Thoughts About Perfection (And Ritalin, Video Games & Fast Food)

Hi Readers! I’ve been thinking about a note I got the other day from a dad who’s trying to raise his daughter Free-Range. He wasn’t  sure he was doing it “right.”  While some folks called him crazy for taking his girl on globe-trotting, capital-A adventures, he said, the alternative appalled him: “Maybe I should join the ranks and become one of those less risky parents who lets the kids sit on the couch playing video games, feeds them fast food and pumps them full of Ritalin.”

What struck me is that…I am one of those parents! I have a kid who spends a lot of time on the couch playing video games or fiddling with his iPod. And another one who takes Ritalin. And I fed the whole family fast food chicken last week from a place so unrepentent it actually deep fries its biscuits! (Yum!) So am I the opposite of a Free-Range parent?

Please.  There’s a big range of Ranging, and the whole idea is to TRY to give our kids some freedom and responsibility. We want them to figure out who they are and what they like, and to grow up in the process. Free-Range Parents encourage their kids to play, to go outside, and to come up with their own ideas of what to do, rather than being scheduled and supervised all the time. (Or played with by us.) And we try not to freak out every time we let them do whatever it was that WE did as kids, whether that’s walking to school or spending the afternoon biking around the neighborhood.

But if you have a kid who likes fries, or Mario Brothers, or sometimes vegging out and NOT building a rocket or bird sanctuary, that doesn’t mean anyone’s a failure. It means you’re raising kids in the post-industrial age, and it’s not so easy to re-create 1975 again, or 1989, even.  They are part of this modern world, and they love their apps the same way we loved our Slinkies.

So, yes, aim to let them have adventures. Yes, let them get bored and cranky sometimes, so they have to figure out what to do next. Yes, insist on some unplugged time and open the back door as a hint, and even goose them into babysitting or taking steps toward responsibility and adulthood. I was thrilled over vacation when my kids got a cat-sitting job several subway stops away from us. Then there was a blizzard and I was a lot less thrilled. In fact, I was worried. But hey — that cat still needed to be fed! (Well, actually, this particular cat could have lived off its fat for several weeks and still doubled as a pillow, but my point is: They boys had signed up to feed her, so they braved the elements.) Afterward, I was proud and so were they! Nonetheless, post-cat there was definitely some significant  iPod time on the couch.

So don’t worry about being a perfect Free-Range Parent. Just worry about not helicoptering every single second and you’re on the way. Or so sez me. — Lenore

49 Responses to Thoughts About Perfection (And Ritalin, Video Games & Fast Food)

  1. Stephanie January 5, 2010 at 1:12 am #

    No, no, no! I demand perfection from you! 😉

    Me on the other hand? I get to goof off on being a free range parent just as much as I want.

    Seriously, it’s that whole perfection thing that messes so many parents up. We all just need to do the best we can and make the effort to get our kids doing things without us, but life doesn’t have to be all big adventures.

  2. Nancy January 5, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Ya know, my youngest BIL was one of those kids who sat around and played video games. He now works at Nintendo. He’s going to graduate from one of the most prestigious video gaming schools in the country.

    Honestly, the best you can do is do good enough. Your kids, no matter what books you read, no matter what parenting philosophy or whatever, are not going to be perfect. If your kid WANTS go to to Med school or whatever, fine. But if they don’t they’re not a failure. I think recent history has shown us that maybe our idea of perfection wasn’t quite attainable anyway.

  3. HSmom January 5, 2010 at 1:26 am #

    Thank you! I think there’s a tendency to swing from being the “perfect” helicopter parent to being the “perfect” free-range parent… when the whole objective is to give up the idea of “perfect parenting” and just live, love and help your kids grow up!

  4. KateNonymous January 5, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    Surely “Free Range” is a spectrum, depending on the needs, interests, and abilities of individual children and families.

    But the fact is that in the U.S. (if not other places), there is no such thing as a spectrum. We’re an all-or-nothing nation, ridiculous as that is.

  5. Thomas January 5, 2010 at 1:32 am #

    Yet, at the same time we’re allowing our kids some freedom in making decisions and getting out from under our thumbs, we also need to influence their decisions, teach them good practice, and maintain some household control.

