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Monday, March 24, 2014

Motherhood Mondays: Kids Need to Taste Danger

Have you read Hanna Rosin's Atlantic Magazine article The Overprotected Kid? Her story about growing up really opened my eyes...


Rosin's story
"I grew up on a block of nearly identical six-story apartment buildings in Queens, New York. In my elementary-school years, my friends and I spent a lot of afternoons playing cops and robbers in two interconnected apartment garages, after we discovered a door between them that we could pry open. Once, when I was about 9, my friend Kim and I “locked” a bunch of younger kids in an imaginary jail behind a low gate. Then Kim and I got hungry and walked over to Alba’s pizzeria a few blocks away and forgot all about them. When we got back an hour later, they were still standing in the same spot. They never hopped over the gate, even though they easily could have; their parents never came looking for them, and no one expected them to. A couple of them were pretty upset, but back then, the code between kids ruled. We’d told them they were in jail, so they stayed in jail until we let them out."

My childhood summers

Rosin's story gave me flashbacks: Growing up, we spent a month every summer at our grandparents' house in Cornwall, England, where we spent our days running wild. My cousins ranged from just 4 to 10 years old, but our parents would have no idea where we were for hours and hours—and wouldn't care. We would swim next to jellyfish in the freezing ocean, we'd jump over jagged rocks with nothing below us but the crashing ocean waves, we'd teeter at the top of cliffs, we'd race around on boats with the local boys. Looking back, my cousins and I now sometimes joke, half-seriously, that we can’t believe none of us died.

But, in the end, we all remember it as the best, happiest place of our lives. (In fact, I immediately pictured it when I was in labor with Toby, and the nurse told me to envision my "happy place.")

Kids need danger

"Children have a sensory need to taste danger and excitement," Ellen Sandseter, a professor of early-childhood education in Norway, told Rosin. "This doesn’t mean that what they do has to actually be dangerous, only that they feel they are taking a great risk. That scares them, but then they overcome the fear."

Risky play takes six basic forms:
1. Exploring heights.
2. Handling dangerous tools—using sharp scissors or knives, or heavy hammers that at first seem unmanageable but that kids learn to master.
3. Being near dangerous elements—playing near vast bodies of water, or near a fire, so kids are aware that there is danger nearby.
4. Rough-and-tumble play—wrestling, play-fighting—so kids learn to negotiate aggression and cooperation.
5. Speed—cycling or skiing at a pace that feels too fast.
6. Exploring on one’s own.

The last one is the most important, Sandseter told Rosin: “When [children] are left alone and can take full responsibility for their actions, and the consequences of their decisions, it’s a thrilling experience."

But these days many parents don't often allow their kids to run off and play: "It’s hard to absorb how much childhood norms have shifted in just one generation," writes Rosin. "Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine. In fact, they are the markers of good, responsible parenting."

In fact, writes Rosin, "when my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years."

My little dudes

Now a mother myself, I've been trying to apply these lessons—both from Rosin's article; and from my parents, aunts and uncles—to my own parenting. Toby is three and Anton is eight months, so they're still too little for swimming alone in oceans or jumping over jagged rocks. But! I still try to give them space to explore, take risks and create imaginary worlds without interrupting them.

For now, I try to do this in small ways: If Toby's climbing up a ladder at the playground, I'll resist giving his bottom that last little boost. If Anton is trying desperately to pull up onto the coffeetable, I'll resist putting out a hand to help him. If Toby wanders off at the playground, I'll let him play out of sight for a while. Sometimes Anton will be playing with Toby and older kids, and they'll be running past him and stepping over him and bopping him on the head with pillows, but if he doesn’t cry out, I'll leave him. He seems to love that rough-and-tumble play. Even if my heart is in my throat, as long as I know they're not in true danger, I'll resist stepping in.

(In fact, I resist even saying "Be careful," because I think it can interrupt their train of thought when exploring or pushing themselves—I just move a little bit closer if they seem a bit more at risk for falling/etc!)

I'm curious what will happen as they get older. New York City is a tricky place to let kids roam too freely, but maybe it's worth trying?

What do you think? Do you let your kids take risks and have unsupervised time? Did you have lots of freedom when you were growing up? Did you do spend lots of time away from your parents? Or do anything dangerous that seems crazy—or magical—in hindsight? I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts—I can't stop thinking about this article!
My twin sister and me hanging out in Cornwall when we were 8 or so...
And my cousins from a recent trip.

(Top photo of eight-month-old Anton heading boldly into the ball pit at the Children's Museum of Art:)

123 comments:

Abby Templeton said...

I couldn't agree more! while I don't have kids, I definitely was pretty independent - I flew by myself at 5 (probably would not recommended that these days though) but I think experiences like that have made me into the person I am today!

Abby
www.champagneplans.com

Meadow said...

I think it's definitely a balance. I feel like the world has changed even since I was a kid (I wasn't quite allowed to run completely wild but I definitely was allowed to roam my acreage alone, for example). When we lived in the city prior to moving out there, I wasn't allowed to walk home alone from school even though it was only a few blocks. I think it's important to educate kids to be street smart, but when they're tiny enough to be snatched just like that, I would probably not let them out of my sight. Small town vs. city certainly makes a difference.

Alli Fogle said...

When I was a kid, my younger sister and I had a 'secret spot' in the woods near our home. It was a place where the creek bed was made of smooth shale and the shallow water was calm enough to allow moss to grow on the rocks. We'd spend hours there in the summer, cooling off and getting muddy. And all we ever told our parents was that we were "going to the secret spot". Looking back, I'm certain they knew where it was, but they let us keep our 'secret' just the same :)

Anna said...

I totally agree - though have trouble practising - this! After 8 years of living in North America, I was shocked upon moving to Scandinavia to notice all the 'unsafe' playgrounds and children 'wildly' climbing trees, jumping over flowing rivers and clambering over structures in local parks... after 18 months here I have adjusted and realised that's how much childhood in the 90's was and how much fun it is - my children are muddy and dirty, have scratches on their elbows and constant holes in their jeans: but they are happy. You can either worry about them getting killed or accept the fact that a serious accident is very unlikely and a small accident is absolutely fine - they will have MUCH more fun if their parent/caregiver is relaxed!

Shannon said...

I was just reading that article today! It's such a good reminder, especially when parenting culture right now seems to tell us to be more vigilant in watching our kids. If you don't already know ti I can also recommend this blog: http://www.freerangekids.com/.

Jenna | je na sais quoi said...

This is such an interesting topic - I remember being 12 and being able to bike around my whole neighborhood alone, go into the woods for hours with neighborhood kids - I didn't have a phone and my parents didn't know where I was for hours (this was only 15 years ago). I nanny often and plan to have children in the next year or so and I really can't imagine letting those kids run free. I think we hear too many horror stories now with the overplayed/shared clips on the news and social media. My question is this: if you were cautious, and something happened, you *may* be able to live with that. If you were less so, and something happened - could you? It's quite a complex topic.

hellokorin said...

I so agree! As a child, my favorite memories are of my sisters and I going off to play, climbing hills and rocks and trees behind our neighborhood playground and exploring on our own. Looking back, even though my mother couldn't see us at all times from her spot on the bench, I know she knew we were safe. We were always within hearing distance if anything happened (nothing ever did), but she was far enough to let us feel independent.

alectheamazon said...

One of my favorite memories was a summer in Maine, staying at a family friend's place on the lake. My sister and I, probably around ten years old, went out for a swim, not realizing that a thunderstorm was moving close and closer to us. It was warm and humid but the rain was pouring down and we could see lightning over the lake. Our father came to the shore to keep an eye on us but let us splash around to our heart's content. It was so thrilling!

Erin said...

This is tough, especially because you live in a city, and it's true that times have changed. I grew up in the Midwest in a safe neighborhood and the other kids in the neighborhood and I would also "run wild" as you say - biking on our own to spend the day at the pool, running around in the huge woods and building forts, walking to and from school alone on the path every day. I think it was hugely helpful - but it was also a suburb in the Midwest. I'm not sure how that translates to city living.

Amanda said...

I love this article, I definitely agree. You just have to use your best judgement. In my group of friends you can tell the parents who are more relaxed as the children are much more confident and independent if they are encouraged to have some freedom. You do your child a disservice by wrapping them in cotton wool!

Britani Sidwell said...

I grew up on in small(er) city...so it was safe by crime standards...so i was out conquering the town by bike with my best friend Stephanie when we were only about 8 years old. Our parents raised us to know right from wrong, and how to make good decisions..and as long as we were home by dark, there was no fuss. We would save some of our allowances, and ride to the downtown district to read magazines and buy cappucinos. We felt SO grown up. These, too, are some of my favorite memories from my childhood. We ruled the streets on our bicyles :)

Adriane Jungues said...

