Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Free range children

I ran across this website the other day, Free Range Kids, which espouses the virtues of letting your kids have a little more autonomy and the ability to run free. without parents monitoring their every move. Basically, have the same sort of childhood we had growing up.

I must admit, I love the idea, but it makes me nervous. Let's just say that my kids don't have nearly the same freedom I had growing up. I guess my justification is that I grew up in a very suburban area with lots of kids around and lots of stay at home parents and the only people in the neighborhood lived there. So, the risk of anything happening to us (aside from accidents) was small.

My husband grew up in rural Missouri so his experience was far more wild than mine, one that I can't really comprehend because, while I mostly ran around the neighborhood, hiding in the bushes and shrubbery and occasionally heading down to the wooded areas, he and his two brothers were romping through open fields, sampling every plant and weed around them. To this day they still joke about "eating bananas" and trying to defend themselves that they hadn't been out eating weeds. The whole while standing there with a large ring of green matter stained on their mouths.

I must also admit, that when we first moved to our new house I was appalled, aghast!, that the neighborhood kids all walked to school by themselves. Now, the school is about 2 blocks away and any child over 4 is more than capable of walking there themselves, but these were 2nd graders. But, they also had older siblings and neighbor friends they walked with so, really, how bad can it be?

I have improved slightly, and it helps that my kids are older (5 and 6), so I did let them play outside in the snow last month alone, out of sight, in the front yard. I told them to stay close, which they more or less did, although there were a number of times they wandered out of sight and needed to be corralled up. I just don't trust them yet to not run off somewhere. My mom, on the other hand, was concerned they'd be snatched up when she heard of our errant parenting. I assured her that if they did get snatched, they wouldn't make it around the block before they were dropped off right back where they started.

I think it's very important that kids spend a lot of time outdoors, in any weather. It doesn't also mean that they have to have a parent with them. Sure, they will get into trouble, just like we did, but how else will they learn about the natural world and their abilities in it?

Some might argue that the world is a different place and is more dangerous, scary, etc. but is it really? Do your kids have the same amount of freedom that you did growing up? Why or why not?

Related books:
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder
Anxious Parents: A History of Modern Childrearing in America
I Love Dirt!: 52 Activities to Help Your Kids Discover the Wonders of Nature


Toria said...

I've read heaps of times that the world isn't actually more dangerous now than for previous generations, but with changes to the media & the internet, we're just way more aware of all of the bad things that happen now.

But, I'm sure I'm way more protective of my kids than my parents - I grew up in a small country town, so for example, I worked to school by myself from a young age, there weren't any traffic issues & it was just up the road. My kids need to cross a major road to get to school, so they won't be doing that alone until they are older & I know they will be safe in traffic.

At the age my eldest is now, I wouldn't let him play in the bush behind our house alone, but at that age, I wandering around bush tracks playing with my friends for hours without my mum worrying.

LatigoLiz said...

Don’t get me started on this husband accused me of micromanaging the other day. *sigh* Maybe I just need to drink more wine and not care so much?

Mia said...

Good thoughts. Kids DO need to be kids.. reminds me of a saying i heard once "God made dirt and dirt don't hurt".

Anonymous said...

God this post makes me so frustrated at my own situation. I grew up in the south, mostly,on an acre of land. We were home-schooled and ran around like crazy all year round. Even as an older teen I spent lots of time outdoors. Then I moved to Philadelphia, got married, and secretly cried when the only homes we could afford on my husband's income (which is pretty good; I was in school and then pregnant)was a rowhome with no yard. See, where I grew up, and all over the south you will see what they call rowhomes, or shotgun houses, but they aren't usually attached and they always have yards. It is totally different up here.More crowded and WAY more expensive. 2 kids later, we spend too much time in the house because it absolutely isn't safe for them to be outside without me and I really anguish over their childhood, which I feel isn't nearly as wholesome, wild, and nature-y as mine was or as it should be.

jewishfarmer said...

I actually did the research on this subject for a post I did once on precisely this issue. What I found was that statistically, we're no more at risk of child molesters, kidnappers, etc... - the sort of thing that most parents do worry about, but we're more at risk of car accidents, because there are about 2xs as many cars as when I was a kid, and they go much faster.

And, as Crunch points out, there's also the participatory issue - when I was five and my sister was four, we were allowed to go to the playground in our housing complex with the older girls in the neighborhood. My sister walked behind a swing and got hurt once, but there were big kids, practically grownups to my mind (probably 10) who could go get my Mom and carry my sister home.

Its a lot harder to do when you are the only one in the neighborhood doing it - it is one of those things that works collectively.

In our case, we're definitely more careful than our parents, who used to let us out with the other kids from a very young age. And of course, we've got an autistic son who doesn't have the capacity to roam safely. So our kids have a range (about 4 acres of our property) and any further they have to have an adult. We don't let them walk along the road because we have a blind hill and the cars come over so fast.

That said, those 4 acres cover wood, creek (we don't let them go to the creek during spring runoff), fields, etc... The deal is that they all have to stay together and in distance of our bell. Autistic eldest has to have someone watching him (we pay our 7 year old to keep him around), and we check on them regularly. It scares me - but so does keeping them under my eye until they are 15.

This is one of those things that really is tough for one family to address alone, I think.


Joyce said...

