Kids! Go Outside and Play! (If your helicopter parent will let you.)

As a child, summertime meant playing with my friends all day.  Outside. Without a parent hovering over me.  It was simple.  We jumped out of bed, snarfed down some breakfast and raced out to meet the "pack of kids" that roamed the neighborhood.  We played until the streetlamps came on.  Then?  We scattered like roaches diving onto our front porches and driveways to ensure we made it home before all of the streetlamps turned on and we were "late" in getting home.  Sure, we could check in now and then with our own mothers or the mothers of our friends but that was only when we were foraging for food or something to drink. (We were usually sent outside to the hose if it was for something to drink.)

Today?  It is highly unlikely that you will see many kids outside playing without a parent just over their shoulder or definitely within 100 yards.  It is rare to see a "pack of kids" outside roaming and just being kids.  Which of course makes me wonder how they learn the fine games of childhood?  How do you play the most awesome hide and seek game known to man if you aren't outside and have houses as boundaries rather than rooms?  What about the old pranks of pretending to hold a string across the street when a car goes by and seeing if it will stop short because of it?  Kickball in the street?  Chase?  Bike races?  Are we just counting on the fact that our schools will provide enough physical activity our kids needs?  Even if they do, what about the lessons of freedom, independence and self-confidence that comes with having some freedom?

When did our society become one that shelters our children so much that they are afraid to leave the safety of home to just go outside and play? Are we protecting them or are we doing them more harm than good?  Can our kids learn how to be self-sufficient and-- just as important-- confident in their own abilities to take care of themselves when we never let them venture out of our sight for more than a few moments?

Do you remember in March, Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother, gave her 9-year-old
son, Izzy, a MetroCard, a subway map, a $20 bill and some quarters for
pay phones. Then she let him make his own way home from Bloomingdale's
department store -- by subway and bus.  She wrote about the experience for the The New York Sun and came under some serious fire and criticism for it?  She fought back in a 21st century way, according the the LA Times.

Skenazy responded to the firestorm generated by her column by starting a new website -- freerangekids.wordpress.com
-- dedicated to giving "our kids the freedom we had." She explains: "We
believe in safe kids. ... We do NOT believe that every time school-age
children go outside, they need a security detail."

Good for her!  Today parents are sold a bill of good that if we are not hovering over our children 24/7, they will be hurt, kidnapped or suffer some trauma that will all be on our shoulders because we were not with them at the time.  I am not denying that there are some instances where we really need to watch over our children.  And, I do know that the times?  They have changed.  But children?  They have not.  They need the freedom to go outside and play.  To live their lives.

From the FreeRangeKids website, this is a brief description of the site and who it is geared towards:

 

Do You Ever...

..let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a
bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free
Range Kid! At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. We believe in
helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time
school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us
grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no
less. This site dedicated to sane parenting. Share your stories, tell
your tips and maybe one day I will try to collect them in a book.
Meantime, let's try to help our kids embrace life! (And maybe even
clear the table.) 

One blogger that definitely is raising a FreeRangeKid is SJ of the blog i,asshole.  I love how even in the face of criticism both she and her daughter stood by  what they felt was working for both of them.  Notice...working and for them in that sentence?  Isn't that what parenthood is all about.  This is what SJ has to say about it.

Flack, there was flack, flack ahoy. Like a responsible netizen (oh yers
I did) I did not tell you that my big kid was walking by herself to and
from school every day. When I moved to this neighborhood, this is
something I thought would be a possibility with the children, along
with running to the store for bananas, to the methadone clinic, etc,
etc....

And she went! A little scared on the first day. There was some
hesitancy and some surprise from her teacher, who called me on the
first day she was to come home. "She's here and I'm sending her home
now, right? Okay?" Right, okay. Her teacher is used to the helicopter parenting, which is about 47 times less amusing than a roflcopter.

And then it got interesting. The sound of chopper blades filled the
air. People started cluing in to the fact that Franny was embarking
alone daily on a five-minute walk. OMFGBBQ, release the hounds. A
parent told her that she should not be walking home by herself, after
she and I had decided it was okay and that she was ready. Did you catch
that? Another parent told my little fledging independent
so-proud-of-herself kid that what she was doing was not okay. Another
well-meaning parent offered her a ride.

Even when we make a decision for our own families there are times that is rejected by other "well meaning" parents who are "just trying to help" when they see a child showing some independence. What kind of adults are we raising if we wait until they are old enough to leave legally before we trust them with any independence?

I will admit to my moments of helicopter parenting when it comes to my youngest.  And I know that my kids have less freedoms than I had at their age.  Is this safe parenting or is it overprotective parenting?  Are we doing more harm than good?  What message are we sending to our kids?  

Do your kids go outside and play or are they homebound if you are not with them?  Is there a right or wrong answer to this?  Let me know what you think.  In the meantime, I am going outside to play.  (And my kids aren't even home to watch over me!)

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Other sites referencing this subject:

boingboing: http://www.boingboing.net/2008/08/25/kids-cant-go-out-and.html

Daily Mail Online: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-462091/How-children-lost-right-r...

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Contirbuting Editor (Mommy & Family) Jennifer Satterwhite also writes at Mommy Needs Coffee and Parenting.

 

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