I stand at the doorway, watching my daughter ride her bike down the sidewalk. Two houses down, a pair of little girls stand in their front window and watch, too. They look to be about the same age as my daughter. They don’t join her because they aren’t allowed outside alone.
Five houses down, our street ends in a cul-de-sac. This summer, my daughter is old enough join the gaggle of friends who play there daily. She doesn’t know I watch from the window to make sure she makes it to her destination—another family of sisters with a great backyard and parents I know. They are a couple of years older than my daughter, yet they aren’t allowed to leave their house, either. In fact, in our safe neighborhood with quiet roads teeming with young, school-aged children, we have at least four neighbors whose children are not allowed to leave their yard.
Meanwhile, I shoo mine out the front door. “Go find a friend!”
Three of my four children are allowed outside alone (the fourth is too young). Each has specific parameters and check-in times. They are not allowed inside anyone’s house unless I know the parents well. I have a list of neighbors’ numbers, and we text regularly to check on our kids. When my kids stay out past check-in time, go beyond their parameters, or go inside someone’s house without permission, there is a stiff consequence. My kids and I talk often about traffic and stranger safety. By playing with their friends outside of my immediate reach, they are safe, active and happy, all while learning valuable lessons about friendship and personal responsibility.
I give my children age-appropriate freedom because I believe it develops my children into healthy, confident, capable adults. But it’s not only developing my children, it’s developing yours, too.
By today’s standards, I’m a “free-range” parent. But I believe I’m just giving my kids a normal childhood. The thing is, I’m giving those other kids a normal childhood, too. When my children play in the yards of kids who can’t leave their home, those kids get to have normal childhood experiences that a front yard alone could never give them. Every time it comes up with their parents, I hear references to the dangers of leaving children unsupervised. “What if they get hurt? What if someone tries to grab them?” Every single time I want to say, “But what about the dangers of never leaving your yard?”
What would happen if I adhered to their philosophy? What if we all did? Our children would literally grow up feet from one another, but never meet. They would have no bike rides around the block, no lemonade stands, no trampoline Olympics in the back yard. They’d never have to help someone walk home with a bloody knee. No tiffs to teach them to consider another’s perspective, no 3-on-3 basketball in a neighbor’s driveway, no street soccer in the cul-de-sac. What does it do to a child to grow up in a world and never have unscheduled friendships? What is it like to never have time with other kids that isn’t scripted by adults?
What would it be like to live in a world where no kids ever left their front yards?
Before you criticize free-range parenting, remember this: Our parenting styles don’t only effect our families, they change our communities, too. You may not agree with the freedom I’ve given my kids. But my kids’ freedom gives your kids a better childhood.