For a long while now I’ve been trying to get my head around the issue of children and freedom. Today a number of pieces fell together for me after I read this:

“Children’s lives have been evolving in a way that mirrors the lives of criminals in prison. They too have a roof over their heads, regular meals and entertainment provided for them, but they are not free to go out. Enforced detention and restrictions on how they spend their time are intended to seriously diminish the quality of their lives. But children are not criminals…”

Indeed they are not. This issue of how closely one supervises one’s children is so sticky and insidious. I feel like it’s the place where I most risk social censure, even among otherwise like-minded parents, and where I have to work the hardest to give my kids what they need – the freedom to explore, to experiment, to just do kid things.

It astonishes me how often people see my baby trying something out and stop her, often with a stern look at me, like I should have been there first to prevent her from tasting dirt or climbing a few stairs or whatever she is about. wins points for seeing her do something dangerous and standing *near* her to catch her if she falls, which she did not, but it’s rare to get that reaction.

I remember a rich, happy childhood of largely unsupervised play. When I was about Rio’s age I would leave my house in the morning, go out into the desert to play, and return home when I got hungry. My mother rarely knew exactly where I was or what I was doing, but she trusted me not to chase snakes or fall from trees or whatever other dangers I could have gotten into in the rural foothills outside Tucson.

It’s a lot harder to have that trust in an urban environment where there’s traffic and “strangers” and pollution, but I still hope for Rio to grow up with a sense of wild freedom. I think mine has occassionally gotten me into trouble but mostly served me well.

It really seems to me that the decrease in children’s freedom, the fact that I can’t just turn Rio loose on the street with her bicycle the way my sister was turned loose as a kindergartner without fear that someone will call the cops on me, this is not isolated to children. It’s part of the same erosion of freedom that means no more loose dogs running free in our neighborhoods, and barely any cats. It’s the same erosion of freedom that is costing us our civil liberties at the government level and has us all acclimated to being videotaped in any business we walk into.

We need our freedom, people. We need freedom to break the rules, no matter how old or young we are. I think the more we are trained to surveil and supervise those in our own charge, whether they be children or students or employees, the more we accept surveillance of our activities by those who we see as bigger than ourselves.