Saturday, November 14, 2009

Free-Range Kids Book Review by ChristineMM

Title: Free-Range Kids: Giving our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry

Author: Lenore Skenazy

Genre: Nonfiction, parenting

Publication: Jossey-Bass, a Wiley Imprint, 2009

ISBN: 9780470471944 (hardcover)

Full retail price: $24.95

My Rating: 5 stars out of 5: “I Love It”

Summary Statement: Humor, Facts and Common Sense Combined

When I began my parenting journey I wanted to do all the right things, to keep my child safe and healthy. It wasn’t until a few years down the road that I started realizing that by following all that advice my children’s lives were very different than my own childhood. I started recalling how I spent my youth, with much unstructured and unsupervised play outdoors with neighbor kids and realized my kids were missing out. I also realized that I’d not be the person I am today if my mother supervised all my play time, followed me around and monitored all my conversations with my friends. When asking around to friends and even neighbors, everyone echoed back the same advice and recommendations. They weren’t ready to go “free-range” yet. The neighbors wouldn’t allow their kids to play outdoors unsupervised, even with a group of kids. I was back at square one.

Yet kids growing up indoors with constant parental or adult supervision and more screen time than “outside in the real world” time seemed just wrong. I didn’t want my boys to be helpless wimps into their preteen and teen years. I wasn’t interested in raising children, I wanted to raise adults. I started looking for someone who said these things, and had a hard time finding any. Well, Lenore Skenazy is that voice.

Skenazy is a journalist and a syndicated columnist but she became famous around the globe when her story hit the mainstream news. She was the mother who let her nine year old son ride a New York City subway alone and was labeled the “world’s worst mother”. Internet discussion boards were afire with the debate about “would you let your child do this” and asking if this was neglectful or dangerous.

This book is a wonderful summary of some parenting commandments that Skenazy hopes will help today’s parents give their children a childhood like the one we had. Fourteen chapters outline fourteen commandments. A humorous discussion of the topics and some common sense advice is given. The fact is the danger of what may go wrong is not usually what does happen. The media, parenting experts and other well meaning people hype up the fear and scare parents stiff.

What saves this book from being condescending, patronizing or boring is the humor throughout the book. Parents are not made to be stupid for having followed the expert’s advice, for example. Skenazy compares what is typical in America to how parenting is in other countries and it seems we Americans must be crazy with fear and worry. In fact, we may be out of our minds. Skenazy urges us to stop trying to control everything, because the fact is, we just can’t. In fact, failure and making mistakes is good for children.

There are 33 pages in the “Safe or Not” chapter that examine a topic with studies to prove that the thing is not as dangerous as we think it is. Statistics are given. is research and information to back up Skenazy’s encouragement to lighten up, loosen up and to relax.

The conclusion chapter is excellent. This chapter I’ve written notes in the margins and circled quotes. This is the section that made me feel like I was sitting down with a wise mom-friend.

“Childhood is supposed to be about discovering the world, not being held captive. It’s not about having the world pointed out to you by a DVD or a video game or by your mom as you drive by. “See, honey? That’s called a ‘forest’. Can you spell forest?”

We want our children to have a childhood that’s magical and enriched, but I’ll be that your best childhood memories involve something you were thrilled to do by yourself. These are childhood’s magic words: “I did it myself!” (page 193)

To my knowledge this is the only book on the market discussing this topic. There are books that talk about the problems that over-indulgence creates and some about raising boys that asks parents to give their boys more responsibility and more freedom. But Lenore Skenazy is the only one talking about how both genders, starting at birth. She says what we’re told to do just goes too far and how the media over-exaggerates the dangers. If you don’t believe the validity of what she says, there are thirteen pages of source material used to back up the information. There are three pages of books, movies and websites in support of the free-range parenting lifestyle.

This book should be read by all parents of young children. The focus starts in the baby years so the sooner a new parent can read it, the better. The book seems to cover kids through about twelve years old. The book does not focus on raising teenagers and issues regarding independence and freedom in the tumultuous teen years when the stakes and the situations are a bit different (i.e. looser apron strings when kids may start experimenting with tobacco, drugs, and alcohol).

I found this book enjoyable to read. It is an easy, fast read filled with humor.

I highly recommend reading it for a breath of fresh air.

This would make a great gift for the overly-worried mother you know. If not as a baby shower gift, how about presenting it as a gift at a child’s first birthday?

I rate this book 5 stars = “I Love It”.

Disclosure: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher and agreed to write a review of it for publication on my blog. I received no money to write this review.


Crimson Wife said...

I liked the book, but felt that Ms. Skenazy either missed or deliberately avoided "the elephant in the room". The reason why our generation was permitted free reign of our neighborhoods was because nearly every home had a mom home during the after-school hours. We may not have been within sight of our own moms, but we were typically within sight of SOMEBODY'S mom. If there were ever any problem, we could rely on a trusted adult to get there quickly.

By contrast, my neighborhood is like a ghost town between 8 A.M. and 5 P.M. There are a handful of nannies around but most of them don't speak very good English and I can't trust them to look out for my kids the way my mom could trust the other neighborhood moms.

I do try to allow my kids a fair amount of freedom & responsibility while I'm there to supervise them. But I don't send my 7 year old off on errands to the convenience store 2 blocks up the way my mom did with me at the same age. I would if we lived in a neighborhood like the one in which I grew up, but I don't think those exist too many places these days.

christinemm said...

I didn't put it in my review but some states (like Connecticut) have laws against some of the recommendations. For example kids cannot be alone in a public place until age 13. This is a seldom-known law. So dropping off a 9 year old or a preteen of any age is illegal in Connecticut.

Another elephant in the room I guess then, after reading your comment, is the fact that in my area school kids can be in both before and after school care inside buildings due to long work hours of the white -collar professional parents (doctors, upper management, and lawyers for example).