Onward & Upward
Caring adults have been on my mind lately. Obviously we all recognize the value of adults in a child’s life. Yet what exactly does “care” mean (talk about a subjective term!) and when does “caring” become too much. I’m not the only one teasing out the concept. Yes, we need to care for our youth; yet when is it more responsible to let them begin caring for themselves?

A recent news story featured a couple of kids walking home from a neighborhood park. (Maryland Parenting Controversy) A well-intentioned (we assume) neighbor noticed the kids and contacted the police, who in turn showed up on the parent’s doorstep with an arrest warrant. Last August another mother had a surprise police visit when her son was stopped by yet another adult who also alerted the authorities. (Florida Parenting Controversy)

A decade ago, kids walking through the neighborhood — whether with a destination in mind or just wandering — didn’t raise an eyebrow, let alone alarm bells. Sure, adults kept their eyes on their young neighbors in case they needed some grown-up assistance, but they certainly didn’t report unsupervised walking as something akin to child neglect. In fact, it was just the opposite. Parents would actually encourage their children to spread their wings, to be responsible for their own actions, to make decisions and take the consequences. Were parents less caring? Of course they weren’t. They simply cared by encouraging their children to learn and develop a personal sense of responsibility, and then to make smart decisions to avoid danger.

Kids then had free range to run, explore, and make the inevitable mistakes. Today “Free Range” is a movement. It includes FAQs, scheduled media appearances, and a popular blog. According to their web site, Free Range Kids, the concept is a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times (their words.) The notion of encouraging free range kids goes on to explore the state of the world today versus the world when the parents themselves were growing up. Clearly it’s different. Yet is it truly more dangerous? Should we be leery of letting our little ones wander too far from the hands that hold them? Is there a point we need to let go? And, how do we balance all that with the many ways kids can experience dangerous circumstances today that didn’t even exist when many of us were young?

Camp Fire has never, and will never, step into the good-parent/bad-parent debate. Instead of engaging in decisions that clearly belong around the kitchen table, Camp Fire has worked tirelessly for the last century to create and deliver programs that help youth thrive. Trained and caring adults teach and mentor children to avoid risky behaviors while succeeding in school. Trained and caring adults help youth recognize and embrace their unique talents. Through Camp Fire, youth find their own voice and learn to explore goals for themselves. Through Camp Fire, youth learn to understand they are part of a community that supports them as they learn to support themselves.

When we encourage youth to grow into their own definition of a successful adult, doesn’t that encouragement embody a caring adult? Whether our youth need to range free, or stay close, at Camp Fire, we nurture and celebrate individual choices while providing the care our youth need to explore those choices… themselves.

Cathy Tisdale
Camp Fire President & CEO