A Letter That Says It All

Hi Readers — I got this note yesterday and so many points resonated for me, I thought I’d share it. I think the writer makes a great point about hindsight — that just because, when looking back, we can see how most ills could have been prevented doesn’t mean that if we only plan hard enough, we can avoid every single possible bad outcome. When we think we CAN avoid any and all problems, we end up believing that when something does go wrong, SOMEONE is to blame. This is paralyzing for parents, and rotten for communities, too. So, before I repeat her whole letter, I guess I’ll just run it. Voila! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I just read about you and had to write you. We are making ourselves crazy and our kids dependent by hovering. I did it — and still do it! My kids are now 22 and 24. I still worry like crazy, make them call me and try to avoid all danger.

I thought it was because I’m a nurse, but now I’m starting to think we are just so bombarded with so much tragedy that happens to others brought to us via TV, and seeing perfection in hindsight — it’s no wonder we worry so much. We are in a society where one false move, one mistake, takes your license, puts you in jail, gets you sued, ruins your life, keeps you from a scholarship, etc. You truly feel that a microgram of prevention has become 1000 KILOGRAMS of cure!

I teach, and in my classes I talk with students about the effects of the sedentary lifestyle our children live — playing video games downstairs where it’s “safe.” In our defense, some neighborhoods truly are dangerous.

I am not sure what we as a society can do except learn to start to re-think responsibility. I think it’s scary that we believe someone else is ALWAYS to blame for WHATEVER happens. It leads to overinvolved parents in overinvolved sports programs and the idea that everything in life is fair. Somewhere along the way, we lost the concept of what works for the majority. There is so much focus on the individual that it creates a very ME centered society. 

I have often been in beautiful suburban neighborhoods with every amentity you can imagine. And yet there is no one outside except the landscapers, no sounds of kids playing, and I always leave with the same thought: What a lonely existence.

My kids did have the benefit of walking to school, of being able to walk to stores, movies, pizza shops, friends’ houses and, yes, the neighborhood pool, as we did not have one ourselves. Less — as they say — can be more.

The uproar over the President’s speech to the nation’s children is the latest example of overworrying for our kids and it was just ridiculous. As adults, we need to stop being over involved. You are right on, Lenore, but how can we change?

Lenore here! I think the way to change starts with all of us questioning the same things you do, oh letter-writer: overinvolvement, excessive fear, and blame. Then, things change some more as we start to talk about these ideas with our friends and try to bring some perspective back: Perspective on the crime rate (down since we were kids!) and perspective about how the media are driving us crazy with fear (pick up a TV guide and look at all the shows this coming week where the plot revolves around an abduction or child crime).  Then, just like those “consciousness-raising” groups in the ’60s and ’70s, we have to try to bring these topics up with larger groups — at the PTA, or on the job, or place of worship.

I feel the culture already shifting as Free-Range becomes an acceptable parenting style. So don’t despair, folks. Just send your kids out to play this afternoon, or have them make supper. Then, be prepared for change!

And probably mac and cheese. — Lenore

22 Responses

  1. I feel the culture shifting as well. In my own neighborhood, there was a grandmother who previously wouldn’t let her charges, ages 10 and 7 ride the bus at all. After the 10 yr old became friends with my sons, gradually he’s been allowed more freedom. At first, she walked him and stayed with him at the bus stop. Now he goes with my kids, unsupervised.

    Lately, he’s been coming with us to my sons’ games, etc. One night, I planned to grocery shop while my 9 yr old was at football practice. The boy wanted to come along, and I made sure he told his grandma that I was just dropping mine off and LEAVING. Shockingly, he was allowed to come!

  2. A lot of the problem is that people feel social pressure and don’t want to be perceived as a ‘bad parent’

  3. Your blog is great, but can you please change your feed settings so that the RSS feed includes the full article instead of just an excerpt? That would make it much easier to read. Thanks!

  4. “Perspective on the crime rate (down since we were kids!) ”

    Here is something I have been meaning to ask and this seems like a good post to ask it. Is there any correlations to overprotective parents and the drop in crime rates? I mean, if child abductions are down or there’s a drop in drug charges in youths etc., wouldn’t kids never being allowed out of their parents sight have something to do with that?

