THE 2010 “GOLDEN HELICOPTER PARENTING AWARDS”

FREE-RANGE KIDS PRESENTS

THE 2010 GOLDEN HELICOPTER PARENTING AWARDS

FOR GREAT MOMENTS IN OVER-PARENTING

And Media Fear-mongering About Kids

PRESENTED BY LENORE SKENAZY, FOUNDER OF “FREE-RANGE KIDS” (www.freerangekids.com)

Free-Range Kids is the book, blog and movement dedicated to giving kids back the fun and freedom of childhood — the kind of childhood that makes kids sunny and self-reliant. We fight the pop culture tape-loop that says children are in constant danger and incapable of doing much more than sitting in the back of the minivan, eating Pop-Tarts and being driven the three blocks to school.

How wacky was 2010 when it came to insisting our kids are in peril, pedophiles are everywhere and the only good parent is a helicopter parent? Check out our Golden Helicopters:

But It’s Still Less Creepy than “J. Edgar Barbie”: With Christmas gearing up, the FBI warned that “Video Barbie” could be used by child pornographers — even though, so far, it has never, ever seen this happen. This didn’t stop the news media from showing how Barbie could easily be used to videotape from the corner of a girl’s bedroom or even under her skirt: http://bit.ly/h4NCza; Daily Show: http://bit.ly/gpXMZQ.

How About a Creepy Mom Locator? Verizon unveiled a “Family Locator” app in an ad that showed a mom using it to track her teen daughter and two friends at the mall. Because so many groups of three teens get kidnapped together from crowded public spaces: http://bit.ly/9LnnYt

Next Week The Today Show Explains Why You Should Never Cross in Front of a Black Cat: The Today Show warned viewers that no one under 13 should trick or treat without an adult, because, “people put on masks and…do bad things.” Meanwhile, an actual study of sex crime statistics found, “zero evidence to support the idea that Halloween is a dangerous date for children in terms of child molestation.” Somehow, that didn’t get mentioned on the show. http://on.wsj.com/dU64WZ

What Exciting New Career Beckons If You Live Alone with Your Cats and Talk to Your Toothbrush? Just how fragile are today’s kids? Schools have started hiring “friendship coaches” to discourage students from having best friends, because when they do, someone could feel left out. (Like…a Friendship Coach?) http://aol.it/avsWyx

And the Buns Give You Cancer: Dr. Gary Smith of the American Academy of Pediatrics urged that hotdogs be “re-designed” because, of the 20,000,000,000 hotdogs eaten annually, about 10 kids choke on them. That’s one death per 200 million franks. Smoothies! Get yer hotdog smoothies! http://aol.it/bcQr39

This Goes Double When Playing the “Flute” A new video from the musicians union in Britain instructs music teachers, “Don’t touch pupil’s fingers’ when giving lessons,” because anytime any adult touches a kid it’s practically molesting, right? What a great way to think of ALL child/adult interactions. http://bit.ly/i2By1x

And Once You Find a Grenade in a Cul de Sac You Take it Home and Have a Tea Party: After a forgotten stuffed animal was spotted on a quiet Orlando street, the nearby school went into lockdown. The bomb squad was summoned. The bomb guys blew up the stuffed animal, which turned out to be…a stuffed animal. But as one resident explained, “Once you see that it’s a stuffed animal, your mind starts racing with all kinds of…crazy stuff.” http://bit.ly/gnR2au

You ARE Allowed to Bring a Pencil: A school in suburban Colorado encouraged children to participate in the annual science fair — so long as their projects did not include organisms (living or dead), plants in soil, chemicals, microbial cultures, fungi, molds, bacteria, parasites, or flammable substances, all of which were banned. http://bit.ly/d6oGYc

You Are NOT Allowed to Bring a Pencil: A sixth grade teacher at North Brookfield (Massachusetts) Elementary School banned students from bringing pencils to class or “face disciplinary action for having materials to build weapons.” http://bit.ly/fG5dzn

And If We Find Him Making His Own Lunch, M’am, You’re Looking at Hard Time: Cops threatened a mom who let her 8-year-old son play outside: http://bit.ly/cSYfeB

Hi Snookums, How Was Your Day? (As If I Didn’t Know): Japanese inventors unveiled a GPS device children wear over their shirts that also takes photos and monitors their heart rate. That way, if their heart rate goes up, parents can take a photo of whatever is scaring their kids:  http://aol.it/9HOM6e

BUT IT WASN’T ALL BAD!

