Homepage | Introduction | Parenting Columns | Travel Features | Misc. Musings | Contact | Purchase Info


Yes, we could have drowned.
But, we didn't. I think we learned
what we could do and what we couldn't,
and how to tell the difference.

Supervision or Freedom?

491 words


At what point does supervision turn into inhibition?
by Dianne Roth


At three years old, I remember finding a two-wheeled bike in a tree in our back yard. Dad said it must have been someone in the neighborhood. I believed him until recently when my critical thinking mind went, “Huh? No! Dad put it up there and I bought his story hook, line, and sinker!”

I learned to ride my bike that day. It fit me perfectly. Instead of a chain it had a rubber belt which would slip if I braked too fast.

I was allowed to ride up and down the sidewalk as long as I stopped at the neighbor’s driveway at the north edge of our yard and again at the hedge that was two houses south of our property. I was allowed the freedom of three front yards! My mother would be inside the house as I rode up and down the block. I remember how independent I felt.

Over a few years, my limits were gradually broadened until I could go to the south corner, but only to the beginning of the last yard before the busy street to the north. Each birthday or so, I was rewarded with a larger and larger range until, at the age of 10 or 11, I had the freedom to wander our six-block square neighborhood. My rule was, “Be home by dinner”.

Recently, much like Socrates, we were bemoaning the lack of critical thinking in today’s children. One person vigorously blamed schools for relying on “rote” instruction. I am definitely not a fan of current educational models of teaching to the test, but as much as I dislike that model and the rote instruction that goes with it, I do not believe it alone causes the loss of critical thinking skills.

I pointed out how everything I did in school had only one right answer and I was never asked to figure out anything by myself. It was the epitome of rote instruction, much more so than I see in schools today. Yet, I think of myself as a thinker and problem solver.

I believe my hours of daily, unsupervised, free time made the difference. If I had a problem, I would solve it myself. If I got hurt, I got myself back home. If my bike broke, I would fix it there or walk it home and use the tools. Very little was ever done for me that I could figure out myself.

Could it be that today’s children have had so much supervision and assistance, they don’t even know it is possible to think and do for themselves? Worse, parents are considered bad parents if their three year old is independently pedaling up and down the sidewalk, as I did 65 years ago.


Dianne Roth is a teacher, mother, grandmother, and freelance writer. She lives in Oregon.




Last updated on November 6, 2015