I Let My Kids Go Alone…

The other day I let my two kids and the two friends they had over walk down the block over to our elementary school, around the school, and back home. I gave them a watch and thirty minutes to adventure on their own before they had to come home and get ready for baseball.

Parked on the side of our house was a car full of teenage boys. One was standing on the street, leaning against the trunk of the car looking in our direction for quite some time.

Two doors down was a crew of guys roofing a house.

It was the time of day when traffic picks up on our street during the evening commute.

My main concern? The two friends were not very familiar with our neighborhood.The two big sisters are usually trouble when together and if the two big sisters got mad at the two younger siblings I didn’t want someone getting left behind and then lost.

So I gave them very specific instructions:
1. The big girls were in charge. They were to keep the group together, make smart decisions together, and return together. Never leave a man behind.
2. The littlest girl was put in charge of reporting back to me how everything went once they were home.

The littlest girl gave the group a smile that let everyone know there would be no abuse of power happening this afternoon. They set off, each big girl holding the hand of their little sibling.

And then it happened. I should have known better.

In this day and age…..With a neighborhood FULL of strangers and I let my kids roam free…..

 

My son knew none of them would know who he was or who his mom was, so his six year old brain advised him that trying to moon the crew of roofers while singing the “Fart Fart Butt” song would be a great idea. After all, not mooning the roofers and not singing the “Fart Fart Butt” song had not been on my list of rules.

Problem is, when you are six years old and trying to run away from a crew of roofers and your pants are still down and your little white butt is still hanging out, you can’t actually run very well.

And as soon as I heard my daughter yell  “Man Down!” from down the block I knew, as any parent would, that the most predictable thing that could happen when kids adventure alone out into the world had happened: One of them came home needing a Band Aid.

 

The two most important things for keeping my kids safe this summer: A watch and lots of Band Aids. LOTS of Band Aids.

The two most important things for keeping my kids safe this summer: A watch and lots of Band Aids. LOTS of Band Aids.

Empty Swings and Stores Full of Sexualization: We are very confused about childhood.

“Highly stereotyped and sexualized products and marketing rush our kids into looking and acting like mini-adults, but at the same time kids are given very little autonomy to wander around the neighborhood and play or to develop responsibilities.” -“Redefining Girly: How Parents Can Fight the Stereotyping and Sexualizing of Girlhood, Birth to Tween”

I talked about this during an interview the other day and I find this trend in parenting so curious. I think the explanation for it is that marketers and media have done two things: lulled us into being bind consumers and terrified us into irrational parents….but for all the wrong reasons. What I can’t understand is why more parents fail to think critically about it.

We are a generation of parents who no longer let our kids roam the neighborhood on bikes or trek out into the woods to build a fort or walk to the corner market to buy milk. Even suggesting as much can give people panic attacks because of the omnipresent (but statistically unsupported) fear of a child abductor lurking down the block.

BUT – we are the same generation of parents who make a brand of highly sexualized childrens’ dolls that look like sex workers earn nearly $20 million a quarter, cheer wildly for dance school performances that rival burlesque shows, allow horribly violent video games to serve as entertainment in our family rooms, and fail to shame companies and a music industry that uses corporate pedophilia to meet their bottom line.

There are not enough people getting furious over the sexualization of childhood and being fearful of the very real damage that does to kids, but let your kids play alone at the park for an hour and you become a social pariah. WHAT?!

Do we even remember what childhood is supposed to look like anymore?

I understand how marketers and 24-media do their job so well, what I can’t understand is — when did we stop questioning all of this? And why are we allowing our children to be rushed into the sexual and violent side of adulthood before we prepare them with real life adult skills like how to walk to the store and buy milk and catch the bus home. Does that seem a bit off to you?

We've removed the 'childhood' out of childhood.

We’ve removed the ‘childhood’ out of childhood.

