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

Outrage of the Week: Teacher Lets Kids Climb Hill, Cops Come Calling

Hi Readers — Here’s the latest outrage. Lia’s nature-oriented nursery school/kindergarten might not be for everyone, but it certainly is for some kids. Or at least it was.  — Lenore

By Lia Grippo

My name is Lia Grippo.  I am an early childhood educator with 20 years of experience.  For the past 11 years, a large part of my work here in Santa Barbara has been taking young children into local wild spaces where we forage, track animals, climb trees, build forts, etc. For the last two years I have been running a small school that meets at my home 3 days a week and in the woods 2 days per week — safely.

I have two sons, age 7 and 4.  My 7-year-old has been climbing to heights since he was a baby. My husband and I mentored this skill early on first by staying close while pretending to watch something else, and later by having some simple guidelines. For climbing trees, our guidelines include teaching children to know how to tell a dead branch from a living one, and then teaching them never to climb on dead branches or any limb “thinner than your arm.”  We never help a child to climb up but are willing to help as much as necessary on the climb down.

 A few weeks ago my school met at a local beach.  The beach is sandwiched between the ocean and some steep hills and bluffs.  The hills sit in the sand, not above the water.  My 7-year-old and his 6-year-old friend – an equally competent as a climber and also the son of my dearest friend and school teaching assistant — climbed to the top of one of these hills.  As they climbed they chatted, and moved at a steady pace, which meant to me that they were not at the edge of their abilities, which would have been evidenced by their silence or by announcements of fear, tense body language, or frequent stops in search of how to proceed next.  In imitation of the older boys, the younger children began to climb the hill as well.  

I stopped them by saying, “That’s high enough,” when I saw they had reached the point where they would not be able to come down by themselves if they were to continue.  The three younger ones (ages 4, 5, & 5) stopped and began to climb down.  By this time, a group of people had gathered to watch.  My 4-year-old son slid a little down the hill on his bottom. I was right below him to catch him should he continue to slide.  But with the combination of the sliding and, I believe, a frightened group of strangers staring up at him, he became too afraid to come down the rest of the way.  So I climbed up and coached him down, staying  just beneath him. He calmed down to the point where we were laughing and joking as we made our way down.

As we neared the bottom, I noticed there was a lifeguard beneath me on the hill about 3-4 feet off the ground.  When we reached him he asked if I wanted to pass my son off to him and I did and he put him down on the ground.  Then the lifeguard told me he would take the trail around the side of the hill to get the other boys down and I agreed, not because I thought those boys couldn’t make it down on their own — I was certain they could — but because of the fear of the folks watching.  We went around to meet the kids as they came down the trail.  The lifeguard seemed annoyed and said, “Don’t do that again,” before walking off.

During all of this the police were called.  The police officer took a statement from me and left.  As the parents arrived at the end of our morning, I told each one the story and each of them said, “I’m so sorry that happened to you. Why are people so afraid these days?”

A few days later the agency that licenses my school came to my door to begin an investigation. This included calling all of the parents at the school, who were all in complete support of me and thought the incident was blown completely out of proportion.  Each parent called me afterward to lend support and to share their outrage at this agency.

At the end of this process, the agency has revoked my license saying that I endangered the children by “exposing them to the natural hazard of the hill and the ocean front,” and by allowing them to climb, made worse by the fact that I allowed them to climb in beach attire, and my son was naked. (As result of ditching his freezing wet pair of jeans.)  

The families have surrounded me with support and outrage and are willing to help pay attorney’s fees to appeal this process.

A couple of nights ago, my 7-year-old said to me, “Mama, I know why those people were afraid.  They couldn’t climb that hill themselves.”

I could use whatever support, resources, or ideas, folks might have to offer.  Especially helpful would be an attorney who had had experience with this sort of situation or someone who works in California’s Community Care Licensing Division who may be able to offer advice.

Thank you,

Lia

Deciding to Let Your Grade Schooler Walk to School

Just got this encouraging post, from a mom who is going to let her grade school daughter walk to school this fall. How did the mom  get comfortable with this idea? Simple! She thought about her ACTUAL NEIGHBORHOOD — not the neighborhoods we see on crime shows and the TV news, crawling with creeps. The one she actually LIVES IN. That’s why one of the Free-Range Babysteps I suggest in my book is to turn off the TV and take a walk around the block. Connect with the people there — you’ll feel safer and happier, and so will your kids! Voila:

I was thinking about my daughter who will be walking to school without her brother next fall (he’s going to 6th grade at our local middle school)…and thinking about what I will tell her.  First, the usual a reminder that it’s ok to talk with strangers but don’t go off with them, second it’s ok to be rude and get angry if you are being truly threatened, and third a quick review of people and places she can trust and get help from if necessary.  And as I thought about the third point, I realized what a wonderful place we live in, because there are kind and friendly people we know on each leg of her journey to school! 

