Would you let your 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone?
In 2008 Lenore Skenazy did. After writing a column about leaving her son in Bloomingdale’s with a subway map, a MetroCard, and a $20 bill, she was labeled “America’s worst mom” by national media outlets across the political spectrum including the Today show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR. The boy made it home without incident.
I almost know the feeling. When my 7 year-old ran ahead of me to board a Prague metro train, I questioned what he would have done if we had in fact been separated. He explained, “take the metro to Anděl, transfer to the 6 tram, get off at Kavalirka, and walk two blocks.” He had no money. He didn’t speak the local language. Yet he knew exactly what to do after just a few days in town. (Of course, I would have been worried sick!)
Across the country, parents have been arrested, investigated, and even lost custody for simply letting their kids play unsupervised for brief periods of time — even in their own front yards. According to Skenazy, many Americans perceive little difference between letting their kids walk to school and letting them walk through a firing range. Any risk is seen as too much risk. She ultimately launched the free-range parenting movement to promote building problem solving and self reliance skills. If we do not let our children explore and discover boundaries on their own, we can limit their ability to grow and function as they get older.
Last month, Utah became first state to pass a “free-range parenting law” which changes the definition of neglect so that a parent can no longer be arrested for a crime as simple as letting their child play at the park, walk to school, or run an errand. The law permits mature kids with good judgment to do things alone.
As parents we sell our kids short when we over-protect. A child who thinks he can’t do anything on his own eventually can’t.
Our kids are capable of amazing things. For this week’s Walk the Walk consider taking some small steps toward independence.
• Is your child ready to go to the restroom alone at a restaurant?
• Is your child ready to walk to a neighbor’s house without an escort?
• Is your child ready to stay home alone while you run an errand?
• Are YOU ready to to loosen the reins a bit?
As always, encourage your family to Walk the Walk — one step at a time.
Until Next Time,