Ahem. On “The View” on Friday, Not Today

Got bumped to Friday, so I thought I’d let you know. Now go back to reading the posts below, which are a little more meaty. Thanks — Lenore

Responding to: “If You’re Free-Range, You’re Irresponsible”

Hi, Free-Rangers! Leaving behind the topics of politics, feminism, environmentalism and all that, here is a comment from a few posts back:

“I work in law enforcement in the child predator unit in a mid-size city. Kids meeting people on the Internet is the tip of the iceberg. It doesn’t sound like anyone here has any idea of the extent that perpetrators use new technologies to victimize. I won’t “bore” you with details since you don’t think this stuff can happen to you anyway. No one does.

“But it is kind of sad to me to see how proud people are to wave off their responsibilities to keep their kids in check.”

I’d like to respond. And I will!

First of all, I don’t know of any Free-Range parent who is “proud” to wave off the responsibilities of parenting. Free-Range is not about negligence or sloth (well, maybe a teeny bit of sloth, but is that so terrible?). It’s about trying to assess reality and figure out whether the world has really become so much more dangerous in just one generation (since those carefree days of the Cold War) that children cannot be afforded the same kind of freedom we had.

Our parents granted us this simple freedom not because they were lazy or neglectful, but because they didn’t think absolutely everything, from using a plastic drinking cup to selling Girl Scout cookies without an adult escort, was so dreadfully dangerous. They also saw some worth to having their kids learn how to navigate the world.

Free-Range parents may harbor a certain nostalgia for simpler times. It’s hard not to, when just 20 years ago you could be toasting marshmallows and nobody would be simultaneously talking on their cell, or dowloading videos, God help us, sexting. Fewer marshmallows shriveled into black nothingness.

Fewer weekends, too.

But beyond that stabbing feeling of loss, which could just be age, there is also a hard-nosed anger at all the fear that is being dumped on us. Some of the dumpers are well-meaning, but some are sneering blamers who refuse to accept the fact that children are not more threatened today. The crime rate is back to what it was around 1970. After that it climbed till 1993 and has been declining ever since, according to hardnosed numbers from the Department of Justice. So if you were a child anytime after Nixon resigned, the crime rate is actually lower now than when you were a kid. (So, for that matter, is infant mortality – four times lower than when I was born.)

As for the supposedly heightened danger presented by the Internet, I must refer to my own piece in yesterday’s Daily Beast, “The Myth of Online Predators.”   Pedophiles are not combing MySpace or Facebook for victims any more than they are calling random numbers out of the phone book and trying to get a date. It’s a technique that doesn’t work and they know it – and that is according to head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center. So the idea that any child online is easy pickin’s for perverts is just wrong.

I’m going to assume the law enforcement fellow who wrote to this site was well-meaning. He thinks he is giving us a wonderful gift: A little more ice-cold terror where our kids are concerned.

But it is a gift I’m returning. It’s useless, it’s ugly and I already have about a million.

– Lenore

Couldn’t Have Said It Better Myself!

So I didn’t. I’m simply reprinting this great comment here, to share with all and sundry. There is so much to chew on  and a whole lot of insight.  Thank you, commenter Lloyd Gray, whoever and wherever you are! (He wrote this under the post about the mom who let her son walk to soccer and got slammed by the police.)

“There has been a concurrent rise in concerns about automobile crash survival (read: airbags and SUV’s), and municipal water (bottled water being sold in places where what comes out of the tap is not only safer than the bottled stuff, but tastes fine as well) .

“We, as a society, have decided to embrace all fears, and protect against them equally. The issue is twofold: the inability to do reasonable risk assessment on one hand, and the ability to pay for increased levels of vigilance on the other. Where they meet is our current society: people who pay for stuff they don’t need to avoid doing risk assessment, and to avoid upsetting peer standards. The question is, ‘Who benefits?’

“With SUV’s and bottled water, the answer is obvious: corporate interests (with SUV’s, selling high profit, inefficient vehicles; with bottled water, selling something that 10 years ago was essentially free).

“I think Free-ranging your kids is also a feminist issue(and I say this as a man who was a stay at home parent until my son was in grade one). Every one of these articles (that I have seen) has been about a MOTHER allowing her child to do something which someone else decided could put the child at risk. It is about increasing the burden on women: of denying their right, and fitness, to make judgments about their children’s abilities; making supervision of children an onerous full-time occupation(or at least a MORE onerous one). It is about creating artificially high standards as a salve to couples who have two careers and have to pay for care. 

