Should parents actively supervise their kids’ play time? There’s a lot of grey between the two black-or-white extremes of the Free-Range Kids nonchalant parenting and the overly cautious control-freak or “helicopter” parents (always hovering) who “bubble wrap” or “smother” their kids.
Of course, the vast majority of parents are much closer to a sensible middle ground, but the extremists on either side fiercely defend their beliefs.
On the one hand, the extremists among the “free-range parents” believe in letting kids wander off alone to learn the “joys of adventure, discovery, and self-resilience” (though unsupervised kids are rarely well prepared to recognize and deal with possible accidents and criminal predators). But, of course, most free-range parents are not extremists and do try to – as the old catchphrase goes – “teach their kids to swim before throwing them into the water,” so to speak.
On the other hand, the extremists among the “helicopter parents” are ‘obsessive-compulsive’ control-freaks who constantly watch their kids’ every move. That often results in kids growing up overly dependent – and they, too, are unprepared to recognize and deal with accidents and predators on their own. But, of course most cautious parents are not extremists and they, too, “teach their kids to swim before throwing them into the water,” but still always continue to watch them carefully whenever they’re even near the water – or wherever they are.
Let’s look at the pitfalls of the extremes of both sides and then look at a sensible middle ground – “limited-range kids” – step-by-step freedom granted only after careful tutoring by a practical parent.
Lenore Skenazy’s 2009 ‘Free-Range Kids’ book brought this age-old controversy to the arena of public debate – and it’s good to clear the air. She presents a light-hearted, witty, breezy, edgy opinion to remind parents to be less rigid with their kids’ supervision and allow them to discover the pleasure of wandering freely with little, if any, parental supervision. Hmm… at first glance, that seems somewhat attractive.
But beneath the surface, it’s another story. Had she simply criticized the extremists among the helicopter parents, she’d have done some good in trying to help liberate the few henpecked kids from control-freak parents and then teaching a detailed, reasonable middle ground. Instead, she went to the other extreme by insisting on slack parental supervision with muddled, vague, and risky guidelines.
She’s not a professional who deals with children and she’s not a safety expert and not a crime expert. She’s a mom with an opinion – one of many millions of moms with a wide variety of differing opinions. But she’s also a media-savvy freelance writer who wrote a book without fully thinking it through. The media labeled her as “America’s Worst Mom,” and now she’s using that label as publicity leverage to sell her book to gullible parents.
Can her opinions withstand close scrutiny (blended with criticisms from Amazon readers)? Let’s clarify the issues for open-minded parents looking for a sensible balance – and how to enhance that middle ground.
Ms. Skenazy’s book reads like a first draft that wasn’t edited for redundancies and contradictions. In the first few chapters, she tells parents that they need to let their kids learn through experience. Then she repeats that same mantra over and over while including all her pet peeves in order to stretch thin magazine article content into book length.
There’s also her “I know better than the experts” tone. She claims that all parenting books are deficient (except for hers). She bashes all cautious parents as “smothering” – stunting their kids’ learning of life skills. She dismisses those who disagree with her as irrational or paranoid.
Strangely, Ms. Skenazy points to President Obama as proof that parenting makes no difference in how kids turn out! Huh? That blatantly contradicts the classic “nature/nurture” paradigm: roughly half of each child’s unique character comes from nature’s inborn traits, and the remainder comes from a parent’s nurturing of those traits. Thus it’s preposterous to say that parenting doesn’t matter. To paraphrase her: “Parenting doesn’t matter, but do it my way or you’re irrational and paranoid.”
In The Straits Times - Aug 1, 2015 newspaper interview Lenore Skenazy actually said: “If parents tell children something is too dangerous, they are telling their children who they are and who they can be, before they have even tried it.”
Hmm… so don’t tell little Johnny that it’s too dangerous to jump off of a roof with an umbrella as his parachute. That’ll diminish his future self. It’s better for him to risk breaking his neck. Then, if he survives, he’ll have learned on his own that umbrella parachutes are indeed dangerous because they don’t work. And it doesn't matter if he's paralyzed for life – his future self will sparkle. [sarcasm]
In frequent video interviews and web-blog posts, Ms. Skenazy cites anecdotes of parents arrested for what she considers minor violations of child endangerment/negligence laws. For instance, a mother left her baby alone in her parked car while she dashed into a store for “four minutes.” A so-called “busybody” alerted police and the mother got into trouble. (“Busybody” is her favorite slur for anyone who scolds or reports irresponsible parents – even though “busybodies” have saved many thousands of children.)
