Crazed School Bans Parents from Sports Day

What happens when the fear of the incredibly rare crime of child kidnapping becomes so all-consuming that it overshadows any other considerations? Including common sense? Or even Googling?

You get something like this: A school in England that holds a multi-school sports day every June – the highlight of the year, where kids compete and parents cheer – decides, for the first time, to ban parents from attending. That’s right: no parents are allowed to watch their kids. Why not? Here’s the rationale, as reported in The Telegraph:

Paul Blunt, development manager at the East Beds School Sports Partnership, said the “ultimate fear” was that a child could be abducted.

“If we let parents into the school they would have been free to roam the grounds. All unsupervised adults must be kept away from children.

“An unsavoury character could have come in and we just can’t put the children in the event or the students at the host school at risk like that. The ultimate fear is that a child is hurt or abuducted, and we must take all measures possible to prevent that.”

That’s like saying because it may rain sometime during the year and a child could get hit by lightining, we cannot allow children to attend school anymore. (Quit cheering, kids.) After all, they could get zapped on their way. Child zapping is the “ultimate fear” and we are just being sensible in taking all possible measures to prevent that. Right?

Wrong, of course. Really wrong. It does not make sense to prepare for the worst case scenario when the chances of that scenario happening are infinitessimally small. That’s why I must take issue with a woman who posted earlier on this blog that even if there were just a .00001% chance of something terrible happening to her child, that was not a “risk” she was willing to take.

When something has a .00001% chance of happening, I don’t think we should consider that a “risk” anymore. We need a new word to keep it in perspective. How about a “nisk” as in nearly non-existent risk?  (Or “nnisk?”) Whatever we call it, we should consider anything  that unusual as a bizarre aberation in the natural order of things — something  we cannot prepare for or prevent anymore than we can prevent an asteroid from landing in our dirty laundry, giant target though that may be.

Yes, please teach your children the basics of staying safe: How to cross a street safely, how to run and kick and scream if somebody is bothering them, how to ask  for — or even demand — help if they find themselves in danger or lost or confused. Teach them never to go off with strangers. Teach them to dial 911 and to confide in you when something is troubling  them. Free-Range Kids believes in safety and prepared kids are safer kids.

But to try to engineer our childrens’ lives  so that there is not even .00001% risk is to defy the truth of human (and animal! and plant!) exitence. Nothing is 100% safe, not even sitting on a couch that could probably, conceivably, somehow collapse in on you all of a sudden. Or cause a deadly rash. (Actually, we had a couch that seemed to be doing that years ago. Very, very itchy — but that’s another story. And, I’m happy to say, another couch.)

The school that is worried about sports day attendees-as-kidnappers has taken no notice of the fact that stories of school kidnappings by strangers are so rare that when you do what any modern-day worrier does — Google “kidnapped from school” — you find two stories in the New York Times: One from 1900, one from 1908. Then there was that 1972 instance in Australia  — but the two guys had guns, so you couldn’t stop from attending a sports day even if you told them, “Sorry, no parents allowed.” And then there was a recent kidnapping in Nepal, presumably not while doing the high jump in front of hundreds of adoring family members.

The English school was wrong to ban parents from its sports day based on a such a remote possibility of danger. You know — a  mere nisk. (Or nnisk.)

— Lenore

42 Responses

  1. It’s even less riisky than you suggest. The UK has become a Total Surveillance Society with closed-circuit TV everywhere. No one can go more than 50 feet in a public place without being captured on video. So even if someone were to abduct a child, that person (fi not the act itself) would be quickly seen, with the video feed immediately broadcast on TV and the web. It would be very hard, not to say impossible, for someone to get away with such a crime. Orwell would not have been surprised at how effectively his native country had implemented his dark vision in the name of security.

  2. I know I keep coming back to this point, but the way to put any risk in perspective is to compare it with the risk we all take every day: what is the chance that your child will be permanently injured or killed in an accident on the way to school? Auto accidents are responsible for more accidental child deaths than all other causes *combined*. So I would say, anything that is significantly safer than the ride to school should be considered a nnisk. Extraordinary measures should not be taken to prevent nnisks, thus defined. Most importantly (this is where change will happen), no lawsuit should award any damages whatsoever if it can be shown that the risks were in the nnisk zone.