This is onw of those subjects you shouldn't get me started on. I'm a crossing guard, and I cross about 25 children (in good weather) for our neighborhood school. It should be about 100, but people are driving their kids a couple of blocks out of some sense of fear, and we live in what I consider to be a very family friendly area. Yet, if there were more children walking, and the occasional parent walking with the very youngest ones, it would be even safer!
I felt pretty comfortable letting my children play unsupervised in their own yard. They also could walk to their grandparent's house four blocks away once they were about five, if they called and got permission first. I would have to say that traffic was a consideration in letting them ride their bikes around town, with I did as a child. There is certainly more traffic, and biking is more dangerous. On the other hand, there would be less traffic if kids could walk or bike to play with their friends. I wish we could all have some big national agreement that we're going to go back to the old way of doing things.

joan said...

I agree that the greater danger today is more perception than reality. My kids don't have as much freedom as my husband and I had, but I think it's more about the location than anything. My husband and I both grew up in areas with lots of open spaces to roam through, whereas our kids are in a suburban area, pretty safe but with lots more traffic than we ever had to deal with.
My kids are fortunate to have friends to run free with, but in general I think most kids are not allowed as much freedom. One of my brothers says my kids, "run wild," and believe me he does not say this admiringly. Kids seem to be driven everywhere and closely watched.
Also, parents often seem to think their kids are incredibly delicate. I can remember when my oldest son (now 17) was in preschool, one of the mothers was appalled at a note asking parents to make sure the kids were supplied with hats and mittens and such, since they would be going outside at recess time unless the weather was quite bad. "Why would they take the kids outside in cold weather?" she asked. Still just makes me shake my head.

Anonymous said...

I had more freedom as a child, since we lived out in the country on 18 acres. But I was also one of those kids who'd much prefer to be in their room reading a book. So while I do think occasionally that my daughter needs to spend more time outside, it doesn't cross my mind all that often.

Also, she doesn't like to play by herself, so she'd be outside for 5 minutes then come back in looking for me.

Anonymous said...

We had more freedom, until I was in 4th grade and a kid did get kidnapped in our neighborhood. That was the end of that.

I don't worry about kidnapping (really, anyone who wants a mouthy 3 year old can probably get one for free without the felony charges) but I do worry about cars, roaming dogs, and as he gets over, kids themselves.

So we bike him to daycare and, when he's bigger, we'll bike or walk with him to school. I don't know at what point we'll stop doing that - it depends how he does, I think. I had a boyfriend who grew up in our neighborhood and was routinely robbed & beaten up all through high school, but he was a scrawny loner kid - my partner grew up in a similar neighborhood, with lots of close friends, and they roamed around freely with no trouble at all.

I see 6 and 8 year olds on the city bus occasionally and they seem to be fine, but then I see 12-14 year old out and about who are huffing spraypaint cans in the alleyway.

Anonymous said...

My children definitely did not have the freedom my husband and I enjoyed as children. I'm not sure if the world is more dangerous or not, but we did keep close tabs on our kids (now 17 and 20). It helped that we live on a dead end street and several of the mothers (myself included) worked at home while the kids were growing up. My daughter recently told her friend that she was raised in a commune. When I questioned her about this she said, "Mom. Think about it. I had about five mothers growing up and couldn't get away with anything!" I just smiled and admitted that she was right. Deb C

Greenpa said...

I'm not so sure that the world is not more dangerous now. Yes, there have always been child molesters, etc. But two factors are hard to ignore- there are more people now than ever before (which probably means more molesters) and- everybody is poorer, and less hopeful for their future now; ie; more people are closer to "the edge".

This is a discussion with no end point- and a problem with no real solution. The truth is, you can be a literally insanely careful parent- and still be hit by disaster; and you can be a totally careless parent, and never have a problem; both those outcomes are in the distribution.

Be as careful as you can- and don't let it drive you, or your kids, crazy. The universe will probably smack you upside the head sooner or later, anyway.

Children used to have their own culture- literally. They had games and jokes that adults didn't know (or had forgotten) taught to them by other children. A fabulous area for anthropological investigation.

Much of the older child's culture has been lost- replaced by Super Mario gossip. Whatever experiences you can give your kids in the older ways are really valuable, I think.

Anonymous said...

Oh, sorry about the double comment, but the one thing where I do feel the world is less safe is in wilderness areas.

When my partner and his brother were 3 and 4, their parents would take them hiking in the woods and let them lag way behind. That's still pretty safe in our near-the-city state parks, but I wouldn't do that in Yosemite or some of the other wild parks any more, there has been a big comeback of wild cats and bears in a lot of areas.

Cave-Woman said...

It is so important to play outside-with unstructured, unsupervised play. Much of life is learning to deal with risk, and children are really good at figuring out what is acceptable risk when they get outside and play. Of course, part of that process is trial and error---and that is good for them.

Anonymous said...

I have a split-personality on this one. We live in Intown metro Atlanta, and I don't let my kids, 11 & 12, go to the park (.5 miles) by themselves, but I do let them ride their bikes to school alone (2.5 miles). I've let my daughter walk around the block alone since she was 9. It's not the journey that worries me (I don't watch TV news because I don't need to know about horrors in Seattle!), it's who might be at the park, and might have brought a gun that day.

I try hard to let my kids range, even more so since I too discovered Free Range Kids last summer. My son got a Swiss Army knife for Christmas, and promptly sliced his thumb in a big way. Sigh. He's way more careful now :-). We spend summers in my small TN hometown, and I pretty much let the kids roam freely, with bikes, and really I just don't want to know (as long as they don't go near the highway). My parents never did, and we all managed just fine.

