Cop Suspects Dad Walking with His Kid of Being a Predator & Adds, “You Should THANK Me”

Hi Readers! Here it goes again – a man, a kid, a cop. Read on. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently my youngest daughter and I had an experience that really shook me up (both of us, actually), and I wanted to share it with you. We were walking to the library together, and she was holding my hand and trying to pull me into telephone poles and whatnot as we walked, which is a silly game that she enjoys. Suddenly a police car pulled up beside us, lights on and everything. The cop gets out of his car, says “Sir, please step away from the child,” then proceeds to crouch down and ask her if “everything is okay.”

After re-asking a few times, getting a more and more nervous “yes” each time, he stands up and informs me that someone had called 911 reporting what looked like a young girl being abducted. My daughter and I both explained what was really happening, and not only did he not even apologize, he chastised ME for not being, and I quote verbatim here, “More thankful someone was watching out for my daughter.”

We did eventually make it to the library and home, but it has made me slightly more cautious and watchful whenever we walk places. Is this a normal reaction to an event like this? Has anything like this happened to anyone else here?

Voters in the School? That’s Not Safe!

Hi Folks! Love this column, which ran in¬†The Post-Star in Glens Falls, NY. I think you’ll see why. – L.

Reading, Writing and Looming Fears by Ken Tingley

The Warrensburg Central School District is saving its children from the clutches of voters.

Swear to God.

Its board of education¬†voted unanimously against a county proposal to use one of the school’s facilities for the April 24 presidential primary.

The reason? Too dangerous.

You would have thought the new voting machines contained plutonium. Or all Warrensburg voters are packing heat. Or perhaps there is concern over some insidious political agenda that might pollute impressionable minds.

The school board members believe that opening the school to voters will put the student body at risk. Of the seven members on the school board, not one even cleared their throat to say this is all just a bit silly.

Voting at local schools and firehouses is a tradition that goes back generations. I can’t remember the last time I did not vote in a school. And the greatest calamity I can ever recall was complaints over long lines in Lake Luzerne one year.

Oddly, Warren County’s Republican Commissioner Mary Beth Casey said she understood the board’s concern.

Hopefully, she was just being politically correct in hopes they would come to their senses because what she should have said was, “Seriously?”

The culture of fear that has taken root in our communities is epidemic.

We see shadows at high noon and dangers lurking around every swing set. And now, in voting booths.

We are all privy to horrible crimes that happen around the country and it is in everyone’s best interest to be prudent, especially when it comes to young children, but hopefully, without being ridiculous.

In this case in Warrensburg, school officials had previously moved the voting from the gymnasium to a supplemental recreation room away from the student population.

Polling places are generally busy places, crawling with volunteers. And the paranoia regarding school security is at such a heightened state, parents can’t drop off their kid’s lunch without being patted down in the foyer.

Years ago, I took my young son to the school playground during a school day. I was immediately informed that it was against the rules for me to be there during school hours.

My 4-year-old and I were a security risk.

Only time I’ve ever been kicked off the swing set.

Such is the concern in Warrensburg, where danger lurks, and it is no longer safe to invite citizens to the elementary school.

Ken Tingley is the editor of The Post-Star and may be reached via email at¬†tingley@poststar.com. You can read his blog “The Front Page” daily at¬†www.poststar.com¬†or his updates on Twitter atwww.twitter.com/kentingley.

NOTE: Tingley tells me that now the board has voted to let the election take place at the school. Somehow (maybe thanks to this column?) sanity reigns! – L

Warning! Divorced Dad at Home During Sleepover!!!

Hi Folks! Here’s why I rag on the parenting magazines. Not only do they obsess about every little detail of parenting as if it’s a make-or-break ¬†decision, but often they indulge in Worst-First thinking (dreaming up the worst possible scenario and proceeding as if it is likely to happen). Here’s a shining example, cribbed from a longer article in¬†Parenting (via CNN), titled, “The New Playdate Playbook.” It’s a Dear Abby-like list of Q&A’s ¬†for parents totally stressed out by the enormous difficulty of planning, running, overseeing, perfecting and interrupting their kids’ playdates. (And “sitch” is, of course, short for “situation.”)- L.

