A Free-Range Parent Talks About the Free-Range Utah Law

 

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My son having play-time at the beach.

 

If you read parenting news and blogs like I do, you’ve probably read that a new law in Utah that goes into effect in May, allows parents to stop being helicopters. A Wall Street Journal article called “Parents, You Can Stop Helicoptering” is written by Lenore Skenazy, the woman who let her 9-year-old child ride the subway alone in New York.

Here are some excerpts from her opinion piece:

“If you send your kid out to play in the park for an hour, or buy a carton of milk, or even walk to school, guess what? If you’re in Utah, you won’t get arrested for negligence. Woo hoo!

“You don’t have to worry about a trial, fines, mandatory parenting classes, jail time or even losing custody, all thanks to a new law passed unanimously by the Utah Legislature and signed this month by Gov. Gary Herbert. It goes into effect in May. It’s called the Free-Range Parents Law, named after the movement I started, Free-Range Kids.

“I’m the New York mom who let her 9-year-old ride the subway alone and wrote a column about it for the late, great New York Sun. That was 10 years ago April 1 (and no, it wasn’t a joke). Two days later I found myself on NBC’s “Today” show, MSNBC, Fox News Channel and National Public Radio. The hosts all asked the same question: “But Lenore, how would you have felt if he never came home?”

“Well, I did have a spare son at home. But seriously, that very question was the reason parents were going crazy with worry. Paranoia about abduction by strangers—among the rarest of crimes—was the whole reason kids were being supervised every second. The No. 1 cause of death for children is car accidents. Yet you don’t hear talk-show hosts saying: “Oh my God, you drove your son to the dentist? How would you have felt if you got T-boned by a truck?”

“I started the Free-Range Kids blog the weekend after the media firestorm, to explain that I am all for safety. I love helmets, car seats, seat belts. If you’re having a baby, my shower gift is a fire extinguisher. But I let my son go out into the big wide world without me because that’s what kids, certainly 9-year-olds, have been doing since the beginning of time.”

Her article goes on to describe hair-raising scenarios where 911 was called and Child Protective Services showed up at homes when a parent let their kids be alone for five minutes or less—or play outside the house 150 feet away. In one story, a mom went into a Starbucks and let her girls sit in their van. A police officer greeted her and threatened to take the kids away when she returned three minutes later. The next day, Child Protective Services showed up at their house and demanded a doctor examine the children for signs of abuse.

Here’s what Skenazy wrote about the law in Utah:

“The Utah law redefines neglect to exclude letting kids walk to school, play outside, remain briefly in a vehicle under certain conditions, stay at home as a latchkey kid, or engage in any “similar independent activity.” It adds that children should be of “sufficient age and maturity to avoid harm or unreasonable risk of harm,” which could leave the door open for overzealous officials. But clearly the law leans in the direction of giving Free-Range parents the benefit of the doubt.

“In America, we keep talking about how we need to raise a generation of kids who are smart, resilient problem-solvers ready to take on the chaotic, robotic economy ahead. We can’t do it by standing always by their side, solving all their problems.

“It is not negligent to believe our kids are ready for the childhood independence that made us who we are. It is negligent to deprive them of it.”

Isn’t it a shame that our children aren’t allowed the same freedom we had as kids? I never let my kids walk to the park or wander around the block alone when they were young. When I was young, we were outside if the weather allowed it. We rode our bikes around and went in and out of neighbor’s houses. I remember going to the Schutt’s house (they had teenagers who babysat us–and a horse named Snoopy.) I loved hanging out in the girls’ rooms and seeing their cool clothes, make-up and hairstyles. Their mom always gave us a cookie or popsicle, too.

My kids never had that life. We did have a child kidnapped from his front yard in a nearby town when my kids were little and it scared me to death. His body eventually was found. That one incident had a profound effect on my parenting.

I let my kids play at the park or beach, but we moms would be gathered on a blanket chatting and watching while they played. They also had their space at the pool, where they went six days a week for practice with a great group of kids. The park, beach and the pool allowed a little bit of freedom for them to explore and be with other kids, without us constantly hovering—although we were there on the sidelines ready to helicopter at a moment’s notice.

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Freedom to play at the beach.

 

What are your thoughts about society today not allowing kids any freedom? Do you agree with the new law in Utah?

 

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Not a helicopter, but a “bunny mom”

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My cutie pies.

A unique viewpoint in parenting was written by Dr. Danielle Teller, mother of four teens and published on NBC News. “In the age of the helicopter parent, why I gave my teens almost total control,” Teller describes how she and her husband decided to step back and let their kids find autonomy during the high school years, so they’d be independent by age 18.

This reminds me of my parents, who said their definition of parenting success was to let us fly from the nest. I recall them doing lots of activities together and my brother and I having an enormous amount of freedom. Most weekends my parents were fishing on our boat, visiting our cabin on the Stillaguamish River or exploring some other areas from Carmel, CA to Eastern Washington. My brother and I survived. We didn’t have parents telling us to fill out college applications or worrying about our homework. We both ended up in the top 10 of our classes and were accepted and graduated from the one college we applied to–the University of Washington.

