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.