She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.  They are ages 2 and 4.  My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.  He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.  I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.  It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.  I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.  He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.  Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.  During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.  I instinctively went with the most logical scenario:  He’s 2.  He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).  It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.  It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.

Fondly,

Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

You Read it Here First: The Deaf Pre-Schooler Story

Hi Readers! Just had to crow. The story about Hunter, the deaf pre-schooler who was told to change his name because it violated the school’s anti-gun policy, was sent to us by a gal in Hunter’s neck of the woods — Nebraska — on Monday night, which is when I posted and tweeted  it. By Tuesday afternoon, the story had gone ’round the world. Google it — you can’t miss it. On Yahoo’s home page alone it got 17,000+ comments. And despite the fact neither this site nor the one where I’m guest-posting this month, The Agitator, are getting credit (see this),   Free-Range Kids was, as far as I can tell, the first to bring it to national attention.

What thrills me about that is knowing that the press is peeking in on us, and ready to take up the anti-stupidity standard. It’s also thrilling to see how obvious it is to most humans that Zero Tolerance too often means Zero Brains. Hunter’s story may go on to achieve “The Lady Who Sued McDonald’s For Hot Coffee” status (but don’t start debating it here!), used as a sort of shorthand for, “Come on — under the pretense of caring, this is just INSANE.”

We could use a story like that, because it is time to re-think so many schools rules and time to remember our kids just aren’t that vulnerable. For me it is also time to thank YOU, readers, for always sending in the best examples of what’s wrong with the way we treat kids, and what’s right.

Keep it up! – L.

School Outrage of the Week: No Cartwheels Unless “Trained Gymnastics Teacher” Supervising

Hi Readers! If you send your kids to the Drummoyne publics grammar school in Sydney, kindly instruct them to stay upright their whole day, as cartwheels, head- and handstands are no longer allowed unless  “under the supervision of a trained gymnastics teacher and with correct equipment,”‘  according to the Local West Courrier.

The ruling comes from the principal who is worried abut (all together now) INJURIES and LIABILITY, the twin Dementors driving schools crazy with fear and dread. The fact that the school just re-surfaced its playground with soft stuff to make falls even safer plays no role. Or perhaps it plays it usual PERVERSE role: The safer things get, the more safety we demand.

Rebecca Chown, the mother of Estelle, 10, an unrepentent cartwheel enthusiast, started a pro-fun petition that already has s250 signatures. According to The Telegraph:

Ms Chown first heard about the ban when her daughter Estelle, 10, came home on August 17 and said children had been told they couldn’t do anything that had them “upside-down”.

Estelle said: “It’s really frustrating because they ban everything and there is not much else for us to do.”

While Ms Chown said she understood the risks, children were playing, not training to be gymnasts.

Instead, we’re training kids to sit and blob out, all in the name of safety. Oh, and don’t be joyous either, kids. For your own sake. — L

AND HERE’S A DRAMATIC 38-SECOND RE-ENACTMENT OF THE BAN, STARRING THE GIRLS OF ROSMARINS BUNGALOW COLONY

Clown Teaching Kids to be “Berry Berry Safe”…Except from Berry Berry Creepy Clowns

Hi Folks — Let me state upfront that I agree with this, uh, guy: Teach your kids never to go off with   stranger.

But is there anyone stranger than this blue-haired, baby-tawking clown who keeps showing up out of nowhere?  The lesson he seems intent on teaching kids: Never go anywhere without a possibly imaginary, predator-obsessed prig in a blue wig.

When is A Bumbo Seat Safe Enough?

Hi Folks! Just read about this warning regarding Bumbo Seats — little seats that look even safer than normal seats because there’s a big, hmmm, I guess “bumbo” in front of the crotch, wedging the child in. (See below.) About 4 million — that’s 4,000,000 — have been sold. And now they are being recalled for retooling — basically adding a safety belt — after reports of 2 baby skull fractures. (Two, that is, while the seat was on the ground. Another 19 occurred when the seat was on a raised surface and presumably the child fell out or off.)

Now, look, nobody wants a baby’s skull fractured. (Do they?) But listen to this quote in USA Today:

“Too many children were injured while using this product,” says Consumer Federation of America product safety director Rachel Weintraub. “The fact that the manufacturer is changing the product by including restraints is incredibly significant.”

