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In Japan, small children take the subway and run errands alone (2015) (citylab.com)
372 points by lighttower 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 240 comments

> Japan has a very low crime rate, which is surely a key reason parents feel confident about sending their kids out alone.

I grew up in a relatively high crime area but still walked to school and sometimes took public transport. The only thing that made it somewhat unsafe was the bullying by other school kids. Of course there is an overlap there as yesterday's bullies are tomorrow's criminals, but still it wasn't enough to have parents escort me. Sometimes strangers intervened to save me from a few attacks by groups of older kids. So maybe there is an element there as well of people not minding asking kids what's happening, why are they pushing this one kid to the ground.

Now living in US in a much safer area I would think very well before sending my kids to school by themselves at the age when I was going to school by myself. The reason is neighbors who could report me to the police for "child endangerment or neglect". It happened to a co-worker. One of the neighbors reported them to the police while kids were playing out in the front by themselves. It issue was resolved but not without embarrassing calls to work and home visits.

There was one case where the mother was arrested for letting the kids play outside.

So, the obvious first step to fixing this problem in the U.S. would be to make it explicitly legal.

Something like "letting children unsupervised in public space for less than 5 hours shall not, by itself, be construed as child abuse or neglect."

Plausible? Any downsides?

Can any town do it by itself, or is an act of Congress needed?

The problem here is not the law, it is the people who think the fact that one person (out of over 100 million families in America) got arrested for doing a thing that sounds reasonable is a reason to change your behavior.

We need a reasonable threshold below which we do not worry about an event. Figuratively speaking: "If it makes front page news, it's not how I'm gonna die."

The threshold is going to vary from person to person; for me? if it's less likely than me dying or becoming disabled in a transport accident today, then the effort to prevent that thing is most likely better spent preventing transport accidents.

I mean, my point here is that you want the best return possible on your "prevent bad things from happening to me and mine" efforts, and there are a lot of low-hanging fruit that you can grab in the area where there is the most danger. Transportation and health are huge killers, much bigger than terrorist and crazies.

I think this might be the biggest problem with America today; this idea that systemic action needs to be taken for a 1 in 100 million chance seems like the systemic problem with our society. Systemic action should be reserved for things that happen frequently.

Even in America, the biggest danger to children is transport accidents; the chances of getting killed or disfigured are so much higher in a car than in a train that it almost certainly makes up for any "stranger danger" on the train.

  The problem here is not the law, it is the people who think the fact that one person (out of over 100 million families in America) got arrested for doing a thing that sounds reasonable is a reason to change your behavior.
actually it is the law. We can't expect parents to gamble their parenthood and their lives - even if the odds are 1 in 100 million. And i suspect the odds are not that small, just in this thread there are multiple stories of social services being called for what used to be common place attitudes towards children and their autonomy. There's even a person fully admitting they would also put in a report if they witnessed such a thing.

I'm not saying your arguments are bad. In fact, they are on point. But perceived danger vs Actual danger is, from looking at the whole anti-vaccer movement, the big contributor here. But if parents are getting put in handcuffs for having their kids play outside then yeah, they need to be protected from a systemic standpoint.

>We can't expect parents to gamble their parenthood and their lives - even if the odds are 1 in 100 million

Every day when you strap your kid into your car seat, you are rolling those dice, at odds considerably worse than 1 in 100 million.

You can't face risk by saying "we need to stamp it out, no matter how small the chance or how great the cost" It doesn't help me if you protect me from meteors if I'm millions of times more likely to be killed by a traffic accident, and the same resources could drastically reduce the chance of that death.

You need to look at what resources you are willing to spend on risk mitigation, and then look at where you can spend those resources to most effectively mitigate risk.

It's pointless to discuss if it makes sense mathematically because humans don't function that way, we're just not very good in probability. Everyone is looking at eliminating the risks with the simplest possible solution. When you strap kids in your car seat you use special kid seats to insure that they'll be protected as much as possible. If there's a chance that you loose your kid because you've let it go play on its own outside, you will not let it go anymore. It's as simple as that, perfectly normal human reasoning.

You're basing your argument entirely on probability, and assuming all risk must be mitigated. Or I'm taking you too literally, in which case I apologise. However. Risk exposure is more than probability - it's probability multiplied by impact. And only then does one consider an approach - accept, transfer, manage, and so on.

In this case if one chose to manage the risk, the mitigation would require (one possibility) enshrining something in law, so that parents of these kids DON'T get prosecuted. That's a one-off, and possibly no more expensive than the cost of a single prosecution/incident.

Given that, doesn't it make sense to do this, making it just go away, and giving people that peace of mind? Regardless of the low probability? Cost is clearly less than protecting a populace against meteors.

Being arrested is the tail end of a much larger realm of bad things that could happen. Making your 1:100 million odds meaningless.

Further, these bad outcomes are not evenly distributed so a farmer in Iowa has a very different risk profile.

I keep seeing arguments that it's "rare", but I don't think that's actually the case. When I read about multiple cases in the news, _and_ 1 parent (out of only 12) in my cub scout den had to deal with someone calling the police on his kid playing alone, it certainly seems like a real threat. It's going to have a chilling effect.

The problem isn't that you're going to go to jail, it's that once you're on the radar of a state agency, it's scary, and you end up in the position to prove that your home and family are safe for your kids. It's embarrassing and deliberately intimidating, and you ultimately have no power to stop at least a small disruption in your kids' lives.

In the end "rulers" are just afraid of being expelled for "bad service" so they reduce risk as much as they can: mass media might pick a particular case (that 1 in 100 million) and distort it until society perceives it as 1 in 10.

Of course, the goal is to reduce risk of bad outcomes as much as possible.[1] I'm just saying, with the same level of effort, you could save a lot more lives by solving transportation problems than by preventing the more rare kinds of crime.

I submit that learning how to evaluate these sorts of statistics, and this sort of risk management is an important part of the basic education that is essential to all citizens of a democracy.

[1]And nobody has brought it up, but it's possible that the average person just thinks that a child being kidnapped by a stranger is an outcome that is thousands of times worse than that same child dying or being mutilated for life in a transportation accident. In that case, maybe society isn't acting irrationally; they just place a lot more value on 'manner of death' than I do.

I understand your angle. That approach is very shortsighted, the inefficiencies created going after such black swan event risk prevention opens up gaps in other services that basically makes society go to hell in a handbasket

The big unstated assumption in your position is that getting trouble for letting one's kid unsupervised in the streets is unlikely given that one actually lets their kids unsupervised in the streets.

In could be true, but another plausible alternative is that it's rare to get in trouble that way because no one is letting their kids unsupervised in the streets.

An analogy: death by actively jumping off a plane without a parachute, if it exists, is extremely rare. Doesn't make it safe.

Exactly. If a thing gets reported in the news media, it is generally (by definition) newsworthy and therefore a rare or unusual event. So the news being reported about 'someone reported to the police for letting their children play outside' shows that such events are rare and nothing to be worried about...

> Any downsides?

Anything above 5 hours might then automatically be seen as neglect.

Good point, but it would still be a step up.

Pretty sure making frivolus calls to the police is already illegal, especially if you spin it as the neighbor trying to prank you.

Common sense could not be erradicated anyway: it's not the same to allow them to be alone for 5 hours in the neighborhood, in Times Square or somewhere in a high crime area.

The biggest risk in Times Square used to be vehicle traffic. That's true of most places, but it was especially so in Times Square. However, now that it's been turned into a pedestrian plaza, I'd say your biggest risk is being detained by the police for being an unaccompanied minor. There's always lots of police there, and a young child that was perceived to be alone or lost would quickly be put in custody.

Other than that, it's just full of tourists from other parts of the US and abroad, mostly families. Can't see any real risks to children there now that the vehicles are gone.

The problem is, US law has long eradicated "common sense" as a legal category. That's why you can get a compensation from a microwave manufacturer when you kill your dog , trying to dry it in microwave after bath, because microwave manual does not explicitly forbid putting live animals inside. Appealing to common sense in the court of law is a lost cause.

FALSE: https://www.snopes.com/horrors/techno/microwavedpet.asp https://www.out-law.com/page-3396

It seriously pisses me off that people think the law and rulings made by judges and juries are absurd without knowing anything about the cases or rulings in question. It seriously smacks of arrogance, because these people are your peers, so you are implicitly claiming that you are smarter than all of them. I assure you, that's probably not the case, and in that same situation, you probably would have reached the same conclusion.

There are always exceptions, but check your facts before assuming you're less of an idiot than others.

Thank you. Anecdotal reports from counter-intuitive court rulings are subject to heavy survivor bias.

I.e. there might be a million cases where justice (correctly) deemed absurd to prosecute a parent for letting the kids play outside. But they'll never make the news.

>It seriously pisses me off that people think the law and rulings made by judges and juries are absurd without knowing anything about the cases or rulings in question.

It might piss you off, but there's a point to these stories. Italian's say "se non e vero, e ben trovato" (Even if it is not true, it is a good story).

This is not about it being an entertaining story -- it's about it expressing a real fault in the legal system and its attitude, despite doing it using a non-factual case.

In other words, the US legal system might not have THAT law, but the story remains true in a deeper level, in the sense that it is indeed the kind of system were such a law could be conceived or be remotely possible.

