Amazing Halloween Horror Story!

Hi Readers — Read it and creep:  This fantastic article from The American Spectator is about how Manchester, New Hampshire, imposed a law, on the books for decades, making Halloween officially the Sunday afternoon BEFORE Oct. 31. The law was, of course, in reaction to all the usual Halloween fears — razors, poison, torture — that over the years were discredited. And yet the restriction lived on.

Why was that such a crime? As author Andrew Cline so perfectly puts it:

Halloween is more than a massive candy-grab. Prompting kids try on grown-up personas and slip into the darkness to negotiate with total strangers, all under the watchful eyes of multitudes of parents, it involves the entire community in giving children their first chance to overcome some of the human race’s innate fears — darkness, strangers, and parental separation.

In short, Halloween is an important social ritual.

In fact, it is practice for the kind of society we want to create: One where everyone is pulling together, helping the kids grow independent, brave and optimistic. It was thwarted for 38 long years. And then —

This year, Police Chief David Mara did something completely unexpected. He announced, out of the blue, that the city’s trick-or-treating hours would be on Halloween afternoon. After some prodding from new mayor Ted Gatsas, Mara later switched the hours. They will be on Halloween night.

So this Sunday, for the first time in nearly four decades, the children of Manchester will haunt the streets of Manchester under the cold, dark sky on October 31. I suspect that a lot of their parents, who never knew the thrill, will find excuses to wear masks themselves that night. And behind them, they’ll be smiling.

Us, too! — L.

A Second Grade Boy Gets a Key to His House

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter that’ll make you smile! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today, thanks in part to you, I am going to have a copy of my house key made for my son.

My son is in second grade. He and his sister go to different schools and I thought it would be easy to do the carpool circuit, but logistics have made it a royal pain for him to sit in the car for an hour every afternoon, so he asked if he could start riding the bus.  Wonderful idea, right?

Friday morning I send him to school with a note that he’s to ride the bus home. Friday afternoon I go out to my front porch (I can SEE the bus stop from my front door) to check that he’s on the bus and lo and behold, the bus stops and the door opens but he doesn’t get off.  Knowing the bus will pass back by, I go out to the bus stop (50 yards from my house) and wait.  The next time around the bus driver stops and apologetically hands me a form which outlines the following school board policy:

“Students 8 years old and younger may be brought back to their school in the afternoon if a parent, guardian or parent/guardian designee is not present at the bus stop to receive them, or if they otherwise appear to have no appropriate supervision. This is in accordance with Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) Guidelines for safety and supervision of children.”

I  knew this policy applied to kindergarten and 1st graders, but I was stunned to realize that it actually goes to age 8.  Fortunately, if I want to allow my son to get off a school bus without me (at my own risk, of course), I simply have to check the appropriate box and sign the form.

I actually faltered before signing it.  The little “What If…” devil sat on my shoulder and whispered scary nothings into my ear. Sadly there’s still a little part of me that knows exactly why that policy is there and agrees with it to a point.  If I couldn’t see the bus stop from my house, would I still let him do it?  But thanks to Free-Range Kids and all the other inspiring information I’ve read here, I dismissed “What If…?” with a roll of my eyes and reminded myself that I’m raising a bright and perfectly competent child who will be thrilled with and rise to this level responsibility.

This year my work schedule means there may be a day during the week that I’m not home when he gets here.  So today I’m going to present him with his very own key to the house.  I’m going to let him unlock the door and come on in by himself every day.  If I’m not here, he knows to get himself a snack and get started on his homework.  He has my phone number and knows to lock the door behind him.  I think we’re all going to love it.

Thank you for continuing to ratify my intuition and helping to dispel the ubiquitous litany of disaster. – Amanda from Georgia


Come on up, kid!


Halloween: A Test Market for Parental Paranoia

Hi Folks! Here’s my Wall Street Journal column from today. Hope the link still works! (Sometimes the Journal only allows the first few graphs for free. Guess we’ll see!) Happy Halloween almost! L.

P.S. I am off to Portland, Ore., to give a lecture, so I’ll be a bit out of pocket. Meantime, I just wanted to say that I’ll be on John Stoessel’s show, which repeats many times over the next few days, talking about the same thing: Parental fears. It was fun!

Ghosts, Goblins & Predators

Hi Readers! I read this piece and it blew me away. It’s by David Hess, a minister outside of Rochester, New York. Kudos to him — and a thanks, too, for letting me reprint the whole thing!


