What’s Black and Blue and Happy All Over? Ask Your Child’s Doctor

Hi Folks — I love this exchange on Facebook about kids and bruises! Wrote one mom:

I brought my 5 year old son to the dentist yesterday and she was amazed to see that he has scratches and bruises. She said she never really sees those kinds of small injuries on kids nowadays because they play inside all day. What is happening to childhood in this country that seeing a scratch or small bruise on a 5 year olds shins is something out of the ordinary? When I was a kid my knees were always scraped and my shins were always bruised because that was just part of playing outside.

Wrote another:

I hate to admit this, making myself look neurotic, but when my son was 2, when he really started getting brave, his little legs were covered in bruises/knots/you name it. He had a few on his arms, but his legs looked (to me) awful, and I obsessed myself into thinking something must be terribly wrong–surely he had some kind of bleeding issue! A blood disorder! I finally got up the nerve to take him to the pediatrician (had to steel myself for the inevitable bad news, of course), and she looked at him, and looked at me, and said, “He has busy little two-year-old boy legs, and if he’s lucky you’re going to let them stay that way.” She also advised that I chill out before I drive us both (all?) crazy. Best advice I’ve ever gotten–and he is, to this day, covered in bruises and scratches and who knows what, because he rides his bike and jumps off everything he sees, and thank goodness he can. – Paula Kiihnl King

Wrote me:

This reminds me of the time I spoke to an advertising exec at Tide and he said kids’ clothes aren’t getting that dirty anymore. Bad for laundry detergent, bad for kids! – L

Remember when “Leapfrog” was an actual game, outside?

Girl Missing from State Park! Mustached Man Seen! Massive Search Party! And a Stranger Danger Lesson

Folks — Here’s a story that manages to encapsulate exactly why “stranger danger” is such a stupid — no, HARMFUL —  concept to preach. On Saturday afternoon, a little girl named Jackie was reported missing in a state park in Rhode Island.  As The Westerly Sun reported:

At 3:50 p.m., Charlestown police received a report of a child missing at the 3,100-acre campground. The child, a 7-year-old girl from Connecticut named Jackie with shoulder-length blonde hair, had been last seen wearing a tie-dyed bathing suit and pink Croc clogs, riding her bicycle. The bike was found on the park’s yellow-dot trail near the 700 section of the 730-site campground, but not Jackie.

Initially, a report of a suspicious vehicle spotted earlier in the day at the Charlestown Breachway — a 1996 green Subaru station wagon with a bike rack, with Vermont license plates, driven by a man with dark hair and a mustache — was linked to the case.

Okay, so now we have a missing girl and a man with a mustache. Think the worst! The state police arrive and a massive search party is organized, including soldiers, fire fighters and a K-9 unit. They fan out, even checking car trunks.  But the police tell private citizens NOT to join in the search, for fear they’d get lost, too. (Does it sometimes seem like we bend over backwards NOT to create a cohesive, helpful society?)

Anyway, a mom named Lisa Blair and her much older daughters defy the order and go yelling the little girl’s name. And the girl yells back, “Mommy and Daddy!” Blair has the girl keep yelling, so she can locate her in the dense woods. And she does! Case solved! As it might have been much earlier, except —

Blair said that Jackie told her she had heard men yelling for her earlier, but was scared to approach them. When she heard the women calling out her name, she yelled back.

As it turns out, the girl was lost, not abducted. So…considering that child abductions by strangers are very rare. Considering that we WANT our kids to have the biggest safety net possible. And considering that most people are NOT predators, doesn’t it make sense to teach your children TO talk to strangers? After all, if your children are ever in danger you WANT them to be able to ask for help from the nearest person, and you want them to accept help! Teach them to distrust all strangers, or at least all MALE strangers, and you have cut off almost all the help they could possibly get.

Which inevitably calls to mind the Utah Boy Scout, Brennan Hawkins, who was lost in the mountains for far longer than Jackie: for four days.  People Magazine interviewed his mom after the ordeal and she said:

Brennan told us he thought that he was going to die three times, and he said a prayer asking God for directions. His biggest fear was being abducted, so when he spotted rescuers on horseback, he stayed hidden.

Can we PLEASE STOP TEACHING STRANGER DANGER? PLEASE? — L.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep/ But not everyone in there is a creep.

