England Takes a Look at Free-Range Kids

Hi Readers!

We’ll return to our regularly scheduled rants — and deep thoughts — in the next post. But first, I just had to reprint this lovely review of Free-Range Kids that ran on Britain’s Spiked sedzhdassr
a news and commentary site that is similar to America’s Slate.

It’s by Nancy McDermott, a mom of two who lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn — a location locally famous for its fiercely dedicated (or sometimes just fierce) moms. Voila:



Over the long Memorial Day weekend, I let my sons stay up past their bedtime to watch movies. We had already spent several hours of guilty pleasure watching combat classics like Sahara with Humphrey Bogart and Submarine Command with William Holden. Both are still rated ‘G’, but probably only because no one has noticed how much smoking, drinking and shooting they include.

So when my eldest son begged to watch Big with Tom Hanks, it seemed like a good choice all around: no war, no death, no guns, no tanks, and no need to feel awkward about the one adult moment in the film because my son still hides his eyes during the smoochy parts and shouts: ‘Is it over yet?’ (1)

The film tells the story of Josh Baskin, a 13-year-old boy from New Jersey plunged into a grown-up body and the adult world after he wishes to be ‘big’ on a mysterious arcade machine at the fun fair. It’s one of our favourites. I can’t help but smile every time I watch Tom Hanks gnaw a piece of baby corn as if it were full-sized, and his toy-filled loft apartment always inspires my sons to gasp and exclaim: ‘That’s so cool!’

Watching it with them this time, it struck me that many of the things they love about the film have nothing to do with the story. They are things viewers would have taken for granted in the late 1980s when the film was made: things like kids walking to school, riding their bikes, or hanging out in town by themselves. My son was especially amazed to see the boys taking the bus from New Jersey to Manhattan. For him, Big is a snapshot of a world without cellphones, ‘hoovering parents’ or adult supervision, all the more intriguing because it is all incidental and not the main plot line, as it is in Home Alone.

It’s hard to believe the experience of childhood could change so much in only a few decades. Today, the same streets where Josh Baskin rode his bike to school are crowded with cars dropping off children for class each morning. The sidewalks are virtually empty. The ersatz street-game of stick ball has been replaced by the game it aspired to be: kids now play seasonal baseball with uniforms and coaches and trophies. And a child taking a trip on public transport on his own? That can become headline news. Just ask Lenore Skenazy.

Skenazy, a journalist and mother based in New York, made newspaper headlines around the world last year when she wrote about allowing her then nine-year-old son, Izzy, to find his way home alone on the New York City subway. It wasn’t the trip itself that garnered so much attention: it was the fact that Skenazy had the cheek to suggest that letting her son ride the subway was a perfectly reasonable thing to do, that most adults are not ‘predators’, and that there is no reason why a competent young person shouldn’t be allowed to travel the city on his own. It earned her the label ‘America’s Worst Mom’. However, had she met only with condemnation, that might have been the end of it. But something else happened.

It turned out that Skenazy isn’t the only parent frustrated by the ‘can’t do’ ethos pervading childhood today. Her story struck a chord with people across America and around the world. A year after she found herself on America’s Today show facing down a ‘parenting expert’ who looked at Skenazy ‘like I just asked her to smell my sock’, Skenazy has written a book, Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry, and has started up the debate all over again.

‘The media loves this story like a dog loves not only a bone, but filet mignon in steak sauce’, she tells me – and she’s right. At one point it was possible to go to bed having watched her on Nightline, only to switch on the TV over breakfast to see her again on Good Morning America. And it’s not just in the United States. She has also chatted with radio hosts in New Zealand and media people in Brazil, Chile and Australia. ‘It is a story, dare I say it, that everyone wants to hear’, she says, ‘because I think we really do realise that something strange has happened to childhood and also to the role of parents’.