“This is a political issue, and it’s about much more than the security of children. It’s about how our society allocates it’s resources, and about how corporations encourage fears and capitalize on them. It is all the more interesting as we move from a period of unmatched prosperity and uncontrolled consumption to the era of financial uncertainty, peak oil,  and global warming.

“In the 1940’s our parents went through World War 2 and the horrors and deprivations it brought. Genocide, displaced populations(if you’re a European reader), military service and the potential of death or disability, food and gas rationing, and the reduction of access to consumer goods. Yet we are told not to accept the tiny actuarial risk of traveling in a small car or allowing our child to walk to school by himself.

“Over the next few years, the costs of these choices will come into true perspective, and perhaps we’ll see change. To summarize: Free-ranging your child is a political act. It’s green, it’s anti-corporate, and it’s feminist. Those who are against it have an agenda, and I’m pretty certain it’s different from mine (and, with any luck, yours).”

“Free-Range Kids” Book Published Today!

Hello, Free-Rangers!

My book is officially out today and I’m delighted to say the media is taking notice. If you’d like to see some of the upshot, here’s the chat I got to do on the Washington Post parenting blog this morn.

And here’s a lovely interview about Free-Range (or not) toddlers on Cafe Mom and a perky podcast from MojoMom.com!

Meantime, New Yorkers can hear me tomorrow (Tuesday) on the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC at 10:40 a.m. (That’s 820 on your am dial, or online at http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/.)

And — yikes — I’ll be on The View on FRIDAY (not Thursday as originally announced)  at 11 a.m. Eastern Time.

Did I mention yikes?


“Free-Range” Live Chat on Washington Post on Monday Morn

Hi, Free-Rangers! I wrote that headline as if I’m so used to “live chats.” As if this is something I do all the time. In truth, this is my first and I have no idea what it’ll be like. But if YOU know what I’m getting myself into and would like to join in, here is the URL:


I’ll be on from 11 a.m. – noon, Eastern Standard Time, on Monday. Somehow answering questions. If I figure out the techonology. I do thank the Post’s parenting blogger, Stacey Garfinkle, for this opportunity.

I just hope it works.

You can submit questions and comments during the chat or ahead of time, if you’d like. Even now. Meantime, have a lovely rest of your weekend! (Not worrying about YOUR live chat.) L.

Mothering vs. Smothering

Here’s what Psychology Today’s Susan Newman has to say on the smothering issue:  http://tinyurl.com/dcssf3

And here’s what I have to say: I really don’t believe that kids who are overprotected will all end up crippled with incompetence and fear when they grow up. In a way, that’s too bad, because it would probably be great for my book sales: Raise your kids “Free-Range” or forget it! They’ll be living in your guest room till they’re 60! And they STILL won’t make their beds.

But really, the reason I believe in raising kids Free-Range is this: They only get one childhood, and childhood’s magic words are these: “I did it myself.”

As in, “I rode without the training wheels!” Not, “I rode with mommy holding onto the back of my bike in case I fell!”

Equally exhilarating: I made dinner! I found this cool rock on my way to school! I bought a Father’s Day present with the money I got from babysitting! 

Take away all those opportunities, and kids are deprived. Not deprived of the things we can buy them — lessons and toys and the trophies they get for showing up for soccer. Deprived of adventures and self-confidence and responsibility, the Wonder Bread of childhood — the stuff they grow up on. (Imagine it as whole wheat Wonder Bread if that helps.)

Free-Range parents also get something out of the deal: A life not slavishly devoted to doing things 24/7 for their kids. Not that Free Rangers are slackers (well, maybe a little bit…). But is it necessary to drive our kids to the bus stop every morning? No. Not for safety’s sake. (Our crime rate is back to what it was in 1970.) Not because this new generation  melts in the rain.  And not because bus stops have somehow crept further from home.  So why spend every morning there, silently teaching our kids that they couldn’t possibly do this simple thing on their own? Free-Range parents know that not everything in childhood is so dangerous or difficult that it requires constant parental presence.

Some days I walk my younger son to school. (Yes, the boy who took the subway.) Some days I don’t. When we walk together, I find myself saying things  like, “LOOK UP!  THAT IS A CAR! WATCH OUT!” I grab his pre-teen hand. A little smothering, if you will.

