I know Lenore Skenazy's terrific blog, Free-Range Kids, has been mentioned on BB before, but IMHO it's relevant, especially when our kids are home from school for two weeks and we as parents have to choose between letting them zone out for hours with the new videogame Santa brought them, or giving them the opportunity to explore the world around them and perhaps push their abilities with a difficult project.
For Skenazy, Christmas Day included a call from the police about her son because he was trying to ride a commuter train by himself to visit a friend. The friend's parents were waiting on the other end, but that apparently wasn't good enough for the train conductor. She describes their experience:
He – Izzy – has ridden this route solo a dozen times before. It's a straight shot on a commuter train and, as always, he was being met at the other end by his friend's family. But today's conductor was appalled to see a boy riding alone.
For some reason, the conductor wouldn't talk to me, even though Izzy called from the train when the ordeal began. The man had no interest in hearing me state what Izzy had already been telling him: We believe a child of 10 is perfectly capable of taking a half hour journey by himself.
So instead the conductor and his superior got off at Izzy's stop and then, as the train just sat there (I'm sure no one was a rush to get to their families on Christmas day), they awaited the police. I got a call from the friend's dad who was waiting to take Izzy home. "We cannot leave the station," he said."
"The police have to decide what to do next."
This is the sort of story that really chaps my ass. I'm firmly ensconced in the camp that believes today's kids are being robbed of self-reliance and instead being instilled with fear and couch-potato health. Our own kids have to wear their helmets when biking or skating, but they get to go on adventurous bike rides; the 13-year-old frequently rides on his own or with friends. The 6-year-old doesn't venture out on his bike without us, but he does explore the few acres of woods around us by himself and he's so fond of sliding down the hill by our house that we bought him a long rope for Christmas so he can "rappel" back up the hill and slide down again.
And we understand that a small hamlet in the forested hills of Sonoma County isn't the same as the wilds of NYC or Chicago, but we're fairly secure in thinking that we'd lean toward the free-range side even in those environs. We make it a point to take our kids to big cities several times each year, and they're allowed to wander a bit. Sometimes it's scary – I once lost my then 10-year-old in the American Natural History Museum in NYC for about 20 minutes after he begged me to let him take the top route while I took the bottom. When we eventually found each other I scared him even more by yelling at him; this was my own fear actualized, which I later had to apologize for. But hey, he knows I care and that I'm not perfect, and hopefully I gave him an example of cleaning up your outbursts. And when we returned to the museum this year, he had a great story to tell his little brother.