Of course, some of the interest in the Skenazy story is pure nostalgia for things like ‘pick-up’ baseball or roaming the neighbourhood in drugstore costumes on Halloween. But there are also many parents who would like to give their kids a little more freedom without necessarily recreating everything else about the 1970s. Most don’t understand how we got to where we are, and few have any idea of how to go about changing things. Free-Range Kids addresses all of these concerns and more. It’s part how-to manual, part myth-buster, and it makes a passionate case for giving kids the gift of freedom – all delivered in a funny, good-natured way that makes letting your children roam alone seem like the most straightforward thing in the world.

The book is divided into two parts. The first is comprised of ‘The 14 Free-Range Commandments’, or, as Skenazy calls them: ‘10 Commandments with four thrown in free of charge.’ These are not prescriptions but chapters tackling some of the biggest challenges parents face, whether from their own fears (‘Turn Off the News’), the problems of living in a litigious climate (‘Don’t Think Like a Lawyer’), or dealing with people who believe a fearful parent is a good parent (‘Ignore the Blamers’).

The chapter on baby-safety, ‘Boycott Baby Knee Pads’, is typical. It opens with a vignette about James Hirtenstein, a professional baby proofer who featured on the CBS channel’s Early Show. He was advising parents to buy a device called a ‘toilet lock’ because ‘on average two children a week die in toilets’ (!!). The chances are that, for many parents, the very mention of the words ‘toddler’, ‘toilet’ and ‘death’ in the same sentence would make them, understandably, want to lock their toilets. With chains. Forever. Fortunately, Skenazy actually goes through the trouble of looking into the story. And she finds that, actually, around four children a year drown in toilets. And while that is horrible and tragic, the truth is that it is highly, highly unlikely it will happen to your kid. It’s probably not going to happen to anyone you know or are likely to know, in spite of what entrepreneurial baby-proofers like Hirtenstein tell us (2).

The beauty of Skenazy’s work is not just that it’s reassuring for parents or for anxious house guests who haven’t worked out that it’s only by holding the three buttons down on the toilet lock while pushing it in that the lid opens. Rather, it is that Skenazy has tipped us off to the fearmongers’ chief modus operandi: find a minor danger and convince parents that it’s a major concern. Both in the book’s first part and in its encyclopedic second part, titled ‘Safe or Not?’, Skenazy blows the lid off all manner of worries, such as child abduction, poison Halloween candy, the perils of eating raw cookie dough, and lead in Chinese toys. It’s chock full of examples, inspiration and ammunition to throw back at the experts, doom-mongers and busybodies striving to make kids’ lives safer but duller.

What you won’t find in Free-Range Kids is a guide to the ‘Free-Range Parenting Lifestyle’. There is no such thing. Sure, we need to ‘go Free-Range’ but it’s not really about us. Skenazy’s focus is firmly on children. Nowhere is this clearer than in the chapter titled ‘Listen to your Kids: They Don’t Want to be Treated Like Babies’. ‘When parents don’t trust their kids to cross the street or go where they say they’re going or buy groceries by themselves because everyone else out there is so untrustworthy, kids hear the simultaneous translation “we don’t trust you”. Trusting our kids, it turns out, really means trusting each other. Parents, teachers, relatives and mentors who do believe in us have an impact beyond measure.’ (3)

One such adult in Skenazy’s life was Mrs MacDougall, her seventh-grade social studies teacher and the person to whom her book is dedicated. Mrs Mac asked young Lenore to accompany her on a trip to visit a dilapidated one-room schoolhouse that she was thinking of buying so that her students could experience what it was like ‘in the olden days’. It would mean skipping school, staying over night in a hotel, and lots of driving. ‘Mrs Mac’, Skenazy protested, ‘I don’t have a license’. ‘Do you have a learner’s permit?’, responded Mrs Mac. ‘Yes.’ ‘Then let’s go!’ (4)

The sly question at the heart of the film Big is whether, given the opportunity, we would go back to being kids again. ‘No’, Josh’s grown-up girlfriend Susan decides. ‘It was hard enough the first time.’ And yet, by the end of the film, we’re also sure we wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Tucking in my own sleepy boys, I wondered what they would have to look back on one day: whether it would be the things they did or the things they weren’t allowed to do. For the Mrs Macs of the world, Lenore Skenazy among them, the answer is straightforward. Grab a copy of Free-Range Kids – and let’s go!

