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Why I'll Still Let My Kids Walk to School

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We spoke with Lenore Skenazy, author of Free-Range Kids and creator of the free-range parenting movement, about Somer Thompson's murder. Here's what she had to say.

florida girl somer thompson missing

Lenore Skenazy: After Somer's murder, am I more afraid about my kids walking to school (and riding the train and subway, as they also do, on their own)? No. And it's not that I don't care about their safety and am putting this story out of my mind. It's haunting me and probably every parent in America today.

We all know the world can be a dangerous place, which is why I have worked to train my kids to be safe. All free-range parents do. We know that at some point, some time, even if we don't expect it, our children will be beyond our sight, and we want them to be as prepared as possible.

Ernie Allen, head of the National Center for Missing Children, told me that his organization interviewed children who got away from potential abductions and found they generally shared one characteristic: confidence. The confidence to scream, yell, kick, call attention to themselves, demand help from strangers, and to fight back. He added that that kind of confidence is not something you can just hand your kids. They have to earn it themselves. That's why it's called "self" confidence, and not "parent-assisted" confidence.

Confidence comes from doing something in the world, not having it all done for you. And so, my kids will continue to walk (and bus and subway) to school. I know the odds are with us. I know I've trained them well. And I know that I would never blame the parents of Somer.

Where has our sympathy for the parents gone? We blame the parents of child victims today the way we used to blame rape victims -- as a way to make US feel like "they did something bad. I won't, so it'll never happen to me." Her parents did nothing wrong. Evil, unfortunately, exists. So does fate, even though we act as if we can control absolutely everything. We can't.

We live in an imperfect world. Let the parent who is perfect cast the first stone.

For more from Lenore on Somer's case, check out her blog.

next: Mom Fights for Her Soldier Son
92 comments so far | Post a comment now
samantha October 23, 2009, 6:55 AM

I agree that children need to know how to behave in a dangerous situation. But as a parent it is still your responsibility to protect your children. You may call it free range parenting but I call it irresponsible to expect your children to be able to handle a possible kidnapping on their own. Suppose as in the case of Somer Thompson there are no adults around for your child to ask for help. Im not at all blaming her parents either. People have to work and sometimes kids must walk home with a sibling but the writer of this post seems to enjoy testing her children’s ability or confidence in grown up and possibly dangerous situation. May God and kind strangers watch over your children.

protectkidz October 23, 2009, 7:32 AM

I don’t think anyone is blaming this mother, but only expressing regret that there was no one there to prevent this.

Yes, confident children do better in the world, but from all reports Somer was a confident, independent child.

This was a crime. Crime happens suddenly, many times without warning, and the victim in many cases can be injured or killed. Confidence really isn’t going to protect a child if a criminal chooses to target them, imo.

J Doane October 23, 2009, 7:51 AM

Anyone who would allow their young child to walk home alone or ride a but/subway alone is a fool. I guess you want your kids to be kidnapped and murdered. There is no excuse for that kind of lazy parenting. The problem with society today is kids come last in their parents list of priorities all to often. Yes you can teach your children independance and strength all without abandoning them to the proverbial wolves to fend for themselves. Baby steps people. Its never apropriate to have your 7 year olds walking home alone or taking public transportation by themselves! Wake the hell up!

Jerri  October 23, 2009, 8:20 AM

so when is it apropriate? at what magic age will it suddenly be apropriate?

tim October 23, 2009, 8:44 AM

I’m blaming the parents. I don’t have a child myself (yet) but I thought it was common practice to either walk or drive your kid to the bus stop or school. It’s part of the responsibility of caring for your YOUNG child. Magic age? Good question, but certainly SEVEN YEARS OLD meets the criteria! A tragic failure on the mother’s part.

laura October 23, 2009, 8:56 AM

i dont think that anyone without kids can understand, you do what you can as a parent but still nothing is ever guaranteed, this was not her mothers fault there may have been a reason she had to talk home, maybe financially they have problems, the greatest sin is to pass judgement on someone else, how dare people critisize the mother, she is going thru enough dont you agree

Anonymous October 23, 2009, 9:10 AM

Alot of helicopter parents out there.

HeeHee October 23, 2009, 9:18 AM

Is free range parenting related to free range chickens??

Renee October 23, 2009, 9:27 AM

Whether or not free range parenting is right or now is not what strikes me about this article. It’s the use of an abducted and murdered child’s picture to promote/advertise the article. Put a photo of you own child on it and let her rest in peace.

protectkidz October 23, 2009, 9:30 AM

I just checked out Lenore’s blog and won’t be going back.

