Mamie Schwartz and the End of Roaming

Yesterday our daily history section mentioned the 1892 case of Mamie Schwartz, a five-year-old St.Paul girl kidnapped in June of 1892. I said I’d check the Strib’s archives papers to see how the story was covered – it was supposedly sensational enough to grip the public mind for months, and you wonder how they handled these matters in the days before Amber Alerts. The following may surprise you – but remember that papers were different then: dense, wordy, mostly unillustrated, with a few ads for scrofula cures and painless lobotomies punctuating endless expanses of dry tiny type.

The Minneapolis paper had little on the matter, since it happened in That Other Town; the front page was devoted entirely to the national political convention, held in the Exposition building. (The Strib’s fine "Yesterday’s News" blog has a piece, here.) Hmm: “Devil in the White City,” foreshadowed? Some fiend at large, blending in with the bunting and hoopla? The paper did deign to acknowledge the existence of St. Paul with a column of goings-on, including who checked into which hotel. The big story: an English Aeronaut, Prof. William Bissell, jumped from a balloon and parachuted to the ground. A few inches below, these terse remarks: “Mamie Schwartz, a 5-year old girl, has been missing from her home at 174 East Seventh Street since Saturday afternoon.” It ran on the bottom of page 5.

The next day, buried again: “No trace of Emma (sic) Schwartz the 5-year-old girl who disappeared from her home Saturday afternoon, has not yet been discovered.” Double-neg and the wrong name: well, nobody’s not perfect. But the plot thickens: “Her parents are of the opinion that the child was kidnaped (sic) by relatives for spite and will take legal steps again some West Side parties if the child is not soon returned.”

Sounds like they knew who did it, right? The next day had more, in type so small it’s like watching a flea circus mime the Y-M-C-A song: “Mamie Schwartz, the 5-year-old daughter of Valentine J. Schwartz, is still missing, and last night her father sent to the Tribune this plaintive appeal: ‘Please publish this description and do me a kind favor.’ The description as furnished is:

‘Black hat, yellow flower, bottle green dress. She has large black eyes and is pretty. She is 4 1/2 years old, speaks quite fluently, can tell her own name and can describe where she belongs. Lost since Saturday afternoon.’”

Over a hundred years later, your heart goes out to the man. Lost. You can’t begin to imagine how that feels; you don’t want to try. Then the plot took a peculiar turn:

“It was learned lat night that on the day of the girl’s disappearance a woman called at the boarding house on Tenth street and asked permission to sit in the parlor for two hours. After remaining a few minutes she left, but returned soon after with a little girl, and tossing a dollar on the table remarked ‘I am so glad to get her again.’”

The next day: “The latest development in the abduction of Mamie Schwartz is the arrest of William Wagner, whom the parents of the little girl strongly suspect of having played a part in her abduction.”

After that, nothing much. The child was found in Wisconsin the next year. If the boarding house story is true, you can imagine what happened – perhaps relatives who’d cared for the child and developed a bond took her away for their own, and the parents were left bereft. Every parent’s nightmare.

And that’s why we don’t let them play outside anymore. Ever.

At least less than we used to. Granted, the link goes to a British study, but you know it’s true for America as well: kids just don’t get to roam far and wide unattended anymore. Parents are overprotective and paranoid, and don’t let the kids out of their sight anymore. (Your host is as guilty as anyone; I got concerned when her preemie incubator was out of my sight.) In the 60s, in grade school, I strolled to school; now many folks assume that the six-block walk teems with kidnappers, bears, tiger traps, toxic dumps, and other random threats. Why take the chance? The sociologists call today’s cosseted tots the “indoor generation,” because that’s where they grow up: sitting in climate-controlled rooms pushing buttons instead of running around in the summer sun stepping on nails and getting tickbites. As the author of the British study says:

"Studies have shown that people deprived of contact with nature were at greater risk of depression and anxiety. Children are getting less and less unsupervised time in the natural environment.”

True. This might relate to the early discussion about hunting and fishing, too. Whatever the reason and whatever the eventual impact, it’s all changed; the idea that a parent wouldn’t know where their kid is, but trusted him to wander back by supper, tired and hungry, socks full of nettles, seems like pure hokey Norman-Rockwell stuff, quaint and outmoded, and downright dangerous in a world where creeps and pervs have their own chatrooms to marinate in their evil.

Then again, it’s summer; wouldn’t you want to ride your bike to the end of town, just to see what’s beyond?

So: are you one of the overprotective types? Did you have that carefree childhood? Or is this just another study that exaggerates the problem as much as modern parents exaggerate the dangers?

UPDATE: Then again, maybe they’re not safe indoors, either. (Reg. req; story details threats to shoot up a local daycare center.)

Posted in   James_Lileks's blog | add new comment

The End of Roaming

I'm 49 and as a kid I roamed far and wide. Grew up in the 'burbs of the San Francisco bay area and hiked and explored the hills with my friends and our bb guns.

There was quite a fear factor though. This was the heyday of the hippie/acid culture and the Legend of the White Witch was never far from our minds.

I've always given my son more leeway (non-micromanaged playtime not discipline) than many of his peers were allowed and he's grown into a very active and adventurous adult. His childhood friends still would rather do indoor activities while he surfs, bikes, backpacks, spearfishes, etc.

I'll never forget the time he was climbing a tree and a woman came rushing up "Get him down from there! My husband is a plastic surgeon and I've seen the terrible things that can happen!"


"Get him down from there! My

"Get him down from there! My husband is a plastic surgeon and I've seen the terrible things that can happen!"

Heh. Makes you wonder if her husband-the-plastic-surgeon is paying into escrow accounts for therapy for all the children she scared.

Bubblewrap the children before it's too laaaaaaaate!!!

Our family had hiked to a waterfall in our local mountains. As we were swimming, this adventurous family with two young children began to climb the falls.

The dad had stayed by the pool trying to get the courage to jump into the snowmelt water when this middle age woman comes up to him as says, "I feel that it's my duty to tell you that I prsonally have seen three people die doing that. I just thought you should know what you are doing letting them up there."

The father said, "Gee thanks."

It occured to me at first that the woman was really concerned, but then something about her manner smacked of control. You know: the smoking is too dangerous, bike riding without a helmet, touching your classmate, etc. is too dangerous. Stop this risky behavior at once!

