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Raising a Free-Range Kid

by Lenore Skenazy


Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy is the founder of Free-Range Kids. Read more »

Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions.

Chances are, when you think back on your childhood, certain memories bring an instant smile: Playing kickball in the street. Tag through the neighborhood. Flying home when the streetlights came on.

And chances are, if you tell your kids those stories today, they'll look at you like you're talking about the good ol' days of mastodon hunts. (Then they'll go back to texting.)

In just a single generation, childhood has changed so dramatically that what was considered healthy and wholesome when we were growing up is seen as dangerous if not downright deranged today. I should know: I'm the lady who let her nine-year-old ride the subway home alone.

It was almost two years ago and my son, Izzy, had been begging my husband and me to PLEASE let him take a solo trip. Hubby and I talked about it and thought: Well, we're New Yorkers. We're on the subway all the time. What's more, our son is saying he's ready. Maybe we have to listen, the way you do when your wobbly little biker says, "Dad! Let go of the handlebars!"

So off Izzy went and home he came, tickled pink. Maybe purple. I wrote a little newspaper column about it and two days later I found myself on the Today Show, MSNBC, FoxNews and NPR defending myself as NOT "America's Worst Mom."

That's the title I got in the press, so to defend myself - to explain that I BELIEVE in safety, I just don't believe our kids need a security detail every time they leave the house - I started the blog freerangekids.com. That blog begat a book by the same name and now, by golly, it's a full-fledged movement.

Free-Range Kids may sound radical, but actually it's just a commonsense approach to parenting in these uncommonly overprotective times. How overprotective?

A mom in an upscale Atlanta suburb won't let her daughter walk out to the mailbox: "There's just too much that could happen." Another mom was actually on the lawn with her kids, reading as they played, when a passerby yelled, "Put down that book! Your kids could be snatched at any time!" And on a visit to Ikea, a grandmother waved at a cute four-year-old holding her daddy's hand. "That lady SMILED at me!" shrieked the girl. "Is she going to kidnap me?"

Probably not, kid. Despite the fear we feel in our bones, we are back to the crime rate of 1970. Crime kept creeping up for the next two decades, peaking in' 93, but it's been plunging ever since. So the strange fact is: if you were playing outside in the' 70s or '80s, your children are actually SAFER than you were!

It doesn't seem that way, because when we were growing up, TV stations were just beginning to realize that child abductions are, to put it bluntly, ratings gold. That's why now they'll send a camera crew to Portugal, to follow the story of a girl taken from her hotel room. Or to Aruba, where a (white, female) college student disappeared. These stories grip viewers, so the stations flog them for days, weeks, even months, when they can. The result? It feels like children are being abducted 24/7 because, on TV, they are.

And so, increasingly, we don't let our kids out the door. When I was growing up, the majority of kids walked to school. Today about 15% do. The majority of kids used to play outside. Today, less than a third do. We're just about the only mammals who forbid our young to frolic. Or if we do, it's with a coach, a clipboard and pre-approved snack.

Not quite sure if that qualifies as "frolicking."

We like to think that there's no downside to keeping our kids this "safe," but we're not keeping them safe from diabetes, or flab or, worst of all, looking back on their Wonder years and seeing a screen.

Kids need to know how to keep themselves safe, but they also need time to play, to explore. So, teach them how to cross the street , teach them not to go off with strangers, and then: Send them out.

They'll come home when the streetlights come on looking (and smelling!) like something very precious. Something you've cherished all your life:

Childhood.

Sorry, Lenore Skenazy is no longer taking questions. Feel free to comment on the article and let us know what you think about the topic.


Comments

anonymous writes...

I do want my child to be a free-range kid the way I was, but have a couple of questions about the statistics.

1. Children no longer walking to school is often cited as a result of helicopter parenting. How many children actually live within walking distance of their schools these days? We certainly don't.

2. Crime stats are down, but couldn't that be a result of the fact that people are not letting their children go free-range, therefore, not providing an opportunity for those types of crimes to be committed in the first place?

Again, I'd love for my child to be more free-range, but always wonder about those oft-cited stats regarding this issue.

Lucas writes...
Crime stats are down, but couldn't that be a result of the fact that people are not letting their children go free-range, therefore, not providing an opportunity for those types of crimes to be committed in the first place?

Violent crime rates have been in long-term decline across the board, not just crimes against children. Your point is valid, but if it were true that parenting strategy were causal, I would expect crimes against children to show a different trend than crimes against adults, and I don't see it.

Lenore? writes...

Hi! Lenore here - the author of the piece. Just wanted to explain something about the crime stats. Sometimes people wonder if children are safer today simply because they are always inside. The answer is: ALL crime is down -- even crimes against adults. So it's truly an across-the-board safer time to live than the '70s or '80s, whether your kids are inside or not.

Also, I love the posts talking about happy memories of childhood. That's what our kids deserve: The kind of formative experiences (good AND bad) that we had -- not a lack of experiences at all!

Thanks for reading and commenting! -- Lenore "Free-Range Kids" Skenazy


Angela writes...

Like any parent, I want my child to be safe. However, I don't want to raise her in an atmosphere of fear. Striking a balance between safety and freedom is what I hope to be able to do.

MomsHugs writes...

In 1973-74 my kids (10 & 11) delivered newspapers in a college town including the downtown. Without their knowing, I watched from a distance in my car. A year or so later a 12 yr-old boy delivering papers in Des Moines, Iowa was snatched & has never been found. Kids are no longer able to earn pocket money delivering papers.

My kids want to teach their kids to take risks but protect themselves, too. We are concerned children today are not being taught nor encouraged to develop common sense, bravery & courage in taking risks - all necessary elements to developing a strong sound society.

Let's get back to teaching & training children how to safely take risks & take care of each other.

Ana writes...

Nice article. I totally agree people are overly paranoid today. It is sickening that children have a strangle hold on them from lack of freedom. Children need to be influenced into feeling their own sense of security (Psychology 101 basic human need). But how secure can children feel if parents keep trying to convince them that people are after them.

I appauld your article. The media has an interest in keeping people feeling afraid, because when people are afraid they look for more things to worry about -- which is what the news is giving them (a vicious cycle). It's the exception for the news to broadcast wonderful things happening locally, not to mention with the US, and especially around the world, but they are eager beavers to find anywhere in the world something bad has happened. It creates such a distorted view of life.

Good luck to you in your wonderous journey of parenting!

Jon writes...

Here's a great first step toward being a free-range parent.

* Cut your umbillical cord with the TV news Media - cancel your cable or satellite TV.
* Go to your local Big Box store and reinvest the monthly 'cable' expenditure on TV-PC connected wirelessly to your high-speed internet.
* Get Hulu's app for your PC, and watch content from FOX, NBC, Sony, and Warner Brothers, as well as 73 other networks/channels, ranging from Access Hollywood to Comedy Central to USA Network and WWE.

You'll still hear about the Big News Of The Day (They earthquake in Haiti and Chile, Canada winning Hockey in the Olympics, etc.), but you'll stop being exposed to all the little stories that seem specifically crafted to make you afraid of the world on behalf of your children.

elena writes...

Totally agree with you!!!!!!! People in USA become overly paranoid about safety and everything! I am 29 years old and my daughter is 2 years old. I remember myself when I started to walk to school 5 blocks crossing 3 big roads, when I was 6 years old. Now, people having 6 year old, have houses child-protected from floor to ceiling, do not allow child to go outside when they can not: "it's cold; it's dangerous" - and you end up with a child who does not know how to live by himself, the only think they know-is watch stupid cartoons like "Sponge Bob" the whole day, or ask for Mommy every time they need anything. Go to Europe, people, or Russia(where I am from).Parents there teach children to be independent and learn on their mistakes, they do not over-proof houses and give child to be a child and live in the house, not under the dome. When your child saying you "I can do it myself" -Listen to him! He knows better! My baby is trying now to dress herself, she wants to play herself either inside or outside. I do not mind, I just encourage her. I teach her safety and common sense.

Sarah writes...

Very nice article, I can't wait to check out the book.

Ana, do you have children? You didn't mention it.

Momof5 writes...

