ControverSunday: To protect or not to protect

Welcome to ControverSunday all!

First off, I have to tell you all that Amber over at wrote a great post earlier this week, that while she didn’t brand official as ControverSunday (though she is welcome to), is on exactly our topic this week. So check it out.

Okay, here is the low down. Everyone is welcome to join. Just write up a post re: protection versus acceptable risk (see the topic post for more details). Grab your handy dandy badge from Accidents. And come back here to put your link in the comments so I can link you up in the post. And you can do that today, tomorrow or whenever this week.


Ramble Ramble

Altered Sky

You know that parent at the playground who is letting their kid climb to what seems to be heights inappropriate for the age of the child? That’s me. (Wave and say hello when you see me).

That’s probably not totally true. Maybe some days more then others. My husband is likely to let Audrey climb even higher. But I still feel like I am more willing to let Audrey try things she may not be ready for on the playground then others.

Maybe I am paranoid, but sometimes I think I see a look in the other parents eyes that either they think I am being neglectful and not caring, or I am being reckless and don’t know what I am doing. Truth be told, as much as I would like to be more confident in my parenting, when I see those looks I tend to give in and hover a bit more closely.

But it is not just because of the looks I get from others. I find myself constantly battling two parental instincts. One is to let Audrey explore, make mistakes and learn, and the other is to keep her safe. You see, I think we have two main jobs as parents: keeping our kids healthy/providing for their needs and teaching them to not need us. And I think those two things often come into conflict; at least for me they do.

I am all for reasonable safety measures. There is no need to be reckless. Car Seats, not leaving kids unattended in the bath tub, holding hands while crossing the road, knowing where my child is; these are all good things. I appreciate how things have changed in the last 50 years (at least based on my unscientific observations about parenting in the 1960’s via Mad Men). We have done a lot of things to keep kids safer. Safer cars, homes, schools, playgrounds. Warning labels, less chocking hazards and guidelines. We ‘baby proof’ our homes.

But I think it has gone too far. (Maybe not with the peanut ban in schools; I hear the critiques of my last post that why should one kid be at serious risk so a few others can have their favorite sandwich.) But I do think we don’t give our kids the opportunity to learn, explore and build confidence because we are so afraid to keep them on anything but a short rope. We don’t just try and protect them from physical harm, we try to protect them from any emotional struggles. We try to protect them from the feeling of someone not liking them, or not be included, or not getting an A. Normal things that happen to us emotionally throughout our lives that we need to experience.

One good example is toddler play areas. My instinct is to step back and let Audrey do her thing. But I see other parents hovering around their kids and apologizing to me when their kid touches mine. Or plays in the same space as her. Or reaches for the same toy. Or whatever. Really? Why?

We spend a lot of our time at outdoor parks where, more often then not, sadly, we are the only ones there. We go to the indoor play areas for Audrey to be able to interact with other kids. And my feeling is that we should step back and let them interact and learn about socializing. That means not stepping in unless someone is at risk for actually getting hurt. (And I don’t mean ‘hurt’ like when a toddler pats an other toddler a little to hard. I mean actual hurt- like enough to leave a mark.)

I don’t care if your kid hits mine. Or if they fight over a toy. Or if they have to, I don’t know, actually work something out themselves. I want her to learn about interacting with others. Certainly I would step in if I saw her being unkind to an other child and explain that it is not nice behaviour. But the line at which we step in needs to move back a bit, in my opinion.

And I know this is just the beginning. The beginning of seeing that stereotypical ‘hellicopter parent’. I don’t want to be that parent. I would rather my kid skin her knee riding a bike on her own then have me right there all the time making sure she doesn’t fall.

Would I take my school aged kid to the park and leave them there for the day, a la Free Range parenting? Hells Yes.

Would I let my middle school aged kid take public transit to school? Hells Yes.

Would I let my teenager walk through the ‘bad part of town’? Hells Yes.

Our kids need to learn how to protect themselves. How are they to do that when we suffocate them with rules and over protection?

I don’t know. It is not a black and white subject for me. It is all shades of gray. I want to keep my kid safe, for sure. But when I see the confidence in her eyes when she does something that I wasn’t sure I should ‘let’ her try to do, Wow. She knows she can accomplish something, even if it is difficult.

