Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Free Range Kids

You've all seen them - those statuses (wait, what is the plural of "status??), or little pictures, or whatever, proudly announcing, "I used to run around outside from dawn til dusk with just my friends. My parents kicked me out and we didn't come back inside all summer. I rode my bike 18 miles one-way to the park every day, when I was 5, all by myself.". You get the point. The idea that when we were children, we played outside. A lot. By ourselves. And that we're all proud of this. And why the heck don't kids get to do this now? What's wrong with society??

And then there's the whole, "hell no -  I'm not going to let my 4yo play in the backyard by himself - something might happen!!!. No way am I going to allow my 7yo to ride his bike to the park with his 7yo friend - someone might abduct him! No my 4yo can not use a knife - he'll cut off his arm!" mentality. This fear that many of us have of letting our kids just go and do those things that we ourselves used to do when we were children.

Did you know that this past Saturday, May 19th, was the third annual international “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” (TOCTTPALTT). Yes, that's right. Take your child (ages 7 and up, please), to the park AND LEAVE HIM THERE. WITHOUT YOU. And, yes, I did need to YELL that part because I'm pretty sure most of you - like me at first - are confused and also probably are thinking, "surely that is not what the social worker just said.

And yet, it is.

Lately, I find myself challenged with all those beliefs. I have all those same worries you do, but here's what I know from my experience as a social worker. Most any accident that might happen to him in the backyard, are going to happen whether I'm 3ft from him, or 15ft inside the house (for example, a child recently died from a simple fall off a swing in her backyard. Her parents were right there). In more than 12yrs as a social worker, I have never - I repeat never - heard of a child being abused in any way (sexually, being abducted, etc...) in a public restroom by a stranger. Also, I don't know any preschooler who has cut his arm off with a knife.

There is this urban myth, you might say, that tells us as mamas that if we're right there with our children, we can protect them. We hold tight because we want them to be safe (of course we do!). We don't let them go in the backyard by themselves. We don't let them walk the block and a half to a friend's house. We take them into the women's bathroom with us until they're 10. All because we want them to be safe. Which is, of course, our job.

But what are we teaching our children? What am I teaching my children?

I'd suggest that what that these things actually do is teach my child that I don't believe he is capable. Because if I don't trust him to do (x, y, or z), then how is he to trust his ability to do it himself. I suggest that what I'm also teaching him is that the world is a big and scary place, one where he is not safe. And neither of those are believes I want my child to hold. That is not how I want my child to approach the world - believing that he's not capable of handling himself in the big scary world.

So, what's a mama to do?

Again, I go back to my experience. Which is this: Accidents happen, yes. But hoovering around my child isn't going to prevent them.

So I'm working on this. I'm working on letting go of the knot that forms when the kid wants to go into the public bathroom by himself. I'm working on not checking on him every 10minutes when he's in the backyard playing solo. I'm working on letting him cut up his own apple with a for real knife. I'm working on letting my kid be more of a Free Range Kid.  And I'd love to hear what you do to help your kid be more free range, too. Or how much it stresses you out to do that. Because would make me feel better, too, lol.

Today's Lesson: Discomfort is often a sign of growth. And even mommas experience growing pains.

If you're interested in reading more about TOCTTPALTT, here ya go: http://healthland.time.com/2012/05/17/are-your-kids-safe-alone-at-the-park/#ixzz1vEMnYpaV


Kristin said...

When my step-daughter was about 5 we were out to breakfast with the in-laws and she asked to go to the bathroom and I said sure so she got up and went over there. My mother in law went ballistic, how dare I let her go alone, don't I care enough about to keep her safe? Keep her safe from what? The single toilet bathroom with a locking door that I can see from my seat? I was pissed to say the least but that is exactly what you are talking about here societ telling us that our kids aren't safe. I try to give her space and let her play by herself as much as she can and within reason. She cooks with me, plays in the backyard by herself (well with the dogs) and goes to the bathroom alone unless she wants me to go with her. Does it scare me sometimes? Of course! But, like you said I don't want her to group up being scared of the world. I want her to live her life to the fullest and she can't do that if I am holding her hand the whole way.

Trisha said...

I can imagine that it is a very hard medium to find between hovering and independence. You want your child to be independent and responsible but you also want to shield and protect them from harm. That event sounds interesting (and terrifying) thanks for sharing.

ICLW #26

Emms said...

This is going to be so hard for me as Bug gets older, but you are SO RIGHT. Great post today. Thank you for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

I think, too, it depends on where you live and how you grew up.

