Making Up Halloween Fears

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think that in our uber-safe society, poor scribes are locked in a room and told they can’t come out until they dream up some new worry — no matter how far-fetched — to caution folks about. (My current fave is the U.S. Food & Drug Administration’s apple bobbing cautions, below.) That’s why I love this column from Spiked-Online, a great, British site filled with all sorts of surprising info and opinions. It’s by Nathalie Rothschild, a freelance writer based in New York. Visit her personal website here, and find her on Twitter @n_rothschild.

THE HORRORS OF HALLOWEEN ADVICE by Nathalie Rothschild

Americans are really into Halloween….but some are taking the mischievous tradition of scaring the bejesus out of one another a tad too seriously.

ABC News warns that ‘while this is a time for little ones to have fun, parents shouldn’t let the kids’ enthusiasm drown out common sense. There are many hazards associated with Halloween.’ Face paint can trigger allergies, costumes can get caught in car doors or catch fire, masks can slip over the eyes, young children can choke on treats, cut their fingers off while carving pumpkins or be kidnapped by strangers.

Scary, indeed.

Halloween is apparently a highlight not just for candy-crazy, fun-loving kids, but also for every health-and-safety-obsessed organisation in the nation.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise parents to ensure their children go trick-or-treating in groups or with a trusted adult, that they carry flashlights and that they walk, not run, between houses. Adults should limit the amount of treats kids eat and check them for choking hazards before the kids start gorging them. Kids should only be allowed factory-wrapped candies and should avoid eating homemade treats made by strangers. Their costumes should be flame-resistant and, to be on the even safer side, kids should not walk near lit candles.

The National Fire Protection Association says each house should have two clearly marked exits in case of an emergency. Battery-powered or electric candles are preferable, but if you do insist on lighting candles, they should be kept at least one foot away from decorations.

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes small children should never carve pumpkins. ‘Children can draw a face with markers. Then parents can do the cutting.’ Trick-or-treaters should stay on well-lit streets and always use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, they should ‘walk at the far edge of the roadway facing traffic’.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology warns of the hidden dangers of buying decorative contact lenses without a prescription. There is apparently no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ contact lens. ‘Lenses that are not properly fitted may scratch the eye or cause blood vessels to grow into the cornea.’

he US Food and Drug Administration says ‘partygoers and partythrowers’ should avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurised or otherwise processed. Before bobbing apples, a traditional Halloween game, thoroughly rinse the apples under cool, running water to reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on them. ‘As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.’

The American Red Cross has published 13 (nearly) rhyming tips for a safe Halloween. For example, ‘If you visit a house where a stranger resides, accept treats at the door and, please, don’t go inside.’

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission offers this helpful image as guidance for proper costume wear:

The Halloween safety tips lists go on, but you probably get the drift.

Why are these organisations so scared of Halloween? Or, rather, why are they so scared of letting parents use their common sense, of allowing people just to let loose and to have some respite from the worries, rule-making and diet-watching that are already part of their and their children’s everyday life? Whenever the public sees an opportunity to relax and have fun, health-and-safety obsessives see an opportunity to scare them back into submission. It’s not necessarily sinister, though, it’s just their creepy, intuitive reaction to stop people from experiencing fun overload.

Sure, all these dangers are a possibility – decorations can catch fire, apples could be covered in bacteria and masks may temporarily obscure kids’ vision. But pointing out the obvious, over and over, and exaggerating the risks behind these things won’t make people feel safer. It just helps turn what is a harmless holiday into a nightmarish, control-freakish night of health-and-safety horror. – N.R.

Guest Post: “Five Freedoms I Had that My Daughter Won’t”

Hi Readers — Here’s a lovely piece by Kerala Taylor, senior manager of online content & outreach at KaBOOM, the organization dedicated to making sure every kid has a playground nearby. (And even plays in it!) KaBOOM has a “Back to School Pledge” folks can sign, to defend school day playtime. Naturally, I signed it! — L. 

Five Freedoms I Had at School that My Daughter Won’t, by Kerala Taylor

At six months pregnant, like most moms and moms-to-be, I’m finding plenty of things to worry about. When I’m not fretting over my daily calcium intake or environmentally friendly diaper options, I find myself plagued with anxiety about the longer-term realities of childrearing today.

I want to give my daughter the freedom I enjoyed as a child—freedom to move, imagine, and create. But in today’s paranoid, litigious, and test-happy culture, will I be able to? As kids across the country head back to school, and as I watch my belly swell, I’ve been thinking a lot about the freedoms I had in school that most kids these days don’t enjoy.

  1. I had two recess periods every day. More and more kids are finding they have to rush through lunch to enjoy a precious few minutes of recess. Some kids aren’t getting any recess at all, despite the overwhelming body of evidence that shows kids need recess to focus in the classroom. This child sums it up perfectly: “I get this feeling in my legs when they want to run and that feeling moves up to my belly and when that feeling moves up to my head I can’t remember what the rules are.”
  1. I got hurt sometimes—and no one freaked out. I suffered plenty of scrapes and bruises on the playground, and once limped around for a week after falling from the monkey bars. But no one ever told me to stop running, or even considered the possibility of taking away the monkey bars! These days, the fear of lawsuits from relatively minor injuries are prompting schools to not only remove see saws and swings from schoolyards, but to ban tag, touch football, and yes, even running.
  1. I played inside and outside the classroom. I made a paper maché globe in geography, dug up “dinosaur” bones from the sandbox in science, and took regular field trips (on, gasp, public city buses!). Now, the pressures of standardized testing are forcing teachers to forego such creative, hands-on pursuits. After all, how will paper maché teach students which bubble to mark with their No. 2 pencil?
  1. I took a school-sponsored week-long camping trip every year, starting in the first grade. Playing in nature comes intuitively to children; nature is rife with opportunities to splash, dig, climb, run, and explore. Unfortunately, nature is also rife with potential “dangers” that today’s bubble-wrapped children must be protected from at all costs. And as studies find that kids of helicopter parents have trouble functioning on their own in college, can we expect today’s first graders to be independent enough to spend a whole week away from home?
  1. I played after school. I didn’t participate in any organized sports until sixth grade and my homework in elementary school was minimal. That meant more time for free play. Yet since the 1970s, as schools pile on more homework and kids get roped into more structured activities, children have lost about 12 hours per week in free time, including a 25 percent decrease in play.

