The Babyproofing Industrial Complex

Hi Readers — Here’s a New York Times piece about a reporter’s adventures in babyproofing. She sort of laments the idea that parents hire pricey professional babyproofers as a way to feel “officially” safe.

I’d go a step further and say that in addition to safety, what parents are really hiring the babyproofers for  is insurance against guilt, should a household accident actually occur. In our blame-crazed culture, we know that no one believes in “accidents” or “fate” anymore. Anything bad that happens to a child is ALL THE PARENT’S FAULT. Hire a babyproofer and no it’s not. Whew! — Lenore

Experts agree: Do not store farm equipment in nursery. PHOTO: Darren Copley.

Outrage of the Week, Cont’d: Kids in Developing Country Doing Better Science!

Hi Folks — Here’s an update from Bree, the Boulder, Colo., mom who sent in her daughter’s No-Science at the Science Fair rules (see post below). Turns out Bree’s parents are living in Myanmar (formerly Burma, as in Shave, as in something you do with a sharp object that children should never get anywhere near) and they happened to visit a local  science fair. Writes Bree:

They told me that not only was EVERYTHING on this restricted list allowed, kids there were actually outperforming kids here in innovation, outlandish ideas, and actual science!!  And they don’t even have electricity, computers, or potable water!  But they were allowed not only to experiment, but also to bring those experiments into their school.

The best part – no one was hurt by plants in soil.

What a relief! And I suppose that a little knowledge turned out not to be a such dangerous thing, either. Time to tell the folks in Boulder!  Or maybe they should just start studying Burmese.– Lenore

Myanmar kids make me hoppy! PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen / CC BY 2.0

A Wonk Ponders Parenting

Hi Readers! I got this essay from Prof. Steven Horwitz, the Charles A. Dana Professor of Economics at St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY. (La di dah!) Thought it made a lot of sense, even if it’s a little academic. Enjoy! And if you want to drop him a note, his email — Lenore

To Be A More Confident Parent, Think Like An Economist by Steven Horwitz

In Lenore’s book, she has a chapter urging parents, “Don’t Think Like A Lawyer: Some Risks are Worth It.” I’d like to propose its corollary: “DO Think Like an Economist.” (And not just because I am one.)

When economists make decisions they compare the costs of one choice versus the cost of another. That leads us to the idea of “trade-offs.”  Sometimes, reducing one kind of cost to zero — say, “zero chance of abduction” — means forgoing some other valuable benefit.  Say, “learning independence,” or, “becoming street-smart” or even, “walking to school every day and not getting fat.” The trick is to find the happy medium.

When economists show this idea visually, we can’t help ourselves. We draw a graph. The two axes represent the trade-off as a curve from one axis to another.  The point where one cost is reduced to zero while the cost of the other is maximized is called a “corner solution” because it appears at the corner of one of the axes.  Generally, economists see “corner solutions” as bad because they don’t recognize any trade-offs as worthwhile. They represent a consumer willing to forgo ANY and ALL benefits of budging, even a little bit.

For example, dwelling on worst-case scenarios about childhood risks puts parents in the corner.  Trying to protect our children from any and all forms of potential danger makes us willing to sacrifice other things that are valuable, such as the self-reliance that comes from exploring the woods, or the neighborhood.  When we focus only on the bad things that could happen on an overnight camping trip, for example, we keep the kids home. They don’t get to learn how to respond to the unexpected (like rain). They don’t get to hear ghost stories that they’ll tell THEIR kids. They don’t even get to roast a weiner.

Likewise, when we drive our kids to the bus stop, we put them at greater risk of a car accident in the name of preventing the very remote danger of abduction. At the same time, we’re  stifling their independence. So we’ve made them MORE likely to suffer a car accident and LESS self-confident. That’s a big trade-off, considering how remote the chance of abduction is to begin with.

If you think like an economist, you can get out of these “corners” by doing two things.  First: Try to make a truly accurate assessment of the risk involved in your choice (I recommend reading some solid statistics). Second: Ask yourself, “What are the benefits that go with taking this (often tiny) risk?”

Remember: Risk can never be reduced to zero. Moreover, the goal of parenting is not solely to “minimize risk,” but to help our kids grow up and embrace the world. Remember, too, that risk also means the possibility of failure – and that’s great! Failure is part of the learning process.  Let your kids be responsible for remembering their lunch and you run the risk that one day they’ll leave it at home and get really hungry. But that also carries the huge benefit of them learning, perhaps by forgetting, how to organize themselves for the school day.

Thinking like an economist beats thinking like a lawyer, hands down. But even thinking like a lawyer beats the very worst: Thinking like a politician — and continually bailing them out when they fail!