A Public Grammar School Where Kids Can Build Forts at Recess

Hi Readers! You’re not dreaming. There’s a public school — albeit in Australia — where a few years ago the kids noticied some leftover building materials  and started spontaneously building forts during recess. And, as Time Gill notes on his fab Rethinking Childhood blog:

To its credit, the school reacted not with alarm, but with interest. Staff could see that good things were happening. Some made connections with their own childhood memories of playing in the creeks, bush and vacant lots of their neighbourhoods.

Read more about the effort here. And let’s hope this movement BUILDS! (Yes, pun intended. With me, puns are almost always intended.) – 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

TIME MAGAZINE endorses “TAKE OUR CHILDREN TO THE PARK…AND LEAVE THEM THERE DAY”

Hi Readers! Get a load of this lovely piece by Time Magazine’s Bonnie Rochman! And don’t forget: The holiday is this Saturday! Take your kids (age 7 and up) the local park at around 10 in the morning and hopefully a lot of other kids will be gathering, too. Then leave! Details in that great Time Magazine piece.

Now if only they’d put a photo of me on the cover with a breast exposed…

Or maybe not. – L.

Letting your kids play by themselves at the park is not radical!

Guest Post: Warning! Toddler At Play

Hi Folks! Here’s a guest essay from Lisa Baker, who’s trying to be a Free-Range Mom to two kids in Atlanta, Georgia. She writes about her parenting adventures at Organic Baby Atlanta. Enjoy! L.

Warning: Toddler at Play by Lisa Baker

In the Yequana tribes of South America, parents let toddlers wander near open campfires, playing with knives.

In Romania (where I lived for a year), mothers send toddlers alone to the corner store to buy bread and cheese for breakfast.

Me? I let my toddler play in the yard.

Oh, I know it’s a risk. I wouldn’t have let her when she was one, or even two. But when she turned three, we moved to a house with a small, manicured lawn, fully enclosed by a child-proof picket fence. That’s when I began, hesitantly, to send her out the front door alone.

But don’t worry: I watch her. I sit by the window in the kitchen, one eye on my work email and another on her. Not because I’m afraid she’ll figure out how to unlatch the gate and go wandering up the street (though she’s done that) or because I’m afraid she’ll eat a mushroom she finds in the grass (though she’s done that too). No, I’ve got a baby gate lock on the gate now, and Poison Control assures me that highly poisonous mushrooms rarely grow in well-kept lawns. But I still keep a close eye on her.

Because of the neighbors.

They’re good people, my neighbors. I know most of them by name. They walk past often, and when they see my daughter alone in the yard, they  pause and look around anxiously, especially the ones who are parents themselves. They’re wondering where I am.

That’s my cue to run outside and wave enthusiastically. Yes, I’m here. My kid is not unsupervised. Please don’t call CPS.

They smile and wave back, relieved, and keep walking. And I’m safe to go back inside. Until the next neighbor comes along.

Because my biggest worry about letting my child play outside alone isn’t what she might do, or what might happen to her. It’s what others might think.

Of course there’s no law that says I can’t let my three year old play in the yard.

But there’s no law that says I can, either.

And so, even though the closest corner store is only a few blocks away, I don’t think I’ll be sending my daughter to pick up bread any time soon.

And as for teaching her safe handling of knives and campfires?  Maybe in a few years. As long as we keep that in the back yard.

Just don’t tell my neighbors.

Third Annual “TAKE OUR CHILDREN TO THE PARK…AND LEAVE THEM THERE DAY” coming up SAT., MAY 19!

Hi Folks! As our annual “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” draws nigh (does “nigh” ever get used without the verb draw?), here’s a lovely piece about why it is GREAT for kids to get out and play, on their own, without a coach, program or parents to organize (or limit!) them.

The idea of the holiday is simple: We take our kids, age 7 or 8 and up, to the local park at 10 a.m. That way, they meet up with other kids from the neighborhood. We wave goodbye and the kids are on their own to come up with something to do. Boredom works in their favor — eventually they start playing because NOT playing is so painfully dull. By the time they’re through — it could be half an hour or half a day later — chances are they’ll want to do it again. And so Sunday becomes “Our kids are going to the park on their own” day, as do  most days thereafter!

