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Newsweek: Helicopter Moms vs. Free-Range Kids

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El Pinko Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:25 AM
Original message
Newsweek: Helicopter Moms vs. Free-Range Kids
Edited on Sun Apr-27-08 09:26 AM by El Pinko

http://www.newsweek.com/id/133103?GT1=43002

Helicopter Moms vs. Free-Range Kids
A New York columnist lets her grade-schooler ride the subway alone, provoking a wave of criticism. But do kids really need more supervision than in generations past?
By Louise Crawford | Special to Newsweek
Apr 21, 2008 | Updated: 1:38 p.m. ET Apr 21, 2008


Would you let your fourth-grader ride public transportation without an adult? Probably not. Still, when Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for the New York Sun, wrote about letting her son take the subway alone to get back to her Manhattan home from a department store on the Upper East Side, she didn't expect to get hit with a tsunami of criticism from readers.

"Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence," Skenazy wrote on April 4 in the New York Sun. "Long story longer: Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitatingfor us and for them."

....

From the "she's an irresponsible mother" camp came: "Shame on you for being so cavalier with his safety," in comments on the Huffington Post. And there was this from a mother of four: "How would you have felt if he didn't come home?" But Skenazy got a lot of support, too, with women and men writing in with stories about how they were allowed to run errands all by themselves at seven or eight. She also got heaps of praise for bucking the "helicopter parent" trend: "Kudos to this Mom," one commenter wrote on the Huffington Post. "This is a much-needed reality check."

Last week, buoyed by all the attention, Skenazy started her own blogFree Range Kidspromoting the idea that modern children need some of the same independence that her generation had. In the good old days nine-year-old baby boomers rode their bikes to school, walked to the store, took busesand even subwaysall by themselves. Her blog, she says, is dedicated to sane parenting. "At Free Range Kids, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school-age children go outside, they need a security detail."






This story really hit a nerve with me. Three years ago, I had to drive my kids several miles across town( San Francisco) to school. It was most definitely an imposition, but San Francisco has a system where you can pick your kids' school, so we picked the one with the Japanese bilingual program and one of the highest academic reputations. It was highly soought-after, but we were lucky and our kids go in. But the school bus system in SF is rudimentary at best and would not have worked for us.

Although our neighborhood was a relatively "good" one, it's still SF, and we could not let the kids out in the front yard alone because sometimes homeless would defecate in the greenbelt within sight of our place. There was one sleeping in front of our garage door once. They may not be dangerous people per se, but it doesn't create an atmosphere where you want to let small kids play alone outside. At the same time, we felt that living in a gated community (if we could even afford one, which we couldn't) would have deprived them of living in a real community populated with all kinds of people who are not necessarily white and rich/wannabe-rich.

Then we moved back to El Paso a couple of years ago. We rented a nice townhouse in a quiet neighborhood with a lot of kids. The homeless stay pretty far from our neighborhood. Our kids constantly play soccer, etc. in the street and a nearby park with all the neighbor kids, and we don't feel the need to supervise. But the school doesn't let kids ride bikes to school anymore like I did when I was a kid. At least we are within walking distance of the school.

I'm really glad my kids can grow up with some autonomy and independence. They are happier and more well-rounded as people.

But would this be practical in most communities in the US? Where there is often no good mass transit? Or the transit is full of scary people? Or there are no sidewalks in the sprawling suburb?

And people say crime, crime, crime, but if you look at the stats, crime rates, including kidnapping of children is LOWER than it was 40 years ago. So why are people so paranoid about crime and their kids?

I remember in about 2000, there were a bunch of SUV-driving moms at the park, and I overheard them all blathering about how scared they were of their kids being kidnapped. Nof for any real reason - there hadn't been any rash of kidnappings in the news. Weird.

I know this is not a simple black-and-white topic, but what is the answer to this in the US in coming years? Can we re-make our communities so that they work for kids to be able to move about more independently but reasonably safely? Without them growing up in sterile gated stepford communities?


Anyway, I threw a bunch of stuff out there - feel free to talk about the aspect of this that interests you. I just thought it seemed like a rich topic for discussion.
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boobooday Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:34 AM
Response to Original message
1. The benefits of freedom outweigh the guaranteed disability
Caused by the most extreme "helicopter" parents. I work with college students, and you can see how important the experience of autonomy is to their success.

