on April 5, 2009
I've been reading Lenore's blog for a few months now, and I enjoy it, so I mean it as a compliment when I say that her book is WAY better than her blog.
I really enjoyed the combination of light-hearted quips and anecdotes together with serious, thought-provoking information and opinions. Opinions that are backed up by real data, not the urban legends everyone likes to cite. Did you know that there are no documented cases of kids being given poisoned candy by a stranger on Halloween? I didn't. Lenore debunks lots of "known dangers," and she does it in a readable, entertaining fashion.
This is a parenting book I'm going to recommend to my friends, and one of the very few that I won't be selling to the used book store. This one will be proudly displayed on my bookshelf to be loaned out to people who need it, and re-read by me when I need a reminder not to be sucked in by the paranoid parenting that's taken over our society. Thanks, Lenore!
on August 27, 2009
In the past week of summer vacation, I have permitted the following activities:
My eight-year-old stayed at home to play computer games while I and the three Littlers walked a block up to the little neighborhood market to buy cheese for dinner sandwiches that night.
My eight-year-old and six-year-old walked to the vending machines at the pool from the playground sort of next to the pool, to buy treats for themselves and their brothers after swim lessons. Then they went back again because Seg punched the wrong numbers into the vending machines and wound up with peanut butter crackers instead of a bag of Skittles. My friend M and I stayed at the playground, chatting and watching our Littlers play in the dirt and run around.
The three older boys roasted marshmallows and flung wood onto the fire, and traipsed around the woods collecting feathers and walnuts and leaves, and slept outside in a tent. I sat on a porch swing next to the fire with a bottle of Straub's and my friend A and talked (when I wasn't bogarting their burnt marshmallows).
The two older boys and their friend rode their bicycles and scooter around and around the block and up and down the alley playing some sort of tag they made up involving Harry Potter and much loud casting of spells (their extremely common use of the Cruciatus curse might give me pause for concern...)
The three older boys ate popsicles on the front porch while I put the baby down for a nap upstairs.
The two older boys took my coupons and went and retrieved items I needed in other aisles of the grocery store while I waited for the damn fishman to give me my order.
The two older boys continued playing a game in the van (windows down but vehicle locked, of course, parked DIRECTLY in front of the coffee shop and with several people we knew sitting at the tables out front) while I ran into the coffee shop to pick up a (pre-called/ordered) latte.
None of these sound completely crazy, do they?
I mean, really REALLY beyond-the-pale crazy?
Because they are activities that have been a little tough for me. A little tough on my over-protective, overactive mothering instincts. Activities that frankly fly in the face of the helicopter parenting most of us practice (or are expected to practice) these days. While the boys were on the porch, I envisioned - I dunno - Jack the Ripper? White slavers? A slavering pedophile in a panel van looking for his puppy?
Yes, we live in the city, which means I lock my doors and car at night. I will not allow my children to play in the actual street. I am cordial but distant with strangers walking up and down the street.
But *I* grew up riding my bike where I pleased, and was pretty much left to my own devices most of the summer, and a lot of the rest of the year.
We kids ran up and down and IN the street, and we built treehouses in the woods at the end of the cul-de-sac (which incidentally backed up onto a major freeway, separated from our street by a cinder block wall and little else). We played hockey and kickball in the street ("CAR!"), and I was allowed to walk not only to my friend Roseann's house at the end of the street, but to my friend Stacie's house, across the previously mentioned highway (there was an overpass). I was permitted to walk down the street the other way to the pond, to fish and skate and to hang out with my friend Stephanie. I was permitted to ride my bike anywhere I could pedal it, which often included the 7-11, the movie theatre, and the ice cream store (all roughly within a mile radius).
In addition, I was sent away every single summer for weeks at a time to camp (and loved every blessed minute of it), where I had a large posse of friends I didn't see the rest of the year; we ran around in the woods (sometimes in the middle of the night), canoed and kayaked and played in the creek; we climbed all over a ropes course and in the trees like monkeys; we camped outside, built large fires, learned to shoot a bow-and-arrow and a BB gun, and swam miles in the freezing cold pool at 5am to earn meaningless badges.
I was not only permitted but EXPECTED to walk the two long blocks to the bus stop and take a public bus three miles home from school in the winter months, when my mother didn't drive due to snow (my older brother was with me most days, and this didn't start till I was in second grade). (One memorable snowy day, when my brother was not in school for some reason or another, I fell asleep and missed my stop. The bus driver turned around at the end of the route and drove me to my doorstep.)
I was a Free Range Kid.
Before the days of 24-hours-a-day news channels trumpeting every single missing child (and even some not really missing), before the days of Stranger Danger programs and the prominence of organized sports, before the days of your kids' friends all living in the `burbs to which you must drive, I think most of us my age (39ish) were.
After reading Lenore Skenazy's wonderful and reassuring book Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, I feel like a new convert.
Lenore Skenazy is passionate about her cause: Giving children -- and their parents - freedom. For the kids, it's the freedom to play outside without grown-ups, to make mistakes, to climb trees, to walk to school alone, to frolic. For their parents, it's giving them the confidence to let go of irrational fears that make them to want to place their children under lock and key or 24/7 surveillance. Or both. (from Picket Fence Post.)
