Striking a Balance

We had just wrapped up Noah’s swimming lesson.  I told the boys that we could run into the craft store next door to grab a treat, and I was going to look at some fabric.  I was carrying Elliot in my arms, as well as the swim bag, and my purse.  It was a heavy load that slowed me down a bit.  Noah ran ahead, along the sidewalk and stopped in front of the entrance to the store.  I was maybe 20 yards behind him.

“Is this the right store?  May I go in?”  He shouted.

“Yep.  That’s it.  You may.”  I replied.

He skipped into the store.  Now, we live in a middle/upper-middle class suburb of Chicago.  It was a lazy spring morning.  The parking lot was not very full.  I strolled into the store.  Noah was still ahead, but I could see him.  The woman working the front post at the store immediately commented:

“Hey buddy, you’re getting ahead of mom there.”  “Whoa, be careful.”  She was older–a baby boomer.

I became upset/annoyed and mumbled, well, maybe it was a bit more than a mumble.  “He’s just fine.  He is not going to get hurt.”  “Not sure when letting your kid walk a few feet in front of you became a crime.”

Patch and I are known for teaching our kids to be independent.  My 2nd and 4rd graders walk to and from school on their own most days.  Our freshman in high school walks about 1 mile to and from school most days.  We encourage them to ride their bikes around our safe neighborhood or walk and see if their friends are out.

Yet, we frequently get comments of concern about their safety.  They wear helmets when they’re riding their bikes.  We ensure they know where they are going, if it is a new place.  We teach them about people who they do not know approaching them (God forbid) and what to do (don’t engage, and run home).  But, the concern continues.

I recall running and biking around my neighborhood (similar demographic to our current neighborhood) when I was young.  I don’t recall other parents being concerned about this.  What I don’t understand is how the ability to let our kids have a small amount of freedom in a safe environment has changed so much.  I feel like everywhere I go, adults are asking my kids, “Where is your adult?’  I hear them ask the question, so I am clearly not too far behind.  When did it become essential to be touching your child at all times in a public place?

I understand that terrible things have happened to some kids, and I would never wish that for anyone.  But, if you look at the statistics, it is highly unlikely.  I feel like sheltering kids and driving them everywhere (when it would be very easy, safe, and healthy for them to walk) is turning us into slaves and producing kids that lack confidence in their abilities.  We are depriving them of essential life skills that will serve them well in the future.

At the same time, I understand that parents want to protect their kids.  They don’t want them to be harmed.  But, a small amount of risk, sometimes reaps large gains.  Are parents willing to protect their children so vigilantly from harm, yet willing to highly risk their ability to navigate around, speak to others, and instill unnecessary fear in them?

I guess I’m looking for input.  I honestly find myself letting my kids having less freedom, not because I think they can’t handle it, but because I fear being accused of neglect by others.  It is frustrating.  I’m curious to hear what other think.  I know other parents struggle with this.  In fact, I was so happy to hear about a law in Utah that says parents will not be accused of neglect for letting their kids outside without supervision.  She this article.

I want my children to grow into happy, confident, capable, respectful adults.  I see every day that they are more capable and willing than they are often given credit for.  I strive to give them the support and guidance they need to one day be happy, caring adults.  I hope that the careful freedom I give them helps them in the future.

I’d love to hear what others think about this struggle for balance between too much protection and too much freedom.  Feel free to comment!

 

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2 thoughts on “Striking a Balance

  1. Kate Peterman

    I agree with you completely. Studies show when you give children boundaries they are likely to explore and learn within those boundaries. If there are no boundaries set children stay closer, rely on parents and don’t learn about their surroundings. Long term this leads to children who don’t understand the natural world or the community we live in.

    I used to teach at an outdoor nature camp. there was a school that in one grade camp to our camp and learned about natural world. The following year they went into a city in small groups with a chaperone who was not aloud to talk. The kids had to get all over town using a map, asking strangers, making informed decisions. The adult just made sure the group was together and all made it to bus at end of day. It was a culture shock for many kids who never had independence. There was sometimes crying. These kids had never once used a map, talked to someone they didn’t know, found their way out of a situation.
    Our job as parents is to give our children opportunities to make them productive members of society. The best way to do this is through experience, successes and failures are part of growing and learning.

    • home-admin

      Hi Kate! I guess I should check my comments more regularly. That camp you mention sounds great! I wonder if there is one near us. We do our best to get out kids out there and teach them useful skills. I do find other parents are curious about our approach. I think some of it rubs off. Thanks for chiming in!

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