    The 24 hour TV & video game culture is dangerous… it’s OK to limit these sorts of activities. It’s more than fine to kick the kids out of the house once in a while! Isn’t that part of what this site talks about?

  6. Tiffany January 5, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    I mostly disagree with you on this issue. In my own experience I find that kids who are given the option of of an adventure or an organized “active” activity will choose those things before they choose technology but you have to start this practice when they are young so they see that there is a world much more exciting if they turn off the iPod. IMO I think many parents use technology as a babysitter so they don’t have to engage their kids or play with them, as if such a thing is bad. Again IMO many modern parents are lazy and they want to do their own thing while their kids do THEIR own thing and since the house is “safe” technology provides a solution. That seems more like co-habiting instead of parenting. Around here when the DS gets pulled out I suggest movie night and put on a classic like White Fang or Goonies. When the Wii has been on too long I tell them I have the sudden itch to go hiking or to the Science Museum.

    I didn’t grow up glued to a TV screen and and just because “everyone else is doing it” doesn’t mean we have to now. Free Range in front of the television sounds bizarre. I don’t think there is much they can learn about who they are by getting a head start on technology addiction. I have an adult gamer in my life (aka 30- 40 hours a week spent gaming) and it ain’t pretty.

  7. Shelly January 5, 2010 at 2:03 am #

    If letting children “do their own thing” while parents “do their own thing” is lazy, then there were a lot more lazy parents around 50 years ago than there are now. My mother grew up one of 11 kids, and do you think her mom spent time “engaging” her kids? Heck no. She said, “Get outside and don’t come in until dinner.” This whole idea that we have to play with our kids and “engage” them is fairly new, and IMO the opposite of Free-Range.

    Out of three children, I have one who asks me to play with her. And I do, for a few minutes. Then she’s on her own. And even though she has the choice, she rarely watches TV.

  8. HeatherJ January 5, 2010 at 2:18 am #

    On a trip to Ireland many years ago I was touring a castle when we came upon a tapestry. The guide proceeded to tell us that it took years to make one and the women who hand stitched it all always made one mistake. On purpose. Because they believed no one was perfect, only God. That stuck with me all these years. Perfection is not really attainable yet we drive our selves nuts trying to get there. So just do your best and let God be perfect. :-)

  9. Tana January 5, 2010 at 2:37 am #

    my son is 4, almost 5, and loves technology. how could he not, when his dad is a gamer and his mom encourages family game time (better communication and interaction than movie-watching, imo)? he also loves ton run and play outside. he loves to play ball (in or out). he has a very rich imaginary life with many imaginary friends (who never, ever say, “not now hon, i’m cooking/cleaning/reading free-range kids/talking to daddy/etc). our idea of a play date is to go to mcdonald’s, buy a couple of drinks, and he plays with whatever random kids we encounter. sometimes, when i offer, “i’m taking the dog for a walk, wanna go or stay?” he runs for his shoes. other times he opts to stay with his computer. i don’t strive for balance, but because he’s a secure, happy, independent kid, we seem to strike the balance between old-fashioned play and modern technological fun most of the time. why are we so worried about being perfect parents of any variety? we won’t make it, and our kids will likely turn out okay anyway.

  10. Renee January 5, 2010 at 2:57 am #

    I think the question is how do these experiences help her as an adult. Great vacation memories are great, but there are Baby Boomers who speak well of their childhoods and young adulthood without any world wide adventure. According to my father Vietnam doesn’t count.

    Technology is here and we are post-industrial. These items exist. Downtime is downtime, we all need it. Vegging out in front of the TV can be a reasonable choice.

    Note: I do not have a game console or cable in my house.

  11. Marcy January 5, 2010 at 3:01 am #

    Since medication is what helps my son have anywhere CLOSE to a free range life, I think we have to emphasize the spectrum as often as we can. Before he was on meds his anxieties kept him indoors.
    The idea that medication of any kind is just bad and we do it to make life “easy” on the parents is ridiculous.

  12. sylvia_rachel January 5, 2010 at 3:08 am #

    You’re right, it’s all about finding the balance that works for your family.

