Free Range Kids author says: Raise kids without fear!

In honor of the publication of her book Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry, Lenore Skenazy conducts a great, reasoned interview with Salon about child-rearing without fear:
David Finkelhor, the head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, has discovered pedophiles don't want to waste their time just flipping through MySpace pages or Facebook pages. It's as futile as trying to call up random numbers from the phonebook and trying to get a date. It's just a waste of time.

They would rather go for the low-hanging fruit: young people hanging out in sexually suggestive chat rooms presenting themselves in a sexual way -- "Oh, I wonder what that's like" or, "If only somebody would buy me an iPod and a lollipop, I would be a very happy girl or boy."

If your kid is just texting his friends, or posting pictures on Facebook or AIM'ing, it's no more dangerous than them talking to each other as they walk down the sidewalk, or at the mall.

Stop worrying about your children!

Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry


  1. I’m sure its true that in general, most internet predators can’t be bothered to work through the millions of Facebook etc pages.

    But that’s not to say that your child is safe to discuss their location, age, and sexual preferences (assuming that they are old enough to think about that) on the internet.

    I mean, the vast majority of ten year olds are safe crossing a busy street. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t look for traffic beforehand.

  2. Today I was in the park with my kid, and heard another parent yelling at her kid. She was saying, “Don’t blow on that dandelion! If the seeds go in your ear, you could lose your hearing!” Is she crazy?

  3. @ #2

    That’s hilarious, it’s the slow development of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

  4. I really admire Lenore Skenazy and her message needs a lot more circulation!

    I wonder what kind of world these fearful, over-protected kids will produce in 20 years. I hope the vast majority of them rebel in some productive way.

  5. Well the idea that kids are simply using the internet for communication is fine, and probably 99% true. But at the same time, people (and I include adults here as well) seem to forget that once you put it on the internet it’s permanent. I mean look at something like 4chan…

  6. The actual danger represented by “internet predators” has been blown way out of proportion. Like accusing daycare workers of satanic ritual abuse, it’s a way to relocate child abuse onto strangers outside the circle of family and friends. The fact remains that most abuse is committed by people known to the child and their parents.

    Letting kids loose in the world, online or off, gives them more resources and teaches them about their options. That makes them safer, not less safe.

  7. Mmph. Kids putting their personal information on MySpace or FaceBook are probably not going to get targeted by sexual predators. However, it DOES provide tons of fuel for bullies – regular old, garden variety bullies, some of which will share physical space with the kid (at school, in the neighborhood) and some of which may only have contact with your kid over the Internet.

    Never mind their bosses or future love-interests in 10-20 years probably being able to see their photos via the Internet Archive project.

    Getting your lunch money stolen sort of pales in comparison to having your cellphone bombarded with SMS messages that you have to pay for receiving, or some other jerkwad kid faking your identity in order to harass a third party in your name or just DDOSing your cheap Linksys router until it gives up and goes offline, taking the entire familys ‘net access down with it.

    I was a teenager in the ’90s, which on the one hand was before the Internet really took off, but on the other hand, I spectated on two of my peers having outright electronic warfare with each other. In those days, it was sending malformed packets to cheap modems to make them hang up, subscribing someone to spam mailing lists to overflow their inbox, or to make Windows 95 crash (how you’d tell it from Win95 crashing normally IDK), or op wars on IRC.

    I’m sure the form has changed since then (except that everyone gets a butt-ton of spam now), but the malice remains unchanged.

  8. The reason things are called “accidents”, “emergencies” or even “news” is because they aren’t everyday normal (well, not for everyone all the time) I recently had to point out that Vancouver’s 20- odd murders in one month back in february was a good thing- because there’s cities where this would mean folks are cutting down on the killing, and we live in one where it’s unprecedented.

  9. Let the bastards get dirty, and scraped up. Let them play in mud, and catch snakes. Let them throw snowballs, and build bike ramps. For worse than dying is never really living.

    Just make sure they don’t see 2G1C BEFORE you tell em about Santa.

  10. I really think a big part of my job as a parent is to prevent injuries. Just one girl’s opinion here is that a one child family has a lot of advantages in terms of living a free, but safe life. You can match your own pace to theirs and don’t have your attention split in two or more directions. Not that I lost any of my charges, even when I had 25 at a time… but I feel more secure with knowing I just need to keep the one alive. My child is very free range, but never really alone. Sleeps by my side every single night of his life, and rarely more than an arm pull away from danger. And yes, I’m trying to make him gay. Just kidding! Haha!

  11. @Shadowfirebird:

    There’s a fair bit of difference between teaching kids to be mindful of what they share online and instilling a sense of dread into normal interaction.

