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Readers — Found this on my “Pro or Con?” page just now:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Your website (granted I haven’t read your book yet) speaks of everything from a parent’s point-of-view but have you considered what Free-Range Parenting looks and feels like according to a child?

I’m 26 years old and was raised with the Free-Range parent philosophy.  Now that I’m old enough to begin reflecting with introspection and observation, I’ve come to the realization that Free-Range parenting was founded to counteract helicopter parenting but neglected to recognize its own extremism.  I do have great parents who taught me independence and free thinking in that I’ve traveled to 50 countries, obtained masters in both aerospace engineering and sports management, worked with acclaimed businesses in their industries; NASA and Detroit professional sports teams, by all outward accounts I have many great accomplishments due to my parents.  But I only look good on paper.

You said, “a Free-Range Kid is a kid who gets treated as a smart, young, capable individual, not an invalid who needs constant attention and help.”  And what happens to a child who grows up wondering why their parents were never there for them?  Why they were expected to do everything on their own volition? What you may define as coddling, children could interpret as love, support, and understanding.  Coddling was once defined as cooking an egg in water below the boiling point.  It wasn’t overprotected or pampered because it gave the egg a chance to cook itself under its own free will and its own pace.  Free-Range parenting made me an accomplished adult but it brought me to a “boiling point” before I was ready.

I wasn’t given the childhood to learn what support looks like and now I question it with great insecurity in all relationships in my life.  I never ask for help and I never allow myself to be vulnerable because Free-Range parenting taught me only about independence.  It neglected to teach me how to recognize what healthy dependence on society and humanity looks like.

If Free-Range parenting believes the world isn’t as dangerous as it’s made out to be, it still becomes dangerous because a child grows up believing they have nowhere to turn to for escape if needed. And a child with no place to relax from the world is just as dangerous as a helicopter child not being capable to enter the world.  Neither child will survive it.

This is not meant to accuse any parenting ideology as wrong as it may have worked for some children because that is what they as an individual needed.  But I am supporting that claim that one parenting ideology is right and all the other are wrong.  As I mentioned earlier, I am only beginning to reflect on the world but in this moment I can safely say I am sick of hearing about parenting style.  There isn’t a philosophy on parenting.  Because each child, each individual, each perspective is different.  The only foundation that parents need is unconditional love.  An acceptance based on the uniqueness of each child.  It’s one thing to tell a child you love them but you have to show them love in a meaning that correlate with what they believe it to be.  Not what you believe it to be. – Non-Free-Ranger

Dear Non: Thanks for this note. You’re so right, there is no one “parenting philosophy” that works across the board. Free-Range doesn’t consider itself a parenting philosophy, per se. It’s just a way of looking at a world bent on brainwashing us with fear, and trying to counter that drumbeat of dread.

It sounds like your parents may have been uninvolved to the extreme — or at least it felt that way to you, which would indeed feel terrible. I very much agree that children deserve unconditional love and I think no Free-Ranger would feel otherwise. We also believe in play — lots of it — not the push to “succeed” you may have experienced (and thought was “Free-Range”).  

Free-Range isn’t about ignoring our kids, or not “being there” for them, it’s about loving AND believing in them. That is not the same thing as turning a cold shoulder, and it is not the same as answering all requests for help (unspoken or otherwise) with a, “You can do it — go away.”

I’m really sorry this was your experience, and I hope you can go forth and embrace the world in a way that makes you happy. – L




Readers, this comes up often: terrified grandmas who were fearless moms (or at least feared less):

Dear Free-Range Kids: Funny thing about  my mother…

I was very much raised Free-Range.  From the time I was six or so, I left the house in the morning, returned for lunch, and then got called home after dark.  The only rule was don’t leave the block without telling someone.  My friends and I ran in a pack, organized our own games, settled our own rivalries, and learned important lessons like ‘poking sticks in the gutters is only fun until you bother a raccoon.’

I am incredibly grateful for my childhood.  I honestly grieve for children who are never allowed outside without supervision and aren’t even trusted in their own homes without an adult until they’re sixteen (if then).  But what I find most maddening is that my own mother, who raised me to be independent and dance in the rain, now firmly believes those parents have the right idea. 

