Monday, April 28, 2008

Helicopter vs. Free-Range Parenting

This columnist let her 4th grade son ride the New York subway by himself and stirred up some controversy. Check out the article 4th Grader Rides Subway and her blog Free-Range Kids.

My feelings on this are mixed. Aidan will be in 4th grade next year and I don't even know if I am going to let him ride the school bus because it is mixed with 4th grade up through high school kids.

I grew up in a non-traditional family situation. At my dad's house on weekdays we had really strict rules: curfew, couldn't be out driving after a certain time, couldn't eat certain foods that were normal in other houses and on and on. On the weekends I would go to my mom's house and there weren't any rules over there. My mom's car only seated 5 so two of us rode in the trunk area (it was a station wagon type of car). My sister almost drowned in the ocean because we went swimming and there was a strong undertow and my mom had no idea where we were at the time. Before I moved in with my dad, I lived with my mom in Hawaii. She let me walk home from school as a Kindergartener and a man followed me home once and was trying to get into the house while I hid under my bed praying he would go away or that my mom would come home. Another time she left me in a sugar cane field on the side of a highway and drove off. She still says to this day that she would have left me there if my little sister hadn't been crying so long and loud for her to go back and pick me up. I rode the Bay Area Rapid Transit (subway system in Northern California) from the time I was 10 to get to my mom's house on the weekends. Once a man was staring at me from across the aisle and touching himself. Actually, a lot of that kind of thing happened to the girls in my family and it stunk!

I can't help but wonder what my life would have been like had I been a little less neglected by my mom and a little more trusted by my dad. It is true that at my dad's house I walked to school and was allowed to ride my bike all over the place until dark and without a helmet. I was allowed to have sleep overs.

Now as a parent I am way too cautious. I do let my kids ride the school bus and most of the time walk home from the bus stop, but the bus stop is only one house away. I let them play outside, but only in the backyard and it is fenced in and I am secretly checking on them about every 20 minutes. When they ride bikes in the neighborhood I go with them. If they want to play with a friend that isn't right next door, I walk them over. I don't allow them to have sleep overs. I am afraid to take them camping because of weirdoes and wild animals. So I guess I am in the helicopter camp. I don't like them to play at a friend's house if only the dad is home. I teach my kids what to do if they do get lost, they know their phone number, etc., and what types of people to go to for help (a mom with kids, someone with a name tag, etc.,). I wish I could be more of a free-ranger, but my childhood was more like A Series of Unfortunate Events than Little Women.

Is the world a scarier place than when we were kids? What do you all think? What type of parent are you?


Kirsten said...

I'm probably overly cautious too but I'm glad and don't regret the way I parent. I read a comment on that site and it was interesting...

"Here’s an interesting thought … maybe the disconnect between the “free range” camp and the “helicopter mom” camp stems from different priorities. My mom’s group was talking about this website — I think you can guess I think it’s great! Another mom said “those people are on drugs” and that her #1 job as a parent was to keep her children safe.

Then it occurred to me — I don’t have the same priorities as her. My #1 job is NOT to keep my children “safe” (whatever that means). My #1 job is to prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society. This means that I will always choose “training for life, with some risk” as ok, whereas my friend will choose “keep them safe, even if they miss a life lesson.”

I am not like the woman who posted that. I WOULD rather my child be safe than learn a life lesson. There are millions of lessons to learn and an unlimited way to learn them. Letting your kids roam freely isn't necessarily the way for them to learn. I don't think Tara learned any good lesson watching a sicko pleasure himself on the subway.

I don't want to make my children afraid of the world, although Kendall's afraid of everything already, but I want them to be careful. I want my kids to play and be kids and not worry about breaking legs and getting kidnapped so as their parent I will try to let them get those experiences in a safe environment.

I was lucky in that I didn't have any bad and scary things happen to me as a child, my mom was very cautious and anyone who knows her knows how she worries. (Hi Mom, Love you!) And I grateful for the way she, and my dad, raised me.

-----"My #1 job is NOT to keep my children “safe” (whatever that means). My #1 job is to prepare my children to be happy, healthy, contributing members of our society."----- Why can't we aim for both???

THat was long, sorry.

Grammy A said...

I think I know the kind of parent I was to my kids when they were young, but I'd like to know what THEY think. I am probably somewhat like you Tara, but not quite as nervous. I surely would NOT let my child ride the subway alone (I haven't read the article yet). When my kids were young, I would walk my kids to their friend's houses (or I'd watch them walk). I would pick them up from school unless I knew they were walking home with each other or a group of people. They got to have sleepovers, but I don't know if that's a good idea. I think it totally depends on the family. Not your family... the sleepover family. I'm kind of picky. If we're in a crowd, I don't have to be holding their hands as long I could see them and they could hear me if I yelled. I probably let them go to the park and stuff with their friends when they got to be about 9 or 10. Is that about right girls? How was it? You remember better than I do!

