You Know You’re Making an Impact When…

Hi Readers! You know you’re making an impact when marketers start to try to make a buck off you, as did this one. A friend who runs a parenting magazine got this public relations pitch:

Dear _______:

There has been a lot of discussion about “free range parenting” — letting your kids wander to the park or take the subway alone to build independence. I’m wondering if you’re be interested in writing an article about how cell phone GPS locator services make it easier for parents to let go.

A recent study by the Pew Internet and American Life Project revealed that 75% of teens between the ages of 12 and 17 own a cell phone — and some 48% of parents use a cell phone to monitor their kid’s whereabouts.

On Tuesday, our company [I took out its name. I’m not giving them free publicity here!] will announce its latest cell phone Safety Plan for kids. In addition to other features, the plan offers unlimited online GPS locator services for parents. Would you be interested in speaking with a mom who relies on our company’s unlimited GPS locator services to make sure her 6th grade daughter is safe throughout the day? This parent perfectly illustrates the challenges faced by busy modern families. In an era where sending even 6th graders to the park without an adult can feel risky, GPS locator services are giving kids greater freedom and parents much-needed peace of mind.

Please let me know if you are interested in talking to our CEO and this parent. Thanks, I look forward to hearing from you.

Hi — Lenore here again. Grrrr! Only with kiddie GPS does a parent have ANY peace of mind? Otherwise, the mom is constantly worried that her 6th grader is in harm’s way? Otherwise, letting her 6th grader play in the park is too dangerous? And how does a GPS prevent anything “terrible” from happening, anyway, you fearmongerers out to make a buck?

I understand how Free-Rangers can embrace cell phones some times. My kids have them now and it’s helpful to connect, from time to time. But I am not tracking them throughout the day and I sure don’t think I need to that, for me to be a “good” parent or for them to be “safe.”

So no free publicity here, guys! Go stalk parents someplace else! — L.

Man Enters School, Uses John, Leaves: “We Decided NOT to Put School in Lockdown.” Gee: Why Not?

Oh Readers —  I can’t take it. Look at this crazy “news” story from the Cortez Journal in Colorado: An unidentified man entered a high school. He used the bathroom, left and asked some students to give him a ride, which they did.  Said the paper: 

No weapons were visible on the man, who was dressed in black, but he was carrying a black duffle bag, Cortez Police Department Chief Roy Lane said.

Despite rumors, the man was not wearing a mask or anything to conceal his face, Lane said. No one was injured, and no property damage occurred.

Is that the definition of a NON-STORY or what? And yet, get this!

Officials did not feel it was necessary to place the school on lockdown after the suspect had already vacated the premises.

In other words: If the stranger were still ON the premises, the whole place would have gone into LOCKDOWN? Furthermore:

The suspect is described as a 6-foot, thin male in his early 20s with dark brown straight hair grown over his ears.

“We’re just as concerned as the parents,” Lane said. “We  would ask anyone with information to call us. Even if they’re not sure who it is, if they think they might know, give us a call.”

SUSPECT? Suspect suspected of what? Evacuating his bladder in a bathroom? Using paper towels he did not pay for? Breathing while male? Shiver me timbers! I sure hope they catch him before he strikes again! – L.

Yiiiiiiiiiiikes!

Needed: Your Encounters with “What If?” Thinking

Hi Readers — One of the biggest frustrations in Free-Ranging is dealing with other people’s “What If?” fears. Why? Because they can never be answered! If a parent starts worrying about, “What if X, Y or Z happens while my child is doing…” anything, there is no way to say, “Don’t worry, it won’t.” Because, of course,  something bad always COULD possibly happen.

“What if??” doesn’t take into account probability, or even reality. It just builds big, bright, horrible possibilities and projects them, Power Point-like, into the conversation: “Ha! You tell me not to worry, but LOOK at this! This COULD happen! What if it DOES? Then what, huh? You’re going to say you’re sorry? THAT’S NOT GOING TO MAKE THINGS ANY BETTER! I simply will NOT allow this, that or the other to (possibly) happen to my child!”

And pretty soon there’s no sleepover (because what if it’s an orgy?) and no field trip (because what if the bus flips over?) and no time to play, unsupervised, with friends (because what if he breaks his arm? What if they bully him? What if he’s thirsty and he forgot his water bottle?).

I’m trying to come up with great examples for my (potential next) book because WHAT IF I don’t? Yiiiikes!

I’d like stories of other folks’ “What If?”s and your own “What If?”-ing, too: A time you worried about something, and managed to put those fears aside, and what happened next.

So I hope you had a great Thanksgiving and now let’s rock this pessimistic, paranoid culture to its core! — Lenore

Why Would You EVER Put Your Child’s Photo on Facebook for the CREEPS to See?!?

