Have you heard about the couple in Maryland who were visited by Child Protective Services for letting their two kids walk half a block to the park? Someone had called to report two children walking unsupervised. The police picked them up and brought them back home. A little while later, CPS showed up. The parents aren’t being charged with anything, but the case against them concluded with the label “Unsubstantiated neglect.” Sure, no formal charges against these parents, but still something is on record for them letting a 10-year-old and 6-year-old walk to the neighborhood park. I hope their appeal is successful.
There’s a movement called free-range parenting, taking a more hands-off approach to the “helicopter” parenting of today. You’re probably familiar with that one, whereby parents schedule every little thing for their kids and are always present at their soccer games, violin lessons, ballet practice, etc – just hovering around like a helicopter. Free-range kids are allowed to do more on their own without every waking minute being scheduled, planned and monitored within the parameters of the parent. I applaud this movement, but it makes me wonder…
What the heck is a free-range kid, anyway?
There used to be a name for them…KIDS! Although I lived too far away and required being bussed to school, I remember lots of classmates walking the sidewalks to ELEMENTARY school. Sure, some kids didn’t go it alone – their parents were with them – but a fair amount walked alone or in groups of only kids. Crossing guards helped them get across the busier streets. The elementary school just a few blocks away reminds me of that – when school is starting or ending one crossing guard on each side of the street stops traffic so the little munchkins can go home. And there are plenty of them from all grade levels. And that doesn’t even count the ones I see walking home on other side of the street – the same side the school itself is situated on.
And when it came to play time my brothers and I would play outside. Often times Mom or Dad could just look out the window and see us. But, sometimes, we’d take out bikes down to our neighbor Tommy’s house, and that was out of sight. One of my earlier blogs recalled when we found our cat. No parents were with us, just a gaggle of neighborhood kids – I believe all at or under 10 years of age – outside as a group in an undeveloped field of weeds and tall grass. (Well, that was when we actually starting searching for the cat we saw, but still we were “unsupervised.”) And how many of you walked down the block to a corner store by yourself when you were still single digits? Ask your parents to remember their childhood; something tells me, “first, Mom drove me to soccer practice; then, Dad took us to art class, then…” wouldn’t be part of it. We did more on our own and kept ourselves entertained without being shuttled to and fro!
I wouldn’t let my 11-year-old take my 6-year-old down the street to a park, but that’s because my 6-year-old is far too friendly. Her big sisters wouldn’t talk to strangers, but she’ll be best friends with anyone. It’s very cute to watch her chat with just about everyone at different functions, but only because we are watching her. Our 11-year-old has always been talkative, too, but she wouldn’t have done that.
And that’s a big part of this free-range parenting. You know you’re kid’s demeanor and can adjust what you allow or don’t allow based on that. But there’s still plenty of room for spontaneity and self-determination. When kids have that, confidence is boosted. There’s also more room for kids to fail, which is the best character-building learning mechanism for a child. Instead of everything being structured and planned out, there’s creative free play.
I’m a big supporter of free-range parenting as I understand it. And I hope to see more free-range kids out there. Because if they stay cooped up, they’ll likely just grow into chickens anyway.