Free Range Kids???? I keep seeing chickens running around when I hear that.

The great debate started at our house yesterday. It was interesting. My husband sent me this article.
Overbearing parents have taken the fun out of childhood and turned it into a grind.
Rosa Brooks
May 15, 2008
Can you forgive her?

In March, Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother, gave her 9-year-old son, Izzy, a MetroCard, a subway map, a $20 bill and some quarters for pay phones. Then she let him make his own way home from Bloomingdale's department store -- by subway and bus.

Izzy survived unscathed. He wasn't abducted by a perverted stranger or pushed under an oncoming train by a homicidal maniac. He didn't even get lost. According to Skenazy who wrote about it in a New York Sun column, he arrived home "ecstatic with independence."

His mother wasn't so lucky. Her column generated as much outrage as if she'd suggested that mothers make extra cash by hiring their kids out as child prostitutes.

But it also reinvigorated an important debate about children, safety and independence.

Reader, if you're much over 30, you probably remember what it used to be like for the typical American kid. Remember how there used to be this thing called "going out to play"?

For younger readers, I'll explain this archaic concept. It worked like this: The child or children in the house -- as long as they were over age 4 or so -- went to the door, opened it, and ... went outside. They braved the neighborhood pedophile just waiting to pounce, the rusty nails just waiting to be stepped on, the trees just waiting to be fallen out of, and they "played."

"Play," incidentally, is a mysterious activity children engage in when not compelled to spend every hour under adult supervision, taking soccer or piano lessons or practicing vocabulary words with computerized flashcards.

All in all, "going out to play" worked out well for kids. As the American Academy of Pediatrics' Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg testified to Congress in 2006, "Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles. ... Play helps children develop new competencies ... and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges." But here's the catch: Those benefits aren't realized when some helpful adult is hovering over kids the whole time.

Thirty years ago, the "going out to play" culture coexisted with other culturally sanctioned forms of independence for even very young children: Kids as young as 6 used to walk to school on their own, for instance, or take public buses or -- gulp -- subways. And if they lived on a school bus route, their mommies did not consider it necessary to escort them to the bus stop every morning and wait there with them.

But today, for most middle-class American children, "going out to play" has gone the way of the dodo, the typewriter and the eight-track tape. From 1981 to 1997, for instance, University of Michigan time-use studies show that 3- to 5-year-olds lost an average of 501 minutes of unstructured playtime each week; 6- to 8-year-olds lost an average of 228 minutes. (On the other hand, kids now do more organized activities and have more homework, the lucky devils!) And forget about walking to school alone. Today's kids don't walk much at all (adding to the childhood obesity problem).

Increasingly, American children are in a lose-lose situation. They're forced, prematurely, to do all the un-fun kinds of things adults do (Be over-scheduled! Have no downtime! Study! Work!). But they don't get any of the privileges of adult life: autonomy, the ability to make their own choices, use their own judgment, maybe even get interestingly lost now and then.

Somehow, we've managed to turn childhood into a long, hard slog. Is it any wonder our kids take their pleasures where they can find them, by escaping to "Grand Theft Auto IV" or the alluring, parent-free world of MySpace?

But, but, but, you say, all the same, Skenazy should never have let her 9-year-old son take the subway! In New York, for God's sake! A cesspit of crack addicts, muggers and pedophiles!

Well, no. We parents have sold ourselves a bill of goods when it comes to child safety. Forget the television fear-mongering: Your child stands about the same chance of being struck by lightning as of being the victim of what the Department of Justice calls a "stereotypical kidnapping." And unless you live in Baghdad, your child stands a much, much greater chance of being killed in a car accident than of being seriously harmed while wandering unsupervised around your neighborhood.

Skenazy responded to the firestorm generated by her column by starting a new website -- -- dedicated to giving "our kids the freedom we had." She explains: "We believe in safe kids. ... We do NOT believe that every time school-age children go outside, they need a security detail."

Next time I take my kids to New York, I'm asking Skenazy to baby-sit.

Okay. I have a BIG HUGE problem with this. Yes, when I was a kid I roamed the neighborhood. If you count cow pastures and the creek as a neighborhood. My parents both worked so I was a latch key kid anyway. I had no fears. We would even hang up a sheet outside and sleep under it in the yard. Maybe my mom and step dad were being irresponsible for letting some of this happen. I don't think so.

