Lightning Bug Moments

A story on NPR  today confirmed what I’ve believed for quite some time now.  Though we seem more fearful than ever as a nation, crime actually is on the decline and has been for years.  In fact, the crime rates in America now reflect those of the 50s.  You know, that “perfect” era everyone harkens back to when they decry the state of America today.  But in reality, today’s world in the realm of safety resembles that halcyon decade more so than that of the 70s when many of those parenting children growing up today came of age.

On a summer night like tonight, circa, oh, 1976 or so, I would likely have been found at dusk hanging out in anticipation of sighting the glow of the first lighting bug of the evening on our street’s vacant lot.  The lot where someone rigged a tire swing on a sturdy pine branch, providing a gathering spot for kids taking a break from riding bikes or playing in the woods.  My mother would either step out and call for me at dinner time or, better, wander down to the lot herself to join in a conversation with other moms out on kid gathering expeditions.

And yet, many parents today reacted with horror to Lenore Skenazy’s suggestion that we allow our kids to play alone in the park. Skenazy writes a blog, Free Range Kids, that promotes the idea that worrying less about safety actually leads to more responsible, self-reliant kids.  Her blog often serves as a reminder of how far toward the “security” end of the spectrum parenting today has swung. 

Perhaps it’s because I’ve always believed Suburbia provides a safe environment for kids, or perhaps it’s because I do actually know a number of my neighbors, but I’ve never worried much about giving my kids free reign of the neighborhood.  They walk to one of two of our neighborhood parks to play, ride bikes with their friends, and, in the case of Soccer Boy, build forts in the woods.  They go to the neighborhood pool and swim on their own–though I’d draw the line at that if there weren’t a lifeguard on duty. 

Lately, with the advent of a new big box store within walking distance, I even send them down the street  to buy things I’ve forgotten or to shop for themselves.  Evidently this provides some novelty at times for the clerks, particularly in eleven-year-old Soccer Boy’s case.  But why shouldn’t an eleven-year-old boy walk a block or two and pick up a loaf or bread, some milk, or detergent?  By doing so, he learns to interact with adults, ask for help when needed, and conduct small monetary transactions.

And, no, I don’t worry that he’ll somehow be grabbed off the street and swept away never to be seen again.  Is it a possibility?  Of course, just like it’s a possibility for him to be snatched out of his bed by a deranged stranger.  But I don’t go to bed every night worried about that, and I refuse to limit my kids’ independence and ability to be responsible for themselves over the equally unlikely concern that they’ll be kidnapped in public.

I refuse, because all kids deserve their  own lightning bug moments.  The ones that promote wonder and a sense of possibility. After all, that’s what growing up is all about.



Filed under Kids, Life in General

5 responses to “Lightning Bug Moments

  1. It’s a tough line for sure. It’s funny because when I see kids in our neighborhood in the store, I do catch myself doing a double take and running some stuff through my head (how old are they? how far away do they live? how big were the streets they had to maneuver? would I let my son do this?) Then I shake myself out of that judgmental train of thought, but it’s hard. Within the last 2 years SB has been out on his own walking to school and the store & team practices. Gotta admit that the cell phone has made that a lot easier for me to allow. Yet I gave his older brother the same freedoms at the same age without a cell phone. Let’s just say I err on the side of freedom but with a twinge or two or eyes wide open with some apprehension.

    • LSM

      Christina, the busy street piece is something I definitely take into account. The new big box store is accessible to us totally through neighborhood roads, which is why I let the kids walk there.

  2. Amen as well from me. I recently had a conversation with my mother in law, who basically told me what a bad mother I was for letting my kids play at the park not 30 feet from our front door… for letting my kids walk our dog in our neighbourhood, and for letting them out of my sight at all. They’re 9 years old – and I see nothing wrong with what I allow them to do, because I think it gives them freedom and independence and a bit of life learning as well. My sister in law agreed with my mother in law (first time for everything, they hate each other) and agreed that I’m irresponsible. *sigh* Different strokes I guess!

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