Thursday, April 24, 2008

Free Range Kids

A mom called Lenore Skenazy has kicked up a fire storm of both condemnation and empathy for her call to return children's independence. What did she do?

She lets her kid ride the New York subways alone.

I don't think that Skenazy intended to be the most public face in the burgeoning movement to let our kids 'free range' again, but by going as public as to write a few columns about it, has made her the point person. Since the parenting trend has leaned towards more helicopter than free range, Skenazy has faced some serious condemnation.

Frankly, I agree with Skenazy. OUR KIDS HAVE NEVER BEEN THIS SAFE. Just because the media seizes on the one-in-a-million (literally) cases doesn't mean our kids are in constant danger. It's more likely that they will be harmed at home and by people they know than in any other way.

New York City, for instance, is safer than it's ever been; it's ranked 136th in crime among all American cities. Nationwide, stranger abductions are extremely rare; there's a one-in-a-million chance a child will be taken by a stranger, according to the Justice Department. And 90 percent of sexual abuse cases are committed by someone the child knows. Mortality rates from all causes, including disease and accidents, for American children are lower now than they were 25 years ago. according to Child Trends, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group, between 1980 and 2003 death rates dropped by 44 percent for children ages five to 14 and 32 percent for teens aged 15 to 19.

Obviously, we should do what makes us comfortable, but for some of us, that's going to mean letting our kids walk to school by themselves, running to the store for errands (a loaf of bread, a container of milk, a stick of butter,) and letting them make some of their own decisions. I fully expect that in a couple years I'll wave goodbye to El Guille as he peddles off by himself to a friend's house or other activities. For her part, Lenore's son is nine years old, an age where I would feel utterly comfortable letting Guille go to school by himself.

Are we so nervous about what could happen that we don't let our kids experience the chance to manage their own time, make their own choices, and exercise independence?

I, for one, can't wait to start reading Lenore's blog, called appropriately Free Range Kids.

What are your thoughts?


compulsive writer said...

Just before the new millenium rolled in I was reading about what would be the new buzz words for 2000. That's when I first heard about the concept of free range kids and I embraced what it meant to me. I've been a little disappointed that it got a slow start and that some have spun it in a negative way.

Your labels for this post are right on and I agree with the concept to a certain extent. (As with every great idea there are some extremes.) It's about choice, independence, personal responsibility and freedom to be kids.

I'm good with that.

Putz said...

we from ephraim, that means we are relativally safe, although they did pick up a murderer in fairview a city 18 miles to the north...we never locked our doors, till one day a box of tools came up missing...never had a fence, but always wondered if we should of had one

Anonymous said...

Just picked up your blog from Morgan. Love what you're sayin and the way you're sayin it. I'll have to keep visiting.

AzĂșcar said...

I like that Lenore specifically states that she believes in safety helmets, seat belts, and car seats, emphasizing that she's not out there, but is a moderate.

Justine said...

I love letting my kids wander around looking for bugs and snakes. We've got two turkeys and a family of deer living in our neighborhood. I feel like full on June Cleaver when the kids come running in to tell me they've chased turkeys and played with snakes.

The first time I told my son (then 9) to go for a bike ride down to Day's market, he's the one that freaked out. I then realized how restrictive I had been. It's been very freeing to let the kids be kids.

I do, however, have a friend who's daughter would be found at Costco (4 miles away in another town) or even farther when she was only 6 or 7. That crosses my comfort level.

Bek said...

Do you think you would feel this way if you lived in a place other than a small town, or Utah, etc. In other words, does your safety level apply across the board, or do you feel more comfortable at some level than others?

At our last place, I would NEVER let the kids walk alone or be outside where I couldn't see them. We lived on a busy street, lots of traffic, lots of transients, etc. Here we live in a "neighborhood". If I let J play on the porch, someone jogging by will stop, ring the door bell and ask me if I knew he was outside (not in the "what is your kid doing outside way, but in the "let me help you out" way). My neighbors totally watch out for us and vice versa. The school is three blocks away and i would let Lu walk alone in a few years... so for me, it dpeends on where I was, what the traffic is like, etc, etc.

