Kids & Kittens & Keeping Them Inside

Readers — This is such a fantastic example of the way our society is going: Better not to experience ANYTHING than to be exposed to a single ounce of RISK. It comes to us from Julie Saxon, a university lecturer turned stay-at-mom of two in San Jose, CA. –  L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to share this story that happened yesterday. My family has decided it’s time to adopt a pet, and we’d like a cat or kitten.  My husband and I both grew up with cats in the household and we both had indoor/outdoor cats. I know there’s a lot of controversy about what’s best, but we both believe that it is better for the cat’s well-being to allowed outside sometimes.  (Plus no litter box is awesome!)

So we set out to a local pet store yesterday that was holding an adoption fair. It was being put on by a local cat rescue that had very specific requirements of the homes in which the cats are to be placed, and one — written into a contract — is that the kitten will be kept indoors only. So, obviously, this wasn’t the rescue for us. But what was really interesting was the rhetoric the volunteer used in trying to convince us that cats are better as indoor only. It mirrored almost exactly what the media is telling us about children!  Some of the things she told me:

* We all used to have outdoor cats when we were kids. Everyone did. But things are different now.
* The cats’ biggest problem is PREDATORS. We think it’s cars, but it’s not. It’s predators. She then began to speak about COYOTES, despite the fact that I live in the suburbs of a fairly big city and have never–NOT ONCE in the 16 years I’ve lived here–seen a coyote. Off-leash dogs, yes. Raccoons and possums, yes. Coyotes, not so much.
* Kittens should never be outside, and these in particular because they’ve never been outside. They don’t know how to be outside. (As if I’m going to toss the kitten in the front yard and let it fend for itself.)
*Indoor only cats live longer.
*Besides, they don’t know what they’re missing.

Whether you believe the same way as this volunteer regarding cats and kittens isn’t my point. But I was shocked at how closely animal rescue folks mimic helicopter parents or possibly vice versa. Have we reduced our children to the state of 4-month-old bottle-fed baby kittens? We have to keep them inside because they’ve never been outside and they would instantly become prey to wild predators? Training them isn’t even considered? Besides, depriving them of what comes naturally is fine because they will live longer and they don’t know any different anyway? Wow! –  Julie

Who needs nature? We’re learning our numbers!

Kids Freaked Out By Grass, Squirrels and Playing Outside

Hi Readers — A fellow named Brian sent in this note about kids and nature. It sort of dovetails with a study just released in England that found an alarming percentage of kids are spending so much time indoors, they can’t identify things in the natural world anymore, including daddy longlegs. I’m no huge fan of spiders, but daddy longlegs seem like they should be part of everyone’s childhood, one way or another. (Just not laying their eggs in Bubble Yum.)  — Lenore

No Child Left Inside

by Brian

Last year I had the opportunity to work at an Outdoor Education facility in Texas. It was an amazing job and I do miss it.  We took fifth graders for four days and taught them about conservation and ecology, but mostly we just had fun.  A few things struck me while working there:

First, very few of these students had ever been outside before. Really. Unmanicured lawns and overgrown trees were exciting to these kids. They’d encounter a squirrel and freak out.

Second, and scarier: The kids were afraid of EVERYTHING. Dark roads? Check. Not being able to use their flashlights on an illuminated pathway? Check. Sitting on the ground during daylight hours? Yup. The worst were the things they had been warned about by their parents: Wolves and bears and other large animals that NO LONGER even exist in this part of the country and haven’t for decades, if not a century or more. We spent the week teaching these kids not so much about the water cycle, as planned, but that nature (and the world in general) shouldn’t be feared.

One of our activities was to boat our group of kids out to an island and let them have free play. Yes, we had some rules. They had to (sorta) stay within sight of an adult and have a partner with them. You probably won’t be surprised by their initial reaction: they did nothing. The first ten minutes were spent staring at each other. Absent direct adult instructions these kids had no idea how to play.

Third, and worst: I’ll just give examples here. One student was sent with a suitcase full of little plastic bags. Each bag was labled “First Night Pajamas,” “Second Day Outfit,” “Extra Shirt, Second Day.” I’ve never seen a kid smile so big as when I told him to just throw his dirty clothes into his bag. This child had zero ability to think for himself.

Another of my students came from an extremely low-income area. (Actually, most of them did). He arrived with his classmates on Tuesday. He was a little homesick, but nothing bad. Day two went fine, homesickness was easily dealt with. He was integrating fine with the group and was enjoying himself by lunch. Day three, Mom arrives out of no where and takes her son home. Her reason?  Her SON couldn’t handle being away.  He would be home in less than 24 hours, but HE couldn’t cope. Now, our facility is over two hours away from their school. His mother hired a cab to take her to our facility and back. We priced out the trip from the company website: $400+, because mom couldn’t deal with her lack of control.

Worst of all, there were kids we never got to meet — friends the students would talk about whose parents refused to give permission. Kids whose names we’d call out, only to be told by their classmates that their parents had pulled them off the trip at the last minute.

Working at this facility made me a believer in your cause. Thank you.  –Brian