A Surprising Trampoline Tumble

Hi Readers: From today’s mailbox, an intriguing little piece. – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I have two boys — 6 and 8 — and am learning about letting go. Can I talk about a “What If?”  a little in reverse?
I took the stupid netting off my kids trampoline because I thought it was making them complacent about how to jump safely. The net was always there to stop them from learning.
A month ago my boys and a friend were all jumping and the friend decided he would push my older son off the trampoline and guess what? He broke his arm. And you know what? That has been the best experience for him.
He has learned to write with his other hand( better than his previous script). He has played with Lego with his one good hand and has never complained. His resilience has been remarkable and he was not that resilient before. It’s all because, “What if I took the netting off and they had to learn how to jump safely rather than rely on the nets to keep them in?”
I am so very proud of how he has handled this whole situation. — Caroline

Needed: Your Encounters with “What If?” Thinking

Hi Readers — One of the biggest frustrations in Free-Ranging is dealing with other people’s “What If?” fears. Why? Because they can never be answered! If a parent starts worrying about, “What if X, Y or Z happens while my child is doing…” anything, there is no way to say, “Don’t worry, it won’t.” Because, of course,  something bad always COULD possibly happen.

“What if??” doesn’t take into account probability, or even reality. It just builds big, bright, horrible possibilities and projects them, Power Point-like, into the conversation: “Ha! You tell me not to worry, but LOOK at this! This COULD happen! What if it DOES? Then what, huh? You’re going to say you’re sorry? THAT’S NOT GOING TO MAKE THINGS ANY BETTER! I simply will NOT allow this, that or the other to (possibly) happen to my child!”

And pretty soon there’s no sleepover (because what if it’s an orgy?) and no field trip (because what if the bus flips over?) and no time to play, unsupervised, with friends (because what if he breaks his arm? What if they bully him? What if he’s thirsty and he forgot his water bottle?).

I’m trying to come up with great examples for my (potential next) book because WHAT IF I don’t? Yiiiikes!

I’d like stories of other folks’ “What If?”s and your own “What If?”-ing, too: A time you worried about something, and managed to put those fears aside, and what happened next.

So I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and now let’s rock this pessimistic, paranoid culture to its core! — Lenore

And Now — A School is Banning Chapstick!

Readers — I gotta go cook a turkey, but meantime, look at this. The REASON this Cleveland elementary school is making Chapstick contraband is that kids might SHARE it:

Parents were afraid that children would share the Chapstick and spread germs,” [schools spokeswoman] Sessoms said. “By requiring written permission from the parents, parents would be aware that their children had Chapstick and would be able to remind them not to share it with other children. This would also be a way for teachers to be aware so that they could deter students from sharing it with others.”

For this same reason they have banned hand sanitizer and sunscreen.

Come to think of it, maybe I should cancel my Thanksgiving dinner. The guests might end up passing the food! That’s sharing, right? And what if, God forbid, someone accidentally picks up someone else’s glass and sips from it? Think of the danger!

It’s just not worth it. This whole “community” thing has got to go! This school is on the right track: For safety’s sake, no human contact from now on. — L.

Outrage of the Day: Pencils Banned as “Weapons”

Hi Readers — A bunch of you pointed to this story today and indeed, it’s pretty irresistible: A teacher sent a memo home to all sixth grade students saying the could NOT bring pencils to class. Furthermore “…

any students caught with pencils or pens after Nov. 15 would face disciplinary action for having materials ‘to build weapons.'”

The higher-ups at school later said the teacher was not authorized to send home this note. (Then they took her out back and shot her with a Ticonderoga #2.) — Lenore

Could School Have Prevented Injury…by a Paintbrush?

Hi Readers! This is such a disturbing story. A Scottish boy who was 10 was painting scenery on the ground for a school play back in 2003 when one of the other painters got up, bumping into him. This caused him to fall on another student’s paintbrush, which — this is so horrible — pierced him through the eye, causing blindness in the eye and brain damage.

Now a court has ruled that the teachers at the school should have “foreseen” that such an event was, if not likely, at least POSSIBLE. Wrote the judge:

When one looks at the whole circumstances of the use of the brush, a real risk of injury emerges as foreseeable. A reasonable person in the position of the teachers would have taken steps to prevent that foreseeable risk of harm…”

According to the BBC report, the judge said the painting could have been done with “safer” brushes, and at the kids’ desks, rather than on the ground.

As if the ground is so darn dangerous.

