Sunday, April 27, 2008

America's Worst Mom?

I saw this article from Newsweek advertised at MSN with the provocative caption, "Is this America's Worst Mom? Her crime? She let her son ride the subway alone:

Would you let your fourth-grader ride public transportation without an adult? Probably not. Still, when Lenore Skenazy, a columnist for the New York Sun, wrote about letting her son take the subway alone to get back to her Manhattan home from a department store on the Upper East Side, she didn't expect to get hit with a tsunami of criticism from readers.

"Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence," Skenazy wrote on April 4 in the New York Sun. "Long story longer: Half the people I've told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It's not. It's debilitating—for us and for them."

Online message boards were soon swarming with people both applauding and condemning Skenazy's decision to let her son go it alone. She wound up defending herself on the cable news networks (accompanied by her son) and on popular blogs like the Huffington Post, where her follow-up piece was ironically headlined "More From America's Worst Mom."

So, is this mom really America's worst? In my opinion, that honor should be reserved for the likes of Andrea Yates. This mom sounds like she knows her son and what he is capable of. When I was in graduate school in New York in the 80's, it was a far more dangerous place. I saw kids ride the subway all the time. No one seemed to care. Now that it's safer, no one thinks kids should come out of their homes.

Sticking the title "America's Worst Mom" on this particular mother, Lenore Skenazy, is rather ridiculous and alarmist given the things really bad mothers actually do to their children. The term should be reserved for people who deserve it.


Blogger JH Bassist said...

Actually, it should be 'Worst' mom, not "Worse" mom. Maybe the editors at Newsweek need to freshen up on their grammar.

Christ, are there no standards anymore?

As far as all this nonsese, I predict that the new generation of yuppie parents, with all of their obsessive protectiveness, are going to create the rudest, most ill-equipped bunch of humans we've ever seen. You just watch, my friends.

9:33 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

The worst mother is the child who gets pregnant and has a child before she is - or should be - emancipated herself. The worst mother is the one who chooses to be a single mother - "my child and I don't need a man around!" The worst mother picks a dirt bag to father her children. The worst mother is the crack head doper who continues her unsavory ways while pregnant. The worst mother never disciplines her child and never says "no." The worst mother is one like Andrea Yates. There are a lot of candidates for worst mother - but not this lady.

10:29 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger SGT Ted said...

She should just tell the critics "It's ok for him to travel alone on the subway, he has a handgun."

Then watch their heads explode.

10:46 AM, April 27, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I lived in Japan for a number of years, and it was actually pretty common to see kids 10 or 11 years old on the subway. Of course Japan has very low crime and a tight-knit culture.

10:49 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


No, I am the one who needs to freshen up on my grammar. My mistake. Thanks.

10:50 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

This generation's parents have already created the rudest, most ill-equipped bunch of humans ever. If you look at the statistics each year about 100 children are abducted and murdered by strangers. That leaves a heck of a lot of them that aren't.

A good example of something that has gone horribly awry with child rearing is this site , that was created by Helen's tax dollars no less. The site outlines how to train your kid to prevent that minuscule chance of a stranger abduction. It says that adults should never ask for assistance from a child. Children should never travel alone and a child needs special permission from a parent to leave a yard or play area. I can see these rules applying to small children but do parents expect their kids to magically become responsible and trustworthy adults if they never get to venture into the big bad world?

Parents want to be perceived as "good parents". Every mommy blogger likes to make her own definition of 'good mom' and then spells it out in detail, with specific examples of who she thinks are bad moms. The pressure on parents to follow these directives can be immense, those that don't get the nasty labels. Somewhere along the way society has decided that good parents drive their kids to school, don't let children interact with strangers, and monitor their every kid's move (even though some of the kids are in college).

The result? I call it the ipod generation: A group of young people that seem to act as if they are intently listening to an ipod whether they have one plugged into their ears or not.

10:52 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Wayne said...

metalman - no, I don't think there are any standards anymore. My head aches every time I spend too much time reading magazine articles, reading newspapers, or watching ads, regardless of their actual content, because of the poor use of homonyms, misspellings, and horrible grammar. And I didn't really do well in English class at school! I give bloggers more leeway, because they have no editors, but sometimes theirs gets hard to read, too (Not you, Helen).