Latte said...

Here is how I see it, We are a family so we romp around as a family. If my kids want to go out and play, I pull off my apron and go out and romp around with them. If I have things to do, they help me finish them so we can go play. There is little they do alone. Sometimes they play outside, but just in the backyard and in eye shot range-it's rare though.

We want everything we do, to revolve around The Lord, so in order to help my children see that I happily spend most of my time with them (of course they have times where they are in other rooms alone-but always with the door open) So that when they grow up, they are so accustom to doing things together with us, this will easily transition to doing things with the Lord all the time...easy peasy!

Of course some will say how can they learn to become independent, or self reliant...they do. Just because I am around does not mean that they are not their own person. Like I tell adults, you are still you around your adult peers, right? So why can't a child still be a child around their parents? Being independent does not mean being alone.

I will say as they get older (12 or so) I do give them a little more responsibility aka freedom, by letting them stay at home for a few minutes while I run to the store, etc. But it's never more than an hour that I am gone.

This was a good question!

Katy said...

Now that my daughter is older (9) she has a lot more freedom than most. We live in an apartment in the city that is across the street from a library, convieant store and park all of which she is allowed to go to by herself. She has to ask permission and she has to stay where she says she going or else come and tell me she is going somewhere else.

Jen ( said...

I look for ways for my kids to be kids. I want them to have more freedom then a lot of other kids I see wandering around. :)

I like things the oldschool way.

Anonymous said...

Latigo Liz' husband and my husb. should get together. They sound like the same man. I walk a fine line b/t "hovering" and giving them freedom. I have an 8yo, 5yo & 3yo. We live in a cul de sac, but UPS, and the neighbors boyfriend drive fast on our street. I put my chair outside and watch them when they go in the road with their bikes. I have started to let my 8yo walk the two blocks to school (he crosses one street). My famous line is "go play outside like I used to in the seventies". Great post! JenK

barefoot gardener said...

I remember growing up with the rule that I could run wild through the neighborhood as long as I stayed where I could hear if Mom called me for supper. Our neighborhood was FULL of Moms yelling out the back door for their kids at suppertime! I remember going "outside to play" in the morning and not coming home till the evening meal.

I didn't realise I wasn't raising my Sprouts that way until just the last couple of years. Now I make a big effort to let at least Big Sprout run a little more without interference from me.

It is hard, though. There are so many scary things out there in the takes lots of courage to let your kids go out and explore the world without you. Still, I think it is scarier to release you kids into the big wide world at the ripe old age of 18 when they have no idea of HOW to be independent.

Alison Kerr said...

One thing I've noticed is that a parent's comfort level with allowing their kids freedom within a community is often related to whether it is the same community that the parent grew up in. This is absolutely true for me; I live in a different country from the one I grew up in.

I don't think the number or molesters has changed, but I do think that there is more mobility. When I was growing up in Scotland hardly anyone had a car. Actually the biggest risk came from traveling on a bus or train at a quiet time of day, or at the end of the line. I do feel fear that my kids could be quickly taken pretty far from me.

Kids have so much entertainment these days and so many after school activities that they just don't have much time or interest in playing outside. Also, there are new hazards. There are practically no kids in my neighborhood, but the one boy there is invited my son to jump with him on a trampoline with no safety net or anything. That's a high risk activity. Of course I did survive things I'd not want my kids to do. Being that my kids are the only family I have in this country, I'm even more aware of their safety than my parents were of mine. I do think though that my parents just didn't ask me exactly what I did because they did not want to know.

Anonymous said...

where we are now the kids walk almost two miles to the bus- it scares me to death! I would not let my 16 year old stand on the corner at 6:30am to catch the bus alone last year!! i know i am paranoid but i see the little first, second and third graders tromping down the road with ceral bowls or pop tarts and not an adult for miles!
when mine were really little i always made sure i could see the bus drop even though it was several houses away - but now
they are way way way out of sight!
i do let them ride the bus - i am not that protective! and now they are both in high school so maybe they can watch out for each other but it still worries me!

scifichick said...

I certainly had more freedom than my son does now. I used to go out every day after school and hang out at a playground with my friends from school. I just had to be home for dinner. And during summer vacation we just roamed free at the grandparents' place. There was no limit on where we could go there. My son now definitely doesn't enjoy those freedoms. When he was going to elementary school I was nervous for him to cross a big street on a way to school. So while it was close, I would drop him off there on a way to work. There also are no other kids his age in our building, so I couldn't send him off with a friend. Now that he's in middle school and it's also close to the house, he just doesn't want to walk there. I think he's just lazy, but he says that the 8th graders can be nasty. He's in 7th grade now. So, I still drop him off. He wants to get a bike when it gets warm so he can go visit his friends on his own. I'm looking forward to him having that little bit of freedom. I think it's important to be on your own once in a while. Learn that you can do things yourself if needed.

Bucky said...

I don't know if there are more or fewer child molesters these days (I'd argue more just because there are so many more people, even if the incidence molesters per population remains the same).

I think that there have been a few major changes that everyone seems to be missing. Namely, that the dangers facing our children have been reduced dramatically. Many traditional childhood diseases have been wiped out. In the first half of the last century, most children grew up in a more rural environment where they also had to work. Farm accidents were a real danger. When parents of bygone years were faced with worries about their children, losing an arm in the harvester was far more threatening and likely than getting hurt playing in the adjacent field.

