Blame

Hi Readers! I’m writing this today, because by evening tomorrow, I have a feeling I will be in the crosshairs for something that has happened to some child somewhere in this country, or even another country that has heard about Saturday’s “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day.”

After doing nine TV interviews, a couple dozen radio interviews, and being written about in papers that called me everything from  “crazy” to “moron”  — and one that even ran a political cartoon showing despondent kids abandoned by their drunk parents, who are raising a toast to  “unsupervised play” (because no one except drunks would even consider the notion of taking their eyes off their children, ever) — the media has succeeded in doing to me what it does to most Americans on a daily basis: It is making me think in terms of the worst case scenario. It is making it hard for me to remember that what I am recommending is what children do all over the world — play at the local playground, with each other, without constant parental supervision, once they reach the age of 7 or 8. That is, once they reach the age that most children in other countries start walking, without their parents, to school.

So tomorrow, when, thanks to the odds in a country of about 60 million children, one of them fractures an arm or, God forbid, suffers anything worse, I can see where it could very easily become, “We told you so!” and, “It’s all her fault!” on the part of  the media. Media that will not know who to point to when another child tests positive for diabetes, or learns that he has high blood pressure brought on by a sedentary childhood, or dies in a car crash, as 5 or 6 kids do every day.

No, when it comes to kids venturing outside on their own, the media now has a villain, and it will be very easy for the evening news to ignore the “everyday” tragedies of car accidents and ill health, because, of course, it already does. Sure, those things kill kids. But there’s no drama in them.

Yesterday, on CNN, the anchor quoted some Dept. of Justice statistics about the lower crime rate today and then said “even if these are true,” (even if?)  children are still not safe. Then he provided a quote from the father of murdered 12-year-old Polly Klass,  who said that letting any children ever play outside, unsupervised, is a “knuckledheaded” idea.

Interestingly, Polly was kidnapped from her bedroom.

Naturally, CNN does not interview the parents of children killed in cars when it does a story on road trip vacations, or on a new movie that people will have to drive to the theater to see, because this would not make sense. What could the parent say? “I’m begging you: Never drive your child anywhere! It’s a knuckleheaded idea to put your child in peril that way.  Look what happened to mine!”

And of course, 40 times more children are killed in cars each year than are killed, as Polly was, by a stranger.

So all I can say is: I’m bracing for blame and trying to remember that the whole idea of kids getting out of the house, and meeting each other, and playing on their own, even for just 10 minutes, is a worthy thing.  — Lenore

The more kids outside, the safer and happier the neighborhood.

Let’s Hear it for Some Positive Press!

A very positive piece! Running to do more media and hope to write more soon! — L

As If TV Didn’t Scare Parents Enough…

Hi Readers — Just watching the Take Our Kids to the Park Day story on WABC, one of my four TV appearances today (WCBS, WABC, WPIX and WNBC) and find it amazing that the famous lawyer interviewed, Ron Kuby, warns parents that letting your kids have some unsupervised time at the park is illegal.

Actually, it is not illegal, according to New York City’s  Administration for Children’s  Services, which says there is no specified age at which a kid can be outside (or inside, for that matter), unsupervised. I think all of us agree that we wouldn’t want to leave any child on his or her own (with or without other kids) before we felt they were ready, and aware, and mature enough to handle themselves well. But Kuby says soon any parent not directly overseeing their school age children at all times will be posting bail. That’s false and yet another reason parents are afraid to let their kids do anything at all, even babysit.

It is hard for me to look at the next three videos, but I will. And tomorrow, check out CNN at 11:30 a.m., Eastern Time. I’m psyched about that one. The anchor actually asked to see some Bureau of Justice crime statistics. These, of course, show crime going down. Let’s hope for the best! – Lenore

Yup, That’s Me. The “Bizarre” Mom on the Cover of the NY Daily News

Hi Folks — Well, yes, the cover of the NY Daily News. That’s good and bad. Good — it certainly gets the word out. Bad, maybe this headline:  “Leave Your Kids in the Park: Mom’s Bizarre Campaign.”

Put that way it does sound a little bizarre. But what’s way more bizarre to me is the doctor that the article found to interview:

Dr. Alan Hilfer, chief psychologist at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, says a 7-year-old shouldn’t be left alone in a backyard, much less a park.