Ms. Skenazy complains that the mother was victimized, but she never says how long is too long to leave a baby alone in a car – 5 minutes, 10, 30, 60, even all day – or why it’s ever OK at all. And who’s the official timekeeper? How cold or hot is the weather, and is the car’s motor left running for heat or A/C (which makes it easier to steal – with the baby inside)? Please! She needs to think things through before she starts complaining about some supposed injustice to the careless mother who’s too lazy to take her baby into the store with her.
[Note: It’s too difficult to define (and legislate) exactly what constitutes child endangerment or negligence. As a result, legislators find it more manageable to have zero tolerance, arrest parents for so-called minor infractions, and let a judge determine each case on its individual merits. Also, publicity for such cases serves as warnings to other parents to be especially cautious.]
To be fair, not all of Ms. Skenazy’s complaints are irrational; some are indeed cases of overzealous enforcement and are dismissed by a judge. Nevertheless, she almost always shows a knee-jerk ultra tolerance for parents charged with child endangerment, and complains just as huffily even when the parent is clearly negligent (but she almost always keeps quiet if the child died or was otherwise harmed).
For example, a mother was arrested for leaving her 7-year-old son at a mall’s Lego store for an hour and 20 minutes while she shopped elsewhere in the mall. The store manager noticed the unsupervised child and contacted police.
As usual, Ms. Skenazy complains that the mother was victimized, but never asks why the mother didn’t first get the store manager’s OK (though it’s doubtful he would’ve agreed to babysit). In a blog-post, Ms. Skenazy actually wrote, “I would really love the police to explain how endangered this child actually was, in a public place, surrounded by employees, shoppers…”
Sheesh! Yes, the child was “surrounded by employees, shoppers…” – but none of them knew they’d been blindly chosen by the mother to babysit her son. And what if a friendly monster also noticed that the child was alone? None of the “employees, shoppers” would have a clue – none whatsoever – if a friendly monster (posing as a parent or guardian) was luring and leading a little boy away to his death.
Ms. Skenazy conveniently excludes a famous case in 1981 when a 6-year-old Adam Walsh, whose mother also left him alone in a nearly identical situation, was lured away by a friendly monster and murdered. His father, John Walsh, became an anti-crime crusader, lobbied Congress to enact crime-prevention laws, was the host of TV’s “America’s Most Wanted” and then hosted CNN's “The Hunt” to help police fight crime – and has helped save many lives.
In stark contrast, Ms. Skenazy indignantly complains when parents are arrested for violating child endangerment laws. And her blog posts, as well as those of the most cultish of her followers, blatantly sneer at John Walsh’s vital contribution to society!
[By the way, according to US DOJ stats, from 1981 to 2015 in America alone, more than 1,000 children have been lured away (from various types of locations) and were never found alive. And, in that same time period, more than 10 MILLION other kids were kidnapped for short-term molestation (too briefly to be noticed as missing). Yet Ms. Skenazy conveniently ignores those stats.]
Ms. Skenazy never proposes any specific solutions, guidelines, or legislative changes; she only complains – a lot. Her complaints, published weekly on blogs, publicize her name and book to promote sales.
Ms. Skenazy portrays cautious parents as “living in fear” – as though they’re panicky, terrified, trembling, paranoid sissies who startle at the slightest sound – instead of practical, realistic people with legitimate concerns. Her faux “hysteria” narrative wildly exaggerates ‘being cautious’ as a grim ordeal that pollutes minds and lives.
C’mon! Being cautious is what everyone must do every day to avoid accidents and criminals: such as using seatbelts, driving carefully, and avoiding falling, drowning, poisoning, fires, lures of frauds, traps of violent predators, venturing into dangerous locations, and so on.
The ‘Precautionary Principle’ of risk management says that potential risks, no matter how remote, must be given more weight than any presumed benefit. It’s wise to overestimate rather than underestimate any possible harm.
