Free-Range Kids

Lenore Skenazy's New Show Brings Free-Range Parenting to Your TV Screen

Show airs Thursdays at 9 pm on Discovery Life


World's Worst Mom

Reason contributor and super-star Lenore Skenazy will be dousing the flames of parental paranoia on her very own show, "World's Worst Mom," beginning Thursday (tonight) at 9:00 p.m. EST on the Discovery Life channel.

The title is a satirical jape at Skenazy, who has embraced that distinction as a form of protest against helicopter parenting. Readers of her work here at Reason—and at her blog, Free-Range Kids—know that Skenazy is dedicated to the cause of helping parents put aside irrational (often debilitating) fears regarding their children's safety. On her show, Skenazy meets with real parents whose anxieties have made them stifle their kids' independence—such as a mother who spoon-feeds her 10-year-old son because she's afraid he will choke, and won't let him ride a bike. Skenazy's mission is to show these parents that the healthiest thing they can do for their children is let them try new things, spend time alone, and discover that the world isn't such a scary place, after all.

"World's Worst Mom," is real: the hyper-protective parents featured on it are real, worries and all. And while they represent the far-end of helicopter parenting, too many adults share some of their fears—even though kids are growing up today in the safest time in world history.

I asked Skenazy to tell Reason readers why they should tune in. Here's what she said:

Skenazy: The 13 families that I help end up changing almost completely. They sound like me by the time I leave. They are so grateful and happy and relaxed, which to me proves the fear that they were feeling—it felt deep, but it was superficial. They were brainwashed by fear. All I do is take the kids away from them for four days in a row and have them do things like run an errand, ride your bike to the library… When the kids come home, the parents have been biting their nails and glaring at me. They are truly distressed while they are waiting for their kids to come home, but then the kids are happy, and then the parents start grinning too and they are excited and proud. The pride and the joy that they feel is so intense that the fear disappears. They might have lost the idea of this boy being so adorable and needy, but in his place is this competent and beautiful young man growing up that they are very proud of.

While the show provides ample evidence that Skenazy's message is correct and spreading, government policy remains hopelessly outdated. Police routinely arrest parents who had the audacity to leave their children alone, unsupervised, in a grocery store parking lot or a neighborhood jungle gym. Reason has chronicled several terrible cases of disputes involving Child Protective Services that resulted from codified paranoia regarding a child's well-being.

But Skenazy is confident that the laws will have to change once the culture changes. The cops might pick up one 10-year-old playing by himself in a public park, but what if the park was brimming with unsupervised kids—as it would have been in days of yore, before helicopter parenting took off?

Skenazy: We have to get back to the norm of children being allowed some unsupervised time without everybody freaking out, and we always have to get some of those laws off the books. The fantasy is that any child unsupervised for any amount of time in any place is in danger, and that's not true.

Catch the world's *worst* mom in action on "World's Worst Mom," tonight at 9:00 p.m. And watch a clip of the show here.

NEXT: Shikha Dalmia on Immigrants and Hyphens

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  1. “learning to ride a bike is currently unavailable”

    1. Sorry about that. I’ve added a link to the clip instead. Should be working if you click it.

  2. a mother who spoon-feeds her 10-year-old son because she’s afraid he will choke, and won’t let him ride a bike.

    This is one the worst things I have ever read.

    1. I think that goes way past overprotective parenting and into the realm of some kind of pathology.

      1. And a pathology that will be transferred to that poor schmuck. He’ll be totally unprepared to be a teenager, much less an adult.

        1. Yes, which is the actual goal of the thing. Psycho mom is intentionally raising a damaged child whose only life arc will be dependence upon her and eventually becoming her caregiver. Then one day she’s going to die and he’s going to be unable to enjoy the last decade or two of his life.

          Rather like some of the lyrics of “The Wall”.

          1. Make the bad man fly!

            1. Thanks. I knew there was a more recent example of this.

        2. Oh, come now. It doesn’t hurt to be safe, and I’m sure that being fed by your loving mother because you may very well kill yourself trying to eat will have no lasting, negative effects on that child whatsoever.

