Zero Tolerance for a Good Kid

Hi Readers: This one will make your blood boil even if it’s freezing outside. It’s about a North Carolina high school senior suspended for a paring knife found in her lunchbox, which, for the record, was actually her dad’s identical lunchbox that she brought to school by mistake. (Dad pares his apples at lunch, his daughter doesn’t.)

Sometimes I worry that by printing these weird Zero Tolerance stories — stories of kids suspended for the most innocent of “crimes” — I am giving as warped a picture of our culture as the nightly news does. (Albeit, with a different slant.) But then I think, the reason for publicizing these incidents is not to say they are epidemic, but to point out why they are happening at all: It is due to the inability of those in power to do any kind of sensible risk assessment.

That is worth blogging about, because sensitivity to ACTUAL danger, versus the trip-wire, brain-frozen fear of any POSSIBLE danger is one of the things Free-Range Kids is all about. When we, as a society, say, “I don’t care if it’s safe in1 billion cases, it’s that billionth case that matters!” then NOTHING seems safe. Not a kid playing in the park, not a kid eating a hot dog, and not a kid who accidentally (or even intentionally!) brought her dad’s fruit-paring knife to school. Unless you’re an apple, this just does not pose a threat in the hands of a normal school kid.

We are getting really good at substituting fear for reality. See the posts below this one about suing the Scouts for allowing boys to play in the semi-darkness, or about the recall of drop-side cribs. The fear that an item or activity might have any negative consequences EVER is enough to make us ignore any upside — even a huge one — and outlaw it.

And so we have this girl forbidden from stepping foot on campus because, in the words of the superintendent, “Bottom line is we want to ensure every child feels safe on our campus.”

If these “children” (actually high school students) don’t feel safe because one girl has a paring knife, it’s a good bet they will never feel safe. Which is why I blogged about this story, and why I run Free-Range Kids. Because in that situation, kids are ENTIRELY safe, and it is a BIG LIE to say they aren’t.

And it is a lie with consequences. — Lenore

Okay, here's one way to eat an apple WITHOUT using a paring knife. (But really I just loved this photo. The game looks so fun! Circa 1960.)

The “Stranger” at the Mall

Hi Readers: Just got this note. Read on!

Dear Free-Range Kids: I swear, I could just cry at the stranger-danger hysteria these days.

I have the good fortune to be self-employed.  As such, I can work whenever and wherever I want, so today I chose to work at the mall.  (I know, right?)  Did a little shopping, had a little lunch, now I’m ensconced in the bookstore cafe, latte in one hand, mouse in the other, waiting for my husband to get off work so we can go home together.

I am not a conventional looking woman, I guess, which makes me a rather attractive target for curious children.  I have long purple hair, wear gothy makeup, and don’t look like your typical mother of teenagers.  Add my little cloud of technology – a huge purple laptop with a matching purple mouse and a cell phone with a purple cover serving as my wireless hotspot…well, kids want to come look and ask questions.

Usually, I’m very happy to entertain them.  They either want to gawp at my hair (“Does your Mommy let you color it like that?”) or pet my computer or ask me what I went shopping for (there’s a big bag from Torrid at my feet.  It’s very pink and very eye-catching.)  Today, though, it’s been nerve wracking!  The kids come over and start to chatter while their parents are distracted, I invite them to sit and I smile and answer their questions, and then their parents come swooping out of nowhere, gasping and huffing and giving me the stink-eye whilst hustling their progeny off quickly in the opposite direction.  One woman even threatened to call Security!

The worst, though, was the gaggle of teenagers.  The teenagers weren’t bad.  Actually, the teenagers were pretty awesome.  There were four of them — three girls and a boy, all looking to be high school students close in age to my own kids.  They bounced about and asked me where I bought my hair dye and what kind of makeup I used, and the boy had a million questions about my computer and what I was doing.  He was delighted to hear that I work for a large search engine company, and proceeded to tell me all about how he wants to work for my client some day.  His sister poked him and told him she had a better chance there than he did, and they good-naturedly argued over who was the bigger nerd.  They were perfectly charming and funny and sweet and I was rather enjoying their company, even if they were sort of interrupting my work. They were not the bad part.