  5. My mother was an ER nurse for 10 years and was extremely worried and overprotective of us. I can understand why! Fortunately, we lived in an incredibly safe, wonderful neighborhood, and she was fair about roaming around. We were definitely seatbelt wearing, no 4-wheel riding, mom knows everywhere we’re going and phone numbers for every gas station we hit along the way though.🙂 (The last being a bit of an exaggeration, just to clarify!) She passed some of that worry on to me, though, that’s for sure! I’ve had to let a lot of it go just because of our situation. Long story!

  6. People call police when they see a kid alone on the street or crossing a street alone at the crosswalk. It’s not normal! And what happens next? – police get the kid! – for being alone, for crossing the street, riding a bus, for a mother who is “putting kid at danger”, by letting them be by themselves or letting then to walk somewhere. Mother gets seriously reprimanded, and police will keep her identity, and this “incident” is recorded forever so it can be used for whatever incriminating thing they could make out of it in case she would even think of letting her kid walk alone on the street again. Never mind that crime is low, streets are public, nothing happened, and accusations are all in “what if…” mode.
    For me, it’s easier to fight public opinion and much harder to to explain to the police that “no, he is not lost, I let him walk there, we live here and this is our neighborhood” and still be recorded even if no laws are broken.
    This is exactly why there are not too many kids on the streets now days. Mothers are concerned that they will be called upon, and they will make a report about it. Mothers just don’t speak out about this and feel ashamed like they are the only ones in a country to whom it happens. No laws are broken, it’s our parental right to let our kid walk on the street, but this right is pulled away from parents. Sometimes when I walk empty suburban streets I think that kids are almost made prisoners in their houses, because to get from point A to point B they need a bodyguard. Sad situation to be in, especially when it’s completely artificially created.

  7. I can see changes in my neighborhood as well. People are willing to talk about this. My own sister has become more free-range with her kids after years of seeing mine. The soccer field this season is full of kids on bikes going anywhere and everywhere between games. There are kids walking everywhere. My 9yo walks to soccer practice and back by himself and no one has questioned me about it or offered him a ride. Change is a-coming and I love it. Thanks, Lenore and all Free-Range parents!

  8. It can also get worse.

    Just this evening I told my mother I was going to do help out in a local campaign by dropping literature at homes of registered voters in my own neighborhood, when she asked me ‘What’s new’?

    My mother became very upset, she scolded me that it was dangerous and not to go into anyone’s house. I reminded her I was 32 (and I’m a mother of four). She hung up on me.

  9. Jan S said: A lot of the problem is that people feel social pressure and don’t want to be perceived as a ‘bad parent’

    Word. I’m all about free-range parenting, but when I moved to my helicopter suburb I became nervous, too. It was definitely socially easier to ‘go with the flow’ and hover around my toddler like the other “good” mothers at the playground. In addition, since the other mothers were hovering, if I did not, I was not only a bad parent but also snobby because I wasn’t right there, talking to them. Ironically enough, many of the mothers that I know that are the hovering type are too busy gossiping to pay any attention to their children anyway.

  10. YES!!! I just spent the evening with a set of “Free-Range” parents. I have know the father for 23 years, and we spent about 10 years adventuring every weekend, with the full approval of his parents. I met Chase when he was twelve, and we spent the next ten years caving, climbing, rappelling, rafting, camping, hiking, you name it.

    Tonight, while visiting he and his wife at his parent’s house, I casually mentioned, as their 17 month old son played with a rocking chair, that the chair ought to have a label indicating that kids with bare feet shouldn’t play with it. Lori’s immediate comment was “if he hurts his toes, he’ll learn from it”.

    This led to a whole discussion of Free-Ranging…thank God there are still parents who remember how they were raised!!!

    Have fun unpacking!!! And I hope your new digs are near the subway so Izzy can get home!

    Tray M.