Also, for better and worse, we have much smaller families now than we did in years past. As a result, i think we tend to invest more into them. My father was the oldest of 14 children. Growing up poor in the rural South, only 7 lived to adulthood. My grandparents, while they always grieved the loss, had a much more stoic attitude because they knew that life was often harsh.

Modern society has in many ways insulated us from the reality that crap happens sometimes. We tend to think that we can manage the risks.

I was in Quito, Equador last year and was amazed to see all of the children -- often very young -- roaming around freely in the city with no supervision. However, given the very real problems of disease and poverty and hunger, letting a child walk a few blocks to school by herself seems relatively safe.

Mariano RenterĂ­a said...

I'm 23 and don't have kids, but I do agree that today parents are more protective and I really don't undestand it that much... times have allways been bad...

My mom greatest teach was: independence

I move out from my parents house 1 year ago from now, and not because I don't like them or things like that but because I want to live my own life, I see them once a week or two weeks, and they where always supportive.

I guess all began when my mom do left me alone knowing that I will be fine, I even my own breakfast at the age of 5 all by myself just because my mom went to the supermarket and wouldn't come back in a few hours, I never fear the lonelyness.

I guess that is what I most like from my parents, my independence and the confidence that allways set on me, I hope I can do that to with my kinds when I have them

CoCargoRider said...

ok, I am sure I am opening a can of worms here, but hey what the heck.

I have 2 boys 7 and 9, who sometimes will come home after school for 30-45 minutes while I ride home from work when my Wife gets a short notice sub job. We have decided that they are mature enough to handle an hour alone after school, but my nosy neighbor seems to feel otherwise and have threatened our boys that she will call the police the next time it happens. Now the funny think it that she has not told us this, just our boys. I think our society is too controlling with our kids with all the going to college, etc. With all that is coming down in the near future, we will need to learn to lighten up.

LatigoLiz said...

Jennifer said...
Latigo Liz' husband and my husb. should get together.

I may have exaggerated a bit, but that my my husband’s perspective. We live on a farm that was a mess when we moved in (trash everywhere) and we have horses and goats and a large tractor with accessories. Not to mention a ditch/pond. Or son is only 5. I am sure many folks can see where I might get a little “concerned.” We do have the benefit of lots of room, but feel the need for my son to stay in sight when we are outside for many reasons, mostly safety.

Jenn said...

I grew up in the country without a TV (or siblings) but had a pony from the time I was 6. I used to get up in the morning, fix myself breakfast and be gone all day. I can't believe my parents let me do that!!! Now that my son is the same age, I wonder how much my protectiveness is hampering or helping his development. Although, even though we don't live in the country my kids get lots of outdoor time alone - mostly in the backyard, but they have moved to the front yard and driveway.

I want them to be a part of nature, to experiment and to learn. However, as other posters have mentioned, it takes the neighborhood to let it happen. I am about the only one in my neighborhood who let their kids outside, let alone in the front yard!

Green Bean said...

This is one of those things that I totally agree with - IN THEORY. I just can't put it into practice. I have a problem with kids out front by themselves totally unsupervised. And even more so when they are wandering to the park or riding around the block on their bikes.

I'm more worried about them getting hit by cars than being snatched. We live in a densely populated suburb of San Francisco. It is so densely populated, I'm not sure I would call it a suburb. I've had one of my boys almost hit by a car riding his scooter on the sidewalk. The car was pulling out of the driveway and didn't see him. Same thing happened to a girl on the next block over only that she was hit and she was killed. There are just so many cars coming and going that it really makes me nervous to have them out on their scooters/bikes unsupervised and they don't want to be out front any other way so . . .

Perhaps by the time they are 8, I'll feel more comfortable with that.

Anonymous said...

My daughter LOVES to play outside. We have let her play in the backyard, unsupervised, for long periods, for a year or year and a half (she is 7.5 now). She has a playhouse my husband built and builds fairy houses under it; a swing in the tree; and loves to run and jump herself and the dogs over obstacles in the yard. She and our neighbor are allowed to run back and forth between our houses unsupervised, although that makes my husband nervous - and we are just starting to allow them to play outside in the front alone together (the other girl is almost 9).

Can she run around the whole neighborhood? No. We have a lot of foot traffic, live in a fairly urban area (and though I try not to think about it, I know some registered sex offenders are surely in our area, given its urban-ness, not to mention the unregistered), and people drive fast on our street.

Still, we have had several discussions of what to do if someone approaches the girls, what to yell, how to fight back if anything happens. I believe knowledge is power.

We had a block party last year and the kids ran from house to house all night while the grownups talked and the street was closed off. It's a cherished memory of hers.

Shandy said...

I would be thrilled if my stepson would play outside, but I got him at eight and he had already been taught that the world is a dangerous place and staying inside cozied up with videogames is the route to happiness. It's a lesson I've found impossible to undo, particularly since that lack of outdoors time has seriously hampered him in the common sense department. Now, when he does want to go outside, I'm nervous because he seems so utterly clueless. I'm amazed that parents don't recognize the harm they're doing by ensuring that their children never learn basics like looking before crossing the street, because who crosses a street ON FOOT anymore, anyway--heaven forbid!

His mom continues to treat him like a precious little snowflake, even trying to convince him that he has asthma (he doesn't) so she can keep him indoors. It's very frustrating, but his situation is hardly unique. I have no idea how many kids really live in our neighborhood because nobody goes outside, and we live in Florida! It's doubly a shame because stepson has so few chances to meet kids when he's at our house. If they were outside, at least we'd know where to find them.

