How to Deal With Judgment From Other Adults

Dear Kid Whisperer,

My question is about adults. I take my seven-year-old to a nearby park every few days. I allow my child to explore and run around all over the large park, and I have now had a couple awkward interactions with parents who will deliver my child to me when my he goes out of my sight. They have said some vaguely judgmental things upon delivery, like: “I’m sure you didn’t mean to let him out of your sight.” Frankly, I don’t need to have my eyes on him all the time. He’s safe in the park. I don’t know what to say to these people. Anne, Los Angeles, California

 

Anne,

We have all heard about how dangerous it is “these days.” We have heard that there are monsters around every corner.

As you seem to be aware, this isn’t true. The reality is that stranger abduction of children is very, very rare. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reported in 2020 that less than 1% of the cases they handled that year were due to non-family abductions. What does happen more often is abduction by a relative, often during custody disputes. If you are in the middle of one of those, be very careful, otherwise, giving your kid a wide berth is very helpful in his development, and is quite safe.

While the number of children being abducted is low, the amount of misinformation out there is at an all-time high, as is the number of parents who are annoying and who enjoy feeling superior to others.

Here’s how I would deal with an annoying parent who has been affected by this misinformation in the situation that you describe:

Annoying Parent: Oh, me, oh my. I’m sure you are not a worse parent than I am, so you must have had a stroke or something because that would be the only reason that you would not have been within two feet from your child being a good parent and watching his every move. Here he is. I found him. You’re welcome.

Kid Whisperer: I actually allow my child to play freely anywhere in the park because that’s what kids like to do, and it builds resilience and important feelings of autonomy. (To Kid) Go play. (Kid goes and plays)

Annoying Parent: What would happen if he was abducted?

Kid Whisperer: I would become very, very surprised.

Annoying Parent: But he could be lured off by an adult!

Kid Whisperer: You mean like what you just did?

Annoying Parent: But I’m one of the good people!

Kid Whisperer: You’re right. I will reteach my lesson on making sure he never is led off by a stranger and making sure he screams and yells and finds me immediately. That way he will be safer, and I will be able to avoid conversations like this in the future.

Annoying Parent: I’m just trying to help!

Kid Whisperer: I’m not sure that’s all that is going on here.

Annoying Parent: But I’m one of the good people!

Kid Whisperer: Oh, boy. This feels like an argument and I don’t argue.

Annoying Parent: But I’m one of the good people!

Kid Whisperer: And what did I say?

(Kid Whisperer walks away)

As with everything, there is a risk and a reward. The risk presented to your kid when he doesn’t have your eyes on him constantly in a safe environment is extremely low, and the benefits of developing autonomy and confidence are extremely high. Our current culture is having a hard time producing kids with these attributes, and giving our kids more independence can help with that.