Normal caution – whether it’s called fear, wariness, vigilance, or precaution – is not the social scourge and safety overkill she claims. Why does she fear fear? How ironic is that? Actually, a calm, commonsensical, controlled fear is the most essential survival trait of all and has kept us alive throughout history! Fear and caution protect us. See “The Gift of Fear” by renowned security expert Gavin de Becker.
Ms. Skenazy encourages letting youngsters wander outdoors without supervision (to learn “self-reliance”) and ignores decades of research by hundreds of child safety experts in the “safety industry” – as she calls it – smearing them as “fear mongers” who cry wolf for monetary profit (it’s one of her favorite slurs).
Yet she herself is mongering the fear of “suffocating” kids with 'overdone' supervision. She exploited a hot-button topic and used the common publicity ploy of going against conventional wisdom with a startling gambit. She then cherry-picked quotes and distorted statistics to support her opinion and hawks her book on her marketing web-blog – for her own monetary profit. Hypocrisy? You betcha!
And then her more recent 2014 book concerns an entirely different topic – totally unrelated to child safety or parenting. Yet her extremist free-range fans never notice that she’s merely a freelancing dilettante dabbling in one field after another – as a quick-study amateur.
She herself is a hypocritical fear monger as well as a fantasy monger conjuring up a fairytale world.
Hand over your child’s safety to a marketing strategy from a gadfly who’s gone too far by barging into a realm in which she's dangerously naïve. And too many parents latched on with the passionate belief that they're somehow liberating their kids – and themselves.
The extremists among her supporters fancy themselves as “uncaging” their kids. But they fail to realize that her little experiment uses their kids as unwitting guinea pigs!
I’ll type this slowly for the slow learners: rolling the dice by trusting a free-range kid – a child after all – to wander wisely is irrational; an utterly unnecessary risk. If you must gamble, do it in a casino; not in your life – and not with your child.
The extremists among the free-range parents have a pre-September 11 mindset and are self-righteous idealists who actually think Ms. Skenazy is “a lone voice of reason in the wilderness.” They claim that child-protection laws somehow take away their civil liberties and intrude upon their supposedly inherent parental wisdom. Then they quote wildly inaccurate statistics and hurl schoolyard slurs at any critic because that’s all they have. They have NO substantive rebuttals to the specific points raised on this page, so they ignore them and spew venom instead.
But cautious parents are realists who know that the real world is often a tough place, and that unsupervised kids shouldn’t face unpredictable dangers.
A parent’s duty is to protect a child, regardless of any statistical odds of harm. And cautious parents can teach life skills to kids without exposing them to dangers that they’re too immature to handle. Protecting kids is not “suffocating” them; it’s an act of love
The Pollyanna Syndrome (the “it-couldn’t-happen-to-me” attitude) is derived from the 1913 novel “Pollyanna” about an excessively optimistic girl. That’s what psychologists call the tendency for some people to recall pleasant memories more easily than unpleasant ones – looking back at the ‘good old days’ with rose-colored glasses.
Their selective recall of the past also affects their current beliefs. They’re blindly optimistic and are often unable to recognize what is unpleasant or threatening, thus increasing their vulnerability. Unrealistic confidence is an excessive (and even harmful) belief that all things will have pleasant outcomes, no matter what. Although it’s good to be upbeat and optimistic, naïve optimism can be especially dangerous.
Free-Range parents deceive themselves with the Anecdotal Fallacy (a.k.a. “survivorship bias”) which means that “My free-range childhood was good and I’m OK, so it must be OK for everyone.” They rely on one sample or various people they know. Then they apply that fallacy to the population at large.
Here’s a realistic look at the evolved knowledge of the modern-day world: smoke detectors, car seat-belts and airbags, child safety-seats, 911 emergency phone centers, Megan's Law sex offender registries – to name just a few. We were ignorant of all that in ‘the good old days.’ Today we know much better.
You'll shudder at the www.FamilyWatchdog.us map showing the many child molesters and other registered sex offenders living near you or just a short drive away. (And search Google for different websites for recent updates to “sex offender maps”).
Worse, there are actually many more rapists and molesters than shown on the maps – the average child molester has 107 victims before his first arrest – and they won’t be on the maps (yet) where vulnerable kids go “free-range” wandering.
