There’s Hope for Mayberry Yet!

Hi Folks! Talk about a beacon of hope.  A Hollywood ending! Success! Get this:

As you may recall, a few years back, a mom from small-town Mississippi wrote to this blog in a quandry. After teaching her 10-year-old son the route to soccer, she’d let him walk there — less than a mile — by himself. On that first time out, a cop picked him up, scolded it wasn’t safe, and tracked down the mom. He told her  he’d received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about the boy and that he could book her for “child endangerment.”

That mom was Lori LeVar Pierce, and that day marked a turning point. Instead of cowering in fear, she called the chief of police and asked if the town was really so dangerous a kid couldn’t walk to soccer. The chief said it was very safe and apologized for the cop’s actions. But mere facts did not calm the local paper. As it wrote in an editorial:

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.

Yeah, in large part because fearmongering media bashed them over the head.

But some people have decided not to listen to doomsday blathering anymore. Lori, for instance, became twice as determined to have her kids play outside after the  cop incident, and thus saw for herself  what her town really lacked. Sidewalks! She became an activist and  now there are sidewalks all around town, thanks to her.

But that’s not all. As of last week, even the local PAPER is changing! Check out this Jan. 25 editorial:

…we, as a community, need to use more discretion when calling 911. It seems we’ve all gotten paranoid.

If there are teenagers you don’t know walking down the street, they might just be kids taking a stroll. And odds are, if you spend much time outside or looking out of the window, you’re going to see an unfamiliar car.

Pay attention. Look out for yourself and your neighbors. But don’t always rush to call the law.

We should feel safe in our own neighborhoods, and the police play a major role in that. But they shouldn’t have to console us every time we have unsubstantiated fears. It wastes their time and our money.

Don’t give in to unsubstantiated fears? Expect to see children strolling down the street? Get to know your neighbors? Darned if Columbus, Mississippi isn’t going…Free-Range!

If a town that told its citizens “This isn’t Mayberry” back in 2009 is telling them that kids can and should be walking down the street in 2012, I gotta say: Columbus, you rock! It takes courage to reject fear.  So hi from your new friend in New York City, and hi also to Lori, who got the ball rolling…and the kids outside. — Lenore

Let's hear it for a little street life!

Remember Leiby Thru “Acts of Lovingkindness” — Statement By His Parents

Hello, Readers: This is a wonderful thing, this statement by Leiby’s parents, asking the world to remember him by doing good deeds for each other. It doesn’t mention anything about distrusting strangers or men or the  “crazy world” we live in, it is about bringing us together, not apart. Bless them and their son’s memory.  – L

Let’s Hear it for Parents Magazine– And Some of Its Commenters!

Hi Readers — Usually I flip through parenting magazines and am amazed by all the items, activities, foods and basic childhood rites of passage they find dangerous (and possibly deadly). But kudos to Parents Mag for this lovely little blog post about Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day — which is coming up this Saturday.

The tone is receptive, open and calming. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Of course, there are some comments along the lines of, “This is absurd!” and, “Life isn’t the way it was when WE were kids,” and, “It’s easy to push for ‘Free Range Kids’ based on statistics but that means shit when YOU become PART of those statistics.” But get a load of some of the wonderful counter-comments:

Right, our world isn’t like when we were kids. It’s significantly safer.

Also: Why doesn’t the fear of the Unknown Other Driver keep you from driving your children anywhere? I mean, you can look at all the automobile-safety statistics in the world, but that means shit when YOU get hit and YOUR CHILD gets injured, right?

Nah, that’d just be ridiculous, to live your life afraid of something so unlikely as a car crash.


Good gracious! The point is not for the kids to hang out in singles. The idea is for them to hang out together! My oldest child would be so happy if other parents would let their kids out of their living rooms and into their yards. He would love to throw a ball around with some other kid at the park.

I won’t live my life in fear. I won’t let my kid live that way. Do I want to teach my child how to make independent decisions? I do. Do I want him to feel trusted? I do. Do I worry about becoming a statistic? Sure do. But I truly believe my kid should be a kid! (The first day we let him ride his bike to the park by himself – he went there and back 10 times. He was so happy. And nothing untoward happened.)

And, finally:

It is just so sad that parents (like many above) have such fear of the world that they can’t let their kids out of their sight. My son, 8, is already allowed to play outside by himself, ride his bike around the neighborhood, stay at a park by himself, etc….and he’s autistic. And before you think we live in some tiny little po-dunk town, we don’t. We live in a major suburb/city in the Bay Area in California. Without the opportunity to be on his own, how will he learn to negotiate conflict with other kids? How will be learn to wait his turn for the tire swing? How will be learn to trust his gut instincts that something’s going down that he should not be a part of? How will he learn that falling off his bike and getting a scraped knee isn’t the end of the world? He won’t. Unless he is given free reign (or range :P) to experience and learn and grown on his own. Kudos to Lenore and all the other Free Range parents out there that are letting their kids be just that…kids.

