America Needs More Free-Range Kids

Grit made America great.


Are you a real man (or woman)? Do you have "grit"?

Compare yourself to the man on the $20 bill: Andrew Jackson, our seventh president.

During the Revolutionary War, Jackson volunteered to fight. He was just 13 years old at the time. The British captured him and made him a servant for British officers. When one ordered Jackson to clean his boots, Jackson refused, and the officer slashed Jackson's hand with a sword. When Jackson became president, he showed off the scar.

Jackson had grit.

Do your kids have that much grit today? I doubt it. Parents now try to protect kids from all danger. In New York City, some won't let teenagers go to school by themselves.

Lenore Skenazy, author of "Free-Range Kids," thinks that's absurd.

"Free-range kids are kids we believe in," she told me. "They can do things on their own."

Once she allowed her own 9-year-old to ride the subway alone. After she wrote about that, she was labeled "World's Worst Mom." Really. Google "world's worst mom." Skenazy's name comes up.

"Free-Range Kids" promotes events like "Take Our Children to the Park and Leave Them There Day." Skenazy says leaving kids in the park without adult supervision teaches them grit. Kids get used to bugs, rocks and a lack of constant supervision. They become leaders by discovering how to organize their own lives without parents bossing them around.

And they are not likely to be kidnapped. The horror of what happened to the three women in Cleveland makes all of us more frightened of sexual assaults and other threats. Skenazy says that today's parents are so frightened that only 6 percent allow young kids to play outside unsupervised. But the risk of harm is small, and we put our kids at greater risk, says Skenazy, if we don't allow them the freedom to learn from their own mistakes—to acquire grit.

It shouldn't surprise me that parents want to shelter their kids from all risk. The parents themselves live in a society where risk is less and less acceptable. We expect regulations to protect us from accidents. We expect police to protect us from every imaginable criminal threat. We demand welfare, unemployment insurance and bailouts to protect every level of society from economic risk. When something goes wrong, we sue.

It wasn't always like this.

theirhistory / photo on flickr

Our country's founders left relatively safe places to tough it out in the wilderness, to turn what a character in a John Wayne movie called "empty land used for nothin'" into ranches and farms. Doing that required long days spent hunting, plowing, fighting off enemies, digging in through cold winters, sometimes starving, losing children, losing wives and husbands—it took grit to create American civilization.

Grit requires delaying gratification, wanting something bigger than yourself.

As John Wayne's character himself put it in "The Big Trail": "We're building a nation. We've got to suffer. No great trail was ever blazed without hardship. That's life."

Grit is the stuff of life. Greatness is often achieved only after repeated failure.

Cartoonist Charles Schulz had every cartoon he submitted to his high school yearbook rejected. "Peanuts" later became one of the most successful cartoons of all time.

Thomas Edison's teachers told his mom he was "too stupid to learn." Edison went on to accumulate 1,000 U.S. patents. His success with the light bulb followed 1,000 unsuccessful attempts. That's grit.

It's great that we live in a wealthy country—one with a welfare state so big that we now worry about poor people getting fat. But what makes most people happy is not comfort. It's earned success, success you struggle for.

The opposite of earned success, says psychologist Martin Seligman, is "learned helplessness." In lab experiments, when good things occurred that weren't earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people's happiness. It produced helplessness. People gave up, became passive.

That passivity (and America's welfare state) is a threat to our future. Everyone goes through pain and loss. We face obstacles. It's the struggle to overcome obstacles that matters.

That's the stuff of life—and the route to happiness and prosperity.

NEXT: Anthony Weiner Hires Campaign Manager

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  1. Thomas Edison’s teachers told his mom he was “too stupid to learn.” Edison went on to accumulate 1,000 U.S. patents. His success with the light bulb followed 1,000 unsuccessful attempts.

    That’s one terrorist that was able to get away with his “experiments.” All those wires and explosives…

    1. “That’s one terrorist that was able to get away with his “experiments.” All those wires and explosives…”

      If gasoline were first formulated in the last ten years, there’s no way it would be sold retail without a government license.

      1. The fact that there is an AWARD named after the guy that invented dynamite should be enough to terrify anyone.

        1. Maybe in 100 years we’ll see the Obama Peace Prize. It would be a gold plated drone model.

          1. Or a gold plated skeleton in chains.

          2. Start working at home with Google! It’s by-far the best job Ive had. Last Wednesday I got a brand new BMW since getting a check for $6474 this – 4 weeks past. I began this 8-months ago and immediately was bringin home at least $77 per hour. I work through this link,

      2. I suspect if the automobile were invented today it probably would be prohibited as well.

        “You want to let average people operate a 3,000 pound machine at 65MPH in public. Are you insane?”

  2. The horror of what happened to the three women in Cleveland makes all of us more frightened of sexual assaults and other threats.

