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Free Range Isn't Just for Chickens

New York Sun columnist Lenore Skenazy encouraged her son to spread his wings. She left the 9-year-old at Bloomingdales sans cellphone and let him find his way home. The boy had been begging for independence, Skenazy writes:

Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

The online and media circus surrounding Skenazy's simple act of a mother helping her child spread his wings has sparked her to start a blog, started talk of writing a book and landed her son and her on cable news.

On one side of the debate are the fearmongers, otherwise known as helicopter parents, saying, "What if he didn't come home?" On the other are the cheerers, the ones saying "You Go, Mom!" It's about time we loosened the reins and let these kids out of our grasps, they say.

Where do you fall? On one side or the other or somewhere in the middle?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  April 23, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Elementary Schoolers
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Oh, this is going to be a good one. I can't wait to see the comments.

Personally, my kids are too young for this type of test. The age they can do this, I'll have to wait and see as each kid is different. Heck, I have some friends who shouldn't be left unattented at 25. :)

Posted by: Father of 2 | April 23, 2008 7:10 AM | Report abuse

"started talk of writing a book and landed her son and her on cable news. "

Great. Another stupid book on a phony topic.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 8:08 AM | Report abuse

I think it depends entirely on the child and his familiarity with transit, and the PRACTICE you give first.

Any child of mine who was gearing up for an adventure would have to pass Gavin DeBecker's "rule of 12" (in "Protecting the Gift") - basically know how to get in contact (pay phone, if not cell), who to ask for help (hint: not a policeman), how to yell for help, etc. It would have to be a set route and I think for myself I would want to do a number of trial runs partway, etc.

That said, I took public transit (with a transfer) home by myself starting in grade 2 and I do think it was overall a great experience. I don't buy that society is more dangerous now in terms of abduction.

I think personally believe staying home in fear is more dangerous long-term to a person's well being than learning in SMALL, reasonable steps to go out on one's own. I have friends who won't go anywhere by themselves, won't go new places, etc. and their lives are seriously impacted.

(I do think it is more dangerous in terms of kids having guns, but sadly they don't need to be on public transit to be shot, and if they were, being with a parent might not help.)

I grew up to be a confident solo traveller and that has brought me a lot of freedom and joy.

(By the way, the best person for kids to go to if they are lost is a woman with children. It's hard to see a badge from low down, if there even happens to be a policeman around. By choosing the person themselves they lower the risk of someone choosing them. By choosing a woman with children they are most likely to get the help they need. And security guard is a profession that happens to run higher than average for killers, etc.)

Posted by: Shandra | April 23, 2008 8:09 AM | Report abuse

I love it!! Totally love it. I would allow a 9-year old to do that, especially one raised in the city.

Look, what I remember from growing up a few decades ago was NO PARENTS. We walked to school. No parents. I played all over my neighborhood, in the woods, in the creek, up trees. No parents. We camped in the backyard. No parents. I threw a fit about something one time in 9th grade and was told to stay home, and I said I walk -- and I did, all 6 miles, to get to school. By myself. No parents.

We are coddling our children and creating generations of kids who don't know what it's like to interact with each other without adults around. As parents, we should resist the urge to buy into the culture of fear. This is something I work on every day.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 8:10 AM | Report abuse

Wow, Stacey, not much doubt where you come down -- so if you don't want to leave a 9-yr-old to make his way home alone across NYC, you're either a "fearmonger" or a "helicopter parent"?

I'm all for teaching kids independence -- I was a latchkey kid from 7 on, and taking the bus alone to and from the city for orthodontist appointments from @ 13-14 yrs old. But I would absolutely worry about sending a 9-yr-old alone to find his own way home on public transportation, without even any guidance on the route. She knows her son best, so I have to presume she thought he was ready. But I'd be uncomfortable until at least 11-12.

I'd also start slowly -- I can't tell from the article whether this mom did that or not, but I'd do smaller, planned trips first to make sure he was prepared for all that "freedom." I.e., first show him the route from a friend's house or school using the subway, and let him do that a few times; then longer routes with train changes, etc. Being dropped off at the store with $20 and a subway map would basically be the final exam after a whole bunch of pop quizzes. :-)

And at least give the boy a cellphone, for goodness' sake. What if there was really an emergency? A pocketful of quarters isn't much good in a world without payphones on every corner. And so what if he calls for a non-emergency? There's no rule that says you actually have to go get him.

Frankly, this really doesn't seem like a mom striking a blow for childhood independence. Seems more like a mom who got fed up with being pestered by a kid who Just Wouldn't Shut Up, so she finally threw up her hands and said "you want it? Fine -- here, go do it."

Not that I've EVER been tempted to do the same thing, ya know. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 23, 2008 8:16 AM | Report abuse

I love this. My son is too young to do this (I'm trying to get him to walk a block without begging to be carried!)

If you have prepared a child for independence, let him test it.

And good for her taking away the cellphone. Think how distracted he might be if he was talking/texting the whole way.

Posted by: md | April 23, 2008 8:20 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Shandra that it depends on the child and the prep you've done before. But, I certainly don't think this constitutes neglect. It was daylight and I'm pretty sure Bloomingdales is in a good neighborhood in NY. And, since the child was begging for this opportunity, he likely had some practice. I might have given him a cell phone just because it's hard to find public phones these days and if he really got lost, I'd want him to be able to call me.

My husband grew up in NYC and learned very young to use public transportation. At 9, he was taking the bus from his house to his grandmother's. I think children who grow up in the city tend to learn how to navigate public transportation earlier. I grew up in the suburbs with really spotty bus routes and no subway but I still had a lot of independence. I rode my bike pretty far to see friends and get places. We're working on more independence for our 8-year old--walking places in the neighborhood alone has been our first step. She walks to her best friend's house a few blocks away but the friend is always accompanied. It's just what her parents want. I don't think there's a hard and fast rule for every child. It depends on where you live, your child's temperament and yours.

Posted by: Pt Fed Mof2 | April 23, 2008 8:34 AM | Report abuse

I think parents need to give their children little opportunities to live independently. I often allow my 10 and 12 year olds to walk to the store for me, visit friends, etc.... My 12-year old knows how to take the bus and Metro to visit friends. It's healthy as long as you set appropriate parameters.

Posted by: DCMom | April 23, 2008 8:57 AM | Report abuse

Depends a lot on the child. My daughter is autistic, so not highly likely to try that experiment at our house. But I was riding public transportation alone by mid elementary school. And by 12 years old, I could take the Long Island rail road and subway to each of the five borroughs. It depends a lot on your back round information.

I believe in starting small and building independence. But each kid is different.

Posted by: foamgnome | April 23, 2008 9:12 AM | Report abuse

Shandra said:
"I don't buy that society is more dangerous now in terms of abduction."
Good for you. By every measure, abductions are WAY down in the past few decades. Stranger abductions are infinitesimally rare, your child has much, much higher chance of dying from a piece of spoiled meat than get abducted, so if you think this mother was crazy for doing this, then by your own standards, you're even crazier if you're not raising your child vegetarian. (as I was raised. and for the record, I started going to McDonalds at the first opportunity!)
If the media did not hype these tragic rarities, we wouldn't think there was a child molester lurking behind every tree. To the rest of America I say cut out the Law and Order:SVU fantasies and let your children be free of your own neurotic smothering! And good for you Stacey, for calling these individuals what they are - fearmongers.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 9:17 AM | Report abuse

Kids are ready at different times, but, like Laura, I would think 11 or 12 is generally a more appropriate age for trips home on public transportation in major cities.

Of course, I am proud to be something of a "helicopter" parent- if that means somebody who likes to have her young children in sight when we go out and who doesn't buy the "it takes a village" motto.

Posted by: Michelle | April 23, 2008 9:34 AM | Report abuse

Fine, I'll be a helicopter parent and am proud of it. People always say that parents are not involved enough in the welfare of their kids, well I am and I will not let my baby roam around unattended until she is a teen. I think helicopter parents need to be proud that we actually care what happens to our kids.

We are the parents! It is our job to not put our kids in harms way. I am a city girl, born and raised in DC. It is not the same city I grew up in, it's worse. Yes something could happen to our kids walking to school, but when we the parents resort to placing our own kids in danger to prove a point, we are as guilty as anyone that harms children.

