“Reverse Culture Shock” as a Parent Returns to America

Hi Folks! One of the things I like to remember is that what we think of as “normal” is normal for HERE (America, in this case), and completely freakish to other cultures. Keep that in mind when somebody screams at you, “How DARE you let your child play on your front lawn?” or some such local nonsense. – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: My kids are Free-Range almost by accident.  We were overseas for my first 7+ years of parenting, I didn’t watch CNN, and I had no idea how insane things had gotten in the US. I just raised my boys as I was raised.
When we moved back to the states — and back to my childhood neighborhood, which is even safer now than when I was growing up — I let them do everything that I’d done at similar ages.  It was only after living here for several months that I realized that no other kids were out doing the things that mine were.  I now refer to this as my moment of “reverse culture shock.”  I was a little lost trying to parent in Russia, but I’d assumed that I’d know how to do it in the U.S… and apparently, I didn’t!  It was crazy!  And it made me crazy.

My kids are now 9 and 13, we’ve been here for more than 5 years, and the comment that I get most often about them is that they “are so mature.”  For a couple of years, I didn’t see this.  As I watched, they seemed exactly like my brother 30 years earlier… and no one ever would have accused him of being particularly mature as a pre-teen!  It was only when I looked around that I realized how everyone else had just fallen backwards, somehow.  Again, what a shock!  I now this “maturity” to their Free-Range upbringing.  They know how to get themselves around town, they are confident solving problems on their own, and they don’t need to turn to me for instructions for all of their daily actions.  They are totally normal kids.  They just belong, apparently, in the 1980s.
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Anyway, I am now consciously (sometimes, militantly) Free-Range.  It continues to be a challenge, but I am blessed to have a decent number of parent-friends who I can commiserate with when needed, and I turn to your blog and book on a regular basis to remind myself that I’m not the one who is insane. – A Mom Back Home

43 Responses

  1. I had a similar experience as an expat Australian.

    I had my first child in the UK and moved to the US when she was 7 months old. I had another 2 children in the US before we moved back to Australia when my oldest was 4.

    While in the US, I saw the craziness of helicopter child-rearing, and railed against it (all the while keeping in mind the totally closed-minded attitude of the authorities that I had dealt with in my early days there).

    My mantra was, “It won’t be like this back in Australia.”

    Sadly, it was. What a big change from the childhood I had known. But happily, I have fallen in with some like-minded parents and our kids are allowed to free-range together. I even discovered that my sister, who had been my arch enemy when we were children, was a like-minded parent, and we would let our children disappear out of sight at the playground and enjoy themselves without us hovering.

  2. I can totally relate to the reverse culture shock thing, from a kid’s point of view.

    I moved to Germany for a year and a half when I was 16. I went to school, worked, drank beer (legal age is 16 there), and traveled extensively on my own. Wanted to go to Paris for the weekend? OK, don’t forget your sunscreen, here’s the train schedule. Italy? Sure, just remember that the cab drivers are nuts. Poland? Take a box of tissues, Auschwitz is depressing as hell. (It was.) Pass through East Germany to go to Berlin? (This was 1987.) Keep your passport out and don’t lip off at the Grenzies.

    I came home at the end of 1988 to go to University. Dear gods, the reactions from parents when I talked about my adventures! “I would NEVER let my Jenny travel like that! What if something happened?”

    Well, something DID happen! I learned to be observant (sleeping through your train stop is embarrassing!), independent, self-sufficient, confident, and curious. When did that get to be a bad thing?

  3. I would love to know from the letter writer what things her kids did at what ages, to get a good point of reference. Around here, people think it’s criminal to let your kid walk/bike to school at age 10!! My kid will definitely not be like that, but it’s nice to know when kids do free range things at what ages.

  4. Missy, Like you I had the opportunity to live abroad for the spring term of my 12th grade year, without my parents. I was 17.5 I traveled to different countries, navigated public transportation, border crossings, banking, etc.
    My classmates reaction to the fact that I was leaving for this adventure: But you’ll miss the prom!
    Yeah, that’s it.

