H.S. Coach Fired for Leaving 2 Misbehaving Seniors Behind (And an Update)

Hi Folks! News moves so fast. Here’s a story I was going to post tomorrow, but here it is today — complete with an update that just came in! 

Ricky Sargent, a football and track coach in Hempstead, Texas, was fired last week for leaving two seniors behind at a restaurant for about an hour, at night, after they misbehaved and refused to get back on the team bus.

The young men were acting up on their way back from a meet, and as a punishment they were told they wouldn’t be allowed off the bus to eat. But eventually they DID get off — and then refused to get back on. The adult or adults with the team at the time called Coach Sargent, who okayed the decision to leave the troublemakers behind, saying he’d come by to sit with them himself until their parents came to pick them up.

Which he did.

And for which he was fired.

Now, clearly, this was a breach of conduct on the coach’s part. But it certainly sounds like it was also a breach on the part of the young men who, as seniors, I can’t bring myself to call “kids.” If they are 17, they’re old enough to drive.  If they are 18, they are old enough to go to war. But they’re not old enough to wait for an hour at a restaurant for their parents to come pick them up?

I fear that the reason the coach was fired was not just that his behavior was legally dicey, but that as a culture we believe that anytime minors are not directly supervised by adults, they are in mortal peril. But they’re not. And in this case, the students were at a restaurant, with a coach quickly by their side, and parents headed over to get them.

We’ve bemoaned the death of common sense here before. This is the death of a couple of other things, too. It’s the death of any faith that our kids can be safe on their own. It’s also the death of a certain kind of faith in our kids — faith that they can roll with some punches, and even learn from cold water splashed in their face.  I’m not one for an eye for an eye, but letting young people experience real consequences for their behavior — even slightly improvised, imperfect consequences — does not strike me as evil. It strikes me as wanting our kids to do better, and believing that they can.

What will the young men learn from this experience? Maybe it’s that they can get away with their antics. Maybe it’s that they were injured and aggrieved. But just maybe it will be that they’ve lost a coach who did nothing worse than think that, when forced to handle themselves in an unfamiliar situation, they’d rise to the occasion.

That’s the kind of coach I’d want for my kids. – L.

BUT BUT BUT! — Here’s an update! And I don’t want to spoil the suprise but: Woot!

Is there any way two high school students can survive for an hour on their own at a restaurant?

Guest Post: Mean Moms Rule!

Hi Folks! Here’s a post from a fellow writer who’s also a friend: Denise Schipani. She’s got a new book out, too! (See below.) —  L. 

Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani

My son’s 9-year-old friend, Luke, mows the lawn at his house.

A generation ago, legions of 9-year-olds would be out in back and front yards in every suburb in America, revving mowers and cutting the grass – and no one would think a thing of it. In fact, they might think it odd if, say, they saw a landscaping company mowing, while the 9-year-old was being chauffeured to a supervised activity at an indoor sports arena instead.

These days, at least where I live, Luke looks odd out there on the lawn. I bet it also looks odd when he and his little brother are waist-deep in the engine of their mom’s car, as their dad, our friend Dan, shows them how to change spark plugs or whatever it is one does with engines. Dan told me recently that he’s gotten alarmed comments from neighbors when they see Luke with the mower or his younger brother toting tools from the garage to help. Taken aback, they’ve said, “How can you let a child mow the lawn? That’s so dangerous!”

To which Dan – a major DIYer – scoffs, “No it’s not! I’ve taught him how to use the mower,” before getting back to some light work like replacing garage doors or building a retaining wall.

He’s right. Sure, mowing a lawn can be dangerous, but so can skateboarding and so can taking a bath. It’s about perspective, which many parents of my generation have lost a firm grip on – we seem to go into parenting presuming our children’s ongoing fragility, rather than assuming, as Dan has with his kids, their strength and competence. He impressed on his son the proper respect for machinery, but otherwise left him alone.

Free-Range yard work, perhaps? I think it’s a great idea, and after that conversation with Dan I sent my own 9- and 7-year-olds into the yard with a rake and some yard-waste bags. Why shouldn’t my own sons feel the same pride as Luke does in a job well done?

