Going Free-Range: Are Kids Safe Outside?

Photo via Amazon.com

Photo via Amazon.com

One of my favorite blogs is Free-Range Kids, written by Lenore Skenazy. Lenore is a mom and writer who caused quite a stir a few years ago with an article she wrote for the New York Sun about letting her nine year old son take the subway home alone. She was stunned by the amount of responses the article generated — both pro and con. From “You go girl!” shout-outs and parents excited that somebody else wanted kids to have more independence, to messages of outrage accusing her of child-endangerment and neglect.

The story also landed her on numerous TV News shows and radio call-in shows, splashing her across the land billed as, “America’s Worst Mom?” The experience led to her website, and really, the birth of a movement. Next month her book, Free-Range Kids, is being published. I am really excited to read it. You can read the introduction chapter here.

If you haven’t already, I highly encourage you to check out the website, which Skenazy dedicates to “sane” parenting. Spend some time exploring the comments on For or Against the issue. Read some posts and background information. Regardless of where you fall on this hot-button issue, or whether you have kids or not, it’s a fascinating topic and snapshot of today’s society.

Now, childhood safety is a serious issue, and how a society cares for the welfare of its children is a reflection of its strength and health. That said, there is a difference between real danger and perceived danger. Due to the 24-7 presence of media in our world and the prevalence of internet-based information (both good and bad), Americans are bombarded with messages of alarm and fear about EVERYTHING, including the safety of our children.

For example, the perception is that child abductions by strangers common and are on the raise. According to the U.S. Department of Justice (Finkelhor et al, 2002), the reality is that the numbers are very remote, and have actually declined over the last 20 years. There is a compelling 2007 article by L.J. Williamsom, “Let Kids Outdoors,” that is a good read on the subject.

Meanwhile, the perception is that children are safe indoors playing unsupervised on the internet, when the reality is that one out of five 10 to 17 year olds receive unsolicited sexual solicitations while surfing the net (U.S. Department of Justice, 2001). They also engage in risky online behaviors, such as giving out their personal information, including address and phone numbers, as well as arranging to meet strangers they encountered on the internet. According to Wiredsafety.org, younger children (eight to 15 year olds) are often exposed to inappropriate violent or sexual content on the internet — as many as nine out of ten children.

Perceived versus real danger. Raising “Free Range Kids” or not? This is a big topic, and of course, one not easily tackled in a single blog post. Regardless, it’s an important issue to discuss, and obviously a strong element of the play and reconnecting kids with nature movements, among many others.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s continue to keep this issue on the table.

See ya outside! – The Grass Stain Guru

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