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FAMILY FORUM: Is the World Safe to Explore?

On perimeters parents set for their children.

Last week and the topic of child safety as utmost importance to parents.

Our first order of duty as parents is to keep our kids safe. There’s a huge industry that preys on parent’s fear factor and why you need to buy every safety instrument on the market.  

Parents battle the unrealistic tendency to want to throw our kids into a bubble. It’s not a question of will the bubble be popped – it’s a question of when. Like us parents, children will have to go out and brave the world and like us, will come back with their fair share of lumps.

Tonight at , author and columnist, Lenore Skenazy will give a free lecture about the topic in her book and blog “Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self Reliant Kids (Without Going Nuts with Worry)” and brings up a most important topic: namely, are we overprotecting our children?

Granted, having a child can be like prescribing a heart attack a day. Building confidence in your children to trust their own instincts and having faith in your parenting skills to know how to best prepare them takes time, trust and lots of faith and prayer!

In “E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial” (1982), a newly single parent is raising three kids (one teenager, two kids 10 and under). The mom is rarely home. One day, 10-year-old Elliot gets sick, and she leaves him home while going to work. Could you imagine? “See ya sport, tissues are on the table, there’s food in the fridge, feel better, gotta go.”

It seemed back in the day, the parents set some ground rules – be home before dark – and let their kids roam free in the streets.

Skenazy, who has been questioned as “America’s Worst Mother” on major television networks, states on her website (http://freerangekids.wordpress.com), “Free-Rangers believe in helmets, car seats, seat belts — safety! We just do NOT believe that every time school age kids go outside, they need a security detail.”

This rings home, for if I leave my kids outside right on my front lawn for a minute so I can go to the bathroom or grab a drink, I’m riddled with fear, panic and waiting for social services to knock on the door, even if my kids are in ear shot.

As children get older and a bit more aware of the world around them, will parents expand the perimeter and send them off to a neighbor’s house by themselves?

Skenazy further states, “Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage.” Does this statement ruffle your feathers?

Is the world a safe place for our children? What is the appropriate range?

Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:21 PM
On the flip side, we can also be the one who judges. Also, there can be moments when it seems right to say something.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:22 PM
I'll ask her tonight, but you rarely if ever get cell phone service in the subway. Cari, it can always get worse, I really hate being the one to say that but it can (ask Officer Tony from last week!) but we need to trust. Trust mainly that in no matter how bad it is, we can manage it, we can deal, we'll be okay.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:24 PM
Wow. peer pressure is great. Your moms probably felt okay in that you guys were together, it wasn't just you on the bus. But even as you get older some people are just afraid of doing things by themselves.
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:25 PM
Cari, that is great that the PRC is offering free baby sitting for the Landmark talk.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Street smarts is a necessary survival skill!! it's something to always teach. Keep an eye out. Know your exits. Don't go down the dark alley way. trust your gut. Have your keys ready. Walk where it's lit and where there's doormen buildings (in NYC).... My dad still to this day will tell me when I go out "have fun, be safe."
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Parks and beaches can use family restrooms.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:30 PM
Looking out for each other's safety is a great thing, it's a positive, like, hey man, your gas tank is open. A simple hey by the way or a STOP! if you're child is running out to the street while you're tying your other kid's shoes I feel is totally appropriate. What's not is the knee jerk "Oh My God How Could You" factor...
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:32 PM
Define "safe".... but I believe (and need to double check) it's actually illegal!
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:35 PM
Wow. Little stollers social club. LOL
Pam Robinson (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:37 PM
My personal feeling is that we've all scared ourselves and each other into overprotecting our children. The stats don't support the fear parents have for their kids walking a couple of blocks to school or going to the playground on their own steam.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:37 PM
The idea of loosening the reigns in Lenore's Book is bringing up another book that's been in the hot seat and that is "The Tiger Mom" by Amy Chau which is on the other extreme side of super strict parenting.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:40 PM
We are definitely conditioned to be ruled by fear and to overthink and overprotect. Paranoia can destroy ya! However, parents who don't are typically typecast as lazy, lax and negligent. It only takes that one instance when you are not there, when you didn't, when you forgot, when you let...
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:44 PM
Every child has their own barometer and as parents we have to gauge when they are ready to take hold of their own reigns and as Adina says "earn their freedom."
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:47 PM
Cynthia, i love the "be safe" comment. Kids also learn what to do when they feel threatened. Run in the other direction, walk into a store, etc.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:49 PM
I'm trying to remember when I began walking home from school by myself, because I did it regularly, and it felt like a million miles!! I think I walked home in Kindergarten by myself! I don't know if I would have allowed myself to do that!! A lot with that I think depends on how far you live from your kid's schools and what roads they need to walk to get there.
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:52 PM
To Pam's point, this scenario can also prolong dependency.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:52 PM
Me too! It stuck with me and I use it now with my kids. Because it means they can go running out into the world so long as they keep their wits about them!
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Adina, what's troublesome is that kids may not recognize what is threatening say if they've been super sheltered, they just may not know what to look out or feel for. And if they are, how to react without their parents there directing them.
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 05:53 PM
Haven't read that book, but I got the impression it was more about parenting and academics?
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:53 PM
I'll say this much, some days I wish I ran a tighter ship!!
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 05:59 PM
Yep. It's like in Finding Nemo, the father suffered from the fear of losing his only son b/c (spoiler alert) he lost his wife and other eggs and now he couldn't let go of Nemo, he held on soooo tightly until they were separated, Nemo was fishnapped and the dad through exploring the entire ocean and finding Dori had to learn to "kill the motor" and trust that "nothing bad is going to happen." Meanwhile, Nemo had to learn how to fend for himself due to his forced separation.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 06:01 PM
True, but the focus of the parenting strategy there is to clamp down on your kids so hard that they can't see anything except the brass ring. No sleepovers, no playdates....
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 06:06 PM
LOL! Paging Officer Tony... please report to the Family Forum!
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 06:08 PM
So true Cari. Back to balance and managing our own fears with what our children are actually capable of handling. Will report back from the event!!
Cheryl Podolsky April 06, 2011 at 06:11 PM
I often worry about how sheltered my children are, even though it is me who is doing the sheltering. I grew up in Brooklyn, walked to school and back every day from a very young age, rode the subway alone from around the age of 10, was a latch-key kid, and ran free in the streets all summer long, well into the night -- but always wanted what I believed was a better life for my future children, by moving to a place like Port. And it truly IS a better life. However, with it has come unanticipated consequences, perhaps greatest of all the lack of independence and street-smarts that naturally develop from a life without constant parental supervision and no need to depend on parents for transportation. At the age of eight or nine, I was lighting entire mats of firecrackers and tossing M-80s like they were peanut shells; meanwhile, my children -- 12 and 14 -- barely know how to even light a match, and only do so under my nervous supervision and when it is deemed appropriate (such as lighting Chanukah candles). My daughter uses the stove regularly, but I'm always concerned she'll get hurt. My son uses it even less, and when he does I'm convinced he'll set himself aflame. But several months ago I took a giant step and permitted my daughter to go on the train to Flushing with a group of her friends. She's done so a number of times since, and has talked about going into the city in the near future. I worry about logistics as much as I worry about her naivity. But the time has come.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 06:22 PM
Cheryl, thanks for sharing this! Everything changes when it's OUR kids. When I was a child I'd kick and scream for more independence and to do things on my own and tell my parents to calm down, I can do this. When you are the one in the driver's seat it's such a different vantage point. The NYC trips are a huge step. I remember going in with my friends as a teenager, it was awesome and scary.
Adina Genn (Editor) April 06, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Cheryl, I know what you mean. Thankfully Flushing is on the Port line, making it easy for teens to enjoy a great experience. As for going into Manhattan on their own, well, there are always cabs until they know their way around.
Cynthia Litman April 06, 2011 at 06:27 PM
On Lenore's website she calls out "Helicopter Parents - who believe their child is so vulnerable — to injury, to teasing, to disease and disappointment — that they have to sort of hover (like a helicopter) over the child, ready to swoop in if anything remotely “bad” happens."
Alexandra Zendrian April 06, 2011 at 06:31 PM
I agree with Cynthia that it is different when it's your kids that you're talking about. So how do you best draw the line between being overprotective and being just a sensible parent?
Cheryl Podolsky April 06, 2011 at 06:52 PM
I guess you have to assess each child on an individual basis, depending on their level of maturity and responsibility, and then have the guts to let them out there, perhaps in stages. It's nervewracking, though! Along with fear for safety, I also worry about the ability to handle money and to not run out of it prematurely. I might be in the minority here (it certainly seems that way from what my kids tell me about their friends and friends' parents), but I don't give my kids a whole lot of money. They get allowance and are supposed to manage that money, whether it means spending it all in one trip on Main Street on a Friday afternoon, or saving it to be able to go somewhere with their friends -- like the mall, or beyond (such as Flushing or the city). Perhaps my expectations about how far that little money will go is unrealistic, but I want them to learn responsibility on any number of levels. I worry about how they will fare in the world beyond Port Washington. But I guess that starts with letting them explore beyond its boundaries without us, with whatever reservations we may have.

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