    I always feel guilty when I let the kid watch too much TV or spend too much time playing PS2 with her dad, because shouldn’t she be doing something more creative, or active, or … something? And sometimes she does overdo it — I can tell because she starts getting whiny or, when playing PS2, cranky and aggressive. And then I pull the plug. But then on the other hand sometimes she disappears into her bedroom for an hour with scissors and tape and bits of scrap paper and cardboard, or spends 45 minutes practising invented “ninja moves” on our bed, or takes a couple of stuffed animals and her skipping rope out into the hallway and does … whatever it is she does out there o_O. Often she decides all on her own to read instead of watching TV. Judging by the running commentary, I’d say she has a rich interior life, even if she does refuse to let me read her Winnie-the-Pooh or Alice in Wonderland. She was practically bouncing up and down this morning in her eagerness to get back to school and see her teacher (and, oh yeah, her friends too), and she’s counting down the days until her swimming lessons start again.

    The thing is, DH and I are introverts with indoorsnik tendencies. We like to read, eat, play on the computer, watch movies, and play cards and Scrabble. We like to go out and do stuff sometimes, too, but we’re not that family that spends every spare second on skis, skates, snowshoes, toboggans or snowboards. And, frankly, I think that’s perfectly okay.

  13. Stephanie January 5, 2010 at 4:00 am #

    You just eliminated some mom guilt that I have when I don’t want to play cars with my 5 year old son. Don’t get me wrong, I have my fair share of time on the floor driving those Hot Wheels around, but there are times when I just don’t want to! With my son being an only child, I always felt a little guilty telling him no. However, you’re right – he DOES need to find his own fun without me worrying about entertaining.

    I do think the concept of “free-range” kids is pretty subjective. To me, it is important that my son (5) be allowed to run over to the neighbor’s house and ask their kids if they want to play, and I let him ride his bike out in front of our house without constant supervision. I also think it’s important for him to see that there is more to the world than our front (and back) yard. My husband and I have taken our son to Chicago, Las Vegas, Costa Rica, Panama, Australia, and Mexico. He’s coming with me to New York on a business trip soon and we’re going to Greece or New Zealand this year (still trying to decide). Most likely he won’t remember a darn thing about those early trips, but to me, part of learning to be free range is learning to be self sufficient when you aren’t in your comfort zone. He has definitely mastered that concept!

    We all do the best we can, and that’s the best we can do!

  14. SamDD January 5, 2010 at 4:05 am #


    your family sounds just like mine… little man was most excited to return to school this morning because they were starting fractions. We’re not outdoorsy types, live in a small apartment with no lawn or palyground nearby (there’s one at a school a block away and with the kids turns 8 we’ll probably let him go there solo). We’re introverts that work long hours, so our family time is spent playing board games, and now thanks to Sana, Wii….

    I agree there is no perfect “free-range”… to me it’s abou t letting the child know the rules, and them letting them “out” to explore their own personal boundaries. I consider ours a “free-range” kid because I don’t follow him out to the bus stop, I don’t follow him home from the bus stop… in fact he’s home for about 20 minutes alone before I get there. He goes to some shops on our street by himself, and can make it in and out of a restroom solo without being abducted… he knows what is safe and what is not (well… except that whole jumping off the back of the couch.. but a few more bad spills and he’ll learn!).

    Sam :)

  15. Camilla January 5, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    I just stumbled upon you – or your ideas today. And how refreshing! Even though I live in far away Norway, where free range is more free and farther in range than I get the impression from my US inlaws, it is still less than when I grew up in the 80s.

    A Norwegian journalist quoted you in one of the largest Norwegian dailies (Dagbladet – and predicted this form of child rearing ideal will be something parents will stribe towards in the decade we just entered.

    I notice how I struggle to convince fellow parents our kids (7-8 yrs old) should walk to school alone, and the only worry is traffic, not crazy strangers. It is still the crazy strangers that made some parents wait.

    So here is my support – and I hope the 1/3 you got in the NBC-poll is rising by the day!

    Camilla (mom to a 8 yrs old and a 3 yrs old)

  16. Melissa January 5, 2010 at 5:13 am #

    I actually consider fast food to be a free-range idea, at least in my area! Sure I try and feed my kids healthful and nutritious food at home. This morning I offered my four-year-old toast made out of whole grains and millet (yeah, it’s birdseed….I know). He looked at me kinda funny and then said, “No. I want dat kind” and pointed at the white stuff. I complied since he’d at least taken a bite of the healthy stuff.