I agree we have to teach our kids independence and and self preservation but to pretend there is no danger at all is also reckless. Kids go missing in all sorts of private and public areas with parents close by or far away. teaching our kids the basic safety principles we use for ourselves is key but they are children not adults and until they are it is our job to be the back up to the safety plan not just teach and wish them good luck when they are 7, 8, 9 and such. Age appropriate independence is what I teach. My six yr old and 10 yr old girls do NOT get the same level of independence.

As far as activities I think it is a sad state of affairs today. I have tried to get to know the people around me but no one gives a shit. they want me to mind my business and they will mind theirs. I think there are 5 other houses with kids in them on my street but ONLY my kids play outside. Parenting is hard work that requires constant effort,adjustments, and is always a balancing act of many different things I just think far too many have parents think all you have to do is love 'em and everything will be ok. Lets step back into our kids live (NOT to control them and make them live our life) but to guide them and teach them how to create one for themselves.

FreeRider writes...

I am SO GLAD that this topic is coming up.

I was born in 1978 and was raised in a number of locations, from big city (Baltimore) to nowhere hicksville and foreign cities.

My parents gave me gobs of freedom, not because they were negligent or trying to make a social statement. It was just the way they were raised (Dad was a New Yorker, Mom from Brussels), so it wasn't even a major discussion point.

So I took my first solo transatlantic flight when I was 8. Was allowed to roam pretty much all over hicksville on my bike when I was 10 (with a practical limit of about a 10-mile radius, because my weak legs). Could go for hours on my own into Brussels when I was 12. NYC when I was 13. This was the 80s/90s, not the 50s.

Nothing even approaching untoward ever happened to me, despite being a cute, outgoing boy unafraid of strangers and brimming over with sexual curiosity. In many ways, I was the archetype of today's kid-who-is-guaranteed-to-be-abused. But -surprise - nothing happened!

Matching the statistics, the few untoward things that did happen in my childhood came from within my family's own social circle.

I am confident that this early freedom and independence contributed to my entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first business when I was 12 and have always been comfortable talking to anyone. It allowed me to make the most of being an exchange student, while my comrades were clinging to manufactured slices of home in their bedrooms.

Over the past 8 years I've been living in the Netherlands, and just wish that many US parents could see the freedom - and resulting independence - that children enjoy here. Classic scenes of two boys fishing off a bridge are commonplace. The swimming hole at our local park has maybe one adult for every 50 kids during the summer. Weekly some kid will knock on my door asking me to support one group or another. Sometimes they're on the buddy system, sometimes on their own, but only with the very youngest is there ever a parent marching along. These are tweens and younger, walking around an urban area, broadcasting that they have wads of cash on them! Yet all is well.

Ultimately, for me, the tight-leash style of parenting it is a sad product of the selective insulation from reality that many practice these days. When the real world is unknown to you, anxiety and fear are not surprising byproducts of contact.

kiddtech writes...

Boy does this hit home, and I'm not even a parent! I'm a Youth Volunteer @ a local church (or was for the past 5-6 years, and a former Big Brother member), and I can think of one 13yo right now that stays just up the street from me. I've known him and his mom for 3 whole years, and when I 1st met them, the boy was so protected, he had never thrown a football, learned how to skate, play basketball, or had opportunities to make friends his own age! I taught him all these, took him to the youth gym, to Youth Church, etc., & thought FINALLY his mom's paranoia had subsided (was even invited/attended Thanksgiving Dinner one year with the FAM)....B U T....because of new neighbors that apparently were even more protective and distrustful of the "appearance" of something wrong/evil (I'm Black, the kid is White), his mom started listening to them, and now, the kid only comes outside to get on or off the bus. In the house ALL THE TIME now! All day on weekends too. I kid you not!
Wonder what type of adult he's going to become? :(. This cannot be healthy for him.

Sam Caldwell writes...

(1) Yes, crime rates are down and have been on a consistent decline for years.

(2) People often mistakenly feel crime rates are higher than they actually are because they depend on a ratings-based media industry for 'news.' We must remember to critically analyze our information, as fear sells. Media outlets are not the objective journalists they portray themselves to be. They are businesses with profit expectations that come from advertising revenue. Advertising revenue is generated by higher ratings, and these higher ratings come from more viewers. People watch what excites extreme emotion, whether fear, anger, rage, sadness, sorrow or euphoria.

amber writes...

What I think some of you are forgetting is that you can still teach kids to be safe and let them go out and play on their own.

Make sure they know not to get into a stranger's car, give them limits as to how far they can go - that kind of thing - and then shoo them out the door!

Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. They know when a situation feels off - and to get the heck home and tell their parents if someone is making them feel unsafe.

Elizabeth writes...

Now that I have a son, I'm so glad this topic is coming up. Growing up, I started walking to kindergarten alone when I was 4 since we were only a block away from the school. My parents taught me all about not talking to strangers, but they also owned a restaurant so there were very few strangers to us in our small town. Later, they opened another restaurant in a neighboring town and when I was 11, I was in charge of taking our deposits to the bank, which was about a 10-minute walk from the place. That's an 11-year-old girl with an envelope full of money making deposits for the restaurant. Also at 11, I was in charge of my three siblings on our first unaccompanied international trip.


It's not about being reckless, it's about teaching our children how to be smart, think on their feet, recognize danger and be responsible individuals who are accountable for their actions. I'm not going to let my child play outdoors by himself if he doesn't understand that he can't run into the street. But it's my job to teach him how to look for cars so that he can enjoy the playground and the park and live his childhood to the fullest.

Emily writes...

Great article! I was raised free-range and am doing so with my daughter. Thanks for being our voice, Lenore!

Susan writes...

I think it's sad that despite the drop in crime, kids are imprisoned in the home and only allowed to go outside for supervised "play dates" and structured sports.

My father tells me about his childhood in the 40s, playing pickup baseball at the local sandlot with just his friends, baseballs, bats and gloves brought from home; no parents, coaches or umpires; the kids made up the rules. By the time his little brother was ten, he was in little league with the uniforms, coaches and umpires.

I'm glad that even though I was somewhat restricted (not allowed to ride my bike everywhere in the neighborhood till I was about 11), I still had the chance to go outside, climb trees and drink from the garden hose.

Today's children won't have those memories. They will have memories of soccer practice, Mandarin Chinese lessons, community service and heaps of homework.

Alan writes...

There are SO many things we can allow our kids the freedom to do without turning them loose in the dark streets of the big city. Cooking, making things (including messes)volunteering, etc. I'm always amazed by parents who cant leave their pre-teen for a few hours because the kid cant make his/her own luch, or be left alone in the house with out destroying something. I think we create more danger by the way we train them (using video games and tv) than by allowing them a bit more freedom to become...

Waltz writes...

Great to see many positive responses to this article. As far as crime rates dropping; the fact that violent crime is dropping for adults as well as kids shows it's not just that kids are being kept inside. Also, Lenore is not saying there is no danger, but rather that trying to protect your kids from every danger by never letting then out does more harm than good.

Ted writes...

"A year or so later a 12 yr-old boy delivering papers in Des Moines, Iowa was snatched & has never been found. Kids are no longer able to earn pocket money delivering papers."


The problem is that people take isolated stories like the above and make them the rule. How many thousands of kids delivered papers when that 1 kid was kidnapped?!? I live in California a state with a population of 30+ million and we get 1 of these types of stories MAYBE once a month. Even if only 1/4 of the population are kids, that puts the chances of something happening around 1 in 625,000 (7.5 mil divided by 12). NOT very good odds.
BUT by making your kids paranoid and not allowing them to be kids, then your odds are 1 to 1 that they will be miserable.
And before you ask, yes, I have a 7 year, 4 year old and 2 year old.

Hands On Mom writes...

This seems very convenient to me, and even reminiscent of the "quality time vs quantity time," rubbish of the 1980s which was designed to make parents who were pushing parenting responsibilities off on daycare feel good about being an absent, self-centered parent. I don't know where you live, but crime is not down everywhere. National statistics do not accurately describe every neighborhood. Even if crime were down, it's still a parent's responsibility to keep track of their kid, tell them when they do some thing wrong (which you can't do if you don't know where they are) and make sure they get to school safely. Anything else is just trying to justify getting around your roll as parent.

Vox writes...