The zeal with which I am now actively trying to develop my children's independence must necessarily (and wisely) be tempered by a number of factors. For example:
- Their ages -would I send the three-year-old to the vending machine alone? I WOULD NOT.
- By their personalities and common sense - Would I leave the six-year-old home alone for half an hour? I actually might, since my six-year-old is the most responsible of all my children - it might depend on where I was going, and how he felt about it.
- And by MY common sense: Would I drive my twelve-year-old to the local mall, along with a friend, and leave them in charge of three younger siblings, including a three-year-old? Boy, for all my zeal and independence-building, I sure would not. (I have an eight-year-old and a three-year-old. I would not trust them at a large public shopping mall with anyone but me, and sometimes I even wonder about me.)
Skenazy allowed her then-nine-year-old to ride the subway alone. For this feat of mothering confidence, she was interviewed all over national TV and vilified by lots and lots of plastic talking heads in the media. She discusses this reaction in her book, and she then goes on to discuss why we have become such a fearful and overprotective society. She backs up her strong opinions with solid empirical evidence, citing, among others, David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, and several prominent NY pediatricians (her own included). She cites numbers at a dizzying speed, debunking many of our long-held and weirdly cherished beliefs re: stranger kidnapping, online predators, cell phone use by children, and the need for toilet locks (I personally gave up toilet locks when I couldn't get one open at an, er, critical moment. Thank God we have two bathrooms). Her tone is friendly but firm; her writing style would seem most at home in a mommy blog (I don't think that's an insult, is it?).
I may be a little bit in love with her and her ideas, and if we lived in the same city, I would so find her and make her be my (enabling and supportive) mommy friend.
Would I let my nine-year-old ride the subway alone? Perhaps, if he'd grown up in NYC and was used to riding the subway with me and it was daytime and he didn't have to switch trains...see how it goes? You have to use your parenting instincts and skills to make the best decision for you and for your child.
But you also must stretch a little, take a few chances - let them spread their wings and attempt a solo flight. Because eventually (dear God, I hope and pray) they grow up and move out and must do their own laundry, and believe it or not, little Junior needs to know how to turn on the stove and live in his own place and ride the subway to work at some point.
on April 17, 2014
I have read a lot of parenting books. In fact, when pregnant with my first and the topic of parenting books came up, my husband said "She reads them all, and then gives me the Cliff's Notes." Which was exactly true. I started with the "What to Expect..." books and went from there.
But this book... this is anti-alarmist parenting book. And I devoured it.
Ms. Skenazy is very polarizing. And I see why. The parents who have been indoctrinated to live in terror of every thing from germs to chemicals to sexual predators feel like she's minimalizing their fears. Poo-pooing them.
But she's not. Not in the least. And she is certainly not advocating reckless behavior. What she's suggesting is that we look at our fears rationally, statistically, and sort out for ourselves which of our fears are rational, and which are not. For the rational fears, take precautions and empower your child. Let him gain the skills he needs to make his way in the world with confidence.
Here's an example I worked out for one of my own situations. My 8-year old wants to walk to her friend's house two long blocks away by herself. It feels a little to dangerous for me. So I break down my fears. Well, I'm afraid she won't look when crossing the street and she'll get run over. So we work on this while walking together. I won't let the solo walk occur until I feel sure she's in the habit of crossing safely. The other fear is, of course, child nabbers. Which as Lenore points out, is incredibly unlikely... but still. So I teach her what to do if someone tries to coax her into their car. We practice. She gets it. Eventually, we both feel pretty good about her skills to walk two blocks. And she does. Her friend's mom texts me to let me know she got there, and all is good. My little girl is thrilled with her independence and with my trust in her.
At the end of each section, Lenore offers suggestions on how to move toward Free Range parenting at a level you're comfortable with. Here's one of them:
"Free-Range Baby Step: Cross the street with your school-age child, without holding hands. Make 'em look around at the traffic
Free-Range Brave Step: Let your little bikers, starting at age six or so, ride around the block a couple of times, beyond where you can see them. (Yes, in their helmets)
One Giant Leap for Free-Range Kind: Drop off your third- or fourth-grade child and a friend at an ice cream store with money for sundaes. Pick them up in half an hour. "
I love the different levels so you can proceed at your own pace.
Also, I love her humor throughout. The section of how worrisome trick-or-treating has become had me rolling.
Anyway, if you're like me and you feel that your kid could really benefit from more independence and free play, but you are reluctant to let it happen for fear of the worst (or fear of judgment), then this is your book. Enjoy.
on September 6, 2012
5 stars because she told me what I wanted to hear but what makes Lenore's opinion (or mine) any more valid than anybody else's? I would feel a bit more comfortable if this were coming from someone who works with many different children and/or has based their findings on extensive academic research. But I guess if Lenore can do it so can I!
