One of my favorite Facebook friends is a guy I went to grammar school with. Favorite because he’s a kind and sensitive soul, and favorite because he is one of the best “post-ers” I know. This is what caught my eye today:
“I shudder to think of what I would have missed were I not told to ‘go out and play’ and be back for dinner. How many fewer friends, interesting and caring adults, and even the random ‘job.’ I also learned how to read and handle people…It’s a sad thing to go through a residential neighborhood these days, with tricycles in the driveways but not a single kid in the street.”
Some parents have recently been arrested for letting their kids roam freely, or be “free-range,” as it has been termed. The only sort-of equivalent I can think of from my own childhood was being a latchkey kid. That meant I wore a key around my neck on a string. Both my parents worked, and I would be able to let myself into our apartment when they weren’t there. But that was not separate from roaming the neighborhood and the city. Roaming was a given. In fact, most of us felt a little sorry for the kids who were kept at home “for safety.” As if they were in prison, and missing out on all the life that was to be had outside: fort-building, hide-and-seek, riding the bus to see a double feature, roller-skating to a friends house, hiking to the creek, walking to buy an ice cream cone or check out books from the library.
We didn’t feel afraid, and the things we felt afraid about we knew how to handle, such as strangers offering candy or rides and crossing streets at crosswalks and with traffic signals. And we knew we could ask people for help if we needed. Doug is so right. Being out in the world taught us how to read people, it made us part of a wide community filled with all different kinds of people, it required that we learn first-hand how to navigate streets and situations. It was better than being coddled like infants, protected like precious objects. Being a citizen is what it meant, with agency and standing, and the means to travel.
Statistics seem to bear out that our communities are no more dangerous than they were 20, 30, or 40 years ago. And yet parents’ concern for their children’s safety has increased, along with a sense that children need scheduled, organized enrichment, in order to get ahead and experience a fulfilling childhood. Yet I wouldn’t trade my ability to walk by myself to Doug’s house for anything, when we were both 9 years old. The enrichment discovered in those several blocks was limitless, and I feel it still.