I would be more worried about someone throwing my kid in a car, than taking them off a subway... kwim?

Anyway, this is an interesting question and I can't wait to go over to her blog...

miggy said...

Yikes, I'm just nervous thinking about this stuff.

It's good to hear the stats but at the same time my inner danger radar tells me things are different than when we were kids. Don't get me wrong, I would LOVE for my kids to have the freedom I did, however I grew up in small town Nebraska and summers in Utah (...and honestly as a kid Utah scared me. I felt like I was always hearing about kidnappers, etc). Anywho, I would like to SAY that I'd be cool with that, but I know I'm the mom that worries about that 1 in a million chance.

Interestingly enough, I currently live in NYC and feel that kids in general are safer here than in your many suburbs.

miggy said...

That last sentence didn't come out right, but you know what I mean.

Queen Scarlett said...

I think in regards to all of this - there needs to be wisdom.

I think going from one extreme to the other is not wise.

I also think that each child, each parent, each family, each home, city...etc... is different - and we need to be respectful of our different situations.

I'm just starting to hear a lot of what happens in parenting. There's always one side or the other that is really loud and squeaky about how the other side is stupid, or thoughtless...yada yada.

That all being said. I had lived in Utah as a child - moved to Calif and then returned to Utah to attend BYU. I drove my five other roommates crazy because I was always locking our door in Heritage Halls. Sure BYU may be happy valley but I didn't feel it necessary to help out any sticky fingers from taking something I didn't want missing. I also walked with a maglight hiding up my coat sleeve when I had to go the testing center at night by myself. I'd been taught to "be prepared". If we're prepared - we have nothing to fear. That's how I live.

That's why when I was at BYU and there was news of stalker guy entering girls apartments and watching them sleep ...I knew how the guy got in... the girls didn't lock their doors. Why give someone an opportunity?

Growing up in Bountiful - we were free to bike, walk, roam on our own. However, we were asked to call our mom when we reached our destination. If we forgot - she would make the call. I think this is wise.

I think we know our children best. We know at what age they will be able to go at it alone. Whatever that is. I think intentions are a big deal. Are we shoving our kids into going it alone because we can have more free time for ourselves? Or are we doing it because it's time, they're ready, and they are properly prepared? Have we prepared them well, wisely? It seems for Lenore and her son - it was the right time. For someone else - it may not be. And that's ok.

These are questions that can only be answered in our own hearts/minds. I believe that if a parent starts from a point of unselfish love - they make the best decisions to equip their children with the skills they need to become solidly, good, wise people.

Were my parents, at times, overprotective? Yes. Was I annoyed as a child. Sometimes. But it always made me feel secure and thought of. That I was important enough to my parents. I took up mind space. Looking back - I am grateful for how they raised me. Some people think we have to make mistakes to learn from them. I'm a fan of not having to make mistakes and learn from others. Doesn't make me better - but dang it's nice to have a clear conscience.

I've been researching Montessori schools and I love the self-directed learning and independence it brings children. In fact, I've started applying the method at home and love that my child can do so many things on her own. That independence brings her joy and offers me more time to focus on other things to help her grow. It is always better to teach than just give. At the same time, Montessori method recognizes that each child learns at his/her own pace - to allow that.

On a side note ... I live in a community that boasts one a championship golf course, million dollar homes and pristine parks. Just a few weeks ago they caught one of two prowlers... in cars that were prowling library book time, the skate park, neighborhood parks and the Borders bookstore story time... for kids.

Yes - statistics are fantastic... but we need to be wise - we know our areas, our children better than any statistician. Statistics are just numbers - they don't show faces, families... they can't.