We struggle with this issue now that our son is twelve. We live in a university town, in a "highly walkable" neighborhood where everything we need can be obtained nearby. Our twelve year old is a mile from his school for the first time. Previously, it was a twenty minute drive. He is enjoying walking home with his classmates that live nearby. This feels very normal to us, and we get a phone call before he leaves school and when he arrives at their homes, only when an adult is home.

This summer, we were visiting family in Berlin. Their thirteen year old was attending a party and expecting a friend to meet him who was planning to stay overnight with them at their house. When the friend had not arrived by 9PM, he called home and asked his parents if he could stay passed the 10pm deadline his parents had established. He seemed only concerned about his curfew, not the friend's absence.

Coming from our culture, we were immediately upset. Where was the other boy? Where was he expected before he was to go to the party? Was he home? Etc. etc. Our nephew's parents were barely concerned. It was hard for us to understand their complacency, until we realized we had been programmed to be hypervigilant by the media. They don't experience that same level of hysteria surrounding childhood disappearances. Children routinely ride the trains and subways, bike or walk to and from school and do other errands unattended.

I don't mean to devalue the suffering of families that have lost a loved one or have that fear. And we certainly share real concerns about letting our child go about without supervision. Right now we're trying to structure ways in which our son can experience independence and grow, without smothering him. It is a difficult balance which requires a lot of discussion and negotiation for all of us. I wish it weren't so, but neither unlimited freedom or hypervigilance is the answer.

inthefastlane writes...

My husband and I have both commented that when we try to send our kids (15, 10, 4) out to play in the neighborhood, there are not other kids outside to play with, even in the middle of the summer. And the ones that are outside, are young (under 4) and have parents with them. as they should be, at that age. but, where are the older kids playing ball or fishing in the ponds or riding bikes and building forts?

Emily writes...

Thank you! I'm probably part of the last generation of free range kids...I never had a curfew, and I didn't even have a cell phone! As long as my parents knew were I was and I called from my friend's house or a payphone if we had taken a train to Chicago (yes, I was allowed to go to Chicago with my friends by ourselves when we were 14 after we got caught doing it anyway), they were okay.

Now, I'm getting close to the age when the idea of having a kid is becoming more of a reality. I do not want to be one of these parents I see all the time that don't let their kids out of eyesight, nor do I want to be villified for letting my kids out. Hopefully by the time I do have kids old enough to venture out on their own, it won't be an issue.

Lenore? writes...

I'm from Chicago, too. And actually, I do think the tide is turning as we start to see the results of too much hovering. Kids arriving at college today are called "tea cups" by administrators, because they are beautiful -- perfectly made, in fact -- but so fragile. They break! (Or break-down, actually.) We all want our kids to grow up safe and also self-reliant. Self-reliance doesn't come out of nowhere. It's like a muscle kids have to develop. And they can't develop it if they never get a chance to make their own decisions and even some mistakes.
So be of good cheer and good luck when the parenting time comes!

Ceazon writes...

I love this article. I must say I am an overprotective single mother. I let my daughter play outside with her friends but sometimes I'm paranoid the whole time she's gone. Part of the reason I'm paranoid is because of all the trouble we (my brother and I) got in to when we were children. I can't even tell you how many times I look back on my childhood and think, 'wow! I could have died, or been kidnapped.' My daughter has more supervision and, quite honestly, more sense than I did as a child. I'm going to try to calm my nerves and allow her a little more freedom. Thanks!

Ida writes...

I have a few issues with the premise of free range kids. Yes, we who grew up in the 70's and 80's might have thought we were running around unsupervised, but we weren't. We were outside playing with other children that lived next door or across the street. Most of the mothers in my neighborhood were stay at home and there was always one sitting on the front porch 'knitting' but in reality were watching what was going on. And believe me, if you misbehaved your playmates would tattle and the mom on duty would have told your mother before you got home. I lived on a dead end and we knew when it was dinner time because the only time cars drove down the street were fathers coming home from work. My parents live in the same house. But now there are cars flying down the street all day and there are only 2 kids living on the block, instead of the 26 when I was a kid.
I send my kids out to play but its so sad when they come back in complaining that there is no one to play with.

Donna writes...

Thank you for this article. I will purchase the book for future reference. I am concerned about my first grandchild, just one month old. His parents are couch potatoes. The only time they EVER go outside is to flip the burgers or steaks on the grill. Never sit out on their own patio and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine. Am purchasing a stroller so that the first warm spring day he and I can go for a walk in the great outdoors. I only see life in a box for this little boy otherwise.

Jen writes...

I think a part of this issue that has not been addressed is the way parents are chastised when they let their children be independent. There are so many judgmental people that are not afraid to make a parent feel inadequate. I can't count the number of times I've been heard this from both sides. Either your overprotective or your shirking your responsibilities as a parent.
I have 3 children and live in a very busy neighborhood but I think that my children are allowed enough freedom to be kids but are also safe. And when I am confronted by an overly judgmental neighbor; I simply reply "to each their own". Everyone has a different style of parenting and I am a firm believer that each family should do what works best for them. No one else could possibly know what is best for your family than you do. That's my 2 cents.

Jenny writes...

I think it's all about teaching your kids how to be safe. If you equip your children with the smarts and common sense they need to recognize danger, they are most likely going to be fine on their own. Like Lenore touched on, I am much more concerned about the growing number of kids who grow up as television zombies and fast food addicts. What are we really so afraid of? So many people have these insane notions that there is a seedy stranger lurking around every corner, just waiting to abduct their child. This really isn't the case, our media just likes to make it seem that way.

Desi writes...

I grew up in the 70's and 80's. My friends and I loved riding bikes around the neighborhood, with geographical boundaries, and exploring our world. I can't imagine completely denying my children that experience.

I value teaching my children how to recognize internal "red flags" instead of warning them and frightening them about what COULD happen.

The bottom line is that abductions don't happen that often. And, when they do, it is usually by SOMEONE YOU KNOW! Sexual abuse and molestation also happen most frequently by someone you know! Keep that in mind folks. Strangers are actually your best friend when a dangerous situation comes along. They are the people that are going to help your child when they need it and you are not there.

Turn off the 5pm news, and tune into how you know when something is just not right.

Ter writes...

I must agree with Ida, and expand on what she has said.

When I was growing up in the 70s and early 80s, there were children everywhere. I always had a choice as to which group of kids I wanted to play with, depending on the activities that were going on: street hockey, playing school, etc. There were sidewalks and I had defined limits to my roaming.

There were a great many more stay at home Moms, and no one hesitated to yell at any kid that was seen misbehaving. These Moms also tended to minor injuries, provided the water hose to a vast number of neighborhood kids and there was a definite feeling of community.

Now I am a parent living in a suburb with no sidewalks. There are few children living on our street. Those that do are in After-School Care and then there is homework and activities. Every other weekend, they are with the other parent due to custody arrangements.

Spontaneous play with friends just doesn't happen anymore. Playdates have to be arranged days, if not weeks, in advance. I have now enrolled my child in SEVERAL (more than I am comfortable with) activities because that is a time that she at least can be with kids her own age.

I would love it if my child could be more Free Range, but with the lack of neighborhood involvement, it just doesn't work. A neighborhood of empty houses during the day just isn't conducive to letting your child run free.

april writes...

I was born in 1975 and grew up in a suburb outside Seattle. My mom was old school and never really believed in cloistering her kids inside and my and my older brothers had free range of the neighborhood and we knew all the neighbor kids and their parents and my dad lived about 6 blocks away so we had lots of freedom to roam. I remember late night kick the can games in my cul-de-sac and playing endlessly in the woods behind my house. My mom only got (rightfully) scared when a high school classmate of mine was murdered on school grounds one weekend and the suspect never found, then my mom insisted on driving me to school. Today though I know most of my neighbors in our neighborhood not too far from where I grew up, there are no such games of kick the can, kids mostly keep to their yards and it's sad (one exception being the Vietmanese family next door). I have encouraged my son to get outside and play but being a free range parent can be a lonely experience. You can send your child out but who do they play with if everyone else is keeping their kids bubble wrapped indoors?

Don writes...