Dear Mrs. Obama: We Can’t Fight Obesity Without Going Free-Range

Hi Readers: Here’s an almost perfect opinion piece by Dan Haley in Sunday’s Denver Post about how Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program is a great idea — get kids outside, exercising more — but it’ll never work. At least, not until we start a Free-Range Revolution (not that he calls it that):

…first we need a public service campaign to tell parents it’s OK for their kids to play outside. I know parents who constantly wring their hands over how it’s no longer safe for kids to play outdoors. But crimes against children have been declining since at least 1993, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Some 800,000 kids are reported “missing” each year, but only about 100 of those cases can be classified as “stereotypical kidnappings.” The rest typically are runaways and custody issues.

We should still tell our kids to be wary of strangers, to be smart about where they go and who they hang out with. But I’d venture to guess it’s no less safe outside now than it was in the 1970s. We’ve been scared indoors by a few horrifying, high- profile killings that play out on 24-hour news channels and relentless “stranger danger” campaigns.

Unfortunately,then Haley goes on to monger a little fear of his own, saying that when kids are inside they are sitting ducks for internet predators. (For more on how this danger has been exaggerated, please see my piece in The Daily Beast.)

But his main point is well taken. To say,  “Play like we did!” while also saying, “But you’ll probably get abducted if you do, and even if you aren’t, you should probably spend more time inside doing homework and test prep anyway, or you’ll never get into a good college, so your future is grim,” is enough to drive any kid to drink…a sugary soda or two. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Science Fair Bans Most Science

Hi Folks! Here’s the latest — a brilliant Chinese plot to crush America’s lead in science and technology!

Oh wait. Seems it is just one Colorado school’s list of  science fair rules. Thanks, reader Bree, for sending it in. The list:

For safety: Project displays and posters may NOT contain any of the following:

NO: Organisms (living or dead).

NO: Microbial cultures/fungi/molds/bacteria/parasites.

NO: Plants in Soil.

NO: Chemicals.

NO: Flammable Substances.

So I guess if you are doing a science experiment involving the effect of dust on a desk, you’re ok. But beyond that, it gets very tricky.  And, worse, interesting. And so it is verboten. All for the safety of the kids, of course. — Lenore

Not welcome at the fair.  PHOTO CREDIT: Meneer Zjeroen / CC BY 2.0

Who Says Mayberry Is Dead?

Hi Readers! Clearly, that TV town of uber-neighborliness lives on — if you let it. This mom did. Read on!

Dear Lenore: I just finished your book.  Before I found your it and your website, I thought my husband and I were the last sane parents standing.

We bought our house while still in our 20’s. We picked a nearby small town with friendly neighborhoods and an extremely low crime rate. Less than a mile from our house is the bay and farther north is a system of rivers bayous, and creeks.  We wanted to raise our future children to be Opie Taylor and Scout Finch.

It was 7 years before we had our daughter.  In that time, my husband and I volunteered for everything and walked around downtown often – EVERYONE knew who we were.  When my daughter was about 2 mos, I strolled her around town all the time.  The shopkeepers knew her, the librarians knew her, the mail carriers and police knew her.  When she was 8, she was allowed to ride her bike all over town by herself.  I would have prefered she go with friends but the other parents were too busy questioning my sanity.

My daughter liked to go to the bookstore/coffee shop and read magazines while drinking hot chocolate, go to the art gallery and talk to the artists, go to the park, walk around the toy store to daydream and even go to city hall and chat with the Mayor.  If she wanted to spend the day painting, she piled her supplies in a wagon and set up downtown  selling whatever she painted while she painted other pieces.  Occasionally the police chief would call us because tourists reported an unsupervised child and he apologized for having to follow up.  Since everyone knew who she was, I would get reports on her behavior.  By the time she got home, I would know that she made a left turn on her bike with out signaling.

What other parents didn’t understand is that my child is much safer than theirs.  If anything is off kilter or odd concerning my daughter, at least a dozen people will notice.  The sequestered child is unknown by the community.  How will the nice lady at the drugstore know when those people with her are not her parents?  How will they know if she is in trouble?

My daughter is 12 now and more parents are opening the doors so their older children can roam.  Now she has friends with whom to lunch. What I’m taking forever to say is here’s to Free-Range Kids.  We are not alone.

You can make a town small by getting to know it. PHOTO CREDIT: Katmere, on Flickr.

The BBC Ponders Our Point

Hi Readers — The BBC just wrote up a little piece about Free-Range Kids. Then they invited folks from across the world to comment. Here it is, so far — with folks mostly saying freedom and independence help build strong, happy kids. The station does quote one mom saying, “free-range should only be for chickens.”  I’m sure you’ll be shocked that she is an American.  Have a jolly good time! — Lenore

This Kid Sounds Like Me! Or, Rather, Like Us!

