Free Range Kids movement meets Mountain Range Parenting (column)
June 16, 2015
"Play ball!" It is the quintessential call of summer, followed by the crack of a bat. When I was younger, it meant there would be a chance to sneak away to the concession stand open evenings at the local ball field offering uniquely tasty summer fare, from bubble gum to giant Sweet Tarts. Downing one of the mammoth tarts was a summer accomplishment all its own.
Summer takes on a myriad of different sounds around the county, from the shock of the horn starting a swim race to the unassuming "Ready, set, go" that sends runners off on a new trail. Summit kids are out in force, doing it all.
The advent of our summertime-activity frenzy coincided, by chance, with some recent publicity surrounding the "new" Free Range Kid movement. Brain-child of self-proclaimed "world's worst mom" Lenore Skenazy, the idea seems simple: Kids should be encouraged to do things on their own without fervent adult supervision. Skenazy leads the way in, "fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape." She recently appeared on Jon Stewart's Daily Show in a clip promoting the free range philosophy. Like most parenting philosophies, there were ideas that resonated and assumptions I challenged, but, mostly, I found myself laughing at Stewart's ability to make all parenting philosophy seem pretty close to absurd.
Often this time of year, I listen to friends reminisce about the good ol' days, when they were left for hours to their own devices exploring the great outdoors. Free ranging of the past probably seems a bit rosier with a 30, or 40, year buffer. I'm glad I learned to catch a snake and to ride a bike with no hands — although, I sure could use the two front teeth I lost during that experiment. We could roam the hood freely, provided we didn't miss Dad's shrill whistle signaling supper time. Mostly, we didn't get into mischief, knowing a good tanning would follow if we were caught. The fear of a good swat is one parenting philosophy that has lost favor in recent years. Pop just wouldn't understand.
The Free Range movement appears a parenting retort to the anathema of "helicoptering," the style of child rearing best known for overprotective mothers (and sometimes even fathers) who discourage children's independence by being a tad bit too involved. And, heaven forbid for us parents if we can't get the balance just right.
Now, not every neighborhood in Summit lends itself to free ranging; biking down our hill in Wilderness probably not such a good idea for a 6-year-old. It's my guess, too, that not every shop owner is eager to have free-range teenagers daily checking the displays. Hovering has its drawbacks as well, especially when it conflicts with making a living and living a life — significant time consumers for most Summit County parents.
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That's where our amazing community comes in once again and brings me to the point. Summit offers its own unique alternative for Mr. Stewart's consideration. Mountain Range Parenting, where a parent can hover expectantly by the start line as their kid hurtles off on a mountain-bike course sight unseen. Not exactly over-the-top freedom, but clearly not excessive worry. We know not everyone tops the podium, but, mostly, they make it back alive and unscathed, something to be proud of. Nor is every kid offered a leading role in the summertime acting productions, but each one can experience a program of national caliber. And, these great opportunities are brought to you by you — the Summit community — where local recreation directors constantly look for ways to engage the younger set, and coaches, directors and teachers put their energy into this effort. Many of the programs would go nowhere were it not for people who buy at bake sales, purchase those coupon books, buy raffle tickets and support the Summit Foundation that bolsters the organizations with hundreds of thousands of dollars in grant money earmarked to create bright futures for our youth, encouraging everything from playing baseball to the bassoon.
For this mountain range parent, there's nothing better than giving a high five to the 10-year-old who just blistered a lung-searing run — but only after she picked herself up from a nasty fall. Not sure if it's a story for Stewart, but I'll let you know if he comes calling.
Cindy Bargell is a mom and an attorney who lives outside of Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters.
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