Hey, Parents: Quit Turning Your Kids into Wussies!

On the bus.

When I was little (5 or 6 years old), my mother would pack my bag and lunchbox and put me on a Greyhound bus headed to Grandma’s.  We were pretty poor and didn’t have a car at the time, so that’s how we did long trips.  In the city we took the Metro (that’s the bus for those who don’t know).

Sometimes Mom would ride along to Grandma’s too, but for the most part I traveled alone.  The driver knew where I was going, and he’d hand me off to Grandma when I arrived.  There were no cell phones then, I had all the information I needed attached to a safety pin inside my jacket, along with some change.  Mom wasn’t worried, and neither was I.  It was an adventure!  I spent the three-hour ride playing word games, coloring, reading, listening to music, or talking to an elderly seatmate.

I spent my entire childhood chasing adventures.  My family never owned or played video

It'll rot your brain.

games, and the TV was reserved for the news, Jeopardy, Wheel of Fortune, and Bugs Bunny on Saturday mornings.  From sun up to sunset, I was outside playing.  I climbed trees, dug holes, swam in rivers, ponds, and lakes, hiked in the nearby state parks, picked and ate berries or wild apples until my stomach ached, and rode my bicycle everywhere.

I did all of this without adult supervision.

Boy, things sure have changed.

These days, parents are so paranoid about what might happen to their child, regardless of how unlikely it might be, that they insulate them from life.  It’s disgusting and sad, really.  Parents (and grandparents) insist that the world is significantly more dangerous today than it was back when they were kids.  This is not true at all.  In fact, crime rates are much lower today than they were in the 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s (when they happened to dip significantly).  News stories abound regarding the major dip in crime over the last decade.  Seriously, Google it.

But, since Average Joe Citizen refuses to believe facts, so let me say it again:  Crime has decreased, not increased.

Kids are safer now than they were when we were kids, but you sure wouldn’t know it by the way the media behaves.  The availability and accessibility of information through the media, which has actually helped to decrease crime, also causes people to be paranoid about everything.  Even when the situation does not merit paranoia.

Uh oh, we forgot the helmet and gloves! Safety first!!!

You see, just because the media is constantly reporting bad things that happen all over the world, does not mean that it is statistically likely to happen to you or even someone you know. ZOMG!!!  There are kids being kidnapped all the time, right?!  And people being murdered in their homes by strangers!  And, EEEEK!  Strangers?!  We have to teach our kids about how bad they are!  If we let our kids outside unsupervised, they’ll get picked up by some creep in a white panel van and be tortured for months or years in their basements!!!  I know, if we wrap our children in bubble wrap and lock them in the house with their video games, nothing bad will happen to them!

Uhm, no.  Hell no.  As a matter of fact, there is an entirely “new” mode of parenting which says that kids become stronger and smarter with far less parental supervision, and that strangers are usually 99.9999999% well-intentioned.  It’s called the “Free Range” movement, and was basically started by Lenore Skenazy when she let her 9 year old ride the New York City subway home on his own.

He made it just fine, but she was dubbed “The World’s Worst Mom.”  Wow.

I didn’t know it until I happened onto Lenore’s blog, but I’ve been a Free Range Parent for my kids’ entire lives.  And I was raised by a Free Range single mom.  I was a Free Range Kid!

The thing is, it’s more likely that my kids will be brought home to me by some interfering, judgmental adult who will shake their finger at my Free Range attitude, than it is that my kids will be kidnapped or hurt by them or anybody else.

It’s also very unlikely that you, the person who is reading this right now, has

Buy a few tickets and send your kids outside, for godsakes.

ever been kidnapped, has a child who has been kidnapped, or even knows someone personally (who knows someone, who knows someone) who has been kidnapped.  Think about it.  Why is this so?  Because you have a better chance of winning the lottery or being hit by a train (or even both at the same time!) than you do of having a kid be kidnapped.  But the news gives us so much information about the very few children who are kidnapped each year, that we feel emotionally connected to them and the possibility that it could maybe happen to us.  And that’s scary!

But real life isn’t that scary.

Seriously.  The numbers don’t lie.  Of the over 40 million children in the USA, just about 150-200 are kidnapped (in the traditional sense, by a “bad guy/stranger”) each year.  Less than half of that number ends up dead.  All those missing child statistics out there are very misleading and do not account for the fact that most of those reported missing are runaways, kids who were taken by another parent, kids who are late for curfew, kids whose parents mixed up who had visitation that weekend, and so forth.  Sites which claim that a child “goes missing every 40 seconds” are not being forthright the situation involved in that missing child report.