This of course has to be weighed against the particulars of your neighborhood, but I think it can and must be done with proper instruction everywhere to some degree. I don't know about a 4th grader in Manhattan, but if that is the child's environment and the child knows the way . . . I had a lot of freedom as a 4th grader to move about my environment.

(Although personally, as a mom, I would have been scared shitless . . .)

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joeybee12 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:34 AM
Response to Original message
2. My initial reaction is.. NYC!!! What the phuck was she thinking???
I think it depends on the community in which you live in as to whether this is appropriate. It's weird, because I recall growing up in a neighborhood where doors weren't locked and kids were sent to the store and to other's yards to play. Now they're driven to and from play-dates. I feel old.
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El Pinko Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:42 AM
Response to Reply #2
5. But the thing is, NYC in broad daylight may be safer than many burbs.
Edited on Sun Apr-27-08 09:48 AM by El Pinko
In NYC, there are always so many people around it makes it harder for a creep to do anything to a kid.

In a lot of burbs, there are so many places where nobody would be there to see if anything happened...
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joeybee12 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:46 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. True enough...I guess it's my perception of NYC that caused my reaction...
...I just never see that city as safe, although someone who lives there might think differently.
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 10:21 AM
Response to Reply #6
11. Places you don't live always look more dangerous
but I used to walk around NYC alone at night in the 70s, when it was really supposed to be bad. I did have street smarts, though, and I suspect the kid in this story has 'em too.

I've always felt safer in big, mean cities.

The bane of my existence as a free range kid in the 50s and 60s was the unleashed, unconfined DOG. The stupid things didn't know the streets and sidewalks weren't part of their territory. I always carried rocks in my pockets to discourage them.
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joeybee12 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 10:32 AM
Response to Reply #11
15. I lived in LA most of my adult life (not now, though) and I always felt
fairly safe there, but still, the thought of NYC....it is perception and the unknown.
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Guaranteed Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:50 AM
Response to Reply #2
8. I grew up in a very safe neighborhood, could leave the house
pretty much any time I wanted. There was nothing out there that was going to "get" me.


I also think how one handles their childrens' safety depends on the community in which they live to a certain extent, particularly if the neighborhood is, in the affirmative, a bad one, with clear bad elements. However, if one can't pick out good, clear reasons to be restrictive of children, I don't think doing so is good for them at all.

Even homeless people- I don't think that's enough. Homeless people, while they have problems and might occasionally do things like take a dump on your lawn, or whatever, aren't by my experience total degenerates. In fact, I think it's good for children to meet homeless people. Very, very good for them, even downright important.

I think what this woman did was a judgment call. She had faith in her City. NYC...man, it's so huge, it can be the worst or the best...so many people, totally unpredictable...But what she did worked. And, honestly, I'm not that surprised that it did. I wouldn't expect the kid to get attacked.

We have to remember that those types of things are the exception, not the rule.
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joeybee12 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:58 AM
Response to Reply #8
10. Yes, and our perception of how dangerous the world is has changed
over the last several years...some of the neighborhoods I know where parents keep a clsoe watch on their kids at all times seem to me to be completely safe...maybe Michael Moore was right in that the media is to blame for emphasizing so many of the bad and tragic that can happen to kids that we think the problem is worse than it is.
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Warpy Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:36 AM
Response to Original message
3. I was home alone at EIGHT, a latchkey kid,
but back in the 50s, that was OK. I knew enough to do my homework when it was raining and to put on grubby clothes and go out and play when the weather was good. I knew enough not to burn the house down or stop up the plumbing. I took my first plane ride alone when I was 11. I knew how to read what gate it came into and how to present my ticket. I also knew when to kick some creep in the shins and run like hell.

This mom is GREAT and her kid is going to grow up thinking there's nothing he can't do. Overprotected kids are going to grow up with no clue about what to do with down time or how to cope with a world that is suddenly too big and entirely unfamiliar. This mom knew when her kid was capable of navigating the system to get home and she allowed him to do it.