  3. If you aren’t prepared to subject your child to a 0.00001% risk, you had better never take them anywhere in a car.

  4. Along the same idea as David, if you aren’t prepared to subject your child to a 0.00001% risk, you probably just shouldn’t have children. Because that’s life.

  5. Did they not stop to think for an instant how deflating it is for a kid to not have the support of their family during their accomplishments?

    I am almost embarrassed for the human race if this is where it’s heading. I don’t even know what to say. That’s just a damned shame.

  6. Kenny,
    not just “accidental death” car accidents are the number one cause of death in America for everyone under the age of 45.
    For children 1-14 it’s
    1. auto accidents
    2. other accidents
    3. cancer
    4. birth defects
    (from CDC data 2002-2003)

  7. First of all, what is wrong with the UK?! You can’t go 50 feet without being on camera – that’s absurd!!!
    Back to the post: This is another one of the reasons I decided to homeschool. My daughter’s school did not allow parents in at all. I couldn’t walk her to her room, have lunch with her or even go in to say hello to her teacher. I have no problem with dropping my kids off at a school but I feel I should have access to the one place besides home where they will be spending most of their time. I swear, pretty soon the government will announce that they will take control of all children right from the hospital nursery because of the risk that “life” presents. Ridiculous!

  8. Are you telling me Chuck E. Cheese’s has more common sense than a British school?!

    Well… At least in Britain they’d get caught on film, I guess.

  9. So … their default assumption is that all parents are predators until proven otherwise? And that a kid at a school sports day, in broad daylight, surrounded by his/her friends and teachers and the parents’ friends, is a prime target for said predators? That’s asinine. I have no words for how asinine that is.

    And for how many years have they been holding these annual sports days without worrying about kids’ being abducted? Funny, that …

  10. Uggg! This just confirms my idea to go live in a cave. The world has gone crazy! Oh wait, a cave might not be safe….

  11. Bubble wrap and helmets, people.

    I’m telling you; it’ll be law for the under 13 set in the U.K soon, I can feel it coming…

  12. Well, we couldn’t attend our kid’s sports day (Scotland), but that was due to the appalling weather and it twice being cancelled outside and finally having to be held inside in the sports hall where there wasn’t enough room for parents to attend.

  13. […] does Lenore Skenazy find these distressing stories? Paul Blunt, development manager at the East Beds School Sports […]

  14. The reason they give is ridiculous, no argument there, but having said that, I must stress that in my days at school (back in the seventies, when every kid was a freerange kid) parents weren’t allowed during sports day either. Because it was a school event, and the only school event parents were welcomed were the yearly musical performance of the highest class and the ‘white elephant event for a Good Cause’.
    No parents during schoolhours! Certainly no lunch with your child at school,, Heather, and ‘dropping in to say hello to a teacher’ would’ve been considered distracting (what if every parent would take in into its head to ‘drop in’ just when he or she felt the urge? The teachers were there to teach the children, not to chitchat with parents.)
    Parents were welcomed at Parent’s Night, twice a year, where the parents would chat with the teacher about the child’s behaviour and progress, and that’s that. Because freerange parenting also means to let the teachers do their job. It’s not just the children that suffer from helicopter parenting, it’s the teachers too!

    No, school was a different world from home, when I was a kid. At home my mom and dad were boss, and at school it was the teacher, and that was that.
    During lunchhour you could go home (walk or bike) since we all lived right in the neighbourhood and we all walked to school on our own from age seven or eight, or, if your mother worked during the week (there were a few ‘latchkey kids’ in the seventies) you could eat your bread from your lunchbox at school, but no parent would come to school for anything but an emergency, and we liked it that way.
    In fact, we would’ve been collectively mortified if our parents were at a school sports day to cheer us, and frankly, our parents had better things to do with their lives than to cheer at some eight year old running whilst carrying an egg in a spoon.