  5. Susan, I’m howling with laughter! That’s EXACTLY what my classmates said to me when I told them I was going! “But…but…PROM! HOMECOMING! GRADUATION” Bugger alla that for a lark!

    They had their precious prom and homecoming and wore their silly hats. I got travel, the Berlin Wall and Checkpoint Charlie, the Louvre and Notre Dame, Normandy, Amsterdam’s Red Light District, a metric butt-ton of tiny little villages full of people who couldn’t wait to try their English out on the American Kid, great food…and a whole new way of looking at the world. Admittedly, teaching my host family about Thanksgiving was a little weird, and no fireworks on Independence Day kind of made me sad, but there was so much else!

    I’m trying to talk my 16 year-old into at least taking a short-term exchange. He is SUCH a homebody, though! We should be encouraging our kids to explore the world around them without needless fear, instead of overscheduling the hell out of them to keep them in our grips.

  6. I experienced something of this myself as a teen. I grew up in my formative years (for me anyway) in the country, way in the country in a tiny little town. It might as well have been the 50’s. I was born on 1982 but I remeber: 4 digit phone numbers, rotary phones, noon whistle, no stop lights (there was only 1 in the whole county), farm kids driving into town way before *legal* age, eating what you kill, no cable, no internet, no movie theaters, oh, and 25 cents for a can of pop! (And the wooden cowboy and indians larger than life on the bar’s store front, complete with a couple of arrows someone shot into the cowboy).
    Anyway, we were kids, kids expected to take care of ourselves. We fed the fire, watered and fed the animals, knew how to take care of and fire guns, could saddle and ride a horse, and were perfectly capable of spending from dawn til dark (and the occassional overnight) without any parental imput, which was good because no one had cell phones and town was 5 miles away. We did perfectly normal things that kids have been doing for thousands of years. Then we moved to the city.
    Talk about a culture shock! Apparently 16 year olds are supposed to be immature idiots without enough sense to wake up on time by themselves, much less take care of themselves for a few days while mom and dad take a trip to the beach for an anniversary. And heaven forfend that little 10 year old Jonny light a candle or be left in charge of feeding the family dog. Seriously? It was like watching a bunch of hyperactive yapper dogs herding their blind pups into a tiny circle. Why do people intentionally stunt their kids? It’s been over a decade since I left sanity behind, but I refuse to raise my kids as if they are deficient porclein dolls just because I live in the city.

  7. I kind of wish I’d done an exchange in high school, but I was involved in way too many extra-curricular activities, like band, student council, newspaper, morning announcements, peer assisting, and I wrote and co-directed a play my last year. I also designed the grad mural, and painted it with my friend Patrick and some other people while everyone else was finishing up their exams. I still got to go to Italy and New Orleans with the band, but that wasn’t the same as living there on my own, and I went to Quebec for my Bachelor’s degree (I’m from Ontario), and I lived in Australia for about two years later on, but I was an adult then. I still think I could have handled myself in another country as a teenager, but I kind of have to agree a little bit with the “Prom!!! Homecoming!!!” crowd–even though I never went to prom, and we didn’t even have homecoming. Once you invest yourself in a community, whether it’s at school or elsewhere, it’s hard to just detach yourself from it and go to another country for a semester, or a year, or however long the exchange program lasts.

