Friday, May 24, 2024

"You're Driving Me Crazy. Go Outside."

When I was a boy, even as young as four, mom would say, "You're driving me crazy. Go outside." She would then open the door, close it behind me, and not expect to hear from me for hours. That's how we all grew up back then. If I didn't see any other kids out there, I'd make my way up the street, knocking on the doors of houses where I knew kids lived, asking if they could come out and play. We played in one another's yards, garages, and crawl spaces. We played in the street, vacant lots, and the school yard. Once we learned to ride bikes, which most of us did around five or six, the entire neighborhood was ours.

Today we call it being "free-range kids," a phrase coined by Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the free-range parenting movement and recent guest on Teacher Tom's Podcast. She was was once dubbed "the world's worst mom" for letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway on his own and writing about it. And while she was roundly pilloried, she at least wasn't charged with child neglect, endangerment or abuse as some parents have for simply allowing their kids to experience what was not long ago just called "childhood."

She was, however, shamed. As she tells me on the podcast, everyone who interviewed her back then would ask the same "gotcha" question about her son's adventure on the subway: "How would you feel if he didn't come home?" Of course, they knew the answer to that. She would have been devastated, but, as she says, the odds were overwhelmingly in favor of her son coming home. "They turned a tale of triumph into a hypothetical tragedy." And that's the attitude that seems to loom over parenting these days.

The real tragedy is that most children growing up in America today will spend their entire childhoods under adult supervision, never having the opportunities to experience the independence and freedom that characterized life for those of us who grew up in the 50's, 60's and 70's, what psychology researcher and play advocate Peter Gray calls the "Golden Age of Childhood." For whatever reason, we got scared as a nation, convinced there is a pedophile (or worse) behind every tree. According to the actual data, the world did not get more dangerous, but we came to perceive that it did and our children have suffered. Instead of saying, You're driving me crazy: go outside," parents were left with popping in a video or choosing between household chores and playing with the kids. Instead of kids organizing their own play the way we did, parents are on point for arranging supervised play-dates or driving junior to the playground or a class or some other "safe" facility under the ever-watchful eye of an adult. And children are suffering.

But, due in large part to the efforts of Lenore and her non-profit Let Grow, eight states have in recent years passed "reasonable childhood independence laws." In these states, parents can no longer be arrested for allowing her child to play alone at a playground or walk home from school. And Lenore tells me that there are several states with similar laws in the works. This is good news, but it still starkly illustrates the fact that normal childhood remains illegal in most places in the US.

Still, this is not just a win for both kids, but for parents, replacing irrational fear with common sense. Says Mica Hauley, Utah mother of five: "I can now make the decisions that are best for my children and not live in fear I am being judged and could be arrested. I trust that my kids can walk a short distance home from school. I may be looking out the window for them and praying for angels to be at their sides but I have to give them the freedom that will make them confident and independent adults."

To listen to my full interview with Lenore, check out Teacher Tom's Podcast. You can also download episodes from Spotify or wherever you like to listen to podcasts.


I've been writing about play-based learning almost every day for the past 14 years. I've recently gone back through the 4000+ blog posts(!) I've written since 2009. Here are my 10 favorite in a nifty free download. Click here to get yours.

I put a lot of time and effort into this blog. If you'd like to support me please consider a small contribution to the cause. Thank you!
Bookmark and Share

No comments: