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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Parents shouldn’t dwell on children’s problems

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When kids are little, they have smaller problems.

If you’re a parent like me, we tend to get caught up in our children’s problems–whether it’s a failing grade on a test or hearing that someone talked behind their back. When my kids are unhappy, I’m unhappy and I want to: 1. Find out as much information as I can and 2. Go to war or solve their problem. I’d start off by asking my child a whole bunch of questions so I could sort out what was going on for myself. Then I’d often call someone to vent, like a close friend or family member, to get their opinion and ask for advice. What was the point of all this talk? Was I really helping my child–or not?

In a Wall Street Journal article called “Don’t Overdiscuss Your Teen’s Problems” by Jennifer Breheny Wallace, she says “Well-meaning parents can sometimes dwell too long on a child’s difficulties with friends and school, doing more harm than good.”

 

You can read a few excerpts here:

When the mean girls (or boys) strike at school, many parents naturally want to ask about every last detail—and then they continue to check in to see how the situation is going. A growing body of research suggests, however, that dwelling on such problems can do a child more harm than good.

Talking through a child’s troubles is healthy in moderation. But when children routinely engage in what psychologists call “co-rumination”—excessively rehashing and speculating about problems with a parent or a friend—it can amplify stress, impair judgment and increase the risk of developing anxiety and depression.

Co-rumination involves continuously repeating details or feelings about a situation, or discussing it again even when no new information is being introduced, says Amanda Rose, a psychology professor at the University of Missouri, who developed the concept in a 2002 journal article. “Parents who co-ruminate with their children are on the right path in building warmth and closeness in their relationships,” she says. “They just need to learn to stop some conversations sooner.”

Now that I’m no longer on the daily parenting track and am an empty nester, I can look back and realize that I was a co-ruminator and probably should have stopped conversations much sooner. My daughter said I liked to rehash the rehash. I had an overzealous opinion of what was right or wrong and I never could leave a wrong untouched. If I believed a teacher or so-called “friend” hurt my kids, I became the mama grizzly. In reality, kids do behave badly and can say mean things to each other. It doesn’t make it okay, but replaying it with your child is definitely not going to make them feel better.

I am learning to listen and not say too much. The problems my kids encounter today, I do want them to share with me, but I’m not here to solve anything. I can’t wave a magic wand and make it better. They are on their way to becoming independent adults and can figure out what they need to do. When my son calls up and says, “I need your advice on something,” I mostly listen. He wants someone to discuss an issue with and usually comes up with his own solution. He’s asking for a sounding board, not a problem solver.

 

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I miss hanging out every day with my kiddos.

 

What is your opinion about discussing problems with your kids? How do you approach a situation where they’ve been hurt and are unhappy?

Did Your Parents Have a Favorite Child?

 

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Me and my big brother.

 

Last week in the Wall Street Journal, an article written by Jennifer Breheny Wallace stated that parents do have a favorite child and offered some suggestions to keep a healthy balance in the family. Her article was called, “That childhood hunch that your parents had a favorite was probably right.”

Here are the first few paragraphs. To read the rest click here.

“In a study published last year in the Journal of Marriage and Family, 75% of mothers admitted to being closer to one adult child. Researchers of a 2005 study observed that 70% of fathers and 74% of mothers demonstrated preferential treatment to one of their children.

Favoritism is as widespread as it is taboo, says Washington, D.C., psychologist Ellen Weber Libby, author of “The Favorite Child.” “Parents need to know that favoritism is normal,” she says, and it exists to some degree in every family. Some parents may prefer a child who is more like them. The favorite can also change over time; a parent may prefer a child in a particular stage, such as an infant or a teenager.”

Parents always deny having a favorite because, in our society, it’s taboo. No one admits to having a favorite child, even if they do.

Growing up, I felt like my mom’s favorite was her son. I don’t know if it was true or not, but he seemed to be the “golden child.” He could do no wrong. Except, I was a better speller. When he was in first grade he missed one spelling word the entire year, “pencil.” My grandma taught me—at age four—to spell P E N C I L out loud and often. Nothing like sibling rivalry egged on by the grown-ups, right?

Now on to my kids. I don’t believe I have a favorite child, but at times in their lives, I was closer to one over the other. The article states that is common and that favoritism is natural. Not good. But it does happen.

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My kids with Angus.

 

I know when my daughter was an infant and had colic—she was not my favorite. As soon as my husband came home from work, I passed her off to him, desperately needing a moment of quiet from the constant cries. He lasted about 20 minutes and passed her back to me and would say, “I can’t take this! I need to get out of here!” Fortunately, the colic ended the day of her baptism and she was easy and fun to be with from that time on. I look back on that day as nothing short of a miracle.

My kids have very different personalities and talents. Like the article said, when my daughter was the swimming star over the weekend, it was then my son’s turn to shine during the week in the classroom. They both got plenty of attention and honors for their accomplishments, although they were unnecessarily jealous and competitive over each other’s strengths. I believe that’s been put aside as they’ve gotten older.

I love both my kids equally. That’s what my mom always told me when I’d ask her who her favorite was. My daughter always says she’s the favorite child.

Do you have a closer relationship with one child over another? Do you believe that your parents had a favorite child?

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How could anyone have a favorite child?