I recently discovered a blog called Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy – http://freerangekids.wordpress.com/. I loved it, at last, a voice of common sense in our overly protective world. It got me to thinking, so I thought I would toss in my two cents.
As a baby boomer I was definitely raised free range. We lived in the country, and I wandered the area with little supervision. My children were raised in a small town environment and were also decidedly free range. In those days before cell phones, they were expected to tell us where they were going, and be back in time for dinner, but those were pretty much the only rules. Now they are grown, and we are starting to enjoy watching our grand kids grow up in the same way.
Yes, dad kept a distant eye on them, especially when they were young, and yes, they did receive instruction and supervision when trying a new thing. (For example, before being allowed out to the deep part of the beach they had to pass “dad’s swim test,” and they were competent in woodland navigation, first aid and safety before they were allowed to go hiking and camping on their own.) They were required to use safety equipment, IE. Bicycle helmets, and life jackets. But the ultimate piece of safety equipment is common sense, so they were also taught to understood and assess any possible dangers, such as thin ice. In a city environment this “survival skill set” would be different, but still teachable.
I have read a lot of replies filled with “reasons” not to allow your kids to be “free range,” but in reality, they are only excuses to maintain control. For example, there was a story of several kids falling through the ice and drowning. A tragedy to be sure, but in my Emergency Services career I have pulled far, far more adults out of such situations than kids – and the few kids I have, were with adults when it happened. Such things should not happen, and are always a tragedy, but they are very rare, and certainly not justification for keeping your children under your direct control. Yes, molestation is a risk, but it always has been a risk and the numbers of child abductions and murders has not really gone up. The big difference is today in our media driven lives we hear about it in countless 20 second spots repeated on cable news every half hour or less.
Yes, every child so harmed is a tragedy, but the risk is very small, probably around .000003%. The chances of them being in a car accident are around .02%, should we keep them out of cars as well? Perhaps we should build a survival capsule, wrap them in foam so they will be safe in the event of a car crash. Of course they might stumble and fall, or God forbid, there could be a fire at night (also a higher risk than molestation,) maybe we can make it fire retardant as well, just wrap them in a mechanical womb until they reach the age of 21.
Ridiculous? Well yes, and deliberately so. My point is that we can never eliminate risk, no matter how much we want to, and kids are by nature, (especially boys,) risk takers. The question is not can we eliminate risks and risk taking, but how can we teach our children to recognize, assess and deal with the risks they will face and take. Our job is not to protect our kids from life, but to prepare them to face life and succeed, and a big part of that is facing risk, and accepting responsibility for their choices and decisions. Yes, there will likely be tears, stitches, shots, and maybe even broken bones, but ultimately your children will be better for it. Yes, you may spend some quality time with your children in the ER or doctors office, I did, more than once, but we all survived, and are better for the experience.
Most of us reading this were, if they are willing to admit it, raised “Free-Range.” I pray that you will also give your children the same opportunities. Perhaps in the end the questions to ask are: Do you want to raise your children in an environment of fear or nurture? Do you want to teach them to fear life or embrace it? Do you want them to be able to withstand the hard times, the pain and trials that come to us all, or to fold in the face of them? Do you want them to overcome and have victory in life? Do you want them to stand on their own, or to be dependent on a “nanny” to tell them what to do and how to do it? A wise man several thousand years ago put it this way: “Train up a child in the way he should go, And when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)