To See Where Childhood Is Headed, Look at Halloween

Hi Readers! You’ve seen some of the facts here before — like the fact no child has EVER been poisoned by a stranger’s candy, as far as university research can tell — but if you need a little Halloween pep talk, here it is, on Huffington Post.

My main point? If you want to see where childhood is headed, look at Halloween. It’s going from a joyful, neighborhood, kid-centric day (or night!) to a parent-planned, neighbor-distrusting, often indoors and/or daytime “event,” slathered in suspicion and Purell. Why?

The “sake of the children,” of course.  And to think I used to feel bad stealing my kids’ Kit-Kats. It’s worse to steal their holiday. — Lenore

Halloween: Too Scary for Kids?

Hi Readers — and BOO!

Oh my God! Sorry! I hope your kids weren’t reading over your shoulder! I didn’t mean to scare the little dears — it could traumatize them for life! Imagine the psychiatric bills — or years in the insane asylum!

That’s the way we’re supposed to think of kids now: Too delicate for ANYTHING, including, apparently, being even slightly spooked by a holiday hitherto dedicated to  spookiness. As this New York Times article documents, schools and community centers across the country are asking that kids not wear any disturbing, scary or politically incorrect costumes.

I guess that means no ghosts, gobblins, witches, ghouls, vampires or — scariest of all — Halloween festivity organizers.

Hope yours is a happy holiday despite all this. — Lenore (who’s allowing her children to eat unwrapped candy. For real. Boo!)

The Dame in Spain

Hola Readers — I’m just back from Spain, which seems a little more Free-Range than America. (And Canada. And especially England!) One Madrid playground my son Izzy and I visited actually had a see-saw, something you rarely see (saw) in America anymore, thanks to the fear of bump-induced lawsuits. Izzy declared it the most fun piece of playground equipment ever, after merry-go-rounds. (Another childhood standard on its  way out,  for the same reason.)

The two of us were speaking at a conference sponsored by Audi on the topic, “The Streets Also Belong to Me!” — “Me!” being children. The chief of traffic for all Spain was there, and his country really has made a concerted, successful effort to cut down on pedestrian deaths, mostly by seriously  enforcing the speed limits. The whole idea of concentrating on the real threat to children walking to school — traffic — rather than the perceived threat to children (kidnappers), was incredibly refreshing.

I was embarrassed for my own country, though, when after my talk, the head of marketing for Audi in Spain came up to me and said he’d been to California last summer and didn’t understand us. “Here,” he said, “my wife and I, we always smile at the children. We wave, make them laugh, pat their heads. In America, when we did that, the parents would stare at us.” And he demonstrated the stare.

It was icy.

I hope that as the years go by, we drift more towards the Spanish model of dealing with kids, rather than Spain drifting more toward us. I like the idea of strangers making my kids laugh, and I’m sorry that some of us Americans made these Spanish visitors cry. Or at least wonder why we are all so grumpy and suspicious.

That’s my report from Spain except I must add that everyone dressed really well, and I sure loved all the sidewalk cafes. And why doesn’t America have Fanta Lemon — a really lemony soda — instead of just Sprite?

Adios for now!– Senora Leonora

No Parents on the Playground! (They Might Be Predators)

Hi Readers — Take a Valium  THEN read this: Two “adventure” playgrounds in England  have BANNED PARENTS. After all, parents are adults and so are sexual predators,  so from now on, in the land of the Magna Carta, only playground workers who have passed a background check will be allowed in. Why?

Councillors in Watford claim they are only following Government guidelines and cannot allow adults to walk around playgrounds “unchecked”.

You know, I never thought of myself as walking around “unchecked” before. Anyway, more bureaucracy:

“Due to … regulations we have a responsibility to ensure that every authorised adult who enters our site is properly vetted and given a Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) check by Watford Borough Council.”

Council Mayor Dorothy Thornhill argued they are merely enforcing government policy at the play areas, in Vicarage Road and Leggatts Way .

