Sidewalks are for Kids!!

Here’s a piece about the wonderfulness of sidewalks — a great place for kids to play, meet, walk, chalk, ride. BUT! In the sweet town this lady is writing from — Bangor, Maine — she has gotten complaints from drivers: Kids shouldn’t be on sidewalks! They’re too close to the road!

Excuse me? Where SHOULD kids be? Inside playing Halo 3? — Lenore

Fox & Friends & Me! Tues. Morn around 8 a.m. Eastern Time

I’ll be on Fox & Friends tomorrow morning, defending Free-Range Kids as a sane, safe, happy, healthy way to raise children with some moxie!

But maybe I won’t call it “moxie,” for fear of sounding 389 years old. Maybe I’ll say it’s a way to raise children with some solid “self-esteem” — which is also true. (As I like to say there’s a reason it’s CALLED “self” esteem…not “parent-assisted” esteem.) — Lenore

Cop Collars Kids Selling Lemonade

Seven of the little rascals. Together, in Haverford, Pennsylvania. Going door to door, trying to gin up some cash with the cold stuff. Read all about it here. One brilliant neighbor realized how incredibly dangerous this was. After all, it was teaching children all sorts of terrible lessons like: Get to know the folks on your block.  Be independent. Have adventures.  So, naturally — like everyone who sees any child doing anything without an adult these days — he called the cops.

In the cop’s defense — just barely —  I will say that  when he wrote up the kids for the crime of peddling without a permit,  he didn’t know the law actually only applied to folks old enough to spell “mooron” correctly. That is, peddlers over age 16.

And the Haverford chief of police immediately realized this whole thing was a “public relations nightmare,” and got the department to apologize for its overzealousness.

But so far the neighbor does not seem to have apologized for his. Seven kids working  together on a classic childhood endeavor  is just too great a risk, I guess, for anyone to stand by and watch. — Lenore

My Take on the Arrest of the Mom Who Let Her Kids Go to The Mall

Hi! Lenore here, feeling it is time to weigh in on the Montana mom case still causing a commenting frenzy.

This is the case where a mom named Bridget let her 12-year-old daughter and her daughter’s friend, both experienced babysitters, take their siblings, age 3, 7 and 8, to the mall. After a morning of shopping and lunch, the group went to Macy’s. The 12-year-olds tried on some shirts while the other three waited in the handbag department — the 3-year-old now in a stroller. When the 12-year-olds returned a few minutes later, all five of them were scooped up by mall security, which called the cops. The cops arrested Bridget for child endangerment. Three hundred or so comments later I must say, first and foremost: Let’s try to keep the debate on a nicer, friendlier, agree-to-disagree tone, please.

But personally? I don’t think Bridget did anything wrong. Her kids were not in any danger unless a band of machete-wielding pedophiles happened to be parachuting into Macy’s that day, intent on that ever-popular crime of kidnapping three children at once while store employees look on.

The assumption that the 12-year-olds were wildly irresponsible for telling their younger siblings to, “Wait here,” while they tried on some clothes is strange to me, too. It’s normal to ask kids to wait for a little bit and that’s exactly what the kids were doing, in a safe place, not the Newark bus terminal at 3 a.m. (Sorry, Newark.)

And while I can understand that some people think 12 is too young to be responsible for younger kids — that’s certainly what the Bozeman authorities believed — somewhere between 40 – 80% of the world’s population is raised by older siblings, according to anthropologist David Lancy. Many a 6-year-old is in charge of her younger brother(s) and all the kids are expected to rise to the occasion, which can mean anything from helping to plant seeds, to running errands, to manning a shop.

This is not to say I’d send a 6-year-old to the mall with a gaggle of younger siblings, just that our current assumption of total kiddie incompetence until age 18 or so is new and unprecedented. Twelve is old enough to look after younger children — and the 12-year-olds we’re talking about did. To turn one’s back for a few minutes is not the invitation to instant death we have been lead to believe by CNN and CSI. To assume children are in danger from strangers every second of every day is to assume the only way to keep them safe would be with the kind of surveillance employed at maximum security prisons. Or, better still, to keep them IN maximum security prisons.

