The Gift of Freedom

Well, we sure got worried, didn’t we?

By “we” I mean parents, and by “worried” I mean why the heck aren’t there kids playing on the streets anymore?

At the risk of sounding A) old as dust and B) ridiculous, I remember being a kid and just being gone for hours at a time, riding my bike—helmet-less, of course…ah, the “good” old days—around the small town I lived in back in the ’80s, searching for tadpoles in ponds, lighting off firecrackers, maybe kicking over the occasional garbage can. Just being a kid.

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Maybe I’m not puttering around the right neighbourhoods, but I don’t see that as much anymore.

I know: everyone’s glued to their screens and everyone’s in after-school care and goes to five different extracurricular activities so no one has time to be a kid anymore, I get that. And I also get this: that sucks.

Some of my best childhood memories are of those times roaming the neighbourhood, no parents in sight, no concept of time, just the open world around me and my bike to take me to wherever we’re going next. No responsibilities. Just figuring out life—on my own time and in my own terms.

I value these memories so much.

These days, you feel like a neglectful parent if your kid is out of the house unsupervised.

Look, I realize downtown Victoria isn’t exactly an oasis of peace and calm, but the outlying neighbourhoods, while not quite small-town-’80s in atmosphere, are still pretty darn safe. I understand the fear, I breathe a small sigh of relief whenever the kids return home, like any parent, but I keep it to myself. That doesn’t mean I keep the offspring within arm’s reach every waking hour.

As kids grow up, they need time away from us. They need to figure out what to do when we’re not there when something goes sideways. They need to feel the freedom of the wide-open world, a long summer day, a bike, a couple dollars in their pocket and zero sense of time.

Every parent I mention this to agrees with me, yet it’s so rare to see kids out on their own.

I get it. It’s scary. But it’s life.

So this year, maybe don’t fill little Johnny’s every waking moment with activities, and shoo him out the door on Saturday mornings. Give him the old “come back when the street lights are on” line if you like (although, wow, you’re harsh: kid’s gotta eat). He’ll be fine. He’ll actually probably have an incredible adventure.

I’m pretty sure there are no more boogeymen out there than there were in the ’80s. But I am sure there are way less kids than there were. When they grow up, they’ll never have that chance to experience the feeling of absolute freedom again. You can find kinda-similar things as an adult, but nothing quite recaptures that feeling. This stuff is important, and there’s a fleeting window where they’re old enough to be out of the house alone but young enough to just be a kid.

So this year, let’s let our kids be kids. Let them go explore, buy some candy, maybe get into some mild mischief. If they’re old enough, let them be out on their own, figuring life out, away from our grip, which seems to get more anxiety-ridden and nerve-wracked every year, holding on tighter and tighter, inadvertently strangling that glorious sense of youthful freedom until it’s all but forgotten.

Let’s remember to let our kids have their childhood, and all the wonder that comes with it, that comes with a wide open day with no responsibilities, that comes with figuring out the world, on their own.

Greg Pratt
Greg Pratt
Greg Pratt is the father of two children and a local journalist and editor. His writing has appeared in, among other places, Today’s Parent, Wired, Revolver, and Douglas.