  8. i SO wish mom hadnt had my sister and 17 years apart. you know how people say they have to ‘get the travel bug out of them’? that’s how i feel about my mom; back when my sister was a kid, that was when mom did all her traveling and that she ‘got all her free-ranging out of her system’, and then when i was born that’s when she got all helicoptery. sometimes when i ask about when my sister was a kid, mom tells me these stories about her driving Sis and a ton of her friends around to the malls, and how her friends liked mom so much they called her Mom, too, and how Sis went everywhere and did everything and whatever. and then, when that’s all over, i get the whole speech about ‘the times are different now’. okay, but we MOVED INTO THE SAME FREAKING SENIOR CITIZEN APARTMENTS AS GRANDMA (so we could take care of her/keep an eye on things, as she’s in the beginning of Alzheimer’s)!!! i changed my room around today and the first thing she says is that i need to get some curtains, and “DO YOU REALIZE HOW CLOSE TO THE SIDEWALK YOUR ROOM IS?! you can keep your window open at night if you want to but what if someone decides to crawl in?” and “i can see straight into your room when i come home!”. 1)yes, i do realize how close to the sidewalk my room is. the big bush in front of the big window doesn’t block my view. 2)yes, mom, senior citizens who can barely walk in the first place are going to exert Special Energy *just* so they can crawl over the bush and into my window. i’m shivering with fear, can you tell? 3)i’ve checked it myself when i come from the garage–the most you can see is the back of my pink teddy bear’s head, MAYBE the glare from my tv, and probaly the light from my lamp. since i dont live in my teddy bear’s head, you probaly CAN’T see “straight into” my room. 3 strikes, you’re out.

    …on another note, has there been any statistics done that say that free range kids are more assertive? i’ve been called ‘passive aggressive’, and wondered if that’s the norm for us HeliKids.

  9. @Missy, good luck with that. With a bit of time your son will probably come around. My sometimes 40ish 15 year old son has actually decided he’s off to Germany on exchange next year – yay!!! And he’s bagging little donuts to pay for it :-) This from a kid who certainly isn’t helicoptered, but who seems to be the family paranoid….and definitely the homebody….

    Now if someone could just remind me that the neo-Nazi movement there is no big deal, I could just stop dealing with my own paranoid visions of my way off-white son meeting some …:-)

  10. Interesting! (and sad) I’d love to hear some of the specifics/details about what it is that she did with her kids when they returned that was so different than American culture.

  11. I can relate to this post because we have raised our two children, who are currently 12 and almost 10, overseas in China and Singapore. We are moving back to the States this fall and I am apprehensive that the freedom they’ve had here to such great benefit will be taken from them. We live in a unique situation where there are a lot of expat families in close (though very local – not an enclosed expat area) proximity. There is a large open area in the center of our neighborhood where, daily, about 20 kids ages 6-15 gather to play capture the flag unsupervised for 2-3 hours. They come back dirty and sweaty but happy. We’ve navigated relational conflicts and a few injuries resulting from these times that have been great learning experiences.
    Weekly, our son and 3 or 4 of his friends take the subway 3 stops and then walk to meet a bus that will take them to youth group. We had a parent take turns showing them the way for the first month and now they do it on their own.
    Occasionally I need to head out the market or some other errand, and I feel totally comfortable leaving them at home alone. They have my phone number and those of others who would be closer in case of an emergency.
    I can’t imagine people being ok with our kids doing this kind of stuff in the States. We have friends who lived here previously who are already living in the city we’re moving to. Our kids keep asking if we can live close enough to them to ride their bikes to their house. In their minds, that means “Within a couple miles.” I’m afraid in reality it would have to be “next door.”

  12. I had a client today in American Samoa. He just turned 14 this weekend. A few weeks ago he got kicked out of school for some reason (schools just kick kids out here – no notice, no hearing). Instead of hanging out and getting in trouble, my 13 year old client went and got a fulltime job working construction. And he managed to keep the job for 2 weeks before someone from the court happened to run into him at a store in his hard hat and work vest and ratted him out.

    I’m not supporting kids dropping out of school in 8th grade, but I can’t imagine a single US 13 year old wanting a fulltime job, let alone being mature enough to score and keep this job.

  13. @hineata, many congratulations to your son! I don’t even know him, and I’m vibrating with excitement for him! He is going to have the experience of a lifetime. Fair warning: He’s not going to be the same kid when he comes back. You may not recognize him for a while, because you really do CHANGE from the experience. (In a good way! It’s weird, at first, but it’s still good!)

