Thinking of going free-range, but afraid to try? You’re not alone. The “Free-Range Kid” movement is a response to the rise in overprotective, “helicopter” parenting. And it has a lot of parents wondering how to give their children more freedom and responsibility while still keeping them safe. Luckily, there’s now a paperback edition of the book that started it all: Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry). Author Lenore Skenazy (who famously allowed her nine-year-old to ride the subway by himself) wants you to know that “free-range” doesn’t mean “reckless.”
“I do believe in safety,” she says. “I believe that being street smart and confident, learning about the world, and knowing how to talk to strangers all actually make kids safer.”
Her book is filled with statistics and strategies to help you fight the fear factor. Here are two examples:
Fear Factor #1: If I let my child go to the playground alone, she will be abducted.
Skenazy suspects (half seriously) that if “stranger” and “danger” didn’t rhyme, it wouldn’t cause so many parental nightmares. Believe it or not, the crime rate today is actually lower than it was in the 80s and 90s, when most of today’s parents were free-range kids. The sad fact is that children are more likely to be abused or abducted by someone they (and their parents) know and trust. There’s more danger in cars than strangers.
Teach your children when it’s okay to reach out to a stranger, and how to find a reliable one. Make sure they know not to go off with a stranger, or give out personal information. That knowledge will keep them safe, even when you’re not around.
Fear Factor #2: If I let my kid loose, my neighbors will label me a bad parent, maybe even call the police (it’s happened!).
Skenazy’s book and blog are filled with stories about neighbors (or Neighborhood Associations) who believe that children should remain out of sight for their own “safety.” Then there are the parents who forbid their children from playing in free-range households. These people would “rather have an accusation than a conversation,” Skenazy says. “Make them understand that community means trusting each other and learning to rely on each other again.”
This may be the toughest fear factor to fight.
Here’s where to start:
- Make sure your neighbors know your kids and understand your free-range philosophy. Ask for their help, and offer yours.
- If your child is out alone, she should respectfully tell any nosy grownups to call you with concerns, not the police. (One free-ranger gives his kid a note to hand out with his cell phone number.) Rehearse this with your child.
- Connect with other free-rangers on Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids blog.
The key to facing your free-range fears is awareness and trust. The world is not as scary as you think. Trust your kids, trust your neighbors, and trust yourself. You’re a great parent!