But on the days he goes by himself, I don’t think that  he’ll feel abandonned or be snatched or forget to look both ways before crossing the street. Free-Range folks believe in their kids’ resourcefulness,  in the basic decency of most strangers, and in their own parenting abilities. 

How’s that for a radical approach to childrearing? “Give your kids some freedom, give them some hugs, and don’t worry so much about the perfect smothering/mothering ratio. The end.”

Mom Orders Bickering Kids Out of Car — Ruining Them for Life?

Yowza. A mom fed up with her bickering daughters, age 10 and 12, ordered them out of the car in the downtown district of an upscale suburb, White Plains, New York. Then she drove off. They were three miles from home.

One kid made it home on her own. The other was picked up by a Good Samaritan who found her outside, upset. Now the mom has been arrested. There’s a temporary order of protection against her. And, of course, at least one psychologist has already been found and quoted by the press, warning of the deep and lasting scars that mom has inflicted on her kids.

 Now, listen, I have no doubt that those kids will remember this incident for the rest of their lives. I have no doubt the mom will remember it, too. But can we give kids – and parents – a little bit of credit for resilience? The idea that a bad day, even a scary awful day, means a child is scarred for life just means that every day in every way we could be ruining our kids forever. God forbid we do or say something stupid, the gig is up. Our kids are damaged goods, the human equivalent of those dented cans of pineapple you get at the 99-store. (Or at least that I get at the 99-cent store. Is this why no one comes for dinner?)

 Naturally, I do not think that this mom handled her kids in a truly optimal way. But most of us have days when we don’t. That doesn’t make us criminal parents. It makes us human parents. And kids are built to live with humans, not Robo-Mamas.

 It was not physical abuse, which I don’t condone. It was not even particularly dangerous, though parents who never let their kids out of their sight will argue otherwise. What it was was a dramatic gesture – a wigged out one, indeed – but I could see myself, some day, doing something just about as dramatic. One night I was so mad my tween-age son hadn’t taken out the garbage after being asked 18 times (at least) that I said, “I’m going to scream.” And then I did. Bloody murder.

He cried hysterically for about a half hour after that, he was so shaken. So was I.

Tonight I’m sure the White Plains mom is shaken to the core. I’m sure the kids are too, especially if they think now mommy is going to Sing Sing all because they were fighting in the back seat about who was hogging the arm rest or breathing too loud. But I’m also sure that this alone is no reason to lock the mom up. The kids will be okay after some hugs, an apology from mom and also an apology from the girls for being annoying enough to drive mom up the wall.

 I know, I know. Kids are supposed to be blameless. Parents are supposed to be in perfect control all the time. And it is so fun to point fingers when they’re not.

But let’s just say no one’s perfect, and dropping your kids off in a suburban shopping district and expecting them to deal is not the same as driving them into the Mojave and leaving them with a half-filled bottle of Vitamin Water.

We all have our moments. Let’s assume children and parents both can get over them, maybe even learn from them, and then go on to live decent lives. — Lenore

Mom Who Let Son Walk to Soccer Gets Slammed in Local Paper

You may recall that a couple weeks ago a mom in small town Mississippi, Lori LeVar Pierce, let her 10-year-old walk a third of a mile to his soccer practice by himself. Or she would have let him, that is, except he got picked up by the police a few blocks in.

The cop drove him the rest of the way, to ensure he wasn’t abducted and murdered. Then the cop waited for Lori to show up (that’s how responsible she is! She was meeting her son there 15 minutes later!) so he could tell her what a dangerous, crazy, maybe even criminal thing she had done, and how the police  had received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about a boy dangerously on his own on that sunny afternoon.

I sure hope these people never watch “Lassie.” They’d die of fright.

Some reporters in Canada and Holland picked up the story, as did the local paper. (The Internet is an amazing thing.) Then that local paper, The Commercial Dispatch, ran an editorial about the whole issue.

You might think the editorial writers would praise a woman for bucking the hysteria that imagines a predator on every block. But that would involve editorial writers who did not buy into the hysteria, whole hog.

Here’s what they wrote. (And here’s the URL: http://www.cdispatch.com/opinions/article.asp?aid=800 )

                                                          WALKING LESSONS

Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone.

