An After-school Provider Laments the Crazy Rules

Hi Folks! Here’s yet another look at some insanely overprotective, unproductive rules governing anything having to do with kids. This rant/lament comes from¬†Rick Rood, director of an on-site after-school child care program in the San Francisco Bay Area.¬† He has worked in the profession since 1990, and provides workshops and coaching for education professionals who work with school-age children.¬† He blogs at AfterschoolAnswers and is currently finishing his new book, ‚ÄúThe Three Secret Pillars of Behavior Guidance,” even while he and his wife are raising kids aged 5, 16, and 17. This note came in response to a post about a YMCA that wouldn’t let a mom bring her 3-year-old in to use the bathroom because this was against the rules. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:¬†¬†I run an after-school¬†program, and if that parent had come to our center, I would’ve had to tell them the same exact thing.¬† Our organization (we’re a string of 16 centers run by a rec and park organization) has a policy that outsiders are not allowed to use our¬†restrooms.¬†Why not?

One simple reason — liability.¬†¬†The (very) sad fact is that the policy comes from our insurance company. I do my best to be a “Free-Range” director.¬† I don’t make these policies, and there are many rules and regulations with which I personally don’t agree. But it goes deeper than that.¬† Because of this “bubble-wrap” mentality, out-of-school-time staff have become more and more infected over the years with this insidious “worst-case scenario” type of thinking.

Some examples? Recently one of my teachers reported me to my boss for a Free-Range comment I had made.¬† One day, one of our children decided to sneak away from school and not come to the afterschool program.¬† This resourceful 8-year-old made it pretty much clear across our medium-sized town, heading to a friend’s house.¬† We followed our policies when he didn’t show up to our program: parents and police were called, and they tracked him down in pretty short order. After the dust had settled, I made a comment to one of our teachers (who I mistakenly figured held similar Free-Range ideas), saying that, while it was good that we found the boy, I was impressed with the boy’s resourcefulness and that maybe, as a culture, we shouldn’t call up visions of child molesters and abductors every time something doesn’t go as planned. The teacher went to my boss, and told her that he didn’t think I was very serious about protecting the children in our care.

Another policy: Kids can’t walk home on their own.¬† Again, liability.¬† How much could we be sued for if a kid breaks their leg or goes missing on the short walk home (we’re a neighborhood school), ¬†even if the parent has given permission?¬† Frustrating to me because the odds that nothing bad will happen within a two-block walk are pretty astronomical, and then add to that the VERY tiny chance that their parent will pursue legal action (these are parents that we, as a rule, work together with as partners- and we have very good relationships with our parents).

Here’s a corker. Our local Little League uses the fields on our school grounds for practice and games.¬† Can we release the kids to just walk across the field (again on the SAME physical grounds) to practice?¬† Heck no… we require a “responsible adult” to come and sign them out and walk them the 100 yards to practice).¬† And, even better, by policy that “responsible adult” cannot be one of our staff members (even if the parents say it’s okay and we walk them every step of the way).

Finally, here’s a spot where I’ve rebelled (although quietly). At one of our “sister centers” (on the grounds of another local school)… they had a kindergartner who fell off the monkey bars while playing in the afterschool program and broke her arm.¬† Immediately, and with almost scary domino-like action, many of the other local centers (including the one in question) banned kindergarteners from the play structures (even though they’re labeled for use by kids 5-12 years of age).¬† No one ever made it an official policy, so my kindergarteners continue to enjoy play time on the play structure.

My main philosophy in afterschool care is that we exist to facilitate the emotional and social growth of children.¬† And if we’re going to succumb to the bubble-wrap philosophy of raising kids, then our mission is doomed from the start! At my center, kids will be allowed to play freely on the play structure, kids will be allowed to wrestle in the grass, and I will make free range choices in every area where they have not already been banned and by the regulating agencies, lawyers and insurance adjusters.¬† And unlike some of my fellow co-workers, I will not succumb to the “worst-first” type of thinking that stunts the social and emotional growth of the next generation. – Rick Rood

Outrage of the Week: Mandatory Fingerprinting for Little League Vols

Hi Readers! What kind of society are we going to have when anytime anyone volunteers to do anything with kids, we treat them as pedophiles until officially proven otherwise?

Probably the kind of society they have now in Tenafly, N.J., where Little League is requiring all adults who work with the team — from coaches to t-shirt vendors — to get fingerprinted. According to this article from NorthJersey.com:

“It’s time to make sure everybody’s covered and we know the children are safe,” said Recreation Department Secretary Lisa Sherman said. “It’s something that a lot of towns in the area started instituting.”

I’m sure they are. But there is an alternative, and it actually ensures safer kids all around. Teach your kids “the three R’s” of abuse: Recognize, resist and report. That is, teach them how to recognize what abuse is (“No one can touch what your bathing suit covers”), and resist and report it. And vis a vis reporting, as I’ve said before, tell your kids that even if a grown up tells them not to say anything, they should always tell you and you will NEVER BE MAD.

Basically, the same way we teach kids to stop, drop and roll on the off-chance they are ever in a fire, we should teach them to be aware of the possibility of abuse. That makes kids safer because now they know what to look out for and do in any situation. Because the chances of an actual pedophile having a police record are pretty slim anyway. So the fingerprinting isn’t doing much.

Ah, but what does it hurt to ask volunteers for their fingerprints if they, as one dad told CBS,¬† have “nothing to hide”?

It changes the basic fabric of society from one of trust to distrust. It’s the difference between the United States and the former Soviet Union. It makes us think we should look askance at all adults who love children. In fact, just typing that sentence made me realize how far society has already changed. It felt a little weird to write about people who “love children,” because immediately it brought to mind pedophiles.

That’s a perverted way to think, and yet that’s what’s being encouraged. How ironic. — Lenore

Field of fiends?

Kids and Sports and Crazed Parents

This sounds like a good book — “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports,”¬† by Mark Hyman( http://untilithurts.com/).

Apparently Hyman’s 14-year-old son came home with an arm super-sore from playing too much¬†baseball, too hard. Hyman¬† told the boy to get out there and pitch again — after all, it was the playoffs. Just a few¬†years later, the¬† kid ended up in¬†surgery.¬†Sports injury. For his part, the dad ended up with an epiphany: There is no reason to push our offspring to this point.

So he examines how sports went from something spontaeous and fun to something organized and grueling. Of course this entails figuring out how we¬†parents got so overinvolved. And he shares some shocking stats, too, like the fact that¬†in 2003 alone, 3.5 million children under age 15 required medical treatment for sports injuries, “nearly half of which were the result of simple overuse. The quest to turn children into tomorrow‚Äôs superstar athletes has often led adults to push them beyond physical and emotional limits.”¬†

Not good!

Free-Range Kids is pro kids sports, but not pro pro-kids sports, if you get my drift. We are not eager to make our kids into pros, or to enroll them  in so many coaching programs so many days a week that that they can outswim Michael Phelps, but have no idea how to organize their own game of tag.

Sounds like this author came to the same conclusion, the hard way.¬† — Lenore