  11. Gin- ‘Helicopter Suburb’! Ha! Good one.

    To Meg— I’ve coached my kids to help me cover up for my ‘irresponsibility’ in my allowing them to free range. I explained to them that things have changed since I was a kid and people are more uptight. It’s a good way to give them some perspective and be a fellow co-conspirator with them. Kids are smart…

  12. Thank you for a great article. I would like to add that being less involved instead of overly-involved also shows our children that we trust them and know they make good decisions to look after themselves.

    This is a big confidence boost for a child and leads to positive self-esteem.

    Also, we are giving our children more opportunities to be responsible and to behave responsibly which will automatically lead to less blame on anything external to themselves when things go wrong.

    My son at the age of four rides his bicycle to school and back. We live in a very small town which is very safe and I have seen him grow in ways I cannot imagine as a result of it.

    I’m all for free-range parenting!

  13. Greetings, Lenore! Great, gutsy blog ya got here. Found ya on a social media site for which I’m one of the moderators. I just want to say one thing about the content of this guest letter. We DO have a choice whether we buy into and even listen — on most any level — of what our media and society says to Fear. Do things like…turn off the t.v.! Don’t (GASP!) turn it on, even! (Even the entertainment…oh, yeah, news is not entertainment, too, is Fear-inducting.) Maybe don’t read the paper. Dr. Andrew Weil MD recommends taking news breaks. In a stressful period in my life I did this for six months. My local public radio station just ditched all classical daytime music and I’m switching it off during atypical newshour commutes bc it’s TOXIC to listen to WHAT’S GOING WRONG IN OUR WORLD! 24/7!

    I suggest developing a consciousness of what’s Good in Life and affirming it over and over. If we concentrate on Bad, we See Bad. And, Believe All is Bad. Yeah, Bad News is pervasive. (SWINE FLU!) But we have a choice of what we let filter into our brains and spirits. Just like eating well, we can feed other parts of our bodies healthily, too.

    Love the catchy title and I wish you success! You’re on to something here in more ways than one. Good for you!

  14. 2 comments:

    (1) speaking of blaming people, stop blaming TV. I absolutely disagree with this angle. TV networks are in the business of entertaining people. “If it bleeds it leads” is not a new concept and it’s not the reason our society is so screwed up.

    (2) “In our defense, some neighborhoods truly are dangerous.” I live in a neighborhood that many people would consider dangerous. There is violence, mostly drug-related, but I don’t consider myself to be in any danger because I don’t participate in this nonsense. But here’s the irony. During the day when the sun is out, there are kids EVERYWHERE. The “some neighborhoods really are dangerous” excuse doesn’t hold water because these aren’t the neighborhoods where overprotective parents are keeping their kids inside all day. Perhaps it’s because these parents understand the tradeoffs between safety and learned responsibility that they face every day, and the importance of raising children with good judgment and self-reliance.

  15. My wife and I were talking about the TV effect last night while watching The Waltons on DVD. We have about 7 seasons of it now, and incidentally do not have cable or satellite, nor do we even make any attempt to get free TV over the air.

    My kids LOVE watching the Waltons with us. And we love the fact that they do. I recall watching it with my parents when I was their age.

    I asked my wife if she thought there were any TV shows like the Waltons on these days. I mean, true family shows. It’s been 5 or 6 years since we’ve had TV so we had no idea. But we guess that there were not. The last we recalled was that TV shows were all about horrible things happening to people. Either that, or about who is sleeping with whom behind someone else’s back. It seems to be all about the darker side of human nature.

    It really is true that TV is making us all sick. And I’m SO glad we’ve decided to take our kids out of the loop and not expose them to it!

  16. Follow up on my previous comment:

    I started reading this blog just before moving to New Haven, CT, a and ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse community to say the least. We also just had our first son, about 6 months after starting to read this blog.

    I want all the parents out there to know that the insanity that is highlighted on this blog is NOT universal. If you think the people in your community have collectively lost their minds, I strongly recommend you look into moving some place else. There are still plenty of sane parents and community leaders out there. And before you dismiss giving up the posh suburbs to move back to the city because it’s “too dangerous,” consider whether that line of thought might be a central part of the problem in today’s ‘burbs.