I agree that we should let them discover the world by themselves, but I find it hard to find the right balance to it. What keeps popping in my head is what if something bad happens in one of those moments...
Adri
www.likeanewhome.com

simone antoniazzi said...

I know what you are saying Joanna & I agree....BUT I absolutely couldn't & wouldn't let my children play out of sight at the park, I honestly just don't think you can these days...I live in London, England.

I grew up in a nice area of London and was out from morning til night with my brothers playing with friends...I wouldn't let my children do that these days though - things are different whether we like it or not.

I absolutely agree with you about taking a step back every now & then though - letting them climb, jump & be independent as much as they can.

I think independence is one thing as is not wrapping them up in cotton wool continually as is helicopter parenting....unfortunately though the world is a scarier place than the one we grew up in.

Really interesting article, thanks for sharing.

Kate said...

Oh, is that Fowey? I love Cornwall so much.

As I get older and think more about having kids it amazes me how much time I had away from my parents. It was definitely good for me but I think it has to be a conscious decision nowadays.

Matt said...

I can personally attest to the results of overbearing parents. My mother was ultra protective of my sister and I and we weren't allowed to do much at all. We were constantly reminded of the dangers of the outside world. I don't entirely blame her, as she grew up in a culture completely different from our own, under different conditions (she immigrated twice growing up and survived incredible poverty). Yet we both suffered through tremendous amounts of anxiety, insecurity and depression growing up through our teens into our adulthood. It's taught me that what you instill into your children does indelibly matter.. and the lessons that lead to a healthy independence start much younger than many of us imagine.

Fraser said...

There is a well-written, evidence-based book about the changes in kids play and the value in the exploration you did as a kid in England. I highly recommend it! http://www.amazon.com/Last-Child-Woods-Children-Nature-Deficit/dp/156512605X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1395694244&sr=1-1&keywords=last+child+in+the+woods

glimmersnaps said...

I really struggle with this! My husband is from India and he was allowed to roam free (in a pack of boys) while growing up. The stories he tells! I just can't imagine letting my son (now 3) go off like that. Primarily, I am just too worried about child predators. I wonder if it's really worse here in the U.S./2014... or is it just that we hear about it more?

**One interesting thing my husband says is that growing up "everybody's watching" meaning all the neighbors knew the kids and where they belonged and wouldn't hesitate to get involved if need be. Now, can we say the same for our neighborhoods? I sure can't.

phdiva said...

I'm a totally overprotective parent, but my mom wasn't and you wondering about growing up in NYC reminded me of one of the best experiences I ever had as a child in Hell's Kitchen in the 80s. I was about 6 and my mom lived in one building and on the same street lived her boyfriend. They both looked out the windows and I got to walk once between apartment buildings. It was exhilarating. That's all. :)

Kathleen said...

My siblings and I ran wild around our rural neighborhood, and we also can't believe we didn't die at points, or at least get seriously injured (injured we did get, but...it was all OK anyways).

We now have the "house cat theory." i.e., if you shelter a cat and keep it inside, the minute that cat escapes, it's more likely something bad happens because they have no idea how to handle things like trees and crossing streets.

I'll also quote my grandmother (who I now know was quoting Elenor Roosevelt): "Do one thing every day that scares you."

Lady J said...

We had a woods and creek behind our house and I don't remember any rules for where we could or could not go. We had to be home by dinner time...and if we weren't mom would just yell or call around to the neighbors. We weren't supposed to jump our bikes off the big hill but we did when my mom wasn't around. We never got hurt but in hindsight it was probably a terrible idea and a wonder none of us broke an arm.

Jesse said...

this is such a timely post for me. i'm trying really hard to take a step back and let atticus make his own decisions, play by himself, read to himself (he's pretending, but actually getting most of the books right!) and explore a little on his own. i know he needs that. but of course i worry. it's so hard to not be right on his buns the whole time. but i so much want him to feel confidence!


http://semiweeklyeats.blogspot.com/2014/03/saturday-muffins.html

Roseann Bath said...

When my older brother and I were little (probably age 4-9) we played out of eyesight with the neighbor kids down at the creek, moving bolders, collecting scorpions in jars, building forts. There were a lot of woods surrounding our house and we would venture pretty far from home. My mom was often working in the garden and could hear us if we yelled for her, but there was a lot of unsupervised time. I nanny in the Bay Area, and because they aren't my kids and I'm being paid to watch them, they are never out of eyesight. My husband and I hope to move to the country before we have kids so that they can experience the freedom that we had when we were little.

Kari said...

A woman I know said to me, "It isn't a great childhood without at least one trip to emergency." Well, I wouldn't go that far, but I do think parents are needlessly paranoid about supposed dangers in their children's lives. One needs to distinguish between actual danger and things parents are needlessly afraid of.

Marie Adamo said...

The thing is, if you supervise your kids so much that they never experience real world consequences (and you grounding them is not a real world consequence), then they won't truly learn from their mistakes. And when the time comes when they are no longer under your control or dependant on you, they will be so much less prepared.
It's interesting.. I did a criminology course in university and there was a study of the kinds of families a group of people in jail were from. They found it was pretty evenly distributed between those who were left alone unsupervised, and those who were from very controlled environments. Obviously, not all cases are this extreme... but it does show that guidance is good, while complete control and supervision is not. People don't learn without experiencing things.

Ariane said...

I really love this post, Joanna. I enjoyed how you connected the article to your own experiences as a child and now a mother.

Liz M C said...

Before I had my son I probably would've agreed that letting kids "run wild" (alone, unsupervised, etc) was totally fine. But I think that one you have a child, especially these days where you constantly hear horror stories about abductions, horrible accidents, pedophiles, that it's so much harder to just let go.

My son is only two right now, but I still think through every little scenario that could happen in any situation.

It's exhausting!

martini said...

I think my parents did a great job of striking a balance between taking great care for my safety (and making sure I knew they were there for me!) and, for lack of a better word, empowering me to have adventures and do things on my own. They taught me how to climb trees safely and then let me climb to my heart's content; they made sure I knew how to recognize hazards in everyday life and then trusted me to keep my eyes open and make good decisions. And yes, lots of my happiest childhood memories fall into the adventuring/running wild category! A friend and I spent a lot of time exploring the woods behind her house, and I remember finding a spring, reasoning that water burbling right up from the ground would be safe to drink, and then feeling huge and secret thrills while doing so. I never really got over this. :)

Emily Hassman said...

Oh goodness, this makes me think! My husband is older than me, and I'm often struck by how different our childhoods were. He adventured and wasn't supervised and fell down a lot... he had a lot of broken bones, a lot of concussions. He is so fearless as an adult, and I admire this so much! In contrast, I was always well-supervised and well-cared-for. I rarely got hurt; I've never had a broken bone or a concussion. On the surface, of course, that's a wonderful thing--but I am so often afraid. I find myself panicking about simple things, like riding a bike!

I hope we find something in between for our children.

fleurishes said...

Once they are a bit older, and you are visiting the Bay Area, you should check out the adventure playground in Berkeley. It is super fun.

jleestone said...

I don't really think that things are THAT different or more dangerous these days, we just live in a 24- hour news cycle world. If ANYTHING happens to a child in anywhere country, it'll be broadcast into homes hundreds of miles a way for weeks on end. It's not that things are more dangerous- it's that we are now much more aware of the dangers. I am not saying people shouldn't be careful- just that we should hold onto some perspective.

Stephanie said...

Fantastic article and post Joanna! I was just talking about this the other day with a mom friend as we watched our littles playing at the playground. As a child we yearn for independence and we do need it, but now as a parent I understand how hard it can be to give that to your child. Right after our son was born frightening images of him being kidnapped at the playground or hit by a car while playing out front flooded my mind. I know these are extremes, but they do happen so I suppose my maternal instincts were just heightened due to this new stage in my life. Children are so trusting and innocent, so finding that balance of protecting them from physical and predatory danger is something each of us will come to on our own. What is fine for one parent may not be for another. At this point, since my son is only 1.5 years old I can't imagine one day letting him venture off on his own, but perhaps by the time he is 9 or 10 I will be as ready as he is. At least I hope so.

Kristin Whelan said...

