School Outlaws Glee

Regarding: Schools outlawing normal human behavior, this one has got to be the best. Or worst. You know what I mean. Sent from a father of three named Timothy:

Last fall, my 4th grader’s class banned playing football at recess after one child fell down and hurt his arm. You might say that that isn’t too outrageous of a response, except for one fact — the boy wasn’t actually injured by playing football. He was injured after he tripped over a tree root while showing the other kids his touchdown dance.  Because football motivated the dance, it was banned.

 Maybe we should ban JOY, while we’re at it, since it could lead to dancing… — Lenore

A School Devises A Drastic Solution

We’ve already heard about teachers no longer being able to comfort their students for fear of being accused of child molesting. Even pre-school teachers are not immune: A hug is a grope until proven otherwise. But here is a new level of hyper-worry: After a child got injured, a school in Connecticut has banned ALL touching between ALL students.

No more backslaps. No more high fives. Fist bumps, be gone.

You can understand the administration’s frustration. A kid was seriously hurt by a kick to the groin – that’s just awful. But why is the response to criminalize all physical contact? Why not criminalize, say, kicks to the groin?

What happened here seems to be the knee-jerk response to any problem these days: Overkill, just like when schools ban tag because a kid could trip, or cupcakes, because a kid could get fat. (And let’s not talk about the fact that my own son’s own grammar school has banned the word “dice,” lest simply hearing that word encourage kids to take up a life of gambling. The term they have to use now is “number cube.” Ugh! But that’s another story. I think. Or maybe it’s not. Maybe it’s all part of this weird, “Protect children from everything, at any cost, no matter how small the threat and no matter how ridiculous the imposition” society we’re in.)

Anyway, if your children are not at this particular Connecticut school, they can probably still do what kids do best, which seems to be bumping into each other and cracking up.

But who knows for how long?

— Lenore

Babyproofing Hysteria

Each week I get an email blast called “Connect with Kids” that veers between helpful and crazy-making. Today it’s the latter. (

In a little article about babyproofing, it quotes an “expert” who casts her eyes around a new parent’s home and, “immediately spots something she doesn’t like in the kitchen. Plastic trash bags.”

Continues the blog: “‘You think these are great for your trash cans, well, they are, but it’s terrible for your baby,’ she explains. ‘Children love plastic. For some reason, they are drawn to it. They will eat it, and they will suffocate.'”

Excuse me, but children are not drawn to eating plastic bags. This expert has confused children with turtles (who may or may not confuse plastic bags with jelly fish).

The threat to children from plastic bags happens when a bag falls onto them and they are too young to be able to pull it off, or even to lift their heads to catch a breath. Very young. The other threat is when children fall asleep against a plastic bag and, again, their neck muscles are too young and weak for them to turn their heads to breathe. Here’s a report on just that from the Consumer Product Safety Commission: Also note that 90% of the kids who die are under age 1. They are not eating bags. They are accidentally smothered.

Of course, any parents reading this babyproofer’s advice may well think that now they must banish that staple, the plastic garbage bag, from their kitchens. I know, I know — plastic garbage bags are bad for the environment. What I’m talking about, though, is how blithely parents are expected to upturn their lives in the interests of preventing an exceedingly, excessively, outrageously unlikely danger.

If we acted that way with grown-up dangers we’d be wearing helmets at work (a plant could fall off the file cabinet!) and drinking that awful office coffee from our hands (because plastic cups contain hardeners, paper has been chemically treated, mugs may leach glaze and bottles could shatter). (The coffee is awful just because it always is.)

At some point we have to say to ourselves there is only so much we can worry about. And I say this as a bona fide worrier — ask my kids.

So yes, by all means, do try to keep your child safe. Ask a babyproofer’s advice, if you’d like. Nothing wrong with that. But also try to keep danger in perspective: The average American home is not a death trap.

(The mortgage – that’s another story.) — Lenore

The Child Molester as Sales Tool

 Here’s a little excerpt from a very positive review of the book, “Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned” in today’s New York Times:

“….In the other stories the danger may be less operatic, but it’s no less alarming: a child molester lures a 7-year-old boy into a portable bathroom at a carnival; a tattooed stranger tries to abduct a teenage girl…”

Talk about the perfect Mother’s Day gift!

Now, I’ve got nothing against authors choosing whatever subject matter attracts them. But if you ever wonder why we feel so worried all the time about pedophiles and abductions and even — especially! — public bathrooms, just look at the world view  pop culture feeds us. Whether it’s CSI, Law & Order, the movies (Changeling, Taken), the tabloids, the TV news or “literature” (see above), the way they grab us is by showing children in dire peril.

We get so used to slogging through these stories every day that they start to seem commonplace. I mean, the author profiled in today’s paper could have written about a man who cleans portable toilets, rather than a guy who lures boys into them. He could have written about tattooed strangers who spend their time studying sea turtles,  rather than abducting teens. But no — there has to be a child rape and/or murder involved to make things “interesting.” (Which, by the way, I think is usually a cheap trick, on par with comedians using swear words. That way, even if they’re not that talented, they’re still “shocking.”)

