I almost hit a little boy with my car this morning. Although I wasn’t speeding, I was driving purposefully down the street near my home on the way to my destination. Suddenly I noticed a blur of bright green and saw the boy, who could not have been more than 6 years old, dart into the street to meet his waiting friends on the other side. Rather than slam on the brakes, I swerved out of the way and stopped several feet ahead of his path.
I was incredibly shaken although the boy didn’t seem to realize he had just had a brush with death. Yesterday I had seen the same little boy in his green jacket, standing near the curb holding hands with a man I presumed to be his father. The man watched as the boy crossed the street. Today, however, I saw no adult outside watching.
There is a movement in this country called Free Range Kids that is meant to recapture the joyful, unbridled freedom many adults remember having as children. The argument is that we are too protective of our children, and they are growing up dependent and fearful. The incident today highlighted a discomfort I have felt with this growing attitude toward child-rearing.
I see a few problems with this free range movement. One is that neighborhoods are not as friendly anymore. There are not as many mothers at home on the block generally watching out for children, whether their own or their neighbors’. I knew, growing up, that if Mrs. Walsh or Mrs. Moore yelled at me, I had better listen to her. Nowadays, if an adult corrects a child not her own, she will be told to mind her own business.
Another problem is that neighborhoods themselves are busier, and people are more in a hurry. There are more cars on the road as well. When I was growing up, we had one family car, and often my father had to take it to work. These days, many families have two or more cars, and even in the middle of the day, people are regularly pulling out of driveways and hustling off to their chores and activities. This makes the simple act of walking or biking to school or a friend’s house more perilous.
I think we romanticize our childhoods. We had plenty of scrapes and scares and, in some instances, fatalities due to minimal supervision by our parents. There is a meme going around on Facebook that lists “Seven reasons everyone growing up in the Seventies should be dead.” It’s meant for laughs, but honestly, do we really want to go back to those days?
I am all for helping children gradually develop their independence. I also disagree with criminalizing such parental decisions as allowing a 6-year-old and 10-year-old to walk a mile home from the park by themselves. But I do think we should be careful as we help our kids navigate their childhoods.
I have been pretty cautious raising my own kids, and I don’t think they are any the worse for it. Certainly my 24-year-old, living in New York City, and my 21-year-old, who is a plane ride away at college, are more than capable of handling themselves. Yes, I walked them to school and followed them around the block as they were learning to ride a bike. I checked in with them regularly when they were out with friends. I would argue that the security they felt knowing I was always there looking out for them is what gave them their confidence.
After all, my children are not chickens.