If you thought you've heard it all, two words: Lenore Skenazy.
"Who in the world is Lenore Skenazy?"
Well, she's a parent who charges other parents $350 for eight one-hour-and-forty-five minute sessions to not watch their children.
Parents drop their kids off at a playground in Central Park in New York City, where non-babysitter, Lenore, is waiting. She says, hi, leaves the park, travels blocks away to a coffee shop, while those little rascals are left at the park for their parents to find and pick up later.
OK, I know this idea is a hard to swallow, but parents are actually paying this woman to not watch their kids. To give you a better idea of how serious Skenazy is about unsupervised play, here's an excerpt from her website, aptly titled www.iwon'tsuperviseyourkids.com:
"Our first session is Weds., Sept 12. Ages 8-18 welcome. We'll meet at the entrance to the "Ancient Playground" in Central Park, at 85th St. and Fifth Ave., at 3:45 p.m. I'll be there to say hi — then I'm off to sip my latte. Kids can be picked up at 5:15, or they can head home on their own — it's up to you. If your child owns a watch, have him/her wear it. Otherwise, the kids can ask folks what time it is. While many people think that children being someplace with 'strangers all around' is dangerous, actually it means there are people all around who can help if anything goes wrong…."
"Tell me this isn't so!"
I had the same reaction. I know what you're thinking – the world has gone mad and Skenazy is leading the charge. It has. She is.
"Just the idea makes me hyperventilate."
I hear you, but take a closer look.
Because there's a method to this madness, which Skenazy calls free-range parenting.
"Is this an antidote to helicopter parents?"
You could say that. Today's anxiety-prone, overly protective parents imagine, plan and solve just about everything for their kids, meddling in their business, including play.
"What's so wrong about that?"
Well, it's causing children to be less independent and deprived of unsupervised play, counterproductive to their formation into healthy responsible adults. Are you following me?
Pondering the whole idea sent me back to my own free-range childhood days, when the school bell couldn't ring soon enough, releasing me to the great outdoors. I'd romp around on foot, traveling blocks from the security of my own neighborhood.
Yup, sometimes venturing miles on bike, skirting unknown places, discovering new grounds for play, splashing in creek beds, couching under railroad trusses, navigating busy highways. I daringly pushed the limits of liberty by shoving back my otherwise mundane regimented existence.
"Didn't your parents worry?"
"And at home?"
I had plenty of unsupervised play there, too. Draping blankets over dining room chairs and lining pillows on the floor, I built houses, forts and kingdoms.
"I just don't think kids these days would buy that, not with video games, iPads and newfangled electronics they play with their thumbs."
You're not alone. Most kids spend at least half their waking hours on digital media with a significantly decreasing percentage actually playing outside. Good luck trying to find an unsupervised kid riding a non-motorized scooter, balancing on roller skates or playing hop-scotch.
"Come to think of it, I rarely see kids playing outdoors."
My point exactly. Children are missing out. Non-electronic play gives children control, allows them to make decisions and determine risks, all formative physically, emotionally and socially. After all, in the animal kingdom, play is practice for life and essential to survival.
"So you think video games are bad."
All I'm saying is that today's risk-averse, overbearing parents are depriving kids from learning essentials they can't get from video games like Team Umizoomi, MonkeyQuest or Super Mario 3-D Land.
"Would you turn kids loose in Central Park?"
No, I'm not suggesting letting kids or grand kids go unsupervised in Central Park. All I'm saying is to give them some free reign in the neighborhood. Just saying.