I just wish we weren’t so afraid. We hear all these awful things that happen in the news and we panic. We don’t want our kids to eat Halloween candy for fear of poising. Even though every year there is a ‘feature story’ on the news about how poison in Halloween candy is pretty much a myth; the only kids to ever be poisoned that way were poisoned by a family member or family friend. Tragic, none the less. But not the same. We are worries about our kids being kidnapped. Which does tragically happen. But again, usually by someone the kid knows, not a stranger. Is our kid really any safer if we drive them to school every day instead of letting them walk?

You see, you can’t stop every possible bad thing for happening. You can try to take measures to keep kids safe, like car seats and teaching them about strangers. But you can’t keep them in a bubble. Nor should you. A child who is sheltered and protected their whole life.. they struggle as an adult, because they don’t know how to make good choices. They don’t know how to assess risk.

It sucks being a parent with all these topics of internal conflict. It sucks. And I can certainly understand that we have different tolerances for different amounts or types of risk. But I also think we have to keep our eye on the goal; a kid who is confident, makes good decisions, knows they can get back up again when they fall down. One that can assess a situation and figure out for themselves if it is safe. And one that knows that their parents will always be there when they need them, but that doesn’t really need them.


39 responses to “ControverSunday: To protect or not to protect

  1. Cheryl September 12, 2010 at 9:25 am

    This is a hard one for me. I do let B play freely at the park or indoors but I am already the mom who’s nervous about her kid riding a bus. I know, he’s not yet 3 and I already think about that! Mostly because I have a bit of a complex about getting lost, so I am putting a worry of mine onto him. Not good.
    It’s funny even to me that I’d worry that way, when I desperately don’t want to become a helicopter parent. Where is the middle ground for me? Would I let him walk to school? Sure. I see two kids walk by my house to and from school every day. They look fine to me!
    I think it’s perfectly acceptable to stand back and let kids do their thing on playgrounds. I think it’s unfortunate, though, that the playground tends to be a place where we sometimes parent differently for fear of the looks you mentioned.
    I struggle to stay on the right side of the line on this one sometimes and this will probably only get harder as B gets older and the risks to consider will be greater. I just hope I can police myself enough to recognize when he needs me to step back.

  2. Brooke September 12, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    I am definitely less protective than some parents, especially in the safety of my own back yard. But I will say that I HATE those indoor play spaces because too often the big kids unintentionally bully the younger ones, and my not-yet-2-year-old doesn’t have the emotional, social, or developmental maturity to successfully navigate those situations.

    I am also a rule follower, and I understand that companies make certain restrictions for their own liability. So it pisses me off when parents don’t make kids follow the rules (like not going head first down the slide). And I also get mad when the 7 year olds want to play in the toddler area. I’m not glaring because I think they need more protection. I’m glaring because I’m mad that my kid is following the rules that your (and by that I mean others) kid isn’t.

    • Cheryl September 12, 2010 at 12:48 pm

      I am with you Brooke! An indoor play place isn’t a babysitter, kids still need direction! And, yes, following rules shouldn’t be only for certain kids.

  3. Briana September 12, 2010 at 2:27 pm

    My father-in-law is full of tales of near-death experiences from his childhood, and he relishes every one. Not to say he and his brother were left unscarred. In fact, my father-in-law’s brother lost a finger when FIL not-so-accidentally charged him with an pushmower when they were kids. Today I heard a story about how FIL and his brother would make a kind of playdough out of asbestos. Yes, ASBESTOS. They apparently also tweaked the formula to make a kind of papier mache, out of which they made masks. They smeared asbestos all over each other’s faces until it dried and then peeled it off to make those masks. Apparently the activity was such a hit that ALL the neighbourhood children came over to get their asbestos masks too. He also regularly bicycled from New Westminster to Boundary Bay as an older boy, walked all over Metro Van and regularly went scavenging for parts for his creative projects in the local junkyard.

    Not to say that this means we should start giving our preschoolers asbestos to play with, but it is clear that a lot of the fun in his childhood would never be allowed today, and as dangerous as it was, he turned out just fine.

