Funny, Sad Piece: When Did Kids Stop Knowing How to Play?

Hi Readers — I’ll write about my fabulous day with Mary Duval and her “sex offender” son soon, but first: One of you just sent in this piece that resonated so much. It’s called, “Frolicking 101: When Did Kids Stop Knowing How to Play?” by comedian/essayist Sarah Maizes. Excerpt:

My kids are frolicking!  Really!! MY children!

They’re outside, they’re running around, they’re having fun – without colorful plastic toys, without a play structure, without an adult overseeing, supervising, or facilitating…without ME!

Just a big backyard, rolling grass, a random hill or two and my kids.  I’ve never seen anything so beautiful.

Maybe this wouldn’t be such a big deal if I were used to it.  But I’m not.  We don’t live in the country.  This is just our summer vacation.  At home, my kids almost never play outside, and they certainly don’t play outside without me standing there beside them suggesting what to play and showing them exactly how to play it.

This is such a common situation, I recognized it from my own life. In fact, that’s why I started, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave them There Day” — the idea was to have kids encounter each other, outside, and then come up with something to do. What a radical plan! Anyway, here’s hoping that a whole lot of kids are outside today, figuring out — as did this author’s children — that when you find  a grassy hill and you are on top of it, you can propel yourself downward while, in fact, prone.

Simple as that. — Lenore

Outrage of the Week: School Gives Kids Laptops Then Uses them To Spy!

Readers — This is just incredible! A school in suburban Philadelphia issued its kids laptops without mentioning one little detail. According to a report in Courthouse News (which quotes from a federal class action suit):

[There was no] reference made “to the fact that the school district has the ability to remotely activate the embedded webam at any time the school district wished to intercept images from that webcam of anyone or anything appearing in front of the camera.

The complaint states: “On November 11, 2009, plaintiffs were for the first time informed of the above-mentioned capability [spying] and practice by the school district when Lindy Matsko (‘Matsko’), an assistant principal at Harriton High School, informed minor plaintiff that the school district was of the belief that minor plaintiff was engaged in improper behavior in his home, and cited as evidence a photograph from the webcam embedded in minor plaintiff’s personal laptop issued by the school district.

I guess that school will finally be able to see who is doing their homework. And what they’re wearing. (Or not.)  I think this is going to be a big case. — Lenore

The Real Threat Online

Hi Folks! Wow, leave your blog for one little day and the talk turns to porn. I feel like the Free-Range Parent of a blog.

Anyway, I was in D.C. at the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference and it was fantastic to be among all sort of bigwigs from places like Yahoo and Disney and BT and TimeWarner, all listening to panelists putting online fear into perspective.

As far as kids go, the biggest danger online is not predators (just like predators aren’t the biggest risk off-line, either, in what we quaintly used to call the “real world”).  No, the thing I realized I have to sit down with my kids and talk about is “reputation management.”

Maybe this is blindingly obvious to everyone else, but it struck home with me: When we were young, the stupid things we did lived on maybe in our diaries. Maybe we’d hear about them again at reunions. But this generation’s stupidities do not die, they pixelate. Post a picture of yourself holding a beer — or anatomical part — and even if you think it is never going to go beyond the friend or two you sent it to, you just never know.

It’s hard to make kids think about the future impact of a dump profanity or pajama party picture.  But if we parents frame it in terms of something they’re really aiming for — a team, a scholarship, a future boyfriend or girlfriend  — they’ll take some note.

As Anne Collier, co-director of, put it: “Kids need to be their own spin doctors now. Even ‘private’ profiles are pretty public. If your children are going to post a lot of photos of themselves and blog about innermost thoughts or gossipy stuff about friends, they need to be aware that ‘privacy’ is highly relative. Friends can copy anything kids post and paste them anywhere they want (and turn into former friends).  That means teaching our kids to do a little critical thinking about what ‘everybody’ — including school administrators, potential employers, and Grandma — would think about what they’re posting.”

…It’s after school now and I just tried doing that with my 13-year-old, by the way. It wasn’t a fun conversation, but I’m glad we had it. Along with the birds and the bees we’ve got a new topic now: Bytes.

For more sane advice about youth and tech, visit Anne’s website, and — Lenore