Hi Readers! Love this note from a middle-schooler!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a 13-year-old and I really think that kids need more freedom. I regularly ride my bike to the library and friends’ houses, but for going longer distances and using public transportation my parents would like me to have a friend with me. However we haven’t been able to find many friends whose parents are willing to let them have this freedom. Recently I  wanted to take public transportation a few stops but my parents were afraid that some “concerned stranger” would call the police.

Parents really need to stop sheltering their children and prepare them for the outside world. I’m not saying that parents should just push kids out the door one day and expect them to find their own way across town with no street smarts, but to to teach and encourage them to be independent. Walk with younger kids to school, farther and farther behind until they’re ready to walk on there own.

P.S. This is just my opinion.

P.S.  It’s mine, too! — L.

UPDATED: Should a 7-Year-Old Be a Samba Queen?

Brazil is all a-buzz with the idea that a 7 year old girl may be one of the samba queens in its upcoming carnival. In fact, the  matter now rests in a judge’s hands. But somehow, the idea of this talented little girl dancing her sequinned heart out makes me cheer, while the idea of  the “kiddie lingerie” line we were discussing here the other day does the opposite. Why?

Because the kid has a talent. She has worked hard practicing the national dance and now she gets to show the world what she can do. She’s like Shirley Temple. Meanwhile, the “lingerie” line is just plain old tutus mixed with suggestive clothing (fishnets, leopard prints), being peddled — at $90 an outfit –to the girls who’ve outgrown their princess gear. At best, it’s super-expensive dress-up. At worst, it’s skeevy.

The samba tot is celebrating her talent and love of dance. It’s a sorry state of things when all little girls are seen as jail bait when they just want to twirl.  — Lenore

UPDATE: The judge in Brazil has approved of letting the girl dance. However, I myself am having second thoughts about her parents and their motives, now that I have read that her father and his samba school recently tried to host a Holocaust-themed float. According to the New York Times:

The sentiment that Mr. Lira’s school is actively courting controversy in a bid for attention is reinforced by the fact that just two years ago, the same school was blocked by another judge from presenting a Holocaust-themed float, adorned with a pile of naked mannequins representing concentration camp victims and led by a dancer dressed as Hitler.

That idea is so nauseating to me, I feel sorry for any child growing up in that family, dancer or not. Poor kid. Disgusting dad.  — Lenore

A somewhat older samba queen! CREDIT: Fabiogoveia

Throwing “What to Expect” Across the Room

Hi Readers — I just loved this comment to the “Driven Crazy by Pregnancy Perfectionists” post. And her phrase to describe the over-the-top precautions mom-to-be are advised to take — “mindless acts of pointless martyrdom”  — is so wonderful, it deserves to be embroidered on a million Baby Boppies. Voila:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I literally threw What to Expect When You’re Expecting across the room after I cracked it open for the first time to a random page and read, “We don’t have any evidence that coloring your hair harms the fetus, but we don’t have any evidence that it’s GOOD for the fetus, so sorry, Mom, but it’s just one more sacrifice you’re going to have to make.”

My blood pressure shot up so high reading that, I’m surprised I didn’t go into pre-term labor.  The only thing that saved me was knowing that the book was a hand-me-down and I hadn’t contributed to the personal fortune of its author.

So we preggos are supposed to give up everything that has not been proven to be beneficial to the baby even if there’s no evidence that it’s harmful? I refuse. The amount of love I feel for this little guy kicking my bladder is better measured by my determination to raise him to engage intellectually with the world around him than by mindless acts of pointless martyrdom.

“If we haven’t proven it’s good, you have to stop doing it” is the easily the most incredibly irrational, anti-intellectual, anti-scientific, anti-common sense rationale I have ever read for ANYTHING and yet I think that it’s the keystone philosophy for the pregnancy police.  Inherited wisdom from a society ravaged by lawsuits.  Never mind that we happily ignore the risks of things that it would it just be too damned difficult to give up, like car travel or walking.  Life is full of risk!  Brimming with risk!  Suck it up!  Put on your big girl panties (and maternity panties are indeed big) and deal.

You can babyproof your entire house top to bottom and then have it be hit by lightning two hours later.  So put the knives out of reach, install smoke detectors, and lock up the Drano when the baby starts crawling, and then just do the best you can.

I’m 26 weeks pregnant and last night I drank the first beer of this pregnancy and watched the Saints win their first ever Superbowl and my baby merrily kicked before, during, and after.  Still kicking this morning.  And I don’t feel the least bit bad about it.  Sorry, What To Expect.  By the way, if I feel like coloring my hair, I’ll do that, too.  I’ll stop short of drinking the dye if it’s any consolation.

Besides, I can’t prove that reading What To Expect is good for my baby… and the 30 seconds of elevated blood pressure it caused might actually be harmful.  I’m afraid that chucking it is just one more sacrifice that I’m going to make. — Christine

Never say dye? PHOTO CREDIT: Incurlers