: High on the Hog Blog
Purveyor of Idle Observation

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Free Range Kids

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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New York Sun Columnist Lenore Skenazy touched a nerve when she published an article about dropping off her nine-year-old son at Bloomingdale’s in New York and letting him find his way home on the subway. She continues the theme in a new blog, Free Range Kids. The story seemed to trigger a nigh universal response in readers (at least those who weren’t horrified enough to check the GPS Lo-Jack devices installed on their own kids) to recount their own independence experiences.

For me, it had to be riding my bike to summer league baseball games, probably about the same age as the Skenazy kid, maybe a little older.

It’s interesting to think about our children as an investment. If we really do that we should recognize that there’s a limit to the optimal level of investment we can productively make – teaching your kids to read is good; writing their term papers is probably counterproductive. My intuition is that as a society we tend to overinvest in things we think make our kids happy but don’t; more likely they secretly give us more satisfaction that our kids. I’m looking at you, Webster’s dictionary I got for my sixth birthday.

Since my intuition isn’t really worth a damn, I googled up some stuff from Steven Levitt, the economist of Freakonomics fame, who points me to the Greater Good Center at Berkeley with this note:

The Greater Good Center’s stated goal is to raise “happy and emotionally literate kids.” Those are laudable goals, but certainly not the only ones, or even the first ones that come to mind. I care most about raising kids who are happy and successful as adults, even if that happens to mean that they aren’t very happy as children. I want my kids to like me when they are grown up, but I also want them to do what I tell them to do, the first time I tell them to do it. I don’t want my kids to be sissies, the way I was — I want them to be tough, and able to take whatever criticism and misfortunes the real world has to offer. I also want them to be creative, and to take risks (but not too many risks).

I have a feeling the statistics on likelihood of abductions would be persuasive to people like Levitt. That’s NOT to say there aren’t dangers to take into consideration. Chapter 5 of Freakonomics outlined the now popular comparison of swimming pools and guns. Spoiler alert – having a swimming pool in your backyard is statistically more likely to harm your child than having a gun in the house.

So if we’re interested in making ourselves feel better our parenting, by all means no subway pass for junior; if we’re really interested in keeping our kids safer we shouldn’t let our actions be dictated by the sensationalism we see on the news.

Then again, I don’t have kids – so what the hell do I know.

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