Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Paranoid Much?

Over the last couple of weeks I have had several conversations with other parents about their parenting styles and the freedoms they are willing to give their kids and how they feel about entrusting their kids to other people. I am learning just how wide spread the fear of "the predator" is. I've always known that there are parents who are paralyzed by the thought that someone will kidnap or otherwise harm their child, but I didn't realize how many parents that I rub shoulders with have this deep-seeded fear. I blame media for hyping up the truly rare cases and making this seem like a likely, every day occurrence. Many parents of children quite well old enough to walk to the park alone have told me there is no way they would let them because "something might happen." I have had no less than 5 conversations in the past two weeks about this! The funny thing is, these kids are more likely to be hurt in their parent's car than walking to the play ground. And as an adult in my community, I know that if I saw a child in need of help, who was hurting another child, causing mischief or anything else that would need an adult to intervene, I would do so in the absence of parents. I also know that my neighbourhood is filled with similar people who would do the same that there are few (if any, really!) people who would not help or worse would hurt a child.

I don't worry about much. Nor do I dwell on a lot of "what ifs." I have better things to do with my time. Maybe I'm naive, but I tend to think that we as a society err on the side of over-paranoid and look at our own childhoods through rose-coloured glasses.

I have a very vivid memory. I can remember being as young as 1. I remember the Christmas when I was 18 months old and the thoughts that went through my head as I opened my presents. I remember the freedom of my childhood. We were not allowed to watch TV during the day (though truth be told, since I had an older brother 6 years older than me who was often left in charge, we managed to sneak it in on regular occasions!) so my mom often sent us outside to play. We roamed the neighbourhood both on foot and bike. In the summer we would play until supper time (my parents literally calling us from the back door) and in the winter when the sun went down earlier we could play outside until the street light in our yard came on. I remember one day wanting to try to get lost so that I could try to find my way back home. I thought it would be a fun game. I couldn't get lost. I knew all the streets and alleys in a 2 mile radius of my house too well. We walked to the corner store to stock up on candy or to the playground to play, to the skating rink or big toboggan hill in the winter. I had a newspaper route that I delivered by myself at 5:30 in the morning every day when I was 7 years old. I even went and collected payment from my customers by myself (so many people I know would be horrified at the thought of a 7 year old walking around with a fannypack - it was the early 90s - of money. Alone.)
Its pretty safe to say that my parents weren't too concerned about what *might* happen to us. They taught us how to be safe. We knew not to go with anyone whom they had not previously told us to go with. We all knew our address, phone number and parents' names. We knew that if we were in trouble and needed to ask for help, the safest person to look for was a Grandma or Mother with children (we had a tape called "The Safety Kids" that taught us all of this in song!). We knew all our neighbours. I never felt fear walking through my neighbourhood, even at 10 at night or later.

Some would say that it was a different world back then. That it was safer. Funny, with that vivid memory comes the memories of crimes committed in or near my neighbourhood. My neighbour 4 houses down had his house broken into and was attacked by the thieves with a hammer. There were many gang related shootings that happened not too far from my house (in those streets I rode my bike trying to get lost). There was a little girl abducted from her back yard in the city I lived in that was just a couple of years younger than me. She was murdered and they never found her killer. There was a mom in a neighbourhood close by that was murdered in her home. Sound safer than today? And we didn't even live in the worst part of town or anything!

I'm not one to watch the news (I find it painfully depressing), but big news stories I tend to hear (my husband works in television so he hears the news stories come through the wires all day and if its big he'll usually mention it to me). I haven't heard much that would suggest that today is less safe than when I was growing up.

So then I wonder why there are so many parents who are so concerned about the safety of their children to the point that they won't give them the freedom to grow up and learn on their own. I learned so much roaming my neighbourhood. I want the same for my kids. I will let them play outside without me watching their every move. Even at 2 I let my daughter have freedom and as she shows she can follow the rules we give her more freedom. I have full intentions of letting her play in the yard alone this winter. Why not? Its fenced in and she can't get out. And she loves to be outside, even in the cold. And I hate it. So I'll sit on the couch by the walk-out drinking tea and if she needs me she can knock on the window.

I've witnessed another form of parenting that I think is slightly linked to the above. Parents who fear their children getting hurt from normal childhood things such as falling down and scraping their knees. I've heard parents stop their children from running (!) because they might fall, or parents who won't let their child climb to the top of the slide by themselves. Kids who are not given the freedom to find their own limits will never trust themselves and worse will not know their limits and are more likely to go past them thinking that someone will always be there to catch them. This will cause them more pain than whatever their parent originally feared when they wouldn't allow them to try. Kids need to be given the freedom to get some bumps and scrapes along the way. This is what shapes them and makes them who they are. It teaches them about life. Life happens in those little bruises and heartbreaks that kids face. It's also what gives them the satisfaction of knowing they can do it "all by themselves." Kids need that self confidence, because even if Mom and Dad don't want to admit it, they will not always be able to be there for their kids (everyone dies at some point!). What will their child do if they can't function without a parent?

A wonderful blog I read is called Free-Range Kids. Lenore does a fantastic job of advocating children's rights to be kids! Check it out and let me know what you think.

What do you think? Do you let your kids have tons of freedom (age appropriate of course!), or do you reign them in out of fear?


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