On further reflection I pegged her as a busybody. A Mrs. Grundy.

As a kid, I barely was ever home. i was usually miles away. At 4, I was running through a large neighborhood and going into different kid's houses as needed. By 13 I was taking the bus to the beach 30 miles away.

We have trouble prying our kids from behind their computers, Playstations and Wiis. When we get them out, it is a struggle to get their ears out of the iPod or cell phone.

I know that we as parents are at fault, but they seem to have no motivation to go outside. Too strenuous I suppose.

We do force them out, but you have to work through an hour of surly teenager.

Kids outside

Why, back when I was a youngster, during the summer I'd vacate the house about 15 minutes after sun-up and not have to show up back home until after the streetlights were on. That made it something like a 16-hour day. No one wanted to stay inside. Inside was boring, hot, and filled with moms ironing while watching soaps.

The worst that happened was that I was hit by a car. I was more worried about the damage done to my bike than to myself. I also got a whipping for being such a doof as to get hit by a car. See, outside was much less painful.

Hey you kids! Get off my lawn!

I've lived all my life in

I've lived all my life in Brussels, Belgium.
While you couldn't compare Brussels to any city in the US, it is undoubtedly a modern city, with all its charms and sores.

I was a kid in this european city in the sixties, and I could do as I pleased. I could roam the neighborhood, take a bus or a tram to go downtown, play in the parc, all without too much adult supervision.

Nowadays, I'm the proud father of an 11 year old daughter, and I wouldn't dream of letting her live her youth on the streets like I did.

Traffic is an issue, of course, it has grown out of proportion - and the way people drive nowadays is, to say the least, worrisome.

And then there is what we call "la petite criminalité" over here - petty thefts, where you child gets mugged for an Ipod, a pair of shoes, for looking someone in the face....

And of course, there are the pervs. We have had our share of dramatic stories in Belgium, with despicable sociopaths cum pedophiles such as Dutroux and Aït Oud.

So, you worry and you don't ever let your child out of your sight - knowing full well that this is not the best way for her to live her child years to the full, but you just want to make sure she reaches the shores of adulthood without too much bodily or emotional harm.


No, I remember quite well that we went missing most of the day. We were in and out of the house and we generally told mom or dad where we were going and they knew who we were with. I did roam for blocks and blocks on the bike, but they were generally areas I was familiar with.

It was a strange sensation to ride the three blocks to school and play on the empty playground that was crowded at other times during the year. Guess it's the same feeling you get at at drive in during the afternoon. I spent many days at the drive in too while my dad got the shows ready for that night.

Now, would I let my girl do that? Nope. One reason is because I don't live in a place like I used to. We're in a subdivision of a major city and the back fence borders on one of the busiest streets of the city. We can go to parks and other attractions, but roaming around free in the streets just won't cut it.

I think this fear of trouble is probably widespread more for city dwellers than suburbanites or country folk. You have to remember that the denizens of cities are naturally afraid because of the dangers inherent in them. Guns prowling the streets just looking for a victim to shoot, etc.

Mollycoddling children won't lead to safer kids, just more fearful ones who would be easily swayed from doing things if "authorities" have determined it could be bad for you.

My Dear Protective Husband

I'm married to a cautious man. Thank God. I'm a very trusting person living in an untrustworthy world. Our
daughters (hopefully) get a good balance of boundaries and freedom. And we pray for God's protection over them. The tragedies we read and hear about as related to abductions and so forth are horrendous. May we never be the victims of such a nightmare.

Summer Freedom

I can still remember the feeling of being released from captivity (school) and turned out into the wild, wide world. My mother raised us using the "benign neglect" method, and we flourished for it. We are self-sufficient and (mostly) sane.

Building houses and forts under the bushes, with leaves for our dishes. Drinking from the hose, runnning through sprinklers. Walking to "Tom's Confectionary" and buying penny candies - Mint Juleps or candy buttons - or having Tom mix a real cherry cola at the soda fountain. The front of the store was the kids' part - in the back, what my Dad called "Tom's Dirty Liquor Store."

Tuesdays were movie day at the Byrd Theatre on Cary Street (Richmond, VA, where we saw classic B movies, like Jason and the Argonauts. Movies were 25 cents, and we would walk the five blocks there, and stop at the drug store and buy Lemonheads and Chocolate Babies.

Some days, we would ride the bus to downtown and "shop" at Miller and Rhoades and Thalhimers - But most of my allowance went to Woolworths for lip gloss and four small pictures of me and Cynthia from the photo machine.

There was never any fear - not walking alone or riding the bus downtown. We just did.

What was scary was the game we played after the sun set and before the Mommies started calling: we would bunch up, three or four of us, and skip down the street singing, "The witches aren't out tonight, the witches aren't out tonight!" in that sing-songy tune that kids know automatically... and the one who was IT would be hiding to jump out and chase us to base! Oh, delicious fear! I ran so fast, I never knew what happened when you were caught!

And I still remember what I call "the legs of summer:" berry-brown legs, with skinned knees in various stages of healing, numerous m'skeeta bites, finished with feet black from popping bubbles in the tar in the road.

Nothing I do as a grown-up compares.

Summer freedom

I remember being pretty free to roam in the summer. Until I was 8 or so, I had to give a general vicinity where I planned to be, and I had to let someone know if I was going inside a friend's house. Other than that, my mom and grandmother were pretty easygoing. As I got older, I was allowed to be out on my bike all day, as long as I showed up for supper.

Except for the summer when there was a child molester on the loose, that is--I was five. I don't know how many kids were actually attacked, but warnings to parents were all over the news; my mom, grandmother, aunt, and uncle were petrified. I wasn't allowed to leave my yard, and all the parents on our street banded together to watch the kids. They caught him, after a few weeks...he had been living in an apartment building directly behind my daycare center. Although our teachers didn't know it at the time, whenever we were out on the playground we were within about 50 yards of his apartment. I remember seeing his picture on the news and being more scared of him than anything else I had ever seen. I guess we were lucky that our city was small enough and safe enough in the 70s that there was only one bad guy to watch out for.


I don't worry about strangers kidnapping my kids from the front yard. Getting run over by an SUV going 40? Yep. There's more people driving like maniacs and they're up too high to see little kids.