Why?  Because, “The world has changed.” 

And when I show her the stats and explain how times are actually LESS dangerous than in the days when I was roaming the streets, she says, “Well, everyone has their own beliefs.”  I cannot convince her that the lower crime rate is an actual, verifiable FACT, not an opinion.  She tells me “anything could happen,” and when I remind her that nothing happened to her own children, she says, “It’s just not safe these days.”

That’s how insidious the media machine is.  Here we have a woman who once trusted in the world enough to let her children experience it…yet who now firmly believes in the face of all evidence that children are now being snatched off street corners every single day.  Data and facts do not sway her, because this isn’t about reality…it’s about perception, and ONLY perception. 

My brother recently had his first child.  They came to visit, and his wife scolded him for turning his back on the baby in a restaurant for less than thirty seconds.  He had dropped a fork, and while his wife was in the restroom my brother got up to grab a waiter’s attention.  “Anyone could have taken him!” his wife said, and my mother agreed.

It’s just so damn sad. – Frankly Frustrated  

Dear Frustrated: It IS sad. And to live in such safe times and treat them like we’re living through the Plague Years is really ungrateful, too.  So, if any of you readers have managed to make your own parents shake off the fear, please tell us how you did it!

Yesterday's Free-Range Moms are today's terrified grannies.

Yesterday’s Free-Range Moms are today’s terrified grannies.

Readers — I not only appreciated this letter one of you just sent, I found the Rosetta stone of parental worry in the article she links to!

Dear Free-Range Kids Do you let your kids have sleepovers?  Shame on you!  Yes it’s time for the latest movement in overprotective idiocy, the Ban Sleepovers movement! Look: “7 Reasons to Say No to Sleepovers”

Oh my God what were our parents thinking, letting us have SLEEPOVERS!  We can’t let our kids might be tired the next day!  They might not do well on all that ridiculous busywork from school.  Um I mean homework. (Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Insert evil grin.)

The sad part is I know families who really have banned sleepovers. – A.H.

Lenore here, who thinks she understands what’s REALLY going on, thanks to this quote I found in the No Sleepovers article:

Letting your kid spend the night away means giving up control of what she’s doing, eating and watching.

That, my friends, is the crux of the matter. We have gotten so used to total control of  our children, that giving it up for even one night is too much for us to bear. Control each bite, activity and TV show we must. Otherwise, all bets are off. Our lovely child will turn to stone, or Go-gurt, or something else disgusting. We love our kids so much, yet we think they are nothing without us. – L.

Why, kids on sleepovers might even make pizza! That has cholesterol, is fattening, and could conceivably lead to a life in the Mafia. (Photo by woodleywonderworks)

Readers — If this is the land of the free, why are cops treating happy-go-lucky kids like escaped convicts?  When did giving kids an old-fashioned summer become a crime? – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: This just happened to me. My six year old daughter and her friend went for a walk on their own and now we are getting a fine. The cop wasn’t at all interested in what we had to say just said we were getting a fine in the MAIL. In PA there are no laws regarding what age to leave your child alone, this cop was a douchebag! The kids were TWO blocks away and were gone no more than five minutes when the police came. Someone had seen them walking and called them.

When I was six in 1985 I would walk to the store to buy my dad CIGARETTES. I refuse to be a helicopter parent, they need to learn independence for good or bad. Moral is – shove your kids up your butt  or let them zombify in front of the TV.

Now I’ve got a summons to go to court. – Mama N.

All I can say is: This is not a crime. This is called “childhood.” In the summer, it often takes place outdoors, and, with the proper training of the child, does not require constant supervision. – L. 


What's wrong with this picture? NOTHING!!

Two kids outside without a parent? Call the cops! 

Folks — Be very, very, very scared of everything that exists on earth that is not the size of a bouncy house. (And then be afraid of them, too.) Because, of course, your child could choke on it. Hence, this recent recall of the Stride Rite “Joanna” sandal, whose  metal flower COULD become detached and hence  COULD become a choking hazard.

