2015.05.11 Free Range Children

"When I was a kid..."

Many stories - and complaints about how much has changed since "the good old days" - start that way. To many Americans the story following this start will be about endless summers when you could roam the neighborhood and just had to be home for dinner.

All that supposedly changed with a notorious kidnapping back in 1979. Since then, no parent would feel safe unless they knew their children to be under adult supervision.

When I first moved to U.S.A., a similar paranoia caught me. My fear was that my children would cause some mishap from which the family would be sued out of every dime, so I had better keep an eye on them. But I wasn't really that afraid that they would be kidnapped. The history of Etan Patz was not part of my history. My history included leaving strollers outside the shops for the five-ten minutes it would take to get one's shopping done. Mosts shops wouldn't even have room to bring the stroller in - or would be three steps up from street level.

That Danes could behave so irresponsibly became evident to the Americans when a Danish tourist was arrested for child endangerment by leaving her child outside a New York cafe.

I got the lifted eye brows among school mothers when I told stories of how our children would go visiting their grandparents when we were on vacation back in Denmark. Imagine that we would let a nine and a five year old out of sight to walk the half mile from one house to the other. Raven mother!

What constitutes "good parenting" differs from country to country. What you might do in the old country may not be a good idea - or even legal - in the new country. Can you let your 11 year old look after the 9 year old sibling while you go out for dinner with friends? Not in Illinois. Can your 3rd grader walk to school by himself? The Safe Routes to School Program says No. To cross the street unsupervised they should be 10 years old and that is not until 4th or 5th grade.

I have a lot of opinions on Helicopter parenting and Curling parents that I will keep to myself today. But regardless what we personally may feel is good parenting, expats have to take into consideration that their preferences may be illegal in their host country or that their children may watch parenting practices in friends' homes that they themselves don't condone.

Regardless where you are, just because your friends do something doesn't mean that your have to do likewise - isn't that what you would tell your child?