It started last night when Pauline posted it on FB and asked for thoughts. Then today I saw it all over my twitter feed. It’s an article on Salon.com called The day I left my son in the car by Kim Brooks. The article is very long but extremely well-written – it’s worth your time.
An article she mentions is also worth your read: The Overprotected Kid, by Hanna Rosin. If you haven’t read them both please go and read them, then come back.
Edited to add these other links:
This step-by-step story about a mom who is investigated by CPS for allowing her 6 year old walk alone in their neighborhood.
This interesting article by law professor David Pimentel which says among other things: “Of particular concern is how the trend toward overprotective parenting is reinforced by legal standards.”
I’m interested in your thoughts.
As for me, it was around last year at this time that we allowed Matilda to walk to school on her own. She was at the end of kindergarten, school is just under a mile away and there are 4 crossing guards on the route. After a practice walk or two we let her go, hearts in our throats the entire time. And we got raised eyebrows over our decision. Weren’t we worried? What if something happens? It’s a residential route, full of other (older) kids walking and riding their bikes and yet I felt judged because we let our 6 year old walk.
In fact, just today today Matilda and another 1st grader neighbor walked to school together. I saw another mom and her 1st grader leaving to walk and I suggested he just join the girls “no, I feel safer if I go with him!” was her reply. Everyone has their own reasons, but even in a safe and pretty tight-knit community that fear is still there.
And now I’ll transition to the “did-our-parents-really-let-us-do-that” game that Ms. Brooks mentions in her article. I played around with google maps today and learned that from 1st grade on I walked a half a mile to school every day – my older brother and I walked with some neighbors. I’m pretty sure we walked home, too. I know when I was older I was a latch-key kid (my mom was a teacher at my school, so she got home a bit after I did). In middle school the walk was closer to a mile. In the summer we’d sometimes walk or ride bikes about 2 miles to the pool – which was on a pretty busy road with no sidewalks. I’d walk to soccer practice at the park about .5 mile up the hill.
All the kids in my neighborhood spent countless hours in the woods and ravine behind our houses. We built a city of forts, caught crayfish and built damns. We swung on vines and hunted for wildflowers. In the winter we’d drag our sleds to an awesome hill on the other side of the woods and spend hours sledding and building ramps to see who could get the most air. I don’t think anyone ever broke a bone. I have no idea who owned the land, but us kids were allowed to roam free through the woods.
that red mark was my house, the woods were our domain. So many great memories spent in those trees.
There are stories of my brother and his friends “trying to find the end of the road” on their bikes, which was nearly 6 miles away. I remember a few times in middle school being allowed to walk to Friendly’s over a mile away, so I could get ice cream with friends. Summer nights were spent playing in packs until long after sundown. We’d have epic games of “ghost in the graveyard” that spanned several blocks.
I do wish my kids could have that kind of freedom. And they are still so young, perhaps they will. Part of the reason why they won’t is just location. Looking back now, the location of my childhood house was ideal. It was a neighborhood full of families and our houses backed up to a large wooded area. There is nothing like that were we live now. Yes, there are parks and streams and places to explore nearby, but they aren’t places you can build a fort or pick wildflowers. And while our immediate neighborhood has sidewalks and is easy to navigate, the pool and ice cream and even the library require crossing major 4-lane roads in heavy traffic.
But the biggest issue is this fear of leaving kids alone to explore and learn and be independent and then being judged, or worse – arrested – for it. It’s not necessarily actual danger most people are worried about. It’s the fear of being judged, of being labeled a bad parent.
I just saw a parent on FB talking about a great volunteer program for 14-16 year olds which will be run by the city this summer… “it’s from 9-3 but there is after-care available!” she said. Because we live in a world that makes us fee like 14-16 year olds need a babysitter after 3 pm.
I’m not sure the solution. What do you think?