Safe Sax? Impossible, Says School Bus Company

Readers — Here’s the wildest “safety” story of the day: A middle school kid has been told he can’t take his sax on the school bus, because it is a safety hazard. Apparently the bus is already crowded, but somehow the sax makes it TOO crowded to ride safely, even though it fits under the seat.

The company refunded the boy’s bus fare so his parents can simply drive him and his infernal instrument to school, but as his mom notes:

“They are making it difficult because I work. I work full time. Do I have to quit my job or does he have to quit band?”

I’ve got another idea: How about letting the boy ride the bus and, with a little bit of maneuvering, fit the sax under his seat? A crowded bus can be annoying, but to insist that adding an instrument makes it DANGEROUS is nutty.

And also: Let’s not assume that parents can or, in many cases, even should drive their kids to school. If kids can get to school by foot or bike or bus, the school should encourage THAT, not another car in the endless drop-off line.

I realize this is just one strange story, but it reminds us that our knee-jerk response to any less-than-ideal kiddie circumstance should not be to ring the danger bell and holler for the parents to make everything perfect. — L.

The sweet sound of a bus company's worst nightmare.

The Secret To Happy, Ready-to-Learn Kids (Hint: It’s Not Test Prep. Or Is it?)

Hi Readers! This is just a beyond-belief great playground idea:

As simple as it gets. As fun as it gets. And (if we must justify the idea of kids doing things on their own) as developmentally rich as it gets.

Watch it and weep — with joy for the kids with this kind of recess, with sadness for those who never get to do anything this free-form with THEIR friends. As the narators on the video say, “Children who are happier and engaged in play have a better experience in school.” This kind of “mixed-age, mixed gender” creative fun results in, “increased critical skills development.” Through open-ended play kids learn “team work, negotiation, risk management, conflict resolution, problem-solving.” They have fewer playground disputes because they’re busy having fun!  All of which adds up to “Happier, engaged students.”

Engaged students are GOOD students. Teachers! Principals! Superintendents! Why not substitute a bit of test prep for a bit more junkyard recess time? It’s such a SIMPLE thing that can change the school day SO MUCH! (And thanks to Tim Gill for sending it along!) — L.

“Worst-First” From Birth

Hi Folks! Got this letter I liked a lot. It’s from a reader named Kimberly Anderson, who describes herself as “a cheerfully misanthropic mom of three in Lexington, Kentucky.” — L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I have a six month old. I also have a 4 year old and a 6 year old. Now that I’m a Free-Ranger I’m noticing something about all this baby gear that I didn’t the first few times around. Everything is covered with WARNING labels forcing terrifying thoughts into your head at every turn!

Carseat: FALL HAZARD! Ditto the Bouncy Seat. Stroller: STRANGULATION HAZARD! Baby Gym: ENTANGLEMENT! And the biggest downer, the big DROWNING HAZARD sticker ruining the playful mood at bath time. First I tried turning the bath around so that the sticker wasn’t in my view, but it really was a hazard trying to bathe the girl left-handed. Next I tried to rip the sticker off, but that sucker is really on there.

All this to say that NO WONDER parents are afraid of the highly unlikely worst when they’re reminded of it multiple times a day from the minute they get baby home. I’m just waiting for the day the WARNING sticker is applied directly to the baby before you’re allowed to leave the hospital. – K.A.

Lenore here: It’s that potent combo of fear of lawsuits and fear of worst-case-scenario that makes companies warn, warn, warn. But I totally agree: It habitates parents to thinking that if they’re not envisioning the death of their child, they’re not doing their job right. 

WARNING: Baby in pram! Anything could happen!

From My Mailbox: “10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Kids”

Hi Readers — Out of the blue I got this “tip” sheet with a request to post it. As I replied to the sender: “I have a feeling you are not very familiar with my blog.”

