Sunday, May 1, 2011

How to Raise a Free-Range Kid

Before I had c I never thought about whether or not I would let my kid go to the park or walk to the bus stop without me. I did both of these things when I was little. In fact, I rode my bike downtown (DeKalb) for cheese fries at Saucy's and gummy Cokes at The Confectionary with my twin and dear friend Carrie Stern. And my mom was very protective of us. Nowadays parents drive their kids to the bus stop and wait until the bus arrives. And we drive our children to every activity. 

So what has changed? Why are we so scared? I am constantly panicked when c is out of my sight even for just a few minutes, worrying he will be kidnapped or hurt. But I am exposed to free-range kids all over Madison: kids play in their front yard, with no adult in sight. They play at the park and their parents are no where to be found. Could I let c do this? Of course I can't right now...he's only 21 months old...what about about an 8 year old c?

According to writer Lenore Skenazy, crime rates today are on par with the early '60s and in 2009 New York enjoyed the lowest murder rate in fifty years. Skenazy, a New Yorker, is the author of Free-Range Kids and explains that (helicopter) parents feel they need to hover over their children every minute of the day. She was named "America's Worst Mother" when she allowed her 9-year-old ride the subway by himself. Her son had been asking to go for awhile so they gave in. And he lived to tell about it.

She says parents are so scared to make a mistake that we are try to control our children's every move. Parents are bombarded with parenting books telling us to put locks on toilet seats, kidnappings on the nightly news and critical comments from other parents. We think that if we control everything our children do they will be safe. But in turn we haven't taught them life lessons leaving them defenseless when they are on their own. Instead of saying "Don't talk to strangers" we should say "Don't leave with a stranger" so if God forbid they are in trouble they feel comfortable asking a stranger for help.

She encourages parents to tackle their fears by using baby steps. Not everyone will be comfortable letting their kids ride the subway alone and that's ok. But you may feel safe asking a fellow parent whom you just met to watch your child while you run to the bathroom. Perhaps you will let your child ride his/her bike three blocks to their friend's house. Or you may be adventureous enough to allow your 7 or 8 year old in the second annual Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day on Saturday, May 21!

Not everyone agrees with this theory. Check out this NY Times article.

If you worry about your kid's safety, and who doesn't, this is a must read. Buy the book, check it out from your local library and
read her blog. You'll be glad you did.

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