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Lenore Skenazy
Lenore Skenazy
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'America's Worst Mom'?


When I wrote a column last week about why I let my 9-year-old take the subway alone, I figured I'd get some e-mails — pro and con. Two days later, I was on the "Today" show, MSNBC and Fox News Channel, with a new title under my smiling face: "America's Worst Mom?"

That's how I learned what a hot-button issue this is: whether good parents ever let their kids out of their sight. But even as the stations (and Web sites and blogs) were having a field day with the story, people kept pulling me aside to say that they had been allowed to get around by themselves as kids, and boy were they glad.

They relished those memories — and thanked their parents! — and then in the next breath, they admitted: They never would let their kids do the same.

Why not? Has the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation?

No, not in the way that most parents are fearing. Justice Department statistics show that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds pretty steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40 percent of them were killed.

The killing of any child is a horrible tragedy. But when that number is about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it's also a very random, rare event. Far more people die from falling off the bed or other furniture. So for safety's sake, should we all start sleeping on the floor?

Well, upon reading that, I'm sure some people will. I'm also sure that pretty soon you'll see some "expert" on TV talking about the hidden dangers of furniture. Behind her a huge photo of a bed will be captioned: "WORTH THE RISK?"

Everything has its 15 minutes of fear. We get so rattled by it all we can't think straight.

Now, of course life is risky. That's why we always end up dead. Some things are even particularly risky, such as driving, which kills 40 times the number of kids abducted and murdered every year.

Still, we drive. And if you're like me, you always use seat belts and car seats. Safety first! I'm all about safety! I'm just not about paranoia.

It's crazy to limit our lives based on wildly remote dangers. But somehow, a whole lot of parents have become convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, many also have become convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. These parents have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.

And then there are those who don't.

I'm relieved to report that plenty of e-mails — hundreds — poured in that shared my viewpoint. There were more of these, in fact, than the alarmists. Parents from as far away as Japan wrote, "Bravo!" "Thank you!" And, "Good for your son!"

I loved hearing what these parents (and grandparents and friends and relatives) let their young ones do, but they still face a phalanx of disapproval.

One suburban dad wrote to say he let his 8-year-old ride her bike two blocks away, and afterward: "My wife let me know how vehemently she disagreed. In addition, all the parents in the neighborhood also thought I was crazy."

This dad is an emergency room doctor, so he knows better than most what terrible things can happen out of the blue. And yet, as he put it so well, "I choose, to the best of my ability, to allow my children the same freedoms that I had as a child."

We all want our kids to be safe. But they deserve lives, too. Despite what you hear on the news, these things are not mutually exclusive.

And I'm not America's Worst Mom.

Lenore Skenazy is a contributing editor at The New York Sun and founder of Free Range Kids ( To find out more about Lenore Skenazy ( and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



4 Comments | Post Comment
Forty years ago, I allowed our four-year-old daughter to walk to her nursery school by herself, after a couple of escorted trips. This was on the encouragement of the teacher. The distance was three blocks, one out to a busy street with sidewalks, and two more along it to the church where the class was held.

Nowadays I'd probably be cited for child abuse and neglect.

I taught our seven-year-old daughter how to ride her bike on sidewalks and how to stop and cross streets. Again, after accompanying her closely, I rode fifty feet behind her as she used her judgment about when to cross.

Soon after the elder daughter got her driver's license, I was riding in the passenger seat and became sleepy. I had no fear about dozing off when she was at the wheel.
Comment: #1
Posted by: wyndie
Sat Apr 19, 2008 8:03 PM
Rest assured, most sane people know you are certainly not the World's Worst Mom. I happened to see you on one of the morning
yapper shows and thought the commentator was seriously out of line. She kept badgering you, attempting to get you to agree that what you allowed your son to do was some how close to a criminal act. Posh, I say! Your son (in the video made after the fact) came across as a capable young man with a good head on his shoulders. Thank you for standing up to the fear mongers of the world. I am often ashamed to see how our American cultural roots based on courage in the face of overwhelming odds has been highjacked by the fear of stupid senseless people. Your actions deserve praise, not condemnation.
Comment: #2
Posted by: technoscribe50
Wed Apr 23, 2008 9:42 AM
I agree with what you did! I am a firm believer in independance for children. With in reason. I would rather my child be able to navigate the subway especially in an emerceny then to stand on a street corner not kowing what to do scared to death. The problem in the world today is to many people think they have the right to judge you for waht you did. If people look at a situation and think "maybe not my choice " but hers, then walk away silentley the world would be a better place. We all live with the decisins we make weather good or bad. We should all mmind "our" own business. My hope for my children when ever it is my time to leave this earth is that I have taught them to be able to function with out me and get on with there lives from the lifes lessons I have taught them. Good for you!
Comment: #3
Posted by: Amy
Thu Apr 24, 2008 1:46 PM
i totally agree with what this mum did, i live in Uk and many mums are yelling and screaming, and stomping they're feet because they say, she was wrong and the boy should be taken into care, i however disagree 110%, i have an 8yr old child who has ADHD and he wants to walk to school on his own, and i will be doing some dummy runs with him because i think he is ok to do it, it is a 5min walk from the school and this mum has given me the courage to do it,
we should live in fear of anything happening to our kids, and its a well known fact that in the uk more children were "taken" in the 60's than now, the only reason it seems higher is because the media report it more.
so what i have taken from this is, don't let your kids live in fear of walking out on they're own, this boy and my boy will grow up to be independant and wise, but we can allways allow our kids to becomme couch potatoes and play violent video games all the time!
Comment: #4
Posted by: lucifers angel
Thu Jun 12, 2008 1:13 AM
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