The two dads sponsoring the “Reasonable Childhood Independence” bill in Oklahoma already saw it pass by 91 to 1 in the House. Now it goes to the Senate.
Why do the sponsors — Republican Chad Caldwell and Democrat Jacob Rosecrants — care so much about this bill? It’s because, like many of us, they look back on their childhood and can see how important their independence was to who they were — and who they became. As they wrote in The Oklahoman:
Rep. Caldwell: “Both my parents worked, so I was a typical latchkey kid. I’d ride my bike home from school, grab a snack, and go back out again to play King of the Mountain in the empty lot nearby. Or my little sister and I — she’s five years younger — would ride to the movie theater, crossing a major four-lane road. What if there was an emergency? If you were responsible, you’d keep a quarter in your pocket so you could call your mom.”
Rep. Rosecrants: “I was a latchkey kid, too, with a sister one year younger and brother one year older. We walked from our little apartment to school — over a mile, even in the snow, trite though that sounds. We lived near the mountains and that’s how I learned to ride a bike – got on my bike at the top and went down. Do I have the scars today? I do.”
But, he adds: “What both of us have is just as permanent: A sense that we can handle things, because we had the opportunity to do that. We learned to solve spats, bounce back, and grow up.”
The hard truth about soft skills
That sense of being able to handle things is something that kids can’t develop if an adult is always nearby, handling everything for them. Just this morning we were talking to a dad in Utah recalling the fights he had with his brothers growing up — and how they COULD have run home and demanded their mom decide who was being unfair, but that would have meant the end of playing. So, however angrily or reluctantly, they solved their disputes themselves.
Talk about a soft skill that is hard to learn! They learned it through free time and free play.
Let Grow co-founder Dr. Peter Gray says that is one reason Mother Nature put the play drive in kids to begin with: When you are DESPERATE to play, you do the HARD WORK required to make it happen: You compromise, hold yourself together, learn to deal with other people… These are the qualities that help make you a successful human.
Just playing isn’t just playing
So let’s hope Oklahoma passes its Reasonable Childhood Independence act, which would, among other things, let kids play outside, unsupervised, without this being mistaken for neglect. In fact, let’s hope lots of states pass a law like that. (If you’re interested, here’s how you can get involved in your own state.)
And let’s hope that parents and schools give kids enough time to goof around “just playing” — especially after this crazy year — to learn the lessons that are hard to get almost any other way.