Thursday, October 21, 2010

Hayao Miyazaki and Free Range Parenting

ponyo.jpg If you aren't familiar with the world of Hayao Miyazaki already I strongly recommend you drop everything and watch some of his animation films. Yes, they are distributed by Disney, but are so unlike any Disney animation you've seen. Beautifully done. My favorites are Spirited Away, and Howl's Moving Castle, but I haven't seen a movie from Studio Ghibli that I didn't enjoy. Yes, these are kids movies, but to be completely honest, they are almost wasted on kids. The animation and story lines are just that wonderful.

Some day I'd like the boys to see my favorites but I don't think they're ready for them yet (despite the PG rating). So today, after a not-so-great home school morning, I decided to put on a movie.  Ponyo was my choice (if you have Netflix, it's available for instant play). Ponyo is a goldfish who longs to be a human. She is rescued and cared for by 5 year old human boy Sosuke. Eventually Ponyo and Sosuke, through their love for each other (a 5 year old love, not romantic love), restore the balance of nature and save the world. Cool huh?

Something struck me today as I was watching the movie. Miyazaki is a free range parent (assuming his characters are his children).  The children this movie are highly competent it's true, but that isn't all that unusual in children's movies where children tend to be precocious. What is unusual is that the adults in this movie actually trust the children and treat them, perhaps not as equals, but as fully formed people. I don't know if this is the case in all of his movies, free range parenting hasn't really existed as a parenting concept for that long, nor was I aware of it when I watched most of Miyazaki's movies. Someday I should watch them again with this in mind.

We first see 5 year old Sosuke down at the shore near his home all alone! Later, during a typhoon, he is left caring for the sleeping Ponyo in his home while his mother leaves to check on the residents of the senior home where she works. Get this. Dad is out at sea. Mom LEAVES her FIVE year old son at home. Alone! Tells him he's in charge and she's counting on him and leaves! Their home is high on a cliff while the senior home is down in the valley, so theoretically Sosuke and Ponyo are safer than the seniors. Of course Sosuke and Ponyo rise to the occasion and save the world.

I subscribe to the idea of free range kids even if I'm not quite sure where to place those limits sometimes. Of course this is a movie and naturally not totally realistic.  Free range or not, I wouldn't recommend letting a young child play at the beach alone. Nor do I think that leaving children alone during a severe weather condition is ideal (on the other hand, if my child was safe and someone else was not I'd like to think I'd help the person in need). But I really do appreciate any media source that can portray children as strong and capable instead of under constant threat from the boogie man. We see far too much of the "our kids are in constant danger from everything, and everyone, and must be protected 24/7" hype and far too little about how much safer it is to be a kid today than it has been in the past.

As I finish up this post, my 4.5 & 7 year old are somewhere out in our safe, quiet, (mostly) traffic-free neighborhood. Hopefully they'll be home soon for dinner but in the meantime, I am confident that they are reasonably safe, working out any disagreements, and having lots of fun without mom tagging around after them. And I know it will do them a world of good as they grow up and become ever more competent to make decisions for themselves.


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