Wow! 7th Grader Kidnapped & Released, CONTINUES TO WALK TO SCHOOL!

Readers — Maybe it’s Malaysia that is the land of the free and the home of the brave. This 7th grade boy, Nayati, sure embodies all that — along with a shining optimism.

The story (as far as I know) is this: Nayati was recently kidnapped by two men and held for six days, then somehow (I have no idea how) returned to his home and his community. His school called a special assembly and unveiled the surprise guests to the kids: The boy and his parents! Then, according to the blog Global  Anni, run by an ex-pat teacher in Kuala Lumpur:

Well the standing ovations and tears would not stop! He came down off the stage and walked up the theater steps into the audience and hugged all his classmates, teachers and parents. He then walked down the row of seats where the 7thgraders were sitting and took a seat among his peers. Many of us have still not stopped sobbing.

When the assembly was dismissed, Nayati walked to our breezeway and continued to hug and thank everyone. His father tweeted that Nayati had decided to walk home from school. Holding his friends’ hands he walked right past the place he had been abducted 6 days earlier and went home to hang out with his buddies.

I’m cheering, too. What a boy, what an outlook. And what  a great school that allows him to continue being a confident kid! — L.

Nayati and friends.

A Walmart Abduction Attempt — And What the Video Means

Hi Readers! By now, you probably have seen the shocking video (below) of 7-year-old Brittney Baxter fighting off a would-be kidnapper in the toy aisle of the Bremen, Ga., Walmart.

What you may not realize is that this is a scene you will be seeing forever — replayed on the news and then re-imagined on “Law & Order” (though the show will change the name of the store, or maybe the guy will be kidnapping twins). Then you will see it playing again in your very own brain when you wonder to yourself, “Is it safe to let my child play in the toy aisle while I get some fruit?”

And the answer may well be: “No! Are you kidding? It only takes a second for someone to snatch a child! Let’s go to the videotape!” And your brain will be right — and also very wrong.

First, let’s give props where props are due. Brittney did everything right. Snatched by a stranger, she screamed and kicked, making the guy almost immediately drop her and run. This is a textbook case of a kid realizing that someone is out to hurt her and making a big scene. Most criminals hate scenes. So what I’ve taught my kids and others is to recognize abuse and resist it. This same knowledge also will help them in the 93 percent of abuse cases that involve not a stranger, but someone they know. So that’s all good.

What is not so good is the fact that Brittney’s attempted abduction is going to be the file many parents call up when they think about whether their kids are ever safe apart from them. As Brittney’s mom said in an interview, she doesn’t want to take her eyes off her daughter ever again.

That’s understandable — what a horrible thing the whole family just lived through! The other thing they just lived through, however, is proof that their little girl can handle herself in a terrible situation that is, thank goodness, rare.  How rare?

Rare enough to make news across this country and, thanks to that video, the world.

When we base our everyday decisions on exceedingly rare events, we are not making ourselves safer. In fact, as David Ropeik — Harvard instructor and author of “How Risky Is It, Really?” — points out, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many people canceled their plane reservations. They didn’t feel safe flying, even though the attacks were an extremely rare event.

So instead, they drove where they were going. And according to separate studies at Cornell University and the University of Michigan, highway fatalities jumped by roughly 1,000 for the last quarter of 2001. People felt safer taking their cars. But they weren’t, because airplanes are safe.

So are Walmarts. So is turning your head away when you are out with your 7-year-old.

It’s hard to believe after seeing this video. It’s even hard to write, because I’m so glad the girl is alive and well. But the truth is that there will be millions of parents at Walmart this weekend, along with millions of kids. They will shop, pay and leave (probably with some extra chips they promised themselves they wouldn’t buy).

When we worry about the safety of our loved ones, we won’t flash on videos of those mundane shopping excursions, because we never will see them. Never. What we see are the plane crashes. The towers falling. Brittney. And instead of saying a little prayer and going boldly forth, we press rewind and live in fear.

The news shows bring us this story ostensibly to celebrate the little girl’s bravery. In reality, it is one of the many assaults they make at our own. Fight back as if your own soul was being abducted. — L.

Why Are Parents So Scared? Ask Barry “Culture of Fear” Glassner

Hi Folks! Just read a wonderful, cogent Q&A with Barry Glassner, the author of The Culture of Fear and now the prez of Lewis & Clark University. He’s been tracking our escalating worries for over a decade and come to the same conclusions as me (he came to them first!!)  about where the fear is coming from and perhaps how to fight it. My favorite part of the interview:

Why are so many people afraid of such extreme possibilities? 

We need to be careful to distinguish how people respond to fear mongering and who is spreading the fears. If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely, it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.

But to understand why we have so many fears, we need to focus on who is promoting the fears.

What’s your advice for someone faced with “fear-filled” news? 

If I can point to one thing, it’s this: Ask yourself if an isolated incident is being treated as a trend. Ask if something that has happened once or twice is “out of control” or “an epidemic.” Just asking yourself that question can be very calming. The second (suggestion) is, think about the person who is trying to convey the scary message. How are they trying to benefit, what do they want you to buy, who do they want you to vote for? That (question) can help a lot.

