus by myself in sixth grade.” I’m not going to push her into it, but she also knows that her middle school search is limited by where she’ll be able to get to herself in sixth grade – I’m not going to spend 3-4 hours a day taking her. So either she ends up going to a middle school within walking distance of our house (there are some options) or she decides that she’s ready to take public transportation a year from now. Maybe with a friend, if that makes her feel more comfortable (I know it would make me feel more comfortable!). Either way, it really is about knowing your own kid, but also about them knowing themselves and what they’re capable of.
Oh, and I don’t feel like I’m old enough to cross Queens Blvd. 🙂
Good on ya, Liz! And good job to T&S for proving they are responsible enough to have EARNED the privilege of walking to school unchaperoned.
But Liz, I totally feel your pain!!! This past year, I taught my kids (secretly) what to do if they got off the bus and I wasn’t home. And we practiced…go to the garage, find the hidden key, unlock the door, and call mom. And they did great! Every time! And 2 months later, when I got stuck in behind an accident on the freeway at dismissal, I wasn’t freaking out. I was so glad we practiced! And they were quite proud of themselves. Proud they know what to do. Proud they can do it if they need to. I love that.
Then I decided to leave my 9 yr old home alone when I took my 7 yr old to dance class. She stayed upstairs playing Minecraft…pretty sure she didn’t actually move the whole time we were gone. It was fantastic (no more listening to an hour of complaining about how BORING it is to wait)! Until…even though she has rules not to answer the phone or door…my mother called. Her grandmother. So she answered. Told my mother that I had left her at home alone. And then I got the “intervention” phone call from my mother…and later the same day…from my sister. They think I’m highly irresponsible. Thankfully my husband and I are on the same page. He was a latch-key kid…a term that doesn’t even exist anymore. He thinks both girls need MORE responsibility, including chores. We think that it’s our job as parents to teach them to be empowered, responsible, considerate adults. I’m not meant to shelter them so that they can reach adulthood…I think I’m supposed to prepare them for adulthood.
But I tell very few people in our area. I know 10 yr olds who aren’t allowed to walk 2 doors down to a friend’s house by themselves. My daughter has a friend who is NEVER (except for school) is allowed to be without her parents. They have never hired a babysitter, the kids aren’t allowed to go to playdates, go to birthday parties…. And forget about finding friends to go to sleepaway camp. I received more than a few HORRIFIED looks when I said my 1st grader was going to sleepaway camp for the first time, and my 3rd grader was going for the second time. A 7 yr old…without her mother…for a week?!?! You would have thought I was leaving her in the woods to fend for herself.
I try very hard to not be equally judgmental of their parenting choices…because I know their choices don’t have to be the same as mine. I just hope none of them see my kids riding their bikes thru the neighborhood unchaperoned or walking to school by themselves cause I really don’t wanna spend my Disney money defending my parenting choices in court. 🙂
Thank you Heather, for being honest about your choices. I’m fascinated by this conversation and how many of us feel we can’t really talk about it. Let’s compare notes about sending our children to sleepaway camp sometime. I got those looks too (not so judgy as much as surprised…that I know), and, well, read my previous post about how it turned out. I wouldn’t have sent half her friends; but I do know my own children pretty well.
Isn’t it’s funny to think that some of us were babysitting when we were 10? BABYSITTING! Paid! To watch other kids for money! Today those same responsible babysitter wouldn’t even be allowed to walk to that house alone let alone stay in it for three hours watching TV with some younger children.
After reading the article about the mom in Florida who let her son walk half a mile to a playground at the age of 7- I’m going to err on the side of caution and think the arrest was not without merit. Your ultimate job as a parent is to safeguard the safety of your children and seven seems awfully young to me to have to finesse the street, intersections, and the social milieu of the playground alone. My kids had a lot of freedom to roam and explore growing up because are children are best served when they are allowed to develop a robust sense of self-reliance but young kids and too little supervision can lead to very sad outcomes.
So Dorothy, are you saying that arresting the mother for neglect is warranted? Or do you mean that a call to 911 was warranted?
Isn’t there another option in between, like a police officer giving the son a ride home and talking to the mother first to see what the deal is?
