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The World's Worst Mom

Parents really don't have to hover as much as they think.

Shutterstock/Used with Permission
Source: Shutterstock/Used with Permission

The reality show "World's Worst Mom" debuts Thursday, January 22, on the Discovery Life Channel. Host Lenore Skenazy, author of the book and blog "Free-Range Kids," believes we overestimate dangers and underestimate our kids these days. Parents really don't have to hover as much as they think. On the show, Skenazy visits extremely overprotective families and helps them loosen their reins.

Who Is the World's Worst Mom? You?

After I let my 9-year-old son take the subway by himself and wrote a column about it, the media pounced. They said I was crazy, negligent—whatever. I was on every show from Dr. Phil to The View and got labeled "America's Worst Mom." Discovery Life bumped me up to World's Worst. A promotion!

The show sounds like The Supernanny.

It has a similar format: I go to a different family in crisis every week and try to change them, dramatically. Except instead of dealing with out-of-control kids, I deal with parents whose anxiety is out of control.

Can you give an example?

In the first episode, I was called in by the dad to help the mom: She was still feeding their son with a spoon. But he's 10.

In another episode, I meet a Manhattan family where the dad is nice (and French) enough to cook a delicious dinner every night. Then the mom microwaves it for five minutes to kill the germs. And in another family, the mom makes her 15-year-old son text whenever he arrives at wherever he is going. Then he has to follow up with a phone call to prove his kidnapper didn't actually write the text.

Couldn't he just skip the text and call?

Are you suggesting that this mom was rational?

Can you really change a helicopter parent? If so, how?

I can, and I did! Of the 13 families on the show, I changed 12. I spent five days with each family, and every afternoon I would pretty much lock the parents in the house and send the kids out to ride a bike, climb a tree, run an errand.... These kids came home proud and happy. "Mom! We got you the cranberry juice you love!" The parents cracked. The pride they felt crowded out the fear. Suddenly they felt joy.

What's the psychology behind this?

I'm not a psychologist, but it seems similar the person who's afraid of dogs; every day you bring the person a little closer to the dog until finally, he pets the dog, who wags his tail and licks the person. Reality takes the place of the crippling "what if?" fears. When I was done, the families were so grateful, a lot of them gave me scarves, clothing, big thank-you cards.

Hopefully, they weren't faking it.

After I left, they also emailed me and bragged: "Now Lisa walks to school, and I tell the other moms, 'What are you waiting for?'"

Did any of them go back to helicopter parenting after you left?

Do kids go back to crawling after they've learned how to walk?

For more on Lenore Skenazy and Free Range Kids: @FreeRangeKids

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