Readers! I loved this letter from a guy named Brad. You may, too. — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: Â I happened to rabbit-hole into your blog tonight, and read it for about 2 hours, fascinated by the psychotic parents out there. I’m 27 and was raised Free-Range. I was allowed to run amok, largely unattended, for extended periods of time. I got into all sorts of trouble and suffered many life-threatening injuries such as skinned knees, bruises of various sizes, bloody noses, and twisted ankles. One time I was attacked by a clearly homicidal rose bush. And I even broke my arm when I made the unwise decision to jump off the tailgate of a parked pickup truck and tumble down a hill. My broken arm shaped the rest of my life.
First of all, I was 10 years old. I was playing unsupervised outside in the summer with my band of heathen friends, a group of about five boys in my neighborhood. I don’t even remember what we were doing, or why I was climbing on the truck, much less why I jumped off it. I realized something was wrong when my arm was really hurting a different kind of hurt than I was used to. I got on my bike and rode home one-handed. I told my mom what happened when I got home and she sat me on the couch and got me a Sprite.
Soft drinks were a special treat when I was a kid and so Sprite was my mother’s first line of defense if something was wrong. Bad day at school? Sprite. Cold/flu? Sprite. And, apparently, broken arm=Sprite. I sat there watching TV and sipping sullenly, but when my arm was still hurting after an hour, we went to the ER. X-ray later, I was diagnosed with a fracture of both the humerus and radius, a cast was applied, and I was to follow up with my regular doctor in two weeks.
I learned a lot in the six weeks I was in a cast. I learned that I was far more capable one-handed than I has previously thought. I learned that a bent wire hanger was the perfect scratching implement for under-cast itches. I learned that I had way more friends than I thought, judging by the sheer number of signatures my cast acquired. I learned that broken bones suck, but life goes on. My parents didn’t freak out, so I didn’t freak out. I really think it was the first time my little brain followed the whole decision-action-consequence-adaptation continuum from inception to resolution.
I’ve since grown up to be a paramedic. I love what I do. It’s fulfilling in a truly indescribable way, but I’ve noticed something that troubles me. I make a lot of calls for “panic attacks” that don’t stem from a medical disorder, like clinical depression or schizophrenia. They’re panic attacks born from the inability to deal with life. There’s a college near where I work, and we make calls there all the time for kids that don’t know how to deal with the stress from being away from controlling parents. These are kids that crumble at the slightest bump in the road. They make a C on a term paper, their boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with them, they don’t like their roommate, whatever. They panic, hyperventilate, and sob uncontrollably. They don’t sit on the couch and drink a Sprite because no one ever taught them how.
I like the Free-Range philosophy. It’s promoting a way to make kids self-reliant. Teaching them to fish, so to speak. That way, when they leave the nest and forge their own path they have the tools they need. My parents let me face life head on when I was a kid. They let me fall, but they helped me dust myself off and get back up. I’m a stronger adult because of it.
My mom always used to say “If you cry when you burn the toast, what to you do when the house burns down?” That stuck with me.
So did the Sprite.
I like that last line. My mom always said, “Everyone shits on the pot the same way.”
That always stuck with me.
Dear Brad, what an absolutely fabulous sum up of your life to date. Beautifully written and very engaging. I was a free range kid as well and brought myself up on building sites, in football oval sized sand pits, bushland, creeks, a local railway line and ate from the many orchards near where we lived. I have great memories.
I love this story. Brad is so right about college students who cannot function once they are out of the overprotective care of their parents. I wonder if they would make a few less disturbing choices (in the name of experimentation and freedom) if they already felt free before they came to college. Just a thought.
I need to get some Sprite to have around the house. Kisses are not really doing it any more, we need to up the response a little bit. Just the act of drinking something makes a person more calm. Brad’s mother was a wise woman.
I like that last line. I have one child who overreacts to too many things, and I’ve been trying to help him see that things aren’t that big a deal.
I was 15(?)16(?) something like that when I fell on a sidewalk during lunch hour at high school. Since I fell three blocks away from school, I had to walk back to school and go to the nurse’s office to show her the bruise that was forming and tried to explain to her the “crack” sound I heard. I was covered in mud because it was rainy and I was just dirty from the fall. Nurse said it wasn’t broken just sprained.
The ER said it wasn’t broken, but because it might be, they put it in a splint.
For a week.
Then I went for my second set of xrays.
Oh yah, Tiny wrist bone break. It is shaped like an hour glass right behind the thumb and they had to hold my hand in a special way to get the break on the xray. On went the cast and the start of hell.
It was my dominant wrist, but that didn’t let me off of any tests. I had to learn how to write with my left hand. I figured out – with the help of duct tape and a garbage bag – a way to shower and bathe without getting the cast wet. I learned more in those weeks with the cast on and how to be ambidextrous than I would have ever learned. The best part was being able to complain to a principal about the unfairness of writing an essay with my left hand when my right one was in a cast. The teacher apologized and I got a redo when the cast came off.
I also learned how to improvise for several months afterwards with tensor bandages. Several sprained ankles over the years have also had the same treatment.
The sad part – I broke my wrist while trying to do a good deed.
Brad, great writing as an advocate of free range kids. I remember when my kids were toddlers and then would fall down and begin to cry… I would just say look at you and guess what you can get up too!
I love this. I’m taking a page from your mom’s book. Maybe not with Sprite exactly, but maybe ice cream. I like ice cream.
Great post!! I like the thing with the Sprite (my son is 2 now), so I’ll have to remember that.
The whole thing with college kids is something I can relate to. A kid I know is a freshman in college, and her mom treated her as her best friend her whole life (and the kid was definitely not free range). She moved a whole 45 minutes away from her mom for college, and I just found out that after 4 months she moved back. Why? She didn’t know how to deal with her roommate, specifically, living with or socializing with another person. And her mom actually let her move back. It’s just sad.
GREAT story from Brad. I love common sense people (and parents). I hope to be one too, to my two boys. I too will also have to remember the Sprite trick. Thanks Brad!
What a fabulous story. Yay, to Brad.
I learned all about bad decision making and consequences when I was four. And, amazingly, some four year olds can comprehend this stuff.
