We’re finally settling in after an adventurous few weeks (posts about that coming later!) spent camping at some of our favourite places. We’ve had time to explore together, push personal boundaries and discover beautiful new locations.
Best of all, our girls had the opportunity to make connections with kids of all ages and the freedom to explore away from our watchful gaze. By now I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase “free range kids” and you’ve come to some conclusions about what that entails.
For me, it means allowing our girls to have the space and freedom to discover just how much they’re capable of, just how competent they really are and to practice self-reliance and problem solving on their own. But it’s also so much more than that. It’s challenging my own belief systems, the ones that urge me to keep them close, keep them safe. The ones that flash worst case scenarios in my mind until I feel my chest tighten.
Examining our belief systems and where they come from is a necessary step in allowing our children some much needed freedoms. What contributes to our beliefs that kids are in danger when they’re not with us, and that by keeping them close we’re protecting them. News, media, amber alerts, warnings from our own parents? When did we come to the conclusion that the world is so inherently unsafe that a 9 year old can’t play at the park alone, or that siblings walking home alone from the park warrants police intervention?
It’s a constructed false reality. The truth is that our kids are growing up in a safer world than we did. Across North America violent crime rates have fallen since their peak in their late 80s early 90s. With some areas experiencing a decrease of up to 50-70% in violent crime, leading researchers to search for the cause, with some interesting theories.
Police-reported crime rate in Canada continues to fall, and in 2013 reached the lowest point since 1969.
So why, when polled, do we believe that crime is on there rise?
Part of the reason for this divergence is what sociologists call pessimistic bias: the unshakable conviction that things are not just worse than they are, but also worse than they used to be. Humans appear to have a hard-wired tendency to compare contemporary life with the largely fictitious good old days, in which all schools were top-notch, politicians had integrity, children behaved and crime was nil.
– Joe Keohane Writer/Editor.
Another part is that while crime rates are dropping, reporting on crime has increased somewhere in the 600% range. The fear inducing headlines are everywhere we turn, on the news, while waiting in line at the bank and coffee shops, on FB, twitter, it’s a constant stream of worst case scenarios.
It’s an unfortunate fact that media reporting on individual crimes yields a relentlessly dismal drumbeat of downbeat news. But even as each reported crime yields a story that is terrifying enough to shape our perceptions, the truth is that none of them tells us much about the broader trends. Far better to ignore the anecdotes and focus instead on the big picture, and the hard data tells us: There’s been a remarkable decline in crime.
– Justin Wolfer, senior fellow at Peterson Institute for International Economics and Professor of economics and public policy at University of Michigan
The best way to shake yourself free of these misconceptions is to arm yourself with the truth. Study, read and re-evaluate that which you just assume to be a certain way. Then, make your decisions accordingly.
I’ve read Skenazy’s book (Free Range Kids) and it’s helped me immensely in allowing Amina more freedom. The best place for us has been provincial and national parks. The photo below was taken at Cyprus Lake on the Bruce Peninsula National Park’s campgrounds. She, the youngest in the group of 6 girls (8,10, 11, 12 and 13) were hunting water snakes, frogs and leeches as the sun set. Heidi (above) looked on, but was too tired to join in (we decided against letting her venture with the group at dusk).
They had been at it all day. Making discoveries, hypotheses and testing their theories. They concluded that the light fleshed slimy creatures they pulled from the murky water under rocks were vegetarian. A conclusion reached by the groups’ oldest (13 year old Cam) after she attempted to entice the leeches to bite her and they refused. (Cam and Heidi were exploring a little further down).
The 4 girls in our camp, my mini wildlings and the 2 daughters of a dear friend left together, venturing only to the path next to our tent at first and slowly farther and farther away as their confidence grew and as the adults relaxed. They forged a friendship with the 3 other girls, made plans together and looked out for the littlest in the group (Heidi, 2.5).
Nothing compared to their breathless excitement as they raced back to camp form the lake with slimy creatures in a bucket, bursting to show us what they discovered. In that moment I knew without a doubt that the decision to let go a little was the best one of the trip. Baby steps.
If you’d like to delve into this topic a bit more, I’d love to see your thoughts in the comments.For more ideas/encouragement in favour of Free Range Kids/Parenting, check out the links below:
- What exactly is this whole ‘free-range kid’ thing? The Washington Post
- Free Range Kids vs. Protective Parents The Mother Company
- Why Free Range Kids Are Healthier The Daily Beast
- The Overprotected Kid The Atlantic
- The Importance Of Free Play For Kids Outside Online
- Children and Nature Movement Richard Louv
- Our World In Data [Homicides per 100,000 per year]
What baby steps have you taken? Do you let your little one cross the road walking beside you, not holding your hand? Do you let your kids run ahead on the way to the park? Let them play in front of the house? I’d love to hear your stories!