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I agree with much of what you say, however I do not agree that letting your kid ride the subway home at 9 years old, alone, is the best answer. Let him ride with friends or siblings, who may be the same age, rather than alone. At least first. I'll tell you why.

I was raised in nyc. I would walk to school and back alone at 8 or 9 years old- it was just SoHo/village, not bad neighborhoods. But also, at about that time, Aton Patz was abducted, he was in my sister's class at school; his brother was in my class. He was abducted walking to our bus stop. It happens.

It is true that its very rare, most violent crimes are by someone you know, etc. Its all true- but there are also random kidnappings by child molesters. They happen too. You have to be aware of the dangers and know what to do, because if you look scared, they will pick you. Street smarts.

Overwhelmingly, this is how its done in the roughest neighborhoods, the kids all stick together first; then they try going places alone. Don't be stupid, don't send your kid out into the streets alone first- before he and his friends have learned the ropes.

All of the kids need to learn to take care of each other, be aware and responsible, not give in to the urge to good off or not pay attention. At that age they can still do that before the raging hormones kick in. This will help them grow up mature, independent and responsible. And once the kids have learned to be aware, then they can do it on their own.

"goof off" that should have read.

I think you're on to something in saying "going as a group" will provide enough independence. I'm very uncomfortable allowing my children to be by themselves out in the world, but less so if they're with peers.

Horrible abductions and such are pretty rare, but if one of my children is abducted I could take no solace in the fact that she just lost out on the odds. You could make it a policy to step out into oncoming traffic at every opportunity and live, but why take the chance?

For Bill and others tempted to make the same argument: the point is that there are all kinds of risks kids take every day because there's some benefit attached. If we *really* could take no solace that our kids lost out on the odds, we'd never let them get in a car. They are far more likely to die in a car accident than all of these other ways. Yet, we take those risks all the time.


Because there are benefits attached. Without getting in a car or bus, our kids don't get to school, etc.. My point above is that allowing kids to explore and play in these ways is not just accepting some additional, if marginal, amount of risk with no return. There are real developmental benefits to allowing kids to play and explore more independently and when we deem such activities "too risky," we are giving up the benefits as well. And we give those up not only at a risk to our children but to society more generally, as raising a generation of wimps is hardly going to bode well for human freedom.

(Side note: I'm not saying every kid should ride the NY subways alone. I wouldn't let my kids do so because they have no experience in riding subways with an adult. I also wouldn't let a city kid climb the big willow in my yard, or play in the river back there, if I thought he/she had no experience in doing so. Find forms of independent play that build on what your kids already know.)

I read the comments on her blog. What frightens me is the people who shared their experiences of having been reported to child protective services or the police for letting a child do something like that alone.

One would think a child would be a lot safer alone on a subway than an adult:

-The child does not have a significant amount of money to steal.
-The child is not an attractive female, and thus is much less likely to be raped.
-Most people - even criminals - have a lot more empathy for children.
-The child is a lot more likely to be assisted by strangers than an adult.

Sure there are child-specific predators, but I'd think those are in the vast minority of criminals.

LisaMarie's point is well-taken. There's no doubt at all that the bar that parents must cross to get CPS involved is a very low one. Some of you may have seen the case, which I may have blogged about here or elsewhere, of the dad who had his 7 year old son taken away for several days because he bought him a Mike's Hard Lemonade at a baseball game, not knowing it was alcoholic. That's a case where what the father did was not exemplary parenting, but it hardly rises to the level of having your kid stolen from you by the state.


What you say is true. However, the child also has significant disadvantages:

- Unable to defend him/herself
- Less likely to recognize danger
- Easily tricked

I'm getting queasy in thinking about what else to write, so I'll stop there.

Yes, its true that fewer people will want to hurt (and more people will want to help) the child; however, there are a few bad apples and the kid is an easy target.

Prof. Horwitz,

It's great to see rugged individualism making a comeback- thanks for pointing out the Free Range Kids blog- this is really refreshing for me, being a parent now, and because I was raised like this.

Your follow-up post is dead-on: there are big benefits to freedom, even for kids, and they frequently outweigh the costs that go with the extra risks. In my view, free kids, with a good moral/ethical foundation and good role models, become more responsible, creative, and smarter. They get street smarts, as it were.

An important corollary to free-ranging is learning self-defense and developing a confident attitude. My parents taught me to fight like hell if anyone, kid or adult, tried to violate me. "Hit 'em between the spit and the snot" was my dad's sage advice that still serves well.

I see a sad example of parental coddling on my commute to GMU: the well-to-do yuppies in rural Northern Virginia will drive their kids to the bus stop, sometimes a mere few hundred yards from their front door! And they don't drop them off to wait, they let them wait in the car until the bus shows up. How pathetic. I joke to my wife, I wonder if their parents still wipe their rear ends for them.

I rode the subways all over NYC in the mid-60s, when I was 10. No harm came.

A great example of your thesis can be played out in sports, and in particular the game of basketball. Brian McCormick, who provides a fresh voice in the basketball training world, stresses that the best teacher of the game is the game itself. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years we have seen an increasing regimentation of the game rather than "free play". Kids play the game under the strict supervision of adult/coaches, with referees, and in uniforms and with parents watching every move. Creativity is lost, "feel" of the game is lost, etc.

The "European" model, in contrast, limits official games and focuses on training of fundamentals in the context of game like situations. McCormick offers the hypothesis that this change in the way we develop players in the US is the reason we have fallen behind in international competitions. Prior to the extentive development of the AAU summer circuit, players played in playgrounds, free play, developed a feel for the game, and a basketball IQ.

McCormick titles his movement the "Cross Over Movement". The link to his web site is:


I started taking public transportation in Washington, DC--bus and trolley car--to my weekly piano lesson when I was 6 (1942). Actually, I learned the whole trans system from the maps in those vehicles. Later, when 8 and living in Philadelphia and its suburbs, I did the same and began to go to NYc by myself--by train and subway--to my grandparents' place in the Bronx. Never had any problem.

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