I once lived in a kids’ ghost town. It was a safe neighborhood filled with families, but with no kids anywhere. Not on the sidewalks, or the playground or even their own front yards.
When I dared let my children walk to school by themselves, I was warned about predators and others who would call the cops on me for not supervising my kids. This was not a dystopian warzone or crime-ridden slum: it was suburban California.
Then we moved to Idaho. Suddenly my children weren’t the only ones walking to school by themselves. They met friends at the park or went fishing at a nearby pond.
Now a “Free-Range Kids” bill is up for debate in the Idaho legislature that will help keep this independent childhood alive. The Reasonable Childhood Independence bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Nate will help ensure that Idaho kids can walk to school by themselves, ride their bikes and meet friends at the park without their parents getting investigated for neglect.
Idaho places a strong value on independence and freedom. In many other states, the ghost town I described is very real even in the safest neighborhoods. Unfortunately, fear is infectious. Even in freedom-loving Idaho, people can still call the police at the sight of an unattended child.
This bill will help ensure that the culture of fear doesn’t take hold in the Gem state. It simply clarifies the language of child neglect laws, so that children doing something independently are not automatically assumed to be a case of negligence. It allows parents to determine when their kids are ready for more autonomy. As Free-Range Kid author Lenore Skenazy says: it lets parents be parents, and kids be kids.
Whenever we talk about giving kids more freedom, inevitably someone will bring up predators snatching kids off streets. These terrible tragedies do sometimes happen, but they’re extremely rare. A child has a greater chance of being struck by lightning than being abducted by a stranger.
The majority of child abusers are someone the kids know. The best way to protect against those type of abusers? Raise self-reliant, confident kids. These abusers try to manipulate children. They look for ones who are scared and compliant. Strong, independent kids who aren’t afraid to yell ‘no’ and go for help, are not easy prey.
The truth is that there is no way to make anything 100% safe for our kids, and the attempt to do that, while well intentioned, can rob kids of the very thing they need – the experience of doing things for themselves, of feeling capable and free. We are already seeing the results of this over-protective “helicopter” parenting style in rising rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among young adults.
Helicopter parenting also makes kids, and ultimately our future, less free. A German child advocate once told me that controlled kids become controlling adults. I would add that controlled kids might also grow into adults more willing to accept a government that controls them because it is all that they know.
As Nate points out, “This isn’t just about protecting parents, but giving kids the opportunity to grow into responsible, healthy adults who are productive members of society because they’ve grown up in an atmosphere where they were able to grow and learn.”
The best thing we can do for our kids, and our future, is to prepare them to handle the risks in life, and let them have a reasonable amount of independence. This common-sense bill will give parents the support they need to do just that.
Read more about this bill: Idaho introduces Free-range parenting bill.
Contact your legislator to support a Free-Range Kids bill in your state.
Join LetGrow.org to advocate for more childhood independence.
“What is the scariest thing your kids have ever done?”
This was one of the best questions I was asked when I visited St. Paul recently to give a talk on raising self-reliant kids. And it was from a kid in the audience. Earlier in the day I visited the Twin Cities German Immersion School, a great public charter school where kids learn auf Deutsch.
I answered a range of questions from how long it took me to write Achtung Baby (9 months for the first draft) to how old was my dog (2 years). Parents also asked a lot of thoughtful questions but this was one of the best:
So what was the scariest thing my kids have ever done? At the time I answered the thing that scared me the most:
When my son Ozzie got a concussion. He was running and either not looking where he was going or maybe somebody bumped into him and he hit a pole, hard.
I talk a lot about risk—about letting kids evaluate risk for themselves before doing something that scares them.
Running into a pole was not a risk evaluation. It was an accident, not something that can be prevented beforehand, other than bubble-wrapping the pole or him. It was a good reminder that nothing is 100% safe – and for him a reminder to be sure to look where he was going.
Here are more ways I could have answered the scary question because as my husband sometimes reminds me “kids are meant to do things that scare their parents”:
I’m sure there will be many more instances where my kids do something I find scary. It’s part of growing up.
What were some of the things that your kids have done that scared you? What did they learn from the experience? What did you learn as parents?