I was visiting my aunt and cousins on their farm and was almost 5. We were stuck inside because of an early snow storm so my cousins who were 8 and 10/11 at the time came up with this brilliant idea to climb onto the top bunk of their bed and jump down onto these 8″ thick pieces of foam they had (where they got the foam, I have no idea).
Not wanting to be outdone by my cousins I easily scaled the pile of toys and empty dresser drawers exactly like they did and with my eyes shut I jumped, landing with a soft thwump. It was such a thrill. There were some other kids there (I think their cousins from their dad’s side) and they were doing it, too.
I’m not sure how many times I jumped but every time it was a soft landing and a lot of giggling. Then the next day my cousins went to school and me and my brother (then almost 3) were left to entertain ourselves. Now thinking I was pretty clever I pulled the foam pads over and climbed up for a jump on my own.
Only I didn’t do as great a job setting the foam up. As I leaped off the bunk I realized there was a section of floor uncovered but thought, “what are the odds I would hit that”. Guess where my foot landed?
I don’t remember screaming. I remember sitting there a minute and then trying to get up and unable to put weight on my foot. I was terrified to call for help because I knew I’d be in trouble. Finally, my brother went and got my mom because he was upset I was crying (not hysterically, just crying because it hurt and I was confused and angry with myself and embarrassed that I did something stupid).
My mom scooped me up, wrapped my swollen ankle, iced it and that was it. I stayed on the couch for 4 more days, hopping around the house on one foot. Finally my mom realized it was more than a sprain (I couldn’t even move it after awhile) and we drove the 4 hours home before going to the doctor.
After xrays they found out it was a fracture and I was in a cast over my 5th birthday and Christmas.
No one made a big fuss about it. The boys got lectured about teaching their little cousin to do naughty things, the foam was confiscated and I was on crutches for almost 3 months.
Lesson learned at almost 5 years old…don’t jump off of bunkbeds and always be aware of your surroundings. Funny how people don’t think 10 year olds are even capable of that any more.
Brad, you’re amazing. This bit made my day:
“They donâ€™t sit on the couch and drink a Sprite because no one ever taught them how.”
For me, it was Dr. Pepper, but your memory took me back to similar ones of my own. And yeah, this site is pretty cool too.
I Love the quote at the end, I will have to use it with my son, among other people.
hey Joel, I wrote a post to you on the baby napping post 🙂
Larry H- I am going to try your idea about putting the kid in the room if he fusses while you are making his food. I know my sons hungry, but the screeching, while Im shaking the bottle, Is ear shattering. your posts are hilarious too, you usually say what Im thinking.
In my house growing up it was Ginger ale. It fixed just about everything.
Heh, I think one of the best life lessons my grandmother taught me (Who raised me to a degree) was when I wiped out on my bike. I mean fully, throughly wiped out, I flipped over a tree on the way to school. Covered in road rash, she patched me up, fixed my bike, told me to be careful, wrote a note explaining to my school why I was late, and sent me on my way. No Spite was involved but the lesson was learned. Things happen, you deal with it, you move on.
Ice cream. Definitely ice cream. One day long ago when I was at work and my husband was home with our toddler girl, she fell and bit her lip bloody. He set her up in her high chair with the biggest bowl of ice cream she’d ever seen, and she completely forgot to cry. Plus, I imagine the cold felt good on her poor swollen lip.
That is an awesome line, BTW–“They donâ€™t sit on the couch and drink a Sprite because no one ever taught them how.”
I was taught that it’s okay to lie down and sob uncontrollably, but when you’re done, you get back up and face the day.
I liked the “followup” that Mr. Brad is now a paramedic. One might say it’s a karmic career choice. I managed to get through childhood without breaking anything, but still have a scar from a slip with a hacksaw.
My parents gave us “magic medicine.” It was candy. Or dad would take us for a drive and we’d roll down the windows and blast the radio and just scream til we couldn’t anymore (primal scream therapy).
This reminds me a little of when my younger brother broke his wrist falling out of a tree 5-6 years ago (so he was like… 10 or 11). It was hanging at a wrong angle, so it was obviously broken and we took him to the ER right away. My dad freaked out, not because he thinks that his son breaking a bone is a huge tragedy, but it is simply in his nature to freak out in situations like that. My mum didn’t, splinted the wrist with a rolled-up newspaper, and then got us all in the car.
I guess sometimes it’s just in the nature of some people to freak out about their kids getting injuries, and not in others’. Unfortunately, it’s in our culture now to load guilt upon parents for every little injury their children sustain, from bruises and scratches up to broken bones, and freaking out is kind of inured into us now. Neither of my parents ever got upset about the smaller stuff, I sprained my right ankle four( ! ) times during my childhood and nobody freaked.
Thanks Brad. For me that totally sums up the Free-Range thinking. I would be so proud if my boys could grow up with such maturity around decision making.
Thanks for sharing that, Brad. I loved it.
I haven’t had to employ the Sprite yet with my two boys. I find a kiss, a cuddle and an ‘off you go, now” works just fine. Mind you, I started teaching them as babies to laugh when they fell over. That way, if they cry I know they’re really hurt.
Brad, I want to hug you! (And your mother.)
seriously what was it with lemonade (what we aussies call sprite) back in the day… my grandmother used to give us warmed up (flat) sprite when we felt sick in the tummy… maybe sprite does cure all…..
Flat Dr. Pepper is the medicinal drug of choice here. Little one has never had it in it’s carbonated state and has never had it unless she was sick, so she truly believes it is cure to what ails her.
Love the toast comment and will be looking for an opportunity to use it. However, my daughter has done a complete 180 in the past two weeks. Not sure if we’ve had a revelation of sorts or if she is up to something. Time will tell.
This sounds exactly like my childhood. I ran with a pack of filthy, pagan children and we were constantly skinning our knees and getting into harmless trouble. My parents never overreacted, and I am a self-sufficient adult today largely because of it. I have a three year old now, and I can’t help thinking about some of the things I used to do and think “Would I be so calm if Yosi did that?” I’m just hoping I can be.
OMG! Your mom let you drink calorie laden, sugar filled POP??? the horror….
