Would You Leave $1 Million Alone? No? Then Why Leave Your Kid??

Hi Readers — Two things: First, this being Memorial Day Weekend, I am taking a three-day break! I’ll be back in the saddle on Tuesday, but until then, talk amongst yourselves.

Second, here’s a little thought-provoking note I got the other day that should provide plenty of discussion around the picnic table.  (And if you’re reading this in Australia: Sorry! Brrrrr!)

It’s been a great and wild ride since announcing “Take Our Children to the Park…” Day. If you’re near a TV tonight, I’m on CNN at around 8:45 Eastern Time, discussing it. Here are my opeds about it in The Times (of London) and The Guardian. Meantime, I wish everyone, young and old, a wonderful Free-Range weekend! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: In an attempt to help promote “Take Your Child To The Park….And Leave Them There Day” I’ve been posting on assorted parenting forums and other bulletin boards where moms congregate. I’ve seen everything from the typical blame the victim–”How would you feel if something terrible happened?”–to the pious– “I would never leave my child alone any place that I wouldn’t leave a million dollars.”  It’s that last statement I want to address.

It certainly sounds like a wonderful rule of thumb, but dig a little deeper and it becomes clear how flawed that logic is.  For starters, and this may seem to be an astoundingly obvious statement, money isn’t a child.  Money doesn’t need to learn how to share, resolve conflict, solve problems, or any of the thousands of other skills children must learn in order to be successful adults.  Even if you smack some googly eyes on it, a la the Geico commercial, it’s still just a stack of money and has no needs whatsoever.

Money can’t fight back.  If we have done our jobs as parents, our children should know that it’s not safe to go off with strangers.  They should have a playbook of what to do if someone threatens them or makes them uncomfortable.  Money doesn’t have legs.  It can’t run from a threat.  It doesn’t have arms with which to defend itself, nor a voice with which to cry for help.

The second problem with this seemingly innocuous statement is a problem of scale.  There are, presumably, way more people who would be interested in stealing a stack of money than in doing the same to a child.  As Lenore has often pointed out, in this day and age of 24/7 cable news, CSI, Law & Order and other programs in which children are regularly depicted as the victims, it can be hard to remember that every moment is NOT an accident waiting to happen, every stranger is not an immediate threat to our children, and every second a child spends out of our sight is not the moment that they’ll decide to take a long walk off a short pier.

Finally, the implication in the axiom of “Don’t leave your child any place you wouldn’t leave a million dollars” is insidious.  The reason WHY just recently bubbled to the surface of my mind as a coherent thought: It is the worst kind of  justification for helicopter parenting.  The underlying meaning is that any parent who could leave their child alone for even a second in what the writer considered to be an unsafe environment doesn’t value their children.  The writer let herself off the hook by making it clear that she considers her children to be worth a million bucks while at the same time implying that I didn’t.

In fact, I think exactly the opposite is true.  Not only do I think my child is worth a million bucks, I think other people who interact with him will see his potential.  I think those people, if my son is threatened or hurt, will react to protect his potential if I’m not present to do so.  I believe that the vast majority of people are inherently good.  And I believe that a million bucks, whether stored in the mattress or chained to my side and never spent, is a fortune that has been wasted.

“What Fantasy World Does Lenore Live In?” (And An Answer)

Hi Readers! As you know, one of the reasons many folks are too scared to let their kids go outside and play, or walk to school, or breathe without a bodyguard, is that they assume “times are different” — and worse. Here’s what a lady wrote to her local California paper yesterday:

What fantasy world does Lenore live in where kids can play in a park unattended?  I live in a very nice neighborhood in Whittier and I won’t let my 10 year old granddaughter go get the Daily News off the driveway without me watching her.

In fact, in a lot of places — including America, and England — crime is going down. How can we get that message out to help calm people down and return life to the streets? (Which, in turn, makes those streets even SAFER?)

Here’s what one community across the pond came up with! A great and simple idea! — Lenore

“Take Our Kids to the Park Day” Photo Request — And Where Send ‘Em

Hi Readers — Just talking to a reporter who wondered: Are there any photos of “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day”? If you have some, and if you’d like to see them in the newspaper, or even here on the blog, could you please send them to me at freerangepics@gmail.com?

