Undoubtedly, my favorite memories of childhood involve all of the freedom I had. Some of that freedom was achieved through sneaking around, but most of it was just a way of life. I didn’t have to negotiate it with my parents — they just assumed that my sister and I would kick up our own fun and be back in time for dinner. We did and we were.
Contrast that with my own kids’ childhood. Undoubtedly, my least favorite aspect of their childhood is how little freedom they have.
They don’t go out the front door without asking permission, and, even then, sometimes the answer is “no.” At 11 years old, my daughter has seldom crossed a street on her own. She has played unsupervised at a park any number of times, but that park happens to be right across the street in the safe little cul-de-sac neighborhood of her best friend’s house.
I wouldn’t characterize myself as a helicopter mom, and I don’t obsess about child abductions. I am frankly horrified by the fact that my kids are being raised in something of a bubble. And yet. I’m not sure how to get out of this.
Lenore Skenazy, author of the book and blog “Free-Range Kids” — the mom who notoriously let her then 9-year-old son ride the subways in New York City alone — suggests parents like me should just rip off the Band-Aid and dump their kids at a park already.
This Saturday is the third annual “Take Our Children to the Park … And Leave Them There Day,” a holiday declared by Skenazy in an effort to get free-range-curious parents to suck it up and also to ensure the dropped-off kids might have someone else to play with. “If you drop off your kids, I’ll drop off mine …” Skenazy is recommending this holiday for kids ages 7 and up.
She’s got good reasons for pushing parents to push themselves to push their kids out the door:
Why is it so important for kids to have those lazy, hazy days with absolutely nothing planned? Well, when kids have to come up with something fun to do, that’s problem solving. And when they have to make their own teams, that’s socialization. Is the ball in or out? That’s United Nations-level negotiating. And when they have to wait their turn?
They learn to wait their turn. Free play is the secret vitamin kids need a vitamin we’ve mistakenly leached out.
I remember the first TOCTTPALTTD. My girls were 8 and 4 at the time. I told them about it and instead of witnessing fit-pumps and hearing “when can we go!” my girls recoiled in distress. “Where will you be?!!” “How long will you be gone!” Which only underscored how necessary dumping them off outside at a park really was. I didn’t. I haven’t. But still, the need is there.
So maybe I’ll try again this Saturday. Lately, the 11-year-old is demanding more freedom (thankfully! I was getting worried); and the 7-year-old, in the tradition of all younger siblings, is expecting the same treatment. There’s still a hump for me to get over — do they even know their way around our (new) neighborhood? Could I get in trouble for setting them loose blocks away from home? If you hear a loud scream on Saturday, it could be a child in distress. Or, perhaps, the sound of a collective scream when parents all over pull off the Band-Aid with one big rip.
Are you in?