Sunday, June 7, 2009

Let the Children Run Free

If you're on our mailing list, our annual newsletter should be arriving soon. If not, you can read it online, too. The following is one of the articles we wrote, which is about the free range kids movement.

(Duncan in Berkely, CA)

Our daughter Abby became a teenager a few months ago—it’s hard for us to believe that our little “Peapod” has become a young woman. And, we’ve been thinking about what we did at her age and how uncomfortable we would be with those things now.

Dan at thirteen often took the bus downtown and spent the day exploring skyways and record stores. Millie gathered signatures against nuclear weapons in Uptown for INFACT. Somehow, both of these activities in this day and age fills us with fear.

In this day and age? Who are we kidding? Why would we be more scared now of our daughter being out in the world than when we were hanging out in City Center or Lake & Hennepin? A generation of fear has blunted our instincts and caused us to trust our children less. Two decades of media saturation about the dangers of the world have left us struggling to reconcile our childhoods with our parenting.

Lately, we’ve come to recognize that if we want to raise strong, capable, self-actualized children, we need to overcome these fears. Thankfully, Lenore Skenazy’s Free Range Kids movement ( is leading the way. Lenore’s journey began when she wrote about letting her nine year old son Izzy ride the NYC subway on his own. In doing so, she tapped into the humongous schism that’s grown between reason and fear in the minds of every parent today. “Somehow,” she writes, “a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.”

In her new book, Lenore takes on all the crazy things we do as parents because of fear, not the least of which are the ridiculous safety products that use fear to make a buck. We’ve seen loads of these—knee pads for crawling toddlers, GPS tracking devices, marionette-like harnesses for learning to walk, helmets to cushion falls, and “glovies” to keep germs off little hands. All of these products not only deny a half million years of human evolution, but also plant in our children an insidious, damaging message: You are not fit for this world. You need constant protection. Be afraid.

As parents, we know it’s a constant struggle between our instincts to protect and to create
healthy, capable children. Unlike birds, there is no single moment when our children fly from the nest—it’s something that happens every day in a thousand tiny steps. What’s important is what’s between our ears each time our children take a step out into the world. Do we inveigh a sense of fear or trust? We’re hardly perfect, but we’re bending our minds toward trust.
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