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Monday, April 14, 2008

how to start a mommy blogging brouhaha on the interweb

want to stir up a little ridiculous controversy that serves only to underscore your central point (that parents today be cra-zay)? New York Sun columnist lenore skenazy has the recipe for you.

step 1. let your 9-year-old son ride the subway all by his badself under the theory that parents today are waaaay to overprotective. ("i gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.")
step 2.
write an excellent, thoughtful column about it. "half the people i’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. as if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. it’s not. it’s debilitating — for us and for them."
step 3. let simmer
on the interblogs.
step 4. serve hot-headed.

skenazy is totally on to something here. the over-propensity among parents (usually Of a Certain Means) to hover and helicopter over their kiddies' every move is a serious bugaboo of mine (awful stroller pun intended, sadly). but more importantly it does the kids a disservice. the real world is not a baby-proofed, rounded-corner, anti-bacterial rubber room. thank god. so why raise kids as if it were? they'll be sorely disappointed. (as it is they're going to have to grapple with the fact that they're not the Specialest Little People on Earth they've been told their entire childhoods, but that's another source of irritation for another time).

now skenazy has now bequeathed the internets with a special gift:
Free Range Kids (LOVE the name). a snip of her blog's mission statement: "At Free Range, we believe in safe kids. 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." the blog's first post was april 1 and there's only been one more since, which does not inspire great confidence that this brilliant idea will yield an especially robust site. but we'll reserve judgment for now.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I used to be of the same opinion until Adam Walsh disappeared and was subsequently found murdered. Of course he was 6 1/2, which IS school age, but is still very young. But what was brought to the forefront in my mind was that the world HAD changed since I was a child growing up. And now about 30 years later, I don't see that it is any better; in fact, it seems worse. I also think much depends on your own child, his/her maturity, physical stature, etc. before letting the youngster take off. Yes, it is important to help your child take on responsibilities but it is incumbent on any parent to be sure that the child is safe and secure and has learned responsibility at home first. In the meantime, I will continue to hover over my grandchild until the day comes that I see she is ready to take wing!

4/14/2008 8:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's be clear, Adam Walsh was not riding the subway in New York when he was abducted. And crimes like this are exceptionally rare. Out of a population of 40-some million schoolchildren, you'll be shocked how few are murdered under any circumstance. It's fewer than die from cancer, and far fewer than die in traffic accidents.

A small enough number that parents like Lenore Skenazy make decisions about their kids based on things like, is the boy capable of doing what he wants? Can he be set up to succeed? Skenazy answered both those questions for her child in that situation. For goodness sake, if parents don't gradually put their kids in situations where they can learn judgment and common sense in the face of uncertainty, where the cost of failure is small, then what happens when they learn to drive, or move away from home?

4/14/2008 8:49 PM  
Anonymous Geeks In Rome said...

This is a toughy. I grew up in the country where I was allowed to roam free (within the 100 acre- triangular boundaries of "rte 66, lake road, cope hill").
I would have no problem letting my kids (when they turn 8?) start running around on their own in the small village my hubby grew up in. But raising kids in a city... albeit a pretty safe one, I don't know how free range I'd let them be here and at what age I'd let them run to the store for example, or play on their own...
But is our world really more dangerous than before? How much of our fear is really based on the ever present red/orange alerts?
I do believe the content of the daily news has changed for the worse and that it only covers shocking, ghastly stuff so that makes us think the world is more evil. But there were pervs and murderers in our generations, too. Only difference is those dangers weren't talked about on the news as much unless it was really local. Now we hear about every single abduction that ever happens.
It has affected me for sure: every time I take the kids to the park I'm always doing a perp. sweep and scrutinizing all the weird looking men sitting alone on the benches.

4/15/2008 8:15 AM  
Blogger Jessica said...

I'm missing something... where are the famous nasty horrified comments on her article?

I'm a chimp, I can't work the internet.

4/15/2008 7:25 PM  
Blogger Dana Seilhan said...

You know, you can trot out all the statistics you want about how fewer kids disappear than die of cancer, but I think my child is more important to me than numbers, and while I can't prevent my child getting cancer, I sure can prevent her abduction.

One big difference between now and when I was a child (I'm 34) is that the types of people (and I use that term loosely) who would abduct a child and do horrible things to her are better able to network now thanks to the Internet. Now, not only do they do terrible things to kids, they give each other cyber-pats on the back and use one another's photos and data to scope out their next targets. Cree-pee.

This old man got it into his head to photograph my child with his cell phone camera on the city bus one day. I want to think he did it for completely innocent reasons. I can't... quite... get there. And I live in a hellhole of a neighborhood where half the houses are boarded up and the kids are feral--I mean, literally feral, they'll surround your car and throw things at you and say scary things about your (then-)two-year-old--and I wouldn't let my girl out to play on a bet, even if she were six years older. Not without me accompanying her.

If we were in the country, oh heck yes, I'd let her play outside more. But I would still give her the good-touch, bad-touch conversation before I let her out of my sight, because although the creeps are less concentrated in numbers in rural areas, they're still there.

Because the numbers and statistical chances don't matter when it's one of your own. The chances of it happening to your child once it's happening to your child are one hundred percent.

4/17/2008 12:48 AM  
Blogger Dana Seilhan said...

Oh, and let me be very clear, I think children should gradually learn independence, yes. I don't think I should keep my child in a cocoon until she's eighteen. The thing is, this bit of just letting kids run off where you can't see them for hours on end? That's not natural. You look at indigenous tribal people who live out in the jungle, they don't do that stuff either. Yes, the kids can run all round the village and play all day, but they're always in the sight of trusted adults. Granted, the circle of "trusted adults" in an indigenous tribal village is larger than, say, in a First-World city... but you get my drift. I know we are not out in the middle of the jungle in terms of being in danger from random large animals... except we are, sort of. Just different kinds. From our own species.

And the thing is, there's such a thing as too much independence. Nobody who is in a healthy social situation as an adult is ever completely alone. They've got friends, they usually have life partners (or at least a temporary boyfriend or girlfriend) as well, and often they even have their family nearby. There is always somebody looking out for them. It doesn't end with childhood.

So I don't see why the benchmark for healthy parenting has to be that you let your kid run off all alone all over the city without you. And just because they don't do it as a kid doesn't mean they can't do it as an adult. Even the tribal folks let their own go off alone into the woods as adults, on vision quests and whatever else. I never went around a city by myself before I left home, but I got along fine doing it as an adult. As long as you aren't doing other things that leave your child all neurotic and feeling incapable of doing anything for himself, you're good to go--there's being sensible, and there's setting him up for major risk either way, overprotected OR underprotected.

I think a lot of parents out there get impatient in a variety of ways to see their kids grow up too soon. You've got the ones who insist on the baby being independent at six months... the ones who think their nine-year-olds ought to take care of them when they've been out on a bender... that kind of thing. It's kind of sick. You signed on for eighteen years of this stuff. That means eighteen years, not six months or nine years because all of a sudden it's boring and you're getting impatient. If that means you go with your child on the subway then go with them on the subway--that's what you signed up to do. If you don't like it then here's your sign that maybe you shouldn't have another one. (I mean "you" generally.)

4/17/2008 12:57 AM  

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