Free Range Parenting in the 21st Century

21st century parenting

Almost all of the kids in our neighborhood are pretty much free range. I enjoy the fact that they can run outside and play without an adult on their ass. They learn to entertain themselves, they get plenty of exercise and, let’s face it, it’s less work for me, as a parent. But how is it that someone who is so anxiety-ridden, so high-strung and such a worrywart able to allow her kid outside until the street lights come on? Well, I am a stalker.

I’m not sure what I think is going to happen in my middle class neighborhood. Is someone going to kidnap my kid and sell her into white (half white?) slavery? Is the man in the van going to offer her candy or ask her to help find his fucking puppy (which, by the way, would get her every single time no matter how much I talk to her about tricky people)? Will she be bullied and forced to try a cigarette? I don’t fucking know; I didn’t say I was rational so I stalk her. That’s right, for a couple of years now I have used an app on my phone to stalk my kid 24-7. Prior to this discovery, I spent my time outside with my daughter if she wanted to play. This was partially because she was younger and partially because I’m one of those people with a constant “worst case scenario” playing in my head in HD at all times. That meant if she was going to play outside for five hours, my life was on hold and I was boring myself to death, watching her ride her bike back and forth in front of the house. As she got older, this felt more and more ridiculous. And I had a shitty Netflix series that I wasn’t quite sure I was committed to yet to watch.

The decision to go electronic

When she was almost six, my husband decided that we should get her a phone. We went back and forth about this for several weeks because it does seem pretty early to introduce electronics but she was often at dance for hours without us and we wanted her to be able to contact us easily if she needed anything. He also felt like introducing electronics early would help her better prepare for the freedoms and pitfalls of technology in the 21st century.

I get it; it’s not for everyone. It’s not a decision everyone makes for various reasons and it took us a while to come to a point where we felt it would be advantageous but we soon did. So a month before her sixth birthday, we were the assholes that got our kid an iPhone. This didn’t come without criticism from some, but we try our best to disregard bullshit judgment and just do what’s best for us, no matter how unorthodox.

But if you’re considering getting your younger kid a phone, here’s how we arrived at the decision. We asked ourselves: “Is it any different than an iPad,” which it seems almost every kid has? You can play games on both, you can text and FaceTime on both, and you can access the internet on both. She has limited contacts in her phone – her parents, grandparents, a few friends and the parents of a few friends and knows she’s not allowed to answer for a number that she doesn’t know.

Yes, you still absolutely need to teach your kids about internet safety and our school, at least, is doing an excellent job of teaching this from even the first grade. We also decided to set up a dedicated and filtered wifi network for our kid, in an effort to keep her safe from whatever the hell is out there on the internet these days.

Overall, we felt as if her having a constant means of communication was the safest thing for her. She could call us at any time, text us or her friend’s parents if she needed help and I could better stalk her until she’s 18 or probably for the rest of her life.

I’m sure some dude from high school with a two-year-old and a chip on his shoulder will critique our parenting, tell us we’re shitbags and that our kid will grow up to be a juvenile delinquent, but whatever. Bullshit judgment as usual.

The best way to stalk

So our kid has a phone; now what? A coworker introduced me to Life360, which she used to keep up with her litter of high school kids. Life360 is “the world’s leading real-time location sharing app.” The app allows you to track everyone in your family or “circle” in real-time and has both a map overview and street view, allowing you to locate exactly where your family member is. And it is pretty damn amazing. (Life360 isn’t paying me or anything; I just use this app so many times a day that I felt the need to share the love.)

Once you download the app, you go through a series of boring technical steps to set the app up – finding your location, getting invite codes, user names and passwords for everyone’s phones, etc. Blah, blah blah. Once you have your circle set up, you’re ready to go. My circle is all three members of my family.

Now those of you with trust issues in your marriage should probably tune out right now. That’s right, crazies. This isn’t an episode of Cheaters. I’m not advocating that you use this to stalk your partner all day long. In fact, if you’re a nut job, you maybe should choose to just add the kids. And sidenote: If you’re stalking your partner because you don’t trust them you should delete the app from your phone and file for divorce; there’s no fixing that shit.

So once you have your circle set up, and assign cute little avatars to everyone, you are able to see where that person is. I’m kind of psychotic so I watch my daughter ride to and from school in real time. When she’s out playing in our neighborhood, this allows me to know exactly whose house she’s crashing at any given moment. My neighbors will laugh because I also have hourly alarms set up on her phone for her to call and check-in and I periodically FaceTime her for fun or if I hear an ambulance siren or something since my own personal VR in my head is on hyper drive all the time.

But likewise, she is able to see where we are. She often checks in on her dad to see if he’s almost home from work and even set up an alert. When he’s within a mile radius, she gets an alert on her phone that he’s home. If I’m five minutes late to pick her up from dance, she can see that I’m stuck in traffic two minutes away. It’s pretty damn handy.

You can even set up places and get an alert when your kid reaches the school, for example (but I’m too crazy to not watch her arrive on the little map). And you can go back 48 hours and see where your kid has been so it’s easy to see if mine has ventured out of my section of the neighborhood, like she did last week to try to rescue some stray cats that weren’t actually stray cats on the main road. (I couldn’t make this shit up, guys.)

So yeah, of course, it’s a big decision to get your kid a phone, but if you do decide to take that route, I wholeheartedly recommend using Life360 as a way to quell your need to follow them in the car everywhere if you are one of those parents with an overprotective (read: totally fucking crazy) nature. At least until they medicate us.

Do your kids have a phone? How do you keep up with them?



Comments 1

  1. My daughter has been begging for a phone! I had no idea about the 360 App…Sounds good to me! There have been many times I wanted to contact her and wished she had a phone-but the safety issue was holding me back. Now, not so much!

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