I was turned on to a web site recently about Free-Range Parenting: http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/ . Maybe some of you remember the big broohaha when Lenore Skenazy wrote a column for the New York Sun in which she admitted letting her 9 year old son ride the subway alone. Oh, the flack she got!
Little did she knew that this article would lead to a new trend in American parenting culture..."free-range parenting". Essentially, it is a recognition of societal fear mongering which has caused all of us to become somewhat insane in our parenting. We are, as she has coined, "Helicopter Parents" who hover and try to "fix" everything. We want to spare our children any exposure to any injury...real or imagined...and we want to control their every move. We fear their kidnapping by a stranger at every turn. We over-parent, we don't allow our children freedom to explore and learn on their own.
And in many ways, we have totally ruined childhood.
We blame much of the way childhood has changed on the advent of video games and other technology. But what about the fact that we won't allow our kids to play at a park, ride their bikes or hang out at the pool for fear of "Stranger Danger"? Kids don't know how to play a pick up game of baseball anymore because an adult is not there to run it and tell them what to do! We refuse to allow our kids to learn any lessons the hard way so they grow up into functioning adults...then complain when they are 17 that they can't seem to do this simplest tasks on their own.
I have been thinking a lot about this lately as I ponder how to teach some of our kids logic, which is a component missing in many ways from some of their thinking due to no fault of their own and the utter lack of parenting. This whole subject also seems to be one that has stuck in my craw for a long time and I see how I have gently tried to buck the tide and parent more in the ways I was parented as a kid rather than as kids are parented today. I admit I don't always succeed in ways I wish I had, and I wouldn't exactly label our kids "Free Rangers" but long before this movement began I was incredulous at some of what I saw...and I bear the criticism sometimes for it.
I have been chastised for letting our 3 sons "shop" in the toy aisle at Target all alone. I am in the store, they are together, and they are not 3 or 4 years old...they are 11, 10 and 7 for goodness sake! Statistics I found from 2009 show that .2% of child abuductions were stranger abductions. That is less than 1% of all abductions being strangers...not non-custodial parents or the like. And for THAT statistic I am going to keep my kids chained to my side at all times? The problem, as I see it, is that our 24/7 media takes every abduction story and the sad stories we all have heard about are replayed thousands of times, unrelenting in their pounding. We naturally internalize this fear and react to it.
Now...do I recklessly abandon my kids in public places to fend for themselves? No, of course not and I do ask that they go to the bathroom in pairs, but I feel that is reasonable precaution.
I wish we lived on a road that was safer for the kids to take off and ride bikes, but off our cul de sac is a busy country road where vehicles drive usually at around 60 MPH despite the posted speed limit of 45 MPH. With no sidewalk, that is not safe. But I do let them ride their bikes up our little road to the mailbox unattended about which I also have been questioned a time or two.
I find it ridiculous that for an hour soccer practice every parent freaks out if their kid doesn't have a water bottle attached to them. Yea, sue me. It is ONE HOUR, for goodness sake! We are not talking Southern Arizona and 110 degrees here during soccer season! And if my kid forgets their water bottle for practice sometime, I'll bet you next time they'll remember it. I also don't think it is necessary for my child to take a water bottle to school so they can have water sitting at their desk. Isn't that what drinking fountains are for? Is there REALLY a risk of my child becoming dehydrated inside...sitting at their desk...with a fountain 6 steps away?
We took a lot of flack the first year that Matthew went to church camp because he was only 8 years old. One of my closest friends at the time had a son his age and said "I just couldn't imagine taking him to camp and leaving him for a whole week all by himself.". What? A supervised, well run camp with screened and experienced staff with your son 24/7 is "all by himself"? Matt was ready to go and let loose of us a little, so why not allow it? But in her eyes, it made me a horrible parent. This year with Josh is a little different, and because of his background we were on the fence with it, but if he had insisted in going you bet we would have let him...even if he is only 7.
Our kids climb trees, even if other adults immediately tell them to get down as happened yesterday at softball practice while Josh was up in a tree maybe 6 feet off the ground. Our kids walk barefoot sometimes...yes, horror of horrors they do. Our kids ride bikes around the campground without an adult. Our kids stay up until sometimes midnight during the summer...oh my gosh! We are ruining them by breaking a schedule! Our kids use knives and we insist they cut their own meat, except Josh who is not yet coordinated enough to do it. They get their own breakfast often...because they can pour milk and cereal into a bowl as easily as I can. Our kids have the TV turned off and are told to go outside and play, and not come back in for at least 30 or 40 minutes. Our kids are allowed to light candles with adults present, our kids have learned how to start a fire. Our kids use a stove, they climb on rocks, they even...oh my goodness...throw them once in awile.
All of this might sound normal to many of you. Sadly, in today's world for many kids it is not, and we are seen as poor parents for allowing our kids opportunities to grow up and try things, gain skills, etc. For Pete's sake, a hundred years ago kids that were our kids ages were farming and ranching, and often were only a couple of years away from getting married and running their own households! We have stretched out childhood so long that even in their mid-twenties most kids today are not capable of functioning all alone in the world. Kids go to college and have never done a load of laundry in their life, have never cooked a meal, have never even been alone for a weekend!!!
Some of this is sort of Free-Range parenting and much of it is Love and Logic parenting. I guess we are a combo of both. I don't "save" our kids from learning lessons the hard way. I actually had to talk to myself just yesterday when Olesya wanted to take a pocket knife and try to whittle a piece of wood. My instinct was to say "no", my logic said "OK" so I instructed her to watch the direction she was cutting and keep her hands away from the blade and then let her go to town with it. She had fun, came away from it uninjured, and if she had hurt herself she would have learned a valuable lesson while getting stitches. Sound harsh? It is not intended to be, but kids are being denied the opportunity to encounter real learning experiences by parents trying to keep them safe from all possible harm.
Kenny has gone to school many times without a jacket when it has been pretty darned cold, and eventually figured out he needed a jacket. Angela wore a long sleeve shirt in Denver this weekend and we had told her "It's going to be hot, you might want to think about a short sleeve shirt!" but she wanted the long sleeved one, then grinned sweatily as she admitted the next day that she should have listened. They are all learning to get their library books in the stack to be returned or pay the fine themselves, because it is not mom's job to keep track of books for 5 kids. They have learned about what makes a good friend and what does not by learning some tough lessons with encounters with others who disappoint. They also have learned, even the girls already, that when Mom and Dad DO put our foot down, no means no.
I'd like to think that one of the reasons we have so few battles with the kids and enjoy a great deal of respect from them is that we are reasonable in our requests, and DO let them learn from their own mistakes. We respect THEM and their intellect, and their ability to experience things and grow from those experiences. We are not placing harnesses on them day and night, so they don't strain against the harness on the ocassions when it is deemed necessary to place it on. Don't want to wear a jacket and it is 50 degrees out? Sure...you'll figure that one out yourself. Didn't get your assignment done? Darn, sorry you'll miss out on the fun activity but your smart enough to make sure that doesn't happen the next time. Fell down after we mentioned that activity might not be wise? Well....you live and learn just like we all sometimes have to do. Forgot your water bottle and are dying of thirst? Glad you'll remember next time so this doesn't happen again!
I know our methods of parenting won't work for every parent or every kid, but it has worked for our family and I am so glad as they are growing old enough to see the results. And maybe...just maybe...when they go off to college they will know how to woprk the washing machine and will have been left alone a few times so they can handle it!!