I saw Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, speak last night at the Families Together Cooperative Nursery School in Edgewater. (The event was arranged by fellow ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.) Lenore Skenazy is smart, funny and appears in dozens of pages of search results for the term "America's Worst Mom." She earned this dubious distinction when she revealed in her newspaper column that she allowed her then 9 year old son to ride home alone on the New York subway. From that moment Lenore Skenazy became both "America's Worst Mom" and the voice of the "Free Range Kids" movement.
Skenazy's son took his infamous (and, it should be noted, uneventful) independent subway ride in 2008. My, how parenting has changed in just a couple of decades!
When I was about 9 years old and therefore the same age as Skenazy's son we lived in San Francisco. I walked several blocks to school by myself. That act alone would probably get my parents interrogated by child services today, but there was more.
I went to acting class at the San Francisco Children's Opera after school. To do that I rode a city bus BY MYSELF. I think I did this once a week. Although most of my solo bus rides were as uneventful as Skenazy's son's solo subway ride would be nearly 20 years later, I do remember one time when something bad happened.
One day, when I was riding the bus alone I accidentally got on the express bus! Oh no! The bus passed my stop! I went to bus driver crying! He stopped the bus, and I had to walk several extra blocks to back track! The horror! The embarrassment!
Okay. Truly bad things do happen. Very bad things happen, but despite their prominence in nightly newscasts they are statistically rare. These outlying events do not merit a society that is systematically stifling our kids' instincts to explore.
When I was a kid I was brave enough to ride a city bus alone. Now that I am an adult and a parent I hope that I am brave enough to give my kids the freedom to learn more independence than fear.
If you are a parent please read Lenore Skenazy's book or go to FreeRangeKids.com for a healthy dose of reasonableness in an often unreasonable world. Or to call her "America's Worst Mom." She's used to it.
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