I loved this article by Hannah Rosen. I also heard her discuss it on the Double XX podcast. I have mindfully tried to encourage my kids to roam. We are fortunate, we live in a suburb and there is a creek and lots of woods to explore around our house. When the weather is nice, my youngest will be roam for hours and hours. My kids are 17, 14 and 11 and I really think this freedom has made them more confident and self reliant then many of the their peers. I did this growing up in the 70s and 80s. What is funny is that I recently described this as benign neglect to my father and he thought I was crazy for encouraging this. I think access to cable news and the internet has spooked everyone.

Christian said...

Such a balance! A few points:

1.) Something I heard several years ago when I had kids about your kids age that has really impacted my parenting style: "A BROKEN BONE HEALS FASTER THAN A LIFETIME OF HEARING YOU'RE NOT CAPABLE OF DOING SOMETHING." Love, love, love this philosophy!

2.) Have you checked out the Free Range Kids movement? http://www.freerangekids.com/

3.) In Texas, it's actually illegal to let kids be out of adult supervision under the age of 10. That means my 8.5 year old can't ride his bike around the block without me. Mothers in Texas have been arrested for letting their kids play in the front yard while the mom watched out the window periodically. I remember riding the neighborhood for hours when I was almost 9.

4.) Even though I said all of the above, I also feel nervous about giving the kids that freedom. I love them more then anything in the world and so I sometimes hold on too tight!

Courtney said...

Way to go, for ignoring that desire to overprotect and (I'm sure) those looks from other parents! I grew up in the 80's and 90's and remember riding my bike till 9pm, playing in a huge concrete drainage ditch, taking a rowboat across a bay to an abandoned beach behind a factory (full of strangers!) and playing in lots of construction sites. But oh! The amazing adventures those were in our imaginations. I hate to think that my little one who will be here in a few weeks would miss out on that...

Laura Gaines said...

My cousin was killed in an accident playing with his sister unsupervised as kids (10 and 13) about eleven years ago. It was a total freak thing, but if my aunt or uncle had been there, they totally could have saved him. it was beyond awful and traumatizing for everyone, especially my surviving cousin who tried and couldn’t save him. Call me paranoid, I’ll be choosing controlled, measured, mostly-supervised tastes of “danger” for my kids until they are strong enough to fend for themselves.

Juliana said...

I think you'd LOVE http://www.freerangekids.com/

It's a blog by an NYC mother struggling with this exact question--and blogging about it. Really great.

Will Etherington said...

Hey Jo! Love the pics. They really were wonderful days! I remember doing the cliff jumping with Rory, Jerm and everyone else.

Ems and I have just been discussing your article and really agree with it. I think it's so important to expose them to a bit of "danger". We both had similar childhoods and agree that knowing that you are responsible for yourself is very important and that any mistakes you make will be your own.

I look forward to introducing Elsie and Reuben to climbing and driving and stuff like that in a gentle way so that they learn by making mistakes on the small stuff so they know what to do when doing the big stuff.

Because of the upbringing we had, and the lessons we had already learned, we were much more responsible when doing stuff like the cliff jumping. Love your articles and seeing you all change.

Loads of love and see you all soon.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Jess said...

I've thought about this a lot. I lived in the country when I was younger and my parents would send us outside for hours and tell us to be back by dinner. We would play on the railroad tracks, jump off the bluff, and swim in the creek behind our house. All unsupervised and I loved every minute of it. My daughter is 3 and I love being able to go back to where I grew up and let her roam around in our big yard and explore. We currently live in DC and just like NYC it's a little tricky to let kids play alone or go out of your site. I don't know if the times and people have changed or if it's just wasn't talked about as much when we were growing up. It seems there are so many scary things that happen now.

Just like you I try not to hover. I still won't take my eyes off my daughter but I will let her roam around and figure things out for herself. As long as I can see her.

trish said...

I grew up on the Irish Coast , halfway between two villages by the sea , surrounded by cousins. We spent our afternoons, weekends and holidays wandering, exploring and going on adventures . We climbed up and down DANGEROUS cliff faces . Two of my cousins walked a mile underground in a tunnel between two ring forts ! No adults ever checked in on us . We were wild and free as long as we were home in time for dinner .
I forget, sometimes, that my children are city kids ! I try to let them be as free as possible . Playing in local parks, walking to school and to the local shops . Basically, my rule is that they have to be with a friend . Protection in numbers (or at least someone to get help if something goes wrong!)

Cornwall is one of my favourite places in the world, especially Mousehole .

X

Kendra said...

Yes, yes! I actually think about this issue quite a lot. I grew up on a Montana ranch, and at different points we had horses, buffalo, sheep, and various other animals. My siblings and I used to paddle up the creek by ourselves, hike bluffs, build tipis, disappear for hours and hours at a time. I wonder now if my parents always knew where we were—probably not.

Now, with a two-year-old, I find myself on the one hand wanting my daughter to experience the same free-range childhood, and on the other hand wanting to make sure she doesn't, you know, drown. I had my share of broken bones for a kid, and although I think I'm mostly the better for the adventures I also wonder how much of that has backlashed into parenting fear. Sort of an, "because I broke my wrist I know how easy it is to break a wrist" philosophy.

erinkathleen said...

I grew up in a small town in Alaska, where I had MANY moments of unsupervised time as a kid - hours and hours of it. I think back to all sorts of adventures that I got in. Climbing trees, running through the woods, lots of things that were totally dangerous. However, I'm about to be a first time mom in a city (Seattle) and the thought of letting my child run free terrifies me! For some reason the wild backyards of Alaska seems so much safer to me than being unsupervised on a city block or playground. Maybe it's because I don't trust the other people who can show up on a playground/street/etc. It will definitely be a balancing act for me.

Mari D said...

I wholeheartedly agree and that's how I plan to raise my kids as well. Funny because I grew up in South America, but now even down there parents are raising the kids in the same overprotective way as in America, I guess it must be a generational thing (although I haven't lived there for years.)

I was very independent as a child and from an early age I used to be out in the streets and over at my neighbor's houses and my parents never cared. My mom never bothered to ask me where I had been! When I got older I got a bike and then my years of adventure started: riding with my friends all over town, sometimes for miles and miles away from home, climbing trees, playing in the streets, taking day trips on foot to explore the outdoors. When there was an adult gathering at either a massive state park or family farm my cousins and I used to venture out in the woods by ourselves, where there wasn't a really a clear path back or where there would be rivers nearby. My parents, uncles and aunts never bothered as well.

I have very fond memories of my childhood and enjoyed my freedom. I had a wonderful, magic time!

PS: I love your blog Joanna and I have been a daily reader for years now! Today I felt compelled to comment! :)

Catherine Masi said...

You're always so good with bringing up the necessary topics; And I think this is a really important one! Although I don't have children of my own, I used to nanny and teach and often found that, while caring for the children, I was over protective simply because I was responsible for someone's child. It's a steep and significant responsibility and something I did not want to mess around with. The balance to allow for their exploratory freedom and also protect is a tricky one. I recently had a conversation with friends about our childhoods... we had far more outdoor time, no helmets, and as you mentioned of your own- a lot of time away from parents/guardians watchful eyes. I think it's so vital to have that space to know our own power and limits. Thank you for sharing another great topic, Joanna :) Really fascinating to think about...

K said...

I grew up in Kalamazoo, MI and we had a huge forest park in our backyard right in the middle of the city. We lived on top of the hill, and the park sloped downhill to a seedy part of town with pawn shops, a busy road and run down drug houses. I remember being in the park playing and seeing random men just walking through carrying backpacks. Maybe they were homeless? Maybe just cutting through? Who knows? But we had the gumption even then to keep a safe distance and "keep our wits about us".

But I can't imagine letting a child under my protection do the same. It's weird. It's like I don't trust them to be able to make the same decisions I did, or perhaps its knowing that to some extant, I might have been lucky that I didn't run into that scary rapist guy or murderer or kidnapper.

But we had GREAT times in that park. Sledding, fort building, make-believe. And at around 12 we found a stack of REALLY old porno under a log. My first experience with that! I turned out okay.

Leah said...

When I was little my mom worked crazy hours and my dad was constantly traveling. Even though my grandparents watched us, I spent a lot of time playing by myself or with my brother without adult supervision. I grew up in a Cleveland suburb where I could ride my bike around the neighborhood and go hiking with my friends in the woods in our development. In high school, my only curfew was the state mandated curfew for drivers under 18 (I think it was midnight). There were always rules and expectations but because I didn't get into trouble and my parents knew I was responsible I could do my own thing. Plus my mom constantly encouraged my brother and I to explore the world. I think it helped me be more adventurous as an adult and to try new things.

Jessica Quadra Andrews said...

