I’m getting really annoyed by the attitude of the Free Range Kids movement that it’s not enough to bring your kids to the park – you have to leave them alone; otherwise you’re a Smother, a Helicopter Parent, and a pearl-clutching pedophilo-phobic who’s stunting your child’s development.
Sure, some kids are locked up all day inside, watching TV. Not good. Others have pushy, overzealous parents who teach them to “read” at 18 months and schedule activities every day after school and twice on Saturday. Others put their kids in a tutoring program for hours a week to get their grades up from a B+. It’s perfectly valid to question these practices. What’s not valid is to create a false dichotomy where you either completely leave children to their own devices (not even hands-off supervision allowed!), or you’re automatically stifling their natural creativity and impeding play.
This week my 4 year old examined a dead frog, a dead mouse, and a live snail. I was there, and reminded her not to touch the dead animals. Yesterday my 8 year old was climbing the tree in our front yard (without a CPSC-approved depth of mulch below her!) She got a pretty good cut on her arm from a ragged branch, and I cleaned it out for her. I also assured her that she’s 8 and it’s summer – if she’s not covered in scrapes and bruises, she’s doing something wrong. Yesterday I sat on the porch and read while they shot foam rockets in the yard. When one got stuck in a tree, Chloe opened the garage (she knows the code), got a broom, and tried to get it down. When she still fell short, I helped.
I suppose what I’m saying is that I believe in turning kids loose . . . and still being there to help if needed. Maybe Lenore Skenazy thinks parents won’t be able to resist overprotecting and interfering if they’re present, but I think most parents naturally fall into a more and more background role as their kids get older. The moms I see at the park are actively helping their toddlers, but when they have kindergarteners they’re more like, “Go play, let me talk to my friends!”
The other thing that irks me about this “holiday” is (surprise!) Time Magazine. Bonnie Rochman can’t let the cover controversy die, and states that attachment parenting is exactly the kind of smothering helicopter parenting for which free range parenting is the “antidote.” In doing so, she shows not only Time’s contempt for attachment parenting, but her amazing ignorance of actual attachment parents. Every parent I know who does AP-style stuff believes that attachment during the early years should serve as a secure foundation from which children can take flight. Rochman seems to think AP moms are all Pink Floyd’s Mother (NSFW), but in my experience the AP families are actually much more likely than average to be letting their kids roam the woods making discoveries, or sending their kids out to play with a ragtag bunch of neighborhood children.
Can we just ditch the labels already? How about we stop worrying about whether we satisfy the checklist for AP or FR, and examine specific issues on their individual merits. Less TV – good. More physical activity – good. Scheduling every moment of a child’s life – bad. Obsessing about instilling independence from the first month of life – bad.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get ready to accompany my children outside.