THE TOP 10 FREE-RANGE KIDS MOMENTS OF THE YEAR:

But She Could Have Been Abducted! A Northern California 3-year-old saved her collapsed daddy by walking to the fire station to get help: http://bit.ly/fjETFO

Why Can’t He Sit in the Back of an SUV and Sulk Like a Normal Kid? After initially saying no, a school board reluctantly reversed itself and allowed a boy to ride his bike to school: http://bit.ly/gDHKCv

The Nerve! Two Canadian fifth graders gathered 250 names on their petition to be allowed to play with balls during recess: http://bit.ly/eF0zCy

Now Even Lumberjacks are Okay: British Airways ended its “All men are perverts” policy of moving any male seated next to an unaccompanied minor. (Okay, after it was sued for sex discrimination.): http://bit.ly/d43n07

The Rosa Parks of Roses: Volunteer flower arranging ladies at Gloucester Catherdral in England (average age: 70) were told to undergo background checks to confirm they weren’t convicted child molesters. The chief volunteer refused, calling it insulting. Others followed her lead.  http://bit.ly/eXgoB3

When it’s Not Strep Throat, Viral Is Good: A fed-up Texas mom (who is also a cancer researcher) blazed onto the parenting scene with viral “Mom-Petitor” cartoons ridiculing parental perfection: http://bit.ly/fyXk8O

Annoy Me Again and I’ll Make You Renovate the Library: After a mom got chewed out by local police for letting her 10-year-old walk to soccer, she became an activist and got her small Mississippi town to put in new sidewalks and bike paths: http://bit.ly/ck9d2S

How Could Kenneth Branagh Ever Leave This Woman? Emma Thompson (a.k.a. Nanny McPhee) told the world that kids need to take risks and even get a little bruised to end up resilient and happy: http://bit.ly/gl6Kg4

Not the “Predator Picnic” The Media Promised It Would Be? Children made new friends and played without being dragged off and killed, during first annual “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There Day” — despite rampant fear-mongering in the press: http://bit.ly/9ATz3Y (And follow-up comments: http://bit.ly/9wYHGo)

Somehow We Missed This on Nancy Grace: A massive federal study found all child abuse down by a stunning 26% from 1993-2006, and child sex abuse down even more—38%!  http://bit.ly/elfmUA

MEDIA: To discuss any of these items or Free-Range Kids in general, please contact Lenore at: Lskenazy@yahoo.com.

Not All Tragedies are Preventable

Hi Readers! While we’re on the topic of crib recalls, as well as when parenting intervention is called for and all that, I just had to link to this phenomenal essay from The Economist: “Not All Tragedies are Preventable.” As it says in the opening paragraph:

LEGISLATION that bears the name of a victim of a particular crime or accident is often bad legislation. That’s because lawmakers, feeling the pressure of an emotionally-charged constituency, tend to overreact, instituting a broad and aggressive policy in response to a specific, perhaps rare problem. And so it is with the Cameron Gulbransen Kids Transportation Safety Act of 2008, which directs the secretary of transportation to take measures to protect children in and around parked vehicles. The act is named after a two-year old who was tragically run over by his father as he backed into his driveway in 2002. Over the weekend the Wall Street Journal reported on the latest outcome of this legislation: starting in September 2012 new cars will be required to expand their field of view in an effort to reduce blind spots on the sides and rear of vehicles. This will effectively require carmakers to install rear-mounted video cameras.

Later on, the article talks about whether it really makes sense to mandate a “safety” measure that is expensive and saves few lives, considering the trade-off costs:

If the cost of the regulation is borne by carmakers it will… reallocate resources at the government’s behest that might otherwise be used to increase driver safety, improve fuel efficiency, or pay for employees’ health benefits….. More importantly, if we’re thinking about the children, this $2-billion-a-year tax equivalent would do more good if it were directed at improving the nutrition of youngsters from poor families, paying for research into and treatment of common childhood diseases or expanding programmes like SCHIP.

