Friday, April 09, 2010

Becoming a Free Range Kid: Part I

So I have been reading the Free Range Kid blog and am becoming increasingly interested in encouraging my kids' independence as well as concerned about Ten and both her reluctance to be independent and what I perceive as her nearly absolute lack of skills to do so safely.

Since September, nearly every day at around 2:30 I have met her at the Starbucks across the street from her school.

It has been a fabulous arrangement. Our little private school (I can't believe we aren't public school people sometimes, let alone CATHOLIC school people) doesn't have a bussing system so we drop her off and pick her up.

Every day.

Along with everyone else at the school.

You can imagine the congestion.

So I thought to myself: why not have her meet me at the coffee shop, then if I get there early (or, more likely, if she is a little late) I can crank out a little work, or read a book AND I don't have to waste 20 minutes of my life in the car in line in the back of the school!

Neither BioMom nor I were concerned at all about Ten making the trek across and down the street. There are lights and even a "manned" crosswalk after school. For the first couple of days, I was a little panicked when she showed up ten minutes after school let out, but I relaxed into it and it has been a great arrangement for us. We hang out there and she does her homework before we grab Big whose preschool ends about and hour later. Plus she knows that there is no expectation of purchasing snacks there and the Starbucks people don't mind us hanging out without purchasing.

Recently though, I've been settled into an afternoon caffeine pick-me-up (ala Cousin) and a little computer work when she's sauntered in sans homework.

As I've mentioned before, there is nothing like a bored preteen when you've got some or other deadline, or even when you've got a nice cuppa hot coffee that you just want to relax into.

So, the other day she asked if she could go to the library.

My heart sank a bit. As said, I had my hour all laid out before me! What would I do with this "to-stay" cup of coffee? Did I really have to pack up my computer and head down the block to only re-set up in the library, hence losing 10 minutes of precious work time?

So I asked her if she was interested in going by herself.

The library is about 1.5 blocks away from Starbucks, down a street of businesses (a grocery store, a restaurant, Subway, a movie rental place and Caribou) then across a very busy street (with a light) and past a liquor store. These are all places that we have visited on numerous occasions and a little urban corner that we pass nearly twice a day on average to and from her school.

This is to say that she is certainly familiar with the area. Plus, if one were concerned, they could literally walk backwards from Starbucks to the library and keep the Starbucks in sight the entire time.

She showed no hesitancy so we made a plan for me to meet up with her a few minutes later.

All went swimmingly. I finished my coffee and my work and even made a quick stop for some Summit at the liquor store before heading over.

I found her curled up with a book at a library table in the children's section.

Wanna know who DID freak out?


Any thoughts, ideas or reactions?


Anonymous said...

I think this is a sticky one - very much dependent upon the maturity of the child, their street smarts, and how "safe" your community is. Other than the fact that he's little (you can pick up up easily and throw him over your shoulder), I'm much more comfortable letting my 12 year old ride his bike to the park and walk home across a very, busy parkway at the lights than our 14 year old. Sometimes, it's trial by error.

We're so protective - over protective - of our children that we're not necessarily helping them to develop the independence and critical skills they'll need once they leave our homes. For you, Ten will be gone in 7 or 8 years. That's such a short time to teach her all of the lessons you want her to take to college.

Now, if only I could get my 14 year old to stop talking to strangers!

giddings said...

I got an email from BioMom clarifying that she did not in fact "freak out" about said free-range adventure. Just wanted to let you all know!

Cousin said...

I think there WAS a little freaking...

Chris said...

I have been reading the "free range" blog (thanks for the tip) and it is definetly thought-provoking. I think it's great that you let her go to the library. I remember when I was 9 yrs old and living in a chicago suburb, a friend and I took the city bus to the public pool, swam all afternoon, and took the bus home! That would NEVER happend now!

Mwa said...

I let my 5yr old go get me a newspaper on his own. It's only a few houses away from the coffee shop I wait for him in, but he goes by himself. No roads to cross yet. I also let him walk part of the way to school on his own. (Also no crossings yet.) I'm planning to give him more and more chances to do things by himself. I agree children should not be locked up as some are these days. Not sure I'll ever forgive myself if anything goes wrong, but then there's risk everywhere...