    That said, I am only just starting to feel comfortable letting Wesley climb the tallest playground structures without spotting him. I am a worrier!

    • Brooke September 13, 2010 at 7:32 am

      And because of asbestos it is likely that my dad and uncle have blood disorders (Non-hodgkin’s lymphoma and Aplastic anemia) that nearly killed them. My biggest problem with idealizing the past is that we forget that there were VERY real dangers with some of the things they did. For example, car seats and placement in the back seat has saved hundreds-thousands of lives a year.

      • Alan September 13, 2010 at 7:30 pm

        Couldn’t agree more, Brooke! This is spot on.

      • Briana September 15, 2010 at 8:08 pm

        For what it’s worth, I didn’t mean that I’d be mixing up any asbestos playdough for my kids! Today we obsess about everything … and then obsess a little more, and all that worrying only makes us feel less safe, not more.

  4. Perpetua September 12, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    You know, I don’t think I would have guess this about you! Especially the part about letting your teen walk through the bad parts of town. 🙂 I am probably toward the extreme other end of the spectrum on this, though again, I really feel like this is a “to each his/her own” topic. Obviously we have to take command if our kid is biting another kid or something (which, at this age, we have to solve for them since they can’t “work it out” on their own), but for the most part I feel like the way we hover–or don’t–has everything to do with how we comfortable we feel.

    • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 6:25 am

      I hear you all. I do think this is a tricky topic. Couple thoughts though.

      Perpetual- Living in Canada, our bad part of town is probably pretty different from the bad part of town in many American cities.

      Brooke- I hear ya on the rules; I am a rule follower too. And I agree those play areas shouldn’t be baby sitters.

      All- I have to say I disagree with the sentiment that toddlers aren’t able to work things out on their own/ handle thing. Obviously our role as parents is to give boundaries, including treating other kids nicely. But I think they are more capable in handling social conflict then we give them credit for. I think we need sometimes to give them the chance to resolve it on their own.

      • Alan September 13, 2010 at 7:21 am

        My sister is Canadian, and lives in Vancouver BC. The bad part of that town looks fairly bad to me!

      • Brooke September 13, 2010 at 7:33 am

        I mean that my 2 year old doesn’t have the same communication skills or size to navigate a 7 year old mauling him.

      • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm

        Fair enough. I was thinking a 2 year old dealing with a 3 or 4 year old.

      • Perpetua September 16, 2010 at 4:08 am

        I’m really not sure. To be fair, E doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to interact with other kids. But on the occasions when he has, I know he can be hurt, or scared, but I’ve never seen him do the toddler equivalent of apologizing or stopping an action because it is hurting/annoying someone else. E is also 17 months; it would probably be a lot different 6 months from now.

  5. Alan September 13, 2010 at 7:26 am

    Personally, when I tend to read the ever-so-snarky term “helicopter parenting”, I always think it’s someone who is defensive about the fact that their own parenting isn’t or wasn’t as involved or protective of their children as that of the people they are sneering at. I think for the most part this development in society is a good thing.

    Coincidentally, our oldest (ten years old, will be eleven in January) just stayed home on his own yesterday for the first time. But it was only for an hour, and we made sure he had one of our cell phones (we don’t have a landline) and checked in with him. I still wouldn’t let him wander around the city streets without supervision, even though I did so starting when I was eight.

    • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      I apologize, my term ‘helicopter parent’ may not have been the best choices of words. I meant no offense.

      But you know, I think there is a lot of defensive reactions that goes on when people start discussing parenting. I think we are all guilty of this sometimes. After all, parenting is hard, no one is perfect and I think most of us can be pretty sensitive (and therefore defensive) when it comes to how we parent. We are all just trying to do the best we can. And the idea that someone else thinks their way is better can be an uncomfortable thought.

      That being said, I really have to disagree with the assumption that anyone who challenges the level to which we protect our children is doing so out of defensiveness. We can disagree on this topic, and I can respect your opinion. But please don’t assume my opinion must come from a place of guilt over my own choices just because you disagree.