It is INDEED significant, in that it indicates that any manufacturer can be coerced into a product recall if someone insinuates that without it, the manufacturer DOESN’T CARE ABOUT BROKEN BABY SKULLS. The specter of a lawsuit, or boycott, or just a glaring TV talk show host is enough to make any company quake in its booties.

But when something is safe 99.999% of the time (I’m sure one of you will do the actual math), is that not SAFE ENOUGH? As the reader who sent me notice of the recall said, “Why don’t we recall laps, while we’re at it?”

Well? Why DON’T we? After all, laps are non-standard, germy, and once in a while there’s a cat vying for the same space. Unsafe! Unclean! Unfair! Let us officially recommend parents come in for an emergency lap repair kit allowing a neighborhood surgeon to graft a restraining belt onto all adult tummies.

Oh — not willing to have a belt grafted on? I guess you don’t CARE about babies’ skulls. – L.

 photo

Wow does that seat look extremely unsafe.

Guest Post: Danger Sells

Hi Folks — Here’s a little essay reminding us that the push to sell ever more things dovetails with the push for us to fear ever more  new things. It comes to us from Kassandra  Brown, who says she “supports women in transition and conscious parenting.” – L

Danger Sells

The biggest backlash to Free-Range Kids is safety. Lenore talks about the perception of danger induced by news and media. The media offers us an onslaught of information about how unsafe the world is, how unsafe our children are, and how much they need protection.  I won’t replicate her information here. Instead, I’ll introduce another factor in the danger debate.

Danger is big business. We are presented with devices and services to buy in order to make our children safer. If we feel like there is danger out there, we are more likely to buy things to make us feel safer in here. We are less likely to think for ourselves, take our time making decisions, or weigh the choices. We are more likely to stick with the herd. Creating a perception of danger is amazingly effective crowd control.

What can we do?  Well, what if we just admitted the world isn’t safe? That it’s mysterious? Amazing? Tragic? Beautiful?  Because it is. Life is never completely without some chance of defeat, or even death. Life is not safe. Our desire to make it so means that we create more numbing-out, less honesty — and a lot more trash.

What if we admitted we can’t control everything our children experience? Children are people too. We cannot shield them from every upset, every hurt. Their hearts may break. They may suffer. But we can offer them loving presence. We can offer them the role model of ourselves living full, vibrant lives. We can get back up and try again after we fail.  We can let them see us risking our own safety by being emotionally vulnerable and honest.

What if we admitted that we’re being manipulated by marketing, government, and propaganda? When our economy is based on continuous expansion, the government is not neutral. It wants us to buy the new product in order to grow the economy. And if it’s supposed to make us safer, then government agencies can feel like good parents protecting their children.

I invite you to be brave. Take the time to know your own heart and listen to your own deep yearnings. Turn off the TV. Look yourself in the eye and then meet the eyes of your child. Step into the realm of real human connection. It’s messy. But you’ll feel more alive than you do watching the best reality TV show. — Kassandra Brown

You Can Be Free-Range and Choose NOT to Trust Your Kid in a Particular Situation

Hi Folks! I liked this letter because it reminds us that Free-Range Kids is not dogmatic and not silly. We don’t say you MUST trust your child in every situation or you are a lily-livered ninny. We don’t reject thinking things over, or even erring on the side of caution. All we DO reject is knee-jerk “worst-first thinking” — immediately assuming the worst in all situations. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Parenting Free-Range children does not mean throwing all caution to the wind.  While reading through some people’s stories and comments I have commonly seen the inner struggle of  “should I or should I not?” in trying to determine what is best for their children.  I consider myself a Free-Range Parent even though my kids are young.  I do not let mainstream media or exaggerated emails govern the raising of my kids in a state of fear.  However, I was met with a Free-Range struggle last week at the park.

My son and daughter were happily playing soccer with another set of boys, with a total range of age from 3-5.  Out of nowhere the dad of the boys appeared and started playing with the four of them.  I watched from my bench as everyone was having a great time.  I was thankful for this dad entertaining my kids, even though he did not speak English (I’m an ex-pat American living in Europe) and my kids were a little confused regarding his instructions.  I did notice he seemed to be slapping my daughter on her skirted rear end quite a bit.  At first it was a “good job” sort of thing but still I just didn’t like it, cultural differences or not.