    The Neo-Nazi movement there really is no big deal. The Verfassungsschutz says there are fewer than 6,000 Neo-Nazi followers living in Germany – that’s out of nearly 82,000,000 people! They really do get a very harsh side-eye over there, and if they’re dumb enough to make themselves known publicly, they get arrested and jailed. Their shenanigans – Holocaust denialism and such – are illegal. There is no 1st Amendment in Germany, so if you act the fool, you pay for it. Makes for a really formal and polite general society!

    I assume he’ll be going to Gymnasium? Or Gesamtschule? In any case, teenagers there are pretty curious about people of color, so he can expect to be asked about his heritage, from a curiosity standpoint, not a racist standpoint. We had a number of South American kids in our exchange group, and a pile of Black kids (some from the US, some from England), and they reported very good experiences with their classmates and teachers. He’ll be fine, and so will you!

    A word of advice to him from me: Never pass up the opportunity to eat or pee, because it might be a while before you get the chance again! (Exchange Student Rule #1!)

  14. Sounds terrific, Missy….certainly puts my paranoid mind at rest (this kind of thing hasn’t occured to him – he’s more worried about having to ‘waste time’ going to school, LOL!) I had a very ‘interesting’ time as an exchange student in Tahiti, so I know it will be a growing experience for him….

    No toilets there, though? Still, as a boy, such things are a bit less vital, aren’t they…. We have some wonderful pics of him and a cousin just ‘decorating’ an open drain in Malaysia when they were preschoolers, LOL!

  15. My children would also experience culture shock if we were to move back to the US. We are an American family with four children who have lived in Switzerland the past three years. Our children attend the local schools and get there by themselves, by foot or bike or scooter, sometimes alone and sometimes with a sibling or friend. They are 13, 10, 9 and 6 years old. The 6 year old has been going to school alone since he was 5. Children are encouraged to go alone here, so that they develop social relationships with other children and other people in the community. Parents are expected to teach their children how to be safe, and the police regularly visit schools to go over traffic laws and safe biking with the kids. The three oldest ride their bikes alone to soccer practice and they are all adept at using public transportation on their own, from purchasing a ticket to figuring how to get where they’re going and when, and how and when to get back. In school, the children regularly use power tools, take an early hike to watch the sunrise, make campfires, swim, climb glaciers, use sewing machines, ice skate and go on week long trips with their classes. When I think of public schools in the US…they’d never allow these activities because of the fear of injury and fear of being sued for some reason or other. The oldest three go to the park, store, library, etc. alone. The 6 year old is allowed to go these places without an adult if he’s with an older sibling. The big difference about children being on their own here is that it’s NORMAL. It is expected to see kids as young as 5 out on their own. Not wandering, mind you, but going to or from somewhere or engaged in an activity. The community in general watches out for kids and any adult will tell any child when they are doing something wrong, or will step in to help if needed.

  16. I can really empathize with this as well. After 20+ years in Israel I often get a severe case of culture shock when I visit the States each summer, and my kids (8.5 and 11) cannot for the life of them understand while all these things they’ve been doing for years like walking to the corner store, going to the playground alone, browsing in one store while I’m in another, etc. are suddenly off limits.

    The changes in American parenting make me so very sad, and so concerned about the future of the country. How can we raise a generation of responsible adults if we never give them the opportunity to learn responsibility?

  17. I can empathize with the people who have moved back to the States after an extended time in another country. I’m an American expat who lives in Germany, but I take trips to the States (Southern California) to visit family. In my father-in-law’s neighborhood in San Diego there are supposedly kids, but I never saw them once during my last visit. Trying to get together with my cousin in San Diego and her kids is always an ordeal because the kids are in all sorts of structured activities that they just can’t miss. Contrast this to Germany, where my son and his friends call each other to get together or make plans during school. My son even has a few friends who will knock on the door and ask if he “has time.” Kids in Germany may have one structured activity during the week. My son is in the Boy Scouts. One of his friends has organ lessons, another has tennis lessons, one does tae kwon do, and others play football (soccer) with the local club. But these kids still have lots of time to get together with each other on the spur of the moment. They organize their own free-time activities themselves and adapt the rules of their games to fit the number of kids.