The bad part was their Mother.  She came into the cafe, found them sitting with me, chatting happily, and FLIPPED OUT.  How DARE I speak to her children, what was I doing there?  The boy protested.  “Mom, we were just asking her about her computer and stuff!”  Mom was not satisfied with that and ordered them away.  “You just never know what kind of freaks will try to sneak you out some back door!”

Merry Frellin’ Christmas to you, too, lady.  Sheesh. — M.

No More Playing in the Dark, Kids

Hi Readers — Another day, another lawsuit, another childhood institution crushed. In this case, back in 2001 a Scout troop in England was playing a game where everyone had to grab a block from a pile in the middle of the room. Get there last and there’s no block left for you. Sounds like musical chairs.

Anyway, to make it more fun, the troop decided to turn the lights out and play by the glow of the “Exit” signs and guess what? A 13-year-old kid hurt his shoulder. Not so much that he could not go on and play rugby for the next nine years until the courts made their final ruling on his suit.  But still — I’m sure his shoulder did hurt.

What hurts more is that the courts ending up ruling that the Scouts were at fault. Playing in the spooky dark is just too dangerous. As this article from The Telegraph explains:

The Scouts Association had urged the court to overturn the award, arguing it would make it harder to draw youngsters away from computer screens and televisions. But Lady Justice Smith and Lord Justice Ward, dismissed their appeal.

They ruled that Mark Barnes, of Castle Bromwich, West Mids, had been a victim of negligence and that playing the game in the dark had created an unacceptable risk.

Despite expressing “instinctive sympathy” towards the Scout Association, Lord Justice Ward said that “scouting would not lose much of its value” if such games were played with the lights on.

In a dissenting ruling, Lord Justice Jackson found that it was not the function of the law “to eliminate every iota of risk or to stamp out socially desirable activities”.

I’m with the dissenting justice, of course. I know my sons’ favorite thing over the summer is to play “manhunt” (some sort of tag) after the sun has gone down. It’s heady. It’s scary. It makes you feel excited and grown-up and that’s why scouting — and childhood — DOES “lose much of its value” if everything is done in the Kleig lights of super safety.

One way kids get that “self-esteem” we’re so worried about is by facing up to a fear and conquering it. Like, say, a fear of the DARK. And one way to get kids to FACE that fear is by making it so fun that the excitement outweighs the trepidation.

Maybe the judges are afraid of the dark. Who knows? But this kind of ruling means a smidgen more safety purchased at the cost of a ton of old-fashioned joy. That is scary. — Lenore

Why is the night so spooky? It's filled with LAWSUITS!

There’s No Place Like Outside for the Holidays

Hi Readers — As a week of no school looms, here are some ideas for outdoor fun from Heidi Ahrens, a Colorado mom of two very active Free-Range girls. Heidi runs the website and social network community OutdoorBabyNetwork. You may also find traces of Heidi on NYC streets where she once played.

Me? I love Idea #4: How fun would it be to give out hot cider on a cold day? Fun! — L

Top Six Holiday fun Outdoor Activities by Heidi Ahrens

Don’t stay cooped up inside during the holiday season. Get some fresh air, play with the kids and introduce them to a new way of exploring their world:

1. Long Route: Go outside and walk to a local park or coffee shop but travel a different route then you are used to.

2. Do a transportation puzzle: This is an activity that families can do together to compare distances between two points. Your child selects a destination that she will go to using two different modes of transportation. Then she compares the two.

3. Giving and Collecting: Talk to your child about helping out and being generous. Go for a walk and have your child collect leaves, pebbles or recyclables. Go back home and have your child decorate these findings by, say, painting on the stones. Then have your child return these items in special spots outdoors for other children to find. [Sez Lenore: I love the idea of other kids finding hand-painted stones!]

4. Hot apple cider stand: This can be set up outside your house one day over the holidays to warm people up. No need to charge any money. The cider can stay warm in an insulated cooler or coffee urn.

