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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:
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