This video by the CBC (Canada’s equivalent of PBS) explains a lot about Free-Range Kids!
Long story short: He got home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence. I wrote a little column about his adventure and two days later I was on the Today Show, NPR, MSNBC and Fox News defending myself as NOT “America’s Worst Mom.”
The notion was that I had deliberately put my son in harm’s way (possibly to “prove” something) and I was just incredibly lucky that he made it home. One NPR caller asked why I had given my son “one day of fun” even though he would probably end up dead by nightfall.
I launched my blog that weekend (www.freerangekids.com) to explain my parenting philosophy: I believe in safety. I LOVE safety — helmets, car seats, safety belts. I believe in teaching children how to cross the street and even wave their arms to be noticed. I’m a safety geek! But I also believe our kids do not need a security detail every time they leave the house. Our kids are safer than we think, and more competent, too. They deserve a chance to stretch and grow and do what we did — stay out till the street lights come on.
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For instance, in the suburbs, many school PTAs have figured out a new way to raise money (God bless ’em): They auction off the prime drop-off spot right in front of the school — the shortest distance between car and door.But at the mall, or movie theater or dentist’s office, that would be considered the handicapped parking spot — the one you need if you are really disabled. So somehow, in our understandable desire to do the very best for our kids, we have started treating them as if they’re handicapped! As if they couldn’t possibly walk a couple of blocks, or make their own lunch or climb a tree without hurting themselves, or struggling too much.Free-Range Kids are sort of old-fashioned. They’re kids who are expected to WANT to grow up and do things on their own. And then, when they show us they’re ready, we allow ’em to.I was a Free-Range Kid because we all were back when I was growing up, before cable TV started showing abductions 24/7 and finding the weirdest, saddest stories from around the world to make parents think that no child is safe doing anything on his own anymore. And it’s not just cable TV to blame: It’s most of the media we parents encounter. I read a four-page article in a parenting magazine the other day on “How to Have a Fun and Totally Safe Day in the Sun” — as if it is so hard to have a safe day outside with your kid that you need four pages of instructions! We are bombarded by warnings that make us feel our kids need constant supervision and help or they will die.
That’s true if your child is gravely ill, but otherwise it is not true — as the presence of all us former Free-Range Kids proves.
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“Times have changed.”
They’re right of course — nothing stays the same. Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, crime was on the rise. It went up and up until it peaked around 1990. The strange thing, though, is that since then, it’s been going back down. Dramatically. Today we are back to the crime level of 1970, according to Dept. of Justice statistics. So — unbelievable as it seems — if you were playing outside as a kid in the ’70s or ’80s, your kids are actually SAFER outside than you were!
It doesn’t feel that way (at ALL), because when our parents were raising us, there was no CSI. Law & Order was something you believed in, not something on the air 8 nights a week, made to look depressingly real. The other day I got a letter from a guy in an old Brooklyn neighborhood where they shoot a lot of Law & Order scenes. On TV, it’s always the backdrop for a rape or murder. In real life, he said, it’s a safe, quiet safe neighborhood — and therein lies the tale: There’s a big disconnect between the horrors on TV and the reality we live in — the safest time for children (in America, that is) in the history of this disease-plagued, famine-prone, war-wracked world.
I founded the Free-Range Kids movement in part to be one small voice saying, “Hey! I know we are all scared for our kids! But maybe we don’t have to be quite so terrified!” It’s an attempt to figure out how we got so much more worried for our kids in just one generation, and to separate the real dangers from the ones foisted upon us by the media, and by other folks with things to sell (like baby safety product manufacturers who have to scare us about a remote danger like “traumatic head injury from toddling” before we’ll buy their products, like the “ThudGuard” — a helmet for kids to wear all day when they’re learning to walk).
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If you buy the DVD “Sesame Street: Old School” you’ll see kids having the world’s best time. It’s a collection of Sesame Street highlights from its first years, 1969 — 1974, and it shows kids playing Follow the Leader through a vacant lot, climbing through a giant pipe, balancing on a piece of wood, laughing as they wind their way through some sheets on the line to dry. Of course they’re happy: This was public television trying to model ideal childhood for pre-schoolers. It was put on the air after countless psychologists and child specialists signed off on it. But at the very beginning of the DVD, before you see any of this, there’s a warning:
“For adult viewing only.”