5. Giving Tree: Have your child create little gifts to hang from a tree near your house. Then visit the tree every day to see what items were taken, or to observe people while they inspect the tree.

6. Races: The weather has been strange all around the country. Take inspiration from a blog post on OutdoorBabyNetwork and let your children go outside and explore even if the weather if frightful. If they need encouragement to stay engaged, have them try out funny contests, like who can bounce a ball in the rain the longest, or float the most cork boats in a puddle, or make the most snow angels.

Offering time in a natural setting where your child can have time to be free will make your holiday so much more enjoyable and meaningful. Head out in a park, a forest, a bike trail, a backyard or even a city street. — Heidi

Lenore’s Carols

Hi Readers: We interrupt this well-focused blog to bring you my Year in Carols. I write ’em every year — can’t help myself. Sing ’em, share ’em, post ’em on YouTube if you can’ keep a tune. (I can’t!) We’ll be back to Free-Range issues very soon. But meantime: Enjoy! — L.




Frosty the Traveler was a snowman on the go

With a corn-cob pipe and a carry-on

And a book by Scott Turrow.


Frosty the Traveler, had a plane to catch that day

So he stood in line, feeling mighty fine

Till he met the TSA.


He must’ve looked suspicious, ‘cause he saw the agents frown

But when he cried, “Don’t touch my junk!”

They began to pat him down!


Oh! Frosty the Traveler, turned beet red and danced about

And the TSA, they all ran away

‘Cause the snowman freaked them out.

A red snowman freaked them out


Thumpety thump thump, thumpety thump thump

Agents everywhere!

Thumpety thump thump, thumpety thump thump

Hey! Don’t pat me there!



Cables leak, are you listening?

In Iraq , someone’s bristlin’

We lie, cheat and boast

Now it’s in the Post

Walkin’ in a Wiki Wonderland


Gone astray, secret death plots

Here to stay, skeevy despots

Khadaf’s got a nurse

And Karzai is worse

Walkin’ in a Wiki Wonderland


In the Middle East they all hate Mahmoud

Hopin’ that someone will take him down

Out loud they say, “Israelis are no good!”

(But they can do the job when they’re in town.)


Later on, we’ll conspire

As we sit, by the wire

To face, all afraid,

The mess that’s been made

Walkin’ in a Wiki Wonderland



Eat, my child, a plate of quinoa

Watch every bite

The whole White House wants you skinnier

Watch every bite

Salt is incapacitatin’

Transfat we’re not toleratin’

Bake sales are a tool of Satan

Watch every bite.


Eat, my child, some whole grain pancakes

Watch every bite

Wash ‘em down with cream of bran flakes

Watch every bite

Health is good, we must remind you

Put that bag of fries behind you

Eat a cupcake, we will find you

Watch every bite.



Oh there’s no Metrodome for the holidays

‘Cause the snow buried that old Vikings’ home

Fans can pine through half time in Detroit , but oh

For the Vikings, there is no more dome sweet dome.



I was the king of Late Night

And yet I couldn’t win

They gave my job to Conan

And dropped me on my chin.


Oh Conan, Conan, Conan

You’re hipper than me, yes

But now I’m back and rested

And you’re on TBS.



Oh the folks on this plane are frightful

And my God, I’ve got a flightful

One just hit my head upside

Let me slide, let me slide, let me slide


Oh the overhead bins are packed full

And I’m tired of being tactful

It’s this or bee-atch-i-cide

Let me slide, let me slide, let me slide


When I finally say, “Buh-bye,”

How I love bouncing out on my rear!

And though unemployed may be I

All the way home I’ll drink beer!


Now if you take your job and shove it

I can guarantee, you’ll love it

Why not come along for the ride?

Let us slide, let us slide, let us slide!



On the first week of gushing, my BP gave to me

A partridge in a black sea.

On the second week of gushing, my BP gave to me

Two turtles dead and a partridge in a black sea.

On the third week of gushing, my BP gave to me

Three drenched hens, two turtles dead and a partridge in a black sea.