I totally agree! I grew up pretty unsupervised. Playing outside for hours without anyone checking up on me. We used to camp every summer with my cousins and we all also joke now that it's amazing we survived considering some of the things we did. And we joke we took care of each other since the adults were always doing their own thing. Now I have a baby girl due in August and I hope I can let go and give her the freedom to explore and take little risks here and there. ;)

Natasha said...

I am also from Queens, and experienced a great deal of freedom in my early years there; we moved to the suburbs when I was 8. I never walked home from school alone; I have a sister 4 years older so she was always in charge. However as long as we were together we were free to roam our neighborhood together. There was also no problem in my, by age 5, walking down the block to the local pizza shop to get my pizza or go to the candy store. Once we moved to the suburbs, I was given unlimited freedom. I could ride my bike all day, and had to be home by dark. I went to the park and the woods by myself and with friends, never with adults- ewww, that would have meant giving up our freedom! I learned so much about freedom, independence, and entertaining myself at an early age because of how carefree the times, and my parents were about things. My husband also grew up with unlimited freedom, and was allowed to do as he pleased from an early age. Nothing ever happened in the suburbs back then! I could never imagine giving my children the same freedom; there's always that paranoia; it's the age of kidnappers and child molesters! It isn't to say my kids are overprotected by any means, they've been free to take risks from the time they were babies, encouraged to do things without an adult hovering above, and in no way do I freak out over the things that happen as a result of playing. They have been climbing rocks, trees, playing in the woods, skateboarding, rolling down hills, enjoying neighborhood bonfires, spending unlimited hours at the ocean all of their lives. They've survived thus far! Falling, getting cuts, scraping yourself, breaking bones, busting lips, splitting chins- it's all a part of having fun. The thing I am afraid of is just a matter of actually allowing them to be able to roam any distance beyond our (extensively large) yard alone that I am not okay with, and it's sad. We don't live in a particularly dangerous area, however I don't know anyone who lets their kids under 10 have such freedom as my husband and I had. As my kids get older, I know I will not have issues letting go and giving them their space and ability to roam, but things sure are different than when I was young!

Ana M* said...

I hope I'm able to do it! I used to be quite free as a kid, walking around the neighborhood unsupervised (not really, my mom might be out of sight but all the kids played togheter and everybody knew us so all the street was kinda taking care of us) but now I feel like tying my baby to my leg XD

I guess I'll learn to let him be...

Anitra Sweet said...

Fabulous post Joanna and I wholeheartedly agree!

SLOmygosh said...

This is really fascinating, and so hard to navigate as a parent. I grew up on a small island with next to NO supervision (but also no crime). I'd spend hours (really... like, 6-8 hours) at a time off on my own from elementary school age, on. Scaling cliffs, clinging to rocks, riding my horse, exploring valleys and jungles with my dog, catching prawns in waterfall pools and taking my horses in the ocean. Where the heck were my parents?! Working. Always working. My mom has since told me that she couldn't afford sitters at the time, so she would stick me on a "babysitter horse" that she trusted. I really have no idea how any kid could survive like that now that I see my own children and all the molly-coddling I do with them. It's ridiculous. And I have so much guilt... OH, the parental GUILT! I feel sorry for depriving them of the absolute MAGIC of my own childhood. But the horrendous educations system, drug issues, terrible cost of living, and very few opportunities were enough to move them to California. They have thrived here- they do well in school, they play sports, have amazing learning opportunities, etc. But I often feel that life here is bland and not unlike something I would have seen on television when I was a kid. They are never alone (I'm terrified of kidnapping), and there are just boundaries everywhere. It just seems too vast and scary to allow them any freedom. I'm sure these are mainly my own hang-ups, but with so many creepy weirdos out there, how do you overcome the fear and allow your children room to spread their wings?

Letícia said...

Hi Joanna!

I think this makes total sense!
I'm not a mother but I've been an Au Pair in the USA (I'm from Brazil) for 2 years and I think kids are so much more independent and happy when you let them take a few risks.

I remember one day I was at the playground with the 2 kids I looked after when the 4 year old was on the slide by herself, lost balance and felt in the sand at the end of the slide ride. I was siting on a bench reading so as soon as she felt I looked at her and she checked her hands and knees to make sure she wans't bleeding, rubbed her hands together to take sand out of them, got up with a big smile and shout to me: I'm in one piece Leticia!! She smiled and went back on the slide again.

When you let your kid take care of themselves you teach them that they are smart and independent.

Eileen said...

My favorite memories of my childhood are the times that I spent running around in the woods near our house- sometimes alone, but often with friends. We would spend hours away from adult supervision, and we sometimes strayed pretty far away from home. One of my favorite memories is one running home from a friend's house when it was time for dinner...she just lived across the street, but the trip alone in the dark was totally exhilarating.

Looking back, I wonder how our parents felt comfortable letting us wander so freely, but I'm so glad that they did. It probably had to do with the fact that our neighborhood was quite friendly. All the neighbors knew each other, and there were plenty of kids running around so I would imagine that everyone looked out for each other.

Weird side note- there was actually a known child predator living in my neighborhood, albeit several streets away. We were just told which house was his and to never go there alone, but that was it. We never had any problems.

Lacy Cooke said...

I loved this article. In fact, I'm going to save it for when I have kids of my own someday. Some of my favorite kid memories involve no adults present (playing in the woods with my cousin comes to mind). Exploration is so important, and I already know that it will be hard for me to let go when I have kids, but it's important to give them those same moments of exploration. Thanks for sharing, Joanna.

Jamie said...

I read the article yesterday and sent it to so many people - it fascinated me (and I'm not even a parent.)

I grew up in a small town and we had tons of time to run and explore. My parents gave me a motorcycle at age 8 and I used to ride on my own in the hills above town.

I cherish those memories and think they helped me become an independent adult, who has moved on her own to 4 foreign countries.

I know this kind of childhood isn't available to everyone, but I do think we need to learn to let go of the reigns a bit more.

Rachel said...

I really doubt that there are suddenly more child predators now then there were 20 years ago. I agree with some other commenters that we just hear about it more. Same thing with injuries- I know there were plenty of bad accidents that kids had 20+ years ago. As Forest Gump would say, sh*t happens :)

I used to babysit an 8 year old boy, and I would let him ride his bike down the hill to their house. I would check for cars, and when the road was clear I would let him fly down the hill. He was very comfortable on the bike, and was wearing a helmet, so why not? One day a neighbor told me "I'd be so nervous if I was his babysitter..." She clearly did not approve of me letting him ride his bike like that, but I always felt like there was no reason not to let him have that fun.

Caroline said...

I love this! I grew up in charleston, sc and would climb walls and run (climb) wild until dark every SINGLE day. Now that I am married, I am starting to think more about having children and hope I will give them the same freedom my parents gave me.

Dana Matsunami said...

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at the amount of freedom my mom gave my siblings and I. I could walk around the block on my own before I started elementary school and if I wanted to go to my friend's house, I walked or biked there on my own. Some friends would stop to ask their parents permission to participate in certain activities, and I would be floored--"You have to ask to walk to the park? Your mom is making you bring a walkie-talkie?"
This is not to say my parents were uninvolved; we had to ask permission to watch TV and my siblings and I were NEVER left home alone before we were young teenagers. We were, however, allowed to roam freely and get into semi-dangerous situations at very young ages with limited supervision. I don't know how the different styles have affected my friends and I differently, but I do know that I relished the agency I had at such a young age. I was in charge of myself, and I had to learn how to be safe for my own sake.
It still surprises me when I see parents hovering around their eight-year-olds at the park, or even worse, when I see parents judging those who take eyes off children for even a moment. Kids deserve independence.

Dana Matsunami said...

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at the amount of freedom my mom gave my siblings and I. I could walk around the block on my own before I started elementary school and if I wanted to go to my friend's house, I walked or biked there on my own. Some friends would stop to ask their parents permission to participate in certain activities, and I would be floored--"You have to ask to walk to the park? Your mom is making you bring a walkie-talkie?"
This is not to say my parents were uninvolved; we had to ask permission to watch TV and my siblings and I were NEVER left home alone before we were young teenagers. We were, however, allowed to roam freely and get into semi-dangerous situations at very young ages with limited supervision. I don't know how the different styles have affected my friends and I differently, but I do know that I relished the agency I had at such a young age. I was in charge of myself, and I had to learn how to be safe for my own sake.
It still surprises me when I see parents hovering around their eight-year-olds at the park, or even worse, when I see parents judging those who take eyes off children for even a moment. Kids deserve independence.

Dana Matsunami said...

