Tuesday, 29 September 2015

On not driving helicoptered kids to school

How has your driving to work been these last couple of days? I’ll put money it that it’s been way better for you too, now that kids are enjoying their school holidays and, crucially, their mummies aren’t driving them to and from school twice a day!

Subtract those four trips a day from the traffic on our clogged roads—four trips multiplied by a frighteningly large proportion of the 770,000 children who attend school every day—and you get roads that work they way they were designed to.

And the kids are all better off too.

Why can’t stay-at-home mums stay at home and let their children make their own way to school? Fair question. Crime is decreasing, roads are safer, finding their own way to and from school is a great way to encourage and develop independence … but they don’t. Instead, every morning and every afternoon, these helicopter mummies strap their babies in, cocoon them in the safety bubble of their family car, and then head out to fill up the roads and help ensure their babies never fully grow up.

Want safer kids? Send them into traffic.

It would be much better for all of us.

Think about how important it is for your child to learn independence; place the infinitesimally small (and falling) chance that something bad might happen to them while walking against the certainty that something bad will happen to them if they don’t: they will never fully grow up.

Crikey, even the so-called “walking buses” you see—those regimented cocoons boasting hi-vis-vested volunteers guiding children along the street as if fearful they might show an interest in what’s going on around them—even those are more about exercise than they are independence. Yes, they help everyone else using the roads by keeping a few mummy’s cars off it, but they’re a symptom of helicopter childcare rather than a thirst to break out. If independence is your goal and you do have volunteers who want to help, then why not try this for your “walking bus”: instead of having your volunteers walk with the children as little policemen, with the volunteers taking responsibility for behaviour, have them stand only at the trickier street corners to ensure children know what they’re about there, and take their own responsibility for the rest of their journey.

If you want your children to become adults, then letting them learn how to make their own way is crucial.

Lenore Skenazy from the highly-recommended Free-Range Kids blog (a Free-Range Kid being “a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help”) points out that you have a chance to let them start.

Coming up on Oct. 5 is a great holiday: International Walk to School Day. The only sad thing?
That we need it.

She offers three tips for helping children become streetwise:

1. Teach them to cross the street. Above and beyond the look-both-ways mantra, Skenazy advised her own sons to make eye contact with drivers when possible at intersections, telling her children that while drivers don’t have the right of way, they often take it.
2. Never multitask while crossing the street. No headphones, music, calling or texting at an intersection.
3. Speaking to strangers can be okay, but never follow one. On public transit, such as with her son’s infamous first solo subway ride, children may want to ask for help with directions, which Skenazy encourages. “You can always talk to a stranger, you cannot go off with a stranger,” she says. And teaching children to only speak to mothers with children or police officers is unnecessary, Skenazy says. “The odds that the person you ask for help is a murderous stranger is very small,” she says. “And most people like to help each other.”

Basically, Skenazy says,

giving your child a free-range childhood gives them a place in the world, not just inside our homes.
    But whether you're letting your 8-year-old walk to school on his own or letting your 6-year-old daughter walk up the path by herself, wannabe free- range parents might consider the story of a 10-year-old kid who rode his bike across the George Washington Bridge to New York City on his own.
    He pedalled 30 kilometres down unfamiliar roads and busy streets, past neighbours and strangers, out into the unknown. "I didn't need help from anyone. It took me all day, but I found the way and did it myself," he recalled.
    This free-range kid went to the moon. His name is Buzz Aldrin.

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