On Parenting

Free Range Kids

Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy

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Lenore Skenazy
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Monday, April 27, 2009; 11:00 AM

When Lenore Skenazy wrote a column for the New York Sun about letting her 9-year-old ride the subway alone -- per his request -- she became a media sensation. On one side were the parents who don't let their children out of their sight for fear of what could happen. On the other, were parents who buck the "what ifs" to give their children independence.

In response to the outpouring from the column, Skenazy launched Free Range Kids and has just published the book, "Free Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry." In today's On Parenting blog, she discusses the "What Ifs..." she and her son continue to face when he rides the train alone along with the "What If" he would face if he doesn't learn to navigate the world on his own.

Skenazy was live on Monday, April 27, at 11 a.m. to discuss the Free Range movement. "At Free Range, we believe in safe kids," Skenazy writes on her Web site. "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. Most of us grew up Free Range and lived to tell the tale. Our kids deserve no less."

Continue the conversation on giving kids Free Range in On Parenting: The Two Words That Can Drive A Parent Crazy: 'What If'

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Lenore Skenazy: Hi All!
I'm Lenore Skenazy, and this is my first ... whatever it is. Blog chat? Web hello? Eletronic Q&A? Anyway, as the "Free-Range" gal I'd love to hear your questions about how come childrearing has changed so much in just one generation. The things we were allowed to do without a second thought -- from walking to school to selling Girl Scout cookies -- have become terrifying to a lot of parents. Free-Rangers DO believe in helmets and car seats. Just not that every child needs a security detail when leaving the house. A lot of things are safer than we think, including childhood. I look forward to our chat!

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University Park, Md.: When my daughter was 10-yrs old, I encouraged her to walk to her aunt's house, which is about a third of a mile from ours, in the same residential neighborhood. I called her aunt when she left and she called me when she arrived. She felt good about her success and I applauded her for finding her way safely. She told her neighborhood (kid) friends about her success and the parents of these kids labelled us irresponsible parents. My daughter felt she was assuming high risk behavior and got nervous when she hadn't been nervous before.

My neighbor across the street with two kids under 7-yrs spends (what I consider) an inordinate amount of time worried about the registered child molester who lives 3-miles from our street. I just don't envision him maurauding the neighborhood looking for children to eat. We let our 7-year old play outside (on a cul-de-sac) and only check on her where abouts about every 20-minutes. Sometimes she visits and neighbors and forgets to tell us and we have to track her down. We're getting a reputation as inattentive parents. How can I support my children's autonomy (within reason) without labeling my neighbors as nervous nelly's? I don't want my children to dismiss other rational adults as wimps.

Lenore Skenazy: I hear this kind of thing a lot (and I've been labeled iressponsible too). To me you sound VERY responsible because you are teaching your child, slowly and surely, how to look out for herself. It strikes me as the height of IRRESPONSIBILITY to supervise a child at all times, because then they never learn how to do anything by themselves. What happens the day you're not there and they don't know how to cross the street? One lady I spoke to said, "But I always WILL be there." Who is the nut case here? The parent who prepares her child for independence? Or the one who assumes she will never, for a second, be separated from them?
Do you know that in Japan they sometimes cancel the afternoon of school spontaneously and the kids are let loose to just get home one way or another, possibly before their parents are even home? That's what I heard from a teacher there. It's not considered wildly wrong. It's considered no big deal. I mention it because so much of the stuff we consider incredibly dangerous is considered no big deal to the rest of the world -- like kids riding buses, or babysitting, or asking a stranger a question. Certainly, having a 7-year-old ride on a cul de sac strikes me as about as safe as sitting in a chair inside reading.
On the other hand, we DO live in a society that is eager to tell parents what they are doing wrong. (And maybe I just did. Sorry!) The only way to shrug it off is to
a) shrug it off or
b) do that hard thing and try to have a ratinonal discussion about safety and values and independence and getting a little perspective, and (you might say) "By the way if we were living in Africa or South America or any non-coddling place, my 10 year old would have been raising her younger brother from the time she was about 5, and working in the fields and helping the family out instead of steweing in adorable incompetence the way you want her to. And did you know that in most of Europe -- corrupt ol' Europe -- kids walk to school starting at kindergarten and would you PLEASE get some perspective about what our kids are capable of? And how safe our times are? And how we seem to be thinking our kids are utter nincompoops who can't even cross a street or bike to the neighbors without getting killed? Would you please look around at reality and see if kids are getting pulled off their Schwinn's willy nilly or if you have been brainwashed by the fearmongers out there? People who would rather you think about the 1 in a million chance something bad could happen rather than the 999,999 times it doesn't?" I'll continue this thought with another answer, but it just kills me that to be rational that way is considered bad becuase we're not "What if"-ing enough. What IF something bad DID happen?
To "What If?" all the time does not make anyone safer because you cannot possibly avoid all the horrible "WHat If"s out there? What IF your kid stayed home, read on the chair, had to itch her toe, lost her balance and fell over and split her head open? So maybe SHE SHOULDN"T SIT ON A CHAIR?
Please.
I'll calm down and go read the other quesitons. Thank you very much for yours! -- lenore

