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Charlotte, here’s how to raise ‘free-range’ children

By Marissa Brooks
Correspondent

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  • Want to go?

    Is Lenore Skenazy the “World’s Worst Mom?” The free lecture will be from 10 a.m. to noon, April 21, at Sam Lerner Center, Shalom Park, 5007 Providence Road. A Lunch and Learn Q & A, $25, will be from 12:30 to 2 p.m. at Weinberg Senior Center, Shalom Park. Reservations required: Jewish Family Services, 704-364-6594 or info@jfscharlotte.org.



Jennifer Collman had culture shock when she moved back to Charlotte from Florida in 2009.

She moved from a neighborhood where kids were frequently found knocking on friend’s doors and running around shoeless in their bathing suits.

Collman, 41, and her husband Jonathan, 43, live in Sharon Wood and have two daughters Hollis, 10, and August, 5, and one son Everett, 7. Collman lets her kids “go within reason,” she said. “I trust them. They are good kids.”

Feeling like an outsider, Collman started following the work of Lenore Skenazy, The “World’s Worst Mom.”

Skenazy gained national attention after writing a newspaper column about letting her 9-year-old son Izzy (now 15) ride the N.Y. subway alone. Izzy had repeatedly expressed interest in being able to find his way home alone.

Skenazy and her husband Joe Kolman discussed the facts that Izzy could read a map, was a New Yorker, and had experience riding on subways and decided to let him do it. One Sunday afternoon, Skenazy left Izzy in Bloomingdale’s with a map, a MetroCard, quarters for pay phones and money for emergencies.

“Long story short: He got home about 45 minutes later, ecstatic with independence,” said Skenazy.

With the media maelstrom that followed, Skenazy launched a blog: www.freerangekids.com and authored a book: “Free-Range Kids: How to Raise Safe, Self-reliant Children (Without Going Nuts with Worry).”

She advocates treating kids as if they are “smart, young, capable individual(s), not an invalid who needs constant attention and help,” said Skenazy.

Skenazy will be lecturing in Charlotte at Shalom Park on April 21 as part of the Jewish Family Services’ Lunch and Learn series.

Collman, who is vice-chair, president-elect Board of Directors at JFS, suggested Skenazy as the speaker to provide a service to the greater Charlotte community on a topic of family focus, she said.

“Today’s society is a little fearful,” said Collman.

She recently read on Skenazy’s blog that in St. Mary’s County public elementary schools in Maryland, visitors are not allowed to push other people’s children on swings.

“You want to protect your children, but do not want to make them fearful to live,” said Collman. “You also can’t mitigate every risk, or you wouldn’t do anything.”

“When we grew up, we met friends in the park, knocked on people’s doors to play, stayed out until the street lights came on,” said Skenazy. “There were no cell phones or GPS, and the news was short.”

With the advent of 24/7 horror stories on the news, people have been trained to be scared, said Skenazy.

“My mom couldn’t have named any missing children,” said Skenazy. “I can instantly name you five girls who met ghastly ends – Caylee, Maddie, Natalee, Jon Benet, Jaycee – but our parents could never do that.”

Skenazy wants parents to look skeptically at the constant barrage of danger messages, and focus on their goal of preparing their children for life.

“My mission is to rescue parents and their bubble-wrapped kids,” said Skenazy. “I want people to leave my lectures with a shift in their focus from protection to preparation.”

Life skills, like using a kitchen knife, crossing a busy street safely, riding bikes, taking public transportation, should be taught to our children. They need practice to feel confident.

Collman hopes that the free-range movement will be contagious and that people will come to hear Skenazy speak. She encourages people to attend the Q & A and to take the opportunity to discuss concerns.

Collman has taken Skenazy’s advice to heart. Recently, she let Hollis, 10, walk from home to Gigi’s Cupcakes and back by herself. Hollis had walked that route with her family before and had a phone for emergencies.

“She felt like a million bucks when she returned,” said Collman.

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at mbrookspt@earthlink.net.
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