In just one generation, what was considered a normal, happy, HEALTHY childhood has become considered WILDLY dangerous. Litigiously dangerous.
We’re swimming in fear soup — fear of lawsuits, fear of injury, fear of abductions, fear of blame. (People love to blame parents for not being “responsible” enough.) And Free-Range Kids is trying to paddle out.
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For instance, we don’t want our kids to fall off a bike. Who does? But we do want them to learn how to ride. So we have two choices: We can hold onto their handlebars€¦forever. That way they’ll never, ever fall. Or we can wish them luck and then — let go.
Chances are, if we do that, they will, at some point, fall. When they get up again, they’ll have two huge things going for them:
- They’ll know they can fall and get back up again. If that’s not a life lesson, what is?
- They’ll be learning how to actually ride a bike.
Most things in life take some tumbles before we get it right. As Thomas Edison said, when asked how it felt to fail 10,000 times before he figured out the light bulb, “I haven’t failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
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What do we both suggest? Teach your kids TO talk to strangers. That way, if they’re ever creeped out by someone in the proverbial white van, they can run to the man across the street, raking his leaves, and say, “Help! I’m being followed!” Or they can run into a shop and say, “Call the police!” Or, “Can I please borrow your phone?”
Confident kids who feel at home in the world are SAFER than coddled kids who have been taught they are dainty prey without mom or dad by their side. When Allen interviewed children who had escaped potential abductions, here’s what they had in common: They stood up for themselves. They kicked, screamed, bit, and ran.
So teach your kids to do that. Same way you teach them to, “Stop, drop and roll” in the unlikely even they ever find themselves on fire. And then — send them out to build that muscle called confidence.
“Our message to parents is you don’t have to live in fear. You don’t have to feel you have to lock your children in a room.”
That’s not me talking. That’s the guy who put the pictures on the milk cartons.
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That’s why one of the “How to Start Going Free-Range” tips I give in my book is so simple: Next time you are going to watch one of those crime shows, turn off the TV and take a walk outside instead — maybe with your kids. Talk to some neighbors, look around, get a feel for the place again. THIS is the world you’re living in, not the one on TV.
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- Warn your family beforehand, then turn off your cell phone for a day. Better still, leave it on the nightstand so you won’t be tempted to press, “On.” Why? Mostly because one morning my 10-year-old called to ask me, “Mom? Can I have another piece of banana bread?” And I realized: Our kids are getting used to us making ALL their decisions. Even the banana bread ones. Time to stop treating them like toddlers. (At least, once they actually AREN’T toddlers.)
- When you’re standing around with a bunch of other parents all waiting for soccer to start, or school to open, or the bus to come pick them up, volunteer to watch all the kids yourself. Give the other parents a little break. This way you are creating community. It’s your way of saying we’re all in this together and we can help each other out. It’s also a way of saying, “Look, I don’t think anything so horrible is about to happen here at this bus stop that we need five adults to fight for the lives of five or six children.”If the other parents are too nervous to accept your kind offer, flip it around. Ask them to watch your kid! This creates a sense of shared responsibility, too. And gives you time to go to Starbucks.
- Get a little perspective on this strange, scared parenting era we are living in by visiting a baby superstore with your oldest living relative. (Yes, always best if they’re living.) Go around looking at all the things like baby knee pads and infra-red video baby monitors asking, “Which of these things did YOU need when you were raising us?” (Be prepared for a little scorn.)
- Visit my website! Freerangekids.com. You’ll find lts of stories of people gradually letting their kids go — and them coming back safe and sound.
Good luck to all us parents — and kids!
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Parents can't bubble-wrap "fragile – handle with care" kids from life's bumpy realities
They're called "free range parents."
Maybe you are one. In my younger parenting days, I was one, too, long before I knew about raising so-called free range kids.
If you're unfamiliar with this term, it's back in the news thanks to a Maryland couple accused of being neglectful and irresponsible with their two young "free range" kids. The parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, allowed their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter to walk to a park a mile away from their home and – gasp! – all by themselves.