    When my son was in elementary school, his class was studying fruits and vegetables. The kids (2nd graders) were sent into the weekly open market in groups to buy the fruits or veggies on their list. They had a certain amount of money to spend on their items, so they had to figure out how much to buy on their own. Afterward, they met the teacher at a designated location and walked back to class to make fruit salad and vegetable soup. They cut the food with real knives. In 5th grade the kids at my son’s school spent a week at a big farmhouse in the country with only two teachers and 4 10th graders as chaperones. No parents were allowed. Every year my son’s school has a winter sports day, where the kids can decide if they want to ski, ice skate, or go sledding. They go with a designated teacher. Again, no parents are allowed. Next year my son will go with his class to 8th grade ski camp in Austria sans parents. He’s looking forward to that. He will not only ski, he will also learn how to do a basic ski tune-up.

    As Missy said, the neo-Nazi movement in Germany is no big deal. Protests are often announced in advance, so people know to avoid certain streets at certain times. Even if you do run into a protest, the ones that I’ve seen are almost like a parade. The protesters pass by and then the streets are clear again a few minutes later. The neo-Nazis obviously have a negligible effect because it was considered almost trendy a few years ago to be Jewish. But overall, I’ve found that Germans are very friendly and forgiving as long as you make an attempt to speak their language. Even if you totally butcher the language, most Germans will either switch to English or ignore your mistakes. Germans are also curious about America. I have told my German friends about US helicopter parenting practices. They all think that helicopter parents are crazy.

  18. @hineata: Do you already know where your son is going to live? It can be a very different experience to spend a year in a bavarian village from doing the same in Berlin, just as an example. The regions in Germany are very different, with special customs and dialects, which are sometimes hard to understand even for a native german who doesn’t come from the same region.
    About the Nazi Problem: It’s a quite actual issue at the moment because there was a small terror cell, who killed ten people in the last years, most of the victims were foreigners with turkish origins. And – which is the real scandal to me – instead of investigating in the nazi scene, the police assumed that the victims and their families were part of a criminal association and that was taken as the reason why they were killed. It was a shock for the whole country when the truth came out and a state ceremony was held for the victims and the government apologized to the victims’ families.
    So, yes, there are nazis in Germany but they are regarded as public enemies and criminals. And as I do not want to scare you or your son – in everyday life everbody is absolutely safe.

  19. How true! Only even in the states we parents can be victims of culture shock. I moved back to my home state of NJ from the Berkshire Mountains of MA when my son was 2 and my daughter was 7. Apparently while I was gone, 2 year old boys had stopped playing outside, and only knew how to play video games and I didn’t get the memo that said I must arrange playdates for my 7 year old to play on our safe, cul de sac street! I distinctly remember asking one of her first friends what she loved to do, she answered “shopping.” I was pretty dumbfounded since both my children would rather have done anything but go shopping with me!

  20. mountainmornings, I feel like I experienced that just by growing up and going to college and being married for a couple of years.

    When I was a kid, kids, ran around and played outside, and showed up and rang each other’s doorbells to “come out and play.” Arranging to play after school sometimes involved the parents if you didn’t live on the same block, but was less common. By the time I started having kids at the tender age of 25, it was all about playdates. Was there a memo about it in my teen years/early 20’s that I didn’t get?

  21. We’re currently living abroad in the Caribbean, with our 19 month old. I love that even at such a young age, the culture is so relaxed that when we are out I feel confident letting her have the physical space a toddler really needs. With a French partner, who grew up in the country I doubt we will ever end up back in US to experience reverse-culture shock, constanty swimming against the tide of crazy!

  22. This is off-topic, but I had to share this with you.

    107.5KZL is a local radio station. I follow them on facebook. Just today, they posted a picture of a decal making fun of those “stick figure family” decals some parents like to put on their cars. I think they’re insanely narcissistic and dumb, but that’s just my opinion.

    However, from reading the comments on the photo, apparently a lot of people think they’re downright dangerous. They put your child at serious risk, folks!

    https://www.facebook.com/#!/1075WKZL

    It was just posted today (4/5/2012). I hope you can see it. Read the comments. They’re priceless!