I've been reading the comments with interest and a lot of people keep mentioning the horrible cases that happen to kids every so often. Here is a clip of a mother who had to go through the worst thing a parent could experience and it goes on to explain how she has dealt with it.

http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=828_1246570861

kalps writes...

this is a very hot topic. I for one feel like a helicopter parent, understanding fully well that my children are not free rangers. I try to put back as much independence as possible but I know its nearly not enough. Humans live in boxes of their own creation - all day long we enter from box to another, trying to fit in somewhere, somehow. We explore new boxes, choose to create new ones or simply stay in the current ones, lest we are lost. Humans go in herds, like cattle, and loan rangers are looked down upon - often labeled or should we say diagnosed each day with new disorders. We want to stand up for our freedom and true independence but often don't have courage to do so. Is it any wonder then that we raise our kids the same way...Sigh :(

sandy writes...

People thought we were insane when we let our 13 year old fly to China alone, on a nonstop flight. He was met at the airport by his friend, and had the time of his life.

Kristina writes...

My daughter is not yet at the stage for me to worry about these things, but she will be.

Are we safer now than we were then? Maybe, then again maybe not.

It definitely seems like there should be a give an take as far as trusting a child to take care of his/or her self. After all they are still children, and children may not be cognitively ready when it comes to certain types of decision making. That doesn't mean we should never allow them to make their own decisions, but proceed with caution. It does take practice to be able to survive on your own. Just as you or I wouldn't go into an Ironman competition without training, you shouldn't send your child out into the world without the knowledge and tools it takes to survive. Even then there are unknown variables lurking everywhere.

We do live in a much different world than before. A more connected world, where predators seem to be more connected than the communities that we live in. Gangs are more prolific than ever. Maybe you don't have to worry about your child joining one, but that doesn't mean that your child won't experience the violence.

When I was growing up the neighbors would look out for us as we played in the streets, and when we were out after dark. Now, more people are at work during the day, and no one cares about their neighbors kids. Our neighbors pay no more attention to us than we do to them.

Let's face it most of your neighbors aren't the Beav's parents anymore.

I'm not saying that we have to completely shelter our children, but we need to adjust our gauges accordingly.

It isn't a crime to trust our children. It becomes a crime when we turn a blind eye to the world around them. Your child may be smart and fast, but the pace of the world is even faster.

I'm just saying we need to be realistic about the limits of protection. Any of us could leave our homes tomorrow and never come back. Or come back pregnant.

Just remember you and your child will have to live with the consequences of the decisions you make for them. Such as when they are ready to venture out on their own.

Sarah writes...

I love the concept of Free-Range Kids! I let my kids play hockey in the driveway, and you should see some of the looks we get from passing cars. There is something, too, to teaching kids common sense. We live in the rural state of Nebraska, and I can tell you that farm kids who actually have some responsibilities and are expected to do some manual labor seem to have more common sense and self-confidence about handling themselves in the world than kids who never set foot outside.

Sarah writes...

I love the concept of free-range kids! We let our boys play hockey in the driveway, and you should see some of the dirty looks we get. I think there is something to teaching kids common sense by giving them responsibilities, too. Here in the rural state of Nebraska, farm kids who actually have responsibilities and are expected to do manual labor seem to have more confidence and common sense than their peers who are not allowed outside to play.

Samuel L. Bronkowitz writes...

Lenore is pretty hot! I dig the whole "sexy librarian" look.

pj writes...

I am a very permissive yet strict parent, if that makes sense. People on this blog who mention the isolated incidents that parents use to scare their children, etc., miss one fact: if it is YOUR child kidnapped, raped, murdered, or put into sexual slavery for the rest of their lives, it is not so simple. The young woman who was just killed in California could just as well have been my daughter: a straight A high school student out for a run on her cross country route. I mourn for them, and for all children and families in similar experiences. You can't control what happens in life; some of it is horrendous (my 13 year old daughter was raped, and 3 years later the perpetrator has not been tried and the police don't know where he is; the judge, at the latest delay, said it needed to be handled to "keep this from hanging over that young man's head." No concern whatsoever for the suffering not only my child but our family and any future victims might suffer. So, do what you can to protect them AND give them freedom, and be prepared for the fact that in the end you have no control.

pj writes...

ps, if you really want to do something great for your kids that will last a lifetime, DON'T HAVE TELEVISION PIPED INTO YOUR HOME; and PUT LIMITS ON THE TIME THEY SPEND WITH TECHNOLOGY. I don't understand why so many parents today have a hard time with this concept, or the concept of saying no and setting limits in general. It is your job. It teaches them to set limits. Also, try to leave behind antiquated sex-role related expectations and have requirements of all children inputting into the household - asap doing their own laundry, helping with shopping, cooking, cleaning, car and yard maintenance, etc. - teaching general life skills.

Kathrine writes...

I don't really understand this concept other than it seems to free up a lot of time for the parents. Nice...I guess, but when your kids get hurt and/or bad grades because they didn't get themselves to school like you thought they would, the rest of us aren't going to be surprised.

And really, after years of complaining the lack of parental involvement was racing crime rates and creating delinquency, now we are suppose to embrace parenting styles of those who stuff their kids outside and then slam the door? There is no way to ensure safety. I guess the notion of them becoming independent "street smart" kids is suppose to be so enticing that we are expected to be OK with the risk. I say not a chance.

So here's the deal: don't call me a helicopter parent for doing what needs to be done for my kids and I won't call you a slacker for letting the "village" look after yours.

Christine writes...

NY Subway Mom ;) ...This PNW girl has admired you since the day "The Worst Mom" article came out!...I lived outside nine months out of the year with the other neighborhood kiddos, I couldn't imagine it any other way.

Wen writes...

I highly recommend the book "Protecting the Gift" by Gavin de Becker. (And also, "The Gift of Fear.") It teaches real life safety skills that parents can teach their teens/children. For instance, the inanity of "Don't talk to strangers." As adults, we must interact and talk to strangers nearly every day. (Ordering fast food, maybe asking directions, etc., etc.) Have your kids learn to interact with people (and get a FEEL for people) under your supervision.

I also taught my kids to find a MOM (or at the very least a female) if they got separated from me. Another thing learned from this book. Another MOM will protect the lost kid & will know how to find the right help.

I like to think my kids felt empowered having a plan & some practice.

Judy writes...

After the murder of Chelsea King, I'm still wondering about letting kids out on their own. I know the odds are miniscule, but when the police call to tell you your daughter's been raped and murdered, statistical probabilities don't mean anything. A girl her age was recently drugged and gang-raped at a party in a nearby "nice" upper-class town. The parents were home, but didn't think the noise was anything to worry about. Again, this is a rare occurrence around here, but still, it happens. That said, I've done my best to give my daughter as much freedom as I think is appropriate for her age, and let her make her own decisions. Most parents I know think I'm crazy.

Susan writes...

Fear. Increasingly we let it run our lives. What does it lead to? Miserable, disconnected people - adults and children alike.

Sure, there's a lot to be afraid of in the world. There always has been. People seem to think abduction and rape and all that are new. They're not new. They've been around as long as human civilization, and probably longer. But we need to understand that having a life outside our safe little boxes involves risk but it's worth it! It's LIFE. We must teach our children (and ourselves, increasingly!) how to be brave and independent and self-reliant. That does not mean being oblivious to danger - it means learning how to manage risk. Kids need to develop a sense of what they can handle and what they can't, which risks are acceptable and which carry too high a cost. They can only get that kind of practical knowledge from experience. Deny them the experience and you deny them the chance to learn how to be a functional adult.

Bravery is living your life in the full knowledge that yes, something bad could happen to you, but that's the risk you must take if you want to let anything good happen to you, either. Life in a safe little box is not much worth living, because nothing, good or bad, ever really happens there.

And in case you're wondering, I was a free range kid, 100%. And my little boy is going to be one, too.

Lenore? writes...

"We must teach our children (and ourselves, increasingly!) how to be brave and independent and self-reliant. That does not mean being oblivious to danger - it means learning how to manage risk. Kids need to develop a sense of what they can handle and what they can't, which risks are acceptable and which carry too high a cost. They can only get that kind of practical knowledge from experience. Deny them the experience and you deny them the chance to learn how to be a functional adult."
Exactly! That's what Free-Range Kids is all about: Not throwing them to the wolves. Teaching them how to be safe if and when they ever encounter a wolf! The safest kids are the self-confident ones. "Parent-assisted confidence" can't do the trick. Teach your kids how to cross the street safely, how to ask a stranger for help if they need it, but never to go OFF with a stranger who approaches them. And then let them live! Sometimes I feel that we are so worried about kidnappers that we end up kidnapping our kids, holing them up inside, like Rapunzel. (And look how well THAT turned out.)

