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Book Review: Free-range kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry) by Lenore Skenazy

Reviewed by Kimberly Allen

It only took a few days after author Lenore Skenazy allowed her 9-year-old son to ride the New York City subway alone from Bloomingdale’s department store to their apartment in NYC for her to became known by the media as the “world’s worst mom.” Skenazy, like many parents, had aspired to help her children be independent. She had spent her life preparing her son to have skills and knowledge to be self-reliant. She gave him directions and a fare card, and allowed him to try this thing he had long been asking for — to ride the subway alone. The media frenzy led to a blog, which led to her book, the subject of this review.

Skenazy has spent the past two years researching, writing, and speaking about her mission to fight the notion that children are in constant danger and parents must take alarming steps to protect them. In her book, Skenazy argues that over the past few decades, parenting has become overly focused on “perfect parenting,” which includes keeping our children safe from events or items that truly pose few (if any) safety hazards. She argues that in that process, children have become less independent and parents have become overly involved and overwhelmed. Skenazy points to a mountain of research that showcases how children are safer today than they have been in decades and how parents and experts regularly overreact to improbable risks.

Free-Range Kids, according to Skenazy, is a “commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times”. Skenazy labels each chapter of her book a “commandment”, offering a practical instruction for parents to employ in their process of becoming more free range. She spends a great deal of time on commandment three, “Avoid Experts,” challenging many of the recommendations of parenting professionals. She points out specific examples of parenting recommendations that exacerbate the notion that parents simply should not trust their natural instinct. For example, she points to the myriad of books that focus on encouraging communication, specifically the ones that suggest parents need take time to be specific in their reactions and compliments of children’s work. She responds, “It seems to me that the more worried we are about the ramifications of every remark we make, the more stilted we become. We are not relating to our kids.” Her point is that if parents spend their time and energy focused on all the things they can and might do wrong and the possible ramifications for their children, then they are missing opportunities for positive, natural engagement with their children.

With all of the focus on the increase of sedentary lifestyles, obesity, behavior issues, and disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in childhood, Skenazy points out that it is high time that parents and parenting professionals begin to think critically about our approach to parenting. She advocates for an alternative to helicopter parenting, and she offers practical steps for parents to take to help their children regain the freedom that was once a childhood norm. Her message is catching on; parents are flocking to her blog, reading her book, and making empowering changes. Skenazy’s position has struck a chord with parents and parenting experts all across the county, and her blog has opened a conversation and debate on the current state of parenting.

As a parenting professional, I was highly impacted in a positive way by Skenazy’s book.  She made me think about the role of parenting professionals, and how at times, we do provide well-intentioned advice that not only complicates parents’ interaction with their children, but possibly discourages authenticity and development of children’s self-reliance. Skenazy entertainingly makes the point that children reach our expectations. If we teach them life skills and expect them to make good decisions, we also need to trust that they will make those good decisions. We need to send them out into the real world, such as the back yard or up the street, to practice life skills with their peers, without their parents. 

Reference

Skenazy, Lenore. 2010. Free-range kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. ISBN-10: 0470574755

http://www.ncsu.edu/ffci/publications/2012/v17-n2-2012-summer-fall/index-v17-n2-december-2012.php

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