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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Free Ranging It

Came across this excellent website after poking around at O'Donnell Web and BoingBoing.

It is encouraging to know so many other parents still have some good old fashioned common sense and are teaching their children how to really live. Lenore Skenazy, you might remember, is the mother raked across the coals for letting her then fourth grade son navigate his own way home on a NYC subway from a department store. Her blog is evolving from being a clearinghouse for stories and tips to spearheading a rights movement, supporting the rights' of children to actively participate in the real world and of parents to let them without fearing charges of neglect.

When I see people like my parents, who were surely free-range kids in their own time and who let my brothers and I range freely (even after a friend and I were nearly abducted), with their elaborate home security system beeping and booping and announcing various level alerts, and who first carve up the carton from their new gigantic flat-screen HDTV and dispose of it in pieces over a period of weeks to avoid the notice of roving gangs of garbage-gawking thieves (not that leaving the old 32" monster on the curb isn't already a pretty good indicator a better model is now on the premises), and who peel address labels off magazines before disposing of them; or kids so cowed by their parents they avoid speaking to strangers or making eye contact with them, even if the 'stangers' are merely less oft seen relatives, I blame the media: the twenty-four hour cable news networks, the tabloids, the whole lot of fear-mongering, paranoia-inducing, sensational sources of crap. The influence of the media has turned most of us into insecure quivering piles of jelly. It's a culture of fear.

How many times have I worried about being the lead story on the local evening news? Plenty. But that won't stop me from letting the kids have the opportunity to learn new skills and develop responsibility, independence, and good judgment. The focus of our never-ending search for a home has always been finding a place where the kids could be kids.

So far I've raised three kids on a boat-only island, allowed them to swim and explore pretty much at will frequently unattended and never forcibly encumbered by flotation devices. They've played with fire, driven the powerboat and taken their own rowboats out on adventures, and been left alone for short periods of time. In Australia they drove cars, rode bikes without helmets, jumped on horses and went off sightseeing, fished, swam, and snorkled in waters inhabited by crocs, sharks, stingrays, and box jellyfish, swam in creeks and rivers without adult supervision, swung off rope swings, camped in cattle yards with dingoes about, prepared meals from scratch, slicing and dicing included, and cooked them with gas appliances, walked unchaperoned around town. I even let Sarabelle go bungee jumping with a group of friends and another parent. They rarely wore shoes. They played in the rain. Back here in Florida they have gone for bike rides around the neighborhood out of our sight and walked about three-quarters of a mile to the supermarket for various items.

There have been a few misadventures among their pursuits, but we are learning to face our fears and they are learning to judiciously experience the world.

Ready to call the authorities over my seemingly laissez-faire parenting? Don't. I understand the difference between possibilities and probabilities. Is it possible for one particular bad thing to occur? Of course. But, how likely is it to actually occur? Not very. Most people don't understand that crucial difference. We do our kids a huge disservice protecting them from every potential bad thing.

Those parents who would bubblewrap their children in their gated 'communities' and attend only structured liability-conscious activities have only a false sense of security. Their child is in more danger given the fact they are dependent and grossly unprepared for the risks of real life where they will sink or swim without mommy and daddy and their water wings.

Fellow free-ranger, Becky, has a tremendous collection of posts and links on her Farm School blog under the header "Courting Danger". Kick the kids outside and have a look.

What dangerous things have your children done? What dangerous things will you allow them to do?

Have an exciting, adventurous new year.


Becky said...

Hee! Thanks for the mention, L :)

Part of the winter fun around here involves the kids "riding" big round straw bales that their father hauls out to the cattle by truck. The big news is always who fell off and how often lol.

And with the slightly warming temps, they've been riding around on the snowmobile. Unsupervised, of course, because I hate the noisy thing.

Until recently, I had wondered if I had such a relaxed approach because we live in the boonies rather than in NYC, where I grew up (and had a terribly fearful 70s childhood). But on our trip there last month, I let my kids go across the street, out of sight, to a store to do some shopping. Good thing they weren't escorted home by the cops, as Skenazy's son recently was...

Do they really carve up the cardboard boxes??!!

Happy New Year!

L said...

Yeehah! Straw bale riding sounds like a blast!

It would probably be difficult not to raise free-range kids on a farm or in a rural environment. Free-ranging in the city or suburbs would be a bigger challenge and require a much bigger leap of faith.

Hmm. Now that I think of it, your country hay bale ride reminds me of Jorge's tale of a suburban ride on a couch dragged behind a friend's truck. Yeah. Definitely a leap of faith there...

Carving up the carton. True. : /

I keep wondering when I'll discover my secret adoption papers.