The Sex Offender Down the Street (Is My Son)

Hi Readers — This is a candid letter from the mom of a sex offender who is on the registry for life. Read it and see if our sex offender laws are doing the job they were intended to do: keep our kids safe from predators. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: My son was recently subjected to a death threat when a neighbor discovered that he was listed on the sex offender registry. What heinous crime had my son committed that our neighbor deemed worthy of death? “Falling in love.”

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He was 17, she told him she was 16. At the time he had no reason to doubt her. A short time later he learned a harsh life lesson. They never got beyond kissing or hand holding, but she wrote in her diary that they had made love. When her mother read the entry in her 14-year-old daughter’s diary she quite justifiably became angry. Without talking with either one of them, she called the police and had my son arrested. He spent 45 days in jail awaiting trial.

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Had the mother taken her daughter to the doctor, she would have found out that her daughter was simply voicing a private fantasy. The girl begged her mother to stop the proceedings, but the wheels of “justice” were already in motion.

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The girl was so distraught about the situation that she constantly sought to contact my son to apologize and beg him not to hate her. She finally convinced her older sister to help her get in touch with him. One day shortly after sentencing and being put on a strict 3-year probation mandating no contact with his “victim,” my son was walking home from the store a block from our house. A car pulled up behind him and he heard a familiar voice beg, “Please stop and talk to me for a minute, we won’t tell anyone, please!”

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His only reaction was to break into a full run. He burst through the front door of our home and collapsed into a pale, quivering heap of fear in the middle of the floor.  He managed to shakily mumble enough for me to realize what had just happened.  I immediately took him to the police station and had them document exactly what had happened. Only with their assurance that he had done the right thing and that everything would be OK, could he finally calm down enough to breathe.
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My son was quite shy around girls to begin with and she was his first love. As things stand right now, he may very well never have another. He never finished high school due to his probation rules, and will be required to register twice a year for the rest of his life. He has lost every job he has been able to find, due to his listing on the registry.  He can never join the military, or even follow his lifelong dream of a career in music, even though he is a talented singer/songwriter and drummer.
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Why not? The laws work this way: His sentence was 3 years’ probation and 25 years on the registry in his state of conviction, Michigan. He couldn’t keep a job in Michigan, he kept losing them because of the registry, resulting in homelessness. Homelessness and joblessness are parole violations, so he was sent to jail for six months. After two more trips to jail for failure to register — resulting in three more months in jail —  he came here to South Carolina to live with us.  As long as he can keep a roof over his head and registers when required, he will be safe. A third failure to register could send him  to prison for a mandatory 5 year sentence. Unfortunately, in our state, sex offender registration is lifetime for everyone.

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He cannot pursue his musical career because it costs money (which neither he nor we have), for his instruments and upkeep, advertising, etc. Plus, if you are on the registry you have to  go in and report everywhere you are employed. Which means if he had a gig in, say, Seattle, he would have to report the address of his performance, the length of time he will be there, where he would be staying for the duration, etc. This is required for each and every change, notwithstanding the fact that anytime he leaves his home address for more than 3 days, it has to be approved with both the sheriff’s department here and the sheriff’s department at his destination, and either of them are at liberty to deny his request at any time.
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I also wanted to mention, that although he does not have a driver’s license, he is required to register OUR car on his registry listing, which makes public, the make, model, color and plates of our car. This may seem trivial to some, but to a vigilante our car becomes a target, regardless of who is driving it.
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The whole thing makes for a very complicated and many times hopeless existence. — Lila Folster

Beware of young love.

Help Needed: A Friendly Kid, a Scolding Neighbor

Hi Readers! Can you help this mom? L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been reading your blog and readers’ comments for better than a year now.  Never really thought I’d have an experience similar to the ones I read about on your blog, but yesterday it happened.  My children are nearly-5 (boy) and 3.5 (girl).  We live in a very safe neighborhood in the Midwest, with wide sidewalks.  Thankfully, I can report that I frequently see many of children playing in their yards or at our local park (without helicoptering parents), and riding their bikes to our neighborhood school.  There is definitely a Free-Range mentalilty among many of my neighbors.

Yesterday I was outside with my children, cleaning out the garage while they were playing out front.  My daughter was riding her scooter up and down the sidewalk.  She knows she can take it as far as the neighbors’ homes that are two away from us on each side.  She never goes farther than she should, and at any given time, she’s no more than 50 feet from our front yard.  My son was playing with his trains on the driveway.  Periodically, I’d walk out of the garage (doors were open) to check on them. During one of these checks, I saw her at the neighbors’ driveway where she is allowed to stop and turn around.  There was a minivan parked on the street and a lady getting into it.  My daughter is a very friendly, chatty soul.  If she sees someone near her, she’s going to say hello and chatter about whatever strikes her fancy.  I also, however, have no doubt that if someone she didn’t know tried to get her to go with them, she’d scream and kick and struggle LOUDLY.  I have no desire to quash her naturally friendly and open spirit.

