Warning! Divorced Dad at Home During Sleepover!!!

Hi Folks! Here’s why I rag on the parenting magazines. Not only do they obsess about every little detail of parenting as if it’s a make-or-break  decision, but often they indulge in Worst-First thinking (dreaming up the worst possible scenario and proceeding as if it is likely to happen). Here’s a shining example, cribbed from a longer article in Parenting (via CNN), titled, “The New Playdate Playbook.” It’s a Dear Abby-like list of Q&A’s  for parents totally stressed out by the enormous difficulty of planning, running, overseeing, perfecting and interrupting their kids’ playdates. (And “sitch” is, of course, short for “situation.”)- L.

The Sitch: You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal’s divorced dad will be home. You’re not OK with it. What to do?

The Solution: “Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Paone. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.

Lenore here again: Because…a man is assumed to be a predator unless his wife is around? That’s the working assumption every time your child encounters a single dad? Is this advice or indoctrination? Is this sane or paranoid? Would it possibly make more sense to (as I always suggest) teach your child to recognize, resist and report abuse, rather than to assume the very worst is going to happen when they encounter a male of the species?  Just askin’! — L. 

Now Our Kids are Too Delicate to Handle the Glare of Notebook Paper?

Readers — I just got some “helpful” back-to-school tips from a famous sunscreen company. (Hint: Think dog and little girl and bathingsuit.) Not only does that company really want kids to wear — this’ll surprise you — sunscreen when they go out for recess, but it had some other suggestions. Well, two, actually, one of which was for kids to wear a comfortable (as opposed to uncomfortable) backpack. Never woulda thought of that! The one single other “tip”?

Students spend so much time staring at paper, it may surprise you to know that the higher the contrast, the more strain on your son or daughter’s eyes. If the school allows it, give your child yellow or green paper. These colors actually offer reduced contrast and brightness, easing the strain on their eyes.

So basically, the sunscreen company is suggesting that, ever since Guttenberg, our kids have been going blind, or at least under difficult visual duress, thanks to that darn white paper.

As for the sunscreen company: I understand that you have to gussy up your “tip list” with other ideas, so it didn’t look like all you care about is selling more sunscreen. But it sure looks like all you care about is selling more sunscreen (and coming up with ridiculous new worries, so the idea of kids slathering themselves in sunscreen for 15 minutes of recess seems less extreme.) — L

Oh Thank You, I Could Never Have Figured This Out on My Own

Hi Readers — I just found this website: How to Write Letters to Camp. Apparently all you have to do is master five simple steps! The website features three different greetings you might consider to address your child: “Dear Michael.” “Hi Mikey!” “Hey Kiddo!”

Phew! I had no idea how to start a letter to my own kid! Now I do!

Here’s a sample letter the site gives:  “Yesterday the weather was sunny in the 80s.  Dad and I woke up at 7 and walked the dog.  Dad went off to work and got home at about 7.  Your grandparents came over (they look great and say hello by the way) and we all went to that new Italian restaurant on Main Street.  We enjoyed the shrimp scampi…”

We need this kind of instruction because otherwise…what?  We might accidentally write an INTERESTING letter?  Or is the problem that parents can’t possibly think of anything to say to their kids? We need someone TELLING us what is APPROPRIATE to say in a letter, and reminding us that we better do it RIGHT? God forbid, we write a less than supportive, chatty, funny DAILY note, and our kid never recovers from the shock and disappointment of a sub-par letter?

I know that this is an upbeat site just trying to spread a little cheer and I really don’t want to dump on it. The guy running it sounds delightful. But the fact that there are pages and pages of instructions on what to INCLUDE in a letter — jokes! questions! encouragement! — and how to FRAME a family anecdote and how to LET our kids KNOW WE CARE is one of the things that drives me crazy about our society today: The idea we need EXPERT ADVICE on simply being parents. The idea that there is a right way and a wrong way to “relate” to our kids. The idea that even the simplest of daily activities is now a major challenge that we shouldn’t attempt before consulting a reference site, and that once we’ve studied up, we must  work on perfecting the activity, lest we fall short and “cheat” our kids out of a teachable, incalculably valuable moment. (And don’t get me started on the fact that the blog also suggests we can add an “SAT word of the day.” No — do NOT get me started.)

