Free-Range Kids, yay or nay?

Free-range Kids… is it for you?

While walking out of the library the other day, a book, Free-Range Kids, caught my eye and I grabbed it, which is a bit unusual for me because unless a book is about crock pot recipes or gardening, I usually don’t check out books for myself (library trips are usually for the kids), and it isn’t that I don’t like books, I love books, I have shelves full of books… I’ve just become that busy mom with too many excuses! After a day of homeschooling, laundry, some kind of lesson, a workout, and who knows what else… with a hubby gone 5 days a week… I have fallen into excuse mode, but I grabbed that book at the library and said to myself… I am going to ACTUALLY read this book!

Honestly, I am so glad I saw this book, not only am I glad that I am again taking the time to read and be an example for my kids, who are constantly reading (hence their blog at www.3AmigosBookBlog.com), I actually am loving this book!

Most moms of today are very hesitant to allow their kids to walk to the store by themselves, to ride their bikes around the block by themselves, to head to the park by themselves, and I really wasn’t any different. I mean how often do we hear about an Amber Alert and though 99% of those are parental disputes, we still are inundated by the thought of our children being taken. How can we not be when we hear for months on end, every gruesome detail of the extremely rare cases, of those children that are taken by a non-family member. The increase of the “around the clock” media has caused us to perpetually worry about this and so we have decided that the outside is not an ok place for our children, but is that really true?

I, very recently, was too scared to even let my kids play outside in our front yard by themselves. The thought of letting my children enjoy the childhood I had, one where I rode my bike everywhere by myself, walked to our local corner store for candy by myself, and played around the neighborhood for hours by myself, was a terrifying thought. It seemed I was not alone in this, all moms that I knew were like minded, and so this was the norm, but I always had a little voice in the back of my mind that knew I was doing my kids a great injustice.

My goal is to raise kids that can handle themselves, that don’t need me for every little thing, and that feel safe in the real world, and so when I found the book Free-Range Kids, I was excited to read it. The book really goes into depth on why most parents are afraid based on myths and rarities that occur less than winning the lottery and getting struck by lightning on the same day. I recommend every parent reading this book, even if the idea of having a child that has more freedom scares you, this book has some great information. Of course the book isn’t without controversy, as the mom that wrote the book got alot of flack for allowing her 9 year old son to ride home on the New York subway alone with some tokens and a map, but the book is honestly eye opening!

So what have I learned and what have I applied from this book… well, I have learned that my kids are capable of more than I thought. I have learned that they can be trusted to follow the rules I have set forth. I have learned that they learn through experiences, just like adults do. Most importantly, I have learned that having kids outdoors and unaccompanied doesn’t equate to being unsafe. This was a slow process and is still evolving.

We sat down with the kids, who are 7, 8, and 9, and explained the dangers… people driving too fast, people texting and driving, people acting weird or funny, and the like. They also know that rarely a child is taken and bad things happen, we didn’t hide that point either. We also went on to give a set of rules that had to be followed… staying together, crossing at the corners, NEVER going with someone they don’t know or that isn’t on the list of approved people, they are to always let us know where they are, and lastly… and this one is going to strike a chord with people… we let them know it is OK to talk to strangers.

Strangers aren’t bad, I see little old ladies talking to kids in the stores only to have those kids ignore them or say they can’t talk to strangers, and if something is wrong with your child, they might be afraid to get help because they don’t want to get in trouble for talking to a stranger. So we instead explained that if they are in trouble, they should find a police/fire man, an adult, a mom, or even another kid to bring into the situation, this is of course if getting to us is, for some reason, out of the question. Truth is most people want to help and telling your child strangers are bad is closing them off from humanity.

Here is a picture of them walking home, for their first time, after piano practice.

After this talk, we allowed them to go to the park 1 block away, by themselves. Then we started allowing them to ride their bikes around a few blocks and then they were able to walk to the corner store, which is 2 blocks and across Main St. Since then, they have been allowed to walk to and from piano practice which is 3 blocks (the piano teacher and I text each other about departure and arrival), the city park which is 7 blocks, from Taekwondo practice which is 6 blocks (for longer trips they carry my phone), and in general are able to play in the neighborhood with their friends without a helicopter parent. The kids have even started walking neighbor’s dogs for extra income and they do this by themselves for several blocks.

My kids really found some confidence from this, they have followed the rules, and were even mature enough to handle a situation that occurred to them while walking dogs.  Sadly a woman who let her dogs roam in her front yard and sidewalk area, yelled at my children for walking the dogs past her house, because naturally the dogs on the leash were excited by the dogs that were loose, and though none of the dogs were really trying to hurt each other, the woman’s reaction was to yell at my children, she literally blamed them for the excitement, though they had the dogs in the tree lawn and her dogs were charging them. My kids are pretty practical, they didn’t even tell me about this, they just started walking on the other side of the street. When I asked them why, they explained what had happened (yes that woman and I had a few words) and told me they had handled it. I was both upset (at the woman) and proud with my children… they weren’t devastated that someone had yelled at them, they didn’t let that stop them from what they were doing, and they fixed the problem… I was proud!

Do I worry… yes! I let them walk home from Taekwondo for the first time just this week, and I was worried because the location is in the heart of our town (we have about 6000 people in our town) but my worry didn’t come from not trusting them or even what could happen to them, my worry came from what other people would say. I hear time to time, how parents of “free range” kids are targeted and some children actually removed from the home… this scares me to death. I was worried that some mom would call the police, they’d show up at my door, and then we would be investigated. That shouldn’t be the case, but it happens.

As parents we worry, it is in our nature, and I am not blind to the possibilities, but I have weighed them. I am so thankful that I read this book and that it allowed me to give my children the gift of freedom, choice, experience, and confidence. I know that this isn’t for everyone, but I highly recommend this book to all parents, if nothing else, for perspective.

Bet + Fam 🙂

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