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Health & Parenting

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Free-Range Parenting

It’s a new, hands-off approach to raising kids. Should you give it a try?


“Kids today in all settings are very scheduled and very supervised,” says Richard Gallagher, PhD, associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU Child Study Center. “You rarely find kids today engaging in pick-up softball games or other kinds of activities where they plan things and work it out themselves.”

Gallagher says the heavy emphasis on scheduling and supervision has caused children to lose the ability to entertain themselves without TV, computers, or video games.

Aside from our work schedules, fear often dictates what we will and won’t allow our children to do. Most of us perceive these to be dangerous times, with the threat of child abduction, abuse, or worse on the rise. It would be flat-out unsafe, bordering on criminally negligent, is a common refrain, to allow our children the same freedoms we had to roam our neighborhoods unsupervised. But Skenazy learned while researching her book, Free-Range Kids, Giving Our Kids the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, that’s just not so.

As it turns out, we’re living in about the safest time in history, she says. But if you pay attention to 24-hour cable news, which brings us the worst stories from around the world, you’ll likely believe otherwise.

“That’s why I can tell you about the 4-year-old who was kidnapped in Portugal and the name of a 20-year-old on vacation in Aruba who was never seen again,” Skenazy says. “I mean, these things are so unusual and so anomalous, and yet we know them like we know our own family history because they take over our TVs and take over our brain.”

In fact, crime rates in this country were on the rise during the 1970s and '80s and peaked in 1993. Since then, crime has declined by 50% or more, Skenazy writes in her book. That means if you were a kid in the '70s or '80s, your children are actually safer today than you were when your parents allowed you to walk to school on your own.

Crime rates may be down, says Lesa Semaya, a New York City mother of three, but you won’t catch her sending her 10-year-old son to ride the subway alone. “I think it’s one thing to give your kid freedom, it’s another to let him take the subway. There are crazy people in this world,” Semaya says. “It’s not that I don’t trust my kids, but I don’t trust everyone else.”

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