I have stated this before: We live in safe times that are represented as very UNsafe in the media, because that’s what drives ratings. We are squandering the incredible gift we have of living in 21st century America, where all crime has been declining for the last 15 years, and four times more children make it to their first birthday now than did the year that I was born. We are not in a famine, we are not engaged in a war at home, our children do not have to dodge bullets, militias and malaria-bearing mosquitoes to drag water home from a brackish well.

Free-Range Kids does not say there is no evil in the world. But our movement believes our children are more competent and more safe than the worst-case-scenario chorus. We believe children don’t have to do everything exactly right – and neither do parents – for them to still be extremely safe.

The bottom line is not just that nothing bad DID happen to those children, it’s that it was extremely unlike TO happen to those children. As I state in my book, if you actually, for some reason, WANTED your children to be kidnapped by a stranger, how long would you have to keep them outside, unattended (or in a mall!) for that to be statistically likely to happen? For them to be abducted, I mean?

Guess before you look at the number.

 In fact, I will let you guess now, below. And tomorrow I’ll tell you. (Or if you can’t wait – get the book!)

 Speaking of tomorrow, I will be on the Fox & Friends show at about 7:30 tomorrow (Tuseday) morning debating, “Free-Range Kids.” You may hear the answer then!

Yours – Lenore

ABC News Weighs in On Mom Who Let 12-Year-Olds Take Younger Sibs to Mall

Here it is — looking into the case of Bridget Kevane, the mom who trusted her 12-year-old daughter and the daughter’s friend to take their younger siblings to the mall. For which she got arrested.

ABC found that most people felt support Kevane and believe the authorities overreacted, as do I. And a little later today I’ll post my thoughts on same. Meantime, here is the ABC piece. — Lenore

Kids, this is an “adult.” Watch out!

Great (slightly wordy) article on Psychology Today blog about how, with all our exhortations about “stranger danger”  we are teaching our children  “that the world is a dark and nasty place were everybody wants to murder and rape them…”

The assumption of disgusting intentions has gone so far that the blogger,  Helene Guldberg, author of Reclaming Childhood, had this happen to her at a local pool in England, where she lives:

Today it is almost impossible in the UK to take photos of one’s children, grandchildren, nieces or nephews in public places – if they are surrounded by other children. When my oldest nephew, Marcus, celebrated his fourth birthday with a pool party in Bristol back in 1996 I was able to take a number of shots of the children having fun in the pool. Ten years later, when his younger brother, Stefan, asked me to come and watch him during his swimming lesson and take some photos of him, all hell broke loose. Sitting by the side of the pool engrossed in conversation with a friend, I absentmindedly pulled the camera out of my bag. Mid-conversation I became aware of a kerfuffle going on in the background – whistles were being blown and lifeguards were waving their hands and shouting at someone. Turning our attention to the noise, wondering what on earth was going on, we realized that the lifeguards were shouting at me to put the camera away, as if I had taken a deadly weapon out of my bag. No photos could be taken of my nephew Stefan on the proud day he was able to swim an entire length of the pool for the first time.

Why not? Because the assumption there is that any kiddie photos could well be used as child porn, or posted on the Internet, attracting  pedophiles who put them on their ever-growing “to stalk” lists.

Weird, warped world. — Lenore  

Forget the Flash-Cards: How To REALLY Help Your Pre-Schooler

It’s no secret that parents worried about how their kids are going to do in kindergarten are willing to work hard to help them make the grade. But a new study reported in Connect with Kids shows that teaching pre-schoolers the academic stuff — letters, numbers, etc. — may not be the best approach. What is?

Chores. Teaching them to listen to you, follow instructions and complete a task:

According to a study of 379 children published in the ‘Journal of Personality’, kids who had more responsibilities at age five, were more likely to have better grades and better behavior in school as 8-year-olds.