> it's about it expressing a real fault in the legal system and its attitude, despite doing it using a non-factual case.

If you want to point out an actual flaw instead of a non-factual/non-existent flaw, then use facts not fables.

> In other words, the US legal system might not have THAT law, but the story remains true in a deeper level, in the sense that it is indeed the kind of system were such a law could be conceived or be remotely possible

Except you would need a factual argument to demonstrate this possibility. Your arguments so far do not qualify. The fact that you can imagine this possibility entails facts about you and your understanding of law, and does not entail anything about the law itself.

>If you want to point out an actual flaw instead of a non-factual/non-existent flaw, then use facts not fables.

If I want it, then yes, I'll take that advice in mind.

My concern is not what I want though, but what happens in real life, how some things can be more complicated than the naive first order view (factually false = useless), and how some narratives (both good and bad) are transmitted in society through such methods.

> but what happens in real life

Facts are pertinent to real life. Fiction is not.

> how some things can be more complicated than the naive first order view (factually false = useless)

1. Facts are not first order, but applicable at arbitrarily higher orders as well.

2. Factually false claims aren't useless, they quite clearly identify the biases of the people who perpetuate them.

I think you just validated Sara Huckabee Sanders, to the extent that she speaks her independent thought.

I might. Don't know who see is, not an American, had to google her.

Do you have anything that can be considered an argument?

Because my point, that a story doesn't have to be factually correct to still be indicative of a larger truth (and vise versa: a factually correct story might just be an outlier that doesn't prove anything universal of what it suggests) has been known since time immemorial.

> Because my point, that a story doesn't have to be factually correct to still be indicative of a larger truth

At the moment, American Politics is all F'd up because Mr. Trump and his Press Team (led by Huckabee Sanders at the moment) relies on this.

They plant false ideas like "The Crowd Size at the last rally was huge" into the American Public's mind, and then MAKE UP the larger truth in such a way that most benefits them.

False stories are the bread-and-butter of Mr. Trump's press strategy right now.

>At the moment, American Politics is all F'd up because Mr. Trump and his Press Team (led by Huckabee Sanders at the moment) relies on this.

I really doubt that they rely on non-true but otherwise representative of the truth stories.

For one, they'll never admit those stories are not factually true.

And even if they did so, those stories would still have to be representative of a larger truth, which they're not.

So, no, false stories as pure lies are not the same as what I was talking about. We had those since the beginning of time too.

But the defense of the lie is indistinguishable from the maxim of representational truth, when the truth is in question (or purposefully misrepresented).

The latter case is the problem, and currently a large one.

No argument, at least not one of disagreement.

I was pointing out that your translated quote might not resonate as you intend, today.

Sara(h) Huckabee Sanders used similar logic to defend the posting of known-false videos as evidence to support the policies and proclamations of her boss.

You can argue that some concepts require extrapolation to be persuasive. We're dealing with a lot of abuse of that right now, and I don't think it works here.

Re: the luxury of non-Americans to be unfamiliar with the absurdity represented by Sarah Huckabee Sanders, all I can say is "enjoy it!" ... but do take warning: these things have a way of propagating. :(

The logic that goes into thinking factually untrue stories can contain truth is mind boggling to me. If you are talking about fables it parables, sure. Presenting fake stories as true? How is that useful?

>How is that useful?

If something exists, it is useful in some way and to some people (useful being different than "doing good work") -- or, to be it better, it has some rational explanation for existing. If something is popular, it means even more so, that it serves some kind of purpose.

Now, sure one can have a knee-jerk a priori reaction that something true is always better than something false.

Is it so though?

As a utilitarian I prefer to see the effects (and not just the first order effects).

Instead of taking an "it's evil/bad/don't wanna know about it" moral stance, I prefer an investigative stance. What does such stories exist and what role to they serve? Could it even be a positive role? I don't feel there's anything "mind boggling" to asking those questions.

To get to the point, I believe that:

1) A factually untrue story could contain (and encapsulate nicely in story form) a larger truth about a situation. Most people will easily accept it for art, literature, movies, parables, etc ("this story is fictional, but it expresses what goes on very accurately"). Well, the same thing can happen with an untrue new story that people believe is true.

That (happening) depends more on the content of the story, not to whether it was promoted as art or as news. If a movie gives a very true to life picture of 50s racism, then it still gives that whether someone believes it a fictional hollywood story or mistakenly believes it to be based on true facts. So what would be the real difference to the latter case if it was an untrue news story being misperceived as true?

2) Conversely, a true story could be an outlier, used out of context, promoted for more that it amounts to, and thus serve to lie about a situation.

A true news story about a kind slave owner in the 1840s South would be less true in conveying the horror of what was going on at the time than a made-up story about a person that beat and raped their slaves.

Representativeness matters more than mere accuracy. That's why people, and especially politicians and advertisers, are able to mislead with otherwise real statistics and facts all the time.

And that's how a work of art can be truer than some straight-to-the-fact reported news story.

So, two ways my approach is not "mind boggling" is to look at it from a utilitarian perspective, and to look at it from a representativeness perspective.

As for the final question: "presenting false stories as true? How is that useful?".

First of all, I was not talking about consciously presenting them (e.g. knowing that they are not).

What I said is that such stories as they circulate can still capture a larger truth, and thus be beneficial to the cause of truth, even if untrue themselves. In other words, modern cultures still can make their myths and believe in them, and some of those (based on their representativeness and content) can be huge forces for change and progress. It's hardly the most difficult or first paradox in how societies function.

E.g. imagine a made-up news story about a very racist cop towards some immigrant family. This circulates widely (because its powerful) and ends up causing mass protests, and affecting real change.

Wouldn't that be a case where a false story being presented as true became useful? History is full of such examples.

(A false story presented as true could also, or even more possibly, be harmful. Hence what I said about representativeness being necessary. I didn't say "false news stories are great we should have more of them". I said that they can potentially do good.).

You seem to be aiming for small inaccuracies in a story not being a problem. In large, I can agree, in that I don't expect really high precision in stories.

However, there is a difference between stories that are simply imprecise and stories that are fabricated. Similarly, there are differences between stories created to convey emotions, and stories that are fabricated to encite emotional responses.

Probably easier if I just said that I can understand the value of fiction. However, it is best presented as such. False narratives are not fiction if presented as true. Specifically, the story that prompted this thread is one where it only has value if it is a true narrative. Otherwise, might as well have a story about how a corporation convinced a susceptible population that they should dry their animals off in a microwave that was the size of a person. Because... stories that purport to originate from real events don't have to be true. Right?

> Wouldn't that be a case where a false story being presented as true became useful?

Only if the false story was actually representative of some underlying truth, despite the specific details being untrue. You keep presenting your original post as representing some underlying truth, despite the specifics being untrue.

I think I clearly stated in my first reply that not only were the specifics untrue, but your underlying premise was also completely false despite having being commonly accepted. And this is where actual facts are needed to discern the actual truth, so make your case.

>Only if the false story was actually representative of some underlying truth, despite the specific details being untrue. You keep presenting your original post as representing some underlying truth, despite the specifics being untrue.

Well, if the underlying truth is: "the US has a crazily invasive legal system and is too litigicious", then I think the (untrue) story conveys that well.

> Well, if the underlying truth is: "the US has a crazily invasive legal system and is too litigicious", then I think the (untrue) story conveys that well.

Except you haven't established that underlying truth to begin with, hence why false stories are just hurting your case. In fact, I'd even say that truth is probably false.

Amusingly, I just saw a video about the famous McDonald's case regarding coffee. That is one where the common narrative is complete shit, because people have bought into the idea that America is full of frivolous suits. Largely from a smear campaign resulting from that lawsuit.

False narratives like this move people from reasonable open mindedness to closed viewpoints. They do not help.

Do you mind sharing in what state you live? I wonder if there’s a cultural difference between the West Coast and other parts of the country when it comes to calling CPS on people.

We live in WA and our 9 year old daughter walks back from the school bus stop alone everyday, then stays alone at home for 3-4 hours until we come back from work (we let her because we deem her mature enough for that, before age 9 she went to an after school program). A few of our neighbors and even the building management people know about it, and don’t seem to take issue with it. The building administrator actually said something like “ooh she’s a big girl now! :)” when we requested an extra key for our daughter.

So there’s that, and also that every CPS story I’ve heard or read on the news seems to have happened in the Midwest or the East Coast.

I live in upstate NY and I think that here if my 9 year old walked home alone everyday and then stayed in our house alone everyday some people might call CPS is they knew about it or noticed it.

I wish I understood why. Perhaps it is economics related? I should research this more because it would be interesting to understand.

> The only thing that made it somewhat unsafe was the bullying by other school kids. Of course there is an overlap there as yesterday's bullies are tomorrow's criminals

Do you have a source on this? I could see there being perhaps some correlation, but it's far from an obvious fact to me that bullies just turn out to become criminals. Most of the bullies I'm aware of from school simply grew out of it as they got older and were never at risk of not becoming productive members of society, they just developed more empathy and/or became less mean. I'd be curious to know if someone's run a longitudinal study to measure correlation between bullying at younger ages and violent criminality at older ages.

So strange...

