Wow, a lot of outcry about the Free Range Kids movement! I want to thank Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids, and others, for raising awareness of this issue. If you’re just now hearing, the Meitiv children were kidnapped by men wearing blue suits and badges, and threatened with removal from their home, for the great crime of traveling alone, just blocks from their home.
The buzz has gotten so loud, that I am hearing from random fellow geezers. We’ve all got the same reaction: Free Range? This is how we were raised. Nobody had time to helicopter us through life. We were all told “Go outside, and come back before dark!”
What today seems unusual, which we call “Free Range,” is what normal childhood looked like in my youth. We walked to school. We ran errands. We navigated. We crossed streets. We arranged our own play dates, for crying out loud! If our parents had hovered as much as today’s parents do, we would have driven them away: “Ma! You’re embarrassing me! I’m not a baby!”
Some commentators mention that free-as-in-freedom children sometimes need and accept intervention from adults, as if this were a bad thing. I’m an adult, free to navigate on my own, and I sometimes benefit from intervention – “Excuse me, is that restaurant any good?” or “Can you tell me where such-and-such bus stop is?” If children are not able to seek help from fellow humans, they’re unfit to live in the company of human society; human society itself may be broken in fundamental ways.
One writer – thinking she won the internet or something – angrily demanded “What are you supposed to do, if you see two kids in a parking lot? Nothing?”
Well, pardon me, but nothing is exactly the right response to a normal condition. If they’re bleeding or broken or crying, you have a reason to offer friendly assistance. But merely being alone in a parking lot is not an emergency condition; it does not warrant a 9-1-1 call; police officers should slap you with a fine if you abuse emergency services for such frivolous purposes.
Being helpful is a normal human response; we do not need to institutionalize it, divide it from the normal human condition, and add it to the burdens of a police force. Doing so diminishes us as human beings. It is the very opposite of social cooperation.
When I look at the whole pattern, I see an unhealthy division and separation of people into atomic units. I cannot tell you how very strange this seems to me. When I was a child, I knew my neighbors. I sometimes ran small errands for them. I sometimes played with their children. Sometimes I invited them home. I rode public transit with my younger sister when we were 10 and 8 years old. If I was lost, I asked for directions. If the bus stop moved, I worked it out or asked for help. Everybody in my generation, so far as I knew, did things in a similar manner.
Neighbors intervened when there was trouble. They didn’t make trouble.