Completely irresponsible and I doubt that Ernie Allen will be pleased that she used his name to plead the case that children do not need supervision when walking to and from school.

carolina October 23, 2009, 9:44 AM

c~mon now… wat kind of parenting is this? if we can call this parenting at all..i just dont understand how a person could just let their child walk out the door at that age and just be like “hopefully” she makes it ok!! my child is 10 and i still cant even think about letting her go to the bus stop or anywhere for that matter on her own! we are their parents and we are responsible for their safety for c***** sake! we brought them into this world and it is our responsibility to care for them.

Peter October 23, 2009, 9:45 AM

I see that Lenore Skenazy is still chanting the same mantra. The fist time I read what she had to say was when the body of 8 year old Sandra Cantu had been found in an irrigation pond in California. She implored us not to take the wrong message from Sandra’s kidnap, sexual assault and murder.

She selectively quoted national statistics in and effort to reassure her readers, that - well, it not likely to happen to your child.

I posted a comment on her page in which I listed a number of children that “it had happened to” most have never been found. I agreed with one point she made, stranger abductions are very rare, NCMEC statistics show and average of 115 to 125 a year. Then I asked her reader’s one simple question “are you willing to risk having your child added to that list?”

Since then 5 year old Nevaeh Buchanan vanished while riding her bicycle unattended
in Monroe, Michigan. Sadly, a few weeks later DNA confirmed that remains found buried by a river bank incased in cement were Nevaeh‘s.

On June 26 of this year 10 year old Lindsey Baum, who lives in the tiny rural town of McCleary, Washington, started to walk home unattended. It was only a few blocks, the sun was just setting but it was still light out- she never made it. Lindsey has not been seen or heard from since.

And on the same day that news reports out of Florida told us that Somer’s body had been found in a Georgia garbage dump, news reports out of Missouri were telling of the frantic efforts by law enforcement and civilian volunteers, to find 9 year old Elizabeth Olten.

Elizabeth vanished while walking home unattended from a friend’s house. It was only a quarter of a mile and Saint Martins, Missouri is they type of small town where bad things don’t happen. I pray that she will be recovered safely.

As I posted, stranger abductions are rare, the only question is - do you want to risk having your child’s name added to the list?

wopular October 23, 2009, 9:56 AM

In this instance, I think you have to use some common sense. I’m all for letting your kids have free range. My parents let me and my siblings walk to/from school throughout my childhood, but I’m always doing that with my older brother and cousins. We were always in a large group. The parents kinda did that here, but I guess the problem is that the older sister should have been taught to never let her sister out of her sight.

The big problem here is that that neighborhood had a bunch of sex offenders. Common sense would tell you that you should be a just a bit more cautious.

I don’t think anyone’s trying to blame anyone; it’s just people trying to figure out how to avoid more instances like this from happening.

Nicole October 23, 2009, 9:57 AM

According to the Amber Alert Registry, approximately 3,000 to 5,000 abductions each year are non-family abductions. Most of these cases are sexual assault cases. About 74% of the victims of non-family child abduction are girls. Sorry, I’m not willing to take the chance. I will continue driving my kids to school.

protectkidz October 23, 2009, 10:03 AM

seems to me Leonore uses the names of murdered children to drive some traffic her way.

Surprising that MomLogic would publish this - especially as her followers are absolutely crucifying MomLogic members over at Leonore’s blog right now.

protectkidz October 23, 2009, 10:07 AM

I’ve found that the time spent with my children to and from school, whether walking or driving depending on weather, are some of the best moments we’ve shared!

We talk, and talk. Joke around, I find out tons of stuff about what they are up to, what their friends are up to, how they are feeling in general and on that particular day.

Wouldn’t trade these moments for anything.

Iris October 23, 2009, 10:34 AM

This mother explained through her pain, that she DID teach her children about strangers. And I do not care how much “confidence” your child has, if a predator wants them bad enough a 7yr old will be no match for them.

Cyndi October 23, 2009, 10:34 AM

Letting a seven year old child walk to and from school unsupervised is irresponsible, especially when there was a near child abduction less than one mile from her home 10 days prior to this incident. WAKE UP PEOPLE!!!!

kmadden October 23, 2009, 10:43 AM


Yes, it is dangerous to use the park - THAT MY TAX DOLLARS PAID FOR, to use the bike path - THAT I PAID FOR, go give my children and grandchildren the experiences we had growing up, because we have become too lazy, too lax in ensuring dangerous people are locked up, to worried about “hurting someone’s feelings” -rather then protecting the people we love and places we PAID FOR.

Why shouldn’t I be able to walk through any park, day or night? I PAID FOR THAT PARK… chances are very good that those we’re afraid of didn’t contribute a single dime toward the bike path, the park, the school, etc.

Its time to say - ENOUGH. Do the crime.. do serious time.

Tracy October 23, 2009, 10:45 AM

Momlogic please take this trash down and don’t let this woman get publicity off another murdered child.

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