  17. Jan S said: A lot of the problem is that people feel social pressure and don’t want to be perceived as a ‘bad parent’

    I’m much less concerned with the social pressure and much more concerned with the legal pressure! I can give another parent the finger, but that doesn’t work so well on the cops. That’s honestly my most abiding fear. That my son will be our playing (as) responsibly (as one could expect) and the police would come and tell me that because other kids are incompetent nincompoops my child must be kept on the same leash.

    Well, that and that he won’t find his way home. I have two. One is a nonverbal autistic 5yo that could find his way back from anywhere, but couldn’t tell an adult that he was fine, knows where home is, and is allowed to play outside. The other is a verbose 7yo that has to work at not getting lost on the street we’re on.

  18. Bushikdoka — Good question, actually. I was going to answer that the last family shows I remember watching and enjoying were things like Family Matters, Full House, and Boy Meets World, but then I remembered that I haven’t seen them for nearly a decade, and the shows them selves are 20 years old!

    swa101 — Earlier, you asked if the crime rate is down because of overprotective parents. I don’t think it’s because of overprotective parents.

    I have a friend who was raised by overprotective parents. She was constantly told that she couldn’t do things. She couldn’t stay out past dark, because “it’s too dangerous.” She couldn’t learn to defend herself, because she could get hurt, and besides, it’s a man’s job to defend her. Her family watched the news every night from 6 to 10pm, convinced that everything on there was typical.

    She was raped multiple times, and a prime target for bullying in high school, in part because she didn’t know how to defend herself. She was taught so much to no make waves and to not get into confrontations, that she was unable to handle them when they happened. She got a lot of victim blaming, particularly for the bullying (“if you make X change, you’ll be liked more” despite the fundamental personality differences that exist).

    As such, she’s had to spend the last 10 or so years working to reverse everything just so she can be a self-sufficient adult. Things like taking a walk outside at night were huge feats for her to accomplish, and still give her a major sense of accomplishment over her past. She’s spent several years specifically working on overcoming the anxiety that was drilled into her growing up.

    One’s life should not have be spent undoing everything you were taught, just so you can function as an adult.

    That said, since when was any statistic, particularly one like crime, largely affected by just one factor, especially one such as how overprotective parents are? What about more diligence in the police force, or more money for a better police force? What about programs that clean up poor neighborhoods? What about the creation of things like skate parks and after school programs that allow kids to be in an environment where they can do what they love and stay out of trouble? What about programs that help lift people out of poverty (since income level often has a direct correlation to crime rate)? I think that those things, especially when combined, are more effective than sheltering and helicoptering over one’s kids.

  19. I like what Lenore said: “I think the way to change, starts with all of us questioning the same things you do…”

    I agree–changing conventional wisdom is hard, but if we each questioned things a bit more when we see things that don’t make sense, we can slowly start to make a change in our society’s collective attitudes.

    Case in point–my school district last year started implementing criminal background checks for ALL volunteers, regardless of what they’re doing (even if it’s a parent just passing out popcorn at a school carnival, or photocopying in the school office). I’m new to the school district this year and questioned it–to the principal, to the district’s director of public safety, to a few other parents. Mainly I got blank stares when I brought it up–because who would be against “keeping our children safe” in this way? But in simply asking how they keep children “safer,” questioning how many crimes had been committed by parent volunteers in the past during school carnivals, while shelving books in the library, leading art sessions under the teacher’s supervision, etc. my purpose is to get people to start thinking about these regulations and realizing how little sense they make. Will things get changed overnight? No, but if we all just start questioning them in non-confrontational ways, we can help turn the tide or least not make it worse!

  20. Preach on. We need to hear over and over again that life in not always fair, there are great lessons in loosing and sometimes bad things happen just because. Life is worth living not because you always win but the joy is in the journey and the struggle. Loosing makes the times you win so much more enjoyable.

  21. The more involved I’ve become in the Free-Range movement the more I’ve noticed how wonderful my community is. There are always children out at the playgrounds, walking to school, walking to baseball practice, walking around downtown in the evenings on the weekends without parental supervision.

    While there is a lot of work to still be done I think it’s time to give credit where credit is due. Look around, I think we’ll see more Free-Ranging than we’d expect.

  22. awesome article…i love the blog

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