Free-Range Parenting (Alternate Title- AD Makes Everyone Mad)

Unless you’ve slipped into a coma in the last week or so, you’ll no doubt have run across the story of the parents who let their 10 and 6 year old kids go off to the park alone. The police picked them up, the parents got in a bit of hot water, the police are being sued, and the internet is going insane over it.

The overwhelming majority of what I’m reading is coming down hard in favor of the parents, slamming the police for picking up the kids. (They did make an error, but I’ll get to that in a minute)

Internet commentary has largely been complaining that government agencies are literally picking our kids off the street, that we are creating a generation of fear, that the parents did nothing wrong, etc. There has been a LOT of “Back when I was a kid, we used to…..” or “We are stifling our children’s independence and creating a overprotective society!”

My take?

I’m in the lucky position to view this story from all three angles of it.

1. Where I grew up, I was granted a lot of freedom by my parents so I know what it was like to be out and about on my own or with my siblings.

2. I’m a parent. I have two boys that I want to grow up strong and independent.

3. I work in law enforcement.

So. That being said, and given what I know, who I am, where I’ve been, and what I’ve done?

The parents screwed up. Actually- no. Everyone screwed up a little in this story.

But it started with the parents screwing up. I completely understand the desire to allow your kids to grow up independent and strong…but letting them loose at 10 and 6 without any sort of supervision is endangerment. The world is simply not the same place as it was when we were kids. I’m quick to shake my head at the people who say “Bah! when I was a kid, my parents let me wander off all over the neighborhood, and as long as I was home when the street lights came on, I was okay.” Fantastic.

Old-age parenting techniques also may have included heavy-handed spankings when you messed up, bourbon on the gums when you were teething, and other such things which we try to avoid these days.

“But I turned out okay!”

Apparently not, since you think THIS is okay.

“But your way raises a generation of dependent wimps who can’t take care of themselves.”

No, I just think there are other ways to foster independent growth without the possibility of endangering safety. Even 20 years ago, when I was growing up, and my siblings and I were cut loose a bit, we had restrictions. Everyone in the ‘neighborhood’ I lived in had an eye on us when we biked to the post office or whatever. When we were in the woods, we had to stay in ‘earshot’ of my mother’s voice- which might sound like a short leash, but good LORD that lady could bounce her voice off of the hills behind our house pretty amazingly. We weren’t CONSTANTLY under my mother’s eye, but she knew where we were, what we were up to, and never far enough away that an emergency would turn into a crisis.

Simply letting your kids wander off to a park, or ‘free ranging’ them….sounds like an open invitation to disaster, and creating the possibilities of something going wrong, all in the name of making sure they’re ‘independent.’

Sorry, but as much as I want my kids to be independent, they can wait until they’re a bit older- enough to make decisions for themselves that aren’t going to be rooted in childish innocence or ignorance because nobody bothered to teach them otherwise.

Now- from a law enforcement side, if I’m driving down the road- even in the small town I work in, and I see two kids, 6 and 10 unsupervised? I’m going to pick them up. I’m going to make every effort to IMMEDIATELY contact their parents…not wait hours and hours as was the case in this story, although I expect that had less to do with actively detaining the kids, and more to do with ‘that’s how long it takes for CPS to react to something.’

Still, the parents would need to be contacted immediately. I could not, in good conscience, drive past a couple of unsupervised kids and not find out exactly what the hell is going on and where the parents are. No good cop, no good ADULT could do that.

Letting parents be parents is a great idea. Letting parents make mistakes as they learn HOW to parent is necessary. Letting parents put their kids at RISK because they’re trying to foster independence….is problematic.

I realize that I am absolutely in the minority here. And that the bulk of the internet support is in favor of these ‘free range parents.’ There’s an overwhelming stink-eye cast at the police who, I believe- were trying to look out for the best interests of the kids, and NOT impose some government power-arm on families and parents.

Cutting kids loose to grow and learn is a great idea. But at 10 years old? No. Not to the extent that these parents did. Lets be real folks- ‘passive parenting’ as I’m going to call it- is a miserable idea. When we become parents, we take up an unspoken oath to guide, nurture, and protect our kids. It is our new JOB to make sure they’re raised to the best of our ability. And that can’t be done enough in 10 years that you can kick them loose to the world and say “They’re learning to be independent.”

The rookie cop isn’t given a week’s worth of instruction, handed a gun, and told to ‘go get it done.’
The apprentice electrician isn’t given a blueprint for a million dollar log home and told ‘wire it.
But the 10 year old kid can be told ‘go forth young man, and learn. Also, watch your brother’??

I feel like that at 10 years old, parenting still needs to be a bit more hands-on. No, I don’t advocate helicopter parenting. Remember, I’m the guy that hands my 5 year old the car keys and tells him to go get it started. But I also don’t tell him to start the car, boogie on down to the gas station and pick up a gallon of milk.

The world is an ugly place. I watch people who ‘love each other’ willingly punch each other in the face. I watch separating parents put their kids in the middle as emotional bargaining chips. I get countless fax reports from the state on missing and abducted children.
….and I for one cannot see the merit of unleashing my kids into that world without an eye on them when they’re still hardly old enough to take care of themselves, and I absolutely refuse to agree that my way of parenting is raising a kid that is worse off than the one where the question “Where are you kids?” Can be answered with “Beats me.”

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3 thoughts on “Free-Range Parenting (Alternate Title- AD Makes Everyone Mad)

  1. I think you worded this excellently. The 10 year old may be able to be careful themselves if a few of them are together (all kids develop differently at different ages) but to expect a 10 year old to look after a 6 year old also. Should never happen…

  2. I agree with you. You’ve articulated it very well. We actually live in a small, Mayberry kind of town where kids roam freely, and I still keep a close eye on my 9 yr old. My 13 yr old is a different story- he’s old enough to be out and about on his own and has been for the last couple of years. 10 is an age where a child could start having some freedom, but much depends on the area, the child, and I don’t think a child this age should be responsible for a younger sibling like that.

    In theory I agree with some of the free range parenting ideals, but I find that in practice I keep my kids close in the early years. I also feel like the parents are using their kids as a way to make a point, and that’s not fair to the kids.

    • Thank you for your comment, I agree with you 100%. The way I see it, you can teach independence and still supervise. Parenting from afar, or supervision by proxy of trusted neighbors as my parents did is perfectly legitimate. Just because you’re looking after the safety of your children doesn’t mean you’re smothering them, and you can do it in such a manner that they have no idea you’re doing it. It was YEARS after the fact that I found out my mother had neighbors watching us as we biked down the road, and there were no retroactive negative consequences that effected any lessons in independence I learned from those days. Simply kicking a 10 and 6 year old kid into the world for them to ‘figure it out’ is a terrible way to teach anything.

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