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Guest Post

Hi Readers — This essay made sense to me! It’s from Jona Jone (great name!) who was raised in Philly and is now living in the Philippines. – L 

Why Two Cultures is better than One When Raising Your Kids to Become Independent

Giving your children the “best of both worlds” can really help them in becoming more independent. Having my children grow up in a bi-racial family (I am a sassy American who married a Filipino hunk) lets them engage in multicultural traditions and diverse environments:

•             Living in basically two countries lets them engage in two sets of culture. It became easier for my children to relate to people of various backgrounds, even at an early age.

•             Cultural differences affect our parenting techniques. For example, my husband  wanted to teach our eldest to “experience the world” by introducing to her the benefits of playing outside with her cousins and other kids in the neighborhood, while I was more in favor of her staying inside reading books or watching informative shows. Both methods are valid, but they teach different kinds “world knowledge.”

•             Back in the US, children have their own rooms, while I think it’s a custom for Filipino children to sleep on the bed with their parents. My husband won on this one. We let our children sleep-in until they were around 2 years old. It actually worked out for the best because it made us closer and sensitive to their needs. Of course, the time came when they had to learn to sleep on her own, which I have to admit, broke my heart a little but finally gave me space for actual sleeping.

•             As opposed to American parenting, which tends to be stricter and upfront, Filipinos seem to have a warmer approach on things. Undeniably, I believe it is necessary to have a disciplinarian in the house for teaching accountability and responsibility. But what I’ve grown to like about Filipinos is that no matter how attached they may seem, they still allow their children to go out and explore the world on their own. That was why it was customary to let our children go on trips or excursions without us.

I think both Americans and Filipinos are capable of raising independent children, but we’re glad our kids have both perspectives. As opposed to being independent in an individualistic sense (as is common to American children), Filipinos surround their children with love and family support that enable them to become independent in a holistic view. In turn, they get empowered to go out on their own with confidence, knowing that there are people back home who believe in them.  I have to admit, that may just well be the best parenting technique ever. – J.J.

Lenore here: I agree. It’s great to have a lot of experiences, but the one basic that helps ALL kids is having parents who believe in them and their abilities. 

Readers — This is a letter I got from Chris Byrne, who is always deep and wise about childhood. He was responding to the post about a new, less “scary” rhyme kids have picked up from My Little Pony. Instead of  the age-old “Cross my heart and hope to die/Stick a needle in my eye,” they’ve learned, “Cross my heart and hope to fly/Stick a cupcake in my eye.” – L. 
Dear Free-Range Kids: Like so many things (“Ring Around the Rosie” being related to the Black Death), these were the ways children played with fear. “Cross My Heart…” is an interpretation of the kind of vows that knights would make when taking off for medieval  ”Hangover”-like road trip called The Crusades. The intent was to imagine the most horrible thing that could happen as a way of showing the intensity of the pledge.
“You won’t tell mom I put Larry in the dryer, right?”
“Cross my heart…”
In this case what would happen to my brother for ratting us out would had been far worse than a prick in the eye.
This is how children typically have talked for centuries, to mirror in their childish ways what they see as the adult norms. Now, you might think in this world that there is no pledge that has the kind of power this implies, and you might be right. (I have too many friends for whom the marriage vows of fidelity are transitory, sadly.) But still, this is an appropriately childish way of cementing a relationship. What kids learn from the intensity of this language is the making—and keeping—of promises helps define who we are in relationships. Getting a cupcake in one’s eye is just messy, and hoping to fly is a different kind of fantasy. So the question becomes, where do kids practice the intensity of a one-to-one pledge that is character building? No idea.
After I read this, I was thinking about the things we used to do. My brothers and I would end up in protective custody today, I’m sure of it. (Access to explosives alone would have had us tried as adults at age 8 or less.) We would flatten Wonder bread and take “communion” before battles in the backyard. I became “blood brothers” with a couple of friends. You know, that’s when you both cut yourself and press the cuts together. Usually, best accomplished when you’re covered head to toe in dirt from climbing trees and spying on the “witches” who lived down the block. (Adult reality lets one know that these two elderly sisters probably didn’t have the means to keep up their house, but a child’s mind makes peeling paint into a sure sign of demonic presence. We told each other stories about them to scare each other, and we knew a kid who knew a kid who had gone trick-or-treating there and was never seen again! Works like a charm with the little kids — the ability to scare them is a marker of being grown up because you know better and have cast off the power of superstition.)
In any event, this was where play comes in—helping children to interpret and make sense of what they see around them in the adult world as refracted through their present cognitive abilities. It’s like playing church or school, or fireman or policeman, it helps kids locate themselves in a culture at a particular time. Without these ritualistic forms of play (and, no, watching “Dancing with the Stars” is not a ritual, though it may seem to be one), kids can’t be integrated individuals, able to deal with pain, loss, betrayal, death as well as the many joys of life, which one hopes gain in value given their ephemeral nature. (Actually, watching “Dancing with the Stars” does locate you in the culture, but not in any but the most superficial way.)
Anyway, I think there’s something in here that’s bigger than you’ve had a chance to explore. Thanks, as always, for what you’re doing and for making me think. – Chris
Made me blink! Er…think!