    Am I wrong in this? Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit…I don’t know…self-centered to think the whole world is out to get your children?

  23. @mountainmornings – Some kids just like shopping. My 6year old loves it. Shopping is a bit of an adventure in American Samoa where stores are eclectic mixes of things that change whenever a new cargo shop comes in and cooking one meal can involve 5 stops. But even back in the States my daughter liked to go shopping with me. I admit that I liked going grocery shopping as a kid too.

    I also found it a bit of a culture shock to have children. I was 35 when my daughter was born. In my younger years, I never really planned to have kids so I never paid much attention to parenting trends. I had met helicopter parents but thought that they clearly were crazy outiers. I didn’t know the entire population was moving in their direction.

  24. “Am I the only one who thinks it’s a bit…I don’t know…self-centered to think the whole world is out to get your children?”

    I don’t know about self-centred, but I would say that the desperate desire to meet a need for safety and well-being and predictability, perhaps, means that so many other vital things are sacrificed (things like growth, learning, ease, play, and, yes, well-being… and even safety!) that I can’t sign up for this kind of vigilant scanning of the horizon for predators.

    The things people care so much about having in their lives, like safety, are subverted by their own strategies they devise to move them toward it. Want your kid to be safe? Let them develop as they are able. Keep them a bit at the growing edge of what they can master and do. Ah, what a celebration it is to see kids thriving that way…

  25. I was just wondering how much of the over cautiousness of schools etc in the US is tied up with how litigious the culture is over here. Having moved to the US from a country town in Australia (which I think missed the helicopter parenting memo that the big cities over there seem to have been hit with) I have been surprised by the number of things kids just aren’t allowed to do here at schools. Every time I’ve asked about it I’m told it’s always for insurance purposes, or in case they are sued.

    I actually feel sorry for the schools over here, I imagine the teachers would love to give the kids all these great experiences but instead have to spend their whole time covering their asses in case someone sues because little johnny got a booboo on his finger because they used metal scissors in class or some such thing.

  26. This was my letter and I didn’t do anything that I thought was unusual with my kids. Nothing that my mom hadn’t done in the same neighborhood, 30 years earlier. The “rules” had just changed for moms in the States and I only figured that out as I made “mistakes.”

    Specifically, I let my sons (aged 7 1/2 and 4 at the time) play in our front courtyard while I stayed inside. I would peek out the window periodically to make sure that they were okay, but I didn’t stand nearby and watch them play. No other kids their age were allowed outside without their parents, even though we live in a lovely, grassy courtyard with no street access. It took me months to realize this.

    Next, I let my second grader (age 7/8) ride his bike to school by himself — on sidewalk-level bike paths (not paths in the street) and with crossing guards at all intersections — after I’d gone with him a few times and was confident that he knew the route. There were literally no other kids younger than 4th grade who rode to school on their own. [Note - I would have trusted him to ride without crossing guards too. The fact that they existed simply made it that much more ridiculous that other kids weren't also riding or walking.]

    When we switched to a school across town, I taught my then-10-yr old how to ride the city bus from school to swim practice. Again, this was following my mom’s example. I have very vivid memories of her teaching my brother and me how to take the bus to our swim lessons when I was in 5th grade and he in 2nd. Everyone that I mentioned this to was aghast that I would let my son take public transportation by himself. To this day, many of his friends who are already in high school are not allowed to ride the bus.

    I also categorically refused to do homework with/for my kids. Their “all about me” projects always stood out on classroom walls because they looked like they’d been made by a 5 year old or an 8 yr old, not by a scrap-booking mom. I am still confused about when it became acceptable for kids to turn in projects that their parents had obviously helped them on. When I was in grade school, you got marked down for that! Regardless, I want my kids to know that they have earned the grades they get themselves, so I don’t participate actively in their school work. From all that I can tell, that’s a rarity in our town.

    I could go on and on, but I honestly haven’t done anything unusual or special with my kids. I just remind myself regularly about what my own mom did with me at similar ages, and that’s what I continue to do with my boys.

