Desperate Dad: “I Let My 12 y.o. Play Outside. Is that Criminal?”

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Hi Folks — It’s Lenore Skenazy from Free-Range Kids. Pretty much all day long we advocate for parents being allowed to let their kids actually grow up — without the cops, courts or CPS crying, “That’s negligence!” Without busybodies, too. Here’s a case that’s been burning up the wires (Pixels?) on Reddit: Dad lets his 12-year-old play outside and everyone’s up in arms like he sent the young man out to dodge sniper fire.  At least in this instance, the police agreed the dad was not doing anything wrong. Here’s a parent who was less fortunate. Heck, here’s another.  Plenty more where those came from (just go to my blog). Let’s fight the criminalization of parents who believe in their kids and their communities. – L.

Gracious! Why are these children outside without a security detail?


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27 Responses to “Desperate Dad: “I Let My 12 y.o. Play Outside. Is that Criminal?””

  1. #1 |  Stephen | 

    My parents were missionaries in Peru. The Amazon jungle began at our fence about 30 feet from our back porch. I didn’t like being at home because my father would whip me for the most minor of infractions so I would just wander off into the jungle. Less exposure = less whippings. My parents got used to it since I never got hurt and would just come to the back porch and YELL real loud when it was supper time. The rest of the time I was living like Tarzan.

  2. #2 |  Rich | 

    When my son was ten we sent him to the corner grocery for milk. It took some time to convince my wife that the chances of the kidnapper who normally hides in the bush across the street catching our child who would be riding his bike was pretty slim. Of Course He came back empty handed, explaining that there were older kids at the store who were too poor to buy candy so I gave them the money. Well he came back and now less gullible than before he left and surprisingly he wasn’t kidnapped.

  3. #3 |  William Anderson | 


    When we were kids, we ranged far and wide in the area. I had to be home by supper, but that meant that my friend Gary and I had many square miles to ourselves. Yeah, we sometimes fell in the creek and sometimes crashed on our bikes, but things always worked out fine.

  4. #4 |  Maika | 

    We allow our 6 yo and 8 yo play in the front yard alone. I leave the door open and check on them periodically. I’m not ready to drop them off at the park but our front yard should be safe for Logic’s Sake! Our neighbors next door came over once to tell us some hopped up story about some strange car roaming the streets a few blocks away. They didn’t come out and tell me I was a horrible mother but it seemed to be their assessment. Of course no one came to take them away. Besides my children have been told they are not to talk to people IN cars and are being trained in martial arts. If the phantom bad guy shows up they will be smart enough to know what to do.

  5. #5 |  Joel | 

    The way we stop this is to get the call logs or 911 tapes know who called, if it goes to a court get everybody’s name, cps included. Get donations, use some type of internet start up program, buy the front page of the local paper tell you story, get pictures of everyone involved, make a Youtube Video, make them wish this would go away.

  6. #6 |  SJE | 

    Speaking of the inanities of our over-regulated society, I thought these mash-up quotes were priceless

  7. #7 |  David Pimentel | 

    It is scary to see parenting choices criminalized based on flawed perceptions of risk. For a thorough analysis of this problem with our criminal justice system, and prescriptions for fixing the problem, see

    The article will be published later this year in the Utah Law Review.

  8. #8 |  liberranter | 

    Kids who enjoy “free range” play generally grow up to be hearty, self-sufficient, courageous, independent adults. TPTB certainly cannot abide that, now can they? Gotta keep ’em cooped up inside, force fed on electronic mind drugs, and prepare them for a life of controlled obedience.

  9. #9 |  Not Sure | 

    When we were kids (8 or 9 years old or so) and school was out for the summer, our mothers would tell us to go outside and play and not to come back in the house until the streetlights came on.

  10. #10 |  Windy | 

    When I was 5 my family lived in a large city on a main thoroughfare, I was allowed to wander as I saw fit, and I did. When I was 10, we lived in a small city, I was a latchkey kid during the school year; and I would ride my bike 5 miles to a large forested park with many trails nearly every sunny day during the summer. Later (in my early teens — jr high years) my best friend and I rode our bikes all over our town, downtown to shop or just hang out with friends, to the lake to swim. I went to movies alone (meeting my friends there), matinees when I was younger, evenings when I was older and I rode the bus to and from until I was old enough to drive.

