Monday, May 04, 2009

Free Range Kids

In this article from Salon.com the author talks about our cultural proclivity to "protect" our children from the harm out there in the Big World.

As the parent of an 8 year old, I have a few opinions on this. I remember when I first decided to stop meeting Delia at the bus stop after school. It went like this : She would get off the bus, look at me, and then run like hell the half a block or so to the house, leaving me behind to "eat her dust." It sort of made me a little sad that she didn't run over and give me a hug and immediately start talking about her day at school, but such is life with a pre-adolescent. After several instances of this bus stop behavior, I decided to do a little test. I told her that I wasn't going to meet her at the bus stop anymore. I didn't go to the bus stop one day. And guess what? She walked home. Did she express her dismay that I had abandoned her? No. It's less than 40 yards to walk, she knows the way. She came home and tossed her backpack on the floor and ran upstairs to change clothes. No drama, no emotional damage. As the days went by, she started coming in through the back door. Why, because she could! She got to make a choice. A tiny, insignificant choice, but I think she liked having a choice to make all on her own.

And then there is the pocket knife. Many people thought we were INSANE when we gave Delia a Made For Kids Swiss Army knife. The main difference from the adult model is that instead of a spearpoint blade it has a round tipped blade. And we didn't just toss it at her and say "have fun." Keith is, as you may know, rather obsessed with weaponry, and he shared his love with her through a week of internet research shopping for the thing, and then when it came in the mail, he gave her the standard knife safety course. Always cut away from yourself, close it like this, etc. So when she took it out a week or so ago during craft time to cut cardboard, I just watched. Later, as I told Keith about it, and my worry about whether she might get cut, he responded "That's how you learn to use a pocket knife. What's the worst thing that could happen? A couple of stitches, nothing life threatening. Everybody gets cut eventually." Sure it would be scary, but isn't surviving scary situations how we build confidence? I'm not saying I would let her try something stupid, but regular knife use situations pop up every day, and they are useful tools!
She had it in her pocket when Keith was helping my Dad get that old stuck ring off his finger, and offered it as a tool to help, the can opener/screwdriver having a blunt edge that successfully pried the sawed through sections of band apart. Of course I was impressed. Take stock of a situation, think of a solution using the resources at your disposal. That's a skill I am proud my kid has.

Anyway, I enjoyed the article. Keith and I are still in discussion about when we'll let Delia walk over to Naomi's house, or down to the park, or to the library. I am not particularly worried about it, as she has not yet expressed any interest in that sort of escapade yet, but when she does I'll be sorely temped to let her do it. What do you think?

1 comment:

LadyElmo said...

I really have no idea what I'll do as Zoey grows up... but I've got to tell you, it'll be hard to escape the "overprotective" gene in my husband's family. Case in point: My mother-in-law wakes up before 5 a.m. to make sure she calls to get my bro-in-law Bill up in time for work. Then she still makes him call her when he gets to work. (And, yes, folks.. he's 23 years old!)

I think I'll get that free range book from the library sometime.