Really? What is happening in his backyard? The proverbial alligator up from New York’s sewers? And here’s a quote from a “typical” parent:

“Never in a million years would I do something that stupid,” said Carmen Javier, a Park Slope mother of 8-year-old Juan. “When the kid turns 18 – fine. Until then you watch them.”

As you readers know, I believe in involved parenting — teaching our kids the skills they need to be safe and self-reliant. But there’s not a whole lot of chance for a child to put any of that into practice and get good at it,  if mom is by his side for a full 18 years.

Anyway, the rest of the article is fine. Alas, the sidebar by Joanna Molloy (usually very funny and wise!) says:

Come on, the world is a way scarier place than it was when we were kids.

In the ’20s, moms let kids play in the street while they cleaned. In the ’60s, kids went out in the morning and bounced around all day playing Ringolevio.

These days, kids get snatched off the street and people try to bomb  Times Square and the Herald Square subway station.

She’s absolutely right about the bombers. It sickens me that they’re out there. Then again, I’m not sure how parental supervision prevents terrorism. As for the oft-repeated notion that more kids are getting snatched today than ever, well, here’s a nice little article from the Huffington Post on how the 2009 murder rate in New York City hit an ALL TIME LOW. Like, “the fewest since comparable records were kept in the 1960s.”  And murder rates fell 10% across the whole country.

But, hey, The Daily News is a tabloid. Gotta sell fear. And I should know. I worked there for 14 years.

Meantime — remember what Dr. C. Everett Koop, the former surgeon general, said (in the blog below this one!):

Let your children go out and play! It's worth it!

“If you want to say how can we step into childhood and make it better for
them, I would start at the activity level.  I’d like to say let your kids go
out and play.  Then I’d say you’re not going to do that are you? Make your
kids go out and play.  Kids ought to grow up the way you and I grew up and
we grew up fifty years apart or maybe more.  But we did the same things.
Now who’s out playing in the afternoon?  Nobody.  Risks I think are the
thing that make life important and everything that you and I do is risk vs.
benefit.  Is there a risk to sending your kid out?  Absolutely.  Is there a
benefit?  It exceeds the risk.”

Surgeon General Endorses “Take Our Children to the Park…” Day (Sort Of. Indirectly. And not actually the CURRENT Surgeon General…)

Hi Readers! Getting lots of interest in Take Our Kids to the Park…And Leave Them There Day. Watch for it/me on CNN on Thursday at about 11:30 a.m. EST, and in a whole bunch of radio interviews and newspaper articles over the next few days.  Meantime, here is a GREAT QUOTE from the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

He appears along with a lot of other well-known and loved New Yorkers, including Regis Philbin and Ray Romano, on a new DVD called New York Street Games (which also comes with rules for the old-fashioned games, like stickball, and ringoleavio). And here’s what he says in the film:

“If you want to say how can we step into childhood and make it better for
them, I would start at the activity level.  I’d like to say let your kids go
out and play.  Then I’d say you’re not going to do that are you? Make your
kids go out and play.  Kids ought to grow up the way you and I grew up and
we grew up fifty years apart or maybe more.  But we did the same things.
Now who’s out playing in the afternoon?  Nobody.  Risks I think are the
thing that make life important and everything that you and I do is risk vs.
benefit.  Is there a risk to sending your kid out?  Absolutely.  Is there a
benefit?  It exceeds the risk.”

Koop rocks!

Your kids can have fun the way we did! (But with softer ground.)

Stranger Danger? Wise Words from a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit Nurse

Hey Readers — Short, sweet and safe. Wise words lifted from a comment that just landed here:

“Dear Free- Range Kids: [I am a] Peds ICU nurse and can tell you that the real dangers are overlooked.    Lock your second story windows, make sure your kids understand car and bike safety.  Model safe behavior.  Don’t talk and text while driving. It really is simple.  Also, I can tell you that I have NEVER once taken care of a kid who was assaulted by a stranger.  I have taken care of MANY who have been critically injured by a family member.”

The War on Children’s Playgrounds

Hey Folks — Branching out. Here is my story on the cover of today’s Salon, all about how our quest to make playgrounds safer than safe has also made them safer than fun. Here’s a snippet:

…For the past 40 years or so, we have certainly been working to make our playgrounds safer than safe — maybe even safer than fun. Seen an old merry-go-round lately? Or a swinging gate? How about a seesaw — the kind without springs, where, when your so-called friend suddenly plopped you down, you felt it?

