Letter: I’m Overprotective…But Going Free-Range

Hi Readers! This is a heartening, even inspiring letter! Read on! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I love my kids and I am overprotective, still, but I agree with giving your kids lots of freedom.  I was able to go play with my friends whenever I wanted as long as I can remember.  In kindergarten all I had to do was let my grandparents (who were watching me) know where I was going to be and I left.  Of course, grandma sometimes said “no,” but mostly in my own world of alotted back yards, I could do as I pleased.

I am so scared of my kids dying, that it is not even funny or merited.  My 6-year-old consistently surprises me in how capable he actually is.  He deserves my trust and I deserve to chill out.  I’ve found that my overprotectiveness hasn’t prevented 22 stitches in the span of less than a year and I find myself yelling and spanking my kids for the sake of safety.  In an effort to protect,  I’ve found myself abusive.

Little by little, I’ve been letting go with no bad consequences.  My 3- and 6-year-old play in the unfenced backyard unscathed.  My 6-year-old happily rides his bike around the park as I push my 3-year-old and baby on the swings.  I’m not even close to letting him ride the subway, but the kids are so much happier and actually better behaved with their new-found freedom.  I only have to whistle and they come running in.

The more parents that do this, the safer our neighborhoods will be, as we will all be looking out for one another. — A Happier Mom

Ah, kids playing. We can let them do this!

Outrage of the Week: Older Siblings Banned from Middle School Pick-Up

Hi Readers! Oh great — more unmitigated fear, and unintended consequences. L.


Dear Free-Range Kids: I recently received an email from my daughter’s middle school that included this gem:
High school students are not allowed on C. Middle School property. They are trespassing and will be charged by the police. Please do not send your high school student on CMS property to “pick up” a younger brother or sister. They will be charged with trespassing.
I am frankly horrified.  This school is both a magnet school (drawing students from the entire county) and a receiving school for students who have transferred from schools that have been labeled as “failing.”  Many students travel long distances without access to buses.  Many parents must rely on older siblings to help with transportation.  The same principal who has threatened to have the high school students arrested ends nearly every email with the phrase, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  I don’t know what village she lives in, but my village includes a lot of helpful high school students who get their younger siblings to and from school. — Frustrated Mom

Rear-Facing Car Seats and Safety — Updated!

Hi Readers: There is so much to ponder in this amazing column from the Herald-Mail in Maryland titled, “When It Comes to Protecting Kids, We Have It All Backward.” Yes, it was inspired by the new American Academy of Pediatrics’ recent dictum that children should be kept in rear-facing car seats until age 2. Personally, I don’t get how that even works. Do we cut off their legs? (This would also prevent them from running in the street. Win/win!)

But the columnist, Tim Rowland, takes the idea a step farther with these thoughts:

Today, being a child is like being a hostage; the first two years of your life are spent blindfolded and tied to a chair. Great. Along with being safer, it also prepares the tyke for future airline travel.

But we wonder why the real world seems too much of a challenge to the young people of today. Is it really that hard to figure? “What do you mean I have to get a job on my own? Aren’t you going to wrap me in straps and blankets and transport me to a hardened-plastic workplace?”

You know, on reflection, maybe a car seat isn’t safe enough, either. Maybe we should just leave them in the hospital until they’re ready to start first grade.

As you can tell, I have conflicting feelings about safety. You can’t have too much of it — except that you can. You can protect against every contingency — except that you can’t.

That last paragraph sums up my own feelings about safety pretty exactly. As you know, I LOVE safety and hate courting danger for danger’s sake. But there is such a thing as TOO safe. There’s the safety that protects kids in only the most extreme and unlikely circumstances, but manages to restrict their daily lives just about completely. And there’s the safety we are encouraged to pursue that is almost superstitious. And there is the notion out there that if we just pass enough laws and buy enough gadgets and curtail enough activities and hover close enough to our kids, nothing bad will EVER happen. Which conveniently neglects the truth about fate, AND encourages the blaming of parents when ANYTHING goes wrong.

Long story short: I liked this guy’s column.  — L

UPDATE: Okay! After looking at the slo-mo videos of rear-facing car crash dummies — yikes! — I believe I would abide by the new guidelines if my kids were younger. In fact, my mom employed some kind of prot0 carseat when I was two, and this saved me when we tumbled off the highway.  Seatbelts saved her and my cousin. So I have always advocated for car seats (see statement on the left of my page that has been there since the beginning of this blog!). The reason I liked the column I quote here is that it uses this new edict as a jumping off point for asking if there is ever a point at which “very, very safe” is safe enough. Perhaps there isn’t, at least not when ensuring the extra safety involves something as simple as a new car seat position.  But it’s a question I ask a lot. Should we require videocameras on all rear bumpers? Should we redesign the hotdog? Should we get rid of trampolines? Does it ever make sense not to embrace new safety notions?