While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now. The days of Andy Griffith’s Mayberry and “Leave it to Beaver” are gone, if they indeed ever really existed. As Yogi Berra (supposedly) said, “nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”

This longing for simpler times was front and center in a story in Monday’s Dispatch (“The walk felt ’round the world,” Page 1A). A mother had let her 10-year-old son walk alone a half mile through Columbus to soccer practice. Several people, seeing the child walking alone, called 911. The mother took a browbeating from a police officer who responded to the calls.

The story was picked up by international media outlets, who took up the fundamental question: Aren’t small-town America’s streets safe enough for a child to walk them alone?

According to Columbus Police Chief Joseph St. John, yes, they are.

But on the same token, just because a child can do it, and a parent can allow it, should they?

We, and most parents, would say, not always.

While incredibly rare, the specter of child abduction looms heavy on most parents’ minds, even in a relatively small town like Columbus. Stories like the recent one out of Starkville, where a suspected (and currently at-large) child predator allegedly harassed children at a city elementary school, seem to appear in news pages too often.

There are also traffic concerns, especially on streets with no sidewalks – no matter the pedestrian’s age. The street in this case was a particularily trecherous (for pedestrians) stretch of 18th Avenue North leading up the hill from Seventh Street toward Military Road.

The actions of the police officer notwithstanding, we’d like to think that this was an example of a positive aspect of small-town life, that the 911 calls were rooted in a genuine concern for a lone child.

If this episode and the resulting media exposure makes parents consider their children’s safety, it will have been a good thing.

And, as one soccer sideline parent told another Monday evening, with all the obiesity confronting us today, maybe parents should walk with their children to school and sports practice.”

 The parts that drove me nuttiest were the INEVITABLE, “If this episode…makes parents reconsider their children’s safety…:” As if, without baseless warnings like this, parents just wouldn’t worry enough? As if parents need more fearmongering so they can stop trusting their own eyes and ears — and POLICE CHIEF —  which suggest their town is safe, and trust a “What if???” editorial instead.

Also: if there are traffic concerns, shouldn’t the paper – the voice of the town – rally for sidewalks, rather than rallying for cooping kids up inside?

And who decided there’s no Mayberry anymore? Unsupported articles like this one, that admit that nothing happened, no one was hurt, but that’s no reason not to be afraid. Be very afraid of your scary, scary town where nothing bad happened. (And the police are watching out!)

I will run Lori LeVar Pierce’s wonderful response to this editorial in a day or so. Meantime, be very afraid…of baseless hysteria. — Lenore

Susan Boyle (is not mentioned here, except in the headline)

I like her, too. But this post is about THE Post. The New York Post. I’ve got a column in there today about Free-Range parenting, and here  it is.

Enjoy! — L.

Lessons From a Pine Cone (and, okay, a blog)

My kids have never gone to overnight/sleepaway camp, but I really like this blog  from a camp out west. The camp director (or someone!) sent it to me thinking the “Top 10 Things I’ve Learned as a Summer Camp Professional that Make Me a Better Parent” entry would be right up my alley. It is. I particularly like part of lesson 8, about how to resolve conflicts:

A great technique for getting a kid to talk is to MOVE. Children, especially boys, can have a hard time expressing their feelings if they feel like an adult is standing there, waiting for an answer, and “pressuring” them to say something. If you can remove the child from the situation and go for a walk (ideally outdoors), the questions you ask may elicit more than the standard, “I dunno” answers.

Great advice. But anyway, then I scrolled down to the post beneath that one, which turned out to be all about how a bunch of 5th graders came up with – sit down! – their own game. The game has something to do with hitting pine cones into a hole and each pine cone is worth so many points and you get so many tries to hit them, and on and on. But the blogger’s point (and now mine) is that it is so lovely when kids invent their own games. And so rare that it needs to be celebrated.

Kids need free time or they can’t invent their own games, rules, worlds. That kind of inventing is as valuable a childhood activity as any I can think of.

My boys certainly have some after school activities, of course. I’m an American! But once I started researching “free play” for my book, I let them drop out of some, too. Goodbye piano! Goodbye electric guitar!

I still feel a little guilty (sometimes more than a little) about that. But aside from the personal joy of no longer having to nag them about practicing, it just became obvious that there is something just as enriching as extra class time and that is… extra free time. Learning to be resourceful without a teacher, parent or coach telling you what to do next.

So here’s to the weekend ahead of us all. May it be filled with nice things – in part by being not filled with too, too much.   — Lenore