Weekend Review: Free-Range Kids by Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy gained the label of "America's worst mom" when she wrote about allowing her 9-year-old son to ride the New York subway unaccompanied. In response to the deluge of criticism she wrote Free-Range Kids: Giving our children the freedom we had without going nuts with worry (2009). In it, she uses recent crime statistics to support her argument that, with regards to violent crimes and abductions, today's kids are actually growing up in the safest times since the 1970s. Not only are "helicopter parents" worrying unnecessarily, the ways in which they restrict their children's activities and independence actually makes them less prepared to deal with any number of real dangers that they might someday face. She advocates a common sense approach, stressing that you know your child best and although it may be difficult, it is necessary to trust our kids and to slowly allow them to do more things on their own. Not only does this prepare them to be functional and independent adults, it also allows kids the freedom to experience the joys of childhood. Going to the corner store alone to fetch an item is a far different experience than walking there with mom or dad. Kids need to feel the empowerment of doing things on their own.
This is a very enjoyable book to read. Skenazy has great wit, her writing style is a pleasure to follow, and I pretty much already agreed with her thesis statement. Unfortunately, like some blogs-turned-books, there seems to be a fair amount of padding here to make this a book-length work. Skenazy opens with fourteen "free-range commandments", followed by a seemingly random A-to-Z guide to things one might be worried about and her attempt to neutralize those worries. Her argument about the necessity of respecting our children's autonomy and her criticism of preaching "stranger danger" are very strong and I wish that she would have stopped there. Instead, we also get her opinion on a whole range of topics that bring us away from her main point and cause me (someone who is already on her side) to question her logic. There is something a little inconsistent about it. We're to "only" listen to parenting advice from people with impressive letters after their names, but we should also "ignore the experts." We should never turn to Internet resources that connect us with other moms who have similar concerns, yet she runs a blog that does just that. She's very critical of advertising tactics used by big corporations and acknowledges that their main concern is their bottom line, but believes that they would never cut costs in ways that would harm the general public and that regulatory bodies such as the FDA are very successful in making sure that no harmful things find their way into our children's lives. (!)
Overall, the best part of this book were the excerpts taken from her blog that were written by real moms expressing how they are judged when they try to give their kids some freedom. I wish that Skenazy would have padded her pages with these instead. Additionally, I would have been interested to read in more depth about how the death of community has fostered these irrational child abduction fears and I would have liked some suggestions about community building actions that could help counter this. She offers plenty of advice about how to give your own child more freedom, but I would have liked to read about how we could all come together as a community to overcome these fears together.