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Recently, I had yet another conversation that included a bit of head scratching as we discussed the idea that kids in middle and high school increasingly have to be told exactly what to do, how to do it and what they should do if they have any problem. Basically, the adults have to figure the whole thing out, and then deliver the instructions in as many forms as possible, verbal, printed step by step, multicolor agenda on a white board and interactive demonstration. After that, kids either figure out how to do it or ask lots of questions.

We hear all the time that “things are different for kids these days” Many of today’s adults grew up getting actual dirt on their knees, made physical objects like go carts or clothes, fixed broken things (probably after breaking them) because we would have to do without until it was repaired. However, the today’s kids are often overscheduled, and kept from any discomfort.

A site created by Lenore Skenazy has the mission of creating Free Range kids. Helping to make kids more aware of their surroundings and how to do things on their own will bring about different skills and interest in these growing individuals.

We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.

The Free Range kids has some other information about helping to encourage parents to give kids the freedom that will help them to become more competent and confident as they grow up. The site has lots of comments on this somehow controversial issue. Their RSS feed for comments is pretty extensive.

Skenazy recently appeared on Dr. Phil’s show about Extreme Moms discussing the differences between parenting with freedom and parenting with helicopters.

A middle school in New York City just gave its sixth graders an extra credit “Free Range” project: Do something on your own that, for one reason or another, you never tried. The 11-year-olds jumped into action and did everything from making dinner to baking a cake to walking to school – all the kind of sweet, simple things they would have been doing without a second thought a generation or so earlier.

What was different was their trepidation: “I thought they were going to abduct me,” wrote a young man who took the subway solo home from soccer on a Saturday morning. A girl who made herself a sunny side-up egg admitted, “I was scared. I didn’t want to burn myself.” Another boy walked proudly five blocks to and from the grocery only to find out at the end that his mom had trailed him the whole way, through one of New York’s fanciest neighborhoods. She didn’t trust him to make his way safely.

Do you think that you were raised in a way that encouraged your curiosity and creativity? What can parents do these days that will help kids to take appropriate chances and learn from mistakes? How can parents helping with projects not take over the project? How can kids make things that will solve the real problems in their communities? If you have experiences that help others see the value of kids with freedom and making the things they need, pass along info through the comments, and add your photos and video to the Make Flickr pool!

Chris Connors

Making things is the best way to learn about our world.


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Comments

  1. Jesse says:

    I’ve seen this disparity between generations in my own family. During summers, my younger brother and I would leave in the morning and not come home until dark. Even then, we’d often have neighborhood games of tag, hide and go seek, flashlight tag or whatever else popped into our heads. No cell phones, no GPS trackers or amber alerts, just a pocket knife and maybe some payphone money. Video games(NES yeah![only after SNES came out]) were only for after dark or terrible weather. It’s not like we were raised out on the farm either, just a suburb of Denver.

    Then my youngest brother, raised by the same mother, in a more upscale neighborhood, was never let out alone unless he could be seen from the front door. He’s not allowed to have anything deemed dangerous including all the things his older brothers have passed down, like bb guns, pocket knives, model rockets, slingshots, tools or anything like that. The majority of his childhood there was spent playing video games or watching TV. Only now, after moving out to the eastern plains in a very rural area does my mother feel safe enough to let him play outside.

    There is a noticeable difference in character as a result, and I’m sorry to say, my youngest brother is a right chicken. We’re trying to change that, and to an extent it is working, but we’ve got a long road ahead to help my brother gain some independence and confidence.

  2. Anonymous says:

    ALTERNATIVE SCHOOLS.

    Support them.

  3. BigD145 says:

    Children, and adults, are told what to do and they better damn well do it!!

    I hated to say that, but that’s how people are treated in the world today. You’re not allowed to think for yourself.

  4. zof says:

    Sadly the dangers for kids in the past 20 years have not increased only the reporting of the danger. The same risks; gangs, random acts of violence and shootings are at about the same ratios they were when I was a kid, the only difference is now there is a nightly segment about how something horrible happened to some people and how you should better protect your children. We have turned into a nanny society, basically protecting the children from every danger in life so they now know no common sense or are afraid of everything.

    Let them go out side and make mistakes in life, mistakes are how humans learn on their own. There are two ways of learning; being taught how to do something by repetition and then there is trial and error on their own. If they don’t learn at a young age about trial and error then they wont know how to use it at adulthood.

  5. Andrea Feldman says:

    Funny, we were just talking about how most of us managed to survive everything from there being a peanut butter sandwich in another kid’s hands in the same lunchroom, to a noticeable lack of four graduated car seats based on height and weight, and ended up healthier and better able to cope for having grown up in a less-obsessed and less-sterile household. I even pointed out that I had transferred from an Ivy League university where I was pre-med on the dean’s list (but the only thing they offered was to prepare me to compete with the other students and to go to medical school) to a smaller liberal arts college, where I was teaching and doing independent research that actually prepared me for a fuller, more real, involved, and socially conscious life with or without an MD after my name.

    I see a major problem, in that no longer are we enthused about finding out something for ourselves, cannot distinguish between Wikipedia and Britannica, and believe that cheating is all part of the process of “succeeding” in school or business without daring to confront any risk in the process. That kind of development in youth results in a fear of each other as well as of everything around us that has been deemed too dangerous.

    Look around, people. Why do you think that MBA/CEOs feel that it’s all about getting what they can for themselves at any cost or loss to their companies, employees, or communities? Because, among other things, false self-esteem has become the coin of the realm – G-d forbid a school should allow its students to play dodgeball when losing might destroy a fragile child’s ego and sense of self! I enthusiastically applaud any program that encourages kids to find and pursue what interests them, and even make mistakes from which they can learn and grow, and even develop empathy, values that are bigger than self-interest, a sense of proportion about having a place in something that is bigger than each of us, and yes, maybe even a little common sense.

  6. Damon says:

    Candidly, this is the problem with the over-emphasis on structures sports and “lessons” to the degree the child can’t entertain themselves, and demand the adult do it for them. In short the adult must serve their whims.

    While my kids also participate in sports extensively, its a choice of theirs. They’ve skipped seasons if they wanted a break.

    But we’ve also gotten heavily into scouting, and the experience of enjoying the outdoors, self reliance, and new skills have been a great boon to them> While other kids are cooped indoors playing their video games, ours are out exploring, riding their bikes, and learning ne things. In scouts, they’ve learned responsible use of a pocketnife, making fires for cooking and warmth, about animals and being good stewards of the land (use it don’t abuse it), building things, and taking them apart.

    I think we’re th only family I’ve seen at a restaurant let their kids go to the bathroom alone. We tell them to stick together, and off they go…10, 8 and 6.