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Anonymous: I used to babysit when I was 12, now I'm afraid to let my 12 year old take the bus alone. What's wrong with me?

Lenore Skenazy: Everything! No, just kidding. Nothing is wrong with you except that you are a parent in 2009, an era when we are being brainwashed with fear. You're not the only one who won't let your 12-year-old ride the bus alone, or even babysit the way you used to do. It's just that in the years since you were a kid, a couple things have conspired to ramp up fear among parents. Briefly, these are cable news (if you have to fill 24 hours a day with something compelling, barring an alien invasion, a child abduction is the best way to go), as well as all the other graphic dramatic shows. (I was reading the TV Guide the other day and one of them -- I think "The Mentalist" -- was about a person who gets "dismembered and decaptitated." That killed me. Like "dismembered" isn't enough? You have to promise viewers that FOR SURE the head is coming off too, don't worry! It'll be a great show!)
But anyway, also to blame is the rise of the lucrative "kiddie safety market." I'm talking about companies that come along and create or exploit parental fears so that you'll buy their doodad just to feel safer. When you live in a country that sells parents GPS devices to sew into their children's backpacks (and you do!) you start thinking, "Is it really so dangerous out there that I need to know anytime my kid veers off her usual path home from school?" And the GPS folks say, "You bet! You don't want her to be ABDUCTED do you?" (Or really, I guess, their message is, "WHEN she's abducted, you'll be able to tell where she is!") So merely the PRESENCE of these new safety gadgets -- from baby knee pads right on up to the GPS device -- makes you think that normal childhood is fraught with peril. I could add here that the fact that there's a shelf of books and magazines at your local bookstore that are filled with advice about what you COULD be doing wrong and how you SHOULD do this or that to protect your child (from bullying, from allergies, from colds, from self-esteem issues, from rape and murder) make you think your kid is at risk every day in every way from not making it to adulthood in one piece.
So those can drive you crazy, too. But maybe that's sort of off topic and I'll rant about it later to someone else. (Ask me how "What to Expect when You're Expecting" just launches the whole parental fear thing. It does. And yes, I read it too, when I was preg.)

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Andover Mass.: When a kid is given more independence, what typically is the reaction among other kids? Is a free-range kid scorned because her/his parents -don't care?- Or are friends -jealous- of the free-ranger's un-smothered independence?

Lenore Skenazy: Hi up there! I don't know how other kids typically respond but I do know how the other kids in my son's 5th grade class responded after the big brou-haha about my letting him ride the subway himself (the incident that launched my Free-Range Kids blog and then the book). One kid told his mom to read the blog because he wanted to get to school on his own, too, and she did and now she lets him commute! (Little does he realize he'll be doing this the rest of his life!) And another mom decided that if my kid was so comfortable going around the city on his own, he was old enough to walk HER kid home. Of course, they're the same age. Mostly, I think it's just great for other kids to see what someone their age is capable of. And believe me, getting home on your own from school is not a big deal. Once they see that, it's like a good kind of peer pressure: He's doing it, maybe I can too! As for jealousy, though, I haven't seen it. Just a little wistfullness like, "That seems cool. I'm going to do that someday too" -- "that" being go to a store without my mom, or go to the park without my babysitter.

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Alexandria, Va.: I agree with you in principal. However, I also happen to be a former employee of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (they send the "have you seen me?" cards, among many other things) and have heard many sad stories. I DO believe crime rates and criminals are different than they were 30 years ago when I was running around free. Comment?

