College Student in Burning House Calls Parents — Not 911

Hi Readers: Please don’t think I’m posting this as a “blame the victim” story, as I myself don’t know if I’d keep my wits about me in a fire. The story, nonetheless, is this: A house shared by seven members of Boston University’s Sigma Alpha Mu went up in flames on Sunday morning:

BU Police Chief Thomas Robbins says his department received a call from a parent of one of the students in the apartment, whose first response was to call home. Robbins says he hopes that students learn to make their first and immediate call to 911 or to the BUPD at 617-353-2121. “We’ve got to get our number on the students’ radar,” he says. “It’s great that this person called a parent, but people in danger should call us first, then call a parent.”

I do fear that some kids may be so accustomed to calling their parents in times of distress that they don’t realize that their parents can’t solve every problem. It’s a shocking and sad reminder to teach our kids to depend on their wits and their community, not just mom and dad.

Meantime, I dearly hope the person who is in critical condition pulls through and lives a long and happy life. This story has me so sad. – L.

Call us first!

Moral of Story: When 8-year-olds Are Silly, The School Goes Nuts

Hi Readers — Here’s a cautionary tale for parents whose kids sometimes do dumb things. But that can’t be many of us, right?

Dear Free-Range Kids: We are devout Free-Range parents and our 8-year-old son walks to and from school nearly every day alone.  We gave him a pre-paid cell phone so he can check in with us if need be.  Long story short, he had a playdate with a friend where they took silly 8-year-old pictures using the phone, one of them a picture of our son’s penis when he was on the potty.

A few days later our boy showed the picture to about six older boys on the playground after school.  At home he told us what happened and we immediately had a very serious conversation about these kinds of pictures and considered the case closed.


The next day we got a call from the principal saying that our son had been expelled from school because she felt he was an “immediate and continuing danger.” She charged him with Lewd Conduct (a charge a good step above Sexual Harassment) and felt we should submit all of his physical/psychological records to the safety office at the school district. She also requested he undergo a mental evaluation before he would be allowed to return to school.

We appealed her actions, but the school district upheld her decision. We worked our way through the bureaucracy and finally found a higher-up to meet with our son, who immediately realized he’s just a regular kid. In the end he missed nearly two weeks of school.

Our son doesn’t understand pornography or even knows what sex is.  There was no consideration given to the normal, natural fascinations of an 8-year-old boy.  His principal didn’t call us or talk to any of his teachers before taking action.  She was great in covering her back, but wasn’t able to distinguish an 8-year-old boy from a sex offender.

Just one week later, we witnessed another bit of school insanity, this one having nothing to do with the photo. It was this: our son’s Chess Club teacher escorted him to my car because he was afraid he would be “liable” if our son was kidnapped.  This, even though every day at recess the kids have to travel much farther to get to the playground than they do to get to the drop-off zone in front of the school! It’s right there!

My husband is from Germany and we spent 1+ years travelling in Mexico and Central America.  Free-Range is a given in these countries and we’ve happily let our kids take part.  They ask us why so many people don’t let their kids do anything on their own here, and the only answer we can give them is, “Because it’s America.”

Isn’t there a better answer? What is happening to our country? — A&M

You Know You’re Making an Impact When…

Hi Readers! You know you’re making an impact when marketers start to try to make a buck off you, as did this one. A friend who runs a parenting magazine got this public relations pitch:

Dear _______:

There has been a lot of discussion about “free range parenting” — letting your kids wander to the park or take the subway alone to build independence. I’m wondering if you’re be interested in writing an article about how cell phone GPS locator services make it easier for parents to let go.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 75% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 own a cell phone — and some 48% of parents use a cell phone to monitor their kid’s whereabouts.

On Tuesday, our company [I took out its name. I’m not giving them free publicity here!] will announce its latest cell phone Safety Plan for kids. In addition to other features, the plan offers unlimited online GPS locator services for parents. Would you be interested in speaking with a mom who relies on our company’s unlimited GPS locator services to make sure her 6th grade daughter is safe throughout the day? This parent perfectly illustrates the challenges faced by busy modern families. In an era where sending even 6th graders to the park without an adult can feel risky, GPS locator services are giving kids greater freedom and parents much-needed peace of mind.

