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VIEWPOINT: Can we ever let our kids run freely?

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- I look around the corner and listen intently. Nothing. "Sam! Answer me, now!" And then, I hear a chuckle and a snicker from behind a bush, along the side of the house. The boys, when they're outside the gate, like to run a...

ELIZABETH CITY, N.C. -- I look around the corner and listen intently. Nothing.

"Sam! Answer me, now!"

And then, I hear a chuckle and a snicker from behind a bush, along the side of the house. The boys, when they're outside the gate, like to run around and hide. I like to know where they are every moment, it would seem.

At 6 years old, I was allowed to walk freely between my house and Matthew Lee's house, half a block away. At nearly 7 years old, I took off on a three-hour walk that I later was punished for because no one knew where I was, but I was safe.

It seems like it was not long ago I found myself cringing when my oldest daughter, who is nearly 12, announced that she was going to the library, alone, on her bike. Even on one particular day, when she was with friends at the library and had forgotten to call me, I was down there searching for her, to her dismay.

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It's hard to let the kids go free. I don't know what I'm afraid of, exactly. Statistics are pretty clear that kids are actually safe; it's just that with news at our fingertips, we parents are more exposed to constant reports of the rare abduction, or worse, and perhaps that makes us overly anxious, protective.

And, yes, the awful things that happen to children are rare, more so than you would think. Yet, we're afraid; we want to hover over our children. That's why the latest generation raising children has been dubbed "helicopter parents."

A New York columnist recently was barbecued by many and praised by some when she wrote about allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the subway home, alone. Thing is she did this consciously, realizing that she was giving her son, who is familiar with New York City, some independence. So, this big city mom decided to do something seemingly drastic and let her child live free and ride the subway.

When I was a kid growing up in Los Angeles, I walked to school in the second grade, ran around town on a bicycle where it was applicable, rode the city bus all over the city. In the summertime, when I would go to Arkansas to visit my grandparents, I had the run of Little Rock, as far as my feet could carry me, as long as I didn't get sunstroke.

Today, as my girls walk down to their friend's house at the end of the block, I peer around the corner, watching them until they are out of sight, wondering why I can't just breathe easy.

And again, the boys: I wonder if I am going to ever find peace of mind; will I just get used to the fact that one day they'll be ready to take off around the neighborhood on their bikes, possibly playing cops and robbers or something like that?

Or, will I be like so many of my peers and get so paranoid about what's out in the world that I would prefer them sitting inside, in front of a computer or television, stationary, their imaginations dulled by lack of play?

It's tough to loosen up and let your kids go free these days. It's tough to be a parent when you're constantly worried that something is amiss in the world and you're powerless to stop it.

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But the New York mom, well she understood this, and she took the bullet. Now, maybe it's time the rest of us reclaimed our lives, and the lives of our children and just put them outside, unattended, like it used to be. Maybe.

Kelly Goss writes for The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City.

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