Raise your hand if you think you’re pretty overprotective of your children. Like you’ve gone beyond helicopter parenting and actually pulled the kids into the helicopter with you. This is a HUGE and fairly heated topic that I will barely touch on here today but it’s something I’ve been really struggling with as a parent. Needless to say, my kids are not free range kids.
I’m your classic overly vigilant mother. If we’re on our way home from school and I need to run into the convenience store for something and the kids don’t really want to join me (they’re 8 and 10 years old) I take the keys and lock the kids into the car (widows cracked) while I run in, grab the convenience item and dart back out within three minutes. (I LOCK THEM IN THE CAR lest a child stealer takes off with them!) I had the video monitor on my daughter until she was two years old (although I know some parents with four-year olds who still use one). Ride their bikes to a neighbors house? HA! I’m the mom who drives the neighborhood kids that rode their bikes to our house back home when they are done playing. Walk to school? Yeah right! My concept of danger has been fed to me somewhat by the media but also by my father (a newspaper editor) and other parents.
Enter Lenore Skenazy of Free Range Kids fame. Lenore has become sort of the spokeswoman for the movement of giving kids a little space and freedom. I picked up her book because I was tired of feeling worried about the welfare of my kids all the time. I needed to get a grip or they’d be just suctioned to my side until who knows when. I’d heard about her book plenty of times but never wanted to bother with it because I didn’t want to let my kids out of my sight, regardless of what she had to say.
But the time has officially arrived where I need some help. My kiddos need to learn some independence. I think they crave it a little. My parents are more overprotective than I am, so asking them for advice is definitely out of the question. Other parents? Not really. Most are in the same shoes as me when it comes to this. I can go it alone and just do what feels natural (which is mostly what I’ve done the past 10+ years), but unlike when they were little doing what feels natural now sometimes seems fraught with potential nightmarish repercussions. So, Skenazy it is, at least for starters.
First off, Skenazy puts the whole “stranger danger” concept into perspective. She feels parents today are really bad at assessing risk. Essentially, kids are more likely to be hit by an asteroid (!!) than they are to be hauled off the street by an abductor and murdered. (I feel like I do a great job of protecting them from the abductor, but the asteroid!??) I mean that’s my number one fear – that as my child is riding her bike .5 miles home from her friend’s house, some weirdo will somehow get her off her bike and into his van (of course, yes, a VAN!!).
Actually, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, violent crimes in America have been dropping since the 1990s including crimes against children. Why? It’s a conglomeration of stuff: more cops, better prosecution of sex offenders, cell phones (HUGE), and more troubled people having better access to better psychiatric drugs.
I will say I read “Free Range Kids” cover to cover laughing almost the whole way through because she laces her stories and statistics and insights with hilarious asides and anecdotes. And she doesn’t just focus on why it’s really actually not a bad idea to let your 10 or 11-year-old walk to their neighborhood school (or ride the subway) with their friends (sans adults), or stay home alone for an hour while you run some errands. She talks about all sorts of fears we’ve fallen prey to over the past couple of decades and how we’ve gone a bit wacky: SIDs, water, babies skidding out (!?) while crawling (yes, apparently this is a thing), the psychology behind why we need to be in control all the time, as well as a pretty compelling piece on our reptilian brain and why it’s having a hard time with TV.
Personally, I LOVED the book. It couldn’t have come into my life at a better time. The term “free range” isn’t my favorite. We own a flock of hens that are free range. I’d like to think of giving freedom to my kids as more like offering them a little more space away from my watchful eye rather than running around “free range” as the chickens do. But semantics aside, I honestly feel a little freer in terms of my kids’ safety in the world. After reading, I did some research on her quoted statistics and I know it’s hard to believe but we do live in a much safer time now than we did 10 to 20 years ago (at least as far as kidnapping goes, not so much with the asteroids). Obviously, it’s a parent’s decision how and when they offer their kids more freedom, space, and independence but “Free Range Kids” is a helpful read when you are really struggling with how to approach it. (Another excellent book I recently read in the same vein is How to Raise an Adult by Julie Lythcott Haims – not funny, but very in depth and well researched and studied.)