by Lenore Skenazy


Review by Doug Hensch

If you’ve read this blog before, you know that it is usually focused on books that provide advice on your professional development. This month, however, the focus is on parenting and many of the recommendations also apply to managing adults. And, any new thought leader worth his or her salt is going to be a little controversial. Blogger Lenore Skenazy appeared on national television with the subtitle reading: “America’s Worst Mom?” So, she wrote a book (Free-Range Kids) about letting go to let your kid grow up.

What was her offense? She let her 9-year old son take the subway in New York City. The outrage was palpable – Skenazy had obviously hit a nerve. In ‘Til the Streetlights Came On – Lessons Learned from Neighborhood Games, Daniel Porter writes about a time not too long ago when our parents would feed us lunch or dinner and not expect us back for hours. This is where we learned about empathy, negotiation and competition, to name a few. And, by the way, we got a ton of exercise. Today, parents stand at the bus stop to make sure their kids are not abducted between the front door and the school bus. They worry about a middle school child’s grades for fear that it may affect his ability to get into a “good college.”

Free-Range KidsBefore we attempt to explain what has happened in the last forty years, let’s take a look at some disturbing trends…

  • In 2006, 115 children were abducted by strangers. Translation: your child has a better chance of having a heart attack than being taken by a stranger.
  • A little over 40 years ago, 66% of kids walked to school. Today, that number is below 10%.
  • Joel Best professor of sociology at the University of Delaware could not “find any evidence that any child has ever been killed or seriously hurt by a contaminated treat picked up in the course of trick-or-treating.”
  • 78% of the cars in Northern Virginia have a bumper sticker that tells other drivers their kid is an honor roll student. Ok, I made that one up but you get the idea…

In short, we are coddling our kids. And, our kids are paying for it. (Substitute “employees” for “kids” and you might be surprised.) So, the question that arises is “Why is this happening?”

One of Skenazy’s main culprits is the photograph. The argument is that the technology of photographs is so new that our brains don’t know the difference between something happening to someone else or to us. So, our emotional reaction to seeing a child’s picture on the screen after an abduction is to think it is our child. The fact of the matter is (as stated above), the odds are infinitely small yet we go to great lengths to instill fear of strangers into our kids. This may not be a wise decision.

Do we really want our kids to grow up fearing strangers? One expert interviewed by Skenazy teaches kids the following:

  1. Most adults are good.
  2. There are a few bad ones.
  3. Most normal adults don’t drive up and ask for help.
  4. If they do, ask another nearby adult for help. If no one is around, scream, hit and run.

The sooner your kids learn context, the better. And, the sooner parents stop hovering over their kids, the happier will be the parents, too. I receive an email once every week that outlines my 6th grade son’s assignments for the week. Think about the behavior that motivates in the parents. We are encouraged to check on their work and make sure it gets done to the highest quality. A free-range kid, on the other hand, misses an assignment and is then motivated to organize his to-do list so it doesn’t happen, again. The “controlled” kid only learns that his parents are there to prevent mistakes.

Also, think about all the ways that we try to control our kids. We buy our son a smartphone then we put all types of restrictions it. Then, there are parental controls on the TV, the language we forbid and the “rules” of the house. Seeking control just makes you more anxious. Total control is an illusion.

Most self-help books come from experts who tell you there is a right way to do things and a wrong way. Skenazy is not necessarily advocating for a 5-step parenting process. She is simply shedding light on the current situation and offering a new (or old) way of looking at parenting that reduces worry and just might help your kids be healthier and happier. If you want to raise resilient, self-reliant, healthy kids, try reading this book.


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