Trying to raise my kids the best I can

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Free Range Kids

This is a great article.
Also this.

This is one of my biggest soap box issues. My kids are free-range! Locking up kids in the house is not normal. I tell my husband and mom "I used to walk to kindergarten without an adult," and they both reply "East Lansing, back then, isn't the same as the (small) city you live in now". Really, people? Really? It was neighboring the Michigan State University Campus. There were just as many pedophiles back then as there are now. There were just as many busy streets. People are remembering with rose colored glasses. Also, remember mom?, when I was eight and you stuck me on a plane by myself to travel across the country to Arizona- with a layover/plane change in Dallas and Chicago! It's also relevant to bring up to them that my husband used to wander the jungles of Cambodia as a young child. It's filled with predators like tigers and poisonous snakes. When he lived in the Philippines, around the age of 6 or 7, he remembers walking way up into the mountains and playing with the tribal children, communicating through sign language.

This summer I have a plan for the kids to go out every single day to play. I'll make them a hearty breakfast. They can plan their schedule a week in advance. They'll have a cell phone with them, helmets, if on bikes, and if they want, I'll pack them a lunch. There is so much they can do around here:
  • swim the city pool
  • friend's houses
  • free kid's shows in downtown on Wednesdays
  • free lunches at the schools
  • local museums that sometimes do kid activities
  • six parks within biking distance including one sprinkler park
  • the library that has a kids summer reading program
  • plus a day camp I was thinking of signing them up for
  • dozens of eateries and even an ice-cream parlor
  • take the bus to the mall
Speaking of walking at the mall - has anyone seen the commercial for some phone network, in which the mom tracks her teenage kids at the mall with the cell phone (while she is there shopping)? Is that not, the most ridiculous thing you've ever seen? We are lucky, as a generation to be able to hand our kids a cell phone and say "call me if there's a problem". I am grateful to that. But with that ability we should be more lax as a society not less.

The biggest deterrent to free-range kids is not safety concerns or a predators. It's child protective services. We're literally turning into a Nazi gestapo society. It's very scary to me. I totally agree with the article that the only way to fight this is for neighbors to see lots of kids playing by themselves and get comfortable with it. I've actually had success with this in the past. When I let my kids play outside the neighbor kids slowly come out of the woodwork. You wouldn't believe how many of them there are. They're all hiding in there playing video games, getting obese.

When I was 11 I started babysitting! But now, people question you if you leave an 11 year old without adult supervision. It's absolutely absurd.

Also, no free range kids means no spontaneous ball games. So now we have these ridiculously expensive and time consuming leagues and classes in which moms become chauffeurs and dads become obsessive (sometimes rude) fans and kids get less actual ball time and it becomes all about winning and athletic achievement less about a fun game with the neighborhood kids. Has our society improved? I think the answer is obvious.

One of the comments after the article was spot on:

It seems to me that there is one key difference between neglect and letting one’s child have independence:

Does the child know where their parent/guardian is?

If they do not – mum ‘just went out’, ‘told us to go away, she was going for a drink’, dad ‘went somewhere’. You have a case for neglect. A parent has made themselves unavailable leaving children, in the least frightened and at worst, in danger.

If they can say ‘Mum and Dad are at home at 132 Acacia Drive’ or ‘I’m staying with Aunty Sara today, she’s at her house over there and said we could go out’ – no case for neglect. The parent or guardian has made their own risk assessment, and the child knows where they are and that they can go to them any time.

Obviously, one must allow for kids potentially forgetting stuff or making things up, but if you walk with a child back to their house, and there are their parents and all is in good order, there is clearly no grounds for concern.

Allowing children out of your supervision is not the same as making yourself unavailable to them.

Two digressions:

1. I'd like to slip in at the end here my theory on why society is becoming this. Because the number of kids we have has decreased dramatically, less eggs in the basket, so to speak. This is especially true on the coasts, where helicopter parenting is completely out of control. In my opinion, we've fallen away from the Lords design, of an average of seven kids per family. This is one of the repercussions of that. With obesity being an offshoot of that repercussion.

2. As you can see, I've compiled an impressive list of options for my kids to go to this summer, without me having to chauffeur them. This is one of the reasons that I am a big proponent of urban life and a protester of suburban sprawl. Relevant to that is the book Suburban Nation: The rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream In this book is the great observation that the suburban teenager's maturity is stunted by their need to rely completely on their guardian to chauffeur them around.



  • At 10:18 AM, Blogger Masheri said…

    Loved your article and insight. How I wish we can return to those days of safety when kids were truly kids, and truly felt free. Love your phrase-"free range children". you have a great narrative voice and flow to your blog. I look forward to reading more. Blessings for your day. Masheri


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