Is It Normal To Let Your Kids Get Eaten By a Bear?

Sharon November 9th, 2012

I wrote this five years ago, but I think all the discussion of free-range parenting merits a reconsideration.  My kids are now 7, 9, 11, and 12, and they range much further and freer than they did five years ago, but still I’m more careful than my parents – not because of fear of strangers, but because of the number and speed of cars.

My neighbor and I were discussing a favorite children’s book the other day. The book is Robert McCloskey’s classic _Blueberries for Sal_ in which a mother human and her daughter go blueberrying, and have a minor mix up with a mother bear and her cub. The book is charming and wonderful, and one of my own childhood favorites, now beloved of my 3 year old. My neighbor was telling me that she loves the book, but can never read it without a frisson of horror at what a neglectful mother the parent in the book is. And she’s got a point. After all, the mother of a child who is clearly a toddler tells her daughter to go pick her own blueberries and leave mother alone in peace to pick hers, on a wildlife rich hillside, where bears are known to be.  Mother, the book tells us, wants to pick blueberries to can for winter. Given such parameters, she can’t spend the whole day watching her daughter, who is left to take care of her own needs.

But, of course, the book is of a much older parenting era, from when my parents were children.   My neighbor and I both remember from our own childhoods that the kind of parenting illustrated in the book was normal. By four my sisters and I roamed our housing project with other children, playing in the woods behind it or on the gravelled hillside. We weren’t allowed to cross streets, but otherwise, we were remarkably free. Living on a busy, urban street at 6, my five year old sister and I crossed several busy urban streets walking alone to school.  By seven and six we trick-or-treated alone at night on city streets.

A generation later, neither my neighbor nor I permit or children to walk long distances, cross streets alone, or roam the neighborhood without supervision. Now some of that, in my case, has to do with having an disabled oldest child who cannot be trusted. But most of it has to do with higher parenting standards today. Letting your children roam is perceived as unsafe, and to some degree it is.  In response, “free-range parenting” which grants children more freedom has arisen as well, but there is still considerable debate.

Some of our attentiveness to our children seems to be paying off. Children’s death by accident rates have fallen significantly since 1970, mostly in a reduction of deaths in traffic accidents. In Britain, for example, such accidents fell by 75% from 1970 to 2000, while the population and number of cars grew.

On the other hand, absolute numbers of deaths on playground equipment and by child abduction are about the same – in 2005, 25 children died on playground equipment in the US, in 1970, 28 did, on the old “deathtrap” equipment we used to use and love. So in some areas our greater caution is providing real results – several hundred kids each year who aren’t dying in car accidents, for example, while in other areas, it isn’t making much difference.  Many parents worry a lot about abduction, which isn’t a very big risk at all, and which we really haven’t affected much by anything we’ve done (although we are MUCH more aware of it because of media attention).

The sheer number of cars on the road, the speeds they travel at and the reality that quite a number of kids did die in car accidents and still do  means that we have a real reason to fear letting them roam the way our parents did. And yet, there’s also a cost – by not allowing children the range of independence and freedom we did, our kids lose something. They lose maturity, judgement, independence, autonomy, time in the world as children. They lose contact with nature, and solitary imagination, playtime with other children. Their world is much more processed and managed by adults – safer, but less free.

And, of course, there are physical consequences – fewer of our children may die from road accidents, but more of them may have shortened lifespans from obesity, take medications for hyperactivity that in some cases (not all) is merely shorthand for not enough exercise. In _Last Child in the Woods_ Richard Louv exhaustively documents the effects of nature contact on children, and documents the consequence of  what he calls Nature-Deficit disorder, which include behavioral issues, depression, obesity, sensory issues, anxiety, and slower development of things like independence.

We are the only parents in history to spend this much time and energy protecting our kids. And, of course, it isn’t a hard sell – who doesn’t want their kids to live. If you offered most parents the blunt choice “ok, your kid can live to 68 and die of obesity and diabetes related consequences from being kept at home and indoors too much or your kid can have a 1 in 100 chance of simply dying when a car hits him” who wouldn’t take the 68?