Robyn said...

I totally agree with the ideology this lady subscribes to. However, we live in different times. I can honestly say that I do not know the names of ANY of my neighbors. I can tell you what some of them look like, but I doubt they'd recognize me if they saw me. If one of my daughters sneaked out of the house, my neighbors would probably take her and call the cops because they wouldn't know to whom she belonged.

But back in the day, neighborhoods were friendly places. Everyone knew everyone. Kids played at everyone's houses. Parents looked after other parents' kids, and even disciplined them a little if they needed that. Mothers used to actually BE home. There are still places like that (Utah is a good example), but in my neighborhood, people keep to themselves (mostly because of the extreme heat and humidity).

So in a world where there are fewer and fewer kids being set free, if I were to let my kids out, they'd be alone, with no community to support them. In fact, with fewer kids out and about, but the same amount of sex offenders (if not more), my kids are less likely to be a random target, and more like the only target. I'm not willing for the sake of ideology to single-handedly return this community back to 1950 at the expense of my children's safety. They're too precious to me and I'd regret forever not being more cautious, when it would have been easy.

I will probably walk my kids to and from elementary school, even though it's two blocks away. I wouldn't normally do this, but on the corner next to the school, there's a registered child sex offender. Lovely, huh? If we move to a place where the bus is a possibility, I'll let them take the bus (unless that means they'll get home an hour and a half after school ends like the buses here do, because that's ridiculous, since they could be spending that time doing something else more productive).

I will probably let my kids spend the night at friends' houses, as long as I feel they're not in danger. I let my kids get hurt, as long as they're supervised and warned. Like if I tell Ada not to touch the oven, and I see she's going to, I will let her touch it. Some kids have to experience that. Others don't. I don't put gates up on the stairs. I let them fall down. They don't get hurt badly (they're too little and flexible) and it's a good lesson learned, not only on how to get up and down the stairs, but to listen to their wise mother. But I'm not going to put their lives in danger. And there is such a thing as age-appropriate risk-taking.

I guess I'm a free-range parent at heart, but I'm not going to let others have free-range access to my children. Those kinds of things are damaging forever. I'd rather they have access to hurts that can heal. I heard a statistic once that one out of every four girls will be molested by the time their adults. That certainly wasn't the case with me and my friends, thank goodness, but being raised in an LDS atmosphere probably helped our statistics a bit. I would pretty much do anything within reason to keep my girls from being one of the four.

April, when I was in the fifth grade (I think), Katy, Kirsten, and I would often walk to SaveMart and Longs. We would play all day outside and Kirsten and Katy would come home when they heard you whistle. We would walk to the junior high with friends. I think when I was 15 or 16, we took a trip to San Francisco on the BART. I think you may have been opposed to that one, though. Heck, I think my mom was opposed to that one. When I was 17, I occasionally drove myself to San Francisco for a Saturday rehearsal. I thought I had a good balance of protection and freedom. And when I thought I was being overly-protected, I'd put up a huge fight.

What I remember most about how you raised your kids, though, was that when you said no to something, they didn't ask again. That was shocking to me. A "no" at my house meant my parents needed "convincing" until they finally were so annoyed with me, they gave in. I was always trying to get Kirsten to go ask you again, and she never would, probably because she was a nice girl (unlike me) and because your words actually meant something (unlike at my house).

The other cool thing about you, April, is that you were just plain cool! Remember when we wanted to take a vacation to Southern California by ourselves? We were all excited to be on our own, but you were opposed to it. You decided you'd drive us, and it was really fun. Nobody was upset that you came along with us (after the fact). In fact, it was probably more fun because you were there. And didn't you drive us to Utah over spring break? Also fun. Or like when we went TPing and you'd help. You were probably just trying to keep us safe, but I thought it was because you liked TPing. It was really great parenting and I learned a lot from you and John.

Robyn said...

I apologize for the marathon post there. I got carried away, obviously.

The Gomes Family said...

