Tracking Kids on the School Bus?!

Readers: It seems like in ancient times — that is, pre-iPhone — nervous parents just had to suck it up. Now, they create apps. The latest is an, “I’m on board the school bus!” alert, the brainchild of Manhattan mom who, according to this article, went into a “panic” when her 10-year-old son’s school bus was half an hour late one day in the second week of school.

Now, I understand that not knowing your kid’s whereabouts can be a miserable moment in parenting. But if you’ve been around the block (or your kid has!), you know that at the beginning of the school year the bus drivers haven’t gotten the hang of the route yet. Some of them take the long way home. It’s annoying, but does that mean the kids on the bus are in danger? Or that this new app does anything more than give the worried parent a new GPS’d dot on a map to obsess about on a daily basis?

My worry is that this app will go from novelty to must-have in a matter of years, and once again we will have a new layer of parental supervision that will start to FEEL necessary, though in reality, it isn’t. It’s just a new twist on the current cultural notion that if a parent somehow has his or her eyes on a kid, that kid is magically protected from everything bad. And if the parents’ eyes are NOT on the kid at all times, well, that indicates a bad parent. I still believe you can be a perfectly good parent and not track your kid like a shipment of plutonium (that happens to ride the school bus). — L.

Do we really have to know where our kids are every second of the day?

Safe Sax? Impossible, Says School Bus Company

Readers — Here’s the wildest “safety” story of the day: A middle school kid has been told he can’t take his sax on the school bus, because it is a safety hazard. Apparently the bus is already crowded, but somehow the sax makes it TOO crowded to ride safely, even though it fits under the seat.

The company refunded the boy’s bus fare so his parents can simply drive him and his infernal instrument to school, but as his mom notes:

“They are making it difficult because I work. I work full time. Do I have to quit my job or does he have to quit band?”

I’ve got another idea: How about letting the boy ride the bus and, with a little bit of maneuvering, fit the sax under his seat? A crowded bus can be annoying, but to insist that adding an instrument makes it DANGEROUS is nutty.

And also: Let’s not assume that parents can or, in many cases, even should drive their kids to school. If kids can get to school by foot or bike or bus, the school should encourage THAT, not another car in the endless drop-off line.

I realize this is just one strange story, but it reminds us that our knee-jerk response to any less-than-ideal kiddie circumstance should not be to ring the danger bell and holler for the parents to make everything perfect. — L.

The sweet sound of a bus company's worst nightmare.

6 Dumbest Things Schools Do to “Protect Kids”

Hi Readers — This “Dumbest Things” piece by the folks at Cracked is so perfect, click and enjoy. And remember, back when Cracked used to be the runner-up to Mad, I wrote scads of articles for it. (Just not recently, when it became brilliant social commentary.)

Favorite Dumbest Thing schools are doing to “protect” kids? Well, it’s a toss up between the school banning ALL photography (lest it lead to and/or become child porn), and the individual radio frequency i.d. tags that a school purchased to track kids…except that if a kid IS somehow abducted from the school grounds, the signal stops beeping 100 feet away.

Fight the madness, and enjoy the captions. They’re the best. — L.

UPDATE!! Outrage of the Week: Mom Convicted in Death of Her Son (Who Ran Across the Street)

UPDATE! Readers — Here’s a petition asking Georgia to release the mother from her “vehicular manslaughter” conviction and PUT IN A CROSSWALK! I just signed it! — L. 

Hi Readers — This case is so sickeningly sad, I don’t know where to begin. Fortunately, a blog I’d never heard of before — Transportation for America — does a PERFECT  job of summing up the whole story and why it is such an outrage. Read it right here and kudos to the author, David Goldberg.

In brief: An Atlanta mom and her three kids got off a bus stop that is across a busy highway from her home. She COULD have dragged everyone to the next light,  three tenths of a mile up the road, but it seemed to make sense to try to cross. Not only was her apartment in sight across the way, but the other passengers who disembarked were crossing the highway right there, too.

So she and her kids made it to the median, but then the 4-year-old squirmed away and got killed by a drunk driver. The driver was convicted of a hit and run.  The mom was convicted of vehicular manslaughter. Yep. But as Goldberg says:

What about the highway designers, traffic engineers, transit planners and land use regulators who allowed a bus stop to be placed so far from a signal and made no other provision for a safe crossing; who allowed – even encouraged, with wide, straight lanes – prevailing speeds of 50-plus on a road flanked by houses and apartments; who carved a fifth lane out of a wider median that could have provided more of a safe refuge for pedestrians; who designed the entire landscape to be hostile to people trying to get to work and groceries despite having no access to a car?

They are as innocent as the day is long, according to the solicitor general’s office.

Goldberg also points out that none of the jurors who convicted the mom had ever even taken a public bus in Atlanta. They all had cars. In other words:

They had never taken two buses to go grocery shopping at Wal-Mart with three kids in tow. They had never missed a transfer on the way home that caused them to wait a full hour-and-a-half with tired and hungry kids for the next bus. They had never been let off at a bus stop on a five-lane speedway, with their apartment in sight across the road, and been asked to drag those three little ones an additional half-mile-plus down the road to the nearest traffic signal and back in order to get home at last.