On the fourth week of gushing, my BP gave to me

Four crawling birds, three drenched hens, two turtles dead and a partridge in a black sea.

On the fifth week of gushing, my BP gave to me

Five broken rigs!

Four crawling birds, three drenched hens, two turtles dead and a partridge in a black sea.


6 Geese a-gasping

7 Swans not swimming

8 Shrimp a-shriveling

9 Crawfish croaking

10 Frogs not leaping

11 Puffins puffin’

12 Dolphins drooping

And a partridge in a black sea.



Come, they texted me, pa rum pum pum pum

A nu-brn king 2 C, pa rum pum pum pum

R finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

2 lay b4 da King, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

So, 2 hnr Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I use my thumb


LOL, it’s fun! Pa rum pum pum pum

I M a poor boi 2, pa rum pum pum pum

I have no gift 2 bring, pa rum pum pum pum

But I can txt something, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum.

Shall I text for U, pa rum pum pum pum

Or iz that dumb?


Mary nodded , pa rum pum pum pum

Z ox + lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum

I did my best 4 Him, pa rum pum pum pum

I sent 8 texts 2 Him, pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

Then he : ) ’d @ me, pa rum pum pum pum

Me & my thumb.



Have yourself a massive Christmas tax break

Let your heart be light

Do not think about the deficit tonight


Have yourself a whopper of a tax break

Make your blood run green

We should be ok until 2-oh-15!


Use that cash, please, to start a biz

Or our country is dead meat

Downsized friends who worked near to us

Work at Wal-Mart now,  and greet.


True the tax breaks will expire some day

If the pols allow

Until then we’re frolicking in cash, and how!

So have yourself a don’t-think-‘bout-next Christmas now.

Because Crawling is Just Too Hard

Hi Readers — When I go around giving my Free-Range Kids lectures, at some point I hold up a pair of little knit things that look like mini sweat bands and I ask the audience, “What are these?” And when I finally inform them, “Baby knee pads,” they shriek in disbelief. (At least, the ones who aren’t shrieking, “My mother-in-law just gave us those!”)

Since when do kids need knee pads to crawl safely? Aren’t babies born with built-in knee pads called “baby fat”? Isn’t that why their knees adorably dimple?

Well, now it turns out that knee pads aren’t the only product cashing in on…er…deeply concerned about the transport difficulties facing our littlest loved ones. This company is charging just $32 for a pair of high-friction baby pants that will help kids crawl.

That’s right: Just $32 for a tiny pair of pants. Because this generation of babies is helpless without us buying them new and expensive products. Thank God for credit cards or our kids would never make it across the floor. (The fact that these pants are sold up to size six is the topic for another discussion, but I am sarcasm-ed out.) — L.

8-Year-Old Scientists Publish Study in Journal

Hey Readers! As you know, one of the things I talk about a lot is not only that kids are SAFER than we think, but they’re also more COMPETENT than pop culture leads us to believe.  Here to remind us just how clever kids can be is this story, of 8-year-olds who studied whether bees can learn patterns and colors. Then they got their research published in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s the buzz for this morning. Enjoy! — L.

The bees that the kids studied were smaller. And flew.

Weapons of (Christ)mas Destruction

Hi Readers! So many folks sent in this story today, I present it to you in all its insanity, even though it struck me as a little too bizarre and garbled to be 100% accurate. For instance, the crazy accusations were reported to the press only by one of the accused. Ho ho hmm.

Still, Christmas is a time for stories so — enjoy. But first, keep your children safe! Lock up the candy canes!   L.

Want to Cry — With Joy?

Readers:  Once in a while, I have to go off Free-Range topic for a sec. Like now. This video had me sobbing. My shirt is actually WET. So I had to share it. It does seem appropriate for the season! 

And here’s the link for how to sign up to be a bone marrow donor. Talk about a gift that keeps on giving! — L.

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other

Hi Readers! In case you have some friends who still think you are IMAGINING a huge sea-change in our culture, a veritable tsunami of distrust in our kids, their competence and our communities, we present two Sesame Street clips. Same story line. Different era. Can you spot the difference?