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

Here We Go Again — Another “Worst-First Thinking” App

Hi Folks — As I wrote to the publicist who sent me this pitch: ” How does knowing my kid is out on a field in the middle of a tornado give me ‘piece’ of mind?” Here’s what she had sent me:

Dear Lenore: Before leaving for work this morning, you recall hearing something on the news about severe weather. You can’t seem to shake the worry as thoughts about your loved ones rush in. The worry pops into mind again as you’re walking down the hall at work. As you approach an office window, a faint yet familiar sound is audible. Mary, whose desk is nearby, comes up beside you and remarks, “a tornado watch was issued earlier, I guess now it’s a warning”. The once muffled siren is now ringing in your head. Where are Kate and Sam usually at during this time of the day? Kate has Softball every Thursday, so she should be at the school, but Sam could be on the bus or getting a ride home with friends. You attempt to walk calmly back to your desk and inform coworkers of the tornado sirens on the way.  Grabbing your phone from your top drawer, you flick on a blank screen. No messages. As you file in line with your coworkers to the basement, you launch The Safety App and request the status of those in your safety group. Seconds later you receive the current or last known addresses of Kate, Sam, and the rest of your family. In addition you receive Kate and Sam’s automatic safety status’ indicating Kate is currently at practice and Sam is at a friends house. Before you’ve even reached the stairwell you’ve got the piece of mind you need to make it through this disaster….

 I’m so glad I know that Kate is at softball practice! Whew!

Science Teachers Weep! School Evacuated for “Chemical Spill”

Hi Folks! This note was posted by a high school student commenting on the story of the school that allowed two students to fry Ferrari red because they weren’t carrying a doctor’s prescription for non-prescription sunblock.   But maybe that school loses to this one, in the sticklers department. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This reminds me of a ‘chemical spill’ my school had a couple months back. Keep in mind this is a high school, with around 800 14-18 year olds walking the halls.


We were told to evacuate because of a ‘chemical spill’ in one of the science labs a bit before noon. Now, there were some actual dangerous chemicals in some of the rooms, so we evacuated without complaint. Soon, we found out what the ‘chemical spill’ was: mercury. Someone had dropped an old thermometer made of mercury, so the entire school had to be evacuated.


We had to sit out on the football field for four hours. There were no clouds to block the sun, it was actually fairly chilly out, and about half the school hadn’t had a chance to eat lunch. No one was allowed to leave to stadium, even to grab a sweatshirt that was sitting ten feet away in their car.

They had to test everyone who had been inside that room that day for traces of mercury. Two hours later, they all came up negative. I got a mild sunburn from that day, which I’m pretty sure was a bigger cancer risk than a bit of mercury.

Also, since I nearly failed chemistry, I asked my homeroom teacher (who happened to be a science teacher) if the mercury was really that bad for us. He said no, mercury is usually only harmful if ingested. So my entire school was kept out on a lawn freezing our hungry butts off and getting sunburned not only for two hours of our school day, but two hours AFTER school had ended, to ensure no one was licking the mercury off the floor.


In all, 100 kids got tested — really just their clothes and shoes — or about one eighth of the school. The school is Totino-Grace high school located in Fridley, Minnesota. Here’s a piece about it that ran on KARE 11.

On a side note, the school did away with the glass and mercury thermometers a couple years ago, but I guess they missed a few. – A Student

WWMCD? (What Would Madame Curie Do?)

Free-Range Kids and Attachment Parenting

Hi Folks! Just found this post buried in my “to put on blog” cue. Sorry it’s so long after the Time Mag cover (which cover? You KNOW which cover) and the “Take Our Kids to the Park…and Leave Them There Day” piece.

Anyway — after the umpteenth question and comment about Free-Range “versus” Attachment Parenting, I wrote one commenter this note. He had asked, “Have you seen any correlation, either positive or negative, between Attachment Parenting and Free-Range?  Or do the bubblewrap/helicopter parents you see tend to be the Attachment Parenting parents?” My answer


I have, thank goodness, no idea. What I always try to explain is that Free-Range is not a “type of parenting.” It’s an outlook that tries to resist the rampant fear being foisted upon us by marketers, politicians, “experts” and the media, all of whom have a vested interest in making us worried that our kids will be killed.

Or not get into Harvard.
I don’t endorse bashing any parenting decision. I DO endorse bashing all the forces that are trying to make us unnecessarily suspicious, worried and afraid to connect. – L

Parents! Kids! Beware of…Palm Sunday?

Fresh from the annals of, “What If?” and, “Worst-First” thinking comes this timely tidbit:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Yesterday was Palm Sunday and at my church there’s a tradition that goes all the way back to my own preschool days of the little Sunday School kids leading a processional into the church waving palm branches and singing. They had always used either artificial plastic palm fronds or real ones if someone had some to donate and seeing the little ones waving their branches was always a highlight. Well, this year I waited eagerly for my three-year-old daughter to come in with her class and in they came waving………green paper streamers?

