Creating “Free Range” Experiences That Won’t End in an Ulcer

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May 12, 2015

A few weeks ago, I talked about the tension between “free range” parenting and a more protective approach. A dad in Tennessee gained a certain amount of notoriety for his solution to this very problem. Now dubbed “Drone Dad,” he followed his daughter’s walk to school with a drone helicopter equipped with a video feed. I get the reasoning, we want our kids to be independent but at the same time we worry about what would happen to them without our protection. All of this publicity has made me think, short of investing in a fleet of helicopters, how can I give my kids room to grow and experience life while staying within societal – and my own – comfort zone?

Send something with them.

No, not a remote control stalking machine. Parents send all sort of useful, and less obvious things with their kids. Back in the day, my parents let my younger brothers wander through the neighborhood, from friend’s house to friend’s house, as long as they took walkie-talkies with them. Nowadays, kids can take phones with them to stay in constant contact. Cheap pre-paid phones are readily available as a back-up plan. Another ingenious idea I heard recently was a mom who carried a hand-held alarm on her key chain. When activated, it lets out a piercing shriek no one can ignore. She uses it for times when her older, but not quite old, son needs to go somewhere without her like the bathroom or a dressing room. He takes the alarm with him and knows to activate it if he experiences any trouble.

Go outside.

So much of the dangers we worry about with our kids deal with the creeps, stalkers, and general bad people in the world. By finding outside activities for our kids far away from the yick factor of people, we can allow them to take risks without the added stress of other people. Things like rock climbing and canoeing offer a challenge that you can take steps to keep safe.

Group them up.

The old saying, “There’s strength in numbers,” works well for this dilemma. If our kids are begging to stretch their boundaries, we can send them together in a group. An outsider intent on causing trouble will have trouble sneaking around a big group. Of course, it’s important to send them with a group you trust so their peers don’t end up leading them into a different kind of trouble.

It’s the little things.

I told the story in “Free Range” Hits the Protective Bubble: Where’s the Balance? about my daughter going in to buy Gatorade and feeling unsure of herself. The incident made me realize that I needed to look out for more of these little opportunities when I can ask my kids to try something. The challenge will be that it’s often easier to just do it myself. But I need to be patient and remember the importance of letting my kids do stuff for themselves.

Plan for the future.

Those things we do over and over become familiar to all of us and less worrisome for our kids to do by themselves. I want to plan ahead for things like riding the bus and grocery shopping that I eventually want them to able to do alone. By the time they get old enough to do these things alone, I’ll be comfortable with them.

In the end, I suppose it’s a matter of remembering that our kids keep growing. The 12-year-old will be 16 soon and then 18 not too long after that. As much as we want to protect them, we have to let them take risks and learn as well.

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