Free-Range Kids

Free-Range Kids is the name of a weblog which invites contributions from parents: “Chances are, your childhood was not all about fear and huge ‘What if’s.’ Chances are you walked to school and rode your bike and stayed out till the lights came on, right? Maybe you even ate an unwashed grape. Tell us about your freedom, and especially: The moment you felt most grown up. And, if you’d like, tell us how you’re trying to give your kids that same kind of independence.”

If you do a search on the term ‘free range’ the first result in Google is from the Wikipedia:

Free range is a method of farming husbandry where the animals are allowed to roam freely instead of being contained in any manner. The term is used in two senses that do not overlap completely: as a farmer-centric description of husbandry methods, and as a consumer-centric description of them. Farmers practice free range to achieve free-range or humane certification (and thus capture high prices), to reduce feed costs, to improve the happiness and liveliness of their animals, to produce a higher-quality product, and as a method of raising multiple crops on the same land.

Note the phrase “… to improve the happiness and liveliness of their animals…”

When applied to children, the term ‘Free-Range’ describes, in effect, this same concept, a way to improve the happiness and liveliness of kids. The term has been popularized by Lenore Skenazy, who authored a book on the concept and whose weblog offers information, support, and ongoing news about Free-Range Kids. Lenore is a nationally syndicated columnist whose work appears in more than 100 papers, offering commentary on everything from politics to family life to popular culture. Formerly a columnist for The New York Sun, and The New York Daily News, she has also worked for National Public Radio and Mad Magazine.

At her website Lenore explains: “When I wrote a column for The New York Sun on ‘Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone,’ I figured I’d get a few e-mails pro and con. Two days later I was on the Today Show, MSNBC, FoxNews and all manner of talk radio with a new title under my smiling face: ‘America’s Worst Mom?'” The incident led to the creation of the Free-Range Kids blog and the book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry (John Wiley & Sons, April 2009).

Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids concept has long been familiar to many homeschooling families. Lenore writes “Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing. They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world.”

Homeschooling parents haven’t forgotten, and they’re often very comfortable trusting their children to figure out how to get by in the world. Homeschooled children frequently do the kinds of things which raise eyebrows and cause concern according to Lenore’s blog: “Do you ever…
..let your kid ride a bike to the library? Walk alone to school? Take a bus, solo? Or are you thinking about it? If so, you are raising a Free-Range Kid!”

For a few weeks after discovering Lenore’s blog I merely monitored it, thinking it was a bit sensationalistic and over the top: Could we really be so far gone as a society that letting a kid walk down the street alone might be perceived as child abuse? The idea was simply foreign to my thinking. But the more I read Lenore’s posts and the ongoing media articles about her work; the more I read the emails and letters she shares, the more I came to realize that she’s right, a large segment of this society fears deeply for the safety of children. She addresses that attitude in her original New York Sun article, and then notes:

We become so bent out of shape over something as simple as letting your children out of sight on the playground that it starts seeming on par with letting them play on the railroad tracks at night. In the rain. In dark non-reflective coats.

The problem with this everything-is-dangerous outlook is that over-protectiveness is a danger in and of itself. A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.

Just so.

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