    I was definitely a free range kid and so were ALL the kids I went to school with, we played in large groups and small and most of us had two parents working so no supervision during the daytime. None of us ever got hurt more than a scrape or two, we all grew to adults without any serious accidents or anyone attacking any of us. My friends, whom I’ve known since elementary school (yes we still hang out together, 60 years later), call those years our golden age. I let my 3 children have the same kind of freedom when they were growing up, though by then we lived in a rural area where our children had horses and bikes and 100 undeveloped acres to roam with forest, meadows, a year round creek and a couple of ponds to explore. They also grew up with no serious injuries from their freedom, and my grandkids (the youngest of which is 11, the oldest 24) have been raised as free range kids, too. I am an advocate of letting kids roam, free of ridiculous restrictions.

  11. #11 |  Windy | 

    Oh, I forgot to mention I was babysitting (for money) the younger children of my parents’ friends during the weekend evenings when they wanted a night out, when I was only 10.

  12. #12 |  KristenS | 

    When I was a young’un, we walked 5 miles to school uphill both ways in the snow…

    Seriously, though, in the summers I would leave in the late morning with a backpack and a couple $$ and ride my bike 5 or so miles to the town pool. When we were ready for a break, we would wander around the area collecting cans and bottles form all the trash cans within a mile and turn them in for cash and candy.

    Hell, I did walk to school – kindergarten – by myself or with friends, even in the middle of winter in MN.

    And just about the second I got my driver’s license I was road tripping alone 5 hours to visit friends in another state.

  13. #13 |  Dave Krueger | 

    It probably depends on where you live, but I regularly walked a mile to a couple local stores when I was under ten and, by the time I was twelve, I was riding my bike to other nearby suburbs within a five mile radius to play with friends. Of course, that was a before child predators became the largest group in America after the republican and democratic parties and playing doctor at age 6 didn’t earn you a lifetime membership on some sex offender registry.

  14. #14 |  el coronado | 

    Although I’m sure other pics could have been found to illustrate this, I was kinda bemused to see that one. I’ve seen it before: Shorpy’s maybe? Dates from right around 1940.

    Am all for free-range kids; letting kids BE kids, but the issue (problem?) goes a hell of a lot deeper than that. Look at that pic again. When was the last time you saw a boy in overalls? Or *any* kid barefoot while outside? Riding a bike without a stupid-ass helmet? Pushing – or even owning – his beat-up pile of crap old car held together by baling wire and hope? I live in one of them ‘master-planned communities’, so there’s _lots_ of ball fields and ball courts and bike paths all around. They should be absolutely *teeming* with kids. Nope: ghost town city, 98% of the time.

    Yeah, this’ll end well.

  15. #15 |  Bob | 

    This is ridiculous.

    When i was a kid, I didn’t know another kid that didn’t have free run of the town. From the minute we were able to ride our bikes without training wheels, we were all over the place. I would routinely be completely across town. Helmets? Safety crap? Did they even HAVE that stuff back then? Bikes and kids were everywhere.

    Today? I can’t remember the last time I saw a kid riding a bike.

    What changed? Certainly there aren’t more pedophiles, kidnappers, etc. now. If anything, based on statistical data, there are fewer.

    What changed, in my opinion, is the velocity and bandwidth of news. Back in the day, you had the big 3 TV channels and of course, radio and newspapers. A “Breaking story” that preempted that tiny amount of bandwidth had to be HUGE. Some guy committing a crime was only news to the local area.

    Fast forward to today. News is everywhere. There are hundreds of TV channels. The internet has spawned thousands of “news portals” in the form of web sites and blogs, both huge (Like Huff Po) and small (Like niche opinion blogs.) You can get all the info your paranoid mind wants about any issue that concerns you. In addition, special interest groups that want to steer policy are becoming adept at manipulating this cornucopia of information channels to manipulate people.

    Like the Chinese curse: “May you live in interesting times.”

    Do I want to go back? Back to the dark ages of being fed only small amounts of local news? No way! The genie of global information is out of the bottle and it’s not going back in! Can society as a whole handle it? Nope, apparently not.

  16. #16 |  ClubMedSux | 

    I think it’s worth pointing out that the idea of free-range parenting, at least as I see it, isn’t simply nostalgia for “when we were kids.” Of course you turned out fine despite whatever risks your parents tolerated… that’s called selection bias. Selection bias doesn’t prove anything. Take car seats, for example. Many people complain about current car seat recommendations being overbearing. “When I was a kid, we all sat in the back seat of our parents’ station wagon and we turned out just fine.” Well, obviously YOU did. But the stats show that car accidents are the number one cause of child death, and from a risk-benefit assessment car seats are a no-brainer. As such, the “when we were kids” argument doesn’t hold water.

