Remember When We Fingerprinted CRIMINALS? Now We Fingerprint Coaches

Hi Readers: Two words — Jerry Sandusky — will be invoked for the next umpteen years to justify background checking every male who interacts with children. Let’s remind those folks that if anyone HAD background checked Jerry Sandusky he’d  have looked as trustworthy as a golden retriever. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: My hubby who has been coaching our boys hockey for 16 years just received a letter from our police to come in and submit fingerprints in order for him to continue coaching.  The new policy requires this. Fingerprinting!! Never mind that we already have ‘safeguards’ in place.  Each team has at least 3 coaches and there must always be 2 coaches present with the players at all times if parents aren’t there.  Now they have to submit to not only a background check but be fingerprinted in order to ascertain that you haven’t changed your name after a conviction.  What can you do? If you want to keep involved in your child’s sport you don’t have a choice.
Sad that volunteers are under constant suspicion and offensive to have to be treated this way. — Nathalie Delage

If you are male, you’re guilty till fingerprinted innocent.

Wow! 7th Grader Kidnapped & Released, CONTINUES TO WALK TO SCHOOL!

Readers — Maybe it’s Malaysia that is the land of the free and the home of the brave. This 7th grade boy, Nayati, sure embodies all that — along with a shining optimism.

The story (as far as I know) is this: Nayati was recently kidnapped by two men and held for six days, then somehow (I have no idea how) returned to his home and his community. His school called a special assembly and unveiled the surprise guests to the kids: The boy and his parents! Then, according to the blog Global  Anni, run by an ex-pat teacher in Kuala Lumpur:

Well the standing ovations and tears would not stop! He came down off the stage and walked up the theater steps into the audience and hugged all his classmates, teachers and parents. He then walked down the row of seats where the 7thgraders were sitting and took a seat among his peers. Many of us have still not stopped sobbing.

When the assembly was dismissed, Nayati walked to our breezeway and continued to hug and thank everyone. His father tweeted that Nayati had decided to walk home from school. Holding his friends’ hands he walked right past the place he had been abducted 6 days earlier and went home to hang out with his buddies.

I’m cheering, too. What a boy, what an outlook. And what  a great school that allows him to continue being a confident kid! — L.

Nayati and friends.

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.

Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe on Trains

Hi Readers: What generally brings us together here at Free-Range Kids is the belief that today’s children are safer and more competent than our culture gives them credit for. So I thought I’d present a letter I just got from someone who read my Amtrak column in a newspaper, not here at this site:

My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak?  My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.

There is really no security.  People jump on and off at different train stops.  No one checks luggage.  An adult could easily snatch a youngster.

Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised.  The common sense that is lacking is yours. 

Not a radical – retired high school principal.

Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie?  The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!

And then there’s the issue of kids being snatched right and left. Well, potentially, anyway, and that’s good enough for this letter writer: The fact that a child could, in theory, “easily” get grabbed by an adult (with none of the other passengers noticing, I guess), is reason enough not to let even seventh graders ride the train solo. Heck, using that reasoning, why let them do anything where they could be “easily” grabbed? Why let them walk to school, or get an ice cream? Think about the worst thing that could happen and plan accordingly! This is not “radical,” according to the writer,  and as proof he points out that he is a retired principal. (The writer is a male.)

The sad thing is that he IS radical. But he doesn’t feel it, because our whole CULTURE is radical. It has taken the radical new view that children are too vulnerable to do almost anything without adult supervision.

It also has started to believe that nothing is safe without an official safetymeister checking it first. And then, if there is even the smallest possibility that sometime, under some circumstances, it could somehow be UNSAFE, that’s reason enough to declare it verboten.

So now we — the folks who believe in the world — are seen as radicals, while the crazy paranoid nutjobs are becoming our overlords. If that’s the case, well then, okay, redefine me. I’m a raging radical, ready to take them on. — L.S.

Why It Feels Like Kids are Being Kidnapped All the Time

Hi Folks! So many people I talk to (especially for my upcoming show) are convinced that children area being kidnapped all the time, everywhere, that they cannot let their children go outside on their own. Here’s a succinct look at why parents feel this way, as presented in a comment by the reader whose screen name is “Socalledauthor.” – L.