      • Alan September 13, 2010 at 7:41 pm

        Kathleen, no need to apologise. We’re having a debate, after all; and in the process we are (at least implicitly) criticising each other’s parenting style.

        I was opining about the general motivation for people to use that “helicopter parenting” term, not about your specific use of it. Still, I don’t see why it’s such a reach for me to see defensiveness in your attitude about this. Didn’t you say you change your behaviour vis-a-vis parenting and protectiveness because of your perception of the disapprobation of other parents around you?

      • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 9:03 pm

        To answer your question, yes I did say that I change my behaviour sometimes because seeing how others parent (as well as fear of judgment, as much as I wish that wasn’t the case) can make me question my own choices. I can certainly admit that I am not always 100% confident all the time about every parenting decision I make. And sure, there are times that I may shift my view out of some defensiveness. I am pretty open about the fact I am human.

        My issue is that you seemed to dismiss the whole assertion that there are overprotective (AKA ‘helicopter’ parents) by attributing the opinion to guilt over a lack of involvement and protection of ones children. It just bothers me that instead of just discussing what our opinions are and why we believe them we feel the need to discredit a differing opinion in that way. Dislike the term, sure. But attribute the use of the term to defensiveness is making an assumption about an others feelings and motives that you just can’t know. It seems like a tactic to win an argument, not a sharing of thoughts in a discussion. Furthermore, based on your last comment it seems that you agree that some are overprotective. So if we both agree that parents can be over protective in some circumstances then we really don’t disagree all that much, do we? We may disagree on which circumstances are over protection and which aren’t, and we can discuss those if you’d like. But again, it feels as if this is going in the direction of argument for the sake of argument, where we really aren’t seeking to understand each others perspectives any further, we are just picking each other apart. My goal here is to share, listen, consider, understand and learn.

      • Alan September 13, 2010 at 9:11 pm

        Huh, I thought you were making a provocative post about how most parents have the protectiveness dialled up too high. It’s even called “ControverSunday”! So why do you seem dismayed that it has in fact become a controversy? Wasn’t that the whole idea?

      • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 9:15 pm

        Actually, that is the fun and ironic part about ControverSunday. It was started to try to show that parents can share their thoughts and opinions on the typically controversial issues without it turning into a full out controversy/debate. That we could approach it from the basis of respecting each others differing opinions and learn from each others perspectives. Was my post provocative? Perhaps. It was reflective on my honest opinion. But the whole idea is to start a discussion, because I care and am interested to hear what other people have to say on the issue.

  6. clara September 13, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    The bad part of town is wherever bad shit is likely to happen to you. IE: anywhere. In Vancouver it’s far less likely that you’ll be hurt in the downtown eastside (which I think is probably the neighbourhood Alan is referring to) than that you’ll be run over by an SUV in Kitsilano because the driver can’t see you.


    I think so much of what we consider dangerous is based on personal comfort levels and/or the abilities of our kids (which is different from kid to kid and not age related, necessarily) that I couldn’t formulate my own post on this.

    I agree with your take, Kathleen. My goal with my kids is to make them able to use their judgment appropriately. I was very overprotected as a teen and I had some very dangerous encounters as a young adult, after moving out on my own. I was ignorant and very lucky. I want my kids to be at least smarter than me when it comes to personal safety and that includes talking honestly with them about sex, drugs, alcohol, bikers and when to steal someone’s cigarettes off the table at the bar (never!)

    • amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 6:28 pm

      I so agree re: ‘the bad part of town’ and Vancouver in particular. The Downtown East Side may look bad, but I think walking through it in the light of day is less risky then, lets say, jogging alone at night in a suburban trail with very few people around.

  7. amoment2think September 13, 2010 at 6:39 pm

    I feel the need to say (though I kinda think it goes without saying…) Obviously different people have different comfort levels with different types of risk. I may tell you that I would let my middle school aged kid take public transit on her own, but I probably wouldn’t let my teenager ride a motor cycle, for example. Motor cycles freak me out.

