“Zits” Explains Why Kids Can’t Do Anything Anymore

If Zits comics aren’t cut out and affixed to your refrigerator yet, it’s only because your kids are still young. Otherwise, you couldn’t resist. That’s why I’m glad a reader sent in this one to stick on the collective Free-Range Kids Fridge. For more Zits, click here!


Ah, logic!



Should We Train Our Kids Like Dogs?

There’s something to that idea, according to the Motherlode parenting blog in  The New York Times: Take our cue from The Dog Whisperer and give our kids plenty of affection, discipline and  time outside with a bone.

Well, time outside, anyway.

Anti-Homework Movement Growing!

At least it is in Canada, where one family’s actual contract with their school — “We the undersigned shall do no homework, nor shall it be assigned” (or words to that effect) is roiling the country. Editorials are jumping in on the anti-homework, pro-play, pro-down-time, pro-music, sports and outdoors side! Right on! Here’s an overview , from the great blog, stophomework.com.

Outrage of the Week: Saving Children From Mrs. Santa Claus!

I don’t know if this is quite the right expression but: Oy vey! A town in North Carolina has BANNED MRS. CLAUS from its  X-mas parade. Why?

To quote the local News Observer: “…John Odom, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Merchants Association, which runs the parade, said it’s confusing for children to see two people in Santa suits. He said it’s a policy that only Santa may wear the official outfit.”

That’s right: it is too CONFUSING to kids to see a lady in a red, Santa-like outfit. Which, for the record, is a DRESS. Is the local Mr. Claus wearing a red dress, too? Perhaps there’s some other kind of confusion going on.

My favorite line in the story is this: “It was unclear how common youthful confusion of Santa and Mrs. Claus might be, and what harm might result from the misapprehension.”

But hey — better safe than Santa! — Lenore

Kid Safety Labels We WANT To See

Hi Readers! Here are three great — nay, profound — “safety” labels, including:  “CAUTION: REDUCTION OF EXPANDED PLAY OPPORTUNITIES.” That one is to be affixed to any high-tech toy that is nowhere near as fun to play with, in the long run, as its box.

These labels come courtesy of Make Magazine, courtesy of one of our heroes, Gever Tulley, who runs the Tinkering School, and did that great video, “5 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Kids Do.” (Think that’s enough links?) — Lenore



Hi Readers — This just in. So much for changing the world in one fell swoop.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I really enjoyed the article in Time, and decided to have a talk with my 6 year old daughter about independence. She was very inspired and asked if she could ride her scooter around the block by herself. With helmet on, she headed down the sidewalk, where a neighbor stopped her, told her that Stranger Danger was out there and could get her, and said she needed to turn around right away and go home. I fear this movement could take many generations to sort out!

Welcome, TIME Magazine Readers!

Hi Folks! Welcome to Free-Range Kids, where we (mostly) look at new ways to raise safe, self-reliant kids — kids at home in the world, happy outdoors, and even capable of entertaining themselves without the aid of Steve Jobs. We also look at stories in the news that illustrate Free-Range ideas in action — or the opposite. And we examine the disconnect between the fact we live in pretty safe times, but the media keep telling us to be scared from the second we wake up to the second we (try!) to go to sleep.

The chapters in my book, Free-Range Kids, illustrate the themes you’ll see here — and, of course, in it! (The perfect holiday gift, if I may say so myself.) Voila:





Playdates and Axe Murderers: How To Tell The Difference


Go Easy On The ‘Law & Order,’ Too


Who Knew You Were Doing Everything Wrong? …Them


And The Rest of the Kiddie Safety-Industrial Complex


Some Risks are Worth It


They Don’t Know Your Kid Like You Do


Give Halloween Back To The Trick-or-Treaters


Your 10-Year-Old Would Have Been Forging Horse Shoes (Or At Least Delivering The Paper)


Why Other Countries Are Laughing at Zee Scaredy-Cat Americans


Quit Trying to Control Everything. It Doesn’t Work Anyway.


Not Every Little Thing You Do Has That Much Impact On Your Child’s Development

12 FAIL!

It’s The New Succeed


Make Them Play – Or else


They’re Sick of Being Babies (Except The Actual Babies, Of Course)


Animals (being eaten by); Bats (Metal); Bats (Vampire); Baby Formula; BPA Poisoning; Cell Phones and Brain Cancer; Choking On Food And All The Other Little Things Around the House; Cough and Cold Medicinitis; Death By Stroller; Eating Snow; Germs, Anti-germs and Shopping Cart Liners; Halloween Candy; Internet Predators and Other Online Skeeves; Lead paint, Lead Toys and Lead Everything from China; Licking the Batter Off Beaters While They’re Still Plugged In; Playground Perils; Pools and Water and Kids and Toilets; Raw Dough’s Raw Deal; School Shooting Stats; Sunscreen, Vitamin D, Skin Cancer, You Name It; Spoilage (of food); Spoilage (of children); Teen Sex; The Woods (playing in); Walking to school; Zoo Animals (in cracker form and otherwise).


