Thanks for taking a look at this site. As you’ll see as you poke around, this is the place for thinking about whether we have gone a little overboard in trying to protect our kids. As I say on Dr. Phil’s show, we overestimate the dangers out there, and have forgotten how competent young people are.

This starts at an awfully young age. I was at Babies R Us today and found knee pads for babies. Knee pads! Since when did crawling become so extremely dangerous you needed padding?

At Free Range Kids we are trying to figure out how to separate plain old safety – wonderful safety – from the kind of obsessive worry that can drive a parent, or kid, crazy. Like, for instance, I submit that safety belts in cars make sense. But do children really need to be strapped into strollers as if they’re about to blast off to Alpha Centuri? I’m not convinced.

So take a look around, and join in this re-examination of modern day childrearing. And if you’d like to hear more, please sign up for our mailing list, over there on the left. I promise not to share it with anyone.

Welcome to a new way of parenting…that just happens to be the  old way of parenting. – Lenore  


Hello, Free Rangers —

This is just a note to say that on Monday, Sept. 29, I’ll be on Dr. Phil discussing this whole issue.  If you tune in, you’ll see that it’s about “Extreme Moms.” Naturally, I don’t think I’m extreme. I think letting kids walk to school, ride their bikes or go to a friend’s home without treating it like a trek across Siberia (or Liberia) is a good and normal thing to do. Even a wholesome, old-fashioned thing to do. But anyway – the show was really deep and surprising, as was Dr. Phil. You’ll see! And then I’d love to hear your thoughts. – Lenore


Not that I want this to be a Great Depression. I hope it’s not. But if it is, I see kids emerging from their dens when their X-Boxes break and their parents can’t afford to replace them. I see kids dropping out of travel soccer, when their parents can’t afford the gas. I see kids figuring out how to retool their bikes and skates and maybe even their MP3 players when their parents can’t immediately buy them the newest, niftiest models.

In other words, I see fancy toys and vacations and enrichment classes falling away. And the only thing left is…childhood.

And the only things left to play with are…other kids.

And sticks.

I know I have a tendency to romanticize the past — not to mention poverty. (And sticks.) And I suspect that for all the heady joy of feeling “grown up” and responsible, helping the family pick peaches in Salinas, California might not have been quite as fulfilling as it looked to a suburban girl reading “The Grapes of Wrath” on the patio while her dad grilled skirt steaks on the hibachi. (Thanks, Dad!)

Still, it can be argued that affluence has been really miserable for our kids. Easy money — or easy enough money — bought them all the stuff they used to make and do on their own. Professionally built tree houses. Batting practice overseen by a private coach. Dance recitals with real roses and expensive costumes and a slick DVD at the end. Kids have been treated like grown-ups on a cruise: Only the best, let-us-do-it-for-you,  oh my, just three lessons and already you are a pro!

For grown-ups, a cruise can be a nice interlude — a fantasy time of pampering and luxury. But for kids, when pampering becomes part of everyday life, it’s a drain. Having Beauty Home Contractors build your tree house is about as fulfilling as having Beauty Home Contractors run a race for you, or steal your first kiss. These are things kids should be doing on their own: working, failing, fearing, falling, and eventually, in some manner, succeeding, even if the tree house ends up half the size and twice as rickety as Beauty Home would have made it.

Same goes for fancy dance recitals, girls. If you always wait for the class and the videographer, you’re going to missing a lot of fun.

So while I don’t want all our 401ks to dry up, and I really don’t want my kids to have to pick peaches for a living (although when the Joads fried dough for dinner, it always sounded delicious), there could be a silver lining to a worldwide financial meltdown.

Or if not silver, maybe plywood. And that’s good, too.

                                   — Lenore



Now that school’s back in session – which, by the way, is how absolutely every parenting article that runs in September must begin, by law – but anyway, now that school’s back in session, you may be wondering: Dare my children walk there? Without me holding their hands and screaming at cars making left turns, I mean?

