Thursday, November 4, 2010

Free-Range Chickens

When I was growing up it was common for neighborhood kids to spontaneously get together and run amok around the neighborhood.

Even when Best Friend broke her arm roughhousing, it wasn’t a major call for alarm. Basically we were advised not to be so stupid in the future.

When I was about 5, I got separated from Mom in a department store. I freaked out, mostly because I was afraid she’d leave the store without me and I’d have to live in Kohl’s FOREVER. Fortunately, I knew enough to find a clerk who helped me find my mom (she was only about 5 feet away).

By age 8 or 9 Mom let me browse the toy department (and later clothes department), while she did the shopping. After all, I was well-behaved.

What would happen now if I, as a parent, let my tween browse for toys or clothes or shoes at a department store while I shopped for bras and underwear in the same store?

Obviously if my child was being a pain in the ass, we’d both be shunned by employees and shoppers alike. But even if my child was well-mannered, I fear I’d still be shunned for leaving my tween alone and unsupervised.

I want my children to have the same freedoms I had as a child. I want to raise “free-range kids.”

No, not these.

After all, crime rates have continued to fall over the past 10 years - and this includes crimes against children. And kids are significantly more likely to be abducted by family members, than by strangers. I’m more afraid of other parents’ sky-is-falling reactions than I am of child abduction or molestation.

My children are 3 and 1, so I can’t let them fly the coop yet. But soon enough I will. Because independence should be their decision, not just mine. Because freedom to roam fosters self-reliance.

Safety is important. But so is common sense. Parenting requires balance. Which makes me wonder: Who are the real free-range chickens here?