December 23, 2013

Free-range kids (1940's edition)

My mom offers the following reminiscences about her "free-range" childhood (and the limits when it came to my kid sister):

All that freedom! It was the same when I was a kid. Until I was nine years old I pretty much played in my neighborhood, but from 1941 until college I wandered all over Provo [Utah].

When I was a teenager, I regularly rode horses in the foothills. (I now wonder what I would have done if the horse had thrown me.) I rode my bike all over, even down to Utah Lake. Finally, my dad asked me to stop riding to the lake because tramps hung around there. But he didn't stop me from riding elsewhere. The only rule we had was "Be home before sundown!" We ate our main meal at noon.

The one time I didn't get home on time, I was scolded. I recall, one time, leaving my girl friend's house too late and running, running home as I watched the sun sliding down behind the trees.

But by the time Kate was eleven I was more apprehensive--possibly because she was a small child, and possibly because of the times, I don't know--but when she asked permission to ride to the 7-Eleven store [about a mile from our house], I wouldn't let her go. I let Daniel do so and she objected. But she was small and a girl and one never knew what kind of guys might be hanging out at the store!

I do think kids are overprotected now. Times have changed, but not as much as some parents think.

However, I do approve of seat belts. I recall that Ann and Beth used to stand on the front seat while I drove. When I stopped I would fling out my arm to keep them in the seat. One day I was driving with my sister Eleanor in the passenger seat. I had to stop suddenly and I flung my arm out and whacked her in the chest!

When I think of Kate sitting in the back seat while I drove to pick up kids at high school, I shiver. She was so small that if I had braked suddenly she would have flown out the window!

According to just about every statistical measure available, life is safer than it was a quarter century ago. Utah Lake where the tramps use to hang out? It's now a municipal airport and a state park.

As Seth Godin puts it, "The things we have the most abundance of caution about are rarely the things that are actual risks. They merely feel like risks."

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
12/25/2013 11:34 AM   
Kate should mention that while she wasn't allowed to bike to 7-Eleven (which was probably a wise decision since Swaggertown Road had practically no shoulder and one of her classmates actually died crossing it), nobody stopped her participating in the boys' "tag" football game--"tag" being completely comparative since it seemed to involve as much, if not more contact than regular football!

She never broke a bone :)
# posted by Anonymous Dan
12/25/2013 5:09 PM   
Swaggertown Rd is a an interesting example. At the time I don't think any of us kids thought of it as dangerous. Sure it was prudent to look both ways before crossing but it didn't appear to be all that different than Tomahawk. People had homes along the road and you had to cross it to get to Glen Warden or, as you point out, to get to the convenient store.

I never felt scared being on Swaggertown but I don't think I would be comfortable with my kids doing what I did at that young age.

Likewise there was the walk or bicycle ride to Scotia. The walk required crossing the Amtrak lines and the ride required a half-mile on Rt-50. Doing both of these seemed second nature but I would be wary of having my kids do the same.

I attribute this to the free-range attitude we grew up with. By age 10 I was confident in biking not only all of Indian Hills but the adjacent subdivision and in going through the woods to the neighborhoods off Spring road. I assume mom & dad took confidence in my confidence.

My kids have had little reason and save Justin zero curiosity in exploring beyond our cul-de-sac. I think it is the lack of curiosity as much as their inexperience that would concern me if they were to start wandering. Another factor is where we live kids simply don't walk or ride bikes beyond their neighborhood. A parent drives them and that is just the way it is. A good example of how cultural norms and expectations don't have to be written down, they are observed and embraced.