Why are we taking these freedoms away from our children? We say we’re protecting them from harm, or we’re helping them succeed academically, or we’re preserving their fragile egos. But more often than not, the reality is that we’re slowly eroding the very essence of what it means to be a child. We’re not only making childhood less fun, we’re actually stunting our kids’ physical, social, cognitive, and creative development.

As a Free-Range stepmom and mom-to-be, I’m used to feeling isolated, enraged, and just plain exasperated. But I know I’m not alone! I say, let’s join forces to save play in our nation’s schools—we can start by signing this Back-to-School Pledge.

We are not powerless to curb the rising tides of paranoia, testing-frenzy, and blatant disregard for the health and well-being of our children. It’s when like-minded parents connect—whether on this blog, in the neighborhood, or in PTA meetings—that we can channel our frustrations into action and restore some good old-fashioned common sense. – K.T.

Outrage of the Week: Kid’s Lemonade Stand Closed for Lack of Permit

Oh Readers — What are we going to do with this country? In Portland, Ore, health inspectors shut down a 7-year-old’s lemonade stand at some kind of fair because, “Our role is to protect the public.”

From what? Summer? Fun? Kids? The right to DO something, instead of just sitting at home, quietly watching reruns?

If any health inspectors are reading this, I say: Come arrest my son, too. He was selling lemonade at a summer community last weekend — or trying to. Then younger, cuter kids saw him and go the bright idea of opening a stand right next to his! They got all the business.

What better lesson in commerce — in LIFE! — is there than that? And yet, the authorities stand ready to take it away.

What do you want to bet they chug the evidence? — Lenore

Surgeon General Endorses “Take Our Children to the Park…” Day (Sort Of. Indirectly. And not actually the CURRENT Surgeon General…)

Hi Readers! Getting lots of interest in Take Our Kids to the Park…And Leave Them There Day. Watch for it/me on CNN on Thursday at about 11:30 a.m. EST, and in a whole bunch of radio interviews and newspaper articles over the next few days.  Meantime, here is a GREAT QUOTE from the former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop.

He appears along with a lot of other well-known and loved New Yorkers, including Regis Philbin and Ray Romano, on a new DVD called New York Street Games (which also comes with rules for the old-fashioned games, like stickball, and ringoleavio). And here’s what he says in the film:

“If you want to say how can we step into childhood and make it better for
them, I would start at the activity level.  I’d like to say let your kids go
out and play.  Then I’d say you’re not going to do that are you? Make your
kids go out and play.  Kids ought to grow up the way you and I grew up and
we grew up fifty years apart or maybe more.  But we did the same things.
Now who’s out playing in the afternoon?  Nobody.  Risks I think are the
thing that make life important and everything that you and I do is risk vs.
benefit.  Is there a risk to sending your kid out?  Absolutely.  Is there a
benefit?  It exceeds the risk.”

Koop rocks!

Your kids can have fun the way we did! (But with softer ground.)

Study: More Gym + Nutrition Ed Doesn’t Slim Kids Down (And I Think I Know Why)

Cool entry on the “Alas, A Blog” blog   questioning the conventional wisdom that holds: If only kids had more gym, health and nutrition classes, they’d all slim down. An eight-year study of about 1700 kids gave half of them a greatly enhanced gym/nutrition/health curriculum (and healthier cafeteria food), while the other half got the same old same old.  Kids were measured in third grade and again in fifth and surprise (there goes the grant!), there was no difference in the two groups as far as weight was concerned.

The “Alas” blogger rightly asks whether weight should matter anyway: If the group with the gym curriculum was more active, happy or fit, that certainly seems more important than whether they could squeeze into smaller undies. But MY point is that I’m not surprised by the outcome, because it’s not just gym that makes a difference in kids’ lives. It’s what kids do OUTSIDE of school, too.

BEYOND GYM

When principals forbid them to ride their bikes to school (and I’ll post a another Outrage about that soon),  when  parents are afraid to let them go to the park, when their friends are not allowed to venture out the front door, what can kids do before or after school except hang out inside?

And what generally happens there? They’re not jogging in place while poking around YouTube. And if they’re watching TV, cue the dancing Pop-Tarts! Even organized sports programs don’t offer the insurance of exercise (or fun). When my kids were playing on our local Y’s baseball team, they stood around for about 60 of the 90 minutes, waiting in the outfield for a ball that never came, or waiting for their turn at bat that felt like it would never come, or eating the snack that always DID come, because we parents were required to schlep it. (Why was snack a requirement, anyway?)

In short: We can program as much health as we want into the curriculum, and as the sister of a former high school health-ed teacher, I say: Yay! Let’s do it! I’m all for health class. BUT until we start letting kids get out there and organize their own games of tag, and kick ball and roll down the steep, rocky hill (okay, maybe not that one — Free-Range has its limits), they’re going to be inside. Who’s dancing and prancing and getting all that healthy exercise in  there?

Looks like the Pop-Tarts.  — Lenore, who thanks Kelly Hogaboom for sending this story in.  Kelly’s blog is right here!