As Recently as 1979, A First Grader Could…

Hi Folks! Just saw this wonderful child development reprint,  courtesy of writer Christine Whitley on a blog called ChicagoNow. She reprinted it from a series of books published in 1979, just one generation or so ago, called, “Your ___-Year-Old.” Each book provided a little checklist of  the milestones the average blank-year-old would have reached.

So, for a six-year-old, in addition to having a couple of permanent teeth and knowing left from right, the book asks:

Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?

What a reality check! Can we all pause to remember that the very thing that terrifies so many parents today — a simple walk around the neighborhood — was not something reserved for kids age 10 or 12 or 15 just a generation ago? It was something that first graders did. And presumably those first graders got some practice as kindergarteners!

So when parents gasp at the idea of their kids crossing the street, walking to school, or playing at the playground unsupervised (!), kindly remind them that this is not a mission to Mars we’re talking about, it is a mission the average 6-year-old could handle with aplomb back in 1979.

You might even add that this was back when the crime rate was higher then than it is today. Or just shut up about the crime rate and let it sink in that they are treating their whatever-year-old as less competent than a first grader. — Lenore

What’s The Difference Between a Sack Lunch & a Recently Beating Heart?

Hi Readers — Nothing, as you know, is safe enough for children. Not notebook paper (as we saw a few posts below). Not toddling (as evidenced by the existence of the ThudGuard). And not old-fashioned spoons (which explains the kiddie spoons that change color when food is “too hot.”)   And now, it turns out, not even a home-packed sack lunch is safe enough. Or at least, that’s how this story was reported:

9 Out of 10 Preschoolers’ Lunches Reach Unsafe temperatures

According to this MSNBC account, “Unsafe,  as the researchers defined it, was anything that sat for more than two hours between 39 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit.”

So basically it sounds like “unsafe” = any food that sat for more than two hours in room temperature almost anywhere on earth (and possibly Mars). Despite the fact that most of us adults went to school carrying sandwiches  we kept in our clammy lockers from arrival till lunch time — and are alive today — this became a huge news story, carried by TV and newspapers thrilled to have a new thing to warn parents about, a new everyday danger they must protect their children from.

….Even though, as it turns out,  the lukewarm lunches don’t mean that kids are actually getting sick. That was one of the fine points much further down in the stories, after the dire IS YOUR CHILD’S LUNCH UNSAFE?-type headlines.

So — what is the point? We should start worrying about sack lunches that have never been shown to hurt children just because a rather strange study of a non-problem found that there COULD be a problem if only there was one?

And yet, the press could not stop itself: “Should Parents Bag the Brown Bag?” asked the once-unflappable Boston Globe, as if one study proving something that every parent pas personally witnessed as non-threatening should now throw us all for a loop. It’s like that old joke, “Who are you going to believe? Me or your own lying eyes?”

Yes, I suppose it is better NOT to serve lukewarm yogurt and listless lettuce. But when, as the researchers determined, “just 1.6 percent of the perishable yogurts, cheese slices, carrot sticks, bologna and other items were at the proper temperature when pre-schoolers were ready to eat them,” it appears that 98% of everything kids eat from home is a dire threat, even if their parents packed their lunches with an ice pack. Yes! Forty percent of the 700 lunches surveyed contained a lovingly packed (and apparently useless) ice thingy.

Not to go to the old, “We ate curdled pudding and we LIKED it!” saw, but now parents are being asked to transport their kids’ lunches thusly, according to boston.com:

The researchers recommend brown bagging it and transporting the bag to the day care center in a small cooler filled with ice packs. Parents should then take the brown bag out of the cooler and put it directly into the center’s refrigerator — hopefully there is one and it’s set at the right temperature.

Excuse me — isn’t that the procedure formerly reserved for ORGAN TRANSPLANTS?

And, by the way, doesn’t this advice pre-suppose no kids are walking to school with their parents? Because who is going to lug along a cooler stuffed with ice packs?