I also think the idea that letting your kids run around outside and take care of themselves for a few hours means that "you don't care as much" as those parents who keep their kids coddled inside, I call shenanigans. Raising fools that can't take care of themselves or cope with the basics of the world outside the house is not caring and it certainly isn't parenting, in my opinion.

Carpe Diem said...

I think it is very important for kids to have some freedom to explore and handle some situations on their own. That is how we learn - from experiences. How are our children going to be able to cope later in life if they have never been able to deal with things from a young age.

It important that we know where they are and who with for safety reasons, but they do need time on their own without the hovering parents.

I like this quote from Greenpa:
"Children used to have their own culture- literally. They had games and jokes that adults didn't know (or had forgotten) taught to them by other children. A fabulous area for anthropological investigation."

When my kids were in elementary school, the school actually brought in people to teach the kids hopscotch, jump rope games, marbles etc, because the kids were so bored during recess and were not able to entertain themselves!
I found that very sad!

Angela said...

This is a concept that my husband and I struggle with constantly.

It has helped that we are very clear on our objective. We want our son to be as close to a "fully functioning adult at 18" as we can manage. That means that a lot of boundaries were set from ages 0-5 but we have required more responsibility as the young one works through his teenage years.

That being said, I'm still more protective of him than my parents were of me. And I am OFTEN nervous! But we do want him to make his big mistakes as early as possible so that we can work through them with him. And while we can still bail him out of jail if need be! :)

We do get a lot of "feedback" from the extended family on this choice. But raising a child is one of the most obvious expressions of personal values. Disagreement is par for the course, no matter what....

Carla said...

My kids don't have as much freedom as I did when I was a kid, but, compared to others, they have quite a bit. We ran all day, every day, until the street lights came on. How many of us remember that rule? I mentioned recently spending hours a day in a state park about 1/2 mile from our house when I was a kid. My Dad looked at me and said "Really?" Our parents had no clue what we were doing as kids.
We live in a small town with one major street. My kids (11, 8, and 6) know they are not allowed near that street, but the older two roam the neighborhood behind our house. Racing bikes in the church parking lot, playing in the creek, going between their friends houses. My 6 yr old is only allowed to go as far as the church parking lot behind our house and two houses down to her friend. So while I would say they don't have quite as much freedom as I had as a kid, they more than most. I have been reading "Last Child in the Woods". It is a real eye opener.

Anonymous said...

My two are still preschooler so they get a lot of supervision when outside. Like Rosa, I had quite a bit of freedom as a small child until the attempted kidnapping of a child in our neighborhood.

Considering that we live close to an interstate and periodically have vagrants, it will probably be a long while before my children are allowed to play outside without supervision. However, I try not to be obvious about watching them. While they play, I'm "busy" hanging laundry, gardening, training the dog, etc. They are free to explore the fenced quarter acre without micro management. Unfortunately due to a lack of sidewalks and a major road (45 mph) between our neighborhood and the school, they will probably never have the joy of walking to school even though it is about four blocks away. Heck, as an adult, I would be hesitant to cross that road on foot.


Anonymous said...

I wish I could let my kids run amuck. We live in a small town in Maine and there are 11 people on the "molester list". One of them lives right on Main Street and sits in his car watching all day. So where my kids go I go.

Unknown said...

Great topic Crunchy.

I have 7 y/o twins and a 3 y/o. I do let them play unsupervised in our yard. They know the boundaries and one of the older boys must be out when my youngest is out. I will say that my kids are not street smart. Meaning that they think nothing of crossing a street w/o looking. We are working on this one. Part of the reason is that my older ones still haven't figured out the bike riding thing...motor skill issues. Anyway, my concern for them playing in the whole neighborhood like I used to do, would be the chance of them getting hit by a car.

We live less than a half mile from the kids school and if there were a crossing guard, I'd let them all walk alone. The school has a policy that they will not let a child under the 6th grade walk home alone. In order for my kids to walk home, I have to go and sign them out and walk them home. This policy makes no sense to me. When I was in the 5th grade, I was a crossing guard. Heck I walked or rode my bike across town to school. I was, of course, too cool for the bus.

Strange how society has changed so much in just a generation.

mudnessa said...

I don't have kids but there are a lot in my apartment complex and they go running and screaming all around and seem to have so much fun, but the guy that use to live downstairs gave me a real creepy vibe and the kids would go in there and play with him all the time and the parent had no idea where there kids were. One grandma did get very mad at her kid for being there when she did come and look for him, he was not suppose to go into anyone place, but did anyways.

I use to run around my neighborhood and if there were kids in the area now I would be very wary of letting them run where we did, the places look creepy to me now, but I do tend to be a worrier.

I spent a few summers in Vermont and would go out into the woods for hours upon hours, it was great and I think every kid should experience some sort of freedom like that, to just go off and do what they want, I would look for salamanders and toads and bugs and my brother would whack down all the plant he could find. It was great fun.

Mama Kautz said...

my kids have a ton of freedom....within our 5 acres in a rural town of about 300 people. We lived in a subdivision for 13 long months and HATED was NOTHING like the neighborhoods in the 70's when we were little. I was always scared they were going to get snatched.
Ask my 16 year old how much freedom he has though.....not allowed to drive yet because of the as long as they stay on our property they can do what they want....

Farmer's Daughter said...

