Freedom for kids

A 27-year-old counselor for convicted youth offenders told me the other day that experts in her field are concluding that young children need freedom to develop their passion or talent as much as they need love and protection. She said there are way too many responsibilities thrown at them and not enough open chunks of time, available space and the opportunity to simply relax long enough to dream, to wonder and to discover.

After a while, the lack of introspective freedom becomes too frustrating, she said, and itís one reason teens become angry, begin to assault others and find themselves arrested.

I donít think anyone would disagree that adolescents and young adults, even mature adults, need something to fall back upon when the growing gets tough and life becomes more complicated. Knowing we are good at something, even if it doesnít provide a source of income, is character building and can be a lifeline.

We talked about how many, many young children find themselves helplessly strapped into the backseat of a car hour upon hour every Friday and Sunday afternoon for court-ordered, weekend visitation with a parent. Other children have little supervision from their parents ever, and find themselves in charge - no matter how ill-equipped - of minding a younger sibling, the household pet and the front door. Some even have the sole responsibility for dressing themselves, packing their own backpacks and catching the bus on time. They all worry about being different from their peers in any way, let alone being unkempt or sticking out because they forgot their homework.

She said even those kids who receive an abundance of parental support at home are also stressed out of their minds. The constant and often violent information and music from the television, the radio and the Internet bombards them. Because both parents are working, they must learn at a younger and younger age how to use a phone to arrange their own after school care and pickups. They program their own cell phones and their computers practically on a daily basis to adapt to new functionality.

I canít imagine how complicated this all is for an 8 year-old. Thank goodness I only have to wade through the Information Age for the second half of my life!

I donít know what the answer is, but it does seem logical that if young children are consumed with getting the everyday necessities and keeping track of the happenings and not happenings in their lives, then they have no freedom to wonder and pinpoint the thing that makes them the most fulfilled. With no free time, no open space and no calm, how can they practice a newfound interest and develop a passion for it? Most importantly, how will they ever reap the well deserved, character building promises of pride and satisfaction that come from having accomplished something on their own?

Thereís no doubt the health and wealth of our nation has been furthered by our individual freedom to create and innovate. Thereís equally no doubt as to how individual lives have been sacrificed in wars to maintain Americaís freedom. While the type of freedom Iím writing about here isnít exactly of the flag-waving sort, it might have something to do with the sense of malaise Iím witnessing among Americaís young adult population today.

I remember the year 1976 when we brought out the red, white and blue in a big way to celebrate 200 years of freedom in the United States of America. There were all sorts of memorials to attend, time capsules to fill and fireworks to light. Maybe because I was 16, I was enthusiastic about our Democracy and the freedom I was enjoying to simply be me.

Obviously, I wonít be around for the Tricentennial, but with the way things look, if children arenít free now to develop their innate passions and abilities and young adults havenít built enough character to get through the rough patches, what use is freedom for them anyway?

I guess I had more time back then.

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