Cops abduct 6-y-o for going to the store on her own, initially refuse to return to her dad

Emily is six, and her dad wants her to be independent. The local law, not so much. When he let her cross the street on her own, a cop picked her up and detained her and her dad for half an hour, before admitting that it wasn't illegal to let a six year old cross the street. But things really kicked off when dad let Emily go to the store, a few blocks away. The cops detained her, and when her dad went to pick her up, the law wouldn't let him, calling Child Protective Services instead and only relenting when CPS told them they were too busy to intervene -- though they did follow up with a threatening letter to Emily's dad.

Once I got to the police station they would not release her to me for over 20 minutes, though she was sitting behind bullet-proof glass just 20 feet away. When the police finally came to talk to me, I was told that they had responded to a call of a young child being unsupervised. They refused to identify a reasonable cause for her detention, or even what law had been broken. They insisted that they were waiting for CPS to respond before they would let me see my daughter, but then they later came back and said that they were releasing me to her because CPS had told them to give her to me, since I was waiting for her. .

I received a letter from CPS today.

Emily knows her name, address, phone number, etc. Furthermore, the responding officer knows exactly who both Emily and I are since she responded to a complaint regarding Emily crossing the street by herself just a few days prior, during which we were detained for more than half an hour. After this previous incident her supervisor had confirmed that there was no law against a child crossing the street by themselves.

Cops Detain 6-year-old for Walking Around Neighborhood (And It Gets Worse)


  1. Now before everyone gets all angry about this, like I did at first, just remember:  we’ve had far too much independence of mind these last few decades, and it’s not good for us, so we should all stay frightened at home.

    It’s not like in the old days, when as kids we’d dangerously and recklessly journey unsupervised to deadly places like rocks, swamps, rivers, forts, fields and suchlike.  The world has changed, and if we haven’t realised it, well, the people with binoculars and notepads sure have, and thank heavens for that.

    1. This is very true. For example, today a 6 year old might expect to be abducted while shopping by uniformed people she had been taught to trust. Lesson learned young lady! (Though I wonder what sort of lesson she’ll actually take from this. Police = bad?)

      1. I was just thinking this. When I was a child one thing I would *not* have been afraid of is that if my mother gave me a dollar to buy something for myself at the convenience store down the street I would get abducted by police and threatened with the fear that I might lose my mother!

        And making it even weirder for me to think about, my mother would have encouraged that specifically because I *was* a very anxious child with several phobias and she wanted me to avoid being imprisoned by them. For instance, I would not knock on doors. Now then that was considered a phobia. These days they don’t allow kids to sell cookies door to door, etc.

    2. People need to learn independence and self-reliance the modern way, by being kept in a bubble until they are 21.

      1.  No – People need to learn independence and self-reliance the modern way, By being locked up.

    3.  From age 6 to 8, my stepfather sent me down to the local corner store to buy him a pack of Benson and Hedges menthols and a quart of Schlitz. He kicked in some extra for me to get a frozen Charleston Chew. The 70s were a different country.

      1.  I can tell a similar story…Many Saturdays my sister and I were sent to the gas station about 6 blocks away to buy a pack of Lucky Strikes. We also had to buy a gallon of gas for Dad so he could cut the grass…Both of us were under the age of 10. 

      2. God, I wonder what these cops would make of me and my friend taking the ferry from the island we lived on into town (it was a 10-minute trip across the harbour) and then walking through the downtown core for 20 minutes to school and back, every day, at age eight.

        I can’t come up with anything to say to this article except inarticulate expletives blurted out at high volume. Just, what

      3. My folks sent me to the store for them when I was way younger than 6. The store was on the other side of the block, so I didn’t have to cross a street, but I did have to walk through the woods. What amazes me now is how the store clerks handled my money so honestly, because I couldn’t count it!

        That was in the early 1960s.

  2. “. . .there was no law against a child crossing the street by themselves.”

    No law. . . YET!

  3. So to save her from being kidnapped, the police kidnapped her? That sounds perfectly reasonable.

    1. “6 year old held hostage by gunman as parent watches in horror!”
      “Gunman kidnaps 6 year old twice in a week!”
      Where are the headlines, the national outrage?

        1. I realize you are being sarcastic.  The laws do apply to the police.  The problem is many of the cops have NO clue what the laws are.  Most never look at the penal codes or vehicle codes after they graduate from the academy.  I always considered that shameful. The reason, IMHO, is that they have lowered the standards for becoming a police officer so much.  It used to be that drug usage barred you, period.  Now some departments are okay if you haven’t used cocaine or meth in the last 6 months.  In the late ’70’s they had the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which, among other things, helped finance officers going to college to learn more about how to do their jobs better.  That got cut out of the budget.  Many administrators prefer dumber cops, as they are more “malleable”.  They often found me “argumentative”.  Like when I would point out that the actions they wanted to take were illegal.  Sgt.s and above REALLY don’t like it when you tell them you are not going to do what they want you to.
          Still, I think it is hard to expect too much from officers who are so underpaid and under-trained.  Many jurisdictions pay the cops the same salary they pay the guy who drives the street sweeper.  Sometimes, you get what you pay for.

    2. the only thing that can stop a bad guy abducting your children is a good guy abducting your children?

    3.  Just when did we turn into a nation of rampant paranoia? I think I blame TV, but that’s just a stab in th…oops — stab; probably can’t say that; er shot…hum, no….uh, help me out here….

  4. Nice job making the poor kid fearful of the police. How about asking the kid before taking them if they are actually in trouble?

    1. Yah, nothing says a cop can’t check the welfare of a child, but if they had gone with 

      “hey kid where you going?” 

      then they would have learned she was going home anyway.

        1. It does really, being the same cop. With what cop knew cop should have been able to assess the situation without making up laws or making parenting decisions for someone else’s kid.

      1. Yup.  I distinctly recall walking several miles to a friend’s house when I was five ( and I know I was five because we moved away from that town when I was six ) and having a cop stop and ask exactly that.  I told him I was going to my friend Greg’s house, and the street he lived on.  “Well have fun!” was the cop’s response.

      2.  yeah plus if the cop was concerned about the girl’s safety why not…escort her there? why take her in to the station and make her go through all this, it can’t be for her own sake.

        1. Because clearly her parents are absolutely unfit to live, but it’s illegal to murder them, since they allow their child outside of the house without one of those harness-leash contraptions.

          It can’t possibly be a power trip or ego-masturbation, nope.

    2.  That’s the core of it.  All the police officer had to do was ASK the child a couple of questions.  Take a moment to determine if she knew what she was doing, or if she was lost and needed help.  How hard is that?  But the assumption was that she is young and therefore incapable of being responsible for her own welfare.

      The fact that it was the second time the officer had detained the child in a week says this was not done out of ignorance.  For some reason, a child being allowed to walk on public streets without a chaperone really bothers this officer.  Makes me wonder what the back story is.

      1. Perhaps the officer dealt firsthand with an abduction (one the officer did not conduct) or knows someone who is/was etc. 

        If that is so it would benefit the neighbourhood and the cop to learn how not to think there are bogeymen behind every lamppost 

        1.  well if the cop dealt with an abduction firsthand maybe he should talk to the father about it, or maybe his dept. should send him to counseling.

      2.  The officer *did* ask the child some questions.  The child’s response was, “With all due respect, officer, I’m cognizant of my constitutional rights and do not feel comfortable answering your questions.  Am I being detained?”

        At that point, it was all over..

  5. At 6 in the country/small town I was allowed to ramble, but didn’t go far of my own accord. 

    At 8 in the big city/suburb adjacent to, I would go afield, once or twice even getting lost, but always had at least a quarter and knew my info.

    Thing is, I almost want to keep my kids unnaturally close as much to keep them out of the hands of the system as to keep them “safe”. 

    1. I think you’re describing a perfectly reasonable and understandable impulse that every responsible parent shares.

      Of course I’m not a parent, so please take whatever I say on this subject with a very large grain of salt, but the parents I know seem to struggle with the conflicting desires of wanting to allow their children to be independent while also wanting to keep them safe as possible. It’s got to be tough to thread that needle.

