Mom Arrested for Letting Her 13-y.o. Babysit Siblings

Hi Folks! “Mom Arrested for for Age-Old Parenting Practice” is how I would headline this case going down in New Canaan, CT, right now. But the actual article begins, “A 39-year-old woman was arrested for leaving her children at home unattended, police said.”

Are children “unattended” if there are four siblings and one of them is 13? (And another is 10?) I’d say that’s the very definition of  “attended.” What happened in this particular case is that the 4-year-old sibling some how got out of the house and ventured across the street. Whereupon a “good” Samaritan called the police. To me that is the very definition of a “bad” Samaritan — someone immediately involving the police and dragging the family into the “justice” system, instead of trying to walk the kid back to her house.

The “negligent” mom was at church and had left maybe an hour before the official babysitter was due to arrive. For this wildly unacceptable belief in her kids (and neighbors) she was charged with “risk of injury to a minor.”

What about the risk to my head from banging it against the wall? Will no one speak for the parents? – L

Help Needed! Zero Tolerance Gets Third Grader & His Cool Knife Expelled

Hi Readers! Here we go again – officials overreacting as if this makes them smart and proactive (rather than…overreacting). L.
.
Dear Free-Range Kids: My daughter’s third grade friend brought his pocket knife to school on accident.  It was just in his pants’ pocket from the weekend.  An hour after school was dismissed, he and his friends were still playing on school grounds and he showed his knife to them.
.
One of them was a girl and because the blade was pointing her direction, she decided he was “brandishing it” and went to tell her mom, who told the office, who told the district, who told the cops, one of whom said if he saw him with a knife again, he could shoot him.  (That’s right — preserve and protect — bully the eight-year-old.)
.
He’s being expelled.  I know you post stories like these, but I was wondering if you had any suggestions of where my friend could go for support.  She’s trying to find a lawyer and figure out what her options are.
.
I’d like to take this to the media since it’s been pretty effective in getting other districts to relent on their Zero Tolerance policies.  Anyway, do you have any suggestions of where to start? [LENORE: Yes! Here!]
.
The incident was at Cumberland Elementary School in Sunnyvale, CA.  The Sunnyvale School District (between San Jose and San Francisco) is in charge of punishment.  To his credit, our school principal tried to just have him suspended, but once the district got wind of it, under California’s Zero Tolerance policy, they are required to issue a mandatory recommendation of expulsion and contact law enforcement — enter the threatening policeman.
.
The boy is terrified.  He’s never been a troublemaker. He has a brother in kindergarten who is baffled.  – A California Mom.
.
Lenore here: The writer has set up an email account for any lawyers or press to contact her about the incident:  bringbackdominick@gmail.com

This is NOT the knife the boy showed his friends.

Outrage of the Week: School Cordons Off 3-Foot Hill

Hi Readers — Just got this note from David Robert Hogg, who blogs about traveling the world with kids at MyLittleNomads.com. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!  — L
.
Dear Free- Range Kids: I live in Seattle. Home to hikers, snowboarders, world travelers. It seemed like everyone I know was giving their kids the freedom to explore pretty much how we did as kids. OK, maybe not quite, but close enough not to land us on the Outrage of the Week.
.
Then I got our weekly email from my boys’ school. They are taping off a part of the playground because some kids had fallen, slipped, or tripped on it. Wrote the principal:
Dear Parents: After a few injuries caused by large groups of students running down the slope to line up after recess, I asked our custodial engineer to temporarily tape the area to keep students from running down the slope.
.
 have been communicating with our district gardeners and machinists to discuss a better solution such as landscaping the sloped area to prevent students from unsafely running down into it … I am also meeting with the Playground Committee this week and will seek their input on the improvements for safety reasons.

This is a "dangerous" hill?!

.
Dear Principal (I wrote back): I was very disappointed to see the yellow tape around the dirt slope on the playground and even more disappointed to read your reasoning for it. 
.
I’m a firm believer in the value of play – real play. There are risks, of course, that are serious enough to require intervention. A dirt hill with a 3 foot slope is not one of them. 
.
In the simplest terms, what happens when a child falls while running down this slope? They learn they need to be careful when running down the slope! Remove the challenge and the consequences and you remove the opportunity to learn. Let me ask two questions:
.
Are we making our kids any safer?
Almost certainly not. While potentially anything could happen with any fall, the majority of upsets are likely minor scrapes and bruises – if that. But more important, there’s evidence that removing small risks from a playground only serves to encourage greater risk taking – and prevents no injuries in the aggregate.
.
Are we making kids any smarter?
The message we’re sending when we try to protect our children from trivial dangers like this is that we don’t trust them, their intelligence, their ability to learn. To be safe in the real world requires the ability to tell serious risk from manageable risk. Teachers talk in the classroom of getting kids to think independently – and then the children walk outside to see tape marking off a slope that a 2 year old could safely run down.
.
Kids are better off  when they learn to navigate the real world than when they are protected from every possible risk. A playground that more closely resembles the real world makes for safer, stronger, and smarter children in the long run.
.
It’s difficult to write seriously about such a trivial matter but I fear if I don’t speak up now that this policy of a zero-risk schoolyard will only grow stronger and our kids will pay a steep price. Steeper, even, than a 3-foot hill. — David Hogg

