From the Principal’s Pen- May
From the Principal’s Pen
Submitted by: Jennifer McGee, Principal of Atwood Primary School
My father tells me a story of when he was eight years old. He grew up in Livermore Falls, Maine and his father and mother put him on a bus, all alone, and sent him to Washington, DC to spend some weeks in the summer with his grandparents. At eight years old, he navigated Grand Central Station in New York City, to switch to the bus to get him to DC.
Whenever he tells that story, I am horrified. Think of this little boy in the quagmire of Grand Central Station. I immediately become “judge-y” about my Dad’s parents! How could they do that? What kind of parents would do that? But…at the end of the day, although Dad admits to remembering he was nervous, he made it to his destination unscathed. He grew up to be a competent, secure, confident problem solver.
Now, by NO MEANS am I suggesting that you put your children on a bus into Grand Central Station, but there is a lot of talk lately, in the news, about “free-range parenting”. I think it’s a topic worth exploring.
An editor for the New York Times moved to the United States from Berlin, Germany. In Berlin, her young children freely took the Metro about town. They would go, unaccompanied, to the playground, or walk a mile away to their piano lessons. When they moved to the United States, as their children walked about the neighborhood, they didn’t believe any children lived nearby. Then, on Halloween night, dozens of children emerged from their nearby homes, with their parents to Trick or Treat. The little family was shocked to see all of the children who lived near them. They had no idea because the children were never allowed to be out and about by themselves.
When I was a child, I had free rein of my little town of Mattawamkeag. My sister and I used to hop on our bikes from the minute we got home until dark. We would drum up other neighborhood children to play games, ride around town, or to go and get an ice cream cone. Thinking back, those experiences, they were the moments that really formed much of my personality. I am not much of a risk taker (never took the jumps on my bike), good negotiator (often was the one who orchestrated compromises on “the plan”), and I love a good time (was the one “up for anything”).
With my own children, I definitely “helicoptered”. I always planned the play dates. I was outside watching like a hawk if they were outside. They never walked to any of the little places downtown, even though we lived quite near. When I think back, should I have released more “leash” on my children? Would it have helped them to view the world as a safer place? Would it have lead them to be more adept problem solvers? I will never know.
Here are the important things to note as you make your own decisions as parents (study conducted by the University of Virginia):
- American children spend 90% of their time at home….much of that time is spent watching television or playing video games
- Even when children are physically active it is often being watched closely by adults: either in school or at home or in the car for more formalized activities (sporting events, lessons)
- Even though fear of abduction is often cited as a reason for constant supervision, that crime rate has significantly decreased…and the vast majority of abductions are by family members/ not strangers
One bit of research, I am able to attest to as a school administrator, and that is the constant rise in incidence of anxiety in our school children. I wonder if, unwittingly, our need to constantly supervise and monitor our children’s every move, is contributing to their belief that the world is a dangerous place. Allowing children to freely explore the world around them…perhaps we are denying them that opportunity. I know I, for one, am guilty as charged. Even now, with them as young adults, I have to push away the desire to keep tabs on them by cell phone.
So….I really don’t have any “take away” advice for you. I know how hard it is to strike the balance between keeping our children safe and letting them have the freedom to explore, and socialize and create their own joy….but I know there needs to be one. If I could live life in reverse (which sadly I cannot), I would give my children safe perimeters in order to allow them more independence. Would I let them go to Grand Central Station: that’s a big N-O! Would I let them go to Belanger’s for an ice cream cone: I think so!
It is not easy being a parent. I just think it’s important to be thoughtful and informed about our decisions. It helps to remember the juicy morsels of memories from our own childhoods that brought us joy… and then help to re-create them for our own children!
Jennifer McGee, Principal
Things to Note in the “Merry Merry Month of May”:
May 15: All students will be attending the Frog Town Mountaineer Puppet Show
at 12:30 at the Messalonskee High School PAC
May 17: Grades K – 2 will be travelling to the Windsor Fairgrounds for the Northeast Expo
…a Maine Agricultural Learning Event!
May 22 is an Early Release Date: dismissal at noon
May 28: Memorial Day/ No School