It sure can. That’s why I try to ask it a lot: Are they doing this to get ratings? Are they over-scaring us about some unlikely or minor problem so they can sell us something to assuage the fear they  just created?

The problem, of course, fear also becomes an echo chamber: If TV keeps showing us abductions to garner ratings, those scary stories resonate for the average person who is NOT trying to sell anything, but has been shaken to his shoes. Now he truly believes he’s being helpful warning us, “Don’t let your kids play on the front lawn, they could be snatched!” or, “Don’t let go of your child’s hand at the store, EVER.”

How to leech the fear infection out of those folks is in part what Free-Range is always trying to figure out. Suggestions welcome! — L.

Help Needed: How New Is TV’s Kids-Getting-Killed Obsession?

Hi Folks! This article on tv.msn talks about the trend of using kids in danger — or actually murdered — as the “newest” hook on TV dramas. It lists several of this season’s shows — “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “American Horror Story,” “Dexter” — that feature poisoned, executed and/or potentially eviscerated kids, including baby twins.

I totally agree that these shows are using the ultimate terror as the ultimate hook. But I don’t see this as a spanking new trend. The handful of “Law & Order” episodes I’ve watched  over the years involved kids snatched off the street to their doom. And certainly, in the movies, missing or dead children catapult a legion of righteous cops and crazed parents into action.

So I’m asking you, folks: Do you have any thoughts about how long this trend has been mounting? A professor friend I was talking to the other day, Leonard Cassuto, said that the very SIGHT of a dead child had been taboo on TV until recently. I’d love to hear from some of you who watch and digest TV fare: What are the trends on TV dramas right now, vis a vis kids in peril?  Thanks for cogitating on this with me. — L.

Hello, children! Won't you step into my edgy TV drama?

P.S. And if you need a break from thinking such somber thoughts, you will LOVE this short video.

Scaring Kids Out of Their Wits — Literally

Hi Readers! I got this note and, in addition to being appalled, I was angry. The 10 year old in the story is literally being scared out of his wits by his mom. By”wits” I mean his brain, his senses. His mom is teaching him never to employ those, but to automatically go straight to fear. There is no way for this kid to learn how to distinguish between “pretty safe” and “dangerous.” It’s ALL dangerous. Good ol’ Worst-First Thinking, for a new generation.  

At Free-Range Kids, we encourage kids to sharpen their wits, not snuff ’em out. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently, we had a 10 year old over to play with my sons, ages 7 and 9.  I realized, however, that I had an appointment to go to.  I told this boy he could either go home or accompany us to my appointment.  He said he wanted to stay with us.  With this in mind, I brought a laptop with a  movie to keep the three of them entertained for the 45 minutes I expected to be 5 feet away from them, inside an examination room just off of the waiting area. (This office is not busy and there is only one other practitioner, so I knew they would only possibly encounter one other human “stranger” in the time I was in my appointment.)

In the car, I explained to this 10 year old where I would be and  that they would watch a movie.  Unfortunately the preview threw this kid into a full-fledged panic.  He said, “Oh, no, I can’t do that.  Oh, no. No way.  I’m not supposed to be somewhere alone or I’ll be abducted.”

I asked, “Who is going to abduct you?”

“The people,” he said.

I compassionately explained that I would be five feet away, simply IN THE NEXT ROOM, just like I am when he plays at our house, and that he would not be alone.  If he needed me he could knock on the door or call out my name and I would come right out.

Unfortunately, my explanations made zero impression on this child.  Apparently, his mother had drilled into him a fear of stranger abduction so deep that he could not fathom sitting  in a room with two other kids only feet away from a trusted adult.  I instead drove him home to his mother who thanked me and said she would never let him sit in a waiting room “alone.”

This world she is afraid of is not a world I care to live in, so I don’t.  I choose to live in a different world.  One in which my kids can feel they are safe. — A Frustrated Free-Range Mother of Two

Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe on Trains

Hi Readers: What generally brings us together here at Free-Range Kids is the belief that today’s children are safer and more competent than our culture gives them credit for. So I thought I’d present a letter I just got from someone who read my Amtrak column in a newspaper, not here at this site:

My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak?  My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.

There is really no security.  People jump on and off at different train stops.  No one checks luggage.  An adult could easily snatch a youngster.

Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised.  The common sense that is lacking is yours. 

Not a radical – retired high school principal.

Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie?  The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!

And then there’s the issue of kids being snatched right and left. Well, potentially, anyway, and that’s good enough for this letter writer: The fact that a child could, in theory, “easily” get grabbed by an adult (with none of the other passengers noticing, I guess), is reason enough not to let even seventh graders ride the train solo. Heck, using that reasoning, why let them do anything where they could be “easily” grabbed? Why let them walk to school, or get an ice cream? Think about the worst thing that could happen and plan accordingly! This is not “radical,” according to the writer,  and as proof he points out that he is a retired principal. (The writer is a male.)