Anonymous said...

I have to respectfully disagree.

I don't think it's the maturity of the child; it's the size. What child under the age of 10 could possibly have the physical make-up to repel any attacks on them made by grown men?

Sexual predators are everywhere and I can't invision sending a child with no physical defenses out into the world, alone, and except him or her to navigate through dangers.

giddings said...

Thanks for respectfully disagreeing! So, just to be a Devil's Advocate, if you have a particularly slight child (for whatever reason) then they will never be able to move about in this world on their own? We are in the process of teaching Ten how to deal with the possibility of horrible situations, but let's face it, unless she earns a black belt, she could in nearly ALL situations, be overpowered by a grown man. Now, let's examine the following: a) the possibility of this happening b) the "cost" of her not learning the skills to be an individual in this world in which not every single detail is proscribed to her. This is all to say that I don't think that we could have prevented my sister's death -- it suck(ed/s) and was a (relative) fluke, but imagine a world full of adults that don't know how to cross the street without someone holding their hand!?!

Anonymous said...

I think just about all of us women could be overpowered by most any man, but we are much less easy targets than unattended children.

I believe in giving children freedom to learn in all situations, with the difference being that the children are supervised as they do it.

When we cross the street, I have my son 'lead' me through it. I prompt with, "What do we need to do to cross?", and he presses the button, holds my hand, looks both ways and announces it's okay to proceed. Other times, his childish enthusism and recklessness may take over and he'll forget a step. I'm there to keep him from running into the street.

Your cost/benefit analysis, I think, overvalues the benefit of (b) and underestimates the likelihood of (a). You just had an abduction attempt in your neighborhood. Clearly the risk is quite real in no way a fluke. Google the list of registered sex offenders within a ten mile radius of your home, and I bet you'll come up with an alarming number.

giddings said...

Biomom? Is that you?

I kid.

Seriously though. You (Anon) write as though I'm throwing my four-year-old into traffic. That is not at all what I am advocating (I kid again).

I am just trying to help my kids be confident in themselves and know that I am confident in them and trust them and that they will, slowly, gain the ability to move about in this world like humans. I, of course, do exactly what you do when Big and I are crossing the street. At what point are they able to do this on their own? Of course, this is not an objective answer. We "felt" it when Ten was ready (and she basically never does this anyway). And we are paying attention to her peers and what their proverbial leashes look like.

Now, regarding the violent sex offenders in my neighborhood, I'd ALSO like to see two other things: 1. the number of violent sex offenders there were in this neighborhood in 1940 and then again 1970 and 2. the number of people's sick-o uncles adn other relatives that are violent sex offenders but who aren't on that list but who we welcome into our houses for holidays all the time.


I mean jeesch. The point is that dangers abound, but I just don't want to either live in fear or show my kids they should live in fear.

Do you SERIOUSLY fear that your kid is going to be abducted or attacked by a neighborhood sex offender? Is that a concern that keeps you up at night?

Anonymous said...

It just seems that the dangers of letting a four-year-old boy or ten-year-old girl go through town unwatched by an adult are self-evident.

Kids are both physically vulnerable to abduction or abuse and nowhere near mentally mature enough to fully recognize dangers--be that adults with bad intentions or even just acting recklessly as kids do, but where a childish, unwise action (like forgetting to check both ways) might be a devasting one if there is no adult there.

I think you may be asking too much of them. By letting them go off on their own, you're expecting them to respond to stimuli as you would, but you're neglecting the fact that they do not have adult common sense or an appreciation of consequences.

giddings said...

When do you start letting them take baby steps? By law in our state, Ten is able to babysit next year. Now, we are not prepared to allow her to do this--particularly not with babies and certainly not for any serious length of time. But seriously. She is aware of this possibility and looking forward to it. How do we help her to get closer to being able to do that without letting her take baby steps now?