I know a lot of parents who are really into the Free Range Parenting movement (see the web site here). I know just as many who are all about Attachment Parenting. Advocates of both sides (I know they are not necessarily opposing theories, so forgive the term “sides” please) have been very active the past several days since the Leiby Kletzky murder.
When things like this happen, do you start to question your parenting style? For me, I question my parenting style every time Miss L and I have a disagreement (suddenly I start to wonder if spanking is really that bad, after all…). But in this particular case, I think I’m good.
*Let me preface this by saying that the only person I hold responsible in the Kletzky case is Levi Avron.*
I don’t fall into either camp of parenting style. I’m somewhere between letting my 9-year-old ride the subway alone (hell no!) and hovering like a helicopter.
Here’s my problem with free range parenting: Why would I let my child do things I wouldn’t do? For example, two of my favorite things in the world are hiking and horseback riding. Guess which two things I never, ever do alone? In these two sports, the cardinal rule is that you don’t go out alone. Not because child molesters might grab you (which seems to be the most common criticism lobed against FRP), but because you just might get hurt.
We need to be aware of the true risks, and how much our behavior actually influences those risks, whether we are two or twenty. As a law school student in New Orleans, I knew the risks I faced each time I walked to my car in the dark. That’s why I didn’t do it alone–I either walked with a friend or talked to Mr. A on my phone (at least he would know I had been taken!). I mitigated the risks.
The risks of a child getting hurt by an unknown (ie, not a friend or family member) adult are very, very slim, despite the stories in the news. But guess who these sick adults target? Children walking alone to and from school. So guess what Miss L will not ever do? Walk to or from school alone. I know the risk is small, but the truth is that when you are alone, you are increasing that risk. How many people get nabbed in a group? It’s all about mitigation. I’m not saying you should never walk alone. Use your best judgment. You can’t completely protect anyone from everything, but you can and should try to prevent serious harm.
Many proponents of FRP argue that parents are being too careful these days. I agree that children should have some freedoms, when taught correctly what to do when they get lost, get hurt, etc. But why should they be alone? It’s the alone thing that bothers me. When she reaches the appropriate age, Miss L will be allowed to ride her bike up and down the street alone. If she wants to go further than around the block, she needs friends. She will be allowed to go to parties, armed with a cell phone and $40 for a cab in case things go south. She will be allowed to ride the Metro with friends, and even alone, when she reaches the appropriate age–given the crap and a few downright dangerous instances I’ve seen as an adult, I firmly believe the appropriate age is NOT 9.
Call me paranoid, or whatever, but I believe that the reason human beings formed groups was so that they did not have to be alone–there is safety in numbers, and sometimes we all need help.