The Sitch:¬†You’ve accepted a sleepover invite for your daughter, not realizing that only her pal’s divorced dad will be home. You’re not OK with it. What to do?

The Solution:¬†“Call and say ‘I’m sorry, and this is about me and not you, but I just don’t feel comfortable with a man supervising an overnighter,’ ” says Paone. Offer to host the girls at your place instead, if you can, or ask to turn the sleepover into a “late-over,” where your daughter stays only till bedtime. In the future, always ask who’ll be on duty before you say yes to a sleepover.

Lenore here again: Because…a man is assumed to be a predator unless his wife is around? That’s the working assumption every time your child encounters a single dad? Is this advice or indoctrination? Is this sane or paranoid? Would it possibly make more sense to (as I always suggest) teach your child to recognize, resist and report abuse, rather than to assume the very worst is going to happen when they encounter a male of the species? ¬†Just askin’! — L.¬†

There’s Hope for Mayberry Yet!

Hi Folks! Talk about a beacon of hope.  A Hollywood ending! Success! Get this:

As you may recall, a few years back, a mom from small-town Mississippi wrote to this blog in a quandry. After teaching her 10-year-old son the route to soccer, she’d let him walk there — less than a mile — by himself. On that first time out, a cop picked him up, scolded it wasn’t safe, and tracked down the mom. He told her ¬†he’d received “hundreds” of calls to 911 about the boy and that he could book her for “child endangerment.”

That mom was Lori LeVar Pierce, and that day marked a turning point. Instead of cowering in fear, she called the chief of police and asked if the town was really so dangerous a kid couldn’t walk to soccer. The chief said it was very safe and apologized for the cop’s actions. But mere facts did not calm the local paper. As it wrote in an editorial:

Once upon a time, decades ago, mothers were able to let their elementary-aged children roam free and alone.

While many, including us, look upon this halcyon time with fondness and a longing for its return, the fact remains that things are different now.¬†¬†The days of Andy Griffith‚Äôs Mayberry and ‚ÄúLeave it to Beaver‚ÄĚ are gone.

Yeah, in large part because fearmongering media bashed them over the head.

But some people have decided not to listen to doomsday blathering anymore. Lori, for instance, became twice as determined to have her kids play outside after the  cop incident, and thus saw for herself  what her town really lacked. Sidewalks! She became an activist and  now there are sidewalks all around town, thanks to her.

But that’s not all. As of last week, even the local PAPER is changing! Check out this Jan. 25 editorial:

…we, as a community, need to use more discretion when calling 911. It seems we’ve all gotten paranoid.

If there are teenagers you don’t know walking down the street, they might just be kids taking a stroll. And odds are, if you spend much time outside or looking out of the window, you’re going to see an unfamiliar car.

Pay attention. Look out for yourself and your neighbors. But don’t always rush to call the law.

We should feel safe in our own neighborhoods, and the police play a major role in that. But they shouldn’t have to console us every time we have unsubstantiated fears. It wastes their time and our money.

Don’t give in to unsubstantiated fears? Expect to see children strolling down the street? Get to know your neighbors? Darned if Columbus, Mississippi isn’t going…Free-Range!

If a town that told its citizens “This isn’t Mayberry” back in 2009 is telling them that kids can and should¬†be walking down the street in 2012, I gotta say:¬†Columbus, you rock! It takes courage to reject fear. ¬†So hi from your new friend in New York City, and hi also to Lori, who got the ball rolling…and the kids outside. — Lenore

Let's hear it for a little street life!

Dear Abby: Am I Paranoid Enough?

Hi Folks — If you ever wonder why parents seem so terrified these days, here’s why: We live in a society filled with more paranoia than a convention of Moon Landing conspiracists.

Below is a prime example of us being told by a trusted “authority” to always conjure up the least likely but most devastating scenario possible and then proceed as if it’s likely to happen. ¬†As a parenting philosophy it’s depressing, delusional, debilitating — and apparently¬†Dear Abby’s modus operandi:

Dear Abby: I know some children who seem to be mature and are able to make logical decisions on a fairly regular basis. Still, making a decision under stress when one has not had a lot of experience can be difficult.