Looking back, I sometimes marvel at the amount of freedom my mom gave my siblings and I. I could walk around the block on my own before I started elementary school and if I wanted to go to my friend's house, I walked or biked there on my own. Some friends would stop to ask their parents permission to participate in certain activities, and I would be floored--"You have to ask to walk to the park? Your mom is making you bring a walkie-talkie?"
This is not to say my parents were uninvolved; we had to ask permission to watch TV and my siblings and I were NEVER left home alone before we were young teenagers. We were, however, allowed to roam freely and get into semi-dangerous situations at very young ages with limited supervision. I don't know how the different styles have affected my friends and I differently, but I do know that I relished the agency I had at such a young age. I was in charge of myself, and I had to learn how to be safe for my own sake.
It still surprises me when I see parents hovering around their eight-year-olds at the park, or even worse, when I see parents judging those who take eyes off children for even a moment. Kids deserve independence.

Regan Snyder said...

So, I see a lot of perception vs. reality issues in these comments! First the perception that the world today is SO much different and SO much more dangerous than it was in the past. I'm not the first commenter to point out that the facts simply don't hold up on this one.
Secondly, a lot of commenters seem to truly feel that they were allowed to roam free and were completely unsupervised as children. I believe that they truly felt that way but perhaps the parents were watching them a little more than they knew about. Let me tell you story my mother related to me. I grew up in the 80s and if you ask me to recall my childhood I would tell you that I roamed free and unsupervised for hours at a time. My mother remembers however that there was a child predator on the loose at that time (a real one, who was caught). And the way she tells it, she was watching us like hawks for the couple of years that it was going on. Funny how we can remember it so differently.
I have older kids (11,9,7) and they would probably claim to have a lot more freedom and lack of supervision than I might. But my 11-year old does ride her bike with friends to Starbucks. (It's about 2 miles each way). They walk to friends houses in our suburban neighbourhood. But I won't let her go to the preteen dance! That's some scary stuff there.

caz said...

Risk taking (within reason) is important for developing self regulation. Children are a lot more capable than adults realise .. its all about learning, thinking and experiencing consequences.

Sara Geidlinger Photography said...

Thank you Joanna for this very important reminder!

taranikolin said...

I grew up in Kuwait and when I was a kid, my best friend and I pretty much refused to play indoors. Between the ages of 8 - 11 (and beyond haha) we broke into abandoned buildings, climbed on top of walls, found a 'secret' garden where we crawled through a crack in a fence ran across a plot of land and started climbing the tallest trees, clambered onto rooftops of 5 storey apartments, chased each other up and down construction sites and rode our bicycles and scooters all over the area, going weeell out of site of our homes. As long as we came home at sun down in one piece our parents were so relaxed with whatever we were doing, in fact they encouraged us to get out of the house and enjoy the day! Very fond memories :) looking back it was possibly just a little bit dangerous but I feel that with kids there is always safety in numbers and if one of us thought something was dangerous, we would stop the other from doing it!

Brittany Sivyer said...

i am a mother of four boys, and my heart agrees wholly with this sentiment. unfortunately, my two year old fractured his skull this year climbing the shelves in our pantry to sneak some raisins (behind my back, of course), and while a simple accident like that would have been considered an unfortunate event or a learning opportunity for my son twenty years ago, nowadays, it leads to a dcf investigation in your home. after all that mess, i hesitate a lot more to let me children run as free as my gut tells me is okay. it's unfortunate to have to consider what could come of a worst case schnario when you let your kids run free, but i think its definitely something to keep in mind these days.

HDemaray said...

I love the idea of the PERCEIVED freedom. I live in the city and it's challenging to give kids freedom. However, as one commentor said, maybe it's possible to help kids feel free while still being watchful and careful (and maybe that IS how our parents did it).

We need to be careful of applying a survivorship bias to our upbringings. Just because we made it through unscathed does not mean that there weren't terrible, heartbreaking things that happened while kids ran around with no adult supervision.

Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Joanna!

Julie said...

I wonder if the only thing that's changed about the level of danger is the fact that every bad thing that happens anywhere in the world is blasted all over the internet every day. Maybe there isn't any more danger than there ever was but we just hear about every little thing that goes on anywhere.

Melissa Lewis said...

I grew up on a farm and played as freely as one of the many mongrel dogs that lived there. I never had shoes on and very rarely had brushed hair. My sisters and I would build forts in the wash, wander miles away in the hills to "unchartered" land, and even take the four-wheelers out and ride them on the side of highway to the neighboring town! I like to imagine I would give my future kids the same freedoms. I am not sure if this awesome or awful, but I hardly have any memories of my parents as a kid. I just remember playing and never being restricted from that play.

Vegangirl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Divya B said...

I totally agree! As a kid I grew up in a coffee estate! I remember taking 5 dogs on a walk on one of the trails (big mistake- they got spooked and dragged me along a gravel path for about half a minute). Although I had to get tetanus shots later that day, I had a better appreciation for not only animals but I also learned how to take care of myself :)

Pretzel Thief said...

Oh man...I grew up in former Yugoslavia and when I started first grade in 1991 (just before the war began) I was six and I'd walk to school by myself or with my older 10-year-old brother, I had a key around my neck to our apartment and I'd let myself in when mum and dad weren't at home, fix myself a snack, etc etc.

At SIX.

Hee!

We'd also at that age ride our bikes all over town (my town, Karlovac, had a population of about 75,000 people then), go wherever, play hide and seek late into the night...and hey, even during wartime, when there'd be ceasefires, we were allowed to roam about.

We freakin' LOVED it. There's nothing like having such freedom as a kid.

I'm now in Melbourne, Australia and, well, the helicopter parenting is annoying as all get-out. Maybe it's easy for me to criticise now given I don't have a kid yet (just turned 29) so perhaps a little bit of that big city paranoia will set in.

Abby said...

As a teacher and summer camp counselor one of the things that continually surprises me are the activties campers will choose to do. One of their favorites is building forts in the woods; and though they're supervised there is very little adult intervention. The campers work together to build their forts, create factions, imagine and explore the area. I think it speaks to this; they get their freedom and play and choice. And they love it!
I highly encourage parents to look into sending their kids to summer camps. The American Camping Association (ACA) accredits camps that fulfill certain standards--making these camps great ones to check into.
Camps give kids a chance to explore and try new things, to be free from their parents, and connect to nature in great ways. I have seen kids grown and change so much during camp. There really is magic tied into the hot humid air and mosquito bites :)
Abby

HMC said...

Such a good article! We are the same way with our 15m old daughter. She is pretty tough and dare devilish so it's a fine balance of letting her learn vs putting her at risk. She learned to climb the stepstool on her own at 11m and it was fun to watch her brain figure it out. In music class other parents worry when their older child bumps into her while dancing or playing and we chalk it up to growing up and learning :)

Christine said...

loved this! I spent summers with my brother and 3 cousins, "supervised" by my grandma. We would bike all over the place going up and down the biggest hills nearby. We played in the school yard of the neighborhood. We walked to the hobby shop to buy trading cards and to the candy store next door. Not to mention we lived in Oakland California, which is not known to be the safest place (though this was 20 years ago).

We learned to be street smart and how to look out for ourselves. I know way too many sheltered people who are afraid to leave their suburban cities, even as 30 year olds.

And as a former preschool teacher and now mom of a 1 year old, I definitely let my students and daughter explore and try to do things on their own within safe limits. My daughter was walking at 10.5 months, is very curious, and loves 'running with the big kids.' She is not afraid of much and is an independent girl. I love it.

amy said...

Rocky Mountain National Park....we called it boulder tripping...jumping from huge boulder to the next with a raging river around us. Our various parents never knew how close we came to missing a step and being washed away. So thrilling as I recall!

mexicafarfan said...

I think it's a balance for sure. I think North American culture/ parenting/early childhood education has become overly obsessed wht "the individual" and "independence". We don't know how or work on being part of a community, work together, and care for others, include people in our lives and activities... It is bc North Americans are so preoccupied with their own independence and individual lives that I would never allow my young child to "roam" alone and "taste danger". I disagree with the author that kids are "being watched"-- if they are it's by their parents but not by anyone else. It's not that "we" don't trust, it's that there isn't a culture of trust or community in the U.S. Or many other places... I think the author exagerates and romanticizes many points...irresponsibly I might add. I sure hope nobody takes this as parenting advice. While there is scientific evidence that supports the need for free, creative play, that doesn't mean letting your young child play alone in a NYC playground while you sit at home. There is also a lot of research on children needing structure to feel safe and protected, which is what they need to feel free to roam. I think folks should always use their best judgment...

123 said...

