Signing Kids Out of School: Does It Have to Be This Hard?

Hi Readers! I have a feeling many people can relate to this comment (which came in response to “The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs” post). I know I can — something very similar happened to me.  L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter is a sophomore in high school.  I also have a 3 year old and am expecting a new little one this winter.  My only real complaint with her school is that I cannot send a note telling them when I will pick her up for an appointment and have her wait outside for me.  No.  I have to drag my 3 year old (and soon, my newborn as well) out of the car, damn the weather, haul us all inside, go to the attendance office, sign her out, keep my toddler entertained and contained and quiet WITHOUT running or climbing on the benches (his shoes might get germs on the benches, and then someone would have to wipe them down with antibacterial wipes — I was actually told this), and WAIT while they send a special runner up to my daughter’s classroom to give her a hall pass, then keep waiting until she arrives at my side, whereupon we can finally walk out together.

It absolutely infuriates me!  She’s going to be driving soon!  She knows her way around.  And she even knows the way from her classroom to the curb, where I would gladly pull up and wait for her to arrive.

Not only do I have to physically sign her out, but if I don’t also send a note upon her return, the absence is unexcused.  This is too much!  The kids are not in prison, for goodness’ sake.

It hasn’t been that long since I was in school myself, and when I was in school, not only could I wait outside for my mom to pick me up for an appointment, if the appointment was close enough, I could – gasp – WALK myself there and back to school.  It’s dispiriting to watch the changes. — Duckmama

It’s also dispiriting to inevitably be told this is all for the children’s “safety,” when clearly it isn’t. It doesn’t affect their safety one whit! They are allowed to walk home, so why is it MORE dangerous to stand outside for a few minutes, or even walk home, but at a different time? “Safety” is the all-purpose, brook-no-dissension shibboleth that stands in for, “New rule we are imposing whether it makes sense or not, just because it seems sort of responsible even if it’s actually a pointless pain.” – L

The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs

Hi Readers — I thought this was just a great observation of how our kids-in-danger society is changing what it means to be a child — and parent. It’s by Matt Wall, a full-time stay at home dad of two boys, former software geek, part-time baseball umpire and Coast Guardsman — as well as “a recovering hovercraft parent.”

THE DROP OFF IN DROP-OFFS by Matt Wall

My topic today is the disappearance of the drop-off. As in, you drop your kids off at school, a friend’s house, sports practice, or practically any activity for a child under the age of twelve — and then you leave.

That doesn’t happen any more. Why not?

After all, our coaches are background-checked, we file sports physicals for the kids, and everybody on the planet has a cell phone, so emergencies are already covered. And of course parents are forbidden from interfering with coaching  — rightly so — so they’re not needed that way. I’m searching my memory for a sports practice in my youth when there was a parent present besides the coach, and I’m coming up empty. And yet, parents are required to attend practice these days, or their children are not allowed to participate.

What earthly good are we doing there?  I have never had this explained to me other than, “You need to be there in case something happens.” In case what happens? Nobody knows! It’s a generic fear of a generic something.

Of course, the real message to parents is: You are an adjunct,  parenting by penumbra, “participating” in your children’s sports event by watching them dribble a soccer ball from one end of the field to another. And I say this as someone who actually enjoys sports! What a deadly bore for the parent who does not.

Bear in mind, I’m not even getting into the subject of how kids never get to organize their own time and games. Whatever constraints or inhibitions our kids have in our presence remain.  Their experiences are never fully their own.

And I pity the poor coaches, teachers, and other organizers. It’s hard enough doing these  jobs without having your every move put under the microscope!

My kids have a range of activities, from formal to not so much, where this parental presence requirement is in effect, sometimes subtly, but often legally. My kids’ swimming lessons require us to be present, since who knows what could happen in a pool with six trained lifeguards surrounding it and another four swimming instructors in it.  I also can’t leave my older child alone in the craft section of the local children’s museum while my younger one plays in another area, because my child might go berserk with the glue gun, or fatally cut himself with the blunt scissors were I not there to supervise him.

Even more disturbingly, I have had a real problem getting other parents interested in swapping “drop-off playdates.” (I’ll resist the temptation to get into the very concept of a “playdate,” which did not exist when I was a child.) I offer  to let my sons’ friends stay with just me as supervisor of the kids all the time, but never has another family taken me up on the offer. (Nor have I had it offered in return.) This has extended thus far to birthday parties and “group playdates” (which we used to call, in their parent-free incarnations, “afternoons” when I was a kid).

As for school drop-off: I still have to escort my second-grader right to his classroom door. Really? The child of course can’t be trusted to walk fifty feet by himself? So much danger lurks that a parent can’t be more than an arm’s reach away until the child is safely delivered to the teacher?

So it has gone for Cub Scouts, the library (where I’ve been chastised on two occasions for letting my kids return their own books in my full view while I browse books from thirty feet away), gymnastics, and even giving a neighbor a misdelivered piece of mail.

The net effect is that a large portion of my life is spent being idly present in my sons’ lives, not living a little extra of my own, or letting them live their own lives in tiny, incremental pieces of independence. The subtext is that adults can’t be trusted, unless it’s your own parent.

To paraphrase a slogan of another social revolution: maybe it’s time to drop-off, drive off, and tune your kids in…to their own experiences. – M.W.

This child seems adequately supervised, for sitting on a bench. (He also appears to be the future king of Norway.)