Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fear of Independent Wandering

Let's take a moment to talk about something that might often gets you dirty looks as a parent.... Free range children/parenting.

 It's a topic that many friends have gotten into arguments about. The well meaning parents who's children are monitored 24/7 tend to get nervous and want (sometimes they do)to call the police when they see a child walking somewhere by themselves, thinking the parents that have free range children are basically asking for something terrible to happen.. The live and let live parents tend to think stifling a child's independent wandering will inhibit experiencing and gaining in-the-moment life skills.

On any given day you'll find my boys wandering and playing in the neighborhood. Maybe they're digging holes, racing on their bikes, playing bad guys and good guys or going on a treasure hunt but I don't know because I'm not normally with them. My husband and I base their independent seeking on the individual child's common sense and maturity, C is 6, J is 5 and A (ASD child) is 2. C is allowed to go on small adventures on his bike up the hill and a block away from the house, he is also allowed to walk to the bus stop alone. J is allowed to play in the circle and must ask for permission before going to the park (which is in between 2 circle- hard to explain) and A is allowed to play right in front of the garage while I am within ear range.

We are the minority around here when it comes to independent wandering and play. Many will not let their children walk to the bus stop alone or with friends, let alone play in their neighborhood without them being outside to monitor the child's every move. What ever happened to paper routes, going to the corner store to get candy, going to a friends house a block away, staying out until the street lights came on? It's a huge shift from what it was like for me as a kid. What happened?

In short? T.V

Many parents have bought into the idea that predators are lurking around the corner to harm their children. Shows like CSI, SVU and the news have made it (in many ways) entertaining to watch crime and death. But fact is violent crimes have dropped 50% since the early 90's and the number of kids being raped, murdered or kidnapped is so small it will normally make nationwide news.

Source: visual photos

Although the thought of anything bad happening to one of my children is devastating its not enough to support putting my children on a short leash but by no means do I let them run wild. Our house has rules that must be abide by, if one breaks that rule they are to come in immediately and if you see them come back out it is because I have confidence in them that they have learned. "Getting them outside gives them infinite opportunities  to explore" says Todd Christopher, author of the green hour. Tethered to me, they'd have fewer chances to hang out with pals and engage in creative play, which is crucial for developing constructive problem solving, creativity and critical thinking, says Susan Linn Ed.D, author of The Case for Make Believe. 

Over-protecting children keeps them from experiencing and resolving disappointment and failure says Bernardo J. Carducci Ph.D. Kids who don't learn to handle frustrations become fearful. They're the teenagers who won't try new extracurricular activities. When they arrive at college, they retreat to their rooms and play video games rather than going out and connecting with others.

I've encountered once or twice the parent guilt that may come with letting your children explore independently. About a year ago C was riding his bike outside and decided he could go down the main road out of our neighborhood, instead of stopping he continued to ride going towards would be traffic. He was taken inside and explained that mom and dad have rules for his safety and it was not intended to be mean. We explained the "look left, look right, listen" rule and the "earshot" rule.. He was not allowed to ride for about a week, in kid time that was more like 6 months. He was allowed to ride again because I felt he understood and had learned.

Should I be more active and hang out more with my children? no. over involved parents are often addressing their own need for closeness rather than giving kids the space they need. Being a supportive parent, in other words, can't always mean doing what's comfortable. It's also about bearing the anxiety and consequences that occur when your child strikes out for new territories. - Richard Weissebound, author of The Parents We Mean to Be.

Bare in mind there are a few things that need to be learned before letting your children out of your orbit.

  • Find out what real dangers and hazards are in your neighborhood
  • If your child follows through on tasks, owns up to mistakes and tends to look before he/she leaps into it, you are probably safe in saying yes to a longer bike ride or a walk to a friends a block away.
  • Practice until you and your child are comfortable. With us it was walking to the bus stop alone.
  • Stop watching all those tv shows and movies that show violence. It only fuels your fears. 

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