Free-Range Children.

My oldest son Edison, who is now sixteen, was invited to stay for a few days with a friend, whose parents live on a vineyard in Napa Valley. We live in Los Angeles.  So I checked Amtrak, and found a not-too-circuitous route involving an Amtrak bus, a train, and another bus. It seemed like just the right kind of adventure for a 16 year-old.


My husband was also making noises about needing a little San Francisco fix himself -- in addition to feeling wary about the bus/train/bus idea -- so he decided he’d drive. And so my boys headed north, and Edison got his ride.


And it got me thinking that my sixteen year-old might be living a very sheltered life. Not compared to some kids, certainly. He walks to his public school. I encourage him to ride his bike, take the bus and even (gasp!) walk in Los Angeles , which he does fairly often. I want him to know the city, I want him to be street savvy, I want him to understand a municipal transportation system, to know how to get around. By the time he leaves for college, I want him to have a decent sense of how to get from point A to point B.


I grew up in San Francisco ; a small city, but a city nonetheless. Even before I was a teenager, I’d roam for hours on end, exploring the park, riding my bike out to Baker beach or the Legion of Honor, to the egg roll joints and Russian bakeries on Clement Street. I’d take buses and cable cars to the Wharf to eat crab sandwiches, wander around the Maritime museum and Ghiradelli square, bus downtown to look at the Macy’s windows or listen to musicians in Union Square, bus to the Embarcadero to see old movies at the Gateway with my discount pass. As a teenager, I’d haunt the coffee houses of North Beach , window-shop the hanging ducks and cheap jade in Chinatown , line up for midnight movies on Polk street, bus to smoky jazz clubs, sip beer on the patio of the Savoy-Tivoli on New Year’s Eve. (In a town lit by neon martini glasses, a teenager having a beer was small potatoes.) On warm summer days, a few of us would have a hankering to go to Stinson beach, but apparently we felt that waiting for the Marin County bus would cut into our beach time. So we’d hitchhike. To Stinson. To Mount Tam . Once to Sonoma .


Sometimes my parents we’re in the dark about my whereabouts, sometimes they were vaguely aware, but didn’t seem bothered. Can you imagine your fourteen-year-old daughter telling you she’s going camping in the Desolation Wilderness for a few days with a group of friends? Bye, honey, have a great time!


These days, an expedition would be made of it. Everyone would be outfitted properly with warm parkas and sub-zero ground covers. At least two watchful parents would chaperone. It would be an amazing, educational, organized Outdoor Adventure. And yet, there I was, at fourteen, with a sleeping bag, a backpack, and some randomly packed food. Someone had a tent. Someone must have brought water. I’m pretty sure someone’s boyfriend showed up with beer. We made a campfire. We fished. In the interest of full disclosure, pot was most certainly passed around.



That's what Study Abroad is for in college, isn't it?



I think you're so right! My parents (particularly my mom) were VERY overprotective, but it seems de riguer now. I had a secret life, snuck off to do some very daring (and some really stupid) things -but as much as we may want to shelter our kids from any danger or mischief, how on earth are they supposed to learn how to deal with trouble, get themselves out of fixes and make wise decisions? I think all of this sheltering makes for some extra-wild college kids once they're out of mommy and daddy's reach. Either that or they become the 30 year olds who STILL cannot make a move without consulting the parents.