Helicopter Parents vs. Free Range Kids: Q&A with "America's Worst Mom" Lenore Skenazy

"If you google 'America’s worst mom,' I’m there for 68...pages," says Lenore Skenazy, proprietor of the controversial parenting site Free-Range Kids, a book of the same title, and a syndicated columnist for Creators.

Since 2009, Skenazy has been waging a non-stop battle against helicopter parents, nanny-state nuisances, and a media consumed by scare stories about everything from child abduction to food additives to sports injuries. The result is what Skenazy calls "'worst-first thinking,' which is coming up with the worst thing that could possibly happen and then proceeding as if it's likely to happen."

Such a mind-set culminates in over-protective parents and a society that insulates children that has turned childhood from a time of fun and exploration into a version of 24-hour lockdown. "You have to admit that there's a little bit of risk in everything and that there's never been a safer time to be a child on this planet," says Skenazy.

Reason TV correspondent Kennedy sat down with Skenazy to discuss why
 "you don’t have to worry to be a good parent.”

About 4.30 minutes.

Produced by Joshua Swain. Camera by Jim Epstein and Anthony Fisher.

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  • rbleck@bleckarchitects.co||

    Lenore is the best. I have four kids across 13 years. I was stunned how much more neurotic parents are nowadays. (I'm probably less so myself). I have used her anecdotes with many younger parents to stop worrying and let your kids explore and grow. Risk is something that needs to taken now and then, not to be eliminated.

  • Rasilio||

    It's not letting my kids explore and grow that worries me, it is the neighbors calling CPS over it that I worry about.

    And yes, I have had exactly that happen. Because we let our 7 10 year olds outside to play in a cul de sac in a dead end upper middle class sub division we had CPS called on us for leaving our kids "unattended".

  • R C Dean||

    I'm hoping the squirrelz ate your ampersand, because otherwise you have seven 10 year old children, which I find . . . disturbing.

  • Rasilio||

    Lol yes indeed they did eat the ampersand, and while at the time I only had 1 10 year old at the moment I have 2 of them (as they were both 7 at the time)

  • Zeb||

    That is just fucked. Why doesn't CPS just tell those people to mind their own goddamn business (don't answer, I know)? If they really care about the welbeing of children, the should be investigating the assholes who won't let their kids be kids.

  • Restoras||

    Well, if CPS did that, they'd be putting themselves out of work and ZOMG dah penshunzzz!!

  • Bill||

    Ironically, several children were abducted during the filming of that segment.

  • Voros McCracken||

    Stanhope has a great bit about dressing your son in short shorts and having him go to school on a pogo stick every day for a year and it would still be extremely unlikely that anyone would ever molest him.

  • Reformed Republican||

    Perhaps not, but I am sure he would be teased mercilessly.

  • Voros McCracken||

    The bit in question.


  • tarran||

    I let my son ride his bike to school.

    He has the fighter pilot's approach to safety; speed = life. That kid has enough kinetic energy to break the arm of a would-be kidnapper:)

  • ||

    You are raising your kid correctly.

    Good for you!

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Engage, Maverick! Engage!

  • Loki||

    Of course when the economy does implode and chaos reigns in the streets, the "free range kids" will most likely survive since they've actually learned a thing or two about self reliance. Meanwhile the kids raised by helicopter parents will likely all die out once they no longer have mommie around to whipe their asses for them.

  • Restoras||

    I'm curious...that word, whipe. Do you pronounce it "wipe", or "hwipe"?

  • squarooticus||

    Say "wheat".
    Now, say "Wil Wheaton".
    "Hwil Hweaton."

  • buybuydandavis||

    Many of the best times I remember from childhood were free range moments. It's not an adventure with Mom and Dad blazing the path for you.

    The way kids today live out their childhoods in monitored, padded cells strikes me as very sad, and very harmful.

  • BoscoH||

    Twins? Or just sisters? Double the awesome, either way!

  • playa manhattan||

    I took my 4 year old and 9 month old to Home Depot to buy some lumber to build shelves, and when I got out to my car, a woman was wildly gesturing at me as a cop pulled up. He told me that they had gotten a call about possible child endangerment. The exchange went something like this:
    "Excuse me sir, we got a call that you might be endangering your infant. You aren't going to be operating a table saw with that baby strapped to you, are you?"
    "Of course not!"
    "That's what I thought. I am going to go yell at the woman who called us now. Have a nice day."

  • Marshall Gill||

    I have decided that even the complete vaporization of the planet Earth would not be enough to eliminate this kind of stupid. The only way to be certain is to cause and/or speed up proton decay in the entire Milky Way galaxy.

  • Paul.||

    Did he taze her? Because I could get behind that.

  • ||

    I was a free range kid. We worked our asses off around the farm if we were spotted just loafing...so we wandered the rural countryside every chance we got, amusing ourselves in the woods and creeks. By the time I was 12 years old my brothers and I were camping out miles from anyone for two or three days at a time. Sometimes I would camp out alone, with only my dog and a shotgun (shudder).

