Helicopter parents vs. free range kids

Filed under: Toddlers Preschoolers, Preschoolers, Teens, Health & Safety: Babies, Development/Milestones: Babies, In The News, Playground Bureau, Sex

When I was 11, I had a summer job. Five days a week, I rode my 10-speed two miles into town and babysat three kids. The oldest was 10, furious that her babysitter was only a year older than her. The youngest was only one. I can't even imagine leaving my kids with an 11-year-old today, but in those days, it was the norm. All of my friends had babysitting jobs, and all of them also got around on their 10-speeds, just like me.

By all accounts, children in the United States are safer than ever. Crime is down, accidents and illness are less common than before, and the chance that your kid will be abducted by a stranger, say experts, is about one in a million. Yet many of us, myself included, have a white knuckle grip on our children's lives.

Lenore Skenazy, a Manhattan mom and New York Sun columnist, recently wrote about letting her nine-year-old son ride the subway on his own. Critics and supporters came out in droves, calling her both neglectful and a breath of fresh air. She used the incident to create her own blog about kids and independence, called Free Range Kids. The idea behind the concept is to live responsibly (seat belts, helmets, airbags, etc.), but not to restrict your child's actions out of fear.I'm working every day to balance my own fears with my girls' budding desire to get out and experience the world on their own terms. But I also think one of the reasons why our kids are so safe is because of the many rules that have changed since we (or our parents) were kids.

How many times have you been forwarded that email that says, "You know you were born in 1950/60/70/80 if..."? It always says things like, "We didn't have bike helmets and we still survived!" Sure, that's true. But the fact remains that bike helmets have significantly reduced the number of head injuries in children. So I think that we need to be careful when judging what is safe and what is over-protective. It's far too easy to say, "Well, I did it and I'm fine," while ignoring the fact that many other children in those decades did it and are not fine.

My girls are young and there are no subways in a three-state radius of me, so I'll likely not have to grapple with the decision that Skenazy made for quite some time. But they do tell me in a million smaller ways when I'm being overprotective. We have an ongoing battle over playing in the front yard -- I won't let them unless I'm out there too (they have a perfectly lovely, fenced backyard they can play in anytime) -- and they want to cross busy streets without me clutching their hands.

I don't know if I have it in me to be a "free range parent," but I'm also working hard to put away my hover-mama tendencies. What about you -- where do you fall on the protective parent continuum?

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.