      1. Yeah, pretty much all of Asia is fucked. It’s even worse in Japan.

      2. How bad that is depends on how old the kids are. Infants can’t do any of those things and that is normal.

        1. The survey was for parents of children 4 to 12.

  3. The cops might pick up one 10-year-old playing by himself in a public park, but what if the park was brimming with unsupervised kids?as it would have been in days of yore, before helicopter parenting took off?

    You mean as it was portrayed in *Lord of the Flies*?!

    1. Je suis Piggy!

  4. “…a mother who spoon-feeds her 10-year-old son because she’s afraid he will choke, and won’t let him ride a bike.”

    Home of the free and the brave.

    Seriously, fuck that crazy bitch.

    1. And this is an ethical dilemma for libertarians, particularly those who view children as property except when it comes to abortion crowd.

      What’s the threshold for state or private intervention in a situation like this?

      1. “What’s the threshold for state or private intervention in a situation like this?”

        I think a better question to ask myself would be, in this situation, how much good could you do with violence, and how much bad would you have tolerate along with it?

      2. When a child dies from choking, that proves that a government employee must fed the child to make sure he or she or xe doesn’t take too much food and choke.

        /end prog

    2. Home of the free and the brave.

      I think bravery is the right part of this to examine. Somewhere between when I was a child and today, it became socially acceptable to be cowardly.

      Of course, you can be any way you choose to be…but I can also choose to ridicule you for it. Cowards used to be harassed unmercifully. Today you’d be labeled a bully for calling someone a pussy.

      1. But… But I am NOT so much of a pussy, to be afraid of calling anyone a pussy! Therefor, I am calling you a pussy, for being afraid of the brainwashed state into which we are all falling, where we are all afraid of being afraid of being… Government Almighty DAMMIT, I have lost track of what I am afraid of being a pussy about!!! No “Bully Pulpit” for me, then, I guess!

    3. I think the show was filmed in Canada (the second episode’s family is definitely Canadian–you can see the kids have $2 coins in their lemonade stand earnings).

      “The true North, strong and free” is just as ironic, though.

  5. All I do is take the kids away from them for four days in a row

    Child Protective Services does the same thing. All they’re going to do is look at this as reinforcement for taking the kids away, the unsupervised activities the children do while taken away will mean absolutely nothing to CPS. All it takes is one kid getting hit by a car on the way home from the library followed by a lawsuit seeking millions in damages and the people in power will freak out.

  6. I don’t get why so many parents allow themselves to become so fearful. Are they really so stupid as to be unable to rationally assess real risk? I mean, this shit is so fucking dumb just from a historical perspective: people didn’t helicopter their kids for basically all of human history and things went pretty ok. They could just look to their own childhood, or that of their parents. But they don’t. Why? There has to be some narcissistic element involved, an attitude of “I have to be fearful or I won’t seem like a caring parent!”

    1. It’s the constant beat of the terror drum. Between the 24 hour news cycle, internet ramblings, and politicians trying to scare you into voting for them, it wears people down and makes them paranoid.

      1. That’s part of it. But it doesn’t explain how in basically a single generation people went from “go play outside and don’t fucking come inside or bother me until dinner” to “you are not allowed to do ANYTHING unsupervised and that seems completely normal to me”. The change was too rapid to just be media, which has always been sensational, or politicians, who have always tried to scare people into voting for them.

        1. Epi, surely during pillow talk my mom told you about how she raised me in the 70’s.

          It was “get out of my sight until dinner” followed by “check in by phone every two hours”. A combination of neglect and over-protection at the same time.

          1. She did, and my mom was annoying about calling her once I “got where I was going for the night” and shit, which was also retarded because I could call her from anywhere and just tell her I was in and then go do whatever I wanted.

            But my parents also let me ride my bike down a street crisscrossed with downed power lines during the eye of Hurricane Gloria, “just be back when the eyewall gets close”. And that was totally OK. I cannot even imagine such a thing now. So even “overprotective” parents just a generation or two ago were nothing like today, not even close.

        2. I think there is also some blame to be placed on how litigious our society has become.

          All risk is to be eliminated or you’ll be sued. It permeates society.

          1. There’s also probably the factors of health care inflation and the sucky economy involved. Some out-of-work lady whose kid just got a concussion on the monkey bars can’t afford the $1500 for clinic/hospital treatments, so she sees an ad for Al Suem, Attorney At Law on TV, and they try and get a settlement from the city, the monkey-bars maker, anybody, so she isn’t saddled with debt from her kid slipping on the bars.