I was born in the early 1960's and raised in a middle class family in central PA. My dad had a college degree and was the bread winner. My mom did not go to college, she held down the fort at home. This was the case for every other family in the community I lived in. We were certainly free range kids. The only condition was to be home in time for dinner. We walked or rode bikes everywhere. We skated on ponds with no adults around, we explored rivers and streams building damns, searching for turtles, snakes, frogs and salamanders. We hiked in the woods building forts and getting poison ivy. We slept in the woods overnight. We played kick the can and flashlight tag in the dark hiding in unlit places. Our parents only had a general idea where we were. If they found out that we did something wrong there were consequences (grounding usually). It was more about consequences rather than restricting us to avoid the bad things from happening in the first place. Other than Boy Scouts or Little League baseball there were no organized, structured activities. No one went away to summer camps or beach/lake homes. There was very little on TV and no electronic devises. Breakfast was a glass of OJ and a bowl of cereal and lunch was usually skipped. We just had to be home in time for dinner but then it was back outside until bedtime.
I now live in an upper class suburb of Boston with my wife and kids. All of the dads and moms have at least an undergraduate degree. Some went to prep schools and many of us have advanced degrees. Many of the moms (my wife) have careers and many stay home to hold down the fort as my mom did. And here, in my uninformed, arm chair opinion, is the rub. Moms who work feel guilty and insecure about not being at home with their kids. Moms who stay home feel guilty and insecure that they gave up sucessful careers based on the level of education they achieved. This results in a competition to see who can come across as the most involved, vigilant, overly aware parent capable of making the most informed choices for the welfare of their chidren. Kids are signed up for structured activities. When not involved in those activities they are driven to someones house for a set, limited period of time to play indoors or within the confines of a fenced in yard. No kids are allowed out at night. Bike rides are limited to the cul de sac with helmet on. During the summer when they are not at thier beach/lake homes the kids are sent to camps, work with a math tutor or a personal sports trainer.
There's paranoia that a drug dealer, pedophile, child pornographer or gay marriage advocate (I support!) lurks around every corner that our children must be protected from. There are ticks with Lyme disease (which I have had) and mosquitoes with West Nile in the woods. There are sharks in the ocean and bacteria in the lakes and ponds that children could drown in. Exposure to sun results in skin cancer. Coyotes and rabid dogs are roaming the streets. There are drunk drivers and dangerous intersections. Any parent who does not come across as vigilant about these things is considered cavalier and too laid back about raising their children. The news and the internet add to all this over the top paranoia. My wife and I are considered too laid back. Our kids have no one to ride bikes with. There's no one to walk down town for ice cream with. The fear of the other parents has rubbed off on our kids. They would never go outside at night in the neighborhood to play. They would never wander into the conservation land in our neighborhood without us to explore.
The funny thing is that those same parents are not concerned about the consequences of the lack of exercise that could lead to a life time aversion to walking anywhere. They are not concerned about the consequences of a diet consisting primarily of refined flour, sugar and red meat, consuming nothing but pancakes, lunch meats, burgers, chips, fries and deserts as daily staples rather than occasional treats. No concern that this could result in a life time dependency on food as a source of comfort and stress release rather than as a source of nutrition. Those same parents think nothing of the consequences of thier kids watching too much TV or spending too much time fiddling with their electronic devices.
As long as it does not result in instant injury, disappearance or death you are doing the right thing!
on May 28, 2012
I love how this author stood up to the media onslaught without internalizing their criticism. Ms. Skenazy's writing is fun to read, I admire her spunk as well as her message.
It is about time that someone stood up to the media and insane societal obsessions with a no-risk society. Raising a child without risks to their life/well-being is impossible. All of life is a risk. What is important is to know the risks and work to minimize the most common causes of harm using methods that are reasonable and helpful.
Per CDC records from 1999-2008 here are the most common causes of death in children by age group.
ages 1- 4: house fires and drowning. (rate= 1.4 and 1.1 per 100,000)
ages 5-9: house fires and motor vehicle accident (rate = 0.7 and 0.6 per 100,000)
ages 10-14: motor vehicle accident and "intentional self harm by hanging, strangling and suffocation" (rate= 0.8 and 0.8 per 100,000)
Most over-protective parents are surprised by these statistics. Believe me, I have talked to many parents who won't let their kid go outside by themselves until age 13 and then allow them to drive (or drive with friends) at age 16.
Message= Learn real risks then give your children the freedom to explore and socialize and learn. Give your children freedom to get out of the house and school and develop independence and enjoy their life. In the teen years, be very cautious about driving with other teens!
P.S To find the data from above, go to the web site "CDC Wonder" sort mortality data by rate per 100,000 and sort by age groups 1-4, 5-9, 10-14. I did not include children under age 1 because safety in this age is different than what Ms. Skenazy is discussing. I did not include children 15-19 because this age group is not Ms. Skenazy's focus-- and besides, to my surprise even the most rabidly "protective" parents seem perfectly willing to let their teenager drive with other teens or drive themselves. Statistically a terrible thing to do. Death in 15-19 year olds is much higher than ages 1-14, mostly due to various types of motor vehicle accident (but also homicide and suicide). Death rate all causes age 15-19 is high 65.1 per 100,000. Death rates all causes in mid-childhood, age 5-9 is 14.7 per 100,000. (10 years of CDC data 1999-2008).