Now fast forward to 2008. I would never ever ever ever let my kids roam the neighborhood ALONE. And I live in a nice expensive neighborhood too. I wouldn't let my YOUNGER kids play outside alone. I would never let my kids ride their bike to the library or grocery store ALONE. Or get on public transportation ALONE!!! Does this make me a bad parent? Certainly NOT. I care about my children and want them safe. Does fear make me this way? Of course it does. Is that bad? No, it isn't.

Then my husband sent me the link to the blog. Free Range Kids

~Not to be confused with free range eggs. I keep seeing chickens running around.~

I read it and sent him an email saying that I thought it was FOS!!!!!! Was I wrong? No. Was he wrong to agree with the article and blog? No, he wasn't. We see things differently about this. Yes, he roamed the neighborhood when he was a child. So did I. We do have that in common.

He then mentioned "faith". To which I said, "I am sure the parents that let their kids out to play had faith as well. The ones that had their child taken, raped and killed." I wasn't being mean. I am stating facts. We see on the news that a child is missing. Found dead. Abducted. Raped. DO I need to go on???

Just over the summer a NEIGHBOR kid raped and killed a young neighbor girl and hid her in a closet. (Not my neighborhood, I remember seeing it on the news.) He was a kid himself. He even helped "look" for her. It broke my heart to hear this on the news when it happened.

Then years ago, what about the girl who was walking home from a friends. Abducted, raped and killed. It happened as she was walking by a car wash. It was even caught on camera. Him walking up to her. And that was it.

Do you think her family asks God everyday "why?"?

SO, I may be a little harsh but I think this "free range kids" if full of shit. Excuse my language.

Will my kids be screwed up because I, as a parent, kept my eye on them? No, they won't.

I'd love to hear from my readers on this subject. Please comment. Anyone can comment on my page. You don't have to be a member to leave one. I look forward to hearing your opinion on this.


Jennifer James said…
Kids have to have freedom, yes, but the world is a lot different than when we were kids! I am 33 and we could go out and play in the neighborhood until the street lights came on and nobody bothered us. These days you let your kids go out and they may not come back.

There are so many loons and killers out there that free range childhood is a bit impractical.

Plus, our neighborhoods are so disconnected these days. Everybody's mom looked after everybody else's kids. We could all play from house to house and be safe. It's just not that way anymore. So I agree with you.
Mary said…
I'm a very middle of the road person and can see things both ways. I am extremely cautious with my kids and sometimes woner if I'm a bit too overprotective. I do remember spending countless hours playing with friends until dark, and I will let my kids go out to play. But only in the front yard and right in front of our home. It's kind of sad that it has to be this way, but it also provides opportunity for parent-child interaction that we may not have had so much as children.
Katie said…
I grew up in 2 towns (divorced parents) and one was a city... I took the public bus to the mall when I was 11 with my friends... we walked all over town... went to the playground until the streetlights came one then had to be home within "5 minutes of the time the light comes on"... in the town my Dad lived in we walked all over the neighborhood... spent hours riding our bikes to the store that was 2 miles away.... I live in that town now with my children... its a Town... pretty small... our biggest nod towards developement, is a McDonalds.
Although I wouldn't allow a 9 year old to take a subway alone... I do allow my older kids (12,14, & 16) to basically go anywhere in town... as long as I know where they are going... they need to call me to let me know they arrived, if they leave that area, to go elsewhere, they are required to call me and inform me of any changes. I have spies everywhere... and I am a spy too... everyone knows everyone elses kids... so if I mention I saw Kayla walking down High Street... and her mom thought she was on Spring Street... Oopsie.
My 6 and 3 year old are allowed to play in the yard... they have gone for walks across the street around the cranberry bogs(we have a nature reserve across the street) with the older kids... but I think they still have several years ahead of them before they get to take off to a friend's house on their own. I know that at 8 years old I would cross a main road to walk 1/4 of a mile to a playground... but I think I'll wait until my kids are at least 10 before they can go anywhere (within the neighborhood) without me walking them there.
Our busstop is right in front of our house... so I'm going be leinent and let them wait at the busstop alone ... (besides... I can see them out the window)
Dr. Engine said…
Your reaction to the article and FRK underlies the entire point of the article and FRK. You're pulling out anecdotal evidence of a few kids abducted and killed, ignoring the MILLIONS of children who wandered the streets that day and arrived home safely.

