I just read this post on Free Range Kids, and my answer was so long I thought I might as well just give it it’s own post on my blog. I liked my response (of course I did) so I wanted to share what my ideas were with the Free Range Kids crew, but I also wanted to know what anyone who reads my blog thought about this particular issue. Don’t hold back, tell me what you think!


From Free Range Kids (op is here: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/2010/07/01/help-this-mom-figure-out-a-free-range-summer-for-her-kids/#comment-37099)


“Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I got today. Let’s give her some good advice. Since I get to go first, I ‘ll say the obvious: If you can afford it, send your kids to some kind of not-too-programmed camp. Other suggestions?

Hey Free-Range Kids:  I truly, profoundly want my older daughter to be more Free-Range.  She wants more freedom.  Advice on how I get there is welcome.

My 13 and 11 year old girls are on summer vacation, my spouse and I both work.  The oldest is in open rebellion because, despite my claims that I want her to be more independent, I  won’t fire the babysitter.

Besides not being comfortable with them being home alone for that long a time with no adult less than an hour’s drive away, my oldest has admitted that the real problem with having this particular sitter is that she limits TV and computer time, buys only healthy foods when they are out, takes them to parks to play and lakes to boat  – in other words, she is destroying their summer by depriving her of the God-given right to be a couch potato everyday for 10 weeks.

I do believe summer should be, in part, a time to relax and be lazy.  I do believe a normal 13-year-old should not need a sitter.  But I can’t bear the thought of my kid sitting home alone and getting fat in front of her computer screen.  She’s already too heavy, according to her pediatrician, and I don’t like the trend.

The younger daughter thinks this 20-year-old sitter, btw, is Mary Poppins, and delights in her to no end.  Blatant and unfair favoritism, claims my moody eldest, further proof of the injustice inherent in my system.

Advice on how to get this kid to the point where she is sitting, instead of being sat, would be terrific. — Fed Up Mom

Okay, Readers. Go for it! – L. “ (“L” is Lenore, the woman who runs the site)


there were a LOT of responses. Like 75+. There were many telling one another that they were wrong, which was funny, since who says what is the wrong way to handle this situation? The OP (original poster) even left a comment midway though the thread thanking everyone for their ideas. She said after 50+ comments:

“Thanks everyone — there’s a lot of good advice up here, and I’ll keep checking back as we try some of it out. Nest week is family vacation — visiting folks in a very rural part of the country, lots of outdoor activities planned, as well as down time — and we are going to send both kids to camp for a few weeks (a regular backwwods sleepaway camp –not a “fat camp ” — where they can occasionally interact with each other but will be in separate cabins.) I’ll let you know how all this worked out at the end of the summer.

Someone suggested I read up on FA. Sorry — can you please spell that out for me?

Sleep issues — I am trying to be sensitive to the circadian issues. On the other hand, schools, as many of us know, are not sensitive to a young teens need to sleep later, so I don’t want her to go totally overboard during the break, because it will be much harder to get her bcak on schedule come Sept. Not to mention camp is not going to let her sleep through breakfast and chores every morning. So for now, the sitter doesn’t arrive at the house until 10, and the kids don’t have to be up til 10:30.

Age appropriate activities — the problems started because the sitter asked both girls to plan activities with her for the firts two weeks of summer, and my eldest, resenting the presence of a sitter, refused to plan. So my 11 yr old and the sitter planned out things the younger one would like. I think my eldest has learned the cost of absenting herself from the decision making process — we had a long discussion last night — and the sitter agreed that walking around the mall with a friend was a good substitute for walking around the lake sometimes. More to come on that score.

Weight — the best comments are the ones that remind me that whole family needs to work on this issue together, on our calorie intake and our exercise. After vacation, we’ll talk about somethings we can do to get all of us in better shape. Most if the women in my family are overweght or obese — myself included — and I know emotional an issue this is for both young people and adults. I am not judgmental of her, nor is my love conditional on her body shape — I just know from her own comments that social situations are harder for her because of her weight right now — clothes shopping involved many tears — and I want to help her, or at least allow her to help herself.

I don’t forsee a situation in which I would allow the 13 yr old to be in charge of the 11 yr old. Two close in age, and while the 13 yr old is immature for her age, the 11 yr old is precocious and would never accept her sister’s authority or advice. Either they get to the point where I trust both of them to take care of themselves, or I keep the sitter.

Thanks for the advice everyone.”

I started thinking about it, and I read ALL the comments on the page (Whew! That’s a LOT of opinions!)  and finally came up with my own response, which was REALLY long. Of course.

