Some parents might think it sounds crazy to send their nine-year-old to ride the Subway alone in New York City. But Lenore Skenazy, once dubbed the “worst mom in America” dared to trust her son and give him independence. She armed him with all the information and supplies he needed and not only did he get home safely, this incident also helped spark a movement that encourages parents to give their children more independence.
- Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone
- Free-Range Kids, How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
Connor: Hey, Brittany.
Brittany: Hi Connor.
Connor: Today we’re talking about this weird concept called Free Range Parenting, or as our parents and grandparents called it Parenting.
Brittany: Let’s say, or Childhood.
Connor: Yeah. This, used to be how typical parenting was, but today it’s so unique that we have to give it a name. And you know, that name is Free Range Parenting. I mean, once upon a time for all you kids listening out there, the way summertime would work or even coming home from school, right? Parents would leave for the day, maybe they’re going to work, they’re running errands, kids would go outside, they’d play, you know, unsupervised all day. Come, home when the, you know, sun goes down. Or for me, it was like when the street lights turn on, right? It was always 6:00 PM and, then it’s time for dinner. And, you know, these kids didn’t have constant supervision. And so they’re learning a lot about the real world, about conflict resolution. We talked on a previous episode about bullying, for example. And so, you know, you’re not at home. There’s no adults to tell. You gotta deal with things with other people. there’s no authority figures. They learn how to take risk. You know, how to get up when you stumble, and how to, you know, overcome challenges. today this isn’t the case as much. There are so many, you know, rules and like cultural things and things in our culture that prevent parents or encourage parents not to let their kids be independent. But as a result of this kind of new trend, there’s, I guess I’ll call it a movement of parenting. There’s a lot of parents out there who are doing what they call free-range parenting, which is very important to child development. And, it’s just what we describe. It’s giving your kids enough independence, letting them walk to the store by themselves, or playing the park for a few hours by themselves. Go run around the neighborhood. And I kind of feel Britney, like this is very interesting. If you look at the data, if you look at statistics, we, it’s never been safer to be kids, right? there’s less kidnapping, there’s less violence, there’s less.
Brittany: You can track your kids with a cell phone. I mean, you kind of know where they are at all time.
Connor: Totally. There’s less you know, accidents on the road of someone hitting a pedestrian, which is someone walking across the street like the numbers look better than they did decades ago when we were all kids. And so it’s never been safer to be a kid. And yet, I think because of social media, a lot of parents will see bad news stories about this, you know, happening or that happening. And so there’s this idea that it’s dangerous and oh, I gotta, I have to be a helicopter parent. In other words, I have to like hover over my child and make sure not they don’t get any booboos, you know, and things like that. Except, that’s exactly the opposite of the world that we live in. And so I, think kind of social media’s delay, we’re, we’re gonna get in and talk a bit about this, but you know, it’s so crucial for kids to be able to thrive and learn from their own mistakes and challenges, to not have the parents hovering all the time to give those kids the independence. And so, you know, this, seems to like shock a lot of, people. But before it used to be like commonplace. It’s just the way it was.
Brittany: Yeah. And not only is it shocking parents, I mean, we talked about Karens and people call the police nowadays. I know there was one parent that got arrested cuz she sent her kids down the street to the park unsupervised. Yep. And it’s like, okay, I understand it. I understand to some extent being worried, but these kids knew what they were doing. They knew how to cross the street. The parent wasn’t just like, Hey, go figure it out. You know? And, it reminds me of someone else. And that’s one mom, Lenore Skanezy, did I say that right? Skanazy?
Connor: I think it’s Skenazy.
Brittany: Skenazy. Okay. Lenore Skei. And she actually earned the title of Worst Mom in America in 2008 because she let her nine-year-old ride the subway alone. And sure, that might not be safe for every kid there probably some kids. I honestly probably would not have been able to do that because I had helicopter parents and they didn’t let me do anything on my own. So I was very ill-prepared for the world. But this was not the case here. Lenore’s son had actually begged his mother to let him, to leave him alone somewhere in public and let him find his way back home. Like that was something he was obsessed with. You wanted to do it. So one day she’s like, all right, here you go. Here’s a subway map, here’s a metro card so you can get, you know, on and off the metro or the subway, a $20 bill in case something happens. And several quarters to make a call. Back in the day, we had pay phones, those don’t really exist anymore. and while there was some worry on her end, I, think she even admitted in her article, it’s not like she was not a little bit nervous, but she prepared her son for what he needed to know to get home. And not only did he make it home safely, but he was invigorated with all this new independence and he was so proud of himself. And that was kind of the beginning of the official free-range parent movement. but of course, that did not mean she was not met with criticism. Some parents were really, really angry reading her article. They were calling her actions abuse. They were insisting, you know, the cops should have been called. So a lot of controversial opinions on this.
