Saturday, May 9, 2009

Free-Range Kids?

A Friend of mine recently sent me a link to the following article, which appeared in Newsweek Magazine. Ironically, this friend has no children and has no plan to have any. (So what is she doing reading a story about mothering?!) Maybe she just wanted to see what those of us who are mothers think of the "Free-Range Kids" movement.

Whatever the case, I found the article interesting and it made me think, are we coddling our kids too much? Are our kids going to grow up being scared of their own shadows because we are too frightened to let them experience anything without holding our hands?

I haven't really decided how I feel about this yet. But, I do have to admit that it made me think about my parenting style and what I want my parenting style to be. I hope to be able to find a happy medium. But, who am I kidding? I am a first-time-Mom.

Enjoy the following article and let me know what you think.

Mothering As A Spectator Sport

The author of "Free-Range Kids" on why it's time for us to stop obsessing about childhood dangers and the consequences of every decision we - and other moms - make.

By Lenore Skenazy / Special to Newsweek

Happy Mother's Day!

Oh, I know the burnt toast and dandelion bouquet won't come till May 10. But, lately every day is Mother's Day, thanks to our relentless focus on mom (and to a lesser extent dads) and the way they parent.

Parenting has become a spectator sport. We set the bar extremely high for what is "good" parenting and start judging the moment we hear someone did something that could be considered one drop dangerous.

I should know. I'm the mom who let her 9-year-old ride the New York subway by himself. Just about a year ago I made national news when my husband and I decided to take our son someplace he hadn't been before and let him try to find his way home by himself on public transportation. (By day, not very far from home, with money and a may and quarters for a phone call.) The very thing he'd been begging us to let him do for months. He made it home fine. btw, but millions of folks weighed in, often critically, on my parenting.

Now I feel a little like Miss America, passing my "Bad Mom" crown and scepter to Madlyn Primoff, the Scarsdale, NY, lawyer who was arrested for endangering the welfare of a child a few weeks back after she left her two daughters, ages 10 and 12, in a shopping area of a New York City suburb because they were bickering in the car. (Both the girls got home safely, though one did wind up waiting for her parents at the local police station.)
Primoff can have the crown, but I'm keeping the scepter for self-defense. All moms could use one. It was only when complete strangers started saying I was lazy/crazy/cable-TV-fodder-in-the-making that I began to understand that a lof of us Americans are raising our kids in the utter state of panic. We are convinced that every day, in every way, our children are in terrible peril. We are obsessed with other parents' child-rearing decisions - and our own - because we're being told each one is of life and death importance.

And it's not just about stranger danger. It begins even before birth, with the pregnancy diet books (a whole new genre!) telling us "each bite" is going to determine if our kids are golden - or duds. Same goes for every other parenting decision we make: are you have natural childbirth? If not, you're traumatizing the baby! Are you breastfeeding? If not, your kid's going to be a dummy! With allergies? And extra-chunky thighs! Are you feeding your kid nonorganic baby food? Did you wait too long to sign her up for music lessons? Shouldn't you get that toy that teaches multiplication? But the biggest decision of all, of course, is: can I ever leave my kids to their own devices? To climb a tree or walk to school? And lately, the answer is: no. Not until their hair goes gray and they start liking bran flakes. The prevailing belief is that even one unscheduled, unsupervised childhood episode (like the car ejection) is dangerous to the point of criminal. That kids could never possibly buck up and ask someone for helf, or figure out how to use a public phone, or ask direction to the police station.

But that Scarsdale lawyer's kids were not preschoolers. At age 10 or 12 in other areas, those kids have been apprenticed already. Or working as servants in someone else's house, or picking coffee beans. Actually, in other countries, some children that age are still picking coffee beans. Why do we assume that today's American kids are the dumbest, most vulnerable, least competent generation ever - and that we are doing them a favor by treating them almost as if they are disabled? ("Let me open the car door for you, honey!) Because that's what our culture tells us to do. It tells us that kids need extra classes, extra padding and extra supervision just to make it through another day. It tells us we should always plan for the worst-case scenario. And it warns us that they are in physical danger from a crime-crazed world, even though, nationally, our crime rate is back to what it was in 1970. Yes, if you grew up in the '70s or '80s, times are safer now than when you were a kid. That's according to U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics. We Americans have a very hard time believing that good news because good news is not what we are soaking in. Mostly we are soaking in 24-hour cable, bringing is the worst stories - especially child abductions - from all corners of the globe. (Aruba, anyone? Portugal?) When we flip to TV police dramas like "CSI," we see maggots and autopsies and the freakiest, saddest scenarios Hollywood can dream up, usually involving duct tape. These stories, so graphically told, sear themselves on our brains. Pick up a parenting magazine instead, and we find article after article, "Is your child's crib safe?" "Is your child's food safe?" "Is your child's [fill in the blank with something that seems extremely safe, like a pillow] safe?" If that magazine can't convince us that it has some lifesaving info that we really must read to keep our kids alive, we won't buy it. So it's in the same biz as TV news: It simply has to scare us.

In short: we are being brainwashed with fear and it makes us worry that everything we do as parents may be putting our kids in danger. That's why we judge other parents so harshly, and why we keep out kids cloistered like Rapunzel. Don't get me wrong. As founder of the Free-Range Kids movement - a group of people who believe in giving kids more freedom and responsibility - my philosophy is not to throw kids out of the car (sorely tempting though that may be at times). But, Free-Range parents do believe that kids are more capable and competent that we give them credit for. And that, after teaching them basic safety, they need some freedom to develop as smart, happy, responsible humans. Not crazy freedom. Just the kind of freedom we had. back when parenting decisions were not the stuff of national news.

Skenazy is founder of the blog-turned-parenting-movement and author of, "Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry." (Wiley, April 2009)


  1. What an excellent article! I am also trying to find a happy medium, and I am on my THIRD!:) You're doing a great job!

  2. I totally agree, but I worry that people are going to think I'm a bad mom. That means sometimes I *pretend* in public :)
    At home I catch LK eating candy that she's found under the couch and helping herself to the sharp knives.

  3. good stuff to think about, for sure. i hope to find ways to help my son feel confident and independent, but (as a first-time mom as well) it's pretty scary. i think we'll find our way!

  4. Hmm.. I'm not sure how I feel about it either. On the one hand, parents do seem to be in a sort of constant frenzy over every decision they make (me included), but on the other hand we live in a different society than our parents and grandparents did. There are way more things to worry about.

    I hope to find a healthy balance - something between protecting my children and allowing them the freedom to explore on their own...

    Ah parenting is so hard!

  5. Interesting! It reminds me -The people that have the best parenting advice is people that are not parents =D

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