Free-Range Kids: Readers Weigh-In

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A few weeks ago, I ran a post  on Free-Range Kids. Coined by writer and mom, Lenore Skenazy, the term Free-Range Kids refers to children that are allowed to move about their communities independently — walking to  school, friends’  houses, or the park — much as most of us did as children. Obviously, we are not talking about 4 year-olds, but children old enough to understand boundaries and learn simple precautions, etc.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to read the post, which discusses the concept of perceived versus real risks. Also, I encourage you to follow Lenore’s work on the subject. It’s an important topic, and one that will make you think, and perhaps challenge some of your notions on the subject. Agree or disagree, Lenore’s work will give you pause, which is always good in my book.

Obviously, the amount of freedom or free-range to roam a child has will impact their play, their perceptions of their community, as well as their development. In a follow-up poll, I asked TGSG readers to weigh-in on two simple questions related to Free-Range Kids and the results are in. Below are the top three answers to each of  the questions:

  1. Do you let your children play outside unattended?
  • 32% said Yes;
  • 21% said Yes, but only in the backyard; and
  • In a tie — 10% said Yes, but only with a group of friends and 10% said No.

2.  What is the PRIMARY reason you do not let your child play outside unattended?

  • 44% said Child’s age (too young);
  • 24% said No reason, they let their children play outdoors unattended; and
  • 19% said Fear of stranger danger.

Actually, I was surprised and encouraged by the numbers, with over 50% of  respondents’ kids being allowed to have independent time outdoors — even if it is in the backyard, it’s a positive step. Child-directed, independent play is key in developing a sense of self, the ability to assess risk and test boundaries, decision making, and a variety of other skills. Trusting your child and modeling a sense of comfort with your neighborhood and community — and for that matter, society at large — will help your child grow into a confident adult. I am not suggesting that we live in a Utopia, where there is no reason for concern or proper precautions. However, I am suggesting that we be aware of real versus perceived dangers, as well as the real danger of raising a generation steeped in fear.

Of course, the level of independence you feel comfortable with will depend upon the age of your child and the area where you live. I would love to discuss strategies here — things we can put in place in neighborhoods and communities that would help parents feel safe, as well as tips to share with kids about time on own or time with friends without we adults hovering around. We want them to feel comfortable and safe, too — not just the grown-ups. I invite you to leave comments and ideas, and in the coming weeks, I will put together a post with the top tips and suggestions.

If your interested in reading more on the topic, there is a great article by David Derbyshire, How Children Lost Their Right to Roam in Four Generations. As with any issue, we can’t just raise awareness. For things to change we have to educate, inform, and take steps — move thoughts into action.

We can’t just say we want to restore childhood, but we have to actively move in that direction. Make changes in our daily lives, our schools, our communities, and society at large. I’m all in. How about you?

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

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