What’s Wrong with This Ad?

Take your blood pressure medicine before watching this so-called public service announcement .

The spot shows two women¬†in a coffee shop, one of them with her kid. The three chat¬†for about 15 seconds, the mom buys a coffee and then off the mom and child go, leaving¬†the¬† other woman — for no apparent reason — with a sneaking suspicion that the mom is a child abuser.

The mom¬†has said nothing harsh to her child. The child is communicative and bears no visible bruises. In other words, the mom and child look like me and my child, or you and your child, or any mom and any child and yet,¬† for some reason, that is¬†enough for the other woman to feel the prickles of concern. And then she is urged to act: “If you even suspect abuse, call 1 800 4 A CHILD. Trust your instincts.”

Trust your instincts to what? Suspect every¬†seemingly normal parent¬† is hiding a deep, dark secret? In the ad, the mom¬† is wearing a t-shirt that says, “CHILD ABUSER,” to show that this other woman’s instincts were right.

Too bad the Ad Council sat out the McCarthy hearings — it¬†could have had a field day! “If you even SUSPECT your neighbor is a Communist…” And it’s really sad we didn’t have 30- second TV spots in Salem in the 1600s: “If thou even¬† SUSPECTETH sorcery…”¬†

The problem is: In our commendable desire to keep kids safe, we have gone overboard and turned into a country where all parents are suspected of not being good enough, or — now — even actively bad. Just imagine if this woman had let her kid wait in the car! — Lenore

Letter to the Editor

Hi Readers!
If you’d like to write a letter of support for the parents who let their 9-¬†and 6-year-olds wait in the car for half an hour, only to have the dad be charged with child endangerment (see blog entry, below), here is the email address for the Utica Observe Dispatch’s¬†letters to the¬†editor page:¬† ddudajek@uticaod.com¬†.

Thanks! — Lenore

Are There Really Lessons to Learn From The Jaycee Abduction?

First off, my heart goes out to Jaycee Dugard, her daughters, her parents, step-parents¬†— everyone in her circle. She was kidnapped 18 years ago and kept imprisoned since then, bearing her rapist/captor two daughters who were also imprisoned until a few days ago, when Jaycee walked into a police station.

This is, of course, every parent’s — every human’s — worst nightmare and her story will¬† be seared into our¬†memory¬† forever, along, alas,¬†with the inevitable “advice” we’re now getting on how to avoid this same fate. Advice that makes it seem like abduction/rape/enslavement¬† is something we just have to be ever-prepared for, like the possibility of an overcharge on our credit card bill. Like it’s¬†a fate¬†we can avoid with some simple tips.

But as Trevor Butterworth at the organization STATS.org has pointed out: Preparing for very unlikely events is impossible — it’s like preparing for the possiblity of being hit by a frozen turkey¬†through the¬†car window while you’re driving on the expressway. Yes, that is something that really happened, at least once. But should¬†you live your life always watching out for flying turkeys? That would be¬†inconvenient, if not insane, because what could you do? Never drive on the expressway again? Get your car window replaced with lead? Sure, you couldn’t see through it. But at least you’d be protected from frozen airborne Butterballs!

Here’s one post-Dugard advice article that¬†suggests that, from now on,¬†we simply “never go anywhere alone.” That’s not asking too much, is it?

This is just the kind of ridiculous suggestion that leads to ridiculous situations, like parents hauled in for “negligence” for letting their kid walk solo to soccer (or wait in a car!). It leads to folks trumping any Free-Range notion with, “Look what happened to Jaycee Dugard!”

“Your child could be abducted just like Jaycee Dugard. Learning from the Jaycee Dugard situation and protecting your kids from predators like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido is vital to the health and well-being of your child.”

No, what’s really vital to the well-being of your child is him or her not growing up convinced¬†that stepping¬† out the¬† front door¬† is the equivalent of stepping into a viper-filled pit. What’s vital to the health of your children is their learning to make their own playdates, organize a game of four-square, talk to people instead of being terrified of them. Please do teach your kids to run from anyone trying to lure them away, should that rare¬†thing happen. But teach them to¬†talk to the rest. That’s how they learn stuff, and¬†make friends. That’s how they become human.

“It’s sad our children have to grow up in a world where they have to worry about people like Craig Garrido and Nancy Garrido. All we can do is learn from this tragedy.”