    2.  At 7, large city, I was trusted to take the bus alone to visit my grandmother.  It was notable enough that it made the paper once (although without too much care, the article is riddled with errors, including my age) but back then there was no thought of CPS.

      The hardest part of it was dealing with the adults who didn’t understand that I was capable of doing it on my own.  For example, one time when the driver missed my stop (not exactly an unknown occurrence–this was back when you signaled a stop by pulling that cord wrapped around above the windows–something that’s not easy for a 7 year old to get their hands on) and he wouldn’t consider letting me walk back from the next stop.  Instead, he took me around the end of the loop and back to where I wanted to get off, but now on the other side of the street–and insisted on getting off and walking me across the street.  He was also all in a panic about whoever was meeting me being worried.  Nobody was meeting me and I had crossed that very intersection alone on the outbound trip.

      1. As far as I know, I’ve always walked to school. From about 6, I believe it was nearly a kilometer, and everybody walked that distance. I really wanted to go by bike instead, but my parents wouldn’t allow it. In the years after that, bicycling around town was quite normal. How else are you supposed to get around?

        By the time I was 12, my parents let me travel around the country by train. I planned my own destinations. They did want me to show I knew my way around train schedules.

  6. I don’t think the argument that kids used to run around the neighborhood unattended really works. Kids used to ride in cars without carseats. It used to be recommended that babies should sleep on their stomachs. Etc.

    I also think there is a big difference from kids playing in a group outside and one kid walking by herself somewhere at age 6. 

    1. Keeping kids off the street makes it less safe for the other kids who are on the street, because there won’t be any group of kids. This thinking almost gives tacit permission to the monsters out there. The cop could have done his job and kept his eye on the neighborhood. So could all of the other “adults,” if they could tear their eyes away from their mobile devices.

      1. “This thinking almost gives tacit permission to the monsters out there”

        Exactly. This is the same reasoning that gives us curfews for women too. Instead of policing the general population in order to help keep it SAFE for kids to be out, everyone shuts themselves away and the police help keep the streets dangerous. 

        Backwards thinking.

        1. Yes, but adequate levels of police protection would require serious tax increases, and it would also create lots of good union jobs.  Check and mate.

          1. There IS adequate police protection most places. It’s just that there’s never enough to ease some people’s irrational fears.

          2. I guess it depends on what you think is adequate.  Most of the areas I worked were fielding the same number of officers as they were before the population tripled.  I never considered it adequate.  Many nights, I worked the north half of the county alone.  That might be okay in a really small county.  Mine wasn’t.  I don’t think many are small enough for that to be remotely adequate.  But you pays your money, you takes your choice.

    2. Yes, there is a difference, but the implications of that are…? That the six year-old shouldn’t be allowed to go somewhere on her own?

      Obviously, the safety of such an action depends upon the kid and the context, but one shouldn’t just assume that it’s some kind of neglect.

      My daughter (who is nine) sometimes walks home from Elementary school by herself. I wouldn’t have let her do it at six, but I did let my son — he was a more cautious kid.

      This was not abuse.

      And while it’s kind of a grey area, I’d say that the over-protective, fear-based parenting style common today does verge on a form of abuse. Teaching your kid to be fearful of everything — as opposed to teaching them how to rationally evaluate risk and benefit — is not doing them any favors. Or society any favors, for that matter…

      1. In the pre-k, k & first grade I rode a bus rurally, but had to walk about a mile to get home from the roadside.

        2nd grade in a small town I got home on my own okay.

        3rd grade to 5th in the big city I had the choice of walk or ride bike to school, about a 15 minute walk if you really hustled.

        6-8  a school bus, unless I missed it then a bicycle, one significantly dangerous road to cross on a 20 min bike ride to school.

        HS yeah I was grown up by then.

        Definitely not neglect. Empowering.

        1. Chiming in…

          After the first couple days of school, a few of us would walk (together) to kindergarten and home again.  Google Maps tells me it was about 1km each way (and, seeing how I’m over 40 with kids of my own, I’ll add that the return trip was very much uphill).  One day I got distracted and stopped to play in someone’s yard on the way home.  My mom freaked out and after that I knew how to phone home.  In first grade I’d occasionally start the trip to/from school by myself but more often than not I’d catch up with someone else on the way.

          My family moved after 1st grade… in 2nd grade I got to ride the bus, then in 3rd grade I walked (we had a crossing guard at one intersection) and in 4th grade rode a bike.

          We moved again and I never walked or biked after that, since school was never closer than 2 miles away on a 2-lane rural road with no sidewalks.  (But I’m sure others did it.)

          Edit: This was just before and during the Carter administration FWTW, just to give some reference. One of those years may have been the year-long experiment with DST, tho I think that was earlier.

          Another edit: Also recall walking to the grocery (“Gristede’s”) or drug store by myself starting at age 8. In fact I recall having an argument with my dad, who thought I was capable of walking even further when I asked for one of them to run an errand for me.

          1. I had similar experiences, also in the 70s into the 80s.  Kindergarten through third grade I walked about 1/2 a mile to school along a quiet rural road.  Starting in 4th grade I rode my bike for a bit, but by the end of 4th grade I’d moved far enough away to be a bus-rider for the rest of my school career.  (Except one summer after my freshman year of high school when I took a summer-school class, and had to walk three miles to school.)  Most of this took place in semirural East San Diego County.

            My dad grew up in rural San Diego as well, but his childhood was like something out of Twain. His house had no electricity at first, and the toilet was an outhouse.  One-room grammar school with eight grades in it.  His mom would sometimes walk him to school carrying a shotgun, because of the mountain lions.  No, really.  This would have been around the end of WWII.

            My kids won’t walk to school simply because they attend school in a different district from where we live (about 15 miles away), but they’ll be encouraged to get around the neighborhood.  They’re five and three now, but I take them on walks and bike rides around the neighborhood, and in a few years they’ll do it on their own.  If they couldn’t do that in our neighborhood, we wouldn’t live there.  You couldn’t pay me to live in a gated community or someplace where everyone’s so paranoid about Stranger Danger that the kids are treated like they’re as liable to be stolen or exploited as a large paper sack filled with nonsequential unmarked bills sitting on a bus stop bench.

          2. My mother took one look at the one-room schoolhouse and threw such a fit that they shipped her off to stay with friends in the city for six years.

          3. One-room schoolhouses in the twentieth century… man, what a trip.  My dad remembers one of his classmates showing up to school one day driving a Model A.  Since the kid was a fifth-grader, he was sent home and told not to drive again until he was old enough, and if his horse was unwell then he should arrange a ride with a neighboring adult.

            Damned nanny-state school district policies…

    3. I went places by myself beginning at that age.

      But you don’t have to rely on anecdotal experiences. Has child abduction “stranger danger” etc actually increased, or has the reporting of it, fear of it, increased?

      Can you take those numbers and work in the precipitous drop in the number of children actually playing outside?

      As for car seats, SIDS fears, is that an applicable at all when weighing of risk vs benefit of these behaviours?

      I’ve moved between empty, deserted streets and playgrounds in many US cities, to places where the fear isn’t as great yet. 

      Seeing kids 8 – teen playing freely in neighbourhoods and parks is why I began thinking about this long before having kids of my own. It’s what I remembered of childhood, yet in the US I had grown accustomed to seeing no children anywhere in neighbourhoods and long lines of SUVs surrounding schools as the only evidence of children.

      Yet, (rare) predators remain and (rarely) manage to strike.

      So what did we save and what did we lose and why?

      1. “Has child abduction “stranger danger” etc actually increased”

        Violent crime of all types has lessened.

        What’s the difference? 24 hour news and Nancy Graces.

        1. “Okay everyone, if you see a short blonde lady with the crazy eyes, run into your houses and don’t talk to her!”