Nikki writes...

I am a free range mom, and people are always shocked to find that my sons play outside ALL day on Saturdays and after school. They recently got a video game system, but still prefer to be outside if there is daylight. We DO live in walking distance of their school, and I walk them to school in the mornings and they walk back with friends in the evenings.

As parents, we must learn our neighborhoods, neighbors, community spaces and systems of transit to prepare our children to enter the world from a stance of power, not victimization and fear.

We also need to support each other in this attempt at parenting!

Carla writes...

I will have you know I posted a link to your blog on my facebook page and was subsequently "unfriended" by a person I have known for 26 years (I held one of her legs during childbirth and was her Maid of Honor!). This person is so obsessed with the notion that her children will be abducted that she had cameras installed around her home "just in case" someone takes them.


I was 100% free range growing up in the 70's and I thank you for reminding me!!!

Lenore? writes...

I am so sorry that happened! Especially when that mom might think about the fact that the more people who know and love and watch out for her kids, the SAFER they are. She has just "unfriended" a source of security!
I must again blame the media for turning parents into prison guards, employing the kind of security normally reserved for maximum security prisons. Just on Friday, Good Morning America did a story on Jaycee Dugard, the girl who was kidnapped and held captive by her rapist for 18 years. But, said George Stephanopoulos, "in a sense, she was one of the "lucky ones. Every day 2000 children are reported missing."
Leaving us viewers to think that of the 2000 kids reported every day, 1999 DIE and 1 "lucky" one is held captive for 18 years.
The facts are, actually, that 90% of the kids reported missing each day are back by nightfall. Often they went missing because of a mixup in plans or whatever. The vast majority of those who aren't back by night are runaways or children taken in custody disputes by the other parent. And rather than 2000 a day, 115 children a YEAR are kidnapped and held overnight by strangers.
I don't blame your friend for being scared when the media is only too happy to leave us with the impression our kids are not safe ANY SECOND of ANY DAY.

Kat writes...

It's been just under a year now since a Mom was arrested in Scarsdale for leaving her 10 year old to walk the 3 miles home after fighting with her sister. She should have left the 12 year old behind too but let her back in. And the backlash against her must have been about the same. I had someone yell at me while my kids played in my fenced in yard, I was in the garage and they came to my front door. Even on YOUR OWN PROPERTY the know it all fear mongering types feel it's all right to criticize. Get a grip and get a life

muna writes...

well that issue was concerning me for a while , I was considering myself as protective mother tell today when I met a woman who seems more protective or more restricted .............
ANY WAY I have specific question. our family are going to move to new house in Monterey , la mesa village, 93940, and the houses are in forest , I was wondered , can I let my children with me wonder in forest in order to EXPLORE and learn, or it is danger , I know nothing what I may find. I know nothing about its vegetations or animals or creatures, I'm afraid and so my kid of dangerous animals or poison plants or spiders...anything might hurt us and don't know how to deal with that before or within or after, if u were in my shoes what would u do?
Forgive me for my English, I am a foreigner in Monterey since jan2010 and, and going to stay for 18month. Thank u

mick writes...

lenore! i've been a fan of yours since the original incident. this Q&A idea is awesome. i wish every parent had your approach.

i'm 21. i grew up in an extremely safe, boring suburban area, and my parents were as coddling as any. at 19, i joined the US army, and i just got back from my first tour in afghanistan.

my superiors often talk about how this generation of soldiers is less self sufficient than previous generations. i tend to agree with them. i didn't know it at the time, but when i joined, i could hardly accomplish anything risky or uncomfortable on my own. when i have kids, i don't want them to have to learn pragmatism and self-reliance in a war, i want to teach them as they grow up, so no matter what happens, they're ready.

Jen writes...

Yes! Thank you for your article.
I abhor those sensational tv 'news' shows like Nancy Grace. If children are not allowed to explore, to roam, to do things without a parent hovering we risk them not learning how to be independent, not knowing how to handle themselves & be confident. If we protect them from the big bad world, how will they ever learn to live in it & recognize a potentially dangerous situation? Back in the 70's & 80's my brother & I -and many of our friends- had the freedom the roam, have a paper route, walk to the store, a friend's, walk the town & the countryside, explore, learn & become strong independent children who knew what to do in almost every situation. Even after we experienced a luring attempt by two grown men in a van (we had been in the schoolyard across the street from our house), my mother still let us go outside & be free after reinforcing what she had already taught us & we knew. The men were later arrested a couple of towns over.
We have to teach our children, trust them & let them 'free range'.

jenni writes...

Finally, someone talking some sense. Thank you, Lenore.

Cheryl writes...

I have one simple rule for the safety of my kids, the one I have to protect them from human predators: They cannot be allowed to be in a situation wherein they can be overpowered.

peggy writes...

Thank you, Lenore. I struggle with this issue all of time coming from very nervous, protective parents,myself. The fears related to something happening to my child are hard to get away from. I am striving towards some balance, so that my daughter can feel as though she trusts herself and her judgement. Again as the grown daughter of very protective parents I find it hard to trust in myself and my judgement because it was constantly in doubt. I am going to read your book too. And I am appreciative of all of the responses, it really makes one think..

Missy writes...

I feel so relieved reading this!!! I WANT to send my kids outside by themselves more, and it's good to know that others are promoting it. Our neighborhood is very kid-friendly, and the playground is just behind our house. I want to be able to let them go without us, but have worried that if another parent is there with their kid, they'll think, "wow, I guess these kids' parents don't care about safety." Well, I feel a little more confident now. I think it's all about teaching your kids safety, then letting them practice it.

Thanks!
Missy

bebop writes...

I didn't realize how different things were from when I was a kid until I had to sign a permission slip to allow my child to go outside for the school's winter fun day. They didn't leave the school property and they just did standard field day type activities. We had all these reminders to dress the kids properly. I live in Cleveland - snow isn't foreign here!

I'm a Girl Scout troop leader and many of the parents insist on staying for troop meetings and going camping. The programs are designed just for the girls and a couple chaperones and then we are trying to stuff just as many adults in the same space. The odd thing is, the kids of the parents who stay are less well behaved than the ones who leave.

The parents excuse the poor behavior by saying the kids have been in school all day. I had the same thing happen when I taught an evening religion class. I always tell the parents that if they want to have their kid in an extra activity in the evening, it is a good idea that they make sure they eat a good dinner and play outside before they come. If they would just run around the block a couple times before they came, they would be able to focus when they need to.

Lenore? writes...

My expression for this is "outsourcing." Those parents who tag along on every event are outsourcing their kid's childhood -- to themselves! THOSE PARENTS are going to be brave on a camping trip! THEY are going to get things organized. THEY are going to make sure everything is perfect. This is the opposite of letting kids grow and become mature and, by the way, ENJOY their childhood. Instead those kids are being told they are no good at it and an adult has to do it for them!

Nancy writes...

On one hand, I totally get letting your 9 year old take the subway by yourself. In the 70s, my mom let me, age 7, and my little friend do a fundraiser walking around our medium size city with thousands of hippies, in the day before cell phones. So I get it. And I would LOVE to give my 10 year old that freedom. But, first, he has a language disability and freezes in fear so easily--he doesn't have the maturity I had at his age. Second, 1-3 times a year some bold pedophile attempts to pick up kids in front of our local schools, even one block from our house. Kids are NOT always savvy. I know smart people who as teens were, like my son, sweet and polite, and the decision to ignore a momentary gut feeling led to disaster. I also have a friend who watched a pedophile lure her child to a car as she began running and screaming...broad daylight, middle class neighborhood, car took off like a shot.
So no, I can't buy into the illusion of safety. I just can't in good conscience. My son has a cell phone, I don't let him do more than walk a few blocks to a friend's house or home from school and I insist that he have his cell phone and I drill him on running like hell in the opposite direction if a car pulls up. Am I paranoid, or am I using common sense?

Jules writes...

I'm curious at what age you consider a child old enough to walk 2 blocks to school alone, or old enough to be left at home sound asleep for 5 minutes while you get something from next door?

Bonnie writes...

