I am a regular watcher of PBS Newshour, it’s my “go to” national news evening broadcast. Tonight I watched a segment that really got me thinking.
It was about the affects of “helicopter” parenting and the belief that there is a need to let our children get back to more independent lives.
It spoke about the need to go back to a different time, a time when children were outside exploring and connecting with peers while learning their own strengths and weaknesses by learning through both their triumphs and their mistakes. A time when children were out and about in their neighborhoods from sunup to sundown and, perhaps a coincidence, but maybe not, the rates of childhood obesity, depression and anxiety were lower.
The segment spoke of different cases where parents had gotten in trouble for allowing that freedom in recent years including one couple letting their eight year old walk the family dog. On a website later I read other cases like a mom who had been phoned in for neglect for letting her two children play on a playground at a park. The playground butted up to her property and she could see them from her kitchen window while preparing a meal.
But the segment also spoke about how beliefs are starting to shift. In November Utah passed the Free Range Parenting Law which helps to clearly define neglect laws in the state and allows parents to give their children freedom. It also gave social workers and lawmakers a more clearly stated definition of the law giving them guidance and freeing up their time to take care of cases where they are truly needed and I later read many quotes of social workers, mental health and law enforcement officials who supported the law. Utah is the first state in the nation to implement such a law.
Now I am a researcher, always have been, plus this is something I have spoken about with many friends as their kids and my own are getting older. How do you know when your child is old enough to walk around the block, play at the neighborhood playground or stay home alone? Truthfully from a legal standpoint that is hard to tell. From the research I managed to do tonight-and mind you I scrapped an editorial and wrote this last minute before my Tuesday deadline so I am definitely going to research this topic more- the majority of states don’t have age requirements. They have guidelines for maturity levels for this being okay.
Idaho is one of the states that does not have a law on the books. In a way I can understand that, this isn’t something that should be based on age, but on how a parent feels a child will do while unsupervised for a period of time. My children are two totally different creatures and were ready for different things at different ages. It is not one size fits all.
But truthfully part of the reason they are so different is probably partially the way they were each growing up at certain ages. My children are six years apart when my son was born my daughter was already in school and I was, finally, beginning to make her take more responsibility for cleaning up after herself. My son was born into a family with chores and was “helping” his sister as soon as he could move and was quickly assigned his own things to do. As time went by he was doing things years before she had been required to do them because it just seemed natural.
Now he is also experiencing another up-tick in responsibility in his eight year old life that she didn’t experience in hers just because of the differences in circumstances. When my daughter was eight I was a stay at home mom and she was home-schooled. She had her “chores” she had to do everyday, but I pretty much did everything. Boy are things different for my son, I now tend to have a crazy schedule and I don’t necessarily want to spend all of my free time trying to pretend to still be the perfect housewife cooking and cleaning every free second. So my son has a lot more responsibility then she ever had at his age. He gathers and sorts his own loads of laundry, he takes turns cleaning the kitchen or bathroom and dishes are his job.
We currently live within a two block radius of my grandparents and in-laws. We literally have friends on almost every corner of our neighborhood. He has proved multiple times that he is responsible and follows directions, but am I ready to let him walk to grandma’s house or to walk around the corner to meet up with his buddies? I really don’t know.
And I really don’t know why. I mean we do live on a “busy” street for Mountain Home, but in all honesty it still isn’t that busy of an area. It’s the same safe, quiet neighborhood my husband rode his bike in and I ran around with friends in while visiting my grandparents just a few decades ago.
Would I feel more comfortable if there were more children out walking or biking around the neighborhood? If grown ups were spending their evenings sitting out front visiting with neighbors or enjoying a nice evening? That was another place my reading led me to. The information I read said that crime rates are actually down since when we were young and allowed to be free to wander our neighborhoods with our friends. It speaks of a sense of added fear amongst parents today, because of the sensationalizing of news stories involving violence in the media and it giving people a false sense of doom. It says because of this people have began keeping their kids inside more and we have become a backyard nation. Gone are the days of hanging out on your front porch swing or stoop, chatting with the neighbors while they walk by or barbecuing out front while the kids of the neighborhood play games together. And that does seem to be true. I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many children actually live in my neighborhood, because I never see them. During the first big snow storm of the season I didn’t see a single group of kids working together to build a snowman, snow fort or having a snowball fight. I am sure kids were out playing in the snow, but they were doing it in their backyards with their siblings and maybe if they were lucky a friend or two, but there was no groups of kids meeting up spontaneously to battle it out in the snow or trudging to one parents house or another for hot chocolate and cookies afterwards. That is supposed to be part of the beauty of living in a small town like Mountain Home, it is supposed to be a place where you feel safe to raise your kids while watching them grow and flourish into responsible, independent young people. And I think it truly is a safe place, but we need to make the effort to get out and meet our neighbors and be willing to keep an eye out in our neighborhoods helping give parents a reassurance that they can allow their children to play a game of basketball in a driveway down the street or walk around the corner to grandma’s house for an ice cream sandwich when mom is out of popsicles on a hot summer day.
Like I said this is something that caught my imagination late in the evening and I have a lot more thinking to do on the matter, but I am curious about what our readers think. When we complain about how “all kids these days want to do is play video games” is this fear we instill the culprit? Do you feel we have became too sheltering of our children? Is it partially the fault of the media? Or is it just too dangerous to give our children freedom anymore? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this.