Introducing…

Hi Readers! I am off to Spain for a few days to give a talk in Madrid on Free-Range Kids. Specifically, on how to get kids back outside — a worldwide concern.

In my absence (yes I”m bringing my laptop, but no, I’m not sure I’ll be on it 24/7 like I am here), I’d like to introduce our guest host for the next few days: The Deputy!  She’ll be blogging while I’m trying to figure out how to use Euros in a pay phone.

Hasta la vista! — Lenore

Watching TV and Feeling Terrified

Hi Readers!
Here’s a note I got from a reader and a note SHE got from her mom. The latter may sound very similar to the one in your own inbox.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I received the email below from my mother.  She is a professional worry-wart.

I’m not sure her statistics are correct, any thoughts?

(Signed) A Reader

Here is what the Reader’s mother wrote:

So tonight there were these statistics on TV by Polly Klass’s father, can’t remember his first name but he created a foundation several years ago after his teenage daughter was abducted in CA.

These are the stats:  Every year 800,000 children disappear, and a child disappears every 40 seconds

Of these 800K, 74 percent are children under 10 and 78 percent of them disappear within a quarter mile of their home.

So Mr. Klass’s message to everyone was, never let your children be outside of your home alone.  His message was part of the news relating to the disappearance of the Orange Park FL 7 year old girl. It is all over the news tonight, very sad.

The program is still on, with all these specialists commenting, saying they never thought they would agree with always being outside with your kids but now they totally endorse it.

Anyways, Love you

(signed) Mom

First of all, mom needs to take better notes. The Klaas Foundation’s website page about kidnapping statistics actually cites the same abduction study I quote on this blog and in my book:

In 1999, the most recent year for which we have statistics, 115 children were abducted and held overnight by strangers. Of these, about 40% were killed, bringing the total to 50. That is a horrible number, but it is not one a week, much less “one every 40 seconds.”

The numbers come from the Crimes Against Children Research Center, which uses U.S. Department of Justice data to derive its statistics. And the head of the research center, David Finkelhor, was quoted in the press yesterday as saying these numbers are going DOWN, not up.

Even one child hurt is a sickening thought. And that is why anyone who is no longer allowing his or her children to walk to school should probably also not be driving them anywhere, either. After all: About 2000 children die every year as passengers in cars. It is the #1 cause of death of children over age one. All parents determined to keep their children 100% safe must start by not allowing them to ride in cars.

Of course, I know that this is a warning most parents will (rightly) ignore. Why? Because they see for themselves what the odds are: The chances are very good that they can drive to the grocery with their kids, and even drive back, without getting into a fiery crash. They make their decision about their children’s safety based on their own, personal experience of life and driving.

When we make our decisions about letting our kids walk to school, however, we base them on something else: The news. News from as far away as Florida. Or Aruba. Or Portugal. The media are happy to go to the ends of the earth to bring us live coverage of the abduction of a white girl because nothing is better for ratings.

Headline News becomes the biggest source of information we use to make our decisions. Not our own experience. Not our own observations of our own neighborhoods. The news, which, by definition, brings us the most shocking and unusual stories it can find and then repeats them in order to fill day after day of 24-hour news cycles.

The current news is so shocking, of course, that it throws us off. We are human and we are heartbroken. But in our desperate attempt to make a very rare event very rare, we forget IT ALREADY IS. And we end up stunting the very thing we are trying to hard to protect: childhood.

Children were not made to sit at home, locked in, living a “virtual” life while the sun shines outside. I won’t even get into all the other dangers we’re exposing them to with that kind of existence: diabetes, depression, obesity. No, let me just say as so many commenters have on this site:

If we really want to keep our kids safe, we are fooling ourselves to think “not walking to school” is the way to do it. The way to keep our kids 100% safe is not to have them in the first place. Otherwise, they face risk every day. The tiny risk of dying in a car crash. The far tinier risk of being killed by a stranger.

And now the growing risk of being gently imprisoned by the people who love them the most. – Lenore

A Terribly Sad Day

Even as our hearts  sink with sadness, they  go out to the family of Somer Renee Thompson, the 7-year-old whose body was found in a landfill. It is impossible to think of her story without feeling rage and anguish.