I walked to kindergarden by my own when I was 4 or something and after that was never accompanied by my parents again.

You could go to the police and ask, if something happens ( neglect), you can reference to the talk with a police officer

No legal validity whatsoever

That's not entirely true. IANAL, nor am I familiar with this particular area of the law, but many places of the law include the concept of a "reasonable person". That is, whether you have acted as a reasonable person would act.

In a place where the law is clearly defined, you're correct, that wouldn't help. However, when the law is vague, a documented conversation like that is definitely good evidence that one was acting reasonably.

Well, if someone says your irresponsible and a social worker comes along, it will give a good impression of responsable thinking. Not everything must/can be legally validated.

In the same reasoning, that's why a judge can have a jury


I would also report neglectment if children are still on their own after this. Done by one whose job is to protect the children, no less.

Don't be surprised when your children fail to thrive as an adult if you've never let them out of your sight and on their own.

Criminals can act anywhere and at any time. It's not a good enough reason to hurt your Childs development.

I had a somewhat unique childhood, in that I spent my early years (before the age of about 10) living in many different places around the world. My parents always made me walk or ride a bike to school, although sometimes I would go together with my 2 older sisters (who were only a few years older than me). Specifically, we lived in places like Caracas (Venezuela), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), and Africa (Nigeria, Ghana). Eventually my family settled in Canada where I mostly grew up, and I continued to transport myself to/from school every day without an escort.

Not only was I never harmed whilst traveling to/from school (except for one time when I fell off my bike while riding to school when I was 6 or 7 years old in Venezuela and I had to get stitches on my knee—I've still got the scar to prove it), but today I live mostly without fear and don't subscribe to most of the BS that fear-driven people do. Depending on how you look at it, I seem to have turned out fine. I also spent most of my childhood playing outside eating dirt, and go figure, I have no allergies or immune problems.

American parents today who coddle their children are robbing them of learning and growth experiences they deserve. Experiences which, in my opinion, would help make them better people. More tolerant, more empathetic, more intelligent, and healthier.

As a counterexample, my parents traveled alone as children in the U.S. in the 40s and 50s; it was more common then. But they both grew up to be risk-averse adults anyway. And maybe you would have been a brave adult regardless?

As a parent, you're often forced to weigh a high probability of nothing bad happening vs. a very small probability of something terrible happening. But putting your kids on a bus or dropping them off at school isn't likely to scar them for life.

And then in New York we get stories of a kid being abducted on a 2-block walk from school.

I guess in my family the thought is: Listen, 99% of the time everything will be mostly okay, but that 1 time when your kid gets abducted or ran over is that 1 time when it doesn't matter how safe the other 99 times were.

Also in New York I can't count the number of times drivers almost hit me, or hit my friends while 100% in the wrong. The drivers here are insane.

Yes, we do get stories about a NYC kid being abducted on a 2-block walk from school. Specifically, one kid being abducted, in 1979.

Getting hit by a car is a real risk worth accounting for. Getting abducted on the way to school isn't.

There are also stories about adults getting kidnapped 2 blocks from home. People still leave the house.

> Getting abducted on the way to school isn't.

I’m not so sure about that. I live in an affluent part of WA where there’s close to zero crime. A couple times a year we get emails from the school district with descriptions of cars and people that approached kids on their way to or the school, trying to get the kids into their cars. An actual abduction has never occurred in the 5 years that I’ve lived here, but clearly there are attempts.

Are abductions rare because they almost never happen in the first place, or because Americans take extreme measures to avoid them?

Even before helicopter parenting was a thing in America (and this continues to hold today), the vast vast vast majority of abductions happen by a relative of the child. Abductions are already very rare, but of those that happen only 3.1% are by a stranger[1].

[1] https://www.seeker.com/child-abductions-by-strangers-very-ra...

Aren't the extreme measures a recent thing, like the last 10 or 20 years?

I don't remember being Molly cuddled like today's kids and I'm in my late 30s (UK).


Molly cuddling does sound cuter, though.

it's much lower than 1% unsafe or the average kid going to school alone would get kidnapped three and a half times a year :p

0.99^365.25 = 0.0254, so a kid going out alone every day would have a 2.54% chance of surviving the year without being abducted or run over by a car.

you guys are calculating different numbers. you just calculated the chances based on the assumption that 1/100 children will be abducted each year. Whereas the other poster was saying the average child will get abducted once in every 100 days

This sub-thread is an exercise in showing how absurd the 1% chance of getting abducted (on a given day) would be. Don't take it too seriously. That said, you're wrong, and nobody is ever allowed to be wrong on the internet. I will now proceed to correct you.

> 99% of the time everything will be okay

I took this as meaning that 99/100 trips are without incident. I then assumed that a kid might take a trip every day. The probability of taking consecutive 365.25 trips without accident are then 0.99^365.25 (odds of surviving the first trip times odds of surviving the second trip and so on...). This works out to 0.025, or 2.5%.

So, what I calculated is the probability that a kid will avoid accident in a year, given that only 99/100 days are without accident.

The takeaway is that a kids chances of getting abducted on a given day are much, much smaller than 1%.

He's wasn't trying to contradict me. The things we say can be (and are) both true at the same time. I took the approximate average of a 365 tries binomial of 1%, and he computed the probability distribution function of this same binomial for X=0.

yep the average of a 365 tries binomial with 0.01 chance is 3.65 and the value of the pdf for X=0 is 0.0254

I am currently traveling in Xiamen, Fujian, China.

I feel very safe here walking at all hours of the day and night. In fact everyone feels safe here. Women can walk home any time of day and feel safe. Children and young adults as well. In my time here, and I stick out being white, nobody has tried to do any harm to me or anything related.

I am starting to think that the almost getting hit is a product of being to busy and always in a hurry. I am walking about 5 miles each day. The cars here are also insane, worse than NYC (I live close to NYC). The culture here is to hurry , get something done faster, everyone is always to busy and wants to speed up. I have almost been hit a number of times while crossing the street. Here it is cars first, then motorbikes, then people.

>> I have almost been hit a number of times while crossing the street. Here it is cars first, then motorbikes, then people.

I think a lot of the conflict arises from the fact that legally pedestrians have the right of way but in practice it's cars first and stay outta my way.

I walked from home to elementary school daily ~3 miles in Queens growing up in the late 80’s. I was almost robbed once, but I was luckily able to avoid harm. Otherwise it was a totally uneventful experience. My nephew did get hit and injured (minor) by a car in Manhattan on the way to school (hit and run driver), so I guess that risk is real.

Do you plan your life around the dinosaur-ending asteroid? :)

America used to be like this also. I remember playing with fire ants and rattle snakes when I was 5-6 years old (had to go to the hospital for the former, hyperbole on the latter), I climbed the mountain in front of our house (Red Mountain before it became vineyards). Later we moved to Toledo, not known for being the safest city, and we still roamed the neighborhood at will.

As the newish father of a baby, I really worry that my son won’t be able to experience that unless we move to China or some other country. Heck, it’s even better today since you can send them out with a cellphone.

Fascinating. I mean just the general American nuclear family values from 1950s, 60s are still being actively replicated in other predominantly homogeneous countries with strong patriarchy: ex. South Korea where men are the breadwinner, soldiers on command, women are expected to follow and take care of children.

Japan and Korea have highly homogeneous on the confucius spectrum....I believe this uniting values is what allowed people to stay in lanes so to speak..... Honestly, I think it will be a long time before these countries open up their doors to "outsiders". Italian Koreans or French Japanese? I'm disgressing but I'd argue in those European countries you probably won't see kids walking to school alone and for strong safety reasons.

Still, even in conservative places like Korea, liberal changes like those seen in American societies of the 70s mixed with credit fueled bubble frenzy of the late 1980s have begun to appear.

Anyways these are just my crazy theories, like seeing the parallel rise of GDP & scantily clad women in mainstream TV in 1980s (focus on legs) Japan, similar to S. Korea's hyper-sexual K-pop movement (once again legs are in) similar to America's craze for legs during the 80s, 90s. Now it's all about big butts, an economic indicator a new bull run?


Anyways, I don't know how I arrived at this subject but I'm always fascinated by America 70 years ago especially when described from older HN users vs today, and it's echoing impact on the world.

> I'm disgressing but I'd argue in those European countries you probably won't see kids walking to school alone and for strong safety reasons.

I don't know for sure about Italy or France (though I'd be very surprised if they were not basically the same), but in Germany, I walked to school alone starting in first grade, and from fourth grade onwards I in fact had a 40min public transport commute to the neighbouring city that involved several interchanges; from what I can tell, this was normal at least from fifth grade onwards (since you choose secondary schools fairly carefully based on subject specialisation). Also, as far as I can tell, very little changed about this even in the face of recent paranoia about refugees.

I’m not that old, this was in the 80s when the crime cycle was basically at its peak.

No need to go to china. We let our kids roam pretty free in Finland :)

Ya, it’s just where we were before and where grandma is.

And I have a friend who is paralyzed from neck down for diving into a swimming pool. The term "Survivorship bias" is inspired by these stories of how "everyone I know turned out fine".

Huh? 99.99% of these kids turn out fine, there is no survivorship bias about it. If anything, it’s exceptional case bias against free ranging (look, this one person got hurt, out of 100,000+).