10:54 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


"...sometimes theirs gets hard to read, too (Not you, Helen)."

I find myself making mistakes when blogging and multi-tasking etc. and yes, a good editor would be great but with blogging, it would be too time consuming as well as too expensive to hire one. So, I rely on you guys sometimes--and I do appreciate that most of you are polite about typos, mistakes etc. and gently point them out. Somehow, when someone says something snippy about a grammatical error, the contrarian in me just leaves it alone to annoy.

11:02 AM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

New to the blogging experience, but hope this one goes through.

Re: Bad Mom. I side with the Mom - who I agree is the best judge of how mature her son is. In other words, whether or not he has the maturity to ride the subway home alone. Personally, I'm proud of both of them.

For all the idiots - yup, I meant to use such a derogatory word - who mentioned Andrea Yates as "Worst Mom": the ignorance displayed in these comments is downright sad. Andrea Yates is a tragic woman with mental illness, not the world's worst Mom. If there ever was a person for whom the statement "there but for the grace of God go I....or my sibling....or relative..or neighbor..." - you get the point. Andrea Yates didn't sign up for mental illness, yet the poor woman will suffer the consequences for as long as she lives. Perhaps in part because of the pontificating opinions of people like those who mentioned her in their blogs.

My experience with people lacking empathy is that they are most frequently at a very low level of emotional maturity. Life has a way of curing that deficiency.

Keep an open mind, folks.

12:11 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger tomcal said...

In 4th grade you are how old, 9 or 10?

When I was 11 years old I regularly rode the public busses around Lima, Peru, a city of 6 million people, alone.

I didn't speak the language, the condition of the busses was, for the sake of political correctness, let's say poor; and the routes were often through some of the roughest neighborhoods in the City.

I never had a problem, although I now wonder whether my parents were crazy to give me so much freedom.

12:15 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger David Foster said...

A few years ago, I was walking around Paris, not far from the Sorbonne. A group of little French girls, 10 years old or so and all wearing school uniforms, came up to me chattering away excitedly. I have no idea what they wanted to tell me about, since I sadly don't speak French, but it struck me that this would have been unlikely to happen in the U.S., where so many kids have been taught to be afraid of all adults.

12:32 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Jeff Y said...

Last time I posted about a mother trying to teach her son independence, everyone groaned about how unbelievable it was. Whatever. As I learned from that mother, a movement exists to un-pussify young men (my words). I was fascinated to learn of it. I for one am glad to see it.

12:38 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Jonathan said...

A while ago I was eating a snack outside of a 7-11. A pregnant woman rode up on a bicycle with a toddler in the kiddie seat and asked me to watch the child while she went in to buy ice cream. Of course I helped her but I was surprised that she trusted me. But it makes sense when I think about it. I was obviously taking a break from my own bike ride, and the woman accurately sized me up as a responsible person, or at least as responsible enough that in that particular setting it made sense to ask me to watch her kid for a minute. And of course she was not American. Learning how to evaluate people and public situations is extremely important, and I don't think we help anybody by encouraging them to rely on rigid rules and legalistic caution rather than developing their own judgment through experience. I can't evaluate the columnist's decision to allow her child to ride the subway alone, but it seems that she is considering the big picture in allowing her son to take some risks, and that's probably a good thing.

1:19 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger DADvocate said...

I wouldn't allow my children to ride the subway alone in the 4th grade but I'm not about to call her the world's worst mom. In the first grade I commonly rode the city bus (not school bus) from my home to school about 8 miles away and back with my sister who was the same age at the time as this boy. We also had to walk 6 blocks from to and from the bus stop.

People who leave babies in locked cars in the sun are much worse. I've never been to New York ciy and don't really know what it's like. This lady does. She made a judgment and it appears to have been the correct one. I'm for giving kids as much rope as you safely can. A good parent knows how much rope that is.

2:44 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Marbel said...

I'd never let my kid go off on the subway in NYC alone, but he's a rural/suburban kid with no experience. For a city kid, it's probably not a big deal. But maybe a city boy couldn't be trusted to go down to the creek alone and be safe, like mine could. Or whatever.

Wonder why people can't trust parents to know - and know what's best for - their own kids; seems like most do.

