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

Tricky People, Tummy Voices, and Trusting Strangers

As many of you know, my family has spent the past 18 months in some drama-rama while we were stalked by a neighbor. The situation has been handled, with much thanks to our city’s police department and courthouse personnel. While it was going on, one of the things that scared my husband and I was that our kids knew our stalker – his name and where he lived (two doors down). He wasn’t a “stranger”, my kids saw him nearly every day. This was both a blessing and a curse, but it is exactly why I’ve never taught my children Stranger Danger.

During the entire ordeal, we called the suspect the “Creeper”. After the night he tried to break in, Benny changed the name to “Robberness Creeper”. Every time I spoke to the police (kids were almost always present, and it was many times) I referred to the suspect both by his name and by “Robberness Creeper”. I had my kids shake the police officer’s hand and talk directly to the police about what they saw and their “tummy voices” (intuition).
I consciously made the kids active participants in their safety, instead of victims of a crime. To their credit, the police were wonderfully wonderful with the kids. But in this situation, the police officers were strangers to my kids, and the Robberness Creeper was someone they had become familiar with.
While child abduction by a stranger are simultaneously horrific and sensationalized, they are rare. Very rare. We need to give our kids practical, smart safety guidelines to follow. I love what is covered in this blog post and the highlighted website (I agree with 98% of the website). I think these guidelines have a base rooted in critical thinking about personal safety that extends well beyond the childhood years.
I’ve been asked to explain what “tummy voices” are — It is a term Amelia came up with, but we talked about the feeling of knowing something or someone is unsafe. Like the feeling right before going down a really big slide for the first time, or swinging high on a swing and thinking about jumping off — that should I/shouldn’t I voice. Or taking a walk and thinking about a mean dog, just when a neighbor’s dog rushes to their fence and starts to bark, that is a “tummy voice”. She described it as her head feeling “fizzy” and her tummy having a voice — and when you think about the biophysical effects fear has on the body, she is spot on.
The word “intuition” or “instinct” doesn’t mean anything to a preschooler who pretty much lives day to day on instinct. But preschoolers have some of the strongest tummy voices around because they don’t rationalize like adults do, they just observe and feel.
In the end, we took our Robberness Creeper to court, got a restraining order, his family moved him out, and we haven’t seen him since. During all of this, the police officers, court clerks, bailiff, lawyer, and judge were all strangers to my children. And every single one of them had my children’s safety and best interest at heart. It was the man we knew who was a danger.