    The women that were abducted were not children. They were 17, 18, and 20 years old if I remember correctly. Not to downplay the tragedy of their situation, I am guessing that these women were either naive, or self-destructive. Naive that they were easily lured into captivity by a stranger. Or self-destructive in that they actively associated with a nefarious character. A healthy skepticism of strangers, or a positive mental attitude fostered through self-ownership could have served those women well. Both of those traits are developed through “free-range” parenting.

    1. 21, 16 and 14 actually.

      1. Thanks for the update.

      2. Also, the 14 year old was best friends with the guy’s daughter. So he wasn’t a random stranger. Don’t know if the other two knew who he was before.

        1. And the daughter was with the father when they saw the friend shortly before she disappeared — he went back for her after dropping off the daughter.

          The fact that this apparently never came to light at the time is a terrible failure of the CPD to adequately investigate the disappearance.

  3. Free-range kids have a better ratio of fatty acids, too. There’s no need to take fish oil if you choose them over factory-raised kids.

  4. We have an article about free range kids but no recipes? Reason, I’m disappointed.

    1. I don’t think this is the appropriate forum for discussions on felching.

    2. The rest of the article, “America Needs More Free-Range Kids,” it’s … it’s not a cookbook!

  5. I let my kid wander around my GATED apartment complex by himself, he was about 3 years old. He wanted to help and I told him he could take the garbage to the dumpster about 500ft from our apartment. There was a clear line of site and I stood on the porch and watched him walk to the dumpster and toss the trash in and then start making his way back. On the way a state trooper who lived in a nearby apartment ran out into the street and grabbed my kid, when I confronted him, Weapon in hand, (Im a Marine and always have a weapon in reach) the officer told me he was calling CPS and that it was illegal for me to let my child be more than 50 feet from me. I have no idea where he came up with this, Florida has no such law, But I took nearly 30 minutes of negotiations just to get him to give my kid back. What kind of country is this when teaching my child self reliance and independence is illegal?

    1. What kind of country is this when teaching my child self reliance and independence is illegal?

      It’s morning in America!

    2. I don’t know why he made up such a stupid law when he could clearly get you for child labor violations.

      The idea some have that cops are tough and manly is one of the funnier things I hear. I would have asked him when the last time he was within 50 feet of his balls.

    3. But I took nearly 30 minutes of negotiations just to get him to give my kid back.

      I wonder if you could’ve pressed charged for kidnapping.

    4. “Release my child, or I’ll shoot you for attempting to abduct a minor, you stupid fucking badge.” That probably would’ve worked, too.

      What a cunt.

      1. It probably wouldn’t have worked, at least not in the short term. The legal system is slanted to trust the word of the guy with the badge over an average citizen.

        If he maintains that he was protectively detaining the child, threatening him with a deadly weapon will probably get you convicted, no matter how right you were to use force to defend your child.

    5. Do you still live there? Have the kid do it every day. Film it.

  6. I was shooting guns and joining hunts before I even hit puberty, and I had the time of my life doing it. I also did things like not wearing a helmet when I rode my bike, or driving my dad’s car illegally in quiet areas because, you know, why the fuck not?

    And that’s how I’m raising MY kids, if I end up having any. Fuck this retarded perma-infantilization

  7. http://dailyoddsandends.files……poster.jpg


    1. Get your goddamn fingers off the triggers.

  8. Schools (and parents) raise children to be employees. There is no encouragement of initiative and entrepreneurial risk. I suspect this in large part explains the unspoken preference for jobs created by/for/in government.

    1. The preference for jobs created by/for/in government comes about because smart people will realize that the government provides a substantially increased chance of security. If you are a skilled worker who has children, and your choices are:

      a. Spend all of your savings on a high-risk new business (knowing 80% fail within the first five years)
      b. Take a job in the private industry under an employer who may or may not provide you with quality insurance and will fire you at the drop of a hat,
      or c. Take a job in the government where benefits are decent, pay is good, and schedules are predictable …

      ..almost anyone is going to select C.

      For A to be viable, we have to drop the bar of entry for start-ups that are anything other than internet-based and encourage people to contract freelance work more often. This will NOT happen because we incidentally equate success with not being very good watchdogs on corporate aggressive and monopolization.

      For B to be viable, business owners will need to start looking at employees as INVESTMENTS rather than disposable labor. This is also not going to work, because part of the earlier mentioned success is getting more than you deserve for what you are willing to pay.

  9. The obvious question is does the overprotective parenting accomplish anything ?
    Accidental death rates for children have fallen in recent years, but there could
    be a variety of reasons for that (e.g. safer cars produced by manufacturers satisfying consumer demand.) I really do mean that a question, not an insinuation, but one can’t ignore the possibility that letting kids be old school free range might come with a small increase in the probability of the worst price any parent could pay.

    1. letting kids be old school free range might come with a small increase in the probability of the worst price any parent could pay

      A small increase compared to what? Compared to what it would have been 30 years ago, or a small increase compared to what it would be if you didn’t let your kids be more free range? The latter is probably true. The former I doubt. I think that rates of child abduction, murder, rape, etc. are all lower now, not just rates of accidents.

