Remember when I wrote about Attachment Parenting vs. Over-Parenting? It was in doing some (light) research for that post that I first came across the idea of free-range parenting. Googling the phrase took me straight to Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog, and something clicked with me immediately.
The subtitle of her book (Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry) confirmed for me that this was a philosophy I could really dig. I have so, so many fond memories of exploring our neighboorhoods as a child. My mother often turned us outside for much of the day to play. I grew up in small towns in Oklahoma and I don't think it ever occurred to her that we were at all in danger.
The idea of turning Dacey outside to play in the backyard, however, made every muscle in my body tense with anxiety. What about the creepy, pervy sex offender who is quite possibly lurking in the alley, staking out our house day after day, just waiting for the one moment I let Dacey go outside by herself? I mean, clearly every neighborhood in our country - nay, around the world! - has that creepy perv lurking in the alley waiting for just the right moment to prey on our children.
Turns out . . . not so much.
But you will never, ever hear that fact reported on the evening news or by Anderson Cooper. The news media is far too invested in fear to report the fact that the rate of violent crime today has dropped off from its peak in the 90s and now is about the same as the violent crime rate of the early 1970s.
What I loved most about Free-Range Kids (besides Skenazy's blend of serious facts and laugh-out-loud voice and style) is that there is so much about empowering parents in this book. Empowering and educating. Laying out some cold hard facts that are meant to reassure and build confidence rather than cause us walk around with a pervasive sense of worry.
My very, very favorite chapter of the book is the last one - "Strangers with Candy." In it, Skenazy reveals what experts in the area of child abduction have to say about what we are teaching our children about strangers.
And folks? It ain't good.
Ernie Allen - head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (founded by John Walsh) - told Skenazy that "Our message to parents is you don't have to live in fear, you don't have to lock your children in a room." What he wants parents to do is "talk to [children] about how to handle themselves confidently, among people they know and people they don't" (p 182).
Children are sent all the wrong messages about strangers, when statistics show that they are far more likely to be hurt or abused by someone they actually know. And the "don't trust anybody, ever, under any circumstances" stranger danger stuff is actually crippling their ability to know whom to turn to in a scary situation.
Skenazy then goes on to point out some powerful facts and figures and notes that "a child is forty times more likely to die as a passenger in a car crash than to be kidnapped and murdered by a stranger."
There is so, so much more just from that chapter that I would like to share, but really, you need to read it in context of the entire book to get the best picture of her message.
Were there any parts of this book I didn't like or don't agree with? Well, there may have been one sentence that may or may not have subtly encouraged fully vaccinating, and you know I will tense up a little bit about that, but it was just one sentence that may not have to be construed that way at all. So see, I can barely find one thing to nitpick about this book.
Has it changed my approach to parenting? ABSOLUTELY. This book is not just about allowing our kids freedom to play outside. It's about educating ourselves and our kids. It's about learning how to step back and let our kids fail every now and again. It's about saying no to buying all the stuff parenting magazines include on their essential baby gear lists. It's about flat-out trusting ourselves as parents and trusting our children, too.
I can honestly say this is one of the best books on parenting I've read. And I've read a lot of them. Even if you have glanced through the blog and haven't been sold on the philosophy, I highly encourage giving the book a read. I'll think you will come away from it with a lot less worry and a lot of great ideas on how to raise kids . . . free-range style.