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Free Range Parenting?

Discussion in 'The Front Parlor' started by LizzieMaine, Jun 15, 2015.

  1. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    We hear a lot of criticism these days of "helicopter parents" -- those hypervigilant middle-class parents who schedule every waking moment of their children's lives, hover over their school lives, keep them on a short leash so far as playmates are concerned, and just generally insist on their kids living highly-structured, highly-supervised existances. But how many parents here go the other route? Do we have any "free range" parents in our midst?

    I was raised a free-range child -- there wasn't any other kind of childhood as far as any of us knew. I ran free from the time I was about five years old -- walking to school, the store, the park, the shore, wherever I wanted to go -- as did all of my friends. There were no organized activities other than school itself -- our summers were ours to do with as we pleased, and the parents would sometimes go so far as to *lock us out of the house* during the daylight hours. Nobody ever thought anything of it, because that's how all kids in our social class were raised. But now it's a "movement" -- to the point where "free range parenting" has actually had laws passed in some towns to ensure the right of parents to let their kids run loose. Would any of you let your kids do this? Were *you* a free-range kid?
  2. Amy Jeanne

    Amy Jeanne Call Me a Cab

    Yep, I was. I can remember it well. When the street lights came on, that was our cue to head home. If one of the neighbourhood kids didn't come home in time, you'd hear a parent yelling for them. Does that even happen anymore? Lol. I remember going to just about every kid's house on my street, all day, going into the woods, riding our bikes everywhere. Not an adult in sight.

    Also, many of the kids in my grade school would WALK to school. By themselves. No parental accompaniment. 1st and 2nd graders. How did any of us live?
  3. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    I grew up in the country, so free range was a bit different. I was allowed on any part of my parent's property (which at that time was 32 acres. When I was quite young I was allowed anyplace in the fenced yard (maybe 5 acres). Since we lived on a busy road I needed an adult to help me cross until I was six or so. I would then go up to my friends house on a path another neighbor kept mowed for us. Then we'd go on my parent's land or the neighbor's land (we had permission) or the railroad tracks. Unless it was hunting season, then we had to stay in my parents fenced in yard or the other kid's yard so we didn't get shot. (This tragically happened to a young girl a couple of towns over playing in her yard.)

    I think some amount of structured activity is good for a child. I was made to take swimming lessons every summer (my mother could not swim). My daughter tales swimming lessons every week and will do so (at least in the summer) until she reaches the life guard level. I would never make someone take life guarding, but up to that level is fine. Once she passes those classes, she can choose to do whatever she wants- continue to swim, never set foot in more than an inch of water, etc. I've just known too many people who can't swim in my life, and I know how dangerous that is.

    Because we are going to live really rural when my daughter grows up, she's not going to have other kids to run with for several miles, un less we can give her a ton of siblings. I have no problems with people bringing kids to our house- I'll feed them and stuff. My philosophy is that there is always room for one more at the table. That said, being so rural, we'll likely need to take her to stuff too. I fon't want her to be isolated, either.
  4. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    Despite living my entire life no more than a quarter of a mile from the shore, I've never really learned to swim -- I took a course when I was eight and failed it, and tried again when I was forty and was able to dogpaddle a little bit before sinking. "No natural buoyancy," the instructors said.

    That being so, the one restriction I had as a kid was "Don't go near the breakwater," which was a low berm of rocks on one side of the bay. I could play on the town wharf all I wanted, but apparently my mother was convinced if I went anywhere near the breakwater I'd instantly fall off and be swept out to sea.

    Some of the stuff we did would horrify parents today -- I know everybody my age says this, but in my case I think it's true. A bunch of us once dragged up a rusted-out oil tank from the junkyard and turned it into a clubhouse/playhouse/space capsule/whatever. We played in it all summer, and always went home reeking of kerosene, but aside from a couple cuts from the jagged metal requiring tetanus shots, nobody ever got hurt or sick from it. We'd also wad burdocks into balls and fling them at each other from the ends of pointed sticks, always aiming for the hair. There were always a lot of kids in my neighborhoods with bizarre haircuts by the time school took up again.
    vitanola likes this.
  5. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    My daughter is not allowed down by the creek on our property, and she'll never be allowed to swim there without an adult present.

    Many of my friends from foreign countries never learned to swim, particularly from the Caribbean. Apparently drowning causes a lot of deaths in these countries, even fishermen don't know how to swim. Most of my friends have taken swim lessons here and learned at least a few basic strokes, but it is really a hard thing to be good at when trying to learn as an adult. That is one reason why I insist on swim lessons as kids, and my husband is with me on the importance of that.