    And I am not, in this post saying, that if you don’t let your kid do all of A or B or C or D that they will grow up without confidence and unable to make good decisions. I am just saying if you don’t let your kid do any of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J ect., ect. (you get the picture) they may still be able to make good decisions, but they are going to have less practice making their own decisions by the time they are ‘on their own’ then if you were to get them the opportunity to make their own mistakes doing some of A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, ect, ect,. But you are their parent and I am not, so obviously the only family for which I am qualified to make that choice is my own family.

    Somewhat late disclaimer over.

    • Brooke September 13, 2010 at 7:02 pm

      I also think our own experiences inform the things for which we are overprotective about. For example, I have an insane fear of fire, and I will always be a bit overbearing in that department as well as in leaving Kellen home alone.

      And Alan, I totally disagree with you (shocking, I know!) about the “helicopter parenting” term. I know parents who are so restrictive in their behavior and paranoia as to stifle their children. That’s what I perceive to be as helicopter behavior. For example, I know a parent whose daughter is close in age to K, and when they were little, she would lay a blanket on my carpet for her daughter to play on. I thought it was insane. 1) My house was brand new. 2) My son crawled on it all the time. 3) Germs are good. Likewise, my step-mom freaks out when I trust Kellen to play on our hillside. I watch him, but I also give him the freedom to play and problem solve (which I think it what Kathleen was getting at).

      • Alan September 13, 2010 at 8:45 pm


        Given your post about asbestos and car seats, we clearly don’t disagree as fundamentally as you might expect. And I do actually think some parents are overprotective. One area in particular where I differ with some parents is with babyproofing. Toddlers who live in a house babyproofed to the nth degree accompany their parents on a visit to a friend or relative, and become holy terrors, picking up objets d’art and throwing them (because at home, anything they can reach is safely throwable). We taught our crawlers and toddlers not to touch things that were on coffee tables and shelves, and they were much better behaved when visiting others’ homes as a result.

        Still, I’d have to hear more about your friend (frenemy?) before I’d agree she sounds overprotective, as I would take issue with the specific complaints you have in this post. To wit:

        1) My house was brand new.

        Mightn’t that be the problem? New carpet emits VOC (volatile organic compounds) that are among the culprits in “sick building syndrome”. TBH, I wouldn’t want my baby putting her face right down by that (I would never again live somewhere with carpet for a variety of reasons).

        2) My son crawled on it all the time.

        This, I reckon, is what’s got your nose out of joint: that she implicitly made it seem like her daughter was too good to crawl on the same floor your son did. And that’s understandable: her greatest error may have been one of etiquette. At the same time, I wouldn’t put my child in what I considered an unhealthy situation to avoid hurting another parent’s feelings; so it’s a sticky wicket all the way ’round.

        3) Germs are good.

        Germs are sometimes good (though honestly, given our struggle with Lyme disease I’m kinda surprised you would make this statement). Leaving aside germs, though, does everyone take off their shoes before entering your home? If they do not, they are tracking in some nasty carcinogens from walking on pavement (particularly if they do not bother to avoid stepping on the black spots in parking spaces and at intersections; I’m careful not to step on them but I think the vast majority of people are oblivious or don’t care). Those get wiped off nicely by the carpet–so their shoes are likely to be much cleaner when they leave, at the expense of your carpet.

  8. Brooke September 13, 2010 at 9:28 pm

    There is research that suggests early exposure to dirty environments actually strengthens the immune system. Lyme disease is transmitted through a tick bite, and I think it’s quite different than the common cold. And I let my kid eat dirt. And food that falls on the ground.

    I can assure you that the blanket thing wasn’t about the VOCs. And you are assuming that my house was built in such a way that didn’t limit the VOCs emitted. If it was a problem, putting the child in a pack and play would have been a safer way to minimize exposure. Or holding her.

    This is a family that tries to protect their children from every single danger, and I just don’t think that’s possible. Instead of setting limits and teaching their children about safety, they try to minimize every possible risk for them. That goes back to your point about babyproofing. I taught my son to correctly use the stairs at a very young age so that we didn’t have to rely on baby gates. Yet said friend was very uncomfortable with this. But I do secure my furniture to the wall because I have a climber, who despite my best intentions, could get very seriously hurt if it fell on him. I think it’s important to give him the space to learn (and make mistakes), but I also think it’s important to make sure that environment is relatively safe (says the mom whose son got stitches before age 2 by careening into a base board on a bed).