LESS OF AN OUTRAGE! “Vehicular Manslaughter” Mom Gets Probation

Hi Folks — Here’s good news. The Atlanta mom who was convicted of “vehicular manslaughter” after her 4-year-old wriggled away from her and was killed by a drunk driver, does not have to do jail time. While she could have been sent away for three years, she will instead do a year of probation and perform 40 hours of community service. She also has been offered the option of another trial.

The driver, meantime, already did six months in jail and was released in October. He will serve  the remained of his five-year sentence on probation, reports the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Here’s my original post on the topic. The case ended up getting a lot of attention — including on The Today Show — and over 100,000 folks signed a petition asking the powers that be to throw out the mom’s conviction and install a crosswalk instead. Whether or not the judge, Katherine Tanksley, was moved by the furor, she showed compassion and common sense.

That’s what we want from all our judges. Now let’s hope Atlanta builds that crosswalk.  – Lenore

I Hate This! Student Suspended for Opening Door

Readers — As you know, Free-Range Kids is about trust, community and common sense. All of which a Virginia middle school student displayed the other day when he held open the door for someone he knew.

For this, he was given a day long suspension. The reason? The school had just installed a $10,000 + security system, and his action violated it. Voila:

According to an anonymous e-mail sent to The Tidewater News, the “A” student opened the door for a woman he knew, who had her hands full. The e-mail also indicated the student received a one-day, out-of-school suspension.

[School administrator Wayne K.] Smith said he could not confirm the story for confidentiality reasons. Superintendent Charles Turner said he did not know all the details behind the suspension.

Turner said the policy that prohibits anyone from opening doors was part of making the security system work.

“If it happens, it’s defeated,” he said. “You have to have a system, and that system has to be consistent. We have to stay within the rules and stay secure.”

Turner explained that part of the school district’s mission is to provide a quality education in a safe environment.

“We looked at what we’re doing in our schools for safety and looked at what others have done,” he said.

That’s why the security system was installed initially at the secondary schools and then the elementary schools.

And yet, what the school fails to understand is that the student was an even BETTER security system! The student has a heart, a brain and hands. This incredible carbon-based security system can open the door when that makes sense! It can create a climate of warmth, help and connectedness that a locked door, even operated by remote control from the front office, cannot.

We are happier and safer when we connect, rather than we assume we’re all in dire peril and must outsource our humanity to excessive rules and   machines. — Lenore

OUTRAGE OF THE WEEK: Mom Ticketed for Letting Son, 14, Watch Brother, 3, for 30 Mins

Hi Readers — Just as we were rejoicing about sanity across the sea (see below, regarding Britain’s re-evaluation of its excessive background checks), comes this story, from The Express:

A MOTHER who left her son of 14 to mind his three-year-old brother while she went to the shops was given a police caution for “cruelty” and was suspended from work.

…Although there was no “incident” and they were not believed to be in danger, the mother was cautioned by officers for “committing an act of cruelty on a child or young person.”

You want cruelty? How about the cruelty of treating a mom like a criminal for knowing her son is a responsible young man? How about the cruelty of making a mom unemployable? How about the cruelty to all her fellow citizens  who maybe even remember BABYSITTING at age 11 or 12, but now feel compelled to treat their own teens like imbeciles? Or the cruelty to young adults who want to do something in the world besides playing videogames, but are being told, “No! You are a baby yourself!”

This is positively stunting to children, and shackling to adults, who are apparently never allowed to leave their children’s side till the kids go off to college.

Remember when the rallying cry for a generation was, “Never trust anyone over 30”? Now it’s, “Never trust anyone UNDER 30.” Or at least under age 16 —  the minimum age England’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recommends babysitters be. (It also says kids should be 14 before they are allowed to stay home alone!)

This idea that teens are unable to take care of kids for even half an hour flies smack in the face of evolution, which has spent the past 300,000 years or so making teenage homo sapiens into parents. And somehow the species arrived at today. Glorious today, when we treat young children as infinitely endangered, and older kids as dangerously inept. — Lenore

We only want babysitters who are old enough to drive!

Outrage of the Day: Boy Suspended for Nerf Gun

Hi Readers — Onto more toothsome matters tomorrow. But in the meantime, for your tearing-your-hair-out pleasure, we bring you this story of Zero Tolerance. What I love about it is the genius reasoning on the part of the principal, Candice Reese:

“It’s not too harsh of a punishment and we want to make sure all of our students are safe,” Reese said.

Because…they weren’t safe with a 6-year-old with a Nerf gun at recess? — L