I only grew up in Canada but had a similar experience: my parents would tell me to stay in the neighbourhood (about 20 streets winding around hills and parks) and and be home by dark. That was it. I spent entire childhood summers wandering forests with my friends, making forts, going on adventures.

That being said, it probably helps when you live somewhere with no significant crime. I dunno if my parents would have allowed that if we didn't move away from Scarborough (Toronto suburb with some crime issues at the time)

> it probably helps when you live somewhere with no significant crime

I'm sure that helps put parents at ease, but I think even hardened criminals are very unlikely to randomly attack children. Aside from the fact that most criminals still have some level of humanity, there's not much to gain from it.

Other kids are much more likely to mistreat kids than adult criminals, but kids find ways to do that even in relatively supervised situations.

Also I bet a lot of hardened criminals have seen Home Alone and have great fear of children.

I would guess that criminals have kids and kids of criminals are more likely to become the bullies and thugs that follow you into the forest to beat you up and take your bike.

My anecdotal experience has made me think that bullying traits in kids have little correlation with their parents being “criminals”... met plenty of bullies whose parents were “productive citizens”

Thank you for sharing your ignorant prejudice?

If you continue to break the HN guidelines we will ban you. Please post civilly and substantively, or not at all.



I still think this misses the point that the Japanese have a shared respect and responsibility to each other and to their space that we don't instill in American culture at all. In fact, we mock their customs more often than adopt them.

In my opinion, Confucius roots are present in both Korean and Japanese societies but more in Korea since it was popular there and naturally spread out to Japan in the very early days...ironically not as popular in China where it originated from but their decendants are royalty throughout East-Asia.

Shared respect and responsibility comes naturally to minimize shame, a negative social credit. Self-shaming rises out of being mindful of one's actions and words. Also helps if you are a Buddhist country.

The results are remarkable. For instance you can leave keys in your car, pass out from drinking on the streets with wallet bulging with cash and almost no Korean or Japanese person would think of even touching it. Note that this does not mean theft is absent in these countries but I do note that even criminals seem to be regular citizens, blending in as much as possible unlike street gangs you see in North America that advertises it openly.

Confucianism was designed from ground up to bring peace and stability in societies during time of extreme political and military upheaval and Chosun dynasty (Korea's longest ruling political power) embraced it and promoted heavily.

It's not without problems tho. Speaking as Korean.

But then why does Japan have a massive problem with sexual assault on subways?

And a Yakuza crime syndicate so feared that cartoons don't show 4-fingered characters?

Not sure why getting roped on train or having organized crime like every other country in the world are related

What do we mock about Japanese culture? It's pretty widely admired as far as I can see.

The bowing, for one glaring example.

I'm not a people person and keep to myself in public but I will act if I see someone kidnap or harass a minor. Its common decency and I'm sure Americans still have that?

How do you know it's a kidnapping and not just a parent?

The bystander effect is pretty strong.

This. How can I teach my two kids this sort of independent without getting a citation by children's services? Serious question.

Check out this case from my former neck of the woods: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meitiv_incidents

They just did it, were investigated, came out in the clear, and then set precedent that allowed others to do it as well.

So the only way is to get reported to the cops, get my children held against their will, mount a legal challenge and win to set a legal precedent in my state/county. Ouch.

Fortunately other people have started to set that legal precedent, so hopefully you won't have to. That case in Maryland was national news, and precedent isn't necessarily limited by jurisdiction.

The US is not the same US it was 10 years ago, and wasn't the same ten years before that... Kind of an interesting hypothesis to why we shouldn't call this the land of the free anymore. Parents are now being called legal gaurdians in some circles as a way to show how that state now owns children.

Qua?! Legal guardians is just a more general term than parents, which can encompass situations like orphans cared for by grandparents. Had nothing to do with saying that the state 'owns children.'

Legal guardians has always meant something different than biological parents.

> we shouldn't call this the land of the free anymore.

Did you miss the part where they won and CPS released a statement that the cops overreacted? What more American thing is there than repeatedly disobeying wrong instructions from the government?

Their kids learned that in America if you didn't do anything wrong you can challenge The System and win. Seems like a lesson worth teaching to me!

Please delete this blantantly false comment.

What matters is what YOU do, and what your children are allowed to do. What matters, is that if you let your children play outside alone and unsupervised, tomorrow they will be taken away by CPS or equivalent protective services organization of your country[1].

([1] In Germany - Jugendamt, though I find Germans are surprisingly good with allowing the children autonomy they need. Getting a call from Jugendamt however is really really scary. It's quite awful how these agencies are used as a blunt baton against the very families they are supposed(?) to protect and help.)

I saw a tv show comparing UK and German family, life from BBC. I don't know how accurate or biased that production was but from an outsider, I marveled at the amount of infrastructure built around supporting traditional Germany families. For instance, women who marry are incentivized to stay at home and take care of the children and home. Similarly, kindergartens spend time outside away from books and a long career of state sponsored rote memorizers. Even more fascinating is they don't seem to force school on people who aren't interested in it, instead providing stable and secure trade jobs which you will master in some apprenticeship...backed by monopolies built from the ashes of WW2, dominating global markets....trickledown effect that actually works.

of course....my view will never fully reflect the realities of an average German living in Germany....I'm basing it off on that BBC show anyhow so I expect to be wrong in many areas....

but I still admire the German system as described, not sure how well it's implemented....

They also have one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Although apparently it increased a little recently...

> I also spent most of my childhood playing outside eating dirt, and go figure, I have no allergies or immune problems.

Me too, except that I have severe asthma and am allergic to all sorts of organic things.

Your anecdote is not data.

Might also be worth considering that your parents had little fear of strangers and you inherited that lack of fear.

I had to get myself to school from the fourth grade on and still walked or biked myself sometimes to second and third grade. My daughter is six right now and wants to walk to her friend’s house down the street but which I’d be fine with if she didn’t get lost walking out the front door. Maybe in another year...

How do your kids go to school?

Nobody wants to breed with computer weirdos like me.

To every weirdo there's a counterpart <3 (And to non-weirdos as well.)

I'd often seen kids on the tram in Melbourne. Rarely on their own though, almost always in groups. In Wellington, you'd see them occasionally too in the mornings. They had dedicated school buses (city buses with the "School" sign on the front), but if kids were running late and missed their bus, you'd often see them on regular public transport.

One of the big problems is the lack of public transport in the US. Even with cities with good transit, the minimum age for kids on buses/trains is usually 12 (wasn't there an article on HN earlier about a New York man who's kids rode the bus in a group of three and how social services said he couldn't do that any more until one of them turned 13? I can't seem to find it now..)

Crime is more perception then a real issue. You're always most likely to be a victim of a crime by a family member at home. Actual child abductions are more hollywood and rarely real life. When it does happens, it's usually someone who knows the child via family.

I feel like this is yet another problem that could be solved via real transit and which will just be made worse by self-driving cars.

I don't know if this is the article you're thinking of - it is a similar situation with a family in Vancouver, BC that I believe was discussed here recently:


I missed the discussion back then, but just having read the article, I can only shake my head. I know that the times are always changing, but if I think back what children were doing one or two generations ago on a daily basis...

"the Ministry had [...] determined that children under 10 years old could not be unsupervised in or outside the home, for any amount of time." -- even myself, growing up, we were a bunch of kids who all lived in a cul-de-sac. I don't think our parents saw much of us from the age of six onwards or so, at least not during the summer months, except for the meals.

The minimum age for a child to be home alone in Ontario is 16? How did that become law?

I've seen this reported on several occasions but it's not clear whether it's actually true. See, e.g. https://www.thestar.com/life/parent/2014/08/28/when_can_kids...

Certainly, it would be pretty ridiculous in general if it were. That would have been a problem with my going off to college :-)

The source seems to be 79 (3) of the Child and Family Services Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. C.11 [1]. I'm not a lawyer, but from my reading, it seems like specifying an age actually narrows the law. It's more like a maximum than a minimum:


Leaving child unattended

(3) No person having charge of a child less than sixteen years of age shall leave the child without making provision for his or her supervision and care that is reasonable in the circumstances.


Having read through a bunch of this stuff to find the law in question, things actually look pretty reasonable. If there's a problem, it seems it would be with the application or interpretation of the law by the bureaucracy or the courts. Legislation can correct those things, but I guess my point is that it looks reasonable, so there's no obvious easy fix.

[1] https://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90c11

That seems like a rational reading.

"that is reasonable in the circumstances" may be ambiguous and in the eye of the beholder. But it certainly suggests that a normal 16 year old doesn't need to be automatically under constant adult supervision at all times.

ADDED: This may or may not be the correct reading, but I take that as saying you can't kick your 15 year old out of the house and tell them you're on your own.

Perhaps the lack of public transport is a significant factor ("if you-the-parent are driving the kids around anyway, what do you do at destination? Hovering like a helicopter is the easiest option") - I got a traffic pass, a watch and a time of curfew when starting 3rd grade, and that was it (no cellphones back then). Most of my classmates had a similar arrangement, what with 5-20 minutes of public transport commute; in a city where public transit is both cheap and plentiful, it would not make sense to even own a car for most people, other than a status symbol.

