Monday, October 5, 2009

Free-range kids?

So here’s the question: Shouldn’t we allow children as much freedom as we do chickens?

That’s an affirmative, says Lenore Skenazy.

Back in 2008, she wrote a column in The New York Sun detailing how she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone—that’s sans adult supervision, folks. Almost immediately thereafter she found herself on the morning shows labeled “America’s worst mom.”

The author of "Free-Range Kids" is in great company, it turns out, none other than PBS’s own Sesame Street, likely the premiere children’s TV show of all time. When the first--now 40-year-old--season of that acclaimed ground breaking series show came out on DVD in 2006, it sported this disclaimer: "early 'Sesame Street' episodes are meant for grown-ups and may not meet the needs of today's preschool child."


The DVD shows children scampering through large pipes, balancing on planks between picnic tables, romping through New York City streets. Mon dieu!

Skenazy takes on a number of modern myths, including the widely held assumption that our country is more dangerous than it was when today's parents were children.

The crime rate today is actually lower than it was in the '70s and '80s, the author says, noting that even the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children admits that "stranger danger" is overblown. We are all watching too many Law & Order episodes. Instead, children should be taught how to talk to strangers, they say, since they may need help if they're really in danger.

Not only are toys being recalled left and right, but so are some books. That’s right, people—books. I know this, ‘cause I work in the kids department of a bookstore, and last spring spent much of my time rounding up such stuff. Don’t ask me why. I wasn’t given a clue.

So instead of teaching our offspring how to deal with the world, we are trying—in vain—to child-proof it. Awful stuff can, and does, happen but we should prepare kids for what is more likely to happen—like being hit by a car.

The truth is we can’t protect our children from everything, all we can do is teach them as best we can, prepare them, allow them to develop confidence in their own judgment—and then get out of their way.

Yeah, I know. It sucks. But what can you do? It’s a parent’s lot. Think back on your own childhood. It’s likely you “went out to play” and arrived home in time to eat—no “play dates” and ultra-scheduled time. My own kids managed to grow up just fine without me hovering about. As a single mom. I couldn’t if I wanted to. I was too busy making sure they had a home to come back to.

My son was no more than 10 when he became fascinated with cycling and practicing to ride in the Tour de France. I found out years later that he would take off and ride until he got tired, then approach someone and inquire: “Excuse me, but what town is this?”

That’s just one of many things I’m glad I never knew at the time.

It’s no accident that in children’s literature--from fairy tales to Harry Potter--the parents are disposed of in some way before the first page. They have to be. Otherwise, they never would allow their children the freedom to have their adventure.


Brian J Boyd said...

So true!

Creative said...

I was a free range kid as long as the sun was still up!