Welcome, Parents and Parents readers, to Free-Range Kids! — L.

The Babyproofing Industrial Complex

Hi Readers — Here’s a New York Times piece about a reporter’s adventures in babyproofing. She sort of laments the idea that parents hire pricey professional babyproofers as a way to feel “officially” safe.

I’d go a step further and say that in addition to safety, what parents are really hiring the babyproofers for  is insurance against guilt, should a household accident actually occur. In our blame-crazed culture, we know that no one believes in “accidents” or “fate” anymore. Anything bad that happens to a child is ALL THE PARENT’S FAULT. Hire a babyproofer and no it’s not. Whew! — Lenore

Experts agree: Do not store farm equipment in nursery. PHOTO: Darren Copley.

“Can These Parents Be Saved?” asks TIME Magazine Cover Story

Hi Readers — Wow. This is my dream article, and (perhaps) not just because it is high on Free-Range Kids! Check it out! Yay, Time! And please allow me to quote a part I find particularly salient:

Obsessing about kids’ safety and success became the norm, a kind of orthodoxy took hold, and heaven help the heretics — the ones who were brave enough to let their kids venture outside without Secret Service protection. Just ask Lenore Skenazy, who to this day, when you Google “America’s Worst Mom,” fills the first few pages of results — all because one day last year she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone. A newspaper column she wrote about it somehow ignited a global firestorm over what constitutes reasonable risk. She had reporters calling from China, Israel, Australia, Malta. (“Malta! An island!” she marvels. “Who’s stalking the kids there? Pirates?”) Skenazy decided to fight back, arguing that we have lost our ability to assess risk. By worrying about the wrong things, we do actual damage to our children, raising them to be anxious and unadventurous or, as she puts it, “hothouse, mama-tied, danger-hallucinating joy extinguishers.”

Skenazy, a Yale-educated mom who with her husband is raising two boys in New York City, had ingested all the same messages as the rest of us. Her sons’ school once held a pre-field-trip assembly explaining exactly how close to a hospital the children would be at all times. She confesses to being “at least part Sikorsky,” hiring a football coach for a son’s birthday and handing out mouth guards as party favors. But when the Today show had her on the air to discuss her subway decision, interviewer Ann Curry turned to the camera and asked, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”

From that day and the food fight that followed, she launched her Free Range Kids blog, which eventually turned into her own Dangerous Book for Parents: Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. There is no rational reason, she argues, that a generation of parents who grew up walking alone to school, riding mass transit, trick-or-treating, teeter-tottering and selling Girl Scout cookies door to door should be forbidding their kids to do the same. But somehow, she says, “10 is the new 2. We’re infantilizing our kids into incompetence.” She celebrates seat belts and car seats and bike helmets and all the rational advances in child safety. It’s the irrational responses that make her crazy, like when Dear Abby endorses the idea, as she did in August, that each morning before their kids leave the house, parents take a picture of them. That way, if they are kidnapped, the police will have a fresh photo showing what clothes they were wearing. Once the kids make it home safe and sound, you can delete the picture and take a new one the next morning.

That advice may seem perfectly sensible to parents bombarded by heartbreaking news stories about missing little girls and the predator next door. But too many parents, says Skenazy, have the math all wrong. Refusing to vaccinate your children, as millions now threaten to do in the case of the swine flu, is statistically reckless; on the other hand, there are no reports of a child ever being poisoned by a stranger handing out tainted Halloween candy, and the odds of being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are about 1 in 1.5 million. When parents confront you with “How can you let him go to the store alone?,” she suggests countering with “How can you let him visit your relatives?” (Some 80% of kids who are molested are victims of friends or relatives.) Or ride in the car with you? (More than 430,000 kids were injured in motor vehicles last year.) “I’m not saying that there is no danger in the world or that we shouldn’t be prepared,” she says. “But there is good and bad luck and fate and things beyond our ability to change. The way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources.” Besides, she says with a smile, “a 100%-safe world is not only impossible. It’s nowhere you’d want to be.”

Let’s say it again: Hooray for Time Magazine! The tide is turning! — Lenore

Zingers Needed

Hi Folks! I know, I know — I should have a million by now: Stunning repostes with which to parry fearmongers, who always have “rigtheousness” on their side, as if THEY care and WE don’t. (E.g., “But even if we save ONE LIFE isn’t it worth it?” — a very hard line to respond to without sounding heartless.) Anyway, the fact is: I could always use some more.

Over the weekend I was being interviewed by a radio talk show host who brought up Jaycee Dugard (of course). I said I hoped that parents would not use this incredibly sad but a literally once-in-18-years story to determine how much independence they give their children, and that it doesn’t make sense to try to make a very unlikely event very unlikely because it already is!

