A simple homework project can make your child more ready to face the world.
Feels like a lot of 21st-century societal analyses can be explained by the line "The 'Eyewitness' and 'Action News' formats invented in 1965 and 1970, respectively, spread quickly once local stations discovered the cheapest and most compelling content they could serve up was crime."
Superb work Lenore! Your efforts at helping kids grow independence are wonderfully concrete and exactly what is needed to support parents in letting go. We have witnessed the self-confidence and responsibility that children naturally develop when they are given the freedom to take charge. My teenage son decided to go on a 10 km march/run in the countryside yesterday, showed us his planned path, and his expected return time (no phone needed). He came back enthusiastic and beaming. My youngest (11) has taken over the responsibility for baking our bread, which gives him pleasure and supports me in my housework. These are just two small examples, but added up over the years these independent freedoms help to build the foundation for a self-confident, responsible adult ready to engage the world.
I will be sure to share your important work on School of the Unconformed, where I plan to write on free-range children soon (just posted on How to Apprentice a Human, see https://schooloftheunconformed.substack.com/p/machine-antidote-101-how-to-apprentice) Thanks again!
Let me say first that I agree entirely with the views of the author of this piece as well as the important work of Mr. Haidt. I would like, however, to see one issue addressed in some way. How do free-range parents avoid nosy neighbors, general busybodies, and the government attempting to take their children away? I speak not simply from some unfounded paranoia, but experience.
For context, we are a homeschooling, rural family of 8 (and 1/2 😁). I believe strongly in outdoor, unsupervised play, and my kids are generally free to roam outside after finishing schoolwork - with specific rules in place. These rules include always having a sibling with you, helmets when riding bikes, and having the babies (3 and 5) are not allowed to leave our property (older siblings regularly have responsibility for younger). However, as children are wont to do, rules get broken. On one such occasion, I sent my oldest out to find the three breaking the rules and discovered the police on my doorstep - four cruisers. Apparently, three of mine had broken the rules and “several” calls had been made to the police. Not one person talked to them in person or called me or, hell, even walked them back (they were not far) - they just called the police. My conversation with the police ended without CPS getting involved, but if I weren’t articulate, attractive and standing in front of a nice, clean home - I think it might have been quite different. A similar occurrence (socially oriented, however) occurred on Halloween because I had the temerity to allow the 13-yr-old and 11-yr-old to take their younger siblings Trick-or-Treating and they got lost. They were never in any true danger and my response to them was that one learns how to navigate by getting lost a lot first. The reaction from strangers was unwarranted and ignorant in my opinion, but it occurred. In fact, should CPS have been called earlier, all it would take is one self-righteous prig to make a call and my kids would be removed. Outside of myself, I volunteered as a guardian ad litem throughout college and saw the intrinsic effects problems in the child and welfare system. In no way are removals limited to those truly in danger. Again, I fully support the arguments here, but there are very real legal issues that might benefit from a look. Social disapprobation is one thing (older women are among the worst busybodies in my observation), true trauma to my children are another. I would really enjoy and benefit from After Babel’s thought on this. - A Big Fan of Your Work
I am now a grandma and LOVE the fact that my 2yr 9 month old granddaughter does not use screens, plays freely in nature and has no fear of strangers who she regularly engages in conversation. The sad thing is how shocked the adults are when she makes eye contact and asks them direct questions. So easy to control an already anxious society....sigh.
When I was raising kids in the '90's the standard reassurance from pediatricians, when confronted with frustrations about toilet learning, was "don't worry, they won't go to kindergarten in diapers." Last week I learned from a friend who teaches kindergarten that she has 2 kids in her class who are not yet toilet trained!!!!! And an even bigger number who cannot wipe their butts independently.
It's not just anxiety/fear of "stranger danger" that infantilizes kids--it is time consuming and tedious to teach kids things like toilet hygiene, shoe tying, and other personal care skills, so her theory is parents just keep doing things for their kids because in the moment it's quicker. Long term the kid misses out on learning how to take care of themselves.
Parents are fearful of letting their kids walk to school alone, but yet they can somehow be trusted with choosing to change genders? What am I missing here? The world of childhood is upside down. Excellent piece!
Excellent! I’m always dismayed at the crowd of parents hanging around their kids at the bus stops in my neighborhood (a safe, residential area). When did this become acceptable? If my parents had tried that, I’d have been mortified, and then teased mercilessly by the other kids.
Fantastic! I agree 100%. My children are grown, but I let them do more than my friends allowed for their kids. I got a lot of shocked looks for things like letting them walk to 7-Eleven. Both of my kids are autistic and schools had low expectations of their ability to do things for themselves. That just made me more determined to teach them life skills from a young age. Part of independence is taking care of your own needs. I know it's shocking, but mine were doing their own laundry by age 12. I think I could have started that much sooner!
I have been suffocating for years from the limitations put on us as parents in the US.. I knew it was bad for kids, but I had no idea how bad it would actually be when the after lockdown crisis finally hit my kids.
This summer I left California and moved to Southern Italy to give my pre-teen children this exact type of independence. I see an enormous change in them.
I’m from Denmark where we do not have the same level of overprotection.. in fact children are quite independent from a very early age (I was biking to school alone from the age of 7 /8). They move around to their after school activities.. etc. Though we also have a very high level of societal challenges (as the ones you address).. it could be interesting to see whether some things are different or there are overlaps in the challenges / level of anxiety etc .
This makes so much sense! As a kid in the 1960s, we did so much by ourselves. When playing in summer, we were gone all day, biking, etc. We were required to walk to and from school every day, even though the walk was longest to get to elementary and junior high buildings. Our parents wanted to know where we were and whom we were playing with, but that was the extent of their involvement. None of our friends or acquaintances suffered from any anxiety!
“great rewiring of childhood.
no close quote
An important background factor is decreased fertility with advent of effective birth-control and legal abortions. A century ago, moms had to produce at least 8 kids to have a decent chance of four surviving to where they could take care of her in her old age. This sort of child mortality accustomed parents, a bit, to losing their kids as an every-day stressor. Nowadays, two kids are a BIG family and we expect them all to make it to age 80 and beyond. Certainly times have changed in that way.
As a childless young-ish adult with ADHD and self-esteem issues, I’m definitely going to come up with my own independence project now!
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Good to know that resources are out there for people.