Advice | Carolyn Hax: Mom yearns for her kids to feel the same freedoms of her youth

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m a mom to a 4- and 6-year-old, and watching my favorite movies growing up is making me nostalgic about my childhood and how free it felt. When I was just a few years older than my daughter, I was riding my bike to the pool, going on adventures with friends and exploring my slice of the world. My husband has similar memories. Exploration was our jam!

Is that possible in this day and age? As a kid, I knew “bad things” could happen, but parents gave us a wide berth. Has the world gotten more dangerous, or are we hearing about the dangers more? Are summer days a la “The Sandlot” no longer? I want my kids to safely experience freedom.

Am I Naive?: You are idealizing somewhat — I had that childhood, too, and it was never worry-free. But that was kind of the point: Learning to avoid or get out of trouble was seen as part of growing up. Important skill-building. Such resourcefulness training required trouble, by definition — and I think that’s where we’ve changed as a society. The risk is the same — lower, arguably, with bike helmets, smarter cars, etc. — but our appetite for risk plummeted.

Judginess of and by parents hasn’t helped. If something does go wrong, there’s a whole chorus eager to shame and blame.

That’s not all: Demographically, we’ve drifted from “The Sandlot.” Fewer households have kids in them, so fewer neighborhoods support pickup sportsball. So to get that kind of multi-kid synergy, pick your cul-de-sac carefully — then hope the kids aren’t in cars all day chasing travel leagues.

I think you’ll find sympathetic fellow parents if you ask around. We actually uprooted — from a beloved neighborhood — to a place more suited to free exploration. You can also buck the local trends and just give your kids longer leashes instead of childhood-eating smartphones.

So kids who explore aren’t just on TV. You can reproduce some free-range conditions. Just be ready to hear it from the pearl-clutching police.

· I’ll never forget when our parents let me and my cousins walk to the grocery store to pick up milk. It was fun and freeing. We found out years later that our mothers followed us to make sure we were okay. There’s a distinction between what the kid experiences and what the reality is in terms of monitoring. I think you can find a happy medium. My kids have free rein in our neighborhood, but the parents text each other updates. Moving to a neighborhood known for lots of families with kids roaming the yards made a huge difference.

· Starting at around 6, we let our kids “run errands” on their own. Think pulling into the library parking lot: “Can you take these books inside and ask the desk to check them in?” The kids seemed to like being trusted to do the tasks. Not quite riding your bike to the pool, but it instilled some independence and confidence.

· We are all here today having survived our childhoods because we were lucky. Carolyn is spot on: It’s the judginess you’ll have to face that has changed. Otherwise, the world is just a wild, dangerous, exciting place, and your kids deserve a chance to enjoy it.

· Since the 1980s, the media has increasingly played up stories about bad stuff happening to children in other parts of the globe. That makes it seem as though bad stuff happens much more often than it actually does, which has led generations of parents to be more protective. Increased judginess has grown up alongside increased fear.

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