Less Hovering, More Exercise

Thursday, July 24, 2014

How much time did you spend outside when you were a kid? (Aleph Studio/Shutterstock)

Recently, a mother was jailed for leaving her kid unsupervised in a park, sparking a fierce debate about the responsibility of parents (who may not have a child care option available). Lenore Skenazy, author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, has long argued for greater independence and unsupervised outdoor play for children. She makes her case.


Lenore Skenazy

Comments [57]

Rick V from Livingston NJ

How about if the lady who called the police would have spoken to the mother and learn her situation, then offered to supervise her child, let her have play dates with her kids and helped out this single working mom??? It take a village to raise a child, not social services.

Aug. 04 2014 11:29 AM
Art Vanderlay from Jersey City NJ

The cops and the department on this case are idiots - I was riding my bike all around Bayonne and Jersey City NJ all day when I was 7 years old - I'd be doing errands, making my own way to and from school, visiting friends and yes, even meeting up at the local playground - Haven't these dumb-ass cops watched shows like the Wonder Years or the Brady Bunch !

The pedophile reasoning is crap, as listed sex offenders are not allowed to reside near or frequent a park or school.

The State, City and cops should been made accountable for creating an atmosphere of fear by their failings and suggesting its the mothers fault - The fault is with the Justice System and how cops manage listed sex offenders.

Jul. 30 2014 11:31 AM
somerset county, NJ

"Suburbs can be changed to make it possible for kids/people to walk around and play."

Out of which budget?

Our town (average house value $700K) just voted down the town library in the name of Fiscal Responsibility.

Jul. 24 2014 05:15 PM
Hello? Hello?

Sorry but we have invested $1-$2 million per child we are locking them down till 30.

Jul. 24 2014 05:12 PM

re: your question: it depends who is the parent.

If the 8 year old is the parent, just do what he says. Or vice Versa when you strap on your cojones even though I suspect this question is a joke.

Jul. 24 2014 05:03 PM

...After reading so many comments about how dangerous it is to raise a child in a city, I'm wondering if children should be allowed to grow up in urban or any unsafe environments. Perhaps we should insist that all children be raised in completely child safe communities (bubbles), where there are no cars, no pets, no germs, nothing sharp, no stairs, no furniture or appliances, no tubs or pools, no contact sports, no bullies, no guns, no bad adults. Maybe we should raise them in padded rooms, strapped down so they can't injure themselves... Of course I'm being a brat here, but the truth is that we should not let the obsessive fears of the overprotective rule our lives and our caretaking decisions.

Race and poverty are a problem in the wrong environment. But, when my children grew up in rural poverty, I never had a problem with letting them "free range."

The real problem is that we have become a paranoid, overfearful society instead of being "the land of the free and the home of the brave." While we claim to be a child loving society, the US will not even try to provide safe childcare for ALL children, whether their parents are poor, middleclass or rich. Heaven forbid we do such a socialistic thing!

Jul. 24 2014 01:39 PM

To Tina in Queens - I would not trust what anyone says at 311. The reps there are all clueless, if you can find someone who can understand your question.

Jul. 24 2014 01:32 PM
Farrah from East Village

What is the law in NYC about letting your kids be alone outside? What is the minimum age?

Jul. 24 2014 01:31 PM
Dave from Nj

So here's my problem. We (me and my two kids age 8 & 10) are in the car. The 10 yr old has to go to the bathroom, but the 8 yr old wants to stay in the car and watch DVDs. We pass a McDonalds and pull into the parking lot. Do I let the 10 yr old go into McDonalds ( not in our neighborhood) by herself and stay in the car with the 8 yr old, or do I go into McDonalds and leave the 8 yr old alone in the car with the windows down but the vehicle locked?

Jul. 24 2014 01:29 PM

The guest lost any credibility in her non-answer about race and class in this situation, exacerbated by her irritating frequent laughing. Anyone who lives in other than middle-class or upper-middle class comfort cannot readily grasp the dangers of living in areas of less wealth. For some young girls, getting from the front door to the apartment is a dangerous journey, avoiding rapists under the stairs. Mr. Lehrer, you are an outstanding interviewer, but I do think you missed opportunities to challenge bourgeois complacency in your guest.

