UPDATED! Can You Set The New York Times and Psychology Today Straight about Free-Range Parenting?

Readers — In today’s New York Times there’s an article about a new type of food product: a pouch parents can give their kids to suck, rather than making them go through all the rigamarole of, you know, eating food from a plate. Or even a bun. Or even chewing.

Putting aside my feelings about the product, I was shocked to read the inventor’s explanation for why a feeding tube…er, sorry, pouch…is suddenly necessary for kids:

Mr. Grimmer believes the pouch’s popularity can be attributed to the emergence of a new way of relating to our children. He calls it “free-range parenting.”

Parents, he explained, want to be as flexible as modern life demands. And when it comes to eating, that means doing away with structured mealtimes in favor of a less structured alternative that happens not at set times, but whenever a child is hungry.

What Mr. Grimmer is selling, he said, is a way to facilitate that: mobile food technology for the modern family. “It’s on-the-go snacking, on-the-go nourishment,” he said. “It moves with kids and puts the control in their hands.

The article goes on to talk about how kids are so structured that they have no TIME to eat a real meal, so this is a lovely “free-range” alternative. For his part, the reporter adds that he gave his daughter, under age 4, a pouch to suck after her gymnastics class, and another on the way to a party because somehow lunch got skipped.

I feel for the guy. His toddler is already so over-booked there’s no time to stop and eat  the carrots. But to think that is “Free-Range” is so, so, sooooo wrong my brain is turning into a  pouch of plum-spinach mush.

In fact, Free-Range Kids believes just the opposite: We are all for giving kids a chance to do things on their own — play, walk to school, spend an afternoon just drawing on the sidewalk — which in turn gives us parents a chance to do things on our own, too, including get out of the car. Maybe even make a meal. Or have the kids make a meal.

We have to stop this misconception of Free-Range as harried chauffeurs before it grows. Already a  Psychology Today blogger has written a piece about “The Perils of Free-Range Parenting,” which goes on and on about how SHE doesn’t believe kids should make their parents give them snacks instead of  meals. Moreover, SHE doesn’t think kids should be the ones to decide whether or not they’re going to sit in the car seat, or what time they go to bed.

Lady — neither do we!

“Free-Range” is not a (depleting, exhausting) lifestyle.  It’s just the conviction that kids today are safer and more competent than our culture tells us they are. That’s why we can give them  responsibility AND freedom — and not schlep and schedule up the wazoo, to the point where they have to suck their meals in between appointments. Can someone please drop these folks a line and tell them that? – L

For kids too busy to digest a Cheerio.

UPDATE!! Look at this lovely piece by the Pscyhology Today blogger, Dina Rose, realizing that Free-Range does NOT mean “Let kids do whatever they want while we cater to their every whine” parenting. Kudos for the correction, Dina, and welcome!! – L

Wow, Who Knew? Kids Should Go Down Slides ON THEIR OWN!

Hi Readers — and thank you for sending this story, “A Surprising Risk for Toddlers on Playground Slides,” that was in yesterday’s New York Times. And what exactly IS the surprising risk?

Parents! Extremely loving, extremely cautious parents who, rather than letting their kids navigate the slide on their own, put them on their lap and let gravity do its thing. The problem is: The thing gravity is doing is breaking their childrens’ legs.

Yes, “helping” the kids actually makes the slide experience less safe. Kids are getting their legs stuck and twisted and even broken, because (sez the story) “If a foot gets caught while the child is sliding alone, he can just stop moving or twist around until it comes free. But when a child is sitting in an adult lap, the force of the adult’s weight behind him ends up breaking his leg.”

Now, I am of at least two, possibly even three-point-five minds about this story. First off, of course, I am a little smug about the news that helicoptering doesn’t help kids. The fact that kids have been going down slides alone since Danny slid down his Dinosaur should have been evidence enough that modest inclines and moppets are a good mix.  But we live in a culture that loves to demand ever more involvement on the part of parents, so a lot of folks got the idea that GOOD moms and dads are the ones who put down the Starbucks and go, “Wheeeee!” with perhaps more enthusiasm than they feel. Now they are off the hook.