Didn’t think so. The Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued reams of playground regulations and actually gone so far as to recommend against “tripping hazards, like tree stumps and rocks.” Maybe we should just bulldoze the local parks and put in a couple of blobs…made of plastic.

The idea, of course, is that playgrounds need constant overhauling because kids are hurting themselves unnecessarily. But that depends on your definition of “unnecessary.”

“Children rise to risk,” says Joan Almon, executive director of the U.S. Alliance for Childhood. “Give them some genuine risk and they quickly learn what their limits are, and then they expand their limits.” The problem is: If kids never encounter even tiny risks, they never develop that thing we call common sense.

Read on, at Salon! (Hey, I’m a poet, too!) — Lenore

Let’s Hear it for Parents Magazine– And Some of Its Commenters!

Hi Readers — Usually I flip through parenting magazines and am amazed by all the items, activities, foods and basic childhood rites of passage they find dangerous (and possibly deadly). But kudos to Parents Mag for this lovely little blog post about Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day — which is coming up this Saturday.

The tone is receptive, open and calming. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Of course, there are some comments along the lines of, “This is absurd!” and, “Life isn’t the way it was when WE were kids,” and, “It’s easy to push for ‘Free Range Kids’ based on statistics but that means shit when YOU become PART of those statistics.” But get a load of some of the wonderful counter-comments:

Right, our world isn’t like when we were kids. It’s significantly safer.

Also: Why doesn’t the fear of the Unknown Other Driver keep you from driving your children anywhere? I mean, you can look at all the automobile-safety statistics in the world, but that means shit when YOU get hit and YOUR CHILD gets injured, right?

Nah, that’d just be ridiculous, to live your life afraid of something so unlikely as a car crash.

And:

Good gracious! The point is not for the kids to hang out in singles. The idea is for them to hang out together! My oldest child would be so happy if other parents would let their kids out of their living rooms and into their yards. He would love to throw a ball around with some other kid at the park.

I won’t live my life in fear. I won’t let my kid live that way. Do I want to teach my child how to make independent decisions? I do. Do I want him to feel trusted? I do. Do I worry about becoming a statistic? Sure do. But I truly believe my kid should be a kid! (The first day we let him ride his bike to the park by himself – he went there and back 10 times. He was so happy. And nothing untoward happened.)

And, finally:

It is just so sad that parents (like many above) have such fear of the world that they can’t let their kids out of their sight. My son, 8, is already allowed to play outside by himself, ride his bike around the neighborhood, stay at a park by himself, etc….and he’s autistic. And before you think we live in some tiny little po-dunk town, we don’t. We live in a major suburb/city in the Bay Area in California. Without the opportunity to be on his own, how will he learn to negotiate conflict with other kids? How will be learn to wait his turn for the tire swing? How will be learn to trust his gut instincts that something’s going down that he should not be a part of? How will he learn that falling off his bike and getting a scraped knee isn’t the end of the world? He won’t. Unless he is given free reign (or range :P) to experience and learn and grown on his own. Kudos to Lenore and all the other Free Range parents out there that are letting their kids be just that…kids.

Welcome, Parents and Parents readers, to Free-Range Kids! — L.

Arrrr, Mateys! Verizon’s Done It Again!

Ahoy There, Readers — Have you seen this ad? From the folks who brought you the ap (or network, or whatever) that allows you to track your teen daughter’s ever step at the mall comes:

Talk about raising resilient kids who can roll with the punches! Talk about getting your priorities straight! Talk about having a memorable birthday party, thanks to an unsuspecting cowboy the wee pirates could truss to a tree!

Anyway, everything I’d like to say about this spot — and world — has been said already with great gusto by Tom Henderson at ParentDish. And so, I give you his matey — er, meaty — essay while I go walk the metaphoric plank that is Monday morning. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Autistic Boy Draws Stick Figure Gun, Charged with “Terrorist Threats”

Hi Readers — I leave you with this story to ponder this weekend. An 8th grade boy with autism whose mom says he has the mental capacity of a third grader drew a small stick figure boy pointing a stick-figure gun at a stick figure teacher. The charge?

Oh, you know if it from my headline. Good ol’ “making terrorist threats.”  Remember: When stick figures’ guns are outlawed, only outlaws (who are stick figures) will have guns. — Lenore