Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Free Range Kids

About a week ago there was a buzz in the various media about a mom who let her 9 year-old son take the subway home alone from Bloomingdales in New York City. I thought it was pretty cool, though i admit it's very scary also. I'm not sure i'd want my 10 year-old son to rely on San Diego's public transit system, and I have to confess that i don't think either of my kids have had an equivalent test of their independence.

Now, what prompts me to write about this is that when i was 9, i broke my arm while driving an all-terrain vehicle on my grandfather's farm. I was riding down a path with another kid on an ATV, we bumped into each other and went flying. He suffered a concussion and i had my left humerus snapped in half. Needless to say we weren't wearing helmets. I'm not even sure they made helmets at that time. When i look back on this now it seems amazing that my parents allowed my sister and i to ride anywhere we wanted. I get nervous when my kids ride their bikes in our suburban neighborhood.

We had other freedoms that seem odd in this day and age. My sister and i were often at home alone, even at night, and we never had baby-sitters. When i was in kindergarten (in Arizona at that time) i walked about a mile to school each day with one of my classmates. I was 5. I owned my first knife when i was 6, and by 1o or so i was free to use the collection of rifles and shotguns we had inherited from my grandfather.

I can't really say that this turned me into a more independent or risk-taking individual than i would have been otherwise. My life seems fairly mundane by the standards of my generation. I left home at 18, and have lived on my own since, but that was both normal and expected at the time. I suppose that compared to most people in the rural Indiana community that i grew up in, living in California and working in the Internet industry is a slight departure from say, farming, but it's hardly like i became an astronaut or something.

While i think that developing a sense of independence in kids is a valuable thing, i'm also inclined to think that it's probably better to instill them with a legitimate sense of non-conformity. I hope that my kids feel comfortable taking chances and doing things on their own, but i really hope that they pursue their dreams without regard for external expectations.

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