Jul. 24 2014 12:37 PM

The guest lost any credibility in her non-answer about race and class in this situation, exacerbated by her irritating frequent laughing. Anyone who lives in other than middle-class or upper-middle class comfort cannot readily grasp the dangers of living in areas of less wealth. For some young girls, getting from the front door to the apartment is a dangerous journey, avoiding rapists under the stairs. Mr. Lehrer, you are an outstanding interviewer, but I do think you missed opportunities to challenge bourgeois complacency in your guest.

Jul. 24 2014 12:36 PM
RP from Harlem

This was a very simplistic discussion and I am very disappointed in Brian's soft touch here. There are several things that were ignored: principally race and class. The mother who left her mother in the park was African American and there was no acknowledgement of the inequities in the criminal justice system which influenced the police to see her as negligent. Simultaneously there are also statistics about the lack of police response and media coverage of the abduction of children of color vs. white children. There are also major safety issues in some communities where there is high crime, and often fewer outdoor spaces. These are two examples of why a parent might not want their kids to travel unaccompanied. The author has a luxury of privilege and is speaking from this perspective, which was woefully unchallenged by the host. Whose "free range kids" is she talking about?

Jul. 24 2014 11:36 AM
Farrah from East Village

What is the law in NYC about letting your kids be alone outside? What is the minimum age?

Jul. 24 2014 11:35 AM
Adrienne from NYC

It's refreshing to hear Lenore's commonsense approach to parenting. Worst-case scenarios just scare the hell out of everyone. The trend toward criminalizing reasonable behavior scares me. If only the busybody (so-called concerned) neighbors showed the same interest in safety and supervision by perhaps offering to help look after younger children when they can. How about banding together for the greater good? That would be neighborly.

And for Ed from Larchmont and his off-topic comment about abortion, here are some facts from a recent USA Today article:

"Abortions have been dropping slightly over much of the past decade. But before this latest report, they seemed to have leveled off. The new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that both the number and rate of abortions fell 5% in 2009, the most recent statistics available from most states."

Jul. 24 2014 11:31 AM
Joe from nearby

If I saw a small child alone in a park I would be concerned. I wouldn't be concerned about an older child though.
The child in this case was 9- some 9 y.o's are small, some are bigger, so it really depends on the circumstances. Some children need to be protected, even unfortunately, from their own relatives.
I can't blame the mom who called the police for being concerned- however, once the police learned all the circumstances (i.e. that the child's mom was nearby & could see) they should have let it go.
They really made a mountain out of a molehill with this one.

Jul. 24 2014 11:30 AM
Amy from Manhattan

You may *think* you'll be back in 10 minutes, & most of the time you may be, but there's always the time when whatever you went to do takes longer, sometimes a lot longer. And it doesn't take "all day" for a child to die in a overheated car--it can happen in several hours, & short of that, there can be effects on the child's nervous system.

Jul. 24 2014 11:20 AM
Howard from the Bronx

Is this another way to control women?

Jul. 24 2014 11:19 AM

But might the paranoia and fear mongering of today somehow affect reality?

Jul. 24 2014 11:18 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

We are also paranoid about germs! Note the over use of the antibacterial soap.

And people throw out perfectly good food, because the sell-by date is passed.

We have become a pathetically, scared society, afraid of our own shadows!

Jul. 24 2014 11:18 AM
Tina from Queens

I called 311 when my twin boys turned 12 to ask if it is legal to leave them alone in the house. Aslo asked her WHAT is the legal age in NY?
Her answer: There is no legal age. As long as the parent feels they are responsible and self sufficient and not afraid to be alone, than is ok to leave them alone in the home.
I did not ask the question about outdoors.

Jul. 24 2014 11:17 AM
patti from Paterson

It is now illegal in NJ to leave any minor (anyone under the age of 18) in the car alone.

This was communicated to us in a mandated reported training session for work.

Jul. 24 2014 11:17 AM
Ed from Larchmont

The crime rate is down - unless you count abortions, in which case it is way up.
Our children are safer now - once they are born.
If criminals come into the U.S. over the border, it will be less safe in N.Y.C. also.