      2. To steal a point from Dara O’Briain, zombie attacks are at an all-time low, but the fear of zombie attacks is rising. I’d be quite pissed if I had cops grabbing kids off the street and taking them downtown for fear that they’ll get eaten by a zombie.

    4. Except that riding in cars without car seats poses a high risk of injury or death while a 6 year old walking around unattended does not.

    5.  Back then there were a lot more monsters than there are now.

      Once a kid understands how to safely deal with traffic and knows to/how to let their parents know where they are there’s no need to keep them tied down.

      1. Back then there were a lot more monsters than there are now.

        I’m not sure that that’s a valid argument giving the defunding of mental health care over the last few decades.

        1. Mentally ill doesn’t equal “monster” or even criminal. There are plenty of sane criminals and assholes out there and plenty of perfectly nice, law-abiding people with mental illnesses. People who have mental illnesses actually tend to be more likely to be targets of violence that people who do not. But I always love getting scapegoated!

          1. Might be referring to one of the effects of such defunding, being that people become desperate and make worse and worse decisions as they go untreated. Most of those decisions hurt themselves, but not all. 

            Lack of health care, physical and mental, does plenty of damage and fills courts and jails with people who did things people regret, in desperation.

  7. Bravo for the cops in this case. Every child should know not to speak to strangers or to go anywhere with strangers. The cops are helping to teach this lesson well.

    Remember kids: just because somebody wears an official looking uniform it doesn’t mean you have to do what they say, or that they’re interested in your welfare. Treat them with the same amount of suspicion you’d treat any stranger.

    1. Wrong – if a child is in trouble or danger, 99+% of the time, talking to strangers is exactly what they need to do.

      “Never talk to strangers” is what leads to kids lost in the woods who stay hidden and quiet while search party volunteers walk within a hundred yards of them, calling their names.

      It’s what leads to hurt kids lying in the park in pain while their friend runs all the way home for help, when they could have knocked on the nearest door and borrowed a phone.

      The distinction that needs imparting is a finer one – adult strangers approaching a child unrequested are not to be trusted.  Adult strangers minding their own business may safely be approached by a child in need. (of course that doesn’t even really address the search party thing…)

      1. I was being facetious, but this isn’t really a subject where levity is appropriate. Thank you for reminding me that there are no hard and fast rules, and that children should be taught that there are times when it’s okay to talk to strangers.

        I hadn’t thought about it earlier, but once, when I was four years old, if I hadn’t been willing to talk to strangers there’s no telling how long I would have been lost in a shopping mall. I was probably lost all of half an hour, which was bad enough, but I would have been lost a lot longer if I hadn’t finally broken down and talked to store clerks.

        1. Which reminds me of the little girl in a shop (who I had never met before) who asked me:

          ‘Are you a stranger? I’m not allowed to talk to strangers.’ 

  8. One of the problems here is that the rule of fear is very pervasive.  The chance of anything happening to the 6-year-old is slim and the benefits are real.  We all know there is a chance that someone might abduct the girl or she may be hit by a car or something else, but we all live with mortality hanging over our heads at all times.  The father doesn’t want the girl to live her whole life looking up at that sword of Damocles.

    What about the police officer?  Someone called the cop to say a little girl was walking around by herself.  What if something had happened to that girl?  It may have gotten national attention if she was abducted.  Reporters would be asking “how could this happen.”  They would find out that the cop got a call and chose not to “protect” the girl.  It could be the end of his career.  He could be pilloried in the news.  Instead of a story on Boing Boing and Free Range Kids saying he’s a bad cop, there could be stories on CNN saying he’s a bad cop, and stories on FOX subtly suggesting that someone would be doing a service to the nation if they kill him.  All it takes is a few changed adjectives and a story of a commonplace event turns into a story of gross negligence.  Most likely the cop has internalized the culture of fear and doesn’t have to think this through consciously.

    The culture of fear can be very punishing to those who are not afraid.  “If only we had been more afraid, we could have prevented this,” people think.  “Those people who were not afraid, they are to blame!”

      1. You should probably research the legal meaning of “abducted”, as you are misusing it.  Probably intentionally, but that is a guess on my part.  In this case, the officer had legal authority.  Badly misapplied, IMHO.  But it was not an abduction.  The best outcome from this would be, again IMHO, giving the officer some more training on this specific subject.  When it comes to children, you are supposed to err on the side of the safety of the child.

        Without the prior stop and knowledge of the child and parent, this would smell less.  The claim that he “got a call from a citizen” in this case leads me to want proof of that statement.  It sounds convenient and made up.

        1. Legal meaning! I’m no lawyer, but I have a dictionary, and it says:
          ‘To carry off by force’ fr L abductus – to lead away
          MWCD 10th
          Seems to fit…

    1.  I think if the cop had been called to the scene it would be in the story both because there is no reason to think the story is invented or poorly accounted and because it would only further the point of the story if the point is beyond the telling told.

      The parents account o what the shopkeep told them and their account of what occurred at the station don’t jibe with cop being called to the scene at all, let alone specifically for the girl.

    2. Then if something does happen the grieving parents try to make sense of it by demanding a draconian law.  “Make letting kids leave the house illegal!!”  Politicians always fold against that.

  9. I guess I sort of appreciate what the little girl’s dad is trying to do, to build character. At the same moment, I also know that children disappear off the nation’s streets daily, some never to be seen again. If the parent is willing to risk that outcome, fine, but don’t expect everyone else in the neighborhood to share the same outlook. If you as a parent let your small child wander freely and unsupervised in the world, you are asking for unpredictable events to take place.
    Talking nostalgically about “the way things used to be” is hardly going to stop the pain if something happens to that precious child, today.

    1. Disagreeing about parenting methods and enforcing non-existent laws are two very different things.  The officer doesn’t have to agree with the father, but he certainly does have to obey the law.

        1. Probably the United States of America, where police are required to obey the law.  And the vast majority of them do, almost all the time.

          I would be happier if it was closer to 100%, but I also know that officers are drawn from the fallible ranks of human beings.  100% is unrealistic.

          1. And the vast majority of them do, almost all the time.

            If they fail to report when other officers break the law, then they’ve broken the law.

          2. There are certain mandatory reporting laws on the books, such as physicians being required to report gunshot wounds.

            But I know of no blanket law making the failure to report a crime a crime in and of itself.

            The officers are governed by the same laws as you are.  If you don’t report someone you know for breaking a law, have you broken it?  (HINT: have you ever been in a car where the driver was speeding, ran a stop sign or red light?)

            Not reporting a crime may be unethical and immoral, but not necessarily illegal.  In many jurisdictions, it may violate department regulations.  But that does not make it a crime.

            Police departments are social organizations like any other.  Sometimes getting too rigid about the rules has more negative consequences than it is worth.  If I saw another officer take a candy bar when we investigated a burglary at a store, I didn’t report him to the Sgt.  I left money on the counter to pay for the candy bar, and I dealt with the officer personally.  Turning him in to Internal Affairs over a candy bar would have gotten me ostracized.  Because it would have been considered an over-reaction.

            It seems as if many people expect law enforcement officers to act as infallible robots.  Which they are not.  And like everyone else, they have their bad days.

          3. But I know of no blanket law making the failure to report a crime a crime in and of itself.

            Thanks for outing yourself as being both authoritarian and amoral. Read up on the Nuremberg Trials.

            And like everyone else, they have their bad days.

            No one ends up in jail or injured or dead when most of us have a bad day. That’s a despicable excuse.

    2. I guess if “avoiding pain” is sufficient justification to prevent our kids from living their life, we should keep them in padded rooms with filtered air, lest they catch a disease or break a bone.

    3.  “I also know that children disappear off the nation’s streets daily, some never to be seen again.” – Citations needed.
      “you are asking for unpredictable events to take place.” – Show me a world where only predictable events take place. I wouldn’t want to live there, at all!

      1. I suppose someone should also point out that a lot of the kids who disappear do it on their own, to get away from abusive parents and living conditions.  Strangers aren’t the only dangers.

