Monday, May 4, 2009

Free Range Kids

Some mothers look horrified when I mention that I made my boys ride their bikes to school starting in junior high. The traffic! The kidnapping pedophiles! And what about those heavy backpacks!?

Others raised eyebrows when I told them it was inappropriate (not to mention completely emasculating) to drag boys older than about five into the women's restroom. My kids starting going to the men's room by themselves, with me waiting outside the door, around the time they entered first grade.

But the killers! The dirty men! And what about those kidnapping pedophiles?!

You know what? My children gained some independence, I began the reasonable and wholly necessary process of letting them grow up and we all lived to tell the tale.

My parenting philosophy may offend some, but it jibes fully with that of Lenore Skenazy, who is interviewed in Salon today.

Skenazy is a columnist, author and blogger at FreeRangeKids, where she argues that children today are just as safe as we were in the '60s and '70s, according to crime stats. But despite reality, nervous parents protect them like they are always seconds away from disaster.

Why the disconnect? The answer may partly lie in the pervasive, over-hyped, over-heated scare mongering that comes mostly from cable television. Sociologist and media critic Eric Klinenberg, son of my good buddy Ed Klinenberg, was interviewed on NPR's On The Media program last weekend about the panic (or non-panic, as it turns out) around swine flu. It's very telling, and also quite funny.

Are your kids free range or do you keep them cooped up?


  1. Yay Karen! You go, empowering mom!

  2. It worked for me! But then again my kids were strong-willed and would NOT be smothered, even if I had been the type of mother to try.

    One day at McDonald's they had to go potty and when I started to take them to the women's room they were like, "No way, Mom. We can handle the men's room by ourselves" and I trusted that they could.

    A mother told me she was still taking her 8-year-old boy into the ladies room with her because a kid was kidnapped from a public men's room somewhere at sometime. Those occurrences are awful, but they're also exceedingly rare.

    We can't let them be excuses to over-protect our kids and scare them out of their senses.

  3. I loved the Eric interview on NPR.

    I just listened to Freakonomics on CD on my drive to SF, so I've been thinking a lot about correlation and causation and parenting.

    Truth be told, if there was a way to measure independence, I doubt that we would see much difference in the levels of the "over protected" kids and the "free rangers." The bottom line is that parents need to be comfortable with the decisions they make.

  4. Eric is really wonderful, isn't he? His insights are great.

    There's an interesting review of two parenting books at Salon today.

    The divide between the two authors mirrors your santimommy and laxadaddy meme, Susan.

  5. Interesting article, Karen. I think in large part parental protectiveness has a lot to do with where you live. There is not much difference in my six year old boy's freedom now as I had when I was his age. He rides his bike and can go down to the park at the end of the street. The parents on my street will, generally speaking and certainly respecting certain boundaries, correct each others children. We have coherent values re: what is appropriate behavior and what isn't.

    I was in NYC last weekend, and I don't think I'd feel quite the same. Of course, if I could afford to live in NYC in the sort of neighborhood I live in here in SC, well then, I might feel differently.

  6. You make a good point, Julie. Our parenting is very influenced by our peers, I think.

    So if you live in a community that's free-range, or your friends are free-range parents, you're more likely to follow suit, I think.

    I know that was true for me when my oldest was a ravenous eater and nursing was exhausting me (though it did wonders on eliminating baby weight!). I thought about weaning him earlier than intended but I literally forced myself to continue because of the "peer pressure" I knew I'd face from my breastfeeding friends!

    That's an example of the good side of peer pressure, I think, because I was later very glad that I had stuck with it, and I might not have otherwise.

  7. Hi Karen, I didn't realize I was "one" of those freaked out parents until Adam came along. I thought it was normal. I had to change my ways with him though because he is very independent. It was tough at first but I'm getting better. :-)
    Regarding your jury duty article, as you know I'm self employed too and they have never excused me. I think what the judge did to you was just wrong though. The call in is very annoying, but even more so when they make you come in and sit in the holding room all day. What aggravated me the most though was when a few years ago my sitter was called for jury duty and they wouldn't excuse her even though we wrote letters stating it would affect us. So they didn't only take her only income away, but they put a hardship on all of us parents who had to also take off work. That part of the system just doesn't make any sense to me.

  8. Laureen, our kids definitely force us to give up our own parenting ideas very often, don't they? ;-)

    In terms of jury duty, it seems I innocently hit upon a winning formula for the self-employed. Postpone your service for a holiday week!

    I didn't know that's what I was doing when I scheduled my service for late March when I got the summons last fall. But since my week coincided with spring break, there must have been a lot of court personnel on vacation and few trials ongoing - so I never got called!

    That's a happy first, for me.