Bathroom Busybodies: Kindly Concern or Mass Psychosis?

Hi Readers! You’d think that, after a certain point, I would be inured to cultural confoundedness. (Or  at least know how to write a sentence in English.) But in fact it is still amazing to me how wild the public imagination has become and how eager it is to imagine the most extremely unlikely, horrifying scenarios. It really is mass psychosis. And here’s just another instance of it, from Hannah Zuniga, a reader who describes herself as a Common Sense Mom. – L.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I received my first verbal hand slap regarding my child raising. I have 5 year old daughter, a 1 year old son, and a third on the way. A few weeks ago I was checking out at Costco when my daughter, Elayna, said she had to go to the bathroom. I was at a register near the end where the bathroom was in plain sight, so I told her to go. (She has been allowed to use public bathrooms by herself for some time now, although I am always close by. We are also at Costco once a week, so she is well acquainted with the bathroom.) I finished checking out and pushed my cart and son over to the bathroom and waited for her to come out.
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A 5-YEAR-OLD ALONE IN A PUBLIC RESTROOM?
After a few minutes, I began to wonder what was taking so long. I wasn’t worried, just curious. Then a woman came out and asked if I was waiting for a little girl in a dress. I said yes, and she told me that my daughter was washing her hands. She laughed and said, “She seems to really like the hand dryers because she’s washed her hands at least three times.” I laughed, too, and a moment later my daughter came running out, holding up her hands for me to smell because they were so nice and clean. She was very proud of herself.

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BUT WHAT ABOUT PREDATORS? 

Later that evening, I told my husband, who thought it was funny. The next day, I told my mom, who also thought it was funny. A few days later, my mom told the women she worked with who were absolutely shocked and horrified that I let my daughter go in by herself: “What if someone had taken her?”

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My mom tried to point out that I was close enough to see the bathroom the entire time and no one could have gotten past me with my daughter. She pointed out that in a busy place like Costco, it was very unlikely that anyone could kidnap a screaming little girl. She explained that my daughter had been allowed to use public bathrooms herself for the last six months, and that she is a smart, capable child. She also explained that, so far, the only issue Elayna had run into was that some restroom doors are very heavy and hard to open, but that was why Mom, Dad, Grandma, or Grandpa was always near by. Grandpa learned very quickly that Elayna could go in by herself and, if he was concerned, he could always ask one of the women coming or going to check on her, and these “dangerous” strangers were always happy to help.

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WOULD A GOOD MOM LET HER DAUGHTER GO TO THE BATHROOM ALONE?

The women at my mom’s work were not mollified, and continued to go down the list of possible things that could have happened.

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But they didn’t happen. What happened was that I was able to check out without having to get out of line. My daughter didn’t have to do the potty dance while waiting for me. I didn’t have to abandon my shopping cart while juggling my son and purse just to stand and watch her do something she’s been capable of doing since she was two. And my daughter got a little boost of pride and self-confidence by doing something herself. But the overall consensus seems to be that I am a bad mother. I guess I’ll just have to live with it.  – Hannah

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Lenore here: And you’ll just have to live with most of us here thinking you are a smart and sane mother, raising what sounds like a lovely little girl! 

Well, the story was sort of about a grocery store and I loved this photo so…voila.

“How to Spot a Predator” — Really?

Hi Readers — Still trying to figure out what part of this Circle of Moms post,  “How to Spot a Child Predator”  irks me the most. It’s by a lady who was at a cafe and heard a man asking two third grade boys questions like, “What’s your favorite subject?” and “Who do you want to marry when you grow up?” He also asked them some math problems, so the lady immediately “understood” what she was hearing:

…like a thunderbolt, it hits me! Those boys are being groomed.

How exactly did she know he was up to no good? She trusted her gut. And now she wants the rest of us to trust it, too:

I wrote this so you’d read about the types of questions a potential predator uses so you can prepare your kids.

Please don’t scare your kids, but do talk to them. Use these, or examples like the, so your kids know what bad strangers ask .

…Except that there is no evidence whatsoever that this was a “bad stranger,”  or that these are the type of questions a bad stranger would ask! It’s like saying, “I would have been raped by the man in the grocery store  today if I hadn’t realized what he was up to! So I’m alerting the rest of you: If a man ever asks, ‘Do you know what aisle the paper towels are in?’ RUN! He is a bad stranger. Don’t thank me — I’m just trying to help!”

Uh…thanks. But no thanks. – L.

How can you tell if a man is a predator? Easy! If he’s male and nice to kids — he is!

Help Needed: My Husband Doesn’t Want My Girl to Play Outside EVER

Hi from Austraia, mates! About to embark on a rather long trip home. (But I sure loved it here!) In the meantime, please help this mom. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: So, this really plays into a question/problem I’ve been having. I want to have my daughter be more Free-Range/independent. She just turned 5 this month. I remember at her age being allowed to go outside to play and roam a fairly large area. But my daughter has yet to experience that. Partly because there are no other kids about her age outside, she’s not interested and I don’t blame her. However when I asked my husband at what age he’d let her go to the park by herself he basically said never. He knew a girl who said that at age 12 she was at a park in a tree and some guy came and raped her. He wants to prevent this happening for our little girl by hovering. We live in a very safe area but he is still uncomfortable. What do you say to someone like this?

Lenore here: Well, what I SAY is what I always say: In New York City there was a child who was killed by a falling tree branch. Does that mean we should never let our children walk under trees anymore? We don’t make our kids safer when we make our decisions based on rare and random events. 

I also generally say: More children are killed and injured in car accidents than are hurt or killed by strangers. So do you neven intend to let your daughter ride in a car?