    I’m a YA librarian and I’ve had kids run SCREAMING away from me in my library because I’m a “Stranger”. Even when I’ve simply been walking up saying “Hi, can I help you find anything?” while wearing a polo with our insignia on it and name tag. I don’t think I’m that scary, really!

    One shame-faced mother came back with her kid, who had run all the way through the library yelling for her. She kept saying “Well, better safe than sorry right?”

    No. Better safe and sensible.

    I keep this livescience article handy when “THE PANIC” comes up.

  12. I recently had a discussion about this with my mother-in-law. We were discussing the safety of letting a kid play in the back yard which is fully fenced. She said it would only take a few seconds for someone to reach over and grab the kid. I said the odds of that happening are negligible. She said, ya, but how would you feel if that happened. I’d feel bad of course but think of what happens to you and your kid if you can’t take your eye off of them in a safe place for a second. I printed out an article by this author, and she started to see my point.

  13. My first is coming in August, and I’m incredibly thankful that I discovered BoingBoing, and the free-range kids movement by extension. Thanks, guys.

  14. Inkstain, that’s wonderful news. Just two pieces of advice. First, don’t listen to anything anybody tells you about anything. Second, slings and co-sleeping will make all the difference in the world! I’m glad I stumbled upon the “attachment parenting” movement, discovered while looking on craigslist for parenting classes. In the end they are all just labels and way too little to encompass the experience! Keep an open mind and do what feels right, that’s what I always say…

  15. Not having the opportunity to read Skenazy’s book, I’m left to wonder if she has talked to any parents whose children have been killed (and, no, we don’t “lose” them – they’re dead).

    I don’t think she’s wrong in pointing out that most parents worry about the improbable and shape their child’s life accordingly, but I’m really curious to see if she calls out parents who don’t worry about real risks.

    For example, as a society, we spend a great of effort worrying about child abduction by strangers, far out of proportion to the effort we put into child abduction and abuse by members of the child’s family.

    As with behavioral economics, our worry-scape (the landscape of our fears) is shaped far more by our cognitive biases than by the evidence.

    PS. nkstn, Wlfsm s wll-ntntnd dt.

    Listen to advice, and evaluate it. Once you understand it, if you can balance the benefit and the risk, then you can chose to ignore it.

    It’s like those people who tell you “I never sat in a car seat when I drove with my parents, and I turned out OK…”: the ones with other experiences are dead or disabled.

  16. #2 with the dandelion seeds in the ear:

    When I was a kid my sisters’ best friend’s mom believed dragonflies could swoop down and sew up your lips. As kids we thought it was strange to have such a superstitious adult around, and felt sorry for the girl.

    Compared to which getting grabbed by a pedophile or falling over and breaking your head seem less superstitious. Maybe as superstitions get debunked worry finds other outlets.

    My own paranoid fantasies are pretty intense but unfortunately I don’t have any young kids to subject to them.

    BTW overheard in a cafe:

    7 year old girl: “I’m going to become an engineer when I grow up and put my ideas into…”

    Mom: “Action?”

    girl: “Yeah.”

    5 year old sister: “I want to make stuff. I have the will power.”

  17. Geolith,
    Do I need to come over there and kick your ass? You are going to sit there and call me an idiot on a post about kids?? You are such a douche! I have two degrees in child development, two credentials (elementary and secondary,) classroom teaching experience at every grade level, plus I have a kid myself. I’d say I’m actually rather informed on the subject. I don’t care if you don’t agree with me, but please! A little credit here!

    BTW, the Free Range Kid concept is very cool. I look forward to trying it out more in the future. My kid is barely 3. We’re barely out of the baby sling… But soon it will be scaling mountains and such. Soon.

  18. Wow, Wolfiesma, I hope your wrath is contained whenever you are employed to use your two degrees in child development, or when you are teaching in a classroom. Geolith’s comment about you was irrelevant as well as contradictory (because they pretty much said the same thing as you anyhow). But at least they weren’t OVERTLY aggressive.


    1. Wow, editjunk. Apparently you feel that mothers and teachers aren’t allowed to have emotions. That attitude is bound to raise some extra-special children.

  19. If only there was a movement encouraging parents to raise their children without annoying slogans.

    I have a nagging suspicion that Free-Range Kids will be a Hockey Mom-like slogan that will characterize a reason why someone’s unfortunate child was abducted or hit by a car.

    Naming a parenting philosophy where you allow your kid to make his or her own mistakes is a sure-fire way to have a diagnosis name when your kid gets hurt. Don’t name the concept…

  20. Wow, antinous, what a huge leap you make to conclude from my comment that I believe mothers & teachers aren’t allowed to have emotions.


  21. I think it’s generally fine to let your kids blow on dandelions, as long as they are wearing an agronomist helmet and safety glasses.

    Those seeds are sharp.

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