Even the Folks Who Put The Faces On Milk Cartons Aren’t Too Worried


The Other Problem that Has No Name

And How to Fix It and Give Our Kids Their Childhood Back

That’s it! We’re glad you’re here! Have fun connecting with us and some new ideas. And coming soon — new feature: Find Free-Range Families in your own neighborhood! — Lenore

Dear Santa: Are You A Sex Offender?

Hi Readers — What’s Christmas without a little overkill, this time at the hands of the U.S. Postal Service? It is acting to keep our children “safe” — and joyless! That’s the true spirit of the season, the way things are going.

The Post Office is afraid of sex offenders responding to childrens’ letters to Santa– admittedly a concern, but compared to having volunteers answer  mountains of letters from needy children? As they have for decades? And what are the chances a Santa letter to a child along with some toys would wind up a horrible tragedy?

To me it’s another case of “protecting” kids that leaves the vast majority far worse off — just like when we take  all the merry-go-rounds off all the playgrounds just in case someone, somewhere could fall off. We’ve “protected” the kids, yes. Mostly from a joy.   Here’s the story, from the Associated Press:

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) – Starry-eyed children writing letters to the jolly man at the North Pole this holiday season likely won’t get a response from Santa Claus or his helpers.

The U.S. Postal Service is dropping a popular national program begun in 1954 in the small Alaska town of North Pole , where volunteers open and respond to thousands of letters addressed to Santa each year. Replies come with North Pole postmarks.

Last year, a postal worker in Maryland recognized an Operation Santa volunteer there as a registered sex offender. The postal worker interceded before the individual could answer a child’s letter, but the Postal Service viewed the episode as a big enough scare to tighten rules in such programs nationwide.

People in North Pole are incensed by the change, likening the Postal Service to the Grinch trying to steal Christmas. The letter program is a revered holiday tradition in North Pole, where light posts are curved and striped like candy canes and streets have names such as Kris Kringle Drive and Santa Claus Lane . Volunteers in the letter program even sign the response letters as Santa’s elves and helpers.

North Pole Mayor Doug Isaacson agreed that caution is necessary to protect children. But he’s outraged North Pole program should be affected by a sex offender’s actions on the East Coast—and he thinks it’s wrong that locals just found out about the change in recent days.

“It’s Grinchlike that the Postal Service never informed all the little elves before the fact,” he said. “They’ve been working on this for how long?”

The Postal Service began restricting its policies in such programs in 2006, including requiring volunteers to show identification.

But the Maryland incident involving the sex offender prompted additional changes, even forcing the agency to briefly suspend the Operation Santa program last year in New York and Chicago .

The agency now prohibits volunteers from having access to children’s family names and addresses, said spokeswoman Sue Brennan. The Postal Service instead redacts the last name and addresses on each letter and replaces the addresses with codes that match computerized addresses known only to the post office—and leaves it up to individual post offices if they want to go through the time-consuming effort to shield the information.

Anchorage-based agency spokeswoman Pamela Moody said dealing with the tighter restrictions is not feasible in Alaska.

“It’s always been a good program, but we’re in different times and concerned for the privacy of the information,” she said.

Moody stressed that kids around the world can still send letters to Santa Claus. The Postal Service still runs the giant Operation Santa Program in which children around the world can have their letters to Santa answered, and the restrictions do not affect private organizations running their own letter efforts.

But what will change are the generically addressed letters to “Santa Claus, North Pole” that for years have been forwarded to volunteers in the Alaska town. That program will stop, unless changes are made before Christmas.

Those letters will still be forwarded to volunteers but it’s unclear yet if anything will be done with them. Those intercepted by the postal service will probably eventually be shredded.


Hi Readers: Here’s a little update.
The elves up north are fighting back.

Outrage of the Week: No Wine In Front of The Kids

Hi Readers! Here’s an advice column that had me reaching for the scotch. And I don’t even drink:

Dear Amy: My husband and I adore our grandson, who is a toddler. We watch him at our house overnight two times a month while his parents attend art classes.
Now that he is getting older, my daughter would like to start leaving him for longer stays — the most recent request is three nights/five days so they can attend a class out of state.
When our grandson was born, his parents created a list of rules regarding his care. I understood why they would want to do this.
One of the rules is that there is zero tolerance for drinking any alcohol by the primary caregiver (me).
My husband and I enjoy drinking wine every night. When my daughter and her brother were growing up, her dad and I always had wine with our meals.
I don’t mind giving up wine on an occasional evening, but as they start to ask us to care for our grandson for longer periods, I’m wondering if the no-tolerance rule is still an appropriate expectation.
We are responsible drinkers who enjoy wine. But are we pitting the safety of our grandson against our wine consumption? Are we being selfish, and could we possibly be accused of having a drinking problem by making an issue of this with our daughter and son-in-law?
Is responsibly drinking wine in one’s home mutually exclusive to being able to responsibly care for a child?
— WL

Dear WL: I support the “zero tolerance” policy of these parents. Even one glass of wine can affect your response time and sleep habits.
Speak with your daughter, and go over her list of expectations. You should ask her to negotiate a solution — the most obvious being that you and your husband trade off who is the primary caregiver in the evenings. This person will enjoy a glass of apple juice with dinner.
If you are afraid your daughter will bring up your drinking, then you do have problem. At the very least, your drinking is causing a problem with her, and you should be brave enough to address it.