    • Briana September 15, 2010 at 8:15 pm

      Just a note on stairs, my son fell down our stairwell when he was about two. He had been steady on the stairs for some time, and I felt comfortable enough to remove the gate. Big mistake. I underestimated toddler impulsivity. Eager for a promised snack, he literally bolted from the upstairs room where we were both playing and pretty much threw himself down the stairs (I guess he couldn’t stop in time). He got bumped and a little bruised, but was otherwise OK. With my daughter, I plan to keep the baby gates up longer. Then again, my husband slipped and fell on the stairs the other day, so perhaps the moral should really be that shit happens.

  9. Ginger September 13, 2010 at 10:58 pm

    Well, I posted first and then read your post, and I should have just posted a big Ditto. I actually agree with almost everything you’ve said, both in the post and in the comments (I also agree with some of the commenters points as well, isn’t that always the way?). I’ll come back in the morning when my brain is working a little more to see if I can add to the conversation, but for, ditto.

  10. Lorry September 14, 2010 at 4:29 am

    Am I really the only one with a link so far? :O

  11. janetlansbury September 14, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    Kathleen, I love the late disclaimer. 🙂 I also agree with this wholeheartedly:
    “All- I have to say I disagree with the sentiment that toddlers aren’t able to work things out on their own/ handle things. Obviously our role as parents is to give boundaries, including treating other kids nicely. But I think they are more capable in handling social conflict then we give them credit for. I think we need sometimes to give them the chance to resolve it on their own.”

    I guess that beyond the obvious dangers, safety is a fairly subjective issue. Some of the situations everyone’s describing are things they’ve experienced, some are projections for the future. What I’ve noticed it that the more I learn about each of my 3 children, the more I can gauge what each individual can handle. Generally, I think we learn through trial and error when to hold the line and when to let go (although parenting sometimes feels like a gradual “letting go” ). Most of us have the goal of fostering a self-confident, independent person. Generally also, I think we tend to underestimate our children’s capabilities from infancy onward.

    Last night I went to my middle daughter’s high school orientation and heard speeches by the deans, etc. They kept saying things like, “We try to instill perseverence, tenacity, resilience, gumption…” And I kept thinking — babies are born with all of those things! We just have to believe it. We have to encourage them to endure some age-appropriate frustration; struggle with some problems rather than rushing to fix everything; make mistakes and learn from them. We have to constantly keep an eye out for what our children CAN DO on their own, and then sit on our hands, bite our tongues and stay out of the way.


  12. kelly @kellynaturally September 14, 2010 at 7:32 pm

    Interesting post!

    On your questions:

    >>Would I take my school aged kid to the park and leave them there for the day, a la Free Range parenting?

    My answer is definitely no. Then again, my kids are 3 & almost 6. And we live in NJ, which is the most densely populated state in the US, very close to what has repeatedly been voted the most dangerous city in the US – way to go NJ! I don’t think children need to be taken to a park & left to learn independence. Allowing them to ride a bike to the end of the block, while I’m on the front step is a bit of independence, age appropriate. Allowing them to go to the next aisle over the grocery store to grab something is a step towards independence, age appropriate. Going to school, swim lessons, drama class without me in the classroom, pool, or on stage? All age appropriate steps towards independence. Leaving them at a park? Why?

    Would I let my middle school aged kid take public transit to school?

    No. Primarily because seatbelts cannot be enforced, and secondarily, see answer my previous answer. High school age, yes.

    Would I let my teenager walk through the ‘bad part of town’?

    The bad part of Camden? or Philly? Not even *I* would. Neither would my husband. You said you’d advocate this because “Kids need to learn to protect themselves”? I’m wondering if our takes on this differ so much because of the areas where we live, but I believe the best way for children to learn to protect themselves from gun violence is to avoid areas where gun violence and other violent crime is rampant. Why invite tragedy?