Jul. 24 2014 11:16 AM
Kate Steinberg from Park Slope

We live in Brooklyn.
It's very hard to ignore and forget the reality of Etan Paitz, and very recently, the orthodox Jewish boy who was lured away by a stranger on his way to (or from?) and killed in the past month. My 13-year-old free-ranges in Park Slope. My 10-year old walks to school by herself, and believe me, I'm nervous about it. She's required to text us immediately upon arriving at school. I've given her strict instructions that if a man she doesn't know comes anywhere near her, RUN AND SHOUT for the police.
Would I sit and read a book while my 10-year-old daughter played in a playground? Sure. Would I leave her there with a friend while I ran across the street for a coffee, sure. Would I drop her off there for hours, no. Last year, there was a man caught for fondling several pre-teen girls in Nice Park Slope.
I grew up in small town on LI, where we didn't lock our backdoor, and of course we free-ranged. Can't be compared to living in NYC.

Jul. 24 2014 11:16 AM
Joelle from NYC

If you grew up after Etan Patz the world was FOREVER changed. Irrational or not...

Jul. 24 2014 11:16 AM
CB from Manhattan

I was taking public transport as a child at 6. That may be an extreme example, but it's easy to judge single mothers who can't afford child care. In many other countries child care is significantly more subsidized where needed.

AND, if we're worried about safety, how about gun control? What are the stats on kids getting killed at home through gun accidents versus kids getting abducted annually?

Jul. 24 2014 11:15 AM
CR from Manhattan

We have lots of laws that criminalize potential to do harm, not just child abuse/abandonment. These are frequently enforced with full affect on the first offense (whereas other offenders, with real crimes and victims receive leniency after several offenses and/or with mitigating circumstances).

Using the "these laws are wrong because they criminalize potential" as a defense of "free ranging" is a specious argument.

Jul. 24 2014 11:15 AM

I grew up in the 80s-90s in Long Island suburb. I had friends in the neighborhood, which I made on my own, not through play dates. We roamed our neighborhood and town independently. Rode bikes, went to the playground, played in the street, even in the rain. The rule was to be home before the sun set. I was taught safety and to not go anywhere with strangers. We had a family password in case anyone ever approached us with a story about our parents sending them to get us.

Jul. 24 2014 11:15 AM
Richard from Levittown

Grew up in the 30's and 40's, last of 12 children. Ranged far and wide, so much so that my mother used to say "you are street crazy." Lived in Brooklyn. Several major differences- there was a sense of community in Brooklyn at that time. We all knew our neighbors, they knew us. If my grandchildren were to follow my path it would terrorizing. The crime scene was totally different in the depression and WW2, people actually watched over other people's children. There was in the mid-30's a robbery of a favorite ice cream parlor, the owner was shot and killed, the entire community came to mourn and support. Guess time changes things, eh?

Jul. 24 2014 11:14 AM
Laura from Jackson heights

I am from Jackson heights, where Lenore Skenazy lives, I believe. I am totally with her on that there should not be a problem with leaving a kid in a playground. I have an idea for ending the arrests-- if parents band together a little, when there is such an incident of police being called to pick up a kid who is playing alone, parnets could decide to step in and say "I am with that kid". That is ambiguous enough so that the parent does not run a huge legal risk, but might make the police go way and not take the kid into custody or arrest the parent. Of course, if you as the parent think the kid is too young to be alone or emotionally disturbed or something... it would be up to your discretion to step in in that way. But I would have no problem leaving mty nione year old in our local park (Travers) in daylight. I would appreciate it if another parent derailed a potential police intervention and I would be happy to do it for another family. I would love comments on this idea. We have to bond togteher as communities of reasonable parents

Jul. 24 2014 11:13 AM
Tom in DC from DC

Driving your car is the single most dangerous activity you & your child will do in your lives. Statistically, you are most likely to get injured or die in a car collision. Yet children are driven in a car. If these busy-bodies were so concerned, they should call social services every time someone drives their kid anywhere.