**I’m using broad generalization because I know this community is talking about it. But nationally, oy vey do we have issues.
**Don’t put your three year old on a bus, age appropriate autonomy, people.

 

Photo credit: Simon Waters

First Name Basis

While I was making dinner on Saturday evening, my husband decided to casually tell me that he had lost four year old Benny Boy at the hardware store that afternoon. Knowing  that I have drilled into my kids’ heads what to do in this situation (and have actually practiced it), I waited calmly for the rest of the story, pushing Nancy Grace-like headlines out of my head. He told me he had looked away for a minute to call me, and the kids were gone. They had walked away together, but then separated, our six year old going one way, and four year old Benny Boy the other way.

Ol’ Benny Boy knew to stay calm, find an employee, tell them my husband’s first name and our phone number, and that he needed help to find his grown up. My husband retrieved little Benny Boy from Customer Service, safe and sound.

When I talked to Benny about it later, I asked him how he felt about what happened and when did he realized he was lost. It can be difficult to get a straight story out of a little kid, especially when it deals with sequence of events. You have to be careful not to ask questions that are leading. I also didn’t want him to think this was a scary memory, I wanted it to be an empowering lesson. Essentially he told me it was fun until it wasn’t, and then he got scared and wanted his Daddy. He went up to “a nice old man” because “his tummy voice told him he was a safe man”. The customer (thank you, whoever you are!!) then took my son to an employee to have my husband paged to Customer Service. Benny told me he stayed calm the entire time and didn’t cry, but he did ask all the ladies behind the counter for hugs.

This is why we don’t make a big deal when our kids call us or other grown ups by our first names. There are more important ways to teach respect.

This is why I let my kids out of my sight, with room to explore and build independence. We have boundaries that are age appropriate, and those boundaries widen as the kids grow.

This is why I do not teach “stranger danger”, but rather my family treats people we don’t know as friends we haven’t met yet. My kids are very comfortable chatting with people. Benny can be very shy, but it seems he had strong social skills when he needed them.

This is why I teach my children to listen to their intuition, what we call our “tummy voices”.

We live in a generation of fear-based parenting, in everything from parenting magazines to news programs. I refuse to raise my kids to be scared of their world. I want them to be safe and aware, but never frightened. I want them out exploring and gaining independence and experiences away from me. I don’t necessarily want my four year old free lancing around a giant hardware store, but when he does, I’m very relieved he had the tool kit he needed to find his way back to us. Yes, I hugged him extra tight that night when I put him to bed, and gave him several long kisses on the top of his sweet head. When I said good night, I simply told him I was very proud of him for knowing what to do and listening to his tummy voice.

The moral of my story is to empower our kids to be self-reliant, and be able to stay safe by being able to get help for themselves when they need it.

 

Some great books that I’ve read on this subject:

“Free Range Kids” by Lenore Skenazy

“Playborhood” by Mike Lanza

“The Gift of Fear” and “Protecting the Gift” by Gavin de Becker — both teach how to get to a place of awareness and intuition. My kids call this their “tummy voices”.

We also have a top secret family password for these situations. Every family should have a password that only their members plus 1-2 Emergency Contacts know. Growing up, mine was “strawberry”. If someone your child doesn’t recognize says they are to pick up the child because mom/dad couldn’t make it, they have to know the password or your kid doesn’t budge.

 

My Childhood Was Full of Childhood

{Guest Post by Kristel Gillies}

Being not only the youngest but also the only daughter of my dad’s four children one might think I grew up spoiled… doted on and showered with all things pink and frilly, treated with kid gloves and always made to feel as though I was different.

One might think wrong.

Instead, I grew up not knowing I was different at all.  I romped through fields with my brother, dug holes with the neighbour’s boy and put grasshoppers in my pocket… only to find them months later, having been too busy climbing trees, fences and hay bales to perform the critical task of removing them from their new home.

I was, quite simply, ‘one of the boys’.

