What is 'free range' parenting and is it right for you?


On a fall afternoon in New York's Central Park, Lenore Skenazy is teaching a class. Not that you'd know it, since she has no students. You see, Skenazy charges parents $300 not to watch your kids.

"Zero! Zero takers for my class," Skenazy says.

You may recognize her. In 2009, she was dubbed "the worst mom in America" and unleashed a media firestorm after letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York subway alone. It wasn't an accident, it was part of her "free range" parenting philosophy.

"Basically I believe our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for, and so we worry more about them than we have to," she says.

Skenazy says we as a society have been obsessed with the safety of our children, every moment of every day. and it's not entirely a parent's fault. You're watching the news right now, so you've seen it before.

"A child who was hit, run over, murdered, abducted, or if nothing terrible has happened to a child today, it will be the anniversary and we'll look back and we'll see the video," Skenazy says.

All of this, she says, is leading to over-protective, paranoid parents.

"What I call 'worst first thinking.' Coming up with the worst case scenario you can think of in any situation -- walking to school, riding a bus," says Skenazy. "Proceeding as if that worst case scenario is going to happen in the next five minutes."

Some Houston parents we spoke with admit to it.

"It terrifies you because it could always be your kid," says Houston mom Jennifer Blum. "You never know, someone could just pull up, grab your child, and they're gone."

Yet in reality, crime rates in most major U.S. cities are down from 20 or 30 years ago.

"The whole idea behind free range kids is trying to build community, try to reconnect with people instead of thinking the worst of people, all the time"," says Skenazy.

So if you want to raise a free range kid, where do you start? First, Skenazy says to let go of their hand while crossing the street.

"When you're crossing the street and they're old enough, let go of their hand and walk with them. Just to remind yourself that you are not their only lifeline," she says.

Teach them to walk to and from the bus stop without you.

"When you're thinking of driving your kid to the bus stop, teach your kid to walk to the bus stop, make sure they learn how to look both ways," she says.

Finally, offer to watch other neighborhood children at the park or during soccer practice.

"When you're waiting with all the kids for soccer to start, school to open, offer to the other parents I will watch all your kids for you, start your day, get a coffee. I don't think anything so terrible is going to happen that each kid needs a security detail," she says.

Houston parents I spoke with like the idea, to a point.

"We try to push them a little bit, because I want them to build independence. At the same time, I don't think my 4-year-old is ready to play at the park by herself," says Houston mom Nicole Shah.

"Given the opportunity, I think kids will show us much more intelligence than we're willing to give them credit for," says Houston father Jon Kuit.

The Department of Justice reports that of the 800,000 children reported "missing" in the United States each year, only about 100 of them are the result of "stereotypical kidnapping" where a stranger snatching the child.

Looking at the numbers, your child is ten times more likely to drown, ten times more likely to choke to death, and at least 20 times more likely to die in a car accident.

We've put a link to Skenazy's "Free Range Kids" blog and website here.

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