It’s nice to push for this whole Free Range movement, but the fact is, sometimes I’m about as free and fun as a frozen chicken nugget.

That’s because we all have certain things that push our buttons — especially the buttons marked, “IRRATIONAL” and “FEAR.” We are so sure these things are going to hurt our kids, we can’t even think straight. And that’s a fear we pass on.

“Look mom! Shrek is stupid!” said my 10-year-old as we were walking down a city street the other day.


He pointed to a billboard featuring the green monster on a skateboard. “See? It’s dangerous! He could crack his head open!”And I cringed.

Who on earth had taken this fun-loving boy and filled him with skateboard terror? Good ol’ Mrs. “Give Our Children the Carefree Childhood We Had!” Me.

“Um, maybe skateboards aren’t that b-b-bad,” I stammered. “Maybe it’s time for you to try one.”His eyes bugged out. Since when had his mother ever suggested skateboarding was anything other than  text- messaging Death: “Meet U @ playground Saturday?” Truly this was a teachable moment…for me.

Part of Free Range Parenting means nudging yourself to do something that you have been afraid to try. Or, really, afraid to let your kids try.

Not something  crazy —  like skateboarding without a helmet. But maybe,  letting your kid try skateboarding with a helmet. Or letting your 4th grader cross a street by herself. Or letting your 12-year-old bike to the Dunkin Donuts. These are things they can do if we just let them. So let’s.

In the next week, my Free Range goal is to get my son (and maybe even his brother) onto a skateboard without any of us having a breakdown. 

Want to set a Free Range goal, too? Let’s hear all about it — the goal, the execution, the results.

I wish you luck!

You better wish me the same.

How to answer the people who think you’re nuts?

Remember the “Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions” that used to run in Mad?

That’s what we need here at Free Range Kids. As a recent email from “Skyscraper” put it: “This site needs a seperate idea page for what to say when others question the ‘free-range’ parenting approach.”

So true.  What do you say when someone thinks you’re nuts for letting your 8-year-old jump rope by herself on your driveway, or for letting your pre-teen walk to school?

I’ve been doing a lot of radio interviews and I turn into a self-righteous bore when the host inevitably asks, “How could you let your son take the subway alone?”

I quote crime stats that show a child is 40 times more likely to die in a car accident than by being abducted. I appeal to common sense. I remind people that a couple of generations back, a 9-year-old probably would have had a part-time job. And then I ask the interviewer, “Didn’t you getto run around and do things by yourself when you were a kid?”

“Sure!” comes the answer, but “times have changed.” Once they get that out of the way, they go in for the kill: “How would you have felt if something DID happen to your son?”


So much for my years of media training.

What I really want to say is: “Terrible! Earth-shaken! I’d be cursing God — and especially the radio hosts who asked Him to zap my son just to teach me a lesson! But, Mr. Fulminator, sir, don’t you see there’s something sick about immediately and endlessly envisioning the very worst? Isn’t that the very definition of paranoia? And isn’t it wrong to teach kids that they are incapable of taking care of themselves, that they can’t trust their community, and that it is better for them to live a virtual life inside, where life is programmed, than a real life, outside, where they can glory in the wonders of the world? Are you ever going to let your kid GROW UP?”

That’s what I’d like to be able to get out, but it sounds a little hysterial and it’s not exactly pithy. So if you have any amazing zingers that really seem to open people’s eyes (or shut their mouths), we are all eager to hear them.

And even more eager to start using them.

– Lenore

Let’s come up with some solutions!

What seems clear and wonderful from most of the e-mail response is that Free Range parents are eager to raise Free Range kids. But they often come up against a couple of barriers.

First and foremost is the fact that other parents (and, sometimes, spouses) think there is no difference between “Free Range” and “criminally negligent” parenting.  I’m wondering how to start bringing those folks around. Devote a PTA meeting to the issue? (Which could, of course, horribly backfire. People LOVE to worry and sound self-righteous.) So, maybe we should all carry around child safety statistics that prove most kids aren’t being snatched and killed? Or organize an all-neighborhood walk-to-school week? Or have a big “Bring Your Kids to The Park Day” —

And then leave them there?

That would get some local press, I’d bet.

Anyway, have any of you tried anything like this? Or do you have any other ideas? If so, please post them on the newest Free Range tab we’ve added: IDEAS.

The other obstacle seems to be suburbia itself: It is hard to let kids get places on their own when the distances require a car. (Or maybe we just think they require a car.)  Any thoughts on how to deal with this biggie would also be appreciated.

I do worry that principals, school organizations and even police departments are so focused on uber-safety (and not getting sued), that it might not hard, in most places, to “work within the system.”

Love to hear your thoughts, ideas and experiences. — Lenore