I Have A Free Range Kid

Skye Danler
Skye Danler

Each week Skye has Math Team one day after school. I usually leave the other two at home and drive to Skye’s school to pick her up. A few weeks ago I was stuck in Portland and unable to make it in time. I called Skye and told her she could either wait for me to arrive or just walk home.

Her excitement was palpable. “Really?”, she asked. We went over a few ground rules and basic pedestrian safety. I told her she had to call me when she left and again when she arrived home. She did, and has been walking ever since. A few times I’ve biked her scooter to her so she could scoot home instead of walking. Once she met Kirsten and I at the Dyer Library and gave to us her backpack so she wouldn’t have to carry it.

Skye set to scoot home after school
Skye set to scoot home after school

The day I brought her scooter to school she insisted on riding home alone. I gave her some time to get separation and then began peddling home. I knew she was going to stop by the bookstore so when I rode by I looked for her scooter outside. It was not there. I phoned her to ask if she was already home. She wasn’t. She was in the bookstore with her scooter. She said, “Are you following me!” I said that I was just passing by and that I would see her at home. She later admitted that she was upset that I wasn’t giving her the trust and space she expected.

The arrangement has worked out marvelously. Skye is thrilled by her sense of independence and maturity. If I give her my mailbox key she can pick up my mail and if I give her money she can stop by Nonesuch Books and purchase for me the latest issue of The Economist.

The distance from her school to our house is only four-fifths of a mile. It takes her about fifteen minutes if she’s walking.

It's four-fifths of a mile from C.K. Burns School to our house.
It's four-fifths of a mile from C.K. Burns School to our house.

A couple weeks ago I was watching an episode of Bullshit! about Stranger Danger.

Penn and Teller introduce the audience to Lenore Skenazy and her son, Izzy. Lenore is a newspaper columnist and author of the book, “Free-Range Kids“. She gained national attention when she published an article in The New York Sun titled, “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone“.

I was excited to learn that I am not the only parent out there who is not paranoid by society and desperate to build a safety bubble in which to raise my children. Her website, freerangekids.wordpress.com, contains letters and articles from other Free Range Parents. Lonore asks, “Had the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation?”

Yes — in most people’s estimation. But no — not according to the evidence. Over at the think tank STATS.org, where they examine the way the media use statistics, researchers have found that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds very steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40% of them were killed.

Believe me, if I lived in a city like that, I’d evacuate. But crime wise, New York City is actually on par with Provo, Utah — very safe.

Not that facts make any difference. Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

Did you walk to school as a kid or use public transportation (a school bus doesn’t count)? I did. Do you let your child(ren) walk to or from school alone? Do you leave them home alone? At what age did you start?

Obviously the maturity of the kid is an important consideration, as is the safety of your city/town/neighborhood. However, if you live in an area that isn’t safe for your children, you probably should consider moving.

5 Comment

  1. I never really considered myself a free range parent, but I guess I am.
    Megan and Morgan go to school exactly a mile away. They need to cross two roads….one with a traffic island, and one with traffic lights. I do not worry about stranger danger, but about traffic and their awareness of it.
    Megan is deaf and must use visual clues more than anyone else, despite being 15, and Morgan is 10…and likely to be daydreaming, frankly.
    Taylors school is over two miles away, so I drive him.

    But letting go has been so hard. Instinct says protect, and its a tough instinct to fight. Having done so, I can see it has allowed them to grow and mature, and the skills they learn as a result with help their long term safety.

  2. @Maddy – Excellent comment, Maddy. Thank you. I think you are correct in your assessment of the benefits of your “letting go” to their growth and maturity, and thus their safety.

    I wonder what the differences are between rates of paranoia in Britain versus the US.

  3. I was really excited when you called me and said I could walk home for the first time. I like to be on my own. I especially like to ride home on my scooter.

    Anytime you have something you need to get that is close by, I’m glad to help. Too bad I don’t have Math Team anymore because I can’t walk home from school every Monday now.

  4. @Skye Danler – I enjoy seeing you excited about your new independence. You’re a mature kid. I’m very proud of you!

  5. Brent, I am glad we have a free-range kid! I thought it was funny how Skye was offended when she thought you were keeping an eye on her. She really does love her independence and has continually proven her capabilities and maturity.

    The goal of parenting is to raise an independent human being. Overprotective helicopter parents are sending a message to their kids that they are not capable of handling their life. In rushing to prevent them from harm or not letting them learn from mistakes, they are doing their kids a disservice. The world is not a terrible, dangerous place. Previous generations survived perfectly well without the bicycle helmets, hand sanitizer, rubber-cushioned playground surfaces, and inflated grades in academics.

    This post reminded me of an excellent article I recently read in Psychology Today Magazine. I’ve posted a few particularly interesting and pertinent quotations below.

    A Nation of Wimps
    Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today Magazine, Nov/Dec 2004

    Behold the wholly sanitized childhood, without skinned knees or the occasional C in history. “Kids need to feel badly sometimes,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. “We learn through experience and we learn through bad experiences. Through failure we learn how to cope.”

    No one doubts that there are significant economic forces pushing parents to invest so heavily in their children’s outcome from an early age. But taking all the discomfort, disappointment and even the play out of development, especially while increasing pressure for success, turns out to be misguided by just about 180 degrees. With few challenges all their own, kids are unable to forge their creative adaptations to the normal vicissitudes of life. That not only makes them risk-averse, it makes them psychologically fragile, riddled with anxiety. In the process they’re robbed of identity, meaning and a sense of accomplishment, to say nothing of a shot at real happiness. Forget, too, about perseverance, not simply a moral virtue but a necessary life skill. These turn out to be the spreading psychic fault lines of 21st-century youth. Whether we want to or not, we’re on our way to creating a nation of wimps.

    Those who allow their kids to find a way to deal with life’s day-to-day stresses by themselves are helping them develop resilience and coping strategies. “Children need to be gently encouraged to take risks and learn that nothing terrible happens,” says Michael Liebowitz, clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and head of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at New York State Psychiatric Institute. “They need gradual exposure to find that the world is not dangerous.”

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