And although I may have been, by today’s standards, a tomboy I was still a girlie girl.  I screamed upon finding grasshopper corpses and I loved my shiny shoes and pretty dresses… they just got rather scuffed and dirty when playing kick the can and hide-and-go-seek.  I even had a Barbie.  But I found her boring.  After all, she only had one friend, Ken, back in those days and his hair didn’t even move.   Barbie, herself, didn’t seem very practical.  Any time I attempted to do anything fun with the blonde-haired bombshell, like playing in the snow or partaking in a bath, her limbs would fall off, her torso would fill with water and her endless array of ball gowns and mini-skirts left little to the imagination when on a ski jump or diving board.

Guest post author Kristel Gillies, age 4

While Barbie may not have been my favourite I just so happened to be the Angelina Jolie of my generation.  Having adopted six Cabbage Patch Kids, my ‘children’ were the spitting image of their momma… adorned in grass-stained overalls and pace-setters (hey, it was the 80’s) so we could easily navigate farmer’s fields, city lots and everything in between.  And if we lost a shoe (or two) in a muddy puddle so be it, at least we had the good sense to take a mid-day break so I could grab a snack and Adrienne Lulu (not the greatest Cabbage Patch name for a child with a speech impediment) could take a siesta in the deep freeze, allowing her melted face a chance to re-harden after a long summer day of playing outside with the best toy ever invented…. imagination.

Back in those days there was no Hannah Montana.  Instead, I used my Fisher Price record player to rock out to the Mini-Pops, all of whom were fully clothed and provided clean-cut, non-sexual entertainment. LEGOS were the same for girls as they were for boys with shades of blue, red, yellow, white, green and black and nary a pink, fuchsia, magenta or rose to be seen.   And when I built a LEGO house I wasn’t told that woman belonged in the kitchen or it was lacking a walk-in closet.  Instead, I was complimented me on my craftsmanship and told that I might grow up to become an architect.

From thereon in I drew blue prints before creating my abodes.

"I’m glad the world I grew up in was painted every shade of the rainbow.."

Back in my day LEGO sets weren’t segregated between equestrian stables and Indiana Jones; pre-fabbed dream homes (which, frankly, pale in comparison to my own) and pirate ships.  I had the same sets as the boys (and girls!) in my class and my room was full of hospitals, airports, gas stations and, my favourite, space stations.  My LEGO men (and women!) were doctors and pilots; mechanics and astronauts.  And I grew up believing I could be those things too.

The lessons I learned growing up were no different from that of my brothers.  I learnt about camping, carpentry and oil changes instead of makeup, hair and flirting.  That’s not to say I didn’t teach myself those lessons later in life, when they were actually age-appropriate but, instead, my childhood was full of… well, childhood.   Somehow I don’t think it would have been the same had I been in an apron instead of safety goggles, if I had been told “don’t mess your hair” instead of “go outside and play” and had I been reprimanded for bending my bike tire instead of being taught to accelerate through corners when going so fast.

I’m glad the world I grew up in was painted every shade of the rainbow, instead of just blue and pink.  Not just for myself but also for my brother (because even boys should be given the opportunity to love a good doll or two!).  And while the world may have become a place where everything is gender specific mine sure hasn’t… last Christmas I got what every strong, independent and resourceful woman needs… a compound mitre saw, 2 blowtorches (because, frankly, one is never enough), bubble bath and the special wedding edition of Sex and the City movie.  After all, I’m still that same little girl…  I love my skirts, I just tuck them between my knees as I ride my scooter alongside all the Harley’s and sport bikes.  And, no, I may not be the astronaut I had once hoped to become but it’s never too late.  After all, I did get a Physics degree. And while I do perform my own oil changes I’m always very careful not to ruin my nails.

Yes, I may have been one of the boys but I was also a girlie girl.  And it was, quite frankly, the best of both worlds.  And it is the only world each and every little girl deserves.

No less and definitely much, much more.