As I told the reporter: “But the parents weren’t THERE! So how could they take pictures?” But maybe, somehow, somewhere, some pictures were snapped. And if not — there’s always next year. Thanks!  — L.

Parents Fear Abductions More than Kids’ Actual Health

Hi Readers — Here’s a study done in England that says 30% of parents fear for their kids being kidnapped — a 1 in 1 million chance — versus the tiny number (1 in 20) who fear “severe health problems” for their kids in the future, brought on by a sedentary and possibly overweight life. A life that begins in childhood, with the kids driven to school and stowed indoors the rest of the time, out of…fear.  The article says those “severe health problems” have a 1 in 3 chance of occurring.

Slightly off-kilter fears, wouldn’t you say? — Lenore

Like Watching a Witch Burning: See The Woman Sentenced to Life for Having 13 y.o. Touch Her Breast

Hi Readers — I found the video below so upsetting, I hadn’t even been able to figure out what to say and when to post it. It’s the actual, courtroom sentencing of  a 34-year-old woman, Michelle, who was found guilty of making a 13-year-old boy touch her breast and also trying to kiss him and asking him to have sex. Bad behavior, yes. But worth a life sentence?

Depends if you generally approve of the Taliban.

Tonight — Weds., May 26 — her public defender, Alina Kilpatrick, will be on ARC Talk Radio, a radio show often devoted to sex offender issues. She’ll be on at 8 p.m. Eastern Time.

The call in number is: (724) 444-7444. The Code is: 29521# . The URL for the show is http://www.arctalkradio.com. And here’s a link for the Chat Room.

As Mary, host of the show, says baldly: “As parents, families and citizens many were outraged by this story as it shows the draconian laws and a punishment which seems to be too extreme for this offense. Show your support for Michelle and her attorney and join us on ARC Radio as we delve into another case where the punishment does not fit the crime!”

I think there’s a definite connection between this story and my post from a couple of days ago, wherein a judge placed a day care worker on a child abuse registry for accidentally leaving a child in the day care’s fenced in, security-camera-equipped playground for five minutes. In our desire to protect children from every vicissitude, we are going overboard and abusing the rights of everyone else.  — Lenore

Are You Spending Enough Time With Your Kids? (Funny I Should Ask)

Hi Readers! Here’s a guest post from Laura Vanderkam, a journalist who blogs at my168hours.com, writes for The Wall Street Journal (among other fancy places), and just came out with the intriguing book: “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.” Here she ponders:

Are Parents Spending Enough Time with Their Kids These Days?

by Laura Vanderkam

This loaded question usually starts a discussion of some perceived social ill: killer hours, working moms, maybe the frenetic pace of modern life. Certainly, many people worry that society is coming up short on this front. As Ellen Galinsky of the Families and Work Institute recently told The New York Times, “I’ve never found a group of parents who believe they are spending enough time with their kids.”

Of course, to ask whether parents spend enough time with their kids implies that there is a correct number of hours one should devote to this job. And since we usually throw in “these days,” it implies comparisons to some other time when, perhaps, parents approached the optimal amount.

Going down this line of reasoning, however, we make some interesting discoveries.

First, when do people think this golden era occurred? Maybe you’re picturing a 1950s/early 1960s Ozzie and Harriet-style home, a simpler time of one-income families when work didn’t follow us out of the office.

But social scientists have been tracking how Americans spend their time for decades, and it turns out that parents are spending a lot more time interacting with their kids now than they did in, say, 1965. In 1965, according to data from the 1965-66 Americans’ Use of Time Study, mothers spent 10 hours weekly on childcare as a primary activity. Fathers spent 3 hours.

Meantime, according to a recent analysis by economists Garey and Valerie Ramey: College-educated moms now spend 21.2 hours on such things (15.9 for women with less education). Betsey Stevenson and Dan Sacks at the University of Pennsylvania calculated that college-educated dads are now up to 9.6 hours per week.

This is interesting, because far more women work outside the home now than did in 1965. And yet weeks still contain the exact same 168 hours that they always have. So what happened?