Lenore Skenazy: What a traumatic job!
When I was writing my book, I kept getting mad at those folks for putting the kids on the milk cartons and making us think that all those kids had been abducted by strangers -- without bothering to tell us, "Actually, most were either run-aways or were taken by their non custodial parent in a divorce case."
But anyway, when I finally talked to the head of the center, Ernie Allen, it turned out that we were very much on the same page. Even HE -- Mr. Milk Carton -- wants kids to run around outside again. he know that there is safety in numbers and also that the real problem is almost never "stranger danger." It is kids hurt or abused by people they know. So he believes -- as do I -- in teaching your kids the basics of self defense. Not kicks and head chops, but that they have the RIGHT to scream and kick and yell and run away from someone. And also that they should learn that they CAN talk to strangers (and can ask them for help) they just should never go OFF with them.
While there will be strange and horrible cases every once in a while, the chances of this happening are 1 in 1.5 million. That is very very rare. Unbelievably rare, thank god. And for those who say, "yes, but what if that 1 in 1.5 million is MY kid?" I say: None of us wants to ever put our kids in danger. But by driving them in a car that's what we do. (Dying as an passenger in a car accident is the #1 cause of death among kids.) And by tucking them in at night, we put them in danger. (More kids die from fires in the home than by stranger abuductions.) My point is: There is no way to keep any child perfectly safe ever, and yet to keep them cooped up inside or forever under surveillance ignores the fact that we live in very safe times -- safest in the history of the world. It is a great time to be a child! Let them!

Lenore Skenazy: Ooh. I just re-read your question. The crime rate is, officially and every other which way, LOWER than it was in 1979. It is back to where it was in 1970, after which time it begam climbing till it peaked in the early 90s and has been going down ever since. I get my info from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which uses U.S.Bureau of Justice stats. Here's the research center's URL:
http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/
I am sure the stories you heard were terrible and very sad and frightening. But there were at the same time millions upon millions of stories you didn't hear -- that we never hear on the news or anywhere else -- of kids who were just fine. It's hard to keep perspective in a society that blares the terrible and ignores the safe and good.

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Washington, D.C.: Every time a kid gives information to on the internet &c. it's like "taking a ride with a stranger," and I mean including actual physical danger. The internet can be a really tough neighborhood.

By the way, how do I counter arguments like "Well, you grew up in Park Slope," or any other safe neighborhood?

Finally my opinion is that it's better to open your child to defined, independent adventure, than it is to train a potential 32 year old stay at home progeny.

Lenore Skenazy: Hi, D.C.! The internet CAN be a really frought neighborhood -- if you go to the red light district. If your kid is posting picture on MySpace (if anyone still uses MySpace!) or Facebook, it's not.

I was interviewing the head of the Crimes Against Chidlren Research Center (my favorite guy) about this. His group is the one responsible for the "One in 7 juveniles will receive a sexual solicitation on line." He is DISMAYED at the way this was taken to mean that young kids are getting propositioned all the time. Most of the "solicitiations," he said, are the equivalent of "wolf whistles." Things like, "What is your bra size?" Not, "If you like dora the Explorer meet me at the McDonald's on 23rd street. I have a big present for you."

Moreover, the place where juveniles most often DO get any kind of really sexual suggestions are the sexually suggestive chat rooms. Perverts, like the rest of us, don't want to waste their time. They go to where the sexually active (even reckless) people are already hanging out.

To think that they thumb through page after (incredbily boring!) page of facebook entries to see who looks cute is wrong. As the Crimes Against Children guy says: That would be like trying to find a date by calling random numbers in the phone book.

So the Internet turns out to be more like the real world: Mostly safe, unless you venture into particularly unsavory parts of town. (In fishnet stockings.)

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New York, N.Y.: don't you think it would be easier to raise your kids free-range outside of new york?

Lenore Skenazy: For what it's worth, I actually think it's easy to raise Free Range Kids here for two reasons.

1 - In new York, there are always people around, and there's safety in numbers. Since most people are good, if they saw anything weird going on, they'd intervene. (And I know this because when my son has ridden the subway alone, people have asked to make sure he's ok and one even marched him over to a policeman!)

2 - Kids can get around without cars. So they can become indenpdent sooner. In the 'burbs, kids need their parents to get to most afterschool activities. Here, they don't. So they can take a subway or bus to soccer, etc.

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Fulton, Md.: When I was a kid in Fairview Park, Ohio, I was asked by a male driver in my neighborhood to provide directions to a street that was about a mile away. Standing well apart from the car and keeping younger siblings behind me, I politely gave him directions. however, he claimed he wouldn't be able to find it and wanted me to go with him. I, of course refused, and thought he was weird if he couldn't find that street. This occurred more than 50 years ago and demonstrate to me that predators have always been out there, we just hear more now due to improved communications.