  27. Did not intend to insult shopping. Only to point out that my kids grew up without a mall and then moved to suburbia within 15 minutes of 3 malls. Believe it or not, they still don’t like to shop! I am sure that in your country stores are not quite so homogenized as our blight of mall culture with its cookie cutter stores

  28. Amy, I’m with you on all of what you describe! Wish we lived next to each other!

  29. I wasn’t insulted. You just came across as believing that it was unheard of for children to enjoy shopping. It’s not that unusual. I do doubt that my daughter would answer “shopping” if you asked her what she liked to do for fun (although she does like to do it for fun).

    But, yes, American Samoan stores are fun … as long as you are not looking for anything particular because then they become infinitely frustrating.

  30. I couldn’t agree more about the reverse culture shock. When I went to India people said I could never be prepared for the culture shock, but when I got there I never felt more at home. I was actually interacting with human beings rather than systems. However, when I got home that’s where I experienced the real culture shock. Everything seemed so contrived and fabricated, and everyone seemed so divorced from reality. I almost couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It seemed very clear in contrast we get to live the way we do in the West (rich slaves) at the expense of those in the East (poor and free).

    Thanks very much for posting this.

  31. JN4125, where do you live in Switzerland? We are a family with 4 kids also and it is a dream of mine to live in Europe. What you describe sounds like the way of life we are looking for – I’d love any ideas for specific towns/areas to focus on. Thanks!

  32. This all brings to mind a meeting at the ALE (Alternative Learning Experience) school that my kids attend. Our Alternative is homeschooling, with some classes on site. The school wants to do a special all day class next year for 6-8 graders geared toward science and technology. So there have been meetings with staff and parents, the parents who mostly want to do real life learning.

    A parent asked about liability. The principal replied that with the hour long workshops that he had had to make a decision about using a soldering iron, something he had no experience with but knew it got hot. He allowed it. The parent smiled, and asked about even hotter – she new that her son would want to do blacksmith work! Other parents around the table nodded their heads, as their kids also want to do things that are outside the “normal” for their age.

    Overall, so far, as my daughter approaches her teens, I am finding that no matter how conservative in politics (or liberal) the parents are, homeschooling parents tend to allow their kids to do more, and expect their kids to do more. I have friends who are expecting their to be 7th graders to design their own curriculum for the coming school year, and to be responsible for the required reporting. It is a great idea. I am going to do the same with my oldest. She is capable, and quiet honestly, she will be more interested in learning about stuff that she wants to learn about. Some things will have to be included because I say so, (and the state says so) but overall, I want most of what she is learning to be on her. She will do great. And she will probably exceed both of our expectations.

  33. @Katrin, and others, thanks very much! Presumed I was being silly, but unlike a lot of Kiwis I haven’t actually been far into to Europe, except for briefly in France and Italy :-), and of course it’s the bleuchy stuff that gets reported. It actually sounds wonderful, particularly being allowed to send 2nd graders into a market without direct supervision. (It’s fairly common over here for kids that age to go around getting stuff for mum and dad, but when I take groups out a a teacher I’m supposed to keep them fairly close :-( ).

    Anyway the trip is actually just for two months,as it covers the kids’ summer break (our kids, that is….he has to come home and finish a final year of school, and it was a huge step for him to consider going for two months, so I wasn’t going to argue!), so he’ll be there, maybe in real snow, over winter. Haven’t seen any of the documentation myself, as he has been looking into it. Assume I will have to sign something soon….But I gather they get sent all over Germany. Am hoping he might get somewhere near Rommel’s birthplace so he can drop a poppy on it. One of my dad’s uncles supposedly got a lift in the desert with him,(back to wherever the Maoris were at the time) and reckoned he was an impressive man. I think this is just one of those silly family legends, but the same uncle was def involved in bringing the King of Greece out through Crete, so he was a bit of an adventurous bloke himself, LOL!

