by KATE HUNTER
World, meet New York writer Lenore Skenazy. For the bargain price of $350, Lenore is offering to meet your kids at the park, leave them there and disappear to sip coffee in a café.
Note: That café will have no view of the park -it may be a block or two away. And not one of the kids will have a mobile phone. The kids will be free to make their own way home afterwards. She won’t help them or even find out what arrangements they might have made for themselves.
Did we mention $350?
If you haven’t heard of Ms Skenazy, you might have heard of her Free Range Kids ‘movement’ which began a few years ago when she wrote a column about her nine year old son riding the subway alone. It earned her the title of ‘America’s Worst Mom’ from some of the helicopter parenting camp but she wasn’t deterred.
In fact, she’s become quite evangalistic about how parents need to BACK OFF and let kids make decisions, fall off playground equipment and sort out their own disagreements. Not because she’s lazy, but because she firmly believes it’s good for kids to cultivate some independence and survival skills, and she wants kid’s to have a chance to ‘do what we did – play on our own’.
Skenazy realises some parents find a hands-off approach difficult, so she’s offering to do it for them. For $350.
She says on her website:
This is not only fun, it’s formative — especially when it’s a bunch of children of different ages – because play is Mother Nature’s super vitamin.
Today’s kids spend an average of more than 7 hours a day on “entertainment media,” according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study. In a typical week, only 6% of children ages 9-13 play outside on their own.
I’m with Lenore here all the way. I wouldn’t pay $350 though – I wouldn’t pay a cent. I’m okay with letting my kids play unsupervised, outside the boundaries of our home.
In fact, as I write this, my 11 year old son and five of his mates are somewhere in our suburb. They could be at the cricket nets around the corner. They could be damming the creek down the road. Although I’m not a hundred per cent sure of their exact location, I’m positive they’re having a great time, and hopeful none will come home bleeding.
Thankfully, the parents of this particular posse are comfortable with this loose rein attitude. But many aren’t, so it’s great to read someone smarter than me who says I’m doing the right thing – by doing pretty much nothing.
Skenazy quotes Harvard psychologist Susan Linn :
“…play is the foundation of intellectual exploration. It’s how children learn how to learn. Abilities essential for academic success and productivity in the workforce, such as problem solving, reasoning, and literacy, all develop through various kinds of play, as do social skills such as cooperation and sharing.”
Being a parent, not a parenting expert, I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it’s reassuring to know I’m not a neglectful parent raising feral children.
The whole school holiday activity industry depresses me a bit. I get that many (most) parents need to work and leaving kids to their own devices for long periods isn’t a good thing, but back-to-back activities is expensive, restrictive and apparently not as good for kids as hanging out at the park.
It’s also not as much fun. But it’s hard when a growing number of kids are enrolled in holiday sports programs – there’s often no one left to play with. And there’s always the hairy eyeball you get from less loose parents gagging to dob you into A Current Affair.
It’s true no parent ever totally relaxes until their kids are within hugging distance, but it’s worth being strong – Skenazy recommends parents think about when they had most fun as a kid … “Chances are it wasn’t at Kumon.”
Do you believe kids should be left to play unsupervised? Is it something you’re comfortable doing?