The host cut me off, saying, “We hear about abductions EVERY DAY! Don’t tell me they’re not happening more than ever!” And my statistics — which I am endlessly quoting here — simply fell on deaf ears. Like the fact that a child is 40 times more likely to be killed as a car passenger than by a kidnapper — but we still put them in cars. Like the fact there was more crime against adults and kids in the 70s and 80s than there is today (according to actual Bureau of Justice statistics). Like the fact that even the head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said, as I quote him in my book, “Our message to parents is you don’t have to feel you have to lock your children in a room.” Kids who make their way in the world are more CONFIDENT and confident kids are SAFER! They stand up for themselves!

Anyway, as I said, those didn’t get me very far, or at least not as far as I’d like. So — any other zingers you can come up with to explain why ferrying our children down the driveway to wait in the car for the school bus doesn’t really make them any safer, and, in fact, turns them into timid kids without much common sense? Any arguments that make people realize raising a Free-Range Kid isn’t, “La-di-dah,” parenting but in fact, as someone here once put it, “Independence training”? Love to hear ’em! Love to use ’em! Thanks very much. — Lenore

Controversy of the Day: Pool or Pond?

Hi Readers — Today’s New York Times has a really great piece about a town in New Jersey whose sand-bottomed, spring-water filled swimming hole has been the joy of local kids since 1929. Until, of course, today.

Now half the residents want to fill the pond in and replace it with a standard concrete pool, making it easier to watch their children. The other half say this is helicopter parenting taken to extremes. The pro-pool people cite the death of a 14-year-old last year — the third drowning in 80 years — as proof that the swmming hole is unsafe. Personally, I’m terrified of drowning and feel terrible for this boy and his family, but are 3 deaths in 80 years proof that something is unsafe…or proof that something is actually quite safe: One death every generation?

Anyway, I figured this was something we’d like to discuss. And if you’re off at a Labor Day picnic, splashing in some sweet body of water somewhere, all I can say is: I’m jealous. (And stay safe!)  — Lenore

Free-Range Friend’s Cartoon!

Hi Readers! My friend Bob Eckstein, a cartoonist for The New Yorker (la-di-dah!), came up with this Free-Range Cartoon: a plea for a little less parental intrusion.

Besides being a whole-hearted supporter of this site, Bob has his own obsession. Snowmen. Yes, really — he is the first and only person to study their history. Did you know, for instance, that in pre-printing press Europe, snowmen were the editorials of their day? A wag might erect a prostitute snow-woman, for instance, in front of the mayor’s house, as a way of hinting at certain improprieties. The perp remained anonymous and his “crime” would melt, so it was just about the best way to get a point across without getting hanged. Anyway, Bob has a  fantastic website devoted to all things snowmen and here it is. Enjoy!

eckstein north korea cartoon

Super-Involved AND Free-Range??

Hi Readers! Here’s an interesting angle on Free-Ranging, brought to us by Kathy Seal. Kathy is a journalist in Santa Monica and co-author of  Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child  and Motivated Minds: Raising Children. Her websites are and Voila:


Ok, I’m gonna say something controversial: You can’t be too involved with your child.

You heard me right. Tons of gold-standard research shows that the more you’re involved with your kids –be they toddlers or teens — the better it is for them. And that doesn’t contradict my dear friend Lenore here one bit, because you can be involved without trampling on your kid’s feelings of independence and competence.

How? All you have to do is respect your child’s autonomy.   That’s what’ll prevent you from becoming one of those cringe-inducing helicopter parents. So what’s autonomy anyway?

It’s the feeling of initiating an action. It’s the opposite of feeling controlled by someone else. When kids — and all human beings — feel that what they do is self-initiated, they’re happier.   They also perform better, because the enjoyment motivates them to study or practice more.

Maybe you think there’s something icky about being highly involved with your kids. Like, it means you don’t have your own life, or you’re pushing them to achieve what you didn’t.  I hear you! Nobody wants to be involved like that.  So let’s define our kind of involvement as “support.”  Because a mountain of research has found that the more we support our children, the happier they are and the more they achieve. And it helps them feel secure and solidly connected to us, too.

My co-author, Clark University psychologist Wendy Grolnick, did a study of mothers of   elementary school children. The more involved the moms were with their kids — that is, the more time they spent with them, and the more they knew about what they did, liked and disliked — the better their children did on report cards and standardized tests, and the fewer problems they had in school. These highly involved mothers weren’t necessarily at home a lot, but when they were, they spent time with their children. They asked about their children’s school day, knew which subjects they enjoyed or didn’t, and who their friends were.