When I picked her up later I asked the teachers what had happened to the palm branches. I’m sure you can guess the answer. Yep, didn’t want anyone to get poked in the eye. Feeling just a little naughty, I feigned shock and asked who had gotten poked in the eye last year. Anyone want to guess again?

You’ve got it, no one got poked in the eye last year, no one has ever been poked in the eye in the last 35 or so years that the church has been doing it. Yep, someone MIGHT get poked in the eye. Sigh.

Lenore here: A sigh from this end, too. Because once again we are treating this generation as the most vulnerable, endangered, fragile and, I guess,  uncoordinated generation EVER.  — L. 

Don’t Know How Many Heartbeats Per Minute Your Baby Is Beating? Shame on You!

Hi Folks! Coming soon: the latest gadget EVERY parent (who is suffering from crippling anxiety that will only get worse if they buy things like this) will need! The “Exmobaby” is a onesie that monitors your baby’s vital signs. As its website says:

Each and every garment in the Exmobaby line includes sensor technology that monitors baby’s vital signs and movement. The fully integrated capabilities built in to the clothing and apparel deliver wireless communication and evaluation of baby’s condition throughout the day as well as during critical night time sleep.

Parents of newborns receive text messages (SMS) and email alerts on their mobile phones, personal computers and other devices. These show up automatically in real time as baby’s movement and vital signs change. No extra or constant monitoring by parents, caregivers or relatives is needed. The Exmobaby product line does all the work.

Because how DARE you sleep through that “critical night time” without monitoring your baby as if he were in the ICU? What are you, some kind of “I Need My Sleep, Too” freak? How incredibly selfish –and, of course, DANGEROUS!!! — L

How did parents relax without 24/7 texts from their sleeping babies?

Why Are Parents So Scared? Ask Barry “Culture of Fear” Glassner

Hi Folks! Just read a wonderful, cogent Q&A with Barry Glassner, the author of The Culture of Fear and now the prez of Lewis & Clark University. He’s been tracking our escalating worries for over a decade and come to the same conclusions as me (he came to them first!!)  about where the fear is coming from and perhaps how to fight it. My favorite part of the interview:

Why are so many people afraid of such extreme possibilities? 

We need to be careful to distinguish how people respond to fear mongering and who is spreading the fears. If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely, it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.

But to understand why we have so many fears, we need to focus on who is promoting the fears.

What’s your advice for someone faced with “fear-filled” news? 

If I can point to one thing, it’s this: Ask yourself if an isolated incident is being treated as a trend. Ask if something that has happened once or twice is “out of control” or “an epidemic.” Just asking yourself that question can be very calming. The second (suggestion) is, think about the person who is trying to convey the scary message. How are they trying to benefit, what do they want you to buy, who do they want you to vote for? That (question) can help a lot.

It sure can. That’s why I try to ask it a lot: Are they doing this to get ratings? Are they over-scaring us about some unlikely or minor problem so they can sell us something to assuage the fear they  just created?

The problem, of course, fear also becomes an echo chamber: If TV keeps showing us abductions to garner ratings, those scary stories resonate for the average person who is NOT trying to sell anything, but has been shaken to his shoes. Now he truly believes he’s being helpful warning us, “Don’t let your kids play on the front lawn, they could be snatched!” or, “Don’t let go of your child’s hand at the store, EVER.”

How to leech the fear infection out of those folks is in part what Free-Range is always trying to figure out. Suggestions welcome! — L.

And We Worry About Our Kids Walking a Couple Blocks to School

Hi Folks: I don’t think I need to comment here, except to say I would be just as terrified at that one girl looks. — L.

“Children Are Our Most Precious/Valuable/Vulnerable” blah blah blah

Hi Folks! I have  a new theory: Don’t trust anyone who claims that “children are our most valuable/precious/vulnerable…” anything. They are always out to sell. Like this one. —  L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m on a couple of e-mail lists for deal-of-the-day promotions. This one showed up today.
Truthfully, when I think of Groupon and its brethren, I tend to think of, say, $24 worth of cupcakes for $15,  not $240 worth of  “Be Really Frightened and Overreact!” advice for $25.  (Not to mention that an awful lot of the stuff mentioned in this “deal” seems to be stuff one could get for free with a little quality time with Mr. Google, but that’s another problem for another day.)
The deal is brought to us by “Kids Live Safe,” whose website is a shining example of the parent-frightening industry at its best (worst).  Everything we see could be part of a checklist right from the Scare Parents Into Buying Something Unhelpful That Will Make Them Feel Better But Not Help Their Children:
    *Photo showing vulnerable child (extra ten points for female child) embraced by loving mommy? Check.
    *Lots of Unnecessary Capital Letters on Frightening Words? Check.
    *Promise of lots of technology to show how up-to-date and cutting edge the service is? Check.
    *Unintentional grammatical errors unwittingly demonstrating how stupid the whole thing really is? Check checkity check!
The one item in the package that many people might truly benefit from — the FBI crime statistics — is, I suspect, the one item they’re going to look at the least.  But, as you’ve said repeatedly, if folks DID take the time to look, they’d discover that the rate of truly nasty crimes has been dropping in recent memory.  It’s our culture’s relentless quest to keep children perfectly safe (impossible this side of heaven!) that’s been spiraling out of control, not crime.
So just wanted to say: Keep up the good fight. — Dairy State Mom