My daughter is worth more to me than a publicity tour.

I find it hard to believe that if this were a little girl the mother would have been this eager to let them go. I also wonder where the father is in this situation.

Posted by: Glt79 | April 23, 2008 9:39 AM | Report abuse

Her actions were crazy and irresponsible. Not a chance in hell I'd let my 9-year-old wander around NYC by himself. I wouldn't want to raise a family in that hell-hole full of depraved weirdos in the first place.

Posted by: JJ | April 23, 2008 9:49 AM | Report abuse

Just a thought...could it be that we don't have enough information to have an informed opinion as to the safety of Ms. Skenazy's actions? Is it possible, just possible, that she could have been very careless or responsible depending on the myriad factors that are not presented?

Posted by: Angela | April 23, 2008 9:55 AM | Report abuse

"When we the parents resort to placing our own kids in danger to prove a point, we are as guilty as anyone that harms children."

GLT, does your child eat food? ride in a car with you? drink water from a plastic bottle? take public transportation of any kind, including airplanes? Have you wrapped her up so tightly in foam that she will never trip falling down the stairs, and if she does, not be hurt? Have you tested her to make sure she's not allergic to anything?

Do you really believe you have so much control?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 9:58 AM | Report abuse

Laura said it perfectly.

Posted by: Andrea | April 23, 2008 10:00 AM | Report abuse

For your information, NYC is NOT a hell-hole. New Yorkers can be friendly and helpful, especially to kids and tourists. NYC kids routinely ride the subway to and from school (once they get past elem, which are always walking distance). Most NY kids are much more self-sufficient than suburbanites. And they grow up knowing which neighborhoods are safe and which to avoid. (It is, however, an incredibly expensive place to raise kids.)

I do agree with the comment that the best person to ask for help is a woman with kids. But that's just as true in DC as in NY.

My biggest complaint about DC teens on metro is how noisy and obnoxious they are - not to mention foul-mouthed.

Posted by: former New Yorker | April 23, 2008 10:05 AM | Report abuse

My 11 year old son has a friend that lives about a half mile away. I don't have a problem with him going on his bike for that distance, but he has to cross an intersection across a 4 lane divided highway. I haven't let him make the trip independently yet. It's only a matter of time though.

Funny thing, since I am blind, I would never ever attempt to cross that intersection all by myself; however, since my son has been 4 years old, I've brought him alon with me many, many times so I could make it across that intersection safely.

Hmmm. I think he is ready to do it by himself.

Posted by: DandyLion | April 23, 2008 10:11 AM | Report abuse

I recall as a 12 year old in the mid-sixties, my parents allowed me to travel the streets of Paris on my own, using the Metro. No, I don't speak French. I did just fine.

I have locked horns more than once with my wife over how much "help" my daughter needs to get around. She was shocked when I allowed my daughter to go with friends via Metro (Washington's) to see shows at the Verizon center. My wife was scared to death the first time my daughter had to drive home from work in a snowstorm. She wanted me to go get the girl, and I assure her the only way to learn how to drive in snow is to drive in snow. My daughter did just fine.

One of the things that has emerged over the last few decades is the heightened fear of crime that we all seem to have. The truth is, we're far less vulnerable to crime than most of us think. After watching hundreds of TV dramas about child abductions, robberies, murders, etc., we have become over-sensitized to the possibility of it happening to us. People need to look at what the crime statistics really are and make calculated judgements about the level of risk we face, and what those risks mean to our children. We can let them do a lot more than most of us think they can.

Posted by: John | April 23, 2008 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Sorry, I don't conduct "tests" with my child's safety. That idiot woman will be on tv sobbing about her child when he is killed or raped or just disappears. Hell of a price to pay for being "trendy".

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:16 AM | Report abuse

Glt79 - what time frame were you growing up in DC that was so much better? or what neighborhoods are you referring to? Because I only read about how much DC has improved in recent years.

But I really can't understand being proud of being overprotective. You don't have to be overprotective to care about what happens to your children, you can just be "protective". My parents let us go places and do things on our own, they just always made sure where. To me thats responsible because you know where your child is while still teaching him to be independent, which is important and nt enough people teach their children these days. Thats why so many people in their twenties still live with their parents and even some who don't still get money from their parents. No one learns how to take care of themselves anymore.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:17 AM | Report abuse

She didn't conduct a test of his safety. She calculated the risks and tested his independence and resourcefulness. If that's being trendy, sign me up.

We're all in danger every minute of our lives if you think about every possible horrible outcome.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

For your information, NYC is NOT a hell-hole

I think I remember one poster who said she was glad her kids were raised in NYC so when they saw a 6 ft transvestite their mouths would not drop to the floor. NYC is a terrible place for kids and lettting them go wandering by themselves is just stupid.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:19 AM | Report abuse

No, she made a stupid decision and gambled with her son's safety. Do not sign me up, my kids are too precious to gamble with. Maybe yours aren't.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:21 AM | Report abuse

Define "gamble". What do you feed them, for example?

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Halcyon Days:

I am so gratified to see "normal" responses.

At the risk of sounding like an old fogie, I grew up in the Northern Virginia in the 1960s without air conditioning and mostly, without direct play supervision throughout my summer vacations. In my pre-teen years, I ran with a pack of boys who played tackle football together on cold winter evenings on icy, rocky fields; played "war" in the deep, unexplored woods near my house; and on long summer evenings, played baseball on our own at Jeb Stuart High School. By that time, the neighborhood fathers had taught us concepts of fair play, which have stayed with me ever since then.

My brother and I were taught manners and good study habits by the nuns (no pun!) at the local Catholic school, and during recreation we were allowed to fall, get cut and bloody, and then get up and do it all over again. In 3rd - 6th grades, I had homework that kept me awake studying and taking notes until 11 in the evening, and the catholic school I attended had mid-terms and finals, just like high school and college. Grading was tough, and there were no excuses allowed for bad academic performance.

My brother and I together explored Falls Church and Arlington on our bikes, guided only by a beat up road map we stole from my dad. There were "strangers" out there who, we were told, were out to do us harm, so we were careful around them. The lessons we learned were ones we learned on our own, so they took, rather than having somebody spoonfeed us statements that are never really digested.

Maybe, the world has changed and become so much more difficult and dangerous than it was so many years ago. But I doubt it. Back "then," childhood cancer was a death sentence, and I knew 3 kids in 3rd and 4th grades who died of leukemia. They would come to class, bald and bare bones, and they would say goodbye. The nuns told us to pray for them. One of my young friends was killed by a truck. Two men in my old neighborhood died suddenly of heart attacks.

Still, I wouldn't have given up the hours of unsupervised interactions I had with other kids and the life lessons, some of them really difficult, that I learned. I loved the fact that neighborhood fathers took the time to engage us at odd and unpredictable times, and to make sure we understood how to become good people. Mostly, I miss falling asleep with the windows open on hot, humid summer evenings, listening to the whip-poor-wills cooing in the woods.

Despite the lack of direct supervision, I don't remember being told "the world is bad; temperatures are dangerously high or dangerously low; be careful, don't skin your knees, the germs will kill you." We need to let kids just be kids, and stop smothering them. They need to be free to discover the world without parental micro-management. Not allowing them this freedom, deprives them of their right to live. Not living well is the greatest sin of all.

Posted by: Ernie | April 23, 2008 10:23 AM | Report abuse

Thank you, Ernie. I agree 100%.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Workingmom X , can you make any more of a ridiculous comparison? Probably explains your lack of common sense. A pedophile probably is salivating at the thought of more nincompoops following her idiotic example. I feel sorry for your kids

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:28 AM | Report abuse

I saw this Lenore Shenazy on an interview on FoxNews, she made complete sense. She grew up in NYC and she was raising her children there, they use public transportation every day. Most of the kids in NYC take public transportation to and and from school every day. It's not like she dropped her 9 year old off in Jersey and expected him to find his way home. He took the subway to a stop then caught the bus and walked home a couple blocks, something he does every day with his mother. It was completely appropriate.