Lenore Skenazy: True. And whether by instinct or training, you did the perfectly right thing: You talked to a stranger but did not go off with him.

Over the summer I met my friend's 80 -year-old mom. She was laughing as she told me about the times when she was a kid and some man would ask her to come, "Look at this." And he was sitting in a car playing with himself. She said she and her sister STILL giggle about it.


Giggle!

That's because they were not scarred for life. Not that I advocate, "All children should be flashed!" (Although I'm sure someone will now take that quote out of context.) All I'm saying is that sometimes our kids may encounter something less than savory. We don't need to shield them from everything on the assumption that any trauma will ruin them for life.

On the other hand, we do have to prepare them to be safe -- just like you were.

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Washington, D.C.: Ms. Lenore:

Please stop attempting to ruin our business model. Thank you.

-The Association of Evening News Channels

Lenore Skenazy: Oh -- I thought you were from the Safety Industrial Complex. The folks who invented things like the "Thud Guard," which toddlers are supposed to wear from dawn to dusk to keep them from brain injury.

Or maybe you were from the baby wipe warmer coalition, which is attempting to make us believe that our children should never suffer one INSTANT of discomfort. Even the intense and almost unbearable discomfort of a room temperature wipe.

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Washington, D.C.: What is your attitude about activities that kids will do, if given their own choice, but that carry some obvious chance of injury? Especially boys... Like carry a pocketknife, or scuffle to settle a disagreement?

Lenore Skenazy: Well, my son carries a knife on his Boy Scout outings and I think of it as a tool, not a weapon. So I think that's ok. As for boys scuffling, I'm not sure. I think it makes sense to let them wrestle and such, but if I were around them and they started to fight, I'd try to stop it.

Not quite sure whether that's Free-Range. What IS Free-Range is making sure I'm not always there, so they DO learn to settle their disagreements without a parental referee all the time.

(But without the pocket knife.)

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Lakemont, Ga.: I've followed your story since the beginning. Letting your sons out in the world not only shows trust in them but also trust in the strangers they will meet to be HELPFUL to them. The sentence on Page 181 of your book about never letting kids talk to strangers being an ignorant piece of advice was such a relief to see. It should be posted in every classroom in America and in every police station.

Lenore Skenazy: I'd say, "Thanks mom!" but I see you're from Georgis and my mom is in Chicago so you are an actual READER of my book! Thanks, reader! And I agree: Let's post that in every classroom!

Did I already say on this chat that the head of the Center for Missing & Exploited Children ALSO agrees with, "Let your kids talk to strangers"? Well he does!

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Washington, D.C.: I'm currently pregnant, and of course reading "What to Expect When You are Expecting". It does seem that the book has a lot of worst case scenarios. So I'm curious, how does this book lay the foundation of fear of parenting? Thanks!

Lenore Skenazy: Well, I think that book, which started the whole idea of obsessing about everything we do as moms-to-be, lays the foundation for parental fears by suggesting (in very nice terms) that if we DON'T do everything right, we can ruin our kids for life.

In my book (sorry -- first actual plug for my book), I talk about the way they say "every BITE" is a chance to give your kid a great headstart.

That may sound nice, but do you really have to worry about EVERY BITE. You sure do. So that starts the obsessing. And then the WORRY is that if anything bad EVER happens to your kid -- from birth on up through college -- it's becaus YOU did something suboptimal. Maybe you ate a cupcake when he was in utero. Maybe you forgot to encourage him when he showed you his drawing from kindergarten, or maybe you bought him the wrong pacifier and now he's going to be lisping for life.

The idea is that our kids are utter clay and we can form or deform them is really pervasive and the FEAR is that we will get it wrong.

And then -- not only will they be ruined (or at least their potential diminished!) but we will be BLAMED for it.

And blame gets to another huge issue: If we are solely responsible for how our kids turn out (from the time we get the pregancy test back positive) than anyting bad or unfortunate is not due to fate or bad luck or the law of averages. It is due to US.

That is why -- leaping ahead to abductions -- any time, out of the clear blue, something terrible happesn to a kid -- the parents are blamed.

One mom told me that when her sister in law's duaghter broke her arm, the first thing everyone wanted to know was, "Well where was her mother! See! She shouldn't have left her unsupervised!"