I grew up in a city where the schools HAD to station crossing guards on every corner because every year there were 2-3 attempted abductions. Were we still allowed to walk to school? Yes, but never alone. The crossing guards knew all the kids, asked their friends where the missing one was. It will certainly color my views on how free my kids are to be outside alone - even if where we live now is "safer".

It's all a process really of teaching them to be able to handle the big scary world. Not to constantly shield but teach them the dangers and how to protect themselves when I'm not there to do it.

Nisha said...

Great post! It is my every intention to try and not become a scared parent. I hope I can achieve that.

Deborah said...

Here from ICLW - I'm not sure how I feel about this. I definitely let my son (3.5 y.o.) do a lot of things on his own that other parents wouldn't. He plays in the backyard alone, where I can see him from the window, and if the neighbors' kids are there, I don't worry about watching him (they're older). I let him use a knife. I let him go into public bathrooms alone if he wants. I let him walk around stores or on the street, and I don't have to be right next to him as long as I can see him. At this age, I do think it's important that I can see him. There is a lot of stuff he doesn't know about staying safe. So I guess I subscribe to some of this philosophy, but not completely.

Jenn and Casey said...

Here here! Although I agree it depends on where you live. I hope that if (when?) we get to have kids, it will be in a neighborhood where it's totally cool to "roam" the neighborhood with friends, because that's how I grew up and I loved it. And I know all the adults were watching out for us. But I know that doesn't happen everywhere.

Alex said...

Great post. There's definitely something to be said about kids who grow up with life skills, able to take care of certain things by themselves. I hope I can be this way in the future - can you post this again in a few years? :)

Peg said...

I've actually become a little more "free rangey" with each kid. It seems to be related to my comfort level as a mom. My boys have also pushed my comfort zone with physical danger since they are such rumble tumble, jumping, climbing, skateboarding kinda kids. The snake obsession also contributes too :)

Since the accident, I have been more controlling in some ways and protective (especially of little Liam) but I try to just let them be when I can. We joke around here that a dirty boy with a few scratches equals a boy who had a great day.

Anonymous said...

Hi Becky, I'm here from ICLW. I love this post. I'm not a mother (yet) but I do know that i'm going to be one of those irritating possessive mother's who hovers over their kids, gets nervous when other ppl carry them or they are out of sight. I hope that if and when my baby does come, i am able to let go and groom a healthy confident child!

BumbersBumblings said...

my little guy is only 3, so he definitely still needs me to be with him to go to the bathroom and doesn't understand a lot of normal safety things yet. Our backyard is not completely fenced in, but i've wanted to let him go out there on his own. My hubby is TERRIFIED that he will run away. I need to work on this with him. That he needs to let go of some control...

Anonymous said...

I recently took my seven year old nephew to the movies. He said he needed to go to the bathroom so I asked if he knew where it was and let him go when he said yes. Ten minutes later I went looking for him and he was on a bench crying. He'd forgotten which theater to go back to. I felt awful. My husband later said "well, he obviously needs to figure out to make sure he pays more attention" At first I was mad at the thought, but realistically he was right. At seven he should be able to walk to the bathroom (two doors down) and find his way back. Stuff happens and they need to know how to do things and that they can.

Thrift Store Mama said...

I find it hard to talk about this because there are so many variables. Age of child, type of neighborhood, temperment of child, presence of other kids on the block playing outside, presence of neighbors, even the proximity of your kitchen window to the area where the kids are playing !

That being said, our 4 and 6 year o.d play outside alone. But we have a street that is a good balance of foot traffic and car traffic, my kids are dependable to not wander, and I can leave the front door open sodas to see and hear what is going on,outside.

The issue I have is thearents of the 2 and 3 year olds on my street who come over to check on my kids when they are playing or to "help" them get on their bikes, put on helmets, etc. They undermine my kids self-confidence.

My husband and I thought and discussed it before letting our kids play outside by themselves. And we did it in incremental steps with good boundaries working up to a wider area and length of time.

But the other day i found them about 150 yards away from the house up in a tree, so evidently some clarification is in order !

Thrift Store Mama said...

Oh, one other thing. The one place I would NEVER let my kid go is to the bathroom alone at church during services. Waaaay too far away and entirely too isolated.

Anonymous said...

Tell that to Sierra Lemar's parents. Or, insert name of any kid who's been abducted by strangers. I think this movement is misguided.