As for the helicopter parents, good luck. Hovering over your children has nothing to do with being involved with their lives, it has to do with being overly involved in their lives. If you want a child that expects intervention with their college professors and first boss, keep hovering. Children need appropriate independence. Lack of hovering does not mean lack of love and guidance.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

My biggest complaint about DC teens on metro is how noisy and obnoxious they are - not to mention foul-mouthed.

Posted by: former New Yorker | April 23, 2008 10:05 AM

HEAR HEAR. If I can hear them over my ipod at full volume the noise level is excessive.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:31 AM | Report abuse

"By the way, the best person for kids to go to if they are lost is a woman with children. It's hard to see a badge from low down, if there even happens to be a policeman around. By choosing the person themselves they lower the risk of someone choosing them. By choosing a woman with children they are most likely to get the help they need"

I agree wholeheartedly. I always tell my kids to find a mommy with little kids, preferable a stroller. Any woman with little kids is not interested in picking up another at the mall!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:35 AM | Report abuse

Hey, poster so cowardly you can't even leave a name for yourself, you have so clearly bought into the "Culture of Fear" perpetuated by the media. And now of course you're playing the pedophile card, which I knew was going to be shown by you or someone else at some point. Don't feel sorry for my happy, healthy and independent kids -- I suggest you focus on your own as they could grow up paranoid or delusional raised by such a parent.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Some kids can handle anything at age 6, others can't until they're in their 20s. The parent is the best judge.

A few years ago my 11-year-old stepson came to visit for a summer and quickly learned his way around DC on his own while his father and I worked. He had a Metro map, a farecard, pocket money, and our phone number. He only had to call us once each, and both times he had basically solved his own problem but wanted us to be aware something had happened. Sure, we talked if over beforehand and wondered if we should do it, but it turned out to be wonderful experience for all of us. Each day he had something to share about his adventures, and we saw him become more confident.

Posted by: Lina | April 23, 2008 10:39 AM | Report abuse

Look people, in Montgomery County in the early 1970s we all ran around like crazy and then in 1975 two sisters were kidnapped and never heard from again right out of Wheaton Plaza.

They are gone forever.

And that was it, from 1975 on in MoCo we were all too aware of creeps. I noticed a man sitting in a car across the street from my elementary school with a truly twisted expression on his face and told my teacher and the guy sped off squealing his wheels. Two hippies high out of their minds on drugs were found hiding in my friends' shrubs by her front door. The father of our neighbor was arrested for child abuse. later in the 1980s my sister and a friend were separately followed home by the same college-aged man in a car. I was accosted by weirdos several times on the streets of Bethesda as a teenager (one creepy adult man who held my wrist tightly to see what time it was on my watch, a homeless guy who propositioned my friends and I, another homeless guy who started talking to us while we were fixing bikes and when we turned around he was "going number 2" while staring at us) and handled myself ok. Then there were dozens of teenagers who wanted to give us drugs, beer, get us to help them commit crimes and all kinds of bad scenes.

There's a mentally challenged woman on our block who flipped out on Sunday and yelled at my kids to "shut up" before throwing dozens of books out her window. What if she stars holding a grudge about my kids?

I don't want to oversell the dangers, but there are all manner of dangerous people out there.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Thank you Ernie. I grew up in Northern Virginia in the 70's and rode my bike to Tyson's Corner Mall when I was 11 or 12. We walked to the pool unsupervised from the time we were 8-9. We rounded up neighborhood kids after dinner and played at the local jr hs field till 9-10 pm in the summer. In late elementary years on up we walked to the store after school for our parents and bought a gallon of milk or loaf of bread, did our homework on our own and went out to play till dinner was served. I know there were parents checking up on us in the neighborhood and at times organizing a basketball game, bike ride or lemonade stand, but for the most part we were on our own. We didn't go out alone and took precautions, but I was never scared and usually had a good enough time that I collapsed in bed that night.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 10:40 AM | Report abuse

I think this is wonderful. I was raised to be a very independent child (out of neccessity, my mother was an single parent and had to work long hours to keep a roof over our heads and food on the table). I took mass transit by myself at age 9, and was a latch key kid from 7 on.

I saw the HUGE difference between myself and the other kids with hovering parents once I got to college. Not allowing your children to be independent and think on their own really does hurt them in the end.

Posted by: Kallie | April 23, 2008 10:43 AM | Report abuse

There's a mentally challenged woman on our block who flipped out on Sunday and yelled at my kids to "shut up" before throwing dozens of books out her window. What if she stars holding a grudge about my kids?

What if . . .

your child is walking down the street holding your hand and an elderly driver loses control of his car and hits your child?

your child is strapped into her car seat and you are obeying the laws and someone smashes into your child's side of the car?

your child is exposed to e coli from a swimming pool

your child is at a friend's house and you are downstairs with the mom having coffee and you didn't know the friend's dad has a gun and something awful happens

your child has a reaction to a vaccine

your child opens the door all by himself one day while you're in the bathroom peeing for just a minute and she wanders off and is never seen again

your child is in the wrong place at the wrong time no matter all the safeguard you put in place

what if terrorists attack tomorrow

what if what if what if what if what if

can't live your live by what ifs. The thing about life is that some day it ends.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I'm trying to be calm about the whole "abduction! pedophile!" thing but I think I will make some comments.

I was molested and abused a lot as a kid, and locked up. By a close relative. I was raped as a young woman. By three boys I knew and had known for months on a sports team. No one needs to tell me about the horrors of abuse and I would do anything to keep my son from experience anything like any of that.

The thing is that isolation and fear are the tools that abusers use against your child. Being able to GET AWAY on your own, use public transit, approach "strangers," yell out loud and run away fast are the tools that will save your child.

Being able to truly evaluate (over time and being mindful of a child's real developmental level) situations and size people's behaviour up is also a huge tool.

In fact, I credit my overall psychological recovery to the fact that even though I was suffering these things the message in my nuclear family over the entire span of my childhood was "you can do things." It is DOING things that got me out of those situations, into an education, job, through therapy, etc.

Does this mean you drop your child in the middle of a crackhouse and leave? Of course not. As parents we absolutely must evaluate the people that our children may come into contact with and the situations in which they are placed.

But while you are worrying about "stranger danger" there are many more statistically likely dangers lurking beneath. Spend more time being careful about whose house you drop your kid off at, and less time worrying about what will happen on the street.

Also, teach your child that if something awful happens INSIDE where it is "safe" that he or she CAN LEAVE and get home alone. Teach your child that although there are bad strangers, most people will help them and encourage them to learn how to choose and how to talk to people. Let them go up and order for themselves, talk to sales staff, bus drivers, neighbours.

Most of all, teach them to worry about the dangers in front of them like that truck coming down the road or the "cool gun" their friend is showing off in their dad's garage.

Anyways enough rant. I highly, highly recommend "Protecting the Gift" as a great book on this.

Posted by: Shandra | April 23, 2008 10:46 AM | Report abuse

I knew someone would bring up the Lyons sisters, I remember them. It was sad, but that event did not change everything like the cowardly poster surmises. There have always been creepy men, kids high on drugs, people with mental disorders and the standard "weirdos."

Cowardly poster, please stop trying to scare people, you are doing exactly what the media does, over hype. I could get hit by a car driven by a drunk/high teen or "weirdo" tonight but that does not mean everyone should stay home after 7 pm. It is ridiculous.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

The job of a parent is to ensure that their child can survive with out them.

Posted by: Heresathought | April 23, 2008 10:47 AM | Report abuse

I love how the hysterical mommy who is attacking WorkingMom X doesn't have the courage to so much as give herself a handle. I know when you live a life based on fear you lose your self respect, and don't want to id yourself or commit to anything, but at least have the courtesy to give yourself a handle.
There seems to be this fascinating phenomenon that is going on in our country the past few years whereby people think the only way to feel 'safe' is to be afraid all the time. I really pity those of you who are caught in this trap.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 10:51 AM | Report abuse

Ernie - Wow! Thank you for your thoughtful and eloquent response.

Posted by: two terrific boys | April 23, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Shandra, The horrible things you experienced were by people you knew, and I am truly sorry for that. That is the truth of it though, you are correct, teaching kids the "flee" mechanism and how to handle familiar environments is just as important. Stranger Danger does not cover it all.