  15. Wow, that is just crazy. .00001% is not risk. As people before mentioned, car crashes are WAY more likely. I live in Baltimore, where a recent study found we are 80% more likely to be in a car crash than the average American. But I still strap my little one into the car and take her to the store. You have a better than .00001% chance that something horrible and unpreventable will happen. My husband and I decided that with a toddler, you can’t be a germaphobe as a parent. You just can’t. And likewise, you have to enjoy all the time you do have, and not dwell on all the things that could “possibly” go wrong. I know that something terrible _could_ happen, but I will deal with it if it does. And Lenore’s points of teaching your child to be safe are exactly what we should be focusing on. Educating, and being proactive, not keeping children (or parents) from doing the things they love in the name of safety.

  16. gggggggggggrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr


    one of my school memories is of my dad coming to watch me in the high jump and the girls all wondering who he was. And was he the boyfriend of one of the teachers

  17. @Marion…hear, hear! Funny, too—and I love that you used the word “whilst”. We all did like our freedom, didn’t we? (I’m a freerange 70’s kid, too.) It was great to have our own lives –lives that our parents didn’t know about. Yes, it could have been a kid-life filled with self-imposed danger (I do not believe that outside dangers are better or worse, then or now.), but I was fortunate to have aware, sensible, loving parents who knew to step in when needed. My parents and I didn’t need to be together all the time for them to provide terrific parenting. The absolute last thing they would want to do is stand around on a hot, humid day and watch me throw water balloons at another kid. Unless I asked and it was very clear that it was important to me AND they could really spare the time. And I think that’s the difference between parenting yesterday and today; it’s simply an indulgence for both parent and child to literally, in person, “always be there” for your child. Theoretically and when needed, yes, literally and in person, no.

    I also find it odd that the more parents want to be with their kids at all times–in school, sporting events, camps…the more rules these institutions are creating to keep parents out. Is that good or bad?

  18. Being born would put the child at much more than a .00001% risk of being harmed. We have to stop women from having children!! It’s too dangerous! Just think of the children . . .errr wait . . .

  19. @HappyNat: And think of all of the dangers to the baby prior to it being born! The mother could fall or get sick or … break a sweat even! I agree — humans should stop reproducing, it’s far too risky. *rolls eyes*

  20. Now, this is just nonsense. I could understand if they said that parents are not allowed because they end up fistfighting the referree for a questionable decision (THAT seems probable, doesn´t it?). Also, I could see their point if they said that many parents could not attend, so half the children would feel bad for it. Or the opposite, that parents cheering would distract small children, and they would just stand there waving instead of racing (not that anybody cared for that, I reckon).
    But chid abduction?!? Really!

  21. I like beautiful blogs!

  22. No; the “Ultimate fear” is that children will learn to fear all adults. Perhaps we shouldn’t allow the teachers to teach the children in person, becasue we can’t be 100% sure that none of them are “unsavory characters”, roaming the school unsupervised. Let’s teach my video link from now on.

    But wait…what if the parents really are the unsavory ones? I don’t think we should leave the children unsupervised in their own homes.

    This is just nonsense.

  23. Hey now, wait a minute! This school is crazy, but a cave dangerous? I’ll have you know a cave saved my life once!

  24. Is this story from the Telegraph or the Onion? I sometimes don’t get the British sense of humor, but this is a joke right?

  25. My new favorite website is this one.

    It includes the odds of dying from….whatever.

    Did you know the lifetime odd of dying from a “Fall on and from stairs and steps” is 1 in 2,255! If my math is correct that is 0.04% chance. So parents keep your kids ONE ONE LEVEL at all times!

    Bitten or struck by dog? 1 in 115,489. 0.0008% Parents, no pets. Especially mammals besides dogs because that risk is 1 in 47, 639 0.002%

    Drowning while in a bathtub 1 in 11,079 . 0.009%. Parents do not allow your children to bathe…in fact maybe we could get a government subsidy to remove all bathtubs in all houses.

    My favorite. “Overexertion, travel or privation” 1 in 119,098. 0.0008% So parents, whatever you do, please do not allow your children to MOVE when they are away from home.

