Readers — In response to the case of Nicole Gainey, the mom arrested for letting her 7-year-old walk to the park alone, Fox Boston called in Dr. Karen Ruskin to educate the entire Northeast on how to parent.
We want to live in a safe world, says Ruskin in this interview, “But we don’t.” Kids 7,8,9 and 10 should not walk to school or even venture outside without you, she says. Perhaps by age 11 you can let your child out in “short spurts,” but really, folks, “It is your job to be the parent,” and if you trust your kids to walk the dog or bike to a friend’s, you are guilty of “parentifying” your child — turning the child into an adult.
Which I always thought was the point of parenting. Gradually turning the child into an adult.
The interview is also factually wrong. Ruskin claims that not only are there all sorts of child molesters out there, but that they each molest “over a hundred children.” This recidivism stat is an oft repeated myth, bearing no relation to reality. – L
UPDATE: One of you sent this letter to Dr. Ruskin (and also posted it as a comment, below). I love its tone and message and I hope Dr. Ruskin reads it.
Dear Dr. Ruskin: I watched your recent interview which was featured on a blog I follow called “Free Range Kids”. I have a few questions I hoped you could clarify, as the interview was very short. I am also going through your blog posts to get a more clear understanding of your point of view as I don’t want to be disrespectful just because this clip makes you appear (to me) to hold a point of view that is vastly different from my own.
1) What harm do you believe is being prevented by ensuring that a child is never left unsupervised even for a minute before age 13? I would like to make sure that the harm being prevented outweighs the harm of the kind of intense supervision you seem to be encouraging.
2) Do you think it is possible your work with people that are struggling has given you a skewed view of what the world is actually like? For example, I was a very happy latchkey kid with extremely involved parents. It is unlikely you would see me in your office.
3) I pay a very responsible twelve year old in my neighborhood to babysit my three children for up to two hours once a month or so. She is an outstanding student and cellist, and in fact a much more attentive and reliable sitter than many of the college students we have employed. She appears to me to have had a very loving upbringing, though by your standards I suppose she has been “parentified”. (The main side effect of this upbringing appears to be that she has become an incredibly articulate and mature young woman.) Should parents who allow their children to experience increasing levels of independence based on their individual developmental readiness be imprisoned, visited upon by protective services, and held up as examples of what not to do in popular media? Am I contributing to the harm of a minor by providing this girl a safe environment in which to learn valuable skills about employment?
4) What sorts of punishment and intervention do you advocate for the kinds of adults who would be so brash as to send their children down to the neighborhood park for 30 minutes before dinner to get their energy out while mom finishes cooking? Or those parents who are so self-absorbed as to allow their nine year old to walk unaccompanied across the street to the school bus stop that is visible from the kitchen window? I believe that the cases that have been in the media as of late are not interesting so much because of the behavior that is allowed/encouraged by the parent, but because of a punitive response that seems to be a bit forceful given the situation at hand. (Imprisonment, removal of children, being forced to go through ‘remidiation’ for behaviors that you as a parent believe are key to raising resilient children, etc.)
Thank you for your response, and your thoughtful consideration of these matters which are currently a topic of public discourse. — Melanie Jones