Summers of My Youth

My friends and I used to ride our bikes or walk to school every day, about four or five blocks. Mom would only drive us if it was pouring down rain or at least an inch of snow on the ground. Usually, we preferred to walk in the snow unless the wind was blowing too hard.

We would also throw our baseball gloves or football helmets on our handlebars and ride to ball practice about a mile away, depending on the season. Now my wife or I take our daughters to their sports practices and stay for the whole practice. Never used to happen when I was a kid.I swear, if you just drop them off, the other parents wonder what other kinds of neglect your kids suffer.

Luckily, we live on a cul-de-sac within a cul-de-sac so not much through traffic, but I still have to nag to get the kids outside and away from their computers or t.v. sets. They get plenty of outdoor camping through various organizations in the summer, plus lots of pool time, but they need more unstructured time outdoors just to be on their own.

Unfortunately, our media focuses so much on kids lost in the woods or swimmers bitten by sharks or kids dragged from their tents by wild bears that it's amazing anyone ventures outdoors these days.

Those were the days

We had great freedom as kids. When we were young (under ten years old or so), we could play anywhere we wanted, as long as we were within earshot of an old cowbell mounted on the back porch. If mom rang the bell and you didn't show up within a couple of minutes, you would catch hell.

When we were older, we could go anywhere our legs or bikes could take us, as long as we "checked out" by telling one of our parents where we were going and about when we would be back. Then, you had to either be back or call by your ETA or you would catch hell.

We rode our bikes down busy city streets and through the parking lots of busy shopping malls and I don't think any of us was ever hurt in traffic. The only times I got hurt were when I went down too-steep hills and lost control or tried some stunt I couldn't do.

I think you get out of kids what you put in. Since we were treated as as being capable of some personal responsibility, we tried not to disappoint. Had we been treated like today - zero tolerance this and zero tolerance that and we don't trust you to know the difference between a toy gun and a real one - I'm sure we would have returned the favor by being utterly irresponsible.

Not just the danger outside...

... it's the fun inside that matters, too. I'm 32, grew up riding my bike within a 1-2 mile radius, and had pretty much unlimited range by the time I was 14 - I'd ride 3 or 4 miles, across some major streets, to a friend's house. Even then, there were things inside to tempt.

In a modern home, where kids never share bedrooms, and most have a den that they have free run of, there's not as much to push them outside. When inside meant watching Mom do housework and listen to the soaps (and no tying up the phone line talking to your friends!), sure people got out. With your own TV, video games, instant messaging... you can hang out with your friends more easily in the house than you can outdoors, especially if you don't live close to them.

I always worried about being overprotective

I grew up in a small town, and wandered the days away during the summer. We'd give our parents a general idea where we were going if we left the immediate neighborhood (yelling distance) (and we didn't always tell the truth.), and were expected home for supper.

Now I have a 15 year old daughter, and we've lived in big-city suburbs since she was born. I've always worried that we tied her too tightly to us. Up until she was 10 or 12, we never let her out of our sight unless handing her over to another trusted adult. Even now she's told to keep her cell phone on and close at hand. Her mother still doesn't like her walking to school through our suburban neighborhood.

The past two years she's spent most of her summer days at a horse ranch handling the animals and teaching riding to little kids. I love that she's outside, running all over the ranch, learning responsibility for herself, making her own decisions. One day last year she came home to tell me she had come upon and killed a rattlesnake. I was very proud (but I didn't tell her mother.)

I'm 4o years old, and I grew

I'm 4o years old, and I grew up in a fairly densely populated suburb around 15 miles away from Manhattan. In the summers, most of the kids in the neighborhood would be out of their houses by 10:00 AM, with the only expectation that they'd wander back home by the time the street lights came on. A typical day when I was eight years old might include grabbing a couple of the other kids in the neighborhood to go down to the woods to "defend the fort" or to play cops and robbers. Then we'd wander over to someone's house and their mom would make lunch for everybody, and then we'd be off to play ball, climb trees, and jump over ditches with our bikes -- no helmets, of course!

I think that one of the reasons folks are much more reluctant to let kids roam these days is the two income family and the dispersal of the extended family. Nowadays, a lot of residential neighborhoods become ghost towns between 8 AM and 6 PM, whereas back when I was a kid, there were always a bunch of mothers and grandparents at home during the day, and they knew what was happening in the neighborhood...

Children playing outside

I think the "why we don't let them play outside" folks are getting a bit confused. Most of the articles I've been reading, linked to by Glenn Reynolds mostly, make the point that children don't recreate outside because the children would rather be inside. The types of outside play listed in these articles are camping, hiking, etc ... stuff that would be done presumably with parental guidance. And, the kids want to go home and watch TV and play video games.

Letting your child go outside your home unsupervised is not denying your child exposer to the outdoors. It is sound parenting. Only a moron would not watch their children like a hawk, with the insurgence of child predators, perverts and the apologists for child perverts such as the ACLU and the academic establishments.

Repeat. Never let your children go outdoors unsupervised. Not to walk to the store on the corner, not to play in the fenced in front-yard, not ever.

However, do take your children hiking and camping.

Big difference.

Back in the day, people didn't take such precautions with their children because they didn't have to. Now, parents do.


"Repeat. Never let your children go outdoors unsupervised. Not to walk to the store on the corner, not to play in the fenced in front-yard, not ever."

Um- no this is exactly what Glenn and everyone else is writing about. We did it growing up and survived- we just didn't have 24 hour news making us fear the world.


I think so much of the insecurity has to do with the fact that we're lucky to know our immediate neighbors these days- much less the people down the block or across town. I probably grew up in the last generation to range far and wide like that, but i doubt I was ever more than a few hundred feet from a familiar house.

I also think there were a lot more people outdoors in general. You drive down the block in June at 6 o'clock on a Tuesday nowadays and it might as well be a ghost town. Nobody is out on a family bike ride (kids are at taikwondo, moms on the exercise bike, dads driving in between), or washing their cars (gas station- costs less than a quarter tank of gas), or mowing the lawn (hola!).