    The other thing I have noticed is that those who have taken a lot of lessons are stronger swimmers than those who do not. They also tend to better recognize their limitations in the water. The final thing is that in their lessons they cover how to recognize drowning (which is nothing like the movies) and how to save someone from drowning safely.

    Another thing I've noticed is that most people who learn to swim as adults never 100% lose their fear of the water, no matter how good they become. My mother is extremely afraid of the water because she can't swim, and I wouldn't wish that level of fear on anyone.

    I went to one of the few colleges as an undergrad that required students to pass a swim test in order to graduate. I know two people who only learned to swim because of that test (the college provided free lessons to those who couldn't swim to learn). I would love to see swimming taught in all elementary schools, but I know that's a logistical nightmare.
    vitanola likes this.
  6. lolly_loisides

    lolly_loisides One Too Many

    The Blue Mountains, Australia
    I was given alot more freedom to roam than children today. I'm not going to pretend that things were any safer than they are today though. One of my earliest memories was when I was told a young girl I went to kindergarten with was murdered by an intruder, he wasn't captured for weeks & all schools instructed parents to walk or drive their children to school.
    In regards to swimming, in Australia it's part of the school curriculum. From the ages of 7 to 12 everyone is required to take swimming lessons.
  7. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    When I was very young there was a big panic about a local thug who'd stabbed his girlfriend to death in a bathtub, and that was the only time I can remember my mother forcibly keeping me in the house. She used the thug as a boogeyman for quite a while after that, though -- "don't you stay out too late after dark, Gus Heald might be out there!" It wasn't until I was grown up and working as a reporter that I found out that they'd caught Gus just a few days after the crime and he'd been behind bars all along.

    We had a curfew in our town. Every night at quarter past nine they blew the air raid sirens, and every kid under 18 was supposed to be off the streets. One of the sirens was on a pole a few houses down from where we lived, so I couldn't very well claim I hadn't heard it.
  8. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    We had a similar case when I was 11- a local girl named Sara Anne Wood was riding her bike home from her father's church here in NY (he was the pastor) and abducted and killed. This creep later went on to try to abduct another girl in Massachusetts, but she got away and gave the cops an exact description of the guy, his van, and his license plate. He admitted to killing several girls, some of whom they found the bodies. Unfortunately for Sara's family, he gave several locations for her gravesite that turned up empty.

    I would love if we could do swim lessons like that in our school's here. My school had a pool (several townships banded together in the 1970s and had a public pool built at our high school for all the towns to use- the only way such a rural place could have a pool). Therefore we had swimming as part of our curriculum in high school, but I don't remember lessons.

    My daughter's ywca run daycare takes the preschool kids swimming in the small city in which we live. I don't know how the heck they do this, but they do it.

    Oh, as far as a "curfew" my parents had a school bell (the kind mounted on a post that you rang with a pull cord) mounted outside the kitchen. Whenever anyone was being called back for something, that bell would be rung. You could hear that thing at the end of the road and it nearly made you deaf if you were the ringer.
    Last edited: Jun 17, 2015
  9. TimeWarpWife

    TimeWarpWife One of the Regulars

    In My House
    I've always loved the water. As a small child when I'd take a bath I'd put my face in the water, which scared my grandmother because she was afraid of water and never learned to swim. My dad taught me to swim in a couple of weeks one summer. My aunt took swimming lessons as an adult 3 or 4 times and she still can't swim. Unfortunately for her, I think my grandmother instilled her fear of water in my aunt which may be why she was never able to learn. I also was one of those free range kids growing up. By the time I was 10 I was what was referred to as a "latch key" kid because both my parents worked. The rules were I came home from school, ate a snack, did my homework, then I could watch TV or whatever I wanted to do. It was drilled into me to leave the gas stove alone, which I did. We lived in the country then and there was a huge field with a creek in front of our house. There were many times when I'd go off by myself through the field and to the creek and my parents would be inside the house having no clue where I was. Actually, because I was an only child and for a couple of years we didn't have a neighbor with kids, I learned to entertain myself and do things by myself. Now as an adult, I don't have a problem doing things by myself - I've gone to movies and out to eat by myself. If I want to do something or go somewhere I just go by myself.
  10. LizzieMaine

    LizzieMaine Bartender

    We used to get the "don't talk to strangers" lecture at school, more than at home, but in practicality it wasn't easy to do -- when you live in a town bristling with tourists and summer people four months out of the year, most of the people you see on the streets during those months turn out to be strangers. We dealt with it by being, basically, as incommunicative as possible -- if a tourist asked us how to get to the shore or to Bar Harbor or wherever, we'd just run off without saying a thing. Didn't matter if it was a kindly old lady, a family with their own kids, whatever. They got no help at all from us, ever. We didn't assume every stranger was a predator -- but we didn't give them the chance to prove otherwise, either.

