A recent article published on Yahoo News reminded me of the “free range kids” idea. This idea has been a fascination of mine for some time… mostly because of our nomadic lifestyle. The idea is simple- allow your kids to explore their world unsupervised. The freedom allows children to develop the “survival” skills they need as adults, including the ability to negotiate social situations, find their way in new environments, etc.
For most parents, this idea is too scary to consider. The drive to protect our children is overpowering. After all, the evening news is filled with stories of murderers, kidnappers, and pedophiles. We don’t allow our kids to explore on their own because it’s just too dangerous.
Or is it?
A quick review of crime statistics and criminal profiles reveals our fears to be misplaced. We don’t allow our kids to play unsupervised because of the dangers from strangers. But are strangers really that dangerous?
Most kidnappings are done by non-custodial parents or relatives. Strangers only account for about 10% of all kidnappings. And the fear of a stranger molesting your kids? It only happens in about 3% of all cases (U.S. DOJ reports for both statistics).
Most kidnappings are done by family members. Most cases of child molestation are done by acquaintances. Statistically, your kids are safer with strangers.
I found the best way to alleviate the fear of allowing your kids to play on their own is education. Teach them! Here’s what Shelly and I do:
- Teach your kids not to talk to strangers, especially if they’re asking the kid to do anything. For example, there’s no reason an adult should ask a kid for directions or to help look for a lost puppy.
- Teach your kids to regularly check in with you. This is more for your own sense of security, but it does help alleviate the fear of allowing your kids to be unsupervised.
- Teach your kids what to do in an emergency situation. This is always good information for them to know anyway.
- Teach your kids anatomy, the idea of inappropriate touching, and explain to them what should be done if anyone tries to molest them.
- Learn to identify real threats. For example, here are some red flags:
- They want to spend time with your kids. Let’s be honest- kids are annoying. If an adult wants to be around your kids, it’s a giant red flag… especially if they’re male.
- They spend a lot of time wanting to help kids by showering them with gifts or attention… and it’s focused on one kid instead of a group of kids.
- They treat kids as peers or places kids on a pedestal.
- They work or spend a lot of time in places where kids congregate.
- They are an adolescent male. This group tends to be more of a “crime of opportunity” situation than people that are sexually attracted to kids… but still a threat.
Give your kids some freedom. Let them occasionally play unsupervised. Teach them to see real threats. Teach yourself to see real threats.
I’m hardly an expert on the topic, so I’d love to hear from other parents that allow their kids to range freely. Leave a comment!