People don’t calculate the costs of over-protection. I *love* this letter. It sums things up so nicely. There is much to be GAINED from what does “wrong” in life. Protecting our kids from living comes with a high price tag.
My son is 16, cooks all of his own meals, does his own laundry, etc. And he is the only one of his friends who does. When I was 16 it would have been weird to not be able to do these things. Times change but we can always make wise decisions that are in the best interest of our kids long range instead of relieving/avoiding our own anxiety in the short term.
My parents committed to raising me and my brother to be autonomous individuals, but I have never broken a bone in my life. Some how, I managed to get through a childhood filled with bike rides and tramping through the woods without so much as a hairline fracture. Once, when I was about three, I got a nice little nursemaid elbow as a result of my dad pulling a little to hard on my arm when I was on his shoulders, but that’s the extent of my experiences with casts.
The result? I am PETRIFIED of doing things that would result in serious injury or intense pain. I dance so I don’t think twice about bruises, and I’ve had a black eye twice (which, oddly, didn’t seem to hurt on either occasion). But a friend took me snowboarding once and I felt like my heart would explode from the anticipation of potentially breaking an ankle or something. I never did flips into a pool or on a giant trampoline, even as a teenager, because all I could think was that I’d break my neck.
I tend to be rather cautious and calculated, so I sometimes wonder if breaking a bone as a kid would have made me a little bit more comfortable with taking risks.
My childhood sounds a lot like Brad’s. If I complained to my mother about every little bump and bruise I got, I would have driven her crazy. I knew only to bother her with the big stuff (bleeding fairly heavily, big lump on head, nail in foot). Mom knew that when I came to her, that I was really hurt. I learned at a young age how to put on Bactine and a Band-Aid when I had a minor injury. When my son was a toddler and fell, I’d give him a kiss, brush him off, and send him back on his way. He learned that little scrapes and bruises are really no big deal and are, in fact, the mark of being a real boy. He knows to come to me only when he’s really hurt and has known how to put Band-Aids on his minor cuts for several years.
Recently my son went skiing, fell, and got a large bruise on his arm. After checking to make sure that nothing seemed broken, I sent him back to ski with his friends. He had a great time but learned to be a little more cautious when it came to doing the bigger jumps in the fun park. You can tell a child to be more careful until you’re blue in the face. But falls and minor injuries are often more valuable lessons than warnings from Mom about being careful and figuring out your limits.
My son may be on Brad’s path as a paramedic. He’s in his first year in the Boy Scouts and has learned some basic First Aid. Yesterday one of the kids in his Sport (PE) class hurt himself and started to go into shock. One of the other boys in the class started to elevate the injured student’s head. My son told his classmate, “You’re doing it wrong. You’re supposed to make his feet higher than his head so he gets blood to his brain.” He then proceeded to elevate the injured boy’s feet. My son’s teacher praised his action and knowledge of first aid.
Hayley, your (lack of) experience reminds me of when I slid into a concrete road divider on the ice a couple of years ago.
Now I’m not recommending being less than cautious driving in bad conditions, or suggesting that $4000 worth of smashing the front end of your van with a child in it is desirable or to be taken lightly, but (once I got over a year’s jitters about driving in winter at all) I did take away the lesson that concrete barriers do not equal “instant death” as I had always had it in my mind. I am still careful, but less anxious on divided roads and in construction areas than I used to be.
So yes, I think that a serious but survivable injury can be a useful lesson. Although I admit, I’ve never broken a bone either. I guess, though, I saw enough kids in school with casts and happy lives thereafter that I subconsciously took away the lesson that it wasn’t the end of the world, though, because I don’t have an especial fear of it (although now that I’m in my 40’s I do worry a bit about healing more slowly and being disabled from necessary mom functions.)
Thank you for sharing this, Brad!! Your mother is very wise, and so are you!
I’m around the same age as Brad and this is pretty much how I was raised. When I was a kid my mother, and every other parent around, would say “Is it bleeding? Is it broken? No? Then go play.”
Unfortunately for my parents, the answer to the second question was often yes. By the time I was 12 I had broken four different bones, had 3rd degree burns, and stitches. If my parents had panicked every time I was injured they’d be basket cases.
We have a general saying in our house (one that I grew up with): “No blood, no foul.”
My girls know that if they fall down, they’ll live. If they scrape their knees/elbows/hands, they’ll live. If they bump their heads, they’ll live.
My oldest wasn’t even a month past her first birthday when we had her first trip into the ER. She was toddler-running around her grandparents’ house (with me chasing behind her), tripped over a rug, and cracked her little head on the corner of the coffee table. I scooped her up, took her into the kitchen where her everyone was hanging out. Her grandma looked at her head, very calmly said “she’s bleeding,” and immediately went to get a dampened towel for me to hold against the wound.
My little one cried all the way to the hospital, but by the time they were doing her intake, she had stopped. I like to think it was because all of us adults had stayed calm, and didn’t freak out about it. Granted, she had a nice little gash that required four staples, and an overnight stay for observation (she had a hairline fracture in her skull), but we didn’t panic, so she didn’t. 5 1/2 years later, she’s the toughest little girl I know. She doesn’t let a little tumble stop her from playing. She gets up, checks to make sure all is intact, and goes right on playing. 🙂
Way to go, Brad! I can identify with many of your “Free Range” experiences.
I fell out of a tree when I was nine and broke my wrist. From then on, I made sure I didn’t use a dead branch for support.
Sprite didn’t exist when I was a kid, but I do remember that my Mom would say, “If you burn the toast, take it to the sink and scrape it.”
Haylet, what’s funny to me is I reacted the opposite way. I never broke anything, so I figured I had invincible bones. I’ve always been careful because I didn’t want to get hurt, but I was also confident i’d never break a bone.
I’m from Canada, and this article in the Toronto Star was weird. I’m just wondering if every State in America has banned Kinder Eggs? Here’s the article URL
Wow–this really hit me: “My mom always used to say â€œIf you cry when you burn the toast, what to you do when the house burns down?â€ That stuck with me.”
My husband and I tend toward the free range and have 2 teen boys who are pretty darned self-reliant.