It’s almost time for the annual Halloween sex offender hysteria. This seemingly has replaced the urban myths about poison candy and razor blades in apples. I was interested to find that there has actually been a recent empirical study of the issue. An article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “Halloween sex-offender monitoring questioned,” describes it:

…Elizabeth Letourneau, a researcher with the Medical University of South Carolina’s Family Services Research Center in Charleston, S.C., said, “There is zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation.”

Paul Stern, a deputy prosecutor in Snohomish County, Wash., agrees. “People want to protect kids; they want to do the right thing and they make decisions based on what at first glance may make some sense. Sex offenders, costumes, kids — what a bad combination,” he said. “Unfortunately, those kinds of policies are not always based on any analysis or scientific evidence,” said Stern, who started prosecuting sex offenders who victimized children in 1985. 

Stern, Letourneau and two others published a paper last year for the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers called: “How Safe Are Trick-or-Treaters? An Analysis of Child Sex Crime Rates on Halloween.”

The study looked at more than 67,000 sex crimes in 30 states against children 12 and younger from 1997 — before many Halloween sex-offender programs began — through 2005, well after many were under way. “These findings raise questions about the wisdom of diverting law-enforcement resources to attend to a problem that does not appear to exist,” the study concluded.

Letourneau said, “There’s just no increase in sex offense on that day, and in all likelihood that’s because kids are out in groups or they’re out with their parents and they’re moving around, they’re not isolated and otherwise at risk.” She said a better use of police on Halloween night would be to help protect children from traffic. “We almost called this paper ‘Halloween: The Safest Day of the Year’ because it was just so incredibly rare to see anything happen on that day,” she said.The entire study is available for purchase. An authors’ summary is available for free.

Interestingly, the study found that sex crimes increased substantially during summer months and that the summer would be a more appropriate time for increased vigilance. More from the study:
It might be argued that Halloween sex offender policies are worthwhile even if they prevent only a single child from being victimized. However, this line of reasoning fails to consider the cost side of the cost–benefit equation. The wide net cast by Halloween laws places some degree of burden on law enforcement officers whose time would otherwise be allocated to addressing more probable dangerous events. For example, a particularly salient threat to children on Halloween comes from motor vehicle accidents. Children aged 5 to 14 years are four times more likely to be killed in a pedestrian–motor vehicle accident on Halloween than on any other day of the year (Centers for Disease Control, 1997). Regarding criminal activity on Halloween, alcohol-related offenses and vandalism are particularly common (Siverts, 2002). Although we do not know the precise amount of law enforcement resources consumed by Halloween sex offender policies, it will be important for policy makers to estimate and consider allocation of resources in light of the actual increased risks that exist in other areas, such as pedestrian–vehicle fatalities. Our findings indicated that sex crimes against children by nonfamily members account for 2 out of every 1,000 Halloween crimes, calling into question the justification for diverting law enforcement resources away from more prevalent public safety concerns.
Literally thousands of articles have been published in recent years about the danger presented by registered sex offenders at Halloween. Absent from all of them has been any mention of any specific incident in which a registered sex offender has attacked a Trick-or-Treater—not one, ever! If you know of any such incident, please e-mail me or post a comment below. I bet you can’t find one. This is a new urban myth. We always need some sort of monster on Halloween. It’s the nature of the holiday.

How Do You Tell A Total Helicopter to Back Off?

Okay, Readers. Let’s help this mom out!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Finding this blog several years ago validated my desire to back off and let my kids be kids. At that time, I was mostly associating with “helicopter parents” and feeling inadequate for not wanting to micromanage my children’s every waking moment. And yet, one helicopter parent I continue to associate with is really starting to get on my nerves, to the point where I don’t know how to respond any more.

My 9-year-old son is good friends with a boy in our neighborhood, who lives only a couple of blocks away in our quiet suburban town.  The mom and I are friendly, but not friends. Today the kids played at her house after school.  And today was the second time she flat-out refused to allow my son to walk home from her house by himself.  Even after I told her that’s what I wanted him to do — and in spite of the fact that that’s what he enjoys doing.  So she had another woman who was visiting her drive him home!  TWO BLOCKS.

I am flabbergasted and what I really want to say is,  “How dare you completely disregard MY wishes for MY child?”  But alienating her would not be a good thing!

A bit of back story for this specific instance:  In recent weeks there have been several break-ins in the neighborhood, but all at night, when no one is home.  And, unfortunately, someone was robbed at gunpoint in front of their house on the next block over.  But again, this was late at night, well after dark.  All of these incidents are extremely unusual for our quiet town.  And really: Who the hell is going to hold up at 9-year-old?  Even ignorant thieves know the kid won’t have a watch or money.  And the “bad guys” are not abducting children in broad daylight.  They’re committing crimes of opportunity under cover of darkness.  Moreover, the last time this mom refused to allow my son to walk home alone was at 11 in the morning on a beautiful, sunny Saturday in May, when there hadn’t been any crime in our neighborhood for at least a dozen years.