Socalledauthor writes: Child abductions are not more frequent now than they were, however, they ARE more publicized.  In my town (a semi-rural area), there was a child abducted in 1928.  It got about two paragraphs in the local paper about how she was walking home from school and didn’t make it… when she was found, there was another small article.

Also in my town, in the last year, there was a child who went “missing.”  For four days there were articles on him and what was known about his last whereabouts and how to keep children safe.  FOUR DAYS of articles… and then, a short blurb (maybe four paragraphs) when it was revealed that he’d spent the time at a friend’s house because he was mad at his parents.

The point here is the difference in media coverage.  Day after day, the front page of our local paper was about this missing boy.  It makes it seem like the problem is bigger than it is.  Conversely, my local paper gives only a paragraph every day or so to those hurt or killed in a car accident — because it happens so often that it has become common!

Fear does not equal fact.  Just because you feel something is true does not make it so.

By the way, if you turn off the TV, you’ll find the world a less fearful place!

“I Was Kidnapped as a Kid, and Lenore Is Wrong.”

Hi Readers! The other day I had a piece in the Wall Street Journal that said moms don’t have be “sherpas,” or hover 24/7. Today the paper published its letters to the editor about it (and me). Here they are. One was from a woman who was kidnapped at age 4 by a stranger, and found 24 hours later. She is an adult today and says her mother spent the rest of her life feeling guilty.

I feel terrible for everyone involved. I also feel a little bad that the letter writer thinks she has to explain that “child abduction takes a huge toll on the entire family.” Contrary to popular belief, Free-Range Kids never thought otherwise. We here are no fans of child kidnapping.

Nor are we fans of actual negligence.  Even Free-Rangers know that 4-year-olds are not ready to take on the world by themselves. We’d never recommend that.

From the letter, however, we don’t know anything about the circumstances of this story: whether the mom was heedless to the point of negligence or simply blaming herself for an unforseeable bolt from the fates.

I can understand why the writer would feel that people can never EVER take their eyes off their kids. But as Laura  Laura Vanderkam, author of 168 Hours, writes in this gem of an essay about that letter  (and another letter from a woman who said that because one 3-year-old was killed the year her own daughter was three, she never let her own child out of her sight again):

…this is the “rare exception” line of reasoning, in which any anecdote which counters a broad based trend or statistic must be evidence that the data are wrong or should be ignored. But while Kathleen Newton of Lindon, Utah writes that “there are too many vicious people out there who seek to do children harm” and this is “why unsupervised play does not exist anymore,” this ignores the reality that the world has changed, but not in the way she’s pointing. Crime rates are lower now than they were a few decades ago. And regardless, in a world of 7 billion people, you can find anecdotes of anything. The fact that an animal could escape from a zoo exhibit doesn’t mean that bringing your kids to the zoo indicates lax parenting.

If you were mauled by an escaped mountain lion, of course, you’d think otherwise. I wouldn’t blame you. But Laura’s point is both true and hard to absorb in light of the fact that sometimes real tragedy does strike kids, out of the blue.

It is terrible. It is shocking. It is very hard to argue with someone who came face to face with something so unspeakable.

And yet, if we do NOT speak up, these terrible stories are the only ones we will hear. They will scare us to the core, and have us believe that our children are never safe. As the letter writer says, in closing, “Certainly those parents whose children were taken from their homes while they slept can attest, parenting is a full-time job with no coffee breaks.”

By this line of reasoning, parents should feel guilty for even sleeping. Why weren’t they awake, standing guard in their children’s room all night? No parenting is good enough or safe enough when we think this way. And, of course, that is the way we are encouraged to think. — Lenore

You Mean Not Every Candy-Giver is a Predator?

Hi Readers! The folks in this Chicago Sun-Times story are SO old, they tried to give candy to their grandchild’s schoolmates. How clueless! Don’t they know that any adult who is nice to someone else’s kids is probably grooming them for an illicit relationship…or worse? — L