One evening this week, while walking along the river and taking advantage of the longer days, I noticed a father and his young son enjoying the final appearance of the sun. The little boy, who had on a bright orange jacket, reminded me of my own son at that age – full of energy and fueled by an adventurous spirit. A few minutes after passing them, the boy came up on my right and whizzed by me on his scooter. I thought nothing of it, except that I must have unconsciously expected his father to run past me within the next minute. When that didn’t happen, and the orange spot that was the boy on the scooter was getting farther and farther away, I became a little anxious, and looked around to check on the whereabouts of the dad. He was quite far behind me, and while walking with clear intention, the growing gap between him and his son was well beyond my comfort level. I couldn’t help but map out the boy’s unfolding journey and how it would end up at 15th Street. Would the dad make it there in time?
This experience got me thinking about the complexity of our job as parents. How much freedom do we give our children? How will they develop independence and resilience without adequate freedom? Then again, what about safety? With traffic-filled streets and stories of child abductions, how are we supposed to provide our children with the freedom they require for healthy development?
I certainly don’t pretend to have the answers. This is something each family has to work out for itself. The topic was and continues to be a source of frequent conversation between my husband and me; in truth, it is probably the topic we have disagreed on the most over our 25-year marriage.
It’s no surprise that this important part of parenting is being debated in the media. On the one extreme, we hear about “free range” parents who seek to give their children room to roam without adult supervision, and on the other, there are parents known as “helicopters,” “drones,” or “snowplows” – parents who keep close watch on their child’s every move and pave the way for their success, leaving no room for error.
In researching this topic, I came across an interesting interview on NPR about the Meitiv family from Silver Spring, Md. The parents, Danielle and Alexander, who believe in “free range” parenting, were put under investigation by Child Protective Services when someone called the police after seeing their children – ages 6 and 10 – walking home from a park located about a mile away from their home. Self-proclaimed "free range" parents, the Meitivs believe that it is appropriate and healthy for their children to walk home on their own, and further, they believe it is within their parental rights to make the decision about how much freedom their children should enjoy. The police, who picked up the children and brought them to Child Protective Services, felt otherwise.
What do you think? Check out the full NPR article for more information:
As for the remainder of my walk and the story of the boy on his scooter and his dad – thankfully, there was a happy ending. The boy stopped on his own accord well in advance of the street, and the father picked up his pace to a healthy jog in order to catch up with him. I couldn’t help but breathe a sigh of relief as I rounded the corner to home, thinking about my own boys, ages 19 and 21, and how blessed I feel at how responsible they have been in the context of the freedom levels they experience while at college.
One thing about parenting is entirely certain – it’s not for the faint of heart!