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Free-Range Parenting

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

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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.”

There’s a Reason it’s Called Self-Esteem

Good parents today, we seem to feel, carefully plan their children’s lives in an effort to prepare them for the future. The question is: How much is doing too much for our kids?

“It’s like 10 is the new 2,” Skenazy says. “Anything you would have been doing for your toddler is being replicated when they are 9, 10, and 11.”

In an effort to keep them safe, boost their self-confidence, and make sure they get into an Ivy League college, we shuttle them from soccer practice, to Mandarin Chinese lessons, to karate, to violin. We make sure that every kid who participates in Little League, win or lose, gets a trophy at the end of the season, lest any child’s feelings are hurt.

But the truth is that self-esteem comes from attempting something that’s a little difficult and either succeeding or failing and trying again until you do succeed.

“The message you get if your parents do everything from driving you to school to waiting at the bus stop to doing your science fair project is ‘I love you so much, but I don’t think you can do this,’” Skenazy says. “That’s why they call it self-confidence, not parent-assisted confidence.”

Yet Jereski says it’s hard to know where to draw the line. “I very much want him to learn how to be independent and make his own decisions and give him the freedom to do that,” she says of her son. “I’m trying to find that balance, but you have to be careful with your children. You’re responsible, and there are unforeseen things.”

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