By contrast, I hovered and cajoled my son and daughter over their busy, crammed packed schedules. My husband and I were fixtures around the pool watching them practice and compete. College applications I oversaw and made sure dates weren’t missed. The end result was—I believe—more anxiety and tougher times for my kids in college than what I experienced. Of course, it’s a different time and things are, well different!

Here are some excerpts from the article by Danielle Teller:

“It’s appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm, but it’s not helpful to decide for them the course of their future.”

“My teenagers call me a bunny mom. Let me explain. We live in an affluent suburb with high-performing public schools, and many of our kids’ friends have tiger moms and helicopter dads who heavily police their children’s schoolwork, music practice, and extracurriculars in the hope that their offspring will go on to elite universities and professional success. My family, however, has adopted a different strategy.

“Several years ago, my husband and I sat our four kids down and explained that we weren’t going to parent them that way. We hoped that the rules we had enforced when they were preteens had instilled good habits, but once they got to high school, we were going to start to back off. We would no longer insist that they join a sports team, eat broccoli or play piano. We weren’t going to make their decisions for them or push them to succeed. We would provide guidance and support, and we would expect them to be good citizens at home and at school, but our goal was to gradually hand over the reins, so that by age 18, they would have complete control over their own lives.

“It wasn’t easy to hand over control. We could envision the mistakes and poor choices our children might make, and we had met the talented and ferociously hard-working peers they would eventually compete with for college admission and employment. But though we were nervous, we decided to take a light-touch approach for two reasons. First, it seemed most likely to produce happiness, and second, we weren’t convinced that intense parental involvement is key to long-term success. (Notice, too, that we are not conflating happiness with success.)

“It’s hard for parents to let go. Just as we protected our babies from sharp objects, we want to protect our teens from what we perceive as failure. Yet while it is appropriate to nurture and protect teens from physical and psychological harm as we did when they were younger, it is not helpful to decide for them the course of their future lives. As a so-called bunny mom, I have to bite my tongue when one of my children decides to stop taking math classes or quit the swim team. “You won’t achieve your full potential,” I want to say. But that shouldn’t be their goal in life any more than it is my main goal in life. Their goal should be to follow their own ambitions, wherever those may take them.”

I am impressed that these parents were able to let go during the high school years. It would take a lot of strength and conviction to not get caught up in what all the other parents were doing. They are successful professionals in their own right, and definitely not living vicariously through their kids.

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My daughter receiving ribbons from her first coach. I don’t think we ever missed our kids getting awards. 

What is your opinion of hovering over kids, versus a laissez-faire attitude?

How swimming has helped my kids and what my family has learned from it.

pics for swim (1)Note: I’ve invited a writer to give a fresh perspective on what kids learn from swimming. Everything I’ve read of his brings me smiles and tears. I’m pleased to introduce my first guest writer, Juan de la Quinta.

johnphotoHow swimming has helped my kids and what my family has learned from it.

When I was asked to share my thoughts on the theme of this post, I immediately felt that this topic is perfect for my casual writing style and the fact that I love to share stories about my 3 daughters. I’m going to leave them nameless, but they really do exist…trust me.

Our eldest, now 24, deserves credit for bringing our family into the swimming world. She was 12 when she brought home a flyer from middle school announcing swim team tryouts at the local community college pool. Still relatively new to the neighborhood and without a sport since her Karate Sensei had moved away a few months earlier, my wife took her to the pool the next day and she passed the 25-yard swim test. We signed her up and the transformation began. 

Although this daughter had the courage to stick with swimming all the way through high school, despite her lukewarm interest, what she remembers most about swimming is that it taught her about long-term commitments. She grew up a natural athlete who had the privilege of playing a variety of different seasonal sports that allowed her to maximize her enjoyment for 3-4 months at a time. She excelled at basketball, softball, karate, flag football, soccer, and was a natural swimmer with solid form in all 4 strokes.  Before joining swimming, sports were second in priority to individual and family activities. Once she committed to swimming we expected her to juggle her schedule to keep swimming the first priority after schoolwork. What she learned from this experience, especially in high school, was that excessive homework (or the claim thereof) was the only reason we ever allowed her to miss swim practice. She has since adopted our philosophy of priorities and could not be a more reliable person when she makes a commitment. 

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Biological Offspring #2, on the other hand, has benefitted from the lessons mom and dad learned with #1 and she has never tried to get out of swim practice for any reason because she knows from 10 years of swimming that we can’t be fooled twice. Seven years junior to #1, this child has set the standards of excellence for herself and her 12-year old sister in both academics and athletics. Formation of her character and personality can be directly attributed to the experiences she’s had with her swimming coaches and teammates. During her earliest years she adapted to the many transient coaches that we endured because of the challenge to find and keep swim parents capable of managing the intricacies of a good team. We bounced our way from one end of our valley to the other before landing with our current team. #2 never let these team and pool changes affect her attitude or behavior. She has consistently trained with older girls who’ve inadvertently taught her many lessons of life. 