Since I don't have children, I'll comment on my own childhood. We were outside all the time, at all times of the year, and a lot of that time we were unsupervised. However, we lived on a big farm and never left it, and didn't play with other kids, just my brothers and cousins. And we always had chores to do. For example, we'd have to go collect maple sap from the tapped trees after school during sugaring season. We'd get up early to pick in the garden. We'd go to work at the farm market. In fact, there were a lot of times that I was left alone to run the farm market starting around when I was 13 or 14. Family was always close by, but being responsible was a part of our lives. We drove tractors, quads, etc. and took care of animals on our own. However, we always knew our boundaries. We couldn't go on the pond unless my grandfather had given us the okay to skate. We couldn't go somewhere without telling my mom. I guess my parents were lucky that we were pretty obedient kids. But it seemed that whenever we did something wrong, someone from my family saw and we got in trouble, so maybe we were more supervised than I thought we were. For example, once my brother "peeled out" in the gravel on his quad. My grandfather saw him and made him rake all the gravel on that area of the farm. He never did that again!

As far as kids today go, if I had a big piece of property that I knew kids would be safe there, I'd happily let mine run around free. However, at my home, even on a dead end road, I wouldn't want them to leave the yard. I'm not used to living around people and I don't trust all of my neighbors. Fortunately, my family still has the farm so I can always drop my kids off there, haha!

Live/Love/Life said...

Unfortunately my kids don't have as much freedom.
I am probably to blame.
Well myself and the media.
I think there was absolutely as much crime and victimization back then as there is now/we just hear of it more often. It is very sad when you can't trust those (neighbors) around you.

Elizabeth said...

No kids here yet, either, so I'll comment on my own not-so-distant childhood, too (I'm 26).
I grew up in a small town in NC, and had the run of the neighborhood. We had neighbors on one side of the house, woods on two other sides, and a soybean field out front, so there wasn't too much danger. I was allowed to walk or ride my bike to my friend's house at the end of our dirt road at 6 years old. I also spent a lot of time in the woods by myself or with my dog, Toby. When I was in 6th grade I was hit by a car while riding my bike (it was very much my fault), but I don't remember it really fazing my parents. They didn't shrink my range. I got stitches and was scared enough to pay much better attention when riding my bike from then on.
I desperately hope I'll be able to give my possible future children a childhood full of forests and poison ivy and turtle-catching and bug bites. And yes, maybe even the occasional stitch or two.

Anonymous said...

I grew up free range!

Hippy mom= free range kids.

We lived in three basic situations when I was a kid (Marine bases, low-middle income neighborhoods or my Grandparents' ranch). The rule was simple. Go out and play, be home when the street lights or ranch lights went on.

Smidgeon is fairly free range, being a farm kid. She's only 4 so there's a limit, but I toss her outside with the dog when I need to and just keep an ear open for screams of agony rather than screams of joy.

A little slap dash, but she loves it.

On the other hand I studied to be a forensic anthropologist for a while and learned a lot about molesters,serial killers, etc. I'm the parent who looks sharply at the nice guy talking to the kids by the ice cream truck rather than the lurker in a fedora.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting post Crunch!
I grew up free range inter-city, by virtue of a free range mom and her being a single working parent my brother and I relied allot on each other and also learned allot. It was not always safe but because we were raised in this environment we were always alert and took care of each other.
I have three children (7, 5 and 2) we live in the city but not the 'inner-city'. All three of my kids are ‘city trained’ (always stop when the sidewalk ends, look both ways, never cross w/o an adult, know how to ride a bus and how to hail a taxi), I have to say most of this was due to my mom who when providing free child care and respite would/still does take the kids ‘out’. The funny thing is my hippie grandchild crazy mom has few rules so the fact that she is super strict about the kids being street safe makes them listen.
All of this being said… I let the kids play in the back fenced yard when ever they want, going with the screaming/no sound at all checking method. I let my 7 year old ride his bike around the block by him self starting last summer. But none of this is the unsupervised outside time I think we are all referring to from our childhood (in or out of city). I do let them range free in a large parks but I don’t think that’s the same either. None of this is the fort building, group bonding, forever friend making and breaking kind of imaginative play that I think the great outdoors can inspire. We travel quite a bit with our children both in the country and out and I am always very interested in the different dynamics of children and parents/caregivers in other especially in other countries.
Because I am very secure with my kid’s knowledge of the end of the sidewalk I think nothing of them running full blast till five feet from the end, knowing they will stop on a dime, but it unnerves even the most seasoned of my neighbors. I get comments about letting my about letting my kids ‘run too far ahead’ and I know other parents who have gotten grief for letting their kids walk to school alone for less than one block. We all have to be comfortable with our own choices in order to make the other voices bled into the background.
Frequently I see a bike train of kids riding to school by my house, my guess is it’s like a walking school bus concept but on bikes. I don’t know the kids or parents but every time I see them I am proud of them. I have heard them working out problems together (one kid is late when they get to his meeting corner, what should they do) and I have seen them watch out for each other on the road/sidewalks.
Getting everyone thinking is the best part!

Anonymous said...

Keeping children safe thoughts from Pam Coronado a psychic investigator that deals with missing children cases. She knows facts and myths about keeping children safe and our fears.

Also, read her collaborative book: KID SAFE... How to make kids smart and safe with their innate minds.

mechiko said...

