I’ll never forget it. I was six years old, a new first-grader, when I found out that a girl in my class lived in my own neighborhood. For kids or parents of private school lineage, you know that’s a big deal. Often, my classmates, at the Catholic school I attended, lived as far as thirty minutes away from me (my daughters have friends who live over an hour from us as our school is the only Catholic high school in nine counties). To have a friend just three blocks away was a dream come true. I can still picture the houses, cars, dogs, and yards that flew by as I raced my little, purple bike down the sidewalk. Down one street, past an intersection, turn right, almost to the end of the block, and there it was. And there I was, almost every day thereafter. Without my parents. Without a cell phone. Without a tacking device. Take that in for a moment. I was a six-year-old, on the street alone, and it was glorious.
I had to be home by 5:00 for our family dinner, but otherwise, the world was my oyster. I could walk or ride to Laura’s house. I could go all the way to the park on the other side of the neighborhood. I could, when they were older, go with my younger brothers up into the woods that were behind our house and spend hours riding our bikes up and down the tall, gravel hill that seemed to appear out of nowhere. In the summer, we stayed out all day long, from sunup until dinner at 5:00, and then we were out again. Blackberry picking, treehouse building, street hockey, downhill bike racing–the possibilities were endless! Twilight evenings and dark nights were filled with firefly catching and flashlight tag. Oh, what a wonderful time it was.
This morning, CBS news played a story that I loved. Utah has now passed a free-range parenting law that allows kids to walk to school, go to the park, and play in their neighborhood, unsupervised, without parents being prosecuted. The law is the first in the nation, with Colorado and New Jersey hoping to follow. These laws were prompted by a case in Maryland when a mother was arrested for allowing her two children, ages six and ten, to walk to school together. She fought the charges and was eventually exonerated. And well she should have been!
Look, I understand the fears. I have found myself just as guilty as the next overprotective parent when it comes to my kids’ safety. When my girls were in elementary school, I allowed them free-range throughout our small town, as long as they took walkie talkies with them to let me know when they reached their destination, or, if they were out riding their bikes, to just check in every now and then. Yes, I feared that something could happen to them, but we wanted our children to have the freedom to come and go, to explore the outdoors, and to stay out late into the night with their friends, enjoying the freedom of a summer night. They spent hours playing man hunt (flashlight tag without the flashlights – a kind of hide and seek in the dark) or out crabbing in a skiff or riding bikes to a friend’s house the next town over. Morgan, left to her own devices one afternoon, taught herself how to ride a two-wheeler!
I heard a story, when my girls were little, about a woman whose next door neighbor called the police because the woman’s child was playing in their yard unsupervised. The mother said that she was washing dishes at a sink with a large window and could see her child the entire time. I say, so what? What if she left the sink to go switch her laundry? What if she went down the hall to make her bed? Yes, we live in a world of school shootings and kidnappings, but kids are kids. They aren’t meant to be caged inside a house like animals in a zoo. And they aren’t meant to be watched 24/7 like a science experiment (at least until they’re teenagers). Things have gotten so ridiculous that there’s even a website now that helps parents navigate their state laws so they know at what age they are allowed to stop hovering over their children!
I’m in love with the Utah law. I hope it leads to many more like it. Even better, I hope it leads to fewer laws regulating at what age a kid is allowed to be a kid. Being free-range seems to be all the rage right now when it comes to chickens. Can’t we extend some of that freedom to our kids?
What I was writing about this time last year: Five Things Mother Taught Me
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and sweet, faith-filled romance novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me, Whispering Vines, and Island of Miracles are all recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top inspirational fiction books of 2015, 2016, and 2017. Whispering Vines was awarded the 2017 LYRA Award for the best romance of 2016. Island of Miracles has outsold all of Amy’s other books worldwide and ranked as high as 600 on Amazon. Her latest children’s book, The Greatest Gift, is now available; and her novel, Summer’s Squall, can be found online and in stores.
Amy’s books: Crabbing With Granddad (2013), A Place to Call Home (2014), Picture Me (2015), Whispering Vines (2016), Island of Miracles (2017), Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms (2017), The Greatest Gift (2017), Summer’s Squall (2017)