Hi Folks! Here’s new wisdom from Michigan’s Heather Shumaker, author of It’s OK Not to Share…And Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids . She’s a speaker, blogger and advocate for free play and no homework for young children.  Hey — so am I! L.

Safety Second – 3 Risks Young Kids Need by Heather Shumaker

Sometimes it seems as if SAFETY has become a parent’s only job.  Stop running!  Be careful!  You’ll get wet! Put that stick down before someone gets hurt!

As caregivers, our job is to keep kids safe.  But it’s not our only job.  As the old saw goes, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” Risk is essential.

A “Safety First” mentality can freeze us. If safety is the only consideration, it can actually hurt our kids.  Kids need all kinds of risk to become competent human beings.  Here’s a sampling of the kinds of risks kids need.

Physical Risk

Kids become safer as they gain experience using their bodies. Say yes to tree climbing, wall walking and stick playing.  Show kids how to fall properly (rolling) and avoid real dangers (cliffs; busy streets).

  • Drop ‘Be Careful’  - “Be careful!” is vague and alarmist.  Say nothing or offer specific information: “Look at your feet.”  “You’re near the edge.”  “Someone is behind you.”
  • Don’t rescue  – Don’t lift kids out of a tree if they’re stuck.   Guide them instead: “Where could you put your foot next?”  Kids are partners in their own safety.
  • Check in – Asking “Do you feel safe?” is a good reality check for kids.  It forces them to assess the situation (Gosh, no, I don’t feel safe) and fix it.

The Risk:  Yes, they could get hurt.  Mostly skinned knees.  Major harm is possible, but riding in a car is far riskier.

Social Risk

Risk pops up in friend making, too.  If we insist all kids play with each other (“you can’t say you can’t play), then we’re depriving kids of essential opportunities to practice social skills and navigate friendships.

  • Allow friends to be together  It’s OK for a child to say “No, I don’t want to play right now.”  Kids have the right to choose their playmates. They also have the right to choose to be alone.
  • Rejection isn’t evil   Kids don’t have to like everyone they meet (adults don’t).  They do have to learn how to treat everyone respectfully. Rejection is not necessarily mean – in fact, it can be a great teacher of social skills.
  • Rejection brings resilience  Experiencing a bit of rejection helps kids realize it’s not the end of the world if someone says ‘no.’  They can recover and go on.

The Risk: Yes, they could get their feelings hurt – and learn resilience and empathy.

Creative Risk

Risk comes through ideas, too.  Whether it’s dramatic make-believe games, art or stories, kids need time and support for creative ideas.

  • Art without models -  Ever see a line of identical pumpkin faces tacked up on the classroom wall?  No art or creativity there.  That’s practice with scissors and glue.  Go ahead and demonstrate techniques, but let kids express their own ideas.
  • Seek basic toys  – The best toys serve multiple purposes.  Think blankets, hats, capes, sticks, cardboard, play dough.  Many toys sold in stores are “single-purpose” and can limit creative play.
  • Unstructure the day  - Ideas need space and time.  So do kids!  Free up the day.

 The Risk: Yes, they might make a mistake.

So safety, yes, but keep safety in perspective.  Risk and safety are both parts of being alive. – H.S.

Choose me!

 

Hi Readers! This note comes to us from Nandini Ramakrishna, who was raised Free-Range in India and now lives in Phoenix, AZ. She writes the blog Cactus Chronicles. and tweets at CactusChron. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Four years ago, I was involved in an incident where the state questioned my competence as a parent. After two stressful months, the charge of neglect  was dropped. I quickly pushed aside memories of this incident, until I read some distressing posts here about Free-Range parents misjudged as negligent. Those led me to write about my ordeal.

I joined the Free-Range parenting network many months after the event had ended. Even so, I got much solace from knowing that there are many parents who do not view lower vigilance levels as indications of negligence, nor hyper-vigilance as the gold standard. This validation from Free-Range Kids was invaluable, because when your parenting skills are scrutinized and judged by people, it shakes you to the core.

Today, my uber-vigilance over my kids is not the result of fears of abduction, but from the awareness that the public views round-the-clock vigilance as the norm. Having been bitten once, I now do as the Romans do.  However, while complying to avert imaginary dangers, my mind is aware of the real dangers:

Within one generation we have already managed to trigger tectonic shifts in our sense of security. We used to derive our sense of security from intangible powers – from our inner confidence, from the feeling of belonging in a community and faith in it. Now we have externalized our sense of security into the purely tangible: It has morphed into the ubiquitous devices that rule our lives – cell phones, security cameras, gates, etc.