During most of history, most parents provided either benign or not too benign neglect by the standards of the day. Most parents were more like Sal’s mother than like I am – they expected children, from a very young age, to entertain themselves while they worked, when they weren’t working alongside them.   Some historians argue that in the past, in some societies, many parents simply didn’t allow themselves to become deeply attached until it was clear the children had left early childhood and the danger of death. Lawrence Stone argues this in _The Family, Sex and Marriage In England 1500-1800_, but Stone’s conclusions have been disputed, and there is a simple dearth of evidence to be overcome.

Many traditional societies that are or have been in existence until recently are deeply affectionate to their children, despite the high risks of infant mortality. But it is definitely true that most societies have judged children to require less care and attention by a primary caregiver after infancy than we do.

For example, women in all parts of society have always worked both in and out of the home. Historically speaking, poor women who worked often left their children home alone for long stretches, very small children left with nearly as young older siblings, or in the 19th century, perhaps dosed with alcohol or opium to keep them from doing anything dangerous. At home parents in the 18th century made babies where clothes with giant pillows embedded in them to keep them from getting too badly hurt, or tied them to trees or furniture – but still lost children to fireplace accidents, injury, drowning, etc…

What is different about the way we parent now? One of the major differences is the sheer amount of attention we have to give our children. As domestic labor of all sorts has decreased, and many of the traditional functions of homemaking have been dropped, Juliet Schor notes that we’ve transferred that time to parenting. People are still spending about the same amount of time they were on domestic labor 100 years ago – only this time, they are attending their children and vacuuming, both to higher standards, rather than making candles and baking bread.

Barbara Ehrenreich has observed that no human society has ever simply allowed women only the work of childcare and domestic labor – women were simply too valuable, and other needs so basic that the notion of an at-home life with children at the center simply didn’t emerge until the 19th century. Which raises, of course, the question of whether any future, low energy, less industrialized society will be able to give to their children the same degree of safety attentiveness that we are now.

But this isn’t the only difference. One of the major differences is the structure of childhood itself. For example, my four year old sister was struck by a swing at the playground near our home, and lost two teeth and received a concussion. This crisis was resolved by the fact that the playground itself was full of children, including children who to my five year old eyes were near-adults – big girls and boys of 10 to 12. One of them ran for a nearby neighbor, another carried my sister home across the road. One of the most important differences was that all the children of the neighborhood played together this way – it was not a matter of letting a four or five year old wander the streets alone, because older children could be counted on to be present. Similarly, there were many more adults at home, and a custom of adults sitting on porches and otherwise keeping a general eye on things. If we began to do something wildly unsafe, the chances were good someone’s mother or father would stick their head out and yell at you to cut it out. And the chances were good you’d obey - adults had status.

We have learned, gradually, to relax with our children in places like our synagogue, and trust that if one of our sons goes out with a friend, there will be adults hanging about to keep an eye out, and that if someone misbehaves, a firm correction will be issued – perhaps by Mom or Dad, but also by friends who know that they can correct our kids. But there are comparatively few places like this in our children’s lives. In many neighborhoods, there is simply no one home for long hours, older children are at after-school programs and lessons, rather than out playing, and children’s lives are formal and structured. So letting your kids roam the neighborhood means letting them roam alone – much less safe than in groups.

And, of course, there are those cars again. More cars, going faster, with less experience keeping an eye out for young kids, and less reason to expect that kids might be playing in the roads.I live on a rural road, and might reasonably expect that my street, with perhaps one car every 20 minutes except during commuting time, would be a paradise. But I’ve seen folks come barrelling over our hill at full speed with no awareness of who might be on the other side, and have had one close shave myself while walking it – I don’t think I’m entirely ridiculous to fear what might happen to a five year old with less well trained reflexes and less fear of stupid drivers.

On the other hand, I’ve seen how extreme our fears have gotten, and perhaps mine are just as excessive. I’ve seen parents say that their children can’t be considered safe playing on their own front lawns, for fear that the child might run into a busy street. This is certainly true of toddlers and even four and five year olds, but I’ve seen parents make this argument about children who are 7, 8, 9 or older. I’m not sure in our reasonable desire to keep kids safe, we aren’t doing more harm than good.

