Welcome readers of the New York Times, New York Post and National Post — Free-Range Kids is happy to see you! Here are the articles you may have seen in your papers: The New York Times: Why Can’t She Walk to School?. The New York Post: Childhood Stalled (about moms dragging big boys into the little girls room). And the National Post Q & A with me.
Why all the press? Because Free-Range Kids is a movement whose time has come. We are a growing group of people who believe that when kids are allowed — expected! — to play outside, help out around the house and wrestle their way out of boredom, they grow up confident and happy. Instead of trying to Botox them full of self-esteem with trophies for losing, they get it the old-fashioned way — by actually doing stuff on their own.
That’s why it’s called “self-esteem.” Not “parent-assisted esteem.”
Naturally, all of us want to help our kids, all of us want to keep our kids safe. But only recently has “good parenting” become synonymous with “constant hovering.” Why do we think kids suddenly need that? Our children are just as competent as we were. If we could organize a kickball game, they can organize a kickball game. If we could walk to school, they can walk to school. And though it feels very hard to believe, our kids are just as safe as we were, too. Safer, actually, if you grew up in the ’70s or ’80s. Crime was going up during those years and it peaked in about 1993. Since then it has been plummeting — and not because we’re keeping kids inside. ALL VIOLENT CRIME is down in the States — including against adults. It is just a safer country, crime-wise, than it was when we were growing up.
It FEELS less safe thanks to a daily diet of child abductions on shows like CSI, and an unsatiable appetite for those same stories –whether in California or Aruba or Portugal — on CNN. On TV, kids are abducted 24/7. But as someone who once wrote to this website pointed out: If a Martian came to earth and asked, “What is life like down here?” we could answer: “Well, do you want to know how 99.99% of people live, or would you like to hear about the other .01% ?” Chances are, he (it?) would say, “The 99.99%.” But when we watch TV — especially the news — we hear about the .01%. Then we turn it off and say, “What an awful world.”
We don’t have to think that way. Kids who get a chance to make their way in the world are doing what children have done since the dawn of time: Growing up, rather than being stunted. Colleges refer to a whole new breed of incoming students as “teacups” — students incredibly fragile, because they were kept inside all the time and handled delicately, like fine china. They’re lovely. But they break really easily.
Free-Range Kids are old-fashioned kids with sun on their faces, dirt on their pants and a story to tell instead of another trophy for showing up. They are confident, happy and ready to take on the world.
Okay, sometimes they are still glued to their video games. Or texting. God, how they text! But at least they know there is more to life than a screen and they even know how to have fun without one. Some of them even know how to make their own lunch. So thanks for joining us! The childhood you save may be your own kid’s. — Lenore
P.S. I will be speaking at the Brooklyn Book Fair today at 11. It’s at Boro Hall. If you’re around, say hi!