Free Range Kids Week: Recalling the Freedom We Had

boytreckphoto by chefranden

Welcome to Free Range Kids Week at Simple Kids!

I am so excited about the upcoming book talk that will take place on Thursday.  This is such a diverse, intelligent, and helpful community – I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids.

The subtitle of this book is Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry.

As I read the book, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of all of the freedoms I had as a child, and how the thought of extending those freedoms to my own children causes me to tense up with worry.

For example, when we lived in Texas, we lived on a very quiet cul-de-sac in a lovely, older neighborhood. At the end of the cul-de-sac was this wonderful spot of nature tucked away at the bottom of a steep hill.  It was an old, dried-up creek bed with tons of trees and a little hill perfect for a child’s first hike.  It was so unexpected and inspiring.

When we first moved there, my mother-in-law and I went for a walk with my oldest daughter to explore our new neighborhood.  We we came across the old creek bed, I sighed and said, “Oh, I would have spent so much time in a place like this as a child.  It’s perfect for hide-and-seek and scavenger hunts and leaf collecting.  Of course, I wouldn’t dream of letting my children play here by themselves now.”

So many of my fondest childhood memories are of exploring the outdoors with my siblings and friends.  We weren’t allowed to leave our neighborhood, but we had plenty of room in those parameters to run free and imagine.  In an era long before cell phones, I only had to stay within my ear-shot of my mother’s voice calling me home. Forts were built, reading nooks were created, mud pies were made and delivered . . . all without my mother standing on the front porch wringing her hands with worry.

On the Free Range Kids website, there is a link to this article titled “How children lost the right to roam in four generations.” I highly encourage reading it for a deeper look at the way the children’s freedom has eroded so quickly.

What do you recall about the freedoms you enjoyed as a child?  Were you allowed room to roam?  Did you enjoy activities or privileges that you are hesitant to allow your own children to engage in?

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  1. What do you recall about the freedoms you enjoyed as a child? Were you allowed room to roam? Did you enjoy activities or privileges that you are hesitant to allow your own children to engage in?

    Oh my, where to start. Growing up in the super-permissive 70s with sort of, um, distracted parents, I had more room to roam than even I wanted. I stayed over at my best friend’s house nearly every weekend. As the youngest child to older parents whose older children were all out of the house by then my friend had somewhat limited supervision (albeit very loving parents). She lived way out in the country so we would wander the woods, investigate old informal dump sites where we would find old bottles and such (can you imagine kids doing that now?), swim in mucky old ponds, etc. We even once walked six miles from my house to hers on our own. We were probably 11. There were some very good things about this freedom, and overall I see great value in the “free-range” philosophy. We were highly imaginative and resourceful kids as a result. However, there was a flip side. My best friend was molested in early adolescence in her own bedroom (and I was there spending the night!) by her alcoholic brother in law. She fought him off but he did fondle her a bit. Her parents were seemingly unaware. We had sort of blocked out the memory until a decade or so ago and when we discussed it found our memories of the incident were the same. There are other smaller, much less significant examples of the flip side to this freedom we had. As with many other things in the 70s I think that era was too permissive and there weren’t clear enough guidelines – at least for my circle of acquaintances.

    • I think you bring up a good point here, Vicky. In the book, Lenore talks about some of the statistics that go along with horrifying situations like the one you describe here that your best friend experienced and how it is SO much more likely for a child to be molested by someone he/she knows rather than my the mysterious “stranger with candy.” One good thing, I think, that has come out of the parenting discussions and fears of the past few decades is that parents are now more aware of talking to their children about sexual abuse – what it is and what to do if it happens.

      Gavin De Becker’s Protecting the Gift looks like a good resource on that topic.

      The imagination and resourcefulness you describe sounds much like my own childhood. Perhaps we as parents can find a way to bring a balance to the permissiveness of the 70s and the paranoia of the 90s and cultivate a culture of parenting that is watchful yet relaxed.

  2. Great question. We were allowed to roam around the neighbourhood on our own. I don’t think my parents ever worried. We left in the morning, came home for lunch and went out again after lunch until dinner. We rode our bikes all around, played in other yards, went to the corner store and on and on. My best friend and I even set-up a comic stand in front of the post office to sell comics. We lugged all of our supplies there in a wagon.

