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Going parental: Free-Range Kids

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I’ve mentioned Lenore Skenazy once or twice before in my column. She’s an author, a columnist, a blogger and a mom who let her kid ride the subway by himself at the age of 9. Quick! Everybody gasp in horror. Her website Free-Range Kids is a must read/browse/love/hate — whatever — if you’re a parent, you have to check it out. Parents today are so afraid of losing their children at the park, the mall, whatever — that they’ve taken to literally attaching tracking devices to their children’s feet. Sensational Beginnings even makes it look cute and fuzzy so the kids will go for it.

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Free-Range Kids is an awesome site because it reminds you what it was like for us as kids. It reminds you how important it is to back off and let your kids get out there and experience life on their own, safely — but without being monitored via security cameras, hidden GPS systems and tracking devices. It reminds you that it’s OK to give them independence. I don’t know about you. But I need to be reminded of these things.

I was in Disney World a few weeks ago and I literally couldn’t count the number of kids I saw on leashes. And not just babies, I definitely saw some kids pushing 9 or 10 strapped to their parents. Sure, now they make them look like backpacks with long straps attached to them. Some of them even look like a bear hugging your baby from the back, but don’t be fooled — because Mr. Bears tail? Yeah it’s a fucking leash.

What the hell is happening out there?

Look, I’m not saying that our parents weren’t afraid of losing us when we were kids, but you can not argue the fact that we as parents in 2010 have gone completely over the edge. We’re putting our kids in the bell jar and if we’re not careful we’re going to end up suffocating them to death. There’s even a company that can install tracking devices in your kids cars and cell phones. AccuTracking will send you a text message if your kid is speeding or steps foot outside of the area they said they were going to be in. I picture parents in 2025 with offices set up in their homes that resemble the control room of NASA — screens all around, lights beeping — all so they can sit for hours without blinking, and track the whereabouts of their kids.

I believe we’re crossing a serious line. And I believe the consequences of these actions are going to yield a severe backlash from our kids.

I’m the first person to say that I watch my kid like a hawk. I do. I wish I didn’t have so many fears about her safety. I wish I had the mindset that my mom had when I was a kid. While she was totally overbearing about certain things, like traveling far away without her or going to sleepover camp, she still let me out of the house at the break of dawn and said, “see ya for dinner” — when I was just 8 or 9-years-old. I would be out from dawn to dusk, riding my bike, playing at my neighbors house, swimming, whatever — and I was happy and she was content at home doing her own thing.

Where has that sense of comfort gone? Is it because of the media saturation we live with today? Are we simply too aware of all the scary things out there? It’s not like our parents didn’t know about kidnapping’s and senseless crimes involving children. Who doesn’t remember sitting in front of their televisions and not moving a muscle while newscasters updated us on the search for Adam Walsh. I was 5-years-old and I remember it so vividly. But that didn’t stop my parents from letting me out of the house and out of their sight. It definitely made me never want to go to a Sears again, but it didn’t change the freedom I was given.

I have the potential to be one of these GPS tracking, computer hacking parents. I know I do. I’m a maniac. But I don’t want to be. You should see me at parks with my kid. I’m the parent that will tell your kid he’s a little dick for pushing my daughter. I’ll deny it up and down if he rats me out to his oblivious parents, but I’ll fucking do it. At the end of the day, my motto is simple; don’t fuck with my kid and we’ll get along just fine.

I know I have a lot of work to do on myself. I’m going to have to eventually back off and start letting my daughter fight her own battles — ya know, like when she’s in her twenties or something. For now, I’m in the middle. I keep my eye on her and stay relatively close when we’re out in public. I am afraid that some lunatic will grab her when I turn my head in Toys R Us, and my methods of getting her to stay close to me definitely fall under scrutiny by my friends and family.

I currently believe in flat out scaring her. My number 1 line is, “Do you want someone to grab you? Because someone can grab you and take you away! Now get over here!” The look of terror on her face breaks my heart. But it also keeps her close to me and safe. So fuck it. For now, I’ll stick to scaring the living shit out of her until she’s old enough to realize the importance of simple safety and awareness… and how to squarely kick a strange man trying to come near her, in the nards.

But I’ll also keep reminding myself of the importance of independence. I want to raise a Free-Range Kid.

Going Parental is a weekly column scheduled to appear on Thursdays. Sometimes it doesn’t. What can I say, I’m a writer — I hit the occasional block. Scare tactics, however, are used by me on almost a daily basis — so yeah, my kid will have lots to talk about in therapy one day. But hey — I’m trying! 

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3 Responses to “Going parental: Free-Range Kids”

  1. Thanks for the honest. Go free-range!!!!

  2. Like chickens, free-range kids should be the norm, and the other kind (tethered, smothered, overparented) should be outlawed. As a lifelong New Yorker I roamed the parks, streets, and subways at age 9 or 10 — and went to school on a city bus alone at age 6 or at most 7. And the city was WAY more dangerous then than now. Parents should get a life, and give their kids one. Forgive me if I’ve said this before, but if you’re comfortable with the level of your children’s independence they don’t have enough.

  3. All I can remember from my childhood is my mom saying: If anyone ever tries to take you…You poke them in the eyes and kick them in the balls
    I was about 4 when this speech began on the daily..

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