It is remarkable, to me, how much we’ve consented to sacrifice for our cars. Our children’s freedom to run around is only one thing – our health, their health – cars are the leading cause of death in children, teens and young adults. Our rising asthma rates, and, of course, global warming are prices as well. In fact, it seems that we’re willing to sacrifice anything, pretty much, to keep the cars coming down our streets. What if we weren’t? We parents clearly think that our children’s relationship with nature is something worth sacrificing to keep them alive, and I, for one, cannot say we’re wrong. I want my kids *living* – but I’m not sure we’re making the right trade off. I want my kids living and in nature, my planet to have a sane climate and my kids healthy. Might it not be wiser and more loving to give up the economic and social benefits of cars, in order to have fewer dead and maimed kids?

But all of that is, in part, a side issue, since this column is about the price of parenting while doing other things. What happens if more of us go back to domestic labor, if the time we put from homemaking into parenting has to go back there.  What happens if more of us go back to working from and at home, and fewer of us have the time to give our kids all the attention we have been? Does that mean that a few of them will get eaten by bears? Is the only choice neglect and death or not letting our kids out of our sight?

To some degree, I think the reality is that that is the choice – that we have to risk our kids lives to some degree to give them lives. What degree that is, I don’t know. It isn’t a perfect solution – and it isn’t clear to me what the point of optimization is – the minimum number of children that have to die by accident so that the rest of the kids can have a meaningful childhood. Somewhere between the youth spent in a bedroom, wrapped in cotton wool and Huck Finn’s trip down the Mississippi lies a happy medium, and I haven’t found it.  Nor do I know if it is possible to identify that point.

Going to a less industrialized society means reducing some risks (car accidents), and raising others (fire). It means most likely having less time to supervise our kids, and it means that some parents will probably experiencing horrible outcomes. It probably also means in some ways other of us will get physically and mentally healthier children. Depending on how non-industrial, some of the consequences will be more serious than others. It depends what we lose, and what we can keep up. Bike helmets? Ration vaccinations to those able to pay? Do we try and keep the cars on the road at the expense of things like education and health care? That seems to be where we’re headed.

A few months ago, my autistic oldest son opened a locked door, opened a latched gate and, while Mommy was catching up on sleep and Daddy was changing a diaper, started walking down the road, bouncing his ball. It was 15 minutes before Daddy noticed that he’d gotten out and the gate was open.

We were lucky. Eli happily bounced his way down our rural road for nearly 3 miles before we found him.  He was not struck by a car. He didn’t go off into the pond and drown, he didn’t wander across the fields and get lost, where, unable to call out if we called him, he might have died of exposure. A neighbor spotted him, didn’t remember who he belonged to and stayed with him.  Another neighbor, on his way to work, stopped, seeing me frantically racing up the road calling Eli’s name.   He asked “are you looking for a little boy?” I climbed into his car (not waiting to see if he wanted to drive me somewhere or not, I was a little Mom-crazy) and ordered the poor man to take me to my son. He did. My heart started beating again, and eventually I stopped crying and praying. Eli was fine. We got better locks. It was my personal vision of hell.

The irony is that this escape was motivated, I think, by my seven year old’s desire to get out from under his parents’s thumb. He’s autistic. His judgement is impaired. We can’t trust him to wander – which means that his father and I watch him constantly, are always with him. But he also has a powerful urge to be alone, and an appropriate 7 year old’s desire to explore, have adventures and do cool things. There’s nothing wrong with his intellect and he’s an ordinary kid inside, with ordinary desires to do stuff. It is hard to know what Eli was thinking because he can’t talk to us, but I suspect that some of my fear was created by the protection I’ve so lovingly arranged for him.

It isn’t an irony I know how to navigate, and I’m not sure how other parents should. But I suspect most of us are going to have to risk our children in some way, balancing one risk (not enough food for the winter) against another (accidental death) in a less certain, less secure world. I suspect we may get happier, more confident, more competent children from this harrowing by fire that demands they learn to keep themselves safe, but that will be no real consolation for those of us who pay too high a price.