Our Constant Worry for Our Kids Outside is NEW

Hi Readers — I’m sharing this reader’s story because I like to remind us, from time to time, that the intense fear of our kids being beyond our sight, doing ANYTHING on their own, is not just “normal parental concern” kicking in. It is NEW. It is born of this era. (I explain how it came about in my book). And, just like the fear of neighbors-as-witches in Salem, some day it will seem weird and inexplicable. I’m just hoping to hasten that day. And here’s a note from a reader in Florida that may help! — L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I had written to you a little while back about my neighborhood, my kids, our friends, etc.  I have 3 daughters: ages 9, 7 and 5.  We live in a closed-off (not gated, but it could be) community in South Florida.  It is a very family-friendly community.  I’ve been very influenced by the Free-Range movement, and I would like my kids to do more Free-Range things, but none of their friends are permitted to join them.  In fact, I had no idea how neurotic my friends and neighbors were with their kids until I started to “push the envelope” about Free-Range.  Believe me, I’m not suggesting anything crazy.  But, can my 9 year old daughter go with a friend to a movie by themselves?  Hell, I went to the movies with my friends when I was that age (circa 1976).  Why should I have to endure movies like “Gnomeo and Juliet” when my daughter can perfectly well see it herself, and feel really great and grown up doing so?  I recently gave her a key to the house.  She feels so proud.
This past Rosh Hashanah [the Jewish New Year], while my 9 year old was getting tired of services (who can blame her), I told her to go to the synagogue playground.  The playground was full of little ones and their parents/nannies.  She invited a friend to join her, to make it more fun.  Her friend’s mother declined the invitation.  You see, her 9 year old daughter is not allowed on the playground without specific adult supervision.  This, at a synagogue playground, full of kids and their parents, most of whom we know, in the middle of the Rosh Hashanah morning services!!!  And HER DAUGHTER IS 9!!
Anyway, I got to thinking about your post about the “Your 6 Year Old” book — about how a child that age at the time that book was published (1980?) was supposed to be able to walk to a corner store and buy a little something.  That was something a child that age should be achieving, just like a 3 year old should be toilet trained.
It reminded me of an old family story we used to tell to illustrate how people are just “wired” to be the way they are, but there is an unintended “Free-Range” message too.  My family is from Poland.  They escaped to Russia just before the war, but returned after it. In or around 1946, my father began 1st Grade.  He was expected to walk to and from school by himself.
As you can probably imagine, Poland in 1946 was undergoing massive reconstruction.  My father, even at that tender age, was enthralled with building construction.  On his way home from school, I guess more than once, he would pass by a construction site and be hours late coming home because he spent so much time watching the buildings go up.  My grandmother, of course, was sick with worry.  Her Jewish son was wandering around Lodz — who knew what happened?  She would spank him and admonish him never to do that again.   The story was told to show us kids how Dad was destined to be a builder himself.
But, you know, nowhere in the story was there any suggestion that my grandmother should go get my father from school herself.  To say that was considered and dismissed would be to give the idea too much credit.  It just wasn’t on the radar.  No, a 6 year old boy was supposed to be able to get back and forth from school, from local stores, from friends, etc.  If he was late and worried his parents needlessly, he would be spanked and punished.
Clearly, my grandmother was aware of dangers.  What Jewish mother in Poland in 1946 wasn’t aware of danger?  Still, letting that stop you from allowing your son do normal things like walking to school — well, that was like letting fear stop you from doing your laundry!  You have to be able to do normal things.
If you post this comment on your web site, I’d really be curious to hear people’s (and your) thoughts. – A Reader from Florida
My thought is this: You are right. We have completely lost perspective about danger and now believe that almost anything involving our kids out of our sight is “too risky” to try. Stories like yours — and even more prosaic stories from our own childhoods — serve to remind us that GOOD and CARING and CAREFUL parents always let their kids do things on their own, until very recently. It is time for our generation to get a grip. – L