Free Range Kids…

I am going to tell you a story about when I was growing up in the 1950s and then put a modern twist to it.

I don’t have a lot of memories prior to my eighth year of life. I vaguely remember spots here or there before then. But I do remember when we moved into our brand new $14,000 tract house in the suburbs when I was 8-years-old. There were five of us living in a 900 square foot, three bedroom, one bathroom house. Compared to where we lived prior to that this was a modern mansion.

My new suburban neighborhood was an adventure waiting to happen. We lived 4 blocks away from the Catholic school I attended so I and my two brothers walked that distance every day. There was also a gas station across the street from the school that infatuated me. I spent quite a bit of time watching them gassing up cars, checking the oil, and of course, cleaning the windshield. That gas station proved invaluable a couple of years later when I broke my collarbone trying out for the school football team and as a result, wore a very hot and itchy plaster vest through the summer. With the station hose, I blew a stream of air under the plaster vest to make things at least tolerable.

We lived eight blocks away from the drugstore with a soda fountain. It was on a busy road and we weren’t really supposed to go there but on occasion did so anyway. I always ordered the “suicide” which included squirts of a half-dozen of the flavors available.

Then there was the mushroom factory about four blocks away from home where we loved to climb the freshly delivered piles of dirt which in reality were piles of composted cow manure! We didn’t know that is what they were but that would have made it even cooler. (ha). But, there was that day when I was climbing the trees in front of the factory and fell down on a sharp wrought iron fence due to climbing out on a broken limb. They told my dad in the emergency room that the fence came within an inch of puncturing my lung! But, except for a “bragging” scar no real damage was done. That episode did make me more aware of the dangers around me. That proved to be a valuable lesson I’m sure.

I’m running out of space here but I did want to mention the lumber yard that was about 6 blocks from home. We got much of the material we needed for our adventure projects from the scrap pile there. The owner sometimes gave us small pieces of wood that he cut off customer orders and sometimes we would sneak in on our own to get them. It was kind of like a commando raid for us.

The moral of this story is that I learned to be an adventurous person from my childhood years. I learned what it was like to be out on my own. All those lessons would help shape my adult life.

I was a free range kid…

Finally getting to the point of this story, I saw something recently on the PBS Newshour that the average ten-year-old has likely never been more than two blocks away from his home unaccompanied! There is apparently too much parental fear of abduction and such now. But, the statistics just don’t bear out this fear. In reality, kids are much safer today than they were in my day.

Are we stunting our kids by keeping them homebound and not letting them be free-range as we were in my generation? Are we preventing them from the adventures of discovery? Are we stifling the future inventor and innovators? That, along with the fears should be on the minds of all parents today.

What do you think?


  1. I think there is lots more to this than the simple “abduction fear”; although that is probably the primary issue. Neighborhoods are much more diverse these days and there may be concern about who they might meet or choose to play with. I don’t want my kids playing with “those” kids. You talk about “commando raids” on the lumberyard. These days, if even young children get caught doing such types of things, there tends to be a zero tolerance policy about what we might have called “boys will be boys” and the next thing you know the police are involved. Smaller towns might be more immune to this but not so much in the larger places.

    And yes I think this close watching and fear of letting them out on their own does contribute to social issues. I suggest that a lot of the current fear in this country could be directly associated with this “fear of the other” or “fear of the unknown”. I also think that a lot of the fear may actually the “fear” that MY life will be disrupted having to deal with the issue. Sort of “I don’t care if my kid gets in trouble but the fear that it will disrupt my “lifestyle””.

    Here is what “fear” does… We live in a smaller city on the very edge of the Indianapolis Metro area. Very safe, low crime, etc. Before Christmas, I went over to a neighbor about 7 pm one evening to drop off a Xmas gift. Nobody answered. I went back a few days later during the day and when I told the neighbor (a single 60-year-old woman living alone with her disabled son) I came by the other night she said, “Oh, was that you? I was absolutely terrified when you rang the doorbell. Nobody ever comes to the door after dark”. She could have easily peeked out the window by the door (there is a glass storm door as well) but instead, she panicked. Have we really got people that fearful? Almost unable to even open a door or peek out a window to assess the situation.


  2. Hi Bob, and thanks for the thoughts. Yes, fear seems to ravage far too many of us, doesn’t it? But I kinda think we had much the same things to fear in our days but that didn’t stop us from our adventures. I guess today those adventures happen when you are alone in your room with your computer. They say that loneliness is one of the primary causes of teen suicide and that is indeed sad. Social media, which was supposed to connect so many of us together seems to have the opposite effect on some. It comes down to peer pressure I guess, and that is something I never dealt with in my youth. I simply didn’t care what others thought about me…


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