Anyway, the good news is that, in the real world, crime peaked in the early ’90s and has been going down ever since. Best of all? The U.S. Department of Justice reports that sex crimes against juveniles declined 79% from 1993 to 2005.

Just don’t expect to read a book about it. (Except mine, of course.)

 — Lenore

The Natasha Effect on Parents

The death of Natasha Richardson is the definition of tragedy – sad, senseless, shocking. It’s just horrible and a lot of us are haunted by it. In fact, as parents, we maybe a little too haunted by it. How so?

 “It’s a wake-up call,” announced a mom friend of mine on a field trip last Friday.

“Wake-up call to what?” I asked.

“Parents now know that when their kid gets hit in the head and says they’re all right, they may not be.”

“So we should take our kids to the emergency room every time they hit their head and say they feel  fine?”

“Well, if Natasha had done that, she’d be alive today.”

Very true. That’s what the experts are saying: The actress suffered the kind of head trauma that initially doesn’t feel that serious. But then the blood starts pooling and can cause death if not drained almost immediately.

How I wish Ms Richardson had been operated on instantly! But one very unusual death preceded by an equally unusual lack of symptoms does not mean that every symptomless head bump must be assumed fatal until proven otherwise. To think that way would make it almost impossible for us to let our kids ride bikes, or play tag, or even pillow fight. Because at some point, someone is going to bump his head. (And yes, I hate it when they do.)

So I asked a doctor when a parent should worry about a head bump. These are the warning signs, said he: Nausea, dizziness, passing out, blurry vision, personality change or headache.

If any of those occur, you should probably get your child checked out, fast. But if your kid feels all right and seems all right, maybe you don’t have to immediately assume the worst.

I’m not a doctor. Just a mom who knows that whenever we hear a tragic story on the news — especially when it’s repeated a million times — my generation has a tendency to assume the same thing could easily happen to our own kids, no matter how remote the real danger. (Think: Kidnapping, or school shootings.) “Just to be safe” we do everything we can to prevent it – sometimes smothering normal childhood in the process.

I’m sure the next time one of my sons hits his head, I’ll be more worried than before. (And believe it or not, I’m a worrier!) But I also hope I can summon the courage to let them rough-house and play and even snowboard (ugh), despite this newfound fear of a bump that doesn’t seem too bad.  — Lenore


A Mom Lets Her Son Walk to Soccer…And The Police Come Calling

Dear Readers: The following is an exchange I had earlier this week with a mom who wrote to this blog. It shows how those of us who trust our own eyes, and guts, and neighborhood, and children can get beaten down…and rise up again.

A WOMAN NAMED LORI WROTE: I went searching for your story after an experience last night. My 10-year-old son wanted the chance to walk from our house to soccer practice behind an elementary school about 1/3 mile from our house. He had walked in our neighborhood a number of times with the family and we have driven the route to practice who knows how many times. It was broad daylight – 5:00 pm. I had to be at the field myself 15 minutes after practice started, so I gave him my cell phone and told him I would be there to check that he made it and sent him off. He got 3 blocks and a police car intercepted him. The police came to my house — after I had left — and spoke with my younger children (who were home with Grandma). They then found me at the soccer field and proceeded to tell me how I could be charged with child endangerment. They said they had gotten “hundreds” of calls to 911 about him walking. Now, I know bad things can happen and I wasn’t flippant about letting him go and not checking up, but come on. I live in a small town in Mississippi. To be perfectly honest, I’m much more concerned about letting him attend a birthday party sleepover next Friday, but I’m guessing the police wouldn’t be at my house if I chose to let him go (which I probably won’t). 

I WROTE BACK: Incredible! It’s like the Salem Witch trial era, when people were hallucinating witchcraft. Today we hallucinate horrific danger in the safest of settings. I am so sorry you – and he – went through this!

LORI WROTE: I appreciate you responding. I was more than a little upset yesterday and second-guessing my actions. I tend to actually be more of a hovering parent, so even though I was nervous about my son going on his own yesterday I really didn’t think it was a bad decision. I really resented the police officer trying to lecture me about how the streets aren’t safe. Rather than give in to the hysteria or naively ignore the danger, I think I’m going to go down to the police office and ask to see detailed statistics about what happens on our streets in the afternoon hours. I’d like to base my decision on facts rather than hysteria. ‘Course, I don’t quite know what to do about the “hundreds” of people who called 911 when they saw him on the street. I can’t imagine that many people even saw him in 3 blocks in a mostly residential neighborhood. But, if they were watching out for him, that just makes me feel like he was that much safer.

I WROTE encouraging  her to go get those statistics and keep me posted. She did!