Also see Internet-Safety-for-Kids FAQ
Ms. Skenazy says it’s now “safe” to let unsupervised kids go free-range wandering because crime rates are lower now than in the past. Seriously, that’s her rationale. But that’s like saying it’s “safe” to stop using seatbelts because car crash injury rates are lower now than in the past (mainly due to the now mandatory seatbelt laws, by the way). Oh, and you’re irrational and paranoid if you continue to use seatbelts. No kidding, that’s the analogy of her logic.
Yet she proudly trumpets her twisted crime stat “analysis” as proof positive of the wisdom of free-range parenting – and also recklessly ignores the 12 thousand accidental child deaths and 9 million injuries treated annually in U.S. hospital emergency departments as though they’re merely everyday childhood bumps and bruises.
But Ms. Skenazy blithely dismisses all that and wants to decrease the vital parental supervision and overall preventive vigilance that was crucial in cutting the rate of crimes against children. The reality is that predators always have been and always will be lurking among their oh so vulnerable prey.
Further, Ms. Skenazy tries to dismiss the danger of molesters and kidnappers by saying that more children are harmed by accidents than by crime.
Oh boy, here we go again with her twisted stat “analysis.” Sure, some kids are accidentally hurt even when a parent is nearby – it’s statistically inevitable. BUT it’s ridiculous to think that that somehow translates into making it OK to let all kids run loose and rely on luck, strangers, and “busybodies” to safeguard them from both accidents and predators.
[And, no, a broken bone is not always a minor injury. A fractured elbow (or any joint) can cause lifetime impairment of that joint. And a nearby parent can provide immediate First Aid for serious bleeding, or head injury, or any other life-threatening injury.]
Further twisting the stats, Ms. Skenazy also says that fewer kids are hurt by predators than are hurt in car accidents (implying kids of all ages and with adult drivers). Well, that’s only partially true – the full truth is that most kids’ motor vehicle injuries are among kids 15-19 years of age, AND not surprisingly, most occur when unsupervised teenagers are driving (see the CDC stats below). So yet again, she distorts the full truth by cherry-picking and twisting the facts to support her agenda.
[In short, Ms. Skenazy says that molesters and kidnappers are no big deal anymore, and besides, more kids are hurt in accidents anyway – THEN says that accidents are no big deal either and are just a normal part of childhood. And if you don't agree, then you’re irrational and paranoid.]
Actually, overall, a cautious parent can reduce all dangers to kids – whether by accident or by crime – by always being nearby and/or tightly controlling where they wander (“limited-range kids” – not free-range).
Here are a few examples of accidental deaths of children without close adult supervision. The parents didn’t see the potential dangers – and kids are even less likely to do so. Here's why it’s always far better to have a parent nearby in case of an emergency:
A 3-year-old boy in Philadelphia died after becoming entangled in a bush in the family's backyard while playing alone. A branch somehow choked him and he wasn't strong enough to push it away – and nobody was around to save him.
[A lesson for all parents: inspect kids’ play areas for all potential dangers – and still keep a close eye on them.]
A 4-year-old girl drowned in a backyard pool during a birthday party in Ohio. Dozens of party-goers had been distracted while singing Happy Birthday to a 1-year-old. The 4-year-old had been wearing a “float vest” earlier in the pool but – unsupervised – reentered the pool without the vest.
[A lesson for all parents: never leave a pool area unlocked and unsupervised – even for a moment – when kids are around (especially kids in bathing suits).]
A 9-year-old girl died when a sand hole collapsed on her at an Oregon beach. The girl had helped dig the hole along with her siblings and friends. The sand caved in after the girl sat down in the hole to see how deep it was. A witness said, “At first we thought, you know, it was just kids, but it was like screaming and screaming and screaming.” The witness called 9-1-1 and watched people desperately try to dig the child out. She said, “The people were digging and digging and digging, and the sand just kept collapsing.”
[A lesson for all parents: children must be taught to never play in big holes in sand, dirt, or snow. You just don’t know when they’ll cave in and you’ll never be able to dig them out in time to save them - and that's IF anyone happens to notice the cave-in. There've been cases where a kid goes missing and nobody has a clue of where to start looking or that the child had been playing in a hole. It can take days to finally find the body.]
Children don't see potential dangers; it's a parent’s responsibility to do so. But don't assume that common sense is common. An especially prepared and commonsensical parent would attend a Red Cross CPR class as well as a First Aid class. I’d like to see all parents attend. It’s better to have those skills and not need them, rather than need them and not have them. You just might save a life.