The big caveat is to combine your involvement with healthy respect for your child’s autonomy. And there are three ways to do that.  (I didn’t say three easy ways. But they’re not terribly hard either.)

1. Take your child’s point of view and acknowledge his feelings.

Say your 10-year-old isn’t doing his homework. He’s thinking, “It’s going to get dark soon. I want to have some fun now. I can do my homework later.”

You could take his point of view by trying to imagine, “If I were his age, what would I prefer? Riding my bike or reading a chapter on coal production?” Then you can say, “I understand that you’re having fun. But tonight we’re going to Aunt Karen’s for dinner, so unfortunately, this is the only time to do your science homework.” What counts is acknowledging your child’s feelings. You want to convey “I’m with you.”

2. Support your child’s independent problem solving.

One of the best ways to support your child’s independent problem solving is to ask questions, as I did when my son, Zach, was making a pinhole camera for the school science fair. Instead of taking him to a store to get the cardboard box he needed, I asked him, “Where could you find a big box?”

After a minutes he said, “I know — behind the store where they sell refrigerators!”

“How could we make the pinhole?” I asked next — and so on.

3. Give your child choices.

Even a tiny degree of choice boosts a child’s feelings of autonomy. So if your child is painting, you might say, “The materials need to be kept clean so you can keep using them for a long time.”  And she decides how to clean up.

As my own children have gotten older, I’ve found that questions like “Have you considered….?” or “Do you think you might want to …?” also do the trick.

Encouraging your children’s feelings of autonomy helps you stay involved without controlling them. All you have to control is yourself!

Crazed School Bans Parents from Sports Day

What happens when the fear of the incredibly rare crime of child kidnapping becomes so all-consuming that it overshadows any other considerations? Including common sense? Or even Googling?

You get something like this: A school in England that holds a multi-school sports day every June – the highlight of the year, where kids compete and parents cheer – decides, for the first time, to ban parents from attending. That’s right: no parents are allowed to watch their kids. Why not? Here’s the rationale, as reported in The Telegraph:

Paul Blunt, development manager at the East Beds School Sports Partnership, said the “ultimate fear” was that a child could be abducted.

“If we let parents into the school they would have been free to roam the grounds. All unsupervised adults must be kept away from children.

“An unsavoury character could have come in and we just can’t put the children in the event or the students at the host school at risk like that. The ultimate fear is that a child is hurt or abuducted, and we must take all measures possible to prevent that.”

That’s like saying because it may rain sometime during the year and a child could get hit by lightining, we cannot allow children to attend school anymore. (Quit cheering, kids.) After all, they could get zapped on their way. Child zapping is the “ultimate fear” and we are just being sensible in taking all possible measures to prevent that. Right?

Wrong, of course. Really wrong. It does not make sense to prepare for the worst case scenario when the chances of that scenario happening are infinitessimally small. That’s why I must take issue with a woman who posted earlier on this blog that even if there were just a .00001% chance of something terrible happening to her child, that was not a “risk” she was willing to take.

When something has a .00001% chance of happening, I don’t think we should consider that a “risk” anymore. We need a new word to keep it in perspective. How about a “nisk” as in nearly non-existent risk?  (Or “nnisk?”) Whatever we call it, we should consider anything  that unusual as a bizarre aberation in the natural order of things — something  we cannot prepare for or prevent anymore than we can prevent an asteroid from landing in our dirty laundry, giant target though that may be.

Yes, please teach your children the basics of staying safe: How to cross a street safely, how to run and kick and scream if somebody is bothering them, how to ask  for — or even demand — help if they find themselves in danger or lost or confused. Teach them never to go off with strangers. Teach them to dial 911 and to confide in you when something is troubling  them. Free-Range Kids believes in safety and prepared kids are safer kids.

But to try to engineer our childrens’ lives  so that there is not even .00001% risk is to defy the truth of human (and animal! and plant!) exitence. Nothing is 100% safe, not even sitting on a couch that could probably, conceivably, somehow collapse in on you all of a sudden. Or cause a deadly rash. (Actually, we had a couch that seemed to be doing that years ago. Very, very itchy — but that’s another story. And, I’m happy to say, another couch.)

The school that is worried about sports day attendees-as-kidnappers has taken no notice of the fact that stories of school kidnappings by strangers are so rare that when you do what any modern-day worrier does — Google “kidnapped from school” — you find two stories in the New York Times: One from 1900, one from 1908. Then there was that 1972 instance in Australia  — but the two guys had guns, so you couldn’t stop from attending a sports day even if you told them, “Sorry, no parents allowed.” And then there was a recent kidnapping in Nepal, presumably not while doing the high jump in front of hundreds of adoring family members.

The English school was wrong to ban parents from its sports day based on a such a remote possibility of danger. You know — a  mere nisk. (Or nnisk.)

— Lenore