Nine-year-old Izzy Skenazy was fearless when he asked his parents if he could ride the New York City subway alone. Armed with a subway map, $20 and a metro card, they sent him off on his way.
Izzy's mother said the whole thing took about 45 minutes and that her son came home very happy. The pre-teen said it made him feel more grown up, but many people around the globe didn't think his family made a good choice.
It sparked a firestorm of anger directed at his mom, Lenore Skenazy, a syndicated columnist who wrote about it on her blog. Critics called her naïve, dangerous and even the worst mother in the world.
Skenazy, now author of "Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts With Worry," didn't see it that way.
"It turns out a lot of us who love our children listen to them to try and figure out if they're ready for the next stage of their life," she said.
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Skenazy believes you have to listen when your child tells you something.
"When a kid comes to you and is telling you something like they're ready to try something," she said, "as a grown-up you have to listen and think, 'Maybe he is ready.' And you prepare him and let him try it."
Skenazy doesn't think parents need to constantly worry that something bad will happen.
"You're living in America in 2009," she said. "When you turn on the TV, you're going to see some horrible abduction story -- but you know they'll have gone to Aruba to find that story, or they'll go to Portugal to get a really juicy abduction story."
Bad things do happen to children, but crime statistics show that the world today is no more dangerous for children than it was a generation ago, she added.
Therefore, today's kids deserve the same freedoms their parents had, according to Skenazy.
"You just want them to have some joy in life that isn't being taken one place to another -- and then they're at the soccer game, and then the coach tells them exactly what to do," she said. "Everybody gets a trophy for showing up, and then you drive them home. Then it's homework, then Nintendo, then bed. I don't think that's a great childhood."
Some child psychologists agree with Skenazy's "free-range" approach.
"Confidence doesn't come from telling your kids you're great, you're wonderful, you're very smart," said Dr. Richard Gallagher, an associate professor at the NYU Child Study Center. "Confidence comes from kids accomplishing things, and I think we have to give them these opportunities."
Skenazy said parents are depriving children of one of the greatest moments in childhood. She described it as "the 'I did it myself' moment, when you get yourself to the park, when you ride your bike without your dad holding on to the front."