One more thing. There are necessary and unnecessary risks. Am I ever going to regret taking a moment to make sure I lock the door, hold my daughter's hand as I cross the street... no. Am I annoyed that my parents always want me to call when I reach my destination - no... we still keep tabs on each other to this day...and it's just another way we show we love and care for each other. But that's us.

I guess my point is... in the parenting world of trends... there are many trends shouted around - the test is to drown them out and do what's best for our own little families. Trust yourself...and to hell with the rest of it.

Bek said...

Well said Queen, and in my first comment the "you" was directed at the general public, not at Azucar specifically.

It is true. Trust your heart.

P.S. I always feel safer in NYC than anywhere else. We lived there for a very short while, and I loved it...

Ah Britty said...

Thanks for those stats. I love that term free range children. I feel like kids these days feel like they have to "go somewhere" to feel entertained. I feel pressured to go to the library, then to the park, then to the bouncy house, then here and there...didn't we just keep ourselves occupied when we were kids? What happened to using our imaginations and exploring? Fortunately, with a fixed budget, our kids spend lots of time doing just that. But I love the idea of giving our kids more responsibility and letting them live a little. I wonder, like Miggy, how willing I will actually be at that, but I think you can't always live in fear either. Who knows...we'll see when my kids get older.

Mrs. Dub said...

I am so disturbed that people were calling Lenore an abusive and/or neglectful mother after she mentioned her son's subway ride in a column. I mean, if you would be too nervous to let your child do the same thing, so be it. But it's not that big of a deal. Seriously. Aren't there worse moms out there we should be worrying about?

compulsive writer said...

I agree it's a personal choice and needs to be done with wisdom. My kids walk to school, but never alone. I live in a good neighborhood, but just a few years ago my son's friend was almost abducted just around the corner. Things can happen any where and at any time, but we can't lock our kids away in a padded room. That doesn't mean I'd let them go by themselves just anywhere.

What appealed to me when I first heard the term was the idea of free-range kids as opposed to over-scheduled children. And as an alternative to helicopter parenting.

Great discussion...

ClistyB said...

I have always felt that as long as I teach my kids safety (public and personal) and common sense, they are fine to go to and from. Kids need to learn how to get around their environment, navigate - helps them to better navigate life as adults.
With as much freedon as I have allowed my kids, they never have used it that much. If I dropped them off 4 blocks from our house and told them to find their way home, I am sure that only 2 of the 5 would actually make it back. Oblivious to directions.

Ryan and Susie said...

I definitely want my children to be independent. I want them to have the opportunity to use their own judgment. That's how we learn and grow. However, it's best to listen to your own intuition, every situation is unique. I grew up in Ohio and I remember wearing a key around my neck at 6 years old. I would walk home from school, let myself in the home, do homework and start dinner for my mom (because my parents were divorced and my mom worked full-time). I was a very independent child and I think it helped develop my self esteem and trust between my parents and I. Obviously, every situation is different. I don't know if I would do that in the neighborhood I currently live in but I hope I can give my kids that same independence some day. Very good discussion Carina.

Sue said...

I heard an interview Lenore gave on NPR a few weeks ago and she was talking with a caller about how the caller drops her daughter off at a friend's house to play and she always watches to make sure she gets in the house safely, and Lenore was like, "What do you think is going to happen between the time you drop her off and the time she gets in the door? Terrorists would have to be waiting in the trees to kidnap her." And I giggled because it was true. (But then I also made a list of the things that could go wrong - they might not answer the door, maybe it's the wrong house, etc.)

But her point - unclench a little - was taken.

(I'm still overprotective though. But I recognize it.)

fijiangirl said...

Even though times were different when I was little I still felt that as I showed maturity and earned my parents trust I was allowed to do things. For example at age 7 or 8 I could walk to school or walk to a friends house by myself but I couldn't go to the mall by myself until I was 12 or older. I feel that is the same for my kids. Right now they are 5 1/2, 4 and 2. The two older ones can ride their bikes or walk around the corner to my parents house and down the street to a friends house. But no way my 2 year old can! Plus I always call to say the kids are on their way. Maybe I am not as "free range" as I would like to think.

