Letting Kids Play

My mother in Law recently gave me her copy of The Week from July 31st, 2009.  It had an article she knew I would love called Childhood’s Lost Wilderness by Michael Chabon.  It’s an excerpt from his upcoming essay collection – Manhood for Amateurs.  This essay says exactly what I have been saying since I had my own children a few years ago – let them play!

Not just that, but let them play alone, out of your site, out of your hearing, without your (or worse, their) cell phone glued to their ear.  If you have a corner store within a couple blocks, let them walk there and buy themselves a treat after dinner with their allowance – which they earned by doing work.  Let them walk to school, or ride their bike.

My first grader is not allowed to ride her bicycle to school, or walk there alone until she is in the third grade.  From my front door I can watch her all the way to the end of the road, one turn and then she’s at school.  Several of her friends walk past our house every morning.  In “the olden days” she would have heard them coming, run out the door and walked with them to school.  But now we are all too afraid.

Of what, I still have no idea.  It turns out that abduction rates are actually lower now than when we were children!  Crimes against children over all are either the same or lower than they were in the 70’s and 80’s.

Remember The Bridge to Terabithia – who of us couldn’t identify that magical place.  Who of us hadn’t emulated it to some degree, at some point in our childhoods.  Every kid I knew had at least one secret world tucked away in their back yard, or at the end of the cul de sac.

We all had our range, mine was pretty big because of where I lived.  I had a whole mountain behind my house that was MINE, there was an abandoned cabin that was our club house when we wanted to be really outside adult influence.  There were abandoned mines to explore, an old smelting shop to climb around in, and a creek where I taught myself to catch fish with my bare hands.

Now when I take my kids up the canyon to explore the wilderness were I was raised I have to apologize.  The smeltery is off limits now, barbed wire is wrapped around the building, dotted with no trespassing signs.  All of the mines are sealed off so no one can explore them anymore, or accidentally drown as many of them had water.  The cabin that served as my childhood clubhouse has been torn down.  The canyon has been child proofed.  Why, I’m not sure since no one lets their children outside anyway.

I used to spend half my summer sitting at the edge of the driveway selling lemonade and homemade cookies to the bicyclists who pedaled up and down the canyon.  The last dozen times I’ve been up that way I haven’t seen a single lemonade stand.  Not one.

Michael Chabon wonders what all this protection is doing to our kids.  It’s not keeping them any more alive than kids of our generation.  As I said our kids are just as safe as we were.  But it’s killing their imaginations, limiting their scope.  We talk about the importance of self esteem in kids, yet we don’t give them any way to gain it.  We force teachers to reward every child if they are going to reward one, despite the fact that we know that if everyone is special, no one is.  We don’t give our kids space or opportunity to learn how to problem solve, to challenge themselves and meet those challenges.  That is how self esteem is made.  That is how children learn, and how they become productive members of the world.  It’s not enough just to keep them alive.  We have to push them to actually live.

If you want to read some more about this type of thinking I highly recommend Lenore Skenazy and her Free-Range Kid’s blog at http://freerangekids.wordpress.com

For myself, even though I’m raising two girls, I know Michael Chabon’s book Manhood for Amateurs is on my to read list!


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