So here’s the question:  what do I say to her NEXT time? I need to formulate a rational, civilized response to keep the peace.  Otherwise, I’m going to go crazy on her ass!!!  Yeah, I’m kidding.

Sort of.

Men & Boys in the Locker Room

Hi Readers — Just got this interesting story from Australia: Boys have been banned from a Sydney public pool’s locker room because the ADULT MEN using it fear they may be falsely accused of being pedophiles.

So, for a while the boys had to change behind a stack of chairs, and now they’re changing in an unused clubhouse.

This is not happening in clubhouses all over the place, so it’s not like a sweeping change. What IS sweeping is the hyper focus on — nay, obsession with — pedophilia, to the point where we almost can’t help thinking about it in any situation where men interact with children.

The other day I heard the story of a young man who was at the grocery and waved at a child in a cart. When the mom and child showed up in the next aisle, he waved again. By the time he reached the third aisle, the manager asked him to leave.

No one wants to ignore any kind of sexual harm being done to children. But our awakened concern is over-ripening into hysteria.  Sometimes a wave is just a wave. In fact, USUALLY a wave is just a wave, and ESPECIALLY when we’re talking about a man, a little kid and HER MOM, in public, at a grocery. So let’s try to stop folks when they start thinking in terms of the weirdest, wildest notion: That the young man is — what? — getting off on this sick encounter? Or “grooming” this stranger’s kid for the next time they’re together, which is probably never? Or planning to pluck the kid from the grocery and run off without anyone noticing? Even if the young man WAS a perv (and there is zero evidence of that), what on earth could he get away with in the canned goods aisle?

But when folks don’t even stop to ask, “Wait? Does this worry make any sense?” you can see where undressed men in a locker room would be wary of being anywhere near some undressed boys.  — Lenore


Oh look! frolicking prey! Or wait. Maybe they're frolicking false accusers?


Iconic Merry-Go-Round Is Deemed an Insurance Liability

Hi Readers — Wheeeee! That’s the sound  of happy Australian kids in the town of Geraldton, playing on the merry-go-round. Or at least it was. The festive bit of fun was built 20 years ago to honor the spirit of local author Randolph Stow,  who wrote the apparently much-beloved book, “Merry Go Round In the Sea.” And yet, says this article, now the merry-go-round has been decommissioned because it presents the city council with an insurance risk.

You can sort of see the council’s point: If a child DID get hurt, it WOULD take a hit and then there’d be less money for everything else the city needs. This is a real problem. But of course we can all see the other side very clearly, too. As clearly as the 14 year old who has taken it upon himself to collect 350 signatures to save the merry go round.

Said he:

“There’s no point fighting for something unless it means a lot to you. We’ve spent much of our childhood playing on the merry go round and have had so much fun. I hope the council realise it’s not just a piece of wood that they can bolt down. I think they need to realise the community likes this.”

Said the mayor (and methinks they need a public relations person): It’s like a pot hole tha tneeds to be taken care of.

Best quote was from a businessman:

“The merry go round is much more than a pot hole.

“It and Randolph Stow are part of our social fabric, in the same way as agriculture, sport and fishing have been for the region and our city.”

That’s the true importance of this battle for the town and also for those of us at Free-Range Kids: At some point we have to make society realize that childhood is not just a liability waiting to happen, it is part of who we are. And to lock it up and tamp it down and dismantle it all in the name of “safety” is to perform a mass joy-ectomy on a generation.

Merry-go-rounds are endangered here in America for the same reason as down under: Liability. If you have any great ideas on how to wrest fun and freedom back from the clutches of litigiousness, please share them here. Now! — Lenore

Why Scouting, Part II

Hi Readers! First of all, a thanks to all the people who have commented. It was a good reminder to me — as was part of the speech in the original post (“I suppose there are some things I would change, like make the BSA image more inclusive…”) — that the sad fact is that there is an official policy against gay and/or atheist leadership at the Boy Scouts. I hate that. And if I’d thought about that part more the first time my son went with a friend to a meeting, maybe I would have said, “Don’t go.”

But off he went and he came back exhilarated. Apparently, the boys ran around for about half an hour before the meeting began and it was fun. Real fun — not run by a coach, not dedicated to improving any particular skill, just boys running around, being boys. And after that, it was boys sitting in a circle, working seriously on a badge. (Architecture.)