Those of you who ARE familiar with the basic Free-Range Kids concept that our kids are less endangered and more capable than pop culture suggests, may be surprised to see just how far the over-protection faction seems willing to go:

10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Teen

On October 10, 2011, in in my area, by admin

Teens have access to unprecedented amounts of technology, and the problem is, they usually know how to use it better than their parents. With sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and internet predators in abundance, parents need to closely monitor what their teens are doing on the internet and beyond. The best way to do this is to use the newest technology available to spy on their teens. Kids may not appreciate it, but it’s important for parents to know what their teens are up to at this impressionable age when they don’t always make good decisions. Here are 10 ways to use technology to spy on your teen.

  1. Nanny cam – Originally used to monitor in-home caregivers, nanny cams can be used to spy on your teens as well. These hidden cameras can be installed in common household objects and placed strategically throughout your home. Parents of teens may consider putting one in their teen’s bedroom to make sure their child is not engaging in inappropriate behavior when they’re not home.
  2. Facebook – Friend your teens on facebook to monitor what they’re posting on their facebook page. If you suspect they are blocking you from some of their postings, you could get sneaky and pose as someone else, such as another teen, to find out what they’re really up to.
  3. Twitter – It’s also a good idea to follow your kids on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about. Your teen will be more likely to be careful about what they tweet if they know you’re watching. This can help prevent inappropriate pictures being sent into cyberspace where they will live on forever.
  4. Internet search history – Periodically check your teen’s internet search history on their computer to see what they looking at when they surf the web. Are they doing research for homework or just watching You Tube? Make sure you block any porn sights and check to see if the blocks are still in place. Teens will find ways to get around your parental controls, so hold them accountable if they do.
  5. Email – While you’re at it, check on their email history too. Teens won’t like the fact that you’re doing this and will accuse you of invading their privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but so is your concern for their safety. Unless you know that they’re using the computer responsibly, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it unsupervised.
  6. Computer monitor – If you want to know what your teen is doing on their computer and are concerned they will delete any information they don’t want you to see, you can install a monitor to keep track of their computer activity. These monitors can record every keystroke, websites visited, take screen snapshots and give you detailed reports. This is the best way to monitor chat rooms, email and any social networking your teen is engaging in.
  7. Remote monitoring – The technology is also available to have these monitoring reports sent to your email so you can stay informed of your teen’s activities while you’re away from home. This is a great feature if you travel a lot for business. It’s also a good way for your child to let you know instantly if they’re in trouble.
  8. Cell phone monitor – You can get a similar monitoring system to track your child’s cell phone activity. These devices will send you reports on their calls, texting, location, web history and any pictures taken. Teens with mobile phone technology are more likely to use it than their home computers. This is also a great way to deter teen abductions and know instantly if anything goes wrong.
  9. Car monitor – Teens don’t always use good judgment when they get behind the wheel, so a car monitor is another way to use technology to spy on them. These GPS devices not only track where your kids are going, but what speed they’re driving and if they’re out past their curfew. They can even be set to give your teen an audible warning if they’re driving recklessly and emit an ear piercing sound if they’re driving too fast or staying out too late.
  10. Home security – Many people have security systems installed in their homes that can be used to spy on their teens. Security cameras can be reviewed plus checking the alarm history can let you know the exact time your child enters and leaves the house.

Of course your teen is not going to like all this spying, especially if you are doing it on the sly, so be sure to let them know what you’re doing and why. Be careful not to overreact over every little piece of information you get or your teen will find ways to get around your monitoring. There’s a delicate balance between ensuring your child’s safety and just plain being snoopy. Give them as much privacy as you can, but be ready to broach their boundaries if you think they’re in real danger.

LENORE HERE AGAIN: So let’s get this straight: We should put video cameras in our kids’ bedrooms and GPS devices in their cars, even as we follow them on the web and monitor their emails and phone calls?

Isn’t this what the government does with suspected terrorists?

The jolly publicist who sent me these suggestions concluded her email request for me to post them by saying, “It has been a sincere pleasure to read your great content.”

Something tells me she has not really had that pleasure, ever. But maybe now she’ll read your comments. — L 

Outrage of the Week: Europe Bans Balloons for Kids Under 8!

Hi Folks! A number of you sent me this today — news of the European Union’s new ban on kids under age 8 blowing up balloons unsupervised, for fear the children could swallow them and choke.

This is not to discount the suffering of any family that has experienced this unlikely tragedy. But if the chance that something terrible COULD happen is going to be (and apparently is) our new standard for what to outlaw, we will have to outlaw stairs (children could fall), cars (for obvious reasons), pets (kids could trip), chairs (kids can fall off, tip backwards, choke on a bite of the seat cushion, impale themselves on the legs — you name it). The fact is, there is a small amount of danger present in everything on earth, and if that means that now we insist kids can not be around any of it unless supervised, we are really just saying we don’t want kids to be unsupervised, ever.

Here in America, the number of children who choke to death on balloons was 4 in 1998, according to the Consumer Products Safety Commission. Considering there are about 32,000,000 children age 8 and under, we are talking about 1 death in 8 million. That’s an outcome that is, thankfully, very rare. Rarer still must be the children somehow injured by those whistle-type things you blow into and they unfurl and then they curl right back up. We’re talking standard issue birthday party favors, but those are being banned by the EU, too — and not just for kids under 8. Here’s what it says in The Telegraph:

Apparently harmless toys that children have enjoyed for decades are now regarded by EU regulators as posing an unacceptable safety risk.

Whistle blowers that scroll out into a long coloured paper tongue when sounded – a party favourite at family Christmas meals – are now classed as unsafe for all children under 14.

FOURTEEN? A year or two younger than the age my grandfather sailed to America from Russia on his OWN?  But suddenly this generation of kids can’t even handle a BIRTHDAY PARTY FAVOR at PUBERTY?

We are really treating our children as if they are the dumbest, feeblest  generation ever to walk — crawl! — the earth. The question to ask is: What is lost when we do this, when we can’t just let our third graders blow up and play with a balloon on their own?

Answer: A whole lot. First of all, of course, there is the uninhibited fun of just goofing around with friends. It’s not the same with parents hovering. (Don’t you remember how different it felt when your mom came along on a field trip versus when she didn’t? I sure do.) Also endangered is that little hit of accomplishment: “I did it myself!” The sharing and compromising and creativity and problem-solving that all are part and parcel of kids coming up with a balloon game to play without parental “help” — those are gone, too.

But gone most of all is a sense of perspective. A little understanding that while we all want our children to be safe, there is no such thing as absolute safety and to try to conjure it up through legislation ends up bringing us laws like…well, like no party whistles for high school sophomores.

Somehow I just don’t feel our kids are a whole lot better off. — L.

Thank God these children are supervised! Look at the danger surrounding them!

One-Ninth The Freedom Kids Used to Have

Hi Readers — This is from an article by Tim Gill in The Guardian last week. Tim is a friend, an activist, a blogger and author of No Fear, a book examining what it means to grow up in a completely risk averse society. In the article I’m quoting from, he’s talking about how there’s an annual bird count (presumably to find out which birds are thriving, which are endangered), but maybe what we need now is an annual “child outside” count:
The ecology of children apparently being less interesting than that of birds, there is little hard data around. We do have Mayer Hillman’s classic One False Move, a study of children’s independent mobility. It suggests that, in a single generation, the “home habitat” of a typical eight-year-old — the area in which children are able to travel on their own — has shrunk to one-ninth of its former size. Do not underestimate the significance of this change: for the first time in the 4 million-year history of our species, we are effectively trapping children indoors at the very point when their bodies and minds are primed to start getting to grips with the world outside the home.

The mission of Free-Range Kids — as you can tell from its name — is liberating kids from this new, unnecessary, frustrating, debilitating caged existence. Onward!! L.