Having said that, at what age do you think it is appropriate to leave a child alone at home? Sometimes it’s difficult to arrange for child care when kids are out of school. Do you have any guidelines as to what to look for that can help make this decision? — BUSY WORKING PARENT IN KANSAS

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Dear Busy Working Parent: I don’t think children should be left alone if there is any other alternative available — after-school programs, YMCA, activities where they will have adult supervision. Too many things can go wrong, and you would never forgive yourself if one of them happened to your child. ¬†
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Hi again, folks: Yes, those italics were mine. But here is a response written by Free-Range Kids reader (slightly edited by me):
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Dear Abby: Your answer is a classic example of what Lenore Skenazy (www.freerangekids.com) refers to as ‚ÄúWorst-First‚ÄĚ thinking. If we are encouraged to over-prepare for all the rare, tragic things that could happen, we will end up handicapping ¬†our children‚Äôs independence, and¬†our finances,¬†and¬†our ¬†ability to shop alone for brief periods of time.

Can you really not imagine any age when a child is capable of being left alone in their home? Not at 8, 11, 14? Or 17? How is it that these children will ever become capable adults if they don’t get any incremental practice? Is this why, as a professor, I see college students today who are incapable of facing the regular bumps and glitches of daily life without calling on their parents to fix their problems for them?

Perhaps instead of ‚Äúnever‚ÄĚ we can look for indicators that a child is capable of spending short time periods home alone: Are they generally responsible? Do they know basic safety measures?

Instead of infantilizing our children for fear of remote risks, we need to empower them. If you will recall, just a few decades ago, we did that very thing. I was a latchkey kid at nine and babysitting at 11. In the 70s, this was regular practice. Before you argue that the world was safer then, note that the crime statistics show that life is safer today than it has been any time since about 1973.

In that time on my own as a child, I learned how to feed and clean up after myself, how to take care of others, and who to call when I needed help. ¬†I developed the confidence that I could take care of myself. That experience was invaluable and remains with me to this day. — Kari B.

Scaring Kids Out of Their Wits — Literally

Hi Readers! I got this note and, in addition to being appalled, I was angry. The 10 year old in the story is literally being scared out of his wits by his mom. By”wits” I mean his brain, his senses. His mom is teaching him never to employ those, but to automatically go straight to fear. There is no way for this kid to learn how to distinguish between “pretty safe” and “dangerous.” It’s ALL dangerous. Good ol’ Worst-First Thinking, for a new generation. ¬†

At Free-Range Kids, we encourage kids to sharpen their wits, not snuff ’em out. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently, we had a 10 year old over to play with my sons, ages 7 and 9.¬† I realized, however, that I had an appointment to go to.¬† I told this boy he could either go home or accompany us to my appointment.¬† He said he wanted to stay with us.¬† With this in mind, I brought a laptop with a¬† movie to keep the three of them entertained for the 45 minutes I expected to be 5 feet away from them, inside an examination room just off of the waiting area. (This office is not busy and there is only one other practitioner, so I knew they would only possibly encounter one other human “stranger” in the time I was in my appointment.)

In the car, I explained to this 10 year old where I would be and¬† that they would watch a movie.¬† Unfortunately the preview threw this kid into a full-fledged panic.¬† He said, “Oh, no, I can’t do that.¬† Oh, no. No way.¬† I’m not supposed to be somewhere alone or I’ll be abducted.”

I asked, “Who is going to abduct you?”

“The people,” he said.

I compassionately explained that I would be five feet away, simply IN THE NEXT ROOM, just like I am when he plays at our house, and that he would not be alone.  If he needed me he could knock on the door or call out my name and I would come right out.

Unfortunately, my explanations made zero impression on this child.¬† Apparently, his mother had drilled into him a fear of stranger abduction so deep that he could not fathom sitting¬† in a room with two other kids only feet away from a trusted adult.¬† I instead drove him home to his mother who thanked me and said she would never let him sit in a waiting room “alone.”

