Free Range Kids
This morning on the way into work, there was a discussion about the state of English schools – kids are no longer allowed to kick a football (soccer ball, for you Yanks), play conkers, or other traditional kid pursuits. Parents at one school were told they couldn’t use safety pins in costumes for the school play for fear of someone getting stuck with one.
And at lunch, as I logged into WordPress, there was a link to one of the posts of the day: Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Kids Go to the Mall.
Seriously, what the hell? I was babysitting at twelve. I was able to go out and play or walk home from school by myself much, much younger than that. My parents didn’t suffer from a ridiculous terror that I would be blinded, maimed, or otherwise damaged by everything that I came into contact with. They didn’t fear that every adult was a potential pervert or kidnapper. We survived.
Kids are not as breakable as you might think:
I got my first horse when I was ten. Since we lived in a fairly rural area in Northern California, we rode quarterhorses, and I barrel-raced in rodeos. I had a very fast horse that my father had bought for me, and I had to keep her back to the starting line before the bell went off, as she reared and plunged. Turn her around, and she would launch herself like a rocket.
In one competition, my father was taping my run from up in the grandstand. The horse’s feet slipped out from under her on a turn, and we went down into a cloud of dust. You can see the camera’s viewpoint swing wildly as my father vaults over the wall, down into the arena. Then it steadies, and you see me standing up and getting back on the horse so I could finish my run. He taped the rest of it from where he was.
It’s always struck me as a perfect example of the respect and trust that my father had for us: he didn’t rush over and check me for broken bones, or assume that I must have a concussion…he trusted that, if I was on my feet, I could decide for myself if I was good to go or not.
I had adult friends that I hung out with as a kid and they tolerated my questions without succumbing to that pervert impluse that all adults evidently have. I placed myself in danger every time I mounted a horse or made a terror run down a snowy, wooded hill on a sled with no steering and no brakes. I had fun, I got hurt and got back up, and I’m sure I’m a better person for it.
Nowadays, if parents had done what my parents did quite often, which was to drop us all off at the library to choose books and read while they did the weekly shop, they’d probably end up in jail.
Rant over. But I do feel sorry for all the kids growing up wrapped in cotton wool, who live in a world filled with ugliness and fear. My world was a world of wonders, where we could be trusted to leave in the morning, and come back home for dinner. We rode bikes, explored scary culverts, poked dead squirrels with sticks…and we made it home for dinner every night.