    But I’m totally cool with doing the fast food too. My little guy LOVES it when we go to the drive-in and get corn dogs and french fries. We all sit in the car and talk and laugh, and OMG his hot dog isn’t made from organic hormone-free grain fed angus beef!!!! Lord knows what it’s made of. But we’re having fun and he’s getting to make his own decision about what he wants to eat and everyone’s happy.

    So there.

    I’m free-range and fast-food. They’re not mutally exclusive.

  17. sylvia_rachel January 5, 2010 at 5:20 am #

    @Sam — we’re lucky in that there are several playgrounds within walking distance of our flat, and a couple more not much farther away; I’m still in the process of convincing my husband that the kiddo would be OK going on her own, though (traffic!! and the traffic is somewhat scary, actually). Maybe next year. But, yeah, she totally goes into public washrooms on her own, stays alone for ten minutes while I run downstairs for milk or whatever, climbs fences, uses the washing machine unsupervised (she can’t reach the dryer), and does all sorts of other things her friends aren’t allowed to do. (She’s seven.)

    @ Melissa — you’re right. And I appreciate your making me feel less guilty about my VERY PICKY seven-year-old’s not-exactly-perfect diet 😉

  18. Dot Khan January 5, 2010 at 6:20 am #

    I’m surprised that the Free Range Goddess, like most of us, is not perfect. :)
    I question a medical profession that will say that a child’s mind is not fully developed at age 16 but let’s play with the brain chemistry. Often the person that makes the diagnosis that a child should be on Ritalin is someone without any medical training such as his teacher. I had a doctor misdiagnose a brain tumor as suffering from depression, so why take the word of someone that has less experience? It has been speculated that many famous people such as Einstein, who was considered a troubled student, would be put on Ritalin if he was around today.

  19. Vedrfolnir January 5, 2010 at 7:21 am #

    I don’t know if I trust Ritalin. I call it the “zombie” drug.

  20. Renee January 5, 2010 at 7:30 am #

    @ Camilla

    “I notice how I struggle to convince fellow parents our kids (7-8 yrs old) should walk to school alone, and the only worry is traffic, not crazy strangers. It is still the crazy strangers that made some parents wait.”

    I had an incident regarding the fear of crazy strangers. My daughter had a birthday party at the movie. I dropped her off with the birthday girl’s parents and told them I wasn’t staying around. No problem. Well once the movie was over my daughter left the theater and waited in the lobby all by herself. When I got there she was by herself, sitting there on the bench in clear sight of the cashier and ticket taker. Not upset and with a smile on her face, because she had a great time.

    The problem was when I told her to say goodbye to birthday girl and let the parents know I was there, thinking they were somewhere in the lobby themselves. She left without telling the birthday girl parents, because she saw everyone from the party leave. Apparently every other child had a parent stay to watch the movie/birthday party. So my daughter just went with the crowd into the lobby.

    I was disappointed in her for not staying with the girl’s parents or at least telling them that she was leaving in which they would of told her no and wait with them.

    Also I wasn’t leaving until I saw the parents to let them know without worry that I had indeed picked her up. 30 seconds later we saw the father. He came over concerned, because she told the birthday girl inside the theater, that ‘my mother is waiting for me’ . Her parents though had no way to visual confirm was actually there. I told the father this was a learning lesson and we will talk about it at home.

    What if I was late or in a car accident (it was snowing) and they left assuming I picked you up?

    What if I picked her her up, but her parents not knowing and immediately reported a lost child putting the whole movie theater in lock down and the local police called in on an Amber Alert?

    What if you were just in the bathroom before going to the lobby, but I was there waiting and they came out of the theater not knowing where you were?

    I told this to family and friends. Rather then being concerned over confusion or not having the understanding of the courtesy to let people know where you are, the first comment was the fear of abduction.

  21. Andy January 5, 2010 at 7:56 am #

    My parents went to a local doctor in Brooklyn who was affectionately called “shoemaker.” Okay, maybe not so affectionate. I was a normal four year old child in 1959, and our doctor prescribed Ritalin because I was “active.” That was the diagnosis.

    I was on it for two years, neither of which I remember. If it wasn’t for my little Italian grandmother seeing her grandson in a zombified state I would have been on that drug until it did permanent harm.

