An alternative to paranoia regarding the safety of your children: Free Range Kids

September 5, 2009 | By | 8 Replies More

Remember the woman who was criticized for allowing her highly competent 9-year old boy find his way home on the Manhattan subway? Her name is Lenore Skenazy.  She’s a syndicated columnist and she’s not retreating a single inch.   She has created a website called Free Range Kids.   In April, 2009, she published a book called Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. Here’s how she sums up the widespread American problem:

Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.  They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world.

Image by perkmeup  at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

Image by perkmeup at Dreamstime.com (with permission)

Lenore reminds us to consider our own “dangerous” childhoods when thinking of extending your own child’s leash–and she has drawn hundreds of lively comments.  What is general solution?

We do NOT believe that every time school age children go outside, they need a security detail. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less. This site dedicated to sane parenting . . .

I started this site for anyone who thinks that kids need a little more freedom and would like to connect to people who feel the same way. We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence. Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.  So here’s to Free Range Kids, raised by Free Range Parents willing to take some heat. I hope this web site encourages us all to think outside the house.

This is a well-considered site with lots of ideas for tempering our paranoia about child abductions and sexual predators.  Here are a few additional Free Range Children stories that I recommend from Lenore’s site:

The end of the Super-Mom Era.

How cell phones can stunt your children’s emotional growth.

Here’s another article detailing the subway adventure.   And here’s Lenore’s three-minute video describing her approach.

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Category: American Culture, children, Community, Friendships/relationships, ignorance, law and order, Meaning of Life

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

Comments (8)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Not quite related, but this is one of those news stories that fertilizes the paranoia: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090903/ap_on_re_us/u

  2. Well, what is not to love about this post? I sure do! And I thank Erich for it! Yours, Lenore "Free-Range Kids" Skenazy

  3. Erich Vieth says:

    Lenore: Thanks for stopping by! I read about you in The Funny Times, of all places.

    Your post reminded me of how, when my children were 1 and 3, I was afraid to have them disappear for more than 30 seconds in the grocery store. I had this terrible thought that someone would scoop up my 1 year old and run away with her. I've gotten over those fears now that my kids are 9 and 11. They have long "leashes" now, but that ugly thought is still there.

    I do think that my paranoia is well placed in one area, however: Parking lots and streets. I carefully trained my kids to think of cars as terrible dangers, which they are. They are extremely careful crossing streets and parking lots, maybe even paranoid about the danger, which is how I like it, now that I'm not often with them when they cross streets (I'm still nervous about them crossing bit parking lots alone).

  4. Tony Coyle says:

    I would be more sanguine (re my kids) regarding parking lots and cars in general if Americans were properly 'taught to drive'.

    I see behavior, daily, in American parking lots that I never saw in the UK or Europe… driving across lanes, failing to stop, excessive speed, and generally poor judgement.

    Much of this is due, in part, to driving being taught at the most minimal level possible, with very little real world experience being imposed or required. Master the basic controls, and learn some roadsigns, and you're good to go in most States of the Union.

    [/rant]

    Much of it, is not.

    BTW: I agree fully with the topic — wrapping our kids in cottonwool is not preparing them for life. I see the results of this mindset every day in a general unwillingness among my American peers to take or accept qualified risks. And a parallel unwillingness to accept blame or consequence for their own actions.

    There is a pervasive, dichotomous attitude that things should simlutaneously be 'safe' and 'free from oversight'. In other words – if I do it, "mind your own damn business". If someone wants to do/give/deliver something to me, "you better make that safe or I'll sue your ass!". It's part of the 'do as I say, not as I do' mindset that has hi-jacked America in the recent past.

    Excessive control of kids is just an recursive instance of this mindset. It's a projection of their worst fears onto a warped version of reality.

    They can conceive of 'something bad' therefore 'something bad' must happen unless they take steps to stop it. So to protect themselves (or ther kids, in this case)they must completely deny the potential opportunity of that ever happening by banning or eliminating the initial act, even if the risk of the 'bad thing' is entirely illusory.

    Stoopid.

  5. Tim Hogan says:

    I remember walking, by myself, the six blocks to kindergarten when I was six (I was born in December and entered school later). Along the way, I would often see other kids and walk with them. Sometimes we were a roving pack of five and six year olds raucously racing to class. We knew people in neary every house along the way.

    I'm 53 now, some of those kids are still my close friends. I think that's because we did so many things together so young; probably not a common occurrence these days. 46 years later, we still remember when we were young and free, together.

  6. Erika Price says:

    I fear that "helicopter parenting" will only get worse with time. The children raised by paranoid parents will soon come of age as scared, isolated adults. These adults will similarly "hover" over their children, out of both crippling fear and their fear-imposed loneliness.

    Assuming this upward trajectory, by the time I have kids, if I have kids, I will be horrifically neglectful by comparison. I have long preferred to venture out and accept risk than to live in fear. Many of my peers won't go out at night alone under the most safe circumstances, for example. Gen Y is right on the cusp of paranoid helicopter parenting- some of us made it out unscathed, some of us were struck hard with terror. Thank goodness there are some smart free-range throwbacks.

  7. Erich Vieth says:

    From the NYT:

    But when these constraints are mixed with anxiety over transferring children from the private world of family to the public world of school, the new normal can look increasingly baroque. Now, in some suburbs, parents and children sit in their cars at the end of driveways, waiting for the bus. Some school buses now have been fitted with surveillance cameras, watching for beatings and bullying.

    Children are driven to schools two blocks away. At some schools, parents drive up with their children’s names displayed on their dashboards, a school official radios to the building, and each child is escorted out. When to detach the parental leash?

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32839443/ns/today-the

  8. Erich Vieth says:

    The nation's strangers are tired of being disssed: http://www.theonion.com/content/node/100538

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