Nancy McDermott is a writer and mother based in New York. To see her other commentary on parenting issues, click here. (You’ll love them — Lenore.)

And here are her footnotes for this piece:

1) Big may be one of the last family films with characters who smoke

(2) Free-Range Kids, page 32

(3) Free-Range Kids, pp 144, 141

(4) Free-Range Kids, page 141

Reprinted from: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/6899/


26 Responses to England Takes a Look at Free-Range Kids

  1. Jenny June 17, 2009 at 5:42 am #

    Ya know, only since we gave up television can I relax about the kids playing out front, as opposed to out back within the fence of safety. The media fearmongering is pervasive. You’re a real breath of fresh air. Thanks!

  2. Amanda June 17, 2009 at 5:43 am #

    I just discovered your blog today (I googled “paranoid over protective parents”). I must say I think we are kindred spirits. I have a bit of a situation on my hands and I was wondering if anyone here could give some advice.

    I have an 8 year old niece. Her parents are low-income and they all share 1 bedroom, so she doesn’t have much room to play. The worst part is they are so over protective that she isn’t allowed to leave the apartment at all, even just to play in the grassy area below their windows. They don’t go with her to play, either, so they essentially have her locked up all day long.

    I get her on weekends and the summers, and my rules are the total opposite of theirs. Here are some rules she has that blow my mind:

    She can’t stay in a car or the apartment alone (even for one minute, while I get the mail or other short task).
    She can’t shower or bathe alone.
    She needs help choosing her outfits.
    She needs help cleaning her room.
    She needs help brushing her hair.
    She can’t plug electronics in.
    She can’t use the microwave or to help cook or clean the kitchen for fear of injury.
    She can’t eat alone lest she choke.
    She can’t ride a bike without training wheels.
    She can’t play “fighting” games (this is not limited to extreme violence–any game with physical contact is basically a no-no).
    She can’t walk the dog even if I am with her lest she drag her down (my dog is 12 lbs).
    She can’t climb trees, splash in the lake, or play in the mud lest she ruin her clothes.

    Needless to say I would go insane if I had her follow these rules all summer. However, she seems anxious to disobey, because of threats from her parents. I’ve told her “my house my rules, you are a kid and you deserve some summer freedom.” I feel guilty for going against their wishes, but for god’s sake who cares if she picks out an ugly outfit? Or scrapes a knee falling off a bike? Bet you anything next time she’ll try to improve her riding. Pain is a great motivator.

    The funny thing is that at my house, she is extremely well behaved. The occasional lie about a small thing, forgetfulness, or messiness, sure; but she’s 8. I can ask her to do anything and she will promptly comply without a shred of attitude. She eats what she’s made and she knows if I say “no” to something, it’s for good reason. However, with her parents, she’s a nightmare. She throws tantrums, refuses food, and is just a terror in general.

    I think she is behaved at my house because I respect her and give her responsibilities and respect.

    Any advice on how to handle these parents?? Should I respect their rules just because they are her parents? Or is it fair to say they don’t apply here? What should I tell my niece?

  3. jahn ghalt June 17, 2009 at 6:47 am #

    Oh goody, you asked for *advice*!

    In this instance to ask forgiveness is far more blessed than to ask permission. I don’t know “the law” and don’t want to clutter my head with nonsensical minutae.

    Your niece’s folks are the law in this case, and I woudn’t change a thing in your approach.

    Tell your niece to not cast light on “my house, my rules” – she should even lie about it if confronted directly (much will depend on the extent and means of interogation).

