When I was 9, my younger sisters and I built a tunnel under low-hanging blackberry bushes and shrubs behind our house. The tunnel passed through the edges of three backyards and ended in a fort made of greenery and old rugs. When we weren’t playing in our fort, we walked the four blocks to the school playground where we’d spend half a day or longer climbing monkey bars, swinging, and making ourselves sick on the merry-go-round. Today, providing childhood freedoms like that seem to come with a huge risk — of getting arrested.
When I read that Debra Harrell was arrested after she let her 9-year-old daughter play at a park alone while she was at work, I wasn’t surprised. There have been a slew of arrests of parents allegedly putting their children in danger by doing the same things our own parents routinely did: leaving us in a car on a cool day, going to a class, playing outside. What continues to surprise me is the realization that each of these women were reported by a “concerned” citizen who would rather tear apart a family “for the good of the child” than practice a little of their oft preached common sense.
I freely admit there are parenting choices I make not because I feel it’s best for my children and me, but because I’m afraid of Mommy Cops (the aforementioned “concerned” citizens), as a Facebook friend so aptly called them. I am confident my kids could easily stay at the house alone for 30 minutes while I run around the block, but I’d never leave them because I’m afraid I’ll get in trouble — even though there is no state law where I live mandating the age at which a child can be left alone at home.
In the meantime, living in a small neighborhood means my children don’t get to explore and experience some of the same adventures I did as a child.
On a recent trip to Washington State, we visited friends who lived on five acres of forested property. I watched in delight as our children went off into the woods to explore. They “mined” rocks and looked for animals. I could see their confidence grow, their shoulders pull back, and not once did they look behind them for reassurance from me.
I think that providing children the opportunity for safe and independent exploration, outside the confines of helicopter parenting, is an essential part of child development,” my friend Makensy Byrum, whose family we were visiting, told me. “Imaginative play and problem-solving skills seem to flourish when children are allowed to play and work through scenarios on their own. Of course, the safety of a child is always of primary concern. We live on totally fenced-in property that allows for independent roaming, playing, and imagination, without too much risk.”
I have to agree. The problem is, how do I encourage my children to experience independent roaming within what I consider acceptable risk area without coming home to find myself arrested, my children taken in protective custody, and a concerned citizen nodding his or her head self-righteously? It seems that those consequences are no longer a stretch and my right to parent my kids as I see fit is second to what others believe.
What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section!