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
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.
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
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
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.
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.