    (warning, getting ready to preach)

    I tell my kids that honesty is not always the best policy – it is often better to be dishonest to be kind to objects of your dishonesty.

    I truly think that to avoid or shade the ‘truth’ about “my house, my rules” would be kind – kind to your siblings, kind to yourself, and certainly kind to the niece.

    The last of those rules can be neatly subverted – “her clothes” really means “the clothes they sent with her to visit”. So go on a fun low-cost shopping trip to Goodwill or Sal’s Army Thrift – and get some cheap summer duds to tear-up, mess-up, and frolick in

    (love that word “frolick”)

    Keep, toss, or give back those clothes – no point in raising a flag.

    Have a great summer.

  4. KarenW June 17, 2009 at 7:38 am #

    Amanda, these do not sound like your run-of-the-mill overprotective parents. I think that if your talked to any pediatrician or psychologist, they would agree that these people are actually harming their daughter. Sure, the world in general is more overprotective than before, and many parents believe that an 8 year old should never be alone outside. But what you are describing is not normal even by society’s hyper-safety-conscious standards. I’m especially concerned about her not being allowed to bathe by herself! It’s great that you are introducing some sanity into your niece’s life, but I think you should also find some respected doctor or teacher to talk to her parents.

  5. Zack June 17, 2009 at 7:41 am #

    I enjoy Lenore’s blog and witty columns. If you’re interested, here’s my Skenazy page on Squidoo. Thanks.

  6. Lisa Zahn June 17, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    I agree with KarenW’s answer to Amanda. This is abusive or certainly very close to it. That girl needs help beyond the freedom you give her at her home. One or both of her parents needs help, too. One or both may have a mental illness of some type to be that paranoid and over-protective. Please do what you can beyond your own home, Amanda.

    Lenore, the article you’ve shared is just wonderful. I will link it on my Facebook page, just as I do many of your blog posts. I’m trying to get people thinking and talking about this issue, just as you are. Thanks again for your work!


  7. ikeepsafe June 17, 2009 at 10:58 am #

    Thanks for the article! Keep up the good work! Kids need to actually learn for themselves. Parents need to supervise, but they don’t need to to HOVER. Otherwise we end up with kids who don’t know how to behave without a parent present.

    I’m wondering what you think about monitoring children and teaching them about online activities?

  8. Keith Wilcox June 17, 2009 at 11:40 am #

    Your comparison to the movie “Big” is perfect. I spent a good part of my childhood in a small town in New Hampshire, and roaming free all day was part of how we all lived. I remember being 8 years old and being outside essentially all day with my friends; we only came inside when our mothers called to us. I moved to Los Angeles when I was 12 and we still spent all day outside screwing around riding our bikes up to 30 miles from home without any supervision at all. I do not believe, even in big cities, that people are any worse now than they were those many years ago. We, as parents, have simply become paranoid.

  9. Nicola June 17, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    You know what I noticed in my neighborhood which really makes me so happy?

    We’ve been here for 6 years and in the summer, there was one (and I mean that) one kid that would be outside playing alone.

    Well, my kids finally hit 7 and 8 and I finally grew some common sense, and let them hit the street. For a good month they were the only kids outside. They were neighborly, too – chatting it up and getting to know “the people in our neighborhood.”

    Slowly but surely, I started to notice more kids outside. A couple on scooters, then a couple on bikes… don’t you know, that there are now around 10 kids that end up playing outside during the day?

    My daughter told me today that next door was almost like a party – all the kids were playing together and when they got hot, they’d sit in the garage. They’re swapping bikes and scooters and having the best time.

    Thank goodness… I am so delighted to know that people noticed my kids outside and started letting their kids have some freedom too. Before – you’d think this place was void of children. It’s so refreshing.