    I hated the drug then and I still don’t like it now.

  22. Mrs. H. January 5, 2010 at 9:15 am #

    Please advise soonest source of the deep-fried biscuits. I promise not to give any to the baby. Thanking you. Must… have… deep-fried…biscuits…….

  23. Teacher Tom January 5, 2010 at 9:46 am #

    Just wait, it won’t be long before some parents will be competitive free-ranging!

  24. T-Dawg January 5, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    I sometimes use the TV as a babysitter while I do homework or whatever. And we eat fast food probably more than we should. And I don’t feel like that’s something I should be ashamed of. All I can do is my best, and when I have a test coming up or laundry up to the ceiling or I’m one tantrum away from a nervous breakdown, I’ll turn on Yo Gabba Gabba and order a pizza.

  25. KarenW January 5, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    If Free-Range parenting everystarts to become another quest to be the perfect parent, I’m outta here! To me, the whole thing boils down to “not going nuts with worry.” I’m not going to worry about my kids playing out of my sight for a while, nor am I going to worry that they watched TV for a half-hour more today than the experts reccommend.

  26. Kimberly January 5, 2010 at 10:49 am #

    I have a couple of thoughts on this.

    Free Range does not mean no tech. Today’s video games are often about problem solving. They can teach real life skills. I use my Wii in the classroom for Math problems. My fellow math/science teacher and I are planning a Multisubject unit based around Rockband for later this semester. Students will be playing the game – writing a fictional biography, mapping out tours, figuring out expenses.

    Denying an accurately diagnosed ADD/ADHD person their meds is abusive. I don’t take meds because my ADD is on the mildest end of the spectrum. Free range doesn’t mean denying your kid glasses, or hear aides – why would it mean denying them a chemical missing from their brain that helps them focus their thoughts.

    I know the argument is that When I was a kid x, y, z didn’t exist. Yes it did but it just resulted kids being kicked out of school, or forced to the lowest level classes so they would drop out. I have dysgraphia – that went undiagnosed till freshman year in University. I was called lazy and worse, because since my reading level was so high I should be able to spell and form my letters. I can’t describe the relief. I wasn’t nuts. I wasn’t a fraud. There was a reason for these crazy things – and solution for the problems.

    There are times I ask for help. Over break my school was broken into for the 6th freaking time this this year. I spent a training day figuring out what was missing. Then the time everyone else had in their rooms, I was figuring out how to redistribute things to cover the teachers who lost computers and projectors. One of the forms I needed has to be handwritten, you can’t type it online.
    I was so grateful to the colleague that took the form from me and let me just dictate. By that time my head was pounding and print was floating around instead of sticking to the paper.

  27. highwayman January 5, 2010 at 3:44 pm #

    Kimberly, not all of us deny the existence of ADD/ADHD, and sometimes medication is indeed necessary. In your case it was accurately diagnosed your freshman year in university. The problem is the string of false diagnoses that confuses said condition with someone merely energetic.

    Unfortunately, most of us (myself included –I hate admitting this) are grouches unable to handle the vim, vigour, and very active good cheer of other people –especially kids. I’ve somehow figured out how to relate to my nephews without pining to inflict any unwarranted pharmaceuticals on them. That’s especially the case of my youngest nephew (all of 2 years old) who is more active than any of us former kids in our childhood.

    My youngest nephew is lucky. He is surrounded by family who knows how to really handle him well, but how many others would simply slap a false diagnosis for a condition none know much about, nor know truly what it looks like? This is my concern and it is shared by many others as well.

    I think Michael Phelps and his mother (and many others like them such as yourself) would do the modern world a huge service by teaching us what ADD/ADHD really is and what it actually looks like. Simple hyperactivity is not a hallmark of a symptom. What are the other markers? What often do we miss that we should look out for?

    As for my nephew, he may be hyperactive, but he does not have the disorder. When he plays with his Thomas the Engine train set or watches him on TV, he is quite focused and quiet.

    Another nephew of mine (age 10) probably has it. The way he talks, the way he does not latch onto certain tasks or concepts, and the spinning frenzy of some of his rituals and utterances tells me and the rest of the family that something is loose: so far his teachers haven’t complained. Did I misdiagnose my older nephew?

