The Gongwer Blog

Free-Range Parenting. Do We Need Laws Allowing It?

By John Lindstrom
Publisher
Posted: April 12, 2018 2:23 PM

When I was five, Mom walked me to my first day of kindergarten at Royal Oak’s Upton Elementary School, which was about a half-mile from our house. She may have walked me one more day, and from then I was on my own. Oh poor little tyke that I was, right?

When I was six, Dad would give me 50 cents and I would walk up to Barry Drugs on Woodward Avenue, buy him a pack of L&M’s and get a comic book for myself with the change. My God, what barbarians parents were. And we let 6-year olds buy smokes!?! Savages!

Hey, my folks, as were all parents in the mid-20th century, were advocates of, ahem, “Free-Range Parenting.” Yes, that is an actual phrase, born of an age that believes in uglifying the English language. I mean, c’mon, it sounds like a menu option.

Free-range parenting is all the legislative rage now, except here in Michigan. At least so far. Utah has passed a law allowing for non-paranoid, sorry, sorry, free-range parenting. Other states have legislation introduced to allow the same. Essentially, these laws and bills provide legal protection to parents who let their kids walk to school or the park unsupervised. There is even federal legislation passed in 2015 including a provision protecting parents who allowed their kids to go to school on their own considering their age.

All this is to avoid situations where authorities have questioned parents who allowed their kids to walk home from a park by themselves, as happened in Maryland in 2014 and 2015.

No similar legislation has been introduced in Michigan. But, does such legislation need to be introduced?

There are good reasons why parents are hyper-protective of their children. My business is no doubt one of the reasons, with news reports of child abductions, school shootings, random crazies wandering the world, terrorism, dread diseases, the list goes on, regular news fodder.

Society has also become more stratified, income levels are not mixed as much in neighborhoods as they were. Wealthier and middle class families have abandoned some areas, and that, in part, is one reason some areas have seen more crime. More crime naturally leads parents to worry more about their kids.

Things were not ideal in the 1950s. True, school shootings were unknown, the threat of terrorism a sad worry yet to come and illegal drugs were harder to find. There were kidnappings, there were lunatics, there were dread diseases (and disease, before vaccinations, was the greater threat). We watched lots of movies at school warning us about strangers. It was not unusual for TV or radio news to warn one to “lock your doors and windows” because a dangerous man was at large. Parents worried about their children, of course, but that worry usually didn’t manifest itself unless you failed to show up for dinner.

Today, parents are also far more involved in the daily activities of their children, arranging play dates, ferrying the young ‘uns to soccer or music lessons or ballet or science or baseball-football-basketball-tennis-whatever camp. Parents spend far more time on a daily basis with their children. An over-protectiveness is natural.

Yet, neither do we want a situation as I once witnessed at a restaurant during Michigan State University’s Welcome Week. There one parent lectured another parent on how she had to approve of her kid’s roommate, of the dorm room, of contacting each instructor and telling the instructor what was expected of their teaching her kid and how junior was to be treated. That is bad for both the kid and society.

Kids do want to be able to do things on their own. Every parent, grandparent, uncle or aunt knows the moment when a kid says, with some annoyance, “I can do it.” Kids need to develop confidence and self-reliance. It helps with their education, not just in school but in learning how life works or doesn’t.

Of course, there is nothing to stop a parent from not letting their kids walk home on their own from school or the park. That is their choice and no one should be able to force them to do otherwise.

Let us hope, though, that legislation is not needed to equally respect the ability of parents to let their kids have appropriate independence.

And for the record, it is now a good thing that 6-year-olds are banned from buying cigarettes. If that were the law when I was six I could have gotten three comic books and a pack of baseball cards for my 50 cents. Sorry, my Dad’s 50 cents.

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