But the fact is, the daughter had fallen off the swing when the mom was right there. Bad things happen even to the children of good and loving parents. But we good and loving parents KNOW we will be blamed. (The blame that starts in "What to expect" when they tell you "every bite" is a chance to help - or hurt -- your child). So we obsess more than ever before not only to keep our kids safe but to keep OURSELVES safe from this awful blaming culture!

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Jean, Silver Spring: Free-ranging doesn't stop when kids reach young adulthood. My son (now 25) and his girlfriend planned a trip to Paris when they were 18 without any parental supervision. I did drive them to the airport, but I do that for full-grown adults, too. They figured out how to get around and solve any Parisian mysteries they encountered, and they had a good time doing it. A few years later, he lived in Amsterdam quite independently as a student, even traveling to Turkey by himself. He's now a New Yorker, and I really don't worry about him too much. btw, Lenore: you and I met on a fam trip to the Loire Valley.

Lenore Skenazy: Hi! yes, I remember you, Ms. National Geographic! That is very cool about your son's trip. Come to think of it, my mom let ME go to Turkey solo, too -- when I was about 23. There is a world out there to explore!

Over winter vacation my blog got a letter from a boy who stuck inside the whole time. Let me go find it.
..

Sorry. Couldn't. Anyway, he said he was 15 and very bored because all he could do was play video games and watch TV and eat, because his parents wouldn't let him go outside because he might be "snatched and killed." He liked doing all those things by the way -- eating, video games -- but he was longing to be part of the world! It's like he was Rapunzel! (Without the hair.)

The idea that this is any way to keep a kid safe -- keeping him from ever developing any street smarts -- is so terribly off, as is the idea that this is a LIFE. Your son got to go see the world. This boy -- younger, yes, but still of a competent age -- is in a bubble. And his parents think THEY are the reasonable ones!

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Shelburne, Vt.: Hi Lenore, I think one thing people sometimes miss is the fact that the children are ASKING for some of this freedom, and instead of listening to them (asking to take the subway) the children are dismissed. I know you are not advocating just setting your child out in the street, but to carefully listen to what it is your youngster is asking to do. They will let us know when they are ready to test their wings. It is harmful to assume they are not ready to do something.

Lenore Skenazy: Hello, Vermont!

Not only is it sad not to listen when your kids are ready to test the waters, it's also so 2009!

What we forget is how competent young people are. We think of them as cute little Disney addicts and forget that they are not just passive consumers (and students), they can actually DO things. Until very recent times, as soon as a kid was able to, he helped out the family -- picking weeds, carrying water, looking after the younger ones. In colonial times, children were sent out as servants as young as age six! Nobody would want a servant who needed everything done FOR him. So, clearly, even six year olds were able to help out.

Think of the rest of history -- how 10 year olds were apprenticed to iron forgers and bread bakers. We forget how capable kids can be if we give them responsibilty!

The only reason I sent my 9 year old on the subway was that he was so EAGER to try to do something 'grown up." That is a natural human impulse and a good one. We WANT our kids to grow up. The alternative is really unappealing!

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every bite: means, hey, my problems aren't my fault, they're my parents' fault! But wait, my parents wouldn't have made those mistakes if it weren't for the problems my grandparents gave them! Keep this up, and every little flaw is Adam and Eve's fault. (I guess some people say it is, of course)

Lenore Skenazy: And to think they ate a 100% organic apple!

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: I live in Brooklyn, and notice a distinct difference between the kids here and where I grew up in suburban DC. They seem to be independent at a much earlier age here. I often see young kids riding the subway to school without adult supervision. I still marvel at it.

At the same time, I can't imagine something happening to these kids with all these other people (myself included). It seems safer in the big city - more so than kids walking on a path through the woods (like I did).

So do you think the free range concept should be approached differently based on where you are?

Do you think free range kids NYC have different expectations for independence?

Lenore Skenazy: I think Free Range has to be different in different parts of the country. If you're in a truly dangerous neighborhood, where gang warfare is common, you do have to supervise more. But I think the scenario you were just describing -- walking to school through the woods -- is just as safe as when you were a kid.

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Pau, France: I am delighted to hear that there are some reasoned people out there...ones that actually believe that planning against a one in a multi-million risk is ridiculous. I fear for my kids well-being all the time, but try to resist the "CNN/Fox News" style of parenting that permeates my generation. In France, at least where I live, the majority of parents are much more reasoned in their approach to giving children independence and the associated responsibility that goes along with it. If my friends in the States heard what we allow our children to do independently here in France, I am afraid we would be ostracized, but here in France we are probably viewed as being over protective.