And even though I hadn’t started Free-Range Kids yet, I did realize: Wow. That’s not a thing that most of the boys I know get. It wasn’t gym class or Little League. It was something more old-fashioned, both the free time and the tinkering time.  And when my son said he’d be going on an overnight in a month — it was like falling into Robinson Crusoe-land. Suddenly there was boyhood beckoning our boy.

Do I want my sons (both have joined) to be part of an anti-gay, anti-atheist organization? No. Do I want them to be part of the troop they love, where they’ve learned how to make a fire, cook outside, hike for miles and sleep on the ground? Yes. Do I want them to learn hate? No. We do try to teach tolerance. Do I want them to be part of a group where, the higher you go in rank the more your job is to help the younger kids? Yes.

For the record, the Greater New York Council has a strong anti-discrimination policy. Apparently troops and their leadership often reflect the local community. We live in New York City. For a while the troop met in a synagogue. Now it meets in a church.

Nonetheless, nothing is uncomplicated. These comments on this blog remind me that part of my job should be agitating the Boy Scouts of America to abolish its homophobic, anti-atheist rules, which are not only wrong, but are also alienating whole swaths of boys who would otherwise join and love the Scouts.

So thank you, as usual, for helping me get some perspective. And I will now go write to the Scouts. – Lenore

Why Scouting?

Hi Readers! At the conference on the importance of play that I went to last week, I met Cindy Wilson, the communications director at Playworks. Playworks helps ensure kids get the chance to play at school every day. Yay! Their “recess coaches” taught some unbelievably fun games at the conference that had me — who literally got a “D” in gym  — running around and laughing and not feeling like the girl who could never touch her toes. (Which I am. But still. Here’s where you can find how to play a lot of their games.)

Anyhow,  Cindy’s husband is a scoutmaster in Oakland, Cal., and here’s the speech he delivered last night at his troop’s “Court of Honor,” where scouts advance to the next level. I loved it, and not just because my boys are Scouts:

Court of Honor Scoutmaster Moment, by Rick Prime

Tonight I thought I would reflect on how Boy Scouts is relevant today, especially in the modern world.  To a certain extent, I am talking to our older scouts tonight. We have five juniors in our troop who are contemplating the challenge of making Eagle rank. I want to address some of the social pressures they will encounter and why staying with the scouts is the right thing to do.

There were three things that made me think of this topic. The first was the story of Steven Fong, a recent Eagle from this troop, on the way to Philmont (which is considered a Mecca of sorts to Boy Scouts).  The second is from a book, Boys Adrift, which I read recently about the wrong way boys are being raised.  And the third is my own personal experience in high school.

I learned the Steven Fong story at our last Eagle court of honor, in January 2009.   We were honoring four Eagles, Steven Fong, Robert Amy, Mark Bennett, and Derrick Breska. Mr. Kelley, who is here tonight, gave a speech about Steven Fong which summarized his accomplishments and touched on his personality. Part of it was a funny story about traveling in uniform to Philmont. We travel in uniform, particularly high adventure, because it is the BSA policy and as such we are covered under their liability insurance. The boys were at the airport on their way to Santa Fe, on their way to high adventure at the Philmont Scout Reservation. Steven kept ducking into the bathroom and Mr. Kelley was wondering if he had an acute case of diarrhea because he kept running into the bathroom. Turned out he was embarrassed to seen by some girl from his high school in his Boy Scout uniform. I am sure Mr. Kelley gave him a speech about being comfortable in his own skin and I am sure Steven is today.

Steven Fong, and any Boy Scout, is in incredible demand in today’s world because people with character are a scarce resource.

To a certain extent, our world needs more leaders. Yet I feel the bar has been lowered as far as the job our society is doing in raising them.

I recently read a book, Boys Adrift, recommended by one of our scout moms, Diane Jacobson. The thesis of the book is that we have the wrong formula for raising boys. This is due to starting school before they may be ready, tending to over prescribe them to ADD drugs, and letting them spend too many hours on video games instead of reality.  The thesis about school is that everything has moved up. Kindergarten is now what first grade used to be like. If a boy acts, well, like a boy, teachers begin to have awkward conversations with parents about medicating them. The book describes how being overly politically correct, we may be stifling creativity in boys. If a boy writes a story that would be akin to a chapter out of a Earnest Hemingway book, he is expelled for writing about guns or violence.

