This article and many more like it called things like “How to have a 1959 summer” or “free range children are best” are blowing up the Internet and they are right on! I see young adults in my college classes that are completely unable to choose a topic, make up their minds about classes to take or ask me hard questions. They have their moms call my cell phone. I’m not kidding. Then I have to gently explain that it is illegal to talk to them about their adult child because academic performance is private just like medical records. I am patient (usually) with these adult children because it isn’t their fault. They are the first generation to fall victim to helicopter parenting, the fear generating 24 hours news cycle and the need to start lots of activities to get into college at birth. We live in a time where your child can’t ride his bike one mile to school (in a helmet, in a dedicated bike lane, with closed toed shoes) because he might be kidnapped, his parents might be arrested for child endangerment and it will be dark when it is time to ride home from school since peewee orchestra followed by indoor winter soccer are not over until 7pm. That is a long sentence. But children have very long days. There isn’t time or opportunity for free play.
I am trying to become a FORMER helicopter parent. For the last year I have been consciously trying to build risk taking behaviors, free play, executive decision making opportunities and unstructured time into my children’s day. See where I’m going with this? I’m micromanaging free time….but it is the best I can do. I can’t legally let my son go around and around the block on his bike until he is 8 in my state. Parents must stay in visual or audio range by law. In some states the law says 12. I can see the YMCA from my home. You can swim there across the lake or walk there thru the woods but you can’t use their facilities without a parent. The list goes on. So freedom requires effort on my part. I organize groups of middle schoolers to walk downtown to the movies alone after school. Then I meet them there so that they are allowed to go in. In my town the library, the ice cream shop and the coffee house welcome them without parents on Friday afternoons. The mayor puts extra police around town to act as crossing guards and anyone fifth grade and above is allowed to free range about town after school. The town, like me, is trying to ensure safety in freedom and micromanage free time. It is awesome and hats off to my town! I’m sure it is a rare gift they provide. But will it work? Will these kids feel like they have taken a risk and done their own thing if there is always a crossing guard? One of my favorite books Middle School Makeover” discusses the risk taking behavior REQUIRED by the adolescent brain for proper development. They need to feel a little fear of the unknown on a daily basis. Plus, in
the real world you need to actually bring your library card to get a book because the librarian will not know your name. In the real world you have to get yourself there, organize your day effectively, make a million choices about big and little things and not be afraid. Those skills are more important than playing the horn and perfecting your corner kick but they are much, much harder to foster in the modern world.