There's perception for sure but crime rates are quite something else in US versus Australia or Japan.

We need to make a clear distinction here between crime rates in general and crimes where a child is involved and the perpetrator(s) and strangers.

As far as I'm aware the biggest dangers to children are their cohabitating relatives followed closely by non-resident family and friends.

The solution to this issue for me was to move away from the big city I was in to a much smaller one, where the kids next door and a few houses down play in the street and my neighbors talk to me.

> As far as I'm aware the biggest dangers to children are their cohabitating relatives followed closely by non-resident family and friends.

Or getting hit by a car. Driven by a stranger or otherwise.

Based on my anecdotal experience, prevalence of car culture seems to influence whether kids can roam quite a lot.

Yeah, kids walk more when adults walk more. It makes sense: more pedestrian infrastructure, and people are more used to pedestrians. When drivers aren't used to pedestrians, they don't look for them.

A lot of places in the US people are wary of adult pedestrians. They see someone walking and assume something is wrong--a car broke down, or the pedestrian is somehow up to no good. If people have the attitude that walking is weird and a cause for alarm, they won't want their kids doing it.

Plus, in lots of suburban areas, there's nowhere for kids to walk to. Wooded areas, if they exist, generally belong to somebody who doesn't want strangers messing around on their land. If there are Main Street shops, that could work, but a lot of Main Streets now are either pawn shops and check cashing outlets or high end restaurants and boutiques, with nothing really there for kids. And it seems less pleasant to send kids to a corporate store like CVS than to a mom and pop business.

I also think there are fewer kids in lots of suburban neighborhoods than there used to be, with family sizes shrinking and fewer retirees leaving the neighborhoods where they raised their kids. And kids seem to form cliques around interests earlier and earlier, which means their friends could be halfway across town. Adults don't automatically hang out with their neighbors much anymore, and neither do kids.

I bet if there exists statistics on how much time children spend alone outside you will see it decrease as car use increase.

Cars are my biggest fear when the kids go outside alone. Soon the oldest will begin school and I want her to go by her self, but the amount of cars on the road is scary. Especially around the school it's mayhem caused by parents driving their kids 400 meters to school.

It seems that the Seattle public school district gives out public transit cards to kids in middle and high school, depending on circumstances and school bus availability. I’m not sure how the system works, but I’m about to find out since I’m moving there next year and have a kid going to school.

Yeah this is a big factor.

Where I live everyone goes to school in their area. Dense population means kids can walk or at the most cycle to school. At least in primary.

When I was living in Sydney, it was striking that I never saw kids playing outside by themselves.

Playgrounds always had more parents hovering than kids playing.

I walked to school at 5 in New Zealand, took the bus to town at 10 to go to the library or the pool.

My son at 11 took the BART to and from school from Berkeley/Oakland to El Cerito, other parents were horrified - we moved back to NZ a couple of years later, handed both kids a bus timetable and a phone and sent them off to town to explore.

One of our main goals as a parent is to create independent kids who can function alone in the world - we don't want them still living in the basement at 30

One of our main goals as a parent is to create independent kids who can function alone in the world - we don't want them still living in the basement at 30

Thank you. I can never understand how often this aspect is completely ignored when debating what is or isn't safe for a child to do unsupervised. How is a child ever supposed to mature if they have no opportunity to develop? Of course as a parent you have a responsibility to introduce your child to new ideas and behaviours at reasonable times when they are able to cope with them, but if you just wrap them in a cocoon forever and never let them see the real world, how can they possibly learn to look after themselves and integrate into our wider society as adults?

> One of our main goals as a parent is to create independent kids who can function alone in the world - we don't want them still living in the basement at 30

FYI this is a cultural thing. Not every culture's parents kicks out their children when they turn 18. So if it doesn't work out this way for whatever reason, don't view it as right or wrong unless you feel it's wrong to go against the culture (which also isn't inherently wrong either).

American culture is the ultra-contradiction of both expecting kids to be independent at 18 (or 22 with well-to-do families) AND kids not being able to develop that independence at all growing up.

EDIT: The expectation of independence at 18 is not just between parents and the kid, but sometimes the kid's older SO, or society, or some other people who constantly repeat "once you're 18 you can do what you want", except they have no idea how to do it responsibly.

Oh we didn't kick them out, they left when they wanted to go, and have come back at times when it has made sense (after college for a while to save money for example).

How children lost the right to roam in four generations - highly related article and previous discussion: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=13547089

From the comments there it seems that it's not about (perceived) risks at all, it's more about peer pressure. If no other parents in your group would let their kids go about on their own, you surely won't want to be the only one.

See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15945543 about the German situation.

The other day I accidentally left my son at a busy station in Tokyo. He was more annoyed than upset. He just found the right platform to go home and planned to email me when he got back to say where he was.

We underestimate children's ability to navigate, which is silly because if they were really bad at it our species would have died out long ago.

How do you accidentally leave your son at a train station in Tokyo ?

There were 8 of us because my daughter's old school friend's family was here on holidays. They speak a Chinese dialect that I don't speak well.

Anyway it was like herding sheep to get them anywhere. In the rush to get them onboard a train where we taking them back to their hotel from a shopping trip... well... I kinda left my youngest on the platform.

I know it looks ridiculous but if you are in charge of a gang of kids put them in the brightest eye-burning tee shirts you can find.

You won't even have to look at their dirty, disgusting faces, just count them like cattle.

In a large city like NYC, neon-green would stands out very nicely.

Sounds foolproof, right? Well, let me introduce you to my town, where each of the tourist groups had this very same bright (sorry) idea. As the textile is mass-produced and apparently highly standardized, this results in streets being awash in ~8 hues of nigh-identical neon t-shirts (yellow, green, orange x2 each, red, blue). Now, which one, out of the sea of identical SCREAMING colors was yours? Yup, Red Queen Principle - back to square 1.

That’s funny, glad he did just fine. How old, if you don’t mind? The emailing you bit cracks me up - kids are just mini adults.

Yep - as long as one treats them as such.

Agreed. I talk to my 2 y.o. son in a normal tone with full sentences, respect, and he seems to appreciate it. I can tell when my mom talks to him like a baby that he gets annoyed, it’s unfortunately amusing.

I was partway through writing a comment in reply when I noticed I was actually writing an essay: https://aaron-m.com/2017/12/17/small-travelers-in-an-antique...

A study from 2015, "Children’s Independent Mobility: An International Comparison" [1] and the actual report [2]. Report covers 16 countries, US was not included.

Unfortunately I could not find any summary articles (except in Finnish). The charts summarizing the results seem to start on the report page 14.

[1] http://www.psi.org.uk/children_mobility [2] http://www.psi.org.uk/docs/7350_PSI_Report_CIM_final.pdf

Living in Germany, I've walked to the kindergarten alone (I think when I was four years old) and after knowing the way to school, I was walking there with my friends and without parents. We spent hours outside without our parents knowing where we are because we knew where we were allowed to go and what we where allowed to do (This didn't mean we listened, though).

Same in Brazil in the 80's.

The same parents that were okay with me going to kindergarten by myself and sometimes cooking partial meals alone, now are horrified that such things happened (with their consent).

I think it speaks a lot to how much society has changed, their current mindset would not accept the same behavior they themselves had a few decades ago.

I remember being stopped by strangers asking "where are you going? School? Ok, watch out when crossing the streets". Nowadays nobody would intervene directly... They would probably call the police and take me into custody.

"Practical Wisdom" (Barry Schwartz) is a good book about this.

Yes, Germany is still mostly on the sane side. See also https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15945543

In Germany, we had cycling safety classes in primary school (and you got a badge at the end, yay!), so we could cycle to school (or anywhere else, really).

In many countries in Asia, kids with parents can just go to a restaurant (for example) and let the kids roam - everyone else (waiters, other patrons) will take care of the kids collectively.

We had this in the US as well in elementary school. They had it every year, and I think all kids could participate (grades 1-6). It was a combination of safety instruction and some skills tests (riding in a figure 8, using turn signals properly etc.)

In Germany (at least in they cities that I have lived in) they have a "Vehrkerskindergarten" (Traffic Kindergarden)[1] in addition to the cycling classes. Basically its a miniature town (streets with traffic signs, traffic lights etc.) where kids go around in pedal cars and bikes. They are run by the Verkehrswacht and the local police. You also get a badge for completing this and the proud picture of your class will be published in the local paper.

[1] - http://www.shpol.ch/fileadmin/Redaktoren/Bilder/Verkehrsinst...

I remember this in the US also when I was in grade school. (Utah)

I do remember it was more for 2nd/3rd grade though.

Oh, cool! So, parents let kids cycle, but not take public transport? Is that it?

In Germany, public transport would be considered even somewhat safer than cycling (which has its risks, even with bicycle paths etc.), I'd think.

Elementary schools are usually within walking distance and not well served by public transport. In this case, biking is nice.

Public transport in most US cities is nearly unusable for the purpose of getting from most homes to most elementary schools. Downtown to the airport is usually viable, but can be a much worse experience than the average European might expect.

We had the cycling safety classes in second grade, but nobody stopped you from cycling to school before that. (And I did.)