We used to think we had a responsibility towards our children and others’. Now, whenever we see children not perpetually supervised, we reach for our cell-phones and turn into appendages of the police state. We accuse other parents of being unfit, forgetting that we are being remiss in not looking out for each other’s children.

Our sense of purpose too, has changed. We no longer value spontaneous, unsupervised play.  Instead, we prefer scheduled activities that purport to foster intelligence and talent. But a few decades ago we honed our own intelligence and talents by exploring our environment on our own child-like terms: We climbed trees and scaled walls. We played alone in parks and on streets. We made spur-of-the-moment decisions to convene in somebody’s house — decisions not pre-arranged by our parents.

We are bringing up our children on a corrosive diet of fear: fear of strangers, fear of the unknown, and fear of failure. We overlook statistics that confirm we live in safer times now than ever before. We ignore research showing that experience with handling failure and obstacles early in life is essential to building self-confidence.

With constant vigilance and parental intervention, how will our children learn to negotiate small and sudden changes that life is bound to throw their way? How will they learn to deal with the catastrophic changes that life sometimes brings our way? In short: How will they grow up?

Thanks – Nardini

Call on your compassion, not the cops.

Hi Folks! This missive comes to us from Del Shannon, a civil engineer who designs and constructs (and sometimes even deconstucts) dams around the world. When not damming, he has written award-winning essays and children’s stories. His first children’s book was the serialized novella The Map, published in several newspapers. Captain Disaster  is his second, a novel. Del lives with his family in Colorado and always seems to be daydreaming of Captain Disaster (which you can order here!). – L

MINDS WANDER AND INTELLECT GROWS by Del Shannon

In my biased and yet still humble opinion, I, along with my trusty sidekick Marty, saved the world no less than 472 times. From the first signs of trouble when we were eight, until I moved with my family to Oregon three years later, it was obvious to me and Marty that our home of Ellensburg, WA had somehow attracted the highest density of nefarious villains and paranormal beings in the world.

In our first week as a team, Marty and I broke up a Russian spy ring on Spokane Avenue, vanquished a coven of vampires that lived behind the screen at the drive-in movie, and, through special and ultra-top secret permission from the Justice League of America, used the amalgamated superpowers of Superman, Batman, Flash, Green Lantern, Aquaman, Hawkman, and the Atom to kill a gelatinous blob that lived in the irrigation ditch culvert that crossed Manitoba Avenue just north of the hospital.

While our antics exasperated our parents, not to mention the “Russian spies” that lived a few houses down the street, our heroics were never questioned because in everyone’s eyes we were doing exactly what two boys should be doing when faced with the deliciousness of three completely unencumbered summer months. We fell into our imaginary lives as easily as breathing.

Marty and I had no idea that our adventures were actually making us smarter. It may be a surprise to you as well, and yet recent research is pointing to just this as a natural outcome of daydreaming and possessing a wandering imagination.

Boosting Your Kid’s RAM 

A March 2012 study by Daniel Levinson and Richard Davidson published in the online journal Psychological Science, found a direct correlation between the amount of daydreaming a person does and their working memory capacity. In general terms, the higher an individual’s working memory capacity, the higher their reading comprehension, IQ score and other measures of intelligence. A simple analogy is the amount of random access memory (RAM) a computer has available, with the more RAM inside a computer translating to its increased efficiency and speed.

But it’s not all about intelligence, at least as defined above. Daydreaming also allows for different regions of the mind to subconsciously collaborate when looking at a problem. In a 2009 Psychology Today article about the benefits of daydreaming, Columbia University cognitive psychologist Malia Fox Mason reinforced this idea. “By allowing your mind the freedom to roam, the chances that you’re going to have an insight are much higher. It’s likely that you are going to recombine pieces of information in a novel way.”

Over-cram a Kid’s Day &  Stifle the Brain

What does all this research suggest? As a semi-retired superhero my own thoughts point in one simple direction. Collectively we’d best help our children by reopening the freedoms we have taken from them in the last 30 years because we are, quite literally, constraining their intelligence. From over-scheduling in the name of cramming as much knowledge as possible into their heads, to stifling their daydreaming and imagination by labeling it unproductive, our children aren’t being allowed the freedom to fully develop their intellectual abilities.

Providing our kids the time and freedom to daydream, explore and imagine on their own has been unnecessarily, and some would argue tragically, constrained. Instead of scolding children for staring off into the distance, seemingly in a daze, we actually should be encouraging them to do more of this…preferably while wearing a cape! – Del

The Captain himself!

