Parenting Advice From ‘America’s Worst Mom’

Helicopter parenting? Lenore Skenazy, America’s worst mom for sending her 9-year-old by the subway alone? Overprotective parents tend to shield their children. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend. ‘‘Students are prepared academically, but they’re not prepared to deal with day-to-day life, which comes from a lack of opportunity to deal with ordinary problems,’’ Dr. Gray said. Ms. Skenazy, screened by Discovery Life Channel, tries to give parents the confidence to loosen the reins on their kids, and give the kids the wings they need. 

Read an excerpt of the article written by JANE E. BRODY:

Lenore Skenazy, a New York City mother of two, earned the sobriquet ‘‘America’s Worst Mom’’ after reporting in a newspaper column that she’d allowed her younger son, then 9, to ride the subway alone. The damning criticism she endured, including a threat of arrest for child endangerment, intensified her desire to encourage anxious parents to give their children the freedom they need to develop the self-confidence and resilience to cope effectively with life’s challenges. One result was the publication in 2009 of her book ‘‘Free Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).’’ A second result is the Free Range Kids Project and a 13-part series, starting on Thursday on the Discovery Life Channel, ‘‘World’s Worst Mom’’ In it, Ms. Skenazy, to whom the title applies, intervenes to rescue bubble-wrapped kids from their overprotective parents by guiding the children safely through a sequence of once-forbidden activities and showing their anxious parents how well the children perform and how proud they are of what they accomplished. The term ‘‘helicopter parents’’ applies to far more than those who hover relentlessly over their children’s academic and musical development. As depicted in the series’ first episode, it applies to 10-year-old Sam’s very loving mother who wouldn’t let him ride a bike (‘‘she’s afraid I’ll fall and get hurt’’), cut up his own meat (‘‘Mom thinks I’ll cut my fingers off’’), or play ‘‘rough sports’’ like skating. The plea from a stressed-out, thwarted Sam: ‘‘I just want to do things by myself.’’ In an interview, Ms. Skenazy said, ‘‘Having been brainwashed by all the stories we hear, there’s a prevailing fear that any time you’re not directly supervising your child, you’re putting the child in danger.’’ The widespread publicity now given to crimes has created an exaggerated fear of the dangers children face if left to navigate and play on their own. Yet, according to Peter Gray, a research psychologist at Boston College, ‘‘the actual rate of strangers’ abducting or molesting children is very small.’’ ‘‘It’s more likely to happen at the hands of a relative or family friend,’’ Dr. Gray said. ‘‘The statistics show no increase in childhood dangers. If anything, there’s been a decrease.’’ Experts say there is no more crime against children by strangers today — and probably significantly less — than when I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, a time when I walked to school alone and played outdoors with friends unsupervised by adults. In 1979 when my own sons were offered the opportunity to attend private school to escape their crime-ridden public middle school, they said, ‘‘What would we learn about life in private school?’’ So they stuck out those three years and emerged street smart and confident in their ability to cope, lessons far more valuable than any they might have acquired in a safer school. ‘‘The world is not perfect — it never was — but we used to trust our children in it, and they learned to be resourceful,’’ Ms. Skenazy said. ‘‘The message these anxious parents are giving to their children is ‘I love you, but I don’t believe in you. I don’t believe you’re as competent as I am.’’’ ...Read more