No, I’m afraid,¬†we cannot. Law enforcement officials may be able to learn a thing or two.¬† They may learn to follow up better on missed parole visits. They may learn to pare down the list of sex offenders from the 674,000 in California to the ones that truly pose a risk,¬† so theycan concentrate their resources on rapists, instead of guys who peed in public, or had sex at 19 with a girlfriend a few years underage.

But there is no lesson to be learned from Jaycee’s ordeal except that sometimes, terrible things happen to innocent people, randomly. In our blame-, lawsuit- and silly advice-obsessed country, it’s a lesson we find hard to¬†accept.

¬†— Lenore

Free-Range Friend’s Cartoon!

Hi Readers! My friend Bob Eckstein, a cartoonist for The New Yorker (la-di-dah!), came up with this Free-Range Cartoon: a plea for a little less parental intrusion.

Besides being a whole-hearted supporter of this site, Bob has his own obsession. Snowmen. Yes, really — he is the first and only person to study their history. Did you know, for instance, that in pre-printing press Europe, snowmen were¬†the editorials of their day? A¬†wag might¬†erect a prostitute snow-woman, for instance, in front of the¬†mayor’s¬†house, as a way of hinting at certain improprieties. The perp remained anonymous and his “crime” would melt, so it was just about the best way to get a point across without getting hanged. Anyway, Bob has a¬† fantastic website devoted to all things snowmen and here it is. Enjoy!

eckstein north korea cartoon

Arrested for Trusting The World & Their 9-Year-Old

Readers ‚Äď Here is a story that does not surprise me. It does, however, enrage me and I am hoping that maybe someone who reads this blog knows of a pro bono lawyer in or around Mohawk Valley in Central New York who can help this family. Here is the mom‚Äôs letter:

I’m not sure if we did something wrong here or not, and I feel myself being pulled every which way.¬† But the morning we left our nine-year-old daughter with our sleeping six-year-old son in a car in a busy parking lot (windows open), we really thought they’d be okay.¬† I figured if someone attacked them, they’d be noticed, because a lot of people were in and out constantly.

My daughter had asked me if she could stay in the car and read, and I had exchanged a glance with my partner ‚Äď the children‚Äôs dad — and then said yes, told her to scream the usual (“This stranger’s hurting me!”) if someone who felt skeevy¬†got too friendly, and to use the cell phone to call 911 if anyone tried to open the doors of the car.

When we were paged, I suspected my daughter had reached the end of her book and her brother¬†hadn’t woken yet, so she’d called the store to have us paged, knowing we’d come out and relieve her boredom.¬† But when we got back to the car after an absence of half an hour, the cops were there.

My partner was charged with endangering the welfare of a minor. 

I immediately started second guessing myself.¬†If nothing else, I’d been dumb to not think that some well-meaning person would call the cops, right?

Especially since we’ve had CPS called on us once before.¬† Someone reported that our kids were playing a block from our house with no adult supervision and specifically that they had chased a ball into the street.¬† It was a bogus charge, but now I’m sitting here terrified that CPS will rescind their previous decision and now declare that we were at fault.¬† And all my friends agree with the cops, that the kids “could’ve been abducted,” and¬†“What were you thinking?” etc.¬†

But they are also shocked, because they know I’m so protective: no video games, no sugary foods, early bedtime, homeschooling, etc.¬† But you know I would let my kids play a block away.¬†

And so I wonder: Are there other Free-Ranging parents I can ask about what to do when they are perceived as nuts ‚Äď or worse — by those well-meaning CPS callers? And can they tell me what to do when they or their partners are arrested? We had gone into Wal-Mart just to fill a prescription. The pharmacist kept saying, ‚ÄúFive more minutes,‚ÄĚ until that fateful half hour had passed.

I never have been afraid before, but now I’m very afraid — and not of abduction.

Outrage of the Week: Law Forbids Kids to Witness Wine Tasting

This is just too weird: Maine passed a law, about to take effect, that forbids stores from allowing any “child” to witness a wine, beer or¬†liquor tasting. According to this piece ¬†on the Maine Public Broadcasting Website:

…as of September 12th, the law will add new restrictions, designed to assure that wine tastings are conducted in a manner that “precludes the possibility of observation by children.”¬† Hudson [a wine shop owner] says she was unclear what that meant, so she asked a liquor inspector whether she could simply draw the blinds over her doors and windows during a wine tasting.