3:37 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

While this mom is nowhere near being the world's Worst Mom, I think that letting a fourth grader ride the subway alone is a pretty bone-headed move.

4:10 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger dienw said...

Is NYC that dangerous a place? Is every borough as dangerous as the next? Is there a kidnapper or, heaven forbid, a rogue priest on every subway train? Every other train? I don't think so. No, the kid is not 100% safe; not one is. The issue is about relative safety and likelihood of an incident. In this case, it is up to the parents to determine the acceptable level of risk versus raising a fear driven child.

4:16 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Larry Sheldon said...

I don't remember how old I was for sure--grammar school age--but I was allowed to ride the street car from Glendale (to which line I walked--a couple of miles, probaqbly) to the Subway Terminal (down town Los Angeles) and back just for entertainment (or to give my mother a day off?). Or the Asbury buss (longer walk on both ends) to visit my mother at work in Eagle Rock.. Lots more fun than walking.

I mat least once rode the train to my grandparents house (250 miles).

My kids rode the train to San Francisco at about the same age.

4:20 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Quasimodo said...

those who strive to make life a risk free enterprise are worse, too.

pretty soon we'll need helmets to ride in cars

4:41 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


"Andrea Yates is a tragic woman with mental illness, not the world's worst Mom. If there ever was a person for whom the statement "there but for the grace of God go I....or my sibling....or relative..or neighbor..."

Well, if you feel this way, then I imagine you should be taking up the cause of other killers--there are many men who are stressed to the limit (and mentally ill to boot)and end up having to kill their family, just like Andrea Yates. They rarely, if ever, get off and no one runs to defend them as you seem to do for Andrea Yates. I wonder why.

6:03 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Freeman Hunt said...

Here is my reasoning for not allowing an eight year old child to ride the subway alone:

(1) While the child is unlikely to encounter anyone who means him harm, it is not at all possible to reasonably ensure that he won't.
(2) The subway is not his neighborhood, and he will therefore be in the company of strangers who are less likely to be watching out for him and who will be unable to recognize whether or not an adult in his presence is known to him.
(3) A very young teenager is likely capable of a decent amount of self defense and even if not able to fend off an abductor, could probably raise quite a ruckus. Not so with an eight year old who is likely no match for even the weakest adult.
(4) It is absurd to think that a child who is not allowed to ride the subway alone at age eight is therefore going to be raised as a fearful, overly protected child.

I think we should be capable of saying that it is absurd to call this woman America's Worst Mom without having to swing the pendulum to the other end and assert that people are overprotective and on their way to raising fearful brats just because they don't allow children under ten to roam public transit.

6:35 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

When I was seven, I took my first solo bus ride in NYC. My mother gave me explicit instructions and I only had to go a few stops. I had ridden buses and subways for years so I was familiar with the process. I remember the most difficult part was making change. In those days, you paid 15 cents but if you didn't have exact change, the driver made change for you. That was in 1962. I'm not sure I would do the same thing today but I have been known to let my kids ride their bikes miles away to McDonalds at age 10 in a suburban area. Many parents think i was crazy to do this. I also made my sons at age 6 walk hundreds of feet to their school bus stop in the winter by themselves. Others took their kids in their gas-guzzling SUVs and let them wait in them to keep warm. When my kids complained about this to me I told them that I didn't want them to grow up to be wusses. I said that when the Army drafts them and sends them to Afghanistan to fight terrorists they won't be able to complain about the weather. Then they asked "Dad, what's a draft??"

9:15 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...


Yes, I do have great empathy for Andrea Yates and many others who suffer from mental illness. Nope. Does not mitigate their culpability in their crimes, but surely someone who carries the title "forensic psychologist" should understand that they fight things you & I can never begin to understand.

Frankly, Helen, I'm suprised at you. But then, perhaps someone who chose to use the photos you have on your blog is not desiring to first and foremost be noted for your understanding of the human psyche.


11:37 PM, April 27, 2008  
Blogger Acksiom said...

"Andrea Yates is a tragic woman with mental illness, not the world's worst Mom."

Aaaaand when exactly did you become entitled to decide for the rest of us that those two things must be mutually exclusive?

Let alone what anyone else might be capable of comprehending. How dare you attempt to define me, or anyone else here, as being constrained by the same narrow limits of conceptual competence under which you apparently suffer?