I think the call to 911 was reasonable and a ride home from the police officer who could then investigate would be appropriate. After all, how many 7 year olds are seen completely unaccompanied in public places? I don’t think kids have to be accompanied everywhere in all instances- but he was going to a public park and she is 1l2 a mile away- and for better or worse, cell phones fail. It just seems like a lot of responsibility for a relatively young child. And as mandated reporters, police officers are required (at least in NY) by law to investigate when neglect or abuse of a child is involved. I can imagine a mother who was annoyed by the interference of the police in a parental matter- and how law enforcement can use the power of their position too aggressively- so I should reframe my earlier remark that I can’t ultimately know whether an arrest made sense or not.
Watching the video piece I was a little sad to realize that she wouldn’t let her son play unsupervised again- not that she was afraid for his well being but that she was afraid of getting arrested again.
and here is the national overview on mandated reporters
Thank you Dorothy!
I think it’s perfectly rational and reasonable to be concerned when it appears a child is in a dangerous situation. But – is calling 911 really the appropriate response is there is no clear and present *emergency*? To me that feels like abuse of a system that is put in place to help people who are in immediate danger, and calling 911 (rather than, I suppose, looking up your local non-emergency number) just ratchets up the process more quickly than may be needed. A situation that may register as a “3” on the “is this a big deal or not” scale has now escalated to “9” simply because of that call.
I’m not in favor of calling the police at all unless there is real danger, and I don’t personally consider a 7 year old playing alone particularly dangerous unless there are other circumstances that play into it. But even if I did, I can’t get behind calling 911 unless somebody is bleeding or threatening someone else.
Meagan, this is actually really astute and I hadn’t thought about it in those terms: 911 is for emergencies. Not “the chance that something could go wrong,” but imminent danger.
We don’t call 911 every time we see a child in a swimming pool while the parent reads a magazine nearby–despite more children dying in accidental drownings each year than at the hands of kidnappers.
I am really going to think about this. Thank you.
Your post gives a very even-keeled take on the issue for which I am extremely appreciative. Thanks, Liz! Naturally within the first 2 sentences my thoughts went towards Lenore’s Free Range theories. In fact, my own 11 year old pulled her book off the library shelf this year (it’s her hobby to read all sorts of parenting books…she’s a more responsible parent than me! I barely read diddly these days…). My DD had no clue I was hooked by Lenore’s perspective. But like with all things, it is so good to temper ideas and get different vantage points. Your not all one or the other attitude is really healthy. And I also think simply your writing about this is further contributing towards the, for lack of a better way to express it, helicopter parenting backlash. Your post is worth a read and reread for parents, grandparents, able children, caregivers, teachers, and beyond.
This is a great post, and a topic I feel very strongly about. I am a big believer in independence, and kids learning from doing. I feel very judged if I don’t hover over my kids (age 7 and 11) every second. I was talking with a friend this morning about our lovely downtown, and how nice it is that it is populated with pedestrians of all ages and bikes and cars who stop to let people cross at crosswalks regardless of what the light color is (town culture). One thing we were talking about is that in addition to cultivating independence and kids learning on their own to buy ice cream and get the correct change, there is a real benefit to them learning how to participate in society. I would hope my kids have learned how to behave, but I also hope that if they are misbehaving in a store, the clerk will sternly throw them the heck out. Teenagers disrupting the sidewalk cafes? I’d hope the police would come along and tell them to beat it. The message I want them to get is that people are paying attention to you, so you’d better behave. I want to encourage the “village” concept – where people other than parents who adore you completely are keeping an eye out.
My husband and I talk about this often, mostly because he was walking to school alone in kindergarten. When he was in second grade, a classmate was abducted and murdered. Yes, a CLASSMATE, not a random kid in another school.
What strikes me as both insane and rational all at once is that none of the parents, including his, stopped letting their kids walk to to school. They started walking in groups and the admin set up phone trees to notify parents that their kid arrived safely. The merits of that are debatable, but could you EVEN IMAGINE if that happened today? Parents who let their kids walk to school would probably be arrested on sight.
People ask where the village is. Well, I can tell you where it is. It’s still there, but instead of providing any actual assistance, guidance and kindness to their neighbor’s children, they’re recording misdeeds and calling the police.
I think parents should make the decisions they think are best for their kids, but they should be prepared to explain those decision if necessary. There is a difference between my “judging” your parenting decisions and my being concerned about seeing a child in a potentially dangerous situation. If I see two young kids walking to school alone, I’m not alarmed. But I do think 7-years old is too young to play at a park alone, and if I saw it, I would report it. I ‘m sure the parents who’ve lost kids in these tragic situations we’re always hearing about wished someone would have alerted someone if they saw something that concerned them.