Statistically, it’s ridiculously safe to let your kids play outside.  They are more likely to be

Being "Free Range" does not mean being stupid. Have one of these. Owies happen.

in a car accident with you than be kidnapped.  You can leave them alone, all day long if you like (provided that they are of an age where they are no longer running into traffic and such), and nothing will happen that can’t be fixed with some Bactine and a Band-Aid.

My boys are 8 and 10.  On the weekend, they might check in for lunch, and that is it.  I don’t see them all day.  Sometimes they come home soaked to the skin from swimming in the creek.  They ride their bikes on the roads all over the neighborhood.  They climb trees and build forts and get scraped up. They’ve never even been to the emergency room (yet), because I’ve taught them to use their heads and not rely on adults as the end-all-be-all when it comes to common sense.

I build a bonfire every few weeks in my back yard and leave them outside with it.  I give them hotdog roasting sticks and they cook their own dinners over the fire.  My only rules:  Don’t run near the fire, don’t cook food if there is anything plastic burning in the fire (not because of “the chemicals,” which are probably there, but also because it tastes bad and ruins the food), and the fire must stay in the fire-pit, not on “cool torches carried all over the yard.”

Why do I do these things?  Because I want my kids to learn to function without me.  My job isn’t to handicap them, it’s to give them the knowledge and foundation they need to soar higher and more successfully than the rest. I also want them to have FUN.  As cool as I am as a mom, I’m even cooler because I leave them alone to do things and only step in when I’m really needed.

Unfortunately, many paranoid parents these days are hindering their children’s development by turning them into complete wusses.  These children can’t do anything on their own, and end up turning into inept, moronic adults who make poor choices in life and pass their paranoia on to their children.  Helicopter parents have been proven to hinder their children’s growth and potential.  Nobody has fun when they’re around.  It’s an epidemic and I refuse to catch it.

Teach your child to do the right thing, unafraid of statistically unlikely events. Let them soar. And go fishing on their own.

If you’re interested in learning more about Lenore Skenazy and the “Free Range Kids” movement, check out her blog.  She’s a sharp cookie and has also written a book by the same name (“Free Range Kids,” not “Sharp Cookie”).  I credit her completely with all references to Free Range Kids, paranoid parents statistics, and so forth.  Check her out.  Her book is on Kindle too.  I bought it.

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About DrPretzel

Student of philosophy and medicine, mother of 2 Creatures of Mass Destruction (a.k.a. "boys"), Soldier, sister, daughter, friend, cat person, social inept, INTJ, blah, blah, blah...are you even reading this?
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16 Responses to Hey, Parents: Quit Turning Your Kids into Wussies!

  1. Susanna says:

    I grew up in Korea until age eight and I was always outside with the kids in the neighborhood. Only went inside for food. Walked to school all by myself also like all the other kids. There were no parents walking kids to school back then. Things are totally different in Korea too is what I hear. Kids are inside on computers, not playing outside.
    As a pediatrician, I think vitamin D deficiency and obesity largely stems from this very issue. Diet is important, but kids are not outside anymore. Very sad.

  2. Georgina says:

    I didn’t know what it was called, but I guess I’m a free range parent. It’s just been Alex and myself since he was 2. I was hell bent on raising him like my parents did me. When I was 8, me and my 7 year old sister would ride our bikes across town to the public pool in the summer. My parents worked in Phoenix which was over an hour away for the house. I remember at 10-12, me and my friend use to get on our bikes and ride 3 miles up to the base of Mt. Elden in Flagstaff and then go hike through the woods. As long as my parents knew where I was going, I pretty much had free reign to go anywhere. As a teen at 16, my parents went to Wisconsin for a week and left me and my younger sister at home. I went to school, work, hung out with friends and went home, nothing ever happened. I went camping with friends without parental supervision.

    My parents always said that children need age appropriate responsibilities and you can’t wait until they are 18 to give it to them. You do it early on, you have to let them go and let them find their way so that when they reach adulthood they can function adequately as adults. My son is 10 and I’ve noticed that he’s more mature than most of his friends, has more freedom and is actually more respectful to me. I have some very simple and solid rules: homework, chores, and tell me where you’re going; that’s it. We’ll actually, I tend to be lenient on him cleaning his room, but it’s a battle I frequently lose and we can just close the door 🙂 He does plenty of other chores like dog and cat poop, dishes, laundry, pulling weeds, and mow the lawn with a gasoline mower, no supervision there.

