Letting The Helicopter Go

free range parenting, helicopter parents, helicopter parenting, motherhood, parenting, outdoors

Remember when you were a kid, and you would go outside at 9AM, play at the creek, collect crawdads, dig holes, ride your bike to the furthest park in your neighborhood — without a helmet — run into your friend’s house for a quick bite for lunch, roll down a few hills, play tag, stomp through mud and make a little grave for the dead bird you found — only to return home at 5PM just in time for dinner, smelling like dirt, sunshine and creek water?

Remember that? Or something like it?

As a child of the 80s, I think my generation was the last to really experience that — to play freely and unencumbered by parental worry and hovering.

I look back and wonder if maybe my parents were a bit too relaxed. I was literally gone all day. I might pop in for a sandwich or a drink of water, but then I bounded back out to the field in the back of my house to dig for gold with my friends.

Too relaxed or not — I’m glad my parents let me have that.

And I wish my kids could have that freedom.

But I’m terrified.

This isn’t a new subject. The helicopter parenting, the over-scheduling, the shrink-wrapped and manufactured childhoods have all been discussed — it’s all been acknowledged. Parents wring their hands over the lack of freedom that children have today. They wring their hands and then tell their kids to stay in a three-house radius of their yard. They wring their hands about the lack of free-play and then refuse to let their kids ride their bikes to the corner store.

I know this because I’m one of those parents. I’m a free-range parent that’s scared shitless of free-range parenting. And I’m not alone in this.

When my nine and thirteen year old want to go to the park at the creek by themselves, I panic just a little.

Ryan, the thirteen year old is totally old enough. But Kiera? My nine year old Kiera? Why, anything could happen. Certain horrific scenarios run through my head and I just can’t bring myself to say yes. Just. Can’t. My husband, on the other hand, who’s a bit more relaxed about these things, has let them run down to the creek and play at the park much to my horror.

I don’t have to go into the many reasons why I’m afraid. Just watch the news for shits sake. It’s full of dead, kidnapped children.

So here I am, an adult who was raised free-range (I feel like a fucking chicken when I type that), and I’m too terrified to give my children that same freedom.

Now, I’m not crazy. My two older kids walk to the bus stop by themselves. I let them ride their bikes in the neighborhood — as long as they stay on our street (I know, I know.) I let them go to other kids houses on a whim to see if their friends can play — as long as I know the parents.

But what’s wrong with letting them venture further? Letting them go beyond the boundaries of our road — or more accurately, the boundaries of my comfort zone?

I certainly feel that parents should be cautious — there are real dangers in the world. But I have to let some of that fear go. Just a bit.  Perhaps let Kiera ride her bike further out — let her cross the main busy road by herself (or with her brother) and ride her bike through the sprawling neighborhood. Because the fear I have is really the result of the hyper-parenting that’s been pervading our culture.

I was reading Free Range Kids, a website devoted to the idea of giving our children more freedom to play and learn on their own, and came across this disturbing post where a mom posts her concerns on Facebook regarding a 7-year-old walking home from a bus stop by himself.

Fer realz. This is her post.

Hello everyone I’m not sure how to deal with a situation that I have encountered twice so far this school year,, today as I was waiting for the light on Morris and Springdale around 3:45 waiting to turn left I noticed an elementary age boy turning the corner and walking alone up the busy road of Springdale, this scared me to death!! a million things went through my head if something was to happen to him with so many cars driving by,,,, just imagine!!!! So I put my hazard lights on and called to police and followed him slowly till I started to talk to him through the car window to stall him till police would arrive,, and so they did and then took over the matter..

A 7 year old vulnerable boy walking alone along Springdale rd,,where are the parents? School? I don’t get it?!?!?! So dangerous and so many crazy people out there!!!!! I am bothered!!!!!!

You can read the full post here. The creepiest thing about her post was the fact that she slowly followed the kid in her car and tried talking to him through her car window. She obviously came off as the crazy one.

So there lies the problem. I sometimes wonder if neighbors think it’s strange that my nine-year-old walks to the bus stop by herself. It SHOULDN’T be weird — but in this day and age it could be grounds for calling CPS. No exaggeration.

Parents are crazy.

So in the end, I may be more relaxed than other parents — but I definitely need to relax a bit when it comes to letting my kids push the neighborhood boundaries. I want them to get dirty. I want them to be gone for long stretches of the day, finding bugs, and getting dirt under their finger-nails. But it’s a hard idea to wrap my head around. After all, we live right outside of DC.  Crime is not infrequent around here. It’s a fine line to walk, this safety thing. I don’t want to put my kids in danger — but I don’t want to shrink-wrap their lives.

Maybe we should look to north Wales for outdoor play inspiration. The Guardian just wrote an article about junk-yard playgrounds — playgrounds full of wood crates, nails, tires, ladders, old abandoned boats, etc. Apparently it’s a hit and the kids much prefer it to the anchored-down sanitized playgrounds that punctuate the neighborhoods. The part that makes me really uncomfortable is uh — the fires. Kids are encouraged to start fires. Contained fires nonetheless. But fires – so they can learn about safety. Read the article. It’s super interesting.

What are your thoughts? Do you feel that the risk of danger to your children outweighs their need for more freedom? What are your rules for outdoor play?

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2 thoughts on “Letting The Helicopter Go

  1. I definitely understand trying to straddle that line between being neglectful and letting the kids learn how to deal with the world. And it doesn’t help that my mom is super paranoid – seriously, I can’t tell her anything about how I actually raise my children.

    In my neighborhood there’s a park that’s about 3 or 4 blocks away. For now, my 10-year-old and 8-year-old are allowed to go without me … as long as they are together. For some reason, I feel that when there’s more than one of them together, they are much less attractive prey than either one of them by themselves would be. Plus on a nice day, there’s other kids around, and usually an adult or two out with their kids. On top of that, there are only two ways in and out of my neighborhood so we don’t have any through traffic.

    So overall those are my rules for the kids outside.

  2. Yes, I try to err on the side of not helicoptering because I think it’s the right thing to do, but then I spend the whole time freaked out that the kid will be abducted and tortured. Parenting is FUN.

    We are, fortunately, in a sweet spot right now, because the two oldest (12 & 14) are now definitely capable, and third (4) is definitely not. But in a few years I might need some anti-anxiety meds.

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