A Mom Lets Her Son Walk to Soccer…And The Police Come Calling

More sidewalks, better traffic lights (such as the “scramble” light at General Rees and Glenridge), even private roads and paths will never overcome the idea that children of all ages must be supervised 24/7.

Here is one mother’s experience from the Free-Range Kids Blog:

A WOMAN NAMED LORI WROTE: I went searching for your story after an experience last night. My 10-year-old son wanted the chance to walk from our house to soccer practice behind an elementary school about 1/3 mile from our house. He had walked in our neighborhood a number of times with the family and we have driven the route to practice who knows how many times. It was broad daylight – 5:00 pm. I had to be at the field myself 15 minutes after practice started, so I gave him my cell phone and told him I would be there to check that he made it and sent him off. He got 3 blocks and a police car intercepted him.The police came to my house — after I had left — and spoke with my younger children (who were home with Grandma). They then found me at the soccer field and proceeded to tell me how I could be charged with child endangerment. They said they had gotten “hundreds” of calls to 911 about him walking. Now, I know bad things can happen and I wasn’t flippant about letting him go and not checking up, but come on. I live in a small town in Mississippi. To be perfectly honest, I’m much more concerned about letting him attend a birthday party sleepover next Friday, but I’m guessing the police wouldn’t be at my house if I chose to let him go (which I probably won’t).

I WROTE BACK: Incredible! It’s like the Salem Witch trial era, when people were hallucinating witchcraft. Today we hallucinate horrific danger in the safest of settings. I am so sorry you – and he – went through this!

LORI WROTE: I appreciate you responding. I was more than a little upset yesterday and second-guessing my actions. I tend to actually be more of a hovering parent, so even though I was nervous about my son going on his own yesterday I really didn’t think it was a bad decision. I really resented the police officer trying to lecture me about how the streets aren’t safe. Rather than give in to the hysteria or naively ignore the danger, I think I’m going to go down to the police office and ask to see detailed statistics about what happens on our streets in the afternoon hours. I’d like to base my decision on facts rather than hysteria. ‘Course, I don’t quite know what to do about the “hundreds” of people who called 911 when they saw him on the street. I can’t imagine that many people even saw him in 3 blocks in a mostly residential neighborhood. But, if they were watching out for him, that just makes me feel like he was that much safer.

I WROTE encouraging  her to go get those statistics and keep me posted. She did!

LORI WROTE: Guess what. I just got an apology from the Chief of Police. I emailed him this afternoon to ask for stats and explain what happened. He called me almost immediately, assured me that I lived in a safe neighborhood, and apologized for the officer’s conduct. He asked if I really wanted the stats, or if I just wanted to know that I was right. I told him that knowing that I was right was enough for me. I still don’t know what I can do about the people who call 911 because they see my son on the street alone, but at least I don’t feel like a naïve mother anymore. And, I like our chief of police even more J. He promised to handle this himself with the officer.

FREE-RANGE MORAL OF STORY: It takes fortitude to trust your own instincts, especially when well-meaning (but deranged) authorities tell you not to. But in times of mass hysteria, that is what’s required. — Lenore

12 replies
  1. Keri
    Keri says:

    I wonder if television plays a role in this. The evening news is a condensed version of every bad thing that can happen, with no context of scale. And it’s only made worse by certain 24-hour “news” channels that fixate endlessly on every rare and outrageous event.

    I’ve observed that people who watch a lot of sensationalist “news” programs tend to be paranoid. They are always worried about their stuff being stolen, they perceive every unknown as unsafe and every stranger as a potential threat. What a horrible and limiting way to spend your time on earth.

    I think you’re right that no matter what kind of stuff we build to facilitate children, we still have to overcome the paranoia factor. Add the problem that many parents are too busy to take the time to walk or ride places with their kids.

  2. Brian in So Cal
    Brian in So Cal says:

    Truly sad that that society has come to this. Could you have imagined the reaction if he was cycling instead of walking?

