I am about 7 here - ready to go as a wild Indian in the large shared Garden where I lived as a small boy in London. My sister and I were pushed out into the gardens the entire time we were not at school. Pushed out unattended. Diana and I would also walk about a mile to our local sweet shop also unattended.
When I was 8 and Diana 6, we moved to Accra in Ghana. School would end at 12 noon and Di and I would wander the city on our own. We not only explored, climbed tress, ate food that was strange, hung out with the people who lived near us. But also killed snakes and rabid dogs, had pet monkeys that escaped and had to be found and went swimming in the surf. We survived! Not only did we survive but we did what children have done for all time - until now - we learned how to pay attention to what was going on about us. We learned how to make our world safe by learning how it worked.
My point? What is going on today when parents wrap their kids up in chains to keep them safe? What are the risks really? What is the damage?
My friend Chris Corrigan found this excellent article about this issue - Why I let my 9 year old ride on the subway alone
I left my 9-year-old at Bloomingdale’s (the original one) a couple weeks ago. Last seen, he was in first floor handbags as I sashayed out the door.
Bye-bye! Have fun!
And he did. He came home on the subway and bus by himself.
RELATED: Listen to Ms. Skenazy on WNYC.
Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.
No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn’t want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn’t do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”
Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.
Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.
And yet —