Every parent knows this moment… an instant passes, you divert your attention and your child is suddenly not in sight. Thankfully, these moments are generally rare and end happily with our little one snuggled in for a hug (likely after a stern reprimand) and a silent or audible prayer of thanks. Last Friday night, at our son’s schools homecoming football game, we lost our littlest. She didn’t know she was lost of course, she was gallivanting around the stadium with a couple 4th grade girls she’d latched onto–little girls that were going out of their way to include her and even took her across the stadium to the snack bar to get a Gatorade. Police were present, the place was literally packed with families and I think as safe as any public place can be, but my stomach filled with fear and dread in those moments when I couldn’t locate her. The “what ifs” were unbearable. So, how do we raise independent children in a world that we often fear? It is such a balancing act, isn’t it? Keeping them safe and letting them grow…

I knew my son would want to run around and play with his friends, which he did. Naturally, my daughters wanted to be at his side. We reviewed that they all had to stay together and that no one should talk to an adult stranger. I picked a fixed location, where I would stay. From my vantage point, I could keep a distant eye on them. Intermittently they would escape from my view but then surface again within moments. Seemed like a good enough plan…until I couldn’t find my youngest. Suddenly I noticed potential exits from the stadium, the commotion, the sheer number of strangers. My middle child burst into tears when our Chloe showed up– with a huge smile, candy and Gatorade in hand – arms linked with a sweet little friend. If we hadn’t decided to leave at that moment, Chloe would have strolled back to us and we would have never even known she was “missing.” This won’t be our last Homecoming game, so how do I handle it next time?

How do I promote independence which is so incredibly important to me, while still keeping my little ones safe?

This is my plan –

  1. The girls now have small cross-body phone bags and even though my youngest has never had a working phone – she will have one with her during events such as this. The ringers will be on. The kids have my phone number memorized, so they can call me if needed. Additionally, my number will be programmed into favorites so that if they forget it, it’s there, and a helpful stranger can reach me.
  2. A similar approach would be to buy paper wristbands, like those given out at ticketed events, and write your name and cell number on them. Each child wears a wristband at every crowded event.
  3. We have a pre-determined meeting place and time.
  4. We review “stranger danger” and involving police or moms with children only if lost.
  5. We use the buddy system and each of my kids have to let the others know if they are walking to the concession stands etc. with a friend.
  6. No wandering alone, and absolutely never exit the event if you can’t find us.

I am familiar with the arguments against kids carrying phones and I absolutely agree with most of them. But in this case, the phone offers benefits that the wristband doesn’t. Namely, I can reach them via a phone call or the Find My IPhone app. I don’t want to rely entirely on a helpful stranger calling me… Mainly because there are times when I lose sight of one of my kids and I start to panic, but they are happily playing, oblivious to my concern. For sanity’s sake, I absolutely need to reach them in those moments…

Is this foolproof? Absolutely not. But it doesn’t seem right to me to force my younger two to sit beside me at the game when all the other kids are running around playing. It seems almost paranoid and devoid of fun, although without argument it would be the safest approach. There has to be some middle ground between helicopter parenting and free-range parenting, I am just not exactly sure where it is yet…