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