UNintentional Child Injury Data:
[Each year in the U.S.], among children 0-19 years of age, 12,175 die from unintentional injuries and more than 9.2 million are treated in emergency departments for nonfatal injuries. Injuries due to falls were the leading cause of nonfatal injury. Injury rates related to motor vehicles was highest in children 15-19 years of age. Source: CDC 2009 Child Injury Data (the latest data available)
[Editor's Note: car travel is a necessity, free-range wandering is not. Besides, most teenagers’ motor vehicle injuries occur when unsupervised teenagers are driving.]
Child Injury - April 2012
* Every hour, 1 child dies from an injury.
* About 1 in 5 child deaths is due to injury.
* Every 4 seconds, a child is treated for an injury in an emergency department.
Child injuries (unintentional injuries that occur among children and teens 0-19 years) are preventable. Car crashes, suffocation, drowning, poisoning, fires, and falls are some of the most common ways children are hurt or killed. More can be done to keep our children safe. Source: CDC Child Injury (the latest data available)
[Editor’s Note: even with 12 thousand deaths and 9 million injuries annually, as well as the CDC saying “Child injuries… are preventable” and “More can be done to keep our children safe,” Ms. Skenazy actually wants LESS “done to keep our children safe.” And, by the way, does she think the CDC is part of the “safety industry” she despises?]
Intentional Child Injury Data:
Three Types Of Child Molesters - A 2001 University of Pennsylvania study found that 47 percent of child molesters were relatives; 49 percent acquaintances, such as a teacher, coach, or neighbor; and 4 percent strangers. The molesters are 91 percent male – about a quarter of them married with children and are well aware of your concern (or lack thereof) for child safety. (Note that 9 percent of molesters are adult females.) See Child Safety - Molesters
[Notice that this study is on ‘molesters’ and NOT ‘kidnappers.’]
Three Types Of Kidnappers - From “The Kidnapping of Juveniles” – US Department of Justice (USDOJ) - July 2000 (an unprecedented analysis of child kidnapping):
• Family members commit 49 percent of kidnappings. Stemming from a divorce and custody dispute, usually it’s fathers kidnapping their own child, but mothers often do, too. 4 percent of family kidnappings result in injury.
• Acquaintances commit 27 percent of kidnappings. Usually, these are boyfriends or ex-boyfriends of the child's mother kidnapping adolescent girls, but family friends and employees sometimes kidnap children in their care. 24 percent of acquaintance kidnappings result in injury.
• Strangers commit 24 percent of kidnappings. In 80 percent of stranger kidnappings, the first contact between the child and the kidnapper occurs within a quarter mile of the child's home. 16 percent of stranger kidnappings result in injury.
[Notice that this study is on ‘kidnappers’ – some of whom may also molest or otherwise harm the child.]
See more at Child Safety - Outdoors
Child safety tips of the past always warned children to beware of strangers. But now we learn the child usually knows the kidnapper. (Besides, to a child, a stranger quickly becomes an acquaintance; once the child learns his name, the child no longer considers him a stranger.) See more at Stranger Danger vs Stranger Safety FAQ
Jocelyn Rojas, a 5-year-old, was playing alone in her Lancaster, PA front yard in July 2013 when she was kidnapped by a man in a car. Two hours after police formed a search party, teenager Temar Boggs and his friend spotted the girl in the backseat of a car and gave chase on their bicycles. The car finally stopped, the girl was let out, and the car sped away.
Luckily, she was saved. But that’s only one of thousands of cases at the US Department of Justice (USDOJ) which reports that between 750,000 and 1.3 million children are reported missing each year. Roughly 140,000-240,000 of those are temporarily lost or runaways, and 500,000-900,000 are kidnapped in a parental custody dispute.
Every year on average, there are 50-100 kidnapped children murdered, and another 50-100 offered for ransom or disappear permanently. Another 58,000 are kidnapped for short-term molestation (too briefly to be noticed as missing). And yet another 150,000 children are targeted but manage to escape by rejecting a lure and running away.
That’s a total of more than 200,000 kids each year targeted by sex fiends – and 200,000 reasons to always protect your kids.