I started kindergarten early so I was a year younger than my classmates/ This point speaks to relevance for the rest of my story.
From 3rd grade to 5th grade, I lived on a military base overseas. It was a bit of a bubble, but I was pretty much allowed free rein. We had a recreation center, 2 pools, racquetball courts and basketball courts that free range. I only had to be home by dinner.
For 5th and 6th grade my mom, my sibling and I were back stateside. We were staying in apartment. I was expected to walk the 2 blocks from where the bus let me off home. I was still pretty much free range though…we had back yards, we had the laundromats…We had to be home by dinner. My Mom had a job that she was home from work by them time I was home from school.
My first semester of 7th grade after my dad had retired from the military…he went in for a job interview and apparently they wanted him to start that day. I found this out because I got a note from the school office, wrapped around my very own house key.
By 1st semester 8th grade, I was left alone for whole weekends by myself.
I was 12….I can’t imagine what would happen to my parents today.
I’m with you here. I started school early as well, which means I was four years old in Kindergarten and I walked to and from school every day. My grandparents lived with us for a few years so from about first through fourth grade there was always somebody home when I got out of school. However, around fifth or sixth grade, everyone who lived with us moved out and I came home to an empty house. Not only did I have to look out for myself, but also my three younger siblings for a few hours until my parents got home. My youngest sister was about 6 years old. Around that time, my parents stopped hiring babysitters, etc., during the summer so my brother (11 months younger) and I would guide all four of us to the park or the neighborhood pool on summer days. We were in charge of our own meals (sandwiches! picnics!) and everything. I’m pretty sure if I suggested letting my kids do that, my mom would freak out and drive up from Florida to Chicago (suburbs) to pick them up.
Thank you for this excellent post Liz. I recently read a similar post by Jonathan Chait in New York Mag on this which resonated with me in a special way because his children are classmates of my children and they go to the same park. The only thing I have to add is there is an extra level of frustration to me with this argument when I read these stories in the same publication that criticize helicopter parents. The NYT is especially good at criticizing “overparenting” but then parents are confronted with these stories and judgment.
I have a 10, 8, and 6 yo. They are capable of walking to school and the park. They should be allowed to do so without someone “reporting” it. Please let my kids be kids in our very safe neighborhood.
I’m a first-time writer, but a regular reader.
I don’t live in the States, but your article hit home.
I am a single mom with a 9 year old daughter, and sometimes I struggle. Last year, she asked to walk to school alone. School is 2 streets away, with one street to cross, and lots of kids/parents that she knows on the way. I wouldn’t let her do that.
Not so long ago, she started asking to go to the store, alone. Or to the pharmacy. We live in a small village, everything is no more than 10 minutes away. I did let her go to the pharmacy. I was as worried as if she had taken the bus by herself and gone to the city. At 9, she’s still my baby, you know. But I have to teach her to be independent. And she knows how to cross the street, she’s responsible.
I also leave her home alone, for short periods of time. There’s a phone, with my cell number preprogrammed in it. She knows all the neighbors. So when I have to run to the store and she’s busy playing, I let her stay. I don’t like admitting this to anybody. I feel judged (even by my own family). But I feel she’s mature enough to stay. She’s not a kid who will try anything once she’s alone. She’ll probably play with her Pet shops or watch TV, or play on the computer. She’ll enjoy being alone for a while, and she’ll be glad to see me come back.
Anyway. What I want to say is that I based my decisions on these 2 rules:
1. Assess a child’s maturity. If he/she is prudent, if he/she pays attention to his/her surroundings, why not give them a little freedom? It’s human nature. They all want to explore, learn, discover.
2. If the child is mature enough: if the surroundings are safe, if he/she has a means to contact someone if something goes wrong, yes.
I do want to say that CPS in America is frightening. I’m pretty sure we don’t have that here. Sure we have protective services, but racism is not something we see every day. My small European country is full of immigrants (I myself am a 2nd generation Italian), but racism and injustice toward black people are not that common. I feel for those African-American, who love their kids and are trying to get by as well as they can. Life sucks sometimes.
*I feel for those African-American *moms*.. Sorry, the “moms” got swallowed by my keyboard.
