Thursday, September 18

Free range kids

ok, so I subscribe to Reader's Digest. Really it started showing up in the mail each month mysteriously, and it still keeps coming. I usually just read through the anecdotes about stupid blunders and cute sayings, but in the most recent issue I came across an interesting article (not online). Apparently, a mom whipped up a controversy all across the national media simply by allowing her 9-year old son to find his own way home through the New York subway system. In fact, the mom, Lenore Skenazy, has catalyzed this decision into movement with the clever title, Free Range Kids. (Coincidentally, this exact phrase came up in a lecture I attended that morning by Dr. Timothy Beatley)

"The fact is, children are 40 times more likely to die in a car accident [than be kidnapped], and that doesn't stop us from driving them to karate. Car accidents, after all, are just that - accidents. But we blame parents, the same way we used to blame rape victims, for "letting" anything happen to their children."

I don't have much to say to the parenting side of this, nor can I really gauge how much the media is stoking the flames of irrational fears, but it I can pontificate on how the structure of the places we live in plays a big part in how independant children can be. James Howard Kunstler, in Home from Nowhere, tells the story of his move from suburbia to New York city when he was the same age Skenazy's son is,

"I was very much at liberty in the great city. A child could move about in relative saftey most anywhere in town, even Times Square. Bus and subway fare ran to 15 cents in those days, and, in fact, was free to schoolchildren, who were issued monthly transit passes. It was not necessary, and hardly desirable, to be accompanied by a parent to any of the places I frequented.

My old chums back in suburbia, whom I visited now and again, began to show sure signs of social retardation as we slouched toward puberty. A trip to the Coke machine at the nearest gas station was high adventure for them."

A dense urban environment, with a transportation system navigable without a driver's license, can open up a range of possibilites for children to explore their own environment. The same could be said for a smaller town, with just an exchange of making trails in the woods for walking through the art museam. I grew up on the outskirts of a college town. There was a creek by our house in which all of the neighborhood kids could play, make rope swings, claim territory, or whatever we dreamed of. At the same time, I could walk to Main Street every Saturday morning to explore the shops, spend my allowance on whatever I wanted, and just feel a part of the community. Geez, I'm not even 30 and I'm reminiscing about the "good old days."


JFW said...

Hey Daniel,
Great Blog! You are still getting readership in Missoula. I want to ask if you would mind if the 3 Plus for Russell Street advocates use some of your Blog material and text on our website on a recurring basis?

Daniel Nairn said...

Of course, feel free to use anything you'd like.

By the way, I have been loosely following what is going on with Russell Street ever since 4&20 Blackbirds did a post on your 3+russell group. Good luck with everything there. Reading about Missoula does make me miss it.