1:00 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Ed said...

Kathleen, if a woman murders her five children by drowning them one by one, then it really doesn't matter what sort of mitigating circumstances exist. We are all quite rightly judged by others according to our actions, and in my book Yates's actions were particularly monstrous. She is certainly not in contention for "mom of the year".

2:38 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Mercurior said...

Two points, maybe three.

There are far worse mothers. I know a few, Letting a child have its independance, is the greatest gift. We in the UK have public transport, its not unusual for children to travel on their own.

If this woman is worst mom. then what about those who put kids on airplanes on their own. arent they worse, as they travel further over different countries. with 300strangers on a plane.

Kathleen, I dont know where you have been living for the past few centuries, But IT is wrong, and illegal to kill your children, Yes she may have had mental problems, but its still WRONG. The overuse of the mental illness card causes the people with real problems, from getting help.

(and this is a personal thing kathleen, how does it affect you that dr helen uses "pictures".)

When i was a kid, 20 odd years ago, i used to go to liverpool, to manchester 30 mile trips on my own, the amount of pedophiles hasnt increased since my childhood. the FEAR of them has grown and grown.

5:28 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Usually when I see someone "new" on blogger with your snippy attitude, I assume it is one of our resident trolls coming in under a fake name and discount what they say. I will assume that this is the case here. Please do not comment here again.

5:45 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Cham said...

I'll go with the idea that Kathleen is new so just a few words of advice on blog commenting. On some blogs, such as this one, it is okay to disagree with the blogger but one should disagree with the point of the post, not attack the character of the blogger.

It is not unusual for bloggers, if they choose, to post pictures of themselves so that readers can get a perspective of the writer. Helen has a picture of her in her pajamas because she is a frequent contributer to something called Pajamas Media.

Helen World is one of the very few places where female posters, i.e. me, don't have to march in opinion lock-step with the rest of female group-think. Helen and I don't always agree with one another but she is nice enough not to delete my posts. So, Kathleen, your opinion does matter and is probably well thought out, you just might want to tweak slightly how you present it.

7:26 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


Good points. I think starting out calling people idiots when you are new to a blog is in very poor taste and immediately puts the commenter in an unfavorable light. I still think Kathleen is a troll pretending to be a first time commenter, however.

7:31 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Acksiom said...

Cham: "Those pesky women simply won't behave right to make men happy."

Personally, I've always found that making other people happy is one of the greatest, most wonderful and uplifting joys in life that a person could ever experience.

Apparently, though, in the Chamiverse, that isn't the case -- at least, when the people to be made happy are male, and the person to be experiencing that greatest and most wonderful and uplifting of joys is female, that is.

Tell us, Cham: why do you want to deny so deeply rewarding and pleasureable an experience to not only yourself, but other women as well, as it appears you do?

9:10 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger J. Bowen said...

"my child and I don't need a man around!"

Shouldn't that have read "my child and I don't need no man around!"? I'm just saying...

9:59 AM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Serket said...

I used to walk about six blocks to go to Kindergaten in the late 80s, but perhaps that is safer than a bus.

Sgt Ted: She should just tell the critics "It's ok for him to travel alone on the subway, he has a handgun."

Very funny!

TomCal - My great-aunt and her husband went to Lima with a tour group. She said on their open days, she didn't feel comfortable wandering too far away from the hotel. One of my friends was a Mormon missionary to a South American country and I think it might have been Peru, but I don't know if he had any dangerous experiences.

Quasimodo: pretty soon we'll need helmets to ride in cars

I heard in Utah they want to require all children under age 8 to be in a child seat. I don't have any kids, but it seems like a dumb rule to me.

Cham: I really enjoyed your advice to Kathleen and I was actually surprised.

5:05 PM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Keith Kannenberg said...

Born and raised in NYC. I started taking the subway alone when I was 10 (sixth grade). I started going to the supermarket alone at 6. My parents knew that I was responsible and independent enough to do it so they allowed it. Just like they should have.

I am very sure that New York in the 70's was a lot less safe than it it is now. We just have much more media coverage now.

5:46 PM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger AFFA said...

This is another reason I wouldn't want to have kids these days.