Great thoughts. Thank you. This is a topic I struggle with a lot. For me, though, it’s because my parents went too far the other way. They put my sister and me in situations that we were entirely too young for, and it really impacted us in a negative way. Especially my sister, who is older. It wasn’t out of any malice, or necessity. They were just pretty clueless, and they treated us like little adults. (Classic example… My mom has always told the story, to illustrate how terrific a big sister I have, of the time we were napping, and my parents went to vote. It took longer than they expected, and they came home to find my 5 year old sister valiantly trying to change my infant diaper. Yikes!)
So my ‘normal meter’ is skewed the other way. I don’t have a good sense of what are okay ages to let my boys have more freedom. They’re 6 and almost 9, and I am pushing myself to give them more freedom.
Last year I started letting them walk to the busstop – half a block on a very quiet side street in a decent suburb – alone. I felt guilty for it, though, and usually watched them until the bus arrived. I’ll work on not doing that this year…
I’d be interested in where you and Lenore differ in opinion … 🙂
I completely understand why you hesitated to share this story but I’m so glad you did. It’s important to get the dialogue out there as much as possible. I remember, as you do, walking to school (15 mins or so) by myself or with whatever other neighborhood kids were around from the age of 6. This was normal back in the 80’s. My 8 year old is not permitted to leave school grounds without a parent, and I’m pretty sure if he showed up alone I’d get an angry phone call. I think that’s nuts. It sends a message to our kids that we don’t trust them to do anything by themselves, and then we all wonder why they become so helpless as young adults.
I told some friends that I taught my son how to use the toaster oven so he could toast his own frozen waffles in the morning (so he can get his own breakfast) when he was about 6. They were horrified. I was kind of shocked by this. But you know what? We haven’t been to the ER over the toaster, not even once.
I struggle now with when it would be appropriate to leave my son home by himself for an hour or so at a time (during the day). He doesn’t have a cell phone, but he knows my number and how to dial it. It strikes me as not that different from letting a kid play at a park by himself though – with a little coaching about what to do in a few different scenarios (don’t answer the phone or the door, don’t go into the kitchen, etc.), I think it’s not such a big deal.
Thank you for articulating what I’ve been thinking and feeling over the last few weeks but not able to express.
I am a single parent with a 7 yo – she’ll be 8 and in 3rd grade when school starts this year. The school she attends does not offer early care and her day starts an hour after my school day, in a neighboring town, is supposed to start. Because of the delay, I force her to take the bus, just so I can leave that 30 minutes earlier but still getting to school more than an hour after we open; the late start to my day means I have to make it up on the other end – forcing her into the afterschool program. Now, she leaves the house at 7:50 am and doesn’t get home until 6 pm, working a much longer day than I and it comes at a premium financially. Each year, I evaluate whether or not she is old enough to just take the school bus home and walk the block to our house alone. She does have friends that do meet their mom(s) off the bus, but she would be home alone for about an hour. Is she mature enough, sure. Would all the red flags fly up in my community, yes. I think about the alternatives in the morning – of which would also cost more and realize that I would just be working so she had care – nothing more. I walked to school, 3 large city blocks away, when I was 5. My brother was a year older than me. We walked together, sometimes picking up our friends on the way. Now they call that a walking school bus. It has a “driver” and everything – some adult. And they make “walk to school day” a big deal. Why is it a big deal? If she just walked to school every day, we could leave at the same time and get home at the same time and I wouldn’t be stressing out about being late every morning. More folks are worried about whether or not the child stays home, or walks, or whatever, than they are about the length of the day the child is in school – limiting her extracurricular activities, her freedom to play, her time with her family. Those are real developmental stages that are being lost – on top of the growth that comes with independence, self awareness, street smarts, responsibility etc of going to and from school, alone or with friends and not waiting on parents.
Thank you so so much KM for bringing up such important issues. We need to be talking about them too.
Our school starts a half-hour earlier this coming year (thanks to a ridiculous teacher vote that lost by like 2%) which is going to wreak havoc with a lot of families’ schedules–not to mention the school day itself. Who is going to pay for the 1/2 hour of day care after school now? Above all, what will it do to the kids when research shows that earlier start times hurts learning, especially as kids get older and need more sleep.
A bit of a tangent I know, but I think it’s all related. You sound so thoughtful about the choices you make for your daughter. I bet she’s amazing.