Our house did burn on December 1. (We’re all ok, but the house will require extensive rebuilding.) I’ve been utterly amazed at how well the boys continue to cope with the loss, disruption, and dislocation in our lives. I think, in part, it’s because we’ve worked so hard to give them the emotional security they needed to be independent.
Keep up the good work, Lenore, in bringing a little sanity to the world of parenting.
And kudos to Brad and his parents.
At my house when my girls were little, a band-aid and a freezie pop cured most all small ailments. Dr.s were called or visited for more serious stuff. They both have small children of their own now and I think they’ll do just fine.
Love that post! What a good kid and a good mom. And I love the old-fashioned idea that soda pop is medicinal, not something to drink all of the time.
Wonderful post! My mom used the Sprite trick as well. This essay made me laugh out loud and makes me want my sons to go outside and break their arms! LOL!
Oh, love this letter! And many of the comments reminded me of things with my own kids.
The ambidextrous thing with the broken wrist bone? Youngest boy fell on the 4th day of kindergarten, broke the ulna, dislocated the radius, of his dominant hand. He was in a cast until Halloween. He was workin’ the left-handed scissors quite well by then! I think it was Christmas before he had shifted largely back to his right hand, but he still uses the left for some things, the right for others, and he plays a whole bunch of instruments.
My daughter once, at about age 7, maybe just 8, was riding her bike on the velodrome (banked, oval bike track, quite tall – 30 ft?) with her dad. She was, as always, wearing a swimsuit. She was a swimmer, lived in the thing. She fell, slid all the way down the concrete on her shoulder, cried for a minute, then, after a few twists and turns trying to get a look at her back, announced, through the last of the tears, “Well, I have some sweet road rash to show off to the dumb boys.” At 20, that’s still the basic attitude with which she goes through life. Yes, I’m really thin, and look fairly delicate. Test this theory at your own peril. Love that kid.
And me? I was fairly free range until I got to my teens, then my grandmother that raised me closed and locked the gates. I was totally not allowed to climb trees, however. When I broke my hand as a teen, punching a wall in anger, I always kind of wished I’d done it falling out of one of those forbidden trees. But, at almost 45, I’m totally planning to learn how to do all sorts of scary things… snowboard, kayak, white water raft. If I get injured, yeah, I’ll heal slower, but if I’ve learned anything this winter, it’s that if injury or illness remove one from necessary ‘mom tasks’, those tasks will still get done. Or not. And we live through that too. People eat, maybe too much ramen and mac n cheese, but they eat. Yes, dust bunnies will turn into tribble colonies, but they are still vulnerable to a vacuum, even if months have passed. They get larger, not stronger. And yeah, kids may go out dressed inappropriately for the weather. And they’ll live, and they’ll generally either remember to grab their own, or remind whatever adult spaced to grab, their coat/hat/gloves/boots next time. Cold feet are a way better teacher than droning Charlie Brown-adult voices. We live through serious illness, we live through injury, adult or kid. And kids live through adult illness and injury. Sometimes, it even gives them a chance to experience free-range. And have a soda.
Thatâ€™s sad about the college kids who canâ€™t cope. Itâ€™s not necessarily the parents though, so much as the oft-repeated message from media and society that we are all â€˜vulnerableâ€™ and fragile; that we canâ€™t possibly cope with setbacks, let alone tragedies, without intense interventions from â€˜expertsâ€™ and â€˜professionalsâ€™; that we must be in unhealthy denial if we try to cope with things in our own ways and through our own support networks, and so on.
It all adds up to people who genuinely believe they canâ€™t copeâ€¦ who may, on some level, enjoy being the victim of their apparently unbearable circumstances and the attention that comes with that.
Of course, I am not denying that there are many people who have genuine problems where professional help is necessary and life changing, but a lot of the â€˜worried mentally wellâ€™ do these people a disservice when they cry out for help because they are convinced they canâ€™t manage situations which they ought to have learned to deal with through the course of their life.
Another Free-Range alum. Yet again, goes to prove the benefits of Free-Range upbringing. Although I never broke any bones, I’ve had my shares of spills, thrills, and chills. And just like Brad, for every incident, I learned important lessons, otherwise never taught or learned. There are some things that can’t be taught at a given time for a given circumstance. That only when it happens can it be learned from. But other things can be taught so that the level of difficulty is lessened. That’s just part of life, both in childhood and adulthood. We all need a good, confident, solid base. Everything else just falls into place. I also agree with Brad, about many of the younger generation these days. They are book smart, but when it comes to life smarts, not a clue. They are just learning how to cope with things now, that they should have and could have learned when they were still at home. Parents need to stop being selfish, and start looking after their kids. Sheltering them is NOT looking after them.
Staceyjw aka escaped to mexico I hope you are seeing this. I am glad you liked my posts, and yes by all means–if they’re screaming while you’re making the food, put them away (the children). I would, in fact, also scold mind just before doing so–no physical discipline obviously–along the lines of “don’t rush me” to let them know they were, in fact, doing something that is wrong. I did what I did not just to keep me un-stressed, but also–this was the idea anyway–as a sort of “time out” form of punishment for them whining in protest.
And yes, Brad–great story, and great parenting philosophy illustration. I make a point to parent with a low “stress” level myself. That is, I do stress if they’re whining and being defiant, and I squash that misbehavior too (already established), I make it clear whining is NOT okay unless they’ve, well, fallen off the back of a pickup truck, however, I don’t stress things happening. Friends have marveled at this video taken of me interacting with the kids, it shows them in the kitchen watching me make hot dogs–and when I see a pair of scissors in their reach, I very matter-of-factly take them and put them on top of the refrigerator. None of this “oh no, scissors, get back, get back, I SAID GET BACK, you’re going to lose an arm and all of your fingers if you don’t get away NOW!!!.”
And I let them play in the yard & get muddy, and I’m proud of it. Don’t believe me? Look at this photo I took of my son:
Ha ha ha! Look at his hair!
Argh, darn typos! (Those DO stress me out!)
I would scold MINE, not MIND–but MINE just before doing so (putting kids in the room if they were whining while I was making the food).
Okay, my 3rd post in a row–I’m sorry all of you!