Fear makes people do stupid things, and keeping kids rolled up in cotton batting and nailed into a protective closet is stupid.

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riderinthestorm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 10:26 AM
Response to Reply #3
14. My sister still won't leave her 13 year old home alone after school!
13 years old! She's a freshman in high school in one of Dupage County Ilinois' best communities! And now of course, since my sister is so nervous, my niece is also terrified to be alone. She's passing it all along...

I do not get this mentality at all.
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Breeze54 Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:37 AM
Response to Original message
4. That article was discussed to death a few weeks ago...
Edited on Sun Apr-27-08 10:24 AM by Breeze54
Just saying.

My youngest son couldn't ride his bike to elementary school rules either, due to all the frigging SUV's
dropping kids off and picking them up; since they started "Pay-To-Ride" the school bus here.
It's a very small town school. But he had free range in town. He just had to tell me where he'd be.
No public transportation here, not even a taxi. You either drive, walk or ride a bike. But as a kid,
I pretty much went all over town on my bike and on foot and I took the bus to other towns (in a group)
to see movies. At age 13, I started riding the bus and the subway into the city by myself, to go to school.
My parents didn't bat an eye.
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seabeyond Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:47 AM
Response to Original message
7. under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance
Edited on Sun Apr-27-08 10:07 AM by seabeyond
i think there is an happy medium between this and letting 9 yr old walk the distance alone thru manhattan. i dont think it has to be one or the other. i do things as a parent to allow children independence that others would not agree with. i keep mouth shut and allow children to do because i dont see the danger or the risk is low and weighing the plus of independence wins as this mom did. but i wouldnt let my 9 yr old do this. and i wouldnt say anything to the mom that decided to do this. i can understand her intent

she takes her criticism and does the same to other moms that is being done to her. that i was i am most in disagreement about.

i am just thrilled to see parents actually parent, ... in the right or wrong (who the fuck knows) of it.
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Kali Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 09:51 AM
Response to Original message
9. Try the perspective of going well beyond our political boundaries
Edited on Sun Apr-27-08 09:52 AM by Kali
and think of kids not just free-ranging, but WORKING and living in major cities of the world. Young kids are perfectly capable of managing the task - it's our perception and unjustified fear that prevents us from LETTING them learn about the world.

Like street savy mutts vs. the over-protected FooFoo who dashes out the gate only to get run over, street (world) smart kids have a better chance and are safer than some pampered little rat that can't walk around the block without mommy.
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riderinthestorm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 10:21 AM
Response to Original message
12. As I said in the last thread about this story
I think you have to trust parents to know their environment and their child's sense of independence. No way would I put my kid on a subway at 9 years old but it's not part of our lifestyle.

We live on a farm and my kids do PLENTY of things that make other parents cringe and mentally scream "reckless child endangerment", I'm sure. They drive the pick ups (all over the property) by the time they are 9, they go out and handle the foal birthed to the biggest bitch mama while she snaps and growls at them, they can handle an ax to chop wood, they leave the house at dawn and frequently don't come in until dusk - spending the day at the creek, on ponies, in the open loft without a safety barrier etc. etc.

In my defense, my kids DID start taking the train alone into Chicago by the time they were 12 or so - to take classes at the Art Institute, or to visit a friend's dad who had decamped to the city, or whatever they felt they could handle. My oldest girl took off to Europe for a summer when she was 16 with a girlfriend. So even though I wouldn't put my kid on a subway in NYC at 9 years old, I hope I'm striking a balance nonetheless. I try to trust that other parents are equally as conscientious. I know that's not always the case but I wouldn't censure this mother about her kid. I just don't know the family enough to second guess her decision.
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ayeshahaqqiqa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Apr-27-08 10:26 AM
Response to Original message
13. When I grew up in a city of 100,000 in the Midwest,
I walked or took the buses everywhere. Only was accosted once, and that was my own stupid fault--it was a white guy asking directions, and I stupidly got into his car. Back then, statutory rape meant something, and when I let my age slip, he dumped me like a hot potato. I was naive enough that I didn't "get it" until I reported the incident to my mom. She assumed I now had more sense, and didn't stop me from walking all over town. I'm glad I had that chance.
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