Parents of Kids who Get Too Many Bruises May Be Charged with Neglect

Hi Folks — This story comes to us from Australia, where the federal government is telling child protective workers to consider — and classify  — kids who “often” hurt themselves as at a “high risk of neglect.” “Accident-prone children might be the victims of poor parental supervision,” is how AdelaideNow sums the reasoning up.  Thus, anyone treating (or seeing?) bruised or clumsy kids is told to assess the role that parental supervision — or lack thereof — played, even in minor accidents.

The theory behind this isn’t bad. It’s true that severely neglected children, especially young ones, may be hurting themselves because their parents are (as this study suggests) totally out of it, on drugs, or passed out on the couch.

But I have to think this call for scrutiny and immediate suspicion would have a chilling effect on any parents ready to let their kids have some Free-Range, old-fashioned fun and independence — like riding a bike, or climbing a tree. If a kid wipes out on his bike one week, bonks his head on a branch the next, is he a lovingly tended child with parents who believe kids can (and even should) endure a couple bruises? Or is he  a neglected child? And how can we be sure the evaluator will be able to tell the difference?

Or even believe there IS a difference?

My fear is not so much that the authorities will mistake normal childhood injuries for the negligence endured in the home of severely drug-addled parents. I fear that, increasingly, normal childhood injuries won’t be considered normal anymore, period. So any kid sustaining them will automatically be considered neglected, because why weren’t the parents right behind him on that tree, or standing under it with a safety net?

The New South Wales Children’s Commissioner quoted in the aritcle, Megan Mitchell, said, “I don’t think we can expect parents to be super-parents but they need to know what their child is doing as best they can.”

What the heck does that mean? Is it enough to know my kid is playing outside and will be home by dinner? Or should I know every activity he will be participating in from 10 a.m. till 6 on a Saturday, including that he’s going to jump off a swing at 12:16? The commissioner went on to say that she would “hope” that prosecuting parents “would be reasonably rare and that people in authority would establish a relationship with the families and then make a good judgment about whether there is a real problem or not.”

But where we see no problem, the authorities could. And the authorities have…authority. Therein lies the problem. – L.

So if he falls off his bike and gets a little banged up — say, twice or three times — are his parents “neglectful”?

To Keep Kids “Injury-Free” School Substitutes Wii for Recess

Hi Folks! This story comes to us by way of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which loves when kids make up their own games rather than them simply playing something pre-programmed. At this particular school, the superintendent is quoted as saying a desire to keep kids “out of trouble” and “injury-free” prompted the decision to give kids Wii time as opposed to FREE time for recess, once or twice a week. As I watched the video, I despaired about three  things.

1 – The fact that Wii is seen as the same thing as making up a game, even though there is no imagination or organization required.

2 – The fact that it is now DE RIGUEUR that we not show any children’s faces in a video. As if somehow that is damaging to them or us or someone somehow somewhere.

3 – The fact that the hopscotch game at this school is a pre-fab mat, placed on the ground.

I’m sure I am a little too sensitive to all these issues, but come on: Let kids run around! Let them use chalk. Let them make up their own games. Let them get away from the screen. And PLEASE quit worrying that every non-scripted moment outside = an injury waiting to spring. – L.

Can We Vote for This Guy? (Even Though He’s 9?)

Hey Readers — You want inspiration? You got it: A 9 year old Detroit boy was dismayed by the fact his local park was totally overgrown — the city could afford to mow it just twice a year. So did he stay inside playing videogames?

He set up a lemonade stand and made $3000 over the course of five days. Donated it to Parks & Rec. This video is from when he was just getting started. You’ll love it!

She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.  They are ages 2 and 4.  My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.  He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.  I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.  It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.  I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.  He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.  Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.  During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.  I instinctively went with the most logical scenario:  He’s 2.  He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).  It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.  It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.

Fondly,

Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

The Flashcard Backlash!

Hi Readers — Lovely article by Tara Parker-Pope in today’s New York Times about how we have been led astray by the flashcard mentality that says the more we DRILL our littlest students the SMARTER they become.

On the surface of it, the drilling idea makes sense: Why not efficiently shove info into our kids? Here’s the info, kids: Shove it!

But all the research (not to mention a million years of human development BEFORE flashcards) is suggesting that the way kids really learn is through PLAY. Even a game like Simon Says — or a variation that’s “Do the Opposite of What Simon Says” — can give a lot more developmental boost than another afternoon of  learning “F is for Foot.”

While the game may sound simple, it actually requires a high level of cognitive function for a preschooler, including focus and attention, working memory to remember rules, mental flexibility (to do the opposite) and self-control.

“We tend to equate learning with the content of learning, with what information children have, rather than the how of learning,” says Ellen Galinsky, a child-development researcher and author of “Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs.” “But focusing on the how of learning, on executive functions, gives you the skills to learn new information, which is why they tend to be so predictive of long-term success.”

You probably know that I dislike having to endorse a Free-Range approach because it is actually a “long-term success” incubator. But, hey, if you’re talking to parents who really believe LESS playtime means their kids will be MORE triumphant, it’s not bad to have a little ammo. – L.

Flashcards are fine…but not at the expense of play!

FREE-RANGE VICTORY! Charges Dropped Against Dad Who Let His Kids Play in the Park — THANKS TO US!

Readers — This is so incredible! Remember  this post from a few months ago?

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.

Okay, here’s the first comment (of 168) made to that post, which apparently set the template for action:

First time I’ve created an account on one of these random sites you link to and posted a comment. Stuff like this just really irks me. The busybody who freaked out is the real problem in this scenario. I’m guessing all real crime in that city has been solved and there’s no real child endangerment going on so the cops need to invent some?

And now? The authorities have DROPPED the charges again the dad (after he took some parenting classes). HOW COME? Well, according to the Chartiers Valley Patch:

The child endangerment charges created a firestorm on the Chartiers Valley Patch message boardafter a group called Free Range Kids linked to the story and several members criticized the police officer’s decision to file charges.

I’m so proud of everyone who took the time to write a message over there and explain that while people may THINK kids are in constant danger when they’re unsupervised, that’s a misperception, and no one should be considered negligent for not buying into it. Too bad about the parenting classes they guy had to take, but otherwise: WOW WOW WOW! — Lenore

Maybe this kind of fun is to be encouraged, not prosecuted!

Play or Decay, Kids!

Hi Folks! Here’s a spankin’ new study that won’t surprise you:

Children who spend more than three-quarters of their time engaging in sedentary behaviour, such as watching TV and sitting at computers, have up to nine times poorer motor coordination than their more active peers, reveals a study published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

The study, involving Portuguese children, found that physical activity alone was not enough to overcome the negative effect of sedentary behaviour on basic motor coordination skills such as walking, throwing or catching, which are considered the building blocks of more complex movements.

“Childhood is a critical time for the development of motor coordination skills which are essential for health and well-being,” said lead author Dr Luis Lopes, from the University of Minho. “We know that sedentary lifestyles have a negative effect on these skills and are associated with decreased fitness, lower self-esteem, decreased academic achievement and increased obesity.”

The authors added that kids they studied — random kids, that is — spent about three fourths of their time being sedentary. Remember this when people look at you askance for letting your kids walk to school or spend time at the park without you. If you have to supervise them all the time they’re outside, they won’t be outside that much because — face it — adults have other things to do with their time. Let them OUT and you are being a GOOD parent, helping them develop the motor coordination they will need their entire lives. So THERE!  – L.