The 1st link to the photo didn’t seem to work, try it this way:
I have to say this is probably the first time I’ve ever started following a blog due to a commenter’s guest post, but when I got looking around I thought, “Oh my goodness! I’m home!”
I was raised pretty darn close to free-range – my father was the minister of a tiny rural church in Washington State, and my mom divided her time between church duties and raising us. The parsonage was minuscule, but we lived on five acres, next to a larger farm with two barns, two horses, a pig, a rotating cast of chickens and rabbits, and a more-or-less stable number of children (eight at final count). I have few memories of being inside my own home in the summer – the only real rule was that we had to inform my parents before going next door to play with the neighbor kids, and we had to ask permission to leave their property for the two-mile bike ride “around the block”.
Fast-forward 25 years. I live in an actual neighborhood with an exceptionally pretty pre-teen girl and an autistic 8-year-old son. I’ve gotten a little protective. Over-protective, probably. I could use a little perspective, I think. This site is a great reminder of how I was raised without training wheels and I turned out fine.
Larry, I totally agree about kids playing in the mud. I have to hose my kids off in the back yard before they come inside pretty often.
I think I might suffer from the same thing as some above posters, re: having never broken a bone and now being a little more afraid to as a result. Mind you, I’m pretty resiliant and rationally, I’m sure I’d cope, but there is that slight irrational fear in the back of my mind.
I wonder how much of the student-panic syndrome has to do with the media, because I know several people who take it like the world is over if they don’t get their fairytale happy ending all the time. We’ve sort of been taught that if we don’t get great grades, party all the time, and fall irrevocably in love by the time we’re 20, we’re somehow defective. The discrepancy between the reality we’ve been taught to believe in and the reality that is…real…can be quite alarming. But I definitely don’t think coddling helps that at all.
This summer my six year old decided to climb a tree and slide down a rope tied to a limb. Well, the rope wasn’t tied very well and she plopped straight on her butt from about 8 ft! At first I laughed a little (there was actually a plopping sound when her butt hit!) She stood up and said that she was fine, and she seemed to be, until a minute later when she fainted dead away in front of me! That was one of the scariest things I think I’ve ever seen, and we took a little trip to the ER after that, just to be on the safe side. The next day, she was back in that tree! I think we need to work on her rope tying skills, though.
Speaking of mud, here in Ohio (at least part of it) we have a 5th season – Mud Season! My kids frequently recreate Woodstock in the backyard (without the sex, drugs and rock and roll) My poor boy has lost so many pairs of pants and boots….
I was raised in a relaxed. “free range” household, but do have anxiety/depression/ panic disorder. Had nothing to do with how free I got to be, it was genetic and activated by witnessing many deaths early on and through my life. (I am quite stable w/o meds now , because I am from the school of “tough it out”)
That said, BECAUSE I do not want my kids suffering what I did as an adolescent & into my twenties, I am very calm about their injuries and sicknesses. I know if they see me worry, they will worry and I will never forgive myself if I turn on their panic button.
This is why my MIL and I butt heads. She sees one skinned knee and it’s all “boo-boo” city: washing, Bactine, then Neosporin, band aids AND a bowl of ice cream. For a skinned knee.
The phrase I used as an Army wife, often single parent, in order to just be able to shower without interruption was: “Don’t come get Mommy unless you are bleeding or on fire.” Even my barely two year old son understood that one!
I’m totally stealing that awesome one liner. Yoink!
What a great guest post.
The panic attack thing really interests me. I’ve been wondering how helicoptered kids who’v’e begun moving from home have fared, and I’ve read a couple things from various sources that say they’re having a really bad time of it- not knowing how to do laundry or get from point a to b. Scary stuff. It’s a fascinating topic though, and I’d love to read a thorough longitudinal study on overprotected kids.
@ Bee- Welcome! We all need perspective now and then, for sure- this site is awesome for that.
Too many apostrophes!
Interesting everyone is saying that free range is a great thing. What about the kid on our block who was 7 at the time coming home at 11:00 at night. As well, their parents let him do whatever they want and in my book they use that as an excuse to not have to interact with their kid. The child doesn’t feel any love from his parents because they are always working or doing other stuff. Hey, don’t bother me, go watch TV.
I too was “free range” and broke my arm on the farm, Didn’t say anything to anyone, it healed incorrectly and I had to have it rebroken. Now in my old age it just causes me a lot of pain. Or what about the friend who lost an eye because we were shooting each other with pellet guns?
I think everyone that says “Well I lived through it when I was a kid” is in the dark. There weren’t the statistics or information back then that we have now. How do you know that because of free range 400 kids a year would drown back in 1970 but now adays because parents are more protective it’s down to 100. I’m just using these numbers as an example, I have no idea what the difference in child drowndings is between then and now.
And in response to your comment about college kids: I was raised free range on a farm and regardless of that I still had the stress and anxiety that everyone else did. Could I cope with it better because I was “free range”, honestly I don’t think so. Back then a grade to get into university was a 65%. My son needed 75% or over to get in.
I really believe that it’s harder for kids these days than it was say 20 years ago and I think you are incorrect in trying to correlate coping with stress and anxiety with being raised as free range.
I beleive that the reason I failed out of university was BECAUSE I was raised free range. I did not have the structured skills and work ethic to succeed at school.
I feel that free range is fine if a child is raised properly and loved by their parents. Then they know responsibility and consequences for their actions. If not then they turn into the hooligans that everyone calls the cops on. They think that they have the right to do whatever they want, when they want.
Mike – there’s a difference between Free Range and uninterested parenting. Please don’t confuse the two.
Mike–I agree with you–the parents who actively refuse to parent aren’t free range, they’re neglectful. To my mind, free range isn’t about abandoning one’s responsibility to make parenting choices, but to match those choices to the skills, abilities, and maturity level of the child. The hard part is finding that just right level of supervision that always pushes the child to be just a little more responsible and self-reliant at each turn.
You people who are posting links to pictures of your mud-covered kids: aren’t you concerned about the subculture of pedophiles who get their sick jollies from looking at photographs of dirty youngsters? No, really, it’s true… my aunt’s neighbour’s hairdresser read all about it on the Interwebs. They’ll spend all day staring at these images on Lenore’s blog and then they’ll drive to your house and toss your kids into their minivan and drive ’em up into the mountains and… well, it’s just too horrible to contemplate, isn’t it? You’re bad parents. Bad, I tell you… 😉
Thank you, Brad. For a paramedic you’re a great writer. Actually, for a writer you’re a great writer.