This world she is afraid of is not a world I care to live in, so I don’t.¬† I choose to live in a different world.¬† One in which my kids can feel they are safe. — A Frustrated Free-Range Mother of Two

Why It Feels Like Kids are Being Kidnapped All the Time

Hi Folks! So many people I talk to (especially for my upcoming show) are convinced that children area being kidnapped all the time, everywhere, that they cannot let their children go outside on their own. Here’s a succinct look at why parents feel this way, as presented in a comment by the reader whose screen name is “Socalledauthor.” – L.

Socalledauthor writes: Child abductions are not more frequent now than they were, however, they ARE more publicized.¬† In my town (a semi-rural area), there was a child abducted in 1928.¬† It got about two paragraphs in the local paper about how she was walking home from school and didn’t make it… when she was found, there was another small article.

Also in my town, in the last year, there was a child who went “missing.”¬† For four days there were articles on him and what was known about his last whereabouts and how to keep children safe.¬† FOUR DAYS of articles… and then, a short blurb (maybe four paragraphs) when it was revealed that he’d spent the time at a friend’s house because he was mad at his parents.

The point here is the difference in media coverage.¬† Day after day, the front page of our local paper was about this missing boy.¬† It makes it seem like the problem is bigger than it is.¬† Conversely, my local paper gives only a paragraph every day or so to those hurt or killed in a car accident —¬†because it happens so often that it has become common!

Fear does not equal fact.  Just because you feel something is true does not make it so.

By the way, if you turn off the TV, you’ll find the world a less fearful place!

The FBI Says: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid for Your Kids

Hi Readers: Firsts off, thanks to all of you who sent this in: The very first app the FBI is releasing to the public. It’s the “Child ID App,” allowing you to store your kid’s photo, height and weight in one easy-to-retrieve place, and to forward this info instantaneously to the authorities. It was developed, according to the FBI’s site, to put “Child Safety In Your Hands.”

After all, the site notes: “A child goes missing every 40 seconds” — that’s 800,000 kids a year. “Many never return home.”

My question: Does the FBI read its own statistics? Because I do. And¬†from what I read, about 115 children are kidnapped by strangers each year. Of these, 50 are murdered. We live in a country of about 60,000,000 children age 15 and under. So the idea that “many” children never return home makes sense, if by “many” the FBI means 1 in over a million. And while perhaps a child goes missing once every 40 seconds (I know I went missing when I hid in the closet as a tot), one goes missing permanently, due to a stranger abduction, once a week.

Of course, even once a week is terrible. Heart stopping. No one would ever say otherwise. But by offering this app to America, the FBI is reinforcing the idea that children are in constant danger. ¬†It feels as if the FBI has raced to fill a need that doesn’t exist while feeding a fear that’s already out of control. Maybe even at FBI headquarters.

Because as the FBI should know better than anyone, crime is DOWN since when most of us parents were kids¬†(check out the charts toward the bottom of this link). It just doesn’t feel safer when the nation’s top crime agency is telling parents that children are disappearing, perhaps forever, all day long. That is a very scary thought, the kind that makes parents think they can’t ever let their kids out of their sight.

What is the down side to an app like this? ¬†I mean, it IS nice to have a photo of your child available, if only so the pretzel lady at the mall can say, “Oh, your little boy is just on the other side of the kiosk!”

But the app comes with a tie to the ¬†National Child Identification Program, which provides a physical kit to gather your child‚Äôs pictures, fingerprints, personal characteristics, and DNA “to keep with you in case of emergency.” What kind of emergency would that be?

Well, it’s not the kind when your kid is goofing around on the other side of the pretzel kiosk. It’s the kind when your kid’s body is decomposing.

Even granting that this app may indeed be helpful in some very rare, worst-case-scenarios (and not just running our law enforcement officers ragged with false alarms), turning it into just a handy-dandy thing you’d want to carry with you — the parental equivalent of a jack — makes it feel as if murdered children are as common as flat tires. The consequences of that dread are real, and I’m not just talking about obesity, diabetes and depression as we park kids at home, to be “safe.” There are other costs: Empty streets, because parents are too afraid to let their kids play. A line of cars in front of the school, because parents believe their kids aren’t safe to walk. Children never ¬†organizing their own game of kickball, or climbing a tree, or riding their bike to a friend’s house, because the FBI is telling parents that every 40 seconds one of them will disappear.

