The subtitle of this book summarises it's content well: “How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry)”. Skenazy challenges how much we, the parents, need to control our children’s environment in order to keep them safe; challenging the concept of “helicopter parenting”. The writing style is very easy to comprehend (something I appreciated in my sleep-deprived state) and she has plenty of thought-provoking real-life stories as well as plenty of humour.
The book is written in two parts; the first part outlines her ‘Fourteen Free-Range Commandments’ and the second addresses specifics concerns and statistics. My favourite of her ‘commandments’ was number eight, ‘Study History: Your Ten-Year-Old Would Have Been Forging Horseshoes (or at Least Delivering Papers)’. She contends that children are built to survive. Throughout human history kids and adults worked side by side, so your ability to perform a task rather than your age determined whether you could do it or not. I also appreciated commandment ten, ‘Get Braver: Quit trying to Control Everything. It Doesn’t Work Anyway.’ As a bit of a control freak I really liked her reminder that if even if we manage to solve all of our children’s problems we are actually doing them a disservice, because we are taking away their real source of confidence and independence. She also claims that worry is another form of control - ouch!
The end of each chapter has some specific ideas about how to implement the principles in your own home ranging from simple ‘baby’ steps to ‘giant leaps’ and they have certainly provided me with some positive actions to put into practice. I was reminded that I should be proactive - teaching children the things they will need to survive such as bike safety, traffic signals and how to handle disappointment, as they are an inevitable part of life.
As with most books, I don’t agree with all her conclusions and some questions were raised in my mind about her statistics. She has a whole chapter about safety-concerns around Halloween, which is mostly irrelevant here in Australia, but I don’t agree with her premise that Halloween is a “harmless” childhood activity. She also has a brief discussion about teen s*x, quoting none other than Planned Parenthood advising parents to begin talks with your pre-teens using their “Abstinence Plus” approach. I don’t agree with her advise - let’s just leave it at that! My question about her statistics relate to those which demonstrate that crimes against children have declined since the early nineties. Is it possible that the drop in crime is related to the fact that we have been ‘sheltering’ our children more?
Those objections aside, I’d recommend this book as an interesting perspective on our safety-conscious culture. Her analysis of the media, particularly TV, was especially thought-provoking. It has reminded me that in my desire to protect my children I need to focus on the real dangers that will corrupt their minds and hearts.