Shaping Children’s Geographic Worlds: The Role of Free-Range Parenting
About the talk
Children play a surprisingly minor role in geographic scholarship, given that of the 325.7 million US residents in 2017, 76.7 million or 23.6% are under the age of 18. The debate over free-range parenting (FRP) presents an opportunity to explore factors that shape children’s geographic worlds. Free-range parents believe children should be allowed to move around in the world without adult supervision. They see FRP as empowering their children to be independent, to take responsibility, and to make decisions for themselves. FRP is character building. Conversely, some people see FRP as child neglect, exposing children to unnecessary risks. Complaints to the police trigger responses from Child Protection Agencies and result in investigations which can lead to children being removed from the custody of their parents. The debate over FRP is fierce and as yet unresolved. Threading through the debate are issues of rights and responsibilities as seen by parents and as expressed in laws and policies. I will use ideas and data from geography and psychology to understand the pros and cons of the FRP debate. I look at topics such as the history of walking to school, increasing rates of child obesity, rates of child abduction, home ranges, accident rates, the design of safe routes to school, and possible roles for GPS devices. Analyzing the debate of FRP contributes to understanding a larger issue: what shapes the character of the geographic worlds in which children live.
About the speaker
Roger M. Downs is professor of geography and former head of the Department of Geography at Penn State. He teaches undergraduate courses in human geography, human spatial behavior, and urban geography, and graduate courses in research design and geography education. His research interests include the development of spatial thinking and spatial literacy, the history of geography education, and the design of curricula for geography and spatial thinking. His work on the development of our knowledge about the world focuses on the interplay among the developing mind, the environment, and the process of education. Currently, he is studying (1) the roots of geography (how and why some people become geographers); (2) the development of expertise (how and why spatial/logical abilities interact with experience); (3) the differential development of expertise (how and why gender interacts with geography); and (4) the development of graphic comprehension (how and why we learn to read the world through media). He has been involved in the development of the National Geography Standards and in the NAEP Geography Assessments of 1994 and 2001. He is Chair of the Geography Education National Implementation Committee (GENIP), former Chair of the Geographical Science Committee of the National Research Council, a member of the 2010 NAEP Geography Development Committee, and a member of the Board on Earth Science and Resources of the National Research Council. In 2017, Downs received the American Association of Geographers Presidential Achievement Award.