@Hayley – if you survived a normal rough and tumble childhood without breaking anything, stop worrying. It may very well be you simply don’t have the physical makeup prone to breaking. Some of us are just like that. I’ve never had a broken bone or even a sprained ankle, and I used to fear getting it too, but then I saw my DH sprain his ankle just stepping off the curb wrong. Well, I have stepped off plenty of curbs “wrong”, and I go, “ow” and that’s it. No swelling, no bruising, no sprains, no nothing.
I’ve never been able to verify this, but one time I read that people with flat feet don’t sprain their ankles, and people with high arches are very prone to sprains. Holds true in our case, and I have no doubt there are similar physiological explanations for people that break bone falling out of trees, and those that don’t.
If you want to experience pain, in it’s natural state so you won’t fear it, just have a kid without an epidural. Though I must say, even that is a lot more painful for some women than others, and yeah there are physiological explanations. Everything from nutrition levels to hip width have been implicated.
RareRoastBeef, – That’s funny!:)
Thanks, Maggie – on a more serious note, those pictures are awful cute. My partner and I are having some serious discussions on the topic of starting a family these days – she wants a kid, and I want a Porsche. And I have proven conclusively (using both Excel and PowerPoint) that the Porsche will be cheaper over the long run.
In any case, I want it clearly understood that any kid who grows up under my care must experience the same kind of excellent free-range childhood that I enjoyed, complete with scrapes, tumbles, and occasional small explosions.
I am an Army veteran and currently work as a military contractor. It is amazing how many new soldiers we get who are surprised at what they could do during basic training. Their parents had never allowed them to do anything on their own before- like how to solve problems or how to react in a crisis (i.e. combat situation).
They come to their advanced training and learn even more new things, but we can still spot the soldiers who had helicopter parents. They have the hardest time during training, but eventually come out on top, well, most of them do anyway, and it’s all because we won’t do their homework for them. Their choice is simple, do the work or get discharged from the Army. Now that’s consequences.
@Lucy- I have flat feet and I have sprained many an ankle! 🙂
RareRoastBeef, – The Porsche may cheaper, but would you want it covered in mud and subjected to “Occasional small explosions”? I thought not!:)lol!
And another thing, Maggie – up here in the Great White North, health insurance for the kids comes at no additional cost – but insuring a Porsche against occasional small explosions and other perils costs a small fortune. Hmmm… sports car vs. kids… decisions, decisions…
I’ve never posted here before, but I have to say (no offense to L.), this is probably one of the best posts I’ve ever read on here.
I read all the posts, and will be trying the “anti-whine therapy”, lol
Mike- There is a difference, as several people have already said, about free range and neglect. Free range kids do their homework too, the difference is afterwards they can play without mommy or daddy standing over them.
“They make a C on a term paper, their boyfriend/girlfriend breaks up with them, they donâ€™t like their roommate”
Well two out of three for me in college (I liked my roommates) – back when “normal” is now called “free range'”.
So far – no casts – and no forced opportunity to train the weaker hand – makes one wonder if it would n’t be good idea to simulate a strong hand/arm injurt – for the trining benefit
Around here it was lemonade Popsicles when the kids were small, along with the “no blood? limb still attached”? question. Sons badly broken arm happened at school, daughters when she tripped over grandparents (my parents) tent guy rope and shes learnt not to run around a tent, son has learnt to be more careful on the flying fox. They both learnt the could do things with their left hand. Interestingly enough, son needed 2 theater trips without time for numbing cream on the iv site with his break, we explained it all to him (just turned 7), and there was no fuss about it, he just pointed out that he didn’t like it, the staff commented that we must have an extremely good bond with him as most children would have needed held down. School commented that normally kids with breaks don’t get up, run into their classroom (while howling like a banshee mind you lol) to put cold water on it, they just lie there screaming their heads off. Hmm, free range (though not as free range as some) kids vs helicoptered kids maybe?
I was a free range kid, who jumped out of trees, and ran/biked all over the place with cousins or friends. One night we were out for a family walk as the street lights came on, and I turned to my husband and said it reminded me of when I was a kid off playing with friends that, that was when we had to come home, only to have dh reply with, I was never allowed to, I could go straight to a friends house from home, and ring when I got there. He was cottoned wooled and helicoptered by a mother who always has and still lives by what ifs, when I met him he couldn’t make a decision, not even what do you want off the menu as they had always been made for him, or he would be given a choice of 2 or 3 things, he had no idea how to asses risks, leading him to overreact for years about minor/safe risks and take some very big stupid risks as he had never learnt about risk taking, never been allowed to take any sort of risk, its taken years for him to develop self belief and self confidence and not to freak out over everything. These are all things I had learnt by being raised free range with a mother and grandmother who didn’t freak out over every little thing, but who I knew would be there for the big things.
Oh, and the risk to menu choices as explained by mother in law who was astounded we let the kids pick their own stuff at the food court last time they visited when they were 6 and 8 and this was normal, WHAT IF they don’t like it? What will you do then? Our reply, they will have learnt not to get that again, and they can have a sandwich when they get home.
Sadly, Brad’s experience is becoming common here in Australia too. I’m lucky where I work, but my bestfriend (also a paramedic) often picks up hysterical 18year olds (legal age for drinking and going out clubbing etc here) who just have NO idea how to cope with being out in the Big Wide World. All they need is someone to calm them down nine times out of ten.
In our family it was “Can you see blood or bone?”
My mum was busy and so didn’t turn around to look when one of her daughters was complaining of a sore wrist.
“Can you see blood or bone?”
“Well, no, but my wrist looks funny.”
Mum turns around – wrist is sitting a right angles.
With so many NORMAL children we often ended up in emergency. It was so normal as part of our leaving the house routine (make sure dogs are outside, lock up, grab wallet, those sorts of things) I would “grab books for baby-paramedic to read whist waiting for younger sibling to be treated”. I knew what those magazines were like, and The Hobbit sounded much better.
