I hear phrases nowadays like “free-range parenting” and it makes me sad. The world in which we’re raising our children is vastly different from the one I remember.
Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of advantages to our current level of connectedness. Access to instant information helps us to know what’s going on as it’s happening. Social media has become an incredible avenue to spread news and it drastically broadens the reach of life-saving warnings (think missing persons alerts or school lockdowns).
But with that blast of knowledge comes the unshakable fear that all of the awful things happening in the world could happen to your child at any minute. So, here’s the question: Is the world so very different now or do we just know what’s going on out there?
Honestly? I don’t know. I don’t know whether there are more child abductions today than there were 30 years ago or whether there are just more news reports of them. I don’t know whether there are more disturbed people wandering the streets in 2015 than there were in 1995 or whether today’s psychos are just more brazen. If it’s the latter, could the spark of courage have something to do with easier access to resources and like-minded peers?
I love the advances in technology we see every day and the realization that, little by little, we’re getting closer to flying cars and robot maids a la The Jetsons. But I think back on my childhood and it’s the experiences that fill me with joy – not the gadgets. Declining the 5 minute car ride and opting for a 30 minute walk to middle school with a friend. Exploring my community by skateboard or bike and coming home filled with possibilities. Long summer days spent with my best friend at the playground or nearby McDonald’s (which we also reached on foot). I remember the excitement we felt when a group of friends and I discovered a makeshift tree house hidden behind our neighborhood. Or the forgotten tractor wheel that provided hours of unsupervised fun (and questions like Why is there a tractor wheel in a Miami suburb?).
These fond memories are all the more bittersweet because I fear my own children will never get to experience the freedom and independence I enjoyed. Today’s idea of “free-range parenting” was simply yesterday’s norm. For those parents who encourage their own kids to go out, explore, and be self-sufficient, they’re oftentimes met with judgment, disapproval, and outright indignation. The old adage “It takes a village to raise a child” has somehow morphed from a place of love and community into an outlet for pushing our own beliefs and practices on others.
If a mom chooses to let her 11 year old walk to school alone, is she unfit? If a dad insists on chaperoning trips to the park, is he a helicopter parent? If a child’s lunch contains a cookie, is he malnourished? I think the real question is when did we decide it was OK to openly judge the way others raise their kids? And moreover, when did society start policing our every move? It doesn’t even matter whether you, as a parent, make the conscious decision to trust your kids and let them enjoy the freedom we took for granted; all it takes is one well-meaning (maybe) bystander to assume an unsupervised child is a neglected one. Hello, 911? I’ve got another case of child abuse to report.
That’s not always the case. I know that. Sometimes people step in and children are safer for it. Sometimes a child isn’t just walking to the park – they’re lost and don’t know where to turn. So what should we do? Where’s the happy medium in all of this?
I don’t have the answers. I don’t know whether the world was safer when I was a kid. I don’t know if things have drastically changed. All I know is that I wish I felt safe enough to make my own parenting decisions without fear of outsiders intervening. I wish there wasn’t hesitation whenever I think about letting my kids explore on their own when they’re older.
I hope my daughter will someday know the exhilaration of the autumn wind on her face as she rides her bike through the streets – without me hovering in the background. I hope my son will develop confidence in himself as he lives his own adventures away from my husband and me. I hope my children will learn to grow, feel, explore, fall, stand, do, be, live for themselves. I hope they will have the opportunity to explore this incredible world for themselves and to see beyond the fear, doubt, second-guessing, and hate. With all my heart, I hope my kids will learn to see the world for what it truly is: filled with beauty and wonder.
What do you think? Give your kids freedom or keep them close?