The Pandemic’s Upside? Kids and Freedom—A Legacy Worth Pursuing

Kids are biking; strollers seem to be everywhere; parents and college kids are outside and enjoying the warmer weather. Let’s use this shared experience as a springboard to liberate kids (after Convid-19) so they can enjoy their neighborhoods without fear.

Despite the risks and concerns parents are managing in light of Convid-19… it appears everyone is getting out of their house on a frequent basis.

I found myself thinking, where has everyone been since I moved back to the suburbs ten years ago?

Why did it take a life-threatening disease from an unregulated food market in Wuhan, China, to get everyone out of the house? And why does it feel like children are exploring their neighborhoods for the first time?

One can argue that canceled kids’ activities, sports and after school activities, have something to do with it. School is out of session and it’s feasible it may be out for the rest of the school year. And of course, there’s the element of maintaining one’s sanity – i.e. avoiding cabin fever.

There’s only so much indoor living a parent can take before they lose their mind… that goes double for our kids.

Maybe it’s time to admit what our society and communities have been lacking for two generations – quality time for kids to enjoy the outdoors. Perhaps we can be honest with ourselves and admit we’ve overscheduled our kids with too many activities, and what feels like whiplash is the experience of giving today’s kids a taste of what it was like to grow up in the 70s and 80s.

Kids used to have to figure out a way to entertain themselves. And parents, who were home on a more regular basis thirty years ago, figured the best place for kids was outside the home. Sans a rainy day, few parents (if any) were content on letting their kids mope around the house when it was sunny and warm outside.

It feels like every activity that kids participate in (sans their extracurricular activities) is oriented within the confines of the home. Gaming, tablets and video, parents constantly engaging and entertaining their children.

Let’s use this pandemic to liberate our kids. If it’s sunny out, moving forward, rip the gaming console’s power cord out of the wall socket and demand our kids go outside to entertain themselves.

“Hop on a bike, ride over to your friend’s house, and figure out something out to do. Bring your baseball mitt or a frisbee. Bah bye.”

It can be as simple as that.

Imagine today’s generation of kids, between the ages of 7 and 15, having more free time to do as they please. Imagine yourself explaining to them how to stay safe, the risks of strangers, encouraging them to take responsibility for their own actions, and not doing anything stupid.

Then… let them have the freedom to go wherever they want.

“Call me if there’s an emergency. Not if you’re thirsty, not if you need a snack. I don’t care if someone calls you a bad name, work it out amongst yourselves and I’ll see you at 6:30 for dinner.”

What can communities do to make it safe for today’s population of children? How can parents empower themselves to ensure a responsible parent is close at hand if need be?

Start a movement in your hometown. This represents a two-step process.

#1) Spread the word on Facebook, email, and texts to involve every resident in a new ‘child alert’ system. This represents a child alerting a neighborhood adult that something is wrong. It could be three loud bangs on the front door or double ring. Perhaps it’s a whistle they carry and every parent knows to listen for it. If a kid sees something unusual, they are instructed to whack on the nearest front door as loud as possible. Then, the neighbor who lives there can investigate, call 911, or snap photos of a suspicious car/person. If it’s a physical threat, like a downed power line, a parent can respond accordingly (after he/she screams at the kids to get away from the blazing electrical cord).

#2) Educate kids first before they are free to roam about. Tell them about stranger danger, make sure they know how to cross busy intersections, and give them the education and instincts to know when a situation doesn’t feel or look right.

Parents can start with a small radius around their home, a block or two away, and expand their space to roam when their children get older. By the time they are 13, they will have the confidence, instincts, and know-how to deal with unusual circumstances when they arise. Then, they can ride a few towns away on their bikes and save the parents from schlepping all over God’s country to deliver X child to Y playdate.

We’re living through insane times, but perhaps the pandemic will provide parents with a new perspective. Maybe we’ve been sheltering in place for decades and we never knew it, or we worried about our children so much that we forgot the importance of espousing self-reliance.

Let’s leave that era of parenting in the past. Let’s agree that kids need more downtime and freedom so they can discover themselves.

NEW SCHOOL PARENTAL PERSPECTIVE: “Oh my God! Junior, What are you doing 25 blocks away from home!” OLD SCHOOL PERSPECTIVE: “Make sure you come home with ten fingers and ten toes. See you at dinner, junior.”

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