Ever since she wrote a New York Sun article about why she let her 9-year old son ride the subway alone, journalist Lenore Skenazy has been lambasted by the media as “the worst mom in America.” As a self-proclaimed “free range parent” and the author of “Free-Range Kids,” a how-to guide for raising “safe, self-reliant kids (without going nuts with worry),” Skenazy says too many Americans need to pay attention to something other than their children.
“I think we are much more pre-occupied with our children every second of the day,” says Skenazy in her Big Think interview, comparing the current crop of parents to previous generations. “Are they safe? Are they learning? Are they getting enough out of this moment, this class, this instant, when we’re supposed to be bonding, and we’re really afraid for them all the time.” Skenazy says parents are more afraid for their children today than they were thirty years ago because the culture has become more litigious, and media and entertainment have changed. “My parents were watching Marcus Welby, the people lived, they didn’t sue. It was a cheerfuller time, in terms of television. You didn’t have Nancy Grace, you didn’t have ‘CSI,’ you didn’t have anything as disgusting and revolting and scary as ‘Law & Order: SVU.'”
To combat “helicopter parents” and to promote the idea of a “free range” childhood, Skenazy declared a “Take Your Children To the Park and Leave Them There Day” in May, during which she encouraged parents to leave their children together to play at the park without parental supervision. “The media was jumping up and down, saying, ‘It’s a pedophile parade!,'” says Skenazy, “They were crazed with fear, and all I was suggesting that we let our kids of ages 7, 8 and up, go and spend an hour, half an hour, they got me down to 10 minutes, 10 minutes at the park, with each other, trying to come up with a game, figure out four square, play
handball, do hopscotch, without me telling you what to do, because that turns out to be
a very important thing. free range kids end up having to entertain themselves.”
Skenazy suggests a simple and easy way for parents to nudge their kids down the “free range” path is to shut off their cell phones, turn off the TV and go for a walk, either alone or with their kids. “You can leave your cell phone at home and so you sort of wean yourself off of the idea that you must be constantly available to your child and vice versa,” she says. “Use one of those hours that you’re gonna watch ‘CSI’ with a body dredged out of the swamp or ‘Law & Order’ with the girl dragged off the street, to turn off the TV and spend that hour outside. You know, walk around your neighborhood, preferably with your kid, to remind yourself that you live in the neighborhood—that’s where you live. You don’t live in ‘Law & Order’-ville and ‘CSI’-ville.”