            I don’t like this situation either, but I’m just trying to call it as I see it.

        3. I agree that while media hyperventilation has some impact on people’s ability to rationally assess risk, there must be some other factor.

          First, on a purely technological front, no civilization in history has ever had the comforts and capabilities we’ve gained. Second, although there have been times in the past where people lived a high standard of living, it has never really been something that a majority of people could enjoy.

          That said, I think today, many people take for granted how we achieved this high standard of living. New technologies were traditionally born of necessity. Refrigeration solved a life endangering problem, but television was not born of necessity, it was born of the desire for pleasure. When we invent for our own pleasure, we know we have crossed a certain threshold and when the generations who invented for necessity die off, we risk losing our understanding of what it means to struggle for a truly life extending purpose. I’m not blaming this shift on anything, I love that we’ve made such a shift, but like all shifts, there must be an adjustment period. Helicopter parenting is a symptom of that adjustment. We don’t appreciate how individual risk taking leads to personal development and invention, therefore, we default to preventing more obvious risks as absurd as they may be. Unions were born of the anxieties of the industrial revolution. Helicopter parenting was born of the anxieties of a world accustomed to comfort.

          1. It also doesn’t help that our governments foster a sense of dependency, which acts as an enabling factor for these parents.

    2. I think it has to do with the way we process risk.

      Rationally, risk is calculated as the cost times the probability, and is weighed against the benefits of taking the risk.

      For kids, two things eff up this analysis. First, the cost of the risk actually occurring is (subjectively) very high to infinite. That means probability means nothing.

      And, the benefits of letting your kid take risks are speculative, and thus easy to ignore/discount.

      That said, grow a pair already, helicopter parents. Or else your kids are going to grow up with no ability of their own to evaluate risk.

      1. “For kids, two things eff up this analysis. First, the cost of the risk actually occurring is (subjectively) very high to infinite. That means probability means nothing.”

        Yes, but the cost of fucking your kid up and ruining him by raising him to be constantly terrified is also ‘very high to infinite.’

        1. But now they can get free medication so it’s no biggie.

      2. I blame central banks.

    3. They went to public school. And watch the local news. Drama is their stock in trade and they create drama queens and chicken shits.

    4. Part of the problem is that people used to have lots of kids, and expected to lose a few on the way to adulthood. Now people have just one or two and focus all their anxieties on them. I suspect that, even today, helicopter parenting is much rarer among people with 4+ kids.

      1. lol… true.

        On the Canadian streets I drive during summer, never once in the past 5 years have I caused the yell of ‘CAR’ and interrupted street hockey.

        I’ve seen a few ‘STREET HOCKEY PROHIBITED’ signs though. sigh.

        1. In *Canada?*

      2. There is a lot to be said for this.

        I don’t remember ANY kids playing the park by themselves in the 1980’s. I think a lot of this has to do with the sheer number of kids in the baby boom that over-protective parents were undetected because there were so many unsupervised kids.

        I’m making these numbers up but to make a point. In my childhood, there were probably 300 kids under age 13 in a 4 block radius of my single-family home neighborhood. Even if 90% of the kids were over-protected, that still leaves at least 30 kids playing in the park unsupervised which is enough of a crowd to be safe in itself. And there was rarely a time when there weren’t at least 30 kids in the park.

        Then the baby boom ended and my little sister, just 5 years younger, existed in the same neighborhood at age 12 with maybe only 80 kids in the same 4-block radius. (2 of the 6 schools in the elementary district closed and this after class sizes were slashed by 30%.) If the parenting was similar, there would have been at most 8 kids in the park at a time, and that gets to be below critical mass (and not much fun) so she stayed in the yard and played by herself or maybe another kid or two would come over after school. Which only makes the parenting even MORE over-protective.

    5. Seriously, Epi? Most people have poor self control and weak wills. Most people feel rather than think.

      1. Sure. But they didn’t helicopter parent like this until basically only the most recent generation or two. So something changed, and it was a mass change.

        1. Government got bigger.

        2. Think of it as Evolution in Action


    6. I don’t get why so many parents allow themselves to become so fearful. Are they really so stupid as to be unable to rationally assess real risk?