    Help me, help us all Michael and Mrs. Phelps, and Kimberly. On this condition, too many of us our ignorant.

  28. Drug Dangers January 5, 2010 at 4:24 pm #

    Google this phrase:

    “Stimulants for ADHD Shown to Cause Sudden Death in Children By Peter R. Breggin, M.D.”

    Then read the article by that title on Breggin’s website . His books are great, and his website is a goldmine. You’ll end up knowing more than your own doctor knows about the downside of psych meds.

  29. pentamom January 5, 2010 at 11:27 pm #

    Again with the balance! I think Lenore’s only saying that letting your kids use iPods and play video games *to some degree* is not ruining them. She’s not saying constant plug-in to technology is just as good as a more active lifestyle! Some commenters are proving KateNonymous’ point that Americans can’t handle spectrum!

  30. Dave January 5, 2010 at 11:39 pm #

    Thanks Linore for the clarity of thought. Free Range can’t mean replace one set obsessions with another. We need to let kids be kids whatever that means for them. What I wanted to do and did do as a kids is not necessarily what my kids and grandkids want to do.

    The key word is relax and enjoy life.

  31. Jeanne Ohm January 5, 2010 at 11:44 pm #

    I too have serious concerns about ritalin and suppressing kids’ “free range” expressions with it. Our next issue of Pathways to Family Wellness magazine has quite a bit of info on ADHD… In the meantime, Thom Harman has a great article on “farmers and hunters” and John Breeding has a great article, “Does ADHD even exist?” Both of these perspective are from a perspective that kids need to express, not be suppressed, particularly with psychotropic drugs.

  32. jim January 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    Must… have… deep… fried.. biscuits. Yum yum yum. At least you aren’t taking the kids to a franchise joint – if that is on the menu at Mickey D’s I didn’t spot it the last time I stopped in for a dollar McDouble. Lenore, heard a rumor that you live in Queens – how far are you from Astoria and do your kids call the Falafel King “Uncle Mohammed?”

    I’ve got my issues with Ritalin as well – I’ve got two friends who have sons with acute HAADD and it is a stone-cold bitch to deal with. Right up there with stroke-induced paranoid skitz, except the geezer is going to die one of these days but you are stuck with the kid for life. On the other hand, I used to work for a guy whose wife wanted to be friends with her kid instead of setting rules and standing by them, so she found a pshrink would would say that her no-rules brat had ADD and doped the kid into oblivion. The teachers I know who work in affluent suburban white schools all say that kid-doping is at epidemic levels. Over here in the ‘hood, we just slap the kid upside the head and send them outside. Weed the garden, feed the chickens, go to the park…. stuff like that.

    On the other hand, after you hit puberty Ritalin is great when you are cramming for finals and need to memorize the textbook you haven’t looked at all semester overnight.

    Cannot get those deep-fried biscuits out of my mind. Obviously, I need a grease fix.

  33. Jen Connelly January 5, 2010 at 11:47 pm #

    I knew a kid with real ADHD once. Not just a normal hyper kid. This boy was messed up. He was 16 and I worked with him and he forgot to take his meds one day. He drove us all insane until the boss made him go home. He was literally bouncing off the walls, couldn’t sit for more then 2 minutes and just wandered around unable to focus on anything. And he wouldn’t shut up. He just kept talking and talking and talking the whole day but did absolutely no work. Normally he was hyper but at least he got his work done and was helpful. Without his meds he was impossible to be around and he knew it. He kept apologizing but there was nothing he could do about it so the boss drove him home. That boy definitely needed his Ritalin and it didn’t turn him into a zombie–it just calmed him some (he was still hyper even on it).
    The ones that are zombified are the ones that don’t actually need Ritalin.

    Anyway, on the part about TV…I don’t mind letting my kids watch it. We’re a TV family and we all enjoy our shows. In the winter there isn’t much else to do. It’s too freaking cold to go outside and nothing to do once you are out there so the kids stay inside and watch TV and play on the DS (we also have a Wii now but my husband won’t let them play it because then he can’t play his xbox all day long).
    In the summer I insist they spend time outside and limit their TV but it is rarely needed. As soon as I give them permission to leave the house (after I wake up) they are out the door and don’t come back until lunch time.