Thank you for your post, you sound very strong.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Shandra, I'm so sorry you had to go through that. What courage you have.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 10:53 AM | Report abuse

Hey WorkingmomX (WMX from now on), Do you now have the courage to stop posting on the WashPo sites ... You sound pretty strong here today!

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 10:56 AM | Report abuse

can't live your live by what ifs. The thing about life is that some day it ends.

That is reductio ad absurdum.

you dang well MUST live your life by what ifs otherwise you'd be homeless because who would bother going to work on a beautiful day like today if your life could end!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:00 AM | Report abuse

Get Real -- Nah, it's too fun! But at least I can laugh at my "problem". :)

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Cowardly poster, please stop trying to scare people, you are doing exactly what the media does, over hype.

Get out of your fantasy world, how is anything I'm doing cowardly? you live in a dream world and you're making up ideas about me.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:01 AM | Report abuse

In general, I agree with everyone's comments about teaching your children to be independent, and granting them that independence incrementally as they are able to handle it. BUT... I do think there's a legitimate gray area between "helicopter parenting" and letting kids run wild and free. An anonymous poster above provided a long list of dangers that all the hovering in the world can't control. True. But at the same time, I can understand a parent wishing to minimize the dangers their child is exposed to that the parent CAN control. Leaving aside the pedophile/abduction business, the insane volume and speed of traffic, and the lack of walkable neighborhoods would make me think twice about letting my kids bike all over (Bike to Tysons these days?? That's nervewracking enough in a car!) I would also say that the mobility of families and resulting lack of "true" neighborhoods (where families grow up together and everyone knows everyone) also makes small kids roaming around unsupervised more iffy to me than back in the day. But I think there can still be a happy medium between fearing danger is constantly at hand and denying that there are dangers out there that we might legitimately not want to expose our kids to.

Posted by: PQ | April 23, 2008 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Shank wrote: "There seems to be this fascinating phenomenon that is going on in our country the past few years whereby people think the only way to feel 'safe' is to be afraid all the time."

This is part and parcel with the ever increasing culture of victimhood in American society. Many of us are teaching our children to be afraid of everything. There's a little girl in my son's preschool class who had never skinned her knee - she's 3! When she fell on the playground and got a minor scrape (about the size of a dime), her parents went ballistic about how the teachers weren't adequately supervising their poor damaged daughter. I was there - the kid tripped, fell down, whimpered for about 30 seconds, then ran off. Only when one of the teachers, who had seen the fall, corralled her did it become apparent that she's even been scraped. No big deal, but from the way the parents acted, you'd think the child had been maimed. What really frustrates me is that rather than telling the parents to get a grip, the school went into full-on damage control mode - OVER A SCRAPE! What does that teach our children?

Posted by: two terrific boys | April 23, 2008 11:04 AM | Report abuse

Yep, watching out for your kids and making sure they are safe qualifies as fearmongering here. That's ok, pretend you live in mayberry and everything and everyone is just peachy. The pedophiles love people like you, the ones who convince themselves they are just being overprotective and eveything will be ok.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:08 AM | Report abuse

I know plenty of 25-year-olds who can't find their way home on the metro without calling their parents. Please teach your kids how to read a map. Oh, and if you have time, merging into traffic properly is a good lesson too.

Posted by: Maps | April 23, 2008 11:09 AM | Report abuse

FWIW, most damage done to kids is done by their own parents. Very few child murders or kidnapping is done by strangers. The parents are the ones who do the killing, abuse (physical and sexual) and non-custodial kidnapping. You only hear about the stranger crimes because it makes good press. The WaPo reports it ad nauseum.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:10 AM | Report abuse

Bingo, Two Terrific Boys. What we teach them is to overreact and be afraid. Be very afraid.

I fight this in myself daily. I sometimes have to almost put my hand over my mouth to stop calling out "Be Careful!" when my kids are on the playground or running around in the woods over the chunky tree roots. Someone on either this blog or "On Balance" posted something about a book called "The Blessings of a Skinned Knee" and I liked that concept though I've not yet read the book. Instead of trying to make sure that I'm with my kids every second, I try to make sure they learn how to handle themselves in problematic or scary situations. This is what my parents did, and it worked wonderfully for my sisters and me.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

There is no sense in comparing what was acceptable in the 1960's to what is acceptable now. The world is not a safe place and there are many predators out looking for an opportunity. This was not a good choice by this Mother.

Posted by: PRISCILLA | April 23, 2008 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Another anonymous post by the pedophile patrol. If you feel so strongly, want not give yourself a name?
But you raise a valid point. There are sex predators out there waiting to victimize kids. But I got news for you. They are not lurking behind the playground bleachers, they're sitting on top of them coaching your kid's little league team.
Seriously, the vast majority of sex predators first get themselves in a position of trust - coach, volunteer, youth pastor - and then attack. Their targets are typically the shy and compliant kids with limited self-confidence. The kind of kids who were never taught how to stand up for themselves and just trust the grown ups in charge. Those are the ones the pedophiles love. This I know from painful experience.
This is a far more likely scenario than a stranger abduction, but it's just as damaging, if not more so because trust is forever breached. In this way, the so-called free range kids who have learned some self-management skills are safer.
I know of a youth football league in NOVA that never did background checks on their coaches and volunteers. When they did so retroactively, they found they had sex offenders in their midst. I'm sure until that point their parents were relieved to have a 'safe' place for their kids.
This really isn't about who's a bad parent and who is not. It is an awareness that our structured 'safe' places aren't always that safe, and the anonymous places aren't so dangerous as TV news would have us believe. It's a scary world, but we have an obligation to teach our kids to navigate it as they are ready to do so, not 'protect' them from it as long as possible.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Pretty funny - we grew up without the benefits of cellphones, computers, day planners, safe places to play,and over-bearing herd mentality parents. We went outside, played games, ran around, got hurt, stood up and did it again. If you want to complain about kids being couch potatos, lethargic, under-achieving, whatever - I recommend that you take a deep look into the mirror and realize that the problem is not the children, but you. Too many decided to be our children's best friends rather than raising them as children, guiding and providing them with a resemblance of common sense. What this lady did was no different than what our parents did when we were growing up, we just lost contact with that.

Posted by: Art | April 23, 2008 11:20 AM | Report abuse


I grew up in the 80s/90s not the 60s. In my neighborhood there was a guy who was abducting children so our parents could have freaked out and locked us up in protective bubbles. They didn't. Instead they warned us about being lured into vans by puppies/kittens or taking candy/ice cream from strangers and then let us back outside. On our own. What a concept!

What do you think is more helpful to learn? How to be protected 24/7 by your parents or how to protect yourself?

Posted by: Kallie | April 23, 2008 11:22 AM | Report abuse

I'm about to head out for a meeting, but Shank, you said it perfectly. Your post also made me think of that little boy who was lost in the woods for days and days and when they finally found him, said that he'd heard people calling for him but wouldn't come out because they were strangers. That child is lucky to be alive and was only found because he couldn't hide fast enough when he heard an ATV approaching. If he had followed his mother's teachings (by her own accounts she was over the top with stranger danger warnings), he would have died.

Posted by: WorkingMomX | April 23, 2008 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Hey, Cowardly poster (yes, it is cowardly to be anonymous and throw bombs), even Mayberry had Otis the town drunk. He was harmless of course, but you would have had all the kids in Mayberry off the street and holed up in the basement.

BTW, did you get tired over at OB yesterday?

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 11:28 AM | Report abuse

As a parent you feel "darn if you do - darn if you don't." If something happens to this 9 year old kid the first thing will be "Why did the parents let him out in NYC alone at that age". If you don't let him do this "adventure" then you are a helicopter parent.

When a teenager is out late and gets in a serious accident the reaction is "what horrible parents not having kids in at reasonable hour".

Why when I go to the school conference it is "MY" responsibility as a parent because my kid is not doing his school work.

Lately it seems I'm a bad parent for not letting my underage kids drink at my house with their friends - seems many other parents do so I am just an overly controlling parent because I don't.