My friends: This is how society changes. Not with a cataclysmic coup, but with thousands of little “tips” that trade one kind of lifestyle (walking to school, dropping a kid off ) with another (driving to school, coming inside, overseeing the lunch transfer).

And we wonder why parents feel so overwhelmed with everything they “have” to do and all the expectations for their constant involvement. When even a sack lunch is now a deathly danger, parents must be ever-present and ever on guard.

On the upside, if they ever DO have to transfer a heart or a liver, I guess they’ll have had plenty or practice.  — Lenore

Kids in grave danger from...their lunches?

Passing the Popsicle Test

Hi Readers — How I love this post by Scot Doyon, “Smart Growth = Smart Parenting,” on a blog called PlaceShakers, which bills itself as “people, news and views shaping community.”

As you know, I think community is pretty much the answer to all our ills. The more we trust and depend on each other, the more confident we feel Free-Ranging our kids, the more fun we have in our lives, the more our streets teem with  life and the less lonely we become.

Add to this the dawning realization on the part of city planners that when a neighborhood works for kids, it works for everyone else, too and you get why it is so important to try to build cities and towns that pass the “Popsicle Test.”

Popsicle Test? It’s simply, brilliantly this: A neighborhood “works” if it is possible for an 8-year-old kid to get a Popsicle on his or her own and return before it has completely melted.

That means the streets must be safe enough to cross and the housing close enough to retail. The kids must feel fine about walking outside, ditto their parents (and the police! and busybodies!).  Once all that is in place, not only can children get around on their own, so can everyone else, including old folks.

Note, as does Kaid Benfeld in The Atlantic’s blog regarding the icy treat test:

…there’s no planning jargon in there: nothing explicitly about mixed uses, or connected streets, or sidewalks, or traffic calming, or enough density to put eyes on the street. But, if you think about it, it’s all there.

I’m also fond of the “Halloween test”: If it’s a good neighborhood for trick-or-treating, then it’s likely to be compact and walkable. My brother-in-law, who lives in a place that is anything but, drives his kids to the nearest traditional town center on Halloween. Quite a few parents seem to do the same thing by driving to my neighborhood.

As we have pointed out before: The presence of kids outside indicates a good place to live. And the presence of Popsicles? Even better. Which reminds me…it is snack time right now. — L

I KNOW this isn't a Popsicle emporium. But it looked too good to pass up! (Like a Popsicle itself.)

Now Our Kids are Too Delicate to Handle the Glare of Notebook Paper?

Readers — I just got some “helpful” back-to-school tips from a famous sunscreen company. (Hint: Think dog and little girl and bathingsuit.) Not only does that company really want kids to wear — this’ll surprise you — sunscreen when they go out for recess, but it had some other suggestions. Well, two, actually, one of which was for kids to wear a comfortable (as opposed to uncomfortable) backpack. Never woulda thought of that! The one single other “tip”?

Students spend so much time staring at paper, it may surprise you to know that the higher the contrast, the more strain on your son or daughter’s eyes. If the school allows it, give your child yellow or green paper. These colors actually offer reduced contrast and brightness, easing the strain on their eyes.

So basically, the sunscreen company is suggesting that, ever since Guttenberg, our kids have been going blind, or at least under difficult visual duress, thanks to that darn white paper.

As for the sunscreen company: I understand that you have to gussy up your “tip list” with other ideas, so it didn’t look like all you care about is selling more sunscreen. But it sure looks like all you care about is selling more sunscreen (and coming up with ridiculous new worries, so the idea of kids slathering themselves in sunscreen for 15 minutes of recess seems less extreme.) — L

Jaycee Dugard’s Take on Overprotective Parents

Hi Folks! I am inspired by what a reader named Allison sent me on Facebook. You may be, too. — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m reading Jaycee Dugard’s book “A Stolen Life.” and in it, she says:

It still scares me, the fact that I can’t protect my daughters from everything. What mother wouldn’t want to protect their child from the dangers of the world? But I have to choose to believe they will both be okay and realize that sometimes when we shelter our children too much, we are really protecting ourselves.