      We have discussed here many times how many people don’t think but emote. When it comes to their own children, the emotionalists, turn the dial up to 11. If I get in a emotional panic over Climate Change or “endangered species” just imagine how insane I will act when it comes to my own children.

      This woman would mother all of us through loving legislation. She is only allowed her actual child and she is not going to take any chances!

  7. Yeah, but will she interrupt the guests of the show nonstop?

    1. Kennedy ref?

      1. To subtle?

  8. Nice, congrats to Lenore. A TV show is a great idea. I shall prepare my nutsack.

    1. You’re going to be watching the show with your pants off?

      1. Hell no. I don’t want to give the punches easy access.

  9. By the age of 12 every kid I knew growing up could:

    Ride a horse
    Hike miles from home and stay gone all day
    ride a bike
    Swim in a creek no life gaurds in sight
    Camp out in the woods by themselves
    Drive a tractor
    make a sling from an old pair of shoes and throw a rock a hundred yards
    Hunt by themselves with a gun
    Shoot a bow
    Win in a rock fight
    Use a brush blade or machete
    Win in a fist fight
    Climb trees
    Win in a cuss fight
    Catch a snake with their bare hands
    Use a knife
    Fish and drive or paddle a boat

    By that age I was already reloading my own ammunition. I knew a few other kids who did as well.

    What the hell happened to us?

    1. Seriously. I got my hunting license at age 10. In suburban New Jersey, not backwoods Kentucky. This required me to pass the same test adults took, including hitting a couple of clay pigeons at a range.

      Kids are plenty capable of figuring things out themselves.

    2. Suthenboy|1.22.15 @ 4:17PM|#

      By the age of 12 every kid I knew growing up could:
      Win in a rock fight

      Win in a fist fight

      Win in a cuss fight

      So, EVERYBODY got a trophy ?

      Just kidding. As an East Texas country boy in the 60s I live a similar up bringing execpt for one thing.

      Catching snakes. I killed snakes. Every one I every saw.

    3. When I got to college, I met college kids who didn’t know how to do their own laundry, figure out which buses to take to get across town, or use a microwave. We used to make fun of these kids. Now, they’re the norm.

      A friend of mine has an adult son whom she’s coddled like this. Nick will be 30 in April, and still lives at my friend’s house, where he pays $0 in room and board. He can’t and won’t do his own chores or cooking, do any housecleaning, or even mow the lawn. He depends on others for rides, after losing his license to DUI convictions. He has a part-time night job doing something like bundling ad circulars. His chief “employment” is really playing Xbox, getting baked, and knocking up stupid girls (3 illegitimate kids so far, all firmly latched onto the gub’mint teat). Nick collects food stamps and welfare because he’s a “parent.”

      Nick flew down to OAK to visit some friends two summers ago. He called his mom in a panic because he couldn’t find his way to the gate. His mom obliged by pulling up the OAK airport map on her phone and telling him where to go. She pulled over the car to do this, on the freeway, when I was in the car and we were on our way to lunch.

      I’ve long ago stopped giving my friend advice about urging Nick out the door. She clearly has some pathological need or codependency here. He’ll be dependent on the gub’mint for life. That’s where this kind of parenting leads.

      1. “A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

  10. In fairness, I don’t think anyone on H&R can talk about how they were raised because let’s be honest – if our parents had raised us well we wouldn’t be here.

    1. “What’s the matter, you raised in a barn? Shut the door.”

    2. *Mumble mumble mumble* Good point *mumble mumble*

    3. Or MAYBE, if their parents raised them well, there’d be more of us?

  11. It’s a shame this show was cancelled.

    At least, if it’s the 13-episode show which aired in 2012 in Canada, which it certainly sounds like.‘s_Worst_Mom

  12. Regarding what changed, I can’t figure it out either. My brother has two kids (age 10 and 12) living in suburban Indianapolis. He says he feels uncomfortable if they are playing outside and he can’t see them. When I remind him of how we were raised (gone all day, bikes and hikes and so on) he says, it’s different now. It’s the worst-first thinking Lenore talks about. He thinks they might get snatched by a stranger. Arguing the admittedly non-zero, but damn near zero chance of that versus the much greater odds of getting hit by a car or drowning in the duck pond cannot dissuade him. It’s like a whole generation was taught to fear the boogy man. He’s just 9 years yonger.