If you’ve got younger kids — great. Go to the park and witness what your kids will be able to do in only a few years. Meantime, you’re there on the bench, creating the kind of community that reassures the parents waving their older kids goodbye.

SPREAD THE WORD!

The idea is not radical. It’s simply a way to “re-seed” the all-too-empty playgrounds and parks with children. There’s no reason kids can’t play on their own. Crime is down since when we parents were kids. Diabetes and obesity — the twin scourges of sitting inside — are up. What’s more, it is SAFER for kids to play than not to play, and this study (if you need to wave one around) says that letting kids play UNSUPERVISED is one of the best things a parent can do for a child:

Professor Roger Mackett, who led the study, said: “Allowing children to leave the house without an accompanying adult has significant benefits.

“The health benefits are clear, but without action the less tangible benefits of increased independence and self-reliance will be lost.

“That may be a very great loss with many implications.”

Fight the fear that has kept kids indoors or only in supervised programs. Go forth to Facebook and Twitter and the PTA to spread the word about Take Our Children to the Park… and Leave Them There Day!  And let us know if you get some traction! –  L

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

Wow, Who Knew? Kids Should Go Down Slides ON THEIR OWN!

Hi Readers — and thank you for sending this story, “A Surprising Risk for Toddlers on Playground Slides,” that was in yesterday’s New York Times. And what exactly IS the surprising risk?

Parents! Extremely loving, extremely cautious parents who, rather than letting their kids navigate the slide on their own, put them on their lap and let gravity do its thing. The problem is: The thing gravity is doing is breaking their childrens’ legs.

Yes, “helping” the kids actually makes the slide experience less safe. Kids are getting their legs stuck and twisted and even broken, because (sez the story) “If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when a child is sitting in an adult lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him ends up breaking his leg.”

Now, I am of at least two, possibly even three-point-five minds about this story. First off, of course, I am a little smug about the news that helicoptering doesn’t help kids. The fact that kids have been going down slides alone since Danny slid down his Dinosaur should have been evidence enough that modest inclines and moppets are a good mix.  But we live in a culture that loves to demand ever more involvement on the part of parents, so a lot of folks got the idea that GOOD moms and dads are the ones who put down the Starbucks and go, “Wheeeee!” with perhaps more enthusiasm than they feel. Now they are off the hook.

ON THE OTHER HAND (we are now onto Mind #2), this article also makes it seem as if the parent/kid playground combo is the slippery slope to hell, and that slides are even MORE dangerous than anybody had ever imagined. And considering we have already imagined them as SO dangerous that regulations require them to be no taller than the average mound of laundry (or is that just at my house?), this is another blow to playground fun.

And here’s Mind #3: The fact that this issue merited an entire article in the hard copy of the New York Times — space that is disappearing faster than Happy Meal fries  — is just another example of our obsession with every little thing that has to do with parenting. As if  every hour of time with them is fraught with the potential for developmental leaps or horrifying danger. When really what we’re talking about is an afternoon at the playground.

And now for the .5: One point the article made is that, “The damage is not merely physical. ‘The parents are always crushed that they broke their kid’s leg and are baffled as to why nobody ever told them this could happen,’ Dr. Holt said. ‘Sometimes one parent is angry at the other parent because that parent caused the child’s fracture. It has some real consequences to families.'”

In a nutshell (and I do mean nut) here are my final thoughts:

1 – Parents are BAFFLED that NOBODY EVER TOLD THEM every single thing that could possibly go wrong in any situation?  That’s one reason why we are so litigious: We expect every activity to be perfect every time, and if it’s not, we are so angry we want to blame someone (else). Not fate. Someone.

2 – While I can totally see being mad at the parent who broke my kid’s leg, I can also see moving on. Getting over it. Realizing it could have been ME. Lasting consequences seems a bit dramatic for an injury that, the article says, the children recover from in 4 to 6 weeks, without “lasting complications.” (Except, of course, for the divorce.)

3 – And, in defense of the article and the author, whose work I like, maybe the piece actually did perform a public service. Hoopla aside, now you know: Let your kid go solo down the slide.

I think I’m done. Feel free to take up where I left off. — L.

Okay, maybe this slide IS a little dicey, with or without a parent.