I always thought that nothing would ever happen in MY town... and then on the news last month a 13 year old girl was walking home and was grabbed into a van and raped. Thankfully she made it back home, but it really is scary. I played in the woods far away from our house all day every day when I was growing up, but then again I lived in remote rural Alaska with 8 houses and a float plane dock...

Gretchen said...

I think, YES the world is more dangerous. I think freedom of thought has reached an apex and has now boiled over into a dangerous area. People are free to think whatever they like, including but not limited to: I desire chilren for sexual partners. I can manipulate people in any way I want to, if they are gullible enough to fall for it. Etc.

So, parents need to watch out for pedophiles/kidnappers/etc. In rural MO there was a boy stolen last year (13 years old) after getting off the bus. You'd think 13 is a safe age, wouldn't ya? And this was in a very rural country-ish area.

There are just a few people in the world that ruin it for everyone else. It sucks.

Anonymous said...

Our daughters a bit older now but when she was younger she roamed the trailer court with other kids her age, walked to school mostly by herself, played in the woods edge by house. the trailer court had nice big lots so you could put up swings, plahouses or small gardens. They also had a few well built playgrounds. Often she would go to the school lunch program on her own at the school during summer.

When we moved into county she still had some free range area. Lots of acerage to roam and play. Never thought twice to letting her sleep outside in her tent all summer, or ride her bike around. She walked honme the mile from the busstop even in the coldset, wettest days. Unless there was a seriously dangerous windchill going which only happened a couple times in 6 years. In crappy weather other kids getting dropped off by us would get ride ad they thought we were weird for not picking her up on those days. I think it made her a better person.

I grew up pretty much running seriously wild. Grew up living in a house on waters edge. We were all taught to swim early on. My dad worked alot and my mom could not swim. But we were allowed to swim with supervision when we were younger and by 8 we were allowed to go by ourselves w/out as long as we asked. I spent countless hours roaming the woods, building tree houses, biking and generally just being anywhere but home. In the winter we skated on a shoveled rink, built snowforts, played hockey and were outside pretty much all day. Even in really cold weather.

When we first moved back into county my husband would flip out everytime I let our daughter run free range. Most times I had no clue where she was on property. She learned quick to stay close when dad was home and roam when he wasn't. She never broke a bone or ended up in hosipital with an injury like he alwys said she would.

She checks in more now that she is going to Community College in town than when she was young. My biggest worry in her life is when she actually goes to college out of town and lives either in dorm or apartment. the amount of crime of all kinds is pretty high on campuses. Much of it goes unreported to college security or gets under reported to public in general. I lived on campus and worked for dorm director and learned from there the amount of stuff that was going on. Had my parents known the exent I'm sure they would have pulled me out of school and had me right at home again.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if the world is more dangerous... or if we are finally aware of how dangerous! THOUSANDS of kids go missing every year. I think even hundreds of thousands. These statistics are easily found, if you wanted to find it.

In myneighborhood, a downtown neighborhood, I live where manyprofessional people want to live- lawyers, local politicians, doctors (because we have four hospitals literally up the street), but since we live down town, we get homeless people wandering down our street, and sometimes we have people who drive down our street looking for someone outside (putting out garbage, gardening, or in my case last week, putting something in my car) they stop, ask for directions, make smalltalk,then tellyou aboutsome tragedy,and they need gas money and could I help them at all. I fell for it once. They say the worst danger comes from someone that kids think are friends of yours, so check out the sexual offender/predator alert for your state and they can tell you who in your neighborhood has been convicted of one of these crimes. You would be surprised.

We live in a really nice neighborhood, but I would say it may not be as safe as my friends who live in the gated nearby (with aneven higher price tag attached.)

Sweetpeas said...

I grew up on 50 acres in the middle of nowhere, so we had free range on our land, though not many playmates except each other. We are now living on 200 acres (in town, actually (long story) but it SEEMS like we're in the middle of nowhere since we're in the middle of the 200 acres. And nobody driving by on the main roads would have any idea our house existed.

So yes, thanks to our location, we are able to give our kids the same freedom to roam outside that I had as a kid, and actually more, since I went to school so was gone a good part of the day most of the year, whereas we homeschool so the kids get free time outside every day (if they want, if it's cold & not snowy they tend to prefer to stay inside).

Wendy said...

I grew up in a very secluded suburban area in a neighborhood with lots of other children and no "major" roads (only the "neighborhood" roads). We had the full run of the neighborhood, the nearby park and wooded area surrounding the houses. There was also a country club about a mile away, and most of us, who lived in my neighborhood and went there to swim in the summer, walked there. I spent the entire summer (except when it got too hot - about 105° in the shade ;) outside.

I don't live in as protected an area anymore. My children are allowed to go outside, at will, and they play in my yard and in the brook behind my house. Most of the land near my house is privately owned (and much of it fenced), and I don't want them in someone else's yard, which is why they don't have as wide a range as I had.

I think giving them that freedom is what will protect them against the things we parents worry about - specifically, "predators", and I don't mean the four-legged kind. There is significant evidence to suggest that children who are self-assured are less likely to be targeted, because they are most likely to tell someone. My children are nothing if not "self-assured" :). The fact that I know most of my neighbors also helps to ease my concerns for my children's safety ;).

Anonymous said...

