Thursday, April 15, 2010

Free Range

I need to preface this post with a disclaimer: I am not a Mom. I have nieces and nephews and love being an Auntie. But I understand clearly that Aunties and Moms are two entirely different roles in life.

O.K. That said, I found this website to be intriguing: Free Range Kids. A phrase has recently entered the lexicon “helicopter parents”. It describes parents who constantly hover around their children. Free Range Kids is a concept formed by Lenore Skenazy in response to overprotecting and over scheduling children. As Ms. Skenazy puts it: “Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts — safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school age kids go outside, they need a security detail.

I grew up with pretty protective parents. I knew some kids whose parents were truly over-protective. My parents were strict enough that they came in handy if I needed to say “No I can’t go (fill in the blank for do something stupid) with you. You know my parents would kill me!” But even with them being as protective as they were, I spent a great deal of time out in the world, on my own. Before the house across the street was built, I built forts there. There was a school one street over where I sat by myself and wrote my first poem. When I was somewhere between 12 and 14 years old, Dad got me my ten speed bike and I was gone. I would ride from our home in Warwick down to East Greenwich and on to Potowomut. I would visit with friends and we’d ride all over together. But sometimes I’d be by myself. Truth be told, I would often ride my bike down to church, sit in a pew and visit with God, so I wasn’t exactly a hellion! But the point was I was out and about, on my own, with no cell phone, just some coins for a pay phone in case of emergency and a wrist watch. I had to be home on time, so the watch was part of the uniform.

I know there is a perception that the world was a whole lot safer back in the day. I often share that perception. I feel the clutch of fear whenever an Amber Alert goes out. I remember Holly Piranian and Molly Bish. Yet there is still something inside of me that is convinced that the world is, on balance, a pretty safe place. What I gained from being out and about on my own, whether it was a block or two away or several miles, was a great gift. Especially to a shy, sometimes really scared little kid who discovered she possessed more self confidence and a more adventuresome spirit than she thought she had. I wouldn’t want to take that away from any child.


dancingmorganmouse said...

We were true free-rangers (be home before dark was the only real rule) and latch key kids and I have mostly wonderful memories of my wide-ranging, wandering childhood. I'd have died cooped up and under constant watch, I feel rather sorry for kids today. Nothing bad ever happend either, to any of us, not a single thing (& we were wild, believe me). So, hooray for the freerange movement, hooray!

Roo said...

Hey hey - I agree, we used to range far and wide, and there where the odd days when it was just yourself, and not the usual suspects, and that was ok too.

I have to admit that the phrase " ok, but be back by..." was as subtle a warning as ever there was, and woe betide you if you missed that deadline.

I too feel sorry for kids now, but then I do remember for us that; there where far less cars around,and seemingly less danger, and that nearly every adult was alert to your distress/needs, and would intervene without hesitation (and without the thought of reproach from a parent)
and lastly, we had a respect for adults (and policemen in particular) that just doesn't seem to be around any more.

And I know societies change, and things seem different as we age, but values shouldn't be lost to generations.. we shall see

Wendy said...

this was so interesting. I am constantly trying to strike a balance with parenting. Of course my one is only 3 so she needs supervision but I do want her t have some independance and also not have a fear of the outside world. perhaps a healthy respect. I had a certain amount of freedom as a child but those days the world seemed so carefree and of course I had this amazing outdoor childhood in South africa. time willl tell I suppose. One thing I know is I wont be a helicopter parent. I know a few and its quite painful!

Pink Granite said...

Hi All -
I'm delighted that this concept and website struck a chord with you!

Morgan, I spent a great deal of my time in my room reading books - including the encyclopedia! But the balance between the world in my head and the natural world was vital to me.

Roo, your point about other parents and adults intervening without hesitation is very well taken. No matter how far afield I went, word could and would get back to my parents if I was into any shenanigans. And we got yelled at by complete strangers and police which did scare the bejesus out of us!

Wendy, as a Mom, you must be constantly walking the tightrope. No small feat to instill safety, a proper respect for adults and foster creativity and independence, all the while encouraging Lily to trust her gut when something is dangerous.
Wishing Lily and you the best balance possible!
- Lee

dancingmorganmouse said...

Lee, after I read your post I read this - - in the paper.
I'm pretty sure my parents weren't all "meh, don't care" but perhaps we were just lucky. We'll never know.
I too was a very bookish girl, but I sure did need my get out of the house time :)

Irene said...

