Free-Range Kids

The World's Worst Mom on America's Frenzy of Fear

Elementary school pick up shouldn't resemble the Fall of Saigon.

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Lenore Skenazy was pacing and ranting in the ballroom of a five-star hotel. Microphone in hand, volume cranked to eleven, the self-proclaimed "world's worst mom" described a nation fraught with predators and razor blades and abductions, in which helpless parents fail to shield their children from a devil's playground of perpetual peril.

"Getting home from school is an amazing ballet these days," said Skenazy, who was speaking at Reason Weekend 2016, the annual donor event put on by the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes Reason magazine and Reason TV. She compared the security theater at elementary schools when parents arrive at three-o'clock to the Fall of Saigon:

The beloved children are over here, waiting for their parents to pick them up. And outside there's somebody with a walkie-talkie… Oliver, your mother is here! They get Oliver, they pick him up, they walk him outside, and they shove him in the car like Obama. Get in! Get in…. Jerry, your mother is here! And they're coming in and they're going on and there's bombs exploding and snipers sniping and helicopters overhead, and it's like COME ON! GET OUT WHILE YOU CAN! GET OUT SAFELY FOR GOD'S SAKE I HOPE YOU MAKE IT!

If Skenazy sounded like a mom off her meds, it's only to mercilessly mock the mindset of the American public. Goaded by self-proclaimed experts, law enforcement run amok, and a hyperbolic news media, America has whipped itself into a frenzy of fear over unlikely threats to our schools and playgrounds. She recounted story after story of kids, parents, and entire communities traumatized by the mass delusion of child endangerment.

"The level of crime is actually lower now than when we were growing up," Skenazy reminded the audience. Indeed, violent crime has plunged to historic lows. But the public, misled by widely reported but statistically rare child abductions and school shootings, have the impression that children are in more danger than ever.

Changing the culture is a long-term project for Skenazy. In addition to her bookher blog, and her writing at Reason.com, she works with schools to emphasize the benefits of replacing fear with freedom. The one-sentence long Free-Range Children's Bill of Rights encapsulates her approach to changing the law: "Our children have the right to some unsupervised time and we have the right to give it to them without getting arrested."

The goal: "Giving parenting back to parents, and childhood back to children."

Produced by Todd Krainin. Shot by Paul Detrick and Krainin.

54 minutes.

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