Posted by: wrmcnutt | February 4, 2010

On Leaving Your Child Alone

I ran across this column today, and as child-free adult, found it interesting.  You might want to check it out.


Back already?  Good.  I’ve been following a new trending parenting, “free range parenting.” In a nutshell, free-range parenting is a reaction to the trend over the past twenty years of hyper-parenting.  Sometimes called helicopter parents, people hyper-parenting never leave their children unsupervised, move them from one organized, regimented activity to another, and above all, never let them take any risks.  Free range parents encourage their children’s imagination and let them explore their world in an age-appropriate manner, often unsupervised or alone.

Child-rearing in a rational manner, you know, like I was raised.

I remember when I was first left home alone.  I was nine.  NINE.  Mom was running to the corner store for a quart of milk and a loaf of bread.  She was gone MAYBE twenty minutes.  I felt incredibly privileged and grown-up.  The house was empty, and _I_ was in charge of keeping it safe, neat, and tidy.  As I recall, I was really focused on nothing going wrong, lest the opportunity never recur.  After all, I was always going to be nine, and Mom was always going to be there.

More to the point, while Mom was home,  I was allowed to go practically anywhere. I walked to school this distance of .7 miles unsupervised to the first grade and up to midway through the second grade.  When we moved to Boston, or, more properly, to Framingham, it was .9 miles to school. (You can actually ‘walk’ both of these routes virtually using Google Street View.  Ain’t that cool?)  I was there from second the midway through the fourth grade.  During those times, Mom’s first priority was to select a house “within walking distance” to the local grammar school.  She was not going to fool with a school bus, and she was certainly not going to waste half her day running us back and forth to school.  I’m told by a buddy of mine who’s got nieces and nephews in grammar school that the de reguir these days is to drive your kids to school and sit there and wait until you see them go in the door.  After school, you wait in line and staff from school escort them out to you.  My range as a child was smaller than some other free-range kids, but I was allowed to freely travel up to about a mile and a half from home, with no supervision, from the time I was about nine or ten.  I had to tell mom if I was leaving her immediate vicinity, where I was going, and when I expected to be back.

I’d have suffocated, and my Mom would have gone ballistic.  This is no way to raise children in the world.  Yes, it’s dangerous, but it’s the world, they have to live in it. How on earth are these kids going to learn independence, self reliance, and good, old-fashion courage if they’re not ever allowed to take any risks.

Today, parents are afraid to leave their kids in the car while they run in and pay the bill.  Not that they’re afraid of the children getting hurt.  They’re afraid of some busybody seeing kids left alone and calling the police, who will immediately call Child Protective Services.  In fact, one of the best parents I know came within a hair of CPS being called because her son had learned to work a doorknob.

Do we really want to raise an entire generation of kids who, until they graduate from college, believes that no one trusts them to make good decisions?



  1. Bravo! This is one of the most sensible things I’ve seen about parenting in years! And – aside from everything noted in the article – I’m dead sick of parents using their children for their own unwillingness to pitch in/participate/have a life, etc. as though a child will perish if it’s ever put down for any reason but a nap! How DID our gene pools survive all the centuries of such child neglect? The mind boggles.

  2. Recently my beloved Son in law, was a good parent and took part of a day off from work to take his son to the doctor and then to CVS pharmacy to get perscribed meds. The child in question (one of my beloved grandsons) had taken off his booties. Dad tucked “said son” into his jacket and went into the pharmacy to get the meds. As the filling of the perscription was going to take a few minutes, he took the child back to the truck to wait. He did not strap him into his car seat as they were just sitting in the parking lot. After a bit a police cruiser came by. My son in law had been reported for child endangerment. Reason- no socks or shoes (the child was being carried by his father) and not in a car seat (in a parked car).
    Talk about busybodies!!

  3. It’s a hard call and easy for parents to over-react one way or the other. I probably had double the “range” you did as a kid, but…

    My ENTIRE family lived within five square miles of one another. I came from that kind of place, those kinds of people. Everyone knew everyone. We wandered in and out of the houses in the neighborhood freely. People lived and died in the same HOUSES for generations, not just within the same blocks. It felt safer then – not that it necessarily was, but with all the known eyes on the kids, it certainly felt that way.

    I do not know my neighbors. I know of one, maybe two houses in my neighborhood that I feel comfortable about knocking on in an emergency. I know of perhaps another three in my entire TOWN. In the metro area of Little Rock, I can name maybe a dozen. For a person that grew up literally knowing the occupants of EVERY HOUSE for a mile radius, that’s kind of a scary feeling.

    I am pretty loose when it comes to letting Harry roam, but I don’t think he will ever have the kind of fluid boundaries I did. It’s the price we pay for mobility.

  4. On a recent visit with my niece and grandniece, my traveling companion noted how mommy was obviously taking good care of baby without being smothering. Baby actually crawled down the hall to the back room, and back, without mom going into hysterics.

    Abby, my darling grandniece, is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.

    When I was in kindergarten and first grade, I walked to school (maybe a mile away). One day, my sister was not there to accompany me home, so my mom made arrangements with the neighbor boys to guide me. Well, they ran off and left me in the woods next to the school. I knew the neighborhood and decided to take the long way home. When I arrived over an hour late, my mother was frantic, and *I* got punished for not coming straight home.

    But I do remember lots of times Mom saying, go play at the neighbor’s house. And I did. Without necessarily telling her which neighbor.

  5. We took the school bus, but when I was 9 I was allowed to walk about the same range weather it was to the Ben Franklin, the 7 Eleven or down the railroad tracks and then out in the woods to the swimming hole.

  6. Parents have their own reasons why they don’t want their kids to be left at home alone. As a single mom my kid is my only treasure in this world that’s why I provided them with a best safety tool they can use if emergency strikes. Check out this blog on where I heard about the service. Here’s the link

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