Friday, June 6, 2008

Free Range Children

No, that's not a typo. It is, of course, a blog.

One NYC woman, after letting her 10-year-old city-savvy son ride the subway home, all by himself, was virtually attacked by other mothers with scathing accusations of neglect and abuse. I've seen neglect. I've seen abuse, and this was neither. Letting a child find his or her own way home has to be done sometime, and I for one was riding my bike all over town by the age of 10, and I did it on my own. Some of my favorite memories are of me and my dog hiking through the back woods of planned suburbia, where they kindly left streams and ponds intact, sometimes with friends, sometimes on my own. And while I may have some serious mother issues, I never once remember her sitting outside watching me while I played with friends. She checked on me from time to time, but always had her own things going on.

And when I was a little older I did rebel, and my friends and I snuck out of a friend's house in the middle of the night and... walked to 7-11 for a slurpee. The closest we came to trouble was seeing another group of kids. And not knowing what they were up to or if we were "caught" we simply ran home.

We knew how to cross streets. We knew how to cook for ourselves. We knew to lock doors behind us when we were home alone, to not answer the door if it was a stranger and not to tell anyone on the phone our parents weren't home. Is it me, or isn't this like teaching a man to fish and he'll have food for life? Teach a kid how to take care of themselves, and they'll know how to and want to take care of themselves. I think it may be harder for the parent to let go of not only their child, but of fear of the unknown. I don't think letting go makes a bad parent, I think it makes a good one.

If I was an independent child, my daughter may be downright fearless. Yeah, it was unnerving for me to find my not-quite-two-year-old Blue Eyes at the top of an eight foot tall ladder the other day. (We're having work done on our home.) But I had taught her at the playground how to climb a ladder to a slide, and she wanted to do it again.

And I pushed away heart attack mounting in my chest. I pushed away the thoughts of what could happen if she fell-- broken arms and trips to the E.R.-- and stood next to her as she climbed down all by herself.

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