"What accounts for this unusual degree of independence? Not self-sufficiency, in fact, but “group reliance,” according to Dwayne Dixon, a cultural anthropologist who wrote his doctoral dissertation on Japanese youth. “[Japanese] kids learn early on that, ideally, any member of the community can be called on to serve or help others,” he says."

Probably the same pretty much anywhere in the world. I have a hard time imagining a kid asking an adult for help and the adult refusing, even if it's a stranger.

I have a hard time imagining a kid asking an adult for help. "Never talk to strangers," was the takeaway I got from elementary school. "Never tell an adult who you don't know where you live unless they know your codeword your parents shared with you" (in this case, the password was 'skateboard'.)

If the kid is too shy to ask for help or has been taught never to talk to strangers, then they would never even attempt to approach a stranger. Seems like that's the main difference: that Japanese children are taught to trust the community they live in.

Live in Burundi (Africa) which has been plagued by insecurity since 90s. We used to go by public transport even at age of 10. My little bro and sisters still doing so.

I personally think it's related to culture. How the community like to make kids mature earlier.

I've also lived in Tanzania where communism had made in the 90s, pupils not pay public transportation. So even little kids were riding buses.

In Finland, kids walk to school by themselves from age 7. Depends on the distance of course.

In Poland, when I was 7 years old, by the time I had to go to school my parents have already gone to work,so I had to make myself some food, lock the door behind me, and walk for 15 minutes to school. But we also had kids taking buses to school, and they were normal public buses, not a dedicated school bus(never heard of such concept in Poland to be honest).

To comment on this - also living in Poland. The concept exists in Poland, but only in a few private schools, mainly those marked as "American schools".

I think the main reason is that public transit is magnitudes better and more widespread here, than in the US.

School buses are the real thing in Poland, my father has been driving one for the last 15 years :) It's just that they are more popular in rural areas (you know, grabbing kids from all those small villages and driving them to school in the nearby town).

In big cities, like Warsaw there actually aren't any, as schools are usually within walking distance, and if they aren't then the normal public transport is supposed to fill in.

I've seen younger-still kids walking around in the mornings, even in the snow at the height of winter, presumably going to day-care.

(Worth noting for others that children start "proper" school at 7 in Finland. Something that surprised me when I moved here.)

In nothern Finland, I've seen kids dropped off by the bus in the middle of the snow covered woods. Younger ones had someone picking them up, but kids around 10 just started walking with the sun already setting off to a house that was absolutely nowhere in sight. They do have sisu!

Come on, it was just normal. Besides wolves - which were hunted down until recent years - what danger would there be? If you have proper clothing, there's nothing to fear in snow covered woods.

(I'd guess kids use a kick-sled, though, instead of just walking.)

I’m also letting my 10 year old daughter use the MRT in Singapore on her own, but also really only in Singapore, any other country I’d be worried too much. There is MRT staff everywhere who help everyone and after I explained to her that the police helps everyone here, so she asked a patrol when she wanted to try a new route. The streets might be cleaner in Tokyo, but I think the sense of community is similar

Japan also has something called the "Kids 911 home" (こども110の家) which are signs on police stations, convenience stores, shops, taxis etc that show where children can go for help if they feel threatened

Singapore is about as clean as Japan from what I can tell.

You might like this article about what we do in Germany: https://www.wsj.com/articles/german-kindergarten-campouts-te...

I'm raising kids in Switzerland. Here it will be more-or-less required for them to walk to school (kindergarten) themselves from age 5.

Yes, it's completely normal and expected (and indeed charming) to walk around children as they go about their day going to schools and other activities in Zürich. It's a very safe city, of course, but also must be something in the culture. Another thing I noticed is that playgrounds are not "safe" - the kids can climb tall structures, play with animals, etc. Kids are expected to progressively develop the ability to independently take care of themselves and of each other. I have not heard of any catastrophes.

> Another thing I noticed is that playgrounds are not "safe" - the kids can climb tall structures, play with animals, etc. Kids are expected to progressively develop the ability to independently take care of themselves

My sister talked to a playground designer in Germany once.

He explained that they deliberately make the toys slightly dangerous -- if you fell off a structure, you wouldn't need to go to hospital, but it would hurt enough to teach a lesson.

They explicitly want to school kids' sense of risk, and at the same time, self-reliance. And offer a sense of achievement if you dare and master, say, a "dangerous" climb.

It's a change in culture. When I was a kid, it was pretty normal for a 9-year-old to take the public bus to school alone and then the subway to an after-school program. In New York City. In the 1980s (aka the "bad old days").

The level of parental paranoia and of cultural concern has skyrocketed. We're so concerned about actual neglectful parenting and so paranoid about infinitesimally low-probability events that we are afraid to give our children what would once have been considered age-appropriate levels of autonomy and responsibility; and parents who do attempt to are under threat from a safety net originally intended to prevent qualitatively different behaviors.

In Japan, the culture of safety, trust, and respect is greater than anything we ever had here. You need only take one subway trip through Tokyo to realize this.

Unless you're a woman.

I know a lot of parents in the US who would like for their kids to go out and play, and go places on their own. What prevents them:

- Stories of overzealous Child Protection Services agents, child neglect and abuse laws being used to punish parents.

- Stories of neighbors, teachers, and other overly concerned people, sometimes with malicious intent calling CPS.

- Stories of lawsuits because children trespassed, caused noise in the neighborhood.

- Stories of child rapists and serial murderers.

When you live in an litigious, social-media and 24-hour news addicted society, some of the side-effects are ugly. Even if a parent wants to raise their children like "when I grew up", it is very difficult not to get either swept up or cut out.

I worry that american culture has gotten so paranoid that kids don't get to roam free any more.

I remember growing up in the 80's I could bus/walk all around town and do whatever as long as I got back by night or called.

Remember, none of those cheating cell phones!

I did this too at those ages in Eastern Europe and even in the US. This is hardly unique at all. It's hardly newsworthy. Keeping kids locked up at home under supervision until they become adults is a neuroticism seemingly unique to American (and possibly Canadian) culture. I wonder if parents really think through the consequences of their actions in these cases. Do they weigh the high likelihood of their children suffering and not developing into adults properly because of the parents' actions against the tiny chance they might be harmed if they were allowed on their own? Clearly, as a society, we have adopted the paranoid, scared point of view, a point of view that has defined culture in the US for the last two decades. It makes sense that the culture would appeal to the lowest common denominator, the most paranoid of the paranoid. Unfortunately, these people have codified their paranoid delusional culture into laws that now affect everyone else.

I simply cannot see myself raising children in the US. Just like my parents gave up everything to bring me here, I will give up everything to bring them to a society that respects them, where they have the opportunity to grow into adults without them or me getting arrested for being independent human beings. The way we treat children in the US at the moment is sick, disgusting, and simply unacceptable to me. Children are human beings too.

Might as well replace the title with "In <not the US>, small children take the subway and run errands alone (2015)". Children are expected to get to school and to go to whatever by themselves from age 6-7 in pretty much all of Europe.

I grew up in Zambia, in the capital city in the 80's and to this day this is still a fairly common thing.

No subways of course, but small children will walk to the store or school unaccompanied all the time.

I live in South Africa now where it's probably not a great idea.

Pretty sad.

>Kaito, a 12-year-old in Tokyo, has been riding the train by himself between the homes of his parents, who share his custody, since he was nine.

Normal thing here in Russia. Why would 9-10 year old need a guardian on his way to school anyways? Same for some shopping.

Fear. When i grew up this was pretty common, but over time it got less and less frequent.

I was growing up during the 90s. In Russia.

    "I must not fear. 
    Fear is the mind-killer. 
    Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. 
    I will face my fear. 
    I will permit it to pass over me and through me. 
    And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. 
    Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

I think children, 7 years or even younger, move about on their own almost everywhere in the world, except North America.

Welcome to my world in Germany :)

This used to be far more common in Ireland a few decades ago than it is today, though you certainly still see it. Funnily enough, the crime rate was much higher back then; it’s not a risk thing.

Reminds me of the Scandinavian woman prosecuted in 1980s/90s NYC for leaving her child in a pram outside a cafe. In Scandinavia this is (or at least was) extremely common, you get a cluster of prams outside cafes with babies still in them.

I was in Berlin last week and was amazed to see bikes being locked to bollards on the street only waist high, so you only had to lift it a foot if you wanted to steal it.

> you only had to lift it a foot if you wanted to steal it.

Which is exactly what happens.

In Sweden kids are taught how to navigate by public transportation while they are at kindergarten. 7-9-ish might still be considered too young to travel alone (probably because kids are easily distracted), but it's not uncommon for a 9-10 yo to take care of a 6yo and take him home by commuter train.

Traveling long distances by commuter train and then switching to bus is not uncommon for kids ages 11 and up.

This is even more common and ubiquitous in India. From reading the article, I would say way more common.

I started using the public buses alone at the age of 5/6. Usually, to go visit my grandparents who lived about 20 minutes away. I started cycling alone at the age of about 8/10. And not short pleasure rides but to actually go from one place to another. School, gymnastics classes etc. etc.

And getting groceries (from the corner or kirana store) wasn't even considered "going out alone". Everyone did that as soon as we learnt to properly count money. Mostly even before that, since the kirana stores could be trusted not to give incorrect change and steal from a kid. I'd have a list of items from my parents, hand it over to the storekeeper with the money, and he'd give me the stuff in a bag along with the change.