Yikes! It's the non-indoors!

 

Guest Post by Greg Olear: Swan Song for Swings?

 Hi Folks! Here’s a guest post from Greg Olear, senior editor of The Nervous Breakdown and the author of the novels Totally Killer (Harper, 2009) and the brand-spanking-new Fathermucker, which concerns a single tumultuous day in the life of a stay-at-home dad. I absolutely adored Fathermucker — soooo funny and soooo spot-on about parenting foibles (every single, crazy one of them!!!!!!) — that I am delighted he’s writing here today! — L.

Swing No, Sweet Preschooler By Greg Olear

Last year, for a variety of reasons, we decided to move from the idyllic Hudson Valley to my hometown in no-longer-idyllic New Jersey.  Our son would be entering kindergarten in one of the best school districts in the country—the main impetus for our move—and it fell to me to find a suitable preschool for our daughter.

This proved more difficult than anticipated.  For one thing, my hometown had become, to my solidly-middle-class astonishment, the sort of tony suburb where you had to fork over 75 bucks to apply to a preschool. As we were new in town and thus late in the application process, this meant we’d quite possibly be paying $75 a pop for fancy letters regretting to inform us that enrollment was closed.  So we had to choose prudently.

One afternoon, my wife and I took a drive around town to tour the various preschools.  It was Sunday, so they were all closed. All we could do was check out the playgrounds.  And that’s when we noticed something unusual.

“These playgrounds all suck,” my wife said.

She was right.  Compared to the glorious expanse of fun our daughter had grown accustomed to at her preschool in upstate New York, these Jersey playgrounds were downright pathetic: small, cramped, and devoid of any remotely interesting equipment.  They looked more like pens for dogs than playgrounds for kids.

And then we realized, simultaneously, what was missing: “No swings!”

It was true—not one of these pricey preschools was endowed with a single swingset.  We guessed at reasons: lack of adequate space was the best one we could come up with (northern Jersey has become, in the years since I last lived there, as densely populated as an actual city).

Ultimately, we opted to send our daughter to a brand-spanking new preschool the next town over, even though it, like all the others, did not have a swingset.  We asked about this deficiency during the interview.

“The state inspectors strongly advised us against it,” the director told us.

“Why?”

“There are concerns that a small child might choke.”

“Choke?”

“You should have seen this great slide I bought for the playground,” she said wistfully.  “I had to return it.”

There are two ways you can get hurt on a swing: 1) The swingset breaks, or 2) You let go.  That’s it.  (Contrary to urban legend, it is physically impossible for a child not wearing a jetpack to swing high enough to go over the top.)  But choking?  How exactly would someone choke on a swingset?  Why are we — that is, why are insurance companies, who charge prohibitive premiums in New Jersey for preschool swings —worried about this?  Has this ever happened in the history of time?*

I thought of my own childhood, the countless hours my two- and three-year-old self spent contentedly swinging back and forth and back and forth.  There was nothing I enjoyed more than that. But kids in my hometown would now be deprived of that pleasure, because of the bureaucratic fear of an outcome that is about as likely as alien abduction.

The school we chose proved terrific — great teachers, ambitious curriculum, etc. My daughter, now a kindergartener, loved it there so much, she likes to go back for lengthy visits during her vacations.  But she may have loved it even more if there were swings.

*Apparently, it has.  According to safekids.org, 147 children perished from “playground equipment-related injuries” from 1990-2000. Most were on equipment at a private home, but about 40 weren’t. (That is, four a year.) And strangulation — usually caused when the pull-cord from a sweatshirt gets caught on the equipment — was the leading cause of those 147 deaths. I couldn’t locate statistics for swingset strangulation deaths specifically, but it seems, to me, highly improbable, way more improbable than being struck by lightning. — G.O. 

Is this child in grave danger? New Jersey says, "YES!"