Free-Range Kids: Why I NEED this book!

May 4th, 2009

Okay. Why is it that as parents, we now feel that the world is more dangerous now then when we were growing up? Why do we get worried when our kids play in the front yard? Why do we drive kids to school instead of letting them walk? Why are we happy with letting our kids sit in front of a mindless box instead of discovering the world outside? Why? Because we have been programmed to be scared of every possibility. We live in fear, and sadly we are encouraging the next generations to do the same.

My husband told me about a book: Free-Range Kids: Giving our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry by Lenore Skenazy. I think I need this book. Honestly. I KNOW that I worry too much about my son. I often wonder if I am suffocating him with my doubts & fears.

When I was a kid, I walked each day to & from school. I started walking the 2 miles to my elementary school when I was in 3rd grade. Only one time in all those years of walking to & from home, did I have someone pull over asking if I wanted to get into their car. Actually, it was a very creepy friend of my dad’s (whom later on got punched in the face by my father because he was trying to pick me up…they stopped being friends after that…thank goodness). The thing is, I was SMART ENOUGH to know not to get into this man’s car. I was just a kid, but I had the knowledge to protect myself. I didn’t get into the car even though that man might have caused me harm.

I also had two creepy men in my early life touch me inappropriately (one was our neighbor and one was my 5th grade teacher). I told my parents about the neighbor, but to this day, I never told them about the 5th grade teacher. Both situations really creeped me out. They also made me feel badly about myself. Why would someone caress my leg like that? I was something like 11-12 yrs. old. Did I deserve to feel like that? Did anyone else ever experience such a thing?

I guess what I am trying to say is that creepy people have been around for a long time. They have been around probably as long as people have been on the planet. The media makes it seem like they are a new, scary force. They aren’t. The modern technology of instant news (i.e. television, Internet, instant messaging, etc.) have made it seem like there are more of them out there. They have always been there. So…what do we do about them?

Our job as parents is to TEACH OUR CHILDREN about right and wrong. To make them feel comfortable with who they are. To know what is appropriate behavior and what isn’t. To be aware of their surroundings and be confident to the world (even when they don’t feel like it on the inside).

I do worry about my son. I don’t want him to ever feel uncomfortable or scared. However, can I really just lock him up in a protective bubble and hope that the “big, bad world” will leave him alone? Ummm..no. So, what do I do then? Well, for starters, I need to trust both my son and what we have taught him. I need to trust that he will protect himself with all the knowledge we can give him.

I can’t prevent him from getting the flu, but I can instil the need to wash his hands and cover his mouth when he sneezes. I can’t prevent someone from pulling their car alongside him and asking for help to find their lost puppy. I can teach him about distance from vehicles and to NEVER get into a car or go into a home without my husband & I saying it is okay first. I can teach him to put on sunscreen when he goes outside. I can teach him to look both ways before crossing a road. I can teach him to always swim with a buddy. I can teach…

I am learning to let go…slowly. Last summer, our son went to a summer Scout camp in another state. Was I worried? You bet! Would I let him do it again? You bet! He is doing it again this summer. Does our son ride his bike around the neighborhood to see friends? You bet!

I see so many parents in this world wanting to protect their kids. There is nothing wrong with that. However, where does loving protection stop and teaching a “be afraid to venture out into the world” lesson begin? By feeding on our own fears of: pedophiles, air-borne diseases, cuts/scrapes/choking/drowning, and cancer-causing pesticides and sun rays are we REALLY doing a service to our children? Will these same children ever be able to trust people, or will they see everyone as a possible predator? Will they be afraid to eat foods at a farmer’s market because it might not be “organic”? Will they all be incredibly overweight because going outside might mean that they could get skin cancer?

Like all parents, I never want to see harm come to my child. However, what is really in my power to protect him? Should parents spend these precious years preventing their children from playing outside or sleeping overnight at a friend’s? No? I believe that parents should spend these precious 18 yrs. by preparing children for the real world. Teaching children that most people are good. That they shouldn’t be afraid of the world. That the confident and observant ones are looked up to. To know their limitations. To be discover and play. To laugh. To learn. To be a kid.

I think I do need this book. I want my son to come back later in life thanking me for letting him explore and grow in his own time. I want him to learn from his tree climbing, bike jumping, bug catching, stick-sword fighting, and singing Scout songs around the campfire days. I want my son to love life, not be afraid to live it.

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