Connor: Yeah, I think, exactly what you just say is right. And a lot of parents, I’ve talked to, at this point, probably a couple of hundred parents about free-range parenting. I’ll mention in a minute a bit more about that. But in talking to these parents who want to provide their children the same, independence, the same type of childhood that they had, what we now call free-range parenting, they’re scared. They’re scared. And why are they scared? These, parents that I’m thinking of, they’re not scared because of anything that might happen to their children just on their own. They are scared of other people in the neighborhood calling the cops and saying, Hey, there’s kids, you know, they look unsafe. And having the cops come and pick the kids up and interview the kids and take them to the police station and file.
Brittany: Possibly take them away from their parents, right at this point.
Connor: Right. Calling, you know, child Protective Services, which is like the part of government that takes kids away if they think it’s unsafe, charging the parents with neglect, Hey, you’re a bad parent, you’re being neglectful. Like, parents are terrified. And, it’s in that kinda like, I’m sorry for all the people named Karen out there, it’s so important to me, this is how things ended up. But it’s now kind of the, the nickname of choice for this, right? These, Karens who are like tattle tailing on other people. Oh, you’re doing something wrong and I I don’t approve, therefore I’m gonna get you in trouble. It’s almost like a mini cancel culture of parenting. right? Like, I’m gonna cancel you as a parent because I don’t like what you’re, the way you’re raising your children. And so these parents who want to be more free and open and give their kids independence are, a lot of them are terrified of what will happen to their kids. And so they, don’t do it. They don’t put their kids and their family at risk because they don’t know what nosy neighbor is gonna call the cops. When they see kids go walking down the street of a, you know, big road going to the store by themselves or even like left in a car, you know, like, Tesla on their cars. They even have like, you know, they have like a dog mode or something they call it, right? Where like up on the screen in really big print it, says, I am okay, the air conditioning is on. My owner will be right back. Just because they’re worried about people breaking down windows.
Brittany: You dont do that. Yeah.
Connor: I gotta come to the rescue. Something is wrong here. Even if people are being responsible. So I, know a lot of parents who are terrified. Now, why have I talked to a lot of these parents? Well, in our state of Utah, a lot of our listeners know that I run a what’s called a think tank, which is an organization that works on changing the laws. And so we actually got the law changed in Utah a couple years ago to have Utah become the first state in the whole country to quote legalize free range parenting. And so what our law basically says is, Hey, mom and dad, if you’re just letting your kids go to the store or play at the park or do any of these kind of reasonable activities, it’s not neglect. In other words, you’re not gonna have your kids taken from you. You can’t be arrested. They can’t accuse you of being a neglectful parent, which is typically what happens when someone gets in trouble. And, these stories sadly happen all over the country
Brittany: All the time. Yeah. And they’re happen to use all the time.
Connor: In fact, Lenore, who you mentioned is a journalist. She’s, a writer. And so because she kind of became the person in the country to kind of lead this new movement, she hears about these stories all the time. And so she’ll write articles, will link to some of them on the show notes page, Tuttletwins.com/podcast. And so we’ll link to a couple of the stories that Lenore has written up where she’s sharing stories across the country about parents getting in trouble with the government just cuz they’re letting their kids like play at the park or whatever. Yeah, yeah. There was one story, some kids were just playing basketball in their front driveway for a couple of hours and the cops showed up like literally in their own driveway, ridiculous because someone was worried that the parents weren’t home. And I think in fact the parents weren’t home in that case, if I remember right. But big deal, like it’s their house, they can come and go and, and they can self-manage. Okay. So Lenore has written a lot of these and it’s just, it’s an unfortunate trend because here we are in the so-called land of the free, and parents are getting in trouble for parenting their children in the same way that they themselves were parented. And you might say, well, but it’s more dangerous like, sure if the world were legitimately more dangerous today, you might be able to make an argument and say, oh, well it worked back then, but today things are worse. So that’s not appropriate. But the exact opposite is true. Yeah. It’s never been safer for kids. And so if anything, we should have way more quote unquote free range parenting.