    Just thought I’d share. It’s becoming a blissful world in my neck of the woods. 🙂

  10. Harley June 17, 2009 at 3:00 pm #

    Amanda, good for you. Your neice needs a “safe” place to grow and you are providing it, not her parents from your description. I do disagree with the advise to encourage her to lie to her parents about your house rules/activities. In my experience encouraging kids to keep secrets and lie to their parents, even incompetent ones, can cause confusion if a vulnerable child (and your neice may well be one) ever does run into an unsafe family memeber or one of the rare predetors who encourage such behaviors in order to isolate victims from seeking support from their parents.

    Secondly, most healthy children get anxious when encouraged to keep such secrets and then spill the beans anyway and feel really bad about themselves. Additionally this could not only embarass you but result in the parents not trusting you and perhaps withholding your neice, who really needs you.

    Better to be straight with her parents about your house rules if the subject comes up (my style would be to bring it up myself) or at least leave your neice to decide what she wants to share with them without any prompting from you. If things then do blow up over this issue (I suspect they will someday) you will be on higher ground with less damage to the trust between you and her parents. Better to argue cleanly about rules than trying to repair broken trust.

    Good luck to you and your neice.

  11. ebohlman June 17, 2009 at 4:03 pm #

    Nicola: Your experience is consistent with the results of Solomon Asch’s famous group-conformity experiments from the 1950s. Asch’s subjects were shown pictures of two lines and asked to judge which was longer. In the first phase of the experiment, all but one of the subjects were told beforehand to falsely identify the shorter line as longer. He found that the “naive” subjects mostly went along with the group and misidentified the line as well. In the second phase, which is what’s relevant here, all but two of the subjects were told to misidentify the line and one was told to correctly identify it. This time, the naive subjects all correctly identified it.

    In short, it takes only one or two people going against the grain to break a group out of a conformity pattern based on false assumptions. I also suspect that in your community, a lot of the other parents were itching to do what you did but couldn’t summon up the courage. You managed to break the ice, so to speak.

    Another real-world confirmation of Asch’s findings occurred in late 2005, when an LA Times reporter began an article with “Iraq’s civil war…” Within a few days, almost all the news outlets were also saying “civil war,” outlets that had previously gone to great lengths to avoid acknowledging this rather obvious fact.

  12. Sandra June 17, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    You’re international! You rock!!! 🙂

  13. Sammi June 17, 2009 at 11:34 pm #

    My favourite free-range movie: My Dog Skip. I watched it even before I even heard of the term, and I was like, “That’s what I want for my kids!”

  14. Sarah June 18, 2009 at 12:52 am #

    I loved this article! I was just shopping with my sweet cousin the other day at Wal-Mart and my 8 yr old son needed to use the bathroom at the front of the store and asked nicely first. My cousin was absolutely appalled that I would let him walk up there by himself with only a make sure to wash your hands. She has more than 10 kids and I can’t imagine how much energy it must have taken over the years to be so protective of all of them. They’re great kids don’t get me wrong but seem very naive about many practical things.
    Both of my boys think nothing of asking for permission to walk the 1 1/2 miles between our house and thier grandparents house. We live on a country road only 3 other families between us and you know what no one has gotten run over or snatched. That was another thing my cousin couldn’t believe that we would chance the boys safety by letting them walk or ride thier bikes that distance unsupervised. Because you know how those rabid packs of coyotes or wild snakes can be? They’ll take a kid down.
    My brothers and I grew up walking in town to the library or water park while our parents were working. We’d spend the whole day there without supervision, just a sack lunch or money to buy lunch. None of us were molested and my parents didn’t have cell phones attached to us or low jacks.
    That’s one of the reasons my husband and I bought property near my parents in the country so that my boys can have some of what we had in the 70s and 80s – freedom to live and explore. The boys aren’t living a totally Tom Sawyer childhood, but they are learning to be independent and responsible.