Wow... I've been talking about this very issue. I grew up out in the country on 75 acres of forest, surrounded by hundreds of other acres. I was completely free-range, though my parents always insisted on knowing where I was going (which direction, at least), and how long I'd be gone. I carried a gun much of the time, due to the packs of wild dogs in the area. I learned to be independent. Now, I still own that 75 acres, but wouldn't dream of living there due to the town it's near. (Otherwise, I'd go in a heartbeat.) I struggle with the constant feeling of wanting to teach my son to wander safely, while trying to suppress the notion that something will happen to him. I still don't know how to squelch that feeling. My husband and I have talked about this, and have looked into GPS tags for our son's shoes, etc. (Husband was free-range in a Philly suburb growing up, being gone all day w/out his mom knowing where he was.) We don't know the answer. I want desperately to give this to my son, but don't know how.

uncle L writes...

As someone who has made a career out of exposing children to the wonders of nature, I am regularly still shocked at how many kids are scared of bugs and stars and think that a wolf is going to eat them the minute they step on a trail.

For the parents who are still fearful of letting their child explore urban/suburban places, so be it. But a solution might be to expose them to experiences in natural places that give them a sense of beauty wonder and respect for our natural world. So many kids' only time spent outdoors is in supervised activities like soccer or scouts. These are great, but also need to be infused with a chance to explore on their own, to really develop that sense of curiosity and awareness of the world around them.

In order to properly introduce young people to nature, we as adults need to model that enthusiasm for exploring the outdoors. The best way to build resentment among kids is to shove them in ski lessons, scout packs or an Outward Bound trip without showing them that you are willing to step out of your comfort zone to explore the unknown as well.

Try this: Go out side with your child at home (or anywhere else) and ask them to point North. If they can't, it's a sign of a fundemental lack of awareness of the world around them. If you can't, maybe you need a trip to some wild places yourself!

Paul writes...

You know, a lot of the reason kids don't go outside as much has nothing to do with safety. The author lives in NYC and for her to let her kids go outside, means out into the world. But many of us have backyards and quiet neighborhoods and kids still are not out as much. Could be that parents just allow them to watch TV instead of going out - I find that you need to suggest things to kids if not actually kick them out the door even in winter. Fortunately my kids 5 & 3 like to go out in the yard, and I also see older kids roaming the streets - it's making a come back.

Selina Martin writes...

Man oh man this really hit home for me too! I grew up in Washington DC and was allowed to play outside by myself from about 8 years old. My mom taught me basic common sense stuff like to tell her where I was going if I went into a friends house and she always asked me about my friends and their families. And she checked them out herself, if she didn't feel comfortable with them then she trusted her intuition and had the kids come over our place. These days people are so consumed with fear that they don't even recognize their intuition because they are to busy focusing on imaginary scenarios. I also think it has to do with our high stress high caffeine/sugar/toxic lifestyle that has all of our bodies stuck in a hyper tension cycle. I hardly ever see kids outside or people for that matter. I live in Miami and everyone here lives in their cars. It's sad. I plan on moving to a intentional community so that my kids will grow up feeling community instead of isolation.

Lenore? writes...

Your mom did something great -- she nurtured your STREET SMARTS and SELF-RELIANCE. Those wonderful gifts don't just drop into a child's live, the kid has to develop them. And what better way to have that happen than to gradually let your child experience (and judge) more of the world, after you have trained her to be responsible. That's what Free-Range parents try to do: Not just throw our kids outside, but train them to be safe out there and THEN give them more and more rope!

blah writes...

there wasn't 24/7 children's programming on tv or any 24/7 anything in the 70's. Every kid I knew in my suburban childhood was thrown outside and not allowed in until dinner. My mom was my mom, not my constant playmate. If I told my grandmother I was bored, she would tell me that meant I was a boring person (grandma was blunt, but I'm probably more self-sufficent for it!)The grown ups backed each other up.

On the other hand, there was one year in my childhood when it seemed like all the parents got divorced, we all got latchkeys and all ended up being exposed to stuff that was way too adult. I try to be a lot more consistent in how I raise my kids than how I was raised.

I don't think we need to get nostalgic for the 70's. Yeah, my mom was there, but she was quite isolated and understimulated because she didn't have the opportunities that I have. I was outside looking at rocks and watching the neighbor kid lick a frozen swingset, but my parents were inside screaming at each other. Ah, the memories!

I think every generation struggles with giving kids roots and wings. We are blessed that our kids have the luxury of a childhood - just love them and show them the world the best you can. If you smother them a bit, they'll figure it out freshman year in college.

Paige writes...

I was just talking about this the other day with some other 80s kids who are now parents. We all agree that we want our kids to experience childhood like we did. We just didn't know what to call it...FREE-RANGE, I like it!!

Lenore? writes...

Good luck to you! Go Free-Range!

Susie writes...

Children no longer walk to school because cars are often busy texting and speaking on their cell phones to see much but their given path. Also, crowded areas have no sidewalks or enough path to walk.

Rakisha writes...

I think everyone is making very good points. I do think children are smarter today (sometimes for the worse) than we were. I do think crime is down, but I also think the crimes that are still happening are a bit more heinous. The news does keep us in a constant state of paranoia.

Know what I remember? When I was a kid, I was friends with 7,8,9, year olds who were latch-key children. They literally had their key tied around their neck and they would go home after school and wait for their parents to come home from work. Most of these kids didn't get into trouble or get hurt. If you tell this story now, people would be calling these parents negligent.

I have two children who are 3 & 5 years old. Sometimes, I talk about at what age would be appropriate for a child to stay home alone during the day. Because I was raised by a single parent who was paid per diem, I started to stay home by myself when I got too sick for school when I was 10 years old. My grandma would leave a glass water, a cup of juice, chicken soup in a thermos, a peanut butter & jelly sandwich in the fridge, and a sleeve of crackers by my beside. Then she would call every 2 to 3 hours to check in. When I told this to a friend, who has a 11 and 9 year old, she was aghast. She said she wouldn't consider leaving her mildly sick child home all day because she shouldn't have such a responsible at that age. HUH? Maybe we're all over parenting.

Brian writes...

I was a resident assistant in a university dorm for several years as a graduate student, and I got to see firsthand what happens to kids who have grown up having never been allowed to internalize for themselves what constitutes a reasonable level of personal risk. In my experience, it was almost invariably the students from the most sheltered backgrounds who went off the rails when they were no longer bound by parental restraints.

Marilyn writes...

"Overparenting" is a good term. How does a child leanr to be responsible for himself in a (over?) protective environment? What kind of young adults will they become? When the time comes, how will the next generations step into their leaders'shoes?

Lyana writes...

I read your book and I LOVED IT! I think this parenting style is so liberating for the children as well as the parents. I am doing as much as I can to help my 5 year old daughter become free-range. I have a 2 year old son, and he's next!

I have a question though, I am getting a good bit of resistance from my husband, and I wondered if you had any advice on how to deal with this.

I tried to have him read your book, but he didn't want to hear it. He was raised in India, and so I think some of his over-protective issues stem from that, but he's been in America for 13 years now, and he is still so afraid to let our daughter walk from one side of the car to the other while I am getting our son out of his carseat! I think he would flip if I told him that I let her walk to the mailbox (it's a mail center really, but just on the other side of the house right next to us and I wait at the door) or go play a game machine at the grocery store while I am paying for our groceries!

If you, or anyone else, has ideas on how to deal with this, I would really appreciate it!

Thank you!
Lyana

Lenore? writes...

It is very hard to change a person's perceptions of risk because there are so many terrifying images rattling around in our brains, thanks, mostly, to TV. And here's what's worse: Our minds work like Google. So when we ask ourselves, "I wonder if it's safe for our kids to walk down the street?" the first image that comes up is often someone like Jaycee Dugard, or Elizabeth Smart. And our brain thinks, "Whatever comes up FIRST is MOST COMMON." Even though whatever comes up first is most SEARING, not necessarily common at all. Meantime, it's impossible to conjure up a mental picture of all the millions of children who walk to school and are happy and sun-kissed and healthy.

One statement that helped ME calm down about the news and all the sad stories we hear is this: "If it's on the news, it's there because it is UNCOMMON." That's why we see stories about abductions, which are very rare, as opposed to car accidents,which are far more common. (And which kill far more children.)

