Do you know Lenore Skenazy? I know many of you do. She is a Mom living in New York City, raising children in New York City. A few years ago, she coined the term “free-range kids.” The sub-title of her book and web site is “How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).” I find that she plays an important role in my life and my parenting. By putting herself out there with her book and her web site, she connects with parents who are trying to practice free-range parenting, and those who aren’t. She puts many of these stories on her blog, which allows me to consider how these stories will impact the way that I parent.
I am a parent who wants to make choices with and for my children based upon wise, thoughtful consideration of who my children are as individuals, in addition to looking with wise and thoughtful eyes at the community in which we have chosen to live. Most of the time, I think I do a pretty decent job at this.
While the extremes do not always communicate to the reality at the center, in this case, it may help you understand where I’m coming from. I am the parent who does not let her 3 year old walk the 7 blocks to Walgreen’s to buy candy with his allowance money. However, I am the parent who allowed my 9 year old to ride his bike to Walgreen’s with allowance money. I am also the parent who has allowed my 15 year old to ride the train with friends into Chicago for the day. He wasn’t allowed to do this at 5 or at 10, but at 15, I think he’s ready. He’s done it twice, and is planning another day trip soon.
Wise and thoughtful consideration, guiding our decisions.
One of the most helpful things Lenore Skenazy does is she offers articles that I might not otherwise run across. Dr. Karen Malone is a Professor of Education at the University of Western Sydney. One of the things Dr. Malone studies is how to make cities more child-friendly. Interesting. I loved this article by Dr. Malone that Skenazy shared on her blog in 2012.
This is a great summary of Dr. Malone’s concern:
The big issue pervading the psyche of parents around children’s independence in the streets is ”stranger danger” and child abductions. The irony is, when you look at the statistics on abductions, almost all are by family members, and the numbers have been going down for a decade.
Malone describes an experience she had while in Tokyo for the first time. She observed a group of Kindergartners walking home from school together, no supervising adult in sight. I love her description,
I recount my experience to a Japanese colleague and exclaim ”there were no adults watching out for them.” He is a little taken back. ”What do you mean, no adults? There were the car drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. The city is full of adults who are taking care of them!”
That is certainly the experience I have had, as I have encouraged and permitted my children to venture out on their own. Often, I will hear from a friend, “Oh, by the way, I saw Austin with some friends downtown last week.” My question, of course, is, “Were they behaving alright?” by which I mean, “Were they polite? Did they get in your way? Were they being so goofy as to no longer be amusing? Were they making safe traffic choices? Were they jumping in the fountain?”
But what I really mean to say is, “Thank you.” Thank you for being present. Thank you for being part of the community: the drivers, the shopkeepers, the other pedestrians. Thank you for being part of the village that is raising my child. Thank you.
Lovely. Brave. Thoughtful. And much appreciated by yours truly — who only wants the same thing you do —
Lenore, founder of Free-Range Kids
Thanks, Lenore. Thanks for making me think! You have become an important part of my internal parenting monologue.
I remember being a freshman in college and taking a train ride downtown with a sociology class to hear Jesse Jackson speak. After the speech, one of the students (a junior) told the prof that he was going to stay downtown and would take a later train back. The prof said “Okay, have a good time”. I don’t know why, but that seemed so odd to me. It was silly when you think about it. The student was probably almost 21, but I was so used to permission slips and headcounts that it blew my mind a little.
I did get to walk to school and ride my bike all over town. Our parents kicked us out the door and said don’t come home until the streetlights come on. Yet I still found it odd. I would like to say I raised my kids free range, but I didn’t. I drove them the 6 blocks to school and was there to pick them up. My kids have found their independence over time, but it would have been much easier to let them have freedom if we had started earlier.
John, thanks for your thoughts. I know what you mean about that strange feeling of being independent. I had similar feelings occasionally in college, even simple things like, “Oh, wow. I can stay out until the wee hours of the night, and there’s no one that’s going to tell me not to.” Good parts of growing up.
It’s been fun for me to regularly evaluate the balance of responsibility and privileges that our kids have. For example, I often pick up the 15 year old from school. The walk is 1.48 miles. You get a bus at 1.5 miles. If the weather is nice (and sometimes when it isn’t), he walks. Partly, it’s convenience for me. The end of his school day (2:15 in his off-season) is the middle of my afternoon. I’m often in a meeting or working on a project. This is a responsibility that I ask him to take on. And yet, along with it comes privileges. He usually stops at Walgreen’s to get some candy and an Arizona Ice Tea on his way. Fun for him. Responsibility for him. Works for me.