Are We Protecting Our Children Or Stifling Them?

Are We Protecting Our Children Or Stifling Them?

Article first published as Are we Protecting our Children or Stifling them? on Technorati.

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Lenore Skenazy brought this news article to my attention.   The article is about a mom that was charged with child neglect for allowing her 5 year old to walk home from school by himself.

My First Thoughts

  • I live in a fearful society.
  • People are judging how I raise my kids, and I’m not meeting their standards.
  • Wow! Our culture sure has changed a lot in 30 years.

When I was 5, I remember going to the park by myself, walking myself to and from the YMCA for swimming lessons, walking to the corner store by myself to buy candy, and riding the city/public “Dial-A-Bus” to 1st and 2nd grade.   Once we moved, I rode my bike to and from school (by myself) from 2nd grade until junior high.

Still OK?  Apparently not.  Unless I want to be charged with child neglect.

As for judging how others raise their kids?  I received a spanking on a street in Manhattan outside of the Russian Tea Room.  Not a single person said a word or batted an eye.    Granted I don’t remember this happening, but that’s the way the story was told to me.

Still OK?  I doubt it.  But again, this was Manhattan and New Yorkers are really good at minding their own business.

The most drastic change?  I remember quite clearly the paddle hanging from the wall of my elementary school principal’s office.

Still OK? No.

By the way, before I go any further – this wasn’t 100 years ago.  OK, maybe I’ve been 29 for a few years in a row now, but for such a drastic swing in our culture?  It’s been a relatively short period of time.


Those of you that know me in real life, know that I value independence above almost all other traits.  Let me put it this way…if I founded a religion, Independence would be in my 10 commandments.

I believe independence builds problem solving skills and self confidence.  It teaches us to rely on our abilities to figure things out, make a plan, and accomplish our goals.  It teaches us to value ourselves, to act to improve our lives, and to take responsibility for our actions.  Clearly, I was raised to be independent.  Throughout my 37 years – um, I mean 29 years, I have enjoyed my independence and the confidence I developed because of it.   I cannot think of a single negative to having a high level of  independence.

Now that I am a parent, I have reflected on the values that I want to instill in my children.  One of the ones most important to me, is encouraging independence and allowing my children the freedom they need to grow and learn and explore the world.   I want to give them the space to gain confidence in themselves and their decision making abilities.   As I’ve said before, flowers can’t grow without sunlight and children can’t grow without freedom.

Yea, yea, yea – this all sounds great.  But what does it mean?  To me it means:

My 6 and 8 year olds walk to and from the bus stop by themselves.  My 6 year old rides his bike or walks to his friend’s house in our neighborhood – alone.  My kids play outside without my supervision – yes, even the 2 year old.   Last week, I let my older two kids (6 & 8), ride their bikes 2 miles to the library and I drove and met them there.  I know many of you may be cringing when reading this.  I understand there are different parenting styles.  This is mine.

Is it working?  Are they self reliant?

My six year old knows how to make Ramen noodles and Macaroni and Cheese by himself (stove, not microwave).  He has packed his own lunch since kindergarten and runs his own bath.  He certainly puts his own clothes away and brings his dirty clothes to the laundry room.   He also earns an allowance by doing chores and spends his money on gifts for his siblings, parents and grandparents.   When we are in a store (ex: Target or Grocery store), he goes to the bathroom by himself and then finds us when he’s done.

My 2 year old gets drinks for herself and snacks.  She moves chairs around the kitchen and house to get tall enough to reach what she wants.   She picks out her own clothes and dresses herself.  Usually those clothes are inside out and backward.  Often her idea of matching and most of the populated world’s don’t agree; but, I grimace and take her out in public anyway.

So, what’s the problem?

If something happened to my children, I would never forgive myself for not protecting them better.  If my kids were hit by a car or abducted I would never forgive myself for the freedoms I allow my children that opened an opportunity for them to be hurt or kidnapped.  It doesn’t have to be a major incident involving evil or irresponsible people either.  Tragic accidents happen all the time.  I would be just as guilt ridden as Tiffany is because her son almost died in a golf cart accident last year.

I know I can’t keep them from living in an effort to protect them from the “maybe”, but if it were MY child that was that 1% statistic, it wouldn’ t really matter to me that 99% of the time it is fine.

Are you as confused on where I stand as I am?

For me, the most interesting part of the article was the comments on Free-Range Kids, because they were so incredibly divisive.   And frankly, that reflects how I feel internally too.  I have chosen to err on the side of giving them more freedom rather than less, but hope I never have reason to regret that decision.  It is something I think about on an almost daily basis.

What are your thoughts on this?  How do you balance independence and safety?

9 Responses to Are We Protecting Our Children Or Stifling Them?

  1. I’m with you on this…most of the way! My kids do use the ‘buddy system’ when they’re out, but in the home they all know how to cook (w/o the microwave), do their own laundry and so forth. Our home runs on a team effort, not mom doing everything and needless to say they all know how to take care of themselves when they move out! That is very reassuring for me as a mom!

    New follower, hope you can stop by for a visit!
    Thanks, Becky J

  2. Sounds very similar to our house. :) I may have implied a bit more freedom for my 6 yo than is really happening. The friend’s parent call’s when he arrives and when he leaves and he only lives two blocks over – plus most times his sister goes with him.

    They did ride to the library, but left at the same time I did and had a phone to call me if anything happened. Plus we have ridden that route together at least 5 times, so it wasn’t new to them and it’s all on a trail, so no major streets to cross and no traffic.

    And,thank you, MUCH for the follow and I have stopped by yours too! :)

  3. I have gotten comments because I don’t hover over my kids 24/7 and, like you, my oldest has been playing outside alone since 2, and rides his bike all over creation. He also has a cell phone, so we can get a hold of him! My 7 year old walks to her friends house and my 3 year old plays outside alone. The comments usually come from my in laws, who basically kept my husband and brother in law locked in the house for 18 years, and never from my grandparents (who raised me) who let me also ride my bike all over creation! It took a while for me to convince my husband that our kids do not need to live in a bubble.

  4. Daria,

    Such a great post. We as a society and as parents NEED to be talking about this. I’m a huge fan of Lenore, and you have written a post that would make her proud.

    My natural tendency is to be cautious. I didn’t know this about myself until my husband started teasing me for saying “Careful!” to our baby all the time. I still catch myself, even though I’m trying hard to tone it down. So I think natural inclinations, whether genetic or from our upbringing, play a role here.

    Like you, I struggle with the appropriate risk management strategy. In the end, all you can do is your best. That’s true of all parenting. Thanks for the great article!

    • Thank you Jen! It is definitely an issue without any true black and white “right” answers. I don’t know that I am as comfortable as Lenore letting my kids be completely “Free Range”, but I don’t want to hover because of the fear of a highly unlikely boogey man either. It’s a tough balance to find.

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