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“Free Range Kids” Working on Increasing Independence…

August 15, 2012

I stumbled across this blog recently and it has made me think.

Being a kid has changed a lot over the last generation.

When I was 3-5 years old, I could make a sandwich. I could wash dishes. I bathed myself. I ran around my neighborhood while my mom did housework inside. I had a pony that I could saddle and ride with little assistance. I went on sleep overs. At six, I went to camp for a week. By the time I was seven, I was running in a pack of kids and we were always getting into scrapes and adventures. I had a single working mom and I was a latch key kid. I wasn’t alone–there were tons of kids just like me.

These days, we fear just about everything and “helicopter parenting” is the norm. I see my fellow moms anxiously hovering over their little ones on the playground. Mothers waiting to catch their children as they fall…anxious to prevent injury and cautioning their kids to “slow down”. Is this a good thing?

Has the world really become so frightening?

It seems like I cannot read the news without seeing that another child has been abducted, attacked, killed. If an adult doesn’t get them…another child will. We worry about bullies, pedophiles, drug dealers, and random accidents like drowning or falls. Our children don’t cross the street–even if they do make it outside alone. Are we doing them a favor?

I might not have made all of the right choices as a kid, but I am incredibly self reliant. I learned early what I was capable of….letting nothing stand in my way if there was something that I wanted.  I had the determination to leave home, put myself through school, and never look back. As a young adult, I was gainfully employed with health insurance because I knew that no one else would take care of me. Not such a bad thing!

Today, I look at my toddlers and wonder if I am doing them such a big favor?

I have a five year old who cannot tie his shoes and who has never walked to the mail box alone. He doesn’t play with neighborhood kids because they are as closely guarded as he is. His social circle consists of structured play dates, scheduled activities, and school. He dresses himself…he can pour a glass of water…but he is never out of my sight.

I want him to have confidence in himself. I want him to go forward in this world without his mother holding his hand. I want my daughter to know that she is strong and capable.

What do we do as parents? How do we increase self reliance and still keep them safe?

I’m taking baby steps. My kids are 2 and five, so I am still at the park with them. Nowadays, I work on staying outside of the play area and letting them do their thing. I resist the urge to settle their disagreements and I let them fall. It isn’t always easy…and I get the damning looks from helicopter moms when my children do fall. Still, this is how they learn to test and push their limits and fight their own battles.

I bought paper plates and let them carry their dinner to the table and put it in the sink when they are done. I put cups next to the fridge rather than fetching beverages for them. We are working on putting away laundry and toys and making beds.  It sounds like such small things…but since I was basically doing every single thing for them it feels like progress.




4 Comments leave one →
  1. Laura Hodges permalink
    August 15, 2012 9:07 pm

    Jen —

    Sounds to me like you are doing just fine….as are your children. There is a fine line for a parent such as yourself to walk between doing everything for your children (because no one did for you), and teaching independence. Just remember that a mixture of all of this is good….balance is important. Just like I know you would not ask them to eat a diet of junk food and expect healthy eating habits. My Mom really worked hard at teaching four girls (stair stepped in ages) manners, how to do our laundry, how to clearn house and pick up after ourselves, table manners….well, you get the idea here. She says, that at the time, she always felt she was fighting an uphill battle. When she would pick us up from sleep overs, the other parents would always comment on our lovely manners and how much help we were while a guest in their house. She got the point that her ‘home training’ had taken root.

    I remember my first year at SFA….I taught more than one floormate how to sort and do laundry….that amazed me because I had been doing laundry for years by then! But, they had no clue.

    You are on the right track…..give yourself credit for this ‘home training’ and also for allowing your children to become independent citizens of the world. I am so proud of you — in all kinds of ways — and keep up your good work!

  2. August 15, 2012 10:20 pm

    I had to laugh when my husband shared his first memory of doing laundry with a friend during his freshman year of college! He turned out just fine with a loving and doting mom 🙂 Balance is key!

  3. LeAnne Torzala permalink
    August 15, 2012 11:58 pm

    Jen- I have exactly the same thoughts. My kids won’t even play in our backyard because they are too scared. I actually have to push them outside and lock the door for 15 minutes, then they stand at the door staring at me like I pushed them out of a plane without a parachute. We do a lot of planned activities, but they aren’t able to just take their bikes and go down the street to ride them without me, mostly due to speeding UPS trucks and kids driving 50 in the neighborhood. I always fear the crazy & sick people out there who abduct kids, shoot up schools and movie theatres are lurking around all that we do.

    I find that some of my sitters can’t even do simple tasks that I knew how to do at 11. I had chores when I was 7 and increased as I got older. By age 11, my brother & I had to plan, shop & cook for our evening meal. However, with the lack of outside time and nutritious meals because people are always on the go is ruining our health…how do we find balance.

    I think we do the best we can and hope that we raise self-reliant and independent kids and that when they go off to college they are able to survive (and not at Taco Bell 🙂

    • August 16, 2012 2:28 am

      We do very short planned activities outside–I put sidewalk chalk in the front courtyard and let them draw for a few minutes with me inside the house and the front gate closed. I also let them out back with all of the shutters open so that I can see them. We don’t have any sort of play structure out there, so they get bored easily. It is hard…especially in this hot climate!!

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