Denise Schipani is the mother of two boys, and the author of Mean Moms Rule: Why Doing the Hard Stuff Now Creates Good Kids Later (Sourcebooks). She blogs at Mean Moms Rule.

Boys & Strangers in Public Restrooms: Two Stories

Hi Readers! Here are two recent comments, prompted by the Anderson Cooper post below this one. Which bathroom encounter makes YOU feel queasy? – L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids; On a long drive, we stopped for gas and for my 8-year-old son to use the restroom.  While in the mens’ room, the lock got stuck on his stall.  He couldn’t get out!  I was wandering a bit in the mini-mart, but a man figured out I was his mom and let me know he was stuck.  Just as I was opening the door a bit to ask my son what he needed, he walked out — a second man had helped him get out of the stall.
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So not one but *two* strangers in a gas station bathroom helped my son when he needed it. Just another story demonstrating that most people are actually helpful and nice, not menacing.  — Stephanie Ozenne, in California
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AND
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Dear Free-Range Kids:  Last weekend we went camping in north central Florida.  I was brushing my teeth in the bath house when in walked a mom with her son.  I looked over to see a boy who was at least 8 years old.  I was floored that she’d bring him into the LADIES’ bath house, and judging by the humiliated look on the kid’s face, he wasn’t real keen on it, either.
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It got worse.  She went on to brush her teeth and then tell her son that she would brush HIS teeth for him because she, “doesn’t trust him to do it right.”  I kid you not, she then brushed the boy’s teeth.  It was all I could do to keep my own mouth shut.

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And we wonder why boys aren’t growing up to become men? ! — Kelly Down South

Would you let your son go to the gas station bathroom ALONE?

Free-Range Kids Town Thriving!

Hey Readers! You’ll like this — L.

Dear FRK: Thought you’d appreciate some good news for Free-Range Kids (who are so Free-Range here no one would even consider the term meaningful). Our local paper came this afternoon and the front page photo was two boys goofing off at the local park. They’d tipped a picnic table up on the skateboard ramp and were balancing on it. The caption: “Tyler GIllespie 13 and Brennon Sleuth 12, attempt to balance atop a picnic table after tipping it on its end at McNair Skate Park, Thursday afternoon.” Not even a hint of, “Ooh! so dangerous!” or even, “Bad kids!” — just two boys goofing off.

On the same front page was this story about a girl who got stuck in a swing.  Note — the parents weren’t publicly scolded for letting the 9-year-old go to the park alone. Everyone, including the girl involved, seems pretty clear that it was a dumb move, but there’s no alarmism. Just another kid, goofing off, getting in a little trouble and getting out of it. (And giving an adult male stranger a hug!)
Then, at the back of the front section (it’s a small paper, only 2 sections) was this nice story about another two boys who started an egg business to buy stuff they wanted.
So if folks are becoming downhearted, they should know there are places out there where kids are still allowed to do things. It’s one reason I wanted to move here — Livingston, MT. When I came to visit I saw kids riding bikes without grownups, walking to school, even goofing off in the creek without anyone getting all up in their business. Helps that it’s still a pretty rural area — oh, and the paper is usually delivered by middle-schoolers. It’s an afternoon paper, and seems to be a classic learn-how-to-work job around here.
Cheers! —  Charlotte McGuinn Freeman, who blogs at  livingsmallblog.com.

Anderson & Me (Yes, Anderson Cooper!)

Hey Folks — I”ll confess. Sometimes I Google myself. Today was one of those days, and darned if I didn’t find this lovely little clip of me on Anderson Cooper from a couple of months ago. On the couch with me is Phyllis, one of the moms I worked with on my show, “World’s Worst Mom” (airing in many countries, though not yet sold to America. Keep your fingers crossed!).

Anyway, when I first met Phyllis not only would she not let her children, aged 10 and 12, walk across the quiet, suburban street, she actually went into the bathroom STALL with her daughter when they were out together. Not just the bathroom, the stall, she was that worried.