She says initially she was told no, as an under-aged passerby still might be able to catch a glimpse.¬† “If a door opened, even though there was a blind on the door, if a door opened in such a way that a child walking by — and a child is defined as someone under 15 — would be walking by and happened to glance in, they might be able to look into the store at that moment when the door is open and see an adult with a glass of wine in their hand.”

Imagine the life-long trauma of that!

Then it turns out the sponsor of the bill didn’t intend this to be the case — he only wanted to prevent kids from witnessing beer and liquor tastings in GROCERIES.

Like, uh, that makes more sense? No one under age 15 should see an adult taking a sip of alcohol? Because we elected the Taliban, fair and square?

I guess this guy assumes kids shouldn’t¬† pass any bars, either. Or turn on the TV. Or¬†read, I don’t know, Dickens? Shakespeare? Or the Illiad? Unless, that is, now it takes place¬†on the¬†grapejuice-dark sea…¬†¬†¬†¬† — Lenore

Pastor’s Prayer for Graduates: FAIL!

Hi Readers — We’ve been spending today thinking about what it would mean to be the youngest person to sail solo around the world. In other words, about great success and whether it is worth the peril. Here’s a nice sermon from a pastor named John F. Hudson in Sherborn, Mass., about the value of¬†the opposite:¬†failure. Since I have a¬†whole chapter in my book called, “Fail! It’s The New ‘Succeed!” it naturally appealed to me.

Main points?¬†Defeats and detours can take us to the best¬†places. Life isn’t meant to be a straight line anyway.¬† And the greatest lesson our kids can learn is that when they do fail, it’s not the end. All they have to do is try, try again.

(Unless they’re in the middle of the ocean. But that’s another blog post.) — Lenore

Weighing in On The 13-Year-Old Wants to Sail Solo ‘Round the World

Ahoy, Readers!

Today‚Äôs ‚ÄúFree-Range‚ÄĚ controversy concerns Laura Dekker, a 13-year-old¬† in Holland who is already an accomplished sailor and now wants to become the youngest person to sail solo around the world. Her parents ‚Äď or at least her dad, with whom she lives ‚Äď is all for it. The Dutch equivalent of Child Protective Services is against it and currently seeking legal permission to step in, take temporary custody of the girl and stop her.

In other words: They want to ground her. (Literally!)

And I am with them.

Does this sail in the face of the Free-Range philosophy? No, matey. At Free-Range Kids we believe in two things: Freedom. And safety.

It may sound to some that safety is not of paramount concern here, but it is. That‚Äôs why (as you‚Äôll note in the little statement to the left of this post), we believe in helmets and car seats and teaching your child to look both ways before crossing the street. Safety is good. What we don‚Äôt believe is that children are more endangered now than at any other time in history. That is why Free-Range is all in favor of letting kids do things that we did as kids that have only recently been deemed ‚Äúdangerous.‚ÄĚ Things like touching a shopping cart, playing on a merry-go-round, selling Girl Scout cookies and skipping to school. We believe 11-year-olds can be competent babysitters. They can also deliver newspapers.

We do not believe in actively courting danger.

Traveling solo around the world when you aren’t, say, fleeing the Nazis, seems less like ranging free and more like unnecessarily putting a young life at risk for the sake of bragging rights. (Or, God forbid, college applications.) If Ms. Dekker longs to sail far and wide, she can¬†do it — with others. She‚Äôll still get to see the world and have adventures, just like young Herman Melville.

But even Melville went with a crew.

Dekker‚Äôs dad is quoted as saying, “We would not let our child do something of which she was not in complete control.”¬†But no one is in complete control on the high seas, unless their name is Poseidon.

Often when the authorities step in to override a parent’s judgment I find them out of line. When, for instance, they deem that a 9-year-old left at home for a few hours has been recklessly endangered by his parents. Or when they ticket a mom who lets her sleeping 2-year-old stay in the (locked!) car when she runs in to return a library book. Once again, those are cases that never would have been considered negligent a generation ago, which is generally my rule of thumb for determining whether something is truly risky or just a freshly minted, something-new-to-terrify-us-about-in-the-parenting-magazines precaution.

