“Anything Could Happen!”

Hi Readers! To get the blood flowing this Monday morn:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I got a random issue of a parenting magazine in the mail. I don’t subscribe, but I guess it’s a teaser issue to try to drag me in.  There’s a Q&A feature in which a mother asked if it was okay to leave her 2.5-year-old in the living room watching a movie while she put her infant down for the night, which involves nursing the baby to sleep in another room.  (From my experience, this is usually a 15 minute task, 30 minutes, max.)

The response from the “expert” (with some sort of PhD behind her name)?  NO!!!, because Something Could Happen.  The advice?  Put your 2.5-y-o in a “contained” place and don’t nurse the baby to sleep but put him or her down more quickly, if you must be apart at all.  Even better, the implication is, would be to nevereverever let your 2.5 year old out of your sight, not even for a MINUTE.

Yeah, right.  As I was reading that, my 2-year-old was in the living room alone, using a movie to wind down for the night after all the stimulation of grandparents.  I bet that “expert” would call CPS is she saw the neighborhood gang roaming around the semi-country acre lots on our cul-de-sac –“unsupervised,” sometimes.  There is a 9-year-old, a 7-year-old, two 6-year-olds, a moderately to severely mentally retarded 4-year-old, and the aforementioned 2-year-old, all playing happily while parents do no more than glance out the window periodically and keep an ear out.  Heck, she’d lead the lynch mob herself if she knew that we let the older four wander in the woods behind the neighborhood by themselves!

My 2-year-old HAS been injured enough to take note–twice, in fact.  And both times, she was being directly supervised by an adult in the same room with her.  Once, she was within arm’s reach and just tripped, fell, and put her tooth through her lip.  The other time, she nose-dived through a screen to an open window that was 10 inches from the ground and scraped the bridge of her nose on the brick.  There was no way to be fast enough.  Accidents happen.

But the worst she’s suffered when outside with the boys is a skinned knee because they have been raised to be responsible–as I am raising her.

(Bad) Advice from “All You” Magazine

Hi Readers — This note is RIGHT ON!

Dear Free-Range Kids:  Just thought I’d let you know of this snippet from the most recent All You Magazine. It incensed me to the point of writing an email to the author scolding her for her “professional advice” (this column is written by “Relationship Expert” Nancy Carol Rybski, PhD). Here is the article:

Q. A 6-year-old boy in our neighborhood stops by often to play with my 7-year-old son. His mom and dad never check on him or pick him up – he just walks home when I say it’s time to go. I end up babysitting him for hours! How can I talk to his parents about this?

A. Next time, walk the boy home and chat with his parents. Explain that you’re glad the kids are buddies but you’re busy and can’t have their son over all the time. Don’t be accusatory, but say you’re concerned for his safety when he goes home alone. If they’re still hands-off, tell them he can’t come over, because you just can’t be responsible for his safety.”

Here are my thoughts: First of all, why does this mom even have to talk to the parents? If this boy is coming over too often or staying too long, she should talk to the child directly, perhaps negotiate what times he can come over and for how long.

Second, why is so unsafe for this boy to walk down the street to his neighbor’s house to play with a friend? Rybski is just encouraging people to worry about all the horrible things that might (but mot likely will NOT) happen if a kid goes outside without an adult.

Finally, why does this mom feel like she has to babysit this boy? She should send both boys outside and give herself a break! Instead of obsessing unnecessarily about their safety, why not bask in a little sanity while the kids enjoy a walk around the block together?

Anyway, I wrote this “Expert” a letter using the email provided in the magazine: relationships@allyou.com. Perhaps a few other Free Range readers might want to do the same? — Lauren Ard

I think they just may. Thanks! — L.

Let’s Hear it for Parents Magazine– And Some of Its Commenters!

Hi Readers — Usually I flip through parenting magazines and am amazed by all the items, activities, foods and basic childhood rites of passage they find dangerous (and possibly deadly). But kudos to Parents Mag for this lovely little blog post about Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day — which is coming up this Saturday.

The tone is receptive, open and calming. Couldn’t ask for anything more. Of course, there are some comments along the lines of, “This is absurd!” and, “Life isn’t the way it was when WE were kids,” and, “It’s easy to push for ‘Free Range Kids’ based on statistics but that means shit when YOU become PART of those statistics.” But get a load of some of the wonderful counter-comments:

Right, our world isn’t like when we were kids. It’s significantly safer.

Also: Why doesn’t the fear of the Unknown Other Driver keep you from driving your children anywhere? I mean, you can look at all the automobile-safety statistics in the world, but that means shit when YOU get hit and YOUR CHILD gets injured, right?

Nah, that’d just be ridiculous, to live your life afraid of something so unlikely as a car crash.