There's another interesting story from when I was 4/5. I wanted a new toy and refused to sleep until my parents agreed to buy it for me the next day. They kept refusing so I threatened my parents that I'd run away from home if they didn't buy it for me. Their response was to simply tell me that I could runaway if I wanted, but I wasn't getting that toy (and remember, I'd been throwing this tantrum past bedtime, sonit was about 10/11 at night). I packed a little bag with some toys and clothes and left home. My parents idea of keeping me safe at this time was to ask my 6/7 year old brother to secretly follow me, which he did, but I had no idea about. Getting back to me, I left my apartment, walked out to the main road, walked for a bit, didn't know where to go, so I caught a bus and went to my grandparents house. They were quite happy to get a surprise visit from me. Though I asked them not to tell my parents I was there (I was 5, but didn't want my parents to think I was an idiot) they called my parents and let them know I would be staying over at their place. The next day I found out my brother had caught a cab and followed the bus, saw I went to my grandparents place and returned home in that same cab.

Lastly, in India, every public transport service, offers a half price ticket for children. Even if travelling alone. Also, kids studying in government schools, get a card which allows them to travel from home to school by bus/train for free. It's actually very common to see kids traveling via public transport alone. In trains and buses it's also quite common to offer or see others offering their seats to small kids that can't reach the over head handles while standing.

This is very interesting. I can't imagine a 6/7 yo following on cab much less a 4/5 year old catching a bus late night anywhere in New Delhi! Which city was this in?

Bombay. More than 20 years ago when the city was much safer. :)

The safety that allows a child to travel alone should be a defining factor of a “first world” region.

In Singapore my kids take the school bus. They could technically take the MRT / Bus by themselves, but I don't trust Singapore's traffic. When I grew up, I walked to school. But German drivers are really well educated (mostly).

Not only Japan, everywhere. I believe the US is the only country which would be worried of kids go to school by themselves. Sick.

But the most trust into their kids I saw amongst Africans.

There's a great article on the topic (for USA) by Michael Ventura of Austin Chronicle:

A little clause set between commas in a missive from a reader about a recent column ["Hero vs. Superhero," July 25] -- in that piece I wondered about the effect of today's movie superheroes on little children as opposed to what children saw, say, in John Ford's 1956 The Searchers. The reader was intelligently critical of the piece, but in that clause he doubted that many 7-year-olds ever went to movies like The Searchers. A natural mistake -- he was clearly too young to remember, and how else would he know? But, for me, his error brought back a lost world.

In today's America, where parents chauffeur kids to "play dates," only on the poorest streets do 7-year-olds still roam free ... but they don't go to movies much because tickets are so pricey ... the concession stand is even more expensive ... and you can't just walk into any movie (it might not be rated for kids) ... and you have to know the exact time a film starts ... and shopping-mall movie theatres are rarely within walking distance. Today you're blitzed by TV ad campaigns and product tie-ins in fast-food joints, so you know all about a Hollywood film before it starts ... and today's urban parents panic if their grade-school children disappear, unaccounted for, for hours on end.

Fifty years ago, none of that was so. In the larger cities, two or three movie theatres were in walking distance of most neighborhoods. Each had but one screen. The program began with a newsreel, a few cartoons, and brief "coming attractions" (not today's compilations that tell the whole story). Then the "features" began -- plural, features, for all neighborhood theatres played double, sometimes triple, features, two or three movies for the price of one ticket. Nothing was rated, there were no sex scenes or obscenities; anyone could go to any movie. Admission price for a kid was rarely more than a quarter. Popcorn for a dime, a Coke for a nickel. They weren't supposed to sell kids tickets during school hours, but they did. As for kids roaming about -- "Go play in traffic," our parents would say, and they wouldn't be surprised if we didn't walk in 'til dinnertime, which in our immigrant neighborhood wasn't until after 7. ("Go play in traffic" wasn't so harsh a phrase as it sounds. Where else could we play?)

And you didn't go to a movie, you went to "the movies." You rarely knew the title of the film you were going to see until you saw the marquee -- and even then you might not recognize the title. Big productions were advertised on billboards, but there weren't so many billboards. No ads on the sides of buses, and none in supermarkets (and there weren't that many supermarkets). Second features were never advertised. TV ads for movies? Very rare in the early Fifties, and not so common by the end of the decade. Except for Davy Crockett's "coonskin" hats (and that was for television), massive product tie-ins were decades away. So adults and kids alike went to the movies, to see whatever was playing -- especially during the hot months, because in those days the big pull was to go to "an air-conditioned movie," as the phrase went. Into the early Sixties, movie theatres were among the only air-conditioned public buildings, and nothing was more rare for working-class people (on the East Coast anyway) than an air-conditioned residence. (I didn't live in one until I was 29.)

And there was this, a fact that can't be overestimated: Almost all movies (with Disney the major exception) were made for adults. Kids went to the movies, but few movies were calibrated for kids. Yet no ticket-seller I ever encountered thought it strange for a 7-year-old alone, or a group of three or four, to show up. I went every time I could scrounge the change, and I don't remember ever being turned away.

My birthday is late in October, so I was still 7 in 1953 when I saw my first film without "parental guidance" -- or parental presence. Frankly, it kind of shocks me to write that, for I can't imagine the parents of 7-year-olds today allowing their children to go to the movies alone. In fact, I doubt a lone 7-year-old would be sold a ticket now anywhere in this country. But once upon a time, it was no big deal. (All of which makes urban parents of 50 years ago sound permissive. They weren't. We would never have dreamed of speaking to our parents, or to any adult, as I now hear so many minutely supervised kids speak to theirs. Disrespect was not tolerated. Neither was whining. I know that sounds like an exaggeration. It's not.)

So, at the age of 7, three or four other urchins and I saw Vincent Price in House of Wax -- in 3-D, no less. It was deliciously scary in a harmless sort of way. But that same year I felt true horror at seeing (alone) The Robe; the Jesus I prayed to -- I watched him be crucified, watched the nails entering his hands, and it was among the more shattering experiences of my little life. And then, a different kind of shattering, that same year: The War of the Worlds -- the scene where the crazed mob throws the scientists out of their truck, destroys their work, and so (seemingly) ends all hope that mankind might survive the martian invasion. When later I became an obsessive reader of history, I had occasion to think of that scene many times.

In the spring of the next year, when I was 8, my 6-year-old cousin Tony and I "went to the movies," and what was playing was what I now know to be one of the rarest films by a major director and major star: William Wellman's The High and the Mighty, my first John Wayne film. Tony and I sat through it twice -- that is, we sat through The High and the Mighty, a second feature that I've forgotten, and The High and the Mighty again. For in those days once you bought a ticket you could sit there till the theatre closed. Also, since you just "went," you almost always walked in the middle of whatever picture it was, stayed through the second feature, and watched the first feature until the scene you walked in on. That's the origin of the saying, "This is where I came in" -- people would often leave at that point, with those words on their lips. Not me. I always stayed 'til the end, even if I didn't like the picture. I was (and am) stubborn that way. The High and the Mighty was about a haunted, limping co-pilot (John Wayne) who'd survived the crash that killed his wife and child. He redeems himself by managing to land a (propeller-driven) airliner that otherwise would have been destroyed. Tony and I walked out whistling the haunting theme music. We went back the next day. Which was the first time I ever went to a movie. I can still whistle that theme, but I've never seen that film again -- to my knowledge it has yet to appear on TV, VHS, or DVD. What happened to it? In any case, I kind of fell in love with John Wayne. He was the man my 8-year-old wanted to be.

Other movies I saw solo or with buddy-urchins: The Blackboard Jungle, East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause when I was 9 ... The Searchers when I was 10 ... age 11, I saw Edge of the City (the complex friendship between John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier turned my young head around about race). Eleven, too, when I saw A Face in the Crowd and The Three Faces of Eve. Face left me absolutely stunned -- so much so that I couldn't stand to see the film again until I was well into my 40s. I know this will sound incredibly naive to a modern ear, but Face taught me that those smiling faces on TV were laughing at me. Baby, that changed me. I stopped believing a lot of things that year -- and stopped calling myself a Catholic. I didn't trust a priestly smile anymore. As for The Three Faces of Eve -- my mother had been in and out of mental hospitals, so Eve taught me more than I wanted to know, earlier than I could absorb it, and to this day I've not been able to watch it again.

All of which is to say ... there are good arguments for and against a child seeing such things, though I'm glad I did. Good arguments for and against children roaming dangerously, freely. Yes, disasters happened. You had to learn how to handle men who sat next to you and groped (that was rare, but once was plenty); I'd always grab an aisle seat, and I took to the trick of spilling Coke and popcorn on the seat next to me. But, as W.D. Snodgrass said when asked why he didn't write poems about A-bombs: "I've seen more people killed in their living rooms." It isn't much of an exaggeration to say "the movies," as an entity, raised me. It was like listening in to the conversations of the grownups. Which, we now forget, is how children have been raised for eons. So, reader, yes -- 7-year-olds did see The Searchers, in another world, and in a freer, riskier, more exciting, and inviting country.