I don’t have the answer to all these questions but I do love trying to figure out what makes sense,  and what doesn’t. So while kids are already very safe in car seats — something to remember! —  you have convinced me that the rear-facing seat protects kids without changing childhood.  Let’s figure out everything else! — L

High-Functioning and Free-Range

Hi Readers: Here’s a nice reminder that Free-Rangers come in all shapes, sizes, ages and descriptions. — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a 14-year-old daughter with high functioning autism. This weekend, she had a little get-together at a arcade-type facility for her birthday. It is pretty large but very safe: games, rides, laser tag, etc. She was waiting in line with her 25-year-old friend with Down Syndrome for a carousel ride.

I work very hard to make my daughter as independent as possible. My mother (her grandmother)  was with us at the party, but she needed to leave. I had to retrieve something from her car. “What about the girls???” she gasped.  I said they’d be fine for five minutes. She flipped out. “No! We can’t leave them alone!”

I found this very frustrating and said so. Argued that there were NOT child molesters roaming the facility and that they would be fine for five minutes. (Neither of them wander and both were eager for the carousel ride). “You don’t know that! Child molesters love places where children gather,” said my mom.

Maybe. Perhaps. But secure in the fact that they would not get far in less than five minutes, I took my mother by the elbow, led her downstairs, retrieved the item, and calmly went BACK upstairs.

Surprise! The girls were on the carousel, waving to me, and happy as could be.

I will continue to foster my daughter’s independence.  — Jamie Wheeler

Danger! Danger! Juveniles Wandering!

Hi Readers — One of you sent this in. We are living in scary times,indeed!

From our local police blotter:

  • Petty theft from unlocked vehicle on Coventry Road.
  • A resident reported juveniles wandering the street on Ocean View Avenue.
  • In a lucky find, the owner of a stolen vehicle from Coventry Road found it in Emeryville, and drove it home to Kensington.


Losing Track of My Kid — And Staying Calm

Hi Readers! You’ll like this! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to thank you. On Saturday I misplaced my 6-year-old son for half an hour, long enough that we had the museum staff and state park ranger looking with us–long enough for most people to completely panic themselves and everyone around them. But I reminded myself that he loves being independent and was likely not freaked out, and most importantly, I remembered the point you make over and over: People are kind and caring. I don’t know a single person who wouldn’t help a misplaced child, including people I know who’ve gone to jail. That thought was a mantra for me to keep calm, so that when we did locate him (after walking to the nearby park that was not the park we were planning to go to he went back to the car, figuring we’d show up there eventually) I wasn’t out of my mind. If I’d started freaking out, I would have made him think the world is a scary place when really, nothing bad had happened. Thank you! — A Calm Mom

“Do the Right Thing.” Yeah — But What Is It?

Hi Readers! Here’s a brilliant note from a gal named Ann:

Dear Free-Range Kids. Here’s a Liberty Mutual ad with the tag line “Do the right thing.” The situation is a mom picking up her two kids from soccer. They’re late and need to get to the airport. But another kid is still sitting on the bench waiting for his dad. It’s almost dusk and the kid is probably 10-12. Should the mom leave him ALONE at the field? Or should she forgo getting to the airport to make sure that the kid isn’t unattended. Guess what the “right thing” is!

Right — because calling the dad to make sure he’s on his way would be too sensible. So would leaving the kid there for a few minutes, because that’s what the ring of predators around the field is waiting for you to do. Basically, you should totally capsize your day and leave someone at the airport waiting (or let ’em miss their plane) because otherwise you are a bad person. — Ann

Children’s Sidewalk Chalk Drawing Outlawed

Hi Readers! Get a load of this — little kids in Australia have been found guilty of violating graffiti laws with their chalk drawings on a sidewalk outside a cafe. This might not be such a Free-Range issue except for this:

Mayor Ben Stennett visited the cafe yesterday as anger mounted. Almost 200 people have signed a petition to support the drawings, which [cafe owner] Ms White is happy to erase each day.