I don't think its an irrational fear, the world is a very different place. Not because evil is more real or palpable, but because the forces opposing it are sitting inside with the blinds closed blogging about how times have changed.

kids roaming

I grew up in the 60's. We lived in a fairly rural area, near a dinky lake resort. We were allowed to walk and bike where we wanted. We could go to the lake and swim or hang out day and night.
I have 6 kids. There's no way I'd ever let them have the same freedom I had. When they were younger, I'd always try and play outside with them, go to parks and swimming, etc. Always supervised. When I had things to do at home, they had to be home, too. We have a large fenced backyard to play in, with lots of things for kids to do. Their friends were/are always welcome. By the time they turn 12 or so, then I'd let them go to school alone(a block away), and go bike-riding with friends. I lament the lack of freedom, but when you can look up the neighborhood sex offenders, and see several within a few blocks- that's all I need to see to watch closely over my children.

I Let My Kids Run Wild

I grew up running through corn fields (wouldn't recommend it, corn hurts), and fishing and swimming in a creek near our house. And that's essentially what my kids do. Different house, different creek, heck, different state - but same environment. As long as the boys stick together Mom and I let them run around, ride their bikes down to the creek (about a mile from the house) and just generally goof off all day in the summer. We homeschool, so even during the school year they get outside quite a bit. I also take the kids camping a good bit so they get experience building fires.

Freerange kids

My younger boys are 6 and 3 and the issue of roaming is just now coming up. I grew up in the 60s in Vancouver in Canada and was outside, at friends, playing pickup softball or touch football pretty much all the time I was not in school. We walked or rode our bikes the five or six blocks to school and were driven only when it rained hard.

We now live in Victoria and I want my boys to lead much the same life. There are a few problems. Helmet laws, the absence of kids, the over structuring of other kids lives, the ubiquitousness of really lousy role models (preserve me please from hiphop/gangstra "culture").

However, as I found with my much older son, the most daunting problem are other parents who cannot imagine raising free range kids. They seem to be convinced that their kid's sole chance at Harvard will come from wall to wall activities. "Let no minute be unstructured." seems to be the theme. I am certainly not going to change their minds but I am pretty sure factory raised children are not what the Ivies (or anyone else) are looking for.

I roamed when I was a kid,

I roamed when I was a kid, growing up in the 60s. I don't recall seeing transients in my town - maybe 1 or 2, walking along the railroad tracks. Nothing like the number that inhabit the town I live in now (Santa Cruz, CA).

I don't see kids roam, and I don't let mine roam. I'm not afraid they'll get hurt climbing trees or even get hit by cars. It's the high number of transients. I figure there's a reason why someone's living on the edge, and it often has to do with being antisocial one way or another.

Roaming then & now

Oh yes, I'm 41 and when I was a kid I was a regular Daniel Boone. I'd not only walk home from grade school, I'd divert off into the woods by myself for a couple of hours, or ride alone out into the nearby state park where alligators roamed (gulf coast). Not to mention tons of sandlot baseball, football, and basketball with my brother & neighbor kids, whenever possible.

Today I live near a very nice, wooded park nestled in a sizable neighborhood. I seldom see kids there unless they're cycling thru with a parent. It amazes me I never see kids playing sport there on the expansive green lawns. It amazes me I'm always roaming alone there at night and there are never teenagers getting it on behind the trees. What a missed opportunity. Come to think of it maybe everyone's afraid of ME?


I grew up in a Midwestern town in the '40s and '50s. I pretty much had the run of the town as soon as I learned to ride a bicycle. I did all of the things (climbed trees, shot BB guns, made slingshots, played mumbletypeg, etc.) that would give today's parents fits of apoplexy or get them thrown in jail for child endangerment. When I was about 8 I would tie my fishing pole and a can of worms to my bike and would ride 2 1/2 miles to the lake to spend the day fishing and swimming with my friends...unsupervised.
When I was 9 I got a .22 rifle for Christmas and when I was 11 got a .410 gauge shotgun for Christmas (had to be big enough to handle the recoil).
When my niece had a baby, she mentioned all the things she had to do to childproof the house. I said to my sister, "I don't know how we survived our childhood". She said "We shouldn't have made it to six".

roaming children

I let my daughter roam. Freedom of movement leads to freedom of thought. I live in a small town with many stay at home parents. I live close to town so my daughter can run to the grocery store if I need something or drink hot chocolate at the local bookstore. The shopkeepers and the neighborhood mailman know who she is and who her friends are. I do fear large SUVs, so I put 2 tall orange flags on her bike. As friendly and safe as our town is (the local police have an open invitation to children to come and see their police dog), She is the only child in the neighborhood allowed to roam. Her adventures consists of visiting friends homes. She complains that her friends seldom want to play in the yard anymore. I regret that she doesn't have a friend to share her freedom. There is safety, as well as fun, in numbers.

When I was a child, I was sequestered. It was the 60's and racial tension in the deep South erupted in arson and murder. People on both sides of the color barrier were shooting innocent people just because their skin was different from theirs. I couldn't go out to play. The firetrucks in the middle of the night were common. We would awake and say, "who is it this time." People tell me it is not as safe as it used to be. It is safer.


I'm 38 and I grew up in the Columbia (SC) suburbs. Granted, it was a safe area, and I was not allowed to go more than three or four blocks away, to avoid a particularly busy road that was dangerous to cross - but I was also not allowed to be INDOORS with friends when my parents weren't home! I was a latchkey kid, which was a little unusual then, so the first thing I had to do after getting home was call my mom at the office. After that, though, if I was with my pals, my butt had to be outside until dinnertime. In the summer, I was expected to be outside all day. The only time I stayed home was when Mom checked the weather report and it was supposed to be too hot and humid outside for humans to stand (i.e., most of July).

I also didn't have every moment of the day scheduled with lessons and all that. It just wasn't required back then, even with families that were middle-class and both parents were working white-collar jobs. I don't see how parents can stand it today. They do nothing after work, seemingly, drive their kids around to one lesson after another. French, soccer, piano, art...and it really does all seem to be mandatory these days.

Along that line...