ON THE OTHER HAND (we are now onto Mind #2), this article also makes it seem as if the parent/kid playground combo is the slippery slope to hell, and that slides are even MORE dangerous than anybody had ever imagined. And considering we have already imagined them as SO dangerous that regulations require them to be no taller than the average mound of laundry (or is that just at my house?), this is another blow to playground fun.

And here’s Mind #3: The fact that this issue merited an entire article in the hard copy of the New York Times — space that is disappearing faster than Happy Meal fries  — is just another example of our obsession with every little thing that has to do with parenting. As if  every hour of time with them is fraught with the potential for developmental leaps or horrifying danger. When really what we’re talking about is an afternoon at the playground.

And now for the .5: One point the article made is that, “The damage is not merely physical. ‘The parents are always crushed that they broke their kid’s leg and are baffled as to why nobody ever told them this could happen,’ Dr. Holt said. ‘Sometimes one parent is angry at the other parent because that parent caused the child’s fracture. It has some real consequences to families.'”

In a nutshell (and I do mean nut) here are my final thoughts:

1 – Parents are BAFFLED that NOBODY EVER TOLD THEM every single thing that could possibly go wrong in any situation?  That’s one reason why we are so litigious: We expect every activity to be perfect every time, and if it’s not, we are so angry we want to blame someone (else). Not fate. Someone.

2 – While I can totally see being mad at the parent who broke my kid’s leg, I can also see moving on. Getting over it. Realizing it could have been ME. Lasting consequences seems a bit dramatic for an injury that, the article says, the children recover from in 4 to 6 weeks, without “lasting complications.” (Except, of course, for the divorce.)

3 – And, in defense of the article and the author, whose work I like, maybe the piece actually did perform a public service. Hoopla aside, now you know: Let your kid go solo down the slide.

I think I’m done. Feel free to take up where I left off. — L.

Okay, maybe this slide IS a little dicey, with or without a parent.

Playgrounds Getting TOO Safe?

Hi Readers — A bunch of you sent me links to this wonderful NY Times story by John Tierney yesterday, about how maybe we have been making playgrounds SO safe that they actually stunt our kids’ development. (Or at least make it too boring for anyone over 7 to want to go play.)

It’s a point I agree with so much that I wrote a piece about the same thing, last year. Here’s a link to that one, too.  Basically, both articles point out that in our desire to eliminate ALL risks, we create new ones, like the risk of kids not getting a feel for what’s safe or not, and not feeling confident about facing the world in general. And not getting exercise!

And here’s an earlier Wall Street Journal article that inspired me, “Why Safe Kids are Becoming Fat Kids.”  (Actually, it’s just a bit of the article because the Journal only gives a chunk, unless you subscribe.) The piece is by Philip K. Howard, who happens to be author of one my favorite, mindblowing books, Life Without Lawyers.

Anyway, here’s to fun on the monkey bars, and maybe some new ideas about playgrounds, too. — L

Wheeeee! This is so developmentally rich!

Please Post This Everywhere: “Steady Decline in Crime”

Dear Readers: Here is an article from the New York Times that says what I keep trying to say: Crime is down. Not up. Not even sideways. Down.

How far down? Major crime — murder, rape, robbery, assault —  is at “the lowest rate in nearly 40 years,” sez the paper of record. In fact, America is enjoying a crime plunge so striking, the experts can’t even figure out WHY it is happening. But it is.

So when folks say that they’d really LIKE to let their kids play on the lawn, or bounce a ball on the driveway, or stick a toe out the front door, but they can’t because we are living in hell on earth, engulfed by danger, and ANYTHING could happen and good Lord, isn’t our job to keep our kids SAFE, especially in TIMES LIKE THESE…please show them this article.

Please. — L.

P.S. And please also remember that this drop in crime cannot be attributed to parental hovering, since we are NOT hovering over adults and yet crime against THEM is down, too. No one is obsessively watching over grown-ups on play dates, or when they’re walking home from work, and yet they are getting murdered and raped and robbed LESS, too.

