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To Free or Not to Free? How Do You Feel About "Free Range Kids"?

We knew a family, for a couple of years, that was significantly less than stable. The dad was in and out of jail, the teen boys were living with their grandmother and likely running drugs, and I’m fairly certain that the 5-yr old, 3-yr old, and 1-yr old twins were left alone on a regular basis while the mom tried to hold things together. (Yes, yes, social services knew all about them. And, yes, we tried to help.) For the record, I’m not defending the mother, just giving my point of view. The entire situation was deplorable and broke my heart every single day. But an interesting thing I noticed was this: that little 5-year old was a survivor. Because of his sad situation, he knew how to take care of himself. He wandered the neighborhood at all hours, fed himself, and probably fed his younger siblings. Watching this little guy made me think about all of the things we do for our kids, that maybe they could do for themselves. It made me think about how closely we watch our children—and how little freedom we offer them—and wonder if we were doing them a favor or perhaps holding them back a little. But giving kids freedom—letting them out of our sight or leaving them on their own—goes against the grain. It can be more than a bit scary these days.

But some parents are doing it. Lenore Skenazy, for example, had the audacity to let her 9-year old son find his way home from the original Bloomies in NYC. The subway! The bus! Oh my! (And then she had the nerve to write about it in her column in the NY Sun.) Although many of us remember playing happily outside, unorganized play or unencumbered freedom for our kids is a rarity. Between guitar lessons, lacrosse practice, and reading prep, our kids are far too busy (getting ahead) to run around the neighborhood enjoying themselves. But even if they weren’t, most of us wouldn’t let them anyway. Out of our sight, I mean. Truly, who wants to end up explaining to Matt Lauer why we let our children ride their bikes with their friends, unsupervised, and out of sight… Tragic news stories regularly remind us that danger is lurking just beyond the safe haven we so carefully provide.

As a mom of three boys, I’ve had to look this “freedom vs. safety” thing squarely in the face, mostly because I am a BIG believer in “going out to play” and also because my oldest got to that age where allowing more freedom seemed like the sensible thing to do. Keeping them under wraps forever is not only implausible and impossible, but inadvisable, as well.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not a bit nervous. I am. So are most moms I know. We’re nervous about random childhood dangers. We’re nervous about pedophiles driving by in dark vans looking for sweet children to grab. We’re nervous about the news stories we hear about relationships with teachers and coaches and family friends gone wrong. So although I don’t know that I’m as brave as Ms. Skenazy, I do think she’s onto something. After writing her article and discovering what a hot issue this was, she started a website called Free Range Kids. Check it out, and see if you fall in the “for” or “against” category.

Thank you to fellow mom-blogger Scribbit, who mentioned this LA Times article in a recent tweet, which led me to Lenore Skenazy’s article. (For those of you not already addicted to Twitter, I’d advise staying away, unless you’re not already wasting enough time on Facebook. In that case, with time to spare, go for it!)

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