My son ran up to me and said he had to go to the bathroom.  The bathroom at the park was a good 5-minute walk away and not that clean.  So here I was presented with a choice:  I could leave my 4-year-old daughter with this man I have just met so she can continue playing, and trust that he will look after her.  Or deal with the “I don’t want to go” tantrum and take her with me.

My first instinct was to take her with me.  But a voice crept up, “Shouldn’t you trust this man you have never met before in your life?  Isn’t that what being Free-Range is all about?  Aren’t you giving into senseless worry, if you fear leaving her with a stranger?  What would Lenore think?”

I ultimately decided, no, leaving my 4-year-old daughter with a man I don’t know is not being Free-Range.  It is taking an unnecessary risk, especially when I live in a country that is notorious for abuse.  Lenore would want my little girl safe.  Her time to be truly “Free-Range” will come soon enough.  As for now, my role is to teach her how to be safe and ready for the world ahead of her.”

I write this in case any other parent who believes in Free-Range philosophies gets struck in this sort of conundrum — the ” I feel like I shouldn’t but maybe Free-Range says I should!” spiral. It is important to believe in your kids and yourself, but don’t throw all instincts out the window.  I have faith in people and society but I don’t consider myself blind to it all either. – A Mom Abroad

Are Moms So Desperate for Safety That They’ll Buy Anything Marked “Safe”?

Hi Folks! Last year I went to a lecture by Tina Sharkey, the CEO of BabyCenter,  and one point she made that really resonated was this: If you want to sell something to moms, SAFETY is the magic word. That explains why I found it in this ad:

.

If you’ve seen any other ads that manage to promise safety in a product that IS and ALWAYS WAS safe already, let me know! – L. (bumbling her way into the world of vlogging and didn’t want to give away the entire idea in the post or the video would be redundant. Please forgive me, those of you who can’t watch the vid at work!)

Extreme Advice

From the SafeKids.org page of advice to parents of kids ages 5-9:

“Never leave your child alone in a car, even for a minute.”

A minute?

Lenore

Are Crimes Against Children Down Because There Are No More Kids Outside?

Hi Readers!

Quick answer to the question a lot of commenters have brought up: Are crimes against children down so dramatically simply because there are fewer children left outside to be victimized? And doesn’t that prove that we SHOULD keep our kids cooped up?

Very reasonable questions. But no:  Keeping kids cooped up is not the cause of the crime decline — and so it’s not what we need to be doing.

The head of the Crimes Against Children Research Center, David Finkelhor, points out that ALL crime has been declining since the early ‘90s – property crimes, assault, sex crimes against adults AND children. Something is driving ALL crime down, and Finkelhor pegs these factors:

* More policing.

* More aggressive prosecution of wrongdoers.

*Less tolerance of abuse in the family. You know how nowadays, if your kid goes to school with a black eye, the nurse or social worker probes to find out what happened? That kind of intervention is bringing more abuse to the attention of the authorities, who investigate and, when necessary, prosecute.

*Cell phones. These are a crime fighting tool two ways: First, we can use them to report any crime, anywhere – and even take pictures. Second? Criminals know this.

*Psychiatric meds. Finkelhor calls this the “sleeper” reason crime is down. More and more troubled people are being prescribed medicine to quell their demons. When the criminally insane feel less insane, they are also less criminal. Also, as Finkelhor points out, some of the medicine has a libido-dampening effect, too.

Taken together, these factors have contributed to the stunning drop in crime. A drop my book likens to “a graph of Hummer sales, Miami condo prices or birthday cards to Bernie Madoff. An unbelievably dramatic jackknife down.”  

It’s not just kids who are safer, it’s everyone. So rather than keeping kids locked inside, we should feel less leery about sending them back out. Nationally, we are back to the crime rate of 1970. If you were a kid any time after that, in the ‘70s or ‘80s, times are actually safer now (even though, I know, I know – that’s hard to believe). I’m happy to talk about why it SEEMS so much less safe another time.

But for now — thanks for asking!

Meantime, if you are anywhere near the Park Slope Barnes & Noble on Wednesday night, May 6, at 7 p.m. I am doing a reading of my book: “Free-Range Kids.” (What a surprising title!) Love to see you there! The address is: 267 Seventh Ave. in Brooklyn. Bye! — Lenore