    To protect themselves from school bullies? Sure. But that’s not walking through the bad part of town, that’s learning to stand up for yourself on the playground by being physically fit, playing sports, building self esteem over the long term by working through small setbacks, overcoming defeats, acheiving successes…
    not by being dropped into deep water & being told to swim.

    I absolutely agree with you that children need to experience things (like disappointment or setbacks) in order to develop the tools to successfully deal with them in the future. But certain things, like safety, I don’t see any reason to budge on. The fact is, there are foods, chemicals, places,people, that are not safe. It is my job as a parent to keep my children safe from these things – while teaching them WHY – and what to look for – and how to avoid them – so that they can make the right decisions about them in the future.

    • amoment2think September 14, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Kelly- I agree with your point that the reason we may differ on these specific points may have a lot to do with where we live. I agree there are some places in some cities where I wouldn’t be comfortable walking, let alone my kid. In my city or in Vancouver? It wouldn’t bother me. I can only speak to the places I know.

      In terms if the park, sure you don’t need to leave kids in a park in order for them to gain independence. But I remember spending whole afternoons in our nearby park as a kid and I think it is just as safe now as when I was a kid. I don’t believe the world, at least the tiny part I live in is more dangerous. But note that I said school aged kid, not a 3 year old.

      Regardless, my questions were examples, not the be all and end all.

      • kelly @kellynaturally September 15, 2010 at 9:00 am

        I know you can only speak about the places you know… and I can think back on where we lived in Maine, and had I answered those questions being still in those surroundings, my answers would likely be far different. I might even have agreed that things there were just as safe or even safer than they were 50 years ago.

        Which is all sad in a way.

        Because, there are wonderful things about NJ, and good parks in my town (pop 43+k), and great reasons to live to close to Philadelphia – I looked back over my post & think I presented a harsh picture. But still, there are realities to living near to a city, and my persepctive on childhood safety is definitely skewed by those realities. I wonder though, sometimes, and my husband & I have talked about this, how raising a child in that environment affects a child. We both grew up in this area. I took a transit bus into the city, alone, every day as a teenager to take art classes. Its hard to imagine myself being comfortable with that, but because I’d done it, that’s why I answered yes to my second question.

        I don’t know that the world is just as safe as it was. I believe there are greater dangers. But also greater safety measures, and awareness.

    • Alan September 14, 2010 at 8:36 pm

      Great post as per usual, Kelly! I’d say a good corollary to the old saying “better safe than sorry” is “better to err on the side of overprotecting rather than underprotecting”.

      Let’s say for the sake of argument that 99% of the kids who are “free range parented” suffer no serious negative consequences as a result of being parented this way. Let’s also stipulate, again for the sake of argument, that as long as they escape harm they also acquire some slight but significant benefits (intellectual/emotional/developmental) from these experiences (one could argue that they might have acquired other, different benefits from being parented with closer oversight, but for the sake of this thought experiment I’ll not pursue that line of argument). But the other one percent die (from a stabbing or gunshot wound, by being hit by a car, by falling from a roof or tree, by getting stuck somewhere like a drain pipe while exploring) or are seriously injured and/or sexually assaulted.

      The question here: is the modest benefit the unharmed “free range” kids acquire sufficient to compensate for that one percent chance of serious harm? If you dispute my one percent figure, let’s say it’s one-tenth of one percent (it’s hard I think to seriously argue it’s less than that). Is that a worthy tradeoff? Personally, I think not.

      Now I can anticipate the counterargument that says if we consider no risk small enough to be worth it, we’d have to never take our kids in a car (even strapped in car seats), never even let them go outside for that matter. So obviously there’s a tipping point somewhere along the way at which we limit our horizons and those of our kids too much and acquire only the tiniest reduction of danger in exchange. But my judgment, and that of most parents, is that leaving preteen kids unsupervised in a park all day (without even being able to know they’ve stayed in the park) is well on the “unacceptable risk” side of that tipping point.

      • Briana September 15, 2010 at 8:30 pm

        As it happens, I’m reading Free Range Kids right now. According to the book’s stats (from the National Centre of Missing and Exploited Children), the risk of your child being abducted and killed by strangers is 1 in 1.5 million. That’s a 0.00007 percent chance.