The symptom of these problems with education and using video games as an inexpensive baby sitter is the trend of less boys going to college. 40 years ago, the majority of college graduates were men. Now, it has been reported, 60 percent of college graduates are women. For the first time in our history, we have as many women PhDs as men.  Because our culture has glorified escapism and the slacker anti-hero, we are raising a nation of slackers. I feel even worse about the women. The challenge for women who graduate from college is to date a man that is not still living at home with his parents at age 25.

The boys in this room are fighting this trend.  I know it because I have met some of the scouts that graduated from our troop. Dennis Fong, Steven Fong’s dad, would have an annual Christmas Party that I was fortunate to attend. Some of you may know Mr. Fong because he was one of the adult leaders who gave back to the troop tirelessly. In Mr. Fong’s case, he was our recruiting coordinator.

In any case, Steven and his cohorts, who were other Boy Scouts from our troop that had gone to college, were at the party during their winter break.

I was struck by the quality of the girlfriends they brought with them. But I guess I shouldn’t be. What women wouldn’t want a guy sent to college who already knows how to cook and clean? What can be worse during a romantic moment in front of a fireplace than a man that doesn’t know how to start a fire? I don’t have to worry about it in this room.  In all seriousness, our boys are successful because they understand leadership, have character and they know critical life skills.

My own personal story validates this in an indirect way. Unfortunately, I dropped out of scouts early because I didn’t know anyone in the troop my parents put me in. However, my best friend in high school in Wisconsin was a Boy Scout. I remember in my senior year biology class when the class was planning a field trip to go rafting all day on the wolf river, in northern Wisconsin. It is six hours of class 3 and 4 rapids. We were to split into groups of two to a raft. To my astonishment, the two most attractive and popular girls in the class came up to me and my scout friend and asked if they could pair up with us. In my adolescent mind, I thought that god was wiping the slate clean in one magnanimous act for all the perceived injustices I had endured as a middle school and high school boy.

So we got up a 6 am and took yellow school buses 3 hours north on that cool fall day to the Wolf River outside of Green Bay. It was a drizzling rainy grey morning as we rafted in pairs pass Birch trees with fall leaves everywhere. It was fun but we got soaking wet and capsized on many of the rapids.  One of the girls started to get mild hypothermia.  My scout friend knew what to do. We went into the woods and he put together a roaring fire. I was standing there watching these appreciative girls warm up and it finally struck me what was going on.  My experience wasn’t divine intervention. This girls knew the best one to be with was my Boy Scout friend and me by association.

In closing, I believe in our program of developing leadership, character and life skills because it is more relevant than ever. I suppose there are some things I would change, like make the BSA image more inclusive or outsource the design of the uniforms to REI or Nike.

However, I also see is that the desire for quality men is the same today as it was 35 years ago. What has changed is it is harder to develop good men because there are so many distractions in our world that did not exist like the Internet, electronic devices, and 24 hour media. The world is more complicated because we live more complicated lives. And yet, the demand for leaders is greater because of the challenges we have in the modern world.

It is the same earth, but we have grown in this short time from 3.5 billion to 7 billion people.  The outdoor code, to be conservation minded is no longer quaint — it is part of the solution. To do your best, To be prepared, To have character and leadership… This is what we need.  And this is what I expect. Thank you. — R.P.

Not Completely Relevant But: How Many Australian Politicians Does it Take to Change a Lightbulb?

Hi Readers! The answer is, apparently: None! It is too dangerous! At least, that’s what the Department of Health and Safety says, according to this article.

The issue surfaced during a Senate estimates hearing when Liberal Eric Abetz told upper house colleagues he was prevented recently from changing a light bulb in his electorate office.

He was told that the rules meant an electrician had to be called.

“It is just impractical, it’s stupid,” Senator Abetz told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Most Australians would say if a person is not capable of changing a light globe, chances are they are not capable of running an electorate office.”

Senator Abetz said he had been told changing a bulb could require climbing a ladder which was a safety risk.

The (tangential) Free-Range issue here is this: Why are we increasingly subject to rules and regs that have nothing to do with REAL safety and everything to do with litigation, worst-case-scenario-fantasizing and good ol’ CYA? It’s a time, money and morale-waster, with the added benefit of turning competent people into incompetent cowards. Just like so many rules and regs are implementing with kids: No, children, you CANNOT ride your bikes to school. No, children, you CANNOT do your own chemistry experiments. No, children, you CANNOT babysit/whittle/get a paper route/smile at a stranger. It is all TOO DANGEROUS.

And someday we will wonder why no one in the world (except, perhaps, electricians) can do anything.


Ok, maybe THIS one would be a little hard to change.