Free-Range Kids: Freedom or Security?

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Free Range Kids

Recently, parents in California were charged with child endangerment for letting their kids walk home from the park unattended. That’s old news. You’ve already heard it.

But it got me thinking about my childhood. We walked to and from elementary school without supervision. We rode our bikes to High School because it was too far to walk. Back then, I never saw a kid wearing a helmet unless it was on the football field.

After school, we played in the woods across the road. There weren’t any parks. In the winter, we rode our sleds down the icy slopes, weaving in and out, between the trees.

We took chances and sometimes we got hurt – a scrape, a bruise, and sometimes a broken bone or two – but all my friends and all my classmates survived. That is, until we turned 18 and our government sent many of us to Viet Nam.

Maybe someone should charge Uncle Sam with child endangerment.

Life was risky, but with every risk we learned to make better choices. Kids today don’t have the opportunity to make choices. Experience is a great teacher. Without experience there is less learning. How will our children become adults? Maybe a better question is: What kind of adults will they be?

Many young men and women who went to Iraq and Afghanistan came back in much worse shape than our generation did. Could it be because this generation is less equipped to face obstacles?

You might say kids are safer now. Maybe they are, but I wonder if they are as happy as we were. It’s hard to be happy when you live in fear of so many everyday things. We are teaching them to believe security is more important than freedom when we should be teaching them the value of freedom and the spirit-crushing effects of fear.

Those parents I mentioned earlier said they were raising “free-range” kids. The opposite of “free-range” is “caged”. Is that really what we want for our children? It’s considered inhumane to treat animals that way.

Every effort to make us safer makes us less resilient. We are informed of all the potential dangers in order to convince us of the wisdom of whatever the latest safety fad happens to be.

Growing up, I seem to remember falling off my bike was part of the process of learning to ride. Now we have training wheels. Kids have to wear helmets to avoid hitting their heads if they fall. How can you fall with training wheels? I don’t remember anyone getting a concussion from falling off a bike, but I do remember a few broken teeth. Maybe we should mandate face masks, too. I’m surprised we don’t require seat belts on bikes. Maybe that will be next.

We also didn’t have seat belts or air bags in cars. One of my cousins thought seat belts were a great idea. This was in the ‘60’s when most cars didn’t have them. He paid to have them installed in his convertible and gave seat belts as Christmas gifts. He was afraid for all of us.

He was 19 when he missed a turn and ran off the road. His car rolled down the embankment three times before crashing head-first into a tree, The impact pushed the steering column through his chest, but I’m sure he didn’t feel it. On one of the roll-overs, his head had become detached from his body. Decapitated people don’t feel pain.

Without a seat belt he would have likely been thrown from the car. I can’t know if that would have saved his life, but I do know that being securely strapped in killed him. It was a long time before I could bring myself to fasten a seat belt. I’m still not sure it’s wise.

In order to convince us all to wear them, we were told numerous stories of people who died without one. They never told you about my cousin.

Society’s attitudes change within a generation or two. We’ve been overly protecting our children for a while now, so it shouldn’t surprise us that young adults have been more than willing to give up freedom for security whenever they’re told it’s necessary for National Security.

Those who would trade freedom for a little security will have neither. Remember that the next time you’re told to be afraid. And stop teaching your children to be so cautious.

Paul Anthony is the author of After the Blackout, available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle. Short articles can be seen at Write to him at [email protected]