No my kids do not have anywhere near the amount of freedom I had as a kid. Or at least my youngest doesn't. Not because I fear abduction or a horrible tragedy, but because when accidents happen today parents get investigated for neglect.
We don't allow bruised knees, broken arms, or stitches anymore without serious investigations.
My kids are 10 years apart and I have seen major changes in those 10 years. When my son decided to climb on the edge of a toy box and leap off and cut his head on a corner table at an aunts house while I was at work, we took him to the hospital and the stitched him up. They had an assembly line of boys getting stitches that day. I wonder if it was because it was super bowl weekend...
10 years later and I end up with CPS on my door step because my 4 year old has bruises on her knees from running and falling down a lot. Supposedly she was attacked by my german shepherd. The CPS officer was rather stunned when I laughed at her when she told me why she was there. Personally I think that if a full grown german shepherd attacked a 4 year old, that damage worse than bruised knees would be involved.

But in those 10 years we went from expecting kids to have minor spills to assuming that parents are neglecting their children or abusing them if they so much has have a bruise on their knee.

So yes, I think these kids would be healthier more competent adults if they could roam free like we did. But it is so socially unacceptable now, that their parents would likely end up loosing custody due to neglect if they did.

eM said...

in the mid 60's, when I was four, I regularly walked half a block and around the corner of our San Francisco neighborhood to the grocery store. on the way I would stop at the chinese restaurant for a complimentary cookie and then if the "big kids" (i.e. middle schoolers probably cutting school) were hanging in the laundromat, they'd 'give me a ride" in the huge dryer... then I'd pick up the half gallon of milk and pound of ground meat and have change from the dollar for a candy bar or popsicle. FOUR!! I checked this memory with my mom, and she said yes, I was four.
would I allow my child this freedom? no.

knutty knitter said...

We have free range kids. As they age they can go further. So far we have reached both nearby parks and the local school grounds which are extensive, open and green. All I ask is that they tell me where they are going to be and that they come back for lunch and tea. They also have to stay together and have long since been taught about dos and don'ts as they have been walking home from school since they were 5 and 7. We spent several weeks teaching them the route and how to deal with roads and each week I picked them up a block further away until they had the whole distance including the bus trip learned. I now know that they could get themselves home from almost anywhere and they have bus cards in their pockets. They also learned stranger danger and a series of safe points along the way. (We do live in a pretty safe city where large numbers of kids do still walk.)

They have pretty much the same freedoms we had and yes..of course I worry about them, but that is my problem, not theirs. I did look up some statistics and discovered that the streets are actually safer than they were so traffic awareness was really our major concern. That got drummed in from the time they could walk.

viv in nz

Anonymous said...

they don't have free run of our neighborhood, but they have free run of our property. when we last moved, we were unable to find a home to buy that had a yard that was suitable, so we decided to rent. when we looked at rentals, we found we could either choose a house that was sized appropriate for our family but that had a tiny yard or the opposite, a tiny house and huge yard.

we decided on a 1000sf rental that sits on a half acre (and we're a family of six). we were "upgrading" from 650sf (for five of us), so the 1000sf originally felt luxurious. we've filled it to the brim, but the yard is what keeps us here. it is fully secure and visible from almost all of the house, but allows our young children time to roam and be kids. they get a little too adventurous climbing on the playhouse and in the trees and i didn't get to eat a single apple from the young apple tree last year because they spent afternoons eating themselves sick with apples, but it's been worth it.

one trade-off: when we moved from a larger city to a more rural area, we had to give up almost all of our walking and instead drive almost everywhere.

the little travelers said...

What drives me nuts about this topic is that people are very happy to keep their children indoors playing video games and watching TV because ONE child in their town was kidnapped. Of course it's a tragedy, but far more tragic is the the MILLIONS of children whose brains are becoming mush from all the screen time. Research has confirmed for years now the dangers of screen time on the developing brain -not to mention the obesity factor- but people will take those options over the very slim chance of abduction. it's nuts!!! over 2 MILLION americans weigh over 500 lbs! Talk about dangerous! Statistically speaking it is WAY more dangerous for a kid to stay indoors than out!

Mine are free-rangers all the way! While living in Japan they would go to the neighborhood park with all the other kids from the neighborhood at ages 3 and 5. They are now 7 and 9 free range homeschoolers that tend to spend many hours a day on top of the monkey bars on the other side of a chain-link fenced in public school. It drives the yard duty ladies nuts! hahaha.

Anonymous said...

I don't think there are more bad people out there. I actually think there are fewer - remember that most kids are and always have been victimized at home, and when I was a little kid they didn't have offender registries (hell, the Boy Scouts and the Catholic Church and god knows who else were still quietly pretending they could just be reassigned and all would be well.)

But when more kids were free range, they had each other to call on for help. They had near-age siblings and aunts and uncles (in big families, there is a lot of generational overlap) and the friends and school mates of relatives, or the relatives of friends and schoolmates.

You don't change this trend by putting one kid out in the yard by themselves. It has to be a general shift in attitudes...and as long as we have this fear and control-based culture that says danger is everywhere and Mom can thwart it, it won't change.

(p.s. we weren't allowed to run free in our suburb, we all had to have buddies to walk home with and we got warnings over the school intercom sometimes if a van with no windows was seen in the neighborhood...but I was allowed to free range in my grandparents neighborhood, where we did things like play kick the can and show each other our private parts. You don't get to choose what your kids do with their freedom, when you give it to them.)

Anonymous said...

I raised two Free Range Children that played outside, walked up the street alone, rode their bikes to school and lived to tell.

We were the freaks of the neighborhood, sure, but we were happy.

Fear is in the eye of the beholder.