Free Range Kids

This morning on the way into work, there was a discussion about the state of English schools – kids are no longer allowed to kick a football (soccer ball, for you Yanks), play conkers, or other traditional kid pursuits. Parents at one school were told they couldn’t use safety pins in costumes for the school play for fear of someone getting stuck with one.

And at lunch, as I logged into WordPress, there was a link to one of the posts of the day: Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Kids Go to the Mall.

Seriously, what the hell?  I was babysitting at twelve. I was able to go out and play or walk home from school by myself much, much younger than that. My parents didn’t suffer from a ridiculous terror that I would be blinded, maimed, or otherwise damaged by everything that I came into contact with. They didn’t fear that every adult was a potential pervert or kidnapper. We survived.

Kids are not as breakable as you might think:

I got my first horse when I was ten. Since we lived in a fairly rural area in Northern California, we rode quarterhorses, and I barrel-raced in rodeos. I had a very fast horse that my father had bought for me, and I had to keep her back to the starting line before the bell went off, as she reared and plunged. Turn her around, and she would launch herself like a rocket.

In one competition, my father was taping my run from up in the grandstand. The horse’s feet slipped out from under her on a turn, and we went down into a cloud of dust. You can see the camera’s viewpoint swing wildly as my father vaults over the wall, down into the arena. Then it steadies, and you see me standing up and getting back on the horse so I could finish my run. He taped the rest of it from where he was.

It’s always struck me as a perfect example of the respect and trust that my father had for us: he didn’t rush over and check me for broken bones, or assume that I must have a concussion…he trusted that, if I was on my feet, I could decide for myself if I was good to go or not.

I had adult friends that I hung out with as a kid and they tolerated my questions without succumbing to that pervert impluse that all adults evidently have. I placed myself in danger every time I mounted a horse or made a terror run down a snowy, wooded hill on a sled with no steering and no brakes. I had fun, I got hurt and got back up, and I’m sure I’m a better person for it.

Nowadays, if parents had done what my parents did quite often, which was to drop us all off at the library to choose books and read while they did the weekly shop, they’d probably end up in jail.

Rant over. But I do feel sorry for all the kids growing up wrapped in cotton wool, who live in a world filled with ugliness and fear. My world was a world of wonders, where we could be trusted to leave in the morning, and come back home for dinner. We rode bikes, explored scary culverts, poked dead squirrels with sticks…and we made it home for dinner every night.

5 thoughts on “Free Range Kids”

  1. Well – without the horses (didn’t have any) or the snow (very rare in England) that pretty much sounds like my childhood. I was walking home from school with my friend Jeff from about the age of 7 – it helped that there was only one small road to cross – the big road had an underpass – but we usually took twice as long to get home as my mum and sisters did because Jeff and I would spend about a half hour playing in the woods, despite there being a boogyman who kidnapped children in there.

    Life isn’t that much different now, but the level of fear is way, way higher.

  2. Heh, and then you get people like my neighbours who put their kids out in the back garden after they get home from school in much the same way people put their dogs out for the afternoon.

    But I agree, the level of paranoia is shocking. I was riding my bike into town and wandering around on my own by the age of 10, and my parents never had a problem as long as I was back in time for dinner. When it was warmer out, we were permitted to stay out in the dark playing flashlight tag; when we went camping, we were allowed to run free as long as we didn’t pester people.

    All those falls and scrapes and scary bits (BIG dog, OMG!) that we get into when we’re kids help us develop as people. I fail to see why people should be any more cautious now than when they were growing up, or when THEIR parents were growing up. I kind of suspect it has something to do with people no longer socialising with their neighbors, though: when you don’t know who lives next door, it can make you worried.

  3. The media is to blame for this. Well, the internet really. These days every little thing that happens in a small town is broadcast online, so people freak out about every little thing.

    I am 36 and my childhood was like yours. We would ride our bikes all over the neighborhood, and town for that matter, and when the street lights came on, we had to be home. I was always out by myself and I survived!

  4. We ran wild as kids…did some very dangerous stupid things, had a great deal of fun, and lived to tell the tale. If you don’t let kids start doing some of that at an early age, they never learn to think for themselves or take initiative. People seem to want to raise sheep, not intelligent thinking beings, these days. It’s sad. Kids have to be pretty strong willed to push back hard enough against the babysitter mentality that pervades so much of society–and then they are considered rebels. *sigh*

  5. Exactly! I think it’s good for kids to run wild (IF they’re mature enough, responsible enough, etc. – you know if your kid is or not) even though there might be some risk involved. I think they become better adults. I hesitate to think what kinds of adults those wrapped-in-cotton-wool kids will become. Also, the prevailing concept that we must prevent everyone from all harm and if something actually does happen, then it must be someone’s fault (so sue them) is so wrong. Life is a risk sport…enjoy it anyway.

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