Free Range Scouts

Many Scout families struggle with the idea of letting their son participate on high adventure outings. In fact, I have been told several times that backpacking, snow camping, and cycling are just too dangerous for today’s youth. Many units have stopped doing them or modified them to be less aggressive. This weakens the Scouting program.

The parental and peer pressure that used to propel boys out of the living room and onto the trail is getting weaker and weaker. As a result, outings are becoming less adventurous and boys are challenged less and less during their teenage years. This has ramifications, not only for boys, for for society in general.

The following article by Lenore Skenazy about this issue really resonated with a lot of adult Scout leaders. It is posted on the Free Range Kids website. What do you think?

When I wrote a column for The New York Sun on “Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Take The Subway Alone,” I figured I’d get a few e-mails pro and con.

Two days later I was on the Today Show, MSNBC, FoxNews and all manner of talk radio with a new title under my smiling face: “America’s Worst Mom?”

Yes, that’s what it took for me to learn just what a hot-button this is — this issue of whether good parents ever let their kids out of their sight. But even as the anchors were having a field day with the story, many of the cameramen and make up people were pulling me aside to say that THEY had been allowed to get around by themselves as kids– and boy were they glad. They relished the memories!

Free Range Kids (book version) is available on

Had the world really become so much more dangerous in just one generation? Yes — in most people’s estimation. But no — not according to the evidence. Over at the think tank, where
they examine the way the media use statistics, researchers have found that the number of kids getting abducted by strangers actually holds very steady over the years. In 2006, that number was 115, and 40% of them were killed.

Any kid killed is a horrible tragedy. It makes my stomach plunge to even think about it. But when the numbers are about 50 kids in a country of 300 million, it’s also a very random, rare event. It is far more rare, for instance, than dying from a fall off the bed or other furniture. So should we, for safety’s sake, all start sleeping on the floor?

Well, upon reading that, I’m sure that some people will. But — let’s hope it doesn’t catch on. It’s crazy to limit our lives based on fear of a wildly remote danger. And yet, as I started speaking to people about kid safety in the last few days, I heard things that strike me as completely bizarre. One dad in an upscale suburb of New York, for instance, “lets” his 11-year-old walk one block to her best friend’s house –but she has to call the minute she arrives safely.

As if she’s been dodging sniper fire.

Another mom castigated me for my irresponsibility and proudly said that she doesn’t even let her daughter go to the mailbox in her upscale Atlanta neighborhood. There’s just too much “opportunity” for the girl to be snatched and killed. To her, I’m the crazy mom.

People who want me arrested for child abuse were sure that my son had dodged drug dealers, bullies, child molesters and psychopaths on that afternoon subway ride home by himself.

Believe me, if I lived in a city like that, I’d evacuate. But crime wise, New York City is actually on par with Provo, Utah — very safe.

Not that facts make any difference. Somehow, a whole lot of parents are just convinced that nothing outside the home is safe. At the same time, they’re also convinced that their children are helpless to fend for themselves. While most of these parents walked to school as kids, or hiked the woods — or even took public transportation — they can’t imagine their own offspring doing the same thing.

They have lost confidence in everything: Their neighborhood. Their kids. And their own ability to teach their children how to get by in the world. As a result, they batten down the hatches.

And then there are those who don’t.

I’m relieved to report that plenty of letters poured in with exactly the opposite viewpoint. There were more of these, in fact, than the naysayers. Parents from all over the country wrote, “Bravo!” “You’re not a bad mom!” And, “Good for you and good for your son!”

I loved getting these emails and hearing what these parents (and grandparents and friends and relatives) let their little loved ones do, but plenty of them also mentioned the dubious reactions of the other people in their community — sometimes even the other person in their bed.

So I started this site for anyone who thinks that kids need a little more freedom and would like to connect to people who feel the same way.

We are not daredevils. We believe in life jackets and bike helmets and air bags. But we also believe in independence.

Children, like chickens, deserve a life outside the cage. The overprotected life is stunting and stifling, not to mention boring for all concerned.

So here’s to Free Range Kids, raised by Free Range Parents willing to take some heat. I hope this web site encourages us all to think outside the house.

A Scout Leader’s first job is to deliver the adventure of Scouting to the boys in their unit. It has to be safe, but it also has to be exciting. The outdoors is the perfect environment to provide this adventure — but it only happens with the encouragement of their parents.

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1 thought on “Free Range Scouts”

  1. Two points:

    1. As our big risks decline, whatever small risks that remain become the biggest (relatively). A form of the Princess and the pea.

    2. People are very poor judges of risk.

    Reminds me of the Scout mom who let her son scuba dive in the open ocean starting at age 6 but would not let him bicycle on a bike path under adult supervision. He was way more likely to drown in the ocean than he was to drown on his bike. The path did not go anywhere near the ocean.

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