 Everyone on our block would support her in an instant, as she turns the corner there is someone to turn to for help every second or third house, we have a terrific crossing guard at the busy intersection, and finally the folks in the drugstore, postoffice, coffee shop, and restaurants are people we know and trust. In short, her whole town is there for her!  And that’s a wonderful thing.  🙂

Sure is! — Lenore

Do Kids Really Need a Movie in the Back Seat?

Nice post about, yes, old-fashioned childhood on a blog called “Eco Bling.” My favorite paragraph:

Ask yourselves this summer: Do kids really need to watch a full length film in the backseat of a car!? How will they ever learn how many chapters of any given Beverly Cleary book or MAD magazine they can get through without puking? This sort of thing has to be learned on the job.

Happy summer! — Lenore (who — bragging rights here — has actually written for Mad.)

Why Is Australia Scaring Parents For No Reason?

Great 2007 article about a $22 million campaign by the Australian government alerting parents to the ostensible dangers their kids face on line. An intrepid Sydney Morning Herald reporter, Michael Duffy, tried to find out what dangers, exactly, kids were being saved from. Well…there was that ONE arrest of a guy, he found. And another 55 charges were filed against others (mostly folks downloading kiddie porn). That’s over a two-year period.

Nonetheless,  “Talking leads to stalking,” warned the campaign. And, “Playing leads to straying.” All of which is a great way to make parents feel terrified about a “stranger danger” that is overblown, to say the least. 

It’s just lovely  when your government spreads fear without cause, and congratulates itself on being so “vigilant.” How about being vigilant when it comes to facts?

Memo to Kids at Camp: Don’t Call Me! — Love, Mom

Hi Readers — Here’s a seasonal little post from Judy Gruen, the award-winning author of three humor books, including The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement. She has also just won an award for her humor columns on Aish.com from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. Read more of her work on judygruen.com.

 By JUDY GRUEN

In most ways I’m a classic Jewish mother. If I’m cold, I tell my kids to put on sweaters. I make chicken soup on Friday nights. (It’s good and good for you!) I worry more than I should. But I depart from the stereotypes in one significant way: I really am not interested in hearing from my kids every day when they are away at camp on the other side of the country.

And yet, they call. They call from the bus to tell me they are on the way back from the water park, but the reception is patchy up in the mountains and usually the call breaks up, requiring several more calls to complete the message. They call to say that while the showers are flooding the bunks, they are still having a great time. They call to tell me about the successful outing to Wal-Mart to get fly swatters and candy.

Look, I’ll match my maternal love for my kids any day with any other mother on the planet. My kids are fabulous, smart, and even good-looking (objectively speaking). I am enormously grateful to be their mom. But I had thought that going away to camp meant going away.  I.e., that my urban kids would revel in the freedom of being in the great outdoors, parent-free for one month. Meanwhile, we parents could learn to cope in a small, measured dose with an empty nest.

And unlike when the kids are home in Los Angeles, where I do worry when they are out too late, I am blissfully worry-free when my kids are at camp — until they call me at midnight from the bus somewhere in the Catskills Mountains. Then I think: They’re on a dark and windy mountain road! Is the driver responsible, cautious, and still alert at this hour? When they call to report on the bug problem, I think: West Nile virus! Are they using the bug spray I packed? Ignorance is bliss, and I wish I weren’t always so well informed.

Moreover, it turns out I am also expected to email my daughter several times a week. I had thought I was doing something special by writing her a real note card that had to be mailed with a stamp, but this didn’t rate. “All the other parents” are busy emailing their campers, and so must I. God knows what damage I might do to my child if she doesn’t hear from me electronically every 48 hours. Talk about pressure!

The good news is, I absolutely must find something fun to do all by myself, not because I’m bored — just because this way I’ll have something worth sharing on the next phone call.

Why Free-Range Matters In the Long Run

Readers: Here’s a lovely essay from Chris Byrne, editor of the on-line magazine, TimetoPlayMag.com. Enjoy!

BY CHRISTOPHER BYRNE

I grew up before the concept of “Free Range Kids.” No, not when the earth’s crust had cooled just enough to support single-cell life forms. It was in the 1960s and ‘70s, thank you very much.