    Not only are today’s kids turning into wussies, but boys are not turning into men or they are finding their way too late. Boys have been imasculated since the late 80’s by too much political correctness. We’ve gone completely in the opposite direction, rather than meeting in the middle between strong men and strong women. Too many single moms and inattentive dads are not teaching boys how to be men. So, if you watch society right now, there’s a huge group of 20 something to early 30’s men who can’t change a tire, do any kind of maintenance on their care or their home, can’t build or fix anything, don’t know how to camp, don’t fish, and would rather just stay home and play video games. Aside from noticing this, I read an interesting study about it that was pretty disturbing about the direction our men are heading. My kid is a boy, and I want him to be a man who will work and play hard, take care of his family and contribute to the growth of his kids, and be a contributor to society. So, we go to boy scouts, camping and fishing all of the time, off-roading, work on my truck together, gardening, and carpentry. I teach him how to fix things around the house and do yardwork. I don’t want him to be afraid to try anything, afterall, I’m not afraid to try to do everything. my next door neighbor is almost 50 and doesn’t know how to do anything. She’s always asking me for help on trimming her tree, no-brainer fixes on her car, and typical house repairs. She refuses to grow a brain and think for herself. Unfortunately, that’s the growing state of today’s society.

  3. Charisse says:

    LOL I have JUST given my 4 y/o girl permission to cross our very busy country road to play at the neighbor boy’s house (who I’m going to have to secretly chemically castrate in about 8 years -he’s a year older, and WAY too cute for living so close.) so long as she holds her older brother’s hand while crossing the road.
    Trying to expand the range, although my fences are still there. haha
    But its hard. My parents were helicopter parents. As far as at home or on my grandparents farm, I pretty much got kicked out and told to find something to do, but in any other regard they were pretty tight. I see myself reflecting this at times, and try to pull back. I took a parenting class with my husband called Love & Logic and it really stuck home with me, it is not true free range, but natural consequences are key to the lessons. One brilliant thing that has stuck with me from those classes is the idea that the “cost of learning” is lower the younger you are. If you blow all of your savings on a poor decision when you are 8 (a cheaply built toy or or abuse/loose it), it can teach you a lesson that some people don’t have when they are 30.
    Sometimes the natural consequences have to come from the parents, and that is the time to get creative… but most of the time life will do it on its own, and far more gently to the kid than the teen or especially the adult.
    But L&L parents have something in common with the FR’ers… we often run into harsh attitudes and judgements from others. Both Grandma’s often get upset with our laissez faire parenting. I worried for a while what his teacher thought because my son often forgets things like homework, glasses, backpack, etc. So much homework and things have the EXPECTATION that the parent assists and even ensures things are done well. But for me, I feel my job is to provide an environment that makes it easy for him to do the right things, but NEVER to do them for him. (I’m still working on this.) But HOW can a parent be expected to do both??? If I’m doing it for him, how is he EVER doing it right? But at the last parent/teacher meeting, she mentioned that she has started taking points off his spelling tests if she cannot read the letters well enough (even though she knows he is excellent at this). And she told us this almost expecting us to get upset. She was quite surprised when I told her I thought that was great! lol Parents who think their children should get pure A’s in elementary school (because they expect teachers to make it easy on the kids) are parents who want their kids to get bad grades in HS and especially college. I want my son to get B’s (and maybe even an F) before he gets into HS. And I want him to be really really upset about it. I want him to know all of the ways he can improve and become a better student and classmate BEFORE it really counts against him. And I see it working. I do not tell him to do his homework. I may tell him now would be a good time, because we are going somewhere tonight… and set up time at night for study/reflection/reading where his options during that time are conducive to getting some work done (when needed).
    But this all comes back to my social philosophy that people do best by providing/ensuring/protecting opportunity rather than simply giving people what they ‘want.’ (see MY last blog post for more about that. lol)
    But I completely agree with your attitude! I think the best way to raise a kid is by example. If you believe they can handle it, then they will believe it too! If you take care of yourself, and are a good person, then that is far better than beating them over the head with it. 🙂

    • DrPretzel says:

      Amen, Sistah.

      I don’t have to tell my boys to do homework. They just know what is expected and do it. I’m still working on this with chores. *Sigh.*

      H went through a short stage of not doing his homework, even fibbing about it. When I found out, I made him feel extremely guilty about his lies. I also make it clear that, while I don’t expect perfection, we should always strive to do better. Even better than “the other kids.” It’s not competition, it’s personal pride.

      • Charisse says:

        🙂

        and above… must have been tired. I meant that when we went shopping I worried more about my sister staying with us in the store than my mother did. She always told me that if anyone did steal her they’d return her before they got out of the store!

  4. AJ says:

    It will not be worth it to mess with my youngest. You have no idea how loud that kid can be, not to mention very acrobatically inclined. Any kidnapper will gladly hand ME money to take back the little urchin.

    • DrPretzel says:

      I mentioned that once to a well-intentioned stranger who chided me for leaving my kids at the playground while I ran on the paths in the park. I said “Really? Have you been watching my boys? Who would WANT to kidnap them?”

      • Charisse says:

        I’m 8 years older than my sister. It used to drive me crazy when she was a preschooler that she wouldn’t be in the same isle as me and my mother, and my mother always used to tell me the same thing about her! lol

      • DrPretzel says:

        LOL…you should have agreed! Nobody wants little sisters!