The lady she was talking to was giving her a strange look.  I assumed my daughter was annoying her and called my girl to come back.  She did.  The lady then got in her van and pulled it up to my driveway.  She got out and waved me down.  When I approached, she said to me, “You know, your daughter doesn’t know me at all, and she just started talking to me.”  I replied, “Yes, she does that.  She likes to talk to people.”  She responded, “Well, you know, I run a home day care, and you really need to talk to her about speaking with strangers.  There is a really good video that John Walsh put out about teaching kids who it is ok to talk to — you really should get it and have your children watch it.  Because, you know, anything can happen, and they need to know not to talk to people they don’t know.  I could have been anyone.” Um, okay.  I was totally taken aback.  I thanked her and headed back up to the garage with my daughter.

After the lady left, I thought about it and realized I was offended.  While I know she thought she was only doing something nice — and, therefore, it wasn’t worth starting a fight over — it really was none of her business.  I didn’t want to get into a debate with her at the time, which is why I just thanked her and ended the conversation.  But what I really wanted to say was, “I understand you’ve bought into the media propaganda about the frequency of child abductions, but you really need to understand that crime is down significantly in this country.  And yet, you’re recommending I show my kids a video that might scare them into not speaking to people. For what it’s worth, you obviously weren’t someone intending to do my child harm.  In fact, the chance of her meeting such a person on our sidewalk in front of our house is less likely than her falling off her scooter and hitting her head.”

Probably wouldn’t have done any good, and she’d have driven away feeling even more self-righteously justified in having told me what she thought about my heathen parenting ways.

I’m not sure I handled the situation as best I could have, but then again, maybe just smiling and saying thank you without further engaging someone is best.  I just don’t know.  I would love to hear what your readers’ suggestions would be, regarding how to handle a situation like this.  I’ve found they often have great advice that is sound and based in logic, rather than emotional fearmongering. Thanks. — Heather

Outrage of the Week: School Bans Soccer Balls

Hi Folks! At a school for 7- to 11-year-olds in England, says the BBC, they’ve banned leather footballs (that is, soccer balls)  at what sounds like recess and perhaps before and after school. Leather balls can be for “football club” and “specific” P.E. lessons. But otherwise, all regulation balls will be replaced by balls made out of sponge.

Sort of like childhood itself: That time of daring and doing gradually being replaced with a squishy-safe facsimile of adventure.

And while we’re on the topic of Safety First, Last & Always, to the point of no return, here’s a marvelous letter by Mike, the host of Dirty Jobs, responding to a viewer complaining about a time he did not wear goggles.

Couldn’t have said it better myself! — Lenore

If a 6-y.o. Can Really Walk Around the Neighborhood…

Hi Readers! I gathered together a few of the 341 responses to  the other day’s post, “As Recently as 1979 a First Grader Could…,”to remind us of what kids are capable of (when we don’t give in to the fear-mongering media). Enjoy! – L

Jackie: When I lived in Panama, 6 year olds would scale a coconut tree (no side branches) with a machete, cut down a head of coconuts, slide down using their bare feet as brakes, and whack the heck out of a coconut with their machete until it was cleaned of the outer coat and had a nice, perfectly round little hole that I could drink the milk out of.  The first time I saw that, I was horrified.  The twentieth, thirtieth time I saw it, I realized we Americans are a bunch of namby-pambies.

Sherry B:  I have heard of child abductions.  Who hasn’t with Nancy Grace and all the news channels sensationalizing them?  I also hear of car accidents and drownings, which happen way too frequently and take away the lives of so many more children.  I’m just trying to be a rational parent here.

Let me tell you a story of my Mother-In-Law (who just loves her CNN news).  We spent the last week on an incredible vacation at the lake. Our house was on the water and the kids (and their friends they invited) were in heaven with fishing, swimming, boating, and dives off the floating dock. Playing outside all day, campfires every night, both kids and adults were in heaven.

Grandmom called EVERY DAY of our vacation.  She wanted to tell us DON’T LET THE KIDS GO IN THE LAKE.  Why?!  Because 3 people died of a brain-eating amoeba that was found in lakes in Louisiana, Florida, and Virginia.  It was all over the news. So, all lakes are dangerous now.  See how spreading The Fear works?

Thankfully (for my children’s sake), we ignored her (though we did remind them to close their mouths in the water) and enjoyed old fashioned fun without the side of irrational fear.

derekmunson: this post made me realize that our shih-tzu puppy has more free range than our kids — and we live in coyote country! maybe it’s time to loosen the leash.