If your husband is too nervous to let your child walk literally from one side of the car to another, however, this is beyond normal parental fear. I'd recommend professional help, if he is open to it.

For others with slightly less pronounced fear, my book really has helped, thanks to the reassuring statistics, but also to chapters on things like, "Quit Trying To Control Everything. It Doesn't Work Anyhow." I hear from parents all the time who have proceeded to unclench a bit and both they and their kids are thrilled with the results. It's like sunshine pouring in.
Good luck. I wish I had an easier answer!

L.

romana writes...

I remember we didn't have videos (at times, we didn't even have a working tv). We played hide-n-seek in the neighborhood until after dark, going home only when we heard our parents calling us. We had (for the most part) a great time. I would like mine to experience something like that...

I think that Lenore Skenazy brings terrific perspective to the dialogue.
It is unique and important. Listening to both sides of the debate is a great way to find a balance that works for you and yours.
Rebecca Kiki Weingarten

Suzanne writes...

Lenore, discovering your free-range approach was exactly what I was looking for! While only a couple months old, I've sworn that my daughter will be encouraged to go out and play. My big fear is that she won't have any kids to play with (do I need a second child just so she has at least one playmate?)

I think what people miss when reading your approach to parenting is that you're not saying every child at age x should be thrust out on their own and left to fend for themselves. Every child and parent have their own unique dynamic. The trick to parenting (it seems to me) is to learn where your child is in their development and to encourage them to grow further. If your child has a disability instead of debilitating them help them to be empowered. The range of your child's freedom should depend on the child and what they are ready to handle.

In other words, should every 9 year old take the subway alone? Absolutely not, but when s/he has been riding it for 9 years and has come to a point where s/he is begging to be able to do it alone, then yes. Maybe it's a matter of the first time they try on their own you have them lead the commute to show you they can do it. The next time you let them do it on their own. It's the same as teaching them to play an instrument. Show them, let them show you, and off and away they go.

Keep up the great work of encouraging parents to let their children be free.

Laura writes...

Kids can be told safety rules etc., but they need to practice living in the real world in order to learn about it. Some of the least safe kids are those who are overprotected because they have never learned how to deal with real-life situations.
The kids who are driven everywhere (anyone ever take a look at traffic accident fatality stats?) and have their entire lives structured by adults and are never given a chance to think, develop good judgement, and make informed decisions are simply not prepared for life by the time they reach adulthood. Isn't that what our jobs are as parents--to nurture our children, help them grow and become prepared for adulthood?

Kids need to spend time playing outside in the fresh air, games they make up without someone hovering over them. What kind of a life do they have without any risk? And the truth of the matter is that no parent, no matter how protective, controlling and domineering, can completely eliminate all risk from their child's life.

It is the parents who are too lazy to teach their children how to make their own (informed) decisions and think for themselves who are truly irresponsible.

Kimberly writes...

Last Friday my boys were on winter break at school. I decided to take them up north skiing with friends, something we do quite often. I pride myself in knowing that my kids are off on the "mountain" snowboarding (ages 9 and 11) all by themselves. If they fall, they must get up on their own. If they get turned around on the runs, they must find their way back down.

When I asked my 9 year old if he wanted to ride the chairlift with me he replied, "no, mom, I like talking to strangers." I was so proud. Don't confuse this with my kids walking up to odd people and striking up conversations. He simply recognized a great opportunity - on a chairlift - to engage in communication with a total stranger, and found it facsinating.

I am a huge fan of Free Ranging and am spreading the word to all my friends who have kids. Thanks for enlightening us all!

Hanne writes...

A culture that lives in fear is a culture that is dying. Parents protecting children so that they can become adults, but what will they inherit when they arrive at adulthood? I don't have the answers, but I'm pretty sure cultivating fear isn't one of them. How to be a good role model for our kids?

K writes...

As a college professor, I see the downside to helicopter parenting every day. Many of my students cannot solve their own problems, from the mundane (broken washer), to the absurd (what can I eat?), to the serious (my car broke down - I don't know what to do). They've not developed any sense of their surroundings or navigation or problem-solving. This is certainly not universal - but, I can sure tell you which students were "helicoptered".

As a mom, I can tell you that the payback in letting kids free-range is enormous. Imagine the unbridled joy in my 9-year-old when he went into the store alone to pick up a few things for me, or in my six-year-old when I had confidence that he could go get his own snacks from the coffee shop where I work, or in my four-year-old when he discovered that he can paddle the kayak ALL BY HIMSELF (with a vest, and with us ready to help as needed).

Letting kids fix their own problems and take responsibilities pays off in a million ways. Is it risky? Life is risky.

Donna writes...

Yes, it would royally suck if your child was the 1 in 750,000 or so who is abducted by a stranger. I cannot imagine what those parents go through. Nobody is denying that.

That said, there is a much higher chance that a kid will drown, and yet, we let them swim and bathe. There is an overwhelmingly higher chance that a kid will die in a car accident, and yet, we don't stop driving. There is a higher possibility that a kid will die in a sports mishap, and yet, we let them play football. It's equally tragic if a child dies in these more mundane ways, and yet, we don't stop our kids from participating.

Life is full of risks. Protecting your child from every risk of death or injury is not possible. Why focus on this one particular risk that is so remote that you actually have a better chance of winning the lottery?

Further, what protection are you really offering? 95% of child molestations are done by someone the child knows so we are not protecting a child from being molested by keeping them confined. A similar percentage of abductions are committed by someone known to the child so there is no guarantee that your child will not be abducted. In CA alone, 3 separate children in 3 separate incidents, years apart, were abducted from their own bedrooms by strangers while their parents slept so apparent we can't even completely protect kids from strangers by confining them to their own homes.

Sometimes awful things happen in life. Your life will be irrevocably changed if a tragedy occurs in your family. But you can't live your life in fear of whatif and every remote possibility. Do the best that you can to teach your children to make smart choices and to protect themselves and then send them let them live.

Lainie writes...

Hear, here! Lenore, what a relief it is to have voices like yours in the discourse of how we raise our children. I am all for giving kids more freedom and responsibility, all the while making sure that we keep the boundaries that we know will keep our kids safe. (My 9-year old can ride up to the park by himself, but he darn well better have his helmet!)

What did it for me, other than reading your book? That same 9-year-old. He and his cousin got separated from my mom at Legoland in California. Legoland, people! Anything could have happened to him. He could have been taken by Lord knows who. Someone could have done anything to my child! But you know what he and his cousin did?

Found a park employee, asked to use his cell phone, and called me with their location.

No, I don't care to repeat the experience, but kids have much more sense than we often give them credit for.

Paul writes...

Thank you so much for saying this. And thank you for not giving up. America has gone nuts for "safety" and it's turning us into a nation of infants.

Thank you thank you thank you.

Sarah writes...

I was raised in Africa, Europe & America and was given lots of freedom. I now have 2 boys and am living in a small american town which I thought would be ideal for raising kids. However, even though we live 2 blocks away from "down town" there are few safe sidewalks, none of the town parks allow bike riding, I still get funny looks when we walk around town instead of drive, and despite my best efforts I still have not met many of my neighbors.

I want to give my kids freedom but I feel like I am constantly fighting a society that doesn't value the same things I do.

Olivia writes...

My oldest is 12, and we live in the Uptown section of New Orleans (in the slightly swanky section with a private police force). He walks the six blocks to his tutor's house and back twice a week, through lovely, family neighborhoods. I also let him go around the corner occasionally to the corner store or Audubon Park alone.

We allow this because he's ready for it. He's responsible. He always has his phone on him and we've talked about what to do if someone bothers him. I was literally on pins and needles the first time he begged me to let him go alone to the store for jug of milk, but when he came back, he was transformed. Pleased with himself and confident.

That's when I realized how important it was for me to let him take these small risks. There are many neighborhoods in this city where I probably would not allow him this freedom alone, but he really is safe here, and this will give him healthy opportunities for risk-assessment that he needs in order to develop good judgment.

The decisions he makes when he's older are informed by these choices he makes now. It's much better to let him have this freedom than to raise a son who goes to college never having negotiated the wider world on his own. There's plenty of developmental psychology research to back this up.

Eliminating risk is not the answer to raising a healthy child. In fact, it is a recipe for producing supposed grown ups with no clue how to manage risk. It's a slow-motion train wreck waiting to happen.

