Worse Than “Baby on Board!”

Hi Readers! Excuse me while I gag. Amazing how one sign can make everyone who passes this stroller feel big, dirty, disgusting, diseased and depressed.

Remember those “Baby on Board!” signs, that made it seem as if people who were seriously considering crashing into a car would reconsider upon realizing it was carrying someone small? I’m having flashbacks. ¬†— Lenore

While we're at it, don't breathe near me, either.

Condo Won’t Let Kids Play Outside

Hi Folks — Sometimes the inbox brings a little symmetry.¬†Here’s a story one of you sent in about a condo association that can’t stand kids running around “from yard to yard” making “unacceptable noise.” Perhaps children should be taught to use their “indoor voices” outdoors.

But then¬†here’s a story, also just in, about how Berlin is now officially allowing children to run around and MAKE noise (just not on Sundays). ¬†So there’s hope. Far away. On weekdays.

Finally, I didn’t alert you to my current piece on ParentDish, “If You Don’t Have Kids, Can You Give Parents Advice?” So — here it is! Enjoy! — Lenore

School Uses Laptops to Spy on Kids: The Update. Really Weird Update.

Hi Folks! Just read this bizarre new wrinkle on TechDirt¬†about the case of the Pennsylvania school that gave its 1800 students laptops and then used them to spy on the kids — 42 times! While the school claims it activated the cameras only when trying to track down a lost or stolen computer, nonetheless the original student we were talking about here was disciplined for selling or taking drugs. That’s an activity the kid did in his own home, as witnessed by a school administrator ¬†via a secretly activated laptop.

And the administrator witnessed wrong!¬†The drugs turned out to be Mike & Ike candies, says TechDirt! And now my worry is not just that the school was spying, and not just that it got it all wrong, but that someday kids WILL be spied on and WILL be disciplined for eating candy! Or, God forbid, homemade baked goods! (See below.) Aieeeee! — Lenore

Twain on Twains (Well, Really, Twain on the Risk of Train Accidents. Couldn’t Resist.)

Hi Readers — Look at this lovely little snippet of Mark Twain cogitatin’ on risk, and how we tend to blow it up all out of proportion. Apparently we managed to scare ourselves to death back in 1871, too. This excerpt appears on a blog I hear mentioned all the time, Schneier on Security, by Bruce Schneier who is (surprise!) a security expert, and who also writes a column for that great magazine, Wired.

Enjoy a little sanity from the ages. — Lenore

I Weep for My City (Banning Homemade Goods At Bake Sales)

Because, as we all know, the lack of funds for library books and gym equipment doesn’t kill kids, homemade cupcakes do. Nothing like a micromanaged snack. Check this out. And bartender? Make it another milk. Straight up, no cookies. — Lenore

P.S. My husband says we can’t call it a bake sale anymore either. How about a Fake Sale? The Deli in the Gym? Or maybe Processed Food Sale. That’ll bring ’em galumphing.

Wow! Many Kids Possibly Mis-Diagnosed as “Allergic”

Hi Readers! This is news to me: The well-regarded St. Louis Children’s Hospital has a program whereby they take kids who have tested positive for food allergies to see if they really ARE allergic. To that end, they feed the kids a steadily increasing amount of the allergen for hours on end, while closely monitoring them for adverse reactions. Turns out that in about half the cases, there aren’t any.

Well I’ll be a Mr. Goodbar! Another study, published last month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (no, I don’t read it — I heard about it in the same story I just linked to, above), the University of Manchester performed these “food challenges” on 79 kids who’d tested positive, via a skin or blood test, for peanut allergies. Guess how many turned out NOT to be allergic?

A whopping 66 of them! That means only 13 WERE allergic!

The problem — the BIG problem, it sounds like, to me — is that blood tests measure the antibodies present when a particular allergen is introduced, and skin tests measure hives produced by a prick with the food extract. But it turns out that merely producing antibodies doesn’t mean a person will have any other symptoms, and neither do hives produced via prick. Who knew?

Anyway, I alert us to this info not because I want anyone doubting the veracity of another child’s diagnosis, but only so parents can be aware that perhaps their kids are not living under the allergen-covered Sword of Damocles. I only wish it were easier for the kids to take this “challenge,” ¬†to see if they can relax and eat what they want. (Apparently the waiting list can be a year.) Fewer allergic kids could also mean fewer schools having to outlaw peanuts or homemade goodies. Anything that brings homemade cupcakes back into the mix is something I can get behind. — Lenore

Is the allergy test nuts? PHOTO: Gilles Gonthier. CREDIT: http://bit.ly/ctkHiD

Surely You Must Be Choking!

Hi Readers — Thanks to all of you who sent in this AP story today, about the American Academy of Pediatrics wanting companies to start labeling hotdogs, carrots, grapes and other foods as choking hazards.

Which, admittedly, they are. And sidewalks are tripping hazards, and puddles are slipping hazards, and trees are bumping-int0 hazards. The minute you decide to get up off the floor and sit on a chair (falling hazard) or couch (fire hazard) or go out the door (big, wide world-hazard) you are taking your life into your hands.

It is very sad — really — that in 2006, 61 children died choking on food. I can’t imagine their parents’ anguish. But to put that number in perspective, in 2005,¬†1,335 children died as car passengers.

Which is to say: Every day we engage in activities that hold some danger, however slight, and that is as it should be. Otherwise we’d be paralyzed with fear.