You know what’s funny – I think it’s good for kids to do things like this, and we have encouraged it in our girls who are now 10 and almost 14. But THEY are the ones who are worried! I’m not a helicopter mom, and we are reasonable with teaching them about safety but not scaring them with all the “what ifs,” yet both of our girls have been terrified to not have one of us around, even for a short time. Our 13 y.o. just recently started to stay home for an hour or so with the younger two. And they’ll occasionally go to the park two blocks away without us, but they really don’t like to be without an adult. I suppose some kids just have more fears than others, but I wonder too how much of it is this hypervigilant culture rubbing off on them as well.
The whole concept is interesting since the Moms that have been arrested are looking at harder time for letting their kids play outside alone than a lot of parents who allow their children to live in abusive homes for years. The statistics are relatively high that their kid is going to survive playing in the park alone. The statistics are far lower a kid will survive if their parent is thrown in jail. I really question how productive it is to arrest a kids mother for playing in the park unaccompanied, prosecute her and potentially send her to a hefty prison sentence. Whether or not it rises to the level of abuse which I don’t think it does. Isn’t the punishment far exceeding the “crime” in these cases and putting the bulk of the punishment on the kid? The kid the prosecutors are supposedly trying to protect? Foster homes, Mom out of the picture, no income to stay living in their home? What kind of job can she get after prison? All seem to me to make a far bigger problem than we started with, while taking very limited resources from kids who really need protection from abusive parents.
Fantastic points Lisa. We’re not always a society that sees the big picture.
When I was 8, I flew to Israel on my own as an Unaccompanied Minor.
You know your kids best regarding their maturity to walk somewhere safely.
I love that pic! We chose to live in our neighborhood specifically so our kids could walk to school, and not too far when it is -20. It is the same neighborhood I grew up in and it still gives me the biggest head trip seeing my girl stroll down the same street I did when I was her age, on her way to facing the world. She’s been walking since Kindergarten, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend. I think that time she spends in her own head or joking with pals is invaluable. Also, I refuse to be a part of the clusterf*** that is the drop-off and pick-up lane. I would need Colorado meds after being a part of that circus every day.
What’s happening in our country & our communities now is terrible. Where, as parents, we used to teach our children independence & strength, now we instead instill in them fear & mistrust. I remember my mother-in-law telling me a story about a neighbor they had when my husband was little, who would go grocery shopping when her children were napping, and LEAVE THEM HOME ALONE!! Those children were fine, and grew up fine. Today, that mother would be in jail, and those kids in foster care. Don’t get me wrong, I’d never do that, but to her that was normal. (She was from a different country, incidentally.) Also, why do I never hear about fathers being charged with these “crimes”??? It’s a war on mothers, who struggle enough as it is. Now add this to the mix.
I’m asking this question as well. Why do we not hear about fathers’ responsibilities in all this? Is it because the mothers in these cases are staying home or are the primary caretakers during the day? Or they are single moms? I’m not entirely sure.
“Not because I feared for my children’s safety, but because I feared how I’d be judged for my decision.” Yes, this is what I think about too. Society has labeled what used to be normal child activities as highly dangerous and parents who allow them are reckless.
I want to give my kids freedom and independence, but I hate to admit that I am often hesitant to do so because of Judgy McJudgersons. It sucks.
Man, who knew – we seem to have stumbled upon the last taboo of parents and parent bloggers. The one thing no one wants to talk about. I really had no idea.
This was that “Eve of McCarthyism” I was talking about- societal pressure to “behave” as society deems correct, and the threat of repercussions if you don’t. The only way we will change anything will be in changing our own thinking and behavior. I truly believe this can be turned around if we just stand behind one another and respect the freedom to choose for ourselves and others. This judging each other in lieu of supporting each other will be the death of us- and of democracy.
I was fascinated earlier in the year – visited a friend who had just moved to a neighborhood with palatial houses and the new school was maybe half a mile away. They were trying to figure out scheduling with a kid in grad school who was living in the house such that she would take the younger kid to school in the morning – the parents each would be leaving for work at 6 or 7 am and the younger kid wouldn’t be going to school til 8.
The school was half a mile away at most. The younger kid was 11. Illinois law was unclear about 11 being alone, even in the morning, but they also didn’t trust the 11 year old getting himself to school along residential streets.