Two things. First, women used to spend a lot more time doing housework. In 1965, married moms did 34.5 hours a week. All that cooking and cleaning didn’t have a lot of surplus time for interacting with children. While they were busy ironing blankets and dusting ceilings and who knows what else, many moms sent kids out to wander their neighborhoods all day. There are upsides and downsides to this, and Lenore’s blog here focuses on the upsides, but the point is, mid-century women often perceived their job as house care – not childcare.

Which brings us to the second point: The culture of parenthood has changed. Not long ago, my parents gave me some books they’d saved from my childhood. I marveled that I hadn’t destroyed them, because until my son turned two, his books didn’t last 30 days, let alone 30 years.

My parents’ secret?

They didn’t read to me until I was old enough not to destroy books! Now, of course, not reading to your baby is considered practically child abuse.

Between the decline of housework and the rise of intense parenting, the interactive hours have crept up, pretty much across the board. Even if you’re working full-time, you’re probably spending more time interacting with your kids than your grandmother did.

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s enough time. Many of us could turn off the TV and do more. But if we fret that modern parents aren’t spending enough time with their kids, it’s important to note that our forbears were, by this standard, hideous. And most of us don’t think they were. So maybe we’re doing okay too. – L.V.

Outrage of The Week: Is This Really “Abuse”? Only To Deluded Judge

Hi Readers — Soon I will be compiling stories of Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day, which went well in parks around the world (well, not a TON of parks, but they WERE around the world and all the participants enjoyed the day). But in the meantime, I just got  this gut-kicking story by a really great reporter, Brendan Lyons, in the Albany Times Union:

Two years ago, Anne Bruscino was a 21-year-old college student studying to be a special ed teacher and working part time at a day care center for kids with disabilities. One morning, as she was about to bring in eight kids from the center’s playground — a playground that is fenced in, faces the center’s big office windows and is protected by security cameras — she got momentarily distracted by one child running off to greet a parent and ended up leaving a 3-year-old girl, Caitlin, outside by herself for five minutes.

After Anne realized her mistake of course she ran out and brought Caitlin in. She also notified her supervisor, and papers were filed. And at last her case — yup, it’s an actual “case” — came up before a New York State administrative law judge, Susan Lyn Preston. Judge Preston’s ruling?

Anne should be placed on New York state’s Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment. She could remain there for 25 years (almost assuring she never works with children again),  because: “Clearly, Caitlin was at imminent risk of harm in this situation.The fact that the playground was surrounded by a chain-link fence does not eliminate the risk that Caitlin could have been abducted. A person with an evil intent could have easily gotten over the fence or lured Caitlin to the fence.”

Readers — this is when I lost it. As sick as I am of a society that insists on perfection in all dealings with children (deeming people “negligent” when they are merely human), it is when those in power buy into the “a child is in danger every single second, no matter how safe the circumstances” that I wonder when we are all going to end up on some registry or another.

Let’s think: What would it actually have taken for the girl to have been spontaneously abducted in the span of five minutes, as the judge so clearly believes was a distinct possibility?

First of all, a child abductor would have had to have been passing by the center at the precise time Caitlin was unchaperoned. Since, according to FBI statistics, there are only about 115 “stereotypical” abductions in the whole country each year (that is, abductions by strangers, intending to transport the child), this already would have been SOME rotten luck.

Then, that abductor would have had to immediately scale the fence, hide from the security cameras, avoid detection on the part of  anyone glancing out the office window, and pray that the child did not utter a single peep that might call attention to the crime. He’d also have to be out of there within about a minute, climbing back over the fence again.

This time while holding a 3-year-old.

Now, I’m not saying this could NEVER happen. If all the stars aligned AND the planets AND the world’s worst luck (and best fence-climber), there’s an extremely slight chance it could. Just like there’s a slight chance of getting hit by lightning in any 5  minutes you sit on your porch. But to say the child was in “imminent risk of harm in this situation” is the equivalent of saying that no matter how many fences, monitors and safeguards we put up, every child is at risk every single second an adult isn’t serving as a physical bodyguard.

That’s a perception that is very common and really off-base. Feel free to look at my previous posts on Stranger Danger, crime going down, and how TV alters our sense of danger, if you’d like to read more about all that.

