I’m Struggling To Raise A Latchkey Kid In A Free Range Vs. Helicopter World

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latchkey kidAn incredibly vocal debate has been swirling in the media lately on the topic of “free-range” versus “helicopter” parenting, with extreme examples being referenced—like children roaming around unattended in Central Park or Child Protective Services zooming in on parents whose kids play in the front yard—as if they were the norm. Well, those situations might exist and it’s always easier to discuss issues in black and white—as if things could ever really be that simple—but the reality for all of us is obviously somewhere in between that.

And the reality for me?  I’m freaking out a little bit about my son’s transition this year into a full-on latchkey kid.

Up until last year he was an elementary school student who I picked up either from school or from an extra-curricular program. And while I would have trusted him to walk the eight blocks to his elementary school by himself, his younger brother and I were going that way too, so we all went together. It didn’t feel like anything approaching helicopter parenting, but then again, I didn’t think that much about it.

The thing is that we live in New York City and while New York kids have a vaunted reputation for independence, the truth is that most of the families I know are very hands-on with their kids. This is due to the simple fact that few of us have yards for our kids to play in, independently or not. So when your front lawn is Central Park—unless you’re Lenore Skenazy—you probably don’t let your kid alone until they are too old for playgrounds anyway.

So, while I’ve never considered myself a helicopter parent, I’ve also never stepped back to think about what granting real freedom to my kids would actually look like. And I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty judgmental about the two little girls who live a block away from me—ages seven and five—who ride their bikes at night with absolutely no parental supervision. Do I think they’re in extreme danger? No, not really. I’ve never seen them ride in a hazardous fashion and they stay clear of the street, at least, even if they aren’t wearing helmets.

But the decision to let my almost 11-year-old son walk to and from his new middle school this year by himself had me worrying. I worried a little about the walk, but not too much. After all, it’s only about a mile and there aren’t any insanely dangerous streets to cross. And he’s known from a very young age all about stranger danger and men in vans offering candy. Plus, I had just gotten my son his first, cheapo cell phone with the instructions to text me when he got to school, when he left school, and when he got back home.

Ok, so maybe that’s a little over-protective, but it’s not like I installed a video feed from our apartment to my work computer. That would be over doing it! Right? Right???

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