I said:

Wow. It’s so interesting that we are all on the same website and we all want to be “free-range” but we have VASTLY differing ideas of *what* exactly that is. It’s really super fascinating to hear what everyone else has to say about this, and I have really been given occasion to now think hard about this, and what it will mean for my (and my childs) future.
People appear to be pretty opinionated about this, but I’d say it’s really a case-by-case type of thing. There’s not really a “right” way to go about solving this, though there are probably a lot of wrong ways, you just don’t know what those are until you try them and they don’t work! Ha!
I guess I’m not really sure what would be the “right” thing for your daughter, but I CAN tell you what my life was like at that age (I’m 29 now, and often I feel like my peers have already forgotton what it was like to be 13. I’ll remember, that’s for damn sure)

My mom was really excersize oriented and a health food junkie. She was probably a little *too* obsessed, but she didn’t really push me too much. My dad on the other hand couldn’t have cared less about his physical body. He didn’t even watch tv, he just read all the time, walked when he felt like it, and ate as he pleased.

My parents let me stay home after I turned ten. I don’t remember the day, but I’m pretty sure it was my 10th birthday that was the “ok, no more babysitters” day. It was entirely based on the legality issue, as I’m sure they would have let me stay home alone earlier than that if it had been permitted by the state. My dad worked nights and often was sleeping while I was home, so I suppose some of the time I was not *alone* alone, but I didn’t notice the difference and he wasn’t there to monitor me, just to sleep. My mom often would not get home till 9pm, which was about my “bedtime”- though I often stayed up much later than that, and my parents didn’t force me to bed, as long as I was in my room and quiet.

I was 100% self regulating at that point in the summers.

Yes, I got a bit fat, I sat on my ass and read books and watched crappy daytime tv, though not a ton because we had no cable and an ancient old telly that got pretty shoddy reception. We did not have a computer.
I didn’t have many friends since I was the nerdy weird kid, but I did eventually figure out how to arrange my own schedule and go hang out with the few I did have when it suited me.

My parents didn’t have a car, and I lived in the city, so I bussed and walked when I wanted to go out (never learned to ride a bike!)… My mom asked me if I wanted to enroll in some summertime stuff (camp, dance classes, art classes, whatever) and I did occasionally, but most of the time I just kept myself entertained. There was no real restriction on where or when I could go out, and I knew where to draw my lines.

Like I said, I got a bit chubby, but I got over it for the most part, since my mom only left cookable food in the house. I had to actually toast the bagel, boil the pasta, etc etc. She bought low fat cheese and lots of fresh veggies and no sugar, because that’s what she ate. My dad pretty much just ate at diners and stuff so he didn’t have much to swipe, and anyhow he liked “weird” spicy food.
She left me dried beans and rice and pasta and some jars of organic pasta sauce. There were corn tortillas, vegetables, spices, olive oil, granola, fruit… and no junk food. Not because she was keeping me from it, she just didn’t eat it, so she didn’t buy it. I didn’t eat fast food till I was 13. Seriously. Because of this, fast food still smells like chemicals and poison to me. Ew!!

It didn’t stop me from gaining weight. I made peanut butter bagels and sat on my tookus, but I’m sure my blood pressure was groovy. It also gave me decent habits just by osmosis. My fridge looks pretty much like hers did, except I’m not as terrified of butter as she was. ha!

I’m still a bit on the chubby side, but not objectionably so (I’m 8 months pregnant right now, anyway!) and my mom looked like a fitness model pretty much until the day she died. It was a cruel twist of fate that I got the “short fat” genes and she got the “tall thin” genes, but I’m also fairly lazy, and not perfect when it comes to food. I eat really good stuff, but I probably eat too much. I still walk and bus as much as possible,  though my significant other drives, I don’t (read: again, never learned how)

I think I turned out pretty well. I wasn’t the most responsible kid in the universe and made some dumb choices along the way, but I wouldn’t be the person I am now if I hadn’t. I never resented my parents or rebelled against them because they gave me anything to rebel against. It was like trying to hit a wall that wasn’t there. I did try to rebel against any OTHER form of authority though (school, convention, etc) but my parents were the “cool” ones among my friends as I got older. I didn’t realize how much freedom I had until I found how little others had, but I’m very glad they left my leash as nonexistent as possible.

The weight issue is so touchy. If you talk to her she may feel like she’s being judged, but if you don’t it may feel like you’re ignoring her issue. Whatta minefield!
IMO, it’s best if you teach her how to eat right simply by doing. If the whole family needs to eat better, then stop buying junk. People make it seem really complicated but it’s mostly just a matter of learning to self regulate at the grocery store, and learning how to cook at home, rather than eating out. She will also have to learn to cook. Oh noes! Boiling water! chopping onions! Whatever shall I do?

I also find that ordering my groceries online (safeway is cheap!) is a great way to avoid “shopping when you’re hungry” syndrome. I always shop better when I buy online. Plus having them delivered is great.

I personally think traditional excersize is TOTALLY overrated. I excersize incidentally. I walk a lot, and get stretching from house cleaning & gardening. You would not believe how *few* calories one burns on a treadmill. It’s also torture. I’d prefer to just go to the park because it’s a beautiful day, not because I’m forcing myself to run laps.

Those are the sorts of things I’m going to try to pass on to my kid. Right or wrong, that’s my way of doing it. Passive absorbtion of knowledge by setting a decent example. Sounds easy, because it is.