04 October 2010

Free Range Kids

I recently posted a link to the "Why FreeRange?" page of Lenore Skenazy's Free Range Kids blog on my wife's Facebook page.

Our child is still less than a year old, but my wife and I already disagree (don't worry, they're only minor disagreements) about how much we should "baby" our child. For instance, when he tries to pull himself up to a standing position and even when he reaches the standing position, my wife will hover over him to prevent his falling back to the ground. I, on the other hand, am constantly telling her to let him fall. The chances that he'll get hurt (he would most likely fall back onto his rear end, and at worst fall all the way back and hit his head on the carpet) are extremely low. Moreover, in the event that he does get hurt, the chances of him getting anything more than a small bump are so remote as to not cause me even a bit of worry.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not some kind of sadist who enjoys seeing his kid get hurt. In fact, it breaks my heart every time my child sheds even a single tear whether he's hungry, hurt, or just wants to be held. I don't, however, believe that it is my role as a parent to prevent anything and everything that could go wrong in my child's life. Eventually, he's going to have to stand on his own two feet (literally and figuratively), and I see letting him learn by failing as a way to help him achieve that goal, even at such an early age.

Back to the real point of this post, though. In response to the link on my wife's Facebook page, one of our good friends, herself, the mother of two teenage girls, responded that she'd prefer "her children living instead of visiting 'Fairhaven' every week" and referred to the number of attempted abductions, rapes, and gropings in the news this week as well as the recent deaths of Amber Dubois and Chelsea King. I have to admit that I don't understand the reference to "Fairhaven", but I took the entire statement to mean that if our friend has to be a bit overprotective to prevent her children from becoming victims, then so be it.

I hope that friend of ours, should she read this, doesn't take any of what I've written or what follows as an of indictment of or negative statement about the way she has raised and continues to raise her children. I think that her daughters are two of the nicest, most respectful and well behaved children I've ever met, and I should be so lucky to have my child(ren) grow up to be the same. Rather, this post is intended to defend the idea of "Free Range Kids".

Most of what this friend of ours wrote was the reason that "Free Range Kids" came about. As the news media becomes ever more accessible, we are able to hear about every crime and attempted crime all over the country. The media also tend to focus on stories that will grab people's attention and keep them engaged (read: reading, watching, and ultimately, paying). Since the news tends to focus on these types of stories, over time, people tend to regard such events as commonplace, when in reality, they are not.

According to census estimates over the last three years, there were approximately 80 million people aged 19 years or under in the U.S. According to this study, released in 2002, there were just under 60,000 "nonfamily abductions" during the year-long study. Of these, 115 were considered "stereotypical" kidnappings, and of those, approximately 40% were killed. Examples of abductions and kidnappings as defined in the study can be found here.

Now let's look at the numbers for the year of the study:
  • Number of children in the U.S.: 70,000,000 (rounded down to exclude 18-19 year olds)
  • Number of "stereotypical" kidnappings: 115, .0002% or 1 in 5,000
  • Number of deaths from kidnappings: 46, .0001% or 1 in 10,000
To put these events in perspective, the yearly odds of dying in a car crash are 1 in 6,500. That is, they're just not that common. So, the point of all of this is not to persuade or dissuade you, necessarily, from what you're already doing. Rather, it is to help dispel the idea that children are in danger every minute of every day or that today's children are in any more danger than you or I were. This post, by the way, does not address the less quantifiable benefits of "free ranging" your kids. For that, you can visit FreeRangeKids.

P.S.: The New York Times (whatever you may think of it) endorsed this book today.


  1. This is really interesting. I came her for your TSA stuff of course, but clicked around. I've thought so much about this lately. I have three children, 8, 5, 5 and though we live just down the street from a donut shop, a grocery store etc. I'd never let any of them go there alone. Now obviously the 5 year olds are too young (I think) but the 8 year old? Not sure. I was free ranging at about her age. Has the world changed so much that she can't? We are so inundated with stories in the media that terrify us about what can happen to our children that I think, as you say, it's a bit out of proportion. The other thing I think is that there is a lot of peer pressure among parents NOT to let kids roam. And should something happen, let's say god forbid, when my 8 year old is riding her bike to get a donut, the chorus of disdain for her mother would be very loud. Stupid mom, stupid parents and so on. Doesn't she know the world we are living in? Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful post.

  2. i agree with your message but some of your calcs have to be WAY wrong here... the odds of being kidnapped are said by you to be higher than being in a car accident? (1 in 5000 vs. 1 in 6500? that's way off)


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