    My almost 4yo is watching TV right now (I believe Diego is on) and coloring which is what she does most mornings. Even though her older siblings are all in school she doesn’t need me to entertain or “engage” her. She knows how to do that stuff herself. And she doesn’t always spend all day in front of the TV (some days yes, but not all of them). Sometimes she turns the TV on and then spend the rest of the day playing with her dollhouse in her room or spends the day hanging out with my dad or when she does watch TV she does puzzles, colors or builds with her blocks while she watches. She’s like me. I can’t just watch TV. I have to be doing something with my hands, too (usually knitting).

  34. Bernadette Noll January 6, 2010 at 12:01 am #

    At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I really believe the CONNECTION is the key to it all. Connection first to yourself and from there connection with your kids. Whether you are blazing a new trail or hanging out doing a puzzle together or listening to your i-pods side by side. Look at each other. See each other. Hear each other. Connect with each other.

    The video game issue is that too much almost assuredly equals familial disconnect as one member slinks away for hours on end. The fast food too becomes a problem when there is too much too often. And many times too society treats the ritalin as a crutch to be used without enough investigation into the condition. But all three – when used in moderation and with careful consideration are not the problem. The disconnect and the lack of thought about it all are the problems. When you connect in the midst of it all, you can really examine if its working for you. And big examination of any of those things will assuredly bring you to a healthy and connected solution.

  35. gramomster January 6, 2010 at 12:06 am #

    @ jen

    much like you here. it’s waaaaay too cold to go outside and enjoy it in any sense. If it was 30, we’d go out and sled for a bit. 7 with a wind chill is just no fun. grandkid is watching his nickjr, building with legos, doing some puzzles and staying very busy and active. I would not describe him as a passive tv watcher at all.
    Once it warms up, we’re going to be in the park that’s about a block and a half away, on the bike trail, on the playground, going to the park with the beach and splashpad and playgrounds galore… we spend entire days there in the summer. Not to mention the trip to the west coast, with stops in the rockies and the southwest. So, while winter is tv heavy, summer is tv almost-non-existent. That’s balanced in it’s own way.
    And the kid practically lives on pb&j and turkey bologna and cheese. plus lots of apples and bananas. He’s pretty darn healthy, and he’ll come around eventually. His mom and uncle did.

  36. NJMom January 6, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    Lenore–This is a great post!

    Freerange isn’t about re-creating family life from the past or creating an idealized, nature-filled kid utopia; it’s about giving our kids the tools to become, in time, independent and self-sufficient adults.

    Parenting is hard work and comes complete with an incredible number of challenges–whether it’s tween/teen drug use in the 70’s or the current fad of hyper vicious texting…But no matter the life issue, our job is to help our children solve the problems they will naturally encounter–not prevent them from having problems in the first place.

  37. Blake January 6, 2010 at 1:15 am #

    As an avid gamer (disclaimer: though I love me some Call of Duty, I’m more of a Final Fantasy guy), video games can be good family time. One of my family’s typical together activities is frisbee golf on Wii Sports Resort of Mario Kart Wii. In the past, it was previous Mario Kart games and Super Scope (anyone remember that one?)

    Of course, outside activities are needed for the kidsan although I know parents that go farther than others. A guy who runs a local twin engine flight school has a 5-year-old daughter. He’s taught her how to fly a Cessna 172. She can’t land or take off, but she can fly it just fine.

  38. Blake January 6, 2010 at 1:17 am #

    That should read: “…kids, although…”

    It’s tough typing on a Blackberry sometimes.

  39. Lisa Zahn January 6, 2010 at 1:37 am #

    Thank you so much for this! With my kid an Aspie, he does stick close to home (and read or play computer games) so sometimes I wonder how “free-range” I really am. Giving up the perfectionism is what I’m trying to do, and I really appreciate you sharing that you’re not perfect either!

    You mean your boys aren’t out swinging from trees every afternoon? Building forts and rafts and sailing down the river? Hallelujah! I sure can’t get my boy to do that, either!

  40. Lihtox January 6, 2010 at 2:18 am #

    Long after I was out of the house, my Mom used to watch my eight-year-old cousin during the day, and when I was home I’d see him glued to the television and/or his pocket video game, and the problem was that he looked so BORED. I asked my mom why she didn’t send him outside, but she said “There’s nothing for him to do out there.” (We used to manage.)