Hi Folks! Below is just one part of a great, fun essay called “Parenting the Way Your Great Grandmother Would.” It’s by Margaret Ables, a comedy writer who has written for Celebrity Death Match and It’s a Big, Big World. She blogs at shortfatdictator.com (Facebook) and has appeared on ‘Steve Harvey’ discussing parenting/ family issues. She lives in L.A. with her husband and 3 kids under 5. – L

SUPERVISING MY CHILDREN AS IF A RABID BEAR WERE LOOSE AT ALL TIMES IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD by Margaret Ables

When my father was a young boy growing up in Brooklyn he was free to walk all over the neighborhood unsupervised. The one demand that was placed on him was that he never cross the street alone. And so every time he would get to a corner he would reach up his little hand to whatever stranger was standing there and say,

Hey, cross me, Mister!”

And that stranger, rather than throwing him in the trunk of a car and driving off, would instead guide him across the street and then send him on his way.

My Mom, unknown then to my father and living two dozen miles away in the Bronx, would take to the streets each October for “Mischief Night”. The event involved hundreds of local children dressed in black and armed with tube socks full of flour roaming through the night on poorly lit streets.

The point of the evening, as my mother explained it, was to

Bludgeon as many other kids as possible.”

Kids got hurt. Older kids targeted younger kids in ways that were unfair. Kids ganged up on one another. Tears were shed. And each one of them came out again the next year excited to do it all again.

If I allowed my children to replicate either of these pieces of their grandparents’ childhood, it would no doubt result in my immediate prosecution. — READ MORE!

Fill with flour and head out into the night!

 Hi folks! Our Sunday reading comes to us from far away — Hyderabad, India. It’s by Stephanie Smith Diamond who writes, runs, and studies for her master’s degree in political science there. She blogs at Where in the World Am I?  - L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently came across your blog and read your book. I’d heard of your son riding the subway alone a couple years ago and didn’t know what the big deal was. I felt like mainstream media didn’t give the audience the entire story. If your son was raised in the city and was used to taking the subway, then it seemed to me like there wasn’t really any story at all.

Then I had a child. In the parenting books and blogs I read I started seeing a trend toward too much safety and security for children. We moved to India when our daughter was three months old. She’s two and a half now and we are known throughout the expat community as having a wild child. She runs around barefoot. She goes to a preschool and playgroups where she’s the only non-Indian child. She eats street food. We expected this kind of reaction from some people because we’ve lived overseas long enough to know that there are families that want to experience everything a new country has to offer, and there are those that want to stay in the house and pretend they are not really in another country.

I got the idea to write to you when your book mentioned something about parenting magazine articles that cautioned against running around barefoot and not flying kites. By the time my daughter was two and a half years old, she’d done both at the same time! I smiled when you said you may have to go to a third-world country to find a pre-safety-era playground. The playgrounds here are new, but I think all the old equipment was sent here when the upgrades started happening in the United States.

We’ve been in more than one restaurant where the waitstaff has taken her away from the table for a few minutes so we could eat in peace. She loves it. They take her back to the kitchen to watch the chefs. We’ve hired hotel baby-sitters and local baby-sitters based on friends’ recommendations. It’s okay for parents to have a couple minutes or a couple hours of peace and quiet to eat a meal together. We need it! Other cultures seem to understand this. When we hired our housekeeper in India, she said our daughter was the first baby she’d really taken care of. When her own children were born, her sisters and mother took the babies away except for when they needed to nurse because new mothers are expected to rest. (She seemed a little annoyed that I insisted on doing so many things myself rather than resting and letting her do it all! It took me a while to get used to having help.)

I’ve noticed that what’s been happening with much of the parenting world in the United States is happening in upper-class India now. When our daughter goes to the park, she’s not playing with our neighbor’s children, she’s playing with the children of their drivers and housekeepers because “rich” children aren’t allowed to play outside.

We’re sad that because of our lifestyle of moving to new countries every few years, our daughter is not going to have the same childhood we had of running outside all day long with a gang of the same neighborhood children year after year. But we’re confident that eventually she’ll be able to walk to the corner store at an earlier age than her American-raised peers.

Because of my husband’s job and the places we live, some of the worries of parents in the United States are slightly more realistic for us. My husband investigates some pretty big crime rings; it’s possible they’d want to retaliate by kidnapping our daughter. We live in a Muslim city with ties to Iran and Pakistan, two countries where anti-American sentiment runs high. There was a terrorist bombing here less than a month ago. The probability of us being harmed from any of these things is still tiny, it’s just larger than in the United States. We don’t let it stop us from going outside. But I’m looking forward to being back in the United States for a while, where I’ll be able to relax and not have to worry about them.

If Americans spent more time overseas they’d have a completely different perspective on danger. – Stephanie Smith Diamond