The sad thing is that he IS radical. But he doesn’t feel it, because our whole CULTURE is radical. It has taken the radical new view that children are too vulnerable to do almost anything without adult supervision.

It also has started to believe that nothing is safe without an official safetymeister checking it first. And then, if there is even the smallest possibility that sometime, under some circumstances, it could somehow be UNSAFE, that’s reason enough to declare it verboten.

So now we — the folks who believe in the world — are seen as radicals, while the crazy paranoid nutjobs are becoming our overlords. If that’s the case, well then, okay, redefine me. I’m a raging radical, ready to take them on. — L.S.

From My Mailbox: “10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Kids”

Hi Readers — Out of the blue I got this “tip” sheet with a request to post it. As I replied to the sender: “I have a feeling you are not very familiar with my blog.”

Those of you who ARE familiar with the basic Free-Range Kids concept that our kids are less endangered and more capable than pop culture suggests, may be surprised to see just how far the over-protection faction seems willing to go:

10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Teen

On October 10, 2011, in in my area, by admin

Teens have access to unprecedented amounts of technology, and the problem is, they usually know how to use it better than their parents. With sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and internet predators in abundance, parents need to closely monitor what their teens are doing on the internet and beyond. The best way to do this is to use the newest technology available to spy on their teens. Kids may not appreciate it, but it’s important for parents to know what their teens are up to at this impressionable age when they don’t always make good decisions. Here are 10 ways to use technology to spy on your teen.

  1. Nanny cam – Originally used to monitor in-home caregivers, nanny cams can be used to spy on your teens as well. These hidden cameras can be installed in common household objects and placed strategically throughout your home. Parents of teens may consider putting one in their teen’s bedroom to make sure their child is not engaging in inappropriate behavior when they’re not home.
  2. Facebook – Friend your teens on facebook to monitor what they’re posting on their facebook page. If you suspect they are blocking you from some of their postings, you could get sneaky and pose as someone else, such as another teen, to find out what they’re really up to.
  3. Twitter – It’s also a good idea to follow your kids on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about. Your teen will be more likely to be careful about what they tweet if they know you’re watching. This can help prevent inappropriate pictures being sent into cyberspace where they will live on forever.
  4. Internet search history – Periodically check your teen’s internet search history on their computer to see what they looking at when they surf the web. Are they doing research for homework or just watching You Tube? Make sure you block any porn sights and check to see if the blocks are still in place. Teens will find ways to get around your parental controls, so hold them accountable if they do.
  5. Email – While you’re at it, check on their email history too. Teens won’t like the fact that you’re doing this and will accuse you of invading their privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but so is your concern for their safety. Unless you know that they’re using the computer responsibly, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it unsupervised.
  6. Computer monitor – If you want to know what your teen is doing on their computer and are concerned they will delete any information they don’t want you to see, you can install a monitor to keep track of their computer activity. These monitors can record every keystroke, websites visited, take screen snapshots and give you detailed reports. This is the best way to monitor chat rooms, email and any social networking your teen is engaging in.
  7. Remote monitoring – The technology is also available to have these monitoring reports sent to your email so you can stay informed of your teen’s activities while you’re away from home. This is a great feature if you travel a lot for business. It’s also a good way for your child to let you know instantly if they’re in trouble.
  8. Cell phone monitor – You can get a similar monitoring system to track your child’s cell phone activity. These devices will send you reports on their calls, texting, location, web history and any pictures taken. Teens with mobile phone technology are more likely to use it than their home computers. This is also a great way to deter teen abductions and know instantly if anything goes wrong.
  9. Car monitor – Teens don’t always use good judgment when they get behind the wheel, so a car monitor is another way to use technology to spy on them. These GPS devices not only track where your kids are going, but what speed they’re driving and if they’re out past their curfew. They can even be set to give your teen an audible warning if they’re driving recklessly and emit an ear piercing sound if they’re driving too fast or staying out too late.
  10. Home security – Many people have security systems installed in their homes that can be used to spy on their teens. Security cameras can be reviewed plus checking the alarm history can let you know the exact time your child enters and leaves the house.

Of course your teen is not going to like all this spying, especially if you are doing it on the sly, so be sure to let them know what you’re doing and why. Be careful not to overreact over every little piece of information you get or your teen will find ways to get around your monitoring. There’s a delicate balance between ensuring your child’s safety and just plain being snoopy. Give them as much privacy as you can, but be ready to broach their boundaries if you think they’re in real danger.

LENORE HERE AGAIN: So let’s get this straight: We should put video cameras in our kids’ bedrooms and GPS devices in their cars, even as we follow them on the web and monitor their emails and phone calls?

Isn’t this what the government does with suspected terrorists?

The jolly publicist who sent me these suggestions concluded her email request for me to post them by saying, “It has been a sincere pleasure to read your great content.”

Something tells me she has not really had that pleasure, ever. But maybe now she’ll read your comments. — L