Jul. 24 2014 11:12 AM
Patti from Paterson

While what the guest is saying is dead on, how do we live this out? I struggle every day w/ wanting to encourage independence for my boys (8,9,11), but the fear of legal recourse is very real. I'd actually say that the parents are more likely to have social services called on them for letting their children ride their bikes through the neighborhood or let them walk to school, than we are to have anything happen to our children.

That being said, I live in a city where children are left to hang in the streets all the time.

Jul. 24 2014 11:12 AM
Susan in the burbs from Westchester

Let these kids live their lives...this society is absolutely crazy! I know kids who are literally paralyzed by fear.

Jul. 24 2014 11:12 AM
MattP from NYC

I walked to school alone from the second grade on at a time, 1962, when the crime rate was much higher than today. Now, even though many of the children at my girls' school live closer, parents wouldn't dream to allow a second grader to walk to school alone. I think we breed fear and insecurity in our children when we keep them cloistered and under our constant supervision.

Childhood is about experimentation and learning what is right and what is wrong, what is safe and what is not.

Jul. 24 2014 11:11 AM
Frances Silbey from New York City

My children went to private schools in Manhattan in the late 80's and 90's. There was no private bus service after 4th grade (at approximately age 9)and they took public transportation there after(buses until high school and then subways). Either I or my husband went with them the first few days, after that they went alone as did their friends (including the wealthy, the middle class and the less financially advantaged).

Jul. 24 2014 11:10 AM
MC from LIC

Letting kids roam free is a great idea in principle. But this argument sounds a bit smug and pretty bourgeoisie when the author ignores the structural and racial issues that play into the way children and families are policed by authorities in our neighborhoods. Let's address that issue of personal freedom.

Jul. 24 2014 11:10 AM
Ginzberg from Pittsburgh

It is rather negligent to leave young children alone at a playground, just from the perspective of injury. If they get hurt, whose responsibility is it to care for them or call for help? The other caregivers that are there watching their own children? Seems like an unfair burden to foist on others.

Jul. 24 2014 11:09 AM

We were sent out the door and told not to return before dinner. We had miles of forest behind our house and built tree houses. We didn't have cell phones then so if you got into trouble you had to work it out with the other kids.

We spent years looking for the lost water hole which we finally found and jumped into it. Of course one of use broke a toe and we had to help her home. My sister almost drowned in the pool when the moms were drinking their afternoon gin and tonics, but the kid next door fished her out. We were absolutely was completely unsupervised. I also walked to school starting at age six.

My son actually demanded more range earlier than most kids. He showed he was responsible so I allowed him to start walking home on his own in fourth grade. In his first year in middle school he and his friends pooled their money and took a taxi to Times Square for lunch. Since he made it back in time I told him he had to let me know if he was taking a taxi.

He's a very secure kid and very street smart.

Jul. 24 2014 11:09 AM
Ginzberg from Pittsburgh

It is rather negligent to leave young children alone at a playground, just from the perspective of injury. If they get hurt, whose responsibility is it to care for them or call for help? The other caregivers that are there watching their own children? Seems like an unfair burden to foist on others.

Jul. 24 2014 11:08 AM

Most playground injuries happen at school, most child abductions are perpetrated by family members. A child is far more likely to be injured or killed in a car than to be snatched by a stranger. Should parents refuse to let their child go to school, have visitation with the non-custodial spouse or be transported in a motor vehicle?

This type of fear mongering has created helicopter parenting and robbed children of valuable playtime.

Jul. 24 2014 11:08 AM
shanthy from Long Island

Having been a "free range kid" I'm having mixed feelings about having my 10 year old ride to the park and town pool unsupervised. Im happy that he's gaining his independence, and of course will continue to worry. I find I'm in the minority to let him get around town (Long Island suburb) on his own. He has a cell phone and knows to text me when he's arrived to his destination. When he didn't do this the other day, I hopped in the car and drove to where I knew his bike would be parked.

Jul. 24 2014 11:07 AM
Sara from Brooklyn

Well, the don't talk the strangers adage has a no new angle now...

Jul. 24 2014 11:05 AM
Amy from Manhattan

What was the actual content of the law under which the mother was arrested? There *are* child endangerment laws that don't depend on whether anything actually happens to the child. (But I agree that jailing her & taking her daughter away was excessive!)