I am accused of being a power control parent because I did not let my 17 year old son stay at home alone while I went on a 5 day vacation. When his dad lives a short distance away. What if he'd thrown a party? I'd been the bad parent for letting a 17 year old stay alone. but I'm a control freak for not letting him stay alone.

Gee whiz. What are the right parenting techniques? What are the wrong ones?

Posted by: cyns | April 23, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

Hi, anonymous poster who reference the Lyon sisters. I remember that story, too, because our family moved to Rockville shortly after their disappearance. Their story was passed around (surprisingly accurately, for a grapevine) among children, and reinforced the "don't talk to strangers" message we were already getting from our parents. What happened to them was a terrible tragedy, but their story is memorable because it is so incredibly atypical.

And it is still atypical. We hear much more about abductions because of changes in how the news is reported. We are more aware of them. They are not more common.

Nine seems a little young to me, but not incredibly so. How many of us came home to empty houses after school at that age or younger? Statistically speaking, that posed more dangers (as the home does to adults, too) than coming home on public transportation, or on a bicycle, or on foot.

Gavin de Becker also wrote "The Gift of Fear," which I think everyone should read. It suggests that we should pay attention to our instincts rather than submerging them under constant panic. The younger a child is when he or she learns to read the environment and people in it, the better.

Posted by: KateNonymous | April 23, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

I love how the hysterical mommy who is attacking WorkingMom X doesn't have the courage to so much as give herself a handle.
Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 10:51 AM

I love how you assume that a "mommy" authored those posts. The genderless troll is an idiot. Your response shows you are, too.

Posted by: Handle | April 23, 2008 11:32 AM | Report abuse

"Lately it seems I'm a bad parent for not letting my underage kids drink at my house with their friends - seems many other parents do so I am just an overly controlling parent because I don't."

Time for new friends. Following these pinheads on this blog, they will be telling you, oh its so much safer than them doing it on their own, etc etc. Stand firm,fortunately this is just a blog and has no bearing on the real world.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:39 AM | Report abuse

trolls are genderless? no wonder they're so grumpy there under the bridge. :-p

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Oh good Lord. It's not a choice between a plastic bubble and kidnapping/murder. Those are nice little strawmen that do only stand in the way of any legitimate debate. Just because I can't prevent some 95-yr-old from smashing into my car and killing us all doesn't mean I shouldn't use carseats to protect my kids the other 99.9% of the time when it might do some good. And just because CNN reports that a child has been kidnapped in Texas doesn't mean I should never allow my child out of the house.

That's why I was so disappointed in Stacey's characterization. Whether a 9-yr-old is too young to be left to find his way home alone on public transportation is a matter of legitimate debate. But "helicopter parent vs. freedom" clearly says that anyone who thinks 9 is too young is an overprotective zealot who needs to get her head out of the bubble wrap. Sounds a lot like one of those false choice polls on the talking head shows: "Do you support the Patriot Act, or do you hate America?" No surprise that the morning discussion has provided more heat than light.

Yes, we need to give our kids more freedom -- but we also need to do it incrementally, so they build up the experience, knowledge, and confidence to manage that freedom. My only questions here are whether this was a gradual thing vs. "throw him in and hope he swims," and whether 9 is too young for this degree of freedom. I don't know the kid, so I have to presume his mom thought he was ready. And in general, I'd say that a NY kid would be far more qualified to manage this at 9 than most others, just because public transportation is such a normal part of everyday life. But I do find it interesting that most of the "good old days" stories this morning are from people who reported using metro as a teen or preteen (foamy and kallie excepted) -- I think 11-12 or 13-14 is very different from 9.

Posted by: Laura | April 23, 2008 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I find it awfully difficult not to worry when my kids are out of sight to long. But they do need to become more independent and if allowing the child to find their way home is something they want to do, it could be a good start. I probably am a bit on the cautious side with so much unknown out there. So I will probably start with a couple of blocks of self-navigating for the kids.

Mark Salinas, MN

Posted by: Mark-Salinas-MN | April 23, 2008 11:43 AM | Report abuse

It seems like a good lesson on independence and self reliance.

I'm reading Virgin's Sir Richard Branson's autobiography and he writes about how, as a 8 or 9 yr old, he bet his aunt that he could teach himself to swim over one summer.

He tried and tried that summer at his parents vacation home on a lake but he couldn't do it. Finally, on the last day, as they were about to leave for home, he told his parents to stop the car because he wanted one last shot.

He almost drowned but he managed to swim across a small stream. His family congratulated him when he swam back, but it wasn't until a little later that he noticed that his dad's pants were soaked. Turns out his dad had waded into the stream, just in case Richard needed to be rescued, but he let his son have that moment of self determination that eventually fueled the confidence that led to future successes.

Moral of the story (assuming it's true) is that kids NEED to take risks in order to build confidence in their abilities... but there's nothing wrong with a parent INCONSPICUOUSLY preparing a safety net.

Posted by: AJohn1 | April 23, 2008 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I'm so glad to find out that the entire world isn't living in fear. I don't have kids yet, but am often amazed by the lack of independence in today's children. I'm thrilled to find out that some parents are teaching their children independence and life skills, in ways I plan to when I have kids. For what it's worth, I grew up in NJ, in the NYC suburbs. I was allowed to walk from one grandmother to the other (in the same neighborhood in NYC) around 9 or 10, but not on the subway because we didn't use the subway often. My mom would have let me hang around at the ballfield after a game and find my own way home - similar to the family in NYC. It was appropriate for my experience and knowledge. Even if I did have to cross busy streets. Major kudos to all the parents whose children will be able to do their own homework in college, manage their own finances, and actually be capable of accepting the consequences of their decisions.

Posted by: JB in VA | April 23, 2008 11:45 AM | Report abuse

Haven't read all the comments but - for a kid who has grown up in NY, I'm not sure what the big deal is. If they live on the Upper East Side (not a stretch, it's not just super super rich people who live up there), it's probably one or two stops on one subway line that he has taken 1000 times before, during the middle of the day when it's busy. If it were a tourist letting her 9 year old find the way back to the hotel in a city she'd never been in before I'd have a lot bigger problem with it.

Posted by: tsp 2007 | April 23, 2008 11:46 AM | Report abuse

Cyns, I understand your point. The video of the teenage girls beating up their former friend was a good example. I kept hearing commentators asking, 'Where were the parents?" Like every parent is home in the afternoon monitoring their teenage children. The appropriate question is "Who raised these kids?" I predict plenty of these parents were friends with their daughters, but very few actually parented.

My parents never let any of us stay home alone for days when were teenagers in the 70's and 80's after they learned the hard way with my older brother. That's just the way it was and my parents were not particularly strict, it was just their rule. The difference is they didn't let what other parents did or said impact their decisions for their own kids. Who cares if some dumb ass parent thinks you are a stick in the mud for not letting underage kids drink at your house?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 11:48 AM | Report abuse

Actually, Priscilla, New York City today is statistically as safe as it was in the 1960s. Besides, most of the harm suffered by children is perpetrated by individuals known to the victim. Big city, small town, doesn't matter.

Since Ms. Skenazy has raised her child here, it's not as if he was using the subway and bus system for the first time. He knew where he had to catch the bus, and obviously had been taught to read a subway map well enough to figure out how to get to that point. (I know plenty of adults who can't manage those feats.) This experiment took place on busy subway and bus lines, he was only going 30 blocks on the train through some of the best real estate in Manhattan, and he'd done the last stretch (the bus) umpteen times before.

As for a little kid traveling alone, it's not the most common sight here in New York, and most folks here will quietly keep an eye on a kid who appears to be alone but doesn't look lost. The instant that kid starts to look or act distressed, however, there will be a dozen people right there asking if everything's okay. As long as the child has been trained to be assertive and not to be alone with or lured away by a stranger, on public transportation in New York there will always be witnesses.