    4. You seem to be grotesquely misinformed. The vast majority of child abductions are carried out by parents in custody disputes. If you’ve got an estranged parent who isn’t supposed to have at least partial access to the child, you’re obviously going to know that, and can assess your risks differently.

      Stranger abductions where the child is gone overnight, transported some distance, intended to be kept, or killed, amount to a handful of cases a year… even less than the “every day” you seem to think.

      1.  And most of the non-parental disappearances aren’t abductions at all, but runaways.

      2.  No they don’t. I encourage everyone with an interest in this to go read the excellent blog: Free Range Kids. The reported statistics on abducted children make it an extremely rare occurrence and even those statistics are blown out of proportion because most of the incidents are family members in custody disputes (as someone else here has said).

    5. The way things used to be? Things are considerably better than they used to be.

      If you want to improve safety, you must first know what threat you are trying to mitigate. Child abductions are a serious problem as it happens more than 250,000 times per year in the US. The thing is, basically all of those abductions are by people who are known to the kid. Abductions by total strangers happens around 100 times per year. Statistically, it’s fairly insignificant.

      Your “better safe than sorry” attitude really is unhealthy. You need to work on separating possible and probable. For example, the possibility of your child getting hurt in a car increases many, many times between 10 mph and 50 mph. Should you never drive faster than 10 mph? You do care about your children right? And the threat of injury or death from a car wreck is way, way larger than the possibility of being harmed by a stranger. Logically, you should keep your kids out of cars and let them walk everywhere by themselves.

      1. I think it was Bruce Schneier pointed out, during the rampage of the DC sniper, parents who protected their kids from being exposed outside by driving them to destinations where they normally walked or bussed, were actually making them less safe – the sniper at his most active couldn’t match the daily danger of taking one or two more car trips a day.
        But, those being special circumstances due to the media circus at the time, if it helped you and your kids sleep at night, it was still probably worth the increased risk of death.

      2. Abductions by total strangers happens around 100 times per year. Statistically, it’s fairly insignificant.

        And in case anyone wonders just how insignificant, consider that the United States has a population of about 76 million minors (kids under age 18).  If we only count the 22 million between ages 6 and 11, and we slightly round up the annual number of attempted child-abductions-by-strangers to 115,000 (less than four percent of which are successful, then our theoretical kid has about a one-half-of-one-percent risk of an attempted kidnapping.  In reality, accounting for all the kids, the kidnapping risk (by strangers) would be somewhere on the order of 0.0078%.  Oh, and by the way… those statistics are from 1990.

        Things are even better now.  In 2001, the FBI investigated 93 cases of abduction by someone outside the family.

        I make damn sure the car-seats are properly and securely installed in my cars.  But I don’t worry about kidnappers.

    6. Things used to be more dangerous than they are now.  Violence and abduction against children was higher in decades past than it is now.  There was no golden age.

    7. At the same moment, I also know that children disappear off the nation’s streets daily, some never to be seen again. 

      [citation required]

    8. As I said above, we all have mortality hanging over us all the time, and once you have children you have your child’s mortality hanging over you as well.  The more you raise someone to fear the improbable, the more you are making them a prisoner of fear.

      The one thing you are right about is that none of this is going to be any much comfort to me the parent if I lose my child.  But neither will it be any easier if my child gets cancer from radon exposure or dies of carbon monoxide poisoning because they spent that time indoors (both greater risk to children’s health than strange abduction).  It won’t be any easier if a drunk driver hits my car and my child dies.  It won’t be any easier if my child has a rare fatal disease, or gets hit by lightning, or is in a collapsing building.

      “Something catastrophic might happen,” is *always* true no matter what decisions you make.  It is not a justification to overestimate the risk of a particular decision that makes you irrationally uncomfortable.

    9. “children disappear off the nation’s streets daily” [citation needed]

      According to even the most scare-mongering sources, the actual number is around 100 per year, or about 1/3rd of what you said. Those same sources admit that roughly 2/3rds of those are found and returned to their parents, unharmed, within 3 days.

      So what you’re proposing is scaring, traumatizing, and imprisoning in the home all 50 million children … because a dozen or so of them per  year go missing. I submit to you that kids are in more danger than that staying home.

    10. ” I also know that children disappear off the nation’s streets daily, some never to be seen again. ”

      How does it feel having your head full of falsehoods?

    1. i think we can assume by it NOT mentioning that, that it DIDN’T happen. no one sees a cop draw a gun on a 6 year old and leaves that out of the story.

      1. I’ve been reading through this hoping someone would mention where it happened.  “Child Protective Services” is a clue, but many states call their child welfare agency that.  California, for one.

  10. The propriety of either the father or the cop may well depend on the type of neighborhood.  I’m also the father of a six year old, and there are some neighborhoods in which I would let him roam free, and some neighborhoods in which I would not.  The article doesn’t give me a clear indication of what sort of neighborhood this one is.

    The choice is ultimately a judgement call on the part of the father.  However, I don’t think there is a line in dirt saying that the cop was totally wrong.  I’m heavily inclined to side with the dad on this one, but if every parent always made the right decisions, CPS wouldn’t even exist.  The cop’s judgement of the situation differed from that of the parent, so they called CPS.  Certainly, this is heavy-handed, and it would be very alarming and offensive to any parent.

    But was it the wrong thing to do?  I don’t know.  What KIND of street did the kid cross?  How dangerous IS this area of town?  There are extremes here in which I might have called CPS myself.

    1.  This echoes my thoughts exactly.

      Honestly, the cops in this case should have been driving an unmarked rusty astro-van with the windows blacked out and the words “Free Candy” spray painted on the side. If the kid got into that no questions asked, then they’d have a case.

    2. even in a bad neighborhood there is no excuse for this. if the police officer is worried for the girl’s safety he should have offered to escort her there and back, or watched from a a distance, if he disagreed with the father on the dangers of the neighborhood he should have made an appeal to the father and presented statistics about violent crime rates in that area and suggestions to keep her safe. he shoulda asked the child question to see if she knew how to handle strangers. and if after that the father still chose to let her roam he could be content in the knowledge that he has informed them of the dangers and let him make his own choices in how to raise his kid.
      what he did instead is the lazy way, the apathetic way. he didn’t care about the kid or the parent, or was lacking the empathy needed to recognize that this is not good for either of them.

      1. Well, you sort of got at least part of that backwards.  What he did was not the lazy way.  Your way, he would not have had to do any paper.  The way he did it, there had to be an incident report written.  And the trip to the station and everything else involved certainly took more time.

        And that is a good thing, because if there IS questionable action happening, it needs to be documented.  Sometimes you can’t get CPS to act unless you can bury them in paper showing a pattern.  Part of what the Catholic Church is getting torched for is burying the reporting that would have resulted in patterns being seen.

        There are usually statutes prohibiting “child endangerment”.  But they are broadly written, and are subject to interpretation. Documenting this allows review by others with more experience and training on the specific matter.

        Frankly, I wish the article had been longer and contained more data.  The fact that it was on a site called “Free Range Children” is probably a clue to their bias.

        1. lazy doesnt mean less time, it means less investment. asking the child, talking to the father, gathering statistics, all that stuff involves investment from the cop, it involves caring and putting a bit of your own beliefs and ego on the line for the betterment of someone else, the lazy way is one which forgoes that investment and simply replaces it with filling out paper work.sure it’s tedious but it’s hardly difficult.

    3. You don’t think the father has weighed all these things – the kind of street, the dangerousness of the town or neighborhood, the daughter’s retention of what she’s been taught – before letting her go to the store?

      Why on earth would you assume he hasn’t taken these things into account?

    4.  If it was a bad neighborhood I’d think the police wouldn’t have time to capture stray children.

  11. I was making shopping trips to the pharmacy up the block from my parents’ apartment when I was seven, to say nothing of the 15 minute walk to services every Saturday, also done solo from time to time. Sheesh.