And all I can say is if you watch this clip you will see a 189% happier, calmer mom. I visited the family again about a week ago and everyone is just so much more joyful. The kids go to the park now, they ride their bikes,  meet up with their friends — stuff their mom had been too afraid to allow before my “intervention.” Now she’s thrilled with their independence and I”m thrilled with her! What a change!

So here’s the little clip. And yes, Anderson is just as handsome in person. – L.

Outrage of the Week: No One Under 18 Allowed Outside Unsupervised in Florida Community

Hey Readers — This just in: A community in Florida is prohibiting anyone under age 18 from going outside unchaperoned by an adult. Yep, just like in Taliban-held Afghanistan, except for “women must be accompanied by a male relative” over there, substitute “minors must be accompanied by their caregiver” over here. In Florida, the rule means:

…no bike riding, no walking to the bus stop without an adult. Some parents say their kids are under house arrest.

Ten-year-old Yousif Mehyer and his friends have been skateboarding and biking around their neighborhood for years. But for the past few weeks the kids have been stuck indoors.

“They felt like they were on house arrest,” said Nadia Mihyar, Ole resident.

They were scared of security at Ole Village in Lely Resort after being reprimanded for walking outside alone.

This isn’t LIKE house arrest. It IS house arrest. How is this even legal? How is this America? How about a revolution? – L.

As if Florida didn't have enough bad press lately...

This is NOT a Crime! Cops Charge Dad Who Let Kids Play Alone in Park for 2 Hours

Readers! As we approach our third annual, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” (Saturday, May 19), this story is outrageous. Apparently a dad let his two kids, ages 6 and 9, play in a local suburban Pittsburgh park on Saturday morning for not quite two hours while he did some shopping and took a shower. That is, while he went about the tasks of everyday life.

Meantime, a woman noticed this unusual thing: Kids playing without an adult around! That this fact was “disturbing” to an onlooker is what is so disturbing about our culture. For millennia, kids kept themselves occupied while their parents were otherwise engaged. A 9-year-old watching a 6-year-old was NORMAL, not a REASON TO CALL THE COPS.

But call the cops she did. And when they got there, they charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. Meantime, of course, child protective services is investigating, too. Because any time you trust your children or your community, YOU cannot be trusted.

That’s what we’ve come to. You are punished for believing in your kids’ self-reliance and the neighborhood you chose to raise them in. Hence, the Free-Range Kids movement. Hence this Free-Range Kids blog. Hence…I wish I knew. We have GOT to turn our country around or children will be prisoners of their parents, and vice versa, all in the name of “caring.” Ask me, that word is missing an “s” at the beginning. – L.

UPDATE! “Police Chief Defends Charges Against Dad”   

Do you suppose the parents of these kids were charged with endangerment, too? I don’t see them hovering.

You’ll Cry! You’ll Cheer! You Won’t Believe This Kid!

Hi Readers! There’s not much I have to add to this video except a preface: Watch it! Then show it to anyone who wonders why you’re letting your kids have some plain old chillin’ time.

School Alerts Parents: Local Man SeenTalking to Kids!

Hi Readers! This is the kind of story that makes me bite off little pieces of my own arm in frustration (almost. Ok, let’s just say it makes me nuts.)

An elementary school in Toledo, Ohio sent home a note that said a stranger had been speaking to some of the students at a popular bakery on their way to school.  According to this story on WTOL:

The letter said, “The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.”

The letter also tells parents to remind their kids to report suspicious people. Parents were shocked.

“That makes me nervous. I want my kids to come to school and be safe,” said Gail Hodson, a Harvard Elementary parent.

Excuse me, m’am, are you shocked by the idea that your kid might someday encounter an adult male you did not personally vet first? Maybe it’s time to move to another planet.

But wait — the story gets a little weirder. Turns out that the man is a regular at the bakery and it was when he was there that he offered some kids some donuts.

Pretty terrifying!

School administrators left those facts out,  and defended themselves later by saying that the alarm was, if nothing else, a “teachable moment,  and they sent the letter home to be proactive, before misinformation spread.”

Um…doesn’t that sound like exactly what they made happen? This letter WAS the misinformation, and the school spread it! As far as teachable moments go, this one taught kids to be suspicious, scared and unfriendly no matter how unwarranted. Worst-first thinking in action!

