Free-range kids

Writer Lenore Skenazy could have slinked off to mommyland, stripped of her self-esteem and parenting confidence after her public stoning for letting her nine-year-old son ride home alone on a New York City subway.

Claire Hurty

Writer Lenore Skenazy could have slinked off to mommyland, stripped of her self-esteem and parenting confidence after her public stoning for letting her nine-year-old son ride home alone on a New York City subway.

Instead, Skenazy was buoyed by a healthy legion of supporters. She quickly followed up her revelation in the New York Sun newspaper (make that the now-defunct New York Sun) with numerous TV appearances, her offspring by her side, to make it clear that his was a voluntary journey.

During all the TV hopping, she put up a website, Freerangekids.com, dedicating it to safe but sane parenting. Skenazy invited parents to share how they let their kids “free range” by riding bikes to the library or walking solo to school.

The goal? “Giving our kids the freedom we had without going nuts with worry,” she told them, suggesting she might “one day collect their tips in a book.”

A year to the month after waving goodbye to her child in Bloomingdale’s, arming him with a subway map, MetroCard, $20 in cash and several quarters (in case he had to make a call), Skenazy has made good on the book thing with her Free-Range Kids.

The book serves up statistics aimed at easing the fears of today’s helicopter parents over everything from sexual predators to salmonella from ingesting cookie dough.

Skenazy offers “14 Commandments” for parents on how they can accomplish free rangehood, along with an A-Z guide on why all things scary aren’t any more so than when most were kids themselves.

An interview with Lenore Skenazy:

Q: You’ve been excoriated as “America’s Worst Mom” and revered as a parental freedom fighter. Had you anticipated the depth of emotion when you wrote the column about putting your son on the subway?

Skenazy: Nothing prepared me for the response. Not only was the media attention a total shock — so was being judged by strangers. (I’m sorry for anything I ever wrote about you, Madonna!)

I don’t think I’m a hero, but I sure don’t think I’m America’s Worst Mom. I’m just trying to raise my kids the way I was raised.

People reacted so intensely, probably because I was not just pontificating. I actually sent my dear son alone into the bowels of the earth — and if you’re not from New York the subway seems a lot scarier than it is.

Q: Why did you decide to turn this controversy into a book?

Skenazy: The weekend after the column exploded I started freerangekids.com to explain that Free-Range parents are not negligent. My God — my kids think I’m a safety nut. We use safety belts, bike helmets, weird little wire toothpicks to help us super-floss.

But my husband and I also allow them to get themselves to school and the store, because once you prepare your kids, these things are not unsafe.

I wrote the book to say: The fear that has made these activities seem radical is new. It has been foisted upon us by terrifying TV shows, and “experts” with babyproofing services to peddle, and the Kiddie Safety-Industrial Complex that’s always coming up with unlikely but awful scenarios so it can sell us stuff to guard against them — like, so help me, “baby knee pads” so your kid doesn’t injure her knees learning to crawl.

Q: Your son’s historic trip is about a year old. Does he ride regularly by himself now that he’s 10, or was it a one-off journey for him? Has he enjoyed his time in the media spotlight as a key figure in your free-range movement? Did it make a difference in his life?

Skenazy: For a couple weeks after the column ran, my son didn’t even have a chance to ride the subway alone and I was like, “‘Come on! You are the boy who rides the subway! Get on that train!’” Then he started going to an afterschool program that’s a bus and subway ride from school, so — yay — he became an avid commuter.

As for fame: He loved being on TV and manages to point out every ad featuring his pal, Dr. Phil. But I don’t think the whole thing has totally gone to his head. It’s not like he got to make a touchdown for the New York Giants.

Q: Your book mixes advice with a lot of cold hard facts focused on tempering much of the hysteria that has contributed to helicopter parenting. Do you think you’ll change any minds, or are you preaching to the choir?

Skenazy: It is hard to change anyone’s mind about anything! But one of the reasons so many of us are so scared these days is that the other side — the, “Something is going to hurt your child any moment!” side — has a huge voice. It’s the one on the milk cartons. It’s the one saying, “Is your baby bottle toxic? Stay tuned!”

I’m just trying to be the other little voice that says, “You’re allowed to ask yourself: ‘Did I grow up walking to school by myself? Did my mom need a bath thermometer to figure out if the water was going to scald me? Did I survive drinking from a baby bottle?’”

Q: Your parenting philosophy relies heavily on the past, promoting the idea that we parents were raised far freer range than the norm today. But doesn’t this romanticize history just a bit? We were free range, to be sure, but was it partly due to our parents being a touch more clueless, less tuned in and able to connect with us kids?

Skenazy: I’m sure I romanticize the past. I’m middle aged! The only thing I can’t romanticize is crime.

And the fact is that crime today is on par with the level in the early ’70s, according to the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which bases its analyses on FBI statistics. From the early ’70s till about 1993, crime was on the rise. But since 1993, it has plunged (thanks to better policing, more unstable folks on meds, and maybe even cellphones), to the point where sex crimes against juveniles — the crimes we’re most afraid of — are down 79 per cent!

Just Posted

Fredericton police release scene of shooting spree, but ‘damage’ remains

FREDERICTON — Police have released the Fredericton apartment complex that was the… Continue reading

Police seek public’s help after East Coast lobster thieves strike again

SAINT-SIMON, N.B. — There has been another crustacean caper on the East… Continue reading

Court hearing on Humboldt Broncos fundraising a first under new Saskatchewan law

SASKATOON — A court hearing related to money raised following the Humboldt… Continue reading

Weed’s want ads longer, marijuana job searches up as industry grows: study

OTTAWA — The growth of Canada’s soon-to-be-legal recreational pot industry is starting… Continue reading

Google Generation’s push for more technology transforming health care: survey

TORONTO — Digitally savvy Canadians who make up the Google Generation are… Continue reading

WATCH: A horse was neglected by its owner. Now the horse is suing

ESTACADA, Ore. - Justice is an 8-year-old American quarter horse who used… Continue reading

Keep bribes quiet for 10 years, FIFA won’t punish you

LONDON — FIFA has officially eradicated corruption. All it took was pressing… Continue reading

Beyoncé honours ailing Aretha Franklin at Detroit concert

DETROIT — Queen Bey dedicated her performance with husband, Jay Z, to… Continue reading

‘Outlaw King’ to open Toronto film fest; ‘Jeremiah Terminator LeRoy’ to close

TORONTO — The world premiere of David Mackenzie’s “Outlaw King,” starring Chris… Continue reading

Male model convicted of murdering rival after online feud

LONDON — A British fashion model has been convicted of murdering a… Continue reading

Red Sox old-timer’s memorabilia going up for sale

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Some items belonging to one of the Boston Red… Continue reading

Rival Korea leaders to meet in Pyongyang in September

SEOUL, Korea, Republic Of — The rival Koreas announced Monday that North… Continue reading

Charlottesville anniversary: Peaceful protests, few arrests

WASHINGTON — Thousands of people wanting to send a message that racism… Continue reading

‘I believe music heals people’: 12-year-old records tribute for shooting victims

YARMOUTH, N.S. — Twelve-year-old Josh Cochrane of Yarmouth, N.S., watched the news… Continue reading

Most Read


Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $185 for 260 issues (must live in delivery area to qualify) Unlimited Digital Access 99 cents for the first four weeks and then only $15 per month Five-day delivery plus unlimited digital access for $15 a month