I just recently found and read a book by Lenore Skenazy called Free-Range Kids.
The author was dubbed “America’s worst mom” for trusting her son to ride the subway in NYC alone. Just a note, he made it home perfectly safely. And also another note: I don’t think I could have done it.
Lenore has now started the “free range movement” and is trying to encourage parents to relax and allow their kids to have the freedom to play, explore and learn independence, confidence and social skills. In her book, she has done a lot of research into some of the crazy things going on in our culture that parents are just too afraid to let their kids do.
Example: She noted that there’s a law in one of the American states requiring bus drivers to pick up kids after school, drive them to their bus stop and if there is not an adult waiting for them at the stop, the bus driver is supposed to then drive all the way back up to the school so that the child can call someone to come pick them up. WHAT?? Who has time for that? No one. And plus, the point of a bus stop is to be in walking distance of the kids home so that they are able to walk home.
When I was little – like in third grade – I was walking two or three blocks to my bus stop, occasionally with a friend, but a lot of the time all by myself. My mom wasn’t cruel or neglectful. She walked me there the first few times to show me where to go and what bus to take, but after that I was on my own.
By the age of nine, I was picking up my teacher’s 5-year-old to accompany him to the bus stop. At those ages I was also allowed to walk or ride my bike a few blocks to my friend’s house, and from there we would go down her street to the playground. We had no adult supervision, and here I am sitting in front of my computer 10 years later, perfectly fine. That’s the point Lenore is trying to make through her book.
This is because my mom put a certain amount of trust in me, and my dad was the same way. When I was around nine and my brother and cousins were 11, we wanted to go to the corner store. My dad was not willing to give us money for junk, so he encouraged us to go out and earn some. He suggested we go and ask if we could wash windows, sweep floors or any other odd job that may have been available for a few dollars in exchange. FYI – for our generation, that was a no go. Stores aren’t open to supplying odd jobs for kids due to taxes and lawsuits. We didn’t know that and honestly, I don’t think my dad did either, but we still asked. And we had fun!
No, we didn’t get our corner store treat, but we got an opportunity to be independent, learn responsibility and learn what it meant to work for the things we wanted, plus it gave us an opportunity to use our imaginations. (Honestly, being little and wanting that candy bar so badly, we were almost willing to roll my brother around in the dirt, rip his clothes, and give him a coffee mug to collect money in and sit him in a corner outside of the strip mall)
Another story. My step-sister and I wanted to go to the ravine. Dad didn’t have time to go with us, so he let us go off on our own. We walked through the city alone, made it to the woods and we explored the trails. It was fun, and then ya it got scary…we got LOST!! But our parents had taught us confidence and we had enough of it to approach a stranger and ask her for help. She very willingly gave us directions and we made it home safe and sound.
Obviously, the thought of your kids getting lost in the woods is very scary. Being the kid who was lost in the woods was even more scary, but we took the lessons our parents taught us and used our natural born instincts and made it home no problem. And honestly, we weren’t even that lost. We were one trail off and couldn’t see it through the trees. But again, here I am safe and sound, I made it to adulthood and now I’m on my way to motherhood.
In nature, as human beings, we are considered animals. We may not consciously consider ourselves as such on a regular basis, but that’s what we are. And what do all animals have? Instinct. Our kids are equipped with instinct and also the lessons we send along with them.
One lesson Lenore has suggested we change is the ” Don’t talk to strangers.” Lesson. Well if my sister and I hadn’t talked to that stranger in the ravine, we probably would have gotten really lost.
We have to remember, that a majority of people are like us. If a kid went up to you and asked for help, you would help them knowing that you are trustworthy. However, if we are continually warning them not to talk to any stranger and instilling that fear in them, they won’t ever talk to a stranger that could very well be of help to them in a “what if” situation. So a revised lesson is “Don’t go off with strangers.”
Lenore’s book is an interesting new perspective, laced with a lot of really great humor. She also now has a show called Bubble Wrap Kids that I checked out last night and liked a lot. I think she’s on to something.
While I personally am not going to rush out and slap the label “Free Ranger” on my forehead, I’m definitely going to put the trust in my kids that my parents put in me so that my kids can have the childhood that they deserve. To have fun and explore, with their chins up and confidence in every step, and a sparkle in their beautiful eyes which will tell me that I’m doing something right
So if you are looking for some confidence in letting your babies go…just a little, Free Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy is a great read!