I remember walking to school with my sister every day when we were in elementary school. If it was hot out, we wore shorts. If it was raining, we walked with umbrellas. If it was winter, we trudged through the snow wearing boots and snow pants. We walked more than a mile a day, unsupervised, in all weather, five times a week. And guess what? No one thought twice about it. EVERYONE walked!
When we got home, we ate a healthy snack of cookies and Kool-Aid, then ran back outside to play on the swing set, or walk to the park, or ride our bikes, or explore the woods across the street, or run around the neighborhood with all the other kids who were doing the same thing — AND ALL WITH NO CELL PHONES!
Of course, if you dare to let your kids run around and play unsupervised outside today, someone with an itchy trigger finger will be ready to dial Child Protective Services because, for some unfathomable reason, that is now considered neglectful. Despite crime rates being at an all-time low, parents feel their children should be micromanaged and protected 24/7 at all costs — to the point where everyone is afraid to let their child breathe without watching them do it.
How did empowering your kids and teaching them to be independent and able to think on their own become a bad thing? And how did following your kids around, protecting them from every possible hurt (real or imagined) become a good thing? At this rate, our kids won’t grow into capable adults who can deal with disappointment, hurt, and failure. We bubble wrap our kids and do everything we can to obliterate danger instead of equipping our children with the critical thinking skills to assess danger and mitigate it.
So by today’s standards, I’ll happily admit that I’m a “bad parent.” But I don’t feel guilty about it. Here’s why …
I’m not always 100 percent sure of where the kids are.
When my kids say they’re off to play outside, I don’t question it. Go! Play! Be gone! Have fun! Be back for dinner. My kids know to stick together. They know not to take that proverbial candy from a stranger in a van. As a result of all this outdoor time, no doctor has to prescribe this common sense solution to obesity for my kids. They already get fresh air and exercise.
I let them video tape themselves doing stupid things.
They’re going to do it anyway — they might as well provide me with photographic evidence for their sentencing later. Maybe they’ll win $100,000 from America’s Funniest Home Videos for catching some of their less brilliant stunts on tape. Really, I love that they use their imaginations and creativity in making videos of their escapades outside. Maybe they’ll be the next Spielberg or Scorsese. Then again, maybe they’ll just be one of the guys from that show Jacka$$. Who knows, but I’m giving them the freedom to play around and find out.
I let them walk downtown by themselves.
My kids know directions and how to get from point A to point B. This is important because I get lost in my own driveway and if my kids end up with my sense of direction (or lack thereof) they’ll need to learn how to get lost, remain calm, and find their way back.
One time, my daughter Brooklyn fell off her bike and scraped her knee while my youngest three were downtown. A man on a bike stopped, helped her up, and asked if she was okay. That day they learned that not all strangers are criminals determined to do harm; they learned that they don’t have to be scared of everyone. They came home, got a Band-Aid, and ran back out to play. The world didn’t stop spinning because she got hurt.
I let them go into stores and make purchases.
My kids will run to the store and buy a loaf of bread or emergency chocolate for me. They know how to pay for things and make sure they get the correct change. Sometimes I’ll give my youngest three a little money to spend downtown. They figure out how much it will cost if they each get a small cup of frozen yogurt, or ice cream cones, or candy from the different shops, then they decide how to best spend it. They learn how to make decisions, fairly split up the money between them, and sometimes compromise.
I let them go on scavenger hunts by themselves.
Our town has a small heritage museum that offers a treasure map with a history scavenger hunt. When you complete the hunt, you earn an embroidered patch. My kids have taken the map and walked around town, searching for clues while learning about the history of our town. My kids wouldn’t have learned about the Native American Timucua Tribe who lived in the area, the importance of the railroad in Florida’s settlement, and the rise and fall of the local citrus industry if they’d been sitting at home, safe and sound in the family room playing video games all day.
I let them make their own lunches.
When my kids get hungry, they come inside and make their own lunches. They can cook eggs, macaroni and cheese, and a number of other things. When I’m busy working or folding laundry or something, they’re responsible enough to feed themselves. Hey, this theory paid off with my now 19-year-old who attends culinary school and creates delicious goodies for the family.
There is risk in everything we do, no matter how hard some people try to eradicate it. Why do we teach our kids to walk, knowing there’s a risk they’ll fall, scrape their knees, and bump their heads in the process? Because learning to walk is worth that risk. Why do I let my kids wander around and play outside unsupervised? Before the risk is worth the decision-making skills, independence, all-around health and well-being, and sense of pride they gain from doing so.
Honestly, in today’s day and age, in this country, the biggest “risk” to letting your children play unsupervised is the threat that some nosy person will decide that they (and the government) know how to raise your kids better than you do. But, in the end, learning how to navigate the world without being scared witless of every challenge is priceless, and well worth the small amount of risk involved.