More hazardous than, say, EVERY SINGLE COIN in America? Every acorn? Every severed toe? (Uh…sorry about that one. Let’s sub in: “Every toy that ever came out of a gumball machine?”) As Ben Miller, my go-to voice of reason at the organization Common Good, says:

“This is risk aversion to an unsustainable extreme. What lesson should a company like Stride Right take from the recall? It’s impossible to manufacture a shoe, or for that matter any product, that’s completely incapable of causing any level of danger. A recall like this doesn’t promote safety so much as it promotes hiding behind a wall of lawyers, crossing your fingers, and hoping that the risk of a product recall doesn’t put you out of business.”

He’s so right. Any product can, under some circumstances, turn lethal. That’s a  fact  we can’t seem to get a grip on without running to issue a new warning or law, making everyday life seem ever scarier to parents. That’s one of the reasons for helicopter parenting — we are told that almost everything is out to kill our kids unless we are exceedingly vigilant.

White “Joanna” girl’s Stride Rite sandals with flower on top

Is this the face of a killer? No.

And not just because it’s not a face. – L

Readers — Please spread the word, especially to nervous parents: If 2013 keeps going the way it has BEEN going, crime-wise, we are about to experience the LOWEST MURDER RATE SINCE 1906. That’s according to Rick Nevin, an economic consultant and anti-lead activist. (See his chart, below.)


Yes indeed. That’s not just lower than when WE were kids. That’s lower than when our grannies and even great-grandparents were kids, and I am pretty sure their parents didn’t make them wear GPS watches to track them every second. Nor did their parents nervously drive them to the bus stop, or forbid them to play on the front lawn unsupervised. Nor were the cops picking them up when the walked to town at age 7, or 11. And yet they were in MORE DANGER of being MURDERED than our kids are today. 

Note: The decline is not a result of helicopter parenting, as most murder victims are adults and we have not been helicoptering them. And we certainly weren’t helicoptering back in the ’40s and ’50s, when crime was also low. In other words: This is simply good crime news. Nevin believes it’s a result of lowering the amount of lead exposure, which has meant less brain-addling. I’ve heard other rationales, too, from more police to better drugs for treating the mental illnesses that can lead to criminality.

Whatever the cause(s), maybe this is a sign that we should start allowing out kids back out into the world, rather than “protecting” them from it. Or, as policy analyst Ben Miller of Common Good says: Maybe it’s “a sign that our priority should be promoting common sense, instead of letting fear of every conceivable risk take control of our laws and rules. While our communities grow safer, we keep thinking up new fears — and rules — that prevent us and our children from enjoying the benefits of our safety.”

Let’s not look this gift horse  in the mouth. For one thing: Ick. All those teeth and horse breath. But also: A gift is to be appreciated. And what a lovely one to give our kids. – L.

least murder ever

Readers – Here’s a sit-up-and-go-yikes oped by Thomas Friedman of the The New York Times. Friedman sort of specializes in these, but this one talks in particular about how we are facing a “401k future.” That is: Unlike the salad days of long-term jobs and pensions, we’re in a new era of morphing and even disappearing jobs, so we are now responsible for constantly re-inventing/marketing ourselves, even as we must secure our own long-term solvency:

If you are self-motivated, wow, this world is tailored for you. The boundaries are all gone. But if you’re not self-motivated, this world will be a challenge because the walls, ceilings and floors that protected people are also disappearing. That is what I mean when I say “it is a 401(k) world.” Government will do less for you. Companies will do less for you. Unions can do less for you. There will be fewer limits, but also fewer guarantees. Your specific contribution will define your specific benefits much more. Just showing up will not cut it.

What will? Being flexible, resourceful, creative, brave and ready to roll with the punches. Which sounds like any kid who has ever organized a neighborhood hide and seek game — especially at night! As self-reliance becomes the goal, Friedman says, the value of mentors and role models will rise: “Indeed, parenting, teaching or leadership that ‘inspires’ individuals to act on their own will be the most valued of all.”

Does that sound like helicopter parenting to you?

Didn’t think so. I believe he just endorsed Free-Range Kids (though perhaps without realizing it!). – L


*Free-Range Kids will rule the world, say Friedman. (Just not in those exact words.)