Lenore Speaks!

Hi Readers — Today is my birthday, so I’m taking the opportunity to tell you a little bit about what I do besides blogging. (Or you can just watch this video.)

I’m a newspaper gal by training. For 14 years I was on staff at The New York Daily News, first as a features writer, then as an opinions columnist. My weekly column is still syndicated. When the News job ended, I landed at The New York Sun, which I loved. That paper is famous for its 1897 column, “Yes, Virginia, There IS a Santa Claus,” and also perhaps for its 2008 column, “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone.” By me.

Two days after that piece was published, I found myself on The Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News and (for contrast) NPR defending myself as NOT “America’s Worst Mom.” I even got a phone call at home: “Your kids should be taken away!” I started this blog to explain: I LOVE safety. I love car seats, seat belts, mouth guards — I just don’t believe our kids need a security detail every time they leave the home.

It turns out that a lot of people feel the same. Like me, they wondered:

How did we get to this point?

How has society managed to convince a slew of us that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby-snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape?

That’s the topic I researched for my book, “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children Without Going Nuts with Worry.” It’s also one of the topics I give lectures on:  “How Come We’re So Much More Afraid Than Our Parents Were?”

Other speech topics include, “Relax! Not Every Little Thing You Do Has THAT Much Impact on Your Child’s Development” — all about the pressure, from pregnancy on, to create a “perfect” kid.  (As if!) And then there’s a new “Lean In” lecture I’m giving to corporate America: “Busy Parents, Happy Kids.”  (Feel free to come up with a better title.) That one is to help parents, especially moms, realize that when they “lean in” to their careers — or other interests — they’re not short-changing their kids. Leaning out of their lives a little may even help them. Richard Branson attributes his “Virgin” success to a mom who suddenly stopped the car and made him walk home a couple miles when he was 4. (Something I do not insist all attendees go home and do. But…it’s something to think about.)

The speeches are funny. (Okay, they’re hysterical. For some reason, this post is coming out somber, but at my speeches, mascara runs. People’s stomachs hurt from laughing so hard.) But the talks are life-changing, too. As one attendee (not a relative!) wrote:

“I saw Lenore Skenazy in Rochester. She spoke before a sold out crowd and generously stayed to sign every last book sold. No-one wanted her to go, and many of us wished we could have taken her out for coffee to continue the conversation — because she is just like us! Lenore is, simply put, hilarious and brilliant. Her statements are well researched, and her humor brings levity to topics which seem to create a lot of controversy. For those of us who remember roaming free during our childhoods and long for the same kind of freedom for our children, Lenore reminds us not to believe the hype, and allows us to believe that we are not crazy for leaving our children outside, unsupervised, for — at least — a few minutes!” 

Lecturing is how I make my living now. I’ve spoken everywhere from Microsoft to Yale to the Sydney Opera House. So if you work at or know of a corporation, community group, school or university looking for a speaker, please have them visit my Speaking Engagements page, or drop a line to my agent, Judy Safern, via [email protected]

That’s it. Thanks. And Happy Thanksgiving. – L

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18 Responses to Lenore Speaks!

  1. Gary November 27, 2013 at 1:17 pm #

    It’s mine too!!! Happy Birthday Lenore!!

  2. Emily November 27, 2013 at 2:01 pm #

    Happy Birthday, Lenore!!! Oh, and happy first day of Hanukkah tomorrow too. 🙂

  3. anonymous this time November 27, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

    Celebrating your presence in the world, Lenore, and all you do to shine light in the darkness. xo

  4. Richard November 27, 2013 at 2:54 pm #

    Happy birthday – my free-range daughter just turned 5 today, so she (and you) are in good company!

  5. Caro November 27, 2013 at 3:47 pm #

    Happy birthday, Lenore, and thanks for all you do! (I especially like how “anonymous this time” put it). Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Hanukkah!

  6. katrina November 27, 2013 at 4:33 pm #

    Happy Birthday! My newly licensed daughter and her brother left the house this morning to “just go shopping” Apparently with all the excitement of Thanksgiving, they forgot my birthday is also today They will be spending their own hard earned cash, since they both started working at a grocery store at the age of 14.