But there are some things we can do to keep this freer world safer for kids – reduce the sheer number of cars, teaching more safety skills to our children. Perhaps most of us could have “walk only” areas in our towns or communities. More of us could risk a little bit more, so that there were more children of various ages working together to protect one another. And perhaps we can bring more adults home to work and domesticate, so that children need not be roaming their world unobserved or unprotected.

Sharon, who is perhaps reading too much into _Blueberries for Sal_ ;-) .

36 Responses to “Is It Normal To Let Your Kids Get Eaten By a Bear?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and, while I always find good food for thought, this particular post really touched me. MY heart was pounding when reading about your son’s walk down the road–most parents have one or two of those moments and just thinking about them constricts my throat and gives me heart palpatations! I worry (constantly!), but I also try to build some real free time into my sons’ schedules. We’re lucky, though. We live in a leafy village outside of a major metropolitan area. Thirty-two grammar school age children live between our block and the next. They all pretty much hang out together, and the older kids watch out for the younger ones. About 75 percent of the moms are at home at least most of the time. Someone is always outside, and our elderly neighbors stand guard (or “sit guard”, glued to their adirondack chairs). Still, I worry, and mostly about drivers on their cell phones blowing the stop sign in front of my house and slamming into one of these wonderful kids. I don’t look forward to some of the very scary things coming down the pipeline, but this blog helps me see that there are some positive effects for our communities.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Sharon, I found this a very interesting post and I too had a pounding heart with your son’s trek into freedom…

    Interestingly I’ve just finished reading “The Glass Castle” – a memoir of a young woman who grew up with erratic, eclectic, irresponsible yet lovable and brilliant parents. She and her siblings were basically left to themselves, to fend for themselves, most of the time. They lived in some beautiful places (sleeping under the stars in the desert) and some horrific places… often having nothing at all to eat for days at a time except for what they found in trash cans (and I don’t mean the more cleanly form of dumpster diving).
    Fascinating book, amazing young woman she turned out to be it appears.
    Misi, WA State

  3. Anonymous says:

    In a nutshell- our society has become increasingly child-centered. Children used to fit in around the parents activities, not the other way around. I remember the days when moms said “go out and play” , no car seats, metal swings and monkey bars, riding a bike without a helmet, only coming in the house for meals during the summer and all the things that made up a normal childhood years ago. I truly feel sorry for children whose whole world is made up of parent directed activities and massive quantities of hand sanitizer.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Strauss and Howe theorize that child-rearing strategies (like many other things) go in 80-100 year cycles including lax, tightening, strict, and loosening phases, and that we are in the strict phase after tightening from 1984-2001. Check out 4th Turning for their rough argument (and some of their discussion of child raising cycles in past centuries), and Gen 13: Abort, Retry, Fail, Ignore, for some of their recent evidence.

    Brian M.

  5. Anonymous says:

    I think some of use are lucky enough to live in a situtation were we can pick can chose a bit. Yes to bike helmets, no to handsanitizer. But I hear about school where you have to use the handsanitizer.

    Sorry to hear about Eli’s adventure. Can you make him a safe hidey hole? — dd the younger has a large box she can go into alone (though what she could take in was restricted)or whould it be impossible for him to understand what was being offered?

    My older daughter used (at age 8)to walk around the corner to her piano lesson. It was about a 3 minute walk, and the teacher was to call me if she didnt’ arrive on time. THen she had a talk at school, become convinced that someone would “try to put me in a car” and refused to walk alone. This year, age 10, she decided she can walk the block from her bus stop to my parents’s house. Since there are 3 parents (who know her) meeting their sons there, I don’t worry about her. On a funny note, she walks on the other side of the road from “those boys.”

    I don’t know what the happy medium is, though I think children with at least one other child, are much safer walking and playing alone.

    There is so much worry about child abduction here. Last year the police were called on a many who leaned out of his car window (he was at a stop sign) to tell little boy waiting for a bus with his grandfather who had his dog with him that it was a cute puppy and then next day waved as he went by. The parents thought he was showing an unhealthy interest and was planning a kidnapping. The police thought the man (who lived on the same block) was being friendly. When I work on the library floor, about every other week, I hear a parent tell their children not to talk to the circulation staff becuase they are stranger and dangerous. Wouldn’t it be better to keep an eye on your children, but not teach them that everyone is a threat, and as they get a little older, start teaching them how to keep themselves safe. I’m not trying to blame the victim here, but surely you can let you child ask where the book on bug are and follow the librarian into the open stacks, while at the same time saying, if someone tried to take you outside or into a place that isn’t the children’s room, start shouting?

