May 04, 2008
"Free-range kids"

So I've been thinking about this whole "free-range kids" thing - see the Newsweek column that started it all, and the accompanying blog for background - and I think there's nothing shocking about it. As I think back on it, I was pretty free-range as a kid. I was walking myself to school - about a quarter mile away - starting in third grade; that became a one-mile walk in middle school. I walked myself to swim and judo lessons at the YMCA (also about a mile), and to my buddy Anthony's house - pretty much wherever I wanted to go, I walked it, because my parents weren't into being chauffeurs. In high school, I commuted from Staten Island to Manhattan, which meant a bus, the ferry, the subway, then a half-mile or so walk, leaving the house at 6 AM and coming home at 4:30, which was after dark in the winter. I survived, and I think I'm a more self-reliant person because of it.

"So," I hear you say, "how are you going to be with Olivia and Audrey?" Well, it's not as easy to get around here on foot as it was on Staten Island, and the neighborhood elementary school is too far away for them to reasonably walk it, so I'm sure we'll be chauffeuring a lot more than my parents did. As with many aspects of parenting, we'll be figuring it out and making it up as we go along. Philosophically, we're more in line with the free-range idea than we are with the so-called "hovercraft" concept. How we will implement that is yet to be determined, but that's the direction I expect we'll choose. Ask me again in a few years and I'll let you know how it's going.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 04, 2008 to Society and cultcha

We were "free range kids" too, though in a suburb of NYC, not the city. Still, there was plenty to make a parent nervous - busy streets to cross on the way to the town green, mainly. We were armed with warnings about never talking to strangers or going with them (but of course we were going to a row of shops that generally bore the name of the proprietor, whom every knew - Hamilton's pharmacy, Vic's candy shop, and so on.

It is, of course, a bit different in New York City. Or the Heights.

But I still feel sorry for kids who can't go anywhere on their own. The other aspect of this, of course, is the incredible time planning - every activity is a chauffered event. We just went outside to play in the big pile of dirt at the end of the street. We were getting sewers, so this incredible treat to pre-teen boys appeared like magic. I remember that pretending we were characters from Star Trek - I was a nerd even then.

But the default afternoon was "go outside and do something, be back for dinner, don't run in front of cars," and that was about it.

Posted by: John on May 4, 2008 9:12 AM

Good for you. I read all the uproar about that article and Did Not Get It. I didn't ride the subway at that age, obviously, but I was old enough to be put on a plane by my parents and met at the other end by camp staff--and old enough to stay away from home for a month.

I worry about some of the kids I know, and how well they'll cope when they're asked to do the same.

Posted by: Ginger Stampley on May 4, 2008 9:13 AM

I think your children would love to have personal hovercraft that they could fly to and from the elementary school.

Posted by: Michael on May 4, 2008 11:24 AM

I was a free-range kid in Greenwich Village from the time I was six.

OTOH, my kid'd been coming home from school on the bus on her own at 12 for about a month when she managed to get her foot run over by a car across the street from our (not by any means in a high-density neighborhood) house.

95% of my panic had to do with her being OK (which, thank goodness, she was. No bones broken, the driver stuck around to give insurance information and make sure she got to the hospital OK).

5% had to do with getting a visit from social services for being so irresponsible that I was letting my 12-year-old cross the street by herself.

Posted by: julia on May 4, 2008 8:37 PM