This week, The Brooklyn Paper is proud to announce that world-renowned columnist Lenore Skenazy takes over Sunday mornings at Brook
Google “America’s Worst Mom” and you’ll quickly learn that Lenore Skenazy once let her 9-year-old son ride the subway alone.
The columnist and reality show host got that title after writing about her boy’s remarkable experience safely getting from point A to point B without an adult by his side.
But not everyone thought this was a good idea, and in response to the media blowback, she founded the bookblog and movement, “Free-Range Kids.” Her feisty belief that our kids are safer and smarter than our culture gives them credit for has landed her on talk shows including “Dr. Phil” and “The View.”
She has lectured internationally, from Microsoft’s headquarters to the Sydney Opera House, and she’s also host of “World’s Worst Mom,” a reality show airing on Discovery in most of the world (but, surprisingly, not America!).
Now, she brings her fun, engaging writing to The Brooklyn Paper, where her new column “Rhymes with Crazy” will appear each week.
A graduate of Yale, she lives in Queens with her husband and two teen sons. Her writing has appeared in the New York Daily News, where she was a columnist for 14 years, the New York Sun, National Public Radio, and of course, Mad magazine.
So without further ado, hear’s Lenore:
When Walt Disney was 16, he forged his parents’ signatures and lied about his age so he could join the American Ambulance Corps, which was part of the Red Cross. That’s how he found himself in Europe, just after World War I ended, driving ambulances.
He loved it. He said it “added up to a lifetime of experience in one package.” And, as he later put it, “I know being on my own at an early age has made me more self-reliant and less of a the-world-owes-me-a-living type that I otherwise would have been.”
I have to thank the book “Teen 2.0” by Robert Epstein for that story, and for putting the whole idea that teens are lazy, incompetent, irresponsible selfies on trial. Is it that “kids today” are really so immature? Or is that we treat them as if they are, and they respond the way most of us do when dissed or diminished: we disappoint.
During the past generation or two we have come to think of young people as less and less competent. I usually notice this with younger kids — how we drive them to school, as if it’s always too cold or too far.
How we insert ourselves into their squabbles, as if they couldn’t sort things out by themselves. How we organize their lives for them, as if leaving them to their own devices would mean wasted time, a teachable moment that we failed to fill.
But teens, man! Lately we act as if there’s no difference between 13 and 3. Here in New York City, there is no specific minimum age for latchkey kids, thank goodness. But Illinois law states that no one should be home alone until age 14 — an age when many kids in my generation had already been babysitting for two or three (or four!) years. Now the 14 year olds are the babies themselves.
Or how about crossing guards? My crossing guard when I was a tyke was a 10 year old. Now, in every place I’ve lived in New York City (Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens), the 10 year olds are the tykes and the guards are all adults.
Deliver newspapers? The folks who bring ours here in Jackson Heights do it by car. Most newspapers require their delivery people to have a license and liability insurance. If you’re just a kid with a bike? Too bad.
And as for the laws about sex, we act as if anyone with any stirrings of anything before 18 is either a perp or a victim.
Sometimes they’re both. A case in 2006 involved a 13-year-old Utah girl who had consensual sex with her 12-year-old boyfriend. I don’t know of anyone who loves the idea of kids that young sleeping together, but here’s something worse: she was found guilty of having sex with someone under 14.
And so was he!
That makes both of them sex offenders — and victims.
As I learned from Nicole Pittman, an expert on the sex offender laws I heard speak at an New York University Law School symposium on Monday: of the 800,000 or so people on the sex offender registry nationwide, 200,000 are under 18. That’s because teens have sex with other teens — a fact that shouldn’t be news and, when consensual, shouldn’t be considered rape.
Shackling a teen with the label of “sex offender” often means they are not allowed to go to school (because there are other kids there) or even live at home if there are younger siblings in the house. Sometimes they can’t live near a park, a church, a day care center — even though it is not that they ever raped a toddler. It is that they slept with someone about their own age, as teens always have.
It is only now that we’re treating teens like toddlers themselves that we are stunting them as humans, and hunting them down for having sex. Really, it’s time for someone to grow up.
Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids.