Free-Range Kids…delicious?

14 12 2010

There’s a movement sweeping the nation–or at least, beginning to dust certain parts of it. It’s called “Free-Range Kids.” I know it sounds like the children are allowed to roam free so that they will grow to be extra succulent, but it’s actually based on the idea of giving your kids a little freedom. Not holding their hands constantly, allowing them to walk to school, and not laboring under the delusion that everyone in the country is out to kidnap your kid. (Personally, I have enough kids in my life. I’m not about to go looking for more.)

It was started by writer Lenore Skenazy, who allowed her 9 year old to take the subway a few stops on his own and was then written up as “America’s worst mom.” (I’ll give my fellow social workers a moment to absorb that.)

The blog is pretty interesting. Skenazy’s parenting ideas don’t differ much from the way I was raised. And it gets me thinking about the kids I interact with and see on a daily basis.

I spend a good deal of time in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Upper East and West Side parents, as well as the Park Slope ones, are decidedly not raising free-range kids. Not just parents, but nannies and other staff are constantly hovering. No one walks to school. I have seen 12 year old kids wander away from a cab and leave the door open, the bewildered driver thanking me for noticing and shutting it.

Kids who are taken care of to that extent don’t get the idea that they have to do some things for themselves, it would seem.

Oh, and when your able-bodied five year old is still confined to a stroller, deal with the fact that you have essentially put your kid in a wheelchair.

These are the kids I’m always hearing about in human interest stories on the news, or in Time magazine. “The over-scheduled child.” All those appointments and enrichment programs leave so little time for free play. Besides, the poor kids aren’t allowed to play outside in their rather safe neighborhoods, because their parents just can’t take the risk. Can’t we just let kids be kids?

Then I think of the children I work with.

They are decidedly not overscheduled. They aren’t on organized sports teams, they don’t take outside classes. A number of them attend their school extended-day programs, but that’s about it. There’s not much pressure to go above and beyond in school–just being on grade level is considered achievement enough.

Most of them need to get home right after school. They aren’t allowed to just hang out outside, carefree, but not because of ridiculous fears of kidnapping by strangers with vans full of candy. (Who could resist?!) Because there are in fact drug dealers and other gang members trying to chat them up, and shootings do occur regularly.

Despite this, these kids have more freedom than the wealthier kids kept on leashes on their way to Gymboree. They are well acquainted with public transportation, and can get themselves home from anywhere at any hour of the night. (Usually without a Metrocard…I just don’t even ask.)

The kids I work with are trusted with responsibilities, because there’s no other choice. They need to care for younger siblings, clean house, cook. Parents are working, or not present for a multitude of other, less desirable, reasons.

I hear so much about the kids who aren’t allowed to be kids because they are under pressure, and given every opportunity, to succeed. They are over-protected to the nth degree.

I’m the first to say that’s detrimental. I shudder to think what kind of college student, employee, or partner a 12 year old will grow up to be if he or she can’t even figure out how to operate a door.

But I wouldn’t mind a little more media coverage and awareness for my kids, who aren’t allowed to be kids because it truly isn’t safe outside, and because they’re needed at home just to keep the family functioning. The parents who don’t weigh the pros and cons of each parenting style, because they just need to make do with what they have.

For those of us with choices, though, the blog is a good read. (And if I’m saying it about someone else’s writing, it must be true.)



10 responses

14 12 2010

Well-done, as always!! Love reading the blog. I’m wondering if you have read Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life by Annette Lareau? It discusses exactly this issue and is very well-written and well-researched. Actually reads more like a novel than a research project. Check it out, and keep up the great posts 🙂

14 12 2010

Thanks so much Lynn! Somehow I have never read that book, but I just looked it up on Amazon, and it looks great. Thanks for the recommendation…Christmas is coming 🙂

14 12 2010
Dr. Mom

I love this post. It reminds me of the other media attention to kids who have huge and very heavy backpacks that they must lug home every night after school. I think of the kids we serve in my non-profit who often don’t have textbooks, and are not alloowed to take home those that are in the schools for fear of losing or destroying them! Woulnd’t it be nice to think there was a happy medium where kids were taken care of, allowed to become gradually independent, and had the appropriate books and amount of books to bring home with them??

14 12 2010

Right, or the $400 an hour kindergarten coaches that get your five year old into the perfect private school, while we’re rushing to get kids on the waiting list for Head Start. I like to think that a happy medium exists somewhere, but I find it less and less.

I tend to think you did a pretty good job, though.

14 12 2010

Hello! Your post raises so many issues I feel strongly about that I’m perplexed as to how to first respond…

here goes,

I think that preventing children from discovering their world’s and consequently much about themselves through natural, playful interaction’s with it (and other free kids) is to instill in them ineptitude, disconnectedness, and worst of all undue fear. Protecting children from the possibility of harm or danger is of course valid, my angst here is with the over-protection from “possibility” and the ignorance of that protection’s definite consequences.

So much has changed since we were kids, except kids…

I’m glad to see someone advocating for them!

14 12 2010

Exactly! There is a cost and a benefit to everything–yes, you might be protecting your child from that rare appearance of the bogeyman, but are you robbing your child of the opportunity to learn from his or her own experience and mistakes, and to feel a true sense of accomplishment?

Thanks so much for reading! (And for your kind words)

17 12 2010

Merry christmas, Happy Kwanza, Great Soltice, Happy New Year, have a great holiday!!!

17 12 2010

And a joyous Festivus right back at you!

17 12 2010

I read somewhere on the internet that an “average” child would have to stand outside, alone, all the time until they’re senior citizens before they’re abducted by a stranger.

17 12 2010

That sounds about right–it’s such a freak occurrence, the people hurting or taking kids are usually (as we well know) their family members. I always walked home from school, and no one ever tried to snatch me. I almost started to take it personally.

It’s so funny, people act like there are kidnappers lurking behing every tree, and kids only narrowly escape them every day. I blame Law & Order 🙂

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