Please let me know if you are interested in talking to our CEO and this parent. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi — Lenore here again. Grrrr! Only with kiddie GPS does a parent have ANY peace of mind? Otherwise, the mom is constantly worried that her 6th grader is in harm’s way? Otherwise, letting her 6th grader play in the park is too dangerous? And how does a GPS prevent anything “terrible” from happening, anyway, you fearmongerers out to make a buck?

I understand how Free-Rangers can embrace cell phones some times. My kids have them now and it’s helpful to connect, from time to time. But I am not tracking them throughout the day and I sure don’t think I need to that, for me to be a “good” parent or for them to be “safe.”

So no free publicity here, guys! Go stalk parents someplace else! — L.

Life in Wartime (Is What Companies are Trying to Make Childhood Feel Like)

Readers — Sometimes I get so fed up with our fearmongering culture, I almost can’t take pen to blog. Or pixel to blog. Or whatever. But here I am. A reader sent in this link to an extremely popular app that not only TRACKS all your family members, it also alerts you to when they are anywhere near a registered sex offender. This might be helpful, were the registry not jammed with folks who pose no threat to kids at all, chiefly teens who had sex with their slightly underage teenage girlfriends.  (More on that here.)

Anyway, there are other buttons to press that announce the equivalent of , “I made it home safely!” as if the entire walk home from school, or to a friend’s house, was the equivalent of infiltrating behind enemy lines, bullets flying, landmines along the way.

I KNOW the argument is, “Better safe than sorry,” but, how can I put this? We ARE safe. Incredibly safe! Not PERFECTLY safe, but to act as if our children are under seige when we live in one of the safest times in human history is almost saying, “F&$# you!” to all the effort and pain that has brought us to this glorious time.

And so, I must grrrr. Grrrr.

But! Later on today or early tomorrow I have a very nice story to report. So come down off the ledge. As will I. — L

Fearmonger Weighs In on “Don’t GPS Your Kid”

Hi Readers! I have a piece running on ParentDish titled, “GPSing Your Kid is Crazy.” It argues that, far from really giving parents “peace of mind, “GPSing does the opposite. It reinforces the idea that our kids are in danger every second they are not in our line of sight. It makes us distrust our community, which means we hold our kids even tighter.

The constant connectivity of GPS also makes us panic whenever we CAN’T reach our kids — an experience I’ve approximated when I couldn’t get my sons on their cell phones. It’s the same panic you feel when you turn around and suddenly don’t see your toddler at the grocery. And, just like that panic, it’s usually unnecessary: the vast majority of times,  your kid shows up soon after. But the fear is overwhelming, and now — THANKS to electronic connections — it happens all the time, even with older and older kids, the second we don’t know PRECISELY where they are.

My piece added that GPSing doesn’t even prevent “the worst” — abduction, ‘natch, — from occurring. It just goes along for the ride.

And while I appreciate my sons have cell phones, I think “tracking” them is going too far. Anyway, here is what one guy wrote in response:

Thoughts from someone who sells GPS tracking devices…

“Peace of mind comes when we pretty much believe in our kids and our community.”

What community these days can be trusted?

These “evil” people can drive to anywhere and everywhere our kids go.

I do however agree with the cell phone trackers “going along for the ride” idea.

Whenever I sell a parent a system I explain the importance of the “panic” system that goes along with it.

What this does is proactively protect our children in case of an emergency. With a simple flick of a switch mounted by the cars blinker the car sends a panic message to the parent/guardians cell phone. At that point I usually tell my customers to call the child and set up a code… “everything OK”, “yes going to Cassie’s house for a few hours” Means I’m in trouble send help.

Its not a matter of false security, its a matter of safety…

Why shouldn’t we know where our kids are? Just like my commercial clients tell there drivers, If your not doing anything wrong theres nothing to worry about! — GPS-Mike

And there you have it (typos and all): The way at least some of the world is thinking about what makes for “sensible” parenting. — Lenore

Sext or Kiddie Porn: Who Decides?

Hi Readers — Today’s post comes from guest contributor Anne Collier, who blogs at and is co-director of, a forum for parents, kids, and everybody interested in safety on the fixed and mobile social Web. Take it away, Anne!