        Car crashes are the leading cause of death of people under 30. That’s even with kids strapped into car seats. I am more afraid of my kids being hurt or killed in a crash than I am of stranger abduction. We parents risk their lives with every trip to Wal-Mart (or Whole Foods, or whatever). Yet no one is calling for a ban on driving, and no one calls parents “irresponsible” for taking kids on a road trip.

        There’s good evidence to support the idea that providing kids age-appropriate freedom keeps them safer as adults. They are better able assess risk when they’ve actually experienced it.

        I don’t know when the magic age will be that I will allow my son and daughter to go play alone in the park two doors down, but it will happen. My son is only three, so that day is not today. I am uncomfortable with the idea of him going totally alone as a schoolchild, but I could see him going with the neighbour boys.

      • amoment2think September 17, 2010 at 4:56 pm

        I am so glad you had the stats handy on that one!

        I think it is really important to remember that everything comes with risk. Sure, better safe then sorry, but only to a point. We can’t mitigate against every risk.

      • Brooke September 15, 2010 at 9:27 pm

        As someone who experienced a one in a million event… and then acquired a rare disorder, I have to say that I am even more concerned about those things that are rare. But again, that’s me coming from my place of experience.

        I bet Elizabeth Smart’s family would have said that they lived in a safe community… before.

      • Alan September 17, 2010 at 8:15 pm


        First, I wasn’t seeing stranger abduction as the primary risk of letting a young child play in the park all day. My greatest worry would be that they would run in the street after a ball or whatever and get hit by a car; or fall and hurt themselves and no one would get them appropriate help (studies show that strangers tend to get frozen with inaction, assuming someone else must have already sought help or called 911).

        But even those stranger abduction deals are misleading, I think. If the vast majority of parents do not allow their children to run around unsupervised, the risk that their kids will be abducted, and the risk of those who are left unsupervised is much higher. The same principle as looking at the risk of getting frostbite in April. This is only a risk for people in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, and a few other spots (mostly in the mountains). So if we look at the risk for Americans overall, it will be really low; but if you do live in those areas it’s much higher.

        I have a personal story to inform this issue. When I was ten or so, I lived in Chapel Hill, NC and was allowed to go take the bus to the UNC Student Union and play video games there. One day I was doing that, and a man started chatting me up. I can’t remember why, but for some reason my alarm bells did not go off despite the fact that I was a smart kid, pretty mature for my age, etc., and had heard all the warnings about strangers. Maybe it’s because he was in the game room with us and not saying “Psssst” out of a van or something? Not sure.

        So I actually took him up on his offer to give me a ride home (I know!). As we were driving along, I started feeling like I’d made a big mistake. So I didn’t tell him my address, just gave directions in the general vicinity. I asked him if we could stop at the convenience store to get some candy. He said sure and as we stopped he offered to buy it for me. Then I told him this was close enough to home and I could walk from there. He kept insisting he could drive me the rest of the way, asked where exactly it was, etc., but I was firm and he finally sort of sighed and gave up.

        I stayed in the store until I was pretty sure he was long gone, then darted out, raced through back yards etc. to get home in a way I couldn’t be tailed by a car. I knew I had really screwed up, but felt so relieved that I had come to my senses in time and managed to get my bacon out of the frying pan. To this day, I feel pretty sure I dodged a bullet.

      • Alan September 17, 2010 at 9:01 pm

        In my post above, I screwed up the second paragraph pretty badly. I think I was watching Project Runway with my wife and got distracted; not sure, LOL. In any event, this is how I would have preferred it to read:

        But even those stranger abduction statistics are misleading, I think. First, why only report the risk of a kid getting abducted and killed? Getting abducted and raped and not killed is still pretty traumatic. Secondly: If the vast majority of parents do not allow their children to run around unsupervised, the risk that their kids will be abducted is more or less nil, and the risk for those few who are left unsupervised is much higher. This is the same principle as looking at the risk of getting frostbite in April, which is only a risk for people in northern Minnesota, North Dakota, Alaska, and a few other spots (mostly in the mountains). So if we look at the risk for Americans overall, it will be really low; but if you do live in those areas it’s much higher.

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