Monday, November 1, 2010

Because I can ... Free range kids

I’ve long thought kids were over parented … parents worry about what might happen so kids don’t walk to visit friends or the park. And don’t get me started on children’s lack of free time because of hot housing kids via structured activities like tennis and violin and ballet.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. The world was heading in that direction 20-odd years ago when I had my daughters (now 22 and 24).

But why is it so (thank you Professor Julius Sumner Miller)? And what should be done about it?

I’ve long thought this behaviour driven by fear … fear of abduction, fear of rape, fear of attack and politicians don’t help with their fondness for using fear to manipulate us (reds under the bed, illegal immigrants, the Taliban etc).

Despite the constant barrage of stories in the news I don’t believe the world is more or less safe than it’s ever been. We now live with running water and better hygiene but these are technological advances, and people are basically the same as they’ve ever been because human nature is what’s always been.

What we actually have is greater access to information about what happens—at any time anywhere around the world—which makes the world feel unsafer and we have sensationalist media who bring it to us ad nauseum … think of large events like 9/11 (2001) in the US or the Bali bombings (2002). Or the awful things that happen to children like the disappearance of Madeleine McCann (2007), the US toddler duct taped to a wall for entertainment (2010) or the death of the Indian toddler Gurshan Singh in Melbourne (2010).

What seems to be happening (and probably increasing) is an assumption that terrible things are waiting for unsuspecting parents and children each time they leave the house … and so life is modified. Life becomes increasingly car dependent, house-centric and life’s options and children’s experience diminishes.

I strongly believe that the events that happen outside the house, while tragic, are the exception, and that we are in more danger from those we love than strangers on the street: child abuse, incest, rape, murder … these are more likely to be perpetrated on us by people we know than a stranger. But for some reason the idea that we’re not safe from the people we know or love doesn’t seem to raise an eyebrow.

What to do?

Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids horrified many in 2008 when she dropped off her nine year old in Manhattan and left him to take the subway home alone.

A scary thought and probably a little young in my opinion … but as parents we have to put what happens in the world into context and concentrate on teaching children independence and social skills, and that can only happen if they are placed in situations where they make their own decisions.

The next steps seem to be acknowledging our fears and reclaiming the world … but I’m not sure how to get to that point.

Any ideas?


Susan McDonnell said...

While I totally agree with you, I would be reluctant to let my little ones out of my sight in Dunnes Stores! Yes, the media does generate fear. Equally, however, we are living in an age when large shopping malls full of people and crowded streets mean that keeping track of your children is more difficult. Nor do I think that giving children mobile phones is the answer! I also think that these locations are targeted by predators now more than ever. There is a fine line between keeping the children safe and smothering them - but I think, like many parents, I would prefer to err on the side of caution.
We grew up going up the fields every day. My mother opened the door and called us, and we heard her a half a mile away - and came home. It was unusual for her to have to come search. Now I won't let my four year old go up and play on the green at the top of the estate. Though maybe, I should.

NessaKnits said...

I walk with my children to school. I also catch the bus with them. They do talk to strangers, but with supervision. Is the world more unsafe? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps we are more aware of what can and does and has happened in our environment because news of this happening is publicised whereas before perhaps it was swept under the carpet.