Hey Amy! How about being brave enough to address the over-the-top fears many of today’s parents are indulging in? They’re a lot more damaging than a glass of Chardonnay.

These grandfolks are not running around the table, chasing each other with electric knives. They sound like normal, civilized people. If they’re irresponsible, so is all of France. The idea that they have to change their behavior because their grown daughter wants them to be even MORE perfect — or what she considers perfect —  is not something to encourage. Should she insist they only discuss pre-approved topics, too, and play no music composed after 1783? (Maybe she did, in her list.)

If the grandparents are actual alcoholics, then that’s another story and I doubt the mom would even consider leaving her kid with them. Since that doesn’t seem to be the case, I think the grandmother here is being extremely obliging. She’s not only giving her time, she’s shutting up about the rest of the rules her daughter has issued.

Daughter, hon, how about Universal Rule #1? “Be grateful for free babysitting.”  — Lenore

“Can These Parents Be Saved?” asks TIME Magazine Cover Story

Hi Readers — Wow. This is my dream article, and (perhaps) not just because it is high on Free-Range Kids! Check it out! Yay, Time! And please allow me to quote a part I find particularly salient:

Obsessing about kids’ safety and success became the norm, a kind of orthodoxy took hold, and heaven help the heretics — the ones who were brave enough to let their kids venture outside without Secret Service protection. Just ask Lenore Skenazy, who to this day, when you Google “America’s Worst Mom,” fills the first few pages of results — all because one day last year she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone. A newspaper column she wrote about it somehow ignited a global firestorm over what constitutes reasonable risk. She had reporters calling from China, Israel, Australia, Malta. (“Malta! An island!” she marvels. “Who’s stalking the kids there? Pirates?”) Skenazy decided to fight back, arguing that we have lost our ability to assess risk. By worrying about the wrong things, we do actual damage to our children, raising them to be anxious and unadventurous or, as she puts it, “hothouse, mama-tied, danger-hallucinating joy extinguishers.”

Skenazy, a Yale-educated mom who with her husband is raising two boys in New York City, had ingested all the same messages as the rest of us. Her sons’ school once held a pre-field-trip assembly explaining exactly how close to a hospital the children would be at all times. She confesses to being “at least part Sikorsky,” hiring a football coach for a son’s birthday and handing out mouth guards as party favors. But when the Today show had her on the air to discuss her subway decision, interviewer Ann Curry turned to the camera and asked, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”

From that day and the food fight that followed, she launched her Free Range Kids blog, which eventually turned into her own Dangerous Book for Parents: Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. There is no rational reason, she argues, that a generation of parents who grew up walking alone to school, riding mass transit, trick-or-treating, teeter-tottering and selling Girl Scout cookies door to door should be forbidding their kids to do the same. But somehow, she says, “10 is the new 2. We’re infantilizing our kids into incompetence.” She celebrates seat belts and car seats and bike helmets and all the rational advances in child safety. It’s the irrational responses that make her crazy, like when Dear Abby endorses the idea, as she did in August, that each morning before their kids leave the house, parents take a picture of them. That way, if they are kidnapped, the police will have a fresh photo showing what clothes they were wearing. Once the kids make it home safe and sound, you can delete the picture and take a new one the next morning.

That advice may seem perfectly sensible to parents bombarded by heartbreaking news stories about missing little girls and the predator next door. But too many parents, says Skenazy, have the math all wrong. Refusing to vaccinate your children, as millions now threaten to do in the case of the swine flu, is statistically reckless; on the other hand, there are no reports of a child ever being poisoned by a stranger handing out tainted Halloween candy, and the odds of being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are about 1 in 1.5 million. When parents confront you with “How can you let him go to the store alone?,” she suggests countering with “How can you let him visit your relatives?” (Some 80% of kids who are molested are victims of friends or relatives.) Or ride in the car with you? (More than 430,000 kids were injured in motor vehicles last year.) “I’m not saying that there is no danger in the world or that we shouldn’t be prepared,” she says. “But there is good and bad luck and fate and things beyond our ability to change. The way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources.” Besides, she says with a smile, “a 100%-safe world is not only impossible. It’s nowhere you’d want to be.”

Let’s say it again: Hooray for Time Magazine! The tide is turning! — Lenore