"Hello 911? I just saw two little kids walking down the sidewalk without a parent in sight! What's wrong with parents these days?"
Yes, someone called police and Child Protective Services soon investigated the couple, reigniting this age-old debate on proper parenting. Or improper parenting, as this situation has been labeled by millions of outraged parents across the country.
I had mixed feelings while watching a TV news segment on this issue, showing the two Meitiv kids walking through their city to the park. Their mile-long trek appeared rife with potentially dangerous encounters, yet they strolled along oblivious, as if they were walking to a friend's house just down the block.
As parenting styles go, I would be considered liberal, lenient and even free range-like. But letting my kids – when they were that age – walk a mile to a park through a big city with a population of 78,000? I don't know about that. How about you?
I've always subscribed to the parenting template of giving children two important qualities – roots and wings – so they feel grounded in life, yet also able to fly away when needed. My two adult kids are well equipped with both qualities, I'd like to believe.
I'm writing this column on my daughter's 30th birthday (my son is 31), so I have some experience with this issue. When they were younger – and I was a very young-looking parent – I caught flak from people who questioned my parenting techniques. Truth be told, I had no "techniques." I just hoped I didn't screw them up too much.
I was often told I was too assertive with them in society while not being protective enough. My harebrained, haphazard plan was simply to introduce them to as many social situations as possible at an early age (especially my son). As long as they were not in serious danger, I felt it was a great experience for them. I still feel the same way.
In hindsight, I made some mistakes, as they now joke about, but at least I wasn't a "helicopter parent." The polar opposite of a free range parent, this term describes a mother or father who insists on hovering around their child to make sure nothing bad ever happens. Yeah, right.
They're easy to spot in public or at school or, especially, in situations they perceive as dangerous, like a kid being alone in a store for more than 30 seconds. Stranger Danger!
In my younger days, I would laugh at these ever-pampering, overprotective parents, thinking to myself they were making a tragic mistake. Their helicopter parenting strategy, I thought, would crash and burn when their kids grew up and had to fly on their own. I still feel this way, though I'm now convinced I was right.
I see this all the time with overbearing, under-sieged parents who feel they must treat their teenagers like toddlers, for instance. This, to me, says more about the parents than the kids.
Sure, kids are going to fall down at times. Yes, they're going to get hurt in life. Of course they're going to make mistakes. It's called growing up. All the supposed safeguards you put into place will not bubble-wrap your "fragile – handle with care" kids from life's bumpy realities.
I'm not saying to force them to walk alone to a park that's one mile away if they're not ready or in agreement. But good grief, you don't need to hold their hand the entire way, literally or figuratively. If anything, take baby steps at first by shadowing them somewhere. Teach them about life and then allow them to teach you that they'll be OK.
Someday, sooner than most parents think, these kids will be out in the real world and forced, to a large degree, to deal with things on their own. Do you want them to be strong and independent, or scared and dependent? Dependent on you, that is, which too many parents secretly wish for regarding their kids of any age.
Other parents choose to live life vicariously through their children's lives, even if those children are now adults.
Keep in mind: This issue is as much about your maturity level as your child's. Too many parents are insecure, immature and neurotic and they unknowingly transfer all that emotional baggage onto their kids. Then they wonder what happened. Why doesn't Johnny move out on his own? Why can't Suzie find a steady job?
Is must be the fault of their teachers, right? Or our increasingly dangerous society, right? Or their undiagnosed anxiety issues, right? Wrong, wrong, wrong. It could just be the parent, who has been anything but a parent, in my book.
Our job is to prepare our kids for adulthood, period. Yes, with love, nurturing and a safety net when needed. But it's imperative for them to walk life's many tightropes, whether it takes them to a park a mile away or an errand in the same grocery store.
Like with most things in life, a balance is needed.
A parent's role is to help kids find their own boundaries, not to confine them with our boundaries. You can call this free range parenting. I call it free thinking parenting.
Agree? Disagree? If you have an opinion, feel free to call in to my Casual Fridays radio show today at noon on WLPR, 89.1-FM, at 769-9577.