Perspective: Free Range Children

Jan 9, 2019

We decided in early December to spend the Sunday night before Christmas in Chicago, just to see the lights and do some last-minute shopping.  

Since they were young, we’ve traveled enough with our now teenage son and pre-teen daughter that they are comfortable in airports, big cities and everything in between. And, we’ve spent enough time riding the El in Chicago that our daughter memorized the automated announcements a couple years ago—“The next stop is Clark & Lake. Doors open on the left at Clark & Lake.”  

As I was planning the weekend, I found myself cooking up a public transit challenge for the kids. I was inspired by Lenore Skenazy, the founder of the free-range parenting philosophy, many parts of which my wife and I have followed.   

The kids were up for it and I had just a few stipulations:  

  • They could use any technology needed 
  • They had to stay together 
  • They had to be willing to ask strangers for help 
  • They could only contact us if they found themselves in true peril.  

This was their mission:  Go from the Blue Line El Station at Cumberland/I-90 to downtown, transfer to the Red Line and get to our hotel on Ontario Street by themselves.   

The day was upon us and we arrived at Cumberland in mid-afternoon, parked and said our goodbyes. They had to get their passes themselves and then we’d see them next in the hotel.  

About an hour later, my wife and I entered the lobby and there they were, watching a football game, eating donuts they’d snagged on the way to the hotel and looking pretty pumped. My son even said “Next time, give us a challenge.”  

I believe parents have the responsibility not to clear the road of obstacles for their kids, but to prepare them to navigate that road. For ours, last month’s adventure may be a minor challenge in the scheme of things. However, I’m hopeful they’ll both remember it when they’re facing the bigger tests that are certain to come.  


I'm Wester Wuori and that's my perspective.