Safe Communities Raise Courageous Children
EDITOR’S NOTE: I stumbled upon The Lion’s Whiskers blog the other day and their post “The 5-Minute Courage Workout: Navigating the Neighborhood” intrigued me. It immediately reminded me of my neighbor and her sons because I’ve noticed that every season her boys seem to have more and more freedom to roam. It’s a good thing; a sign of a healthy community and I wondered what Liz has done to raise courageous children. I asked and she responded. Thank you Liz!
Safe Communities Raise Courageous Children
~ by contributor Liz Berger
I asked Ethan, my 9-year-old son, if he was courageous- if he had walked to the store or the park on his own. He immediately said no he isn’t, he didn’t go anywhere by himself. He runs with a pack of kids and doesn’t realize the freedom and luxury he has of being in a safe neighborhood. He might be out for hours at a time in the neighborhood, without ever ‘reporting’ where he is and what he is doing. That would be pretty courageous in some neighborhoods.
I remember the first time, as a child, that I went to a friend’s house on my own. I had enjoyed playing with boys on my block in our Detroit neighborhood, but once in kindergarten I realized there was a GIRL on the next block over! I couldn’t cross a busy street on my own, so I needed to call home when I was ready to leave. I began to cry when I tried to dial my house because I couldn’t find the “-” on the phone dial. After this experience my mother encouraged me to use the phone, to learn to safely cross the block, and become more independent.
No Helicopter Parenting
I try not to be a ‘helicopter’ parent and to allow my children a great deal of freedom. Ethan, at 9 doesn’t go the store on his own, but Billy at 12 does. He will go to the grocery, drug store, or hardware store on his own. Some of these differences are age, and some are temperament. Just a few years ago I sent Billy out with his guitar to take a lesson from a neighbor just 5 doors away. He wandered the block for 10 minutes before coming home for more directions because he didn’t recognize the house from the front; he knew it only from the alley.
He wasn’t sure, but he was brave and persevered.
Freedom With Boundaries
As a family we bike ride to the beach, civic center or park. I have asked the kids to give me directions as we bike. They have gotten better giving directions, but they can still get turned around pretty easily. They need boundaries within which they can safely learn their community. I give my children freedom within boundaries.
We bike 4-5 days a week, weather permitting, to the civic center pool for swim club. Billy would like to bike on his own, but there is a group of people who shelter at the civic center pavilion because they are between permanent housing. The presence of this group has served as a learning opportunity for my kids. They are learning such things as compassion, intoxication, and caution. I am not scared that these people would harm my children, but I believe that their circumstances and habitual alcohol usage makes them unpredictable. We have decided that until the boys are a bit older they need a stabilizing presence in the vicinity of this type of challenge.
Power Of Community
I believe in the power of community and in the goodwill of strangers. I think that the presence of a child on a bike at a corner makes drivers more cautious. I hope and trust that if my child fell off their bike that an adult witnessing a fall would help my child if needed. I know that there are predators in the world that would hurt children, but I hope that by giving my child freedom within boundaries that my child would recognize aberrant behavior from an adult and seek assistance. The presence of children playing, walking, and biking in our neighborhood can allow us all to rise to the occasion to nurture our community by nurturing its children.
Children need courage to navigate our world, but I am optimistic that our sheltering neighborhood and my child’s self-preservation instinct will win out.
The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”
~ Thucyidides via Lion’s Whiskers
* Image: Youngsters in “Over the Rhine” Residential Neighborhood in 1973 by photographer Tom Hubbard. Made available by The National Archives.
SIDE NOTE: Liz’s son Billy is certainly courageous. When North Traverse Heights neighborhood association was creating their by-laws one question raised was who would get to vote. Do renters have a vote? Yes. What about age limit? Do they necessarily have to be over 18? Billy, 11 then, stood up in a room full of adults, some of them quite cranky, and says, “I want to vote.” To my shock, the group acted like they didn’t even hear him. I would have voted for that!
If you’d like to contribute a post to this blog, on this subject or any other related to public space and community, we’re interested: send a message. How much freedom do your children have? Why or why not?
- Are you a helicopter parent? (jamespatrick1.wordpress.com)