When we prosecute parents who are trying their hardest, who make mistakes, or who misjudge a situation, we are prosecuting them for being what parents have always been: human. Not superheroes with super strength, judgment, fortitude and foresight.

A human parent is what I am and what we all are. Let’s not make that a crime. — Lenore

The Highlander Takes the Low Road

Hi Readers! I know these Toyota ads have been running for a while, but I still cannot believe that some ad agency thinks the best way to sell parents on a car is to tell them their kids despise everything they believe in and enjoy — possibly including THEM. And that the best way to show our love for our children is to chauffeur them in a TV-equipped bubble, where they can drown out anything that does not amuse them. And, of course, that driving (individual!!) kids to school is the natural order of things.

This is what I mean when I talk about the many ways pop culture molds us as parents. If we turn on the TV and it really looks like EVERYONE is driving their kids to school, that becomes the norm and, in turn, everyone starts driving their kids to school.

I know this is a car commercial, so it’s not going to say: For God’s sake, why don’t those able-bodied boys WALK to school? Or ride their BIKES? If they’re such good friends, obviously going the same direction, wouldn’t it make sense for them to amble off to school TOGETHER and talk on the WAY, instead of communicating through CAR WINDOWS? (Or if they live really far, even — hey — carpool?) When we don’t see any of those questions on TV, the only question becomes WHAT we drive, rather than WHY.

Yes, all of that is what this ad (infuriatingly cute nonetheless) got rumbling inside of me.

Meantime, the ad BELOW just reinforces the idea that cool kids get driven to and from school, losers take the bus. (Cool, RICH kids apparently also get the blonde chicks.)

I guess it’s a little much to expect a car company to embrace public transit, but still — let US at least remember that more kids are killed in car crashes than on school buses. So if you’re a parent who REALLY cares…which would you choose?

Free Childhood with Purchase

Hi Readers — Here’s a note that made me happy, and, as it is gifting time, I figured it might inspire a few more Free-range Kids books (just $10.17!) under a tree:

Dear Free-Range Kids: For or against? Definitely for! I just finished the book and wish I’d known about it sooner.  Then maybe I wouldn’t have second-guessed myself so much.  Such as when I let my seven year old walk home by himself from the school bus (even though my neighbors warn me repeatedly about the dangers of child snatchers who could be lurking around in our rural, small town neighborhood).  Or when I let my kids eat raw cookie dough and cake batter (even though my sister told me I was putting their lives at risk).  I also suspect there have been a few times when friends have decided not to let their kids play at my house because I don’t stay outside with them in the yard the whole time.

But I have held my ground and am occasionally rewarded with evidence that my children (ages seven and four) are doing just fine with the freedom they have.  The other day I watched out the window as my son ran home from the school bus.  He ran as if he were being chased by a swarm of hornets and darted off the road into the tall grass in our neighbor’s yard.  When I asked him what was wrong he said, “Oh nothing.  I was just pretending that I was Indiana Jones trying to escape a huge boulder that was about the squish me.”  Music to my ears!

I love this movement.  I only pray it takes off while my children are still young.  Maybe then they’ll have some friends to run home from the bus stop with. — Kate

Let's hear it for freedom and fun!

Weather.com You Are Part of the Problem!

Hi Readers — I went to check the forecast on weather.com this morning and up popped an app, unbidden: “Mom’s Daily Planner.”

How the site KNEW I’m a mom I won’t even speculate. But here are the day parts it broke the day down into:

Lunchtime

PM Bus Stop

Evening Activity

Excuse me — “PM Bus Stop” is now an official part of a mom’s day? We are EXPECTED to be at the bus stop to pick up our children? Expected to drop everything to stand guard at the bus stops that have existed for decades, where kids used to hop off and skip home on their own? Now these MUST be manned — or rather, mommed?

I know that some schools require a mom or other per-certified caregiver to wait at the stop and this irks me no end — why can’t the parents decide if they think it’s safe (or even beneficial!) for their kid to walk from the bus stop to home? But what’s uber-irking me today is that this is becoming so much the norm that Weather.com treats it like a pre-ordained part of every mother’s day: You get up, you get dressed, you have breakfast, lunch and then pick up the kid from the bus stop.

Apparently you don’t work, or if you do, you skip that report the boss was waiting for, to make sure your kid doesn’t ever have to walk a block or two alone.

As Weather.com’s presumed “Evening Activity” is ambiguous — PERHAPS the mom is allowed to attend an activity of her own choosing and this does NOT only refer to the child’s evening activity — I’m not going to carp about it. Ditto,  the site’s  “lunchtime.”  But “PM Bus Stop” has me stormier than the November weather outside. Weather that I guess I’ll check by looking out the window instead of clicking on the blithely bubblewrapping, neighborhood-distrusting, mom-indenturing Weather.com. — Lenore

ADDENDUM: I think (and hope!) many of  the commenters below are right: This “PM Bus stop” is a way for parents to see what the weather will be when the kids are walking home, not when WE, the parents, are stuck waiting at the bus stop. I hope so and thanks for enlightening me! L.

I can figure out the weather for myself from now on. Looks windy.

A Second Grade Boy Gets a Key to His House

Hi Readers! Here’s a letter that’ll make you smile! — L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today, thanks in part to you, I am going to have a copy of my house key made for my son.

My son is in second grade. He and his sister go to different schools and I thought it would be easy to do the carpool circuit, but logistics have made it a royal pain for him to sit in the car for an hour every afternoon, so he asked if he could start riding the bus.  Wonderful idea, right?

Friday morning I send him to school with a note that he’s to ride the bus home. Friday afternoon I go out to my front porch (I can SEE the bus stop from my front door) to check that he’s on the bus and lo and behold, the bus stops and the door opens but he doesn’t get off.  Knowing the bus will pass back by, I go out to the bus stop (50 yards from my house) and wait.  The next time around the bus driver stops and apologetically hands me a form which outlines the following school board policy:

“Students 8 years old and younger may be brought back to their school in the afternoon if a parent, guardian or parent/guardian designee is not present at the bus stop to receive them, or if they otherwise appear to have no appropriate supervision. This is in accordance with Department of Family and Children Services (DFCS) Guidelines for safety and supervision of children.”

I  knew this policy applied to kindergarten and 1st graders, but I was stunned to realize that it actually goes to age 8.  Fortunately, if I want to allow my son to get off a school bus without me (at my own risk, of course), I simply have to check the appropriate box and sign the form.

I actually faltered before signing it.  The little “What If…” devil sat on my shoulder and whispered scary nothings into my ear. Sadly there’s still a little part of me that knows exactly why that policy is there and agrees with it to a point.  If I couldn’t see the bus stop from my house, would I still let him do it?  But thanks to Free-Range Kids and all the other inspiring information I’ve read here, I dismissed “What If…?” with a roll of my eyes and reminded myself that I’m raising a bright and perfectly competent child who will be thrilled with and rise to this level responsibility.

This year my work schedule means there may be a day during the week that I’m not home when he gets here.  So today I’m going to present him with his very own key to the house.  I’m going to let him unlock the door and come on in by himself every day.  If I’m not here, he knows to get himself a snack and get started on his homework.  He has my phone number and knows to lock the door behind him.  I think we’re all going to love it.

Thank you for continuing to ratify my intuition and helping to dispel the ubiquitous litany of disaster. – Amanda from Georgia

 

Come on up, kid!

 

Outrage of the Day: Dad Faces Legal Action for Not Walking 7 y.o. to Bus Stop

Hi Readers! Here’s today’s story from across the pond (thank you, Virtual Linguist, for sending it along): A father who lets his 7 year old daughter walk to and from the school bus stop has been threatened by the authorities who say they may report him to child protective services. And just how far away is the bus stop?

20 yards.

The girl has to cross what the dad calls a country lane on the way. He thinks it’s very safe. He thinks his daughter is capable of handling it. But apparently, the local county council does not. And while it was busy chastising him, it added that the girl was seen not wearing a sweater (or “jumper” as they call it over there) on a chilly day — further proof of gross parental negligence.

So I guess it is time to arrest all of us whose kids (like mine, this morning) don’t take a jacket even though we think they should.

And incidentally: as my post below this one was all about how the news only reports the most unusual events, let’s keep this weird one in perspective, too. While it seems to represent a trend toward institutionalizing overprotection, it’s not like most parents are being arrested for letting their kids walk to school.

(Possibly because most parents are DRIVING them. But that’s another story.) — L.

Stories Needed: How Do Kids Get To/From School in YOUR Town? (Wackiness Appreciated)

Hi Readers! I’m about to write a column on how kids are getting to school — with a plea for more walking or biking, when possible — and for this I need stories of kids get to school in your neighborhood. For instance, I heard from my friend that her nieces are driven by GOLF CART two blocks to the bus stop in their GATED COMMUNITY. This seemed a bit, shall we say, ridiculous. The kids are able-bodied! The community is gated! The distance is two blocks! But the mom thinks the walk is just “too risky.”

I also heard of a school in Florida where dismissal works like this: The cars line up, single file, outside the school where there are NO children outside. As a car reaches the front of the line, a school aide reads the name on the dashboard plaque issued by the school and barks into her walkie talkie, “Jeremy’s mom is here!”  At which point someone inside the school shouts, “Jeremy! Your mom is here!” And Jeremy is ESCORTED OUT to the waiting car — like an unpopular dictator being hustled into his limo.  Jeremy’s mom careens off and the process begins again, with the next car and kid. Dismissal takes half an hour.

And, finally, if this is happening in your neighborhood, I would love to hear about it:  Is it hearsay or the truth that in some school districts, the bus no longer stops at bus stops but now actually stops at each child’s home? And that some parents drive the child from the garage down to the sidewalk in front of their house to wait?

Please tell me what strange new things are happening in your neighborhood, vis a vis getting to school, including whether kids are even ALLOWED by the school to bike or walk. Thanks!