In suburbia there are no subways to use, although parents do let their 15 year old kids take their cars and run erands alone.

when I was 9-10, while living in Munich around 1989-1990, I rode the U-bahn (subway) to school with 2 other kids around the same age everyday. Had to do a transfer in between also....

This is not surprising: Japan is a high trust, low crime ethnostate.

In Germany too

and u can eat off the subway floor’s its that clean there

Is there any nation in which kids are less independent than in the U.S.?

China. Two strong influences: an idolization of western parenting plus the one child policy. Take your caricature of a dependent US kid and add the pressure and coddling of six parents.

And yet, you’ll see first graders walking alone or in adult free groups to the convenience store during lunch to get something to eat. It’s only really the black Audi crowd that super coddle their children.

My hunanese wife had free reign of the city since elementary school, things are not that different now.

I'm observing a massive decline in children independence in Russia as well compared to the "good old Soviet times" and early (pretty violent though) 90s.

It is a helpless feeling that emerged is the age of kidnappers, organ harvesting etc. Or has nothing really changed since then and it is just that we're exposed to massive amounts of FUD in the new era of mass media?

As crime rates dropped the television shows people watched focused more on exploiting the fear around crime against children.

I think it's a lot more fear, uncertainty/doubt. Kids are most likely to be a victim of crime at home by family members. That's where most abuse happens. The random kidnapping is more in the movies that reality.

That’s a fact. Doug Stanhope has a great bit about how your kid can go his entire life without being raped by a man in a van.

Edit: to answer the actual question: I don't think (that's really subjective and I don't have kids) Russia has reached yet the "typical level of overparenting" in the US.

In South Africa you get a mix. Upper middle class and rich driven to school with some parents even walking children into class. Poor and working-class kids catch public transport. They have no other option. Unfortunately, we have a fair amount of violent crime and the result is kids have less freedom to roam.

Good grief; must every thread devolve into “are there any countries [worse] than the US?”

I live in France (I am American) and my 6 year old has walked to the store by himself and his French classmate’s parents think that’s insane. It’s a scandle when my 3 year old plays on playground equipment designed my 6 year olds. I took my kids rock climbing in Chamonix when they were 3 and 4 years old and had them properly harnessed and roped and you would have thunk I pushed them out of an airplane. Our Italian guide was having a great time while the French families were clucking disapproval between bouts of amazement.

I know plenty of UK parents in France that keep their kids on tighter leashes than even the French.

This idea that “American kids are less independent than others” is just nonsense. It’s all situational — a suburban kid might have to walk 3 miles to get to a shop or a school — that’s a much different context than some kid walking in a neighborhood where everything is a block or two away. When I am in Cupertino, I see elementary school kids riding their scooters to school unattended and when I was in Korea, there were plenty of teenagers getting picked up by their parents to walk theee blocks home.

Let’s stop generalizing so much. All of this depends on the relative safety of an area and not the nationalities involved.

I used to do this in Australia many years back when I was six and seven. It never even occurred to anyone that it was an issue.

These days, in Queensland, it's illegal for children under 12 to walk to school on their own. (Although, for better or worse, both the letter of the law and its enforcement are unclear.)


Yes, I remember when that law was introduced. I vaguely remember that it was in response to a child being murdered after being picked up while waiting for a bus.

It's certainly a different world now. But I have a 10-year-old, and he goes to the shops around the corner to buy milk and/or bread. There'd be no way I could trust him to make public transport decisions at this stage though. Maybe a year or two more.

> It's certainly a different world now.

What do you see as the relevant differences?

My sister said the same thing, but I pointed out that the crime rates are actually lower vs. when we were kids.

Is this news worthy? This is also the case in NYC and probably every city around the world. Kids take the subway, bus, etc all by themselves to go to school, malls, theaters, friends' homes, etc. My siblings and I did. All my friends did.


I see kids alone in the subway in Berlin all the time. Berlin is a high-immigrant diverse city with low work and high party ethics.

It seems to me that this is more a function of having a somewhat reliable public transport network. When I explored Berlin myself as a kid, all I had to remember was the color of the subway and the stop I had to get off to return home. When I got lost anywhere in the city, all I had to do was find the next subway station, look at the plan and I’d find my way.

There is, however, a cost.

Japans’s criminal justice system has a conviction rate in excess of 99%. Over 95% of those arrested sign confessions. The system has been attacked by organisations like Amnesty International. There is, as I understand it, a pervasive view that all crime is committed by foreigners, which contributes to pervasive xenophobia. This compounds the issues of an aging and eventually shrinking population. The high work ethic also comes with its problems, like the number of deaths from overwork, and high rates of suicide and alcoholism.

Crime in Japan is obviously low, and I’ve never felt safer anywhere in the world. But it’s too easy to just look at the surface like that; in reality, it’s complicated.

Japan also famously has a very low incidence of rape, though I wonder to what extent that is due to very low levels of reporting it.

No doubt different ways of organising society come with trade-offs; and path dependent optimisation means it's not always possible to "switch" to a different local optimum.

Nevertheless, I think

* looking at how other countries do things and

* realising how contingent some domestic norms are

is rather educational and edifying.

I've learned over the last few years that rape reporting is not something which can be reliably compared between countries.

If a woman reports to the police that her husband has raped her ever other day for a year, then is that 0 counts of rape (because marriage means permanent consent for sex), 1 count of rape (because it was reported once), or 180 counts of rape (because of each reported occurrence). (I say it was 180 counts of rape.)

Different countries have different standards. According to https://www.japantimes.co.jp/community/2014/12/08/voices/for... , the definition of rape in Japan excludes things rape requires violence or threats. That article goes into more about some of the differences, including low levels of reporting it.

As CityLab pointed out in the article, "The persistent problem of women and girls being groped, for example, led to the introduction of women-only cars on select lines starting in 2000."

What...?! This has nothing to do with monoculturalism or xenophobia. Probably not high work ethics either.

Here's a bit of US history to show how things have changed. The TV show "Sesame Street" started in the late 1960s as a way to provide pre-school education to low-income and disadvantaged families. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Sesame_Street .

One of the early clips is "Loaf of Bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter" - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Im4GwUD1UY8 . In it, the mother sends her young daughter out, alone, to buy those three items from the local store.

That account takes place in New York in the 1970s, a diverse city with many immigrants. While fiction, it's meant to educate children about what they might be expected to do.

If you read books about children in NYC in the mid-1900s, you'll see that this was not uncommon. Kids, including young ones, would go on their own to Central Park, or the library, etc. Or on hot days just hop on an elevated line to enjoy the breeze.

This. I'm trying to figure out how to teach my two kids independence without getting a citation by children's services.

Free-range parenting - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free-range_parenting . The best known advocate is Lenore Skenazy, who now blogs for https://letgrow.org/ .

There are other free-range parents. There may be a local group. That Let Grow site says part of it mission is to be "where parents who want to Let Grow can find others in their neighborhood".

I have no experience with the Let Grow site.

Which is why monocultural, immigration-averse and hard-working China has such a safe and trusting society... or does it? (Spoiler: Nope, far from it.)

I don't know where people keep getting this idea that China is monocultural, but it's helpful when they do because really demonstrates their ignorance of the country. China is also by and far safer than America. Odd crimes/accidents only appear more common because they've got a population greater than the USA, Europe, Canada, and Australia combined.

Wow, you were very quick at turning correlations into causations there. Canada also has a very low crime rate but has a very multicultural society, same thing with Singapore.

Rethoric like that could also get your case into trouble. By your logic, their monoculturalism, aversion to immigration and high work ethics created a decade of poor economic growth and deflation.

I should add that I took public transportation around Gothenburg all the time from 10 years old. Is Sweden a monocultural country with high aversion to immigration and good work ethics?

Perhaps you choose a city that supports your case. What about Malmö?


I have relatives who lives in Malmö, they did the same thing when they were 10.

Gothenburg is larger than Malmö, but Malmö is admittedly more multicultural (about 40% are foreign born compared to Gothenburg’s 25%). However, the island of Hisingen in Gothenburg is very high up on the list of shootings per capita.


I have no idea why you were downvoted. The GP is basically the dictionary definition of cum hoc ergo propter hoc.

Invoking Japanese culture as an exemplar of a successful society based on the enforcement of ethnic purity and homogeneity has become a bit of a rhetorical hobbyhorse for right and alt-right wingers, of which there are many on HN.


I pointed out that just looking at multiculturalism and crime rate of a single country is very bad research, you are the one drawing parallels to ”leftist multiculturalism” propaganda. It’s a discussion about bad and simplistic deduction, i.e the ”correlation is causation” fallacy.

But, just for the record: yes, I’m very well aware of the conflicts and race riots during the founding of Singapore (and the fact that they were not a developed economy or deomcracy yet either) but the statement of the GP was basically ”Japan has low multiculturalism and low crime rate, thus multiculturalism causes crime”. That’s why I said that by that logic monoculturalism causes deflation and low economic growth.


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Did you know they still hang people in Japan? Anyway, America has more freedoms and also more crime.


Not sure why this is newsworthy, seems like they are just trying to stir the pot up.

Good, but too bad Japan does not let kids be as free to think for themselves at school a little more. If you limit autonomy to walking to school, it won't bring much benefits in the end.

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