Monday, April 27, 2009

Why Free-Range is my Philosophy and Lenore Skenazy is my Hero

I'm new to the official Free Range movement, but it was my free range thinking that brought me here. I've always wanted to foster a sense of independence with my children. Whether it's letting my then 4-year-old order her own meal at Wendy's while I watched from a booth or letting my 10-year-old walk on his own less than a mile to soccer practice, I am trying to teach my children to be in charge of their own lives. My youngest daughter is now completely at home doing her own shopping. She can find prices – even though she cannot add or subtract much yet – and handle the entire checkout process herself. She keeps track of her money, even if her allowance doesn't last very long because she wants to spend it as soon as she gets it. But hey, it's her allowance and I don't buy her things she can afford for herself, even if her money is gone.

When my son asked permission to walk to soccer alone, I wasn't sure I was ready to let him, but couldn't come up with a good reason to deny him. Despite the fact that numerous people called 911 and he got a police escort the last ½ mile to practice, I have gotten not one single report that he did anything dangerous or inappropriate. In fact, I'm sure he got a ride to practice because he insisted that was where he was supposed to be and not driven back home. Now, he encourages me to let his younger sisters walk that way, "so that they can have their 15 minutes of fame." I'm not quite that free-range, but I am meeting with city officials to see what can be done to make that stretch of road as safe as possible for my girls to walk by themselves to school next year.

I remember when I first heard about Lenore's story of letting her nine-year-old son ride the NYC subway (who could resist clicking on the link that said "America's worst mom" – at least it wasn't me!). She sounded very sane and confident in the fact her son was capable of managing the NYC subway. That is why after my encounter with the local police, who threatened me with child endangerment, I Googled her story for the details. I found her website ( and posted my story. She responded to me via email and it was in those exchanges with her that I decided to approach the police chief for actual crime statistics for my neighborhood. Fortunately for me, my local police chief was extremely responsive and assured me that the streets of Columbus, MS are safe for my children.

Having been through this myself, I was interested in reading what Lenore had to say on her blog. I found her very reasonable. I looked forward to reading her book and I can honestly say that it was one of the best books I have read on parenting – ever! I believe in common sense and she has that in spades. She is also a reporter by training so her ideas are well-researched and documented. As a former researcher myself, I very much appreciate the documentation (even if I am perfectly happy to take her word for it). What is most admirable about her is that she trusted her own instincts about what was safe for her children and instead of backing off under criticism, she armed herself with actual research and stood up to her critics.

I am now making a conscience effort to let my children stretch their wings. I still believe in safety, but I also don't believe in worrying about things that are extremely rare. I don't play the lottery because I understand statistics and I'm not running to the doctor today because I'm not feeling well and might have the swine flu. And, I believe my children are safe playing outside and walking in my neighborhood. After all, I know my neighbors are watching!

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