  15. David Raikow June 18, 2009 at 1:41 am #

    So four kids a year drown in toilets, therefore don’t lock your toilets. Hmmm. While I would agree with you that the risk was exaggerated, there is, by definition, a risk. Since a toilet lock is inexpensive and causes almost no inconvenience, the cost of using one is very low, for a benefit that is very high, even if the risk is low for the general population. So I wouldn’t fault a parent for using a toilet lock.

    You advocate using bike helmets, so you are aware that some simple measures have low cost to benefit ratios. And people are notoriously bad at assessing risk. Do you have a system for assessing cost to benefit and risk? If not, then yours is a qualitative argument. thus making it easy to swing too far in the other direction and be too permissive.

  16. Sandra June 18, 2009 at 1:44 am #

    David R – airplanes crash into houses too, but I don’t spend my life looking up.

    Four kids a year is hardly a “high risk hazard”. And toilet locks ARE a pain in the arse. We don’t have them, never will. And I don’t even close bathroom doors here. I’m a rebel, I guess.

    I’ll bet you don’t let your kids lick the beaters, do you?

  17. Sandra June 18, 2009 at 2:40 am #

    It’s called CALCULATED RISK. The whole “Free Range Movement” is based upon that. It’s that we don’t have to cower in fear over things that frankly have such a miniscule risk of happening to us that it’s not worth it. Molestation, sick from egg beaters, and yes, toilet bowl drownings.

    I can prevent ANYTHING and EVERYTHING from happening to any of my four children by simply locking them in the padded house with rounded spoons and bubble wrap. We won’t do anything – that way we don’t risk anything. There you go! What a way to LIVE!

    Calculated risk. I’m not dealing with the hassle and expense of a toilet lock when the odds are so infintessimally minutely teeny tiny small that anything will happen. 4 deaths. In a year. Dear lord, spiders kill three times that many people. Maybe I should live in a glass box.

    And you don’t know me, kind sir. You cannot call me an a**. What did my mother used to say? The hen that clucked the loudest laid the egg? You sir, are the hen. You are simply not in tuned with what the Free Range “movement” is all about.

    Move on.

  18. jahn ghalt June 18, 2009 at 2:53 am #

    Mr. Raikow,

    The toilet lock thing strikes me as a non-starter. I would swag its cost/benefit ratio as between 10x and 100x lower than that for bike helmets.

    I skimmed your resume – it seems you’re a manager:

    “Project & Research Management / Science Advisor

    Plan, develop, and administer multidisciplinary, high-level scientific analysis and research programs ”

    “Peer Reviewed Author & Speaker

    Write grant proposals, protocols, status reports, technical memos, scientific papers, presentations, book reviews, book proposals, book chapters, and books ”

    Perhaps you and I could get within a order-of-magnitude on a cost/benefit analysis?

    I’m a little lazy, so I’m going to depend on recall for some of this:

    NTSB puts the value of a human life at, roughly, $3-million.

    Stat Abstract of US gives 4.3-million births in 2006.

    Top Google Match for Toilet Lock – Amazon.com – $15 – delivered.

    Relevant age of child: 9 months to, what? 30 months?

    2.25 years exposure

    (4.3-million children)(2.25 yrs) = 9.7-million child-yrs

    (round up to pleasing 10-million child-yrs.)

    Actually – this seems to put the number of children at risk of drowing in toilets at about 10-million *children* – not *child-yrs.*

    Fake a ratio of 1.0 for toilets-to-children of this age

    (could well be higher)

    Cost: (10-million children-at-risk)(1.0 toilets/child-at-risk)($15) = $150-million

    Benefit: (4 children/year)(2.25 years)($3-million)
    = $27-million.

    Cost is roughly 5x higher than Benefit – with zero value placed on installation and operation – maybe you could take a stab at that?

  19. David Raikow June 18, 2009 at 3:00 am #

    Reposted and censored:

    I’m always amazed at the irrelevant BS people trot out to make thier arguements. I can’t do anything to prevent an airplane crashing into my house. But I can endeavor to make a safe environment for my kids.

