Saturday, March 21, 2015

Free-Range Teenagers

 If you're a woman (or a man for that matter) of a certain age and you participate in social media, chances are you've seen some of those posts about how dire and dangerous our childhoods were ... and how, miracle of miracles, we all managed to survive.

There are dozens of them, but they go something like this:

How did we survive?
Our moms smoked and drank while they were pregnant.
We rode in cars with no seat belts or air bags. 
Our cribs were painted with bright colored lead-based paint.
There were no childproof lids on medicine bottles.
We rode our bikes without helmets.
We drank water from the garden hose.
We left home in the morning, played all day, and didn't come back until the streetlights came on. 
We had no cell phones — our moms couldn't check on us.
We played dodge ball. We played with toy guns.
We ate cupcakes and drank soda with sugar.

The point of this list (and the countless others out there) is "Chill out, people. We all survived. Our kids will too."

Lately, I've read a lot about a movement called "free-range parenting." The term comes from a 2010 book by Lenore Skezany. The author came under attack for letting her then 9-year-old ride the New York subway by himself, earning the moniker "America's Worst Mom." Her goal, as the subtitle of her book explains, was "To raise safe, self-reliant children."

My own daughter, now seventeen years old, was not a "free-range kid." She was in full-time daycare until she started preschool and had an after-school nanny through sixth grade. By then, I was running my ad agency business out of a home office, so it was rare that she was left alone. Most days, I picked her up after school.

"How was your day?"


Anyway ... Once she acquired that coveted prize of suburban self-reliance — her driver's license — all bets were off. There are rules, of course. She faithfully texts me when she arrives somewhere and again when she heads back home (essentially limiting my anxiety to two half-hour episodes rather than an entire afternoon). But, really, I have no way of knowing where she is at any particular moment. Where, or with whom.

Yesterday after school, for example, she drove a BFF to the nearest T station (Boston's mass transit), parked there and they took a train into the city. The initial plan, as I understood it, centered around a visit to Harvard Square. At some point, they switched gears and went to a shopping center in a different part of Cambridge. Then, they took another train back into Boston's North End. (The BFF, it turns out, had never been to Mike's Pastry — gasp.) They hung out there, eventually took the train back out to the suburbs, picked up the car and drove home.
I know this because the aforementioned daughter was in her room when I woke up this morning. In her room, and late for work, I might add.

To avoid my head exploding, I keep reminding myself of several reassuring facts. (a) My daughter is seventeen. (b) Not only is she seventeen, she's a particularly trustworthy and common sensical seventeen. (c) She doesn't drink or smoke. (d) She is good about keeping me abreast of her — albeit changing — plans. (e) She's a skilled and careful driver. 

And, (f) When I was seventeen, I pretty much owned Manhattan.

That's really the gist, isn't it? No matter how mature my daughter is, she's still my baby. But, when (and if) I can honestly remember myself at that age, I certainly felt like an adult. My parents didn't micromanage my movements. And, I was fine.

Like so much else over the last seventeen years, we're in new and unexplored territory. And there's a lot to explore.

And, it looks like my daughter's going to explore a lot of it.

Without me.

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of Lovin' the Alien at  

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