When my son asked permission to walk to soccer practice alone, I knew that deciding whether or not to let him was a fairly significant decision. Still, I had no idea how it would reverberate.
Parents make a lot of decisions about their children. At first, they seem overwhelming. Is it ok to give my baby a bottle of formula, or should I pump if someone else is going to take responsibility for a feeding? Is it too warm to wrap my baby up in a blanket, or will he be colder than I am? What’s the right temperature for the nursery? Didn’t this child come with an owner’s manual?
Eventually I learned a few things, listened to a lot of opinions, and I started to trust myself. I found that the choices my friends and family made for their children weren’t always the best choice for mine and vice versa. I also realized that most of the millions of horrible things that I imagined could possibly happen, didn’t. And, I got to know my children.
So, then my 10-year-old wants to walk to soccer alone. I knew immediately that my choice wasn’t clear cut. I imagined him alone on the street. Any number of things could happen. But would they? I knew William could be trusted to walk directly to soccer and use good judgment. We set high expectations for our children. We expect them to tell the truth. We expect that they will treat us and others with courtesy and respect. We expect excellent grades and that they will never end up in the principal’s office for bad behavior. We expect them to be in church with us every Sunday. We expect that they will graduate from college and go to graduate school. These expectations are the norm in our families and so far my children have lived up to our expectations pretty well. I knew I could trust my son and he had earned the right to exercise some independence.
Could I trust everyone else along his path in Columbus? I know a lot of my neighbors and I know they are caring people who watch out for children. I expected that a lot of caring adults would watch my son walk along the street. I also expected that any potential criminal would also realize that there would be lots of eyes watching. As scary as it might be to imagine all the possible things that could happen on the street – a freak storm could come up and he could be struck by lightning, for heaven’s sake. But, it wasn’t likely that anything bad would happen.
I took a deep breath and told him it would be ok for him to walk. We discussed the route and walking safety, especially along 18th Ave. I gave him my cell phone and said I would be at the soccer field 25 minutes after he left.
What happened next surprised me. My neighbors called the police, who threatened me with child endangerment. A day or so later I called our local chief of police who assured me that my neighborhood was safe and that the officer had over-reacted. Read reports at Free Range Kids, CBC Radio, and the Commercial Dispatch.
Do I regret the decision that I made? Absolutely not. Walking is good. We should all be walking more and I hope to take advantage of the nice weather to get out and about more in Columbus. I also hope we can get a few more sidewalks built in Columbus to make walking safer. William proved he was trustworthy and would have walked directly to soccer had he not been intercepted. He also exercised some independence and I’m proud that he wanted to do that. Children are supposed to learn to be independent and it’s a natural thing for a child, once he has been taught how to do something, to want to do it himself without help. Most of us remember that at his age we had the freedom to explore our world fairly freely. We also remember the scrapes and near scrapes that we got into, but we survived them and learned from each one. We learned how to be aware of the world around us and how to tell when something didn’t seem quite right. The skills we developed in our “free-range” days are valuable. What will our children be like if they don’t learn them?
Would other parents make the same decision? No. But that’s ok too. Our children are different, our expectations are different, and our fears are different. But a good parent (and yes, I do put myself in that category), will be the best judge of what’s right for her child.