Saturday, September 22, 2012

Free Range Kids (or Why I Don't Want to Become a Media Icon)

Some of you may have heard of this woman. Her name is Lenore Skenazy. This is her website: http://www.freerangekids.com/. She wrote a book entitled "Free- Range Kids: How to Raise Self- Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry). Most recently she has been in the news (ok, by news I mean Twitter and the Dr. Drew show) for organizing a $350 "unsupervised playdate" in Central Park. Yes, it is true. You can pay her $350 bucks to drop your kid, aged 8-18, off in the park to play with other kids, no grownups allowed. She will sit in a coffee shop nearby, holding a cellphone just in case anything goes wrong. 

What could possibly go wrong???

But forget all the problems with this silly idea. (Do not worry, I do not think she has had anyone sign up yet.) Forget the fact that if your kid is old enough to play in the park alone you can just send them there for free. Here is the thing about Lenore Skenazy:

She is absolutely right.

Not about the Central Park playdate, that is clearly just a publicity stunt. (I hope) But about everything else. About letting kids fail. About allowing them to play freely without mommy and daddy standing over them all the time. About trying to revisit the time when kids played stickball until the streetlights came on and parents did not spend every minute worrying about their kids getting abducted. 

From her website:  "I believe in safety. I LOVE safety — helmets, car seats, safety belts. I believe in teaching children how to cross the street and even wave their arms to be noticed. I’m a safety geek! But I also believe our kids do not need a security detail every time they leave the house. Our kids are safer than we think, and more competent, too. They deserve a chance to stretch and grow and do what we did — stay out till the street lights come on."

OMG, this is SO good. 
And yet.,she makes me so angry!

My problem with Lenore Skenazy is the same as my problem with religion; good message, bad delivery. She has a book that she wants people to buy. She has a blog that she wants people to read. She has been on all kinds of TV shows, defending her parenting abilities, after allowing her 9 year old son to ride the subway by himself. She has gone from a mommy with a message to a minor celebrity. And now it is impossible to separate her parenting philosophy from the character she plays on TV. 

In other words, is this "free range kids" thing about children, or about her?

Controversy is oh so sexy. But the thing is, other parents respect her, they listen to her. She has, for lack of a better word, disciples. Recently one of her readers wrote in to tell her how proud she was that she had the courage to leave her toddler alone in the yard playing while she went inside to use the bathroom. She said, "I cannot thank you enough for giving me the courage to really be a Free-Range mom.  THANK YOU." 


What is the goal here? Are we just trying to get attention? Are we trying to do shocking things so we can then brag to the other mommies in the book club about what edgy parents we are? Are the daily tasks of parenting so dull that we need to liven it up with some danger? I thought we were trying to raise strong, confident, self-sufficient kids, kids who try new challenges every day, who make their own (correct) decisions, and who are not afraid of failure because they know that it is just a stepping stone on the way to huge success. Wasn't that the point?

And how many people are going to miss the message entirely, unwilling to weed through the crazy in order to see the good that is underneath?

I want millions and millions of people to read my blog. I want to be known as that wise, witty martial arts mommy who changes the world one post at a time. And yes, sometimes it is all about me. But mostly, it is about my daughter. And the kids I teach. It is about the fact that I believe soda is poison, boo boos are good for you, and IPads should stay in the house and out of the playground. I can write about my feelings here, or I can throw soda in your face and stomp on your tablet until it shatters into a million shiny pieces. Which are you more likely to listen to?

So when I am rich and famous, I will try to not beat anyone over the head with it. 
I will try to not shock people so they pay attention to me.
(Hey, even Snooki is a mommy now!)
If possible, I would like to look at myself in the mirror and not see a big, obvious cliche staring back at me.

Crazy mommy, I get it.
It's not that impressive.

Lenore Skenazy, I am on your side. But why does it have to be so extreme? I don't want to parent my child like it is the X Games. Why can't we let kids play together, independently, while we still watch them from a distance? Why does hands off have mean all the way off? And why do you have to turn a very important and valuable message into such a train wreck? 

By the way, I do not think you are the worst mom in NYC. But I would not have let my nine year old ride the subway alone.  Not because I am worried about creepy strangers taking him away, but because there are so many other things that could happen on that ride that a nine year old boy is not yet equipped to handle or understand. You were lucky. I know, I see nine year olds in my dojo every day.  

To weed through the crazy go to http://www.freerangekids.com/

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