Free-range parenting. What an odd phrase! It makes me think of free-range chickens, and in a sense, it isn’t much different. The idea is to let your children be free to roam the neighborhood on their own. You know, walk to school, ride their bike to a friend’s house or go to the park or the corner 7-11 without their parent(s) tagging along. Sound familiar?
This concept is not a new one…although an entire generation of young parents seems to think it is and enters into great debate over whether or not it’s wise to allow children such freedom. What if something happened? What if they fell off their bike and mom wasn’t there to pick them up? What if they use their entire allowance to buy the largest Slurpee and end up with a tummy ache? I’ve talked to mothers who are convinced if a child is left alone, even in their own yard, something awful is going to happen to them. These children never learn how to be independent. They never have a chance to make a mistake, live with that mistake, and fix that mistake all on their own. Now, I’m not talking about whether or not it’s a good idea to allow a child to cross a busy street alone, only a parent knows when they’re ready for that. And I realize there are some neighborhoods where children are not safe on their own. By staying close, those parents are doing right by their children.
When I was growing up back in the Stone Age our mothers pushed us out the back door on a beautiful summer morning with a reminder when to be home for lunch. Then, after we were done eating, she pushed us back out in the afternoon. We rode our bikes to visit a friend, go to the library or the public swimming pool. Sometimes we just rode around town or even out into the country to the next town, because it sounded like a fun thing to do. We even played outside at night! Remember Kick The Can and all those other games best played in the dark? Forget summer reruns on the television, and we didn’t have cable or computers back then, but we had so much fun we hated to come in when called and the memories are still fresh all these years later.
Yes, we did have to tell mom where we planned on going, who we would be with, but she understood that might change and we just had to check-in with her first. We didn’t have cell phones, but we did know that our mothers talked to each other and any misdeeds would most definitely be reported. . .usually before we got home.
A child needs to learn how to get along in their environment. I grew up in a small town more years ago than I care to admit, but even a child growing up in a city today can learn those lessons in a safe manner. Allowing children to grow through age-appropriate levels of freedom is how we get them to a successful and independent adulthood. After all, isn’t that the goal? Isn’t the end game to have our children grow up, move out, and live off their own salaries and not our retirement fund?