free range kids


I didn't know him, I don't know the family, I don't personally know any Hasidic Jews, but the death of that eight year old in New York last week really rattled me. 

It wasn't just because he was a kid, although that's always dreadful. He's also not the first kid that's been killed walking home. It was just the whole circumstance. The practice run they'd done to make sure he knew the way. The compromise: he was limited to seven blocks, his parents were meeting him at a pre-arranged intersection. The terrible bad luck of it all, the one man he asked for directions once he got lost took him home and killed him. 

It made me think: so much for free-range kids. 

I've talked about free-range parenting before. I really like it. I've always wished I was prepared to give my kids more freedom. I wrote that previous post while we were still in Sydney and I have to say, rural life engenders more confidence, for better or for worse. We're less inclined to helicopter, I feel like even though there's dams and roads and potentially feral cattle that the risks of mad people seem less. Which I'm sure is not actually statistically true. 

And then, poor Leiby. What a horrible thing. Was he put in danger? Should they have waited till he was nine? 

You know what? It's bullshit. Please excuse my language. It's a horrible thing but it's newsworthy. And so we hear of it. How many kids died last week from, I don't know, choking? 

My friend Vanessa and I, many years ago, had a day at work when we watched a workmate receive the news that their best friend's kid had just choked to death on a chewable vitamin C tablet. Neither of us had kids. We were shocked to pieces. And it was so awful for the family and their close friends that I was amazed it didn't make the news. 

But it doesn't. They don't make TV shows out of things like that. 

And while I don't know anyone personally who has been murdered, I do know families, two in fact, who have lost toddlers in back yard swimming pools. How are those odds?

It's so easy to want to hold our kids close. It seems like the best and most loving thing to do. Except of course it isn't, and we don't hold the deck of cards which says where the madman will fall. Maybe I'll never get a backyard pool installed but I will let a kid walk home sometime. 

I have no doubt when the time comes and they drive off in my car with P plates on it that I'll be gripped with worry. 

But we have to try and trust, and live, and let them do stuff. Let ourselves do stuff. Let them create their own excellent stories totally unedited by us. 

And hope, our whole lives, to remain un-newsworthy. 





10 Comments on “free range kids

Angela Thompson
July 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm

What a tragic loss for the family of that little boy. Your blog prompted me to go and kiss my sleeping angels and thank the universe for their health and safety. I might add (for what it is worth) that I would have let him walk part of the way home. Dance with the angels little one.

July 19, 2011 at 12:29 am

It absolutely scares me silly – it really does and I’m not really looking forward to the time my three year old little girl starts asking if she can play out with friends etc …. but I know I will have to give her the freedom to be her own person but will be sitting there at the window worrying silly …

Thanks for your side of things and my thoughts go out to that poor little boy.

Leah x

July 19, 2011 at 11:08 am

it is hard and someone will always disapprove

funnily enough nw that I have a 12 and a 6yr old they are allowed quite a bit of freedom. they will go the park without me ( i give the house a once over and meet them there), they go to pick up the pizza sometimes and after sports camp they get the bus home by themselves and hang out at home in front of the tv until i get home

interestingly , the most supportive person in this has been my mother. she has thoroughly approved of increased freedom we have now and I thought she would be the most judgemental and disapproving.

hope you’re all well down there Fi darling! mis you loads up here , just really bad at blogging these days

Heather Ross
July 19, 2011 at 1:25 pm

I missed that completely in the news. I feel sick. That poor little boy and his poor poor parents. They will regret that decision until the day they die. Just dreadful. You are so right…the story was in the news because it is newsworthy and what it does is terrify all parents and makes us think that the world is more dangerous than it was when our parents and grandparents were growing up. The difference now is that we are all so connected and information is so accessible and the media select what they report. I don’t think there are more ‘psychos’ today who are preying on our children but these stories do fill me with fear and does have an impact on how much freedom I allow my children. x

July 19, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Im very strick with my kids I didn’t even allow them to play at the front of the house unless i was there. The day i thought yes I will allow them to there was an attemped abduction at the end of our street…

You can’t keep them in cotton wool forwever and i’m slowly letting them do extra things. My daughter is 11 and I will let her walk around the block but she is not allowed to go without our dog.. We are living in a diffrent society than we all grew up…

July 19, 2011 at 8:51 pm

I grew up a free range kid – on a farm, riding our horses for miles to visit friends, playing in creeks etc and it was great. In retrospect it must have worried my mum no end – for eg she always got us to phone when we got to our friends so obviously worried about us but still gave us the freedom. I can also remember the warnings about not getting into strangers cars and things like that. I want the same for my daughter but know I’ll really struggle with it. I read that story too and felt sick for that poor boy’s family and community, it’s such a hard balance between protecting your child and fostering their independence.

green ink
July 19, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Those poor, poor parents 🙁

I remember having a very free range childhood; Hobart isn’t a big city and our inner neighbourhoods were very family friendly. I was allowed to go to the corner shop two streets away on my own to get things for Mum, and when I was 10 I was allowed to get the bus on my own into the city. I looked a lot older than I was so maybe that helped. I think my parents did a good job of fostering “stranger danger” in us kids, we were taught even to be wary of people we knew. “If I haven’t told you it’s ok, you don’t go with them,” was my mother’s warning. We were also taught to go to a police station, a shop or a “safety house” (that was a big campaign in Tassie in the early 1990s) if we got lost. But fortunately we never had to put any of this into practice, I guess we were lucky.

It’s such a hard line to draw though for parents, I can imagine. I don’t know how I’d go if my time ever comes. As a fiercely independent person myself I know and appreciate how important it is for kids to do things on their own. But oh dear, those poor people – for giving their precious son a taste of the independence he so craved they’ve paid the ultimate price 🙁 so very, very sad.


Sarah @fignutmum
July 20, 2011 at 6:47 am

I agree, the story in the news really shook me up.
I feel that we live in such a horrible world at the moment where you really cant trust anyone. I really struggle with how I should parent my little ones during this time.
Living on 5 acers allows my kids to be a bit free-range so they can take more risks in our backyard without me worring too much

Secret Water
July 20, 2011 at 2:08 pm

Your post sent a shiver down my spine. I hadnt heard the story on the news. My mum has always made me paranoid about small children choking on things as my little brother almost did one Christmas on a boiled sweet. Yet she gave me and my siblings amazing freedom growing up. We lived on a 500 acre farm, peppered with open mine shafts, just a crumbling Cornish hedge and some bracken between a hundred foot drop into cold dark water, all sorts of other dangers that you’d find on a working farm not to mention riding feity little welsh ponies who bit and kicked and werent properly broken. But I’m convinced it had a fundamental influence on our characters. I wish the same for my children if I can find a way to move to the country. You’re truly blessed to live where you do and great to read about your enjoyment and appreciation of it in this blog.

August 6, 2011 at 4:41 pm

Hearing tragedies involving kids (whether newsworthy or not) has a tendency to strike a chord deep within most people (obviously not within the kind of people that perpetrate these acts), especially parents who have kids around the same age. I think it’s a brave and difficult choice to make to not restrict your children’s growth and development in the interest of their immediate safety. No wonder they say parenting is such a trying job!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *