Outrage of the Week: Mom HANDCUFFED for Tardy Kids

Hi Folks — This blog, as you know, is always trying to distinguish between real threats to children and the over-hyped ones. In this case, the fear of children being neglected or falling behind has gone overboard.  The mom is due in court this morning  — Wednesday. I wish her a lot of luck, and a judge with compassion and common sense. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Here in Loudoun, VA,  I am a the mother of three little girls at an elementary school who was just ARRESTED for getting my girls late to school. After the fifth offense there was a meeting with a truant officer. We were late twice since then, which resulted in the surprise of three officers showing up on this Sat night ( 1.21.2012),  where I was literally handcuffed and brought to the Adult Detention Center to meet with the magistrate who chose to release me with a $3,000 bond promised to be paid if I fail to show up for the arraignment in a few days.  [N.B. The court date is Weds., Jan. 25.]

The charge is “contributing to the delinquency of her minor children.”  The VA code is written that after five absences the truant officer meets with parents and then works with them in cases in which students are absent without awareness and notification from a parent.  My truant officer seems to miss the rather obvious distinction between ABSENCE without a parent’s knowledge, and TARDINESS.  Our lateness has been, on average, less than ten minutes.

Considering that all four of us — the kids and me — have had medical care for disabilities (some with a diagnosis of ADHD, others with other psychological issues, which the school is very aware of),  I find it not only a waste of resources and taxpayer dollars to engage our police and courts for this, but  also an absolute failure on the part of our school to service those with disabilities with any sort of empathy and understanding. There is nothing short of animosity in their treatment of me as a mother, as if I am incompetent due to the one problem of having difficulty getting my children to school on time.

While it is debatable whether or not I am a decent mother, EVEN IF I WERE NOT it would hardly be CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR to be so imperfect. — A Virginia Mom

Lenore here again: I agree. Once we start criminalizing imperfect parents, all of us are at risk…because there are no perfect parents.  

Off Topic But…Frosty Arrested!

Hi Folks: Sometimes you have to post a story just because…you know it’ll go viral. Check out Frosty the Snowman getting arrested!  

And here’s the news story about it. The reader who sent this to me lives in the state where it occurred, Maryland, and writes that, “… for the record, this is not a really large parade — it is a very rural area, they easily could have followed him around the corner and arrested him after the parade.”

Anyway, I”ll attend to more Free-Range Kids issues very soon. But it’s a stronger blogger than I who can resist a snowman arrest. And while we’re on the (off) topic, here’s a link to one of the coolest books I ever read (liked it so much I ended up befriending the author!), Bob Eckstein’s History of the Snowman. It’s a funny, factual, fascinating history of one of the world’s earliest forms of sculpture — a form even kids used to make outside, on their own!

Which reminds me of something totally ON topic. Check out THIS:  The LL Bean “Snowman Kit” — a toy carrot for the nose, toy “coal,” etc. Because, you know, it’s too hard for today’s kids to come up with any snowman accessories on their own. No, they should spend $29.95 on this kit! And of COURSE it says:   Warning: Should only be handled or used with adult supervision.

So, okay: On this particular post we have one gratitous Frosty video, one plug for my (now) friend’s book, and one real Free-Range outrage: The idea that kids can’t even stick a (fake!!!) carrot into a snowman without “adult supervision.” That frosts me! — L.

Cops Collar 12 y.o. for “Walking Alone” in Downtown Toronto

Hi Folks — Now that the notion, “How could anyone let their kids walk alone outside?” is back in heavy rotation,  here is the blog post of a mom whose 12 year old son was brought home to her by the cops. He wasn’t  in any trouble. He was simply scooped up because the cops didn’t think a middle schooler should be walking, by daylight, in an urban area. It freaked them out.

I always worry when people in power are scared of non-scary, formerly normal childhood activities.

As this boy was picked up in pretty much the same area that I’ve been staying in while I film my “Free-Range” reality show in Toronto, I can attest that it is not a scary nabe. It is bustling. But even if it weren’t, since when do police pick up boys who are doing just fine, walking home? From the blog post:

“I just wanted to walk home” he said dejectedly. “He’s not in any kind of trouble” the first officer said cheerfully. But then more sternly added “but he was walking on the downtown streets”. “We live downtown” I said, becoming confused. “Where is his school?” asked the second officer. “He’s in a camp this week, at the Jewish Community Centre – it’s at Spadina and Bloor”, I said wondering why two policemen would think a kid was in school in the middle of July. “Well ma’am, we picked him up at Yonge and Adelaide” he says, looking all strong and concerned. “Yes, I said, he was walking home, is that a problem?”. “He was walking…. alone…… downtown……….!!!” the officer gritted his teeth at my stupidity and spat out. “He’s 12”, he added as if this would make it all clear. “Do you not see the issue” he spurted? “So are you trying to tell me that because my child was getting exercise, being environmental and increasing his geographical skills, rather than sitting in the basement playing a video game, or hanging out in a mall, or sitting in a fast food restaurant filling his gutty wuts with hydrogenated trans sugar chemical slop, you were worried about him? Do you realize that at 12 he is old enough to babysit?” I asked.