    I am horrified at what passes for parenting these days.

  • ElCiD||

    Did Kennedy use a split screen with separate outfits for this segment?

  • Steve G||

    I love Kennedy and I'm a huge fan of Lenore's blog, but where was the "helicopter parents vs" in that? I wanna see a debate!!

  • Sta|ker||

    I have no problem with this at all. My only issue is, especially where I live (FL), there are unattended kids running all over the streets regardless of cars or not. A friend of my brothers was tried (and thank god not found guilty) of man slaughter because a kid ran right in front of his car while he was doing the speed limit. He was taken to jail and not released on bail. The parents were no where to be found. So, I would agree with this "free range" parenting as long as a parent CAN'T sue someone if they hit their child with their car when the child is running around in the street.

    Just like we should get the law out of it, we should get the lawyers out of it. I'm seriously scared to drive down my neighborhood street due to the fear that one of these little brats will do something stupid and I'll end up homeless with no money because of it.

    Hell, I rear ended the car of a woman who happened to be pregnant (she stopped out of no where and my car couldn't stop fast enough). Combined there was a total of $500 of damage. $350 to my car, and $150 to hers. She got a lawyer and held the case open until she had a baby. The insurance company told us they could sue up to $100,000 (and possible jail time) if the baby had any defects.

    That was seriously the scariest year of my life.

  • Sta|ker||

    man slaughter
    I meant "attempted man slaughter"

    Also, another point. If parents take less responsibility for their kid, such as allowing them to run around the mall and annoy people; Can we slap the kids? They can be really annoying (trust me, I know).

  • ||

    Yes, you can slap my kids if they are annoying you. I know my kids will take a rebuke more seriously from someone other than me. And it would help educate them that other adults are real people too and that good manners require a recognition of that.

  • Taggart||

    I second this. I sincerely wish more adults would rebuke my children when they are annoying or misbehaving. It typically is much more effective to have this reaction from another adult than from the actual parent. Part of what we have lost is not just free range childhoods, but a world where adults didn't have a problem reprimanding other people's children, a world of greater community and shared expectations about behavior. One exception - if I'm standing RIGHT THERE when a rebuke is required, allow me at least three seconds to issue it before you jump in.

  • hotsy totsy||

    I remember picking up my kids after school in Puerto Rico. They'd let the kids out and they'd all run across the street to a house that was selling snacks - chips, candy, that sort of thing, and afterwards, just kinda hang out in the streets, waiting for parents to pick them up.

    Kids would be be playing and fighting and break-dancing...while cars picked up their kids and drove around them.

    I would frequently have to drive around ten year old's break-dancing in the middle of the street. Nobody ever got hurt - their biggest worry seemed to be chupacabra taking off with one of 'em.

  • Deep Lurker||

    I still think that David Friedman put it best: "I have long held that there are two fundamental views of children: That they are pets who can talk, or that they are small people who do not yet know very much. The wrong one is winning."

  • BillsCatz||

    Every time I see one of the Copter Parents hovering over the kid, my mind screams "I have no life, I have no life! I'm going to vicariously have a perfect second childhood through my kid! I have no life!" LOL This thought sometimes combines with the urge for a good dope-slap, but lets not go there.

    It's questionable whether society in general has truly become significantly more depraved -- sure, we hear about bad things happening to kids, but much of that could be attributed to 24/7 live news coverage from coast-to-coast. For real, thirty years ago we simply wouldn't have heard about the kid who went missing in Bugtussle, MT or Hooterville, OR.

    Then there the "I fret, therefore I am" contingent. Lives so unsatisfying that they choose to obsess about what might - possibly, maybe, could -- happen to their spawn given the worst possible circumstances. Morbid fascination, neurotic obsession.

    As an old timer once told me: "Normal is a cycle on a washing machine, it doesn't apply to human beings."

  • toolkien||

    Raising kids is like any other aspect of our pathetic culture. You can do everything 99.99% right, but - if god - forbid something bad happens, you will be persecuted for not having been 99.999% effective. And so you go through certain motions that have nothing at all to do with going from 99.99% to 99.999% effective, but you at least played the game correctly. If have your child(ren) commute to and from school and the 0.00001% chance your child is abducted, you will be persecuted. A company can be 99.99% effective in the manufacturing process, but if something bad happens, they will be persecuted for not having been 99.999% effective. And so on and so forth. Our whole world is now supposed to be in the upper 4th deviation from the mean or your ass is grass. A pleasant little fascistic world we live in.

  • jason||

    Really a great program by the media and this interview is really good.

  • tipuasher||

    The result is what Skenazy calls "'worst-first thinking,' which is coming up with the worst thing that could possibly happen and then proceeding as if it's likely to happen."

  • شات عراقنا||


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