I put Free Range Kids in my reader. Even though my kids are grown, I still like to know what's out there.

Yep, we used to roam the neighborhoods all day in the summer time and just made sure to be home in time to clean up and eat dinner! Now I'm just as concerned for myself as I am for any kid out there. I go out for a solo run and have a GPS device turned on my cell phone, just in case...

Pink Granite said...

Hi DMM -
I read the article you referenced and felt very sad.
I wasn't criticizing contemporary parents. I would compare the so called helicopter parents to the very over protective ones I knew when I was a kid. My parents were not at all hands off or disinterested as Mr. Glover describes in the article.

I think what troubles me most is that the 24 news cycle we have now is like a voracious beast which must be constantly fed. Here in the US we hear about children who are missing, assaulted, abducted or murdered no matter where they live. Their smiling faces stare at us from school photos on the national and cable news. After a while it becomes somewhat disorienting; all of these horrendous things are happening in our own backyards - aren't they?
In that environment it is easy to forget that the media never leads off the evening news with: "Today millions of people lived an absolutely uneventful, ordinary day."
Thanks -
- Lee

Hi Irene -
I'm glad you found this discussion and the website of interest.
I believe that what I wrote to Morgan applies to adults as well. Chuck used to work in an office building with a multistory parking garage. There were several incidents in the garage - muggings to assaults. I often reminded him to be aware of his surroundings as he headed to his car after work. Did I want to hire a bodyguard for him? Yes! But I had to wrestle with my fears and balance them with odds and statistics and likely outcomes.

There is a middle ground between limiting ourselves unnecessarily out of exaggerated fear and behaving foolishly or recklessly as if we live in an inviolable bubble of safety. However finding that middle ground can sometimes be challenging.
Thanks -
- Lee

Sue said...

For some reason, this post gives me goose bumps. We too grew up free-range and it was great! Life was exciting, it was challenging and it was fun! We didn't have the electronics that the kids have now days and we didn't have the inclination to sit in front of the TV all day. We played hide and seek and hop-scotch. We ran and climbed. We kicked balls and rode bikes without helmets, or lights. One of my favourite memories is of Sunday afternoons on the park opposite our house. All the kids (about 20 of us) would be out playing soccer, while our parents had a break. We all survived our free range lifestyle and have the scars to prove just how much fun we had!! I find it SO sad that our kids aren't allowed to explore and enjoy their world as we did.

I think that letting kids go off and play and learn on their own is a vital part of them becoming independent adults. I am SO not a helicopter parent!!

Stephanie said...

I am the mom of four and struggle with this every day. As you said, we are BOMBARDED by the 24 hour news with horror of missing children. I haven't been able to determine if, statistically, it really is that much worse now compared to when we were younger.

I grew up in suburbia and stayed outside playing ALL day. We entertained ourselves much more readily, without the "stuff" my kids generally want when they go out to play. I remember going in the woods for hours with friends when I was elementary school-aged. We walked to and from school alone. I'd never let my kids do that now.

I will say that I think all the technology has given parents a false sense of security. I explained to my kids that a cellphone isn't REALLY a necessity for safety's sake (like a lot parents claim). When I was younger, your mom called someone's house and you better be there. With cellphones, the kids can tell us they are anywhere and really be somewhere else. I even heard a woman in the craft store the other day telling someone on the phone she was still in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles! LOL.

All of this to say, it is a different world. And it makes me really sad that my kids will never know the freedom of exploration and independence that I knew. :-(

Pink Granite said...

Hi Sue and Stephanie -
Thank you for your thoughtful and thought provoking comments from the frontline of raising kids today.
You face such a delicate balancing act every single day.

I wonder if our parents had similar challenges and conflicts as they raised us up or if our childhoods were similar to theirs?

What strikes me about all of these comments, is that we're all somewhere in our late 20s or early 30s up into our 50s. That means we came up during the late 50s into the 70s and 80s. Has so much really changed in those last few decades? If it has, how the heck did things go so pear shaped in such a short amount of time? If it didn't really get that much worse, how did our perception change so greatly, so fast?

I do know that with FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, blogs, cellphones with cameras and text messaging I wouldn't want to be a kid today. It was tough enough to navigate junior high and high school, when all we had to worry about was notes passed in class and rumors whispered in the hallways and lunchroom. To be caught on a digital snapshot being a dork (or worse) or to have a snarky comment zip out to "send all" would be just dreadful.

Hmm... I guess a lot has changed.
- Lee