May 11, 2009

America's Worst Mom?

I was watching ABC World News last night when, in honor of Mother's Day, they had a story about a New Yorker, Lenore Skenazy, who was being called "America's Worst Mom". Lenore believes in the concept of "Free Range Kids" which also happens to be the title of a book and blog on the subject. Go figure. Anyway, her parenting philosophy is to let her kid roam around on his own, doing his own thing....a notion that's totally anathema to today's so-called "Helicopter Parents", who hover over their children at all times.

The big crime which earned her the "Worst Mom" label was that she had let her child, an adorably bright kid with a huge Jewfro, ride the subway at age 9 and the LIRR at 10. Unaccompanied. Cue horror music. Now this story is a great headline but if you really think about it, it's not as terrible as it sounds. The subway is not some sort of horror show and hasn't been for a good 20 years. I see kids riding on it often, usually in groups but definitely under 13. Personally, my biggest concern about putting a child on the subway would be not so much the danger factor but more that the NYC subway can be so damn confusing, especially with all the service advisories lately. But Lenore's kid asked her if he could do this and, as a city kid, had already been on the subway countless times and knew where he was going.

There is a general feeling these days that the world is very "dangerous" for children. There are predators everywhere...or at least that's the impression you'll get if you watch DATELINE. However, Justice Dept. stats show that crimes against children remaine relatively unchanged over the last 40 years. They are incredibly rare (115 abductions in 2006, in a country of 300 million) and when they do occur, wholly sensationalized and overpublicized.

Growing up in the seemingly pastoral 70's and 80's, I was lucky to have a pretty free range existence, walking to school starting at age 7 and roaming the general Kensington, MD area without parental supervision. But there was nothing extraordinary about it either. And, not only did I survive, I thrived and had a great childhood filled with adventure and mischief, as all childhoods should be. Lenore makes the point that some kids these days are prisoners of their parents irrational fears. Though that may make for a perfectly safe and heremetically sealed childhood, she believes it's not exactly helping kids grow into responsible, self-sufficient adults.