Like Scientists, parents and caregivers hope we don’t miss calculate our experiments and create Hulk or Frakenstein instead of a loving, healthy, compassionate human beings.
Recently I saw a news story on parents in Maryland that were chastized because they allowed their ten year old to escort the six year old to the nearby park without adult supervision. Apparently Maryland law states that all children 17 and under must have an adult with them. All across this country parents let their 17, 16, and 10 year olds babysit, go to friends house or go to nearby parks, schools, etc. Are parents across America wrong? Is it wrong for a mother in New York to let her 9 year old ride the subway alone? Is it wrong for a father in Wyoming to let his 8 year old go rabbit hunting with his pellet gun?
Apparently this is called Free Range Parenting. Where parents feel they empower their children by letting them have responsibility of siblings and going to nearby places. Can you imagine a 16 year old with a driver’s liscence who isn’t allowed to babysit his younger siblings for a couple of hours. I used to babysit whole days and even whole weekends when I was 16.
Free Range makes me think of chickens. To be classified as Free Range they are not kept in cages but allowed to roam beyond the coop in a field, farm yard, or open barn. They are given boundaries. Free Range chickens are valued for their meat and eggs as being healthier than caged chickens which tend to disease and require antibiotics affecting meat and eggs aversly. Some Free Range producers enclose the roaming yard with fencing and wire to keep predators out. Coyotes, foxes, snakes, and birds of prey present a real threat to the chickens and the farmer’s livlihood. Mass producers mainly deal with diseases as a threat and can therefore produce large quantities of chickens at a lower cost. The quality of Free Range chickens cost more and produce less so these producers (ranchers/farmers) find it in their best interest to create boundaries to protect their chickens.
In my free range childhood in a rural small town, you would think we had little to worry about as we played in the yard or nearby rodeo grounds from morning until dark (the rodeo grounds were behind our back yard). However, I recall tragedy from accidents involving young children. I listened as adults talked about the serial killer that had taken lives of people from my area. I knew families of victims. Rape and domestic abuse were rarely reported but impacted my thinking. Strangers trying to grab girls and other reports spread quickly like meerkats warning the whole community. One classmate said she was moving; later we found she had not moved. Her mother escaped their trailer to get help, my former classmate was pregnant by her father and her brother imprisoned in the shower with abuse, neglect, and starvation. This happened under everyone’s nose: the trailer park owners, school officials, and neighbors.
Of course, I climbed barbed wire fences (have scars to prove that), played around an open sewer ditch that ran by our house, rode my bike without a helmet or protective clothing (have scars for that too), had a childhood friend who died after a car accident. I knew others who were seriously injured in car accidents and another girl who was mysteriously found shot by a river near her home. A few accidental injuries from teens playing with guns and other such things that could make a great drama. Add to these experiences the national and local news slinging the worst of humanity including kidnapping and murder, which I had to watch for social studies, and you can see why as a young mother I had very tight boundaries.
I used to check for snakes and wasps before I let my oldest offspring as a toddler play in the back yard with me present! (Our subdivision was built on a field that had water running through it with water mocassins.) He would run and I didn’t want him to run into a water moccasin or be stung by a wasp under our porch. Once I had been gardening and stuck the boy in the shower while I finished outside with the door open so I could hear him. He was three. I went into the garage to put my tools away and came into the house. The door was wide open and no three year old in sight. I yelled and screamed, my heart gripped with fear. He came running down the sidwalk, naked and crying. He didn’t know where I was. Why he thought I would be up the street I’ll never know. With each kid comes different personalities and different boundaries. I noticed my school aged offspring would place boundaries on themselves. As a parent it is important to balance between our boundaries and our children’s; knowing when to encourage child to roam more, go out of their comfort zone, and when to reign in. Boundaries naturally change with age and each child’s exhibition of responsibility.
How do nurturers design appropriate boundaries?
1. Check local laws. If your ten year old must be accompanied, let them lead you to the park, a friends house, or the ice-cream stand.
2. Allow child to pay for snacks or other items from money they’ve earned, their budgeted allowance, or money you give them for the item. When they earn it or save from their allowance these treats and treasures are more valued.
3. Strangers are not always the villians. Children need to feel comfortable talking to adults about concerns. They need to feel cautious about all people young or old. They must learn to observe and report facts as oppossed to emotions associated with interactions.
4. Empower children from a young age by letting them choose clothes to wear, books for story time, music and movies, and at best once a week–food for meals. Empowered children create confident teens and adults.
5. Widen boundaries according to child’s understanding of risks (predators, pits, and injury) and safety, and their ability to obey boundaries or negotiate reasonable extensions of boundaries with logical reasons.
Free Range Parenting is a stupid term. It’s called parenting. Whether we make mistakes and learn from them or not.
May we all judge kindly and learn graciously as we empower our children.