Free-Range Kids and An Anecdote

A while ago, Lance Mannion and I had a bit of an exchange about overly restrictive parents who freak out if a ten year old is walking around by himself. I argued that we’ve become far too restrictive.

Anyway, a couple nights ago, I was talking to a long-time reader who clearly remembers traveling around the New York Subway system by himself–and not one quick stop–when he was eleven. He was definitely not a problem child, or one step away from a jail cell. That was just considered normal. In 1952.

Just one anecdote though.

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5 Responses to Free-Range Kids and An Anecdote

  1. Joe Shelby says:

    When I was 10, in 1980 in a San Diego suburb, I was regularly taking the town buses to the library, and occasionally walking home, alone, from school at a distance of more than two miles when the school had an ‘evacuation drill’ (where there were intentionally no after-school activities). This school system doesn’t have many schools with busses at them and I’d gotten special dispensation to stay there after my parents moved to a neighborhood served by a different elementary school.

    At 11, I was regularly biking in a Jacksonville suburb through neighborhoods and back routes (areas where the houses hadn’t been built yet) that today would have parents calling the cops on me. At the time, it was safer to take those back routes to get to the mall (oh yeah, I hung out at the mall alone, too) than to take the main roads, because drivers were stupid and the likelihood of getting hit by a car was much higher than getting kidnapped.

    Oh yeah, it still is today, too. (though that particular suburb and my former neighborhood did have one of those very rare kidnapping/murder by a stranger incident when the 7 year old was walking home alone from the elementary school – which of course just increases the paranoia on the parents of kids there today).

  2. bluefoot says:

    What I find pernicious about this is the effect on kids. I have a niece and nephew in their early-to-mid teens, and they are timid about doing things on their own. Pretty much all their not-at-home time is supervised (band rehearsal, sports, a parent is taking them and their friends somewhere). When we go out, they get uncomfortable if they don’t have an adult within visual range. One will be going to college in a couple of years and I wonder how they will be able to be self-sufficient.

    I also TA at one of the colleges here in Boston, and the students tell me they usually do things in groups – work, study, socialize. A lot of them do not know how to be on their own. I wonder how much of that is attributable to the everything-must-be-supervised phenomenon.

  3. Bluefoot’s comment reminds me of my observation that college kids are *always* using their cell phones, to the point that I wonder if they spend any time thinking.

  4. Frank Carpenter says:

    I used to go to Schenectady (I can still spell it!) with my mother when she needed to shop, I would hop on the bus to Albany to visit a used book store that had lots of SciFi. Take the bus back and sit on the car reading until mom was done. I was 11.
    Year later, I missed the bus taking our group in science and arts camp to the Museum of Natural History. Dad drove me to Albany, took the Greyhound to NY, NY. Spent the day and got back around 11 PM. I was 12, and nobody thought it was a big deal.

    During this time I also worked on a dairy farm. Ride my bike about 5 miles to hay, muck out the milking barn, drive a tractor and spread manure. 15 cents an hour. Those used books in Albany were usually 5 cents 🙂

    Bluefoot’s comment strikes a chord with me, I am never so happy as when I am alone.

  5. kaleberg says:

    In the 1960s, the usual age for OK to ride the buses and subway on one’s own was 11 or 12. The idea was that you’d know enough to have a return fare and how to call home from a payphone. Of course, when you were 9 or 10, you’d have a pretty wide range to explore by walking which was a real advantage of being a city kid since the suburbs didn’t really have all that many places to walk.

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