“When you get to school you have multiple step direction of things that children are expected to do,” explains Psychologist Laura Mee, Ph.D., “If they’ve been practicing that and listening to parents and following thing in a sequence at home for several years… I think it is more automatic for them.”She says simple chores also help a child develop a sense of confidence, independence. “And then feeling more self confidence that then helps you have more mastery in school,” says Dr. Mee.

She says if parents are paying attention, they’ll get cues from their child when they want to help out. “So if you can catch them when they want to do things independently, it’s a great time to encourage that and help them move forward,” says Dr. Mee.

I’m not saying I had my toddlers cleaning the house  — I’m pretty bad at that  myself (and always forget where the switch is on the vaccuum cleaner). But this study sure makes sense to me. Especially when we remember that until recently, children were always expected to help out their parents, not just the other way around.  — Lenore

Kids Can Do More Than We Think

Kids rise to the occasion. That becomes abundantly  clear when we look at what kids get to do —  and are expected to do — in other countries, cultures, eras. Here’s a little note that just came in. I cannot think of anything my kids have done in school that rivals this for independence and instilling a “Can do!’ sense of confidence.

Then again, it’s not like I’m saying,  “Oh, if only I got to raise them in the  USSR!” either.

By a Free-Range Kids reader named Alena:

I grew up in a small town of the former USSR.  Even in the first grade we had to behave as adults.  Each class was responsible for their classroom, and after classes were finished we had to clean our classroom: map the floor, dust and such. During recess we would go outside and pick up any garbage around the school. We had our own garden behind the school were we grew greens such as scallions, dill, parsley and cabbage which were served then in the school lunchroom. From the 6th grade till the end of the high school we had done plays, concerts and many other activities by ourselves, teachers were there just to supervise.  It was never accustomed to ask parents for the money for one or another activity in school.  We made everything by hands from the supplies provided by the school.  Girls used to bake and boys would provide lights and music. My friend and I started baking cookies when we were 8 years old, i guess that’s when we learned how to read the recipe.

I live in NYC now and I have a 11 year old daughter.  Since she was 9 she was allowed to go to the nearest  supermarket to get milk or bread, she can make pancakes for us in the morning and she bakes cookies as well.


Perfect Comic!

And we wonder why so many kids sit home instead of frolicking outside. Check out this Rose is Rose comic by Don Wimmer (created by Pat Brady):

Thanks to Philip Robert, who runs a kind of folksy blog, for sending it to Free-Range Kids!

Giving Kids Control of Money (So They Don’t Always Need Yours)

I wish I could say this is an area where I shine. It’s not. But I truly believe in the message of this article in today’s Wall Street Journal, Teaching Kids About Money the Hard Way:  Have your kids take care of their own money — getting, saving, spending, even misspending it — gradually, starting as young as possible.

The current case on campus (soon to be law for anyone under 21 who cannot show a source of income) is that credit card companies try to get parents to co-sign on credit cards. That means that if you child abuses the card, you, the parent, are faced with the dilemma: Pay for your child’s mistakes. Or don’t pay — and watch YOUR credit rating take a hit. Hard to teach them a lesson when you’re personally on a spit over the coals.

Along with the other Free-Range lessons we give our kids should come some on earning, saving and spending. Of course, the fact is: it  is harder than ever for kids to get a job (for my book I called eight newspapers in North Carolina — none would hire anyone under age 18). This almost forces kids to rely on family largesse, at least in their younger years. So we all have to be creative about chores, allowance and finding tasks we’d normally pay someone else to do that we can pay our kids to do instead. We just had our youngest do a big, on-your-knees floor washing the other day for $2 — money well spent (since I closed my door, put on my headset and could almost block out the groaning).

If anyone has any tips or suggestions for helping kids learn to earn, save and understand the meaning of a dollar, these  would be most appreciated — especially by me! Penny for your thoughts? Or at least a Tweet? — Lenore