I was also a latchkey kid of sorts. Both my parents worked in a large downtown department store. From the time I was in First Grade (1964) til Mom quit to stay home (1973), during the school year I walked or rode my bike to school. After school I went to the bus stop. If I had the bike I rode home, dropped it off, and went to the bus stop. I then took the city bus downtown to the store (about 10 miles) and it dropped my off in front of the store. I then had to go directly to the lunch counter, where the ladies gave me a snack and made me do my homework, while they called up to tell my parents I was there. After that, I had free reign of the store. All 11 stories of it. Plus the roof and storage attic. The only thing was, I couldn't leave the building. Now-a-days, parents won't even let go of their kids hands in a store. I caused much trouble, like throwing burnt out flourescent tubes off the roof into the alley, sliding down the center of the escalator (before the bumps) after the store closed, opening and playing with toys then putting them back in the boxes, watching TV (I was allowed to have one show to watch) which they put on the TVs in the TV/Radio department.
However, during the summer twice a week, I got to go to my great aunt's or my grand parents. My great aunt had daily poker parties, so I had to be out of the house, or I was sent for beer (which the store never questioned) and the rest of the time ran hell over the neighborhood. At my grand parents, it was all animals and nature. Grandma had a pet squirrel and a chicken (Charley) as permanent pets. She also took in any animal anybody brought by or wandered up. I was encouraged to be out with the animals.
I had limits, but as long as I was where I supposed to be at a certain time (I had a watch and could tell time two weeks into First Grade, Mom demanded I learn for the bus. I learned all the bus schedules too. I still can't multiply or divide though).
I guess what I'm trying to say is that free reign is great, as long as you have rules. Granted that was the 60's and people cared (unlike now. They only look to prosecute or sue).
If a kid can't be a kid can't fall down, skin knees, break something, catch colds, do something stupid, they won't ever learn what NOT to do. You have to have the freedom to make mistakes, or you'll never learn anything. I learned about "bad touch" from a man in a pink velvet jumpsuit. I left and never cared about it any further. I just thought he was goofey. I learned not everybody can be trusted. From then on, I trust, but not too much, each person. You burn me. That's it, I want nothing more to do with you. But that's something I learned.
I wasn't feared away from it, and it didn't ruin my life. Just a bump in the road.
If you don't have the freedom to make mistakes, you'll never learn anything except to be perfect. Which is humanly impossible.

Different boundaries for different times.

I'm one of those "over protective" types. I keep my kids nearby.

That doesn't mean that they don't experience the world, nature and dangerous situations.

The difference is, I'm committed to doing it with them. I offer guidance, I offer precautions and I let them try things that won't get them hurt permanently.

There was a factor of luck growing up. I was out without supervision. I strolled the banks of a river with my friend without an adult to watch over my every move. I went places I probably shouldn't have gone and I survived.

My kids gain a level of knowledge about the world and the dangers in it, with less of the luck involved. I won't have to worry as much about an unforeseen tragedy, and my kids still get to experience nature in all of it's grandeur.

It takes commitment and hard work. Parents fail when they let their kids roam unsupervised. Parents fail when they don't help their kids to experience everything the world offers. Excuses won't work, keeping your kids tied up at home won't work. If you're a parent, put your energy into being a parent. Give your kids every opportunity and turn them into wonderful adults, it's the only job worth doing when charged with such responsibilities.

I grew up roaming the countryside

Literally. My parents were, um, hippies I guess. We never stayed longer than a year on one spot. From the time I was born until I was 18 I can count a total of 9 years that we actually lived in a house. The rest of the time it was in tents in the middle of some wilderness. And a few of those times when I consider we were living in a "house" it was still in the middle of nowhere (after so many years of tents, I think cabins and sheds count as houses!). Mom and Dad had this "live off the land" vision that never really seemed to pan out. By the time I was 14 they called it quits and we moved to the suburb. Serious culture shock!

But, as kids, my sisters and I ran with the wolves.

I cringe now when I think about how many "close calls" we had. Myself: I've been hit by a car, nearly gored by a bull, trampled by horses, bit by a snake, bit by a wild raccoon, had serious foot lacerations, ran through sewers, climbed into dry wells, fell out of trees, fell down ravines, was beat up by other kids, nearly drowned, and molested 2 different times. And that's the short list!

So of course I'm protective of my kids! And I hate doing anything outside. Hah, not really, but I do have a serious dislike for camping. But we go anyway, because my kids love it. I just don't let them run wild. Sigh.

-:¦:- Bling Blog -:¦:-

Free Roaming Kids

"Letting your child go outside your home unsupervised is not denying your child exposer to the outdoors. It is sound parenting. Only a moron would not watch their children like a hawk, with the insurgence of child predators, perverts and the apologists for child perverts such as the ACLU and the academic establishments."

You. Are. Insane.

I'm 37. When I was a kid, we were basically kicked out of the house after breakfast and not really expected to come back before dinner/street lights on.

ME and my friends explored creeks, biked everywhere, played baseball, built forts, trapped crawdads, what have you.

There is no doubt in my mind, no doubt, that there were just as many bad folks running around in Kansas City in 1977 as there are thirty years later. The ONLY difference is that formerly local news stories have become national. And as a result, lunatics like the poster above vastly exaggerate the dangers that lurk.

Of course, the problem is that any kids I might have will need to live in the world of today. And that world doesn't include the things I grew up doing.

It is a sad, sad state of affairs.

As many bad folks???

There is no way things are the same today as they were in 1977, or in 1988 for that matter. Today there are so many more dangers to our children. The internet provides an environment that we did not have before. It is so much easier for children to be preyed upon - in chat room, via email etc. Then to not only be preyed upon but to be used for sadistic pleasure and dirty money. Has anyone heard of child pornography - check it out, these doors were not there 20 years ago - evil evil people have opened these doors. So now ask the question - or the dangers to our children the same today as they were 20 or 30 years ago? I think not.

Roaming, overprotectiveness, etc

My childhood was spent in a CT suburb and then in Palo Alto, CA. I roamed around with neighborhood friends in both places. I wasn't the most outdoorsy kid, but I did spend quite a lot of time outdoors during my earlier childhood (the CT part). There were plenty of stay-at-home moms around. Except when I went to talk some lady's ear off while she hung out her laundry, I don't remember interacting with the neighborhood adults much, but they were there.

I walked to school in Palo Alto, usually joining up with other kids somewhere during the route. It was probably a shorter walk than it seems in my memory, but it must have been at least a 10-minute walk.

I would like to allow my kids the same freedom. I do find it hard to completely suppress the overprotectiveness urged on us by a pervasively safety-obsessed culture.

My kids have both attended a Montessori school, so their friends are mostly not very nearby. We actually live in a neighborhood where a small group of kids run around in pretty much the old way, but it's a fairly closed group that hasn't welcomed my kids (sigh). I'm open to my 11-year-old taking a bus by herself, but she isn't that bold.

As a parent, my instinct is PROTECT!!! However, I know that until they're old enough to legally carry a concealed weapon, my kids will be somewhat vulnerable even as teenagers -- a time when I can't realistically act as their bodyguard. So I may as well learn to accept, and try to teach them to accept, that life has risks, but that it's much more worth living if you don't creep around in fear.

Roaming Free

I grew up in the 70s and 80s in a suburb outside of Washington DC - hardly Mayberry RFD, but far from an urban jungle either. We had about a 2 mile radius to roam on our bikes from about 9 or 10 years old until whenever we could get our driver's licenses. Reading through all this I get a general sense of sadness that something that was seminal and beautiful to childhood has been lost. Beyond obesity and a real lack of free thought, has anybody thought that we might be teaching a generation of children to act from fear first?
Which is not to say that what some call overprotection isn't prudent action. Certainly, there are stories of child molestors, kidnappings, and all sorts of awfulness in our society. However - such things sell newpapers or glue eyeballs to TV sets (or websites). Has there ever been a serious (statistical) study on how safe/unsafe children really are today vs. 20 - 40 years ago? There are of course many more horrible stories in the news - so is the increase in predatory behavior real, or perceived because the media has gotten that much more efficient at finding stories that grabs people's attention? Anybody know?

Get him down from there!

Yeah, lots of therapy for that family...

My wife and I were discussing how as kids, on the last day of summer vacation, we would be heartbroken because it was the end of freedom.

I notice now that many of the kids actually look forward to school starting up.

Some would say it's a good thing and it may be but I'm not sure that it's a normal thing...

Bicycling everywhere in SoCal

Growing up in Orange County in the 70's, my friends and I cruised everywhere on our non-state-of-the-art cycling machines. Once we went from the beach to Anaheim Stadium, a distance of 134 miles (hmmm, Google maps tells me the actual distance is closer to 12 miles. Odd.). Our parents never seemed to mind too much. I do remember my Mom warning me to look out for "mashers" when I was younger, a word I've not heard since until last weekend, watching "The Courtship of Eddie's Father," with Glenn Ford and the yummy twins, Shirley Jones and Stella Stevens. Wait, what was I talking about? Oh yeah, anyway, my 4 sons had a great deal of freedom growing up as well, but still for the most part would rather play video games than anything else. Oh well.

Absurd amount of freedom

I'm 43 and grew up in a suburb of a medium size Iowan town (the Quad Cities), and we had a ridiculous amount of freedom growing up there. I remember they were building an addition to the neighborhood we lived in, and my brother and I, at around 8 or 9 years of age, would swim in the water filled holes they dug out for the basements of the new houses.

We would have spear fights with our friends, which consisted of pulling out long, stiff, dry reed-like weeds out of the ground and throwing them at each other across a ditch root first.

Once, after I got my BB gun, my friends and I convinced my brother to run back and forth across a sand bar while we took turns trying to shoot him.

I still have no idea what our parents were doing during all this gleeful madness.

Kids want the freedom

This past weekend my 7 year old son and I went on a Cub Scout overnight at a large private Campground on the Russian River in Northern California. What did most kids like the best about the camping trip? Better than fishing, marshmallows, sneaking the Game Boy, flashlight tag, digging in the sand, and swimming?

What the Scouts most enjoyed was the ability to ride their bikes on their own to the General Store. A freedom almost none of them have at home.

Partly due to small families

I can't help but think part of the problem is due to small families. A tragedy hurts a large family, but it can destroy a small one.

There are a lot of Hollywood movies built on this foundation. Minority Report is a good example. That movie had an obvious theme. But the thing I noticed from the movie is that if you only have one child, and something tragic happens, it ruins your life.

You hear it said "I don't know what I'd do if something happened to my child." Well, parents with 5 children know what they'd do if something happened to one of them. They'd mourn. And then they'd continue to raise the other four.

Unlike most of the

Unlike most of the commenters above, I lived all over -- from the "ghetto" of Highland Park, CA (in the early 1980s it was a scary area, and on the boundary between two gang territories to boot) to Lone Oak, TX (the biggest danger was fainting when running across a spider bigger than your face,) to Bucyrus, OH (population 13k and shrinking,) and eleven or twelve other places. When I lived in Highland Park I wasn't allowed out of sight of the front door, and only that far because we had a funny enclosed shared driveway, and so no one could see me from the street. I rode my bicycle around in circles for hours and hours. In Naugatuck, CT we had a "dream" backyard (probably something under 2 acres, but it felt HUGE) and we could wander wherever we wanted. Except for a few hours of school per day, we were outside from breakfast to dinner (and often after) from April through November. In Long Beach, CA and Bucyrus I was allowed to ride my bike or walk anywhere a 12-15 year-old could possibly want, and my next-youngest sisters were allowed to walk to any number of specific places within a 2 mile radius. I had run of a massive metro park (El Dorado) in CA, and just had to be back by sundown -- in Bucyrus it was the biggest city cemetery, same rules. In Lone Oak, it was the cemetery at the end of the dirt road (cemeteries are peaceful, you can walk around, and the best ones have really old headstones you can barely read.) Basically, my parents let us do whatever was reasonably safe and didn't sound crazy. My mom was, as a kid, able to take her bike farther away than I was, but there are other considerations -- including the fact that her parents only had one car (and a work truck,) and there was no chance at all of getting a ride from her mom. Heck, getting away from her parents at 7am and walking to school was a *major* bright spot to her days. Whereas, ahem, she homeschooled us from the time I turned 12. My siblings in CA (my dad's kids) would have to cross one of the busiest streets I've ever seen to get to their school; they'd already spent four years being driven to their daycare center sixty miles from home before they started there anyway.

And there were plenty of fun things to do inside by the 1980s -- we had VCRs, and computers, and moreover had them sooner than anyone else I knew at the time (I still pine for Windows 3.11, and the BBS we used when I was in first grade.) It was just that outside was different, and it even changed from day to day (King's Quest got very predictable,) and there was a heck of a lot more room. I think the biggest change since then has been connectivity with other kids -- in 1993, nearly everyone I knew on AOL was fifteen to twenty years older than me, and none of the neighborhood kids were online. In 2003 my baby brother and sister were the only kids they knew who didn't have email addresses and cell phones. I would spend a heck of a lot more time outdoors, and out socializing, if I couldn't do so many interesting things and talk to my friends a continent away for, essentially, free. Indeed, I nearly went nuts, and then started writing letters longhand, the week I had no PC and no internet connection.