      In any case, I am quite convinced that the benefits to children of being more independent and active out weigh the small increase in risk.

  10. I recently moved to a slightly nicer area where there’s people with a lot more money than I have. I was surprised to see that there’s no hover parenting here, or hardly any. For example, the people across the street from me have 3 kids of their own, and on weekends seem to have about 7-8 all playing at once in the yard. Once, the kids had some footstool lined up next to the fruit tree in the front yard, kids (I’m talking maybe 2nd graders here) climbing in & out of the tree. Later in the day, I see a parent go out and I’m thinking “Ok, that’s the end of it.” But no, the parent is just there to take pictures. Also, lots of little kids just walking to school – almost all days of the year – no parents. So this encourages me to do the same 🙂

    1. Sounds great. This was not a New York City suburb, I’m confident.

  11. This is crap. When I was a kid, I would rides miles (over 20) away from home and return. We could fish all day in the bayou (river). I stayed out until sunset, I visited a haunted mansion deep in the woods many times. We could carry a .22 but never did. I am so sick and GD tired of all these stupid ass liberal losers telling our kids what they CAN’T do, why not focus on the positive?

  12. Oh, and I am sorry, but this WAS in Chicago (Elmhurst) in 1960’s.

    1. They have bayous in Chicago?

  13. until I looked at the paycheck ov $7310, I didnt believe that my neighbour was like they say truly bringing in money in their spare time at there computar.. there best friend has done this for only about nine months and recently took care of the morgage on there cottage and bourt themselves a Lotus Elan. go to,

  14. There’s an interesting academic who focuses on grit and its predictive power as a character trait in teens. I believe the name is Angela Duckworth at Penn.

  15. I’m a big believer in free-range parenting. I live on a 90-acre ranchand all my kids, to different degrees, have wandered the woods and fields alone at fairly young ages, crossing ravines on fallen logs 10 feet above the ground, walking around among 1000-lb. livestock, climbing trees, playing in the creek. I expect even my pre-teen kids to know how to be responsible with firearms, herd a group of stray cattle, mid-wife a goat’s birth, ride a horse and tend to all the day-to-day jobs on the ranch.

    The hardest part about the adult transition I’ve seen in my kids (ranging from 27 to 7) is dealing with all the other young (and not-so-young) adults who *aren’t* as mature and capable as they are.

  16. Just because:

    Mattie Ross: They say he has grit. I wanted a man with grit.

    Col. G. Stonehill: Well, I suppose he has that. He’s a notorious thumper. He’s not a man I would care to share a bed with.

    Mattie Ross: Nor would I.

  17. “It’s great that we live in a wealthy country — one with a welfare state so big that we now worry about poor people getting fat. But what makes most people happy is not comfort. It’s earned success, success you struggle for.”


    1. More like misdirection.

      When you consider that poor people are often fat NOT because of an abundance of food and solid opportunities but because of an abundance of BAD food and lack of better choices, it will suck all of the power out of the punch behind the statement of a welfare state.

      We don’t like to look at the poor. We don’t like to acknowledge our own actions as selfish. We will rebrand greed as success, and we will worship the businessman.

  18. Let me try to follow the logic here.

    We want our kids to have grit because…

    Andrew Jackson did something stupid when he was a kid, got slashed by a sword for it, and became president. (He also commited genocide, but we won’t go there.)

    An imaginary character played by John Wayne had grit. (We know nothing about his imaginary childhood.)

    Thomas Edison had many failures while trying to invent the light bulb, but persisted. He had grit, but nothing is said about how he acquired it.

    Anyway, grit is good. If we have grit, we won’t have unreasonable expectations, like regulations that prevent fertilizer plants from exploding. We also won’t be wimps who sue when something goes wrong, like getting blown up at a fertilizer factory. We’ll just tough it out.

    Grit requires delaying gratification, and our children learn to delay gratification by going outside and doing whatever their impulses lead them to do.

    John Stossel pushes all of the right conservative buttons, but has no coherent argument. I can’t believe a website called “Reason” would publish this.

    You all might want to read Paul Tough’s book “How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character” to gain a more research-based understanding of how parental (and even goverenment!) guidance can help kids build grit.

    1. Jeeze, thank you.

      You have summed up everything I would have liked to say in a marvelously coherent way.

      I find myself irritated by the comments on here that equate ‘grit’ with teaching kids self-reliance through the practice of law-breaking — which to me says more about the parents than the kids.

      While its true that we should stop coddling kids for so long, and teach them self-reliance and responsibility, this does NOT have to come by way of intentionally putting children into dangerous situations.

      There is a disconnect with the world today and the wonderful view of the ‘good old days.’ In the days of gunpowder and dysentery, kids had to have grit because most kids DIED.

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