Free-Range at Disneyland (with a 4-year-old!)

Hi Folks! Here’s a heartening letter from Susan in the Northwest, below.

And, on another not: Not to worry — I’ll be blogging AND vlogging and figuring out new ways to get the Free Range message out. I’m always looking for ideas and suggestions and sometimes…help. For instance, if anyone wants to research a topic like comparing two schools — one with a “background check required” policy for volunteers and one without, to see if the checks make any REAL difference (Is the school safer? Do fewer parents volunteer?) — that would be great. Grad students? Sociologists? Anyone? Drop a note!

Anyway, just trying to evolve!   – L. 

Dear FRK:  It’s almost a year now since I discovered Free Range Kids.  My husband and I read the book just before we took our then-4.5 year old to Disneyland.  We had a wonderful time, largely because of Free-Range Kids.

1)  We assessed the threat:  How likely is it that someone can/does kidnap children from Disneyland?  If it happened, it would be all over the news (which has never happened, now has it?), there are cameras everywhere in the darn park, and it is a mile from the rides to the front gate.  And really, what child kidnapper is going to fork over $69 A DAY on the CHANCE that there might be a kid to abduct.  Ok, that one had us laughing.

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2)  We assessed our child.  She’s not a “runner,” one of those kids who will run away at first chance and never look back.  Nope.  She likes to stay pretty close.  Always has.  She’s highly verbal and can and reason like kids far older.

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3)  We assessed ourselves:  What would our ideal day at Disneyland be with her?  Holding her hand tightly, all day because “she might get lost”  – OMG NO!  So we sat together and thought through what guidelines we planned to give her about the day.  About if she can’t see us, we can’t see her.  About what Disney employee name tags look like if she gets separated from us (the most likely scenario).  About placing my cell number on a piece of tape inside her skort in case that happens.  We consciously chose not to take “just in case” photos.

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As we entered the park, we introduced her to a security guard, pointed out the name tag, and told her to find someone wearing one of those if perhaps we got separated.  (She showed him the tape with my cell # on it immediately!)  And we let her run ahead of us much of the day.  When navigating some bunches of crowds, we sometimes reminded her to be sure she could see us.

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We laughed.
We rode rides.
We had fun.

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And I know in my heart that it would have been a very different trip if we had not found Free-Range Kids the week before.

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A few months later, her preschool teacher offered a special program for those kids who were going off to kindergarten and who had demonstrated the necessary skills.  It was called Tumbleweeds, and these kids rode public transportation and walked all over our city, to parks and fire stations and the zoo, with only a few chaperones.  And they felt enormously proud of themselves.

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And in September, upon registering her for kindergarten, several parents of these children asked me how I could let my daughter (gasp) RIDE THE BUS TO SCHOOL?  But ride it she does, very successfully. — A mom who is goofy with glee!

Kids on TV: Adventurous or In Danger? (Depends on What You Watch)

Hi Readers! This little note just got me thinking. Read it and I’ll give you my thoughts. It’s from a guy named Barry Jacobs in Brooklyn and here’s his blog. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I hate the media. Watch shows aimed at kids on Nickelodeon or Disney– they show kids with amazing imaginations, doing things with unbelievable freedom, having exciting adventures and almost always being smarter than the adults. When parents are shown, they are usually genial characters with vague, but obeyed, authority.

Compare that to the network news aimed at adults: Kids are stupid and need to be watched 24/7 or they will stick all ten fingers in electrical sockets.

No wonder society is so screwed up! We tell the kids one thing and the parents something else. — Barry

Lenore here. I think there’s even another angle: Sure, Disney and Nickelodeon  SHOW kids having adventures. But the networks really exist to keep kids SITTING ON THE COUCH.  So their aim, in the end, is the same as the news shows’: Keep everyone inside, watching the screen.

