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‘America’s Worst Mom’?



When I wrote a column recently about why I let my 9-yearold take the subway alone, I figured I’d get some e-mails – pro and con. Soon, I was on the “Today” show, MSNBC and Fox News Channel, with a new title under my smiling face: “America’s Worst Mom?”

That’s how I learned what a hot-button issue this is: whether good parents ever let their kids out of their sight. But even as the stations (and Web sites and blogs) were having a field day with the story, people kept pulling me aside to say that they had been allowed to get around by themselves as kids, and boy were they glad.

They relished those memories – and thanked their parents! – and then in the next breath, they admitted: They never would let their kids do the same.

Why not? Has the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation?

No, not in the way that most parents are fearing. Justice Department statistics show that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds pretty steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40 percent of them were killed.

The killing of any child is a horrible tragedy. But when that number is about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it’s also a very random, rare event. Far more people die from falling off the bed or other furniture. So for safety’s sake, should we all start sleeping on the floor?

Well, upon reading that, I’m sure some people will. I’m also sure that pretty soon you’ll see some “expert” on TV talking about the hidden dangers of furniture. Behind her a huge photo of a bed will be captioned: “WORTH THE RISK?”

Everything has its 15 minutes of fear. We get so rattled by it all we can’t think straight.

Now, of course life is risky. That’s why we always end up dead. Some things are even particularly risky, such as driving, which kills 40 times the number of kids abducted and murdered every year. Still, we drive. And if you’re like me, you always use seat belts and car seats. Safety first! I’m all about safety! I’m just not about paranoia.

It’s crazy to limit our lives based on wildly remote dangers. But somehow, a whole lot of parents have become convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, many also have become convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. These parents have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.

And then there are those who don’t.

I’m relieved to report that plenty of e-mails – hundreds – poured in that shared my viewpoint. There were more of these, in fact, than the alarmists. Parents from as far away as Japan wrote, “Bravo!” “Thank you!” And, “Good for your son!”

I loved hearing what these parents (and grandparents and friends and relatives) let their young ones do, but they still face a phalanx of disapproval.

One suburban dad wrote to say he let his 8-year-old ride her bike two blocks away, and afterward: “My wife let me know how vehemently she disagreed. In addition, all the parents in the neighborhood also thought I was crazy.”

This dad is an emergency room doctor, so he knows better than most what terrible things can happen out of the blue. And yet, as he put it so well, “I choose, to the best of my ability, to allow my children the same freedoms that I had as a child.”

We all want our kids to be safe. But they deserve lives, too. Despite what you hear on the news, these things are not mutually exclusive.

And I’m not America’s Worst Mom.

Lenore Skenazy is a contributing editor at The New York Sun and founder of Free Range Kids (freerangekids.com).

©2008 Creators Syndicate Inc.

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