Let’s Help This Boy Bike to School!

Hi Readers! I’m dashing off to give a talk tonight (Thurs.) at the Ethel Walker school in Simsbury, Conn. (outside of Hartford). It’s free and open to the public, if you’re in the nabe.  Meantime, let’s help this California mom! Any advice? Support? Great ideas? — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently lost my car and decided that bicycles will be mine and my son’s primary mode of transportation until I can afford to replace the car. The boy is 8 and I ride with him half-way, some days all the way, to school in the mornings. His first day riding, I provided him with a note, releasing the school from any related liability.

Today I received a call informing me of the district policy that kids can’t bike to school unless they are in 4th grade or higher. So no kids are allowed to ride their bikes to school unless they are 10 years old.  I feel like the district is over-stepping its bounds by telling me how my kid can and cannot get to school.

I guess I’m contacting you to see if you or your readers can offer some suggestions on how I can fight this. I want him to ride his bike. It will teach him another level of responsibility, boost his confidence and make getting home after school easier on both of us. Any advice or suggestions on handling this situation? — A Reader in California

Our Sex Offender Laws are CRAZY

Hi Readers — This story was just sent to me and I am stunned and going out of my mind. A 34-year-old Nevada woman who was convicted of making a 13-year-old boy touch her breasts — I agree, gross and totally wrong — was sentenced to MANDATORY LIFE IN PRISON.

She will be eligible for parole in 10 years.  As her public defender said:  “She is getting a greater penalty for having a boy touch her breast than if she killed him.”

No one — Free-Range or not — is in favor of adults molesting minors. But the idea that “public lewdness”  can carry a mandatory life sentence just highlights  the hysteria of the times we are living in — times when we are so sex offender-obsessed we fail to consider whether we are really making children any safer with our over-the-top laws and our “zero tolerance” for common sense. As one commenter named “justthefacts” wrote beneath the original news story:

Humor me please…a man leaves a bar intoxicated, gets behind the wheel of his vehicle, chooses to drive off and ultimately gets in an accident and kills a 13 year old boy, unintentionally, but still is blatently guilty of vehicular manslaughter. He is charged with the following in Nevada: $2000-$5000 fine, 25 years – Life prison sentence with a possibility of parole after 10 years. This is the actual sentence for a crime of this caliber. With that being said, should this woman really, seriously, get the same exact sentence?

Wouldn’t community service and some rehab or therapy have made a lot more sense? Or maybe a week in jail? We’ve got to change these laws. If anyone is more versed than me in how we go about this, tell all.  — Lenore

Way to go, Nevada.

Front Page Treatment

Hi Folks — Here’s a link to a nice Free-Range story on the front page of today’s Arizona Daily Star, in Tucson. (Where I had my first newspaper internship many moons — and suns, and probably a comet — ago.) What’s nice is so many of the comments are positive! — L.

This is NOT Recommended by Free-Range Kids

Hi Readers! I know — some folks out there probably think this is how we Free-Rangers spend our weekends. But it ain’t. Watch and cringe:

Do You Let Your Kids Walk to School?

If so, TV is calling!If you might be interested in seeing your child on network TV, drop a line to Gwen.Gowen@abc.com . She’s doing a piece on — obviously — letting kids walk to school and needs some “real world” examples. Thanks! — L.

Guest Post: Is EVERYTHING Too Dangerous?

Hi Folks! I was reading this blog post about product-recall-mania today and nodded along with so much of it, I asked the writer, Julie Colwell, if I could post it and she said sure. So here it is, slightly edited:

Micromanaging Moms 101, by Julie Colwell, from her blog, “The Mother Load.”

So, in my inbox today, I got an email that was a collection of all the baby and child recalls this year.  At first I thought it was a joke since there were literally millions of recalls.  Apparently absolutely everything you’ve ever bought is dangerous, including sweatshirts (your kid might hang himself on the drawstring), foam board books (he might chew on them), and plastic fork and spoon sets (if your 6-year-old is using them, he could bite off a prong or two).  Just about anything might cause your child to lose a finger, fall down, or choke.  And if they do, you should sue the manufacturer for millions of dollars, because every accident is actually someone’s fault.

I wish mellow moms, friends and, well, I would speak up: We are tired of listening to how dangerous it is to be alive, and how careless we are with our kids.  We are used to pinch-hitting with whatever we have on hand, even if it is a contraband second-hand car seat that has been in a fender bender, or a stroller with a finger-chopping hinge.  Any mom of more than two kids knows that any stroller can work as a triple stroller in a pinch.

When did “safety first” creep into the top spot on the priority list of our national parenting consciousness? If you’re a parent now, chances are your parents left you in the car while they ran into the post office, and you babysat three or four neighbor kids by the time you were twelve.  Most moms today wouldn’t think of leaving infants or toddlers with seventh graders, even though THEY were seventh graders 20 years ago who managed not to maim the little ones in their care.  Is it because we didn’t “know” how dangerous all those activities were, we didn’t think twice about doing them?

A friend of mine went to a water park in Honduras.  There were no rules and people (after waiting their turn) splashed down the slides forwards, backwards, upside down, holding babies, holding each other… any way they liked.  She said it was fantastic, fun, and liberating.  That would never happen here.  In the U.S. today, you won’t even find diving boards in most pools.  They’ve all been taken out because they are such a liability.  If they’re there, they are accompanied by so many rules that they’re not much fun if you’re older than five… and then you may not be allowed in the deep end without a parent “within a hug’s reach.”