Somehow, we have taken every aspect of parenting and pulled it apart into tiny sub-parenting particles to examine and refine and fret about. When, really folks: It’s a letter to camp. You get out a sheet of paper, you say hi, and you drop it in the mail. (You remember mail, right?) You can do it without an advanced degree. You can do it without inserting the best possible joke or story. You can even do it without this — an actual “fill in the blank” template for parents to write to kids, including my favorite line: “Whatever you did, we’re very, very proud of you for trying!”

Very VERY proud. Whatever gosh darn thing you did, we are bursting with parental pride.

But you know what, parents? I believe in YOU, too. Can you write a letter to your child at camp? Hey, Parent-o, yes you can! And I’m so very, very proud of you!  — L.

And they're off to camp! But do you know how to write them a letter?

WWAFD? (What Would Atticus Finch Do?)

Hi Readers! Normally I just tweet the lovely essays that come my way, linked from other sites. This one I have to recommend right HERE, to make sure everyone knows about it. It’s titled, “The Best Parenting Book You Will Ever Read,” which happens to be “To Kill a Mockingbird.” The piece (from Australia!) addresses several situations in a Then vs. Now way, such as:

• There’s a reclusive man living in your street. Widely believed to have stabbed his elderly father in the leg with scissors. Probably kills and eats cats.

What we do now: Sadly the police can’t do much unless someone found bloody scissors or saw a cat in a sandwich, so the next step would be to get the media to investigate. Then we’d get a petition together to have the man moved. Possibly via a Facebook page. Only then would children be allowed out unaccompanied.

What Atticus did: He told Scout and Jem to respect the man’s privacy. Also, they were not to refer to him by his nickname, ‘Boo’ but as ‘Mr Arthur.’ When the kids tried to lure him from his home and were chased by Arthur’s father with a gun, Atticus sided with the old man.

• Six year old daughter complains twelve year old brother bosses her around. She asks ‘do I have to do what he says?’

What we do now: Investigate what is causing the conflict. Is daughter not being given enough attention? Is son being bullied and is therefore exhibiting bullying behavior? Are the children unsettled because their father is a single parent? Are they spending too much time together? Should separate schools be considered?

What Atticus did: He took Scout on his lap and said, ‘Let’s leave it at this: you mind Jem whenever he can make you. Fair enough?’ That gave both kids a something think about.

The rest of the essay is just as good. I loved it. — L.

“Anything Could Happen!”

Hi Readers! To get the blood flowing this Monday morn:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I got a random issue of a parenting magazine in the mail. I don’t subscribe, but I guess it’s a teaser issue to try to drag me in.  There’s a Q&A feature in which a mother asked if it was okay to leave her 2.5-year-old in the living room watching a movie while she put her infant down for the night, which involves nursing the baby to sleep in another room.  (From my experience, this is usually a 15 minute task, 30 minutes, max.)

The response from the “expert” (with some sort of PhD behind her name)?  NO!!!, because Something Could Happen.  The advice?  Put your 2.5-y-o in a “contained” place and don’t nurse the baby to sleep but put him or her down more quickly, if you must be apart at all.  Even better, the implication is, would be to nevereverever let your 2.5 year old out of your sight, not even for a MINUTE.

Yeah, right.  As I was reading that, my 2-year-old was in the living room alone, using a movie to wind down for the night after all the stimulation of grandparents.  I bet that “expert” would call CPS is she saw the neighborhood gang roaming around the semi-country acre lots on our cul-de-sac –“unsupervised,” sometimes.  There is a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, two 6-year-olds, a moderately to severely mentally retarded 4-year-old, and the aforementioned 2-year-old, all playing happily while parents do no more than glance out the window periodically and keep an ear out.  Heck, she’d lead the lynch mob herself if she knew that we let the older four wander in the woods behind the neighborhood by themselves!

My 2-year-old HAS been injured enough to take note–twice, in fact.  And both times, she was being directly supervised by an adult in the same room with her.  Once, she was within arm’s reach and just tripped, fell, and put her tooth through her lip.  The other time, she nose-dived through a screen to an open window that was 10 inches from the ground and scraped the bridge of her nose on the brick.  There was no way to be fast enough.  Accidents happen.

