The one thing about valuing rational thought is that you don’t get to pick and choose where you apply that thought. As parents, my husband and I believe strongly in teaching our kids how to evaluate evidence and make considered, educated decisions. In turn, I have to do the same thing when it comes to parenting – and it isn’t always easy.
Today’s parents are afraid. We are afraid of perverts and pedophiles. We are afraid of cars and traffic and head injuries. We are afraid of sex and drugs and what teenagers will do when given any opportunity at all. We are afraid of razor blades in candies and terrorists in airplanes and serial murderers. Now don’t get me wrong – we should be afraid of some of these things but we need to be rational about it.
I recently read the book “Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy. If you don’t know who she is, she’s the mom who let her nine-year-old son take a ride on the NYC subway and was subsequently called the worst mom in the world. Yikes. I read the book and it confirmed a lot of what I already believe. Kids are too sheltered and parents are too worried. The 24-hour news cycle has made us aware of every single bad thing that happens to a child. It has vastly exaggerated the risk our kids face in the world. I was comforted to read that violent crime, sexual predation and abductions are all far lower than they were in the 70s and 80s. It is much safer now than it was when me and my pals were traipsing through the woods for hours, armed only with backpacks full of matches and lemonade.
The dangers we don’t consider when looking at our perfect little angels are actually far more menacing, and statistically more significant. Obesity. Heart disease. Isolation. Fear of the world beyond their front doors. Over-dependence. Disconnection from their community. An inability to perform certain tasks (there is some evidence to suggest that more kids are getting hit by cars because they’ve never been taught how to cross a street – because they’ve never had the opportunity to try it!) and an increasing reliance on electronic entertainment. These risks are more than risks. For some they are guaranteed outcomes.
I don’t suggest we should stop parenting or that all of us should put our kids on the subway (although really – the subway? Where you are surrounded by people/witnesses, police offers, video cameras etc.? What on earth is unsafe about that?!) but we do need to stop and evaluate a risk before we make a decision. Don’t parent how others are parenting. Don’t parent out of fear. Rationally evaluate the risk. And prepare to be judged:
Last week I took Paisley swimming at the local rec centre. Afterwards, I decided (for the first time) to leave her at the front while I ran and got the car. Her hair was wet, the wind was howling and the car was in the parking lot, two minutes from the door. I thought about it and despite an inner voice telling me I should never leave my child, I did it anyway. Paisley was put on a bench right in the entrance with a cookie. She was told to wait (I could tell she was pleased as punch to be left alone) and I went and got the car. It took me four minutes to get to the car and pull into the loop at the front of the building. Paisley was sitting there, eating her cookie. Right next to a woman who appeared to be having a heart attack. “There is a child alone!” she was saying. I said, “It’s okay. She’s mine.” The woman looked at me, still flustered and (right out of a movie) fanning herself! “I just, oh my goodness, I am not okay. That is not okay. I am not comfortable with that.” I wanted to say, “Good thing she’s not your kid then, isn’t it?” But I didn’t. I just smiled and collected Paisley and her things.
On the way home I started to second-guess myself. Did I make the wrong decision? I re-evaluated the risks…that a mad-man, who happens to lurk around the local rec centre, would see an opportunity and in front of other parents and kids, run in the front doors and throw Paisley in his truck, all within four minutes? That she (a bright, capable four-year-old) would wander out into the wind and into traffic, of which there isn’t any? What was that woman afraid of?
A child being alone – she had said it herself. How are we supposed to teach kids self-reliance if they never get a chance to practice it? How can they learn to manoeuvre through the world if they are always protected from it? How do we foster community from behind closed doors?
While I do not teach my children to have faith in God, they must learn to have faith in themselves and in humanity.
I’m curious to hear your opinion on this…have you read the book? Would you have done what I did? Do you have any ideas or suggestions for those struggling with the concept of free-range parenting?