I try not to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to safety products because I love some of them — like safety belts, and helmets. But when the product’s benefits seem slim and the societal repercussions loom large, I say: Keep a photo of your kids in your wallet and go about your day. And FBI? Get a grip. — Lenore

Quit Trying to be So Safe!

Hi Readers! This was a comment on the post two below this one, and I was nodding along so much, I decided to give it its own post. It’s by a woman named Nanci, who describes herself as “a Midwest mom of two.” — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: …. ¬†I really think the bottom line problem is that our society today is “too safe.” ¬†When we begin to defeat all the things that used to be dangerous, we lose quite a bit of perspective.¬† We start to gauge safety/danger against absolute safety.

One hundred and fifty years ago it was almost unheard of for any family to have all of its children survive to adulthood.  There were so many dangers back then, from diseases to wild animals, to harsh living conditions, to dangerous machinery and so on.  Everyone expected people to die.  No one looked for someone to blame when a particularly cold winter claimed many lives, or an outbreak of typhus swept through.  Even 75 years ago young people were being killed by polio and world wars.

Nowadays, though, America is so safe that we have begun to see¬†death as unnatural, especially the death of a child. “Surely something can be done to prevent it!¬† Surely if the parents would have just done a better job, been more vigilant, their child would be okay!” And so now we have generations growing up with the idea that if you protect enough you can prevent any tragedy. This is America, it’s 2011, we have good hospitals, doctors, everything is state of the art, surely there is no place in this society for children to die!

And now, after anything that kills a child, no matter how freakish the accident,  a product appears on the market within months that would have prevented it (and normal life) from happening.

In Third World countries they do not have these issues with Free-Range Parenting.¬† There, because children do still die, at least the parents have the freedom to live without the fear that they will be blamed if they don’t create a absolutely safe environment for their children. ¬†They know¬†it’s impossible! Unfortunately in America we are so close to complete safety that we can’t see that it’s an illusion that will destroy us if we seek it.

There has never been a safer place or time in history to raise children than America in 2011, and yet parents are more paranoid than they have ever been.¬† Parents today will only accept absolute safety, nothing less. Unfortunately the victims of this screwed-up thinking are their children, and eventually all of us, because as we all know the children are the future.¬† Too bad this next generation will be living in their parents’ basements playing video games into their 30s. — Nanci

Lovely. This Is How Folks Think Today

Hi Readers — Sent by one of you, from a Facebook exchange:

KM: Today I toured a “preschool” that makes the kids (4/5 year olds) nap for 2 hours everyday. Lights out, kids laying on cots in the dark for two hours! WTF! AND it cost $140/week.

MGK: Um, kids should never be left in the dark at any daycare. Sadly predators will take any chance.

KM: There was a teacher in there flipping through a magazine. The place was really small and the doors locked.

MGK: Even worse. One teacher, alone in the dark with a child/children and the doors locked. How is this legal?

JLB: … as for M’s comments, that is exactly why I am so scared of babysitters and home daycares…at least “in” a school you think it’s safer. I teach {my son} that nobody is allowed to touch him, not even me, our generation they only taught us to watch for strangers not our f*ing family members that were hurting us…sigh…

MGK: My mom is a supervisor at the CDC at ____ and I took her with me to tour daycares when I was pregnant. She gave me all the ins and outs of what to look for. On base they are not allowed to have the lights down or the doors locked just for that reason. Background checks do not include people who have never been caught or first time offenders.

Lenore here again: Now, I agree, we don’t want our kids molested. But I think we also don’t want everyone so freaked out about predators all the time that, my God, we have gotten to the point where we trust NO ONE to touch our kids, including — can it be? OURSELVES! That is so beyond paranoid and into whatever comes AFTER paranoid (what does?) that I am practically shaking. It’s like we’ve taken some sort of craziness pill that makes us see everyday life like a horror movie: “Coming, this winter: Predator IV.¬†Whatever you do…don’t go into the pre-school.” — L