But the worst she’s suffered when outside with the boys is a skinned knee because they have been raised to be responsible–as I am raising her.

NEEDED: Legal Advice on Having Fun

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter I couldn’t answer. Can any of you? If so, please do! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Regarding, “No More Playing in the Dark, Kids.” What would be helpful to know, is how we  — parents, scout leaders, teachers and other carers of children — can find ways around this.  For example:

*Are disclaimers needed to be signed by parents and children?

*Can leaders do spur-of-the-moment activities or must every thing be risk assessed in advance? I’m all for a little sponaneity.

The Telegraph article is sparse on the details. I’d like to know precisely why the scout leader was deemed negligent. There’s not enough info about the environment in which the game was played either.

It concerns me that these cases are still coming to court and being won. How can we turn the tide here?

Advice for Worriers

Hi Readers! Jeffrey Goldberg penned this pretty darn perfect bit of advice in a column called, “What’s Your Problem?” in the current issue of The Atlantic. Here’s the question:

Ever since our first child was born, I have slept very poorly. When I close my eyes, my mind becomes crowded with worries. I worry about my kids’ safety, their future, college education, happiness, just about anything you could think of. Is there anything I can do to put my mind at ease?

N.E., Atlanta, Ga.

Dear N.E.,

Alas, no. You are suffering from an incurable disease called parenthood. The birth of a child is the most transcendent moment in a person’s life. It also marks the beginning of what I call “The Great Terror”…

Goldberg’s timeless advice?

To put your mind at ease, I suggest removing from your home all knives, turpentine, No. 2 pencils, bathtubs, medicine, electrical outlets, chairs, peanut butter, and stairs. You should also try to remember that many of the hazards facing our children are overblown: the Crimes Against Children Research Center, for instance, notes that rates of sexual assault, bullying, and other violence against children have declined substantially in recent years, despite media suggestions to the contrary. But statistics be damned; fear is fear. Only death frees you of worry entirely, and the onset of death brings its own anxieties. However, one advantage of death is that your children will no longer torment you with incessant demands for iPads and Ke$ha downloads.

Jeff, if you come hereto Free-Range kids: WE LOVE YOU! — L.

Not Letting Scary Myths Go Un-busted

Hi Readers: Here are some excerpts from a discussion going on — the kind of discussion we can all undertake, when we come face to face with the safety “advice”  that only makes people more scared.  The tips that begin this exchange (vastly edited down, by me) were posted on a PTA list serve by a police department’s “safety expert.” Here goes:


If you are a parent, you are certainly concerned about the increasing
amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages. From
assaults, molestation and kidnapping of very young children, to brutal
muggings, date-rape and murder of college-age students, violence against
children is a terrifying occurrence that strikes numerous families every
day. However, by taking certain precautionary steps, you and your
children can reduce the possibility of your family becoming victims…

– Teach your children to keep the doors and windows in your home locked
at all times. Instruct them that they must never open the door to a
stranger, even if you are home with them….

– When out with your children, never leave them unattended –
anywhere! Don’t leave them alone in your car (even if you are just
running inside the store “for a minute,” or if you are pumping gas
at a self-service gas station). In these instances, you are inviting a
kidnapping, a carjacking or both! Don’t leave your children alone in
a store while you are shopping. Keep an eye on them constantly. It
only takes a split second for a criminal to abduct your children and a
crowded store is no protection.

– While on vacation…Don’t let your children travel from your hotel room to the pool, or any other area, without supervision. You do not want them in an elevator with a stranger or walking in an area in which they could easily be assaulted or abducted.

– Don’t let your children use a public restroom alone. Always go
with them.

– Be sure that your child is not alone when playing outside.

– Reconsider putting your children’s names on their clothing or
possessions in visible locations. If you can see it, so can the
criminals. They can then use the children’s names to convincingly
deceive them…

Protecting older children (middle school through high school):

Most of the safety tips and rules described in the previous part of
this are applicable to older children as well….Please review the previous paragraphs carefully and select those tips and rules that apply to them.

– Talk to your children about the importance of avoiding gang members.

– Tell your children to avoid all contact with drugs and alcohol.