  12. I grew up in Brooklyn. Before I was in kindergarten, I used to be out of the house all day, stopping back when I was hungry or had to go to the bathroom. I was almost never in sight of my parents. I wasn’t unique, either; all the kids behaved the same way. I was crossing the street on my own by the time I was six, and used to visit friends from school several blocks away. Their parents fed me while I was there. We played. We socialized. Now I look out and almost never see a child playing outside. Do people really think this is better?

    1. I used to ride my bike everywhere until dinner time.  Today my parents would probably be accused of child neglect.

  13. Not saying I doubt the story, but this is much more newsworthy and reliable if it’s not an anonymous, self-reported story.

    It would also be interesting to know in which state and city that the events depicted in this”fairly average residential neighborhood” occurred, but we cannot know, since it’s anonymous.

    Using words like “abduct” and assuming bad faith on the part of the police and CPS is easy when no verifiable facts are introduced.

    1. You suggesting the father was “looking for a fight” by continuing to parent his child in a way the local cop doesn’t agree with?

  14. Perhaps I missed it, but where did this happen?  Much as I am horrified by this story, without some way to check into it, it remains just a story.

    1. Agreed.  And I agree with most of what I’m seeing here, but the story is unsubstantiated. Should be no need to invade anyone’s privacy to get a PD to confirm the bare facts.

      1. Nothing would prohibit the PD from releasing the parents information.

        It would be to their benefit to do so too, given that a large number of people would immediately demand the parent is negligent and demand CPS intervention.

        Children are always abducted if they are unaccompanied, get with the program(ing)

  15. I have a friend who grew up in NYC, and was taking the subway to the public library at the age of six.  She grew up just fine.  And crime against children is LOWER now than it was then.

    1. It’s pretty easy to argue that crime against children is lower precisely because child-rearing culture has changed so dramatically.  “Crime against children is lower now, so we should be less protective of our children” then becomes the logicial equivalent of “whooping cough is rarer than it was when the vaccine was developed, so we don’t need to vaccinate for it.”

        1. Had the original argument been

          “The rates of crimes against children have been lowered enough by other means that the additional reduction granted by the current child-rearing paradigm does not justify the negative societal and social impact of that paradigm.”

          I’d have come up with something a little less off-the-cuff.  But the argument wasn’t about whether the current paradigm is better or worse than alternatives, only whether reduced crime rates were a valid argument against the current paradigm.

          As a working hypothesis, “the current paradigm is at least partially responsible for the reduced rates of crimes against children” isn’t bad – the null (“no impact”) is hard to argue, and the negative (“rates would be even better without it”) is almost impossible, at least from my perspective.  For me, the question with regard to rates of crime against children isn’t whether it’s had an impact, but how much.

          1. The widely accepted presumption by people both accepting of and resistant to the current paradigm is that it is associated with protecting children from actual predators.

            How likely do you think it is that the current paradigm actually prevented anything it was intended to where the parent or child behaviour does nothing to change the predator motivation?

          2. I agree with the observation that prevention of possible predation is commonly seen as the primary influence for the current paradigm.  Has the current paradigm resulted in the prevention of a nonzero number of predation crimes-of-opportunity?  Almost certainly.  Would there have been a statistically greater number of child predations without the current paradigm?  Probably not, and not in small part because (stranger) child predation was already a statistically insignificant risk.

            But even so, the “there aren’t any real kidnappers” argument fails for me because “crimes against children” – which was the topic I was addressing -includes all crimes against children, including assault and robbery, which are more likely to be perpetrated against children by other children, and more likely to be perpetrated in an environment with limited adult supervision.

  16. I used to run errands as a little kid. Go to the store and buy cigarettes or some wine for my dad. That was in France. And the gendarmerie and the storekeepers never freaked out about that.

  17. IMHO Lenore Skenazy should be a regular BoingBoing contributor. “Free Range Kids” is an amazing site and I read it every day.

  18. When I was six, I walked to school alone (yes, it was uphill, but only one way, and it very rarely snowed), and it wasn’t particularly remarkable since nearly everyone did it, except for the few who lived far enough away that they had to use the bus. 

  19. Cops got called on my 9 year old walking home from summer school!  His school was about 3 blocks away.  Fortunately, the officer who responded was cool and just let us know the rest of the summer every time the busybody reported us.

    99.8% of the children who go missing do come home.
    Nearly 90% of missing children have simply misunderstood directions or miscommunicated their plans, are lost, or have run away.

    9% are kidnapped by a family member in a custody dispute.

    3% are abducted by non-family members, usually during the commission of a crime such as robbery or sexual assault. The kidnapper is often someone the child knows.

    Only about 100 children (a fraction of 1%) are kidnapped each year in the stereotypical stranger abductions you hear about in the news.

    About half of these 100 children come home.

    1. Of course, the risks to children walking the streets alone are not just abductions, but traffic accidents – that is probably a far greater risk, in fact.  But you are correct, our society’s fears of stranger abductions is way out of control.

  21. I’m with the others that say until there are details as to the town and state, and preferably some verification from someone that this is more than someone’s “ain’t it terrible” story, I’m not buying it.  I think FreeRangeKids mom has an agenda that she will go to any lengths to promote.  This letter reads like something you see passed around via email with a plethoa of exclamation points but woefully short on details.

    1.  Here’s a surrogate for your legitimacy concerns.

      If you don’t think this sort of thing can happen you are completely wrong. It isn’t even surprising.

      I’m not surprised at all that a cop would overreact to seeing an unaccompanied child.

      When is the last time you saw such a thing in most US cities and suburbs? More so in the suburbs, where I have been I wonder why they even waste money on parks.

      1. The question (at least for me) isn’t whether this can happen.  It’s whether it did happen in this case.  And there are absolutely no details that allow any sort of verification.  There isn’t even any evidence that the people who have posted this story have such details available.

        There’s way too much fear that is driven by anecdotes that “I got from a guy, who once knew this guy…”  As I understand it, free range parenting is supposed to oppose unsubstantiated fear.  With no details at all, this story is one of those anecdotes.

        I favor, and benefited from, free range parenting.  I also believe in raising skeptical kids, having been raised as one myself.  As part of that, I was raised to question stories and arguments that favor my position, too.

        1. I’m not saying the story is real but I have dealt with institutions/bureaucracies/systems that defend themselves without regard for anything else.

          So while it may be fake I would not be surprised if it is real and scrubbed at request or submitted anonymously.

          If the parent who has clearly made a decision that for reasons they perceive as wrong but still put them at odds with not only local LEO but also CPS chose to remain anonymous, who could blame them? 

          The police would almost certainly release the names if the parent decided to be more public and given the (ridiculously) controversial nature of the aforementioned parenting decision, thousands of people would publicly proclaim the parent neglectful and worse while demanding CPS intervention. CPS is hardly immune to public opinion. 

          I’d say that it has as much chance of being real as it has of being an approximation as it has of being invented, so a similar example justifies any discussion generated by any or all three.

          1. So truth or falsehood is irrelevant, so long as it’s something that could happen, and there’s a point to be made?

          2.  The initial post is pretty clear, they ain’t buying it, decided it’s fake with as much evidence that it is as that it isn’t. And topped that with a scoop of it’s fake because the person whose site it is is willing to lie, without evidence. Showing it can happen and giving valid reasons for why it may be anonymous is more credible than that

            It isn’t “truth is irrelevant”

  22. This is just ridiculous  I walked over a kilometre to school in Kindergarten. By 7, I was taking the bus to the next town over for Judo class or to go swimming, sometimes dragging along my baby brother. The nearest bus stop was further away than the school. The only monsters I’ve ever encountered were people who knew my name and expected to be addressed as ‘Sir.’ 

  23. When I was around five or so, my mother sent me to play at the home of a woman who used to look after me.  This was in Oklahoma City. She had three kids my age.  The walk was only a few blocks, but at that age it seemed like miles.  I was doing pretty well until I passed our old house.  I walked along beside the house past the back porch, and kittens came running out to play from under the porch.  What five year old could pass up the chance to stop and play with a bunch of cute little kittens?

