The Economics of Free Range Kids

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I’m on vacation this week. I brought the laptop with us though, so there’s THAT. Figured if anything there would be some early morning work to curate old posts and make new Pinterest pins. Since I put in a couple of years on the yearbook team in high school I’m finding this Pinterest thing kind of fun. Crop til you drop!

Today’s unexpected post is all about the economics of Free Range Kids. While enjoying the lovely scenery here in northern Michigan, I’ve read up on Lenore Skenazy’s hugely popular book of the same name, first published in 2009. Almost half-way through, the gist is pretty clear: Parents have become extremely paranoid about letting their kids go out on their own, even though statistically, our society is just as safe as it was in the early 60s.

Free Range Kids Economics
Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be inmates…

A little irony in the FIRE

The book is pretty funny. I recommend it for the comical anecdotes alone. Make no mistake about the tragedies of real child abductions – they are terribly sad. This isn’t a book about letting your kids wander off without any preparation or accountability, it’s about applying common sense in a world gone batshit crazy over the 24 hour news cycle.

For us whom aspire to an early retirement, we need to remember that it’s all about the freedom to get out and enjoy this world. It’d be a tad ironic to be pursuing Financial Freedom while keeping junior “on a leash.”

Ms. Skenazy’s tales of mothers getting unhinged when they hear about their kids enjoying an ice cream or movie without parental supervision (my word!) made me recall my childhood. I was about as free range as all get-out. Growing up in rust-belt Michigan in the 70s and 80s, freedom was the norm for kids.

Free Range Dork

As early as age five I was walking to school and back, granted it was only three blocks. I remember riding my bike over to my friend’s house, to the park, or to the local 7-11. We spent summertime biking everywhere or just playing in the backyard. If there was a babysitter anywhere in the picture, she was hanging out inside burning holes in the upholstery with her cigarettes.

Later on, I’d walk or bike the two-mile trek to junior high. That sucked in the winter time, let me tell you. Going to movies or even on “dates” was no issue. Parents would just drop us off and then pick us up a few hours later. By the time high school came around, I had a curfew of 11PM and a car to drive one town over where I could find girls to date who didn’t know how much a dork I was at my own high school. Not that THAT was the plan. Just worked out (really great) that way…

About those economics

Besides all the logical reasons for letting your kids be kids again, there are some financial reasons to back up Free Range Kids. I just put the money aspect lower on my list. The key thing is to allow your kids the freedom to explore free from 24×7 supervision, while crammed full with “activities.”

Consider those activities. Do you drive Junior to those guitar lessons? Are guitar lessons even necessary? That second question is worth asking if Junior isn’t the slightest bit interested in learning an instrument. Gershwin was 12 before he even saw a piano, the author notes.

What about the cost of chaperoning constantly for your kids and their friends? Is there an opportunity cost brewing up there? Could you be working that side hustle instead while Junior gets on his Huffy to pedal off to play on his own? I think so.

The greatest cost is this: If you’re not letting your children flex their independence early and often, you’ll wind up raising tea cups. The author describes the lamentation of college professors whom are observing an ever-growing trend of fragile psyches arriving on campus. They got the golden SAT score, but they probably couldn’t get from one end of Manhattan island to the other without a nervous breakdown.

Did Home Alone simply just scare the shit out of every sane parent in America??? Curse you, John Hughes!

And those little things call statistics

To further back up the argument, the numbers simply don’t support keeping your children “protected” and indoors all day. A bevy of stats reveal the fact we’re as safe as we’ve been since the early sixties. Your child has a 40x greater chance of dying in a car accident than she would being abducted off the streets.

Rates of serious crime and sexual assault crimes against children have dropped dramatically since the early 90s. Everyone has a cell phone and can report in things that much easier. But the point is, the more savvy your kids are with their independence, the less likely they’ll become victims in the rarest of rare events.

This all goes along the same lines you hear about being more likely to be killed by lightning twice (or more), than to be killed by a terrorist attack. It’s true. But you watch the news all day and guess what? Your human brain isn’t conditioned by evolution yet for discerning television from reality. Anderson Cooper has us right where he wants us.

Child “safety”

Another facet worth considering from a money standpoint is the insane market on child safety gear. You can spend a fortune keeping your tykes out of cabinets and drawers and cushioning every hard surface and corner. There’s locks for toilet lids and outlet covers, etc. etc. In our house, we managed without doing any of that stuff. We did put the outlet plugs in, but that was mainly for insulation purposes.

Just consider the statistics when you see all these products and question whether there was one single instance that caused all the hysteria. Life is full of bumps and bruises. There will be injuries and even some close calls. But if you try too hard to protect your children, they’ll never know why it is you’re trying so hard to reach financial freedom. It sure as hell isn’t to sit inside all day watching TV.

Were you a Free Range Kid growing up? What was your experience, and do you plan to raise your own that way?

Financial Benefits of Free Range Kids


Comments 8

  1. ” We did put the outlet plugs in, but that was mainly for insulation purposes” That’s funny. We actually ended up not even using those. We did block of some cabinets with cleaning products and the knife drawer, and the gate to the staircase. that was about it.

    We struggle lately to get her away from the Ipad. Our fault, but hard to reverse. Luckily she’s very interested in pets (from our neighbors) and the local play area. There is still hope 😉

    1. You got me – we did install a gate to our kitchen. Oh how quickly we forget those modifications after we remove them. I think you’re probably doing just fine with your little one. Just remember to give her a good dose of freedom from time to time!

  2. It amazes me that today’s parents give up most of their own lives in pursuit of “team sports” for their kids. They feel that their kids need to be told how to occupy their time and how to have fun. I had a wonderful childhood being free to roam the neighborhood with my friends while my parents both worked. I turned out ok……

  3. I love the Free Range Kids philosophy. The helicopter parenting trend is creating adults who can’t function without direction because they’ve never been able to operate independently. I was able to do a few things on my own, and I really value those experiences as a kid. I learned how to be independent and how to manage my money without supervision.

  4. Your experience reminds me a lot of my own – tons of riding bikes, exploring, and independence. Most of our indoor entertainment was video games and movies, which we could walk to the video store and rent ourselves. Internet was still dial-up and a pain to use.

    I know suburbs are terribly inefficient and there aren’t video stores any more and the internet is awesome but damn if I don’t get a little bit nostalgic for that place in time.

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