Free Your Kids!

31 May

Parents, it’s time…we really must free our kids and allow them to be kids with the understanding that we are raising them to one day become adults. I have often spoken on this blog about the differences in raising elder boy who is now 18 versus his sister mini me who is 4. There is almost 14 years that separates them yet the world of child rearing has changed and I am starting to think not for the better.

Today many of us view raising kids as a calling, that’s cool believe me there are some folks who you know are just meant to be parents but damn it somewhere along the line we lost all sense of perspective. We coddle, we baby and frankly I fear we will have a generation unable to do anything. Already we have kids in my son’s generation (generation y, millennial generation) whose parents are not able to let go, these kids are heading off to college and we are still trying to plan everything for the kids. They get waitlisted from the school of their dreams and we are on the phone with the school.

 I had no idea how bad it was until about a year and a half ago when my son’s best friend who lives an hour or so away in New Hampshire wanted to come to our house and I suggested the kid take the train to our house. No, not a subway, I am talking Amtrak commuter service that ran from close to his house to the town we live in. His Mama said no, she was scared about him taking the train, scared that there might be predators on the train. This boy was 16 at the time and getting his drivers license!!! Call me crazy but I would be a lot more scared about allowing a 16 year old boy to drive a 2000 piece of machinery than I would allowing him to ride on the train.

Since that initial incident, when he turned 17, he was allowed to start taking the train to our house. Um….what magically happens between 16.5 and 17? Now at 18 he will be flying out to the Midwest to see my son before flying back out here with him. I am glad he is now able to travel but the maturity gap between a 16.5 year old versus a newly turned 18 year old while it can be big often is not. No, more that a parent realized oh, time to loosen the apron strings.

Since I stared reading this blog, I have been happy to discover that there are folks who like me realize we are raising individuals who will one day become adults. Lenore Skenazy has caught a great deal of flak since she initially came to the spotlight after allowing her then 9 year old to ride the subway in New York City. Oh my! The horror! Lenore caught a lot of flak but at the same time earned a loyal following, folks like myself who see no problem in not directing every minute of our kids lives. I will also add that as someone who grew up in a large city learning to navigate the transit systems is a valuable life skill that should be taught early.(I know people in my age range who have never taken a public bus or train and get scared at the very idea) At 9, I knew how to take buses and trains and occasionally did so alone!!! Damn, my parents were bad parents. Of course that doesn’t compare to the fact that at 14, I took 1 bus and 2 trains’ roundtrip 5 days a week to get to school and clearly I survived. Hell, I remember once there was a pervert on the train exposing himself, I got up and went to another car on the train.

Reason I am talking about this is because recently Skenazy called for a take our kids to the park and leave em there day. The idea being that for most kids starting at age 7 and up some free play without a parent hovering in the background is a good thing. Well as you can imagine many folks liked her suggestion but many others once again thought she was a bad parent. Funny thing is that many of today’s current parents were raised in the late 60’s through the 1970’s and 80’s when the world was actually a far scarier place than it is now. Crime rates have gone down in many places yet because of our perceptions; we fear the unknown and are effectively creating a generation of kids that are probably going to be anxious. I live in a smallish town (compared to where I was raised) yet I am surprised at how many kids do not walk to school. Hell the parents don’t even walk em when they live in walking distance. (walking builds community folks!) I recently registered the girl child for school and realized the school is about a 15 minute walk from our house yet I have already been asked will we take the school bus. Why? Shit, that walk will be my exercise, it’s convenient and guess what it’s free! You can bet as soon as the girl is old enough she will be walking herself to school too! I was 8 when I started walking to school and let me tell you I enjoyed it. After school I would stop and play, spending way too much time playing and then having to run home, funny thing I had no cell phone to call and say I would be playing, but my parents and I both survived.

Now it seems as soon as they start school we feel the need to give em cell phones, do we really need to be that connected?

For the sake of your sanity and that of your kid’s I say free the kids!

5 Responses to “Free Your Kids!”

  1. Heather May 31, 2010 at 3:57 pm #

    I totally and completely agree with this. I encourage SO STRONGLY that my nearly 7 year old go out in the neighborhood and play without me. I have to explain, yes, you are safe if you go to the “pine forest” (about four houses down the road there are some pine trees). She’s done it a few times.

    It’s an exercise for both of us, though, as I’ve been trained by Without a Trace and such hyped up garbage that there’s some evil criminal lurking in every corner.

    I want my daughter to know she’s safe, to develop common sense rather than fearing everything.

    Thanks for this brave post. People are so quick to think that encouraging independence = irresponsibility. FEH.

  2. Sweetteach May 31, 2010 at 6:19 pm #

    Lenore is from my neighborhood which is where the term ‘helicopter parents’ originated. White middle class people raise their kids very differently from many people of color (generalization but grounded in truth), and I always find it interesting how there’s a huge backlash where the pendulum swings in the total opposite direction. As a parent I’m more interested in parents developing their intutition and helping their children to develop it as well. Am I going to let my extra tall black boy hop on a bus or train in NYC when he’s 7? Prob not, as I consider the state of black boys and men via a via the police. But at 4.5 I do let him play in the park as I sit pretty far away, he knows his boundaries of play on our block and he wks around the corner to the store to get water or a bagel for himself. He’s known and he knows people in the neighborhood so that’s feels safe for us. I doubt I’d feel comfy with him wandering in the woods somewhere or in a place where he doesn’t know anyone.
    I spent the weekend with my cousin who’s the same age and we ended up talking about the incest and sexual abuse we both experienced as we were left alone to ‘play’ with various family members and what not. I think it’s dangerous to glorify the past as this completely safe era where important things were learned. It’s also dangerous to overparent and not allow our children to practice standing on their own two feet. As with everything, balance is key IMO.
    Good post! This issues has been talked to death on my local parenting listserve. I’ll be interested to hear some other perspectives.

