I’ve always loved the concept of “free range parenting.” But I recall one trip a while back when I went skiing for the weekend. I actually went to the ski resort, did a few runs, managed not to kill myself, handed in my equipment, and did what I really wanted to do, which was relax, drink a glass of wine at the bottom, and watch everyone else get fit.
Still on the slope, I noticed a slew of little people dressed in suits and skiing expertly; so expertly, in fact, that they passed me at three times my speed, making me look like an out-of-control wobbly basket case. Once I finally made it down alive, and yes, it was touch and go there for a moment and my knees had finally stopped shaking, I started thinking about all those kids and how good it was to see them out in the fresh air enjoying themselves.
Seek outside activities that have no purpose.
Having said that, it also made me reflect that, like many sports, skiing takes care of the need to get kids outside in the great outdoors and active. It’s a lot of fun, but it is also pretty one-dimensional in that it has a purpose. You go up a hill on the lift and ski down. As a result, as fun as it is, it doesn’t fulfill a child’s desperate need to play in nature, undisturbed by adults, where the mind has time to fully wander. After all, even if a little person wanted to hang around and play in the snow, mom and dad are likely to urge them on down the hill, since hanging around stationary on a ski slope isn’t what most grownups really go skiing for. The bottom line is that skiing, like many outdoor sports, is a wonderful adjunct to a life that includes hanging out in nature, but like any sport that takes place in the great outdoors, it should not be considered a substitute.
Kids are suffering for a deficit of nature.
You see, kids out there are suffering from a disease. It’s not a disease where you have to race to the doctor’s office and sit with tons of people sniffling and coughing and holding grotty tissues. It’s a disease that strips kids to the bone—not physically but mentally. You see, as humans, we need dirt—lots of it. We need trees, forests, and plants of all kinds and shapes. If we have these things, we feel great. If we don’t, we feel depressed, and I know that when I’m nature-deprived, I want to buy cream puffs and eat them all the time. All I can say is that I’m happy I live near some good sized trees; otherwise, I’d be much larger than I am.
For far too many kids today, particularly those in big cities, life is about living in neighbourhoods where many of them can’t even leave their back yards for fear of traffic or perverts. They are far too often stuck indoors because that’s the only place they can play freely. If they play in the yard, mom and dad frequently want to be in tow, watching their every move. After all, there are always weirdos, rabid dogs, killer bunnies, coyotes, hovering police helicopters, and who knows what other hazards.
So for a child stuck in a postage-stamp backyard, where is the joy of running unencumbered and feeling the wind in their hair? Where is the thrill of getting filthy and covered head-to-toe in mud? The freedom to get wet and stay wet for a while? The freedom to get scratched by bushes and make yourself a fort and while away the hours spying on everyone
Free-Range Parenting: Exposure to wild places is critical for your child’s health.
That we live in the kinds of neighbourhoods that make unstructured play difficult is just part of modern life, but it’s a critical loss that must be made up some way if we want to turn out healthy kids. For those of you that want to read more about this subject, take a look at “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. Mr. Louv argues that exposure to dirt in nature is necessary for both the physical and emotional health of children and adults, and I believe he’s absolutely right.
As parents, we worry about all the little things that might affect our children. We get upset when our children are in any way threatened by a playmate or a tough teacher, but the biggest threat to our children lies in aspects of life that may rarely cross our consciousness. Our choice of house or neighbourhood appears to be limited to adult concerns. “Is there enough room to play inside?” may feature, but the larger questions are often completely missed because we’re so wrapped up in appliance lust or counter envy. In my current neighbourhood, they are building infills, which are great inside but have absolutely no yard at all because the name of the game is profit at all costs, and that means squeezing as much house onto the lot as possible.
Keep in mind the important stuff.
I recognize that not every family can have free-range parents. Many cannot afford to be in a position to enjoy a house that has access to nature. However, when we spend so much time buying our perfect house and worry about the furniture to fill it with or the colour of the trim or what kind of “landscaping package” we have, our need for proximity to wild places gets completely lost.
Our kids need wild places. They need to poke worms and get dirt under their fingernails. They need to climb trees and wriggle under fallen logs. They need the thrill that comes with really being in nature and being free. Going for a walk while being hovered over by mom and dad doesn’t cut it.
As mom and dad, you have to back off and let them discover things for themselves. Can you leave them in the mountains alone? No, of course not. You can, though, back off far enough that they feel alone and that they have time to explore without your obvious observation. For your part, try looking busy with something else. Remove your attention from the kids, and they will find their own way, literally. Be a free-range parent; you’ll be glad you did. Follow the link to parenting services to learn how I can assist you in making the most of your parenting for both you and your child.
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There’s no such thing as the “perfect” parent.
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Did you know Annie gave interviews on CTV for years. Here’s one behaviour tip on how parents should handle choice effectively.