Free Range Parenting

So one of the odder stories of the week concerns a parent who sent her 8 year old out to walk the dog in their suburban neighborhood only to have a neighbor call the police and social services because she was putting a child in danger by letting her out alone. Both the police and social services showed up to investigate. The caller had reported the child was 5 when, in fact, she was 8. But that didn’t seem to make a difference. An investigation had to happen.

Now I’m not sure what my mother’s reaction would have been if someone told her she couldn’t tell us kids to get out of the store and not bother her while she and dad were working. In fact, her exact words were, “Go get Grace and play. I don’t want to see you until the church bells ring.” The bells rang at 6 and that was dinner time.

I grew up in a world that was probably no safer or more dangerous than today’s world. And I’m sure my parents loved all their children… well, pretty sure mom did most of the time and dad always… anyhow, they felt their job was to raise their children to be independent, capable and competent adults. Part of that training involved us actually going out alone and facing what the world had to offer, even if it was from the safety of our little Ducktown community.

My buddy Grace and I would go up to the Steel Pier – I was raised in Atlantic City – for the entire day because our parents wanted us out of their hair. They actually felt no obligation to spend the entire day married to our sides. They wanted their freedom and us kids wanted ours. So until we turned 14 and had to get summer jobs, Grace and I would spend long summer days doing all kinds of things that involved very little checking in with the parental units. We’d played cut out dolls and hopscotch and ride bikes and roller skate all day or, if mom grabbed an older teen heading to the beach, we got to spend the day at the beach. And we made enough pot holders with those little frames to last our parents two lifetimes.

Again, we lived in a small, close knit Italian community so we knew from the get go that we had to behave because everyone on the block shopped in our parents’ stores. And they would tell on us in a heartbeat because that’s the way children were raised in our little piece of heaven. Everyone in the community chipped in to watch and every adult had our parents’ permission to do whatever was needed if we were making trouble.

If someone had told my mother it was not her god given right to toss her kids out to play in the morning to get us out of her hair, she would have probably told them, in the most lady like and polite terms possible, where and how to put their advice in a very dark place where the sun doesn’t shine. But she would remain a lady the whole time she said it.

So how about we take a look at how we’ve reached a point where the world is considered such a scary place that anyone who allows their 8 year old to walk the dog around the block gets accused of child neglect and abuse. Because I think the world is as scary as we make it and growing up in your parents’ shadows so that you never learn how to think independently, make smart decisions, or handle mishaps on your own, is a guaranteed way of raising children who will never want to leave your shadow. And that’s not healthy. Not for you or the children.