free range parenting parental supervision wandering freedom responsibility growth Free range grandparenting
A movement has sprung up recently around the notion of "free-range parenting." Advocates of free range parenting favor a comeback of unsupervised activity out of doors. They see it as a benefit that children once had (1960s and 1970s) but have lost today.
I say, if it's good for chickens, why not children?
Most often, children aren't even allowed the freedom to walk home alone from school. In fact, Clemens Wergins reports, two children from the same family were picked up by police for walking home together from school. (See Clemens Wergins' op-ed piece in the New York Times.)
I have certainly observed that parents are eager, or feel obligated, to meet their kids at the school bus drop-off. Parents transport children by car to and from elementary school, even in what I consider to be perfectly safe neighborhoods. At an elementary school that I observe frequently, cars jam into the parking lot or the drive-through before the morning bell to drop students off and the afternoon bell to collect them for the ride home. Children in this traffic vortex seem at risk from moving cars, despite the great care that the school takes to avoid accidents.
Things were different when I grew up in the 1950s. My parents let me wander our South End neighborhood in Tacoma on foot or bicycle, walk to and from grade school, or take the bus alone from junior high to home and vice versa.
There were certain rules I had to observe, such as getting home on time. I was forbidden to play in neighbors' yards unless invited. I had to know the territory where I proposed to wander. My dad helped me with that by going over a map of the area in advance.
But I had fun hiking around our section of town, exploring woods, creeks, swamps and even looking for remnants of the old "Chinese tunnels," where Asian laborers were reportedly smuggled ashore from the waterfront. As many of you already know, I tell these and more stories in Growing Green Two Ways.
My parents also supported my desire to wander the world after college, a story I tell in the e-book, "Wandering Home." You can easily find it on this site and read for free.
Of course, parents fear abductions and other crimes. However, according to the "free-range" article in WebMD.com, linked earlier in this post, crime in America hit a peak in 1993 and has dropped since. So that reason for caution still exists but at a lower level.
It's funny that Wikipedia has an entry on "Slow parenting," with some apparently slanted comments on Free-Range. Here's the worst: "In the United States free-range parenting is limited by state laws, which prohibit children from wondering alone by themselves." I appreciate Wikipedia and its content so much, but this is over the top. Or maybe it's just a typo that needs editing.
My own reaction to the "free-range" parenting program is positive because it enriched my childhood and youth. My parents provided appropriate rules and let me wander. That's how they helped me accept responsibility for myself and grow morally. Many of my best memories of childhood and youth are of adventures alone or with a friend. I consider wandering, bicycling, walking, and exercising responsibility away from home to be a facet of growing green.
- What was it like when you grew up? Free range?
- Or closely supervised school and home activities? What do you prefer?
- Feel "free" to leave a comment.