Stories Needed: How Do Kids Get To/From School in YOUR Town? (Wackiness Appreciated)

Hi Readers! I’m about to write a column on how kids are getting to school — with a plea for more walking or biking, when possible — and for this I need stories of kids get to school in your neighborhood. For instance, I heard from my friend that her nieces are driven by GOLF CART two blocks to the bus stop in their GATED COMMUNITY. This seemed a bit, shall we say, ridiculous. The kids are able-bodied! The community is gated! The distance is two blocks! But the mom thinks the walk is just “too risky.”

I also heard of a school in Florida where dismissal works like this: The cars line up, single file, outside the school where there are NO children outside. As a car reaches the front of the line, a school aide reads the name on the dashboard plaque issued by the school and barks into her walkie talkie, “Jeremy’s mom is here!”  At which point someone inside the school shouts, “Jeremy! Your mom is here!” And Jeremy is ESCORTED OUT to the waiting car — like an unpopular dictator being hustled into his limo.  Jeremy’s mom careens off and the process begins again, with the next car and kid. Dismissal takes half an hour.

And, finally, if this is happening in your neighborhood, I would love to hear about it:  Is it hearsay or the truth that in some school districts, the bus no longer stops at bus stops but now actually stops at each child’s home? And that some parents drive the child from the garage down to the sidewalk in front of their house to wait?

Please tell me what strange new things are happening in your neighborhood, vis a vis getting to school, including whether kids are even ALLOWED by the school to bike or walk. Thanks!

Artifact from the Free-Range Past: A Circuit City Ad

Hey Readers! Got this cool letter today from a guy named Mike:

Hello Free-Rangers:  Remember that Circuit City commercial in the ’90’s where the young boy buys a Walkman, and goes to Circuit City to get his price match? Here it is:

There are a number of points that this commercial highlights for me that show how far we have fallen.

1. The father tells the son: “You bought it, you take care of it.”

2. The boy walks to Circuit City completely on his own, taking what seems to be the long way while he gathers the courage to ask for his price match.

3. The boy is talks to the man behind the counter and gets his price match

Today:

1. The parent likely wouldn’t let their child take care of the return, nor allow them to purchase it on their own in the first place.

2. They would drive to the Circuit City.

3. The boy would never be allowed to speak to a strange MAN (because all men are potential molesters of course)

And so it goes — Mike

Lenore here: I actually think the parents might allow the kid to talk to a clerk, no matter what gender. But I agree: It would be a family affair, and they’d get there by car.

Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

Amazing Photos of Childhood from the Last Century

Hi Readers — I loved scrolling through these old British photos, some heartwarming, some harrowing. Here at Free-Range Kids we talk a lot about how childhood has changed since when we were growing up. These show how childhood has changed since our parents (and maybe even grandparents?)  were growing up. Particularly striking was the photo of a classroom full of children sitting at their desks, each kid bundled in a blanket. The open windows indicate that they needed fresh air despite the cold, which probably means they all had tuberculosis.

As 2010 parents worry whether a child can be alone in the car while mom picks up the pizza because life is just “too dangerous!” and “times have changed!” and “anything could happen!” these pix provide a quickie lesson in perspective. And gratitude. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week Reversed! Maybe All Men AREN’T Pervs, Airline Realizes

Hey Readers! Good news! You’ll recall that British Airways had a rule that forbid any adult male from sitting next to any minor who was not his own child. Blogged about it here. The (unstated) reason for the rule? ALL MEN ARE PERVERTS…until proven otherwise. And since there’s really no way TO  “prove otherwise,” they airline simply assumed the worst.

British Airways didn’t move women, it only moved men, perhaps believing that guys routinely use this time in a public space,  surrounded by lots of other passengers, and people walking through the aisles, and flight attendants, to prey upon young folks. It’s a lovely view of the world, and males in particular. But Mirko Fischer took exception. Here’s the story, from the BBC:

Last year he was on a flight from London back to his home in Luxembourg when his pregnant wife Stefanie asked him to swap seats so she could sit next to the window.