    MEA who whould love to know the answers.

  6. Anonymous says:

    At 63, I remember being allowed, at age 5, to wander the 60 acres of my grandmother’s hobby farm, lined with blueberry bushes. They gave me a little bucket. I ate way more blueberries than I picked. I also picked and ate wild strawberries. I was usually gone for hours. Nobody ever looked for me.

    Back at home, I walked a mile to kindergarten all alone, in all weathers (Indiana). I had to cross the main street. My mother was at home, and had the car, but she NEVER drove me to school.

    Now the school bus stops at every house, so that a child won’t have to walk 200 feet. At that, the mothers are often waiting at the street with their children.

    I think part of this situation is the extremely risk-phobic mentality in the U.S. Daily sensational news stories of terrorism, kidnap, rape and murder cause people to believe that these acts are common in their own neighborhoods, and if they don’t watch their children every minute, a terrorist or sex criminal will get them.

    Probably the first step toward allowing your children a little freedom is for you to stop watching the news!

    –Lynnet in Colorado

  7. BoysMom says:

    My folks lived in the country from the time I was seven on, and I was allowed to roam pretty much freely (though not to cross the highway) through their land and two neighbors, as long as I was accompanied by the dog, a big golden retriever/newfoundland cross (we think). I’m an only, so there was no question of having siblings about. The dog was intended to be some protection (mostly by buying me time to run, which he never had to) against mountain lions and moose.
    Mine are younger, and as long as we’re in town (VERY small town) we only have to worry about semis. But if we get acerage, I’m not sure we’ll let them roam until the oldest is mature enough to be armed, because of the wolves.
    Question for you all: given a choice between renting an old duplex in town a block from my husband’s work, general store, etc, or buying 5 acres 30 miles out bordering federal river bottem land and building (monthly payment would be about 2/3 of current rent), which would you do?

  8. Anonymous says:

    My 13 year old daughters’ best friend (aged 12) lives about 2 miles away on quiet roads (but not isolated) with pavement (sidewalk)all the way. I’m not willing to be a taxi service for my daughter, or her friend, and when taking the friend home we will, if the weather is good and it is daylight, walk. A couple of months ago my daughter slept over at her friend’s house we agreed that she could walk home, unaccompanied, the following morning. The friend’s parents wouldn’t let her and drove her the two miles. The last time an aunt drove her half the way and she was permitted to walk the last mile herself. At what age do we think our children should be safe on the street? I’m not asking the other girl to walk alone, just that mine can, in the daytime, on as afe roads as you will find in Britain. Yes, things may happen, but if she is ferried everywhere, other things surely will!

    Margaret

  9. Jen. says:

    Just for the record, Blueberries for Sal was originally published in 1948.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I grew up in a large city and I walked to school myself from age 5, took the bus at 8 and the trains at 10. I had the freedom to roam and I did- biked everywhere, explored- the works. Now it seems as if everyone expects a child molester to snatch their kids- my friends never let their kids roam freely, let alone bike, etc and we live on a small dirt road. They also won’t let their kids ride the schoolbus and drive them to and from school.

    I’m not sure what is happening- overwhelming fear? The “too precious child” syndrome? I don’t understand it- I know that stuff happens- even if you are the most careful parent- but most kids survive just fine. Do parents want guarantees? It doesn’t bode well for the future for these kids- they are growing up being hovered over by adults in planned activities or else playing video games, watching TV, on the computer. And let’s not forget the obsession with cell phones- with parents staying in constant touch by cell phone with the children…….

    Glad I wasn’t raised this way!

  11. Kim says:

    Boysmom – LAND! We have a 5 year old, 2 year old, and 9 month old. The onlyone who does not play outside by herself is the 9 month old. We live on a fenced in acre and the 2 and 5 year old play outside by themselves. “Go outside and play” is often heard along with “Quit leaving the door open, you’ll let the flies out!”