Love this! But I can’t help but think, a GLASS of Sprite? Couldn’t that break and be dangerous??? 😀
I have to note that a part of how kids react to injury is personality, not helicopter vs. free range. My oldest is pretty good about most injuries – she’s learned that bandaids don’t get given out unless there’s need.
My middle child will scream about the tiniest scratch or bump. Doesn’t matter if you can see anything or not. Every tiny injury is a huge deal to him.
My youngest is a wild one. She’ll scrape her knees, give a single yell, and she’s off again. She’s 2, and it’s rare that she cries for more than a moment, and that’s how she has always been about injuries.
Brad, I hate to say it, but your mom was obviously negligent. Sprite? My mom always gave us ginger ale!
What a great story! I’m a 42 year old free-range kid. Always will be… and a Dietitian who also grew up drinking soda and eating cookies for comfort. But being free-range also meant that I developed lots and lots of coping skills so that those things are treats or occasional comfort foods. Brad! You rock! Thanks so much for a well written story!
Hi. I am the mom of 3 kids–not really kids anymore, ages 21, 18, and 15. I grew up in an urban row house neighborhood where we spent our playtime in the alleys and streets playing freeze tag, baseball, red rover, dodge ball, jump rope, hopscotch, etc and whatever that game is called where you have 4 squares and you hit a ball back and forth and try to get the other person to miss. We freely walked blocks to school, to friends’ houses, and to the local grocery and sub shop.
Here, Here! Raising a glass of sprite in your honor, Brad, as well as your mother’s. And I agree with a previous poster, you are a very talented writer. Thanks so much for sharing!
@Jen, military contractor.
This completely held true for my oldest son. He was taken and raised by his control freak dad when he was just 7. I mean just. Turned maybe 2 weeks prior to dad showing up at recess, taking him off the playground, and poofing. POOF!
Found him via Myspace when he was 21. He left CA and came to MI. His dad had never let him get a job, never let him move out, never let him learn to cook or do laundry. He was 22. Eventually, we had to make him leave. He hung out on the couch, didn’t have a clue how to look for a job, how to use a single simple tool, or how to read a map or bus schedule. He went to Job Corps, where he thrived with people directing him, and from there went into the Army, where he is thriving, and almost 26.
He was totally foundering out in the world. The structure of Job Corps and the military were exactly what worked for him to find that he was capable, strong, and competent.
Also, wanted to pass along…
When my husband was a kid, he apparently got injured a lot. My MIL told me once how they would rotate hospitals, even in the ’60s, because he got enough stitches, sprains and breaks (stuff like building bike-jumping ramps with cinder blocks and plywood… there are photos…) that they were concerned the hospital would think they were beating him. She also joked that the downtown hospital location kept a room in reserve, they saw so much of him.
He’s made it to 50. Still occasionally tries to break his head riding his bicycle… so far though he’s only demolished helmets.
Sorry, continuation. We were told of course not to talk to strangers but the first inkling I had of any safety issues was when I was in the fourth or fifth grade and the school began asking for volunteer parents to place a large red dot in a front window so a child walking home from school and who thought they might be followed or in some other danger could go to that home. And this was in the 1960’s. For whatever reason–better media coverage, perhaps–parents today don’t see their kids as living in a safe world (yeah, I know that is what this blog is about). My kids grew up in the exurbs–a suburban housing developement in a rural county. Most parents feel that nothing could be safer but yet their kids are definately not free range kids. Part of that is simple geography–the only place my kids could walk to was their friend’s homes. Eighties and nineties suburbs were designed as stand-alone developments. Access to and from schools, playgrounds, malls, and other neighborhoods is only available by car. When they were young they were not allowed to play out front of the house without adult supervision (although this was another safety issue–our house fronted on the main street though the development). At the age of four, they were allowed to play in the fenced backyard alone–mainly because our property terraced down to the back side and wasn’t visable from the street. As they got older they played in the wetland behind our house until it became too densely overgrown to get through. They walked to friends’ houses but had to call when they got there, although often their friends lived in other neighborhoods and they had to be driven there anyway. Frankly, modern housing development design really doesn’t provide for space for kids to “free range”. Every parent in my neighborhood knew right after it happenned of the girl who tried to “free range” (although nobody, of course, called it that) by riding her bike across the highway from her neighborhood to mine and was hit and killed by a car. Kids do get “trapped” in these isolated bastions of safe living (at least we don’t worry about drive-by shootings). Fear of stranger abduction, as portrayed in the ratings-grabbing media (even though the vast majority of kids who are taken are taken by non-custodial parents), and stories of missing children on the internet have contributed to parents’ feelings that their children are continually under threat. How often to we see TV reports of grieving parents testfiying before a government commitee, begging them to pass (name of child)’s law? Not that these parents don’t need to be heard, not that the country cannot “benefit” in a sense, from their tragedies (see John Walsh and “America’s Most Wanted”) and not that we don’t need to be aware, but when we see this all the time, it’s no wonder we fear for the safety of our kids.
But I think something else comes into play also. My kids were born in the height of the era of the “witch hunts” where the public saw child abusers around every corner. Abuse in daycare (although virtually every case against daycare employees ultimately fell apart), abuse in the home. The backlash saw horror stories of parents or other caregivers falsely accused of abusing kids in their care. And it definately sits in the back of your mind, while you worry about your children’s safety, that if anything, God forbid, did happen you could be accused, at the very least, of neglecting them. And it would be all over the neighborhood. Or the news.Other people who don’t even know you will judge you. They will call your parenting skills into question. And, of course, where there is smoke, there must be fire. And they would take your kids away. And your life could be ruined. And tell me you were raising kids in the 80’s and 90’s and you didn’t think about that.
Fascinating story and so true in so many ways. To bad not to many parents are like Brad’s parents here. haha
Can we see a connection between non free-ranging upbringing and this report of freshmen’s perception of their mental health?
