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Is It Kooky To Leave Your Child Alone at the Playground?

Is Lenore Skenazy a kook? Skenazy — a Forward contributing editor and columnist — is getting used to being called that, “a moron” and worse for her idea that we should stop helicoptering over our children and leave them more to their own devices.

Her latest proposal is that on Saturday May 22, at 10 a.m., people drop their kids ages 7 or 8 and up at their local playground for an hour…..and then leave. It’s catching lots of press attention, and she’s getting lots of pushback. She’s been interviewed about “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day” on WABC, WNBC, WCBS and Fox News. The plan was dubbed “bizarre” on the front page of The New York Daily News. On the Park Slope Parents listserv, it sparked a conversation that continues, many days in, between parents who miss the relative freedom of their own youth, and those who are too worried about their kids’ safety to follow Skenazy’s advice.

“People are jumping all over me, calling me a kook, saying it’s a dangerous idea,” Skenazy told The Sisterhood. “But I don’t think they would have me on if it was only a kooky idea. The reason it has some resonance for people is that they know in their heart of hearts is that childhood wasn’t overseen by your parents at all times. Now it’s a radical idea.”

I agree with the basic idea Skenazy, author of “Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry,” puts forward: that we are depriving our children of learning to be self-reliant by allowing them to remain tethered to TV and computer at home, and then hovering nearby when we take them to the playground.

But missing from the rhetoric is some important nuance: While Skenazy’s not suggesting that people take their toddlers to the playground and ditch them, age 7 is very different from age 9, which is also quite different than 11 etc…in terms of Judgement, reason and desire for independence.

And, as Skenazy knows (and writes in her book and on her blog), teaching children to be self-reliant and independent is a process, not an event.

So Rockerchik, my 9-year-old daughter, eagerly goes to the nearby supermarket and gets the milk or hot dog buns when we’ve run short. Girlchik, my 11-year-old daughter, itches for more independence with all the focus of a healthy young adolescent. She’ll run any errand in our neighborhood that I’ll let her. Boychik, my 16-year-old son, walked in last night at midnight after having gotten rush tickets to his favorite Broadway show with a visiting friend. He did check in early in the evening — I wanted a general idea of where he was — but I have no idea where they went to dinner or what they did in the hours after school and before the show. He has shown me that I can trust his judgment, so I do. Yet I couldn’t fall asleep until I knew Boychik was home from his evening out. After all, I’m still a mother!

Kudos to Skenazy for getting this conversation rolling. I hope she succeeds in pushing the pendulum from crazy anxiety about being with our children every moment into a more reasonable middle.

She’ll be at Manhattan’s Ancient Playground, near the Egyptian Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, tomorrow morning at 10, not hovering near her younger son, Izzy, who’s 12.

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