How did we get to be so paranoid?  And why is safety more important than community or honesty or compassion?  All these crazy recalls drive up the costs of stuff we actually do need.  They increase the already rampant litigiousness of our society, and they imply that everything that happens could be avoided… a delusion of control that we -– and our kids — would be better without.

There’s a movie coming out soon called Babies.  It’s a documentary about four babies born to different families around the world.  I am hopeful that watching a baby take a bath in a bucket with a goat nearby it will reset the standard American moms’ expectations on what is safe and normal.  There’s always hope. — Julie

Child Predators Love Polite Kids?

Hi Readers: So here’s a “helpful” article on how to keep our kids safe from predators. It cites the oft-repeated notion that when we make our kids hug or kiss relatives, the kids get the message that from now on they must submit to any and all skeevy and revolting requests adults make of them.

To me this seems like a giant leap. I never liked kissing my aunts and I sure hated the lipstick smudges they’d leave on my cheeks,  but I don’t think that gave me an, “I guess from now on I’m jailbait” mentality, either. This just seems like one more, “Watch out!” article that gets parents worried without actually giving them something sensible to do.

What IS sensible? DO teach your kids to be polite. And then do what David Finkelhor, head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, suggests, in terms of keeping kids safe from abuse: Teach them to understand, avoid and report it. In other words, teach them “good touch/bad touch,” starting as early as age 3 or 4. Let them know that if anyone touches them in a disturbing way,  or asks them to do something that feels wrong or upsetting, they can say no. AND they can (and should) tell you what happened, even if the other adult says not to. AND you won’t be mad. Let kids know: It’s not their fault.

By the way, Finkelhor said he has seen no correlation between kids made to hug their relatives and kids who get abused. Neither has Amy Baxter, a pediatrician who did a fellowship in child abuse and teaches other doctors about it. Both agree, however, that if your child does express real distress about hugging or kissing someone in particular, there is no need to force them to do it. Once the person is gone, just ask your child some open-ended questions — “Can you tell me why you feel this way?” — to see if anything is going on.

The “Predators Love Polite Kids” piece I’ve linked to assumes that when we are teaching our children to generally be polite we are also turning a deaf ear to any of their pointed protests or hesitations. But we aren’t. It also assumes we are squelching all their instincts. But most of us grew up with that, “Don’t kiss me with your lipstick-y mouth!” instinct and it seems to be one that we could suspend temporarily, for the sake of good manners,  even while retaining our other, self-protective instincts. And even while retaining an open line of communication with our parents.

The leap from kissing grandpa to being molested seems like a truism that we’ve just gotten used to parroting. — Lenore

“Mom, I am NOT Going to End Up a Sex Slave.”

Hi Readers — This comment came in from a 16-year-old.  Seems to frame the problem of overprotection and parental fear pretty darn well. Read on!

Dear Free-Range Kids: Tell me about it. Kids need more freedom and less worry.

I live in a neighborhood where the violent crime rate is a small decimal. It’s a safe, cushy suburban neighborhood. The last violent crime happened because someone was mentally disturbed, a few years ago.

My friend’s mom wouldn’t let her go on a walk at 8pm on a Saturday with a group of 4 friends (several of whom were trained in martial arts, mind you) because she was afraid her daughter would get hurt. She watched over her via iPhone, texting her nonstop– the invisible leash, or so it seems.

Similarly, when my mom doesn’t want me to go out because she’s worried about me, she always pulls the weirdest defense. Last time, she said, after I got upset at her not letting me leave the house (I love to wander), “Well hey, just be grateful you’re not someone’s sex slave.”

W-whh-what?! I can’t leave my house because I might become someone’s sex slave? What, do we never get in our car because we assume every time we drive we will get in to a massive collision? Do we never leave the house because there are axe murderers on every corner of suburbia?

I was so disgusted when my mother said this to me, it made me really angry and violated, actually. Simply, she watches way too much Law and Order Special Victims Unit– a TV universe of rape fables and sexual violence that distorts our reality. Every episode is another rape. It follows the lives of detectives who have to deal with prosecuting/investigating rape every day and we enter their world through the screen. Every episode has to be entertaining, so anything possible can happen in the episodes– the more extreme the better. Some days it’s a normal rape, sometimes it’s a serial rapist, and sometimes we’re lucky enough to come across an episode where the rapist tortures his sex slaves. Exciting, isn’t it?

We forget that we live in the safest possible neighborhood on the planet, that we moved in to for the very purpose of giving children freedom and safety to play on their own. Absurd.

The New York Times & “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day”

Hey Readers! Great to see this post about “Take Our Children to The Park…And Leave Them There Day” on Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog, Motherlode. The ball starts rolling! Get set for May 22! Spread the word! — L.

Well, don't leave us here for 68 years. But you get the idea.

A Real “Take Our Kids to Work Day” Safety Memo

Hi Readers! Today is officially “Take Our Sons & Daughters to Work Day.” And here is an official memo from one reader’s employer:

Parents are cautioned to be mindful of the safety of their children and limit their exposure at work to job-shadowing which could include: permitting the young observers to attend a meeting, encouraging them to interview office workers (who volunteer) about their jobs, demonstrating use of special equipment (not including equipment which could be harmful such as paper shredders, cutters or staplers), and allowing them to participate in hands-on activities appropriate to age and skill levels. “

As our mole in this office notes: “Participation in limited to 9-15 year olds.  Staplers, huh?”