    I can’t imagine letting my kids do as much now. We are fortunate enough to have a big, fenced backyard so I have no qualms about letting my kids play there – but I always have the back door open so that I can listen for them. My kids also play in our front yard but I definitely worry more when they are out front. The street is relatively quiet, but what I worry about most is strangers.

    I think my kids have a fair amount of freedom, but nothing like when we were kids. I am dreading the day when my kids want to go out biking on their own. I will let them, but I think I will feel sick with worry!
    .-= The Orchard´s last blog ..Weekend Adventures =-.

    • Your childhood sounds EXACTLY like mine! There were four kids in my family and so we were just set loose outside a LOT.

      Have you read FRK? She speaks quite a bit to the worries we have about the “sex offender” down the street. Her approach is not to demean parents at all for having these fears and concerns; rather, she provides tons of statistics and facts that serve to reassure parents of how safe our children really are.

      For example, in the chapter called “Turn Off the News,” she points out that “the chances of any one American child being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are almost infinitesimally small: .00007 percent,” and that if you were hoping to have your child kidnapped and held over night by a stranger, you would have to keep her outside, unattended for about 750,000 YEARS before it would happen.

      I highly, highly encourage giving the book a read. It’s funny and fun but also extremely informative. I think you will feel so much better about those future bike rides around the bin!

  3. I grew up on military bases so we were allowed lots of freedom. I remember walking with a group of friends from one end of the base to the others. The one rule, we all had to stay together and to call when we arrived at the destination. I was in elementary school during this time.

    I would not imagine letting my children out of my sight at this day and age. I know that I need to just place them in God’s hands and trust him to keep them safe. But there’s just too much craziness out there nowadays.
    .-= LaToya´s last blog ..Bible Story Sundays: Noah’s Ark =-.

    • I think the “stick together” and “call when you get there” rules are beautiful examples of the common sense guidelines our parents instilled in us in decades gone by! The stick together rule was heavily emphasized for us if we were going out beyond our street.

  4. As a child in the 70s, I had tons of freedom to roam. All the neighborhood kids gathered for games that ranged through all our yards and the woods in the center of our block. At 10, 9, and 8, I remember my sisters and I walking to town and poking through all the stores, and (much more often) walking in the other direction to the woods where there was a creek (where we were allowed to play and wade) and a huge rushing river (where we weren’t, and didn’t). Later (13?) we walked to the pool (a few miles?) and once, even to the next town (took all morning). We were never driven to friends’ houses; when a friend moved across town, she was now “too far away” to be good friends. We walked to school (a mile?) together, starting when I was in third grade and my sisters were in second and kindergarten. My daughter’s just 7 months old, but I intend for her to have the freedoms I had.
    .-= Lise´s last blog ..Independence Days challenge, week 22 =-.

    • It makes me so happy to hear that the freedoms you were trusted with as a child are those that you hope to extend to your child as she grows. I especially noticed how you knew you could play and wade in the creek, but knew you couldn’t play in the river and you didn’t. Clearly your parents trusted that you would use common sense and stay within the parameters they had for you. That is something the book brings out . . . that at some point, parents began to not only strangers and circumstances, but also lost trust that their children would make good decisions.

  5. Yep, I explored my neighborhood extensively on my bike, with friends or alone. Took to the woods, became “blood sisters” with a friend by cutting ourselves with a broken beer bottle!!, and did all kinds of things I would never dream of letting my children do.

    I do love Lenore’s blog and the premise of her book – definitely think there is a balance in this somewhere…

    Looking forward to learning more,

    .-= steadymom´s last blog ..Why You Should Read Aloud to Older Kids =-.

    • Blood sisters!! We did that, too! I know I keep saying this, but it’s the most profound aspect of the FRK book to me – Lenore fills the pages with TONS of facts, figures, and statistics. What we see happening on the evening news is not the reality of most of our neighborhoods and communities. Much of what is reported falls under the “if it bleeds, it leads” rule of journalism-for-profit.

      There is definitely balance to be found, and I think when parents are armed with information and confidence, we will be taking a giant leap forward for common sense parenting.

