Re: The Sand Tunnel Tragedy. A Little Perspective, Please?

Readers — Just wanted to weigh in for a sec. Tragically, a boy died on Tuesday in the sand tunnel he dug. The Yahoo story says, “This is not terribly uncommon. According to CBS News, there were at least 16 beach-hole-related deaths between 1990 and 2010.” It says another source reported 31 deaths in 20 years.

Is about one death per year NOT UNCOMMON? In a country of 300+ million? I’d say that is extremely uncommon. In fact, I’d say the writer was talking out of his/her beach towel.  Turning a tragedy into a scare story stinks. – L.

Help Needed! Your “Kids Outside” Stories for Dr. Drew TONIGHT!

Hi Readers — I’m going to be on Dr. Drew tonight discussing the idea of letting kids play outside on their own, a topic inspired by Saturday’s  “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There” Day.

If you have allowed your children to play outside, unsupervised, either on the holiday or on any other day, the Dr. Drew folks might want you to call in and talk about it on air. (Or they just might read aloud the story.) So they’d like you to do two things:

1 – Write your story here and indicate YEA or NAY if the producers can contact you. (I will forward them your email address if you say YEA.)

or

2 – Call or write to them directly.  1-855-DRDREW5 or 1-855-373-7395. Or write to them at: http://on.hln.tv/1SZ9PG

While we’re at it, if you have any great ways to open minds when parents worry, “But the risk is just not worth it!” and, “But predators will swarm the park if they know children are coming!” please pass ’em along. Always helpful! – L

2 Child Murders, 2 Different Pages in the Paper: Why?

Hi Readers: Not to sound too cynical, but today’s New York Post  carried a big story about the Etan Patz case — a blonde boy who disappeared 33 years ago, whose case was recently re-opened in the hopes of finally nailing the perp. (Alas, that didn’t happen.) Eleven tabloid pages later, there’s a much smaller story about a 7-year-old boy whose alleged killer is on trial right now.

The 7-year-old boy has an Oscar-winning aunt. He also has an uncle and grandma who were shot dead, most likely by the same killer. But despite three deaths, a famous relative, and a current trial, this story does not rise to the level of the Patz case, at least in The Post. Why not? I believe there are three reasons.

1 – To be fair, the 7-year-old, Julian King, was in Chicago, and Patz was a New Yorker. So for the NY Post, Patz is a local story. But then there are two other facts.

2 – The 7-year-old was not blonde, he was African-American.

3 – He was not abducted by a stranger. He was (again, allegedly) shot by his mom’s ex-boyfriend.

To be really REALLY cynical (and realistic),  I have to add that I don’t think there’s any way the story of the murdered 7-year-old would have made it into the papers beyond Chicago, had it not been for the fact that his aunt is actress Jennifer Hudson.

When the media decide which stories are “big,” they go for the tried-and-true narrative they know the best — the shocker that sells the most papers:  A middle-class child, usually white, abducted by a stranger. Those are the stories that go national, even international That’s what the dramas on TV show, too.

And we wonder why “stranger-danger” is uppermost in parents’ minds. (Or, actually, we don’t.) – L.

Predators on the Yahoo Home Screen

Hi Folks! This is a great piece in the Atlantic, about how the filters on our computers create a sort of feedback loop that can really distort our perceptions. In this case, the author, Sarah Kendzior, clicked on a single story of a child murder, and from then on she found that her home screen — in this case, Yahoo’s — kept bringing her more of the same. More child murder and really disturbing stuff. The algorithm assumed she just loved this kind of story.

The piece goes on to explain that we FORGET that content is being personalized for us. When we see it, it just looks like an assortment of interesting stories that happen to be “trending.” This gives us a skewed view that we don’t even realize is skewed. And when it skews to the scarier stories, we get….scared!

So it’s a great piece, and with a shout out to Free-Range Kids, what’s not to like?

I commented as much and when I did, I felt compelled to give a shout out of my own to another site,  Mean World Syndrome.  As that site explains:

Mean World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the violence-related content of mass media convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat.

How I love the guy who came up with that syndrome, the late sociologist George Gerber. When Yahoo and other filters bring us a world of meanness, we really have to come up with some way of reminding ourselves (and everyone else) that what’s happening in real life is different from what we see on the screen, even on our homey home screen. — L.

Gee, there sure are a lot of predators out there!

And So The Revolution Begins (With Flipping Through a Parenting Magazine)

Hi Readers! One of the ways I spread the Free-Range Kids word is by giving talks around the country (and world — going to Australia at the end of the month). Two weeks ago I was doing this in Seattle where, for a romp at one of my speeches, I flipped through a parenting magazine, pointing out just how absurd so much of the “advice” is.