Though I'll admit, the games have gotten a heck of a lot cooler since I was a teen. The Sims and EverQuest probably would have kept me inside as a teen, even if Facebook wasn't around yet.

The barbarians are back

Well, I think things _were_ safer for past generations, when the Roman Legions were here, and before there were so many barbarians. Personally, I blame technology -- the Viking Longship and the stirrup have brought danger into everyone's neighbourhood.

Seriously. Times have changed since my childhood. I won't let my kids roam the neighbourhood. It's a reasonable neighbourhood, but in this world is of lax morals and laws, soft hearted judges and semi-hostile ethnic minorities -- criminals, junkies, whores, smut merchants, angry racist ethnics -- there's enough danger to justify extreme vigilance even before we get to the worst monsters.

Remember for most of human history, the young were kept in enclosed and guarded towns and villages and every adult male had a weapon at his side every waking hour. I hope we can win back some the security we've lost in recent decades. (real security, not just sense of security)

Sadly, hyper-vigilance is normal.

It's a long way down.

Seem to be an exception...

My mother had to physically pick me up and throw me out the door in summer. I preferred to stay inside and read (still do). Problem solved by taking the stack of books outside under a tree...which I hated, because it was hot and buggy and the ice in my water melted too fast.

I did get to walk the mile to the library and back almost every day, starting when I was 8, most likely because I had three younger siblings and there was no way in heck my mother was going to pack them all up in the car just to get me something I hadn't read yet.

OTOH, during winters, my father had come out with a flashlight and physically haul me out of the snowdrifts to drag me in to dinner.

In addition to the safety thing, I think there's also a belief these days that if you and your kid are both home and awake at the same time, you have to be focused on them--doing something with them, watching them do something, talking to/with them, etc. (at least, until you buy them their own TV for their room). That idea wasn't widespread until the Mommy Wars...

I let my kids roam within

I let my kids roam within reason. In our neighborhood we have a nice creek where the kids spend hours upon hours. It is about a 1/2 mile walk through the curvy streets. My older two, 10 and 12, can go down to the creek alone. The younger two, 6 and 8, can only go with the older kids. They play at the creek making canals and dams and always get dirty.

They ride their bikes around the neighborhood too. They only are restricted from going out on the main roads (with constant 50 mph traffic). The oldest even crosses the creek to get into other neighborhoods to play football with friends.

We live in a fairly modest neighborhood (by local standards) with many stay at home moms. We don't have cable TV or any video games, so they have to entertain themselves. Of course it depends on their friends - many of them do have that stuff and our kids get wrapped up in that. But we often tell the kids to "go outside and play."

Times Have Changed

I was allowed to walk to elementary school, usually with a buddy (this was on an army base in the 70's), and to roam the backyards and playgrounds of our neighborhood unsupervised as a very young child. I probably wouldn't allow my children to do that these days unless I were very well acquainted with the neighbors.

I can't imagine allowing my 7yo walk to school by himself through wooded areas like I did. It's not simply a matter of sensational news coverage. I don't even watch the news. Anyone with common sense knows that children these days are not as well brought up as in my mother's generation, or even my own. (Back in our day, other parents could correct children who weren't theirs without offending the parents, just for one example. I don't know if crimes against children are more prevalent than in the past; it certainly seems that way, but even if not, what parent could ever forgive herself for not taking reasonable precautions?

I do know my mother's (post-war) generation had even more freedom than I did as a child. Though she let me walk to school, she was always warning me about "GI's" when I was little. "If you see a GI, come right home!" I was never entirely sure what a GI looked like, or why I should be wary of one.

I supervise my kids' outdoor play because we currently live in a townhouse. I can watch them in the backyard from the house, but I can't see them in the front, so I accompany them when they play by the street or ride their bikes there. We get a lot of traffic and, though I have met one family next-door, I don't know anyone here well at all. I am not a fearful person, but I think it's important to follow one's instincts. I simply don't feel comfortable allowing my 3yo, or even my 5yo, to play unsupervised by a busy street, even with bigger brothers and sisters there (my eldest is only 11). I think that's a normal--not overbearing--protectiveness that would be foolishness to ignore.

When we had more property, my kids would play in the backyard for hours before I called them in. I could spot them easily through the bank of windows in back of the house, and I felt fine letting them play together out there without constant supervision. They picked blackberries, dealt with the roaming dogs in the neighborhood, caught lizards and caterpillars, played with sticks, got thoroughly muddy, etc. I think they love the outdoors more than your average kid. I did not, however, allow them to ride bikes through the neighborhood. I didn't know all the neighbors, and folks definitely did not drive carefully. I saw people out walking their dogs in the evenings, but hardly ever saw kids out playing or riding their bikes (very different from the 'hood in which I grew up, where we swarmed the street), and apparently people weren't used to looking out for children. The kids just rode their bikes around our yard.

If we had a place with a good amount of property, I'd let them roam that, wild critters or no. It's *people* I'm more concerned about. Not just potential about the busybodies who turn you into CPS for letting them climb trees?


I lived in Waukegan, IL, until I was 12 when we moved to New Jersey. In Waukegan I played in the train yard, the woods, the dump, at the fishing docks on the lake, etc. Rode my bike out into the country and down to Great Lakes to watch the Navy trainees shoot machine guns at aerial targets over Lake Michigan. My orbit was at least 25 miles in diameter.

We stayed in the Commodore hotel (now the Grand Hyatt) the first few weeks in NYC while my folks went house hunting in NJ. Found the subway station under the hotel the second day in town and took off. At the time there were 205 miles of track under the city, and I rode just about all of them. Put my last nickel in the turnstile once, and didn't think about it until I climbed up the stairs to look at the Brooklyn Bridge. If I hadn't found a quarter on the bridge sidewalk I'd still be wandering the streets of Chinatown. As it was, I spent a couple of hours a day (at most) in the hotel and the rest of the time who knows where. I learned to love New York from the bottom up.

That was 1945.

This is now.