THE SEXT TALK by Anne Collier

Are we turning our kids into criminals? We just may be, thanks to the laws equating “sexting” photos with child pornography.

Right now, about 4% of American 12-to-17-year-olds have sent “sexts,” and 15% have received one from someone they know, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. (Click here for more info.)

While sexting seems to be a  mind-boggling new dating ritual, the fact is: people involved with creating, sending or even receiving a nude or explicit photo of someone under 18 can be charged with the production, distribution, or possession of child pornography. And those could be federal felonies.

What law enforcement doesn’t seem to be considering much – yet, hopefully – is that kids sext for a lot of different reasons. These range from developmentally normative behaviors like “Truth or Dare” games gone very wrong (“I dare you to send a naked photo of yourself to the boy you like” said one 13-year-old to another at a sleepover), to malicious peer pressure (popular boys pressuring shy girls in a “prank,” an incident the mother of one of those shy girls emailed me about), to criminal intent like blackmail. I can hardly imagine anything worse than a shy girl who was pressured into making a huge mistake and then getting prosecuted for producing child porn, can you?

Pew found that the “three main scenarios for sexting” are: 1) Romantic partners sharing images just between the two of them. 2) Romantic partners sharing images of themselves outside their relationship (to show off, or get revenge after a fight, and so on). And, 3) Someone sexting a person he or she wants to get involved with – a “flirting” scenario.

Since most of this is not criminal behavior, prosecution should not be the goal. The goal should be support for any child being victimized. It should also be community-wide learning in the areas of critical thinking, ethics, and civility.

So what do you tell your child about sexting?

If a sext gets sent to his phone, in most cases, he should just delete it. The only time you and he should think twice about that is in a situation where he’s the friend of a kid to whom a girl sent a photo of herself (either willingly or under pressure). He might be able to help keep the photo from going viral by reporting it to school administrators as evidence of something they need to stop. In that situation, your child could really be helping a friend or two by having the school stop the problem from getting worse.

Certainly also tell your child NEVER to forward a “sext.” At the very least that’s mean and disrespectful. At the worst, it could be seen as trafficking in child porn.

And by all means, if you have any influence with your kids, be sure they’re not creating these photos, whether they somehow find themselves in disrespectful relationships or are floating in a “romantic” bubble of denial that says, “Maybe other people would share these private photos with anyone, but we never would.” They must know by now that all digital media can easily be copied and pasted into the permanent searchable archive called the Internet!

But here’s what kids are most concerned about, and rightfully so: One expert at a recent online-safety conference said that, if you peel off all the legal and moral layers in these situations, what you usually get, if not outright cruelty, is the violation of a friend’s trust. This isn’t about technology or something new under the sun. It’s about learning to respect your peers and community online and off

Yes, even when tethered to the 24/7 reality-TV drama that is school life.

Related links‘s Tips to Prevent Sexting.

* About being tethered to “The Drama” of school life.

* MTV study (released a week or so before Pew’s last December) offering insights on “digital abuse” and sexting <>

What’s So Strange About This Article?

To me — everything. Here it is. It’s about a 12-year-old, new to the neighborhood on his first day of school, who missed the bus home. He and his friend started walking, apparently got lost (the reference to Fred Myer is a local grocery), and pretty soon the entire town — police, Boys & Girls Club, everyone — was on high alert for the missing boys.

I love the idea of community invovlement, but I’ve got all these questions, starting with: The kid had a cell phone. Why didn’t he call? If it was a new phone and he was unfamiliar with it, why didn’t he ask someone to help him use it? Why didn’t the school, where he went after he missed his bus, call his parents or help him get home? And why is a 12-year-old who is temporarily AWOL a news story? Are we so convinced abductions are happening all the time that when a child is NOT abducted, that’s considered news? 

Anyway, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something very strange about this story. If you can figure it out, clue me in. Meantime, a thank you to Free-Range Kids reader Nancy, who sent it in, with the comment: “It blows me away that there would be this level of worry over a 12 year old missing his bus in a safe residential neighborhood (without even any busy streets!) When I was 12 I had already held down a summer job for 3 years.”

Hmmm. — Lenore