Lenore Skenazy: Hey! I've been to Pau! You are lucky to be there!

America (and, for that matter, most of the English-speaking countries) tend to be much more worried about pedophiles and abductions and that whole shebang than the rest of the world. I've tried to figure out why and I can only say it seems to be some toxic brew of

1 -- Maybe more media?
2 -- maybe those countries found it easier to copy OUR execrable media?
3 -- (My time is running out!) It also has a lot to do with liability issues, which are so huge here. If you live your life worried you're going to get sued if anyone trips over an anthill in your yard (and you could be) you start thinking of EVERYTHING in terms of, "I don't want antyhing to happen." And you see the horrible possilibities everywhere.

Anyway -- I'm told I have to wrap up. Au revoir!

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Lanham, Md.: I understand where you're coming from with this article. And I'm one of the what-if'ers! Somewhere in my becoming an adult & a parent, the world went from this really great place to a place that is terrifyingly dangerous for anyone under 15. Unless the kid is a girl, then it goes to 18 (i.e. Natalie Holloway). Any ideas on how to lose this constant state of perceived danger.

Lenore Skenazy: Hi Lanham Lady( or man):
You are so right when you mention this "perceived danger." It is our PERCEPTION that things have changed so much. But I think if you take a walk around your town, you will see it's not filled with criminals. It's mostly filled with people just working, walking, being the kind of people they always were, even when we were kids.

I am starting to sound so boring saying that things really haven't changed -- but the media has. Also, when our parents were raising us, they didn't automatically start getting all those parenting magazines (taht will never hire me now) that are filled with articles on...safety! THey have to write, "Are your kids going to die from X or Y?" or we wouldn't grab them. So in a way, even these supposedly "reassuring" magazines make us crazy. that's why I call it brainwashing: Anyonhe who wants to get our attention (and money) has to convince us that our kids are about to die or we we'll ignore them. That goes for the News right on down to the books that tell you what to eat when you're pregnant. "YOu need to eat this or your child will never develop correctly!"

no wonder we're feeling so nuts! We are surrounded by people harping and carping and then when we put down the magazine for a sec and turn on TV you're right -- there's Natalee! Aieeee!

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Arlington, Va.: Lenore Skenazy you are my hero. I have a 17 month old daughter and already look forward to the days when I can tell her to get on the metro in Arlington (a three block walk from our house) and go see her grandparents down in D.C. (a one block walk from the metro) on her own, and I won't even have to leave the house! My own worst nightmare isn't that someone will kidnap my child -- the odds of that are just so remote. What I really want is for my daughter to grow up and want to live her life -- somewhere other than in my basement!

Lenore Skenazy: I'm sure she'll be out and about on her own very soon! (but maybe not for a couple months).

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Rockville, Md.: For the pregnant poster--screw the "What to Expect" books. Go for Vicki Iovine's "The Girlfriend's Guide" books instead. They're much more helpful, less preachy, way less guilt-ridden and -provoking, and generally a lot more fun.

Less expensive too!

Lenore Skenazy: I liked that guide a lot better, too!

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Lenore Skenazy: It is time for me to sign off. It was so great "talking" to you (or whatever it was we just did). You can always go to my blog and write to me from there -- freerangekids.com. And in the meantime, I just want to wish us ALL luck on this parenting adventure. There is no one right way to raise a kid -- there's not even one right way to be "Free-Range" about it. And there is no need to be ONE thing all the time. Just try to trust your kid, your community and your own parenting. I do! (Trust you, that is. And also me, of course.) L.

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Richmond, Va: Do you at least give your kid a cell phone in case he gets in trouble? Also, do you let him ride the subway alone because he wants to or because it is easier on you. I don't mean this to sound rude but I see a lot of my child's classmates (5th graders) who have lots of freedom actually have lazy parents.

Lenore Skenazy: Well, the truth is, I sort of AM a lazy parent, by today's standards. But I also think those standards are too stringent. It IS easier for me to have my son get himself to his activities. it's also fun for him, and I don't think it's dangerous, and I am happy he knows how to fend for himself.

A lot of what is consdiered "lazy" today would have been considered "normal" a genreation ago -- including letting kids walk themselves to school. My mom let us walk and she wasn't a bad parent. And I figure I'm just like her.

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