    All the photos of Germany look amazing – I’m actually pretty jealous :-)

  34. I live in canada. i just finished reading your free range kids book from my public library. i posted on facebook how i liked and agreed with your book (knowing full well the responses i would get) suprise, suprise not even 5 minutes later two women my age range (mid twenties) posted the most common arguments i hear on this subject “Its not like when we were kids. things have changed. i can’t take those risks” & for anyone else from canada might well know “tori stafford” who was a young girl 9 i think who was kiddnapped and killed. this happened 2 years ago i think. the trial was recent. this happened in a city over from my own so of course this caused mass panic. however i never read or watched a single news item about it. i got the gist of what happened. i dont need to spend my day reading about horrible things all the time. (i never watch the news or read the paper)

    i tried to point out that things arent different from when i was a child playing outside and walking to school are statistically just as safe. or that tori stafford was kiddnapped by people she knew, not complete strangers. but these women dont see it that way. to me its irrational fear, and you can’t argue with irrational people. it goes no where. so i just said you dont have to raise your children this way, but i choose to.

    im starting to get really jealous in some aspects of these other countries :)

  35. I actually feel sorry for the schools over here, I imagine the teachers would love to give the kids all these great experiences but instead have to spend their whole time covering their asses in case someone sues because little johnny got a booboo on his finger because they used metal scissors in class or some such thing.

    http://ll2.de/JZM/

  36. I grew up in Belgium and went on 2-week summer camps to Italy and Austria from when I was 5 till I was 17. We always did a day trip to a local tourist hub. In Northern Italy that was Lake Garda. And even when I was in the 5-12 year old group, we were just sent out on our own for a couple of hours to buy souvenirs and then were expected to find our way back to our bus at a certain time. In a country were we didn’t speak the language at all! It never struck me as strange or scary back then. My only concern was to work out the foreign money and have enough left over for some Swiss chocolate. :)

  37. Well, just a small example of how immature many kids are… My husband’s 13 year old niece, an only child of otherwise educated parents, came up to me this Christmas. She excitedly told/bragged that this year she had wrapped 2 gifts “all by herself”. I am used to the kid that she is, but even this surprised me a bit. I recall saying something like “ya, so what? You haven’t been doing this since you were 5?” I’m not exactly sure what she expects from me… praise for doing crap that she should have been doing 8 years ago or just praise in general. I know that I never say what she or her parents are hoping to hear – oh well.

    And, while I know that I was babysitting at age 13, I would NEVER let her take care of my 3 year old daughter by herself. Not that I don’t think that 13 year olds aren’t capable in general, but she specifically may NEVER be mature enough.

    I’ve also come to understand the thought of loving someone but not particularly liking them…

  38. I love this note. What a gut check to know how much things have changed in such a short period of time. Kudos to this mom for sticking to her guns — and raising lovely, “mature” children!

  39. @clothespin – that’s tragic….and in five or so years time she’ll be legal to vote. And less than that to drive a car.

    Yet it’s a significant achievement for her to wrap a Christmas present?! :-(

    (I assume she’s neurotypical?)

  40. P.S. Did she actually choose it for herself? Or did Mummy get it for her?

    And didn’t you just feel like choking someone?

  41. I often receive comments on how mature my kids are too. That’s because I let them actually stretch their legs and exercise their independence! Kids are capable of so much more than modern parents in America give them credit for. They are smart. I love the wise words of a veteran teacher to me when I started teaching school 10 years ago…she said, “Never do anything for your students that they can do for themselves.” And I apply that to parenting as well. It’s amazing how much that lessens my load AND teaches the kids to be responsible and independent.

  42. So many Americans fail to understand the link between freedom and responsibility. Freedom and responsibility and even failure are biologically necessary for the brain to wire itself to have impulse control and make responsible decisions. Kids that are babysitting at age 13 will do just fine out on their own, while kids that still have babysitters at 13 will be the one that later show up on “Girls Gone Wild” showing all for a free tee shirt. Over parented kids make for dumb college freshmen.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203806504577181351486558984.html

  43. @Adam: Amen Brother!

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