Absolutely the sweetest

Absolutely the sweetest thing about summer vacation was being the oldest, and as such exempt from the hated "nap time". My younger siblings had to lie down for their daily nap just after lunch. So, every day I'd discover some fantastic, interesting, glorious game to be played just under the bedroom window.

Ahhhh, good times.

some statistics

I'm pretty sure the incidence of crimes against kids has not risen since we were kids and allowed to roam.

A quick Google search turns up several articles saying that, but without statistics. Here's an excerpt from a paper that does have some meat:

>>>>Despite the publicity warnings over rampant sexual molestation and abduction, both crimes have been decreasing in the past years (CSOM, 2000; Jones & Finkelhor, 2001). First, the arrest rate for sexual offenses dropped by 16 percent between the years 1993 and 1998(CSOM, 2000). More specifically, child molestation cases have reportedly decreased between 25 percent and 30 percent for the years 1992 through 1998 (Jones & Finkelhor,2001). Second, the reported frequency of stranger child abduction has been exaggerated and does not align with the facts (Fox, 2002). Making up only 2 percent of all crimes against juveniles, the constant media attention surrounding the ‘stranger danger’ of abduction in the 1980s and early 1990s no longer holds sway when the rates are examined. Rather, the media cultivates a panic by ‘exaggerating claims … [and]generating and disseminating statistics and figures’ (Welch et al. 2002, p. 16).<<<<

The paper is called "Spin Doctors and Moral Crusaders: The Moral Panic behind Child Safety" and is found here:

Turns out "moral panic" is a term of art in sociology (and is defined in the paper; one of the definitions is disproportionality, and that's the section from which these stats are taken).


I grew up in rural North Dakota. I roamed the woods along the river, biked around miles out on the prairie, roamed the streets all night, pretty much without worry.

I live with my kids in St. Paul. I live around a lot of panicky, overprotective parents. They say that fathers tend to be less risk-averse than mothers; perhaps kids today are kept indoors in a fog of paranoia more today because so many single-parent families are headed by mothers.

I know that I've made a conscious decision to show my kids how to have fun AND be smart about living in the city; watching out for strangers, being wary of peoples' stories, gathering mobs of friends to beat interlopers with bricks and boards.

Beats being stuck indoors.

Safe kids

When our oldest child was coming up on entering first grade, my husband and I took a great leap of faith and moved from a large-ish city to the country, 45 miles away from the nearest metro area. Our oldest is now an adult, just moved out on his own, and we have not regretted our move, ever. We had to take a huge cut in potential earnings to make that move, as there were, and still aren't, any jobs in my field in that area (I actually now make the 45 mi. drive to the metro area every day for my job, but I was a stay-at-home mom for 10 years).

But it was all worth it, as my two boys had many happy, carefree days of riding their bikes and hunting for frogs in the creek on our dead-end road, and playing with the neighboring farmers' kids (who definitely appreciate the value of hard work and the outdoors!). They both love their video games and cell phones and computers, but both are also outdoorsmen - deer hunters and fishing enthusiasts.

Kids - growing up roaming

I am 44 and if I did today what I did at age 12 I would likely be in prison, therapy or both. I did not break the law - but my best friend and I would have adventures. Like taking his BB gun and going "hunting" in the Whittier narrows flood control area between Montebello and Pico Rivera, california. This is the section of the San Gabriel river that is not encased in concrete. Or the time we built an estes rocket and launched it at the dam (same area) - opps - you mean planes fly over here? Building a bike out of spare parts and riding it around. Creating a super firecracker out of the powder from about 40 smaller ones. Altering piccolo pete fireworks so they would explode at the end of their whistling - or placing them on their sides in the gutter and watching them hurtle down the street like landbased torpedoes. Catching rattlesnakes and skinning them. (we cooked and ate them a few times too - and yes, they tasted like chicken.)

Now as a parent I have to fight the urge to position myself on a high line-of-sight and track my kids movement through a rifle scope. I don't even like adults to talk to my children directly - and my reaction seems weird even to me. Sigh. May God grant me discernment.

I had much the same reaction as

I read the story about the British study. I was walking to school at 6, playing from sun-up til "The street lights come on", riding my bike to the local VFD because they had a soda pop machine that only cost a nickle.

Would I let my girls do all that? Heh. No Way In Hades. Is it because I feel that there are more dangers? Eh, maybe, but it is more about how much society has worked against parents trying to raise savvy, common-sense using kids that would not fall for the "Help-me-find-my-puppy" and such.

When I was 5, standing at a bus stop waiting for a school bus that wasn't coming because it was a snow day and Mom had missed the radio announcement, *freezing*, I refused a ride home from a casual aquaintance of my parents. He thankfully went and told my Mom to come and rescue her little popsicle. So you see, even then I knew not to get in a car with someone I didn't know well. I can't trust that my kids know the same, however, (insert mother's lament about kids not listening here) thanks to an education system dedicated to turning out ... How to say this gracefully? Sheeple is the kindest word I can think of.

As parents we work to give our kids the tools to survive and become happy, healthy, self-sufficient adults. But lets face it, after the age of 6, our influence drops, until it becomes about the same as a mosquito buzzing annoyingly in one ear. Schools in my day taught Patch the Pony and "stranger danger", but they have very different agendas today.


I grew up in So. Calif. in the 50's and 60's. We had quite a range once we had bikes. When I was 12 and 13 my buddy and I would take a bicycle trip each summer to Disneyland, then a second trip to Knott's. At least 30 miles (mapquest says less than 17 mi. from Downey via the frontage roads of the Santa Ana Fwy). The rest of the summer, leave the house in the morning and be back before dark after a day of exploring or playing ball.

Our kids were fortunate also as we lived in Duarte, CA where we were up against the mountains and had the San Gabriel River to play in (not during rainy days!) We felt safe in Duarte in the 80's and 90's, and the kids had the run of the place. In Duarte people know a lot of their fellow citizens (at least we did), so there is a feeling of safety.

I notice that my youngest spends more time inside because of the video games, computer, and TV; but he does get out.

I think the key is finding a suburb that has a critical mass of kids with parents that have taught them reasonable standards of behavior. Also helps if there are natural boundaries that create a small town feeling in the neighborhood.

Recent comments

Ad Links

Who's online

There are currently 2 users and 42 guests online.