Now, obviously, what’s extremely upsetting about this is not JUST that the school has since outlawed “long” paintbrushes, and now sees painting as a dangerous activity. It’s the notion of “reasonable” foresight and how this encourages a totally paranoid way of thinking. If we are all supposed to have the foresight to prevent all freak accidents that might someday, somehow happen under the most mundane of circumstances, we would have to get rid of every item in every place any child could ever be. Because — hey — a child COULD choke on a lemon, or slip on a slipper, or impale herself on a toothbrush. Let’s ban them all now, before we’re on the line for millions, as this school might be.

What happened to the boy is a tragedy. No need to compound it. — Lenore

Nov. 21: World Hello Day! (And I Missed It!)

Hi Readers: Or rather, a belated HELLO! I am so sorry I totally missed alerting us all to World Hello Day on the 21st– a day when we are all exhorted to greet 10 different people. This reminds them and ourselves that most  people are pretty good, and that talking beats fighting. Also that everyone is better off when we are greeting each other, rather than, say, sneering or snorting or staring with ill-concealed suspicion. So why not make this long Thanksgiving weekend a Hello Weekend?

And yes, that means even saying a kindly hello to the folks you see across the turkey. — Lenore

Needed from YOU: Worst-First Thinking

Hi Readers! Well, it’s not that I want to see MORE Worst-First thinking out there. I’m just looking for examples of it — examples of incidents when people, confronted by normal behavior (like the kindergarteners in the post below this one) AUTOMATICALLY interpret it in the WORST way FIRST. E.g, “This is perverted!” rather than, “This is probably quite normal.”

The most salient example I have of this I may have already told you about.  A young man at a grocery store passed a mom and a kid in an aisle and waved at the child. Nice.

He happened upon them in another aisle and waved again. When he got to the third aisle, the manager came up and asked him to leave.

WHAT could the young man have been doing that was bad? “Grooming” the child for a later assignation? Grooming the mom so she’d trust him and let him, a total stranger, come over and babysit? Seducing the toddler in his shopping cart seat? But “Worst First” thinking means imagining the most repulsive possibility, no matter how outlandish, and acting as if it were already happening.

I’ve you’ve witnessed this, or experienced it — or FOUGHT it — I’d love to hear your story as I gather ammo for more my (hopefully) next book, or at least an article on this topic.

Many thanks! I’m thinking the BEST of you! — Lenore

Perverted Kindergarteners?

Hi Readers — Got this note and had to vent. I am SO SICK of everyone thinking of everything in terms of perversion. It is a perverted way to think!! Here goes. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This isn’t strictly a Free-Range issue perhaps, but it illustrates the nonsensical trend of treating inappropriate but harmless behavior with fear and suspicion.  The following is a quote from the training module that every parent who wishes to volunteer at our school must endure, even simply to serve cupcakes to a class.
The policy of requiring training and background checks on all parents is odious in itself, discouraging parent involvement and wasting precious money which could be used for actually educating children, but the message the training conveys is even more sinister:

The first step to preventing sexual abuse between children is to know that it can and does happen.  It’s hard to believe that a group of kindergarteners would take turns urinating on the playground and daring each other to play “stinky butt.”  From then on, you will need to pay particular attention to these children, since you now have warning that they may be at risk for further inappropriate interactions.

Good grief, that is beyond ridiculous. First of all, it isn’t hard for me to believe that a group of kindergarteners would do such things.  I wouldn’t like it, but it doesn’t strike me as particularly dangerous or rare.  I could easily imagine such a story being related with exasperation and, yes, even humor.  But simply beginning the sentence with “It’s hard to believe…” leads the audience’s perspective to consider it something so outrageous as to warrant deep, dark concern.
I don’t know what to say about the implications of the last sentence.  What next?  It chills me to think that a registry (lifelong?) for such deviant kindergarteners is not outside the realm of possibility.

Thank you again for providing a rowboat against the tide! — Noël in Houston

That’s the Spirit!

To be filed under: Coming To, What the World Is:

From a golf course in Phoenix, where they sure know how to have a good ol' time!

OTHER Outrage of the Week: Funeral for a Swing Set

Hi Readers — Those clever folks at KaBoom, the playground people, have created a “virtual funeral” for the swingsets of West Virginia’s Cabell County. The sets died an unnatural death, after a painful lawsuit brought by the parents of a boy who broke his arm jumping off a swing. In a response worthy of Greek tragedy, the county responded by murdering all its swings.

They will be missed.  — L.

Pictured here: A child in hideous danger.