Give Older Children Some Freedom to Roam


You won't always be able to protect your kids, so give them some freedom.

From the time I was 12, my parents would let me walk from our house in Westchester, Ill., to the bus stop five blocks away, catch a bus to the westernmost terminus of Chicago's elevated train system (15 miles), take the "L" into downtown Chicago (20 miles), and spend the day bumming around the Loop.

I usually had no more than $5 in my pocket. This was in the late 1950s-early 1960s, meaning that my only means of contacting home was by pay phone. My parents never seemed to think any of this posed any more danger than riding my bike around the neighborhood, and I never felt the least bit threatened.

On other occasions, my buddies and I would ride our bikes 5 miles to Oakbrook Shopping Center on a busy four-lane thoroughfare.

Despite what some people want you to believe, children are as safe from predators today as they were in the 1970s. Furthermore, for all the "stranger danger" hysteria, a child is far more likely to be assaulted by an adult acquaintance than a stranger.

In other words, a child is at greater danger (albeit the danger isn't great at all) in his/her own neighborhood than five miles from home.

But hysteria is not easily assuaged by facts or logic, which is why lots of people think Lenore Skenazy is certifiable and should have her 9-year-old son, Izzy, taken from her. The reason for the hubbub: In April, the New York Sun newspaper writer left Izzy in Manhattan's Bloomingdales with a map, a transit card, $20, and some quarters for pay phones. His challenge was to find his way home via New York's bus and subway system. He made it in 45 minutes. Needless to say, Izzy was as proud of himself as his mom was proud of him.

Skenazy wrote about Izzy's adventure in her paper.

Some in the media went nuts. She and Izzy also landed on the Today show, MSNBC, Fox News and NPR.

In addition, she has been the subject of stories in several major periodicals, including Newsweek, and has written an article for Readers' Digest. Skenazy has also started a Web site called Free Range Kids where she promotes giving children the independence they deserve, the freedom to be trusted, the freedom to be out from under the near-constant vigilance of their parents.

Skenazy may be one of the few parents in America whose thought process has not been infected by the fear-mongers. It's time to stop the insanity and give children the freedom to learn that the big, bad world isn't so bad after all.

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