Importance of Independence

March 19, 2009

When I was a tween/young adolescent we moved from the east coast to Boulder.   In the first week I headed down to the pedestrian mall to meet up with an old friend who happened to be in town.  We hung out for a while and then, when it was time to go home, I decided to walk.  Boulder is on a grid system with the mountains to the west so I figured that it would be easy to find my way home.  Little did I know, the street I wanted, 19th St., disappeared for a couple of blocks and then picked up again.  Needless to say, I got lost and ended calling my parents from a 7-11 to get picked up.  It was embarrassing, sure, but in the end it turned out that I was only a couple of blocks from home and I had learned a lot more about my new hometown. 

In my tweens going to the movies as a group, trick-or-treating without parents, walking to get pizza at the local pizza place with my buddies, excursions to the corner store to get candy with my brother were all things that I loved and are some of my best memories from those awkward-ass years.  It was how I began to feel more independent and confident about my place in the world.

That is why I was so disheartned by this post on Free-Range Kids yesterday.  Apparently a mother let her 10-year-old son walk to soccer practice on his own got in trouble with the police.  The field was only 1/3 of a mile away, he had her cell-phone just in case, he knew the way like the back of his hand, and she was going to be at the field 15 minutes after he was to arrive.  Her son did not make it 3 blocks before a cop car stopped him to find out what was wrong.  Apparently, people had been calling 911 because they saw a child walking alone.

How are our kids going to develop that ever important sense of independence and confidence in their abilities to navigate the world if we parents are constantly getting in the way?  This is true of 10-year-olds who want to walk to soccer practice and of 10-month-olds who want to crawl on the grass.  I know it is scary when we hear all the stories of kidnappings and sexual assaults of children.  But the truth is that most of those horrible things are perpetrated by people the kids know and not by strangers.

In some ways it isn’t surprising that our generation is so crazy about protecting our kids.  We were the tikes who were bombarded with messages about not talking to strangers who might be kidnappers (I’m still scared of vans), we had our finger-prints taken so we could be tracked down if we were to disappear, and we learned all about “good touch, bad touch.”  And let’s not even get started on all of the scary episodes on our favorite TV shows- Diff’rent Strokes, Punky Brewster, etc., etc.

But the truth is, we still were allowed to play in the park until dark, we were still allowed to walk to the corner store, we still took buses on our own.  And, if we want our kids to be capable and responsible adolescents and young adults, we are going to have to let our kids do those things too.


One Response to “Importance of Independence”

  1. Just wanted to say: So true about the fear level being significantly higher than when our parents were raising us. I blame 1) More TV (and those cable networks need to keep us glued to them 24 hours, so they use horrific stories to grab us. 2) The “Kiddie Safety-Industrial Complex,” that has to convince us our kids are in peril or we wouldn’t buy their safety items (like huge strollers) and 3) The advice industry, whose survival depends on convincing us that only THEY understand how dangerous things are, and we must listen to them (and buy their books/magazines) or be negligent parents. Just my two cents. Thanks for this great post. Lenore “Free-Range Kids” Skenazy

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