Helicopter Moms vs Free Range Kids

Isobel - posted on 03/15/2010 ( 16 moms have responded )

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Would you let your fourth-grader ride public transportation without an adult? Probably not. Still, when Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for the New York Sun, wrote about letting her son take the subway alone to get back to her Manhattan home from a department store on the Upper East Side, she didn't expect to get hit with a tsunami of criticism from readers.

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"Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence," Skenazy wrote on April 4 in the New York Sun. "Long story longer: Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitating—for us and for them."



Online message boards were soon swarming with people both applauding and condemning Skenazy's decision to let her son go it alone. She wound up defending herself on the cable news networks (accompanied by her son) and on popular blogs like the Huffington Post, where her follow-up piece was ironically headlined "More From America's Worst Mom."

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The episode has ignited another one of those debates that divides parents into vocal opposing camps. Are modern parents needlessly overprotective, or is the world a more complicated and dangerous place than it was when previous generations were allowed to roam unsupervised?



From the "she's an irresponsible mother" camp came: "Shame on you for being so cavalier with his safety," in comments on the Huffington Post. And there was this from a mother of four: "How would you have felt if he didn't come home?" But Skenazy got a lot of support, too, with women and men writing in with stories about how they were allowed to run errands all by themselves at seven or eight. She also got heaps of praise for bucking the "helicopter parent" trend: "Kudos to this Mom," one commenter wrote on the Huffington Post. "This is a much-needed reality check."



Last week, buoyed by all the attention, Skenazy started her own blog—Free Range Kids—promoting the idea that modern children need some of the same independence that her generation had. In the good old days nine-year-old baby boomers rode their bikes to school, walked to the store, took buses—and even subways—all by themselves. Her blog, she says, is dedicated to sane parenting. "At Free Range Kids, we believe in safe kids. We believe in helmets, car seats and safety belts. We do NOT believe that every time school-age children go outside, they need a security detail."

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Where do you stand on this debate? Is she guilty of negligence or is she a brave mom doing the right thing?

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Sunny - posted on 03/16/2010

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Im from country Australia so i have no idea about the subway system over there but i was reading that kids today are safer than what they were 20+ yrs ago and yet are given none of the freedom that their elders were. I lived in a rule area and my siblings and i use to ride to school ect. which was a couple of kilometers away, i was aloud to walk into town which took about 2 hour (all this at about 9-10 yrs old) and i took the train into the city which was about a 2 hour train ride alone at about 12. My sisters are 11 and 6 walk to school every morning. I know that the first time that i went to the city on my own at night when i was about 17 i was petrified and had no clue about what to do with trams buses ect, because i always had my mum with me in the city, i was embarrassed that i was scared doing it when all of my friend were confident that they knew what they were doing.

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Esther - posted on 03/27/2010

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I don't think that what this mom did was irresponsible in any way. I ride the NY subway every day and it's really not a scary place. Dirty sure. Crowded yes. But I've never so much as had my wallet stolen (and half the time I forget to zip up my purse so I would be an easy target).



This mom and her son live in Manhattan so they ride the subway every single day and this was familiar territory to this boy. NY is also the safest large city in the US (and I personally feel as safe in Manhattan any time of the day as I do in my boring little suburb).



I saw this mom and the boy on Dr Phil a few years ago when she first wrote her column about this experience and they had prepared the son very carefully before allowing him to take the subway on his own. He had a subway map with him, he had a cell phone, he had some cash, he knew where to go, he had been instructed about only going straight from A to B etc. They didn't just turn him loose. He also had a history of being a smart and responsible kid so they trusted him. It was in a safe part of town and in the middle of the day.



I command her for allowing her son some independence and I agree with some of the other posters that most of the feeling of pedophiles lurking on every street corner comes from how much these cases are reported on these days. I'm sure there are areas where it would be irresponsible and I'm also sure that the mom wouldn't have done it in any of those areas, but I don't think the danger is as accute generally speaking as some would have us believe and I don't think it's any worse than it was when we or our parents were growing up. In many ways it's better now. It's just that the cable news networks now have 24 hours to kill whereas news outlets used to only have to fill an hour at 6 PM. Drama sells and nothing is more dramatic than a cute little kid having been abducted. However, the vast majority of abuse is done by people you know. So if you really wanted to keep your kids safe, your best bet would probably be to isolate them from their family and friends. Nobody would ever consider that course of action, nor should they.



