Feeling Chicken Over Free-Range Kids

(Lenore Skenazy and her son Izzy)
For those of you who don’t have kids, you may not be aware of Lenore Skenazy and her precocious son in desperate need of a haircut, Izzy.  They made headlines when Skenazy allowed her grade schooler to travel the buses and subways of New York City unescorted. No helicopter-hovering mom skulking behind a pole or walkie-talkie communicados detailing ever maneuver. 
Just a boy and his bus pass.
Of course, the media is going crazy over this one, calling the lovely Lenore “the Worst Mom in America,” – a moniker the New York Sun columnist herself seems to be enjoying as she contributes pieces to The Huffington Post entitled “More from the Worst Mom in America.” 
Her argument is that the world is a heck of a lot safer than the media portrays it to be, substantiated by stats quoted in Newsweek: 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.
She’s also started a blog called Free Range Kids, which advocates sane parenting, advocating seat belts and helmet along with the freedom to rediscover the world without infantilizing parents holding the harness straps.  Sounds refreshing, don’t it?
I myself remember a carefree childhood in South Miami, leaving our apartment first thing in the morning and not returning until dark.  My friends and I, like a wide-eyed Lil’ Rascals gang, used to knock on strangers’ doors asking if they had any candy. I shit you not. There was also this couple we used to bother with a waterbed, and we’d walk right in to roll around on it.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t molested or cut up or both a hundred times over. Nothing but fun ever happened.
I love these memories and treasure them because they are the only relics left of a long-gone era. Ironically enough, I remember the exact moment when these sort of shenanigans were wiped away forever: the day Adam Walsh was kidnapped from the Hollywood Mall and found decapitated in a local river.  That was it. Game over. No longer did my mom leave me alone in the toy department while she shopped the rest of the mall by herself.  All of a sudden, we started locking our car and house doors, and looking over our shoulders.  It was as if the world before Adam was filled with cotton candy and Christmas and now had these never-before-heard-of-monsters called pedophiles stalking us from every corner.
Childhood was officially over.
I know there’s been a high price for sheltering our children.  I can’t let my girls just jump on their bides and explore the neighborhood on their own.  Nor can I even dream of leaving them alone in a mall.  According to Skenazy, I should be able to do just that; I’ve let media-perpetrated fear win over common sense.
You know what my answer to that is? Then so be it…
While I wouldn’t consider myself a hovering helicopter mom by any stretch of the imagination, I just can’t take the chances Skenazy is willing to take.  I know boys are molested just as much as little girls, but I still feel they are more vulnerable.  Even if the stats are true, that there is a one-in-a-million chance of them being abducted by a stranger, I frankly don’t give a shit.  I’m not using my kids to make any sort of sociopolitical statements.
What do you think?
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One response to “Feeling Chicken Over Free-Range Kids

  1. I think I kind of fall in the middle. I, like you, was out the door right after breakfast and didn’t come home (except for lunch or a popsicle) until the streetlights were on. We were this ragtag group of kids, consisting mostly of siblings – my sister and me, A and her brother, M and his 2 brothers, R and her cousin, etc. We rode bikes, played Suicide and Spring, walked over to the rec to play football, and played boxball in the parking lot of the Jiffy Lube at the end of the driveway. (I grew up in a rowhouse). As we got older, we played less but still kept the same group; we just hung on the corner until curfew. (We did this in January, people. We’re talking wind chill temps of 2 degrees. We just put on our parkas and went to Sev for hot chocolate.)

    The point of my ramble is that even though we were pretty free, we were never, never, never to go anywhere alone. If we wanted to take two buses to get to the mall or the movies when we were in 7th grade, that was fine, as long as there were no fewer than 3 of us and it was daylight. Nighttime excursions were orchestrated by parents and again, it had to be a group. In the days before cell phones, you always had dimes in your pocket in case you needed to call.

    Anyway, while I’m not advocating free range parenting, I do think that if parents can somehow give their kids a little taste of what our childhoods were like, we’ll have happier kids.

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