Having said that, I think there's a balance that needs to be struck. I would have tailed my 9-year-old the first few times just to make sure he could get home and didn't get spooked. But otherwise I applaud that woman's efforts to raise an independent, confident person who's not bogged by fears they read or see on news reports.

I'm 33, and was raised by a very fearful mother, who saw kidnappers in every white van that rode down the street. It made me fearful, and not only of kidnappers, but of the world in general. That fearfulness, I believe, has hindered me from experiencing some of the opportunities I might have otherwise seized upon, such as the opportunity to study journalism in Prague when I was 18.

I think we need to expect more of our children, and they'll rise to the challenge.
Janine said…
I live in South Africa, which I think in terms of risks is fairly similar to New York. I would NEVER let my almost-9 year old go alone on a train or a bus. He's not even allowed to walk to the corner shop alone. Just too many what-ifs.
Katie Mae said…
I started writing my comment but it got to be book-length and I wasn't even half-way done!

I'm gonna take your topic and post a blog on it myself :) It's interesting stuff!

I am very pro-free-kid-range LOL! I feel it helps children in lots of ways, such as being independent, stronger decision makers and helps them with creative thinking/playing.

The safety aspect is what REALLY turns me more toward free-range! The chances of something bad happening to my children while they walk to the store 7 blocks away are as great as someone breaking into my home in the middle of the night and taking/harming them. Being free-range has made them much more aware of their surroundings and they have taken in the precautions to take... ie. look both ways before crossing the street, Stranger Danger techniques, stay hydrated, know our name and number in case of an emergency bla bla bla.

LOL! See? I'm only getting started! Check out my blog later today/tonight for more insight on my thoughts. Thanks for the topic! It's a great one!

~ Katie Mae
Katie Mae said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jaime said…
Unfortunately we no longer live in a world where it is safe to allow kids to just be kids while roaming free. There are too many whackjobs out there.

I totally agree with you.
Kelby said…
I'm sorry, but I used to be a police reporter. I've written about even older kids, kids who should be smarter, getting abducted, raped and killed. Frankly, we are all lucky we made it when I think about just how free range we were... You shouldn't hover over your children constantly. They do need to learn some degree of independence and self-confidence. You ARE, however, responsible for their safety and well-being. In this day and age, letting a child roam free is flat-out irresponsible and dangerous.
Shari McConahay said…
At 36, I am also old enough to remember "going out to play" myself, walking around the neighborhood, visiting friends and playing, sometimes close to a mile away from home. There was no such thing as a "play date". In hind sight, the care free days of childhood blinded me to all the "what ifs" mentioned before. In hind sight, my parents had NO IDEA where I actually was at times. As someone who is about to become a parent for the first time now, I am horrified by that thought. Yes, a middle of the road needs to be reached, and yes, it depends on the individual child, but what it boils down to is: this is a different world than it was 25 or 30 years ago. It is a much scarier place, and that is sad.

That's my 2Cents - Shari
cj said…
I think it was last week when I had seen this story on the Penn & Teller's Bull&hit show. I have to admit that I was in the "are you kidding me?" crowd. Free Range Kids are way out on the crazy limb of the spectrum for me. On the other hand, I can also see some of the "stranger danger" stuff being equally as crazy on the far end of the spectrum. What works for one family won't work for another..... like the woman across the street from me who leaves her 2 year old in the house while she walks 3 blocks to the bus stop with her two other kids. For me - somewhere in the middle of the spectrum makes sense to me.
Supermom said…
Wow!!! Thanks for the comments!!!!

This was a toughie for sure. I am glad to read your opinions, even if they are different than mine.

