CONFESSIONS OF A FREE-RANGE KID, by ALISA GILBERT
Roaming through the blogosphere the other day, I came across this blog and immediately felt both admiration and disbelief. Admiration, because I know several parents who raise their kids in fear, micromanaging every moment of their lives, and I admire the other parents who don’t.
But I was also a bit shocked, because when I was a little girl not too long ago (I recently graduated from college), raising kids to play and do their own thing was not considered particularly brave or out-of-the-ordinary. I think this may be due to the fact that I grew up in Mexico, where letting kids be kids was what everyone did.
Many parents who may come across this blog may be wondering, “If I do raise my kids ‘Free-Range,’ will I be turning them into discipline-lacking brats?” From my experience, the answer is: No. Unstructured playtime is exactly what taught me to negotiate, to socialize, to simply feel comfortable and happy in unfamiliar situations.
I first moved to the United States when I was about nine, and I was immediately overwhelmed by how different my peers were. Their days were carefully scheduled by their parents. They were all involved in “extra-curricular activities.” Immediately after school they were shuttled off to soccer practice, Girl Scouts, piano lessons, and on and on and on. I had played the piano for a few years myself, but I had never thought of it as an “extra-curric.” The opportunity to learn music was something I just did — and treasured.
Years later, when I was enrolled in a selective university, I encountered a lot of student burn out. Many of my fellow students were so coddled, so used to being managed in and out of school, that as soon as they were faced with free time, they fell apart.
Many of the problems that students go through in college are stress-related. The kids who weren’t taught to manage stress before matriculating were the ones who engaged in binge drinking and other collegiate struggles, while those who were more self-reliant were the ones who succeeded.
If you don’t give your child the tools necessary to make it on her own before being placed in an environment that requires independent decision-making, you may have to witness your kid’s greater struggles later on. — A.G.