We do our children no favor when we cripple their independence to make them safer. And guess who shares this assessment? The head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children—the organization that put the missing kids' pictures on the milk cartons!

"Our message to parents is you don't have to live in fear; you don't have to feel you have to lock your children in a room," says Ernie Allen, the organization's president and chief executive officer.

Even when it comes to that mother of all worries—abduction—the safest kids are not the helicoptered ones. They're the ones with enough street smarts and self-confidence to stand up for themselves, whether that's to bullies or to the proverbial man in a windowless van. And how do kids get that kind of confidence—the kind where they're ready to scream, "Get away!" and kick and run?

Self-confidence comes from doing things on your own, whether that's making a tree fort or making dinner. That's why it is called "self"-confidence rather than "parent-assisted"-confidence.

As parents, our job is not to watch our kids 24/7. It's to give them the skills and confidence to take on the world. Good parents give their children roots and wings. And then?

We stand back and watch them soar.

Lenore Skenazy is founder of FreeRangeKids and author of Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. (Wiley)

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