I grew up running around outside. I had a lot of freedom. Some of my best memories were birthed in my neighborhood during the fews hours before the sun went down, right before I was called back home for the night.
Now that we're parents, it's easy to let "fear get a vote" with our own children and not give them the same freedom that many of us grew up with. "What if someone takes them?" "What if they get hurt and I'm not there to help them?" "What if they meet another boy or girl that I don't know?" Good questions and definitely something you should talk to your child about before they run around the neighborhood. But those questions shouldn't stop us from granting them some level of freedom to get outside.
Many of us have been tricked into thinking the world is more dangerous for children than it was when we grew up. In most places, the world is not more dangerous, rather it's safer. Look it up. Perhaps we think that because we have a 24/7 news feed on social media that mostly spits out the most negative and disturbing reports? I'm not entirely sure, but I am certain that too many parents stunt the growth of their children by teaching them that the big-wide world outside is too dangerous for them.
Letting your children rome around outside is a personal decision. And each family should decide when the time is right to let them fly, and under what perimeters. Some children mature faster than others and earn a freedom much sooner. Others need more time next to mom and dad before they are let loose on the neighborhood. The decision may be different for boys and girls. Regardless of what you decide is right for your children, I challenge you to adopt a more thoughtful process for making the decision.
This Summer we let our oldest, David (8), bomb around the neighborhood to meet new friends and play with others. The decision was tough and the process was a learning curve. We have had many discussions with other parents, other kids, and David himself. Through the experience his behavior has been better, he's learned how to navigate conflict with other boys, and he personally fears much less than before.
Here are 5 clear benefits we saw from David's Summer "Internship" with the neighborhood:
Children were meant to sweat. If they don't, good luck with that. You won't find rhythm in your household. David's exhausted each day and in the best way possible. He's not restless and he's eager to be active.
One goal that we have as Christian parents is to teach our children how to make decisions for themselves. After all, repenting and following Jesus is not something that we can do for them. Many times this summer, David has come running back home crying and saying something like, "Billy (names changed to protect the innocent... and the guilty) told me that I'm a weirdo and then hit me." At first I was thinking, "Where's Billy's dad, I'll hit him." Of course, that's not the right response and, for the record, I didn't find Billy's dad. No, instead I talked to David about conflict and how to resolve it. He was forced to go and talk to Billy and work it out with him. That's life. How many adults do we know that can't resolve conflict. They don't know how to talk to people about real issues. And it's important to note that if Billy was doing something inappropriate or illegal, I would get involved. But all of the situations we came across this summer were cases of "boys being boys". And often times there were instances of helping David to identify his own role in the conflict and then letting him be the first to apologize and seek reconciliation.
In David's 8 years of existence, I've never seem him so focused. Makes sense, right? If I sit in the house all day and don't get outside, I go a little crazy, and I have 1/16th the energy of my son.
I highly doubt there will be video games in heaven. I can't prove that, but I'd put money on it. I chose the picture for this post on purpose. That is a picture of bliss. I personally can't think of anything better than my son saying, "Dad, can you go outside with me and [fill in the blank]." It's not always easy to say yes. David has asked me to go outside much more than previously. It's part of his life now. It's part of what he values. That's pretty profound to me as it will most likely be important to him and his children. Why do we go on vacations to places with docks, views, water, etc.? Because it's peaceful and because we are created in the image of God.
Kids go to the E.R. Kids get in fights. Kids get called "stupid". We can't always be there to prevent these things or take care of them right away. And guess what... someday, regardless of your efforts, your children will leave you and have to fend for themselves, so you might as well start letting go now. Kristina and I have had a fun (and at times terrifying) time this summer. I might call home during work and ask, "Where's David?", to which my wife replies, "I don't know". That took some getting used to. But we trained him to know his boundaries and earn our trust, gaining him more freedom little by little.
Lastly, I'll say this: I'm not sure why you homeschool (if you do) but if it's to protect your children from conflict then I want to challenge you to rethink that strategy. I'm not suggesting that we willingly throw our children into challenges before they are clearly ready. That's foolish. I'm simply challenging all of us to ask, "Is it my child who's not ready or is it me who's not ready?".
If you have seen growth from guiding your children into freedom, let us know why in the comments! We love to hear about how different families approach this difficult part of child-raising.
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