A Sunday School Story (Complete, Of Course, With Predators)

Hi Readers — This seemed like the perfect companion piece to the post below this one, about our intense, almost obsessive focus on predators. Gosh, remember when “predator” was most commonly used to describe, like, a mountain lion or great horned owl? Those were the days!– L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We belong to a very small Methodist church, about 100 people attend every week. Our Sunday School classes are small, maybe 5 to 7 kids in each. The conference came out with a Safe Sanctuary policy to help us address issues of child safety. Now all of our teachers have to have background checks, their doors have to be open or they need to have multiple teachers in the room. All of a sudden there are “dangers” lurking where there had never been any before.

This is how we perpetuate the fear that something inappropriate will happen. Nobody in our Sunday school classes changed. Same kids, same teachers. But now there’s an added level of caution.

What If We Feared EVERYTHING The Way We Fear Predators?

Hey Readers — Here’s a comment that came in the other day in response to a woman who is very wary of stranger danger. I liked its logic:

Dear Amy (the woman who was consumed with predator fear): I can sort of see where you’re coming from, but take a logical approach. There’s a chance for something bad to happen in cars and buses, which people use on a daily basis. And there’s also something dangerous that could happen with almost everything you do in life. Some we just don’t think about. Others, people are VERY aware of. Like kidnappings.

I’m gonna be honest here. I HATE HATE HATE it when there’s a child who gets kidnapped and murdered. It’s just an awful, awful thing. When most people hear about a murdered child, they are emotionally affected by it and then start to see the world as a dark, dangerous place. That is what fear is: It’s when you think about something constantly, to the point where it rules your brain and you start to see the world differently.

Trust me, I’ve been there. But you know what? You just can’t think like that. If you look at everything in life the way people look at the possibility of encountering sex offenders, then basically everything would be dangerous. When you turn on the stove or microwave, do you ever think about it exploding? Not really. But it can happen. So what would you do then, live on sandwiches? Do you let your kids play video games? Are you aware of the fact that there is a chance they can get seizures or blackouts?

All I’m trying to say is: when you let fear control your life, everything suddenly seems dangerous. How many people do you know who got rid of their cars or microwaves out of fear of an accident? Probably not many. But how many people do you know who keep their kids inside 24/7 for fear that they might get abducted?

A lot, right? Accidents happen. But people can obtain the knowledge to know how to deal with or avoid them. That’s why there’s warnings on things, and that’s why kids learn about fire safety at a young age. You don’t see very many people telling you not to buy electrical appliances because you never know when they’ll catch on fire, do you? But everyone’s going crazy about sex offenders, and parents are being told never to let a kid outdoors alone because you never know when a sex offender is around. Most parents are more afraid of pedophiles than car accidents. But there’s a MUCH higher chance of being killed in a car.

Hi! Lenore again, here. This topic is something I keep studying: How does one fear become a societal obsession, while others don’t? I’m reading a book now, “False Alarm,” by Dr. Marc Siegel, that I hope will give me the answer. So far, the book is explaining that once a particular fear “infects” us, it remains there like a low-grade fever. It’s very hard to get rid of, even when treated with thoughtful comments and blogs trying to help restore some perspective. — L

Cautiously, Town Lets Ice Cream Trucks Back in — For 1 Month

Wow, folks. This just in. The very, very brave and hard to spell town of Niskayuna, New York is finally allowing ice cream trucks to cruise the streets again (for a month-long trial) after a 34-year hiatus. The trucks were banned for a year back in 1975 after a girl was struck and killed while running to a truck. The next year the town allowed the trucks back IF they played no music and didn’t try to attract kids by driving up and down the street. (Putting good ol’ ice cream telepathy to work, I guess.) They were allowed to park in private driveways, when invited.

Once again, a single, devastating incident — the girl’s death — demanded a “shut the barn door after the cows are out” solution: Ban something that’s normally safe,  but, had it been banned earlier, it would have prevented that one, unusual fatality. It’s the kind of thing that will eventually have us banning chairs, after someone dies falling off of one, and already seems to be happening to hotdogs. Anytime anything bad happens in conjunction with X — be X a merry-go-round, or hug, or recess — we assume that we were foolish  to allow X to happen at all. (Lawyers it “negligence.”)

AGREED — it makes sense to think about safety and take reasonable precautions. BUT — it does not make sense to slash away at that lovely thing called “life” every time something sad happens. — Lenore

Not exactly a hideous menace.

Funny, Sad Piece: When Did Kids Stop Knowing How to Play?

Hi Readers — I’ll write about my fabulous day with Mary Duval and her “sex offender” son soon, but first: One of you just sent in this piece that resonated so much. It’s called, “Frolicking 101: When Did Kids Stop Knowing How to Play?” by comedian/essayist Sarah Maizes. Excerpt:

My kids are frolicking!  Really!! MY children!

They’re outside, they’re running around, they’re having fun – without colorful plastic toys, without a play structure, without an adult overseeing, supervising, or facilitating…without ME!