    It was ‘home’ in a way, even if we didn’t live there anymore.   And of course, I had no idea how much time had gone by.  My mother came to pick me up at the sitter’s and I wasn’t there; the babysitter hadn’t seen me at all.  They began to backtrack my path, but by then my mother was in a panic.  They found me right away, sitting on the porch with a smile on my face and a kitten in my lap.   The punishment that followed hardly fit the crime, but then they so rarely do.

    The stranger danger level hasn’t increased much in the last forty years; the distraction level for children has increased a thousand fold, and hell, cute kitties as a distraction are timeless.  There aren’t a lot of five or six year olds who can adequately assess all the things, innocent or dangerous, the world can throw at them along a short journey on their own.

  24. This makes me think that “understanding statistics and assessing risk in life” should be required in the curriculum of every citizen starting from grade school (and repeated multiple times).

  25. I remember hearing an article on NPR discussing the range of four generations of a family (in England, I think, but the implications go well beyond that).  

    The great-grandfather had about a 25 mile range.  He would get on his bike with a fishing pole, meet friends at a lake, fish for the afternoon and return home by evening.

    The grandfather had a 5 mile range, again riding his bike, playing with friends, etc.

    The father had a one mile range, the youngest can’t leave the yard without adult supervision.

    Myself, in grade school, we had bikes and with proper instruction concerning traffic laws (the police sponsored a training class in the local school playground every summer teaching bike safety) and instructions from parents (what busy highways to avoid and other do’s and don’ts) we were often on our own, as long as we were home in time for dinner.  We also generally had pocket knives for carving sticks, making things and such (never once considered it a weapon).

    One favorite pass time was visiting the hobos camped along the railroad tracks near the local park.  They would tell us stories, and ask us to bring them sandwiches.  Never had any sense of danger, and there was a flock of kids who would have raised the alarm if anything bad ever happened.

    We also knew the bus schedule and could get around town on them as well.

    1. a flock of kids who would have raised the alarm if anything bad ever happened.

      Speaking only for San Francisco (where I live) this “flocking” doesn’t happen as much because every kid on one city block might go to a different school and thus there’s not really a local “community” on the block.  The community is around the school but the families for one school might be fragmented all over the city.  This happens for various socio-economic reasons — and is more common with private schoolos — but regardless it’s kind of a bummer.

      1. SF also has the fewest children per capita of any US city.

        every kid on one city block might go to a different school and thus there’s not really a local “community” on the block.

        I grew up in a small town (8K people) and I only socialized with the children who were in my track at school. My friends were about 20 houses away, even though there were children my age living much closer. And that was in the 1960s.

  26. I’m not sure what sort of journalistic standards apply at Boing Boing, if any.  But my alarm bells went off when the city where this took place isn’t mentioned.  So you guys posted a store second hand from a website which obviously has an ax to grind.

    Is this story a fabrication? I don’t know. It could be or it could not, but not enough provenance information is given for anyone to tell.

    1. Yes, I wish intelligent people would guard more carefully against confirmation bias.  This story just rung all my bells – particularly due to the complete lack of any specificity about the location. I am a supporter of free range children, but really.

      1. I tried a Google search, everything came back to the Free Range Kids site.

        You’d think some local media would have a story.

  27. I’d be more supportive of free range six year olds if they had cell phones with GPS tracking. So they can phone if they get into trouble… and its a parents job to know where their kids are and that they are safe.

    The false nostalgia for a world of unsupervised kids having jobs, etc.. is deeply flawed. Those were often low paying and dangerous jobs, and the kids were exploited. Pretty lame really.

    As for the police officer… I suspect they have their own side, not reflected here, and a reason to assume this father isn’t responsible. Just a suspicion on my part. Maybe she is a malingering cop.

    When I was 7 I crossed the street just fine. At age 7 I also did such things as pick up water moccasins from a creek, gave myself a serious concussion, was chased by large dogs, adopted a rabid squirrel, set a fence on fire, and wandered off and was brought home by cops a few times when I missed curfew. I appreciate the cops were there to look out for me, and not there when I was raising hell.

    1. The 70’s & 80’s? Let me clarify for the poster that mentioned working kids. They were talking about the 1970’s and 1980’s. Child labour laws were well established. They were talking about newspaper delivery, household work, family businesses and other reasonable endeavours, not sweeping chimneys or factory labour.

      False nostalgia indeed. Relate an experience of yours that I may tell you that you misremember.

    2. Your story is sort of the point.  All of those things happened to you and they informed your character and made you who you are.  Somehow surviving your own childhood and learning from it has made you think that the next generation should not be learning from theirs.  As George Carlin said: “We’re taking all the fun out of being a kid just to save a few lives a year.”

    1. Probably not.  The police presumably have the right to pick up children who are not supervised if they reasonably believe them to be in danger.  Unfortunately the “reasonably” part of that statement is going to be judged against a very unreasonable society where children anxiety about child safety from stranger-violence completely trumps all other considerations.

      1. Why would we presume the police to have the right to pick up children? Also how could walking in a public place be considered dangerous?

        To prevail under a false imprisonment claim, a plaintiff must prove: 
        (1) willful detention;
        The police officer willfully kept the child from the parent
        (2) without consent;
        The parent did not agree (minors cannot give consent)
        (3) without authority of law
        The officer knew that no law being violated

        Further, under US law, the right of the police to detain only exists if they have probable cause to beleive a crime has been committed or if there is reasonable suspicion that the person has or is about to engage in criminal activity. Again, the officer knew no crime was or was going to be commited (other than the one the cop commited)

        This meets all criteria for false imprisonment

        1. Well, that was certainly reality-challenged.

          I expect the Police Dept. will tell you the child was detained for investigation of child neglect / endangerment.  That would cover the authority of law.

          How could walking in a public place be considered dangerous?  The totality of the circumstances have to be considered for that, and the article sure didn’t tell us enough.  Age of the child, traffic conditions and speed, time of day/night, crime rates and types in that area.

          You make a lot of assumptions in your argument.  Please prove that the officer knew no crime was being committed.  You can’t from the article, the officer was never interviewed.

          1. “They refused to identify a reasonable cause for her detention, or even what law had been broken.”

    2. You know that they knew?  How did you obtain this knowledge?  It isn’t specified in the rather sparse story.

      Plus you might want to look up the term “in loco parentis”.

  28. I love the idea of a streetwise, independent kid, liberated from urban fear by her unconventionally supportive father. And yet, this is kind of awful.

    First of all, what’s a cop supposed to do? The kid is a walking bundle of risk; you can’t just look at her and say, “oh, well, she’s only six but she’s really got her shit together.” Cops are in the terrible position of looking out for us, and it’s a constant but necessary tension between overprotection and “where the hell were they when I needed them?”

    Put yourself in the jackboots for a second: you’re a cop on the beat and you see a six year old girl. She knows how to cross a street, how to buy a Daily Racing Form from the local newsstand, even stops for a bit of speed chess with the local sharps. So you shrug it off and go on about your day. Later you see her on a milk carton, and then she’s found in the woods, abused and dead. What do you think? “Oh well, lesson learned, I’ll do it differently next time.”

    So this Dad is trolling his daughter through the neighborhood, exciting the concern of every stranger. Cop or not, the best of us must be concerned for her. And the worst of us? Ick. Please don’t ask.

    1. You can “what if” yourself out of doing anything if you try hard enough. A good cop should assess the situation. If the kid knows what they’re doing and isn’t asking for help, they probably don’t need any help.

      1. It’s the “probably” that gets you. What sort of chance should a cop take with someone’s kid? I imagine that opinions may vary.

        1. Opinions may vary, but when it comes to extremely remote contingencies (as in this case) they vary only between paranoia and sanity.

            Tell those folks about paranoia.

            I’m not suggesting our social fears are justified. I’m suggesting that we try to understand the motives of the individuals in this case, or in the general case, before we hold them up as servants of a repressive regime (or whatever it is we’re doing).