Brittany: I agree. And I also, and I always use myself as a cautionary tale, so as I said, I, grew up with helicopter parents. We were not allowed to do anything. We could not go in our front yard. We could not go in our backyard without supervision. I was not allowed to do anything without my mother being there hovering over. And that was really detrimental to me. I am about to turn 35, Connor and I actually have the same birthday. so our birthday is coming up, but, I am 35 now and I think it took me 30 years to learn things I could have learned as a kid if I had the free-range parenting because there was so much about the world that when I graduated high school and I was kind of kicked out of the nest, you know, to go to college, I didn’t know what I was doing. Like I did not know how to do anything, go grocery shopping. I didn’t know how to be on my own. And so I know that if I do ever have kids, like free range parenting to me seems the way to go. And even though it might be a little nerve-wracking, you don’t know if your kids are going to, you know, meet every challenge, you know, they’re probably gonna mess up a little, but I’m not saying they’re going to get kidnapped or anything, as we talked about, the world is safer, but I think you need to trust your kids to take risks. And my parents didn’t trust us to take risks and I think that that had negative consequences.
Connor: What’s interesting too, you mentioned, you know, being able to track kids and stuff, and my son, when he was a bit younger, was very nervous to be left alone, I guess, separation anxiety kinda a term for it. And so being left alone even for a bit and things like that, it was a challenge for him. And then of course for, my younger daughter, but that’s mostly because she was, you know, younger and so not quite, old enough or mature enough to handle, you know, being alone in a different part of the house or things like that. And things completely changed, for our family, for my son in particular when we got what are called Gizmo watches, and I think Verizon makes these, there may be other carriers, but, ours are Verizon and they, these things are amazing. They’re, functional phones. They’re basically wa think of like an Apple watch, but for kids. And so there’s a couple little silly games, there’s alarms, but it’s a phone and we get to control on an app who they get to call so they can’t call just anyone. Yeah. And they can’t get calls. And so we can say, here’s mom and dad and grandma and grandpa, stuff like that. And those are the approved numbers. They can also send messages back and forth, but only to the pre-approved people. There’s no like pictures and anything like that. So really safe for kids. But what’s great is you can call, you can text and it’s got GPS. And so all of a sudden my son now felt like he was connected to us at any time. And so the world changed. Yeah. He could go, you know, around the block by himself, go to the park, be left alone for half an hour or, you know, things like that because he felt more confident. And, what I like about Lenore’s story, you know, with her kid, I don’t think any kid is just gonna spontaneously be like, Hey, leave me alone on the subway. right? She had been parenting her son in a way where bit by bit he had been gaining more confidence over time to the point where he felt he wanted a new challenge. And then, I’m sure, right? It only continued from there. Hey, how long can mom leave me at home today by myself? Right? Or how long can I stay at a friend’s house without getting nervous or, you know, whatever, how, how far away on a bike ride can I go and find my way back? You kind of push those limits and that’s part of childhood. You’re, testing boundaries, you’re gaining more confidence, more skills, more knowledge, and it was that way with my son and I think that’s why free-range parenting is so important. And Brittany, it sounds like your story is kind of the opposite sound of the opposite warning because it’s a good warning in a way. If we helicopter over our children too much, we’re preventing them from making those milestones. And, Brittany, as I think about kind of the society we live in, there’s a lot of people who I think are under-prepared for adulthood. In fact, there’s now a term for it, right? Adulting. Yeah. Like, hey, I’m adulting today, I did my laundry, right? You know,
Brittany: I have take that bill that I should have paid anyway. Like, it’s like the bare minimum.
Connor: Exactly. We have a word for it when it should, just be like part of life. And yet it’s like, oh look, I’m learning about adulthood. Which in reality we should have been teaching our kids as teenagers and as younger kids and kind of letting them just do that as part of life. So I think there’s some good warnings here and some good opportunities. as I said, make sure to head to the show notes page because we’ll have a couple of the links to, Lenore’s articles and also her book. She wrote a book, unsurprisingly called Free Range Parenting which is kind of a good review of the whole issue and especially for the parents out there. it’s a great review of the issue. You can follow her blog to see a lot of her newer articles. And for the kids out there who want a little bit more independence, maybe push mom and dad to go read the book and you guys can have a conversation about it. and for those interested in, changing the laws, I said Utah in our state became the first law, to do that. And so if you guys have any connections to, elected officials or, anyone like that, that you would want to get that law changed and protect your parental rights, then feel free to reach out to us. find us, on the contact form at Tuttletwins.com. Shoot us an email and I would be happy to personally send you information about the free range law that we got passed cuz we’d love to see other states do that. Until next time, time, Brittany thinks as always, and we’ll talk to you later.
Brittany: Talk to you later.