For instance, in an article called “Bug Off,” all about how to “keep pesky insects from spoiling your summer,” the magazine said, “Sweat and body heat also bring on the bugs. Bathe the kids before heading out and try to keep them calm.”

That’s GOOD advice? That’s terrible advice! Oh my God:  Bathe the kids BEFORE sending them out? And then keep them CALM? Doesn’t it make sense to do the EXACT OPPOSITE? Bathe them when they’ve come IN, after they’ve RUN AROUND LIKE BANSHEES? The magazine’s advice is the worst of both worlds!

Another article gave a list of what you should take with you on vacation with your baby: A portable crib, a baby monitor, mesh stair gates, faucet covers, door handle covers, plastic zip ties “to secure cabinets,” an inflatable tub AND  a night-light. If that’s too much to schlep, the article suggests you RENT WHEN YOU GET THERE.

Hey, while you’re at it, get a loan! And a sherpa! And a U-Haul!

And here’s a tidbit from my favorite article, this one about how to increase your child’s confidence: “After you have tucked your child into bed and he’s almost ready to drift off to sleep, tiptoe into his room. Speaking in a low voice, slowly say, ‘I…believe…in…you.'”

It’s like some Soviet-era manual on mind control!  Maybe you can also whisper to your almost-sleeping child, “Clean…up…your…room” and he’ll wake up with an uncontrollable urge to vacuum!

Anyway, all this is by way of introducing a little note I got today from a mom who’d come to my magazine-flipping lecture. I’m so happy when people “get” my point: that we have to take a step back and try to figure out what our culture is REALLY telling us to do, think and buy. And then they start looking around. — L

Dear Lenore: I can’t tell you how many stupid things I’ve seen recently that have reminded me of your talk. You want crazy? Take a look at Fit Pregnancy magazine and read the headlines that freak out parents before their babies even arrive!

I guess it shows up free in all the doctor’s offices. It’s all “eat this to prevent birth defects” (because if you don’t your baby will be deformed and it’s your fault), do this to avoid miscarriage (because if you don’t, you’ll lose your baby), here’s how to stay looking fit (because if you’re a fat mom, everyone will hate you), how to handle the total lack of sex after pregnancy (because actually your husband will divorce you if you don’t put out), what to look for in life-threatening conditions, and on and on. One after another.

I read the scary and awful headlines out loud to the nurse’s assistant. She was horrified and responded by pulling every one of their magazines and throwing them in the trash. She hadn’t ever read the magazine before, but once she saw it, she sure didn’t want pregnant moms in that office to deal with the negativity and blame. Yay!

Thank you for starting some lovely discussions around here! — A Seattle Mom of Three

"Mommy, why does that magazine tell you you're doing everything wrong?"

You Can Be Anti-Bullying and Still Not Buy Into New Bullying “Crisis”

Hi Folks! I read this Wall Street Journal article  with gratitude and a little rage. It’s called, “Stop Panicking about Bullies: Childhood is safer than every before, but today’s parents need  need to worry about something.”

My gratitude comes from the fact the author, Nick Gillespie, bothers to figure out if we are really in the midst of a bullying crisis. Rage because it seems we are not — and yet here we are, once again, fearing for our children as if they are in danger like never before. Same way we newly fear for our children staying home alone, or walking to school, or doing anything independently. We jump directly to the worst case scenarios and act as if they are happening all the time — increasing, in fact, in number and seriousness — whereupon our terrified society demands new laws, restrictions, handwringing and helicoptering.

Like Gillespie, I am appalled by true bullying and in favor of a society that does not tolerate it. Fortunately, that’s the era we are living in. Bullying is less common today, and less tolerated when it rears its ugly head. Gillespie has the hard numbers, like these:

Despite the rare and tragic cases that rightly command our attention and outrage, the data show that things are, in fact, getting better for kids. When it comes to school violence, the numbers are particularly encouraging. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, between 1995 and 2009, the percentage of students who reported “being afraid of attack or harm at school” declined to 4% from 12%. Over the same period, the victimization rate per 1,000 students declined fivefold.

No one is shrugging off the real crime of bullying. But to pretend there’s an epidemic when in fact things are getting better is to both over-react AND sell our kids short. And to lump together unbearable harassment with minor teasing is just a mistake, the same way it is wrong to lump together runaways with kids who are abducted, as if they have experienced the same trauma. (And yet, we do exactly that — the media talk about “missing children,” without bothering to explain that a very small percentage of them were taken by strangers — and it ends up coloring our whole idea of modern day childhood.)

Let me say this again before anyone reminds me that bullying is bad: Bullying IS bad. But so is bullying the public into believing this generation of children is more endangered, more vulnerable and more in need of constant supervision than any generation before it. — 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?