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the show provides ample evidence that Skenazy's message is correct and spreading, government policy remains hopelessly outdated.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.