Her fight is our fight: The fight against irrational fear, and a Worst-First mentality that assumes if a child is outside, he is likely to get in terrible trouble. When, in fact, the opposite is true. A child outside is a great thing for a city, a family, a kid. — Lenore

Help Needed! How Can We Let Our Kids Free-Range Without Us Getting Scolded (Or Arrested)?

Hi Readers! The question that Emily poses, below, is so central to Free-Ranging that I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t have a truly killer response.  But when in need,  as we teach our kids, ask for help. So that is what I’m doing –asking all of you: How can we let our kids do things on their own at an age that WE consider appropriate, if much of the rest of society does NOT?

I’d love to hear from any of you who have done this successfully, as well as those who have not. I’d also appreciate any feedback and/or tips from people who work in child protection, the police department or the law.

I really do want to come up with some simple, usable strategies beyond the ones I’ve suggested before, which include:

* Give your child a “Free-Range Kids Membership Card” that states his name and the fact that you, the parent, approve of him being on his own. (It also includes your phone number, so a skeptical adult can confirm this.)

* Get other kids involved, so there’s strength in numbers.

* Try giving a talk to the PTA about the fact that violent crime is down since the ’70s and ’80s, which means today’s kids are NOT more in danger than we were.

*Yuppie Jujitsu: When parents say children need hovering,  tell them recent studies show that unsupervised “free play” makes children less depressed, more fit AND it builds their cognitive capabilities. (Yuppies love the word “cognitive”!)

*And…what else? Eagerly awaiting your two cents! — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Sometimes I get so discouraged. I have a 7 year old boy, a 2.5 year old girl and a 1 year old boy. We live in an apartment building with no yard of our own. It’s also on the corner of two very busy streets. A few miles down the road, however, my father has a nice house in a suburban neighborhood. Two blocks away there are a playground, pool, library, grocery store and various small shops. When I was younger (7 or so), my best friend, younger brother and I would spend all day in this plaza, by ourselves. My lucky mother, haha! I would love a break like that!

Anyway, my son visits there often and I’d like him to be able to ride his bike around the neighborhood, go to the playground, and waste his allowance on candy at the store. I’d like him and his sister to be able to play in the (un-fenced-in) yard at my dad’s house. But I get SO many negative comments from just about everyone. Did I know my kids were on the porch ALONE?? Did I know my son rode his bike five houses away? Did I know my children were playing in THE DIRT????

Yes, I did. Thank you for your concern. Now please go away. Haha. I’m afraid that if I let my son go to the playground by himself, he’ll be accosted by every busybody along the way, and I’m even more worried that they’ll call the police.

Also, when we go out shopping, I let my son go to the toy aisle while I do my shopping nearby. When I go to “collect” him, there is always some other mom hovering and when she sees me she’ll say something like, “Oh, good, I just wanted to make sure he was safe.” Also while at the store, I occasionally have to take my 2 yr old to the bathroom. Rather than bring the baby in with us (which is ALWAYS a disaster), I’d like to leave him in the cart, by the door, with my older son. Yet, I fear the good-intentioned masses.

I’d appreciate any advice you can give me. Thank you! — Emily

Remember The Mom Arrested for Letting Her 12-Year-old Take Younger Sibs to Mall?

Hi Readers — Remember that story? A mom let her 12-year-old daughter and the girl’s friend take their combined three siblings to the mall. The kids shopped and had lunch but afterward, when the two older girls went into a dressing room to try on some shirts, they left the younger kids — 7 and 8 and a 3-year-old, who was in a stroller —  in the cosmetics department. Fearing God knows what (an attack by triplet pedophiles who snatch kids in public while nearby adults continue calmly selling cosmetics?), the clerks summoned mall security. Security brought the kids to the Macy’s office and hauled in the mom. The mom was arrested. And this is where the follow-up story, by Spiked Online’s fabulous Nancy McDermott, picks up. Read it here. And weep. — Lenore

A Prosecutor Debates the “Kids Waiting in the Car” Arrest

Hi Readers — A few posts down we were discussing a questionable arrest for “child endangerment.” In this case, the parents had left their  9- and 6-year-olds waiting in the car while they ran into Walmart for what turned out to be half an hour. Vis a vis child safety: The windows were cracked, the doors were locked, the 6-year-old was sleeping and the 9-year-old was reading. The older child was also given a cell phone.  Here is what one prosecutor wrote, which I found insightful:

I am a former prosecutor who worked for some time in abuse and neglect.  I have raised two kids–very much alive, healthy, and active–to their early 20’s.  If I had let every scenario that got played out in my courtroom define ‘reality’ for me I’d have never had children to begin with.  Come to think of it, if I had let every criminal law case I was ever involved with in any manner define reality for me, I’d barricade my home and never leave it.

The ‘reality’ is that we run risks every minute we are alive.  Which shall we, as individuals, change our behavior to avoid or minimize?  And what risk taking behavior should we, collectively, criminalize? 

The legislature of the State of NY has evidently seen fit to criminalize the ‘leaving’ of children ‘unattended’ in a parked automobile if the children are younger than a certain age.  But that is just statute.  An officer of the law has discretion to arrest or not; arrest is not mandatory and should not be.  An officer has the discretion, and is indeed obligated, to exercise his or her judgment in each and every situation the officer encounters than might involve law breaking as to whether or not an arrest should be made.

In this instance, unless the readers of this blog are not receiving some key piece of information, no harm or damage resulted from the actions of these parents.  The parent or parents were arrested not for something they did, but for the possibility that something harmful could occur.  And did not.

I don’t see what good can or will result from this arrest.  I do see that among the readers of this blog it is generating fear, anxiety, and resentment.  I expect that these parents will never leave a kid of theirs alone anywhere, under ANY circumstances, ever again.

If that is considered a ‘good’ and a legitimate exercise of legislative and police power, then there you have it.  To me, it sounds — in the very least — wacky and overblown, and perhaps grossly unfair, and even destructive. 

The desire and impulse to make the world safe for each and every child is a good one, but obviously impossible to effect.  Arrests such as these, in my opinion, deflect valuable (and expensive) police and governmental time and energies away from the myriad pressing dangers facing our children and young people…. Don’t even get me started on gang violence!

Lecture finis.

Thanks for it! I’d add that when we try to protect our kids from every possible “Worst Case” scenario, we forget that there is another worst  case we ignore: Raising children who believe the world is so dangerous that they’d better not try to do anything on their own, ever. — Lenore

Outrage of the Weekend: Man Arrested for Duck Impersonation

Hi Readers!  This just in, from Free-Ranger Deb Turner, who asks: “If you were shopping with your nine year old, and a man approached you and your child and did a Donald Duck imitation for the child, would you call 9-1-1? This happened in my local area.”
‘Duck’ didn’t ruffle any legal feathers
The case of an Oriskany man accused of frightening children and parents at Wal-Mart with his Donald Duck impression was dismissed from City Court on Friday.
A charge of endangering the welfare of a child was dismissed against Martin A. Tuzzolino, 55, by Judge Daniel C. Wilson, prosecutors said.
The case was dismissed on a motion by the public defender that the crime didn’t fit the charge, that there was no danger in Tuzzolino’s antics, prosecutors stated. At about 5:30 p.m. April 28, deputies said Tuzzolino approached a 9-year-old girl at Wal-Mart on Rome-Taberg Road and began speaking like Disney cartoon character Donald Duck.
Deputies said the girl started crying, and her mother called 9-1-1 to report the strange behavior. Tuzzolino left the store, and was arrested later for endangering.
To quote another terrifying cartoon duck:  Th-th-that’s despicable! — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: Mom Arrested for Letting Kids Go to the Mall

Readers: This article makes me so angry, I’d love us all to start thinking what we can do to change a society where danger-hallucinating authorities persecute and prosecute those of us still sane. Suggestions welcome. This piece originally appeared in Brain, Child.

By Bridget Kevane

On Saturday, June 16, 2007, I was charged with endangering the welfare of my children, a criminal charge that, in the city where I live, Bozeman, Montana, can lead to imprisonment in the county jail. The Montana Code 46-16-130(3) states that a parent can be charged with this offense if she “knowingly endangers the child’s welfare by violating a duty of care, protection, or support.”

Typically, prosecution is pursued when an adult supplies a child younger than eighteen with drugs, prostitutes the child, abandons the child’s home, or engages in sexual conduct with the child. A violation of duty of care is described as cruel treatment, abuse, infliction of unnecessary and cruel punishment, abandonment, neglect, lack of proper medical care, clothing, shelter, and food, and evidence of bodily injury.

I was charged with this crime because I dropped my three children and their two friends off at the Bozeman Gallatin Valley Mall.
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