That’s what scared folks ask all the time, believing that predators have a lot more patience than the rest of us and are willing to look through ALL those family photos, just to glimpse your adorable child and plan a trip across several state lines to kidnap him/her.

Next time you hear all that, remind them of this story.

As Free range reader Michael in California points out: “Thanks to Facebook, a child is alive:  Win.  The mother has a live child, not a dead one:  Win.  The friend who noticed the problem knows she saved a life:  Win.

“Child’s picture on Facebook:  Win, win, win.”

Thinking The Worst First

Hi Readers — Let’s take a vow: Let us vow to see men and women as decent until proven otherwise. Let’s vow to interpret their deeds as non-malicious, until proven otherwise. And let us vow not to assume the worst first. Here’s why:

Dear Free-Range Kids:  You’re always talking about how its a real shame men are so often assumed to be predators, to the point that they hesitate to help a kid in need for fear they will be accused of having ill intent. A friend of mine told me something along those lines that is even more disturbing.

She was having a conversation with some male family members at a family gathering. There were kids in the pool and another male family member who didn’t have kids was in the pool, playing with them. The group of male family members who had children remarked that the other guy had no business out there playing with the kids because he didn’t have any. Since my friend also follows your blog, she began to ask them: Why? Why couldn’t this other male family member play with the kids? And why are men who either aren’t in uniform or don’t have children with them forever banned from interacting with children?

The men had no real answer other than that it just seemed “suspect.” My friend challenged that notion and told them about the little girl who drowned because the man who noticed her by the side of the road was afraid to stop and help her [for fear of being branded a predator if someone saw him with the girl in his car]. And do you know what their answer was to that? “It is a necessary evil. To keep children safe.”

Except — she wasn’t safe! BECAUSE of that attitude!

What is our society coming to that a man can’t even play with the kids at a family function? Or is considered suspect  for doing it because he doesn’t have children? Just so kids can be “safe,” men should’t interact with children unless they have their own?

To which I replied: This is sickening and sad — and ironic. Shouldn’t the dads be glad another grown-up is in the pool, keeping an eye on their kids? Shouldn’t we ALL be glad when we watch out for each other?

These paranoid papas remind me of the folks who were upset about the 3-year-old girl who walked a few blocks to the local fire station to help her dad, who was slipping into a coma. “She could have been kidnapped!” wrote some tsk-tskers.

What about the dad? He was ABOUT TO DIE and SHE SAVED HIM! But the “What if?” people actually feel smug and “protective” thinking up their hideous fantasies instead of looking reality in the face: The girl was NOT in much danger and her father WAS.

No, they think the worst, first: All children are in danger, all men are potential pedophiles, the boogey man lurks beyond the front door and any child who does anything on her own is asking for trouble (as are the parents who let her).

Our pledge is to reject Worst-First thinking. Our pledge is to think, period. — Lenore

Do Those “Family Stickers” on Cars Lure Creeps?

Hi Readers — Here’s a piece I wrote for ParentDish about “Annie’s Mailbox” (which seems to be filled with nuts). The question — or really statement by an Annie reader was — “Don’t put those little decals on your car that say your family members’ names or you will be followed by predators.”  To which Annie replied, “That’s paranoid! Is a predator really going to schlep around town, following your car? Don’t forget that MOST child abuse occurs at the hands of someone the child knows.”

No, she replied the usual, “Can’t be too careful” and “Just in case” and “What if???” party line. My favorite quote of hers: “While it is extremely unlikely….”

Why can’t we leave the extremely unlikelies alone, instead of altering our entire view of society, and good parenting, to accommodate ’em? — Lenore

“Crazies Are Out to Kidnap Your Cutie!”

Hi Readers — This is just an odd one: Some parents made postage stamps with their young daughter’s picture on them to stick on invites to her birthday party. Then the parents had some of the stamps left over, so they used them to mail  their bills. Some nut saw one of the stamps, noted the family’s return address and dropped the parents a letter saying that by putting their kid’s picture on a letter, they were ASKING SOME CRAZY PERSON to do “GOD KNOWS WHAT.”

Seems to me they were asking a crazy person to drop them a crazy note. Anyway, here’s the story, as it appears on the wonderful site, passiveaggressivenotes.com . Read it and creep (out). — Lenore

Stranger Danger: It’s Not Just for Kids Anymore

Hi Readers — Just got alerted to this ad and service, BeenVerified.com.  It allows you to do a background check on anyone, from the comfort of your own home. Check the guy you met online, check your mortgage broker (make sure it’s not Alan Greenspan), check your electrician — yes, a guy on the ad says he’s going to do just that. And of course, check anyone AT ALL who ever has ANYTHING to do with your kids. As the pregnant lady in this spot says, “No stranger comes around MY growing family without a background check.”

