Free Range: Used to be Normal Childhood

People are finally starting to talk about the destruction of children’s autonomy. Things which were perfectly normal in my youth – such as running to the local store to  pick up milk, bread, and other items, knocking on a neighbor’s door to find somebody to play an informal game of ball, walking to the park, taking a bus – are now considered in some neighborhoods to be impermissible for unaccompanied children; children must always and everywhere be accompanied by a helicopter parent.

This is deeply unhealthy. College students and young adults are now having panic attacks about taking a bus or driving to an unfamiliar location. For 18 years, they never lived an independent moment; they were driven to bus stops or to school; even their “play dates” were arranged. They have no experience with autonomy, with decision-making.

Some folks see only two possible approaches when a tween is in some kind of trouble – perhaps lost, perhaps unsafe street crossing, perhaps a fall. One is to pretend one has seen nothing, to ignore it. Another is to dial 9-1-1 and accuse some parent of “neglect” or “irresponsibility.”

In my youth, there was a third option: thoughtful intervention. “Do you know where you are going?” or “Watch for cars before crossing!”

When neighbors prefer to make trouble rather than to fix trouble, our society is sliding down a one-way slope. Neighbors are everywhere; we cannot possibly hire enough police and CPS workers to provide that level of coverage, nor should we want to.

A neighbor can afford to use a light touch – a word or two usually suffices. Officials, however, tend to be quite heavy-handed. Their main goal is compliance. They define their own behavior as “reasonable” – even when they are threatening to kidnap your children. They define your objections as “unreasonable” and “noncompliant,” and may even kill you if you are too much of a “problem.”

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