Two 'Free Range' Little Girls Gone Missing in 1975 Finally Get Justice


Parenting forums are rife with the debate over how much freedom to give our children. Free-range parents let their kids loose in playgrounds, telling their children to come to them only if they see blood. Helicopter parents never leave their kids’ sides, even at drop-off activities for their 9-year-olds, and are horrified by the idea of sleepaway camp. In addition, the news is plastered with examples of parents going overboard on each side and scathing opinions vilifying them. But when the facts are as tragic as the story of two sisters who vanished 40 years ago from a Washington, D.C., suburb, we as parents question everything.


Forty years ago, 12-year-old Sheila Lyon and 10-year-old Katharine Lyon went -- without adult supervision -- to the Wheaton Plaza Mall in Maryland to shop and have lunch, but they were never seen or heard from again. The incredible prosecutors in the Bedford County commonwealth never gave up searching for answers, and now they have officially brought charges against a convicted sex offender for the murder of the two girls.

After hearing this story, I imagine even the mom who tweets about the lost freedom of the '70s and '80s and rails against the uber-structured schedules of our preschoolers feels a knot in her stomach. Every detail presses the soft spot of our helicopter-mom instincts. But sometimes that nagging feeling in our gut is fear, not parental intuition.

More from The Stir: 8 Ways Helicopter Parenting Hurts Kids

How much freedom we offer our children should depend on their age and the circumstances they’re in. Do I think it’s appropriate for a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old to go to a mall that they’ve probably been to 100 times before, in a safe and family-friendly neighborhood? Yes. Even after hearing this story? Absolutely.

Hovering over our kids only hinders their growth. Instead of accompanying them to every trip outside your front door, teach them lessons they can use when they are away. My children are only 4 and 6 and I’ve already begun planting the seeds. I tell them what bus or subway line we’re taking. I let them know what stop we get on and when we intend to get off. We count those in between. They think it’s fun.

The less exciting stuff involves introducing them to ideas about strangers. I tell them they should never go anywhere with someone they don’t know. If for some reason I can’t pick them up from school or camp, they know that the person I send will know a special safe word that only we know. I tell them if they are lost, they should find another mommy with kids and ask her for help. I sing my phone number to them so that they might remember it if we ever, God forbid, get separated.

These lessons aren’t as fun as teaching the ABCs or multiplication, but they are equally important. It’s not lazy parenting to send your kids off to the playground alone. It’s not neglect to let them earn trust and freedom. We can’t prevent every bad thing that happens, as much as we wish we could when it comes to our own flesh and blood. But the more information they are given, the more experience they have under their belts, the more confidence we will have in them as they grow and move farther away from the nest we’ve created for them. Maybe, just maybe, it could even save their lives.


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