I hope when my son is old enough and has a similar proven track record of being smart and responsible that I will have the courage to allow him these types of experiences as well. And when I say courage, I don't mean the courage it takes to send your kid off to the battlefield, but the kind of courage it takes to let them live on campus at college and not give in to the temptation to continue to follow them around and kiss their every boo-boo.

LaCi - posted on 03/27/2010

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I *hope* I'm not a helicopter ;/

Mines still little, so I'm still a helicopter out of the house. But I REALLY, REALLY hope I'm not when he gets older. I wouldn't let him ride a bus anywhere so young, but I don't think its negligence. When mine's in the fourth grade he'll be off riding his bike god knows where, although boundaries will be set I'm not going to be following him around or tracking him via GPS to make sure he doesn't leave a certain area. It's about trusting your kids, I think, and you can say you trust your kids but you don't trust others but theres no increased likelihood that he will be abducted from a subway or from your street, that I'm aware of anyway. I will make sure he's properly trained, not getting in the car with anyone, not talking to strangers, run away when you feel uncomfortable, scream bloody murder if you feel threatened, all that jazz. However, I don't live in a city. I live in a pretty small town. Honestly, even the city I live next to (louisville, ky-a short walk over a bridge) isn't a big terrifying city or anything, no subways for him to ride on here, not too terribly bad on crime, So I wouldn't understand the perspectives of moms in large metro areas.

Jenny - posted on 03/18/2010

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Free range all the way. I won't let my 7 year old ride the bus by herself but I let her go to the other side of a department store to grab me something or play outside unsupervised.

I don't think it is any different at all since we were kids. I think 24 hour news networks cause us to believe more is going on when in reality we just hear more of what has always been occuring. I suspect if we had CNN when I was a kid my mother would restricted me more. Pedophiles have always been around but that doesn't mean we need to teach our kids to be afraid of the world. My goal as a parent is to raise strong, independant, responsible, self sufficient adults.

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My husband and I are free range parents. He more so than I. Our daughter is only 22 months so the extent of independence is leaving the front door open for her to come and go as she pleases. Of course I listen to her little voice outside to be sure she is still there and safe. And I peek outside every few minutes. But that is just being vigilant, not over protective. The 2nd and 3rd grade school in our community is 6 blocks away and by that time she is in that school, she will be old enough to walk there by herself. Her great-grandmother is 3 blocks away so when she is 5 or 6, she will probably walk there by herself. But she will be calling me when she arrives.

Now about the subway system, yikes I don't know. I'm scared of big cities, but perhaps that is because I've never lived in one. I'm sure if my daughter was growing up in a city and was "city-savvy" I would be more comfortable with the subway. But probably when she's a teenager, not a 9 year old.

Isobel - posted on 03/16/2010

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I'm a free range mom. I let my kids play outside on our street, but our houses are only a foot and a half apart, I know all the neighbours, and with the windows open I can hear EVERYTHING that goes on on the street.

Is my 9 year old ready for the subway? no. My guess is when she is maybe 12...but then she is a different kid. Another difference I see between when i was growing up and what this woman did, is that we used to travel in groups...he was all alone.

I do think that most big cities are safer for kids than they used to be, I think that the media makes us feel like child abductions are far more common than they are.

Nikki - posted on 03/16/2010

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I feel exactly as Sharon does, teaching my son independence is one thing letting him ride the subway at nine is another .... I guess I love my child to much to risk his life and me ever seeing him again

Jess - posted on 03/16/2010

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Perhaps its different here in Australia. I would allow my child to walk to school and it wouldn't cross my mind that she wouldn't arrive. Child abduction isn't common here. It happens, don't get me wrong. But its not something you see frequently. Good stranger danger awareness and teaching them how to regonise a safety house is key. I don't know if every country has the program, but her in Australia their are home's that are registered as "Safety house" and they have a special sign on the letter box and the owners have to be home between certain hours to allow children to come in if they are scared while walking to or from school.