  6. Of course I didn’t realize it at the time, but my parents were not over-protective and certainly didn’t raise me with a culture of fear. We lived in a well-established, large, hilly neighborhood and I was allowed to roam around freely. I’m not sure they knew everywhere I was going (and I definitely went places I probably shouldn’t have), but they felt I was safe and I was never afraid. I roamed through backyards without fences and found secret passageways through the neighborhood. I remember exactly where they were, and they’re still there! I’ve always wanted to show my kids all the interesting places I found.

    I was taught to be careful and aware of my surroundings, and I knew never to open the door to a stranger, but I was given quite a bit of freedom. I want to do the same for my kids, but I have much more fear than I think my parents did. I am more protective, and I’m not always sure that’s a good thing.
    .-= Elizabeth´s last blog ..Simple Kids Book Review: September =-.

    • And I think that is at the heart of this book – how can we equip kids so that we can know we can trust them with the freedoms we had? I think the relentless and around-the-clock media that we have access to now fosters a fear in us that our parents did not have to worry about. Statistically, crime rates are actually LOWER now than when we were kids. We just hear more about the crimes that do happen.

  7. I did have tons of freedom as a kid. My friends and I did things I would never let my kid do. Nothing bad, but things like swimming in the creek behind my friend’s house, climbing trees, going for hikes deep in the woods, riding bikes in the center of our small town’s streets. Yes, it was a different time and I’m looking forward to check out this book.

  8. I really enjoyed FRK, but I find myself with a lot of reasons why my son will just not be able to enjoy some of the freedom I had, even with an anxious mother. For instance, I grew up in small town Iowa and Minnesota, and we live in an apartment in Dallas. It’s hard to see an empty cul-de-sac as the same as living next to a parking lot in terms of safety. A lot of her safety examples were of upper-middle class families in tree-lined, sidewalked neighborhoods, which is just not where we are. I’m looking forward to discussion, and hoping to here suggestions for city kids.

  9. i don’ t think anyone can just across the board say that you have a 1 in XXXXX million chance in getting kidnapped. those numbers increase and decrease depending on what neighborhood, city, state, and country you live in. those numbers and stats are also completely meaningless to the hundreds and thousands of parents who have actually lost children to kidnapping or pedophiles.

    i just spent nearly 3 years living in Germany and my older daughter was born there. there are things that i would have let her do, be, experience HANDS DOWN there that i would and will NEVER here in the USA. i also live in a city that is number 2 on the list of the WORLD’s worse cities for child trafficking and kidnapping. i also have very social and friendly young girls, which is an absolutely awesome thing, but factors into their freedoms. these are all things that factor into our decisions as their parents.

    i haven’t read the book yet but want to. i just know that today really is a different world than it was 30 years ago… and statistics or not, i would be derelict in my duties as a mom of young girls to not take that into factor.

    i grew up as an only child, a tomboy, in a small town. we had land all the time… even when we lived in a neighborhood, we had 3 acres and a horse. i spent ALL my time outside exploring on my own. we knew our neighbors. they grew used to seeing me riding my horse around the neighborhood at age 7 alone. i started riding a horse by myself at age 2. i wish to God that my girls could grow up like i did. but we don’t live in a small town. we don’t have land to explore. we barely have a back yard. half of the year its too hot to even go outside, much less explore anything. when they are outside, scorpions and rattlesnakes from the nearby preserve are a real possibility in our yard. i take these things into account. if we lived on a farm in a small town, i would kiss my babies bye bye every morning and bid them good adventures in the world around us. but in this city, we go out together.

    • Well, Chelsea, I absolutely agree with you on this – we, as parents, MUST use common sense and good judgment in making choices for our kids. We absolutely can and should weigh out our own children’s abilities, development, and maturity and consider the circumstances of where we live.

      But when you say we live in a very different world now than 30 years ago, are you referring to crime? Because the violent crime rate in the past 30 years peaked in the 90s, but has recently spiraled downward and is now just about the same as it was in 1970. We just HEAR SO MUCH MORE about the crimes that are committed than our parents did when we were kids.

      And most of all us do risky things with our kids daily. Our kids are much, much more likely (like 40 times more likely) to be killed as a passenger in a car accident than to be kidnapped and murdered by a stranger. But we don’t hear about the hundreds and hundreds of car crashes every day, so we aren’t so hesitant to hop in the car with them in tow.