And in the end, much as I hate the “if it bleed, it leads” mandate of the news shows, it irks me even more that Disney and Nickelodeon and even PBS purport to celebrate an active and  imagination-filled childhood while actually working to undermine it, by feeding kids a constant diet of crack. Er…kiddie shows. (And let’s not even get into the fact that almost all of those shows have product tie-ins — Disney supposedly sells 40,000 different princess items. So they are basically out to capture our kids’ imagination, money and childhood. ) But otherwise, they’re great. — Lenore

have adventures! “] have great adventures!”] have great adventures!”]

Defending Free-Range Parenting — in Divorce Court

Hi Readers — Allow me to introduce Rob, a dad headed for divorce court tomorrow. He sent this note asking whether I think what he did “proves” he is a bad dad, as claims his ex.

I have no idea who he is, why he got a divorce, or anything, really, other than the fact the incident he describes below strikes me as a decent parenting decision. Here goes:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am going to court on Monday morning to request an increase in my child custody from 6 days to 7 days per 2 weeks. Pivotal to my ex wife’s argument to deny me this increase is that,  “The plaintiff [my ex-wife] is concerned that the defendant has in the past made poor choices travelling with children. One one occasion, leaving their son alone at Disney World…” Here are the details from my ex-wife’s Affidavit to the court:

“In August 2009 the Defendant [me] traveled with the children to Disney World. He left [our son] alone when he and [our daughter] went on a ride. [Our son] had a cell phone which I had given to him… It is not appropriate to leave children alone in Disney World.”
She is using this as one of the fundamental reasons to deny an increase in my children’s custody. Personally, I don’t think this was an unsafe act. My son was never lost — he was attending a Jedi training camp inside one of the most safe,  secure and child-friendly places on the planet.
He made four attempts in over four hours to be chosen as part of a mock Jedi training camp. The first three we waited with him. The fourth time, my daughter and I returned about 10 minutes after the event was done and met my son at the agreed place, as arranged.
The children and I had also drilled and practiced extensively prior to leaving for Orlando regarding, “What to do if lost.” Which he never was! Our son is very responsible, intelligent, social 9-year-old. I don’t think that leaving him in Disney World for 30 minutes while attending a Disney-organized event should impact my ability to gain increased custody of my children.
Hi Rob — Neither do I. Disney is a place known not for abductions but for looooooong lines — lines you lingered in for several hours until, like many of us,  you found yourself torn: One child bored to tears. One desperate to become a  Jedi. You dealt with the situation in a safe, sane way — or so it seems to me. And frankly: What a minor “situation” this was! When I think about what 9-year-0lds were expected to do just a few generations ago –run errands, harvest crops, shoot dinner and drag it home — it makes me weep to think even 30 minutes unsupervised is now considered way beyond what they can handle, much less something that deserves the court’s attention!  I wish you luck. — Lenore

A Baby Einstein or Your Money Back

Hi Readers — Hope you saw this piece in The Times:  Disney is offering refunds to any parents who bought its Baby Einstein videos and found, to their shock, that watching shapes, songs, kids and colors on TV did not turn their babies  into instant geniuses the way a name like “Einstein”  might suggest.

This mea culpa  is a huge victory for the Campaign for Commercial Free Childhood, which got the Einstein folks to drop the word “educational” from their marketing materials a few years ago. This new refund is an even bigger deal, because now the company has to put its money where its Mouse is. (Sorry. It’s not even quite a pun, but who could resist?)  Anyway, Baby Einstein sells $200 million worth of products a year.  About a third of all American tots own one of its DVDs.  Giving their parents refunds  represents a lot of money, and a lot of embarrassment. What made Disney budge? According to the Times:

Last year, lawyers threatened a class-action lawsuit for unfair and deceptive practices unless Disney agreed to refund the full purchase price to all who bought the videos since 2004. “The Walt Disney Company’s entire Baby Einstein marketing regime is based on express and implied claims that their videos are educational and beneficial for early childhood development,” a letter from the lawyers said, calling those claims “false because research shows that television viewing is potentially harmful for very young children.”

I don’t think watching a little TV is going to turn any kid into a Dudley Dursley. But to think that watching TV is the key to kiddie education, rather than, say, letting the kid dig in dirt, or splash in the tub, or bang on a pot — whew. That’s just plain Goofy. — Lenore