Picture Books Too Babyish (i.e., FUN??) For Kindergarteners

Another day, another New York Times story that you wish wasn’t true. And yet, it seems pretty solid: The sale of picture books for kids in going down, and the reasons range from the fact that they’re high priced (which makes some sense) to the idea that kids should be reading chapter books sooner rather than later (which makes no sense at all).

The article, by Julie Bosman, quotes authors, book stores and publishers, all of whom concur: the picture book is fading. While kids still read Seuss, they’re off to Steinbeck sooner rather than later, in part because their parents don’t want them piddling around with pictures. The parents want them doing “real” reading.

Except that…picture books ARE real reading. I was talking with Gever Tulley the other day — yes, the founder of The Tinkering School — and he said that kids who read non-fiction comic books tend to remember the facts and stories better because of the leap their minds make between the panels. Having to create the connection from one picture to the next engages the brain and cements the lesson better than just plain ol’ reading. So take THAT,  pushy parents who want their kids diving into Stendahl instead of Stinky Cheese Man.

Pretty much any book that engages a child is a book worth reading. It gets kids into the groove. It must be turning on their brains, or they’d put it down. And if the kids are reading picture books even into their double digit years, well, ’tis better to read than to not read. My 12-year-old reads Peanuts like the bible — it is his joy in life, his comfort, his compass. To yank that away and say, “Time for ‘Crime & Punishment, kid,” would BE a crime and a punishment.

Picture books: good. Chapter books: good. Reading: good. Simple as that. — Lenore

Now We’re Supposed to Manage Our Kids’ Friendships? Or Else???

Hi Readers — Here’s a lovely guest post responding to The New York Times article from last week, “A Best Friend? You Must Be Kidding,” by Hilary Stout. The article was all about “friendship coaches” and teaching our kids the “right” way to be friends. Blecch. Enjoy the counterpoint.  L.

Dear Free Range Kids: NJ Mom here. After reading the New York Times friendship article,  I went on such a rant that Lenore asked me to pull myself together and write something up.

The article concerns the latest bizarre twist to the seemingly never-ending micromanaging of middle/upper middle class children. In a nutshell: You can’t have a best friend anymore, it might hurt someone’s feelings. Instead, to avoid exclusivity, cliques, and bullying, children should be friends with a bunch of kids, with no one person being more special than another.

OMG. Can’t we just leave these poor children alone, even for just a minute? Can’t we just let them be mean, or nice, or scared, or bored, or sad or angry or even not a “success” at school? Can’t we, as the adults, simply guide them on their journey to adulthood, instead of preventing them from feeling any pain–ever?

As my mother says, “I sure wouldn’t want to be a mother in this day and age.” She’s right. The pretty straightforward job of childrearing has become so, so…messy and convoluted. And it is just too damn much work.

All my children have to do is open their eyes in the morning, and they have more of everything than do millions and millions of other children, from potable water to two parents who love and enjoy them. We as parents, teachers, “childrearing experts,” and school administrators must let go of this delusion that we can fix everything for our children. They already have everything they need and can manage very well without us constantly messing with the minutia of their lives.

I do hope it’s obvious that I’m not advocating the absence of parenting. I’m simply saying that adults should guide and support the children in their care, not interfere to such a degree that real life passes them by.

To end this post, I decided to go to some true experts on kids and friendship, my 11 year-old daughter and her 13 year-old friend. I asked: Do you think it’s ok to have a best friend? “Yeah, sure, why not?” Might it hurt your other friends’ feelings if you are best friends with just one person? “Sometimes, but usually no, because you’re still friends with the other friends.” Do you think that having just one best friend can create cliques and then maybe even bullying? “No, bullying is when one person punches another person. It also happens because parents didn’t teach them any better.”

And there you have it. — NJ Mom

The New York Times & “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day”

Hey Readers! Great to see this post about “Take Our Children to The Park…And Leave Them There Day” on Lisa Belkin’s New York Times blog, Motherlode. The ball starts rolling! Get set for May 22! Spread the word! — L.

Well, don't leave us here for 68 years. But you get the idea.