  5. The DA says:

    Thanks for sharing this! I grew up as you did, only checking in a few times so my mother knew where (approx) I was and I was given a time to be home. I flew to grandma’s alone at the age of 10, (only because we couldn’t really afford it before then I think), which was the year you were born and I wanted to see you! 🙂

    I tried to raise my kids that way also, pending the area we were living in or the things they got caught doing of course. Right now I am trying to raise my grandson to be independent also but we don’t live in an area that I can let him just run (we live on a major hwy) and he of course is only 2 yrs old (almost 3). As he gets older and understands that cars WILL smoosh you if you try to walk in-front of a moving one, then we will be more apt to let him run. I try very hard to not hover though.

    The problem I have with kids (and young adults, meaning age 22 an under) is that they have this attitude of expecting everything to be handed to them and they don’t have to work for it at all! What ever happened to “corporal punishment” (within reason of course!) and doing chores at the age of 5?? Making them responsible for THEIR stuff (room and such) is the first step in getting them to become responsible adults and if it takes a swat on the butt to get their attention then so be it! The biggest problem is that the government has stepped into everyone’s homes through the school system and such by telling our kids that it is “not OK for ANYONE to touch you in a manner you do not like.”. Of course my kid(s) didn’t “LIKE” when I spanked them but there was a reason I did it. I recall one time being told by someone pulling out of a bank parking lot with their window open that I was an “abuser and should be turned into the police!!”, because I smacked my son in the arm. Little did he know or see that my son had just finished beating the crap out of his 1 year old sister while she was strapped into her car seat!! I managed to tell him in a not so nice way to “Mind your own damn business!”. (This happened when I went into the bank and left my kids in the car, where I could see them of course. This never happens anymore either because someone might come and steal your kid from the car!)

    Sorry, got on a roll. Thanks for the reminder that for us to raise “responsible, productive, intelligent and self sufficient adults” we have to start when they are little and let them learn life’s lessons on their own sometimes.

    • DrPretzel says:

      Life and natural consequences are often the very best teachers!

      Spanking is a touchy subject. Perhaps I’ll post a blog on it sometime. Thanks for the idea!

    • Georgina says:

      My son started flying from Arizona to Texas by himself when he was 6, he’s 10 now and a pro at it. I stand to the side now as he does all the checking in himself. I have never been concerned over him travelling alone. My 16 year old niece went to Washington DC last week, for a week with kids around the nation. She didn’t know anyone and her parents never met the chapperones, she had a great time there. Kids need some independence.

      I was spanked with a hand or belt when I was younger, up until about 12, and I didn’t turn into a heathen. My son has been spanked and I’ve done it in public. I’ve also spanked him with a belt, but that’s reserved for lying or intentionally hurting another person or animal, so far it’s just been for lying. I’ll be damned if my kid runs out of control in a public place. More parents should tend to unruly children; a little spanking, thump on the ear or head will get their attention. At 10, my son has never talked back to me, I’ve been quite clear what would happen. My mom smacked me in the mouth two different times as a teen when I talked back. I never saw her hand move, she was quick. It didn’t hurt, it just got my attention and she quickly corrected it. If the time comes, I will do the same thing. I’ve had to smack my nephew in the mouth before, he’s a disrespectful and violent little turd. He said it didn’t hurt, but he was very embarrassed about it because I did it in front of my son, other kids and people around the river. I think my son is observant enough to get the picture. I don’t believe government knows what’s best for my child. All disciplining methods do not work for all kids. It would serve most kids well to be ruled with a heavy hand every now and then. It’s perfectly legal to spank a child in Arizona.

  6. damonrufener says:

    Good article. I’m similar to you, as you know. I have had my son involved in the shooting sports for a while now. He mentioned shooting at school & BOOM! I got a visit from the SO & DFS. They insisted on telling me how bad of a parent I was & then the DFS lady went on to tell me about how her dad left a loaded gun in their house…… (none of mine were actually loaded).

    • DrPretzel says:

      Damon,

      We both know that it’s this environment of fear that causes our kids to become dependent. I often wonder if that is what society wants of their adults in the future. It’s worrisome. Luckily, parents like you and I are more abundant than not. We just have to bring our knowledge to those who don’t know any better because they’ve been brainwashed by the media.

  7. amanda says:

    You’re so right. I have a small farm and the kids have to help me out (by watching the baby in the house) while I’m milking and then they have free rein to play outside. As they get older I expect them to help on the farm, but for now, ‘helping’ me is fun. When I was a kid, my parents had a huge bell that they would ring when it was dinner time. Otherwise they never saw me. I had a great childhood and I am a very independent adult!

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