Amy said...

My in-laws took the free range thing to nearly negligent levels, but it made a lasting impression on my husband that his father trusted him so much. Once when my husband was 16 he told his dad, "I need to borrow your truck for 24 hours and I can't tell you where I'm going." His dad handed him the keys and never said another word about it. My husband says he acted like a responsible adult because his dad treated him like one. (And for those who are wondering, my husband was driving to Vegas to pick up his older sister who had hitch-hiked there and needed to be back in time for work the next day--maybe they weren't so responsible after all. But they handled the situation.)

swampbaby said...

I love this discussion. I totally think the decisions made like this depend on the factors at hand -the situation, the kid, the area, etc. I definitely think there are too many suffocatingly overprotective parents. I don't think I've ever been overly protective, but I definitely don't fall into the "Free Range" category. I have been learning to let go more as my boys are getting older.

swampbaby said...

PS I'm going to link to your blog, if that's ok.

Mo Jo's Weekly Update said...

I'm probably going to shock some people when I say I feel safer in the city than in the suburbs. Why? First of all, I know where the bad neighborhoods are and I know if a guy is creepy, because he looks creepy. These places and people wave their own red flags and I'm sure in the future, my children will see that too.

In the suburbs, it's much more unsuspecting and it's always the guy or lady who everyone thought was "nice." I'll hear from my friend in Bozeman, Montana about how it has become the Meth capitol of the nation, because as she put it, "kids get bored." I know, not all suburbs are bad, I love the suburbs, but over the years I've grown increasingly creeped out by them.

Just to let ya'll know, there are more sexual offenders per capita in Provo than there are in New York. Yikes! I knew several girls who had very creepy encounters with nasty men while living in Provo. For that reason and many others like it, I just can't let my children walk around without supervision. Sorry Azucar, I remain unmoved from my position, because common sense and the right parents will not be the reason why my kid cannot out run a grown man.

Laura said...

On Saturday I was in the backyard working when a Honeywell Security salesman rang the front doorbell. My 8 year old son answered the door then came out back to get me. (He shut the front door when he was looking for me.) I walked around front and the salesman began his spiel by telling me what an irresponsible parent I was letting my son open the door. "He could have been abducted or molested," he said.

He then proceeded to show me all of the stats of burglaries and sex crimes in my very white bread Utah neighboorhood. Of course he was trying to sell a security system.

The fact that he was trying to encourage me to not let my children answer the doorbell at my own home really peeved me. Am I supposed to keep my kids hidden under lock and key? What if my son was outside riding his bike, or playing outside where I couldn't see him? Is that not allowed either? Why are his rules suddenly more important than mine? Of course he wanted me to feel threatened. But naturally it's up to the parents to decide what is safe and what's not. I'm all for some freedom no matter what security salesman might have me believe.

Likely said...

Totally the media that puts the fear into us.

Required reading for all of those interested in this topic:

Last Child in the Woods.

It reads like a textbook and discusses such notions as outdoor activity being the remedy for much of the childhood problems of society today (i.e - ADHD, depression, obesity, bipolar....)

I could seriously go on and on about this topic but I will spare you. Or maybe you will see it on my blog soon. (did you ever read my blog about "Ouchy Playgrounds?" - you might like it)

Daniel Barlow said...

hi dee ho dad's friend, we roll in our own dog poop...platoonoffour

sara said...

Just tell me at what age I can leave my kids home alone while I run to the store, without legal repercussions. They are quite self-sufficient around the house, being the ripe old ages of 4, 4, 6, and nearly 8. Now, I would not let any child of mine ride on the subway alone -- but locked in the confines of my own home, I would trust them to be alone for a while. And I'm tired of paying babysitters.

Very interesting read.