    You see why it’s my favorite site? It just makes me smile. 😉

  26. Maybe we should just turn our children off (the little switch at the back of their neck?) and put them in the hall closet, and bring them out when they are 18, and just be done with it.

    (People are crazy! They are missing out on LIFE!!)


  27. @Marion — asinine as I think this decision is, I had the same thought. Parents never came to school sports days or similar when I was at school, and I don’t think it ever occurred to anyone to ask them. I mean, how could you have fun at the junior high track meet (“having fun” meaning inventing rude versions of the cheerleaders’ chants, eating popsicles until you felt slightly ill, talking about which members of the opposite sex looked best in their gym shorts, flirting, gossiping about the teachers, etc.) if there were parents all over the place?!

    But we did have things like the annual Stampede Breakfast (I’m from Alberta — don’t ask…), the Division II [grades 4-6] musical, Family Fun Night, the art show, Soirée Française, etc., to which parents were invited and during which they must certainly have been able to wander all over the place, and nobody worried about that either.

    @Lola — that was just about exactly my husband’s reaction when I told him about this story. First he said, essentially, “So?” then I explained why parents had been banned, and his head almost exploded from the stupid. He had assumed that the school had found parents took the competition too seriously and stressed the kids out and nobody was having any fun anymore, which made sense to him because that’s one reason we no longer make our kid play soccer…

  28. Crazy, crazy, crazy. But it is the UK, this is the place where a frightening large percentage of the population still doesn’t vaccinate for measles, mumps and rubella. I’d say the whole place is schizophrenic at best,… and yes I have family there and have lived there myself so I do have a frame of reference for my opinions.

    That said, as a teenager I would have been pleasantly happy that my Mum was not allowed to my sports day,…despite her loving support at that age it was pretty embarrassing to have your parent’s cheering in the stands and yelling your family nickname at the top of their lungs! If only I had known how much fun it is as a parent to attend and watch your kids experience the sheer joy I would have been easier on them.

    Ah hindsight, what cruel truth!

  29. This is what I really get a kick out of: “All unsupervised adults must be kept away from children”

    And here I thought adults were supposed to supervise children!!

  30. Yeah, this is a case where parents are being banned from something that it was kind of silly to expect them to be at in the first place. Maybe the tradition is different in Britain, though.

    But the REASON for the ban is ridiculous. If parents WANT to come to watch their kids run footraces against the other kids in their class, I guess they CAN, but I’ve always been accustomed to regard such things as just part of the school day (albeit an unusual day), not some big public event.

  31. In England parents have always gone to sports days, I don’t know what American sports days are like but here its like a family event with races for mums and dads as well as the kids.

    I don’t know, first there was the ‘lets not have first place or winner’s lest it upset the children who aren’t quite so sport orientated kick’ and now no parents.

    The extent to which this country is going to ‘protect’ their children, is quite frankly laughable.

  32. Well, the “funny” (not really, but you know what I mean) thing is, the danger of a child being abducted by their own parent is MUCH higher than being abducted by a stranger. So, by some marvelously twisted logic, it makes more sense to ban the parents from coming into the school than it does to ban strangers. I don’t think that’s quite what the rule-makers had in mind, though.

  33. Lenore,
    Are you sure you aren’t making this stuff up?? 🙂

  34. This is indeed stupid and further it seems to me that if they were going to worry about kidnapping risk, the real risk would be kidnapping by non-custodial parents or relatives in a hostile family situation. That danger seems real enough that a lot of families in hiding from an abusive non-custodial parent (I should clarify: I know that the vast bulk of non-custodial parents are not abusers) do a lot of work with schools and carers to make sure everyone understands that the child must not have contact with or be allowed to leave with the non-custodial relative and that the school must not hand out addresses or similar for that child. As far as I can tell, that’s real management of a real risk to specific children.

    But why focus on doing hard work to lower a real risk to a particular child when you can feel good about yourself doing less work and ‘save’ more children from a much smaller risk?