First and foremost Tara, my heart sank when I read what you had to endure while growing up. What a strong woman you have become because of it, however, I would be willing to bet you remember some of those nasty images (icky man) in your mind. That is what is damaging to a child. Children should never be exposed to pornographic nastiness.
As you all know now, my husband is Catholic and wasn't raised like us LDS individuals. I had to put my foot down hard about all things alcohol, pornography, nasty music, and foul language. This is going to be a constant battle for me. I can't expect him to change himself overnight but I can stop him from having or doing any of those things around our daughter. I don't hang out with his friends that do the above and he asked one day why and I explained that that is not something that I want to expose her too. She doesn't need to be raised around that stuff. He said so you think you are better then they are and I told him no, I just hold a higher moral standard than they do.
I am sort of Free Range/ Helicopter depending on the situation. We live in a small town where I know all my neighbors all their kids and unfortunately all their animals, however; I won't let her play with some neighbors opposed to others. I allow her to get hurt too such as, falling off of a couch or off of her carseat she likes playing in and on. I can't go as far as letting her burn herself (I love you Robyn) because then I would have to treat her burns and I would cry because I allowed it to happen(I am more emotional then my sister if you all don't know by now). Little "owies" I can handle scratches, bumps, and bruises bring them on, burns not so much.
I do agree with Robyn that we are in a different time then when she and I were raised. We would always walk to Longs/Savemart(Kirst and Katy as well). We would play outside for hours without a care in the world, watching the Filipinos (Mike) whom we thought were drug dealers wash their cars and such. Now and days kids are getting stolen, touched inappropriately and mentally scarred for life with some damaging things that are inflicted upon them. I think having been raised in the church has enabled us to be aware of the bad things in the world and not be apart of them.

April you were and still are a cool hot momma!

I could go on and on but I will refrain.

Thomas Family said...

I often compare my childhood to my own childrens' and it makes me sad that they haven't and probably won't experience all the freedom I did. I want them to, but I just can't seem to let myself let go yet. I don't feel too bad yet, as my kids are only 6, 4, and 2. But my 4 year old is LONGING for some independence. He wants to go "hiking" by himself on the mountain behind our house. I just can't let him do it yet. Then I think back to my childhood when I spent hours and hours outside hiking on the mountain by my house. I was never allowed to be alone though. I also spent many days playing in a field behind the house, was often sent to the store to run errands, and walked to the bus stop myself. When I was a teenager my parents let me fly with my friend to California for spring break. There are several other things I did that I would DIE if I knew my kids were doing them, but I lived and I'm okay and it was good for me because my parents trusted me. I was a good kid and never gave them any reason to think I would do stupid or dangerous things, so they gave me more freedom. They probably wouldn't have if they knew some of the choices I made, but I always got home safely, sober and clean. I had a great childhood. Wonderful. I WANT my kids to experience life. I want them to enjoy their youth. I hate the thought of them inside playing video games and becoming completely oblivious to the real world. They need some preparation.

So my take on it is this. Go ahead and give them independence, obviously in reasonable amounts, but make sure they know what they need to know before you do it. Phone numbers, address, safety guidelines, and VALUES!!! What better protection than the Holy Ghost? Seriously. If our kids are worthy and in tune, the Spirit will be a great help to them. I remember as a child having promptings to leave a friends house, when it turned out her Dad came home drunk and beat the crap out of her brother. I remember promptings of the Spirit guiding me all throughout my youth. I want my kids to have the same advantage.

I had a little wake-up call when we were living in Switzerland. Kenzi went to kindergarten there. The school was literally across the street and and half a block down from us, but I walked with her for the first month. I had a couple comments from other parents asking why I did that, and I said I wanted her to be comfortable with walking alone before I let her. The truth was I wanted to be comfortable with her walking along before I let her. They thought I was strange. It is like a whole other world there. Almost no crime, drivers actually stop to let a pedestrian cross the road, everyone does know their neighbors. Once a week they had a gym class across the village in another school. They would walk together as a class and when school was over they would walk home themselves. These are 4 and 5 year olds. I just couldn't do that. Every Tuesday I would walk across the village to meet her at the other school and walk home with her. One day I forgot it was gym day and started wondering why she wasn't home yet. When I realized it was gym day I freaked out and ran like maniac across town to meet her. I found her crying, walking down the wrong path and scared to death. I was riddled with guilt. But she was okay. It was a really small village. I don't think she could have gotten lost, but from that day forward she started paying attention on the walk home so she knew the way for herself and by the end of the year she was asking to walk home by herself and I felt completely confident that she could do it. And of course she did.

I think being there and seeing how all the parents seem to let their kids "run wild" was really eye opening. The kids are confident and capable, because they are given freedom to BE kids. And if you know anyone Swiss, you know they grow up to be VERY responsible. That said, we are not living in Switzerland anymore and that changes everything. But I learned a few things while I was there. I hope I can actually put them to use here.
Let kids be kids. Protect them? Absolutely. But both them and I are more likely to be happy with their life if they are given preparation first and freedom second.

I'll step down from my soap box now. Sorry to rant. I'm glad I'm not the only one who has a lot to say about it.