Posted by: BxNY | April 23, 2008 11:49 AM | Report abuse

That was me at 11:48

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 11:51 AM | Report abuse

Bravo, Get Real for claiming your words.
Cyns, your instinct to keep your kids from drinking are spot-on. The chances of a kid getting abducted by a stranger are miniscule, but the odds of teenagers getting killed in an alcohol-related crash are sadly pretty high. What you are doing is taking sensible steps to protect your kids from a real (as opposed to media-hyped) threat. And you're also right, you can't win, but if you manage to raise intelligent young people prepared for adulthood, I'd say you've done your job.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 11:59 AM | Report abuse

I love the way people who post as "shank" and "Get Real" attack people for being "cowardly". Aren't you brave enough to post under your full legal name? Why are you so cowardly that you have to hide behind a stupid made up handle?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 12:05 PM | Report abuse


"At the risk of sounding like an old fogie, I grew up in the Northern Virginia in the 1960s without air conditioning"

It's not 1960 anymore and you really need an editor.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 12:06 PM | Report abuse

You aren't being attacked, you are attacking. We just want to be able to identify your comments, opps, I mean diatribes. Just come up with a name and stick with it. How about Stinky?

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 12:08 PM | Report abuse

I think the anonymous troll is pATRICK. I haven't read this blog for a long time, but I recall he was always a bit obsessed with sex/molestation.

Posted by: hill mommy | April 23, 2008 12:11 PM | Report abuse

How is posting anonymously any different than having a "handle"? I still don't know who you are nor do I know that the "hnadle" you use today is the same one you use tomorrow. Plus, how do I know that someone doesn't copy your "handle". Unless we all strting posting full names and addresses, we are all anonymous.

Posted by: me | April 23, 2008 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Our handles are a reference. Without it, it makes it difficult for others to directly address, comment on, or debate what you say, hence it's cowardly because you are trying to use anonymity to avoid standing up for your words. If you just want to spew your thoughts without having to consider the critiques of others, well, that's why the good Lord gave us talk radio. :-)

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 12:14 PM | Report abuse


Getting your handle hijacked is a risk, but it's worth taking to let the discourse roll. Also, I'd point your attention to the bottom of the screen:
"User reviews and comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be removed from the site. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed. Finally, we will take steps to block users who violate any of our posting standards, terms of use or privacy policies or any other policies governing this site. Please review the full rules governing commentaries and discussions"
Not a perfect system, but nothing is.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 12:16 PM | Report abuse

I admire the mom AND the kid. If he was agitating for this opportunity, then I think he's ready. My almost nine-year-old is shy and would not have the same ambition, but I don't doubt that there are other nine-year-olds who would. If my daughter was really interested, I would be inclined to let her try. Probably with some practice.

I give my kids a reasonably long leash (a lot of freedom in our neighborhood, for instance) and do my best not to let irrational concerns about stranger abductions stop me from doing so. When you scratch the surface with parents about why they don't let their kids roam freer, you usually find the media-generated fear of harm from a stranger. It's not rational, the numbers don't add up.

That said, I'm all for using tools to keep them safe (or, LOL, to make myself feel better and give me an illusion of control). We have a video by John Walsh called something like "Safe Side Stranger." It's good. I recommend it. And we, like many, have told our kids that if they are ever lost to "find a mommy." But they do pretty much have the run of the 'hood. They live a lot like I lived growing up in Montgomery County.

Posted by: MarylandMom | April 23, 2008 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Posted by: me | April 23, 2008 12:12 PM

It's an honor system. If you want to be a troll and harrass and copy handles and generally annoy, continue to do so. Plenty of people change their handles to get their jollies, some snipe anonymously and comment regularly. The problem is that the cowardly poster, or "Stinky," is just being annoying with no real contribution. He/she/it had a good time yesterday on the OB and today it is OP. Tomorrow, who knows? They don't have serious input so they will just have to scram, or take it like a man (or woman, or stinky)....

I don't think it is pATRICK, he will claim his snipes and actually became a member in good standing on OB. Not sure what happened to him.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 12:19 PM | Report abuse

"t makes it difficult for others to directly address, comment on, or debate what you say, hence it's cowardly because you are trying to use anonymity to avoid standing up for your words."

This is just stupid. The words are right there, on the screen, and anyone can comment on them and debate them by the simple method of quoting them and responding to them just like any other "signed" post. The most you can say is that anon posting is somewhat inconvenient for others, but there is nothing "cowardly" about it at all.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 12:29 PM | Report abuse

Meh. I feel sorry for my daughter. When I was her age I was out the door every afternoon right after homework, and so were all the other kids. We played and socialized and learned to resolve our own problems without adults around. In the summer we'd be out all day, checking in at lunch and coming home in time for dinner. These days there's no opportunity for kids to create their own neighborhood social scene - they're forced to wait for arranged playdates with supervision. I have a feeling they'll end up like the Mennonite kids I went to university with - they went completely berzerk once they were out on their own.

Posted by: NotScared | April 23, 2008 12:42 PM | Report abuse

Laura - I agree with you wholeheartedly, as I usually do. It is not an all or nothing proposition. The idea isn't to cut the cord, so much as it is the gradually let it out so they go further and do more and more on their own, bit by bit.

Posted by: Moxiemom | April 23, 2008 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"Mennonites Gone Wild" -- do tell!

Posted by: toomuch | April 23, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

I hate to admit it, but when I read this story I was horrified that someone would let their child loose in NY by themselves (I do not have any children yet.)

BUT, when I read all the posts here about parents teaching children common sense and giving them some independence it made more sense.

I was a latch key kid at 5. My friends and I roamed all over the neighborhood from a young age with no supervision. We had scrapes, bruises and a lot of fun. Once when I was 11 I walked 7 miles home from school to avoid a bully on the bus. When I got home I was grounded - not because I had done something so dangerous, but because my Mom had come home to take us to our Grandmother's house and we ended up being very late.

I was taught to behave myself, to respect other people and how to resolve problems on my own. I grew up a very self-confident person. My early life lessons taught me how to deal with the more difficult issues I faced when I grew older.

Thanks to those who reminded me of some fun childhood adventures. I'll try to remember those more when I have a child of my own.

Posted by: NoKidsYet | April 23, 2008 12:46 PM | Report abuse

dear gutless -
I'm sorry you have such a difficult time owning your own voice. By not doing so, I am free to assume you're the same person who posts anything anonymously that I think is drivel. And if you want to see something that's 'just stupid', you should see what you've posting recently. That was you, right?

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Can you get GPS installed on your kid? : -) I'd LOVE that. He'd have his freedom,and I could trust (but verify) his honesty of only going where I allow.

Posted by: dc mom | April 23, 2008 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Cowardly poster (yes, it is cowardly to be anonymous and throw bombs)
umm... I am no more anonymous than you and I threw no bombs! Are you confusing me with the half dozen other people who didn't bother to make up anonymous names. You are imagining things.

Posted by: Get Really Realer | April 23, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

Hah DC Mom! I've told my husband that we're gonna need to Lojack our daughter. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 23, 2008 12:56 PM | Report abuse

I love how the hysterical mommy who is attacking WorkingMom X doesn't have the courage to so much as give herself a handle.

There is no difference between giving yourself and anonymous name and not.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

1. oh, goody. now this blog has become the "shank berates and insults strangers" blog.

2. what laura said.

Posted by: MN | April 23, 2008 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I am free to assume you're the same person who posts anything anonymously that I think is drivel.

Actually, from reading this whole thread I can see four separate voices posting anonymously. Do you really presume they're the same person? Why would you do that?

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Not scared, There are opportunities for kids to be free range if you live in the right neighborhood and make it happen. I'm not sure where you live or if you have kids, but it is still possible.

I've never forced my kids to "wait for a playdate" because there are plenty of kids on our block, and all they need to do is knock on some doors. Granted, some kids are not home in the afternoons because they go to afterschool care, but when they pull up with their parents they are usually eeking out every minute outside running around till dinner. It is a safe neighborhood and my kids are old enough to be free ranging.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 1:09 PM | Report abuse

1. oh, goody. now this blog has become the "shank berates and insults strangers" blog.

Well, I'd much rather berate by their (assumed) name. ;-)

Anyway, I think a trend emerges here - each child is different, but when they're ready to be given a chance to explore, we should be open to that.