Really? Not the UPS guy or waitress at TGIF’s? Not the soccer coach or piano teacher or kid selling Girl Scout Cookies? (Can’t be too careful!)

The idea, of course, is that if you are not constantly background-checking, you are a sap. In this world view — which I worry is spreading like a fungus — everyone is evil until proven otherwise. That is not only wrong, it leads to the breakdown of community (I look out for you, you look out for me) that actually makes us SAFER.

And while we’re on the topic of what now constitutes “rational” precaution, another product on the horizon is a kiddie watch or backpack tag or some-such small device that not only tracks the child via GPS (how 2009!), it will also text the parent every time the child enters or leaves a designated area. A park, say. Or the front yard. The assumption being that not only are all strangers dangerous but so is the world beyond the fence — a world no child should explore.

What are we bequeathing our kids? Distrust. Xenophobia. And the idea that curiosity = death. Ah, those golden childhood years! — Lenore

Scariest Place of All: An Parenting Editor’s In-Box

Hi Readers! Ever wonder why we parents are so scared all the time? Maybe it has to do with the incessant din of marketers predicting DOOM unless we buy something. Something they just happen to be selling!  Take a look at this blog post by Carolyn Graham, editor of L.A. Parent, and you’ll see the kiddie safety industrial complex in all its glory. This is an excerpt from Carolyn’s blog, “I Don’t Have Time for This.

WHO’S AFRAID? By CAROLYN GRAHAM

Then today, I got to work and opened my email. It’s scary, and not just because there’s so many emails that I’ll never, even in a couple of lifetimes, be able to read or respond to it. But many of them are trying to scare me and make me, a serial worrier, even more freaked out.

I’m sure that even if I didn’t work for a parenting magazine and wasn’t constantly bombarded by pitches about new products, Web sites, parenting experts and other stuff designed to “keep our kids safe,” I’d still check Jack’s breathing at night and sweat till Kate’s school bus arrived at her field trip destination.

But I decided to do a little experiment and see if my email might be contributing to my worrisome world view. Here’s a sampling of subject lines and opening sentences in some emails that I received in just one – ONE – 24-hour period:

  • Could an Electromagnetic Pulse Wipe Out Civilization? New ‘End of the World’ Scenario Gets Serious Attention
  • With Halloween being one of the most dangerous days of the year for children – children are more than twice as likely to be hit by a car and killed on Halloween than the rest of the year according to Safe Kids Worldwide – it’s important for parents to prepare their children to stay safe while trick-or-treating [this was a pitch from a cell phone company]
  • Teen Attitudes Toward Smoking Linked to Likelihood of Drinking and Using Drugs
  • Suffering at the Hands of a Bully
  • New book uses psychosynthesis as means for families and individuals to reach their full potential
  • According to the FBI 2008 Crime in the United States (CIUS) report an estimated 2,222,196 burglaries occurred in that year. 61.2 percent involved forcible entry, 32.3 percent were unlawful entries without force, and 6.4 percent were forcible entry attempts. Burglaries of residential properties accounted for 70.3 percent of all burglary offenses. (http://www.fbi.gov) [this was a pitch from a blinds/window coverings company]
  • We’ve all heard the horror stories about bad babysitters and dangerous daycare centers.  I am sure you remember the story about the dad who found a sitter on Craigslist who then abducted his son.  And who can forget about the four toddlers who wandered away from their day care facility in the blistering July heat.  It’s very hard today to know who you can trust. [this was a pitch for a babysitter-finder service]
  • Forget chocolate and cookie dough, here’s a great school fundraising idea that also aims to keep kids safe. The Amber Alert Registry School Program (a no cost program to the school) allows parents to sign up for this important safety tool while providing significant funding to participating schools.
  • WWI Chemical Found in Air Outside 15 Public Schools

Is there any wonder I’m worried a good percentage of the time?

It’s not that these issues aren’t legitimate and need to be addressed. And I’m all for hearing about great products, books and other helpful items – and if we truly need to make sure parents are aware of a very real, harmful danger out there, I want to know about it. But can we please cut down on the fear tactics as sales or public relations pitches? Either that, or I’m just going to stare at the ceiling all night wondering when that electromagnetic pulse is going to strike …

Great Note from a Paranoid Mom

Hey Folks! Grab some confetti, stand up and throw it in the air. We are getting somewhere! Read on!