      And again, as you said, we DO have to take our individual circumstances into account. If I lived in a city that was #2 on the list for World’s Worst in kidnapping and child trafficking, you better believe I would make very different decisions than I do from my little small town on the plains.

      Great thoughts and good feedback. I appreciate your points here.

  10. I grew up in a small town and we lived on three acres on the outskirts of said town. My sisters and I would often stay out until after dark riding bikes, sledding, playing on the swings, sitting around a fire with the neighbors, etc. My parents never worried about us and we never got hurt.

    Will I allow my child the same freedom? No way! We chose to raise our family on a farm so we could enjoy the same activities from our childhood. But that doesn’t mean I won’t worry about wildlife and drowning and creepy neighbours. I am in support of childhood freedom, but with safety precautions.
    .-= Cammy´s last blog ..Word of the Week: 1978 =-.

    • Do you feel like your parents taught you about how to avoid the dangers in drowning and encountering wildlife? Do you think your children will be as trustworthy as you were as a child? I would love to hear more from you on this, particularly since you said you purposefully chose a farm for raising your family but are hesitant to allow your kids the freedom you had as a child . . .

  11. We are fortunate to live in an enclosed compound of 25 homes in Dubai, UAE, one of the safest cities in the world for raising kids. Running around with their friends in the compound’s communal garden and going in and out of each other’s homes is as close as they will get to the neighbourhood wanderings we indulged in as kids.

    And, no, I do not allow them to go outside of this compound unless accompanied by an adult, not even (especially!) on Halloween.

    So different to the way I grew up. I recall going to a friend’s house, walking quite alone in a city street in Mogadishu, then wandering back home at sunset (my curfew). I ask my mother how she was able to not worry. It was definitely a different world before, and the entire community behaved as one huge extended family.

    I’m waiting for the technology to make RFID shoelaces commercially available 🙂 so I can pinpoint exactly where they are to the nearest 4 feet!
    .-= Naima´s last blog ..The best of all worlds =-.

    • How comforting it must be to raise your children in one of the SAFEST parts of the world. I love the communal idea of the compound you have described. I am sure it allows space for the kids to have their own adventures.

      Is Halloween a particularly dangerous time in Dubai?

  12. Yes, I was alway roaming about with my friends as a child, down at the stream, or over at the “big trees” on the swing… wow I cringe at the thought of my children doing the same, it’s so scary to think of what COULD have happened to us, but that’s just how things were.

    But, this is exactly what children need these days, more outdoor activities and exploration… how do we find the happy medium???
    .-= Mel the Dietitian´s last blog ..5 Ways to Prevent Flu =-.

    • I think, again, a lot of it is parents getting their hands on factual information and not hyped-up blood and gore info from the news. Parents also need to be intentionally involved in teaching their children how to play safely. How else did you have the confidence to climb trees and wade in streams? There is SO much parents can be doing to get kids outside and roaming around a little again. It just takes a little effort (more than the effort required to turn on the Playstation). It’s an investment for both parents and kids.
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..5 Positive Character Traits Encouraged by Free-Range Parenting =-.

  13. I grew up pretty free range. I was an only child, so there was a fair amount of supervision, but I was allowed to roam around the neighborhood as long as my mom knew where I was. I walked to my elementary school by myself, at least as young as I can remember. It was only about 4 blocks away, but I had to cross a pretty busy street. I know I walked to a park about 2 blocks from my house by myself.

    I want that childhood for my daughter. She is still a toddler, so there is only so much free range exploring she can do since she can still blindly run out into the street or tumble down stairs.

    Before I had my daughter, I was a criminal attorney and I know more better than most people the kind of things that people are capable of. And these are things that were done in my area. I don’t know that I could do that work anymore as I immediately start thinking about that terrible crime happening to my family. I don’t want to live like that.
    .-= Claire´s last blog ..Hello! =-.

    • Oh, Claire – I would think your work and life experience would provide an immense challenge in promoting freedom for your child! And yet, perhaps your experience will be what motivates you to teach your little one as she grows about making good, smart, common sense decisions so that as she grows, you grow to trust her with the freedoms you enjoyed as a child.
      .-= Megan´s last blog ..5 Positive Character Traits Encouraged by Free-Range Parenting =-.