Should we try to be safe? Yes. Can we ever be totally safe? No.

I believe in car seats and safety belts. And I guess I believe in cutting up food until children are really good at chewing it themselves. I cut up some grapes in my day. What is unnerving about the idea of slapping a warning label on everyday foods is that we are now defining something as “unsafe” that is actually very safe — ¬†just not absolutely,¬†perfectly safe. The story ran on MSNBC under the subhead, “Pediatricians Seek to Protect Kids from High-Risk Items.” To me a “high risk” item is a leaky beaker of plutonium.

So what we’re talking about is a new way of looking at safety — and risk. When something that is safe 99.99% of the time is defined as “high risk,” the world looks like a death trap. It also changes the way we are expected to parent, demanding, as it does, hypervigilance, hyper-involvement in everything our kids do/eat/touch/try, and hyper-criticism if¬†e’er we flag.

As if those of us who give our kids hotdogs weren’t already in society’s crosshairs! — Lenore

When kid bites dog, that's news! PHOTO: jetalone. http://bit.ly/9IDazT

Do Toy Guns Turn Kids into Killers?

Hi Readers — Here’s another question that arrived in th email. It began, ¬†“Can we talk about gunplay for a few minutes?”¬†Happily, by “gunplay” they writer didn’t mean, “What’s the upside of random shootings?” But rather, “Is it okay for kids to play around, pretending to shoot each other?”

While it drives me crazy when one of my sons puts his hand up to his brother’s temple and pantomimes “Pow!”, I totally love it when they get out their Nerf guns and run around playing shoot ’em up. I used to think toy guns were a tool of depravity. Now I think they’re toys…that happen to be guns. ¬†So onward to the reader’s letter:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I had no idea how far the hysteria over gun play had gone these days until my son got in trouble for it last week at school.

The thing is, he wasn’t playing with a gun. He and his friends were playing with sticks. And since they were well aware of the rule against “gun play” (the rule that I had previously been ignorant of), they weren’t even pretending that the sticks were guns; they were pretending that they were crossbows.

By nobody’s report were they bothering anybody. The game involved the 5 or so boys who were happily playing with each other and that was the scope of it.

For this, my son and his band of friends were prohibited from sitting with each other at lunch for a day, and were banned from the school playground “until further notice.” At recess, they had to stay under close supervision on the blacktop.

Now, my husband happens to work at the school and he spoke with some of the staff members involved, which resulted in them reinstating the boys’ playground privileges 2 days later. But my husband also found out that the rule against gunplay is mandated by the state, so there’s no use in complaining to the principal; this is a legislative matter.

I suppose I should be thankful that that’s as far as it went. At no point was suspension or any other wild overreaction even mentioned. A friend I spoke with after this happened mentioned that when her son had been in first grade, he was threatened with suspension for making a threat against a friend to “shoot her with his BB gun.” Never mind that he didn’t even have a BB gun, it was actually a Nerf gun. Never mind that he didn’t have it with him at the time, and never mind that these two kids were good friends who loved to tease each other. Regardless, if he did it again, he’d be suspended.

My son is a gentle-natured boy who’s normally more interested in climbing trees than playing shoot-’em-up, so we don’t have much gunplay at home. But even if we did — seriously, these are kids, and it’s imaginary play. I know the difference, and so do kids. It’s only the grownups who seem to struggle with the distinction.

Based on the little bit of Googling I did, it seems there’s no proven correlation between gunplay and real aggression. Some have even suggested that prohibiting gunplay could have the opposite effect and make guns a tempting forbidden fruit.

I understand that events like Columbine have scared the crap out of people, but I have a hard time seeing how playing with a few sticks on the playground is going to turn kids into murderers. -Cindy H.

Stop? PHOTO CREDIT: woodleywonderworks, on Flickr. http://bit.ly/97MUu3

Outrage of the Week: School Gives Kids Laptops Then Uses them To Spy!

Readers — This is just incredible! A school in suburban Philadelphia issued its kids laptops without mentioning one little detail. According to a report in Courthouse News (which quotes from a federal class action suit):

[There was no] reference made “to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera.

The complaint states: “On November 11, 2009, plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability [spying] and practice by the school district when Lindy Matsko (‘Matsko’), an assistant principal at Harriton High School, informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district.

I guess that school will finally be able to see who is doing their homework. And what they’re wearing. (Or not.) ¬†I think this is going to be a big case. — Lenore

Walking to School in Jeopardy

Hi Readers — This is the first email I opened this morning, and the writer needs help. Can we come up with some great ideas for him beyond my blindingly obvious one: Remind the school district that walking is good for bodies, minds, souls and maybe even test scores? ¬†Hope so! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a parent in a walking school district in Southern New Jersey and am interested in any help I can get from the Free-Range community.  Our school district is moving toward reconfiguring our three neighborhood elementary schools, each is K-6. The proposal is to reconfigure one school to K-2, the second will be 3rd and 4th grades, and the third 5th and 6th.

I am on a committee charged with investigating this concept and so far the only real benefits seem to be for teachers and administrators.¬† A major loss for parents and children is they will be forced to travel to schools beyond their neighborhoods, which will result in more children being driven — even those that once walked.¬† Plus, kids will change buildings three times during their elementary experience.¬† Can anyone give insights from personal experience regarding such a configuration, especially demonstrated educational benefits? ¬†Please?