  3. Danielle June 1, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    It is so easy to be a helicopter parent. I find myself doing it sometimes. Okay a lot. When I was my 9 yrs old age I was taking the NY subway train alone, my mother didn’t know but I did. I was all over my neighborhood. By 10 I was walking thru the projects to jr hs. At 13 talking the train down to Manhattan. But I feel fear letting my kids go the store and it’s right up the road. I think its the whole car aspect that makes my nervous. And to be honest I feel more nervous letting my kids wake alone here than I do in th South Bronx. People drive in the city but it’s hard to stop in the middle of the road to snatch a child up. In the South Bronx there’s always people around. Not to say that things don’t happen they do but…
    I am however, an advocate of letting my kids travel and visit relatives around the country and to the Caribbean without me. I think its fosters independence. I was on the move from 9 yrs old. I was never home in the summer. I’m trying to find somewhere for them to go now. lol

    Oh and Shay I’m off to Chitown for Chicago Fest! Woo-hoo!

  4. Denisha June 1, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    My 9 yr old has a cell phone (from his aunt) but I do allow him to go a lot of places without me so he can have a life I guess lol. No public trans alone yet but we walk it out every where. I walked to school with my sisters, walked back, took the bus & train alone to work from a young age, and felt independent enough to think for myself and realize when a situation could potentially be dangerous. I had street smarts.

    Most kids here (Chicago) still do. Other kids from other places/cities do not. I still worry if he is late getting back from a 3 hour after-school program or field trip so the cell helps me calm my butt down – baby steps I guess.

    • Vonnie June 3, 2010 at 10:04 am #

      We live in NC, in the land of *go play outside*, yet in our neighborhood, D @ 4.5 is the only child under the age of say….15, maybe 16. He doesn’t have kids to go play with, so I’ve never had to just let him go. Across town @ my friend’s house, it’s like… “the Lost Boys” when you come down their street. At least 20 kids from the age of 4 to 12 or so just outside playing. Riding bikes, playing in everyone’s back yard & playing in the streets (yikes! My panic alarm goes off!) etc. But when I tell D he’s going over to play — you know what he tells me “I’m going to be outside…and I’m NOT coming back in!” I give him the whole spiel about staying out of the street & he says “I know this…I know how to watch out” oh..geeze…excuse me!

      I am from “the country” and my brothers & I WERE the only kids in our neighborhood, and with no sidewalks, it was hard to walk anywhere — besides that, everything was spaced out. It was about a mile, no sidewalks to the gas station. But then again — we were in the car driving from 13 or 14. I had a license the day I turned 16 & was allowed to drive myself & my 2 brothers 1 hr to piano lessons way out in the country. I had a “valued customer” discounted rate from my auto insurance company by the time I was 24 because I’d been with them 10 years! We stayed outside (ahem…got locked outside) for hours at a time, and would freely go roaming the woods behind our house. I think the most my mom said was “if you see strange people in the woods….yell loud and run home” (really – that’s your only advice? LOL).

      We live 5 minutes away from an elementary school that D could go to. I’ve never ever fathomed that he would walk home….ever! It’s on the other side of a busy major road, and I guess I don’t trust people not to run my child over (or maybe it’s because I was hit by a car I just can’t let go – i get anxiety just crossing the street myself). This is the land of the after school program, where I think nobody wants to be known as the parent who lets their child go home alone — most kids are driven to school & picked up, though most are on the bus route.

      In contrast, my same friend had her 1st son getting off the bus, using his key to get in the house & doing his chores/following written instructions on a wipe board since he was 6! I was always amazed that she would trust a 6 yr old with such responsibility – he was probably home alone about 3 hours before she came in. She told me once that they had an understanding that since it was just the 2 of them, he had to be responsible, and that having an extremely nosy neighbor downstairs was a huge benefit, if not a pain sometimes.

      Around here sidewalks still aren’t prevalent, there aren’t any community shops & stores, everything is major & a chain & nobody is personal. Sure, I know the people at the bagel shop, and the gas station, but that’s about it! I never ever see kids out alone — maybe at the library or mall, but that’s different I think. You have to just about drive everywhere. I am about to go to TJ Maxx…it’s literally 3 minutes away, and you know what — I’m about to drive. It’s like a 1 minute drive over. There isn’t a sidewalk, it’s been raining and it’s muddy…entertaining walking over there isn’t even an option. (Why isn’t there a sidewalk!!! I ask this all of the time…)

      My parents live 2 hours away via train (very direct trip), I would LOVE to stick D on a train & let him go, but I have no idea how to work up to that, and at what age he’d not be skittish with doing it alone. I wonder if I’m breeding a skittish child?? I see it sometimes on his face that he’s not sure of doing things without me, but i force him to go play alone. My mom tells me she’d be put on a BUS every summer from NC to NY — from about the age of 8 with a note pinned on her shirt LOL! How would I even begin to do that with him? Maybe ride with him once & just not sit with him? (that seems so mean!).

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