And the answer is probably yes. With some caveats.

The biggest caveat is that you first have to teach your children how to walk anyplace safely. That means teaching them about looking both ways, about walking “defensively,” and about the fact that they are (this may come as a shock to them) small. My kids are sick of my harping on this, but transportation geeks assure me I must make them keenly aware that they cannot trust cars to see THEM. THEY must look out for cars. It’s also good if they can walk with a friend.

Here in my burg, New York, New York, the city actually sends pedestrian safety instructors out to all the public schools in grades two or three.  That means 3rd grade must be a pretty reasonable age for kids to start walking on their own, right?

It probably is. But, in truth, I didn’t let my younger  son start walking solo till 4th grade (and his brother didn’t go it alone till 5th or 6th, because he was always with his baby brother and me). Third grade didn’t seem right. So you could say it’s just another one of those “go with your gut” issues.

But not totally. Because our guts are a little too timid these days.

In 1969, 42% of kids walked or biked to school. Today only 16% do. Some of that is because suburbs have spread out so much, the distance is too far, or the sidewalks don’t exist. But plenty is because what we once considered safe and normal we now consider risky and terrifying. Scroll down far enough in this blog and you’ll find a letter from a woman who can SEE HER SON’S SCHOOL OUT HER WINDOW and yet her neighbors yelled at her for not personally walking him over. And so many moms pick their kids up from the bus stop these days, it’s like they’re raising kobe beef.

Bottom line: If your child is 8 or so, he or she probably can walk to school without you, unless the route is far more treacherous than the one you trod so long ago. Remember? I’m talking about back when your mom, who loved you just as much as you love your kids, waved goodbye and was willing to let you go.


Not Really Interested

By Denise Gonzalez-Walker

DJ, my 10 year-old, stood in the middle of his classmates, rigid and then sinking quickly to the soft grass. His eyes rolled back as he fell and he let out a sharp whimper.

Sitting with a small group of moms, I watched the game from one side of the playfield. By the end, all the kids were happily writhing around on the grass.

“Have you ever thought about enrolling DJ in acting classes?” the mom next to me asked out of the blue. Her own daughter, DJ’s classmate, was deeply involved in acting and performed in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker. The mom continued eyeing DJ. “He’s good at acting, you know.” The other women agreed.

A few days later, it was The Grandmother nagging me. “I think DJ would make a good actor. Have you ever asked him whether he wants to take acting lessons?”

I had not. But after hearing about his natural talent from several people, I became convinced that DJ should start acting lessons right away. Perhaps it’s my competitive streak, or perhaps that crazy maternal desire that someday my kid could be Somebody — the same desire that drives moms to tart up their 3-year-olds for beauty pageants, or fly their surly tweens across the country for elite sports competitions.

That night, I told DJ about what the others had said and enthusiastically asked, “Would you like to take some acting classes?”

“No,” he replied, “I’m not really interested in that.”

I felt like whapping him across the head. What kind of kid is not really interested in being in the spotlight? Even no-talent adults clamor for the opportunity to embarrass themselves on reality TV shows or, even worse, on YouTube. And here’s a kid with talent, but no desire to pursue stardom?

For me, this embodies the most difficult challenge of Free Range parenting — giving my son the freedom to choose his extracurricular interests. With the exception of swimming lessons, which I insisted that he take despite his protests, DJ has been allowed to decide what activities he does. And because he generally abhors busy schedules and has no desire to participate in competitive sports, his activity list is relatively anemic compared to his friends’.

It makes me worry about whether I should more actively “guide” DJ’s interests. In my mind, I picture him as a middle-aged man, shaking his fist at the TV and saying, “If only my mom had forced me to take those acting lessons!”

Trusting your kid to find his way to the park is one thing, but how about trusting him to find the path to his passions? It’s another Free Range challenge. A hard one.