That means, on average, every SEVEN days in the U.S. alone, at least one child is kidnapped – suddenly gone forever – and almost ALL of them were alone and unsupervised by an adult guardian.
Ms. Skenazy thinks it’s just a statistical anomaly. By her reasoning, 50-100 is such a small number (compared to the millions of kids in the U.S.) that it might as well be considered ZERO. I doubt their grieving parents agree with her.
And she’s also willfully blind to the reality that almost all juvenile delinquents and gang members, most drug addicts, and most prison inmates were raised as free-range kids. Their parents gambled – and lost.
Of course, most free-range kids do not end up as losers. But why take unnecessary risks by gambling with your kids? Cautious parents have a better chance of raising healthy, well-adjusted kids.
A 10-year-old girl’s badly decomposed body was identified one week after she disappeared. She never arrived at a nearby Westminster CO park where she was supposed to meet friends for the one-mile walk to her school. The walk to the park was a route she took every school day alone.
Three teenage girls ignored a “No Trespassing” sign and were goofing around on a narrow railroad bridge when they were killed by a train in Melbourne FL. Their parents had dropped them off at a shopping mall but they wandered off. A man was fishing under the bridge when he saw the girls walk onto the trestle. He warned them but they didn’t listen.
And those are just two examples of thousands of unsupervised children dying and millions more injured every year!
Why does anyone think free-range roaming is such a miracle cure for the supposed ills of supervised childhood? Aimless, free-range drifting around is really just willy-nilly “exploration,” hit-or-miss “adventure,” maybe/maybe-not “self-resiliency.” Kids can easily waste their entire youth frittering away countless unsupervised hours roaming around, getting into mischief – and very possibly into a wide variety of dangers.
Other than Ms. Skenazy’s fanciful, hearsay anecdotes about free-range kids being smarter, more mature and resilient, etc., where oh where is the proof that aimless free-range wandering has any benefit whatsoever? [There’s plenty of proof of the harm of free-range wandering, such as juvenile delinquency as well as the deaths of many thousands of unsupervised children every year (per the CDC reports above).]
And, conversely, where oh where is the proof of widespread harm from the supposed epidemic of “smothering” and “bubble-wrapping” by helicopter parents?
It’s no wonder Ms. Skenazy’s marketing campaign has earned her the sobriquet of “America’s Worst Mom.” Yet she has thousands of supporters (many of whom are fanatical) who sometimes appear on pro-Skenazy TV shows with their kids parroting a stilted, rehearsed sales pitch touting the glories of a free-range childhood – though the kids themselves don’t have even a glimmer of a clue about the overall issues, and were just innocent puppets hyping Ms. Skenazy’s delusions.
So what are the real odds? The very best odds of all are to not gamble with your kids.
We all know that predators aren't lurking around every corner. But even a million to one chance is too high a risk to take with a child.
Modern, cautious parenting isn't a guarantee that kids will be 100 percent safe – life gives no guarantees. But a cautious parent does lessen the possibility that a child will be at risk.
Ms. Skenazy assumes that since most kids are never attacked or harmed in a freakish accident, it's OK to let them all run around unsupervised. But that's as foolish as not using seat-belts because the vast majority of cars never crash, or not using smoke alarms because the vast majority of homes never catch fire.
So why do laws nationwide demand that we always use seat-belts and smoke alarms? Just in case. So why should we always go the extra mile in protecting our children? Just in case. Just in case a mere child encounters a freakish accident – or is targeted by an adult sex fiend.
(Most U.S. state laws define Child Endangerment as “placing a child in a potentially harmful situation through negligence or misconduct.” Penalties range from a misdemeanor to a felony.)
A five-year-old boy went missing from his Fort Worth TX apartment complex. His dead body was later found behind a nearby vacant house with multiple blunt force head injuries. Police arrested a 13-year-old male suspect after witnesses reported that the boys had been seen together going into the backyard of the vacant house. Both boys were free to roam without adult supervision.
Babies need constant monitoring, and less so as they reach self-sufficient maturity. The human brain is not fully developed until the early 20's. A human child needs more parental care than any other living organism. A human child is one of the most vulnerable living creatures known, even as teenagers yearning for more freedom.