    Being an industrial port as well as a tourist trap, we got a lot of foreign sailors along with the tourists. The most disturbing incident I remember involved a young Slavic seaman approaching a bunch of us -- we were about twelve at the time -- and asking "Excoose pliz, where to find girls?" We directed him to the police station.
  11. Babydoll

    Babydoll Call Me a Cab

    The Emerald City
    I grew up out in the country on a dead-end road, with a church being at the end of the road. There were very few kids my age - two girls, so I played alone a lot when they couldn't. I remember building forts in the woods, riding my bike all over, making mud pies, and picking not-quite-ripe huckleberries. We were to be home by dark because there were bears in the area and we didn't want to chance an encounter with them. It is definitely a different era now.

    I try not to "helicopter", but I'm definitely not a "free range" mom. Where we live isn't conducive to Lily going out to play unattended with the neighbor kids - we're near a major road that is very busy with traffic, and she's only 5. She plays on our deck (second floor) with friends while I'm doing other things inside, or I'll go out and chat with one of the other moms (she only speaks Spanish, so I don't always understand what she's saying, but we get by) while our girls play in the general area. We are hoping to move into a house in the next year or so, with the intent of Lily having a better area to play. She already has a wish list of what she wants in her backyard, aka her bedroom extension. She is also starting school in the fall, and I'm sure that her play horizons will exponentially expand then.
  12. Lady Day

    Lady Day I'll Lock Up Bartender

    Crummy town, USA
    I grew up in an average neighborhood. About half a mile from a mid sized highway, and another half mile from a creek. We roamed the neighborhoods in groups and had our kid adventures in the woods or over at a parent's home. There was always a parent who knew where the group was and that mental note was kept. If you weren't wondering around you weren't doing something right. We didn't have much access to cars or money so we couldn't stray too far from home.

    It wasn't until my teens that I had to do more reporting home and saying where I was, but I never had a curfew (after 16ish). My mother trusted me, and if I stayed out past midnight, I called with a reason. That was what... 18ish years ago. Not that much has changed since then. I just think parents are constantly fed rear on the news and think every bad odd is going to play in their favor. People never play the odds anymore, and that is what life is about.
  13. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender

    It's unclear to me, particularly with the rise of cellphones, why "free range parenting" wouldn't have a rise. Now you could have your kid check in every once in a while, if someone has an accident it is simple to call 911, you can track your kids cellphone of they are in danger, etc.

    Likely one of the kid's in the friend group has one, no matter how young they are.
  14. vintage.vendeuse

    vintage.vendeuse A-List Customer

    Somewhere near Motown
    How horrible! And how ludicrous that he claimed it was manslaughter (instead of murder) by basically saying, "Sorry, I didn't mean to kill her, it was her brother that I wanted to kill."
  15. St. Louis

    St. Louis Practically Family

    St. Louis, MO
    Today I watched a movie I found in the public library, titled Little Fugitive, directed in 1953 by Morris Engel. I'd highly recommend it to anyone who wants to see what Coney Island was like in the early fifties. It's a wonderfully charming picture. The point for this thread is that the little boy--the central character--has all sorts of adventures that would be considered unimaginably dangerous today. The boy who starred in this film obviously did all of his own climbing, running, and swimming. It's just astonishing -- clearly the director and most of the other characters in the film seemed to believe this little fellow was perfectly safe. Lots of adults ask him where his mother is (the story line has him wandering around Coney Island on his own) but other than that, they obviously believe that he can handle being on rides by himself and even shooting BB guns.

    If you can find this movie in the library or Netflix, do watch it. It's an absolutely illuminating & at times rather scary depiction of childhood about sixty years ago.
  16. sheeplady

    sheeplady I'll Lock Up Bartender


    This is an article I read a while ago about imaginative play and how some countries have playgrounds that most Americans would describe as junkyards. For those of us that grew up playing around and in dumps, a lot of it will sound familiar. I was thinking about this thread tonight.

    However, one of the points that the article makes is that we've made our playgrounds supposedly "safer" but in reality kids need to take risks. When you lower the playground equipment, take out the fast metal slides, and take out the high swings, kids are still driven to take risks. When I was a kid, rarely did kids do anything that was greatly dangerous. We had those Merry-Go-Rounds that we could make go really fast, tall slides that one could wax with waxed paper, and high swings that you could "rack" and then jump off (my favorite). Granted, a few of us got hurt, but for the most part the injuries were not life threatening.

