“America’s Worst Mom” Explains Why We Need More Free-Range Parenting & Less Helicopter Parenting: Let Them Grow With Lenore Skenazy.

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Lenore Skenazy
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Lenore Skenazy is known by the nickname “America’s Worst Mom.”

And yet I'm featuring her as one of several amazing parenting experts in my upcoming Boundless Parenting book.

Hear me out here…

Lenore has an interesting story. She graduated from Yale in 1981, and earned her master’s degree from Columbia University in 1983. A speaker, blogger, syndicated columnist, and reality show host, Lenore has been featured by national media outlets, including NPR, the New York Daily News, Good Morning America, and NBC News. Until 2008, Lenore was a regular columnist for the New York Sun. Her controversial piece in that publication, “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone,” received worldwide news coverage and earned her that “Worst Mom” nickname.

However, the column also led to the founding of a blog called Free-Range Kids, which is “fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape.” A bestselling book that followed, also called Free-Range Kids, kicked off a movement that promotes childhood independence and resilience as the path for children to grow into capable, confident, and happy adults. Lenore serves as the president of Let Grow, the non-profit organization behind Free-Range Kids.

On her television show World's Worst Mom, Lenore trains overprotective parents to give their children more independence and confidence. Lenore Skenazy believes that the concept of helicopter parenting, excessive and often unnecessary worry about safety, and lack of creative and slightly dangerous free play are hampering the health and growth of children.

During our discussion, which is part of the Boundless Parenting book interview series, you'll discover:

Why Lenore Skenazy became known as “America's Worst Mom“…4:57

  • Her youngest child, 9 years old at that time, wanted to ride the subway by himself (he's now 23)
  • It is key for parents to trust their children
  • Wrote an article on the experience, picked up by The Today Show, MSNBC, Fox News, and NPR
  • Made it her life's work to figure out why we don't allow kids to be independent today

-What was going through your head knowing your son hadn't ridden the subway before?…07:13

  • Not intended to be a “rite of passage”
  • Free-Range Kids website
  • Our kids are safer and smarter than we give them credit for
  • Let Grow
  • It's not that we don't care about safety – there are still seatbelts and helmets
  • Kids don't need a security detail anytime they leave the house
  • Kids growing up in the 90s were safer than kids who grew up in the 70s and 80s
  • It's not that crime was off the charts; it's the fear that had grown

-Where did the idea come from that kids are not safe? How did fear in parents shift disproportionately to the actual risk kids face?… 11:11

  • The media did not focus on predators and kidnappings until the 80s
  • High-profile kidnappings of Etan Patz and Adam Walsh in the late 70s and early 80s
  • National Center for Missing and Exploited Children started putting pictures of missing children on milk cartons
  • Neglected to mention that those children were not taken by strangers; they were runaways or taken in custodial disputes between parents
  • Estimates of stolen children are highly inaccurate (testimony in front of Congress claimed 50,000 children are stolen every year, but it was just around 100, which is still horrible)
  • The most awful stories are the easiest to remember

-How much has the fear-driven media contributed to the litigious society in which we live?… 14:55

  • You begin thinking like a lawyer in a litigious society
  • To frame everything in what could go wrong and what we could be blamed for is a new way of looking at life
  • Products for children keep getting recalled
  • Consumer Product Safety Commission recall list
  • Once you start looking for danger, you see it everywhere
  • A litigious society warps our view of reality
  • The Overprotected Kid – an article on playgrounds in The Atlantic
  • A playground is a perfect example of a soft culture
  • Russian army vs. American army recruiting videos
  • Fear and dishonor around death
  • Learning from and honoring injury and death should be a portal to becoming a better person
  • We deny injury and death as a culture
  • Germany is building playgrounds 3 stories high; the irregular steps, etc. encourage kids to pay closer attention to their surroundings and learn from what they are doing

-The Hygiene Hypothesis and why we would do well to allow our children to fail… 23:48

-Rites of passage and how should parents deal with kids so far away from home?…31:57

-Tips on defying the status quo and raising free-range kids… 38:07

  • The goal of Let Grow is to make it easy, normal, and legal to give kids some independence
  • Let Grow Play Club
  • Free-Range Kids
  • Free play allows kids to define what they want to do as opposed to adult-organized activities like soccer
  • Older kids had fun yukking it up with younger kids, and seeing how it made the younger kids happy is the  beginning of empathy and leadership in the older kids
  • Younger kids don't want to look like babies to the older kids
  • Younger kids start to hold themselves together so that they can look like big kids – the beginnings of executive function
  • “Childlife preserve” similar to a wildlife preserve
  • Taking free play time away is detrimental to kids
  • It's better to be a little worried than to raise weak children

-Is there a sort of rite of passage in Let Grow or Free-Range Kids?…45:36

  • Kids going someplace where you stick out
  • Leaving your comfort zone and surviving in it

-Navigating modern legal matters with a desire to raise independent children… 48:43

-And much more…

Click here for the full written transcript of this podcast episode.

Resources from this episode:

– Lenore Skenazy:

– Podcast:

– Books:

– Other Resouces:

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Do you have questions, thoughts, or feedback for Lenore Skenazy or me? Leave your comments below, and one of us will reply!

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