Free range teen

Ever wonder how free range kids turn out? I'm finding out the hard way...

Free range teen

At least 5 years ago in Get Your Child Into Gat I chronicalled my efforts to create a free range child with independent walking trips to the store to get contraband snacks (soda and swedish fish) and independent bike trips to friends on the other side of the city.

This summer we took it up a notch, maybe 5 notches with an independent and somewhat covert trip to another state.

Free range preparation

The first step in creating a free range child is to get them out of the house on their own. Exercise is preferred, and worthy in its own right. A child who can walk or run 3 miles a day is healthier and more mentally fit than a child who doesn't. I've got my own chubbiness to worry about daily and lead the way.

The second and much more difficult step for a parent is to stay involved instead of restrictive. Your child is going to go their own way some day regardless, so it's better to be a trusted and supportive parent who's in the know at all times, "as a courtesy to your mother in case you end up dead somewhere". My role as truant consultant is to cover all the ways that the plan is going to lead to injury, loss, jail time and certain death. Once we've cataloged dangers to avoid, I help brainstorm options.

When I was growing up, my father used to ask "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?" I vaguely recall the context was either staying out past 9 pm or going to the mall. My kids respond like "I'll be jumping first and expect them to follow" or "Have you ever heard of bungy cords granddude?" or simply "Heck ya! Sounds like fun!"

Free range in action

On a recent holiday weekend, my son's friends all left town. For a social person, typically the social coordinator, this was a disaster. The nearest friend was 100 miles away in a different state at a cottage, but his parents are covid-paranoid and welcome no guests.

When I was this age, back in the early 80's, I would just hop on my bike in the morning with a sandwich and a vague idea that a friend I never visited but should have was vacationing on a lake about 60 miles South West of me via highways, and off I would go. "Hey mom, I going for a long bike ride, be back before dark." You could pull this off when you are the 5th of 6th children and no one is listening anyway. "That's nice dear."

Thus when my son stated his intentions to go visit this friend without having worked out the details of how he would get there or where he would stay, I was ALL IN. Can you just show up and stay? "No." Can you camp in a tent in their back yard? "No." I wonder if I could just check you into a motel or camp ground in the area?

No close motels, the campgrounds are on the speed-dial of the drug unit of the local police department, and a 100 mile bikeride is exhausing and will waste the whole weekend. Biking alone its not effective - as in things can break - and you need to train for this anyway. Finally I just drove him in the vicinity with his bike, backpack, a hammock, a tent, sleeping bag and other gear. I went to a nearby city to hang out for the day.

That night at 7pm we had a call to discuss options, none of which looked viable. He scoped out a nearby wilderness area and determined that hammocking there for the night was feasible and safe. I did my homework and agreed. I was filled with anxiety as I drove home. When I called my wife to announce my arrival, she asked "Where is our son?" Umm, uh, I left him in Michigan. "You what?"

During my very anxious and sleepless night, I rested my hopes on 6 years of Boy Scouts (and counting) and 6 years of YMCA leadership training in Wisconsin. Meanwhile, he was wrapped in a hamomock texting his friends across the country and becoming a legend.

The legend continues

During the debriefing, we made a few adjustments. He needed the 4 day auxillary battery (mine) and not the 1 day battery (his). The weekend could end abruptly at any time and a backup plan is needed. More upfront planning is required to find safe but cool teen hangouts (if any exist).

I asked my wife what made her agree to this without an argument. "When he was 12, he came back from a bike ride at 1 a.m. on the lakefront. I told him this was a really bad thing, but he said that it was safe because there were cops everywhere. I told him never to do this again because your parents could end up in jail for this." And you're just telling me this now?

A few weeks later, he put phase 2 in action. He went stealth camping nearby with 2 friends. I'm surprised that their overly protective helicopter parents agreed to this, but apparently the parents of 1 of the children actually did. I have yet to verify this. At the pre-planning meeting, I asked for deails. "We're going to take the blue line toward O'Hare." That sounds less like camping and more like being homeless. The legend continues...

There is something that can be said about trust. These little adventures are trust builders for both parties. I don't recommend other parents think smaller. Start with a trip to the store to get candy and soda. You'll sleep better.

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