    We keep a padlock on the gate to the animals because as gentle as the goats are, they are still animals and have horns. That and the two year old will (and has) eaten goat poop and alfalfa pellets.

    We left a neighborhood of meth and othe drugs, broken glass and dirty needles thrown over the fence into our yard, and an explorer unable to be himself because he couldn’t even play in the back yard without fear of picking up something fatal like the remnants of meth-making material.

  12. tk says:

    Sharon, I love you. I really do. We’re pretty different, but you say what I think.

  13. Anonymous says:

    re : “ok, your kid can live to 58 and die of obesity and diabetes related consequences from being kept at home and indoors too much or your kid can have a 1 in 100 chance of simply dying when a car hits him. Who wouldn’t take the 58? You’d be crazy not to..”

    Really? This absolutely stuns me. You’d sentence your kids to a certain slow death rather than let them live a real life.

    I have a question.. are you a typical American parent? Not trying to put you down at all, just wondering where the difference lies. I know nobody who would choose this.

    admittedly-not-a-parent,
    Christchurch, NZ

  14. jewishfarmer says:

    Jen, thanks for the correction. I knew that sounded wrong.

    For me, most of this is not about the child molestation/snatching data (which, after all, haven’t changed in decades), but about the fear of cars. It is true that most kids ended up fine – it is also true that 3000 dead children a year, plus 10,000 maimed ones is a lot of dead and injured children. This is not a wholly irrational issue – sure, most children are fine, but that doesn’t make it ok if your kid is one of the 13,000 unlucky ones.

    Anonymous, I don’t know if I’m typical or not – I can’t guage myself in regards to America. But yes, I’d give 100 kids 58 years rather than 99 of them 70 and 1 of them 5. Not just because it might be mine, but because some losses are hard to bear. If the numbers were one in 10,000, my answer might be different. What you see as “slow death” I see as “almost six decades of life.” But I know there’s no perfect answer here. My job is to keep my kids alive – not at any cost, but as fairly and rationally as possible.

    Perhaps that’s wrong – I honestly don’t know.

    Sharon

  15. erlking says:

    In some ways, Sharon, you’ve put your finger on the dilemma of our day–what side of the line do you walk between liberty and security?

    I grew up in south eastern Pennsylvania in the ’70s. It was a great time to be a kid–there were tons of us, for one thing. The lines between country, town and suburb were permeable which meant I could walk from my catholic school in town through cornfields to my house. Idyllic, certainly in retrospect.

    BUT, I have two kids of my own–a saucy 3 year old and another in utero– and I shudder to think of them doing some of the things I got to do. The times I nearly broke my neck falling through a hayloft. Or nearly impaling myself on a harrow buried in the tall grass I didn’t see during a game of tag. Nearly drowning in the creek while catching crawfish.

    As a person, I’m glad I had those chances: as a parent, I want to make sure my kid doesn’t.

    (Trust me, I know how awful that sounds.)

    I don’t know the answer. All I know is I let the 3 year old alone out in the (fenced) yard only with the dog and only while I’m in the kitchen. (In other words; not alone.)

  16. Seven Trees says:

    I had one of those idyllic, low-interference childhoods in the 60′s-70′s. Being the oldest of 6, I can see how my youngest sister turned out (with the more modern American parenting) compared to my next-born brother & I, and it’s stunning. When one of my sisters was a newborn, we still tent-camped way up in the Cascade mountains of WA. A bear came between the grown-ups’ & kids’ tents one night and growled at my dad when he tried to spook it away. It ransacked some food and went into the woods. My mom was leery of camping for a bit (we called her bearanoid) but got over it and we still camped all over the state and had much fun.

    Now she ‘camps’ in a cabin, RV or motel.

    But I agree that life has gotten riskier for children, and TPTB have let that happen. We don’t have to live with a car-centric society, but it makes people rich to do so. We don’t have to let men prey on children and women, but fear keeps them/us in our places, the better to be channeled into shopping and consuming.

    Joanna of Seven Trees

  17. Anonymous says:

    I think we tend to underestimate risks when we feel we are in control, and overestimate risks when we feel we are not in control. This is more about how much in control of our lives we feel we are, as opposed to a true evaluation of risk.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Re: the 5 years vs. 58 years. I makes perfect sense to chose the 58 years if you want year DNA to go on.