    With my daughter, I've been observing kids on the playground. Most playgrounds have these huge structures that have bars all the way around that you climb up contained and then go down contained slides, etc. For the older kids, the slides aren't high enough or fast enough and there's no risks climbing up into the structure. So they climb on top of the structure, often from the outside, and then try to slide down the roof, scale down the outside of the tube slide, or (and this induces a near stroke in me) jump off the top of the structure. In the old days, the highest structure was the slide, and there wasn't much point in jumping off of it more than a few times. I've seen this time and time again in multiple playgrounds.

    While these structures keep kids closer to the ground, when they aren't being used properly, they are much higher and much more dangerous. And statistically, they are not keeping kids safer.
  17. PrettySquareGal

    PrettySquareGal My Mail is Forwarded Here

    New England
    I was a neglected kid, so I went wherever I wanted. That was convenient for the town predators. Therefore I cringe every time I hear people lament the freedom kids once had as if the streets and town is or should be an extended playground.
  18. Miss Moonlight

    Miss Moonlight A-List Customer

    San Diego
    I want there to be a balance. It's difficult for me, because as a kid we had free range of our ruralish/suburbanish neighborhoods, but because of that, there were kids who were preyed upon. And yes, there were kids preyed upon in their own homes, too, but we're talking about 'out there.' Still, I always had the idea I wouldn't helicopter. But I don't have a lot of choice... before hip surgeries my daughter could run onto the playground, so as she pleased, and I sat on the outskirts letting her, but keeping an eye out. Since surgeries, I have to be nearby as recovery takes a long time and even with physical therapy, her legs might give out at any time. This happens less as time goes by of course, but I have to be ready to pick up all 50 pounds of her at any time. I try to give her as loose a lead as I can. But also, because she's been isolated so long, she's shy and often doesn't want to approach kids. We moved into this horrid cultureless suburban condoland area last year and the kids here... she finally gets the courage to talk to them and they stare at her, or walk away. Part of it, I think, is that she has an extensive vocabulary and they sometimes just don't understand her. Some of them are probably shy. But in the beach village where we used to live, kids ran up to each other and play just happened. It's been very different here. I think going by the way I am treated in this supposedly upscale-suburbia, there is a major ingroup/outgroup mentality problem. I cannot wait to move back to a beach village.
  19. Bushman

    Bushman Call Me a Cab

    I survived free range parenting. In the summer, my parents kicked me out of the house to go play with friends. We didn't have cable or video games either, so our choices were either go climb a tree or sit and suffer deplorable day time television. We walked all over the neighborhood, got in trouble for doing things we weren't supposed to, and we had fun. Honestly, I don't think I would be the same outdoorsy person I am today if it wasn't for my friends and I disappearing into the local forest preserve every summer afternoon. My parent's had a triangle that they would ring when they wanted us to come home, and in an age where cell phones were still a novelty used by stuffy business people, that was the only way they could reach us.

    While I still think it's a good idea for parents to check up on their kids every once in awhile, like mine did, I think it's unhealthy for parents to hover over and schedule their children's play time. That time is the kids time, let them be kids. If they scrape their knees like I did every summer then they scrape their knees. It's not the end of the world. If they take it too far and fall out of the tree, like I did one summer, then yes it's time to console them. But I say let children be children. Let them have fun, pull pranks, be children. You're young only once in your life, so let them be young. They have to be scheduled and hovered over in school, don't feel the need to itemize them when they're kids. We knew about stranger danger as a kid, we were taught that if a stranger approached us, we screamed and ran.

    This was the precise reason I got a cell phone at the age of 12 (and even then, it was one of those tiny little Nokia brick phones you could only make calls with). I was given more freedom at that age, and was allowed to be a latchkey kid. WIth that, I was allowed a cell phone because my parents knew my friends and I were bound to start exploring beyond our own neighborhood.
    Last edited: Jul 28, 2016
  20. Miss Moonlight

    Miss Moonlight A-List Customer

    San Diego
    It was never strangers, that was part of the problem. Stranger Danger leaves out that most kids are preyed upon by people they know. And I think that those of us who experienced predators first hand or through close friends will be more wary, whether it is justified by logic or not.

    Anyway, I did enjoy having the 'go out and play' time as a kid. I liked that the streetlights coming on were the signal to get back home. I have fondness for those days and memories. I hope there are still neighborhoods of kids doing this, but mostly, as you drive through neighborhoods today, you don't see it.

    We actually had a group of kids run up and ring our doorbell before running off recently. That was a hoot. lol Turns out it was a group of four brothers who are all young and that was the last time I saw them out playing... I think someone complained. :/

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