Free-Range Kids

Do you remember that story from just over a year ago about the newspaper columnist who wrote about letting her 9-year-old ride the NYC subway all alone? She was soon all over the news and internet, retelling her story, and the public was divided in their opinions. Was she a voice of sanity in an ever-increasing crazy world, or did she truly deserve the moniker “America’s Worst Mom?” Wherever you may stand on the divide, credit is due to Skenazy who did not go into a parental protection program, but instead, stood by her message and wrote Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry to continue to share her mindset.

Having school-aged children, the premise of this book was interesting to both Jennifer and Dawn. In the spirit of open discussion, we’re tackling some questions, each from our own perspective.

“What were your impressions before reading the book?”

Dawn: I’m a worrier by nature, but I also worry that I worry too much. (I’m a little obsessive sometimes.) So, I kind of expected to fall in line with the author’s main points, even if the image of her son riding the crazy subway all by himself made me more than a little uncomfortable. I remember hearing about the story last year, but I guess I somehow missed all the follow-up hype, so I came into this reading without much outside influence on my opinions.

Jennifer: I had missed the hype altogether, however I remember hearing the statistic that there are actually the same number of — or fewer — crimes against children now than “back in the day,” and I’ve shared that truth along with the supposition that we are only more aware due to constant media coverage and fear-mongering. In reading the book, I was hoping to get more facts to back up this truth.

“How did the book differ or concur with those thoughts?”

Dawn: Well, I instantly liked the author’s tone, kind of like the informed mom of older children who tells you stories to prepare you for your upcoming parental experiences. She wasn’t just talking about her opinions, but she was backing up her thoughts with statistics to confirm that the real world isn’t as crazy as we might believe! I did indeed find myself nodding along with her time and again, and shaking my head (often at myself!) when she talked about the fears that we let rule our decision-making processes. I also realized that while I might not be able to picture sending my own son alone on the subway next year, there are plenty of independence-building scenarios that are more fitting to our lifestyle and environment that make sense for us.

Jennifer: First can I say that this book is hysterical? Seriously laugh out loud funny? I usually start reading parenting books with a fair amount of head-nodding, note-taking, and resolve only to put it aside after 50 pages or so. This book was a joy to read, and I didn’t necessarily expect that. And, yes, it did give me more background information on why the world isn’t any more horrible it was than when we took off and rode bikes around our neighborhood (without cell phones! without helmets! without sunscreen or hats!).

“Did anything surprise or shock you from this book?”

Dawn: Absolutely the statistics! The fear of a stranger abducting one’s child is so palpable in our society, so it was incredibly surprising to see just how rarely this happens. One of my favorite things she said in the book was, “Get up and go out. Spend that hour you were going to watch Law and Order on a walk with the kids instead. Look around at all the unspeakable crimes not being committed.” I get it– turn off the news and engage in your world to get a more realistic view of the level of risk that’s out there.

Jennifer: The more I read, the more surprised (and disheartened) I was at how much our parenting culture has changed in the last ten or twenty years. Yes, sunscreen and helmets are a good change that our children have adopted without even thinking about it. But the ever-present nature of parents — from driving or walking tweens and teens to school or to friends’ houses, to being in constant contact with cell-phones — that part honestly has been a shock. It makes me wonder if I will face backlash (or at the very least judgment) as many of the parents whose stories are told in the book have for letting my tween daughter grow up as I want her to in assuming responsibilities or freedoms that I think she’s ready for.

“Do you think your parenting will change as a result of reading the book?”

Dawn: I’m pushing hard for my husband to read this book as well, and I think that there are a few areas where we may be able to give our son a little more freedom. Overall, I felt somewhat affirmed in some of our decisions– such as not enrolling him in multiple activities, allowing him to have a good amount of time that’s actually free. We’ll see where the next year takes us!

Jennifer: On the scale of over-protective and free-range, I was probably already in the top quarter on the free-range side, but I am constantly second-guessing myself, and find myself hovering in a very non “free range” sort of way in some areas. As much as I have wanted to give my daughter some freedoms, I’ve either done so with a fair helping of worry or hovered unnecessarily over certain issues. This book has encouraged me to trust my gut to know what she can handle.


We are pleased to add this book to our list of 5 Star Reads.

Reading and blogging are just two interests Dawn (my thoughts exactly) and Jennifer (Snapshot) share.


  1. says

    I want to read this book! I’m pretty free-range already; raising kids overseas will do this to you. I go into culture shock at all the rules when I return to the US. In fact, a couple of years ago I wrote some posts about it, but I don’t know how to leave links in comments so you’ll have to imagine how thought-provoking and well-written they are 😉

  2. says

    I heard the author on a podcast from Manic Mommies. LOVED it! I, too, was surprised by the statistics. Great information, though.
    I am more over-protective myself, but since hearing her interview, I have been working on it.

    I have to say, I think it’s terrible the way so many people came out to harp on her. Poor thing. I’m glad she stuck to her guns and created this awesome book!

    SO GLAD to see it reviewed here on 5M4M!

  3. says

    This was a very interesting post and podcast to be sure! I’m still not sure what I think about all this though. I mean, I’m all for promoting independence in my son (who is 7 right now) but I’m leery about “the world” all the same. For example, the parents who are my immediate neighbors don’t even watch their OWN children so I’m certainly not going to rely on them as a safety net for my child (plus the fact that there are 6 sex offenders in my immediate neighborhood). And also, my husband was sexually molested by a male teacher as a child, so he is ultra-protective of our son based on his own past. In our situation, it is really hard to step back and go free range … although we do encourage our son to make his own decisions whenever possible.

    Great post and podcast though – it has definitely given me something to think about.

  4. says

    Great review. I’d like to read the book. I don’t think I’m so free range when they’re younger, but as they mature I get a little more lenient. When my oldest daughter, who’s 18 now, was 5 I could trust her to go outside and play, stay where I told her, do and don’t do what I said. Now, with my younger children, my son is 5 and I don’t trust him at all. He’s a little more trustworthy than his 4-year-old sister, but he’s too easily influenced by her. The youngest, no way, she’s under strict guard. She purposefully runs toward the street just because I give her boundaries. This would be a great read.

  5. says

    Thanks for reviewing the book… I saw the author on The View (I think) a while ago, when I first thought she was crazy. :-) Then as I listened to her, I realized that I had really given my children more freedom than I realized as they were growing up, but we didn’t live in the city, they just had freedom in the environment THEY were familiar with, just as she had with her children. She is a facinating woman. I really enjoy all of your sites, thanks for keeping me well-informed.

  6. says

    This sounds great. I probably fall somewhere in between — in some ways, I have the “free range mindset,” but in others, I definitely hover.

  7. Sally says

    I thought the book was poorly thought through and primarily written in an attempt to package “trendy” ways of thinking in an effort to make a buck.

    The general point is out of touch with reality.

    I wouldn’t recommend anyone waste their money buying this as they can spend their $ on more valuable information.


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