It’s always easier to think of a single tragedy —  a “poster child” — than it is to wrap our minds around a bigger problem like autism, or failing schools, or a lack of public park space. And it also risks sounding heartless, since we can SEE the poster child and we can’t see “a lack of arts education.” But I agree with this Economist writer: Often enough, legislation that focuses on a rare and horrifying tragedy does not improve the world that much, and may take our attention and money away from bigger problems that just don’t stab us through the heart. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Mom Ticketed for Letting Boy Walk to School

Readers — I think I need a Valium. Read this. A mom is ticketed for letting her 5.5 year old son walk home from school. Even though she BEGGED the school to let him take the bus. Even though she went to city council meetings and BEGGED the town to put in crossing guards. Even though she makes her son wear an ORANGE VEST AND HELMET so as to be as visible as possible along the route she taught him — the SAFEST one possible. Even though she has a younger child at home AND an older child with cerebral palsy. Nah, none of that matters, She was charged with negligence.

She really sounds negligent, doesn’t she? — L.

Some (Non-Mainstream) Thoughts on the Crib Recall

Hi Readers — I’m going to be blunt: The ban on the sale, resale and manufacture of all drop-side cribs does not make sense. Here’s why:

Over the past nine years, 32 children have died in these cribs. That is tragic. My heart sinks thinking about it.  But — and yes, there IS a but, and this “but” does not make me a heartless bean counter, or a crazed Free-Ranger who laughs in the face of danger (I am, at base, a nervous mom) — we are talking about roughly 3 deaths a year in a country where about 4 million babies are born annually. That is, about one death per million.

That does not prove that the cribs are UNsafe. It proves that the cribs ARE pretty safe. Safer than stairs (1300 deaths/year), safer than eating (about 70 kids under age 10 choke to death on food each year), safer than just sitting there and the next thing you know, you’re bitten by a venomous spider (5 deaths/year).

I realize that these stats are jumbled — they are not the deaths of infants, whose main cause of death is birth defects (5623/year) — but my point is that 3 deaths a year from any cause for any large population is almost something that statisticians call “de minimus.” Not that these deaths don’t count. Of course they do! But when a cause of death is that rare, you can’t base your life on it, or you couldn’t do anything. Go outside? No, there are spiders! Go downstairs? No, you could trip! Eat a sandwich? No, you could choke! (And then would you sue Wonder Bread?)

As for cribs, one reason the drop-side models seem so “dangerous” is because they are so popular. When you have millions of people using anything, no matter how safe, the odds of an accident go up because the odds go up with the numbers. That’s why it’s more likely an American will die in a car accident than a bucking bronco accident. Doesn’t mean that cars are inherently less safe than bucking broncos. The odds also go up because with millions of people assembling these things, some are bound to do it wrong, which seems to have been the case in many of these tragedies.

I don’t want to get into a huge discussion of crib design, but the recall list includes some of the biggest baby-product manufacturers around, like Even Flo and Child Craft. I am sure they tested their cribs because no company deliberately puts dangerous products on the market, if only because they know they could be sued up the wazzoo. And children’s product manufacturers know that better than anyone. Think of all the products recalled for tiny infractions, like a protruding screw.

And yet my own senator, Kristin Gillibrand (D., NY) is quoted in yesterday’sDaily News saying, “These products are deadly, and this critically needed action will prevent further senseless deaths.”

Ah, but what will prevent further, senseless grandstanding? These products are not deadly. There’s a difference between a deadly product (cyanide) and a product that sometimes results in death (a grape). We keep obscuring that difference, and congratulating the folks who act as if it is only a lack of vigilance that allows anyone to die of anything other than old age.

This is the same impossible standard we then go on to apply to parents: The idea that if anything bad EVER happens to ANY child, it is because the parent was “defective.” And what is the result? Helicoptering! Truly, one reason parents today are so obsessive and fearful is that this is society’s norm: Worry about every possible, if extremely unlikely, thing that COULD go wrong and spend your days ACTIVELY trying to prevent them all.

The truth is: I love the idea of the government keeping us safe from dangerous products. It is the definition of “dangerous” that has gone awry. Next the Consumer Product Safety Commission may train its sights on balls because, in their inherent roundness, these sometimes roll into the street, and some kids running out to get them get hit by cars. Moreover, there are millons of balls in Americans’ homes, making balls a far bigger danger than, say, battery-operated guillotines. That is why, if I am ever elected Senator, I will not rest until we redesign the bouncy ball. A slightly boxier one would make our kids safer, would it not?

