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Free Range Author – “Guest Blogger”!

Posted by Sandra on April 20, 2009

http://www.nypost.com/seven/04192009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/free_range_kids_165215.htm?&page=0

FREE-RANGE KIDS”
By LENORE SKENAZY

April 19, 2009 —
When author Lenore Skenazy let her son loose on the subway last year, she was dubbed “America’s Worst Mom.” She explains why more parents need to let go.

Tomorrow my kids go back to school after 17 and a half months of vacation.

Oh wait. Here’s my calendar. They’ve only been off 11 days? In our apartment it feels like light years, because most of the time my boys have been hanging out inside. Why? Because no one was hanging out outside for them to hang out with.

And why was that?

For most kids, that’s verboten. The simple, fun things we used to do without a second thought — walking to a friend’s, staying out until dark — are now regarded as insanely risky. See-you-on-a-milk-carton risky. How did childhood change so much, so fast, and is there any way to bring back the good ol’ days?

Actually, there is. It’s called Free-Range parenting — parenting the old way, with new insights into how we got so brainwashed with fear, and how we can get braver. Let’s take a look first at how we got so scared.

If you think about what our parents were watching when they raised us, it was “Marcus Welby.” Or “Dallas.” Or “Dynasty.” Turn on the TV tonight and instead of kindly doctors or millionaires with big hair, you will see autopsies, psychokillers and a playground’s worth of child predators.

And that’s before the news.

Now, thanks to shows like “Law & Order,” “CSI” and “24,” it looks like no child can step outside without some creep following behind them with duct tape. Between that and 24-hour cable news bringing us the latest abduction from Aruba, it’s almost impossible to convince ourselves these events are rarer than rare. TV piles it on because if it told us what’s really happening — “Millions of kids unharmed!” — we’d turn it off.

Then we’d surf the web. Oh look! A new abduction story.

The other thing scaring us is the very industry that’s supposed to reassure us: the safety industry. Today there are flat screen TV monitors to watch your kid’s crib all day and night — as if this is such a dangerous place to be. There are baby knee pads to protect your infants when they crawl — as if this is such a dangerous activity. There are even shopping cart liners to keep your kid from ever touching a germ.

Forget the fact that babies are born to survive. They’ve been doing it since time began and what’s more: They’re safer today than ever. Infant mortality is four times lower than even when I was born. But these products make us think it’s only by the grace of God — and constant, gadget-assisted hovering — that a kid will make it through another day. So, ironically, the more ridiculous safety products there are, the more we worry our kids aren’t safe.

The problem with all this is that we’re accustomed to imagining the very worst. Sure, most kids don’t die from gumming a grocery cart, but what if? Most kids don’t get kidnapped on their way to self-defense, but what if? (And how ironic!) The what if’s take over our brains. And the one time they shut up long enough to let us open the front door and tell the kids, “Go play by the ant hills!” some other parent is just as likely to chide: “What if something happened? Wouldn’t you feel terrible?”

That’s what everyone was asking me last year when I became infamous for letting my 9-year-old ride the subway alone. What if something happened? How would I feel? One guy called into an NPR talk show and asked why would I give my son one day of “fun,” knowing it would probably end in rape and murder. Wouldn’t I rather let him live to a ripe old age? Comments like that are how I got dubbed, “America’s Worst Mom.” (Go ahead — Google it.)

Please. We all care about our kids. But the fact is, we are living in very safe times for them. Crime has been declining since 1993. Sex crimes against kids, in particular, are down a whopping 79%, according to U.S. Department of Justice statistics.

The way to combat our fears and give our children a childhood again is to step back from all the hysteria and look at what’s really going on: It’s a lovely time to be a kid!

And you know what? It’s a lovely time to be a parent, too.

Lenore Skenazy is the founder of freerangekids.com and author ofFree-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry (Wiley), out now.

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