Free Range vs. Fear Filled

Okay, so it's been forever since I've posted. And I have a ton of things to report: new part-time job, new friends at said job, beginning to see how that whole living-your-faith-outside-the-church-organization thing is becoming a reality, great stories about the kids and the hubby... and yet... And yet I'm breaking my long silence for a rant. I'll get back to that stuff, I promise. But I have just got to vent.

When did we become a society that insulated our children, giving them a false security in the belief that if they simply follow the rules no danger will ever befall them? When did we stop realizing that LIFE, if lived properly, involves risk? That such risks are not only worth taking but are VITAL to our growth and development? That through facing risks, we learn wisdom, restraint, acceptance of failure, responsibility, tenacity, resourcefulness...any number of character traits that make life the grand adventure that it should be? To steal a favorite descriptor from a friend, when did we trade in our "Free Range Kids" for "Fear-filled What-Ifers"?

What brings this rant on? Today a 9 year old child was killed at Disney World. He was biking ON A BIKING TRAIL with his 11 year old friend. A bus passed. For whatever reason, he left the bike path, struck the side of the bus, was drawn underneath, and killed. Tragic. And the response?? The traditional "Disney is evil," mixed with tons of blame-casting in both the driver and child's direction, and then the one that infuriated me:

"WHERE WERE THE PARENTS??? I mean, come on! What were an 11 year old and 9 year old doing riding their bikes ALONE? My kids aren't even allowed in the front yard alone, nevermind riding bikes along a roadway."

What??!! Your 9 year old has not the freedom to play outdoors? Really? Do you have any concept how many children ride their bikes to school on much more dangerous streets than those at Disney's campground? Where were the parents? Probably at their campsite relaxing and thinking with joy about the freedom and fun that their kids were enjoying riding the short distance - along a clearly marked bike path - to the playground/pool area. Trusting that they had instructed the kids in proper bicycle safety (both were wearing helmets). Knowing that freedom is sometimes worth the risk. And knowing that an intelligent 4th/5th/6th grade child has the capacity to handle that amount of freedom.

Did that child make a mistake? Yes. Did it have tragic results? Yes. Was a vacation in the happiest place on earth forever marred by a horrific accident? Yes. Is it worth stripping children of freedom in order to make sure nothing bad ever happens? NO!! (btw, it wouldn't work anyway...planes fall into living rooms, cars crash through storefronts, fires break out, falls happen, heck I found a scorpion poised on the shoulder of a shirt in the closet once...the belief that absolute safety exists is a ridiculous lie in itself.)

Let's teach our children that bad things *can* happen, whether we are in our homes, on the streets, in a theme park, wherever. Not that they should be AFRAID of everyone and everything but that they should learn to be observant and make wise choices. Let's teach them to overcome bad things so that they can have confidence in facing adversity as they grow older. Let's teach them that while there are some things for which a specific person or event is to blame, it is never worthwhile to spend our time casting that blame; this just embitters and paralyzes us and makes us incapable of enjoying the beauty in life. Let's teach them that they are capable of making the wise choices, give them opportunities to do so, and be there to help them put the pieces back together when they fail. And if, in doing so, they fail in a manner that causes them harm, our hearts may break, but we will know that they lived a life worth living. A life not paralyzed by fear of the what-ifs. A life basking in the beauty and joys of experiencing life to the full rather than sitting indoors wondering what boogie man lurked just outside the door.

Okay, I'm done. But if anyone asks you WHERE were my kids' parents when they break their leg jumping into the creek behind our house, just know that I've taught them the dangers, stayed with them for several creek adventures, and am confident in their capacity to make the wise choice on that score. The choice is up to them now. Go get 'em my free-range kiddos!!!

**Edit: Of course, the day after posting this, my youngest decides to take advantage of the mad rush to get Daddy out the door to work, leave her known playtime boundaries, go visiting, and enter the rv of someone we've never met. Grrrrrr. More teaching about the bad things that can happen, shrinking of the boundaries, and a later attempt at regaining the freedom to be trusted on the porch seem called for. This whole philosophy of training your kids to handle freedom plays out in a *very* time- and energy-consuming way. But I'm still convinced that the payoff of confident, aware, character-filled kids is totally worth the work and risk!!!


  1. Beautiful post! It is a more time and energy consuming way to engage in life with children to be sure...but the pay offs are beautiful to see, aren't they?

  2. Most definitely, Krystal. I'm pretty sure that I learn as much as they do through the process, too. :)


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