Parenting Advice From "The Worst Mom in America"

Big Think Editors
August 27, 2010

Ever since she wrote a New York Sun article about why she let her 9-year old son ride the subway alone, journalist Lenore Skenazy has been lambasted by the media as "the worst mom in America." As a self-proclaimed "free range parent" and the author of "Free-Range Kids," a how-to guide for raising "safe, self-reliant kids (without going nuts with worry)," Skenazy says too many Americans need to pay attention to something other than their children.

"I think we are much more pre-occupied with our children every second of the day," says Skenazy in her Big Think interview, comparing the current crop of parents to previous generations. "Are they safe? Are they learning? Are they getting enough out of this moment, this class, this instant, when we’re supposed to be bonding, and we’re really afraid for them all the time." Skenazy says parents are more afraid for their children today than they were thirty years ago because the culture has become more litigious, and media and entertainment have changed. "My parents were watching Marcus Welby, the people lived, they didn’t sue. It was a cheerfuller time, in terms of television. You didn’t have Nancy Grace, you didn’t have 'CSI,' you didn’t have anything as disgusting and revolting and scary as 'Law & Order: SVU.'"

To combat "helicopter parents" and to promote the idea of a "free range" childhood, Skenazy declared a "Take Your Children To the Park and Leave Them There Day" in May, during which she encouraged parents to leave their children together to play at the park without parental supervision. "The media was jumping up and down, saying, 'It’s a pedophile parade!,'" says Skenazy, "They were crazed with fear, and all I was suggesting that we let our kids of ages 7, 8 and up, go and spend an hour, half an hour, they got me down to 10 minutes, 10 minutes at the park, with each other, trying to come up with a game, figure out four square, play
handball, do hopscotch, without me telling you what to do, because that turns out to be
a very important thing. free range kids end up having to entertain themselves."

Skenazy suggests a simple and easy way for parents to nudge their kids down the "free range" path is to shut off their cell phones, turn off the TV and go for a walk, either alone or with their kids. "You can leave your cell phone at home and so you sort of wean yourself off of the idea that you must be constantly available to your child and vice versa," she says. "Use one of those hours that you’re gonna watch 'CSI' with a body dredged out of the swamp or 'Law & Order' with the girl dragged off the street, to turn off the TV and spend that hour outside. You know, walk around your neighborhood, preferably with your kid, to remind yourself that you live in the neighborhood—that’s where you live. You don’t live in 'Law & Order'-ville and 'CSI'-ville."

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Replies to This Discussion

I can see her point with 'free-ranging' as far as needing to raise a self-reliant child, but the problem is that pedophiles DO exist and so do crazed rapists and murderers. I would let my child have freedom to a degree, but this isn't like the 50's when my dad would do whatever he pretty much wanted as long as he was home on time or was with his big brother. This is a world where a little girl can walk out into her own yard to play with a ball and get abducted right off of her own lawn without her parents realizing it for over an hour. Are you kidding me? Shut that stupid woman up.

Like Ava, I can see where she is coming from with the whole self reliant child thing, but the fact of the matter is that it is a crazy world out there. My children play in the yard but i have an eye on them. It helps also that I have 4 and there is never just 1 child outside alone. Also, you MUST teach your kids about strangers. Hell in this day in age, you have to be weary of family members (I have personal self experience with this). I want my children to grow up self reliant responsible people, I can't sit around and worry all day about the things that Might happen. I would go crazy. However, letting a nine year old ride the subway by himself is just plain stupid. Letting kids be in the park alone is stupid. I just hope that I instill enough common sense in my kids to know when something is not "right" with a situation. 

Letting a 9 year old run around a big city by themselves is a little extreme. Letting a 9 year old go to the park around the corner in a relatively safe neighborhood for an hour or so by themselves isn't a problem to me. I was running all over my neighborhood unsupervised with my younger brothers at 9 years old but I was also taught about strangers and the buddy system and what to do in an emergency. (I was 9 in 1994). One day while riding bikes around the block my brothers and I even had a car pull to the side of the road and try to get our attention by saying something about candy. I immediately told my brothers to turn around and we headed the opposite direction the car was facing and made a beeline for home and immediately reported what had happened to our mom and she called the police. Turns out the guy in that car had tried before in our neighborhood to get another kid in the car and a week later was taken off to jail. As hard as it is and as dangerous as the world can be I think we need to teach our children well and trust that they will put that to good use and let them out into the big wide world. My mom later thanked my brothers and I for being such responsible kids and doing exactly what we talked about and as much as she probably worried let us go on our merry way the very next day. I am thankful to my parents that they let us have unsupervised play time ... it allowed my brothers and I to build confidence in our ability to take care of ourselves and it was a really nice and empowering feeling to be trusted by our parents.


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