Would the GPS work on the subway? ;-)

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I've always wondered why i can "chip" my pet but not my kid? ;-)

Seriously, we took DSs to Disney World last month and I stressed for a week about the possibility of losing our 3yo somewhere in the park. He's too little to memorize a phone number and we weren't having much luck getting him to remember the hotel either. He's also one of those kids who's constantly in and out of his pockets, so putting a card with our info in there wasn't an option. Finally, we decided to write my cell # in sharpie on his hip. He thought it was an awesome tattoo and DH and I had some piece of mind. Best of all, it was barely there by the time he went back to school. Moral of this long-winded story - you can be concerned about your child and can take creative steps to safe-guard them without putting them on a leash.

Posted by: two terrific boys | April 23, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Creating a handle allows others to follow your train of thought.

So there IS a big difference between creating one or being anon.

I have noticed, however, that those that post anon generally are the fire and forget type... they're not here for discourse, they're here to just say their piece and leave.

Posted by: Ajohn1 | April 23, 2008 1:26 PM | Report abuse

"He thought it was an awesome tattoo and DH and I had some piece of mind."

LOL. I just imagine some three year old running around Disney like he's Guy Pierce in Memento.

That is a great idea.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Here is a funny story. My daughter and her friends wanted me to drop them off at the mall and leave them by themselves. I was very doubtful that they could do this (they are 12, I'm embarrassed to say after reading all of your postings). I decided to show them the pedophiles that are posted online that live in our neighborhood and the neighborhood where the mall was located - and let them discuss this. This was an interesting experience for them, I think. First, they were surprised at the number of pedophiles on record - of course, I told them this was a very small number because most are not caught. Second, they were surprised to see pictures of men that looked "normal." Third, my daughter read that many were "noncompliant." The funniest part was her noticing that a 93 year old man (and he looked like it too) was listed AND noncompliant. We all had a good laugh at that one. I didn't let them go to the mall and they stopped asking me. This decision from a mom that grew up in Chicago (city not the burbs), walked home from school, took the bus, and train, and had a couple of memorable incidents with suspicious men (one on the train who was fondling himself and another who tried to ask me for directions but then exposed himself). Not to my kids nor on my watch.

Posted by: Allison | April 23, 2008 1:33 PM | Report abuse

two terrific boys -- what a great solution! I had that same fear with my daughter -- same thing, very active and mobile and quick and fearless, hated the stroller, and waaaaay too little to remember anything useful (@ 18 mos.). The first time we took her to the state fair, I, ummm, was ready to put her on a leash. Literally: I bought one of those toddler harnesses! So of course she was so fazed by the crowds she spent the whole time glued to us like a remora. :-)

Posted by: Laura | April 23, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

I watched "To Kill a Mockingbird" for the first time the other night. What struck me the most was the 5 and 8 year old children were running around town unsupervised. Isn't that funny that this was the most notable thing to me? It's not that it was completely safe at the time, just that children were given independence and, thus, responsibility at an earlier age.

You can tell adults who had helicopter parents. Somebody's always there to bail them out, so they never step up and take responsibility for their own lives. There's a huge difference in being a supportive parent and a controlling or enabling parent.

Posted by: NativeBlue | April 23, 2008 1:40 PM | Report abuse

Re: "To Kill a Mockingbird." Love that movie. But a difference there, besides the year the action takes place, is that it took place in a small town, again where everyone seemed to know each other. Although the kids were running loose, it felt like everyone in town had an eye out for them. Plus, no rush hour traffic!

Posted by: PQ | April 23, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

Independence is good but it is not earned without risk. I myself had many blissful summer days on long island in the 70s running free with my friends. I don't remember exactly when we no longer had to be in sight of a parent, but it was fairly early. It starting with the privilege of walking down the block alone, then graduating to crossing the street alone to a friends house, then graduating to walking home from school unattended.....I also distinctly remember having odd men ask odd questions of me during my tween years - at parks, on the long island railroad, just about anywhere where adults intersected with children in public places. By the by we lived in a very safe community (Garden City, Long Island). My conclusion, at some point a child has to be alone in public and learn to navigate in the world alone. When it is appropriate is dependent upon a lot of information not presented in this article - but learning to be independent is NEVER a risk free proposition.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 1:48 PM | Report abuse

I know what you mean about the movie thing. I saw a rerelease of the Exorcist a few years ago, and the freakiest thing was seeing the pediatrician smoking in his office!
Allison - that's a good perspective, and you're using your judgment about what your kids are ready for, but at the same time, I hope you also share with them how you reacted (or wished you'd reacted) to the men on the train. that's the training (no pun intended) they really need for that time in a half a decade or so when they're out on their own all the time.
BTW, a friend of mine has a joking theory that everyone's office has a sex offender. If you search those sites, in time, you learn it's pretty close to the truth.

Posted by: shank | April 23, 2008 1:49 PM | Report abuse

It's 'peace of mind' idiot, not 'piece of mind.'

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 1:54 PM | Report abuse

shank - brilliant! i'd forgotten about memento. of course, you'll have to make it guy pierce dressed as captain jack sparrow!

laura - tried the actual leash, too, when DS was about 20mos. unfortunately, he's extremely flexible with excellent fine motor control. he figured out how to undo it the first (and only) day we tried it.

Posted by: two terrific boys | April 23, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Allison, I was talking with my neighbor who has a now 14 yr old daughter (was 12 or 13 at the time) and asking her about how long she left her daughter at home alone, did she go to the mall with friends? Her answer was interesting and I believe true, young tweener girls (approx 10-13) are at greater risk of being "picked up," as in knowingly going with someone they don't know then younger kids. As girls approach HS their judgement is skewed due to peer pressure and curiosity, esp if the offender is someone that is not that much older, say an older HS or College aged boy. There is probably some research as to the vulnerability of girls this age. Young kids will yell and run away, tweener girls are a bit like deer in the headlights, they are flattered someone notices them and don't want to look like sissies by yelling or running away.

My neighbor has allowed her daughter to go to the mall with friends, out to the movies with a group, etc. Eventually you have to let them go but that age is so scary for girls.

Posted by: Get real | April 23, 2008 2:17 PM | Report abuse

Cyns- well it is true that you will be told that you suck by someone no matter what you do.

However, by age 17 they either have good judgement and you can trust them, or you don't. If you don't trust them, then by all means do not allow them to be at home by themselves.

Posted by: Liz D | April 23, 2008 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Anon. at 1:48pm wrote: "learning to be independent is NEVER a risk free proposition."

Truer words were never spoken. It's hard not become so risk-adverse that you stunt your children's independence, particularly given the media's constant harping on worst case scenarios. The trick, I think, is to try to be conscious of the risk-reward analysis we all subconsciously perform every day, especially with regard to our children. Often people are so blinded by the risk, they never get to the reward side of the equation.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 2:34 PM | Report abuse

"However, by age 17 they either have good judgement and you can trust them, or you don't. If you don't trust them, then by all means do not allow them to be at home by themselves"

Party at liz d 's house!!!! She is crazy enough to trust a teenager!!!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 3:24 PM | Report abuse

About girls at the mall, etc: the amount of independence should have nothing to do with gender - boys can be kidnapped, assaulted, just like girls. It just has to do with the kid's level of maturity. I drop off my 9th-grade daughter at the local "town center" or mall with her friends sometimes (she has a cellphone). She also walks home from school (about 1 mile, usually with a friend) if she has to stay after for something and her dad cannot pick her up. And she calls him every day when she gets home from school - or to tell him if she's going somewhere else. (i work further away.)

My 10 y.o. son, on the other hand, has ADHD and it will be a LONG time before I give him that kind of independence. He still doesn't understand the consequences of his actions. It's something I worry about as he gets older.

Posted by: just me | April 23, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

If only someone would invent an exoskeleton with a GPS unit in it, so I could just put my kids in it until they're 18....

When I look at the risks to my kids, I prioritize my worries based on what is most likely to happen, and what I am responsible for/can control. The #1 danger for kids is cars.

Yes, if someone abducted one of my kids, I would forever go over in my head what I could have done differently to prevent it, but ultimately I would not be the one responsible--the sick person who hurt my child would be. However, if I backed over my kid in the driveway, or they got killed because I didn't strap them in tight enough, it would be my fault and I couldn't live with that.

