Free Range Children: Independent or Irresponsible?

The joys of parenting have seen me slightly neglect my postings of late! Becoming a parent has meant that there are many things I now consider from a different perspective; though many of my views have not altered.

In the past 24 hours I have been reading lots of news articles about 'Free Range Parenting' (here is a link to one article "Parents investigated for letting free range kids play in the park alone") and it has made me stop and consider the issue.

I am by no means of the "old generation". I am proud to have been born and raised in the 80s and grew up in the 90s. When I was a kid, my parents ensured that we were taught at young age certain skills and knowledge. For instance...

1. we had to know our parent's real names (they weren't just 'Mum' and 'Dad')
2. we had to know our street address
3. we had to know our telephone number (which only had six digits at the time!)
4. we had to be aware of what a stranger was and know what to do

My brothers and I had to do all this before we even made it to school. Anyone who works as a teacher in South Australia is aware that teaching this knowledge has moved away from being a parent responsibility to a teacher one. Part of the Child Protection Curriculum (C.P.C.) is that each student is required to be taught and know this information (no small task if you have 25+ students). There are of course those responsible parents who teach their children this but sadly I have found them to be an endangered species. Why? A lot goes back to stranger danger and wanting to keep children safe. This I understand...but is punishing these parents ethical?

As a teacher I feel that this type of education needs to start at home - well before children enter kindergarten or school. As a parent I feel it is my responsibility to teach them when they are old enough to understand.

Back in the 80s I remember at kindergarten having the local police come and do an ID card with us - this had our full name, address, telephone number, parent's names, and a full set of fingerprints. At school we used to have the Life Education Van come once a year and in the younger years it was aimed at strangers. In addition we were all taught about Safety Houses (this is a program that was originally from Canada and is used in South Australia, though it is now called Safety Assist*). I even used a Safety House when I was about 7 years old and walking home from school alone because I felt the teenage boy behind me was following me (I had crossed the road twice and he did the same).

No one thought twice of kids walking home from school in the 80s and 90s despite their being the same 'monsters' we have today (they just get more publicity and more details are shared - though many would prefer it not). For my part my eldest brother was already in high school and my other brother was almost there as well and didn't want to walk home with his little sister. It was a twenty minute walk home and Mum had us all on a time limit - if we weren't home by 4 o'clock she would come looking.

When I first heard about 'Free Range Parenting' I had a brief discussion with a co-worker. She is a teacher with more than 20 years experience. Our discussion was primarily about responsibility and she was against children walking home at all. I then pointed out that as a child my mum delivered pamphlets (aka junk mail). At the time she had an area of 1000 houses and part of that area was opposite the school. At age four I would walk around the blocks with her delivering. By age five I was doing my own two blocks on my own before school. It was routine for my brothers and I to be dropped off with our bundles, walk our two blocks, grab our school bag and head off to school (or wait in the car for my older brothers when they were in high school). At this comment the teacher turned to me and said that she would have reported my mother for child abuse. I was stunned. My parents were teaching my brothers and I that you didn't get anything in life without working for it (and we didn't get pocket money for doing this - it was expected).

In my opinion, part of the problem with the current generation is a lack of responsibility. I never got pocket money growing up but I never went without food, clothes, or any essentials either. My parents instilled in my brothers and I the need to do work that needs to be done (whether we liked it or not) and to earn things rather than just be given them. I am horrified when a student tells me they got $50 for mowing the lawn, or worse still, $20 pocket money - and they did nothing at all. Perhaps if we took the time to teach children these life skills we may perhaps have less confrontational behaviour, entitled behaviour, belligerent behaviour, and actually get back to teaching in the classroom rather than being a referee or counselor.

Getting back to the article; I admire that the parents are trying to teach independence and responsibility. We had this freedom in the 80s and well before then - why now should we punish parents for possibility how they, their parents and grandparents were raised (and considered the norm)? There are children in the world who are in desperate need of help who are being abused and neglected - is this really a case of neglect? Government interference? What happened to choice?

We can't always be there for our kids. They need to develop skills to survive in an appropriate manner. I know there are dangers out there but I often wonder if we put our children more at risk because their environments are so controlled. In the classroom - there is the teacher. In the yard - there are teachers. At home - there are parents.  Maybe it is time kids are allowed to be kids again.

*Note the Safety Assist program ceased operation in 2016.

1 comment

  1. It's an interesting case especially ethics-wise. Not sure what I would do - I have a teacher only mind since I haven't got kids yet. Even in the city though we used to walk to the shop or play in the park...hmmm