It’s also a hard time to talk about the fact that her case, as searing as it is, is also exceedingly rare. That’s why it is national and, I hear, international news. That doesn’t make it any easier for her family. And it doesn’t negate the immediate urge to hold our children close. It just reminds us that we are lucky that such stories are uncommon enough to make them shocking.

As David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, said in an interview about this case: “I am of the opinion that these kinds of crimes have declined.”

It doesn’t feel like it at the moment. It can’t. And, knowing TV, it won’t, not for a long time. But I’m very  glad the country’s leading expert on such things sees such travesties becoming ever less common, and I look forward to the day they are less common still. — Lenore

The Naked Truth?

What a weird story: A Virginia man making coffee for himself in his own house — naked — has been charged with “exposing” himself because a mom and son passed through his yard on their way to school and saw him through the window.

My question: Who’s more traumatized by this event? The mom, the kid or the guy just trying to make breakfast who made the news instead? I vote for #3.  — (Signed) Lenore, who realizes this is not entirely a “Free-Range” issue, but also thinks maybe we shouldn’t assume our kids are ruined for life by every untoward event.

The Most Popular Safety Laws (That Don’t Work)

Hi Folks! This is an amazingly smart piece from, of all places, Cracked magazine. Remember Cracked? Used to be the also-ran to Mad? (And, okay, I used to write for them. A lot. And all my friends thought I was writing for crack, and shook their heads. So now you know.)

Anyway, now Cracked seems to actually be fact-based and this piece  gives just fantastic insights about the failure of the Sex Offender Registry and Zero Tolerance laws in school. Enjoy! — Lenore

Hate Mail

Dear Readers: This arrived today. I think the attitude of this writer happens to be the  prevailing one today. Voila:

I’m sorry, but I think you parents are naive and negligent to allow your children to walk alone to & from school.
Do you people not watch the news or read the papers?  Do you honestly not realize the number of children who are abducted while walking unaccompanied?  I think some of you just use the “free range” crap as an excuse to sit on your lazy behinds at home instead of getting up off of your non-working behinds and walking your child to a bus stop or to school.  I’m sorry, but this is absolutely ridiculous.  Then when your child disappears, you’ll be all over the news crying and wondering how such a thing could happen.  Well, I’ll tell you how it happens:  you allow adults free range access to your kids.  This ought to be a crime.

Let’s take this letter’s issues one by one, shall we?

1 – Do you people not watch the news or read the papers? Maybe we try to watch a little less because of the grossly distorted picture it gives us of the world. A world where, on TV, children are being abducted 24/7. A world where producers are so focused on abduction stories that you’d never realize that actual sex crimes against children have fallen by 50% over the past 15 years. (And they’ve fallen against adults, too. So it’s not just that no children are allowed outside anymore. ALL violent crime is down.)  There are also things we DON’T see on TV. We don’t  see the depression and obesity and misery of children who are cooped up on sunny days with their snacks and computers and budding diabetes. We don’t  see the kids who have no idea  how to go to the park with a ball and make a friend. We don’t see the young adults  called “teacups” by college administrators — students  so fragile they break (down) the minute they leave home. That’s why we advocate spending a little less time in front of the TV and a little more time in the real world.

2 – Do you honestly not realize the number of children who are abducted while walking unaccompanied? We sure do realize that there is crime in the world. That’s why we take action! We prepare our kids to do everything from cross the street safely to stand up for themselves if they’re bullied, or worse. We teach them how to demand help from strangers, how to call attention to themselves if they need it. Unless a parent is willing to be or hire a bodyguard to accompany his/her children every single second of every single day — and watch over them when they sleep — at some point those kids will be on  their own. We want them prepared, not helpless.

3 – I think some of you just use the “free range” crap as an excuse to sit on your lazy behinds at home instead of getting up off of your non-working behinds and walking your child to a bus stop or to school. Well, I don’t know whence comes the notion that Free-Rangers don’t have jobs, but I do admit to a certain amount of laziness.  This dovetails nicely with allowing children to grow up and take their place in the world, rather than remaining babyishly incompetent long past when it’s cute. Gradually exposing our children to risk rather than totally eliminating it (an impossibility) is our goal. Why? Because that’s what makes them safe.