Freshmen’s Mental Health Hits Low
This year’s crop of first-year college students reported feeling more stressed than their predecessors. In fact, they reported the lowest levels of emotional health than any other freshmen class since the survey first began asking the question in 1985. Meanwhile, more students described themselves as ambitious. Only 51.9 percent of first-year students in 2010 reported having good or above-average mental health, down from 55.3 percent last year, according to an annual survey conducted by UCLA researchers. Although depression was once the biggest concern among freshmen with emotional health problems, it “has taken a back seat to anxiety,” notes the Chronicle of Higer Education. More than three-quarters of those surveyed said their drive to achieve was above average. And 71 percent of students said their academic abilities were above average. College counselors were not surprised by findings that female students reported lower levels of emotional well-being than their male counterparts, reports the Wall Street Journal. The effects of the recession were also evident as the percentage of students who reported their parents were unemployed reached an all-time high of 5 percent. On the upside, despite all the stress, freshmen did report optimism about the college experience that awaited them.
Read original story in The Chronicle of Higher Education | Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011
Grew up in the 70’s with no internet, no cell phones, no Facebook, no texting, no iPods. We came home from school and went out to play while the sun was still out. You would get into a fight with a friend one day and be sharing gum with each other the next day. We learned how to deal with issues face-to-face. If you fell and got hurt, mom was there with a band-aid and then she sent you back outside. …AND you NEVER, EVER got to stay out of school unless there was FEVER or VOMITING involved. NEVER!!
My parents sugar-coated NOTHING.
My father’s favorite phrases:
1) Crying doesn’t solve anything. It won’t stop the bleeding or make the problem go away. Buck UP!
2) This too shall pass; tomorrow’s another day.
3) Taking the time to do it right the first time is a lot easier than doing it right the second or the third time.
Because of this upbringing, I was able to develop important social skills, a strong work ethic and even stronger coping skills; things that are sorely lacking in so many of the people I see around me.
My own children (ages 20 and 14) can’t believe how coddled and spoiled their friends are or how they never show up for school/work because they are just too ‘tired’ or how they can’t handle the simplest of problems.
I love this story! I am 40 but his mom and my mom must be kindred spirits – my mom always gave me Sprite when I was sick or hurt too. One time I was riding my bike and three dogs came at me from different directions and bit me on the legs several times. I managed to escape and ride back home, not really hurt but quite shaken. My mom’s first response? Sprite! I must have been 11 at the time. I was raised pretty free-range too – it was awesome. I’m trying to do the same for my kids (now 4 1/2 and 20 months, so just getting started really).
As parents, I think we need to think free-range even when applied to ourselves as examples for our children. A while ago, I was riding horse with my daughter and her girlfriend. I was thrown from my horse in a rather severe fashion. My husband was also present when I was thrown. In a matter of seconds, I had three people with cell phones dialing 9-1-1–my husband and both girls! I had to yell at them to stop and I was going to be okay. I proceeded to get up out of the dirt, put the horses away, went to the house to change clothes, and then had my hubby drive me to the ER. No ambulance was needed. No big tears. Just a broken nose and lots of stitches. We laugh about it every time we ride now. “Mom, don’t fall off this time.” The girls did learn though not to be so quick to panic and run for help. Check the injuries, take care of the animals, then get help as needed. Anyone who rides horse frequently is bound to have an injury sometime in their lifetime. It is learning to deal with it and not panicking. Just like life.
That’s a great story. Thanks for sharing.
In my house, it’s ice packs and popsicles. We get a lot of bumped heads and busted lips around here. Both my kids go full throttle at everything.
There’s a rule at my son’s pre-school that every semi-major injury rates a phone call to mom. I get a *lot* of calls. They have the same method of treatment as me. Ice pack and popsicles. He’s usually up and running pretty quick. 🙂
I’m 46 years old and grew up basically fending for myself playing outdoors. You actually described perfectly my outdoor play life…hours and hours of all kinds of play that may even have been super dangerous but I survived even with lots of cuts , scrapes and bruises along the way. The only difference is I done all that and still got a formal education at school. You don’t HAVE to be home schooled to be a free ranging outdoor kid. I know, because I’m proof and still alive to tell about it…lol.
Such a great lesson! I have a 12 month old daughter and it is easy to become obsessed with “keeping her safe from EVERYTHING”, especially since it took a long time for us to finally have a child. Your blog help keep things in perspective and realize that I was raised in the free-range spirit and I don’t think I turned out so badly. It’s a hard line to walk, this balancing act between providing a loving, stable, secure environment and letting your child explore that environment without hovering and smothering her innate curiosity and emerging independence.
Thanks again for the post … I got all inspired on my own blog. (No fingers were chopped off in the making of this post.)
Yes Lenore I love this too! Reposted on FB.
Our “burnt toast” over the last 4 months has been childhood cancer. My 15 year old’s resilience has been mentioned many times by our team of doctors. Her positivity is an inspiration. Thank God, cannot imagine the experince with a scared, crying, panicing kid. She has been raised free range on our safe dead end street in a neighbirhood with sidewalks.
Sorry for the spelling errors…
Thanks everyone! Reading this helps me lighten up a bit after I finish crying from laughing so darn loud and long. Gosh I almost caused myself a heartattack from laughing so hard. Triggering all my childhood memories of being free range. No broken bones yet! Maybe that is why we have been blessed with 3 boys. Now to make them even quicker into men….Recently someone just asked me what we have done so far to not have “girly” boys. I couldn’t even believe I was getting asked but then I realized it was by a mom of 2 girls. There is still more work to be done with them don’t get me wrong. That thing about soda would work here…however it will be COKE regular.
We call it benevolent neglect.
I had plenty of it or maybe too much and although I did turn out with all those nice self-sufficient qualities, sometimes it just felt like plain neglect. Keep in mind that even the toughest kids sometimes need those magic five words: Oh you poor, poor thing.
Some of it is just personality, though. My oldest cries over every little injury (he’s also very melodramatic in general, has anxiety & self esteem issues). We have tried & tried to get him to not over react so much, but it never seems to work. Nearly every night at bedtime involves him being beaten up by his younger brother & his crying. And we are so not helicopter parents or the type to encourage that kind of thing by over reacting to it.
I LOVE it! My parents were the same way!
Except the sprite lol
surviving is not the same as thriving. you learn better, you do better. maybe letting your kid do things that could seriously injure and possible kill them is not the way some people want to parent.