College Students:

….Today’s college students MUST pay extra attention to personal safety.

– Freshmen need to be extra careful as they may be targets for abuse by

– Be aware that criminal attacks on campuses are on the rise and should
be taken seriously.

– Always lock your room door when you leave, even if it’s for a short time if you’re just going down the hall.

– When studying in the library, be observant. Often, the best places to study (quiet, unpopulated areas) are the best places to be victimized.

– Don’t go to parties alone, especially if alcohol is served. Never
leave your drink unattended or accept open drinks from someone you
don’t know.


Dear Ms. P.,

A member of our PTA Listserve just posted your list of recommendations to keep children safe.  I appreciate your concern for children’s safety, but worry that general statements such as “the increasing amount of criminal activity directed against children of all ages” lead people to believe that these types of abduction-type scenarios are common now, when in fact they are incredibly and increasingly rare when you look at the actual data.

…Of course I want them to protect [my kids] from extreme circumstances, but with these warnings, you paint a picture of a world in which predators are everywhere, waiting to pounce at any second, and that my children and I need to be fearful of every person and every situation.  This is not how I want to raise my children.

Please make it clear in future communications of the true likelihood of any of these horrific events.


Alison Risso


Dear Alison: While I appreciate your feedback, the safety tips are just that — tips to make people aware…. While the tips may be overwhelming to you, I have received feedback from others who appreciated receiving them…. I think it would be remiss of me to give these tips and then in the next sentence relay that the probability of it happening is nil.


Dear Ms. P.,

Thank you for your response.  As I said, my objection was….to the statements that these sorts of crimes against children are increasing.  This simply isn’t true and, as a representative of the police department, I expect you to present solid, objective information.


AND NOW A WORD FROM ME, LENORE: I love Alison for not letting this expert’s alarmism pass as fact. And I am appalled that this rep from the police department would perpetuate the idea that any moment our kids are in the car alone for three minutes, they are in danger of kidnapping. Or if they are one aisle away from us at the grocery store, they are in danger of kidnapping. Or if they are in an elevator with someone other than their next-of-kin, they are in danger of … you get the idea.

With Alison as a role model, let’s make 2011 the year we don’t let this bad advice get a free ride. (Especially from a stranger! Yikes!) — Lenore

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Cops Threaten Mom for Letting Son Play Outside

Hi Readers! This mom, Kimberlee Morrison of kimleeisawesome, needs a pep talk from all of us — and perhaps some legal advice. You’ll see why. L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve been warned. Literally. By the police. My son left the park, went to El Pollo Loco and asked for water. A stranger asked him if he was hungry, the Boy, thinking the guy was being nice, said sure. The guy bought him some food — and called the police.

The police called me and insisted it was not safe for me to let my 8-year-old “wander the streets alone.” They hit me with the normal fear tactics: He could have been hit by a car, he could have been kidnapped. What if he had wandered off somewhere else and the stranger hadn’t been nice enough to involve the authorities?

To which I countered that there is no law against letting my son go to the park, and that the only problem right now is that the supposedly nice person HAD involved the authorities, even though my son was fine. My son was not lost, he wasn’t injured, he wasn’t afraid, he was just thirsty. I was told that since others thought something was wrong, I should too. Now I’m questioning my Free-Range philosophy.

By law, he is old enough to be alone, but the police insisted that the only reason I wasn’t going to jail is because they had decided it wasn’t necessary. They did, however ask to see where we lived, which I agreed to in the spirit of being cooperative.

