I think that some Americans would have a bit of a panic attack as they walked around Berlin and noticed all the children walking the streets or riding their bikes without their parents. I don’t mean the parents are a block behind them. I mean there is literally no one in sight that knows these children. This is German parenting, “free range” as we would label it in the US.
I mentioned in an earlier post that German parents do not hover over their children at the park. Well it doesn’t end there. German parents don’t hover as a general rule. Kids are allowed to walk or ride bikes to and from school, to the park, or to the store and no one bats an eye. They place a high value on learning to be independent and allowing children some freedom.
Today we were walking next to a girl maybe 8 years old who appeared to be walking from school. She was looking around and appeared aware of her surroundings. When she got to the street she came to a full stop and looked both ways before crossing the street. This is also an important part of German parenting. They teach their children early on how to be aware and safe, so that they can do things independently when they are older. I have noticed this when watching German parents with younger children. They allow them to ride bikes or walk beside them, but they make sure that they know to follow traffic signals, look for cars, and watch out for others on the side walk. They give them some freedom, but remain close enough to teach them the rules. Generally in the US when I see a child far from his/her parents riding a bike or scooter I cringe because I have been run into at least twice by said children only to have their parents laugh when they become aware of what happened. This has not happened once in Germany and anytime a child has a lapse in attention and blocks someones path the parents give a “schuldigen,” (excuse me) and remind the child to watch where he/she is going.
Now I don’t want to get into parenting philosophies. As long as you aren’t causing harm to your child or someone else, you do you. I think a big difference is freedom. I hypothesize that I’ve been run into by kids in Chicago because they are only getting small tastes of freedom and feel that they need to take full advantage of every opportunity they get. Which means riding that bike or scooter like a bat out of hell and paying no attention to anyone else. Obviously this is not the whole picture, but I think it is a piece. If you are regularly given freedom and independence then it doesn’t feel like a special privilege, it’s just natural. Now I do think that in order for this to work you do have to be diligent about teaching the “rules” and how to stay safe. You still have to parent.
I like to think that I am somewhere in between hovering and free range. Unfortunately, I tend to lean a little more toward hovering because I worry. I worry about things I can not and never will be able to control. Why? I’m afraid. I think that fear in a big problem in America. Fear mongering is everywhere. You turn on the news and every story is about something negative, you listen to politicians talk about which people pose the biggest threat, you travel to Europe and people ask if you are concerned about a terrorist attack, etc. The media has learned that fear sells and they keep pushing it and we seem to buy it. Myself included.
I want to try and be a little more “free range.” To not give in so much to fear because whether I like it or not things happen. My kids will fall and get hurt even if I am right there trying to prevent it and if I’m always right there I think I’m teaching them to be afraid. I want Asha and Karina to be strong and independent, but for them to get there they are going to have to fail and learn from their failures and mistakes. They need to take some risks and not live in fear. I hope that I can learn a little bit from the German parenting style. That I can give my kids a good foundation and then trust them to be independent, at least to a certain degree. My mom once told me that parenting is learning the art of letting go. It’s a difficult dance, but I really think she is right.
So I’ll be trying to “let go” a little more. Please don’t call DCFS on me! I promise I will do my due diligence before sending my kids off on their own.