    I believe we live in the safest times in the history of mankind, yet people are more afraid now than ever before. Child abduction by strangers has been and is still extremely rare.

    The one thing I do fear the most when my son gets older is being a victim of this sort of treatment – especially if I teach him to cycle on his own.

  3. Eric
    Eric says:

    Since I have two schools in my neighborhood, I don’t know what to say.

    On the one hand I guess (based on TV News) I can understand why parents don’t want to let children out of their sight. “Stranger Danger: seems to be an accepted norm. I, and I don’t think anyone, can fight it.

    On the other hand, I was rather rebellious, and I went nuts over what I considered to be too much close supervision by my parents.

    Compared to the standards of today, my parents would have been arrested for giving me too much freedom. They let me ride the bus to downtown Orlando when I was 11.

    OCPS expected me to walk to school when my house was 1.95 miles from the school. If I walked a mere 1/4 of a mile away, I could ride to school on a bus, so sometimes I did.

    Looking back on it now, the bus driver must have been very concerned (since she always gave me a concerned look) because sometimes I rode the bus and sometimes I didn’t, so maybe my parents weren’t sending me to school regularly? I think that was it.

  4. Eric
    Eric says:

    And I did all this without my mother knowing about it.

    Isn’t that marvelous? My mother didn’t know if I was riding a bus to school, or walking. She actually put us children out on the street with the expectation that we would somehow get to where we were supposed to get without someone to guide us.

    I was nine-years-old when I was given that responsibility over my siblings for the first time. As I said, these days, they would have put me and her and everybody in jail for child abuse.

  5. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    Child abduction by strangers is not only rare, it’s been dropping for a couple decades.

    These days the news reports every little incident in which a child is approached by a stranger. Those things happened when I was a kid, too, but it never made the news.

  6. Nico
    Nico says:

    Unbelievable. This reminds me of the movie “Bowling for Columbine”, which features some interesting observations about the hysteria and the role of the media.

  7. Jack
    Jack says:

    This is more common (unfortunately) than many realize. Police view their roles in varying ways and too often neighbors care more about “creating an image” for someone else than caring for healthy and mature children.

    On meeting my 10-year old son on his bike Friday after school, we needed to ride to a doctor’s office to pick up medication for my wife. On the way home on a four lane road filled with traffic, it started to rain. A police officer from a side street saw us and then began to follow requiring multiple turns.

    In following us home, was the female officer “just concerned” or wanting to know who was potentially “endangering” a child? In our neighborhood where the homes exist (low traffic) we were still being followed so the “protection” excuse was over.

    My son thought it was irritating to have a police car on his wheel. Should parents be made to “feel guilty” because many of us believe that allowing our children to be free-range raised is an important aspect in becoming responsible, caring and productive citizens? Even more important, what is the impact on our children when they begin to see law enforcement as more of the problem than the solutions?

    As Brian appropriately states: “The one thing I do fear the most when my son gets older is being a victim of this sort of treatment – especially if I teach him to cycle on his own.” My kids have since the age of eight and have heard many discouraging comments from other parents.

  8. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    The best place to get the news right now is The Daily News with Jon Stewart.

    Some interesting debate right now on the “swine flu pandemic” — are news organizations anxious to keep this a major story because of ratings? Typically, cable viewership remains pretty steady (percentage-wise) except in the event of a major cricis …..

  9. Keri
    Keri says:

    Sensationalist media is a profitable enterprise.

    I don’t own a TV, but I do sometimes watch The Daily Show on my computer.

  10. Jack B
    Jack B says:

    Wow. When I was in middle school and the first to years of high school, way back in the dark ages of the early to mid 1980s, it was not uncommon for me to eschew the bus in favor of a 2 1/2 mile walk to the school. Mid-sized town on the outskirts of Houston, TX, and not once was I accosted by the police, adults, or anyone else (except for a group of bullies one time). People were friendly and would wave, for the most part…

    What has happened to us?

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