#2 has always come home from practices and meets to parents who’ve encouraged, expected and at times demanded that #2 and #3 be open, honest and candid with us about their lives. In these talks around the dinner table or driving home from a meet, we’d hear about the shenanigans that other kids were pulling with their coaches, other swimmers, other friends and other kid’s parents. We’d analyze these incidents and use each of them as teaching opportunities. 

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Being a supportive parent is much easier in the 3rd person than the first because emotions are less likely to influence our feedback and guidance. The key to this parental practice is to remain neutral as often as possible or the kids pick up on the one-sided opinions. If you are honest and admit when a situation is delicate, difficult and/or embarrassing, then your kids will realize that your opinions are fair and your guidance is not designed to just make a parent happy for the sake of happiness, but fair because it takes into the account the feelings and effects that will happen to all parties involved in a situation. In other words, try not to judge. It’s a good practice in general, but essential to good parenting. 

Now when it comes to #3, I have to admit that much of the influence she’s gotten from me was actually in her pre-swimming years, riding along as I drove #2 back and forth to practice and when we drove as a family to meets. I repeatedly shared my own passion for hard work and my competitive spirit through stories of my childhood and young adult life. These frequent infusions of positive values necessary in athletics and life were absorbed well by #3. As soon as our backyard pool was built, #3 was four years old and the perfect student for #2, who trained her little sister in the fine art of racing starts, turning at the wall and the fundamentals of all 4 strokes. This first summer of training was the advantage that #3 took with her onto the team when she started swimming a year later. It took about one season for me to realize that #3 was actually swimming faster than #2 did at the same age… and we always thought #2 was fast. 

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The greatest qualities of character that #3 learned from her teammate-sister was humility and kindness. #2 has always worked hard to reach the top levels of her age group, so when she started to win races and bring home medals, we repeatedly instilled the lesson that her hard work was the direct cause of her success, not other extrinsic factors. Recognizing the truth of this cause and effect relationship, #3 works as hard as anyone on her team to improve herself. The beauty of her humility and kindness comes not just from witnessing her sister’s humble success and good sportsmanship, but also from her own spiritual development. It’s easy to impart Christian values to a child who experiences so many incidents of recognition. As parents, we’ve repeatedly taught her that she’s been blessed with all the attributes of a champion. The lesson we teach repeatedly is that not only does she owe it to God to use her talents to the best of her ability as a way to say thank you, but to continue to open herself up to God’s will by raising up others around her. The value of knowing that the competition is not an enemy, but rather just another child of God swimming next to you is the key to her ability to befriend anyone willing to smile back at her. Don’t get me wrong, she doesn’t like to lose races but when that happens she has no problems congratulating the girls who beat her. It takes nothing away from who she is as a person and it does nothing but inspire her to work harder. 

I love being a swim dad, but this snapshot only highlights a few things our family has learned from over 10 years of participation. I could go on and on about the great families we’ve met over the years and the friends we’ve all made along the way or our joy of watching other swimmers on our team improve and mature. But most important of all, swimming has brought my family closer to each other as we’ve endured triumphs and disappointments with our kids. Our closeness and love is a direct result of being a committed swim family.

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What I learned from three grads about attitude and achievement.

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Yesterday I interviewed three graduating seniors in Desert Hot Springs for a small scholarship fund I’m involved with. 

Each girl was a joy and their spirit of kindness was refreshing. Our scholarship fund requires recipients to have high academic achievement, leadership, and a commitment to their community.

The high school we visited yesterday is poor compared to the one my daughter attends, although it’s only 10 miles away.

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All three girls had one thing in common — they are the first in their family to be attending college.

One girl was the fifth child in her family. The parents never went beyond 8th grade in their education. She loves her parents, but she has seen how hard life can be without an education. This is what spurred her to take AP and Honors classes to get on track for college. She volunteers while following a path that no one else in her family has attempted.

The second was the salutatorian. Not only did her parents not attend college, but she has an older brother in his 20s that is mentally disabled. I could tell that she was equally as proud of his accomplishments as her own. On weekends, this bright, confident girl, travels 30 minutes to volunteer with animals at the zoo.  Her goal is to be a veterinarian. I have no doubt she will achieve her dreams.

The third girl was very soft spoken and shy, but she had a warmth and grace about her. She has volunteered for four years at a local hospital and said she loves working in the surgery center. “The patients are cranky and I like to do everything I can to make them more comfortable.” Her mother is a single mom that makes $22,000 per year. 

imgres-6I’m proud and honored to meet these three girls. They have given me hope, especially after being around kids in my daughter’s world who are given everything they ask for, want everything and need nothing, have supportive parents, yet still act as though the world owes them something. 

images-5What are the parents of these so called “underprivileged” kids doing that we are not? Perhaps they’ve let their kids fail and learn from their mistakes. Or, they don’t believe their kids are perfect and never make mistakes. They didn’t spend their parenting years fighting every battle for them. These three beautiful girls had to make it all on their own. 

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My scholarship committee after interviewing the three girls.