Sharon - posted on 03/16/2010

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Yeah - i prefer to keep my kids out of the clutches of pedophiles.

You enjoy thinking about your kids spending time with a pedophile and send him off to hang out on street corners w/drug addicts and pedophiles and well, hell, I guess you aren't even hoping for the best if you would do that to your kid.

Tah - posted on 03/16/2010

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i think you can teach them as they are young and allow them to use it at around 12..my mom taught my nephew and now at 13 he knows how to get from my moms to home and to church, and several other places on philadelphia transit..my mom taught us and i used to travel to and from charm school and dance class by myself often..my mom taught taught us and prayed we would be ok..and we have been fine...there are crazy people true, but kids do need to learn independence...

La - posted on 03/16/2010

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I would never forgive myself if I let my daughter play outside or run down the block to the CVS by herself and she never came back...seems like there are more dangers nowadays. Too many sickos and people who don't care in general.

Lea - posted on 03/16/2010

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I had to start taking the subway in 6th grade, and I think that was too young. Maybe its different for boys.

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I just got off of the phone with my mom, who also rode the NY subway system as a kid. Oh...in the 1950's! A shit load has changed since then. Even in more upscale NYC neighborhoods, anything can happen, anytime, anywhere. Even if the kid has the best street smarts, it may not be enough. Then I just got off of the phone with my friend who is the biggest helicopter mom in the world. I just said to her "Lisa, there is a name for moms like you: helicopter mom" She laughed! She keeps a very tight rope on her 12 & 13 year old....she hovers. And knows it. In fact I keep inviting her to this group.

There's a huge difference in allowing freedom as long as your child is safe. Using the public transportation system in NY is also a way of life starting from very young. You're just brought up knowing the way to go, and who to turn to for help. There are transit police at every stop. Would I let my 4th grader ride solo? I really don't know. I suppose it would depend on the maturity of the child and how frequently they use the subways. I do remember going into NYC from NJ as young as 13 with my friends. We would take the train into Port Authority, then walk several blocks to my dad's office. As far as letting my 5 year old have freedom now, I am slowly allowing it. We live 5 houses fromthe common area in my neighborhood, and Matthew loves riding his bike down the street to play with the other kids. Thankfully, a few of those kids are my current students and the boys really play nice with him. And when they play rough, they tell Matt to wait on the sidelines. Then usually in 5 minutes, I stroll down the street to check up on him. Matthew needs to be in my line of vision, and he still is an overly trusting kid. So he can only play with the kids in the neighborhood I know-and thankfully I know them ALL! But for now, 5 minutes freedom is all he gets!

Christy - posted on 03/16/2010

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i don't think she's guilty of negligence but i absolutely would never even consider doing that. i understand that kids need to have a sense of independence but i think that lady was pretty much asking for her child to be abducted. no matter how great your kid is, it doesn't stop the crazy people out there from hurting them. society today is not the way it was when we were kids so unfortunately our kids probably shouldn't have the freedoms that we did. i am worried enough about my daughter staying the night at a friend's house when she's older let alone letting her take public transportation by herself at age 9! i do agree with Jess that our kids should be able to play at the park without us holding their hands but that is a far cry from letting them venture out into the world without us....

Jess - posted on 03/15/2010

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Free Range all the way ! My 7 month is definatly going to be very independant, its in her nature and its already very clear. I remember getting myself home on the train in grade 3 so I was 8 at the time. The feeling of trust and being responsible was great. It showed me that my parents trusted me to follow the rules, not talk to strangers and have good common sense.



I want my daughter to be able go play in the park and not need me to hold her hand the entire time ! Good on this mother for owning her decision and standing by her choose despite bad flack she is coping ! No one wants to see a day where every child is flanked by the secret service !

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