He took her middle seat but cabin crew, who mistakenly believed he was alone, told him to move back to his original seat as he had ended up sitting next to a boy he did not know.

In June Mr Fischer told the BBC: “I felt humiliated and outraged. They accuse you of being some kind of child molester just because you are sitting next to someone.”

Fischer sued the airline for sex discrimination — and won. Though the airline admitted sex discrimination only in this one case, it has changed its seating procedure and will now group unaccompanied kids together. (Avoid sitting in front of that row!)  Unlike many American litigants, Fischer didn’t sue for a lot of money and, in any event, he’s giving the damages he received plus about $5000 of his own money to charities that protect children.

Protect them from real dangers, that is: abuse, neglect, hunger. Not from the vast majority of men who — surprise! — have zero interest in having sex with young kids. — Lenore

What Could Happen to Your Kid in the Car While You Pay For Gas?

Hi Readers — Over at Parentdish I wrote a column saying that sometimes you CAN leave your child in the car for a few minutes while you run in to pick up a pizza or pay for gas. Yes, crack the windows. Yes, take out the keys. Yes, always keep your purse or wallet in the back seat so you have to open the back door to get it and be reminded that your child is back there, and make your decisions accordingly. No one wants to see kids forgotten in the car that could quickly heat up, etc., etc. But I’m talking about a four-minute errand in a place where you get something and leave. Anyway, here’s a typical response:

By making a conscious decision to leave your child in the car, even to pay for gas, you are putting your child in harm’s way. Car thieves and child abductors lurk; your child could unbuckle them self and get caught in the power window or move to the front and put the car into gear.

This is what I call “What if?” thinking.  Not thinking about will PROBABLY happen 99,999,999 out of 100,000,000 times. It’s the modern-day compulsion to think of the “worst first” and work one’s way back from it (the child COULD get kidnapped, so let’s never leave him there), giving no credit to the parent who HAS considered the real-world odds and, based on a reasonable risk assessment,  decided she can and will trust to fate and probability for a minute or two: “My kid’s asleep, it’ll take me 4 minutes to pay, I can see the car from here — seems fine.”

What’s really off, though, for folks like that letter writer, is the “probability” part. Many people have gotten to the point where they really BELIEVE the worst case scenario is very likely to happen in the very next minute to their very child.  And that’s why I harp on the way “the media” has changed us parents, for the worse. Nightly, the news will cull terrible stories from literally around the world (Maddie McCann, Natalee Holloway) and put these on TV. And if you are fed a steady diet of one tragedy after another, you DO become convinced these are happening “all the time,” because, on TV, they are. And Americans, on average, watch over 4 hours of TV a day — far more time than they spend in the “real world” that is their neighborhood, walking around and getting to know their actual neighbors.

And since TV never shows the millions and millions of non-events that happen every day — the children NOT snatched from the bus stop, the 29 year olds who never spent 18 years in captivity — and since people aren’t out seeing normal ol’ non-headline life for themselves, their perspective gets skewed. It’s like they LIVE in the world of  TV. And when you’re stuck in that world, everything looks like a potential disaster, including my brain, possibly about to explode, as I try to explain this over and over and then people say, “Fine.  But what if it was YOUR kid snatched from the car…” — Lenore

It's only recently we've decided leaving a child in the car for a few minutes is incredibly risky.

And While We’re on the Subject of Hero Kids (and Competence) —

Hi Readers! Here’s another great story: 9 year old boy saves 2 year old brother who was face down in the family pool. The older brother used the CPR he’d just learned at school.

First off, let’s hear it for teaching kids basic safety skills!

Secondly, let’s remember that everyday dangers, like pools, are the things we really have to be aware of.  More than, say, the boogeyman.

Finally: Hats off to the pint-sized hero! — L.