An Essay…Times Have Changed


Today while surfing the Internet I encountered a link to an interesting little article about an owl, named Flaco, that “escaped” from NYC’s Central Park Zoo, which also discussed the way children are raised today. (Flaco’s story follows essay.)

This made me think of how different my childhood was from that of today’s youngsters.

Like almost all the kids at that time I started kindergarten in the fall of 1948, when I was five years old. On the first school day my mother walked me to school, which was five blocks or about 6/10 of a mile from my house, in order to show me the way. I assume she also was there to walk me home at the end of the day, but I don’t recall. (Actually I barely recall any of this, but my mother often told this story.) On the second day I told her I didn’t want her to walk with me, I was a big boy and could do it by myself. So, off I went.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I learned later that she followed me to see if I could get there by myself.  Well, I did, and continued to do so for the next 13 years. Today if parents let their five year old child walk to school alone they would probably be arrested for child endangerment.

When I was six I got a bicycle and learned to ride it in just a few days. (And that was before training wheels were available.) Since I wasn’t allowed to cross or ride on the street, I would ride around the block on the sidewalk while improving my riding skills. I quickly got bored with that and would sneak off to other parts of town without my parents knowledge. Imagine that happening today.

I was a very independent child, and I was given a lot of freedom. I certainly wouldn’t call it parental neglect, but today that’s what it would be called. Actually my parents didn’t take much interest in what I did, and I never volunteered much information about how I spent my free time. To this day I rarely tell anyone much about how I amuse myself. 

It would be really difficult for me if I were growing up in today’s world. I cherish the freedom and independence I had. Of course there were difficult learning experiences which probably would have been avoided with adult supervision, but the lessons learned in the school of hard knocks are not soon forgotten. Although I never peed on an electric fence, I did a lot of other stupid things that I quickly regretted. Today’s kids don’t have the same educational opportunities. Just like Flaco, children need to be allowed the freedom to explore their world and learn to make their own way. Too much help and protection is a real handicap for them. Kids haven’t changed significantly in the last 75 years, but the way they’re raised certainly has.


Meet Flaco, the Free-Range Kid who happens to be an owl. In just two weeks, he has learned to hunt and survive. There’s a lesson there.

Flaco, a 13-year-old Eurasian eagle-owl, has spent almost his entire life in the Central Park Zoo, where he was pampered, loved, and enriched. Earlier this year, on the night of February 2, someone (not me) cut a hole in his wire mesh cage. Flaco was free.

His helicopter parents—er, zookeepers—desperately tried to make him come home. They baited traps. They played Eurasian eagle-owl sounds. They did everything but promise him a trip to Disneyland. The work seemed essential, because the authorities didn’t believe their beloved bird could survive without adult supervision.

“Every meal he takes is a bit of a risk,” fretted ornithologist Scott Weidensaul. “Why risk his life out there with this game of Russian roulette?”

Why indeed? Because Flaco was born to fly.

While at first he could only make it about four blocks before tuckering out, soon observers saw him flying further and further afield.

And while there was great concern that he wouldn’t know the first thing about how to catch his own food, just days into his freedom he was coughing up tangles of rodent fur and bones—the parts that owls can’t digest. This meant he was successfully hunting.

It turns out all that Flaco needed to prove himself was an opening—literally. And now he’s a Free-Range Bird, beloved by his city.

Is there a lesson for the rest of us? I spend my days trying to convince zookeepers—er, parents, teachers, counselors, and coaches—that 24/7 supervision of children is unhealthy for them. Love and attention are important ingredients for kids, but constant hovering over them can stunt their growth.

We all know this from our own childhoods: We learned by climbing trees, getting lost, solving problems, and making friends.

Kids possess all sorts of skills, but they require unsupervised, unstructured time to discover them. Free time in childhood is not a luxury. It’s not wasted. It’s not fallow. It’s crucial for child development.

On February 16, the zoo stopped trying to catch Flaco. In just two weeks, he had learned how to battle the elements and dazzle New York City. He stunned those who loved him dearly but had underestimated him all those years.

If we want our kids to dazzle us with their abilities and ebullience, we, too, have to remember they come pre-programmed to explore and figure things out. Our job is to love them, hug them, open the cage, and watch them soar.

-Lenore Skenazy-

2 thoughts on “An Essay…Times Have Changed

  1. Times have changed but looking at our country certinally not for the better. We all needed time to fly on our own

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