  7. Mary Frances November 27, 2013 at 5:23 pm #

    Happy Birthday, Lenore! I was very happy to find out about you – I’ve been raising free-range kids too (even before I knew there was a term for how I was parenting!) who are now 16 and 12 … what a great adventure it’s been so far!

  8. Donna November 27, 2013 at 8:31 pm #

    Happy birthday, Lenore!!! In honor of you, I left my 8 year old home alone all morning while I was in court. She got up 5 minutes before I had to walk out the door so she even had to figure out her own breakfast.

    Happy Hanukkah and Thanksgiving as well. What a convergence of celebrations.

  9. JP November 27, 2013 at 10:10 pm #

    Happy Birthday to you, Lenore.
    Watching the video, I realized how much I’ve enjoyed your work, this forum, and the chance to engage with so many other like-minded people in such an important cause.
    So this is my thank-you note to you, for all your hard work, faith in (rational) humanity, your courage to go against that insane flow out there.
    Just remember…..(as if you ever forget?) that there’s a gazzillion kids out there who are dreaming about freedom, a freedom they hardly can believe exists – but they know it in their bones. They have faith, and I guess they’re counting on yours….and all of ours.
    Keep up the great work!

  10. Sara A. November 28, 2013 at 12:20 am #

    Happy Birthday, Chanukah, and Thanksgiving!!

    In the free-range wins column: In talking to my neighbor, she confessed that she was worried about sending her teenagers to high school across the city because they’d have to ride the metro and/or buses alone. We live in a gentrifying area, so she allows her children far more lee-way than a lot of parents do in better parts of town. I often see them hanging out on the stoop, they’re well put-together, polite kids. The older daughter is the go-to babysitter for other parents on the block. So I told her about how when I was that age I was taking the bus, ferry, and train by myself (with a large pack of friends) to get to and from school in the time before cell phones. I was never bothered and when I got lost, someone was always willing to help. I also told her that DC is much smaller than New York is and while there is all sorts of trouble they could get into, her kids are the good ones, they won’t go looking for it.

    I ran into her again about a week later and she told me she’d decided to let them go to the new school. That I was right, the city has gotten much safer and her kids are trustworthy. Plus, they’ll have cellphones.

  11. Frau_Mahlzahn November 28, 2013 at 7:46 am #

    The Video is great! Happy birthday! And happy Thanksgiving, too (God, Thanksgiving is one tradition we should pick up on in Europe — I could sure go for some turkey right now…)

    So Long,
    Corinna

  12. Suzanne Lucas November 28, 2013 at 8:36 am #

    Happy Birthday! Thanks for all you do!

  13. Edward November 28, 2013 at 10:31 am #

    Happy Birthday Lenore!

  14. Natalie November 29, 2013 at 1:21 am #

    Happy birthday Lenore, and Happy Thanksgivikah. Your blog posts have by and large been very helpful.

    My 6 yr old is now walking home from the bus stop by herself everyday (I asked the school to add another stop closer to our house so that she would not have to cross a parking lot or the busy commuter street – they were accommodating), and she has a key to let herself in. She’s officially a latch key kid.

    This makes my day much easier because I don’t have to rush home from work to meet her there. She gets home before me, and leaves me a note if she goes to a friend’s house, or just keeps herself occupied otherwise until I get home.

    This was an issue that I was struggling with a year ago when I first found your blog. Now it’s resolved in a way that I feel comfortable with.

    It’s good for her, and good for me – and yes your lecture series about “Leaning In” via child independence would be very applicable to me. Will you be in the Boston area soon?

    My mother, grandmother, mother-in-law, sister and some of my friends are horrified that I let my 6 yr old do these things. Because, you know, SOMETHING COULD HAPPEN. Which only makes me dig my heels in more. She can also light the Hanukkah candles by herself. She knows about safety with matches. She can also light our gas stove and cook herself certain things. She knows all about gas safety. And she can use the sharp knife, yes, the big sharp knife, to cut vegetables for salads. She knows all about knife safety. And she can wash dishes, including the breakable ones. (all this while I’m home, of course)

    Horrifying.

