Dumbfounded, File This Under

Hi Readers! Here’s a note from a North Carolina farm mom/ EMT-technician-in-training Stevie Taylor who blogs at ruffledfeathersandspilledmilk.com. She’s taking night school classes with the leaders of tomorrow. Such as they are. –L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I was pleased to teach one of the college kids in class a lesson last week.  He was asking fellow students for money to buy bottled water (which is $1.25 out of the vending machine!!!).  I pointed to the sink that is in the classroom — we are in a medical class together — and the plastic cups that were stacked on top of the paper towel dispenser next tot he sink.  “Why don’t you just get some water from the sink?”

“Out of the tap?!”  he exclaimed, “I thought that was just for washing our hands.”

“Yes,” I assured him, “But it is all city water and you can drink it, too.”

“Well,” he worried, “no one said we could drink that water.  Do you think it’s allowed?”

To answer him, I got up, got myself a cup out of the stack, filled it at the sink, sat down at my desk, and drank it.  I didn’t get arrested and no alarms went off.  So he got a cup of water and ever since then, more people in the class have been drinking tap water in cups instead of buying bottled water from the vending machine.  Imagine a 24-year-old that has no concept of drinking water unless it’s packaged in plastic, and afraid to use a sink in a public classroom as if it were undrinkable or off-limits (even with cups stacked next to it!).  This is what becomes of the kids that are not raised Free-Range!!!! — Stevie

Recent College Grad Looks Back on Free-Range Childhood

Hi Readers! This guest post is from a recent college grad, Alisa Gilbert, who writes the blog bachelors degree and can be reached at alisagilbert599@gmail.com.

CONFESSIONS OF A FREE-RANGE KID, by ALISA GILBERT

Roaming through the blogosphere the other day, I came across this blog and immediately felt both admiration and disbelief. Admiration, because I know several parents who raise their kids in fear, micromanaging every moment of their lives, and I admire the other parents who don’t.

But I was also a bit shocked, because when I was a little girl not too long ago (I recently graduated from college), raising kids to play and do their own thing was not considered particularly brave or out-of-the-ordinary. I think this may be due to the fact that I grew up in Mexico, where letting kids be kids was what everyone did.

Many parents who may come across this blog may be wondering, “If I do raise my kids ‘Free-Range,’ will I be turning them into discipline-lacking brats?” From my experience, the answer is: No. Unstructured playtime is exactly what taught me to negotiate, to socialize, to simply feel comfortable and happy in unfamiliar situations.

I first moved to the United States when I was about nine, and I was immediately overwhelmed by how different my peers were. Their days were carefully scheduled by their parents. They were all involved in “extra-curricular activities.” Immediately after school they were shuttled off to soccer practice, Girl Scouts, piano lessons, and on and on and on. I had played the piano for a few years myself, but I had never thought of it as an “extra-curric.” The opportunity to learn music was something I just did — and treasured.

Years later, when I was enrolled in a selective university, I encountered a lot of student burn out. Many of my fellow students were so coddled, so used to being managed in and out of school, that as soon as they were faced with free time, they fell apart.

Many of the problems that students go through in college are stress-related. The kids who weren’t taught to manage stress before matriculating were the ones who engaged in binge drinking and other collegiate struggles, while those who were more self-reliant were the ones who succeeded.

If you don’t give your child the tools necessary to make it on her own before being placed in an environment that requires independent decision-making, you may have to witness your kid’s greater struggles later on. — A.G.

Kids Off to College? Stalk ‘Em With Social Media!

Good news! “Twitter, Facebook Revolutionizing How Parents Stalk Their College-Age Kids.” (Thank you again, Onion! And thank you, those who sent this video in.)

Giving Kids Control of Money (So They Don’t Always Need Yours)

I wish I could say this is an area where I shine. It’s not. But I truly believe in the message of this article in today’s Wall Street Journal, Teaching Kids About Money the Hard Way:  Have your kids take care of their own money — getting, saving, spending, even misspending it — gradually, starting as young as possible.

The current case on campus (soon to be law for anyone under 21 who cannot show a source of income) is that credit card companies try to get parents to co-sign on credit cards. That means that if you child abuses the card, you, the parent, are faced with the dilemma: Pay for your child’s mistakes. Or don’t pay — and watch YOUR credit rating take a hit. Hard to teach them a lesson when you’re personally on a spit over the coals.

Along with the other Free-Range lessons we give our kids should come some on earning, saving and spending. Of course, the fact is: it  is harder than ever for kids to get a job (for my book I called eight newspapers in North Carolina — none would hire anyone under age 18). This almost forces kids to rely on family largesse, at least in their younger years. So we all have to be creative about chores, allowance and finding tasks we’d normally pay someone else to do that we can pay our kids to do instead. We just had our youngest do a big, on-your-knees floor washing the other day for $2 — money well spent (since I closed my door, put on my headset and could almost block out the groaning).

If anyone has any tips or suggestions for helping kids learn to earn, save and understand the meaning of a dollar, these  would be most appreciated — especially by me! Penny for your thoughts? Or at least a Tweet? — Lenore