I really loved this post and loved reading all the comments! I grew up an only child in France 20 years ago and cannot recall running wild and being left unsupervised that often. adults were always around and ready to help the second a problem arose. My husband, on the other hand, grew up in South Africa (also 20 years ago) and I am always amazed at how much freedom his parents allowed, at a fairly young age. As a result, I can completely see a massive difference between him and I in terms of handling everyday life troubles. He comes up with solutions a lot quicker than I do and is clearly a lot more at ease in situations that I find scary or uncomfortable. He can also cope beautifully with any kind of responsibility and takes ownership when I really struggle. Of course personality comes into play but then again one could argue that "danger", freedom and early responsibilities shape our personalities to a certain extent.

Conny said...

My parents and I lived in a small city in Romania, nearby where the sister of the dictator Ceausescu lived. The traffic all around our home was prohibited so all afternoons, my two cousins, friends and I ran free. I remember on day when we were at the playground behind our block, there was a older man behind the bushes showing us his penis, we knew what was that and we laughed, but that guy was definitely a pedophile or exhibitionist .
We did the same thing the summers at our grandparents’ village: we played in the woods, we went swimming at the river, I almost drowned once and a girlfriend of mine actually drowned.
Now I live in Spain and I have a 6 years daughter. I think that you should give them the feeling of freedom, but actually stay the shadow, vigilant.
Times have changed and life is not the same as twenty or fifteen years ago, also is not the same to live in a small city/farm/village or a big city. We should live according to our times and places and balance the situation.

sophnorthern said...

I love this post! My brother and I grew up in rural Yorkshire (England) and were left to our own devices during the holidays. My parents rarely entertained us, we were encouraged to explore the outdoors and use our imagination, something I'll be really keen to instil in my future children. We made bonfires, climbed trees, fell off bikes and skinned our knees but it was all part of learning about danger and boundaries. My niece and nephew rarely have time to explore (what with school clubs, sports, extra curricular activities etc) and aren't sure quite what to do with 'free' time. I can't help thinking this is a wee bit of a shame. I have so many lovely memories of my childhood adventures (and scars on my knees to prove it!)! X

martin said...

You expressed exactly my though on this topic, it's so good to hear that you think the same way.
My parents always let me climb things and walk on ledges without stepping in. I am grateful for this because it made me learn by myself how to handle danger.
Now I'm afraid that today's parents, and even me later, are too scared and overprotecting.

Delcarla said...

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Erin Maliszewski said...

That was such an interesting article.

I agree that there is beauty in the skinned knee and that kiddos need to be able to learn to handle danger.

Have you heard of the Free Range movement?
It was started by a fellow New Yorker. I saw her speak last spring at my daughter's school in Chicago. The lecture was given by Lenore Skenazy, the woman dubbed “America’s Worst Mom.”

Skenazy created a media sensation when she wrote a column about her nine-year-old son’s ride on the New York City subway. By himself. The subway was part of their everyday, and he wanted to give it a go. Knowing he was well-versed, she left him in the handbag department of Bloomingdales with money and a map. She went home to wait for his arrival.

I wrote about my experience with Free Range parenting -- or at least my attempt -- on my blog at www.rudeysrom.com

check it out if you'd like ...
http://rudeysroom.com/2013/05/16/americas-worst-mom/

Rachael King said...

I'm from New Zealand and like you I have memories of running wild during our holidays. We had some good family friends living in a rural town that we would go visit. As kids we would purposfully get "stuck" in the swamp and then have to get ourselves out. It was so fun to get into danger and then get out of it! We also scaled trees across creeks and rode around on ponies. I think there is something special about being in a gang of kids having fun in nature

jennifer sudweeks said...

I have a licensed daycare in my home. I regularly endure disapproving looks from many neighbors because I let the kids explore a short nature path just out of sight but within hearing, play next to the 2 feet deep pond, etc. yes, there might be ticks and scraped knees! Luckily all the parents heartily approve.

Sarah Collins said...

When my husband and I asked all our friends with kids what their favourite childhood memories were, every single one (born in the 70's and 80's) invariably said "catching tadpoles down by the creek" or "going on unsupervised adventures". Yet when we asked them if they would let their own kids do this now their answers were invariably "no way". We don't have kids yet but are dying to give ours the same awesome upbringings we had as children. We have moved to a country area outside Melbourne Australia to do this! Our neighbourhood is amazing. Children play out in the street, the other day we passed by a couple of really young brothers who had set up a paper plane making shop on the side of the road...it seems it is still possible!

Can I just add that the best stories at dinner parties now include my husband's childhood experience of trying to clamber down a tree and run to a neighbourhood kids house to hear the newly released KISS Unmasked album when he was 7 (but accidentally falling and breaking his arm so badly the bone stuck out) and having to run home holding his arm together (!!) and the other is my best friend's tale of climbing a tree with her sister before their mum got home from work. Her sister had a crazy fear of moths (after watching Silence of the Lambs waaaay too young) and so my friend thought it would be hilarious to fling one at her once they were at the top. This resulted in her sister falling out and landing on the ground - breaking her arm - and my friend being so scared she had killed her that she just left her there and ran next door to get a neighbour to call an ambulance. Moral of the story - it all got dealt with by the kids themselves, they learned how to handle an emergency at a really young age, and today prove to be absolutely resilient and risk-taking people who can handle anything with total maturity and a sense of humour - with the best dinner party stories!!

Sarah Collins said...

When my husband and I asked all our friends with kids what their favourite childhood memories were, every single one (born in the 70's and 80's) invariably said "catching tadpoles down by the creek" or "going on unsupervised adventures". Yet when we asked them if they would let their own kids do this now their answers were invariably "no way". We don't have kids yet but are dying to give ours the same awesome upbringings we had as children. We have moved to a country area outside Melbourne Australia to do this! Our neighbourhood is amazing. Children play out in the street, the other day we passed by a couple of really young brothers who had set up a paper plane making shop on the side of the road...it seems it is still possible!

Can I just add that the best stories at dinner parties now include my husband's childhood experience of trying to clamber down a tree and run to a neighbourhood kids house to hear the newly released KISS Unmasked album when he was 7 (but accidentally falling and breaking his arm so badly the bone stuck out) and having to run home holding his arm together (!!) and the other is my best friend's tale of climbing a tree with her sister before their mum got home from work. Her sister had a crazy fear of moths (after watching Silence of the Lambs waaaay too young) and so my friend thought it would be hilarious to fling one at her once they were at the top. This resulted in her sister falling out and landing on the ground - breaking her arm - and my friend being so scared she had killed her that she just left her there and ran next door to get a neighbour to call an ambulance. Moral of the story - it all got dealt with by the kids themselves, they learned how to handle an emergency at a really young age, and today prove to be absolutely resilient and risk-taking people who can handle anything with total maturity and a sense of humour - with the best dinner party stories!!

Ruth said...

I think about this a lot - I walked on my own to and from school (with a friend) starting in first grade, I flew on my own with my younger sister starting around 9 or 10, we ran around the neighborhood unsupervised when we were kids all the time. I think what's hard about trying to replicate this now is simply that the norms HAVE changed so much. So not only do you have to brush off the inevitable dirty looks/judgments of other parents but more significantly there isn't the same communal basis that provided some security I think (e.g. ALL the neighborhood kids ran around together, and all the parents expected that, so there was a kind of security in numbers and solidarity in expectations - you knew if the kids were down at one corner and needed help, so and so would be around). I'm not even sure all that unstructured play time exists for most kids due not only to safety concerns but to the packed activities schedule phenomenon. So I agree with what you're saying regarding its importance, and I love the sort of neighborhood community model, my question/concern (my kids are still young) is how to provide as much of that free-roaming unstructured play and exploration within the confines of our current norms, which no longer support that sort of lifestyle as well.

n.hill said...

I think cultures change to reflect certain factors. I grew up very "free range" but agree with commenter Laura about inherent risk factors. When I was in kindergarten a man tried to abduct me on my walk home (my brother was supposed to *always* walk with me but blew it off). As populations in the States increase, there are more child safety risks and that's a major factor in the huge increase in attentive parenting. I'm against the idea of hover-parenting but being unobtrusively attentive seems the best choice to me. When I remember that abduction attempt, I still feel my hair raising and my heart breaks for every single child who is a victim of such monsters.

Emily Johnson said...

Cornwall is so near and dear to my heart. What an idyllic childhood--very insightful piece. Thanks, Joanna.

Misty Watson said...