 

Safety Tip? “Children Under Five Don’t Ride Bikes”

Hi Readers!  Lisa, the mother of a 3-year-old, who lives in Atlanta and blogs at Organic Baby Atlanta found this “tip” at safekids.org when she was researching bike safety for toddlers:

“Because they are not ready to ride bicycles, children under the age of five ride tricycles. “

Notes Lisa:

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Wow. What a blanket statement. So there’s never been a single 4-year-old on a real bike? Not one? Funny, because I see kids under age five riding real bikes in my neighborhood all the time. And–oh, wait–isn’t my daughter under five? Yeah, that’s right: she’s three, and she’s been practicing on a pedal-less balance bike since she was 18 months old. She’s now riding it well and will soon graduate to a real bike with pedals. No training wheels. Even more shocking, she’s only had one or two falls (she’s a cautious kid). But I must just be seeing things when I think I see little kids on bikes, because, “Kids under the age of five ride tricycles.” Maybe those bikes actually have an invisible third wheel?
Or maybe there are just a lot of really short 5-year-olds in my neighborhood. — Lisa
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Notes Lenore: The more we dangerize normal childhood activities, the less normal an active childhood becomes. Let’s hear it for sedentary kids, obesity and the great indoors!  

The Difference Between a “Cut” and “Cutting”

Hi Readers — Got this note yesterday and it really resonated, mostly because it shows another instance of the authorities being deliberately dense, “for the sake of the children.” The case reminds me of the Zero Tolerance laws, when schools deliberately refuse to acknowledge the difference between a Lego gun and a Glock, or a Cub Scout “spork” and a spear. While I applaud the idea of helping kids if they have problems like cutting, I am sick of this cultural decision to be dumb as a stump. So read on, if you don’t mind getting mad, too. This comes to us from Kathy, a mom of two in Maryland. — L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I had to share this latest outrage I heard today. A mom was telling me that her friend’s daughter cut her finger while in shop class.  I believe this girl was 11 years old.  Of course, she went to the nurse, and the nurse immediately started making a HUGE stink over the cut.  The reason?  Because they want to prevent children from purposeful self-mutilation or “cutting.”
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They forced this girl to fill out a range of forms stating that she did not cut herself on purpose, and that she would pledge NOT to start cutting herself on purpose in the future.
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This cut in class was an ACCIDENT.  This little girl had no intention of cutting herself when she walked into that class, nor did she have grand plans to start self-mutilation.

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I am stunned at the reaction of the school.  In my opinion, they are grossly overreacting to common in-school injury.  What’s next?  If someone breaks their arm on the playground, they have to sign away their recess rights for the rest of their school career?!  If a kid doesn’t finish their lunch, do they have to sign a pledge saying they won’t become anorexic?  Yikes! — Kathy

Self-expression -- or self -mutilation?

Guest Post: Home of the “Brave”?

Hi Readers! — Some thoughts on how easily we criminalize erstwhile normal behavior. These are brought to us by Ann Sattley, a stay-at-home mother of two boys and author of the book Technically, That’s Illegal: An Experiment in Following the Rules and the blog of the same name,where she questions the efficacy of many laws.

The Home of the (lol) “Brave”? by Ann Sattley

When we say that the United States is the “Home of the Brave,” we must not be talking about our children or their parents. We can’t very well be the home of the brave if we run out and buy every new safety item and are concerned about our children’s eyes being damaged by the glare on notebook paper.

Besides the sundry products that are marketed to (over) protect our children, there are also laws that are selectively enforced based on whether a child was involved. No, I’m not talking about molestation or child endangerment. Those things are heinous. I’m talking about people getting fined and arrested for simply scaring a child.

In Idaho, a man was asked by the police not to wear his bunny suit anymore. He wore the suit in his own yard. I don’t know why he likes to wear the suit, but I do know why he was told by the police not to do so – because it frightened some children. What kind of children are these? When I was young, I would probably have followed a person in a bunny suit expecting to get some candy out of the ordeal. Maybe the children will feel differently around Easter time. Until then, the bunny suit is considered a public nuisance, and the man could be guilty of disturbing the peace — and traumatizing children.

You know what else is traumatic for a child? Witnessing a wine tasting. In Maine, any child under 15 is protected from such audacious displays of wanton disregard for civility. This law intends to prevent any child from even catching a glimpse of someone with a wine glass in their hand at a public event. Having blinds over the windows and doors is not sufficiently protective because a child might happen to glance into the room when the door was partially open. The sensitive child would then go home, cry himself to sleep and wake up deciding to become an alcoholic.

Imagine the precedent we set if simply upsetting a child or his or her parent would result in criminal charges. It upsets me that some people in my neighborhood don’t bother to recycle. It bothers me when young women wear a sports bra with no shirt on to run past my house. Although I’m sure this won’t bother my young sons in a few years, there has to be room for criminal charges in there somewhere.

If we looked for opportunities to help and empathize with our neighbors as much as we look for ways in which we can criminalize their behavior, we might revert to being the home of the brave. Until then, we’ll call the police when something annoying happens. — Ann Sattley