Then again,  just maybe it taught them that their school has gone absolutely ape with fear and can’t tell the difference between a sweetroll  and Sweeney Todd. If so, that letter has done some good. – L

ADDENDUM: While we’re on the subject of stranger danger, here’s another little tidbit: A man in a van asking a little girl if she’d seen his puppy turns out to have been (sit down) LOOKING FOR HIS PUPPY. Here’s the story. Weird,  right?

Donuts! Men! Arghhh!!!

“Am I Wrong to Let My 6-year-old Walk Around the Corner?”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the scenario actually made some (twisted) sense, this way: Since the regime was NEVER going to change, anyone who thought it could or would was literally insane. Delusional!  And so to the asylums they were sent.

That gives me some (twisted again) hope for our own culture. Right now, parents who think that their kids can walk a block or two are considered, in many places, INSANE for trusting their kids and community for even five minutes. Some day,though, we will look back and see: Those trusting souls  were the SANE parents living in insanely terrified times. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am sure you get this kind of question in the subject line all the time, but I am really curious what other Free-Range parents would say.

We live in Brooklyn, NY, in a very residential neighborhood. It’s very
safe, and there’s a lot of the old everyone-looks-out-for-each-other
mindset. It’s much quieter, compared to the hipster parts of the
borough. We live two and a half blocks away from the public school my
older son attends for kindergarten. We cross one street, and then the last
intersection has a school crossing guard. Luckily for us, my younger
son attends day care right across the street from this school. It
makes drop off much more simpler in the mornings.

Now, kindergarteners have to get to school exactly between 8:10 and
8:20, and they have to use the main entrance, which is around the corner of the school. We used to drop the older child off at the main entrance, and then backtrack (and cross the street) to drop the younger one at the day care. But we were always running the risk of getting the older one late, and the little one also keeps wanting to go inside with his brother (his best friend).

So we started taking the younger one to day care first, and then crossing
the street to drop off the older one but the little one kept trying
to convince his brother to stay with him and would occasionally
whine/cry. So I started leaving the older one outside
the day care while I walked up to the door, dropped his brother off,
and came back downstairs. The older one is out of my sight for maybe 2
minutes. Maybe 3. More importantly, he in full sight of the crossing
guard, since that’s the intersection in front of the school. And ALL
the parents dropping off kids, some of whom know him.

Apparently some parents of his friends have walked past him with their
parents, saying “You shouldn’t stand outside like that, a stranger is
gonna grab you.” I can’t figure out if it’s his friends saying this,
or the parents.

Once in a while, if we are really running late, I would cross the
street so he’s on the correct side, and then tell him to go ahead and
run around the corner to the main entrance to get in by himself.
No street crossings, and the only thing on the block is the school, so
he’s basically walking around the school.  He doesn’t mind, and generally runs off when I tell him to do that. I watch until he turns the corner, before I cross thestreet. After the little one has been dropped off, I go back to make
sure he’s not lying on the sidewalk, injured. But he’s long inside and
learning already.

And the number of dirty looks we’ve received from parents for letting
him run off around the corner on his own is mindboggling.

The neighborhood is very safe.  I am not saying there’s no crime.
There’s no such Eden. But it is very close-knit, and I’ve lived here
since I was in elementary school. The neighbors all know each other.
And I am not having a six-year-old cross the street by himself. Just walk down the block, or stand outside a building.

Am I really being unsafe? I told my son today I would never ask him to
do something dangerous, and I realized I needed a gut check. Yes, I
get it that tragedies happen. But weighing the risks, I am not sure I
am doing something completely unfathomable.

But more importantly, what conversation do I have with a six-year-old
about how to deal with people (some he knows) telling him a stranger
is going to grab him? REALLY? — Bewildered Brooklynite

Dear Bewildered: I’m bewildered by the terror that people can conjure up in the most sunny of circumstances. As for what to tell your 6-year-old, tell him he can always TALK to people, he just cannot go OFF with them. Simple, direct, easy for a kid to understand.  And write to let us know if anyone else starts following your lead!  (Actually, his!) – L