Home > Cultural Movement, Editorial, Guest Writer, Public Anecdotes > Safe Communities Raise Courageous Children

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.

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The secret of happiness is freedom.  The secret of freedom is courage.”

~ Thucyidides via Lion’s Whiskers

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* Image: Youngsters in “Over the Rhine” Residential Neighborhood in 1973 by photographer Tom Hubbard. Made available by The National Archives.

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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?

  1. Sharon Flesher
    March 15, 2011 at 11:55 am

    Hey Liz, your insights are right on. Sometimes the most difficult part of being a parent is navigating those gray regions of safety and freedom. Our instincts are to protect our children from any hint of danger, but we have to thoughtfully control those impulses so our children can learn to evaluate risks for themselves, while remembering that there’s no such thing as absolute safety.

    I’m glad we live in a community where our children can gradually extend their boundaries. My kids are 17 and 14 now, and they had similar experiences to your boys. We walked with them and biked with them when they were small, and we could tell when they were ready to be more independent.

    When my son was in the 5th grade, I would bike with him to the Civic Center for his baseball games and practices; I wasn’t prepared for him to make that crossing at Garfield alone yet, since we all had plenty of experience with the obliviousness of drivers there. But the following summer, I let him go on his own. Now he gets around confidently all over town. He even knows the bus schedules! He has a driver’s license and has access to our one family car, which is usually available. He drives occasionally, but I’m happy to report that he mostly chooses to walk, bike or take the bus even when he could use the car.

    One of the experiences that prompted us to move to a neighborhood with sidewalks and a school within walking distance was observing the morning scene of the suburban neighborhood we lived in when the kids were born. I would walk in the mornings and always passed a line of SUVs and minivans — motors running — at the neighborhood school bus stop. After the bus came, the vehicles would disperse back into their garages. Some of these moms had driven less than 100 yards to the bus stop, barely out of their driveways! When I inquired of another neighbor the reason for this strange practice, she told me it was so the little ones would not have to walk and stand in the cold. What did I know, being a southerner recently moved to the frozen north, but I thought coats, hats, boots and mittens should solve that problem, and it did, with the addition of a pull sled to help little sister keep up.

  2. March 16, 2011 at 9:20 am

    This is not precisely on point but is related. The city is conducting a workload analysis of city policing. The goal is to use data analysis to provide services more effectively and economically.

    Part of the study was a focus group. When asked what percentage of their neighbors they thought would feel safe walking around TC at night, the focus group members said about 30%.

    The consultant reported that survey responses in Chicago and Oakland, California reported 85% of the people in those communities feel safe walking at night.

    Granted – the TC answer was just a focus group and therefore anecdotal, not statistical. But the discrepancy is alarming. More so when you consider there were a total of 29 reported violent crimes in TC in 2009.

    Just thought this fits the thread and is something we as a city ought to have a conversation about.

  3. aastricker
    March 16, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Great article, Liz. My kids haven’t had the luxury of growing up in a herd like the mob of kids your neighborhood provides, but I feel comfortable sending them to the store or more recently the park on their own. My kids also seem to get turned around when we are walking or cycling somewhere but they are getting better with age and practice.

    And Mayor Bzdok, I wasn’t part of your focus group, but I can tell you that I feel comfortable walking around at night but I agree that conversation is warranted.

  4. March 16, 2011 at 10:00 pm

    Thanks for the inspiration, Liz! Our two-year old pedaled her first strokes on her trike today – maybe inspired by her five-year-old brother who just moved up to a 16-inch two-wheeler. It’ll be a while before they’re riding solo, but it’s definitely a goal. Interesting side note: this year our son is bussed, but last year when we had to drop off for preschool, the teacher reported better behavior on the days we rode vs. drove.

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