WKRP--sorry I deleted it when you stuttered. :)

Katie said…
In Response to something cj said... leaving a 2 year old in the house while walking 3 blocks away?! Is she nuts?! I only leave my 3 year old alone in the house, if I am standing in the driveway for a minute... NEVER if I was to leave the yard.
Tina Williams said…
Ok...I have four daughters and the only thing free range in my world will be some eggs and occassionally some chicken! I a 44 and both a New Mom and an Old Mom with my girls being 2,11,12 and 13. I absolutely remember the days that our parents sent us out a first light, put out some PB&J and Koolaide for lunch and didn't see us again till the street lights went out.

We do not live in that world!

My kids do have freedom to a point. One thing we have taught them that I don't think we were so aware of is to be aware of our surroundings.

My older girls have taken basic self defense classes. They also have been taught to trust their instincts. If someone or something doesn't feel right get away.

I agree with you 150%. Having been heavily involved in Girl Scouts, my church, my school and several sports as a voluteer leader or coach I can't tell you how many parents live by this "free range" philosphy out of sheer laziness!

Bottomline you don't get a second chance with your child...protect them without smoothering them.

Teach them to be safe themselves.

Great post!
Monkey's Momma said…
I am 39. When I was a kid, it was nothing to spend all day long playing outside with my friends. We lived in a small rural area. We biked, skateboarded, built forts, etc.

Not to shock you, but outside was safer for me than inside because my step-dad was a pedophile. I wanted my friends as far away from him as possible (and myself too).

Now, the outside world is unsafe too. My five year old son will NEVER be free range. I live about 30 miles from where Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri Miracle, was abducted (Google it). I have seen what his parents have been through, and I would not wish that on anyone. He was a free range kid because his parents were trusting, as all the other parents in their community were.

We must remember: Child molesters are everywhere. You probably know one. You just don't know it. It is our job to protect our children. It only takes one incident to change our child's life forever.
Dr. Engine said…
So let's make sure our children have NO incidents, and live very sheltered lives. I'm sorry, but to me it's worth the risk, giving a child opportunities to discover the world and its beauties/ugliness on his/her own. The philosphy of "it only takes one time" robs children of having "any" time to reflect on, learn from, grow stronger by, laugh about, or seize upon. There are some things you just can't control, though we do our best. But at the end of the day, we can never be 100% sure that our kids will always be safe. Did the Hornbecks wish they were more watchfull? I'm sure. But even if they were, there's still no gaurantee that they'd protect Shawn at all times. Yes, Shawn's life was dramatically changed on that day, but I think there's still time and opportunities for Shawn to contribute something great to the world, despite his awful experience.
Dr. Engine said…
And as a spin-off to this conversation, my wife and I were discussing the double-standard that we both embraced when we talked about this blog. I would tail my 9-year-old boy on the subway (and I live in NYC, by the way, it's not that dangerous). But I probably wouldn't let my daughter ride the subway alone until she was 13 or so. For the record, I have no children. But do you find that double standard as well...letting your boys do things you'd never let your girls? Curious about that.
Anonymous said…
Our family is suffering while I type, as a result of "free range kid" parenting. The truth is...all children are differnt.
Here are my truths.

1)all children are different. We have leaders followers, hyper, docile. Each personality impacting AND taking impact from their world differently. Our oldest son, when he was 14(of course never 9!) could make good decisions even above maturity level for his age. He's a big guy and walked confident. He's a true leader and much less likely to become an abductee or be solicited by a harmful person. Our 2nd son...well...just put him in a room with other kids, and no matter what they're doing,good or bad, if it looks fun or generates excitement he's gonna get involved on some level. Both kids raised with the same standards and values(set high by the way)

2)You can deny it if you want, but it IS a different world than 25 yrs ago. Yet 25 yrs ago, even in my neighborhood a little girl was abducted on her way home from school. I will never forget the pastor of our church crying and telling all of us that they found Melonie's little body. Melenie was raped and killed. Hollywood, Florida.33023. Look it up. Adam Walsh was also from Hollywood, Florida. Same zip code. Look it up... and yes...when I was 9 years old on pembroke road, walking back from Pic'n'Pay grocery, a man pulled over and grabbed my arm trying to force me in the car with him. Thank GOD IN HEAVEN another man saw and stopped his car and confronted the "would be abductor" who jumped in his car and sped off. So there you have 3 incidences in one neighborhood. Please don't miminize what has happened to these children by putting them into a statistic and don't set the value of protecting todays child according to statistics. Set the value according to your love for them. Every child of all age deserves age appropriate supervision and protection. Every parent owes it to their child to become educated on what is the safest and wisest way to protect their child. What are the real dangers? Have you looked at the National list of registered Pedifiles to see how many live near you? I'll bet you'll find at least 2 between most of your homes and children's schools. I would be interested in hearing all the damage that parents caused their children once grown because of the protection and supervision they gave. Not including the cop-out excuses of blaming their parents for their college drug days and wild oat sewing because their parents were too strict. Just about everyone goes thru the wild "I'm finally free" stage no matter how they were raised.