So I went the car seat clinic and spent a bunch of money on car seats when my kids were young enough for them. My partner thought I was being a little overboard initially, but now that she's been to a couple car accidents involving kids that came loose from their car seats (she's a firefighter), she defers to my rules around the car.

However, I let my 7 yo walk the two blocks to school by herself. I watch her cross and she is extremely safe about it--she won't cross if there is a car anywhere near the intersection. Granted, it's a small side street, but this is her testing her wings and she is extremely proud of the fact that she gets to do this by herself.

I also have told my kids about 'people who like to hurt other people' and how I do my best to not them meet anyone like that, but sometimes even mommy can't tell who they are because they look like everyone else and can seem very nice. My kids are also armed with age-appropriate information about sex, so they can't be lied to about it being a 'game' by someone they know. Because the biggest risk for abuse is someone you know.

Honestly, I think 9 is plenty old, and kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I think I was much more jaded about people when I was 9 than I am now.

Posted by: seattlemom | April 23, 2008 4:12 PM | Report abuse

I remember being in third grade and walking a bunch of smaller kids to school.
It was around the corner and no streets
had to be crossed.

In sixth grade (last year of my elementary school) occasionally we were allowed to go off campus for a quick lunch at one of two local resturants. We had to have permission and it had to be a group of about four kids. I think we had to run almost the entire way back to be on time.

The world has changed. I watch DD closely mostly because it is just her and because she is little and easy to snatch. I did tell her if someone tries to take her or one of her friends she is allowed to yell loud and hurt a grownup if necessary. I would have never been given permission to do that as a child.

Posted by: shdd | April 23, 2008 4:14 PM | Report abuse

Can I share my own experience as a child of a hover parent? I was the only child of an only child and grew up with my mother and grandmother believing every rumor that went around. As a result I was 9 before my mom let me ride my bike 2 blocks to a friend's house. The result? When abuse started in junior high I was unable to get out of it. I didn't know where to go, who to trust, or what would happen if I left the so-called "safe" confines of my house (where the abuse was going on). I was taught to be afraid of the world and so, when the safe spot went bad, I was stuck. Now, many years later, I'm still struggling with the fear of the unknown and have to fight myself to take any of the multiple opportunities that come up in life. It's getting better by the year but it still exists. And I still HATE talking with people I don't know; lots of fun when you've moved to a new area.

So hopefully that's a bit of a balance. I'm certainly not advocating dropping your child off in SE DC when they're 5. Or even letting them bike everywhere if you're in an area that's decidedly bike-unfriendly. Just raising them so that if their safe zone isn't safe (and it's the place most likely to be dangerous!) then they can get out. If hover parents truly are concerned with their child's safety then that needs to be top on their list!

Posted by: Kate | April 23, 2008 4:16 PM | Report abuse

I think it's wonderful what she did -- and it strikes a needed blow at the overprotective culture of fear that is actually turning our kids into obese couch potatoes whose major physical skill is extremely fast thumbs (for Game Boy and text messaging).

I grew up in New York. I don't remember when I started using the buses and subways myself, but I'm pretty sure it was by the age of 12.
Right now I live far in the 'burbs, where unfortunately my kids have no friends within walking distance. I think it's awful how little freedom they have. None of the nearby kids play outside, the way I did as a boy, even on these long spring days.
We do live near some wonderful wooded areas. My wife thinks I've given my older daughter too much freedom sometimes -- especially since she doesn't have a great sense of direction. Now that she's 12, it's no longer an issue. My 8 year old doesn't like walking, period, so she won't wander into the woods even if we let her.

But a few weeks ago, when she knew her older cousin was in our house (she was visiting) she snuck on to the school bus instead of staying in the aftercare, and walked home by herself (it's a 2/5 mile walk from the school bus to our house).

We didn't approve of her doing that without us knowing, and we told her so, but I was proud of her!

Posted by: Dad of two daughters | April 23, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Funny how some people are so sure that they know better than a parent what is or isn't safe or appropriate for that parent's child.

Last summer I got a bunch of tongue-lashings (and worse!) on one of these blogs, because I said my 15-y-o autistic son would be flying from CA to NY alone to visit his aunt, uncle and cousin. My judgements as to his readiness, his previous travel experiences and training for this trip, and my contingency planning just weren't good enough for some people. They seemed to honestly believe they knew more than me about the kid I'd raised for 15 years, a kid that they'd never even met.

And here again, we've got some people who have no problem second-guessing and criticizing the mother who's the subject of today's blog. Seems the kid lived up to his mother's expectations, and failed to live down to the judgements of the critics who'd never met him.

Maybe (gasp!) parents actually know their own kids and have better judgement than strangers in other cities who have never had any contact with a kid except reading about him. Could it be? Is it possible?

For the record - my son had a great trip, no problems, and it's been such a pleasure and joy to see how he's grown and bloomed as a result. This summer, my parents are taking the entire extended family on a Mexico cruise for their 50th wedding anniversary, and I can't wait to see my boy exploring Ensenada independently.

Posted by: Sue | April 23, 2008 4:51 PM | Report abuse

It's possible, but plenty of parents have horrible judgement, ESPECIALLY when it comes to their own children.

And every parent admits to making mistakes and being wrong on at least a semi-regular occasion.

Posted by: Liz D | April 23, 2008 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Bravo, Sue!

We had a similar experience when DS#1 taught himself how to body surf when he was 4. We evaluated situation (ex-life guard mom 2 arm-lengths away, guarded beach with DS positioned in front of guard stand, dad watching from beach, no undertow) and determined that the rewards (self-esteem, improved swimming, real respect for the power of the ocean to knock you on your butt when you least expect it!) far outweighed the risks. Unfortunately, other parents on the beach didn't see things our way. They kept rushing over to pull him out of the surf the instant he went under. He was really bent out of shape; honestly, I was peeved, too. My first thought was "Don't you all think I can monitor my own child?" Of course, there are an infinite number of stupid people out there who can't or won't monitor their children. I guess this is just part of what DH likes to call the "stupidity tariff", along with warning labels about coffee being HOT and not putting plastic bags on our heads.

Posted by: two terrific boys | April 23, 2008 5:26 PM | Report abuse

Just me: I hate to argue with you but girls are more enclined to go with someone because they have been invited or complimented than boys. This was my point. Boy abductions are just that, snatch and grabs for the most part. I am not saying the reverse isn't true in some cases, but in my opinion it is more likely for a pre-teen girl to be enticed than a boy. This is outside the familiar abuse scenario.

I am glad your daughter is trusted to go about her business, and I would never advocate keeping a child at home out of fear, but girls are more vulnerable imho.

Posted by: Get Real | April 23, 2008 7:09 PM | Report abuse

Well, my 13 year old was finally ready to spread his wings and began taking the metro home from school.. sadly this week he was "jumped" by two boys a little older than he is- punched, knocked down, robbed (of his cell phone, which ironically he carried in case of emergencies.) Now he is afraid to "spread those wings" any more. I hope he will move past this eventually- I hate to think those two thugs stole his sense of freedom along with his cell phone and MP3 player!

Posted by: Jo L | April 23, 2008 7:29 PM | Report abuse

I was raised in New York and at age 6 was considered responsible enough to cross Broadway (6 traffic lanes) by myself. By 10 I took public transportation to school. This included a bus transfer. By high school I traveled the city by myself including going to the movies, skating and even the beach which was an hour away.

My biggest regret about living in the suburbs is being unable to provide my kids with this sort of freedom because of the car culture in which we live.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 9:36 PM | Report abuse

How nice of this mom, and the others in the original article, to let the predators know when and where their children are available for luring or snatching. All in an attempt to be cool.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 23, 2008 10:40 PM | Report abuse

I was also born and raised in DC. I traveled from S.E. to Upper Northwest every day (on Metrobus and MetroRail) to attend 7th and 8th grade. Looking back, I can't believe my parents made that choice for me -- even though I had friends traveling with me. As a mom of 2 little boys, I wouldn't allow my sons to travel clear across town like I did - or even walk home from school by themselves, and their school is on the same street as our home - for that matter. It's just a different day and age. I don't think of myself as a helicopter mom either.

Posted by: mmk | April 25, 2008 11:02 AM | Report abuse

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