She said: “Sadly, in today’s climate, you can’t have adults walking around unchecked in a children’s playground and the adventure playground is not a meeting place for adults.

“We have reviewed our procedures, so although previously some parents have stayed with their children at the discretion of our play workers, this is not something we can continue to do.

“There are other places in the town for parents with small children to go.”

Yeah, like “to hell.” — Lenore

Homework is a Free-Range Topic

I just finished reading what could be considered a perfect companion book to the Free-Range Kid movement, The Case Against Homework by Sara Bennett and Nancy Kalish. Lenore has blogged about this before, and Sara’s terrific website stophomework is on Lenore’s blog roll. In a nutshell: Bennett and Kalish state that there is little or no correlation between homework given in elementary and middle school and increased scholastic achievement. And health professionals state very clearly that children should be outside PLAYING and not spending time indoors doing schoolwork. As a matter of fact, some of the actual homework “incidents” mentioned in the book would make your hair curl—four hours or more of homework each night for example. The authors clearly present the issue, discuss facts, and advise parents about how to bring sanity back into their children’s lives. If you do have a too-much-homework issue, this book will be your champion and your guide.

What struck me most about the real-life stories, though, was how many moms and dads are allowing hours and hours of homework eat up their children’s childhood—as if it just isn’t under their control. As a society it seems that we have forgotten how to be parents; we are letting “systems”—be it after-school sports, media, toy companies, or schools—parent for us. So next time your child sighs and lugs his/her backpack to the “well-lit, quiet homework space”, say, “Forget about it! Go outside! I’ll write you a note!”

This is my last post; Lenore will be back starting tomorrow. Thanks so much for listening to a slightly different perspective on the very important Free-Range Kid movement! –The Deputy

A Baby Einstein or Your Money Back

Hi Readers — Hope you saw this piece in The Times:  Disney is offering refunds to any parents who bought its Baby Einstein videos and found, to their shock, that watching shapes, songs, kids and colors on TV did not turn their babies  into instant geniuses the way a name like “Einstein”  might suggest.

This mea culpa  is a huge victory for the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, which got the Einstein folks to drop the word “educational” from their marketing materials a few years ago. This new refund is an even bigger deal, because now the company has to put its money where its Mouse is. (Sorry. It’s not even quite a pun, but who could resist?)  Anyway, Baby Einstein sells $200 million worth of products a year.  About a third of all American tots own one of its DVDs.  Giving their parents refunds  represents a lot of money, and a lot of embarrassment. What made Disney budge? According to the Times:

Last year, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”

I don’t think watching a little TV is going to turn any kid into a Dudley Dursley. But to think that watching TV is the key to kiddie education, rather than, say, letting the kid dig in dirt, or splash in the tub, or bang on a pot — whew. That’s just plain Goofy. — Lenore

School Spirit

Hi! The Deputy here!

My dad recently told me about a friend of his–this would be the 1940’s–whose mother told him to pick five schools he might want to attend. He chose the five, she told him to give the schools a ring to let them know he was coming for a visit, gave him train tickets and some spending money, and sent him on his way. Alone. He was…13. These were boarding schools we’re talking about!

Let’s contrast this with some stories I have heard about today’s COLLEGE students. These are very reliable accounts, not urban myths, and so Believe It Or Not: 1. A college student was late to class because his mother forgot to give him his wake-up call. 2. A mom successfully petitioned her child’s university to let her move into the dorm so she could keep an eye on her unhappy offspring. 3. Before Parent’s Weekend, one college made the students clean their dorm rooms and someone came around with a checklist to make sure everything was in tip-top shape. Sounds like summer camp, doesn’t it? A darned expensive one, I’d say.

When, exactly, do parents decide that their children are no longer children? In the 1940’s, for some folks, it was at age 13. In 2009 it seems to be 21 and climbing. What is going to happen if no one gets to grow up? Who’s going to run the show?