          2. It is understood, by any parent. It is easily understood by most anyone else. 

            I think what most of the talk is about now is the causes/effects of what is demonstrably an over protective society fostered by good intentions. Good intentions are the usual suspect at a personal level, above that level it is hazier.

            I seriously doubt any parent discusses this stuff without victims and their families in mind, and others discussing it are not likely to either.

            As for the cop in the story, a mere sign. Convo went meta from the start.

            I fight everyday the urges to over-protect my kids, some days you win and some days you lose. And I know the facts, have lived in places where it (fear-mongering) is heavily in effect and in places where it is not and it is definitely a serious quality of life issue. 

            So if I can lose with knowledge, in a place where fear doesn’t quite rule the day, what’s it like for people where I’m from, surrounded by others who with the best of intentions reinforce their worst fears with misinformation?

            The discussion must move past the victims at some point and putting the overblown “stranger danger” risk into perspective, with math and sociology, is that point.

          3. Good luck using math and sociology to tell parents that their kids are safer that they think. You fight your own urges everyday; others are unlikely to do as much. Not that they shouldn’t try, but we ought not to expect unreasonable results, especially from cops. Nobody every went broke betting against their sensitivity.

          4. Telling *them* is not the point. Whoever trained that keystone cop should have told *him*. Because getting this stuff right is his job.

    2. I believe I explained this above by saying that the society of fear is very quick to punish those who aren’t fearful.

      1. That’s one way of saying it. Another way: everybody needs the vaccine, or none of us get protected.

        That’s an analogy, of course, but to make it plain is simple. The first line of defense against pervy abductors and bad drivers is for everyone to take a little responsibility for everyone else. Cities strain this other-regarding instinct by their density, diversity, and teeming mass of people, and the predominance of urban life may lead some to the conclusion that collective security is illusory at best and oppressive at worst. Either critique assumes that it’s a choice.

        It is not. We look out for each other instinctively. We see a child alone and know it could be our child, and we may move far enough down that imaginary path to act as if it were. Cops must take upon themselves the duty of care which millions of people must actively resist exercising for themselves, unless every child should be abducted by a well-meaning stranger the moment their parents move out of sight.

        There may have been procedural mistakes or violations of common sense. There may have been some insult to liberty or law. The thing to remember is that this is one case, and that millions of stray children find assistance every day from cops and other agents of concern. A few bad outcomes may be inevitable at such a scale, the necessary bycatch of our modern lives and our ancient systems of collective self-preservation. But imagine the alternative — in which it’s all for none and every kid is prey — and tell me you don’t think the father in this case is at least a little naive.

          1. In rural life, one block is a few families, or cows and chickens. In my neighborhood it could be five thousand strangers and through traffic. My context is the more common by far, and that’s where the strays go.

  29. I used to go to the 7-11 all the time to buy my parents cigs and milk. I’d use the spare change to buy a Marvel comic. The only bad thing that happened is that, because of a very loud barking dog I had to walk by, I grew up with a fierce dislike of dogs (I like small dogs now).

  30. I find that the most stressful part of being a parent is dealing with all the arbitrary and hysterical ‘new’ parental rules and expectations.

    Even the simplest notion of play is orchestrated to the very minute and inch (‘play dates’, ugh), which I loathe because I’m a socially awkward introvert. I don’t want to have full-blown tea parties with other parents whenever my kid wants to goof off with other kids. When I was little, most of my playmates were children living on my street. We’d spot each other hanging out on the lawn and roll by on our Big Wheels to start chatting. Our respective parents didn’t have to plan anything, or become BFF’s, or enlist into half a dozen activity/sports groups for us to interact. It was a lot more spontaneous.

    1. When you describe how it used to be….that’s how it still is in our neighborhood, especially as kids get older.  If you have to drive your kid everywhere, it’s a whole different ballgame.

        1. If a kid wants to be the first and only child walking in a neighborhood, more power to them, but I think most kids just follow suit with whatever the local norm is.

          That’s why we live in our neighborhood: walking is the norm, so it’s what kids grow up with.

          Every once and a while, I would have to deal with a parent who was horrified that their precious snowflake was going to walk home with my kid after school for a playdate.  Yes, in those cases I’d dutifully go to school for those kids so that they could tell their parent that an actual adult walked with them.  Fortunately, such parents were rare.

    2. The requirement to “orchestrate” is not something that parents are doing just because.  It’s often a requirement now because in cities the kids that go to one school may be distributed all around the city.  Since the child’s friends are often school friends, it requires orchestration.  You don’t get in the car and drive 20 minutes to drop by unexpectedly.

      This bums me out too.  But it’s the sad reality of schools in a lot of cities today.  If all the public schools in a city were uniformly awesome we’d probably see a lot less of this.  But the socioeconomic reality is that parents will try to find the “best” school for their family which for whatever reason is NOT the closest school.

      1. That’s why it baffles me: Our neighbourhood is very safe (quiet town in Canada) and central, very similar to the one I grew up in. We chose that area specifically because we don’t drive. It has several playgrounds, grocery stores, schools and public libraries all within 10-15 min walking distance.

        I know there are young children around (my child isn’t in school yet) because I see swing sets, tricycles next to the garages, etc… BUT I almost never see the kids themselves, even though we’re outside a lot. So even though our surroundings are about as kid-friendly as can possibly be, the kids themselves aren’t around. I’m not saying it’s anyone’s fault in particular, but it’s frustrating that finding playmates is like arranging for two rare zoo animals to mate.

  31. Not only did my mom sometimes send me buy things in neighboring shops when I was a child, but it also included cigarettes, which I had to go buy at a bar.

    Child. Alone. Cigarettes. Bar. What was the police doing?

    I’m doing fine, by the way. And I don’t smoke.

    1. Hell yeah.  I remember when I was rounding up my first decade of life, Dad would send me down to the corner store to pick up a pack of Player’s Light for him.  They didn’t even question me about it until I was in my mid teens.

  32. So the lesson Emily takes from this is that policemen are not to be blindly trusted. Which, for all the frustration that accompanied it, seems like a worthwhile thing to instill in your kid.

    1. That’s tragic, but are you seriously saying that a 10 year old shouldn’t be able to go out on their own to a park?

    2.  Many more were killed or abused by parents or other relatives, so obviously we need to ban families.

    3. On any given day, something truly awful happens to someone somewhere on the planet, because it’s a big planet. That does not mean that particular thing is apt to happen to you tomorrow.

    4. Over 7,000 children die annually in car accidents, while only about 25 die from stranger abduction. Does that mean we shouldn’t let kids in cars?

  33. When I was *five* I used to walk from the nursery school (read “day care” nowadays) two or three blocks to Kindergarten.  In an urban area.

    By the time I was 6 or 7, I was being sent to the store regularly for stuff, couple of blocks away.

    By age 9 I was riding my bicycle all over hell and gone as long as my parents knew the general area I was going to be in and provided I came home when the street lights came on.  Wristwatches?  We didn’t need no stinking wristwatches back then, you had NO excuse for missing you curfew based on the street lights…grin.

    No hysteria, no hissy fits.  Oh, and I am legally blind.

    My father was a Marine Corps Gunny.  For those of you who know what that means, you understand that I was taught to be independent from an early age and while I was deeply loved, I was not coddled on the basis of my handicap.

    If you don’t know what it means, go rent the D.I. with Jack Webb, that was the era I grew up in and will give you some idea of what was expected of me, minus the psychological terror of boot camp. My father had been a Drill Instructor. 

    I got taught how to fight like a Marine, cut *waaay* down on any harassment of the “four-eyed  kid” if they pushed it to violence.

  34. Hmmm, an anonymous story on an ideologically-driven web site that entirely confirms that web site’s ideology, but with no confirmable facts. Sorry, but I just don’t buy it. FWIW, I’m ideologically in line with Free Range Children – I went to the store when I was six three blocks away on the South Side of Chicago, and travelled by L from the south side to Wrigley Field with my 8-year-old brother when I was ten. But being smart means being especially skeptical about anonymous posts that confirm our ideology.

