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Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy

The Pirate has started telling me over and over that we can't talk to strangers. This is not something that I've taught him and actually isn't something that I want him to learn. I assume this is something they have talked about at school and every time he says it I see flashing lights in my head that spell out "Stranger Danger!!!" Here's the thing though, I'm just not worried that someone will abduct my kids. If I hesitate to let them play outside alone, it's more for the neighbor's comfort than my own. (Hey, my children are LOUD. I'm just thinking of how to be neighborly here.) I won't let the Bug go into the boy's restroom yet, but that's because he doesn't quite have the mechanics down (and he still likes to look or crawl under stall doors to visit other people. Now THERE's the Stranger Danger!) and not because I worry about someone snatching him. I tend to base most of my decisions on what they are capable of doing alone, not fear. I only give my kids limited outdoor freedom, but this is more because I don't trust them NOT to help themselves to things in other yards and not to get lost than because I don't trust the neighbors.

All of this fits nicely with the points laid out in Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. She advocates letting our kids do things that we were allowed to do as kids. Play outside. Walk to school. Go in the bathroom alone. Eat whole grapes. Skenazy interviewed a lot of experts, people whose job it is to do things like research how many pieces of Halloween candy have really had razor blades in them (none) or poison in them (once, but it was a family member aiming for his own kids, not a stranger.) The book is full of details about how few kids walk to school now compared to our generation, and about how quiet neighborhoods are now that all the kids are inside instead of in the front yard.

The most striking chapter is near the end and I'm going to steal some of the details with you, if only to get you to read the book. One kid in 1.5 MILLION is abducted killed by strangers. They are 40 times more likely to die in a car crash, but my kids are in the car almost every day. They are ten times more likely to die in a house fire, but we slept in our very own beds last night. They are 20 times more likely to drown, but we spent the whole weekend at the lake, in and out of the water. Sexual abuse by strangers is down something like 79% since we were kids. (I can't find that exact quote, I could be off a few numbers.) There are some good strategies on how to teach your kids to be safe- it's fine to TALK to strangers, just don't GO with them! (This is a good thing, as the Bug has a tendency to walk up and introduce himself to everyone he sees.) I don't want to repeat the whole chapter here, you really should just read the book.

The entire book is worth reading. It's fairly short, less than 200 pages, and is full of humor. Skenazy has been named "America's Worst Mom" for allowing her kid to ride on the subway alone and isn't afraid to use that title to poke fun at herself. If you're a parent, I recommend that you pick this one up. It's short and fun and full of encouraging information and ideas.  You can read more at Lenore Skenazy's blog and get a feel for how she writes, as well as her take on the Lieby Kletzky tragedy. It's a great blog, as well as a great book.

Free Range Kids
by Lenore Skenazy
Jossey- Bass
213 pages

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  1. This is something I've thought about quite a lot lately. Kids aren't growing up to be independent because we won't let them do anything on their own. One of the things I liked about Auburn was the number of kids who walked to school.

  2. I have mixed feelings. When I visit my Amish neighbor's farm, I'm a bit jealous that her kids can spend all day outside playing or working. However, within my neighborhood, no, I don't approve.

    Good thoughts, though I'm not sure I agree with all the statistics.

  3. Thank you for this! I embrace the idea of not parenting out of fear.

  4. I don't have children of my own, but I observe other children of my friends, family, etc and I am amazed by how limited everything is. We had a lot more freedom when we were children. I don't know how you can be independent when you are not allowed to explore and do things on your own...

  5. I've just started letting my 5 year old girls roam the neighborhood. We have seven 5 or 6 year olds within a large block. The difference in their independence is simply, stunning. They are less whiny, they feel like they have some autonomy, I feel like I can get things done and everyone is happier. I don't want them to get in cars with strangers, but I think they should be able to say "hi" to people walking in our neighborhood. I just bought this book a couple of days ago and can't wait to start reading it. If I hadn't already bought it, I'd go buy it after reading your post. Thanks for the info!

  6. I've been thinking these things lately, but I am guilty of being overprotective sometimes, too. I'm getting better though. I like the Childwise books, I must confess. I will check out this book, thanks for the info!

  7. I actually might have to check this one out...sounds really interesting!

  8. I just picked this up from the library and can't wait to start this!


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