    Did you stop to consider that the low toilet-drowning rate might be a result of using locks? Thus have you illustrated how bad people are at assessing risk. Morevoer, I said the risk is low for the general population, so what exactly are you referring to in quotes? But this is all moot anyway as we have no data.

    And it didn’t take long for you to trot out the holier-than-thou attitude, did it? So here’s my snark: you’re an —, as is in “assume”.

    Now continuing…

    Your mother never told you that when you assume you make an — out of you and me? You ignore the “assume” in my statement. You assume that because I comment negatively on flawed logic in the post, I am overly-protective. You assume I am advocating what you rail against. Heck, You assume I don’t lick the beaters. It is you who does not know me, and yet jump to all kinds of conclusions.

    You wanna talk calculation? In this case you can’t calcuate anything. You don’t know how many toilet locks are in use. You don’t know historical toilet drowning rates. You don’t know if drowning rates changed following the introduction of locks to the market. Therefore your perception of low risk is an opinion only.

    I don’t know what Free-range is about? Uh huh…holier than thou…just like I said.

  20. Sandra June 18, 2009 at 3:01 am #

    Okay, you win. I’m exhausted. I already spend all day arguing with two toddlers and two teenagers, I don’t need the round and round of arguing with you too.

    We don’t need toilet locks. So there, I’m a rebel, sneering at statistics and facts just to spite society! Take THAT, society!

  21. David Raikow June 18, 2009 at 3:33 am #


    I’m not sure this is the right approach, as you are attempting to quantitfy this for the population at large. It might be better to assess for the individual, but I’m not sure that could be done with any rigor. For example, I’m not going to touch the $3M figure. But all this misses the point. Simply stating that there are few deaths caused by something is not a justification for ignoring it. After all, few deaths are currently caused by measels in this country, but not because it isn’t dangerous. Obviously we must take a qualitative approach to many risks. I’m just saying that the pendulum could swing too far in the other direction. I’ve seen kids in my neighborhood riding their bikes alone -at night with no helmets and no lights.


    I’d wager my opinions are probably closer to yours than you might think. All I said was “I wouldn’t fault a parent for using a toilet lock.” But you went ahead and pigeon-holed me as a worry-monger. Such is nature of our society, no one can debate anymore. I blame Rupert Murdoch.

  22. jahn ghalt June 18, 2009 at 3:41 am #

    Mr. Raikow,

    Not trying for “rigor” – just a ballpark figure:

    It’s lunchtime, so I tried another google search on bike helmet cost/benefit ratio:


    1994 study – American Journal of Public Health


    Legislation requiring bicyclists to wear helmets in Israel will, over a helmet’s 5-year duration (assuming 85% compliancy, 83.2% helmet efficiency for morbidity, and 70% helmet efficiency for mortality), save approximately 57 lives and result in approximately 2544 fewer hospitalizations; 13,355 and 26,634 fewer emergency room and ambulatory visits, respectively; and 832 and 115 fewer short-term and long-term rehabilitation cases, respectively. Total benefits ($60.7 million) from reductions in health service use ($44.2 million), work absences ($7.5 million), and mortality ($8.9 million) would exceed program costs ($20.1 million), resulting in a benefit-cost ratio of 3.01:1.

    See this page for Parameters:


    It assumes bike-related deaths happen at age 38, life expectancy at 76, value of life = $181,000.

    Double this for value of infants and multiply by 1.5 for inflation to 2009 and round up to $600,000/baby.

    If you stipulate the $600k figure, the Cost becomes about 30x the Benefit.

    So far I’m fairly pleased with my gut call at 10x to 100x lower than C/B ratiofor bike helmets.

    It is not *obvious* that “we must take a qualitative approach to many risks”.

    Professionals such as you and me know that feelings are unreliable and ought to be tested – certainly in matters of policy – even if only micro-policy conducted within your own personal domain.