Elect me and I will make sure our nation has no more balls. – Lenore

Minimize risk? Yes. Eliminate all risk? Impossible.

Moral of Story: When 8-year-olds Are Silly, The School Goes Nuts

Hi Readers — Here’s a cautionary tale for parents whose kids sometimes do dumb things. But that can’t be many of us, right?

Dear Free-Range Kids: We are devout Free-Range parents and our 8-year-old son walks to and from school nearly every day alone.  We gave him a pre-paid cell phone so he can check in with us if need be.  Long story short, he had a playdate with a friend where they took silly 8-year-old pictures using the phone, one of them a picture of our son’s penis when he was on the potty.

A few days later our boy showed the picture to about six older boys on the playground after school.  At home he told us what happened and we immediately had a very serious conversation about these kinds of pictures and considered the case closed.

Ha.

The next day we got a call from the principal saying that our son had been expelled from school because she felt he was an “immediate and continuing danger.” She charged him with Lewd Conduct (a charge a good step above Sexual Harassment) and felt we should submit all of his physical/psychological records to the safety office at the school district. She also requested he undergo a mental evaluation before he would be allowed to return to school.

We appealed her actions, but the school district upheld her decision. We worked our way through the bureaucracy and finally found a higher-up to meet with our son, who immediately realized he’s just a regular kid. In the end he missed nearly two weeks of school.

Our son doesn’t understand pornography or even knows what sex is.  There was no consideration given to the normal, natural fascinations of an 8-year-old boy.  His principal didn’t call us or talk to any of his teachers before taking action.  She was great in covering her back, but wasn’t able to distinguish an 8-year-old boy from a sex offender.

Just one week later, we witnessed another bit of school insanity, this one having nothing to do with the photo. It was this: our son’s Chess Club teacher escorted him to my car because he was afraid he would be “liable” if our son was kidnapped.  This, even though every day at recess the kids have to travel much farther to get to the playground than they do to get to the drop-off zone in front of the school! It’s right there!

My husband is from Germany and we spent 1+ years travelling in Mexico and Central America.  Free-Range is a given in these countries and we’ve happily let our kids take part.  They ask us why so many people don’t let their kids do anything on their own here, and the only answer we can give them is, “Because it’s America.”

Isn’t there a better answer? What is happening to our country? — A&M

Sesame Street: Danger on Steroids!

Oh Readers — Remember when this was not a subversive, watch out, don’t EVER let this happen to your children video? When kids could ride around, get lost, ask for help, talk to strangers and have adventures without anyone accusing the parents (or PBS) of being negligent, crazy, or worse? 

Free Childhood with Purchase

Hi Readers — Here’s a note that made me happy, and, as it is gifting time, I figured it might inspire a few more Free-range Kids books (just $10.17!) under a tree:

Dear Free-Range Kids: For or against? Definitely for! I just finished the book and wish I’d known about it sooner.  Then maybe I wouldn’t have second-guessed myself so much.  Such as when I let my seven year old walk home by himself from the school bus (even though my neighbors warn me repeatedly about the dangers of child snatchers who could be lurking around in our rural, small town neighborhood).  Or when I let my kids eat raw cookie dough and cake batter (even though my sister told me I was putting their lives at risk).  I also suspect there have been a few times when friends have decided not to let their kids play at my house because I don’t stay outside with them in the yard the whole time.

But I have held my ground and am occasionally rewarded with evidence that my children (ages seven and four) are doing just fine with the freedom they have.  The other day I watched out the window as my son ran home from the school bus.  He ran as if he were being chased by a swarm of hornets and darted off the road into the tall grass in our neighbor’s yard.  When I asked him what was wrong he said, “Oh nothing.  I was just pretending that I was Indiana Jones trying to escape a huge boulder that was about the squish me.”  Music to my ears!

I love this movement.  I only pray it takes off while my children are still young.  Maybe then they’ll have some friends to run home from the bus stop with. — Kate

Let's hear it for freedom and fun!

