Free-Range Sabras

Inspired by the recent ruckus in the United States over “free-range parenting” as opposed to “helicopter parentingJessica Steinberg of the Times of Israel has written an interesting – anecdotal – article describing the freedom given to Israeli children.

Every day, most Israeli kids head to school. Some get dropped off by their parents, others take a public bus or ride a bike, and many get there on foot, often alone, sometimes accompanied by an older sibling.

Call it limited-range parenting.

When an American 10-year-old accompanied his 6-year-old sister to the library in a Maryland suburb a few weeks back, the local police ended up bringing the children home and threatening the parents with social services.

The event prompted numerous Facebook threads, blogs and tweets about “helicopter” parenting versus “free range” parenting, pitting parents who hover closely over their offspring against those who want their kids to roam free, or at least as far as the local playground.

From afar, it’s easy for Israeli parents to scoff at overprotective American parents who don’t or can’t let their kids walk home from school by themselves….

The impromptu debate also offered an opportunity to look at some of Israel’s parenting methods, and why Israeli kids are still allowed — by and large, and usually as of a certain age — to roam on their own.

For while Israeli parents worry about national and political security — and about their kids entering the army at age 18 — those concerns don’t usually translate into limitations on kids in their immediate surroundings.

“The culture in Israel is much more free and neighborhood-centric,” said Asher Ben Arieh, a professor of social work at Hebrew University who has researched child well-being for much of his career. “The Israeli community still exists and therefore kids are a part of it.”

Israeli neighborhoods tend to still be safe places, said Ben Arieh. There are exceptions, of course, such as December’s arrest of a Jerusalem taxi driver who is suspected of kidnapping and sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl after picking her up from school where she was waiting for her ride home.

Yet there is a sense of security in most neighborhoods. Kids often recognize their neighbors and even if they don’t, there is an ingrained tradition of looking out for one another, as exists in many places.

In Israel, precautions are taken to protect children when they’re out on their own. Schools have older kids serving as so-called “gold guards,” crossing guards garbed in neon yellow vests at crosswalks close to schools who offer a safe route for children walking on their own to school each morning. Public service announcements are broadcast on the radio, recommending parents that only kids aged nine and up can ride bikes and cross streets by themselves.

You can read the entire article here.



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