Free Range Kids: How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry) is the best parenting book I have ever read. Ok, it is the only parenting book I have ever read. I am not a parent (I am a nanny, but not a parent.)
I have had this (in audiobook) for a while. I found it free somewhere and just never listened to it. It was the last audiobook I had on my kindle and I was driving around, so I started listening.
It is good, it is funny, it is well researched and it is non-guilt inducing. (Or mostly non-guilt inducing.) I am not a worrier. I am fairly critical of the hovering parents I see at the park. I play with my nieces (they are only 1 and 2) but I let them fall and I let them walk away from me. So I am already on my way. But this is a great book to show that the unintended consequence of trying to protect children is preventing children from growing into the type of adults we want them to be.
The format of the book is a chapter for 14 “rules”. These are chapters like “know when to worry”, “turn off the news”, “avoid experts”, “don’t think like a lawyer”, “make them play”, “let them fail”. Then part two of the book is an A to Z guide of everything you might be worried about.
The biggest take away for me is that worry creates worry. Parents worry about things because other parents are worried about things, which causes the kids to worry about what the parents are worried about. So when you worry about things that you do not really have control over, you cause your kids to fear, which inhibits their own growth. Worry is really about control. This is not a Christian focused book at all, but as a Christian, worry about things we have no control over is called sin. And we are encouraging our children to sin when we worry. What is an example? Child abduction has not increased, it has in fact decreased. Your child has a 1 in 1.5 million chance of being abducted by a stranger. That is not a high chance. When we worry about something that has a very, very low chance of happening, and something that really we do not have any control over, we have ceased trusting in God. That does not mean that God will protect us, and no child will ever be abducted if you just stop worrying, but it does mean, that worrying does not actually make your child safer. It probably makes them less safe. Without the ability to think on their own, children cannot evaluate risk on their own. One quoted parent said that she was not going to talk to her children about how to interact appropriately with strangers because “she would never be in a position where she would be with strangers without her.” That is just wrong on its face.
And it is not just fear that is a problem. We also just assume kids can’t do things, because we have lowered expectations. The author surveyed Moms. Almost all of them began baby sitting around 12 or 13, sometimes even overnight. But now most think their 12 or 13 year old is not mature enough to stay at home by themselves for an hour or two.
One anecdotes about an 8th grade class that was assigned an ‘independence project’ (something that they had to do on their own, plan on their own and then write up) told of an 8th grade student that took her dog to the vet. The vet insisted on calling her Mom before talking to her. Then the vet wrote out the instructions, then after giving the instructions to the girl (who would be around 14 or so) asked “you can read, can’t you.”
Many other kids did fairly normal things, walk to soccer practice, make dinner, bake a cake, etc. Many of the kids said they were scared to do their project because they had never done anything on their own like that before. When I was 14 I was riding 10 to 20 miles a day on my bike, pretty much every day all summer long. I am only 37, it was not that long ago.
It seems that kids not are not allowed to do anything, they are not even asked to do anything. Most parents did not ask kids to do chores. And there are almost no jobs someone under 18 can do any more. Kids don’t babysit or deliver papers. Kids do not learn to appreciate accomplishment because they have no expectations placed on them. So I have started asking my 15 month old niece to throw away her own diapers. She is incredibly proud of herself. And she can do it just fine.
If you are a parent, or thinking about being a parent, you should read this book.