    My 3 yr old wants to imitate her, so she does what she is capable of and we encourage it.
    My husband was a little iffy about all of this but since he’s seen that kids are capable when you allow them to be so, he’s proud of what our girls can do. But I still have to nudge him every now and then.

    But this is the kicker. She still has trouble crossing streets. Busy intersections? She’s very careful and does it properly every time. But it’s when we’re on a quiet street she occasionally gets distracted and might dart out into the middle of the street for something. So… some things work better than others. Giving her total free range in our neighborhood will take time. But it will happen eventually, it’s not a race.

    Your posts and a lot of the commenters here have been very encouraging and have a wealth of ideas to encourage independence and self-reliance in kids.

    Thanks Lenore.

  15. Puzzled November 29, 2013 at 8:18 am #

    Happy Birthday! I love what JP said, and couldn’t say it better myself. Children naturally yearn to be free, and to learn – and to learn free! The saddest thing is to see how hard it is for some children to be treated free-range – they’ve internalized all the craziness.

  16. Asya November 29, 2013 at 7:21 pm #

    Hi Lenore,

    Happy Birthday! I have been lurking around your site for a while now, it is one of my favorite places to visit. I am 20, so hopefully my comments will offer some input from an age group that was stifled, helicoptered, coddled, humiliated, and discriminated against. However, looking back, I had incredible freedom compared to my peers, while my husband was even more free. Even so, I developed an extraordinary hatred of the words: “adult,” “allowed,” and “not allowed.” (All from public school.) I never want my children to feel like they are subhumans in this society, a horrid feeling I remember very well.

    Although I agree with everything you advocate, I like to take it a step further and keep in mind the overall lack of rights for children. No one stops to consider that children are the only demographic group that is conveniently counted in populations but is not allowed to have a voice in what laws are passed regarding them. Male/female genital mutilation still occurs, young love still criminalized, legal adults unconstitutionally banned from alcohol, and all sorts of other crazies all over the world.

    Hopefully, free ranging becomes more and more trendy in the style of organic food, home births, and eco cleaners. Haha, because everyone wants to be trendy: “Helicoptering is out, Free-Range is IN!”

  17. bmommyx2 November 30, 2013 at 6:46 am #

    Happy belated Birthday. I am still racking my brain trying to figure out what happened between now & when I was a child that makes people perceive that the world is not safe. I feel like a complete outcast in my way of thinking. I am very outspoken & sometimes I rub off on people. Just today I met my cousin & her 6 yr old son at an indoor trampoline play place. I left my 2 yr old to sleep in the car right by the door while I went in the meet my cousin & pay for my 7 yr old. I left my oldest with her while I was going to get my little one & she mentioned that she was going to the bathroom & would take the boys. I asked her why she didn’t just let them go & play? When she came back she was talking about leaving to get food & wanted her son to stay by me. I told her that my little one was a runner & I wouldn’t have time to update the boys as to my whereabouts if I had to take off chasing him. She decided that if I was OK leaving my son she would follow & do the same (score 1), but we did instruct the boys that they had to stay together. While I know the chance of anything happening to them is slim additionally the place was so full of people & security cameras everywhere I don’t think it’s a likely location for abductions. I really think its like most parenting decisions you have to know your child. If you have a child who might go off with a stranger then don’t leave his side. My son wouldn’t do that so I am not as concerned. You can’t go though live waiting for the boogie man around the corner & stay sane. Thank you for this blog, it’s both validation & encouragement for what I already know in my gut.

  18. Puzzled November 30, 2013 at 5:38 pm #

    Asya – have you read anything by John Holt? His books are very interesting when read in order, since they show an incredible progression through the years. He started off as a teacher, and by the end was recommending unschooling. I’m wondering what he would have thought if he ever encountered Sudbury. Anyway, one of his later books dealt with precisely what you’re talking about, and advocated that children be permitted all rights, but that until the legal age of majority, they also have the right to forfeit those rights in exchange for certain consensual relationships.