LORI WROTE: Guess what. I just got an apology from the Chief of Police. I emailed him this afternoon to ask for stats and explain what happened. He called me almost immediately, assured me that I lived in a safe neighborhood, and apologized for the officer’s conduct. He asked if I really wanted the stats, or if I just wanted to know that I was right. I told him that knowing that I was right was enough for me. I still don’t know what I can do about the people who call 911 because they see my son on the street alone, but at least I don’t feel like a naïve mother anymore. And, I like our chief of police even more J. He promised to handle this himself with the officer.

FREE-RANGE MORAL OF STORY: It takes fortitude to trust your own instincts, especially when well-meaning (but deranged) authorities tell you not to. But in times of mass hysteria, that is what’s required. — Lenore

Raw Cookie Dough: Death On a Spoon?

At last, the video age is upon us. Click on this if you’re wondering if you can let your kids eat raw cookie dough (one of the many parental fears I examine in “Free-Range Kids” — the book):

Intro to “Free-Range Kids” available for your reading pleasure

Well, my fellow Free-Rangers, here goes. Since my book is coming out in just about a month, the publishers have posted my introductory chapter on a web site called Scribd (the YouTube of documents, or so they say). If you want to get an idea of what the book is like, this would certainly do the trick:

Off goes the book into the big, wide world. It’s sort of like seeing your kid graduate. (Not that I’d know, yet. But I can hope! And while I’m at it, I’m hoping your kids graduate some day, too.)

Have a great weekend.  – Lenore

Hey Scholastic: Don’t Sell Our Kids Product Tie-In Dreck

Here’s a campaign it’s easy to get behind, “Tell Scholastic: Put the Book Back in Book Clubs.”

It’s sponsored by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood , which noticed that a whole lot of the items for sale through those little Scholastic book club flyers were either NOT books, or were books that come with little doodads like jewelry or toys.  Let’s call them “Happy Meal” books.

Scholastic enjoys a very privileged position in childhood in that it is allowed to advertise in the schools, via those flyers. You don’t see Toys R Us handing out catalogs during reading workshop, and yet the two companies are selling a lot of the same stuff.  Scholastic’s “book club” items include the M&M’s Kart Racing Wii video game, a Princess Room Alarm, a Monopoly SpongeBob SquarePants computer game and that great educational tool: Lip gloss.

This is not to mention a Hannah Montana bracelet.

Scholastic should be flush with the profits from Harry Potter, for God’s sake. Using the schools to sell our kids on dreck like an M&M Wii game is like selling pina coladas in the cafeteria instead of milk.

Although I guess if schools did that, they might have a lot more parent volunteers at lunch.

Here’s the campaign’s Facebook page:

— Lenore

Let’s Not Worry Quite So Much About What Our Kids Eat

Organic? Whole wheat? Whole Foods? Who cares? A lot of us. But maybe we shouldn’t. Or at least, maybe we shouldn’t burden our kids with all our nutritional correctness.

 When my older son (now12) was in kindergarten, he came home with a keen interest in cans. Not to build towers with, or roll down the stairs. He wanted to read the labels, because his teacher had been showing the class all about sodium, fructose and calories.

So much for story time.

Anyhow, those kindergarteners must’ve been mighty advanced, because I’m a grown-up and I still have a hard time figuring out those labels — especially when the can contains 3.79 servings. (Long division!) I’m also grown-up enough to know that a few years from now, whatever ingredient has been declared bad will probably be good again, and vice versa. Think: trans fats, wine, pasta, real sugar, fake sugar, chocolate — even lard is making a comeback.

But the bubby young teacher’s interest was enough to excite my son (also several of the dads – but that’s another story), and for a while he was talking so much about carbohydrates, it was like living with Dr. Atkins. Slowly, his interest tapered off (why ask about nutrition when all you eat are salami and Mint Double Stuff Oreos?). But an article in last week’s New York Times got me thinking about kids and “nutrition awareness” again.

The article – “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods” ( ) – talked about whether young children are getting too concerned about things like calorie counts and sodium content. Some eating disorder experts said that parents are so worried about their kids eating only the “right” food they’re turning the moppets into “orthorexics” – people afraid of eating the wrong thing, ever. Maybe afraid of eating, period.

That seems a bit of catstrophizing, on the experts’ part. But parents who obsess about food indulge in bit of catastrophizing themselves. The truth is: A kid can eat a standard-issue hot dog without it throwing his whole life off balance. An unwashed grape is not a crime against humanity. Even a little roll of fat on a kid doesn’t mean he, or his parents, have failed.

In our quest to be perfect, we forget that kids can survive on less-than-perfection. They can survive on stuff Whole Foods wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot loofah. I know from personal experience they can survive on a diet of Double-Stuff Oreos and salami. On Wonderbread!

Speaking of which – did you know that, thanks to all its vitamins and minerals that build strong bodies 12 ways, the much-maligned Wonderbread is credited for silently eradicating beriberi and pellagra in America? Yes indeed. Everything bad, even super-processed white bread, was once good, and vice versa.

So when we start fretting out about our kids’ eating habits, and worrying that last night’s kale wasn’t certified organic, let’s try to chill.

I’ve found that a little bag of M&M’s helps.