BUT from what I saw in filming my World’s Worst Mom (a.k.a. World’s Worst Mum, a.k.a. Bubble Wrap Kids) show, was that the thing that REALLY changed nervous parents was when I physically made them stay home while I took the kids out and let them DO something on their own. When I let them set up a lemonade stand down the street, out of sight of their worried mom. Or when I let them play in the woods, or go to the playground, or go on an overnight. I’d videotape them for a bit and then let them actually BE on their own. But in the meantime, I’d bring that video back to the parents. And when they saw with their own eyes how HAPPY their kids were and how normal and ridiculously NON-TERRIFYING the whole scene was — how it reminded them of their OWN childhoods — in 12 out of 13 episodes, the parents changed. They couldn’t help themselves. They felt the proverbial pride and joy at watching their kids live in and love the world. So to this mom I’d say: Try letting your child have a little time on her own, even in the front yard. Then come up with some way for your husband to observe it. It could do the trick. And hopefully the readers here will have some great ideas, too! – L.

(Australian) Outrage of the Day: Girl Sues Classmate Whose Tennis Ball Hit Her

Hi Readers! Greetings from Bendigo, Australia where I’m here to keynote this conference. (Gorgeous city!) Anyway, apparently I arrived just in the nick of time. Two girls over here were playing tennis at a private school recently when the ball hit and bruised one girl’s eye. Anything having to do with eyes is scary and distressing, but in a move worthy of the best of America’s ambulance chasers, the bruised-eye-girl’s family immediately sued the ball-lobber, and the tennis school, and the college where the incident occurred. According to this report in The Courier Mail:

The claim says the tennis school failed to provide adequate supervision or protective eyewear…

So from now on, should we no longer assume that everyone understands the basic idea that a ball, once set in motion, can hit a person? At the same time, should we start insisting on protective eyewear every time a moving ball is invovled? Goggles?, I guess?

As the daughter of a man who started and ran a tennis club till he died (Max Skenazy, Northbrook Racquet Club in Illinois!) , I’m hoping this suit will be tossed out of both courts — both tennis and legal. – L

Field Trip Frenzy! Mad Mom Vents to Media

Hi Readers — Our definition of a good parent these days seems to be one who sees every incident as upsetting — possibly even devastating — to his/her child, and is eager to tell the press about it. Latest case in point? This story, from the Chicago Sun-Times, about a 6-year-old who told his mom he got “locked in jail” on a field trip. The mom sounds livid.

Note, please: This was a field trip to the local precinct, not a 2 a.m. visit by the secret police. And the boy wasn’t locked up. And it shouldn’t be a big deal because it’s NOT a big deal. Why do we see everything through “OMG!” lenses, when it comes to kids? – L.

Now THIS boy really was locked up -- for a month -- for stealing two rabbits. That's different from a school field trip!

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?

“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

“Every Parent’s Nightmare!” Really?

Hi Readers! Just got  this article from a self-described “heathen daddy from Attleboro, Mass.” who summarized the story thusly:

A kindergarten girl gets on wrong bus on her second day of after-school care. Instead of going to the program she gets on the bus for home, gets home, realizes she made a mistake because no one is home, knocks on the neighbor’s door in tears, neighbor takes her in, gives her a snack, calls her mom, grammy comes for the afternoon.

When I grew up that was called “S*** happens, that’s why we live in a neighborhood where we watch each others backs.”  Now it’s called “Parent’s Worst Nightmare” and cause for a one-on-one meeting with the superintendent of schools and a front page article in the paper.

Lenore here again: Yup. Perfect summation of the article and our era.  I agree that it would be miserable if my kid went through this, but a nightmare? A news story? No.  The  article even felt compelled to add that the girl, though upset, was “unharmed.” As if every time anything goes awry in a child’s life and her official caregivers aren’t right by her side we are supposed to assume the very worst, and it’s just remarkable that SOMEHOW, through amazing luck, this one escaped grave danger.  — L

Alone and ALIVE? How can that be?

Letter: Why Am I Being “Checked Out” by Another Mom Before Her Son Can Play Here?

Hi Folks! As I finish up my last few days of vacation (Mexico!), here’s a letter to chew on. — L.

Dear Free Range Kids: My son started school a few weeks ago and has already made a new friend. The boys want to have a playdate and after discussion with the other child’s mother, we arranged to have the first one here. Then she informed me that on the day of the playdate, she would pick her son up from school and follow me and my son back to our house, so she could “check it out.”

While it’s not something I’m taking personally, I am offended — and confused. Does she think our house would be suitable for my son but not for hers? Doesn’t she realize that if there was anything that would mark our house as unsuitable for a playdate, I’d be sure to cover it up, pack it away or simply hide it before she arrived?   How far is “‘checking it out” likely to go? Just the areas the kids will be playing in or every room in the house?

Is this a typical thing? Am I over reacting or is she? Part of me would dearly love to tell her what she can do with the playdate, but I don’t want to break the hearts of two 5-year-old boys.  Any advice would be dearly appreciated! – Mom with Nothing to Hide

A 4-Page Playdate Waiver? Is This the New Normal?

Hi Readers — This mom wrote to me wondering if what she just experienced is normal. I’m wondering, too! — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have a situation perhaps your readers can help with.  Yesterday my daughter came home from playing at the “new” neighbor’s house with a 4-page liability waiver that they want us to sign!  Wow!  I guess that dangers lurk over there – in the form of a trampoline – and if she is going to set foot on their property she needs a release first.   I can’t help but feel paranoid – should I then be worried about having their kids over at our house, because the first thing in their mind is legal action?  Has anyone heard of such a thing? Is this the new normal for making friends?  — Stunned Mom