Free Range Kids

How to Raise Safe, Self-Reliant Children (Without Going Nuts With Worry)

Lenore Skenazy (Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, 2009-2010)

Most Americans know about this book and its active blog but the book is worth reading in it's entirety. There is a wealth of information - history, statistics, anecdotes and reasonable advice - on the hysteria over "stranger danger." It's hard to imagine the extent of the hysteria and the absurdity of it unless you read at least 200 pages about it.

For example, over 20 years ago a rumor was spread by "Dear Abbey" that a child was poisoned by candy he was given by a stranger at Halloween. There was also a claim that someone had put razor blades in an apple given to another child. But a careful study by a historian who checked criminal records in all 50 states since the 1950s could not find even a single case to substantiate the rumors. There was indeed one case of a parent in Texas who poisoned his own child and tried to blame it on strangers (the parent was eventually executed).

The author also explains the frequently quoted myth that "1 in 7" kids online are the victims of "sexual solicitations." The truth is that the original study that came up with that number included such things as being asked what bra size you wear as a "sexual solicitation." It is also explained that most cases of that nature involve teenagers who post provocative pictures of themselves and chose provocative names like "What are you waiting for?" Dirty old men online don't lurk on mainstream sites like Mary-Kate and Ashley looking for the average child.

The book also includes a lot of criticism of what the author considers excessive concern over child safety (i.e. accidents), but in her defense of bottle formula as "good enough" she neglects to mention all the known dangers of breast-milk substitutes, and doesn't say a word about the widespread corruption of hospital staff and even the American Academy of Pediatrics by the unscrupulous bottle formula industry to promote body shame and otherwise sabotage breastfeeding.

In general the book is a work of genius and should be required reading for every parent. The author carefully restates the suspicion that has been voiced for years by scholars like John Money and James Kincaid: maybe some parents want their kids to believe they're helpless so mom and dad will be able to prolong their authoritarian control as long as possible. The tone of this book is soothing - it features reassuring humor and level-headedness throughout, despite the hysterical and destructive opponents she is discussing. Here is one of my favorite passages:

"Don't talk to strangers" is one of the most useless pieces of advice ever foisted on us to foist on our children. (p. 181)

You can buy the book through the link above, as well as through Amazon or your local bookseller.