I think there is a balance needed. Looking back I think my parents let me run free a little too much. Luckily we grew up in a very rural area thatw as safe but I can remember walking on a frozen pond unattended with my sister. I live in the SOUTH. That pond probably only had at most a couple of inches of ice. I cringe thinking about how that could have ended. I would never allow my children to run THAT free. Again, there is a balance and kids need supervision because they don't always make the best decisions.

Essss said...

You should definitely check out free range kids articles and website! Good stuff. I was so lucky to grow up in a small town where, from the time I was 5 or 6 I could walk to the library by myself and read for hours. My mother would call the librarian when it was time for me to come home for dinner.
But I feel like my sweet small town was an exception and its hard to imagine the balance I'll want to strike.

Sarah said...

When I was about 6 years old I announced I was running away from home. I can't remember what the impetus for this was, but my parents' reaction was basically "OK!" I must have seen this on television, but I bundled up my runaway essentials (can't imagine what this entailed) and tied them to the end of a stick before hiking off into the wilderness that was suburbia. I walked to a park I knew all by myself and felt like I'd just broken out of jail--I was free at last! Then, I imagine, I got hungry and came home. The image of a 6-year-old on the lam in Brooklyn, where I just moved from, is unthinkable now :)

Christina said...

I totally agree. I grew up in Saudi Arabia living on a compound. My parents felt like the 4 walls of the compound were safe enough for us to run free. Although, we had strict curfews and had to check in by phone every 2-3 hours, we were always allowed to explore and play. My parents would let my brothers and me climb over the wall with a rope ladder and go out to the ocean about a mile out when the tide was totally down (about a foot deep) to explore fishing nets. We found crabs, sting rays, sea snakes and needle fish! In this instance, we always had to take walkie-talkies to communicate with my parents. Things they didn't know we did however: sneak on top of roofs, climb fences, run from security guards and ride our bikes wearing roller blades. When I have kids I will be very similar, I may just take the communication a step further because there were things that happened that I wish I had talked to my parents about but didn't realize that I could.

K said...

I'm not sure if anyone above mentioned this, but there's an amazing book that describes this in detail called Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv. It's my bible, and the reason I have decided to become a landscape architect.

Lilli said...

I grew up on a big farm in Austria. I do have 4 younger sisters and we were allowed to play all day long where we want, we just had to come back for lunch and dinner and help out my mom and dad, when they asked for. I just talked about this topic a few times with my mom. My boyfriend does have niece, who is the first baby of his brother and his sister-in-law. I'm always very scared when I look after the little one. My mom told me that it will be easier when it is your child. She said she learned to trust us. There were just some simple rules, easy to follow. We were girls, not very interested in cars and trucks..., we loved it to build castles in the wood, jump in hay balls and play hide and seek in the meadows... Mom told me, that the only time she got really scared, was when my sister disappeared after playing hide and seek in the age of three. We havent found her and thought she was already with Mama, but there she wasnt. My dad and granddad got in their cars and searched her in the village, we ran around the house shouting her name. In the end, we found her in the back of a big wardrobe. She felt asleep and havent noticed a climpse of the excitement due her disappearance.

Jennifer Theriot said...

Great post! This is a topic I think about often, although I do not yet have children of my own. I grew up in the 80s and 90s and also remember having a lot of independent playing and roaming time. As Rosin mentions, "the code between kids ruled." Kids played among themselves and worked through conflicts without constant adult intervention. I also remember handling my academics without constant parental oversight. I see a complete contrast, now, with my own younger siblings--my mother remarried and had them when I was in my teens, and their childhood is so different from mine. I used to struggle with this, thinking that my mother was being a more attentive parent to them than she had been to me. Then I realized that it's more due to a general shift in how children are being raised. I really enjoyed Rosin's article and am glad parents are starting to realize the harm of over-protection. I hope that as a parent someday, I can "let go" and allow healthy doses of independence and perceived danger.

em said...

yes yes and yes! Summer camp in southern Indiana, no parents aloud, just 100 girls watching out for each other. Pure bliss

Leslie said...

Yesterday I was cleaning the blood and dirt off my 8 year old sons shirt from a mountain camping trip! How much fun he had!! The taste of complete freedom to play, explore and get dirty gave him a gleam in his eyes that I've never seen before.

Exhaustipated said...

Couple comments:
It helps with the anxiety when you know who your kids are running around with. My sister (12 months younger) and I were pretty free-range but my mother told me later that she was comfortable with that because she knew we would take care of each other. I'm sure it was the same for your parents. In this day and age of smaller families there probably aren't as many siblings or cousins to run around with.

Although I think I'm pretty good about letting my 3 year old face reasonable physical danger, I find I'm horrible at letting him tackle emotional danger (e.g., discourage him from approaching older kids I think will reject him). I'm clearly projecting my own biases onto him and will need to work on that.

Katie said...

Loved that article! LOVED it!


Trying to think of a way I could get a crazy old "playground" built in my neighborhood...

collette said...

I was also allowed to roam free as a kid. Ages 0-12 lived on a farm and my mom literally rang the triangle when it was dinnertime in the summer. Ages 12-17 moved to the suburbs, age 18 skipped school (made it up) to travel to a foreign country for one week. My kids play unsupervised in my house and are learning to swim for less drowning dangers. We'll see if age 11-13 I actually let them stay home alone or chicken out!

collette said...

Also, thought of you when I saw this brilliant piece directed at Girls character Hannah! Is the MFA worth it or not? http://www.elle.com/life-love/society-career/open-letter-to-hannah-horvath

Anne Golliher said...

So great! I'm with you...heart in throat, but trusting in their greater good (I have two little boys too!). I was at the library the other day when my 18 month old meandered a ways off. I stayed put and let him play with the magnet alphabet letters while I continued to look for books. A gentleman in that same area was watching his own child. He kept looking up with that look of 'who's child is this that's playing all alone." I watched it all play out from afar and had to chuckle to myself. It's the new mindset, like you said. We are told we have to be with them at all times or we are not good parents. Tough work we ALL have ahead. Thanks for your encouraging, and heartfelt posts.

Bethany H said...

For weeks now, this is exactly the conversation my husband and I have been having regarding our 8 year old daughter! I've been allowing her to wander up to the playground on her own (which I can see from our house) by herself. She sometimes goes out of sight, exploring the nearby woods or wanders a few blocks away to the community garden. My husband is totally freaked out by this and thinks I'm mad for letting her do this. I ask him, don't you remember riding your bike miles around your house, not coming home until sundown? I certainly did! This world hasn't changed, but for some reason folks hold more fear about it. A life lived in fear is not a life worth living. That fear and mistrust may be what is also contributing to more adult children staying home longer, just a thought.

Janan said...

I read this article in it's entirety a few days a go. Long, but worth it. Confirms thoughts I've had for years. For those afraid that the world has become more dangerous, it claims it hasn't really. Just the media coverage of danger:) I love it. And so do my 4 kids now 16, 15, 13, and nearly 11. All survived:)

Elizabeth Ayoub said...

I'm not a parent yet, but recollections from my childhood include lots of possiblity of danger...and the learning that comes with it. I grew up in a very safe neighborhood with lots of children and families, but I would be off for hours by myself or with other kids, and we lived right next to a large creek that also contained poisonous snakes on occasion. I learned so much about being independent from getting lost in the woods, getting away from snakes, falling into the creek. On the flip side I've worked in a pediatric intensive care unit and seen some pretty crazy and horrific accidents. I think it's going to take some courage, but I want to be the kind of parent who gives my children independence and danger-within-reason experiences!

Krystal // Village said...

i love this so much!!! i am the same way with my 1.5 year old, I let him explore and play on his own. I'm an american but I live in Switzerland and it's amazing how much more relaxed about letting their kids walk around unsupervised. I remember seeing this young guy, must have been around 9? Buying a train ticket and riding by himself! Kids are taught at a certain age how to walk around and use the cross walks (in little classes) then kids walk to school by themselves, home for lunch and then back. It's lovely - i can't wait for my boy to do these things on his own!

Jessica Bugg said...

I think growing up with freedom and little bit of danger is extremely important. During summers as a kid I would often leave the house after breakfast and not come home until after dark. I would go into the woods and build forts, hangout by a creek, I would meet up with friends and we would try to build a raft, it would almost certainly fall apart after a minute in the water but it was great.

My husband on the other hand was extremely sheltered, he told me he couldn't ride his bike out of the driveway unless his Mom watched him. If his parents weren't home he wasn't allowed to leave the house! I was like "well, you left as soon as they were gone right?"and he looked at me as if that never even occurred to him.

Now as adults I can see how my growing up has affected how adventurous I am. I travel, take risk and love meeting new people. My husband definitely prefers to play it safe!

