From the Blog

Book Review: Free Range Kids

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I have been reading. I’ve actually been reading BOOKS. Not just blogs and twitter and the news. I’ve made the decision to  unhook from the news until the election is over. I wonder if the media is just going to get increasingly nuttier every two years during election cycles. And I don’t even have a TV to see the real screaming and hyperventilating and frothing at the mouth. I think we ought to rent a stadium or arena and we pick our leaders through feats of strength and daring, old school Greek style. If the screaming political hacks fall off their chariots, they’re lion food. It would be more civilized than what we have now.

Right. Reading books. I don’t have kids. But we’re newlyweds, and my mom was ready to book a flight to Portland nine months after we got married. We have a lot of friends our age who are either having kids or thinking about it, and invariably, spawning becomes a topic of discussion. We picked up Free Range Kids from the library because we have joked that if we did have kids, they’d be “free range,” even amidst our urban lifestyle.

This book quantifies a lot of the theories we can personally only speculate on, since we don’t have little guppies of our own. You might remember Lenore Skenazy was the mother who let her 9 year old son find his way home on the NY subway by himself. She was dubbed The Worst Mom In America.

She takes apart various assumptions and reinforced myths that have become part of our collective culture. The book was easy to read, with a chatty tone that was on the verge of distracting. I would have liked more statistics and hard data, but I can appreciate that she’s trying to reach parents over the din of “fear media,” the news, the experts, the TV shows, the marketing of products aimed at keeping our fragile little tots “safe.”

As the book points out, the world has not become some wildly dangerous place, despite what many anxious parents assume. Crime has gone DOWN in the past 15 years. Kids really aren’t getting snatched off their front lawns. Kids aren’t dying from eating Halloween candy. Kids aren’t helpless blobs or shiny trophies. It’s okay if they fall or fail.

The fascination with fear is  a tremendously loud drum beat. It’s become entertainment. On a local level, they are still looking for Kyron Horman, and if you follow that link, you will see there are over 4.8 MILLION hits for that little boy’s name. There are local followers of this story who are completely obsessed. And it doesn’t seem to be out of concern or good intentions. It’s become sensational, like an episode of CSI.

I guess people watch horror movies for the temporary thrill, and the reassurance of returning to the real world once they leave the theater. But TVs are in our houses. And the news, however manufactured and processed, is a constant reminder that we must be ever vigilant against all those bad things happening out there. News is a horror show. They fetishsize fear…because I guess we must enjoy it. And it makes us cling tighter to our little ones.

We don’t have a TV. I think that makes us really weird. So when and if we have kids, they are going to be the weirdest kids ever. They aren’t going to even know how weird they are until they go over other kids’ houses and see what a TV is. Only then will they realize how we deprived them of Barney and Spongebob. And then they’ll want Nikes and Barbies and we’ll be totally screwed.

Or hopefully, and more likely, our weirdo kids will be abducted off the front lawn before they even have a chance to make any friends.


  1. As my kids have gotten older, I’ve realized that there is no “perfect” way to raise them. Do your best and hope for the best. Stay involved. Be nosy. Install tracking devices. Stalk them. They’ll get in trouble, just be there to bail them out.

  2. Nah, it’s Portland, your wierdo kids will go over to other wierdo kids’ houses and go, “But Moooooom, Darcenita’s parents make her fresh hummus EVERY DAY. Why do we never get fresh hummus?”

    I stopped watching the news and reading papers on September 20th, 2001. It rarely comes back to bite me on the butt. But it did this morning, ’cause I knew nothing about the Trimet sickout.

  3. (p.s. check out The Gift of Fear from the library. It’s an interesting book along these lines)

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