3)Finally, Why in today's society does everything have to be extreme one way or the other? After reading "Free Range Kids" I was shocked at the insulting tone that was directed at parents who love and protect their children. When you understand the value of something you want to protect it and keep it safe. Children are a valuable treasure. Boundaries are not always comfortable, but they keep us ALL safe every day. Those boundaries are a reminder that our life is valuable and important. I'd rather send THAT message to my child while they are young. The "I trust You messege" comes as they EARN and GAIN the trust. Their learning independance comes with the territory a little at a time. Since when does a bird push a chick out of the nest before the feathers are grown? Since when does a bird hold and not allow a maturing chick to spread it's wings. You see? There doesn't have to be extremes. Since I mentioned "messages" we send to our children. Parental involvement at all ages sends a wonderful message to kids. They will definitely let you know when it's too much and when it's time to reevaluate the level of involvement and in which activities it is necessary. Here is where I notice parents making some of the biggest mistakes. There kids become adolescents and want freedom and are not afraid to challenge, manipulate, and fight for that freedom. Mysteriously suddenly, the "parent first, friend second" role becomes revered and parents become afraid to say "no" because they may have to accept a challenge, or actually explain , "I do trust you and you will continue to have many opportunities to be trusted, but I am the parent/adult and I possess grown up judgement. No. You can not spend the night over your boyfriends house who I found out smokes marijuana and I haven't even met his parents."

It is acceptable to protect, loosen leashes, permit flying solo etc. All in due time.
Just make sure you really know the challenges that could face your young one, that you have equipted them to face the challenge, and finally that they personally are able and skilled enough to take the challenge. Not all are.

"Free Range"
comparing our children to animals for slaughter. Hmmmm.
Anonymous said…

this link says it all
Brenda Jean said…
I grew up in the country on a farm, my husband grew up in the innercity. I wasn't allowed to "free range" except on our own property. My husband pretty much was allowed to roam with his brother and cousins. We both think this "free range" kids thing is full of crap. He looks back and thinks "Man, that was stupid." and he wanted a different life for our kids. We have friends and relatives who think we are overprotective at times. So what? All it takes is ONE incident, ONE second and ONE accident to change your family forever. I think we can be protective but still allow freedom, imagination and growth within safe boundries.
Helene said…
I could not agree with your more!! Back when I was younger, we always went out and played and we'd leave early in the morning and wouldn't come home until the street lights came on in the evening. My mother never worried about me because our neighborhood was very safe.

But nowadays, there's no way in hell I'd ever let my kids just wander around our neighborhood, even though it is a nice neighborhood. Freaks are stealing kids right out of their front yards in the middle of the day while the parent is in the house!!!

If my kids are outside, I'm always out with them. If I have to go in the house for something, even for just a minute, they all come with me. You can never be too trusting or too safe when it comes to your children's safety, IMO.
Heather said…
I just found your blog and this is such a touchy subject for parents. Thanks for bringing it up.

I was a free range kid but I live in an area that most people typically don't, I grew up on a farm and my closest neighbor was a mile away. We weren't allowed to leave the "property" without permission and by the time we were 10 we were riding to friends homes and playing in the river unsupervised. We had to call when we got to the friends house and we knew when we were to be home.

As I still live in that same area about a mile from where I grew up once my children are old enough (age....have no clue)they will have many of the same privileges that I had. It may not sound like it but, I am an overprotective mom, and I am so worried that something will happen to them.

I will say though that if I lived in town or the city then things would be totally different. Things aren't the same as they once were.