This whole subject gets murky for me when you take the safety of the neighborhood into account. Would I be alarmed seeing a young child walking alone in my relatively safe neighborhood? Probably not. But would I be alarmed if I saw a young child walking alone in the neighborhood where I teach … a neighborhood that is plagued by gangs, has a registered sex offender on every other block, and is a haven for homeless addicts? Definitely. Would I judge the fitness of a parent who allowed his or her child to play alone in the park all day in such a neighborhood? Yes, I probably would. Conversely, would I judge a protective (helicopter) parent in the same neighborhood for not encouraging his or her child to develop independence and interact with the world by walking to and from school alone? No, I wouldn’t, but it seems like a lot of the commenters here would. The world my students inhabit bears no similarity to the one in which I grew up, and I don’t know how I would go about fostering the independence we are talking about here in a neighborhood like theirs. Fortunately, there is a village in their community … a village that helicopters together. Thank you for the food for thought.
Thanks for the comment Kelly. Could be me, but I’ve gotten the sense that the commenters here are taking into account the environment, the child’s maturity, and their own best judgment. But it’s tough. On one hand, those of us with some degree of privilege can say we’d never let our kids walk through projects, or red light districts and so on. On the other hand, it’s probably the parents trying to raise kids in those kinds of neighborhoods that have fewer other options.
I love your description of “a village that helicopters together.” Right on.
I love that you allowed your daughters to feel some freedom in a seemingly safe situation. Our children need a chance to build their responsibility, little by little, before we release them on the world as “adults.”
The “McDonald’s Mom” situation breaks my heart. It’s appalling that we live in a time when a single, working mother is arrested for allowing her child to play at the park alone.
Had the daughter been caught sitting at McDonald’s all day, (her mom’s only other option), I’m sure there would have been some sort of uproar about that, too…..childhood obesity, lack of outdoor play, etc……
Parents just can’t win, unless they’re wealthy, in which case they’re revered for their “cutting edge parenting style.”
Oof, I think you’re onto something there.
Aye. How do these rapid-fire 911 callers and condemners expect children to grow into adults who can get themselves from one place to another independently if they are not allowed to ever be out of arm’s reach of a guardian? My small neighborhood was 3 suburban blocks wide and 4 suburban blocks long and in the late 70’s and early 80’s as I was gradually let out into it with my young friends, it was HUGE and man oh man did we have fun tearing around from one home to another and in between exploring new routes, bumping from Joey’s sandbox to our swingset to Heather’s cool wooded (probably 1/20 acre 😉 lot. We played (with permission) in one neighbor’s Forsythia garden, had popsicles with the Walkers on their screened porch, sat on cactuses (!) in a rock garden at the end of our hill. In our ten years of tooling about, we once had a stranger stop his car and talk to us and the whole pack of us felt something was fishy and we tore like Hell down the 2/10 of a mile to tell someone’s mother. We felt as independent as could be and we were surrounded by moms at home who always had open doors for the lot of us and always kept an open ear. It was the greatest.
This was beautifully written Karen. You need to turn it into a short story. I can just see the Forsythia.
WHEW. Feel you.
I wrote about this recently (http://bit.ly/1pG3ar3)and confessed I leave my children (occasionally in safe circumstances!) unattended. I remind myself any risk at all doesn’t mean something is unsafe.
Although now I’m more scared someone is going to call the damn cops on me.
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I’ve been a reader of your blog for a few years now, and I’ve never commented. But I love your commentary on this. I recently wrote on the same topic: http://princesspassports.com/2014/07/31/raising-children-a-risky-business/. We have become so risk-adverse in raising our children; and I truly believe it will leave them as less resilient adults. We see it particularly in the US (it was less apparent when my family lived in the UK and Germany) – I think due to such a litigious US culture.
That’s a great point about the litigious nature of the culture. I am sure that has something to do with it.
My grandmother’s parents left their six year-old at home to care for their two-year old while the rest of the family picked cotton all day. My great-aunt was responsible for the laundry and dinner. Can you imagine? Every generation has their own lot to deal with. While I wasn’t quite as free-ranged as my great-aunt (or was that child labor, I’m not sure), I was turned out from dawn til dusk every summer. Hearing about parents having their children taken from them or having charges brought against them for actions that I find mundane and normal have me pretty terrified that I may find myself in the same situation. I don’t have kids yet, but I never see my neighbor’s kids outside. That’s just weird.
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