And:

Good gracious! The point is not for the kids to hang out in singles. The idea is for them to hang out together! My oldest child would be so happy if other parents would let their kids out of their living rooms and into their yards. He would love to throw a ball around with some other kid at the park.

I won’t live my life in fear. I won’t let my kid live that way. Do I want to teach my child how to make independent decisions? I do. Do I want him to feel trusted? I do. Do I worry about becoming a statistic? Sure do. But I truly believe my kid should be a kid! (The first day we let him ride his bike to the park by himself – he went there and back 10 times. He was so happy. And nothing untoward happened.)

And, finally:

It is just so sad that parents (like many above) have such fear of the world that they can’t let their kids out of their sight. My son, 8, is already allowed to play outside by himself, ride his bike around the neighborhood, stay at a park by himself, etc….and he’s autistic. And before you think we live in some tiny little po-dunk town, we don’t. We live in a major suburb/city in the Bay Area in California. Without the opportunity to be on his own, how will he learn to negotiate conflict with other kids? How will be learn to wait his turn for the tire swing? How will be learn to trust his gut instincts that something’s going down that he should not be a part of? How will he learn that falling off his bike and getting a scraped knee isn’t the end of the world? He won’t. Unless he is given free reign (or range :P) to experience and learn and grown on his own. Kudos to Lenore and all the other Free Range parents out there that are letting their kids be just that…kids.

Welcome, Parents and Parents readers, to Free-Range Kids! — L.

“Can These Parents Be Saved?” asks TIME Magazine Cover Story

Hi Readers — Wow. This is my dream article, and (perhaps) not just because it is high on Free-Range Kids! Check it out! Yay, Time! And please allow me to quote a part I find particularly salient:

Obsessing about kids’ safety and success became the norm, a kind of orthodoxy took hold, and heaven help the heretics — the ones who were brave enough to let their kids venture outside without Secret Service protection. Just ask Lenore Skenazy, who to this day, when you Google “America’s Worst Mom,” fills the first few pages of results — all because one day last year she let her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone. A newspaper column she wrote about it somehow ignited a global firestorm over what constitutes reasonable risk. She had reporters calling from China, Israel, Australia, Malta. (“Malta! An island!” she marvels. “Who’s stalking the kids there? Pirates?”) Skenazy decided to fight back, arguing that we have lost our ability to assess risk. By worrying about the wrong things, we do actual damage to our children, raising them to be anxious and unadventurous or, as she puts it, “hothouse, mama-tied, danger-hallucinating joy extinguishers.”

Skenazy, a Yale-educated mom who with her husband is raising two boys in New York City, had ingested all the same messages as the rest of us. Her sons’ school once held a pre-field-trip assembly explaining exactly how close to a hospital the children would be at all times. She confesses to being “at least part Sikorsky,” hiring a football coach for a son’s birthday and handing out mouth guards as party favors. But when the Today show had her on the air to discuss her subway decision, interviewer Ann Curry turned to the camera and asked, “Is she an enlightened mom or a really bad one?”

From that day and the food fight that followed, she launched her Free Range Kids blog, which eventually turned into her own Dangerous Book for Parents: Free-Range Kids: Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry. There is no rational reason, she argues, that a generation of parents who grew up walking alone to school, riding mass transit, trick-or-treating, teeter-tottering and selling Girl Scout cookies door to door should be forbidding their kids to do the same. But somehow, she says, “10 is the new 2. We’re infantilizing our kids into incompetence.” She celebrates seat belts and car seats and bike helmets and all the rational advances in child safety. It’s the irrational responses that make her crazy, like when Dear Abby endorses the idea, as she did in August, that each morning before their kids leave the house, parents take a picture of them. That way, if they are kidnapped, the police will have a fresh photo showing what clothes they were wearing. Once the kids make it home safe and sound, you can delete the picture and take a new one the next morning.

That advice may seem perfectly sensible to parents bombarded by heartbreaking news stories about missing little girls and the predator next door. But too many parents, says Skenazy, have the math all wrong. Refusing to vaccinate your children, as millions now threaten to do in the case of the swine flu, is statistically reckless; on the other hand, there are no reports of a child ever being poisoned by a stranger handing out tainted Halloween candy, and the odds of being kidnapped and killed by a stranger are about 1 in 1.5 million. When parents confront you with “How can you let him go to the store alone?,” she suggests countering with “How can you let him visit your relatives?” (Some 80% of kids who are molested are victims of friends or relatives.) Or ride in the car with you? (More than 430,000 kids were injured in motor vehicles last year.) “I’m not saying that there is no danger in the world or that we shouldn’t be prepared,” she says. “But there is good and bad luck and fate and things beyond our ability to change. The way kids learn to be resourceful is by having to use their resources.” Besides, she says with a smile, “a 100%-safe world is not only impossible. It’s nowhere you’d want to be.”

Let’s say it again: Hooray for Time Magazine! The tide is turning! — Lenore