Just a big backyard, rolling grass, a random hill or two and my kids.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were used to it.  But I’m not.  We don’t live in the country.  This is just our summer vacation.  At home, my kids almost never play outside, and they certainly don’t play outside without me standing there beside them suggesting what to play and showing them exactly how to play it.

This is such a common situation, I recognized it from my own life. In fact, that’s why I started, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave them There Day” — the idea was to have kids encounter each other, outside, and then come up with something to do. What a radical plan! Anyway, here’s hoping that a whole lot of kids are outside today, figuring out — as did this author’s children — that when you find  a grassy hill and you are on top of it, you can propel yourself downward while, in fact, prone.

Simple as that. — Lenore

I’m Off for a Day on the Town with a “Sex Offender” (And His Mom!)

Hi Readers! I’m very psyched because tomorrow I am going to meet a young man named Ricky and his mom, Mary Duval. Ricky is a Tier 3 Predator Status Sex Offender, on the list for life. Or at least he was, for almost four years.

How he finally got off that list this year is a story of a mom’s tenacity. How he got ON it is a story of a country that has passed sex offender laws that just don’t mesh with what we need. We NEED to keep child rapists away from our kids. We HAVE laws that make our children into rapists. Case in point?

Ricky.

When Ricky was 16 he had consensual sex twice with a girl he met at a teen club. She told him she was 15. Turns out she was just 13. Long story short: Even though the girl and her parents did not want Ricky prosecuted, he was. He admitted the “crime,” and thus he ended up one of America’s nearly 1 million registered sex offenders.

I’ve written about his story, but never with the same frankness and detail as on the website he and his mom put together, Rickyslife.com .  The story is so outrageous and the mom has been so good at bringing attention to the issue of teens branded as predators for having sex with other teens, that the media have paid attention. Now the mother and son are coming to New York from Oklahoma to tape an episode of John Stossel’s show. It’ll air later in the week.

Tomorrow, though, I’m showing them the sights. (Well, showing them to Ricky and describing them to his mom, who recently went blind from Marfan Syndrome. Did that stop her? Clearly not.)

So no posts from me Tuesday. I’ll be on the town with a mom and son I can’t wait to meet. — Lenore

Talk About a Free-Range Childhood! (And 9-year-old Driver!)

Hi Readers! This cool note came in from the West Coast. I feel darn timid and tame after reading it. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m a 47 year old lawyer, male, married 22 years, kids 5 and 8. I was born in Southern California but raised from age 2-6 in Guadalajara, Mexico where my father went to medical school. I remember riding the bus there with my brother who was four years older and it was no big deal.

My parents left us with the maid/nanny named Letty for 10 days while they went to California to work and earn money. When it came time to go to church, my 9-year-old brother Kevin drove us there. I was 5, the other kids were 5 and 7. Why did he drive? Because he was a far better driver than Letty and we all knew it. We made it to and from church safely. Our parents were a bit upset when they found out about it, but we knew that Letty couldn’t drive worth a damn and Kevin could.

When I was 11, my older brothers — 13 and 15  — flew with me to Europe for a week. The entire family had planned to go but my mom got sick and so us three boys went alone. We had a great time, stayed in hotels, rode trains everywhere, etc. The 13-year-old was a child prodigy travel agent and knew how to get us everywhere.

When I was 12, my 14-year-old brother and I bought week-long unlimited passes on Allegheny airlines, (precursor to US Air). We flew around all day just to fly on planes.   We made many connections through Pittsburgh and got to know the air crews by sight. The most dangerous thing we did was get into a tussle where chewing gum ended up in my hair and the stewardess helped cut out the sticky mess. We had a great time just flying around. Stayed in hotels at night.

Looking back, I want to understand how events appeared to me when these adventures happened. I wonder why these events seemed to me at the time like they were “not a big deal.” I think my mom was responsible for teaching us about self-sufficiency. By doing things we gained confidence.

I don’t feel like my parents were reckless. But as an adult, it gives me pause. I know my kids will not have the same experiences I had. Still, our motto is: Take Opportunities. Even a misadventure has some adventure in it. — The Lawyer

Outrage of the Morn’: High School Students Not Allowed to Light Bunsen Burners?

Hi Readers ! This just in. Read it and…give your kids some matches! (Yes, yes, properly supervised, of course.) — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a high school science teacher, parent, and grandparent and a former cubmaster, and I couldn’t agree with you more!  This summer I taught a workshop on building model rockets for 12 to 14 year-olds. None of the 17 kids in the workshop had ever sprayed spray paint, most had never used a utility knife, and two did not know how to tie a knot.

Many of my high school students light their first match in my class when lighting a Bunsen burner ( a task many teachers will no longer allow students to perform). If we deny kids the ability to use tools, we make them crippled.  If we deny kids any risk, they will make their own through risky behavior. — CDB

My question: How did they make it to middle school without ever tying a KNOT? — L.

P.S. This post goes really well with this cartoon!