OK, I’ve broken my rule here, by posting something not related to my job hunting, except very tangentially. I’m an admirer of Lenore Skenazy, the author of Free Range Kids. I encourage you to check out her blog if you have kids, know kids, or live in a community where there are kids. I love her message – our society (and parents especially) need to change our way of thinking to allow our kids the chance to be more independent and less paranoid. If you are an adult, chances are that you were a child, you were allowed to venture much farther and do a lot more without an adult than today’s social norms permit, and there is the perception that the world is more dangerous than it was. Yes, there have been some horrendous, sickening crimes that are unbearable to even think about. But the reality is that the statistical chance of your child being abducted by a stranger is extremely remote. The main thing that has changed in our society is that we have 24/7 news, and the this industry has the need to find sensational news to fill the time. As a result of this paranoia, most children are rarely allowed outdoors without an adult chaperone, which is a tremendous loss, to both our children and our society as a whole.
How are our children going to grow up to be productive adults who make good decisions on their own, if they don’t have the chance to make decisions, interact with others, take risks, and explore on their own terms? Many of my kids’ friends in my very safe suburban development are not allowed to leave their own yards unescorted; we are talking about 9 and 11 year-olds, not toddlers, mind you. I can attest that the kids who are allowed to roam the neighborhood freely have a lot more fun than the ones whose parents sit on the bench watching them play at the neighborhood playground. Because they’ve been given some freedom, my kids are very reliable in terms of telling time, coming home by set deadlines, notifying me when they are at different friend’s house, and so on. I also try to do everything I can by example to encourage other parents to change their thinking, and to expand the freedoms and responsibilities my own children have as they grow older.
My kids are far happier when they’ve been challenged to explore a place on their own rather than being helicoptered everywhere. Case in point, I was at a volunteer gig last week, and let the kids roam a hundred acres or so of an arboretum on their own while I was working in the office. I gave them a map, a compass, and list of things to find. I knew they wouldn’t get lost due to the large deer fence around that part of the of the property and they’ve been subjected to enough ” leave no trace” training that they wouldn’t damage anything, but I confess I didn’t tell the staff, since it was probably against the rules to allow unescorted kids wander around. The kids had a blast, finding things I’d suggested they look for and taking pictures of odd things they liked. I had given them my cellphone only so I could call them when I was done, and they were still busy exploring when I called.
Free range parenting also applies to chores. Kids like to be responsible for things, even though they may grumble a bit initially. My kids are good sous chefs, since we’ve taught them how to use knives properly, and they usually enjoy chopping vegetables and other kitchen chores. They enjoy cleaning up more when I give them the whole task, and don’t direct every single activity. (Although some direction and quality control is sometimes needed, and a plate or two has gotten chipped.)
Here’s my employment tie-in: if we want a productive workforce in the future, and a generation to help support us in our old age, it is our job as parents to allow our kids more freedom so that they learn to make good decisions and develop a good work ethic without being told what to do. Plus, the kids will have more fun if they are not over-helicoptered, and parents can do something more productive with their time than sit on the bench at the playground watching kids who are too old to need watching!