4. This ought to be a crime. What ought to be a crime? Letting our kids do what children in the rest of the world do, i.e., walk to school? Believing in our kids and our neighbors and our own parenting? Believing that sometimes bad things happen randomly and that the abductions you speak of were not the result of negligent parenting? Should we criminalize the fact we believe that even the most hands-on parents cannot control everything, which is why we try to train our kids for life’s contingencies?

Readers, this letter writer speaks for the millions of people who think Free-Range parenting is criminal. Literally. That is why I now hand her over to you, yes, even on a day when we are all hoping the very best for the 7-year-old gone missing in Florida.

In the face of that front-page news, it is all the more difficult to explain why Free-Ranging makes sense.  I invite you to try.   — Lenore

She Can’t Spell It But She Can Make It Happen

Hi Readers! Look at this great story about a 3-year-old who felt really sad when she heard not all kids have crayons…and did something about it!

I love the psychologist’s quote: If kids are ready to do something and it’s not harmful to them or the world, let ’em do it!  — Lenore

Who’s Crazy?

Dear Readers: There will be a quiz at the end of this post — a letter just in from a reader. (I actually read it on the subway!)

Dear Free-Range Kids: It’s 70 degrees here in sunny Florida, so I opened all my windows and blinds. My 8-year-old  daughter and 6-year-old son came home from school and wanted to play in the front yard on the tree swing. OF COURSE I obliged because it was so beautiful out, how could I say no?!? My 18-month-old cried because brother and sissy were home and she wanted to play. So I let the kids push her on the swing. I was inside watching out the front window while I folded laundry in the living room.

A friend of a neighbor came over to tell me how dangerous that was and compared me to that “crazy subway mom.” I told her that I took that as a compliment. This is a sleepy beach community so I told her since she didn’t live on “this side of the bridge” (we live on an island) she just didn’t get it. Needless to say she was not happy to hear that. I gave her this website and I hope she see’s this, then maybe she’ll get it.

Thanks for all the insights and stories. I love seeing how “normal” I am 🙂

So, readers, here’s the quiz:  WHO’S CRAZY? A “subway mom”-type who looks at three siblings sharing a blissful afternoon, and smiles? Or a lady  who looks at the same three siblings and sees a  gothic horror story unfolding?A horror she feels absolutely compelled to warn the mom about?

They call us crazy but we’re not!  — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Humpty Dumpty SAFE???

Dear Readers: Cracked! That’s what the folks are over in Britain where one of the BBC’s kiddie programs (created for children with special needs but a big fave with all the under-fives, apparently), is teaching the kids that Humpty Dumpty did indeed sit on the wall. And he did have a great fall. BUT all the kings horses and all the kings men somehow “Made Humpty happy again.”

And not in tasty omelette form!

Good God, are we SO AFRAID for our children that we think they will be traumatized by hearing of an egg that broke? Are they going to have flashbacks the next time they see a piece of French toast? Are our kids more fragile than the eggs themselves?

Bigger question: Why do we think we are HELPING our kids by assuming that a nursery rhyme that delighted several  hundred years’ worth of children is suddenly too much for this current generation to bear? 

And wait’ll the kids hear about Little Red Ridinghood!! (I’m sure she and the fox will open an organic bakery together.) — Lenore

“TSA Took My Baby!” Hoax?

Hi Folks — On Friday I wrote a piece based on a blog by a mom who said the TSA took her baby son while frisking her — and him, I guess. I said it sounded like the mom was hysterical and the TSA employees were rude.

The TSA then released a video of the incident which certainly makes it look as if the baby was never taken from the mom. It also looks like they did make the mom wait longer than necessary to be re-frisked. In other words: It sort of seems like the mom was hysterical, and the TSA employees were slow.

The mom’s original rambling blog is here. Her rambling apology is here. And mine is right here: I’m very sorry I trusted a blog written by a woman who was obviously distraught. Next thing you know I’ll trust a boy in a balloon! — Lenore