    1. Being skeptical may also require you to consider any reason you can think of as to why it might be anonymous, to try and find a verifiable story similar to the one you question and take those considerations into account. If it has happened, it can happen.

      Thus allowing you greater range in that you can remain skeptical while still discussing the topic all while not pointing the ideologue finger at someone.

      1. Being skeptical means to me saying, “Show me proof!”, less than accepting any story that *might* happen.

        People willing to back up their claims is the price they pay if they want to be believed.

  35. Okay, commenters, we get it, you walked to the store even as toddlers to buy your parents cigarettes and you turned out just fine. You can’t prove you’re actually fine but we’ll just have to trust you on that (despite the fact that you’re trying to prove how fine you are in blog comments)! This is the same as people who say their parents hit them and they turned out fine. It’s anecdotal and irrelevant to the issue at hand.

    Also, where’s do you draw the line in a state with no law on what age is okay to leave kids alone? Would people be cool with the police picking up a 5-year-old? How about a 4-year-old? Is 3 okay to be wandering around?

    1. We’re all wanting to tell our stories, is all.

      Ignore the anecdotes if they bug you.

      Grown people are snatched up, too.I wish I had more, and more clever, things to say, but it’s been a long day.

    2. It is weird that in all these recollections from people who were kids before the 1990s we have yet to hear from one of the ones with overprotective (for the time) parents. I knew one or two kids like that. I know, I know, irrelevant, nothing to see here, —it was the same when you were a kid right?—

      As for where to draw the line, all kids are different, but I have yet to encounter a 3 year old in public alone. When I was a kid (here we go again oh no) you’d find them in the company of siblings out of the house. 4-year olds? Same. 5? Same. 6? IME country = same or alone near to home, city = same. 7? kids wandered free, went home when it got dark mostly unless they had something they had to do at home.

      1. I lived in the suburbs and my parents taught me to fear taking the bus, something I didn’t really overcome until I was in my 30’s.  Sometimes I think the over protection is why I have issues with an anxiety disorder, but it’s probably just because I don’t deal well with stress.

      2. It is weird that in all these recollections from people who were kids before the 1990s we have yet to hear from one of the ones with overprotective (for the time) parents.

        That is weird.  You don’t suppose… something might have happened to those poor kids?  You know who else had an overprotective parent in the 70s?

        Or maybe they’re fine, and simply happily well-adjusted and successful to be posting comments on Boing Boing.  Guess we’ll never know! ;^)

        As to the question on where one draws the line, that’s arguable to a degree.  Obviously there’s a certain degree of arbitrariness in declaring someone fit to vote and screw and smoke and die in an overseas war on one’s eighteenth birthday and not one hour earlier, but if you don’t draw a line that affects everyone more-or-less equally, then you have to spend a lot of time evaluating relative maturity levels in individuals to determine when certain privileges of age can be granted. But we as a society have acknowledged and legislated age requirements for military service, drug and alcohol use, voting, and legal sexual activity, since we’ve come to some wide consensus that those things are not suitable privileges for minors to possess.  And we’ve also (in the USA at least) legislated ages for compulsory education.  But are we willing to legislate age requirements for strolling down a sidewalk?  Should kids be unable to walk unaccompanied to their school before, say, fourth grade?  There are certain limited examples of this already in force in some places.  At my daughter’s public elementary school, kids can walk unattended to the school, except for kindergarteners, whose guardians must walk them into the classroom itself… no dropping them off curbside at that age!  That strikes me as faintly ridiculous (partly since yeah, I walked my ass to kindergarten and home again since the second day), but I don’t squawk about it since it’s only the kindergarteners who “suffer” this particular “indignity.”  (They, of course, don’t mind it a bit.)

        But whenever we feel the urge to “draw a line,” it turns out that that line is unfair to one individual or another.  Some five-year-olds are pretty competent agents when it comes to navigating their environments on their own, while some thirty-year-olds can’t get out of their parents’ basements (and not just because the job market sucks).  I don’t think anyone’s going to look at a nine-month-old infant crawling down the sidewalk toward the intersection and think, “Well, looks like that li’l dude knows where he’s headed.”  At the same time, treating all school-age and younger minors exactly like that intrepid little infant is doing them a genuine disservice, as well as being an act of wasteful busybodiness.  Cop sees a smallish unattended person walking around, cop can ask questions regarding destination or who and where the responsible guardian is.  If the kid needs help, usually the cop can provide it without taking the kid “downtown” in a cruiser.  Treating the kid like a potential criminal just because the kid’s too young to pay taxes or too short to beep the cop in the nose is just lazy policing, and is not going to improve the department’s standing in the public’s eyes, precisely at a moment when that standing needs all the positive burnishing it can get.

        Last night I saw a Public Service Announcement disguised as a 1-minute commercial during The Daily Show.  It showed some 12ish-year-old kid with a skateboard sitting next to an elderly woman on a bus stop bench.  The bus arrives, the woman boards, the kid doesn’t.  And then he notices that she left her purse behind.  He picks up the purse, glances inside, then dashes down an alley.  A police cruiser happens by and the cops notice this kid hauling ass down the alley carrying a purse.  They follow discreetly, lights and sirens off.  After a few blocks, the kid emerges, panting, at another street, just ahead of the bus.  The woman emerges, and the kid runs up: “Ma’am, you left your purse.”  She thanks him heartily and turns to go.  The cop in the cruiser yells, “Hey kid!  Nice going.  Want a donut?”  And the kid shares a donut with the cop.

        It was a PSA for honesty and doing the right thing.  As hackneyed as it was, it brought a tear to my eye, not so much because the kid did the right thing, but because in that fictional big city environment, the TV cop gave the kid the opportunity to do the right thing.

        I want to live in a world where we encourage our kids to be strong, independent, generous, and honest.  And I want to live in a world wherein they’re given a chance to do that.

  36. We’ve become such a nanny state. When my uncle wasn’t much older he would go down the store or beer and cigarettes for his dad. This story reminds me of the mom who let her younger child ride the subway by himself.  It’s a shame a little free thinking and independence is now child abuse in some peoples eyes.

  37. I remember going to the corner store to get cigarettes for my older sister (and not getting carded!). I was eight, it was Southeast D.C., it was during the heyday of crack and being the “murder capital of the world”.  The world was just as scary back then. More so, since you didn’t have a phone on you to call your momma, you just had to haul ass back home.

    I feel for kids. We adults put so much of our anxiety on them.

  38. I probably have a unique perspective. I was that age in the late 80s. With a father always working, and a mostly bedridden mother, I wasn’t so much allowed that much freedom as that I was able to take it.

    Later, my mother got better, and I discovered that she’s one of those overprotective parents.

    By the time I was 8 I’d taken to sneaking out of the house at 3 in the morning because that was the only time I could do anything without being hovered over. Such as bike riding without having to check in every 15-20 minutes.

  39. I’m reminded of the last time I was in Tokyo, where I regularly observed _little_ kids in school uniforms taking trains by themselves. 

  40. I know this may sound like a lot of work when you need to pump out the content, but did Boing Boing bother interviewing anyone before broadcasting an anonymous “letter” posted on a website where someone’s trying to sell a book?  There isn’t even a mention of the town or state where it happened.

  41.  Now that they are in the scope of the CPS, this family is basically fucked. CPS represents a much greater threat to families than any psycho predators do.

    I know it’s said and said again, but this mindset that children can’t take care of themselves is profoundly dangerous and damaging to a society.

    Sit around playing Crysis 3 all day, it’s safe, right?

    I have a 3 year old, and since she was 2 I’ve given her a lot of leeway in many ways. I mean, I don’t assume she’s going to go walk off a cliff, I know her and she is cautious as hell. People can’t believe I let her walk around shops or train cars on her own, and assume she doesn’t have any brain. I was at a mountain lookout the other day, and a six year old kid climbed up 8″, putting his feet on the lowest cable of the fence and hoisting himself up for a better view. Four adults shrieked in terror and jumped over to pull him off. It’s just madness.

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