Throughout history, the primary parenting questions have been: just how much monitoring and until what age? And at what point today does the overly hyped child’s “freedom” become child neglect? The answers aren't black or white – but it’s far wiser to err on the side of caution and carefully nurture them until the fledgling is mature enough to fly alone in this harsh, haphazard, unpredictable world.
The age of limited outdoor freedom for kids depends on each individual circumstance – depending on the child’s level of maturity, responsibility, and trustworthiness – as judged by a cautious, responsible, and always nearby parent. Most U.S. state’s laws allow children age 12 and over to be left home alone (that's home alone - not wandering around outdoors unsupervised).
It’s a question of balance – not too careful, not too careless – and the answer is a matter of opinion for each parent. But when in doubt, it’s wise to “err on the side of caution” rather than taking unnecessary risks and relying on luck and wishful thinking.
Midway between the free-range and control-freak parent is the Limited-Range Parent (or Practical Parent). You know your child’s level of maturity, responsibility, and trustworthiness and can teach your child the age-appropriate safety tips on:
• Child Safety - Outdoors
• Child Safety - Kidnapping
Then walk with your child to inspect the nearby area where you’ll allow them to go with their friends by themselves. Try to have your child’s friends’ parents accompany you to check out the area, set the boundaries, and lay down the rules for safe playing. Monitor their obedience and question them daily about their outing. Revisit the area occasionally to see if anything has changed. Grant them expanded freedom step-by-step as they grow older – and only after you’ve inspected that new area with them (and again reviewed the safety tip pages listed above).
To lessen your child’s squandering too much of their precious youth on aimless wandering, add the following programs to their schedules:
The RadKids.org superbly covers child self defense (from bullies, molesters, kidnappers) as well as all-around child safety tips (for fires, traffic, etc.) for ages 5-12. The summer classes are 2 hours/day for 5 days, Monday through Friday – for a total of 10 hours altogether. The instruction level increases for each age group. And it’s a terrific bargain: pay the low fee once (which barely covers overhead costs) and your child can return again and again for free each summer at any RadKids location nationwide.
Even the best parent could never cover what RadKids does – all in a fun and gentle fashion. Attend with your child; you’ll be amazed – and it may very well save a life!
It’s far better for a child to know this and not need it, than to need it and not know it... (though children still need close parental supervision).
Also get Red Cross Babysitter Training for a highly responsible and trustworthy neighbor girl (not a boy) in her mid-teens or older who you want to babysit your kids. Red Cross safety experts (and no, they're not “fear mongers” as Ms. Skenazy calls the “safety industry”) will prepare her for safety procedures and emergencies. Just in case. And you can supplement that with the tips on how best to make 911 calls.
Give your kids adventure, self-resiliency, and benefits galore by enrolling them in the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or Campfire Girls (and their younger programs). They now carefully screen their adult scoutmasters for criminal records and sensibly design their programs to be controlled, safe adventures.
There are also extracurricular activities at school and through community organizations. They’re well designed as well as adult-supervised. The 2006 Society for Research in Child Development’s Social Policy Report said extracurriculars for kids result in many benefits, including higher grades and self-esteem.
Training in martial arts is an excellent education for children. It gives them strength, endurance, agility, balance, eye-hand coordination, and flexibility. It also instills character, courtesy, discipline, self-control, respect for their elders, and a gratifying sense of accomplishment. And last but not least, it provides the lifelong skill of defending oneself from bullies and other predators. See Choosing a Self-Defense Class
Who could possibly oppose these tried-and-true, potentially lifesaving courses and wonderful child-molding organizations?
I get too many heartbreaking emails from grieving parents to be polite about the distorted stats and loopy logic of Ms. Skenazy’s free-range kids’ nonsense. Ask the parents of molested or kidnapped and murdered children, ask child advocates, pediatricians, safety experts, police, and prosecutors what they think of her “rationale.”
Most adult accident and crime survivors had had a Skenazy-like Pollyanna attitude beforehand, saying “I never thought it could happen to me.” By far, that’s the most frequent survivor’s statement afterward, along with: “It was a total surprise; it came from out of the blue.”
If you must gamble, do it in a casino; not in your life – and not with your children.
See ‘Free Range Parenting – A Cult?’ – by the renowned child and family psychotherapist, Dr. Karen Ruskin at www.drkarenruskin.com/free-range-parenting-a-cult .