You Know You’re Making an Impact When…

Hi Readers! You know you’re making an impact when marketers start to try to make a buck off you, as did this one. A friend who runs a parenting magazine got this public relations pitch:

Dear _______:

There has been a lot of discussion about “free range parenting” — letting your kids wander to the park or take the subway alone to build independence. I’m wondering if you’re be interested in writing an article about how cell phone GPS locator services make it easier for parents to let go.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 75% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 own a cell phone — and some 48% of parents use a cell phone to monitor their kid’s whereabouts.

On Tuesday, our company [I took out its name. I’m not giving them free publicity here!] will announce its latest cell phone Safety Plan for kids. In addition to other features, the plan offers unlimited online GPS locator services for parents. Would you be interested in speaking with a mom who relies on our company’s unlimited GPS locator services to make sure her 6th grade daughter is safe throughout the day? This parent perfectly illustrates the challenges faced by busy modern families. In an era where sending even 6th graders to the park without an adult can feel risky, GPS locator services are giving kids greater freedom and parents much-needed peace of mind.

Please let me know if you are interested in talking to our CEO and this parent. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi — Lenore here again. Grrrr! Only with kiddie GPS does a parent have ANY peace of mind? Otherwise, the mom is constantly worried that her 6th grader is in harm’s way? Otherwise, letting her 6th grader play in the park is too dangerous? And how does a GPS prevent anything “terrible” from happening, anyway, you fearmongerers out to make a buck?

I understand how Free-Rangers can embrace cell phones some times. My kids have them now and it’s helpful to connect, from time to time. But I am not tracking them throughout the day and I sure don’t think I need to that, for me to be a “good” parent or for them to be “safe.”

So no free publicity here, guys! Go stalk parents someplace else! — L.

Stand Up & Cheer for the Flower Ladies!

Hi Readers! This is a story that’ll give you heart! Over in England, in Gloucester, there’s a cathedral. In this cathedral, a group of about 60 ladies volunteer as flower arrangers. They make the place beautiful. But, apparently, just by being HUMAN, they also make the place DANGEROUS. According to The Telegraph:

At issue seems to have been a bizarre fear that because the women shared a toilet with choirboys, there was a risk that paedophiles could infiltrate the flower guild. A vetting system that was set up to protect children and vulnerable adults thus appears to have mown down a cohort of mostly retired women, average age 70, who represent the backbone of Britain’s voluntary movement.

Yes, the fear is that someone among them might molest the boys with whom they share a bathroom! (Or with whom they WOULD share a bathroom, except the ladies are there during the hours when the choirboys are usually in school.) But anyway — to safeguard the boys, the ladies were told to undergo a background check, to make sure they weren’t convicted pedophiles.  This check was not legally required (see this follow-up story), but the church demanded it anyway. And the chairwoman of the guild, Annabel Hayter, refused.

RIGHT ON.

After she went public with her refusal, she was forced to resign.

FOR SHAME.

As she told The Telegraph, “It is offensive. The people who forced me to resign have had dinner at my house. They know me well. They are showing an incredible lack of trust and common sense… It is terribly sad but it’s also quite pathetic.”

It’s worse than pathetic. This deep distrust of any and all human beings is tearing at the fabric of society. For real. When we regard every adult as a potential child molester, we can’t trust anyone. We have to watch our children every second. And, by the way, whom DO we trust? The folks with papers?

After Annabel Hayter resigned, other flower ladies followed suit.  Now the country is taking note. According to The Telegraph, “The row has highlighted growing concern about the ‘overzealous’ use of Criminal Records Bureau checks, which critics say are deterring and demoralising volunteers across the country.”

I’m sure they are. It’s pretty demoralizing to say, “I’ve come to arrange the peonies,” and hear, “Not so fast, you possible perv!”

And so Annabel, I salute you. This could be the start of something big. Something that we all long for, but are increasingly told is unattainable, even dangerous. It’s called community — a group of people held together by trust and responsibility. A group of people not naive, but not hysterical either, working together, all different ages, to raise a new generation. Same as you’d raise a garden of flowers. — Lenore

Christmas Movies “Too Scary” For Kids?

Readers — Either I am not getting the joke, or this is a REAL article about why parents should REALLY worry about letting their kids watch “scary” movies like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and (I kid you not — unless she’s kidding us ALL), “Miracle on 34th Street.”

Anybody? It it a joke or not? And if it IS a joke, where’s the punchline? And if it’s NOT a joke, where’s the Abombinable Snowman when you need him? — L.