Jul. 24 2014 11:04 AM
Gregory from Bronx

Hi I am 45 years.
By seven years old I was biking all around the neighborhood all day, or out sledding all day in the park, etc etc etc, and yes no cell phone back then.

Jul. 24 2014 11:04 AM
Irene from Brooklyn

The most shocking aspect of this story to me is that another low-income mother is being criminalized for not having the money for childcare. I agree with the guest that childcare may not be a necessity in this case, and children don't need to be so 'hovered over,' but if this were a middle class mother, I doubt that she would be under arrest.

Jul. 24 2014 11:04 AM

Brian, as kids in the Boston area we went out at 8 in the morning and returned home when we were hungry.

Jul. 24 2014 11:03 AM
Hillary from Brooklyn

Can you ask the guest what the actual crime was that the mother was charged with?

Jul. 24 2014 11:03 AM
Karen from NYC

Our son wasn't allowed outside of our West Side apartment alone until age 11. He is 25 and not obese. Yet this Mom sounds fine - my sister and I went to our Carroll Gardens Park without adults beginning when I was age 10 - I was the caretaker - and she was 6. Hundreds of kids. Lots of grown-ups. We didn't even have cell phones.

That was Brooklyn in the 1960s, not Manhattan in the early 90s. Depending on the circumstances. I think kids can be allowed out on there own starting at age 9 or so - as long as they understand the "no talking to strangers" rules.

Jul. 24 2014 11:03 AM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

Yes, working a legal job for so little, you cannot afford daycare, selling "food" that can kill you - very legal.

Leaving a 9 year old in a park for a few hours - jailed and arrested.

Jul. 24 2014 11:03 AM

The idea that this child was "safer" in foster care than with her hard working mother is just insane.

Jul. 24 2014 11:02 AM
TonyJ from Downtown

We are a nation living in fear--- of EVERYTHING!
And we are returning to the days of Winston-Salem....

Jul. 24 2014 11:02 AM
Larry from Brooklyn

I see the results of all this hovering in my students (who are in college). They are anxious about being given any responsibility and cannot work independently. They constantly ask for help for the smallest of issues, call their parents frequently to handle day-to-day hassles, are frequently "bored", and generally helpless. Criticism of their work often brings tears to eyes. Higher body weight is the least of their problems.

Jul. 24 2014 11:02 AM
pina78 from South Plainfield

This is very disturbing. What its wrong with society this days.... I feel sorry for kids this days....

Jul. 24 2014 11:02 AM
Nick from UWS

There is no law in any book that says it is illegal to let a kid play unsupervised in a park. This is illegal arrest and possible kidnapping on the part of the authorities and should be prosecuted.

Jul. 24 2014 11:01 AM
Beth from Brooklyn, NY

I feel your diMelissa McCarthy, of, articulated my thoughts better than ever I could, so I will leave a link to her article and a brief quote from it.

"There are children sexually abused in daycare, or by babysitters. Even when those babysitters are family members. There are children sexually abused by their own parents. It's simply not realistic, at all, to assume that Debra Harrell's daughter was in more danger because she was playing in a public park than if she'd been in the care of another adult.
All reason gets tossed aside like rubbish in discussions of child safety, but the truth is that the best way to make kids genuinely unsafe is to make sure they can't trust adults if or when they are in actual danger."

Jul. 24 2014 11:01 AM

Lenore is 1000000000000% correct.

Jul. 24 2014 11:00 AM
Rich from Teaneck

I worked in a bookstore in the mall and working parents dropped off their kids in the children's section every day.
We were sympathetic and asked parents to make other plans but we feared for the kids safety and threatened to call the police.

Jul. 24 2014 10:58 AM
KL from NJ

I was born in 1952 in a family of six children. My mother was a big believer in free range outdoor play. We were given a general sense of how far we could range,e.g. not past this street or that street. It was about one half mile square. My mother would lock us out of the house so she could have some peace and if we needed to use a bathroom or talk to an adult, we would need to go to a friends house. We would be put out after lunch and not allowed back until dinner time.

Jul. 24 2014 10:38 AM

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