Now we’re a little shaken up here, mostly by the threat of, “I could take you to jail right now,” and the fear that the Boy might not be allowed to go to the park anymore without me hovering. None of the other kids in our community are allowed outside the gate. So what do I do? Keep him locked inside? Hover? I want to be Free-Range, but not at the risk of my son being thrown into the system because of it.
Oh, yeah, I asked what age would be appropriate for him to go to the park and was told 13 or 14. So he has to be a teenager before he’s allowed to navigate the world without me at his side.
I’m so sad. Kids are supposed to be able to go outside and play. But everyone is so afraid. I don’t know what to do. I could use a pep talk right now, and some guidance. – Kimberlee
Dear Kimberlee: I’m shaken up, too. My blood curdles when the authorities use their own fears and prejudices to decide what is “good parenting,” or even “safe,” rather than consulting the law OR the actual statistics, which show we are living in very safe times. (Crime has been going down for 16 years and is now back at the level of 1974. It was higher in the ’70s and ’80s, when most of today’s parents — and cops — were growing up.)
The idea of curbing your son’s happy, normal childhood and locking him inside for the next five years is tragic. It’s ironic, too, considering that cops are supposed to MAKE the town safe, not tell people, “We can’t! Just stay inside.”
I know, that beyond this site, many folks would say, “The boy CAN go outside! She just has to supervise him.” But since when do adults spend from 3-6 p.m. outside, then come in for dinner, and then head outside again? And spend all day Saturdays outside? And Sundays? A summers? The idea that parents should be in the same place as their 8-year-old children all the time is a new one, born of unreasonable fear.
So what should this mom do?
Well, I’d certainly arm my son with a note from me that says I approve of him being outside, and that he knows how to contact me, and you, concerned stranger, can, too.  Then I’d include my phone number. As in my Free-Range Kids membership card (you can find it in my book), I’d add some statistics about things like the fact he’d be more in danger IN MY CAR than in the park.  And I guess I’d go Xerox any local ordinances that say a child of his age can legally be outside, unsupervised.
Then again, I actually did that when my younger son was 10 and taking a commuter train. I gave him a phone, I printed out the Transit Authority’s home page that said children age 8 and up are allowed to travel unaccompanied, and I still got a call from the police after the conductor felt “nervous” about seeing a boy traveling alone and called the cops. They ended up letting my son go (after asking me the inevitable, “What if some guys had tried to abduct him?”), but the whole thing was unsettling. And who wants the threat of legal action going any further?
After that episode, we continued to allow our son to travel solo, but it became a little nerve-wracking. And Kimberlee had an even closer police encounter regarding an even more everyday activity: playing. I’d like the cops to think about what the parks are for if NOT for kids to play? No wonder so many playgrounds are empty!
So my suggestion, heart-in-mouth, Kim, is to let your son go back outside. If he can find a friend to go with him, so much the better. If you want to give him a phone so he can contact you, I guess that might make some sense (even though, if he’s anything like my own sons, then he’ll spend at least part of his outdoor time fiddling with the phone).
Our Free-Range goal, when you get right down to it, is to change this terrified society. I am pretty terrified of the authorities myself. But I am really terrified of a society that keeps children locked inside — just like the kidnappers it is obsessed by — for no reason other than misplaced fear.
I wish you and your son everything good. And, for what it’s worth, I am in your corner and will support you whatever way I can, if and when you need it. But I sure hope you don’t. — Lenore

Dear Annie: Is It True That Every Time a Child is Alone He Gets Abducted?

Readers — Here the latest from Annie’s Mailbox, which is apparently chock full of psychotics.  If you ever wonder why Americans are so obsessed with fear, dread and predators, here’s a little hint:

Dear Annie: Last weekend, I stayed at an upscale motel where they serve breakfast in the lobby. After eating, I went to the elevator, and a little boy, perhaps 6 years old, left the table where his father was eating and announced, “I’m going up to Mom.” Dad agreed, and the boy rode up to the third floor with me, chatting the whole time, before getting off on my floor and pounding on a door farther down the hall.

Annie, this child could have been abducted at any time. The elevator was at the intersection of two hallways and was 10 feet from a stairwell.

Anyone could have gotten on that elevator or been in the hallway when he got off.

I was tempted to say something to the parents, but figured I would be told to mind my own business. Please remind parents that the world is not child friendly and safe, and even the most responsible “big boy” or girl could disappear in a matter of seconds. — Concerned in Texas

Dear Texas: We appreciate the heads up. Most children are safer than we fear, but still, parents need to be cautious and alert. A motel is filled with strangers, and there are hallways, doorways and empty rooms where kids can be lost — or taken. It is foolish to allow young children to run around unseen and unsupervised in such places, not only because the child can lose his way, but because it presents an opportunity for those with malicious intent. Next time, speak up. Even if the parents tell you to MYOB, they might be more circumspect in the future.