    TV and video games are fine if they are entertainment, but they can also be used as a “narcotic” (numbing agent), and that’s what makes them dangerous. Mind you, on occasion a “narcotic” is just what a kid needs: when they’re sick, for example, or if they’re stuck waiting somewhere with nothing else to do; but a child shouldn’t spend their childhood that way.

    This happens to adults too. I can tell the difference between the times when I’m surfing the Web for fun, and when I’m surfing to avoid boredom or anxiety (desperately looking for the next click), although I’m not always good at stopping the latter.

  41. L. Vellenga January 6, 2010 at 2:41 am #

    my older son’s favorite thing to do these days after school is to get on the computer and work on his latest “project,” which usually involves gmail, wikipedia, and an excel spreadsheet. he is not yet 8. (this is what happens when geeks have kids…)
    last night he typed up and printed out invitations to this ever-morphing club he’s working on. he brought them to school and i mentioned to my husband that he might get in trouble passing out invites to some kids and not others. my husband’s comment was that it’d be great if he did. point taken. we’d get involved if his teacher freaked out, which i don’t think she would, and explain it to him later, but we wouldn’t be mad. we’re not tryng to raise conformists.

  42. jim January 6, 2010 at 4:06 am #

    @Blake – Taking off is no big deal, you just yank the yoke and aim for the sky. (Trust me on this – I had an uncle who flew bombers over Germany and Korea and transports from Guam to Da Nang; he used to take me up in his single-engine Mooney all the time when I was a kid.) Landing is a bit trickier. That is pretty impressive for a 5 year old, though.

  43. Blake January 6, 2010 at 5:43 am #

    Believe me, jim, I know. I’ve logged around 32 hours as a student so far. I’m impressed the girl’s able to reach the pedals. I have a feeling that, in general, flying isn’t something a lot of helicopter parents would approve of.

  44. bitter almond January 6, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    I have ADHD and I wish I’d had access to meds as a kid. I’m really tired of the comments about zombifying or pacifying kids with meds. I’m sure it happens. But I’m also a public school teacher and the hysteria over medication means that I have students every year whose parents won’t even get them evaluated because they don’t want to drug their kids. This year I’m teaching older kids and some of them, who’ve gone online to research ADD themselves, have even asked their parents to get them help.

  45. Susan2 January 6, 2010 at 11:57 am #

    I don’t think it’s always true that if you give a child options, they will choose the games, outdoor play, art activitiies, etc. over TV, video games and computer. I have one child who LIVES for screen time, and, honestly, I am worried about it. We limit his screen time, but it is the main thing he enjoys doing, and would rather watch TV than go to a birthday party or other special event. I have no problem with kids watching TV or playing video games each day in moderation, but, with him, I wish we had been zealots and not allowed it at all. But there’s no way of knowing until you start whether you child will enjoy it in moderation, like my other kids, or become obsessed wtih it.

  46. Mike B January 9, 2010 at 1:45 am #

    Nice essay, Lenore.

    It’s a hard thing, knowing whether to set boundaries on what they do with the free time we give them, and how much to let them be in charge of their own time. One idea is that putting bounds on, say, screen time makes it more attractive, so that they end up doing as much of it as possible, no matter whether they particularly enjoy it, just to make sure they don’t lose out on it. The follow-on is that, given full and unfettered access to the screen, that they’ll fairly soon grow weary of it and find a healthy balance with other activities. As with everything else, I’m sure that depends on the individual child.

    As a parent in his late 40’s, a problem I have is that none of these technologies were available in my youth, so I have no personal basis for judging their relative benefits and hazards. For example, my 14 year old spends a lot of time on the Xbox. He’s playing team-battle-type games with other Xbox-enabled friends, and the whole time he’s chatting away with those friends on the Xbox headset. I don’t know how to judge to what extent that counts as “social time” with friends, any less or more than the endless hours I spent looping the neighborhood on a bike with teen friend Lorne, or watching Hogan’s Heros with teen friend Bill.

  47. bw January 23, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    How is the use of chemical straitjackets to control kids choices any more free range than using physical obstacles?

  48. jim January 23, 2010 at 11:51 am #

    This word is often confusing. It is sometimes used for a city, malarky, or a sandwich meat.


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