I didn't live in a town with a subway when I was in 4th grade. I'm not sure there was any kind of public transport. But I often walked home from school (about 7 miles), walked to the movie theater (paid with my own money, of course), walked to the public library, took the school bus I wasn't supposed to be on over to the university (a couple professors enjoyed having an inexperienced-but-enthusiastic lab assistant), etc.

I had to tell my parents where I would be in advance. So I couldn't whimsically decide "I want to go to the library today!" I had to tell them a day or two in advance, and they'd write down where they were going to pick me up. I was in big, big trouble if I wasn't where I said I'd be.

Of course, I also rode a bike without a helmet, had a realistic cap gun, and played sports without three layers of protective gear and maximum sunscreen. It's a good thing, too. My family couldn't have afforded to let me have any hobbies the way things are these days.

Whether this method of child rearing was successful or not in my case is a matter of some debate.

8:13 PM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger tomcal said...


In about 1978 Lima did indeed become a very dangerous place as a result of a Maoist group known as the "Sendero Lumnoso" - the Shining Path Guerilla movement.

By that that time I had moved away. But I have know doubt that during those years your Aunt would have had to be very careful.

11:35 PM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger tomcal said...

Correction: "Sendero Luminoso".

11:36 PM, April 28, 2008  
Blogger Unknown said...

I know of a mother who blogged about how she wouldn't let her son walk around the mall by himself.

The kid was a freshman in high school.

Okay, so maybe malls aren't as safe as they were when I was growing up in the '70s/'80s? I suppose it's possible. But if she worried that the occasional gang of older teens were going to harass her son, I have to wonder how she feels about him going to school. Did she really think that was safer?

4:37 AM, April 29, 2008  
Blogger mbet said...

If this kid is anything like the other NYC-resident kids I know, he's fairly street-savvy. As one commenter said, he might need careful supervision if he visited a country creek, but a NYC subway? I don't think that's out of range for a mature nine-year-old. Betcha anything if anyone had tried anything dodgy the kid would have been screaming at the top of his lungs. The kid was probably better off than a lot of tourists who barely understand how the subway looks and practically have a big "I'M A TOURIST, FLEECE ME" neon sign rotating around their heads.

I spend time volunteering in a critical care unit, so, much as I might wish otherwise, I can't really oppose helmets for bike-riding kids or car seats for kids under a certain weight. I loved riding my bike without a helmet as a child, but I also love being able to live independently and process information effectively now, which I might not have been able to do if my helmet-less body had struck a tree head-first. BUT. I do think there are other ways to foster independence in your children, and this mother picked one of them. Good for her. Not every nine-year-old could have handled this outing, but it seems to me that this particular nine-year-old could just fine.

7:49 AM, April 29, 2008  
Blogger Trust said...

Dr Helen, are you ever personally offended at people who regard women (such as Andrea Yates and Mary Winkler), as nothing more than children that are never responsible for their own actions? My wife gets offended at it almost daily.

12:36 PM, April 29, 2008  
Blogger Serket said...

When I was probably about five (and still carrying around my Bobby doll), I was riding up and down driveways on my bike, without a helmet, and I slipped on some algae and got a gash just above my eyebrow. I started walking home as was really dizzy and some of my friends found me and helped me to get home. I was given several stitches. This happened in front a house where an older lady lived and she told me years later that by the time she got out to help me I was already gone.

3:06 PM, April 29, 2008  
Blogger Helen said...


I wouldn't say I get offended--I try to be a bit more analytical about it. Treating women as children is a benefit for women in cases where they might be held responsible and a detriment when they want to do something, say like be President etc.

Gender feminists seem to pick and choose which role women play based on the benefits to women. Domestic violence, women are not responsible or able even if they kick, scream and punch. But they are always responsible and able if they need to fill a power position or job. I guess I do feel offended if men feel this way about women, it shows that they feel women are not capable human beings responsible for their actions and this is reinforced by feminists in some sense.

7:56 PM, April 29, 2008  
Blogger Trust said...


Good points. Thank you.

8:09 AM, April 30, 2008  
Blogger adams said...

I grew up in NYC and was taking the public bus home from school starting in fourth grade and to and from school starting in 5th grade. This was perfectly normal back in 1980 when I was that age. All my friends travelled on their own starting at that age.

12:37 PM, April 30, 2008  
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