I grew up on a street where the kids ran free. It was long before Lorraine Skenazy created the term “free-range parenting,” but our parents practiced it just the same. It’s not neglect to let your children play unsupervised as long as no one is getting emotionally or physically hurt. In fact, I would argue that giving children independence is the most important and caring thing a parent can do.
We were allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. When I attached our Red Radio Flyer Wagon to the back of my bike with a jump rope, had someone sit in, and biked down a hill, we all learned a very important lesson about physics and the danger of riding in things without brakes on slopes. Skinned knees will do that to you.
I could grocery shop by myself at nine, and I know how to carry a carton of eggs while biking. You learn quickly when breaking an egg means biking back to the store with yellow yolk dripping down your arms. Natural consequences tend to be stronger than any parental punishment.
I became comfortable around adults at a young age, the result of placing orders over the phone, asking salespeople for help, and talking to teachers and other parents without having my parents do it for me. I could carry on a conversation with adult that did not sound like a question-and-answer session. Later, that confidence translated into a love of public speaking and debate. Speaking off the cuff in front of strangers is immensely fun for me, and I’ve won seven awards at Model U.N. and Model Congress conferences.
I can also mediate an argument and compromise thanks to years of solving childhood disputes. King Solomon’s solution works pretty well when it comes to books. It’s possible to learn respect and empathy without constant adult guidance.
But most of all, that freedom gave me a wonderful imagination. We played “Kentucky Derby”, galloping about with tomato stakes between our legs. Once, we stormed a nearby Civil War fort holding sticks as if they were rifles, only to die dramatic deaths.
This immersion in the world of make-believe led to a love of writing. I wrote plays for us to perform and countless stories. As the years wore on, my writing became more ambitious. I won a few contests, took creative writing classes, and joined a writing club. Now, I have a blog I update daily and am spending my gap year writing a novel I will query in the spring. In January I am attending The Society of Children Books Writers and Illustrators’ New York City Winter Conference. I’m also in touch with award-winning authors, Libba Bray and Laini Taylor, who have read my blog and are impressed with the quality of writing.
I would not be who I am today had my parents hovered over me and filled my childhood with supervised organized activities, the way most parents do. I wouldn’t be able to live independently or travel extensively on my own during school breaks. I wouldn’t have the confidence, skills, or interest to engage in any of my favorite activities. I cannot think of anything in my life that I am more grateful for than having been a free-range kid.
And as always, you can also find me on tumblr at http://emleng93.tumblr.com/, if, you know, you’re into that kind of thing.