58072e06-b464-11e3-be50-000bcdca4d7a said...

I have to say there seems to be a lot of comments by people who had a lot of freedom as kids, but now as parents don't feel comfortable doing the same for their own. The reasoning being that times have changed and become more dangerous i.e.: kidnappings, etc.. If you actually read the article and see the research, things haven't changed. It is just as safe for kids now as it was for many of us back then. This is the challenge for us moms now, and one I am determined to rise to. I have twin toddler boys, and live abroad. In anticipation of what's to come, I have cut down all my TV watching of crime shows like CSI, and no longer read any articles that remotely deal with the crime or evil of some poor child. Perhaps it's naïve, but I know my kids and one in particular needs to play this way, he was meant to.

Amy P said...

There's a balance, as always. I'm very, very glad that we live in a culdesac in a quiet neighbourhood - it'll be easier to let them roam without worrying. School is also walking distance away and at some point I will let them walk by themselves, although certainly not the first couple years! I grew up on a farm and my husband on an acreage, so we hope we can raise our kids with some of the independence that we were given, although yes, things have changed and we would feel eternally guilty if something happened that was preventable. I guess it's a mix of allowing your kids to learn how to fend for themselves - in a sense, working yourself out of a job as a parent.

D. Harley said...

I grew up in nyc and was riding the subways by myself at 12. I feel I would do the same with my child especially because of cell phones.

On another note, I am going to Cornwall for the first time this July. Still trying to figure out where to stay and such. Do you have any suggestions on place to go to or avoid? Thanks!

Katie said...

I agree that allowing children to take risks is important. As a teacher, I've learned that kids who are allowed to take risks, are more comfortable taking risks academically.. and it does feel risky to sound out words in front of your peers as you're learning to read.

I live in Chicago and really can't yet my young daughter run free here but I do try to give her space like you've described doing with your boys. I've also found that vacations can be a great time to let her have a bit more freedom. We sometimes stay at a cabin in a small resort and I'll let her wander the property a bit on her own. It's still makes me a little uneasy, but I know it's good for her.

adrianna said...

It's interesting how many people agree with this sentiment, but hen also say, "times have changed", as though the world really is more dangerous now. But I think statistically, it probably isn't. The main thing that's changed is the constant coverage of when things do go awry: a rare occurrence, but it attracts a lot of media attention. I hope I can raise my son in SF in a way that lets him have time to roam free.

Ellie Glorioso said...

When I was small my parents forbid me and my sister from riding their horses without supervision and especially not without a riding helmet. I remember one rebellious and thrilling moment when the two of us snuck away to the back pasture, lured one of the horses over to a fence with some grass, and climbed on. No saddle, no, parents, no helmet. I felt so incredibly naughty but it was really freeing at the same time!

Laura said...

On the one hand, this article irked me a bit--"Our playgrounds are too safe!" really seems like the epitome of first-world problems, especially when you've seen what passes for playgrounds in some parts of the world--trust me, they'd love to have a rubberized surface and some plastic slides! (as an aside, it also brought to mind this piece: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/shouts/2014/03/new-parenting-study-released.html). While I agree with some of her points, it's hard to diverge from what has now become the norm--meaning that if I go to the park and ignore my two year old (which I'd like to do, because the playground IS safe), other parents look at me askance when he gets in a tussle with another toddler about who goes down the slide next, or sits at the bottom of the slide too long. I get frustrated because I want to say, "When your kid goes down the slide and bangs into him, it will teach my kid to move and not linger at the bottom. So just let it happen." But there's obviously an expectation that I will be monitoring my kid and orchestrating his play, which I agree is unhealthy for both parents and kids. It's just hard to break established habits.

Gardise said...

My friends, our siblings and our freedom as kids was so different even from your trips in rural cornwall, but then it was a totally different world then. I grew up in former Eastern Berlin, After my mum or dad walked me to school for a week and staying in afternoon school that week playing until one of the parents picked us up after work, we were expected to find the way (it was around the corner and across a some neighbourhood roads) ourselves and we were given keys to return after afternoon school or independent play with neighbourhood kids in the neighbourhood until dark. That wenton throughout school. I was bad at losing the flats keys, but usually found it back or a new key was made. Also when up North at our Garden house or at family places elsewhere me and friends were only sometimes told to stay in sight of our older siblings. We were roaming fields, forrests, lakes, the village by foot or bike. The only things we got told of for was getting home after dark (as we missed dinner then) or when having sneaked out during afterlunch rest time and roaming around to other kid friends houses as that was seen as unconsiderate. Known to us grown ups always would remind us of time if they saw us out in the dark, if we said, we forgot the time, we were remindet to check with people even strangers on how late it was. Only after reunification (age 11) grownups got more conscious. Suddenly I got told of proper, when having lost a set of keys again as that meant the locks had to be changed. Today my friends with families wonder what happened between then and now, when they are one of felt 30 (grand) parents watching 10 little ones at the playground or park or other afternoon activities. But it is a whole different system, I guess. As all parents were working before the reunification, so were the somewhat dangerous people, that was all part of the system, keeping everyone busy-ish and thereby controlled, there would not be pederasts wandering streets, simple as that. And when everyone is working and kids being in schools late or home alone or playing outside, who would frown at it. Growing up was a blast, we could always come up with super fun scavenger/ treasure hunts re-enact favorite western/adventure books, test us and interact in the groups, just be active and grow up independent. Older kids watched out for little ones, a great community. But obviously that system had quite some flaws for the grown ups and/or was not economical. When suddenly the real world as we know it happened with bums or dangerous people being free to linger around, it did not make me too happy about the new free world initially, I can tell you. In the end you and everyone will manage. Growing up feeling safe as well as being confident out of comfort to a point and curious for new things is the main thing, every one does their best, I am sure.

Phoebe said...

Oh my, growing up me and my siblings were totally overprotected. I was not allowed to ride a bike because my parents didn't want me to fall on the dirt road. We were not even allowed to go out on the balcony for fear of being bitten mosquitoes or being kidnapped. I grew up to be someone who is always afraid and it took me a while to know acceptable levels of danger and what's not okay because I never had to deal with it growing up.

Jennifer Fournier said...

When I was a kid we lived in the country right on a lake. I can remember very clearly my mom strapping my sister and I into our life jackets and sending us outside to play. We were not allowed to take those life jackets off no matter what unless there was a grownup outside with us. Mom would be inside and we would play for hours out in the yard. We knew how far we were allowed to venture alone or only with each other and although we weren't suppose to play close to the water, the life jacket gave some piece of mind that there would be time to get help if one of us fell.As we got older, the amount of space that was considered "yard" for unsupervised play got bigger and bigger until we could wander pretty much anywhere.
Those are still some of my best memories and were great times for learning how to amuse myself and find stuff on my own instead of having to be entertained all the time.
I hope to find that balance with my little one too. Sure,bad things happen but we can't live our whole lives thinking about nothing but the risks. We can't exist in a bubble and I want my child to learn to be adventurous and daring as well as practical.

Ana Simões said...

I believe it has a lot to do with growing in the country or in a big city.
I was let alone most of the time and did wander for hours, climbing hills, riding a bike, crashing the bike, crying myself out alone, coming back home with big adventures to tell (or to hide).
Nowadays I'm raising my one-year-old in the city and everything feels different. I will try to let him out on his own and will do my best to keep from worrying much, but it doesn't feel safe at all.

Emily said...

This is something I have been thinking about for a long time, before I even had my daughter, who is 2 now. I read a bunch of Lenore Skenazy's writing about "free-range kids" and was kind of horrified to realize what a bunch of sissies we have become as a culture. It's such a struggle to balance what I think is in some ways a natural tendency by parents to protect their children from harm, with allowing them some freedom. I am really eager to find ways to test these boundaries with my daughter as she grows older, but it's so hard!

Kalamere said...

Great article. I'm glad that you point out it neds to be age appropiate. Exploring is the way children learn skills they need to manage life.

Good for you. You are raising kids that can handle what comes their way.

Sammi Egan said...

my two year old cousin doesn't talk, and the simple reason is, he doesn't have to. his mum gets EVERYTHING for him by him pointing at it.

Courtney G said...

I could not agree more. Luckily we live in a neighborhood where my 7 year old can roam with his friends. I'm still keeping a pretty close eye on my 20 month old ;)

Tracey said...

Interesting article. Though i still can't help shifting the statement that 'you only get one chance'. To keep them safe. An accident is one thing but not knowing where your child is or allowing them too much freedom means you would be responsible if something happened. Could i live with myself knowing that? Probably not.

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