Meantime, Anne is appealing the judge’s decision. If you would like: Please add a note of support, below, to send to the Times Union, asking that Anne, described by the paper as a successful student, “doting” day care worker  and volunteer with disabled children, be considered not an abusive person, but rather a young woman who sounds like she’d be a great asset to the teaching world.

She could watch my dear ones any day. — Lenore

Show Your Support!

Hi Readers — Here’s a nice note from one of you with some great ideas. Read on! And to any New York City dwellers: If you want to join me, I’ll be at the Ancient Playground at 10 tomorrow morning. That’s next to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, at 85th and 5th. Maybe see you there! Otherwise, folks, aim for a 10 a.m. meet up at your local playground, to maximize the chance that we all run into each other! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Lenore is right in that if anything happens to any child at a park this weekend, probably even a child that the parent is holding on to as they go down the slide, it will be blamed on Lenore.  So I encourage all of you who comment on this site to both email your successful day to this site, and also to your local newspapers.

Flood the newspapers Saturday nightwith what a wonderful day your child had at the park playing with all of the children in their neighborhoods who they had never met before.  And if, on Sunday, they only write about the handful of bad things that happen, flood the newspapers, Letters to the Editor again. And if there is anything on talk radio, flood that with your calls too. Fear is a louder voice so we must overwhelm it with numbers.

What Might Happen If You Let Your Kid Play Outside, Alone?

Hi Readers! In response to my downer about dealing with a tsunami of media “What If?”s, here’s one woman’s note answer to: What happens when you, with some slight hesitation, let your child go outside on her own?

Dear Lenore: I understand your anxiety, and can only join the chorus of those saying please, please don’t give up.  Your book has SIGNIFICANTLY changed our family for the better, and we were already what I called “half-range” to begin with!

My daughter (10) has been riding her bike to school for a month now, with buddies, but no adult.  It started out with just her wanting to and me saying yes, which traveled through the grapevine and triggered a flood of calls from the other moms.  “Are you REALLY allowing this?  Are you nuts?  What if this/that?  But but but…”  And many conversations and several holes bitten through my tongue later, we have 4 regular riders and many more that, although they aren’t allowed on the school ride, are allowed a wider radius of the neighborhood for riding.

The whole pack of them roam the neighborhood after school and on the weekends, with no adults around.  They’re all still alive and well, some of the moms have relaxed and seen the light, and the kids have met many neighbors they didn’t know at all before.  One elderly neighbor has been given the nickname “Candy Man” because when he sees the pack of them go by, he goes out to the street with a big bag of candy and lets them each choose one.  (Needless to say, they looooove the Candy Man!)  Another one has a dachshund they just adore, so they’ll go up and ask if they can “borrow” her dog to pet for a while.  Sometimes they’ll show up en masse at another kids house, grab the family dog, and take it for a walk (you haven’t lived until you’ve seen 8 kids walking 1 dog).

Without your book and this site, I don’t know that I would have allowed the school ride.  And look what it started!  I won’t be taking my daughter to the park and leaving her there on Saturday.  I’ll be telling her to get on her bike and GO to the park and hang out with her buddies, and be home when the street lights come on!  (Meanwhile, I’ll be leisurely reading on the couch!) — A Free-Range Mom

Let’s Hear it for Some Positive Press, Part II

Okay, first, here’s the positive piece I showed you folks yesterday. It ran on The Huffington Post.

Now here’s another, from Canada, by Shannon Proudfoot at the Canwest news service. She even found a dad to interview who did  not think the idea was nuts.

As for TV, this interview was fun to do, since the anchor — funny, bright Rosanna Scotto, an anchor on New York’s local Fox channel — was openminded.

And  here’s an earlier post on the topic that ran in SFGate, by Amy Graff, who is going to take her own 7 year old to the park and let her play for a little bit.

And finally, for the moment, voila a nice interview we me in Spiked Online, Britain’s version of Slate. It is currently their top story.

There’s hope!

I’ll be on Laura Ingraham’s radio show at 10:15 this morning and on Brian Lehrer, on New York’s WNYC, at 11:30. — Lenore