Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Free range kids

Free range kids* are all the rage, and the commenting community at BoingBoing is up in arms about a 10-year-old kid getting picked up by the police because his mother let him walk half a mile to the soccer field instead of personally supervising him the entire way.

Some of the commenters are worried.
I really worry about a generation of kids that have never been allowed to run around without supervision. My niece (eleven years old) hasn't been able to roam as freely as I did when I was six and walked myself a half a mile to school. I went downhill after that, riding bikes with my friends or, gasp, even alone, miles away from my home with no supervision.

My niece is smart, aware, sarcastic and does great in school. But I can't help but fear what will happen when she is finally out of the bubble with so little experience at roaming free.

Many commenters tell stories about how tough and independent they were as children, and how awful it is that parents these days keep such a tight rein on their kids. What will become of these poor sheltered hothouse flowers when they get out into the real world?

There are a couple of easily-identified problems here: one is the vast excluded middle, and the other is the class question. Not that many parents actually schedule and supervise their children the way it is portrayed in, say, the New York Times' inflamatory articles about kids with soccer lessons, flute lessons, math tutoring, volunteer work, etc. every night after school for 4 hours and all day on the weekends. Nor do most parents *really* free range their kids (I mean, I only know one person who was arguably raised by wolves); they set boundaries, they provide a home and food and they teach their kids how to be independent before they set them free on the range to roam at will.

In fact I suspect it's mostly upper middle class (by income) and up who do it. The rest of us can't afford to, either in dollars spent on all those lessons or in parental time supervising.

Another issue is that a lot of the behaviors people proudly remember would be considered neglect under our changed societal standards for parents. Yeah, nothing happened, but if it had, how would a 10-year-old have coped? Yet another issue is that parents, knowing the societal standards for supervision, might hesitate to chance the interference of the government (in the form of Children's Services or such) in their lives, perhaps even the removal of the child for a short time while somebody who doesn't share their free range philosophy decides whether they're good parents.

It's amusing to see people displaying their outrage, exercising their feelings of superiority, and wagging their fingers at all the rest of us repressed, controlling parents. It's just not very connected to the reality I see in my neighborhood, either now or when my kids were little.

*I prefer mine in cages, doesn't everybody?

1 comment:

Lynn said...

Time changes things and not always for the best. I was a "free range" kid myself. During the summer I would disappear for most the day, running around the neighborhood, playing with friends. But my mom knew all the neighbors.

I do think it is terrible that kids don't have the freedom I had. It's actually bad for them. But it's also usually necessary.

Whether the police should or should not pick up kids wandering around alone depends on what kind of neighborhood they're in and the time of day.

I hate to see the police and various busybody associations getting involved in child-raising.