The perils of free-range parenting
It had to happen sooner or later. That's why I'd prepared my kids for that possibility, by explaining that adults were so unused to seeing kids allowed to be competent by themselves that they might call the cops on them. I can't control what other people do, but I can give my kids guidelines (to random stranger: don't give your name, but say firmly that your mother knows where you are and walk away; to uniformed police officer: give your name/age if asked, give my name and phone number, explain politely but firmly that your mother knows where you are and that you have permission to be there). Yesterday those guidelines were put to good use when someone pushed the panic button because they saw one of my kids on the street, alone.
I dropped off Middle Daughter (age 9) near the library around 11:45 and went to the dojo for class. She was going there to return books, browse and pick up new ones. Then she was to walk down to the dojo and read there with her big sister.
Eldest, who is now 11, has been walking to the library and back to the dojo by herself (a distance of maybe 600 metres) for some time now, and Middle Daughter has often been with her. But when she turned 9, I thought it was time to let MD try it by herself. It's a perfectly safe neighbourhood, but the street is fairly busy and you need to be careful. She knows how to do it, not that it stopped me from repeating it 400 times.
Anyway. She's done it by herself a couple of times now, and I'm confident she knows what she's doing. I dropped her off at a convenient spot, about a block from the library, and drove off. Almost right away a woman accosted her, demanding to know how old she was, why she wasn't in school, and where her parents were. She explained she was nine, homeschooled, and yes indeed her mother knew where she was, thank you very much. I don't mean to boast when I say this, but all three of my daughters are exceptionally well-spoken, especially for their respective ages. They are used to dealing with adults, and they can talk their way out of a tied-up paper bag. I have no doubt she explained everything clearly and concisely to that woman. But apparently that wasn't enough...
Half of me appreciates the concern. You see a kid by herself on the street during school hours, and you wonder what she's doing there and whether she's in trouble or not. My daughter walked away from that woman and entered the library. When she came out of there, her backpack heavy with books for herself and her two sisters, a policeman was waiting for her.
He asked her the same questions, and she gave the same answers. Evidently she did a good job of it because he left her with his card to give me, and coupons for a free drink at the nearby convenience store.
When I got out of my karate class and went to see how my two eldest daughters were doing (Youngest was with her dad), they were all weird. Eldest blurted out that someone had called the cops on her sister, who immediately tried to hide inside her shoulders, convinced she was about to get in trouble with me. I made her explain the story from beginning to end, then gave her a big hug. She did everything the way she was supposed to, and it wasn't her fault the woman who approached her overreacted.
We did call the number on the policeman's card, and left a message thanking him for dealing with the matter sensibly. Obviously once a concerned citizen calls the cops fearing a child might be in trouble, they have to come check it out. But he was evidently convinced there was nothing to worry about in my daughter's situation, because he let her go on her merry way without undue fuss.
It's a sad world when adults think it's so wrong to see a kid walking by herself on a safe street in broad daylight that it's a matter for law enforcement. I encourage my daughters to be independent and street-smart, because those are very useful skills to have. But I'm not blind or stupid; my feisty 7-year-old is not allowed to walk to the library without an adult. But she's allowed to walk with her sisters to the local playground because there are no busy streets to cross. I know my kids and I make judgement calls all the time about what I think they can and cannot do. You see stories of parents being arrested for letting their kids roam freeishly - in the United States as well as in Canada. I'm aware that this is a risk of free-range parenting. But I refuse to have my kids grow up thinking their mother didn't trust them to walk 600 metres by themselves.