    1. It isn’t just today’s parents who are over-protective. A 68 yr old grandmom opined in today’s paper that it was 2 working parents and “hulking empty” McMansions that led to the scary situation she sees unlike in “her day:” it is much scarier today with “real live boogeymen who reach into our windows and lift our sleeping children out of their beds and carry them off.” For her, “We’re scared of everything and we’ve got reasons to be.”

    2. The whole “TEH PREDATORZZZ!!!” hysteria makes me facepalm hard. The vast majority of people who harm children are their own relatives, whether it’s sexual abuse, other physical abuse, or neglect. Only 1 in 10 child sexual abusers is a stranger to the child, for example.

  13. As a parent of 14 and 11 year old girls, I’ve seen it all. One mom wouldn’t let her kid play in certain parts of their OWN yard because her view of the kid was obstructed. I’ve seen moms freak out when any white van drives by despite the fact we’re at a school ball game and there’s literally like 100 witnesses and nothing like a daylight abduction has every occurred in our little part of suburbia, like ever. I also know of more than one kid over 10 that doesn’t know how to ride a bike. Because, you know, the horrors of letting your kid out of your sight for even a minute. HE COULD BE ABDUCTED!! PREDATORS AROUND EVERY CORNER!!

    Telling these parents about crime stats and how are kids have never been safer completely falls on deaf ears. Does not compute. It’s a difficult groupthink phenomenon that’s been hard to overcome. I even get this shit from my own mother who admits to drinking and smoking during her pregnancy with me in the late 60s and always let me out “until the street lights came on” during my childhood in the 70s, when crime was much worse and rising at the time. Even she has the “its never been worse” attitude.

    I’ll definitely check out the show and have my kids check it out, too.

    1. hell, when I was 11, (that would be late 70’s), I was hopping on the city bus and going downtown all day on weekends. And I lived in SoCal. My parents had no idea where I was at all. I knew the bus routes and had cash (from delivering newspapers – on a bike at 4am every morning) so I went around doing about anything I wanted.

      Sad what we have become.

      1. I too rose at 4AM or so to toss newspapers around the neighborhood. I used the money to spend frivolously on things like pinball at the arcade several miles away, to which I rode my bike with my friends. Now when I leave for work in the morning I drive by the school bus stop at the end of my block, full of helicopter parents who have driven their preciouses to the bus stop and now wait for the bus so they can make sure they safely enter the scary yellow machine. And one guy from a couple of blocks away who takes the cake as he carries his (I’m guessing) 8+ year old son to the bus stop. Give the little feller a few extra minutes of sleep, I guess. Got a hard day ahead. Lenore Skenazy is an American treasure.

  14. I wish the TV wouldn’t call Skenazy a “Parenting Expert.” Just call her a mother and public intellectual whose focus is on getting past helicopter parenting.

    Even “public intellectual” sounds too la-di-da, but at least it captures the nuances better than suggesting she has some sort of degree in Non-Retarded Parenting.

    1. Personally, I think we should revive the term “publicist” to refer, not to a PR flack, but to someone who spends their time writing and speaking about public issues without having an institutional affiliation.

  15. When I moved to a free area, I still remember the first fall where the kids from around the corner were walking down the road with long guns – one with a .22 and one with a 20 gauge. No schools, movie theaters, or newspapers were shot.

  16. When did this begin? July 27, 1981 Adam Walsh.

    1. Ding ding ding. I’ve always been conflicted about John Walsh and his TV show. He’s done yeoman work highlighting cold or ignored cases and getting the perps caught, but on the other hand he almost singlehandedly created the stranger-danger hysteria.

  17. my neighbor’s ex-wife makes $62 every hour on the computer . She has been out of work for five months but last month her paycheck was $18411 just working on the computer for a few hours. try this site……..

  18. Haha, wow – this is actually in my city in Ontario Canada! I recognize the Community Centre and the bus route that the kid takes.


  19. $89 an hour! Seriously I don’t know why more people haven’t tried this, I work two shifts, 2 hours in the day and 2 in the evening?And i get surly a chek of $1260……0 whats awesome is Im working from home so I get more time with my kids.
    Here is what i did

  20. Did she convince them to make them walk at the grocery store instead of letting them ride in the cart?

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