Why Did The Kid Cross The Road?
Why Did The Kid Cross The Road?
Adrienne BoettingerSaturday,25 April 2015
Here at The Snap Download we want to make sure our readers are aware of the most threatening thing to face children ever: free-range parenting. These parents won’t rest until your children are roaming the streets unsupervised, taking candy from strangers and going to life-endangering hellscapes (known by their street names as “parks”). Because we care so deeply about the safety of children everywhere and the need for them to develop largely irrational fears, we infiltrated a ring of Pennsylvania-based free-rangers and interviewed Sarah Block Yacoviello, a dangerous mother of two who may or may not be our cousin (okay, she totally is). Sarah also owns and operates a music and movement program for kids ages 0 to 7 years old.
TSD: What in the hell is free-range parenting and do you think people would still hate it as much if it didn’t have such a dumbass name?
SBY: Hmmm…maybe [laughs]…I guess the name is a little goofy. But a free-range parent is the opposite of a helicopter parent. We allow kids a measure of freedom according to their developmental age of responsibility. You have to know your child and her capabilities to judge what level of freedom is appropriate. You have to be comfortable with your child not always being in your line of sight. There’s a philosophy behind it; an intentionality.
TSD: What deviant, careless person taught you about this child-endangering practice?
SBY: About four years ago, someone wrote a book on free-range parenting [Free Range kids by Lenore Skenazy] and I read it and thought, ‘This is right. This is like my childhood.’ It’s not really a new concept; just a new name. If we treat children like children forever, they won’t be able to figure out life for themselves. We’ll have helpless children that can’t make decisions, fend for themselves or resolve conflicts. If we treat them like responsible little people, they’ll turn out better as adults.
I think they are safer because we let them make mistakes and learn. Kids need to do some things that they fear so they can overcome them; then they can realize they can do challenging things and not to be afraid of life. If you don’t take risks, the rewards aren’t very high at all.
My kids are 6 and 8 years old now but I started this when they were little. I had to have little arguments with myself, like, ‘Sarah, they’re going to be okay. They can ride their bikes.’ I started to let them play out back by themselves and just occasionally check in. They’ve shown me they know the rules and they know if they do stupid things, there are consequences.
TSD: What does your husband think about free-range parenting?
SBY: Rob agrees – he seems to be more naturally inclined to let them do their own thing. He probably checks in on them less than I do; he’s more laid back in that area. When he was little, he lived on a farm and they had so much freedom.
TSD: Do you have more free-range parenting or helicopter type parent friends?
SBY: I have a friend who has been my role model. She’s naturally a free-range parent which is pretty rare. She lives near a park and has a creek out back; she lets her four kids go together to the park and they look out for each other. One day the police came by and said someone had called because the kids were by themselves at the park. She can literally see the park from her window. The kids told the police this but they still came and questioned her.
I probably have more friends or know more people who are helicopter parents. I think the hovering type is more prevalent. And therein lies the problem. It feels like it would be impossible these days to have a truly free-range childhood like we did growing up. We could run freely through the neighborhood because the bulk of the parents on our block had the same philosophy. It was a community.
TSD: Do you ever freak out when you’re free-range parenting?
SBY: It’s very hard. It’s not natural for me. I am naturally a helicopter parent and have to fight that urge. When Molly rides her bike out of my eyesight, I get nervous. I have to fight the urge to run after her. What am I scared of happening? How often do strangers kidnap kids? I have to remind myself that it’s possible, but it’s not likely. We have to figure out how to deal with people at some point in our lives. If not, when kids become adults and have to deal, they can’t. There are kids who can’t do anything by themselves because the parents have hovered over them all their lives.
TSD: Free-range parenting can only work in neighborhoods from the 1950’s, right?
SBY: I don’t know if it’s our news obsessed, over-informed culture but people seem to think things are way more dangerous than they actually are. We live in a safer society than people realize.
I don’t think it matters if you’re in the city or in the country in terms of being a free-range parent. I feel like psychologically it would be different; it might be harder for a parent to give their kid more freedom in a city. I was in a city park today and the thought that it might not be as safe did occur to me; I did think about that whereas I don’t think of it at home.
TSD: How much time do you spend with your kids?
SBY: When they’re not in school I spend pretty much every other waking minute with them. But I give them lots of time on their own. If they have nothing to do after school, they come home, have a snack and go out back to play for like 2 hours. I don’t let them run all over the whole neighborhood. They have limits. I’ll check on them a bit but I don’t try to jump in. Kids are way smarter than we give them credit for and we need to allow them a measure of freedom to make mistakes and to learn. I don’t know when we became such a nutso protective society.
I feel like free-range parents have to care so much that we ignore our natural bent to hover and control our kids. I think it’s a controlling thing; we feel like we can protect them more if we can control their every move and plan every minute of their day. I think we actually care for our children a great deal more than is perceived.
TSD: What do you think about the Maryland couple who has been in the headlines recently for run-ins with child protective services due to their free-range parenting style?
SBY: I feel like most people don’t get it. It’s not that they just let their kids run around with no thought. They watched their kids to see if they could trust them with little things. If they could handle small steps, they gave them more freedom. These kids were on the road to becoming independent and then this happens [where they’re held by protective services for a long time] and I wonder how it will impact them. Will they now be afraid of everything?
There was another case with a single mom who had to work and rather than have her kid sit in the fast-food restaurant she worked at, staring at a screen all day, she let her daughter go to the park. And then the mom was arrested. It’s not like she had other choices. And why do people think that it’s healthier or safer for a kid to stay inside with electronics all day than to go to a park? The park wasn’t far, the mom dropped her off there and gave her daughter [the mom’s] mobile phone in case of emergencies. Why is that bad?
Free-range parenting isn’t careless parenting. You have to be someone who trusts your child and you need to train them and give them responsibility — really teach them how to handle life. I think it’s almost easier to watch them every second and hover so that no one can run off with your kid. Why do we obsess about someone taking our child? It would suggest that the statistics overwhelmingly show that kidnappings happen all the time but that’s not the case.
TSD: How does free-range parenting compare to how you were raised?
SBY: It’s pretty much the same. I would play in the alley and down the block. We knew how to cross the street, how if there was something strange to avoid it. During the summer we wrote plays, recruited kids in the neighborhood, did creative things, dug around in the mud, whatever. For some reason we don’t trust our children now. I don’t get it.
And our society is horrible at over-scheduling our kids. We don’t give them free play time. Play is so important and there are so many studies on it but people still schedule their kids around the clock for soccer, ballet, etc. Those are all good things but kids need time to just play, without electronics, make up their own games, do the stuff like we did all the time without me watching their every move.
TSD: And am I your coolest cousin, favorite writer and the best podcaster ever?
SBY: Of course.
(We may have made up that last response.)