    The reason I believe in free-range parenting is because the statistics show that the odds of your kid being abducted from out in front of your house are virtually zero. At the same time, I believe there is strong science touting the developmental benefits of allowing your children to engage in unstructured (which sometimes means unsupervised) play time. As such, the risk-benefit analysis tells me I have better things to worry about than letting my 6-year-old play in the backyard for a little while without me monitoring her.

    Anyway, I’m sure most of you understand this, but I thought it was worth pointing out free-range parenting is not a free-for-all. My wife and I believe in car seats, helmets and other safety precautions that we didn’t have when we were kids. We just don’t panic about “dangers” that are far too remote to warrant significant attention.

  17. #17 |  Warren | 

    When all is said and done, it does not matter what we did as kids, or didn’t do. The only things that matter are our kids, and whether we want them happy, educated and prepared for life after Mom and Dad’s home.

    The other issue of importance, is for those parents who disagree with our kids having the freedom to grow, play and learn. Those who do not like our way of raising kids, should mind their own business, and keep their mouths shut.

    I know some of the people in my area do not like the freedom afforded my kids. These neighbours also know that I am an outspoken, strongwilled parent, and they keep their comments to themselves.

    Take some advice from Montgomery-Gentry, “I don’t give a dang what other people think! What do ya think about that?!”

  18. #18 |  Lenore Skenazy | 

    Ah, ClubMed Man, what you say echoes what I have had on my blog since day one: “At Free-Range Kids we BELIEVE in safety….We just don’t believe kids need a security detail every time they leave the house.” — Lenore

  19. #19 |  a leap at the wheel | 

    #14 – I agree with the sentiment (my 3 year old spent an hour running around outside with his shoes off last night), but check the stats on bike helmets. Bike helmets, car seats, and fences around swimming pools are all reasonable precautions in the face of real risks.

  20. #20 |  el coronado | 

    Camel’s nose, #18. Camels’ nose. I have no problem with a parent making his kid wear the stupid-ass helmets; fencing their pool; etc. The problem is that most of that shit is now codified in law, and what isn’t is codified in nanny state societal attitudes. “You let your kid play in his own front YARD?!? UnATTENDED?!? You SPANK your kid??!?!? What kind of rotten parent ARE you? I think I”ll make an anonymous call to Child Services…”

  21. #21 |  Dave Krueger | 

    #19 el coronado

    Camel’s nose, #18. Camels’ nose. I have no problem with a parent making his kid wear the stupid-ass helmets; fencing their pool; etc. The problem is that most of that shit is now codified in law…

    BINGO! Marriage isn’t a three-way partnership with the state being the head of the family. And there are some activities that don’t need to be criminalized (although the list of non-criminal activities shrinks every year).

  22. #22 |  a leap at the wheel | 

    #19 – I’m not sure if you were addressing me (pool fence) or not (diff number), but I will say that I had assumed we were only talking in the realm of personal choice, not legal requirements. That’s a different animal entirely.

  23. #23 |  Not Sure | 

    I saw a commercial last night for protective bike riding gear for kids, and it wasn’t a helmet.

    It was a mouthguard.

  24. #24 |  Rich | 

    My daughter (13 at the time) was sitting on our front porch whittling with her knife when our next door neighbor (who is a social worker and a helicopter parent) saw her and told her to put it away. Rather than cause a stir, she did as she was told.

    I can only imagine what she’d think if she saw her at the range with my AK-47.

  25. #25 |  BoogaFrito | 

    I’m guessing there’s more to the 12-year old story here. I think the kid was probably being noisy, and the neighbor was trying to scare the parents into keeping him indoors.

    Just my first thought after living in an apartment with noisy neighbor kids. I guess it could be hysteria, but I’m dubious.

  26. #26 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @20 – Yes, it’s SO terrible that most cases of child abuse are now picked up.

    This is where, as usual, you take what seems to be a reasonable statement and prove that you’re a radical who wants to wipe out hundreds of years or progress.

  27. #27 |  August 17 roundup - Overlawyered | 

    […] Kids] “Desperate Dad: ‘I Let My 12 y.o. Play Outside. Is that Criminal?’” [Skenazy, The Agitator; update on another case] […]