My new hero is Lenore Skenazy who had the absolute audacity to allow her 9 year old son to ride the bus and subway home from Bloomingdale's in New York City recently. Guess what happened to him? Absolutely nothing! He wasn't abducted, abused, or otherwise damaged and he gained a ton of self-confidence, not to mention demonstrating that, even in NYC, we live in a world overwhelmingly characterized by trustworthy strangers and institutions that produce them.
Skenazy now has a blog called "Free Range Kids," which argues that the dangers to children perceived by so many parents are mostly imaginary and that kids have lost something really important when they are not given the freedom to play and explore free from parental eyes. The independence and responsibility that such play develops cannot easily be found otherwise, as this Rosa Brooks column on Skenazy notes.
As I have pointed out before, there is a line of argument among some psychologists that we are raising a "Nation of Wimps" by way over-protecting our children from every perceived danger or cushioning or preventing any sort of failure on their part. As the comments on Skenazy's blog show, this is not a popular view and I applaud her courage not only for her parenting choices but for going public with it and responding to those who seem to think that encouraging independence in our children is akin to child abuse.
I'll save for the comments or another post my own ideas on why we see the "nation of wimps" problem, but the backlash of people like Skenazy is a healthy development.