Looking for a Little Confidence

And Talk of the Nation has me blogging again today. This time, the guest was Lenore Skenazy, an op-ed columnist at The New York Sun. She wrote a column, also on her blog, called Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone. You may remember my post on my own family’s struggle with this urge to let our children “out to play” and our fears for their safety; you can read it here. The interview with Skenazy has me brooding on the topic again, as do my son’s more frequent pleadings for permission to ride his bike down to the local park to play soccer.

The link to Skenazy’s article above also takes you to her website, Free Range Kids, which looks like a meeting place for parents who are, or who want to be, raising kids who are safe but not overprotected, healthy but not sanitized.

I have a friend who has a now-adult daughter, whom I first met when she was around 12. Even at that age, the girl was confident, poised, gracious with new people…an all around impressive young person to meet. I remember once asking my friend, half in jest, what she did as a parent because I wanted to duplicate her efforts so that my own children would grow up to be as fantastic as her daughter, “E.” I’ll never forget her answer; she said she tried to do everything she could to give her daughter confidence. When faced with a choice she wasn’t sure how to make, she would try to consider which option would give “E” the most confidence and go with that one.

And aside from this issue of how much freedom and autonomy to give my kids, I am crystal clear on my desire to raise them to be confident in their own abilities, in their brains, their bodies, their relationships. But boy do I find it hard to translate that desire into letting the kid ride his bike to the park. Concerns? Oh, there are many.

Dogs. There are stray dogs, sometimes pit bulls, in my neighborhood. How often do I see them? A couple of times a month, I would say.

Cars. Let’s face it, people are idiots. Especially when they are behind the wheel of a car. Absolute idiots. How often do I notice idiot drivers in my neighborhood? Practically daily, I kid you not.

Bullies. I have a vivid memory of being at a park with my brother; we were probably 8 and 11 at the time. While playing basketball, he started having trouble with another kid. The trouble escalated, and before I knew it, my brother was getting beaten up and I was running home to get my dad. It was scary to witness as a child, and I think it stayed with me in such a way as to make the prospect of this happening to my kids especially scary. Even still, this happens, right? I mean, kids get beaten up sometimes by other kids. In some cases, it’s just a right of passage; in other cases, it can be a truly dangerous event.

Kidnappers. Actually, I’m not as scared of this as I am of the dogs and cars; it seems so much less likely. Even though the thought of having a child snatched is awful and terrifying, I can talk myself through this one as -- statistically speaking -- extremely unlikely.

One of Skenazy’s points is that the media is doing us a disservice by covering the sensational and scary stories that create and perpetuate fearful parenting. So what we need, then, are ways to help parents hear the other side of the story and venues for fearless parenting to be more visible in our culture. Sites like Free Range Kids can help. And the national conversation that Skenazy sparked with her Op-Ed will help too. I hope this topic gets more attention.

As for us? Will Sam get to ride his bike to the park? I don’t think we are quite there yet, but again: I’m trying, Ringo.


Robinella said…
I really enjoyed this post and the one before. I don't know how many times my hub and I have said, "well, we never..." Of course our world is different today, but I really like the ideas you shared. Now to check out that Parenting website in the first post.

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Laura said…
I followed your link from FreeRangeKids. :)

Would it help calm your fears if your son got experience with self-defense? Perhaps a jujitsu class or something? I'm sure he would enjoy it as well.

As for the dogs, they usually aren't a problem unless approached incorrectly. Hardly any dog will agress unprovoked. Maybe you could find a dog trainer who is willing to teach your family about safety around dogs. Although, it has a lot to do with confidence, which would come with learning general self defense - and being let out on his own! :)

Best of luck. I have an 18 month old so am not in the thick of these decisions, but my brain sure is buzzing about it now too! :)
Monica said…
Well, we decided that we need to let him go to the park on his bicycle. So we will take him out a couple of times, to talk about traffic safety and other general safety smarts, and then...let him go.

Do we let his 7-year old brother go with him? Yikes! Don't know, but I'll probably blog about it.

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