I don’t think anyone would ever question Jaycee for being overprotective of her children, given what she went through for 18 years, so this paragraph just really states so eloquently what many of us feel every day. — Allison

I am also struck by the fact that she frames it as a choice: She could appease her own fear by seriously constricting her daughters’ childhood, or she can live with that uneasy feeling  for the sake of letting those girls enjoy what she never got to. Kudos to a brave and generous mom.  — L.

Don’t You Step on This Blue Swede (or her shoes)

Hi Readers — Forgive the belabored headline. Here’s a story one of you alerted us all to in the post below this one:  A Swedish woman left her baby outside a Massachusetts restaurant for 10 minutes while she ordered inside. Someone saw the boy, called the cops and the cops called Department of Child and Family Services to file a report of “potential abuse or neglect.”

Now, I know that leaving your kids outside is common in Scandanavia and uncommon in the States. But as Pentamom put it in a comment:

If I were empress of the universe, when someone came across a well-cared for looking baby left in a stroller outside a decent-looking establishment in broad daylight, and reported it, the cops would say, “Ha! Another European! I’ll find the parents and speak to them about it” and that would be the end of it. Only if the conversation with the parents gave the cops something to worry about, would it go beyond that.

Not only do I wish Pentamom (or me) WAS the empress of the universe, I wish that she (or I!!) could change this country into one where we DO trust our babies to be fine for a few minutes outside, because we all look out for one another, rather than all distrusting one another.

On another, but related, note, I am up in Canada filming my TV show (that still is looking for a few more overprotective families to participate), and what do I see FIRST THING as I sit down to eat my breakfast in the diningroom where the TV is, of course, blaring? “Body of 3 year old found in Missouri.”

That’s right. The local Toronto news is reporting a dead child found in another country.Because beyond traffic and weather, that is what sells. And that is why it seems crazy to leave a child unattended anywhere, ever. When all you hear about, day in and day out, is children meeting gruesome ends, that is what you come to expect:   Sadness, shock, psychos (and sometimes Swedes). — L.

No one at my side? I must be officially abused and neglected!

Guest Post: What’s Wrong with This Lemonade Stand?

Hi Folks! Here’s a big chunk of a wonderful essay by my friend and fellow journalist Christopher Moore, published in the New York weekly, Our Town. I guess when life hands you lemonade…write a column:

Lemonade Stand-ing Watch by Christopher Moore

At least in my Manhattan ’hood, there are a crazy number of kids out on the sidewalks hawking cold—or at least cold-ish—beverages. The only problem: their parents are out there with them.

The overprotective parent strikes again. And these adults can dramatically change the you’re-on-your-own tradition for kids with summertime stands.

Yes, this is a case of a person without kids criticizing parents, but I’ll go ahead and do it anyway. These kids will be running my nursing home, and I want them to be capable and able to think for themselves. Anyway, if our neighbors can proudly go public with their overparenting, the rest of us surely have a right to notice.

I wasn’t having all these big thoughts the day my partner and I stopped on West End Avenue at a lemonade stand. I liked it. The two girls—my guess is they were around 9 or 10—sold us a couple of plastic cups filled with what tasted a lot more like Crystal Light than homemade lemonade. The girls took the money and delivered the beverages with a pleasant demeanor. All in all, it would have to be considered a better-than-average commercial transaction in present-day New York.

Later, lemonade stands started popping up everywhere. They felt delightfully small-town without anyone having to give up access to Lincoln Center. Seeing youngsters take to the city streets with such enthusiasm can make a tangible, positive difference in how many of us relate to our neighborhoods. With the children, though, can come some pretty conspicuous parents. Like the mom yakking on her cell phone, creating enough of a scene that the children with her seemed like accessories. Mom was there but, thanks to the cell phone, she was also not there. Our modern problem.

A few days later, there was the dad…

Read the rest right here! And follow Chris on Twitter thusly: @cmoorenyc. And, heck, contact him yourself at  ccmnj@aol.com.