"Free Range" Parenting? Or Just Parenting?
Fancy Descriptors Need Not Apply
I'll start this by making myself sound old and curmudgeonly: Back when I was a kid, things were so much better! I think everyone thinks that on some level. Fond childhood memories of a "simpler" time flood peoples brains. Nostalgia paints some stuff in a very positive light.
Granted, there are things that kids have nowadays that I wish we had when I was young. But, there is one thing that was great about the time when I was a kid, and that was the amount of freedom we had. I don't know when or why things changed so much, but, it seems to me that kids don't have nearly the freedom we once did. Am I right? Maybe I'm missing something?
Thinking about this was spurred by a tweet I saw that goes like this:
"Our 7yo daughter went for a walk by herself on our quiet residential street and SOMEONE PHONED THE POLICE ON HER. She was scared shitless when the POLICE STOPPED HER TO ASK WHERE SHE WAS GOING. She was 1 minute from our home. DON'T DO THIS. Ugh."
Nowadays, when kids are allowed to go for a simple walk in a neighborhood, it's referred to as "free range" parenting (an older term coined by Dr. Spock in 1946) and seems to be some kind of niche style of doing things. When I was a kid, that was just the way life was. Kids were a lot more free to just go and have fun. I might have been a bit older than 7, I can't remember. I don't really remember a time when I was restricted. I might not have been old enough to jump on a bus and go to the other side of town, but I certainly was old enough to walk around the neighborhood.
It was extremely common when I was a kid that other kids would be out and about the neighborhood playing, their parents not really knowing where they were. And we played for hours and hours, right until it got dark. We were independent, free and we loved it.
So, what happened? How did we get to the point where the way things once were is now considered a niche, and even sometimes controversial style of parenting?? I mean, we aren't talking about abandonment here. We aren't talking about a kid allowed to wander the streets at 2am. We weren't THAT free. But, we were free to roam the neighborhood at a young age with no one asking any questions. No one called the cops on us.
I remember walking to school by myself when I was a kid. Heck, I remember when we lived out in the country, about a kilometer from the school, and riding my bike. And a whole lot of kids did that. It was great.
Now, life for kids appears to be very structured. A whole heck of a lot of kids are in child care most of the week, for starters. That is a very structured environment. Then, if you add in organized sports or activities outside of that time, that tends to be very structured. Play-dates, which are set times and locations arranged by parents for kids to play are popular. Again, very structured. What about free play and time to just explore and be outside and learn about the world? For so many kids, that just doesn't seem to exist.
So, now that I am a parent, I am trying to be more like my parents and other parents back when I was a kid and have been giving my two boys, now 9 and 12, the same freedom we had. My ex-wife and I do seem to be on the same page in this regard (she even more so in many ways), which works great. I know that there are some who might balk at the idea. But, I don't feel like they are in any sort of danger when they walk around the neighborhood, or go to the store, or jump on their scooters and take off for hours.
Do I worry? It's pretty natural for parents to worry. So, yes, I do. I want them to be safe, healthy and happy. But, part of being healthy and happy is having freedom. I don't believe that the world is any more dangerous for them than I was a kid. I really don't.
My youngest son, lately, has been enjoying wandering around listening to Harry Potter audiobooks on an ancient old iPod I gave him. He loves it. And I think it's good for him. He's getting exercise, fresh air, exploring, being independent and enjoying a good book all at the same time. It just seems like a win/win situation all around for him.
And, you know what? It's good and healthy for parents as well. Parents need their own space too. Parents need breaks. When the kids go out and play freely, parents have the time to focus on other things for a while. Yay.
This "free range" parenting stuff really doesn't need a label. It's just parenting. It's just letting kids be kids. It's natural and it makes sense.