Dear Lenore — I watched Penn & Teller’s “Bullsh*t” episode featuring you and your son, Izzy, which led me to your web site and, subsequently, the recent purchase of your book, “Free-Range Kids.” I’m loving the book. I am the over-protective mother at whom you are aiming.

I keep a blog about what I’m reading — flabbybrain.com — and I wanted to share with you my post about the Free-Range baby step I took on Friday. Here it is:

I’ve been one of those hyper-paranoid mothers who cringes when letting her seven-year-old son use a public restroom unattended by a parent because there is sure to be a serial molester lurking within, just waiting for a kid to pounce on. But The Boy is nearly eight, and mommy can’t drag him into the Ladies’ Room anymore, so I let him go off on his own with warnings not to talk to anyone and, for the love of Pete, wash your hands!

Then I use hand sanitizer on him anyway when he gets back because he probably touched the door handle.

I am ridiculously paranoid. In other words, I’m an American suburban mother in 2009. Everyone in my social set is exactly the same way.

But there’s been a part of me that hates this. I don’t enjoy tailing The Boy in every activity he pursues as though he might light himself on fire or get snatched up in a windowless van if my back were turned for 15 seconds. He’s a pretty responsible kid, especially for his age. My mom friends and I lament to each other about how we wish we could let our kids run around outside in little gangs, unsupervised, the way we used to run around when we were kids.

And then I stumbled across Lenore Skenazy. You may remember Lenore’s being in the news recently when she let her nine-year-old son, Izzy, ride the New York subway by himself. He took the train from Bloomingdale’s to their apartment and came home not only unscathed but with a newfound sense of self-reliance. Lenore wrote a column about the experience in the New York Post, and that was the beginning of an international firestorm that ended with her being proclaimed “World’s Worst Mother.”

I started reading the Free-Range Kids blog and felt a growing sense that it was onto something. It’s not that I’m suddenly convinced to let my kids ride solo on my city’s sketchy public transportation, but rather that I’m beginning to see my paranoia for the nuttiness it is.

I picked up a copy of Free-Range Kids (the book) and was immediately assured that it would be worth reading when I saw the title of the first chapter: “Play Dates and Axe Murderers: How to Tell the Difference.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Ms. Skenazy is flip. She’s hysterically hilarious, but she backs up her assertions with cold, hard facts, and that appeals to the logical part of me.

So I decided after reading a bit to try an experiment. I would let The Boy get the mail by himself.

I know I just heard you snort.

Our mailbox is neither on our front porch nor in our front yard. Instead, it’s about a 1/3-mile round-trip around a curvy street. I cannot see the mailbox without walking roughly 200 yards away from our house. The Boy would have to cross one cul-de-sac and walk about 10 minutes by himself (at least half of it out of my sight) to get the mail.

Allow me to set the scene: it’s a warm, sunny afternoon in suburbia, about 3 o’clock. The lawns have greened up with recent rains, and a mild breeze blows the scent of lantana and fresh-cut St. Augustine. Nary a car rolls by on our quiet street. The Boy sets off with an extra spring in his springy seven-year-old step, and I watch calmly out of the kitchen window until he is out of sight around the bend. Then I calmly pick up a book and calmly step out onto the front porch, where I sit down to await his return. Calmly.

And then the murder car drives by.

It’s not a windowless van, but it is something almost equally alarming. It’s a blue SUV with a girl who’s roughly 10 years old standing up with the top half of her body sticking out of the sunroof. And it’s heading straight for the mailbox.

I am not joking. This actually happened.

In 35 years of life, I have seen only the occasional drunken idiot somewhere between the ages of 18 and 28 sticking out of a moving vehicle’s sunroof, usually at night, downtown, and while making the “woo!” noise. So when I saw this preteen practicing for her very own Girls Gone Wild video on my street at 3 o’clock in the afternoon, I was distressed.

My mind leaped to the only logical conclusion: any driver who would let a child hang out of the sunroof of a moving vehicle would also swoop up my seven-year-old boy and sell him into child slavery somewhere in Asia. No doubt letting him hang out of the sunroof all the way to the docks.

I prepared myself to sprint to the mailbox. (The Boy had my car keys, conveniently attached to the same key ring as my mailbox key.)

But then I didn’t.

Instead I took a deep breath and sat back down. And I waited, straining my ears for the sounds of screaming and squealing tires. Three minutes later, The Boy reappeared around the bend, holding a piece of mail and grinning.

He came home unscathed and with a newfound sense of self-reliance. And I took a baby step toward moving him toward adulthood.

Thanks for what you’re doing, Free-Rangers! — Lynn

Thanks for what you’re doing too, Lynn! And for letting us know. (Confetti swirling through the air.) — Lenore