  35. While the UK does have more CCTV cameras than most (possibly all) other countries, the 50 feet claim is a serious exaggeration, as is the much-quoted “fact” that the average Briton is caught on camera 300 times in a day ( As a demonstration of this, consider that in recent cases of child abduction, the perpetrator and the act itself have *not* been quickly seen and the best video feeds available have been blurry shots of the victim(s) some time beforehand.

    Which is a bit of a digression. This episode is completely outrageous and I sincerely hope that there is a rethink in light of the public reaction. Unless (and I almost hope this is the case, as it would mean the organisers weren’t completely off their collective rockers) there is actually a real and specific threat to one or more of the participating children as a result of their own specific family situation and the general ban on parents was an attempt to reduce that risk without drawing attention to the child(ren) in question. I’d still think that was a gross overreaction, but at least I could sort of see where they were coming from. I suspect there are no such considerations, though.

  36. I must have been a huge dork in school. Our school had a yearly Olpympics that parents attended. I loved having my mom come watch me perform. I don’t recall one child saying that they wished their parents weren’t there.
    As for the guy who responded to my comments about dropping in to say hello to a teacher being distracting. I did not mean that I would stop in at anytime throughout the day but I see nothing wrong with walking my 5yo to her classroom in the morning and sticking my head in the room to say hi and ask how the teacher is doing. Once again, these teachers have our children for a lot of hours each week. Why shouldn’t we get to know them and be civil? I remember my mom doing that a couple of times a year and again I was not mortified by her presence.

  37. Okay, not exactly a comment on the sports day ban, but on the other comments about having a life away from your parents. An acquaintance of mine had her kids in sleepaway camp last week and constantly posted pics of them on FaceBook. How did she have pics of her kids while they were at camp, you ask? Somebody there was constantly taking pics and posting them to a secure website so the parents could see every day (if not every minute) what their kids were doing.

    I had chaperones. I didn’t need my parents to see what I was doing at camp every day. Yuck.

    I think the reason for banning the parents is silly. Around here, I sometimes wish they would ban the parents due to over-involvement. Being supportive and going to games when they are on a team is one thing. Attending every Field Day for every kid, plus field trips, plus performances, plus award ceremonies (and let’s not forget the extracurricular stuff, too) is expecting me to be child-centered (there was an earlier blog post on that, right) and not letting me have the balance I need in my life.

    My kids know that I can’t and won’t attend every single event at their schools, so they pick and choose the most important ones to them and I do my darndest to be there for those. When they have to prioritize (realizing that, like money, Mom and Dad’s time isn’t infinite), they make more thoughtful choices and are less whiny and demanding.

  38. Heh, do you know how I broke my arm when I was five? By falling down from the sofa in our living room. Perhaps we should ban sofas.

  39. DJ, I’m with you. I love my kids. If one of them is in a play, or reading some of their own poetry, I’ll make sure one of us parents are there. But I don’t need to go on every field trip. I don’t need to be there at field day, or their little charity fund raising run. I don’t need hover over the teachers. I don’t want the teachers to be my friend, or my kids’ friends. I want them to teach my kids and treat them fairly. But I feel my job is to put the fear of God into the kids (i.e., you will obey and respect your teachers or you will be grounded until you get social security) and then get out of the teacher’s way. If there is a problem, I contact them, and work with them. But otherwise, I trust them to do their jobs.

  40. I have to agree that such a ban is simply ludicrous. I am currently reading your book and I am becoming an avid Free Ranger… I have three people in my life who are currently on my list to get your book from me as a gift!!!

    While we’re at it, let’s pull our kids’ teeth out of their mouth, because there is a chance they might bite their tongue if we allow them to keep them!!


  41. For another perspective on the 0.00001% risk factor, consider that the US Environmental Protection Agency, in hazardous waste site cleanup, views an “acceptable” carcinogenic risk range to be from 0.01% to 0.0001 % (1 additional cancer death in 10,000 to 1,000,000 people).

  42. I’m not sure where you are getting your info, but good topic. I needs to spend some time learning much more or understanding more. Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this info for my mission.

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