Bethesda House Flattened During Recent Quake

This might as well have been the headline of my neighbor’s email sent last month during our DC area earthquake. I was on vacation near Virginia Beach when I got her panicked note. The fact that I couldn’t read her sarcasm points to the fact that we live in a worst case scenario kind of world.

Which is why I loved reading the book “Free-Range Kids” last month. Journalist Lenore Skenazy wrote the book after she let her 9-year-old son ride the subway alone in New York and found herself on morning talk shows defending herself against being called “America’s Worst Mom.”

Her book lets us see how all of the safe-guarding of our children we do as seemingly “good” parents and grandparents is actually detrimental to their sense of self and well-being. That giving them independence actually makes them competent and confident. And that the random, awful stories we hear on the news aren’t a statistical reality.

That in fact our children are much safer today than in the early 1970s, and yet most of us won’t let them play in the front yard alone.

She lays out her book with 14 Free-Range Commandments, one for each chapter. One of my favorites, titled “Boycott Baby Knee Pads,” suggests that in our quest to be perfect parents, rather than provide every last baby proofing item for our children, that we instead walk through the baby aisle of a large department store with our oldest living relative and ask, “Which of these things did you need?” Chances are, it won’t be much.

In fact, one of her other commandments is to “Study History.”  That is, talk to your older relatives and ancestors and ask what kinds of things they did when they were young. (I see a personal documentary in your future…) So many of my personal history clients talk about how they rode public transportation to kindergarten, by themselves. Others talk about working demanding jobs as soon as they were 12. Don’t discount what they say because the world “back then” was “safer.”

Here are some eye-opening stats she cites from the U.S. Dept. of Justice:

• 36% decline in homicides of children under age 14, 1993-2005

• 60% decline in homicides of children ages 14-17, 1993-2005

• Each year, about 2,000 children are killed as passengers in cars. About 50 are kidnapped and killed by strangers. That means children are 40 times more likely to die in a car trip to the mall than during a walk home from school.

I highly recommend reading this book – whether you are a parent, a grandparent or just a person who worries a lot. I guarantee it will change the way you look at the world.

  1. Sima
    September 19, 2011 at 12:33

    Interesting but I need to know a lot more to be convinced. First of all I'd like to know how child safety in the 1960's and 1970's (when I was growing up) compare to now. I feel--maybe mistakenly--that the 1970's were safer than the 1990's. Crime rates have dropped in the last 20 years but what about before then? I think comparing car accidents to homicides is like comparing apples and oranges. In any case, we use car seats/seat belts in the car to protect ourselves in the car. We also don't drive in certain neighborhoods if we can avoid it. I take what I consider appropriate precautions to protect my family from crime whether in the car or otherwise... In any case, you have piqued by interest and I'd like to read the book, at least to form a more informed opinion--one way or the other.