The ever-louder ‚ÄúWhat if‚Ķ?‚ÄĚ Chorus can be counted on dreaming up outlandish to scenarios that make parents believe any second their children are on their own, they are in dire peril. Scenarios like, ‚ÄúWhat if burglars break into your house on the Saturday morning you decide to leave your fourth grader alone?‚ÄĚ But it is not a crazy ‚ÄúWhat if‚Ķ?‚Ä̬† question to ask: ‚ÄúWhat if Laura, in a year of sailing, gets hit by the boom one day? Or gets dehydrated? Or too tired to sail after a relentless storm?‚ÄĚ I love the idea of kids finding their inner strength. I don‚Äôt love the idea of their life hanging in the balance if they don‚Äôt.

As in cases of actual child abuse, there are times when the authorities really should step in to save a kid. A kid who can then grow up and take on the world.

Even by boat. — Lenore

Dear Abby: AGAIN With the Abductors?

Dear Readers: You may recall that last week, Dear Abby passed along the¬†advice that children take a walkie talkie every time they enter a public restroom so they can call mom when they get molested.¬†Since this is a common fear, I asked a child abuse specialist if this is also a common occurence. Of the 500 children this pediatrician had treated for sex abuse, NONE had been¬†abused by a stranger in a bathroom. So Abby’s advice was a little alarmist, to say the least.

That same day, Abby ran a note from another reader that said we should be very careful at indoor playgrounds like the ones at McDonald’s, because children have been “violated” there in a matter of “seconds” WHILE THEIR PARENTS WERE ONLY A FEW FEET AWAY.

Rather than saying, “That sounds almost insane,” Abby ran it with nary a raised eyebrow. Welcome, then, to¬† Abby’s world. I call it Pedo-delphia — a place she loves to think of as filled to the brim with pedophiles. This may explain the advice she passed along this weekend on her very favorite topic. Here goes:

DEAR ABBY: I have an idea that may prove useful to parents. I have worked in law enforcement for more than 18 years, including as a state police dispatcher. There are often stories in the media of children lost or abducted in the blink of an eye.

Because of the proliferation of cell phones with cameras, there is now a way to help law enforcement officials get the word out via Amber Alerts and news bulletins.

Parents should take advantage of these photo opportunities. Before leaving home for the day on a shopping trip or family outing, take a picture of your children in the outfits they are wearing that day. Once you are all back home, safe and sound, you can delete that picture and the next day take a new one. That way, you’ll always have a current photo of how your child looks “today,” not six months or more ago at a special event. You also won’t have to rely on your memory of exactly what your child was wearing if he or she should go missing.

Time is of the essence, so take advantage of the technology that’s available in today’s world. — JANET IN AURORA, ILL.

DEAR JANET: That’s a great idea. I am sure many thousands of parents will be grateful for your suggestion. Thank you!

And thank YOU, Abby. I’m sure thousands more parents are grateful to you for¬†perpetuating the notion that every day in every way our children are in danger of being abducted.

Not that we shouldn’t have an up-to-date photo of our kids. That does make sense. But to make this a part of one’s DAILY¬†routine, like flossing, is to assume that¬†kidnapping¬†is¬†as likely as tooth decay. It’s also to assume that we can protect our kids from this rare occurence the way we protect them from cavities. I.e., that if and when anything bad DOES ever happen to a child, it’s because the parents just were not vigilant enough.

This is terrible for two reasons. First of all, it makes parents believe they must be on guard, at all times, against abduction. But¬†abudction is so rare that, to quote my favorite statistic again, if you for some reason WANTED your child to be kidnapped and held overnight by a stranger, you would have to keep him or her outside, unattended, for 750,000 years for this to be statistically likely to happen. Yes, it happens THAT INFREQUENTLY. And yet parents are supposed to organize their lives — and their childrens’ — around the fear of it.

Secondly, it makes parents believe that with enough obsessive planning, they can guard their children against all evil. The corrolary to this is that now parents feel irresponsible unless they are actively keeping their kids safe from even remote dangers. This not only leads to overprotection, it leads us to blame any parents whose children who DO get hurt. He scraped his knee? WHERE WERE HIS PARENTS??

I thought Abby was supposed to give sensible advice. And I guess it is — if you live in Pedo-delphia. – Lenore

Kids! You’re Not Going To BELIEVE This!

Thanks to Pyromomma for sending along this amazing photo! “Scientists Discover Portal to Outside World.” Show your kids! (And thanks again, Onion!)