In the wake of Kim Brooks' New York Times article on being arrested for letting her son wait in the car for five minutes -- a choice that was statistically as safe as can be, yet criminalized nonetheless -- the paper received a tsunami of letters and comments, including from abroad, where people were puzzled (and appalled) by the parenting norms here.
From Tokyo to Paris, Parents Tell Americans to Chill
In many countries, children have the very freedoms that American parents can grant only by chafing against law or custom, our international readers say.
A mother in Sweden says she often didn’t know where her elementary-school-aged son went for the afternoon after school.
A father in Paris says he sends his daughters outside to the playground nearby — alone.
And a mother in the Netherlands says parents don’t feel compelled to stick around for children’s birthday parties — they drop off their little ones, and then leave to run their errands.
In much of the world, parents tend to regard such free-range parenting practices as developing a child’s self-reliance. But as a popular Sunday Review article by Kim Brooks, a writer in Chicago, pointed out, many in America see these practices as neglectful.
Some have called the police or child protective services after witnessing a parent leave a child in a car to run into Starbucks or attend a job interview.
The article prompted a flood of comments from our readers. Dozens of our international readers said they were surprised to learn that the freedoms that many children abroad take for granted aren’t universal in the United States.
And some of the letters:
Central Europe here, and yes, thank God, people are much more sensible about free range children. Kids go to school (and run errands) by themselves at a very young age, the idea of someone being persecuted for leaving a kid in a car for a few minutes would be beyond laughable. The hostility toward mothers in the U.S. just blows my mind.
I have three kids. I’ve left them home alone since the age of 7 to drop off dry cleaning, grab a coffee or pick up milk at the local store. My only requests were no cooking, fighting or using the iron. Read, play or clean your room. Never a problem. And if one goes missing I still have two left.
Here in Germany: our kids ride their bikes to school starting in first grade. They get picked up by their friends' parents after kindergarten/school if that's what they want.
I have now lived in Mexico for 14 years, a society in which kids are ever-present. My last trip to New Jersey, I was riding a bike around my friend’s dense suburban neighborhood and kept wondering “Why does this feel so weird?”
Finally figured out it was about 4 p.m. in the summer and eerily silent. No kids. No basketball hoops. No fellow cyclists other than the occasional obvious commuter adult. No playing and screaming and laughing. It’s weird in the U.S.A. these days.
Photo from Unsplash by @amansks91.