  23. Sandra June 18, 2009 at 3:43 am #

    Okay. I read your first post as in, “only four deaths, but still, why not do it?”, as in it would be irresponsible for me, as a mother to four (and the oldest has lived 15 years without babyproofing, just as an aside) not to take every single precaution that I possibly can to ensure my children are safe.

    I apologize if I got heated, or if I misinterpreted your first post. Since emotions and tones cannot be conveyed in type, I answerred yours with what I felt was an honest emotion. You basically said, since there IS a risk, we should prevent it, and I just went off.

    Getting out of bed is a risk. That’s all I’m saying. And no, personally, I don’t think the use of toilet locks has lowered the death rate. Kids love puzzles. A lock is more likely to encourage them to be at the toilet than one that isn’t! 🙂

  24. Julius Green June 19, 2009 at 12:57 pm #

    @David R: “Simply stating that there are few deaths caused by something is not a justification for ignoring it.”

    Indeed, you cite the 4 child deaths per year from drowning in toilets as reason enough to take precautions.

    I’m sorry to report that you appear to have much more work to do to child-proof the world (or world-proof your children). Take a gander at the leading causes of death for children age 5 and under:

    =====Data for 2006====
    Motor Vehicle – 588 children killed
    Drowning – 509
    Fire/burn – 234
    Suffocation – 151
    Pedestrian, Other – 120
    Fall – 43
    Struck by or Against – 41
    Natural/ Environment – 40
    Poisoning – 36
    Firearm – 19
    Machinery – 11
    Bicycles – 4
    Cut/pierced – 3
    (source: WISQARS)

    I imagine you never let your kids near any roads where there might be cars, bicycles, or pedestrians; water deep enough to drown in; heights tall enough to fall from; any substances which could be poisonous; sharp objects; guns; and nature.

    Except for the bicycles and stabby things, the previously-cited causes of death are obviously much higher than your 4 toilet-bowl drownings a year.

    You have my empathy for having to live in such a state of constant fear.

  25. jahn ghalt June 20, 2009 at 2:37 am #

    The sum of those leading causes (age 5 and under) is less than 2,000.

    I would guess that these *exclude infant mortality*.

    See figures from top linked excel file at this page:


    link is titled:

    “77 – Live Births, Deaths, Marriages, and Divorces”

    Infant Mortality is defined as death occuring during 1st yr – and excluding fetal death.

    Sampling at 10-year intervals:

    2006 29,000 6.7
    1996 28,000 7.3
    1986 39,000 10.4
    1976 48,000 15.2
    1965 93,000 24.7
    1955 107,000 26.4

    Over 30 times as many infants miss their 1st birthday as all others missing their 5th birthday.

    Note also a steep downward trend in infant mortality – on average a decrease of 4 deaths/1000 live births for each decade.

    Another interesting feature of the data is that it is “monotonic” meaning that each year has a lower rate than the previous year – with only one exception .

    The 2001 rate was 6.8, whereas the 2002 rate was 7.0

    A steady, unwavering decline is shown from 1970 through 2006.

    (before 1970 the data is given at 5-year intervals – showing an even more rapid decline)

    Alright Ghalt – What’s Your Point?

    There are at least two here:

    1) Infant death – which is mostly not preventable (a notion that is not supported by this data) – has far more impact than early “preventable” death.

    (that death-within ages 1-5 is preventable is also not supported here)

    Modify point 1:

    1a) Your child is more than 30x more likely to die by age 1 than between ages 1 and 5.

    2) We as infants were 2x to 3x more likely to miss our first birthday than our own infants.


  1. Free Roaming Kids - June 18, 2009

    […] I talked about this a bit in the past, about kids having the freedom to make their own mistakes.  This week I found a book called “Free-Range Kids”.  The following article is a brief synopsis of the book and is what has really sparked my interest in this subject.  “Free-Range Kids”. […]