I’d like to nominate Lenore Skenazy as “Heroine of the Day” for her sane approach to child rearing. She is the so-called “worst Mom in America” who agreed to let her 9-year-old son get home on public transportation alone. He successfully rode the subway solo, she wrote a column about it, tons of angry mail and lots of media attention followed and poof a movement was born: Raising kids to be safe but without all the worry. Her book, Free-Range Kids is out today and she’s been hitting the airwaves, including a great interview with Brian Lehrer. One thing she said that is especially significant: “We’ve forgotten how competent our kids are.”
As Skenazy points out, parents have become indoctrinated to believe that there is danger everywhere and that no toy, no playground, no neighborhood is safe. Parents are supposed to supervise their kids all the time because supposedly the only way they can be safe is if their guardian is with them 24/7. But not allowing them any time by themselves, to play outside, to ride their bikes, to ride the bus alone, only stunts their development into responsible, reasonable adults.
She says parents are afraid of letting their kids walk down the block. One guy who wrote to her blog “wouldn’t let his kid use the basketball hoop” in front of their house because he might be abducted. “Parents are even supposed to stand with their kid at the bus stop,” she says. Indeed, I witness just this scene every morning, and the kids aren’t that young either.
Instead, Skenazy rightly advocates teaching kids to live in the world. She argues for teaching them to read a map, or how to get help from strangers if another stranger bothers them, and how to say no to a grown up. As she wrote in the Washington Post yesterday:
It strikes me as the height of IRRESPONSIBILITY to supervise a child at all times, because then they never learn how to do anything by themselves. What happens the day you’re not there and they don’t know how to cross the street? One lady I spoke to said, ‘But I always WILL be there.’ Who is the nut case here? The parent who prepares her child for independence? Or the one who assumes she will never, for a second, be separated from them?
Reminds me of the old Jewish joke about the Miami doorman who is asked to carry a young boy out of the backseat of a limousine. The doorman asks the boy’s mother, “Oh my God, can’t he walk?” “Of course he can walk,” she replies, “but God willing, he’ll never have to.”