“America’s Worst Mom?”

By Katie Ash — April 14, 2008 1 min read
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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?

A version of this news article first appeared in the Motivation Matters blog.