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"America's Worst Mom?"

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There's been quite a bit of buzz around this column in the New York Sun by a mother, Lenore Skenazy, who gave her 9-year-old son a Metrocard, 20 bucks, and a fistful of quarters and left him in the middle of a New York City Bloomingdale's to find his way home on his own. Here's an excerpt:

No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn't want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn't do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, "Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I'll abduct this adorable child instead."

After she was invited onto national television with the title "America's Worst Mom?" underneath her face, she wrote this response. Another excerpt:

Yes, that’s all it took for me to learn just what a hot-button issue this is--whether good parents ever let their kids out of their sight. But even as the stations (and Web sites and Web logs) were having a field day with the story, people kept pulling me aside to say that they had been allowed to get around by themselves as kids, and boy were they glad.

They relished those memories--and thanked their parents!--and then in the next breath they admitted: They would never let their kids do the same.

The whole thing reminds me a lot of this blog post about a talk by Gever Tulley about giving kids the freedom to tinker with "dangerous things." Personally, I tend to side with Skenazy on this debate. I think giving kids the chance to step up and do responsible, adult-like things that may require some quick thinking and good judgment is a great way to empower kids and prepare them for even harder decisions in the future. Then again, I am not a parent.

And of course, every child is different, and Skenazy obviously felt that her son was ready for this challenge. It would be completely different if this adventure was a parent-devised test imposed upon a resistant child. Most likely, there are lessons to be learned on both sides of this situation. Nine years old is a little young to be traversing one of the biggest cities in the entire world alone, but parents probably do keep a closer eye on their kids now than in the past--whether or not they need to be.

What do you think? Did Skenazy needlessly endanger her child? Or is she right to loosen her parental grip a little in the name of an educational experience?

1 Comment

This reminds me of a story a few years back about a mother and her teenage daughter, who at the time was not trying in class and failing miserably. frustrated the mother gave her daughter a cardboard sign and left her on the side of a road for a preview of homelessness she was afraid her daughter was bound for.
The mother was heavilily criticized by the media and other parents, but the daughter did not complain and started to do well in school as a result of the experience.
Do today's children really need to be babied? Should we keep them from the opportunity to solve hard problems on their own? What will these children turn out like if we do? What will happen to them when they are forty and their parents are dead and they finally have to deal with the real world?
I think this mother did something great for her child. but where this article doesn't tell me how the child feels. Nine sounds a little young for this but it does depend on the child. He should be proud of himself and have new self-confidence after finding his way home like that. I am sure he will stand straighter as an adult and have more confidence than his babied peers all his life because his mother put such trust in him and allowed him to prove himself.

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