My brothers and I had lots of freedom – so did all the neighborhood kids — and of course we did things the adults didn’t know about. One summer, things went horribly wrong when we tried to cremate a parakeet. (Too much cloth wrapping. And gasoline.)

But we weren’t the “complete hooligans” my grandmother called us, either. We had household chores. We learned to cook, do laundry, sew buttons on our shirts and shine our shoes. My mother’s mantras were, “You need to be able to do things for yourself when you go to college,” and “You’re not going to grow up to be a burden on your wives.”

And that’s ultimately the point of raising a Free-Range kid—so he or she can be a capable, self-sufficient person. As adults, we have to learn to separate from our children. We have to learn the limits of our control and let them go.

Separating from the parent is natural in all the other animal species. Only humans hang on and sentimentalize childhood as something other than preparation to compete and survive as adults in a sometimes-difficult world.

Children need to make mistakes when they’re young, and under our care, and the stakes are not so high. They need to learn to win, lose, fall, get up, keep going—figure it out by themselves. I’m sure no parent wants their child to grow up to be like the 23-year-old woman who worked briefly in our office.

This woman – call her Sue — was on the phone to her parents twice a day. She broke down when anything frustrating happened. That’s okay when you’re in kindergarten. But when you’re on the job? Not so much.

Sue was a good person, but she didn’t last in our entrepreneurial company. Having been protected and bailed out by her parents all her life, she was virtually incapable of operating on her own as an adult. The real job of parents is to raise kids who can eventually make their way without them.

Not that the kids don’t still love them.

These days my mother has passed on, but I’m actually closer than ever to my 87-year-old father. When I visited him last month, we talked about the whole “Free-Range” concept and how well he and mom had done with us. His comment was a typically affectionate and curmudgeonly, “Oh, for God’s sake! Now they’ve got a name for everything. We just let you be boys and did our best to give you some guidance.”

For that – and for the chance to enjoy a real childhood (immolated parakeet and all) – I’ll always be grateful.

What Should We Add to This Site?

Hi Readers!

In the next few weeks, we hope to expand the Free-Range Kids site to provide more.

More what? Well, that’s what we’d like to know.

For sure we want to come up with a way for Free-Range parents to find each other, so we’re working on that. We also want to provide some helpful lists you can consult and add to: Lists of great Free-Range-themed books, movies and games.

But — what else? What else would you like to see on this site that isn’t here yet? Do you want to be able to upload home videos of Free-Ranging kids? Or photos? Do you want to have some kind of question and answer forum?

Naturally, we won’t be able to implement anything and everything.  But we’ll start mulling whatever you start suggesting. So thanks in advance for your input and ideas! — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Kids Go to the Mall

Readers: This article makes me so angry, I’d love us all to start thinking what we can do to change a society where danger-hallucinating authorities persecute and prosecute those of us still sane. Suggestions welcome. This piece originally appeared in Brain, Child.

By Bridget Kevane

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I was charged with endangering the welfare of my children, a criminal charge that, in the city where I live, Bozeman, Montana, can lead to imprisonment in the county jail. The Montana Code 46-16-130(3) states that a parent can be charged with this offense if she “knowingly endangers the child’s welfare by violating a duty of care, protection, or support.”

Typically, prosecution is pursued when an adult supplies a child younger than eighteen with drugs, prostitutes the child, abandons the child’s home, or engages in sexual conduct with the child. A violation of duty of care is described as cruel treatment, abuse, infliction of unnecessary and cruel punishment, abandonment, neglect, lack of proper medical care, clothing, shelter, and food, and evidence of bodily injury.

I was charged with this crime because I dropped my three children and their two friends off at the Bozeman Gallatin Valley Mall.
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CAUTION: Sand Presents Uneven Surface!

Enjoy this. Lots of great signs warning of the obvious gathered by a group called The Manifesto Club and reprinted in England’s Daily Mail. These signs remind us that Britian is in some ways more advanced than the U.S. when it comes to worrying about non-worrisome things.

Remember: It is  England that requires anyone who wants to work with children — be it as a scout master, teacher or even class parent — to first get an affidavit from the police stating that he or she is not a convicted pedophile. Because, of course, everyone is unspeakably evil until proven otherwise.  Nice way to think of your society.

Meantime, a shout out to the Virtual Linguist for sending along the Daily Mail story. Thanks! — Lenore

Grave concerns: You're taking your life in your hands walking through this cemetery in Tooting, LondonGrave concerns: You’re taking your life in your hands walking through this cemetery in Tooting, London
Benchmark of the bleedin' obvious:This wooden seat in London could get wet - if it rains