Oklahoma City family fun changes as kids grow.
This summer, more than any other summer, has featured friends and curfews, texting from a tablet and where we’re headed from here. Sam is 9 and this is the beginning of it all: childhood’s halfway point, a foot outside the door that leads to all that lay beyond this house, our family and into the community.
We moved to a tree-lined street this year and met all the happy children on the block. Summer’s warm weather has kids climbing trees, walking dogs and disappearing into each others’ backyards. They text on borrowed devices after-hours and sum up their brief life experience with acronyms and emojis.
It’s all new to Sam, who didn’t have kids his age in our old neighborhood and wasn’t old enough to use FaceTime yet.
Sam: “Mom, what does IDK mean?”
Me: “I don’t know.”
Sam: “Oh. I just thought maybe you’d know since you text people. My friends are writing it over and over again.”
Me: “It means I don’t know.”
Sam: “I heard you the first time. Like, I’m not trying to bother you. I’ll Google it.”
(20 seconds later)
“Oh my gosh! Google doesn’t know either. I thought Google knew everything.”
That went on for awhile, the modern version of Who’s on First, which Sam also wasn’t familiar with yet. It’s going to be a long year.
Sam plays with the neighbors, texts the neighbors, rings the neighbors’ doorbells and they ring ours. Everyone plays with everyone, sometimes under a watchful eye, sometimes on their own. I gather everyone up for a neighborhood walk almost every night. Middle-schoolers come with us and we get to know who’s who in the neighborhood. The group grows as we walk, collecting more children as we head to the neighborhood park. What started out as three kids on a nightly walk has grown to five, five became eight and now I walk with 10 or so kids. No razor scooters allowed because I can’t keep track of so many kids racing around corners. They all put down their phones, run and play together, bounce balls to the baby and share with their siblings, knowingly and without resentment. During those walks, they are all friends and I know their names.
They know I’m Mrs. Collins, even though it always takes me a minute to remember that’s me, even after being married 10 years. They can talk to me. I’m hoping that lasts, works out in some way, makes them less likely to hurt each other later and be a good way to share the street with friends meanwhile.
The rules on exactly how to raise a child with increasing independence aren’t set in stone. Teachers, counselors, psychologists and fellow parents debate what’s appropriate when and they’ve been at it for way longer than I have.
Through all the debates, I can only speak for myself. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
- Give kids a chance: Our family visits a lot of public events. We’ve worked with our sons since they were small on how to act in public but Sam is old enough now to behave well on his own. That’s my expectation. He has to be able to walk in a crowd, order at a counter and practice talking to people, safely. Those abilities apply to neighbors and will eventually be social skills applicable to everything else in life. Sam has to give it a try now, so we let him, a short distance away. He can order his own food, ask for a plastic fork, talk to strangers. He just has to be within our line of sight and that distance is gradually increasing. Same with his curfew.
- Listen to their friends: Kids volunteer a lot of information. They’ll tell you about the new Drake and Rihanna video. You can find it and talk about it wth your kid (yeah, that “Work” video has nothing to do with summer jobs). Like most millennials, I cut my teeth on technology and can find more information about what they’re discussing without them ever having to know. All Sam’s text messages are also sent to my phone. I have no plans to disable that function through adolescence. UrbanDictionary.com is my go-to source from here on out.
- Be part of your community: If your kid can’t talk to you, they’ll hopefully talk to another adult at church or school, in person. I’m not okay with Sam having a Facebook account yet but his teachers know they can email or text me anytime. Let your kids be aware you are not the only adult they can talk to about things; remind them to talk to other adults in public, with people around. Designate a time to put down screens and talk in person with friends and neighbors.
Have other tips to share? You can talk about what’s going on with your tween or teen in our Ages & Stages Facebook group.
MetroFamily’s September issue is all about the age group too; look for it next month where you usually pick up a copy or sign up to get a digital version emailed to you here.
Enjoy these last days of summer with your kids and the neighbors!