“The mayor said they would like to issue us a permit but can’t because it raises health and safety issues, in case somebody fell over a child on the footpath or into the street,” she said.

Can we PLEASE stop catastrophizing this way in every situation? If the kids are an accident waiting to happen while they draw on the sidewalk, aren’t they an accident waiting to happen while they just stand on the sidewalk, too? After all, someone could bump into them! A car could jump the curb! A dog could chase them into the street! And inside the cafe, a patron could spill boiling tea on them. Every situation can be dangerous if you think about it hard enough. Why use THAT as an excuse to curtail childhood? — L.

Guest Post: A Photo a Day Keeps the Boogeyman Away?

Hi Readers: I seethed along with this one. — L.


She was all of five feet tall with a charming smile and her weapon of choice was a digital camera. So how did this mother of two ruin my afternoon?

It happened in the magnificent state of Vermont. I was relishing the crisp fresh air of the Green Mountain State when my enjoyment was abruptly shattered. No, this woman did not insult me, nor did she hit me over the head. Here’s the story:

Ms. Camera and I were waiting at the base of an Alpine slide for our children to come down the two-mile slide in their Alpine sleds. Vermont is skiing country, however, in the summertime the ski trails are turned into giant sliding ponds.

Since I’d already accompanied my children about a dozen times, I decided to wait out this round at the base of the mountain. Apparently Ms. Camera had the same idea, and we began chatting as we watched for our children to slide back towards us.

The first five minutes of our conversation went well, and we shared ideas regarding tourist activities in the area. Then Jennifer (as I learned her name to be) turned on her camera and showed me a photo of her 9-year-old daughter.

“She’s beautiful!” I exclaimed.

“Thanks.” She pressed a button for the next picture; her 11-year-old boy. “I take a picture of each of my children every single morning, so in case they get lost I can show a recent photo to the police with the kids dressed in their current clothing.” She must have noticed my eyes change expression and erroneously interpreted it as my avid curiosity about her idea because she started gushing.

“It’s part of our morning ritual,” she continued. “We eat breakfast and then snap a photo, and I keep the camera with me constantly. You never know what might happen, and it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Something wasn’t right here. I was a little confused and thought a moment about my kids’ routine. They walk from home to the bus. They are supervised all day long at school and come straight home where I am waiting. How many opportunities must this woman’s kids have to get lost  that would require a photo every single morning? After a pause I asked, “Do your kids go off on their own a lot? To me, it sounds like a lot of work for the off chance they might get lost.”

“Well, no,” she answered. “It’s not too much work. It just takes a second. I guess it’s not so much getting lost I worry about. It’s all the terrible stuff besides getting lost that can happen!” Maybe Jennifer thought she was being funny with that comment, but as she expounded on several more precautions she takes because she’d rather “be safe than sorry,” my mind was too busy raging to hear her.

I was livid. This mother forces her children to pose for a photo every morning so that she’ll have a current picture for the police, not in case they’re lost, but in case they’re abducted! She kept repeating her mantra, “It’s better to be safe than sorry.” Is it really?

Is it possible that other things are better?

Perhaps it is better to feel optimistic about your day as the sun rises, rather than believing potential kidnappers lurk at every corner?

Maybe it’s better to start the day on a calm note, as opposed to battling potential bogeymen?

Jennifer is entitled to worry and waste a vast amount of digital memory cards on her ridiculous project. However, I refuse to subject myself to that negative pattern of worrying: Life is way too short to waste on thoughts of the imaginary bad guys lurking down the block! — Ellen Braun

Ellen C. Braun is the founder of RaisingSmallSouls.com, a global parenting resource. She believes that safety is a good thing — however, too much of a good thing is never good. Her latest project consists of reviewing safety seats such as the Britax Marathon and Britax Boulevard.

What’s Wrong with This “Let’s Move!” Ad?

Hi Readers — What’s wrong with this commercial for the campaign, “Let’s Move” ?

Well, first of all, it assumes it is OUR JOB, as parents, to keep coming up with one-minute exercises that will some how magically take the place of an entire CHILDHOOD spent running around. Secondly, it doesn’t even remotely suggest that maybe kids can entertain themselves or be active of their own accord. Thirdly, all this “moving” lasts about a minute. So if you want your kids to move for even half a measly hour a day, you have to come up with 29 more clever little exercises to sneak into their schedule.

If we really want kids to get moving, we have to get them outside again. Playing. With each other, not us. Is that too radical an idea for “Let’s Move” to put forth? — L