GUEST BLOG POST: The Courage to Loosen the Reins a Bit by Lenore Skenazy

Lenore Skenazy publicity photo 2Hi, Motherhood Later Ladies! You’ve probably have heard of me. I’m the mom who let her 9-year-old ride the subway alone, five years ago. After the media dubbed me “America’s Worst Mom,” I started a blog — Free-Range Kids — trying to say what I could only sputter on all the talk shows:

I LOVE safety. I love helmets, car seats, seat belts. What gift do I always give at baby showers? A fire extinguisher. I am hardly a daredevil! I just don’t think our kids need a security detail every time they leave the house.

Chances are, your parents didn’t think so either. I’m an older mom myself — had my boys at 36 and 38 — so when I think back on my childhood, it wasn’t “free-range” by design. We were ALL free-range, knocking on our friends doors, “Can Betsy come out and play?” And then — well, we went out and played. Unsupervised. Till the streetlights came on.

When you think back on those days, chances are, your favorite memory doesn’t feature your mom standing right next to you. And right now, if you think about the moment you’ve been proudest of your own child, chances are it was something he or she did without your assistance.

We can give our kids more of those moments to savor. And then we get to savor them, too!

Where Does the Fear Come From?

In fact, we all want our kids to grow up confident, happy, resilient. But our society tells us: No. It whispers fears in our ears, it hunts for the most heartbreaking stories to put on the news, it tells us our kids are  never, ever, safe and pretty soon, normal things like walking to school sound like skipping through Sing-Sing.

In my book, Free-Range Kids, I talk about where those fears come from, how they take over our lives, and how to stare them down. I also hosted a reality show about the same topic. (It’s shown on Discovery in other countries, but not here.) Anyway, what I’ve learned from all this, and from the many parents and psychologists I interviewed, is that the only way to gain confidence in our kids is to actually let them go do something on their own.

When they come back from that bike ride to the library or store, they are SO HAPPY that you feel it, too! Pride and joy rush into your heart, crowding out the fear.

So if you want to feel less worried and more confident, or if you want that for your kids, consider having them do something YOU did at their age. Something your own mom let you do.

After all: The crime rate is back to the rate it was before color TV.

Kids who are active are happier.

And free play is becoming the new buzz word among child development experts. Kids need it.

So as you look at your child and wonder, “Could I really let her do some of what I did?” remember this proverb:

All the worrying in the world doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.


NOTE: Lenore will be teaching a 3-morning “Free-Range Parenting Boot Camp” at Hunter College on Manhattan’s Upper East Side this January. For more information, click here, or go to

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