It depends on the child, of course. I'm much more protective of my slightly younger son, who has the situational awareness of a drunken ferret. Also, my 12 year old is taller than most adults, and would not present any easy target, especially when walking with his BFF, who shaves.

My oldest's school allows kids to ride their bikes, and provides bike parking/locks, too. All our kids are outside a lot around here, and we all look out for each other. This may not be possible everywhere, but only you can decide that for your kids. Parenting is not a great monolithic set of rules, to which we must conform to avoid failure, because all kids and situations are not alike.

Free Range requires MORE parental involvement, more judgment as parents, not less. It's much easier to lock kids up

dmd writes...

Something really important to bring up in this discussion: the more people who are out and about (kids and adults) not cloistered in their homes and cars, makes neighborhoods safer. It's a lot harder for any kind of crime to happen when lots of people are about. Unfortunately, we have gotten so paranoid, people don't go out and as a result, we are less safe. Open the doors, get out! Let your kids out! Encourage your neighbors to do the same! We all need to be more free range. And kids need to learn to be independent before they actually are independent. Or we'll reap the paranoia we have sown.

Tami writes...

What I'm learning as a parent is the importance of what I think of as "adaptive" parenting--that is, adjusting my parenting approach to where each of my kids is at the moment. When our twins were 2, they loved to run, usually in opposite directions. We put up construction fencing so they could have a place to play outside safely (on our acreage). As they matured enough to play together and come when called, the fencing went away. At age 7 we still take them to the bus stop--because they're easily distracted and competitive with each other--but in the next couple of years we expect they'll take themselves. We're raising our kids to be self-reliant, to thoughtfully consider risk and take appropriate safety measures. It's a learning process, and it takes practice. That means failure is part of the process, and as parents we take it slow to build on their skills and help manage the risk until they're ready.

Life isn't worth living if your approach is to minimize all risks. And if that's what you're doing with your kids, they will not have the skills to evaluate risks on their own. If they can't do that, they're actually less safe on their own.

I want my kids to have the critical thinking, risk assessment, and planning skills that will help them be productive at work, make sound financial decisions, and have rewarding relationships. So that's where I focus my energy as a parent. Worry is a lead weight; it's not productive and in the end it won't keep my kids safe.

Alex N writes...

I think the mainstream news is disgustingly unhealthy in this regard as well. I DO think the key is freedom, with training. I'm still sorting out how to deal with the fact that there are registered child molesters several blocks away from the place we're moving soon. She's still 3, so for now I'm letting her have opportunities to wander "by herself" while I watch/stay available.

Janis writes...

I agree with the folks who wish there were more kids outside to play, thereby making their environment even safer. I was raised in a neighborhood with tons of kids, and learned a lot of life lessons that way.
Now we live in the country and there are very few children around. Worse yet, as homeschoolers, it is nearly impossible to have them interacting with other kids unless it is to some super structured, mom-controlled event, or going to all of the afterschool activities and sports (which we do, ad infinitum). I quell my fears of them becoming social outcasts with the pictures of the great pioneering families of yore who didn't see another person outside of their own family for the whole week until church, or even months in the winter. But,I digress.
In actuality, my kids, far from being socially inept are ready to jump right in there and get the ball or try out for the squad or whatever. My daughter, however, is a little more reserved. She finds most girls to be somewhat "hyper" and tires easily of the silliness and banter about who's dating who (at 9!!), and such. I think she gets that from me though, poor kid. As you can tell, I like to talk more about real "stuff", than the "fluff" of life.
So, even though there may not be any other children out there to play with, send them out anyway. Along the lines of our pioneering ancestors...they'll have to make their own fun!
And Lenore...I read on the FRK site that you thought this topic wasn't going over well...on the contrary, I think it it finding a lot of new recruits.

Cynthia writes...

AMEN!

Sam Caldwell writes...

Here's a great reality check on the crime-rate versus perception problem.

http://www.themonkeycage.org/2009/10/crime_the_striking_gap_between.html

3kids41dad writes...

Compared to riding in car, even strapped in, most free-range issues seem downright safe. I would much rather my kids ride the bus or walk to school as children than for them to drive a car (or ride in one driven by another teen) when they are legally able. Free-Range does not present black and white issues, and we are grateful that Lenore Skenazy is providing us with a forum to discuss the possibilities for not living in constant fear.

Jack writes...

A lot of commentors, above, have missed what this whole discussion is about. It's really a Poll to see what percentage of readers here have been brainwashed by the US Media (such as local news stations) to Fear Everything. 30-50 years ago, a strong majority didn't Fear Everything. Now a majority does. Nothing changed except Big Media (incl. Hollywood) saying over and over how dangerous and scary the world is. How kids are frequently kidnapped (almost never ever ever by a stranger, btw!), how there are serial killers and child molesters waiting to get your kid any second, etc., etc. Even though none of know personally one person who was ever kidnapped by a stranger, nor one person who was stalked by a serial killer, etc.

All just fearmongering. Let your kid explore the world now so that he'll be much smarter, savvier person later in life. Don't hide him from the world!

hartkitt writes...

First, every time I read one of these discussion I feel once again grateful that my kids are growing up in Brooklyn instead of the suburbs. Brooklyn, where there are sidewalks on every street. Where you can go around the corner for milk. Where you can walk or take a bus to your friend's house and it's normal and easy. AND where the people in the neighborhood are also out walking, recognize you, say hi. It's so telling that the person above from Florida where it's warm all year says everyone there is isolated in their cars. Here you see a little less of your neighbors for the cold months but then on the first warm day everyone is back out on their stoops or walking their dogs. Thank goodness for 19th century urban planning and phooey to 20th century car-centered suburbia.

That said I want to point out the tautology involved in saying my children can't play outside because no one is outside. Well duh. Also a number of the anti-freerangers are saying that other people don't care about their children like they did in the old days so no one is watching. Hello, listen to the freerangers: as soon as you let your kids step one foot out the door a pack of "helpful" people start telling you that you ought not to let your kids outside. The world is OVERFLOWING with people who, if not concerned with your children themselves are more than ready to criticize your parenting choices. All those people are watching our children like hawks.

I think there's something like the Hostile World Theory to describe what we're hearing from the "against" group. It's a bad world out there so we're not going out. Then no one is out there. So then it IS a hostile world. I prefer to model to my children an assumption that it is NOT a hostile world and statistically this is a more logical and sensible model. Most of the people out there would be willing to help my children if necessary. If the Bad Guy comes, I want them to feel comfortable asking those other people for help.

Next I want to respond to the parent above who said that her one rule is that her children are never in a situation in which they can be overpowered. I'm not sure what to say but "?!" Children can potentially be overpowered in every single life situation including at school and in your own home. For that matter the same goes for adults. That rule is so broad that it becomes meaningless.

Lastly I want to refute absolutely the assumption that free-range parenting is just a fancy name for neglect and abdication of responsibility. Certainly neglectful and irresponsible parents could say it's free-range but just reading the comments here it should be infinitely clear that free-rangers are mostly attentive, thoughtful parents who are concerned with raising children who are confident and knowledgeable.

Jackie writes...

I am totally in shock that parents these days are encouraged to keep their children inside. I am 55. Guess I am way out of touch.
How very, very sad for everybody. This is no way to live. I can't even believe that there is a "movement" to change things back to the way it was, but I guess it is a much needed one.
Good Luck to all of you unfortunate enough to be bringing up children now.
Hope things change.

corded-phones-3 writes...

I read through the report and it was a great source of information. Thanks for providing the great read!

Kaneria writes...

I never found such a great and amazing content and fabulous solution to my problem.......really giving a different idea in applying ideas in planning a systematic way. thank you !
"> Buy A car

Lucky writes...

The article, by Julie Bowman, quotes authors, book stores and publishers, all of whom concur: the picture book is fading. While kids still read Seuss, they’re off to Steinbeck sooner rather than later, in part because their parents don’t want them piddling around with pictures. The parents want them doing “real” reading.
Buy A car

Violent crime rates have been in long-term decline across the board, not just crimes against children. Your point is valid, but if it were true that parenting strategy were causal, I would expect crimes against children to show a different trend than crimes against adults, and I don't see it.A man is what he thinks about all day long. New First up gazebo

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Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry Buy it on Amazon.

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