    MEA

  19. Anonymous says:

    Oh, not another rant against more responsible parents. Sharon I mostly always agree with you, and I admit I don’t know what it is like in a very rural setting nor do I know what it is like to raise an autistic child. But the suburban life is fraught with its own risks and only very irresponsible parents ignore them.

    I can understand when the anti-safe-parenting rants comes from my parents and their generation. After all they were the ones who spanked [beat] their kids because their parents had beaten them; who lost their kids numerous times because they were too lazy to pay attention; who drove their kids down the highways without seatbelts; and who let their kids deal with drive-by sexual predators by themselves because it was only a few blocks to the friends house. Every one of these things I experienced personally because my parents were ignorant and irresponsible.

    I do not apologize to anyone for being more street smart and protective than the previous generation. My child has more love and attention, more confidence, more advantages than I had. She is well-behaved, well-liked, and well-adjusted. She is not spoiled, not obese, never spamked, and has plenty of time with friends and nature. The reason she gets time in nature is because I bother to expose her and her friends to it. [Granted, most of my nailpolish-encrusted, dyed blonde peers wouldn't be caught dead showing kids how to pick up a daddy longlegs.]

    My daughter gets plenty of freedom to explore outside. I or another adult can still be somewhere in the vicinity [at a reasonable distance] because that is the responsible thing to do. The only disadvantage is that I am inconvenienced by the amount of time I devote to her transportation. Oh well.

    This is a car-centered society and you do what you have to do. Sure it would be great to be living in Sweden instead but we don’t. Cars will disappear only when it is inconvenient and too expensive – and that time is coming, as we all know. That’s why my daughter rides a bike and gets horseback riding lessons.

  20. Sara says:

    I really do make an effort not to come over here and get on your case about historical stuff, but in the nineteenth century, there was a HUGE difference in most families that you’re not taking into account — most families we’d call “middle class” today had household help. A maid, or maybe a cook; if not hired staff, then a maiden aunt or cousin who pitched in and helped with chores.

    My grandmothers still can’t believe that I get by without someone coming in to do the heavy cleaning — to them, as it would have been to their mothers, that’s completely incomprehensible.

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  33. Peter says:

    One thing which is likely to change going forward is the amount of intervention by professionals in the way people parent their children. For example, right now if you are thought to fall below the community standard in some way, and someone makes a complaint, you may receive a visit from a Children’s Aid worker or social worker. This is a strong incentive for parents to comply with the community standard, even if you don’t agree with it. Going forward, there will be less money to spend on that king of thing, and consequently, less of it will be done.

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  34. Denise says:

    Sharon: An excellent article worthy of reprint. Thank you. My husband, 1 of 10 children, frequently disappeared when he was a child. He was known far and wide as the “Arkansas traveler”. On one occasion, he traveled several miles to the home of a friend because he wanted to watch the only T.V. set for miles around. In the meantime, his panicked parents alerted neighbors & a townfull of men organized a search party at the local bowling alley. He was found when a portion of the search party arrived at a small country store to warm up. The owner of the t.v. told them he was at his house watching the three stooges. Only one of many travels in his childhood, many of his classmates still call him the “arkansas traveler”. He grew up to be a very independant and reliable man!

  35. Katherine says:

    We had a discussion at church just a few weeks ago about how much freedom we give our kids. One mom’s opinion was that it would be child abuse to let her 2 kids walk to and from the bus stop! 2 kids, together, ages about 7 and 9. And we’re talking walking down a neighborhood street, less than a block. Most of the other moms didn’t see it quite as far as child abuse, but kept a much closer eye on their kids.

    My kids have walked down to the end of our street by themselves to catch the bus since kindergarten. I walked the older one down for the first week or two and then let him go alone. There were other, older kids waiting there as well, which I’m sure made me more comfortable about it. After that, each year I would wait on the bus for the first few days until we had a pattern of when the bus actually came (vs the hypothetical time) and then they were on their own.

  36. ET says:

    How many kids have actually been eaten by a bear?

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