Free-Range Kids — A Great Read

Photo courtesy of Scott Lefler,, (c) 2009

On the advice of a friend (in response to a recent post about letting my daughter fall as she learns to walk), I’ve been reading Lenore Skenazy’s Free-Range Kids. It’s been an interesting read, and I’ve found the premise compelling. Essentially, Skenazy advocates, both in her book and in her blog, giving kids the freedom to have the kind of childhood most of us had. She points out that fears (of germs, of abductions, etc) are largely statistically unfounded, and/or based upon the (unrealistic) premise that “proper” parenting can protect a child from every conceivable harm. I was intrigued to learn how many statistically irrational fears I held (hold), though I was not surprised, since humans are notoriously bad at judging risk accurately, which I’ve addressed before. There were two notable areas in which I took issue with Skenazy, however. The first was with regard to her discussion of healthy eating during pregnancy. She rails (understandably and justifiably) against the pregnancy books — especially that ONE…you know which one I mean — that give you to believe that every bite you eat must be carefully scrutinized, because it could make or break your developing baby. Ridiculous, no doubt. However, she goes on to quote an obstetrician who counsels his patients to “…eat like you have your whole life, but eat a little more.” Um, really? Given the terrible diet most Americans consume, which is too high in fat, cholesterol, and refined starch, full of processed foods, and far too low in nutrients, is this a good idea? I would say that while you certainly don’t need to scrutinize every bite (nor even every meal), if there were EVER a good time to evaluate and potentially clean up your diet, pregnancy would be it; both for your sake and for that of your baby. A second issue, in my mind, is that Skenazy suggests that parents can’t really affect their kids much. This is true to some extent, of course; as she points out, research suggests children are born with relatively immutable personality traits that you can’t affect much one way or another. She goes on, however, to cite twin studies (which are intriguing, but are in no way scientific) to strengthen her assertions, pointing out that twins separated at birth and raised apart in two different families/religions/countries end up remarkably similar with regard to odd habits (reading magazines from back to front, for instance, and — she doesn’t mention this trait, but I’m familiar with these studies — dipping buttered toast in coffee). Ah, the nature/nurture debate. It lies at the heart of so many parenting questions. The reality is that scientists don’t yet know how much of what a child becomes is genetic and how much is based upon environment. In fact, the emerging field of epigenetics muddies the waters by introducing the notion that environment can turn genes on and off. If I could write an article summarizing all the nature/nuture research and providing a framework for understanding just how much of your child’s personality/abilities/intelligence you actually affect, I would (I’d love to — it would make me rich). But while the studies would fill a library on their own, there are no broad sweeping conclusions that can be drawn yet, and I have to say I find it a bit trite that Skenazy attempts to suggest that there are (particularly since she does so by citing inconsequential eccentricities that happen to show up certain twins). In any case, read with a grain of salt (as all books should be), I think Free-Range Kids is worth reading, and may help to counteract some of the culture- and media-driven fear that informs so much of First World parenting.


What great parenting books have you read lately?




4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Renee
    Oct 14, 2011 @ 03:27:14

    First I have to say that I’m amused your Thursday Paragraph got so long! Kinda defeating your own purpose, no? 😉

    Glad your enjoying the book. I never did finish it (was due back at the library), but I do follow the blog. I love the concept. Another good book on our irrational fears and where they come from, that isn’t just limited to parenting, is “The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things” by Barry Glassner. I read it years before I had Jonah (turns out there is an updated “post 9/11 version now too), and it laid a nice groundwork for Free Range Kids being easy to understand and buy in to.

    Right now I’m reading “Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids.” One of my mom’s group is using it for a book group discussion. Looks promising. I’d love to simplify, and I’m not sure how. I’m just on chapter 1 now, so we’ll see how it goes! (


  2. Sara
    Oct 26, 2011 @ 04:48:19

    I also follow Free-Range Kids. I agree with your take on it. For the most part I love the idea, but I do think that we influence our kids. And obviously she does too – she thinks that she’s doing what’s best for them. If she didn’t think her actions mattered, she wouldn’t care one way or the other how she parents. It’s a small nit-picky thing, but I think it’s important.

    I do attachment parenting but I also believe in free-range parenting. At first that might seem odd, but I think they’re related. Attachment parenting gives babies the love they need to trust the world and be confident in themselves. As they get older, they will have the courage to venture out on their own and AP parents won’t hold them back. AP is all about treating your baby like she’s an autonomous human being, as is free-range parenting. Does that make sense?


    • SquintMom
      Oct 27, 2011 @ 02:49:52

      I do agree that free-range parenting and attachment parenting aren’t mutually exclusive, and can work well together. One of the touted benefits of attachment parenting is that it builds confident, independent children (who likely thrive on a free-range approach). I think your thinking is right on!! Thanks for your insightful comment.


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