When I Was a Kid, We Were All 'Free Range'
I'm so relieved. Maryland has clarified its policy on "free range" children. Lawmakers there have decided that the state shouldn't investigate the parents of these children unless the children are harmed or face substantial risk of harm. This policy clarification arose from a case where two "free range" children were twice picked up by the police and taken home. Child Protective Services got involved, and the whole episode then went out of control. These poor children, who were doing nothing other than being children, were held by CPS without being able to even see their parents for a period of time.
I'm not sure who came up with the name "free range children." The only thing I ever knew that was "free range" until recently was chicken, not children. Now it's the term used for children who are allowed to have a degree of independence by their parents.
When I was a child, we were all "free range." Our parents allowed us more and more independence the older we got based on how well we handled the responsibility. I was "free range" by the time I was three years old – not exactly my parents' choice, though. The story goes that I wanted to go to school with my brother and escaped from the house when I got the opportunity and walked the two blocks to his elementary school. The front door was dead-bolted, and my mother tried to watch me assiduously. When she turned her back, I was out the door and down to the school. I stopped after a few days – not because my mother could keep me in, but because they wouldn't let me stay at the school and kept having my mother pick me up. My brother did walk me to school the first day of kindergarten, but then my mother realized how ridiculous it was.
We didn't have cell phones, internet, Twitter, or any of the other means of communication children now have. Most children I know have cell phones almost as soon as they are able to talk. We either had cheap watches or knew we had to be home when the sun started to set. Once we were allowed to cross streets, the world was ours – and it was wonderful. We walked and biked miles and miles in the summer, but we were always home on time. We had great adventures but knew not to talk to strangers unless there was an emergency. We knew how to handle those, too.
My best friend and I were in Pennypack Park in Philadelphia one day, and she slipped off a log. Just looking at her arm, we both knew something wasn't right. There was a family having a picnic close to where we were, and we asked them to take us to the hospital. They did, and the hospitals called our moms. Nobody took us into custody. Nobody called CPS on our parents. Her arm was set, and we went home.
One reason people use for being against "free range" children is that the world is a more dangerous place. Really? Back when I was "free ranging," we didn't have 24/7 news coverage, so we had no way of knowing about every single event. There were dangerous people then, too. Serial killers, rapists, murderers, sexual perverts – we had them all. A baker in a neighborhood was a Nazi war criminal. I found that out when he was arrested years after I left Philadelphia. It was in the local news, and my mother told me about it. You just didn't hear about these people unless they were local. That's why we didn't talk to strangers and never got into strange cars. And if you saw something that didn't seem right, you avoided it.
I was followed in a car one night when I was walking to my tutor's house. The car was going very slowly and it frightened me. I did what I had been told to do and went to the closest house and knocked on the door. The car left, and the people in the house called my parents for me.
Today's "free range" children will grow up to be responsible adults. These children aren't abandoned by their parents; they are taught how to handle themselves in multiple situations. This prepares them for dealing with situations that come along as they get older. It's about time for the nanny state to stop in this country. People should trust more and worry less.
Claire Hawksley is a gray-haired granny, an average American, and retired from both her RN and IT positions.