Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book Review: Free-Range Kids

Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with WorryFree-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry by Lenore Skenazy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Since I am really on board with Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kid movement, I thought I would be giving this book five stars. I ended up shorting it a star because there were some parts of her whole concept that I don't agree with.

She set her book up like a set of commandments--the Ten Free-Range Commandments but added four more to them, so there are fourteen commandments. Then she has a section that is about common parental fears A-Z and whether or not they are grounded in reality, or what the statistical probability of the fear happening to your child. I felt it was a very organized approach to the concept and a very easy read.

I loved Commandment Four: Boycott Baby Knee Pads (and the rest of the kiddie safety-industrial complex). She talks about a lot of safety items that are marketed to parents that are just not needed, like baby knee pads for when babies crawl and helmets for when they first start walking. She also talks about "educational toys", you know, the Baby Einstein product line and the LeapFrog product line. I wholeheartedly agree with her that it's only become this competition to raise the smartest baby in recent years and that somehow people think that the things parents did to raise babies before isn't going to make them smart enough so now they have to invest in all these gadgets to make them smarter. In reality, it's the social interaction between them and their caregivers (playing with them, talking with them, working with them alongside, singing to them, reading to them) that makes all the difference and these gadgets aren't really going to change that.

I also loved how in Commandment Five: Don't Think Like a Lawyer, she gives a list of wacky warning labels that are on products now thanks to the onslaught of ridiculous lawsuits: "Remove child before folding" on a baby stroller; "This product moves when used" on a scooter; "Never iron clothes while being worn" on an iron; "Do not use on roof" on a snowblower; and on a box of birthday candles "Do not use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity."

In Commandment Six: Ignore the Blamers, she points out that only a few states actually have laws stating an age that is appropriate to leave a child home alone for a short period of time, which I found interesting since numerous parenting boards people are always posting that there are laws that don't allow you to leave, say, an 8-year-old home alone for an hour.

In Commandment 7, she dispels the myths surrounding Halloween candy, that there have been no reported incidents ever where children were poisoned by Halloween candy.

I really enjoyed Commandment 8 where she talks about what children were doing throughout history at different ages, which really puts into perspective how over-protective parents have become. Not just of not letting kids play outside unattended but also not allowing them to do things like bake a cake when they're nine or mow the lawn when they're ten.

The part that forced me to give this book four stars instead of five was Commandments Eleven and Twelve. In Commandment Eleven: Relax, she talks about how so much of how kids turn out (intelligence-wise, interests, etc.) is due to nature, not nurture. But she made it sound like parents could sit back and do nothing and their kids would turn out the same as if the parents were always doing something for them. I disagree. I think parents are there for a reason, for guidance, to teach between right and wrong, to help them learn from their mistakes and recognize learning moments. I don't really think she was trying to say that parents aren't needed, but that's how she came off in that chapter. In Commandment Twelve: Fail! the whole point was to let kids learn from their failures. I am all on board with that, but she made it sound like you couldn't ever push them to succeed or set high expectations for them because you'd end up doing the work so they wouldn't ever fail. I don't think it's bad to have expectations and encourage kids to succeed and even give them guidance on how to succeed but then let them do the work.

I totally agreed with everything she said about the importance of creative play both outside and inside and how standardized tests and media frenzy over child abductions and the electronic equipment that has taken place of playing outside have contributed to the obesity epidemic and the whole education problem in America. And she even talks about how so many toys these days take the creativity out of play, like the talking, dancing Elmo where the kid just pushes a button and watches Elmo have all the fun.

I enjoyed this book. It was easy to read, funny, and eye-opening. I already was a "Free-Range Parent" but I recognized some of the baby steps I have already taken in the last couple of years to become one. I would like to see more of a movement back to this type of child-rearing just so my kids aren't the only ones allowed to ride their bikes around the neighborhood or walk to school, wherever we end up. Hopefully this catches on and people start to relax a little about everything and realize that kids are smart and capable.

View all my reviews

3 comments:

PC said...

"I also loved how in Commandment Five: Don't Think Like a Lawyer, she gives a list of wacky warning labels that are on products now thanks to the onslaught of ridiculous lawsuits: "Remove child before folding" on a baby stroller; "This product moves when used" on a scooter; "Never iron clothes while being worn" on an iron; "Do not use on roof" on a snowblower; and on a box of birthday candles "Do not use soft wax as ear plugs or for any other function that involves insertion into a body cavity.""

I have a hunch that, unfortunately, someone tried to do just what the silly warning label warns against in each of the instances above. We people do amazing things!!!

swedemom said...

I read a book last year from an economist about why it makes more sense to have more kids than you think--and he also talked a lot about the nature vs. nurture argument, citing lots of twin and adoption studies.

Most of the studies found that for adoptees, their parents do make a profound difference in the early years of their lives, but in the end, when they become adults, that the nurture isn't as powerful as the nature and that they are very likely to become more like their birth families.

I personally find it an intriguing idea, but also disagree with it.

Of course, parents matter, but maybe we do need to relax about a lot of things--he was mostly talking about things like academics and stuff.

The only time the stats are different for kids who are adopted are those children who come from 3rd world countries and are adopted to middle-class or wealthy families in the U.S. And there the differences are dramatic.

Royalbird said...

PC, I'm sure you're right. I just thought those labels were hilarious!

Swedemom, I think that you're right in relaxing about a lot of things. I think she was mostly talking about academics (like pushing babies and toddlers to use educational toys to boost their IQ) and personality and interests, where those things are kind of how they come. But a parent can influence so many things for good or bad too. It's definitely an interesting subject to discuss though.

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