2 Child Murders, 2 Different Pages in the Paper: Why?

Hi Readers: Not to sound too cynical, but today’s New York Post  carried a big story about the Etan Patz case — a blonde boy who disappeared 33 years ago, whose case was recently re-opened in the hopes of finally nailing the perp. (Alas, that didn’t happen.) Eleven tabloid pages later, there’s a much smaller story about a 7-year-old boy whose alleged killer is on trial right now.

The 7-year-old boy has an Oscar-winning aunt. He also has an uncle and grandma who were shot dead, most likely by the same killer. But despite three deaths, a famous relative, and a current trial, this story does not rise to the level of the Patz case, at least in The Post. Why not? I believe there are three reasons.

1 – To be fair, the 7-year-old, Julian King, was in Chicago, and Patz was a New Yorker. So for the NY Post, Patz is a local story. But then there are two other facts.

2 – The 7-year-old was not blonde, he was African-American.

3 – He was not abducted by a stranger. He was (again, allegedly) shot by his mom’s ex-boyfriend.

To be really REALLY cynical (and realistic),  I have to add that I don’t think there’s any way the story of the murdered 7-year-old would have made it into the papers beyond Chicago, had it not been for the fact that his aunt is actress Jennifer Hudson.

When the media decide which stories are “big,” they go for the tried-and-true narrative they know the best — the shocker that sells the most papers:  A middle-class child, usually white, abducted by a stranger. Those are the stories that go national, even international That’s what the dramas on TV show, too.

And we wonder why “stranger-danger” is uppermost in parents’ minds. (Or, actually, we don’t.) – L.

Pithy, Witty & Wise

Hi Readers! I thought the analogy about overreacting, below, was  great, which is why I’m posting it here. I have also long sensed a connection between overprotecting our kids from “strangers” and overprotecting their bodies from “strangers” — i.e., germs. Either way, kids get one single, isolating  message: “Anything beyond your immediate circle (of bacteria or people) is bad. Resist all attempts at connecting.” Feh. –– L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Loved this comment [on the Build-An-Adorable Choking Hazard post] :  “Which is why I am always going crazy.” Exactly. As if parenthood isn’t demanding enough, now we have to consider every possible bad thing that might potentially happen and prepare for it as if it is Armageddon itself. No thanks.

By way of metaphor, scientists now believe that part of the reason for the giant surge in food allergies  is a severe lack of dirt eating by today’s children. (Seriously.) Kids aren’t getting enough exposure to germs and dirt and so their bodies aren’t learning how to tell the difference between an actual threat and something normally benign.

In a similar sense we are constantly bombarded with so many “fear this” messages that we are all losing our ability to tell the difference between a real threat (flame throwers in the hands of toddlers) and benign cuddly things.

So, I will continue to make my kids play in the dirt, avoid hand sanitizer, go to the park without me, play with toys clearly labeled as approved only for children over the age of 99, and *gasp* even talk to strangers.

I will prepare my children to live in the world and to be able to make good choices and tell the difference between true dangers and legal warnings.
I will do this because someone needs to ensure that “Idiocracy” is not looked on as a documentary by future generations. — Think Banned Thoughts

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

You Must be 7 to Play on the Jungle Gym

Hi Readers! Yes, a little more perspective:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Less than 24 hours ago I was in Honduras on a service trip.  We did a medical clinic in a small rural community, and were passing out vitamins and Tylenol to many of the residents.  We were giving vitamins to a young girl who looked about 10 but said she was 14.  Making small talk, we asked her if she liked school.  She said she had stopped going to school when her mother died so she could take care of her brothers and sisters.  She lived in a community with no electricity, no running water.  She didn’t want the vitamins for herself, she wanted them for her younger siblings.

The residence we stayed at was connected to an orphanage that was home to almost 30 children, who are 7 months to nearly 18 years old.  We visited often, and repeatedly watched the younger children being cared for and comforted by children that were about 7 and older.

While it is an unbelievable shame that these children have the burden of caring for the little ones, there is no doubt they are capable if it is required.  And they are capable even in the absence of 911, CPR certifications, First Aid kits, cell phones, safety helmets, electricity, running water, education, or any of the numerous conveniences or precautionary measures we have available here.

Meantime, my 4-year-old is not allowed to go on the monkey bars at day care because they have a facility rule that you have to be 7 to use them.  He uses them all the time when we go to the playground, and doesn’t understand why he can’t do it at day care, too.  Me neither. The world is really perplexing. — Terry Bartick

The Luxury of American Parents’ Worries!

Hi Readers! This came in as a comment this morning, and if  it doesn’t lend a little perspective, nothing will.  — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am currently deployed to Afghanistan on my third tour, and I am part of the new female engagement teams. These teams consist of medical, security and intelligence specialist. We go directly into villages, unaccompanied by male troops, and meet face to face with the women and children of the villages. We provide medical care, work with the women to build skills so that they can help support their families, and listen to the concerns of the women and children and try to help. I can promise you, that in the grand scheme of things, bugs, babysitting, and the cold are such silly things to focus on as a society. [Topics of fear recently discussed here on Free-Range Kids.]

In my three deployments, here are a few of the children that I have had the honor of meeting and the privilege of helping:

*8-year-old Avizeh, who lost her leg last year because of a Soviet-era mine. She walks to school 2 miles on crutches every day, because she fears that when we are no longer in the country, she will be denied an education, as her mother was.

*12-year-old Dehqan, who is the sole caretaker of his 5-year-old brother and 3-year-old sister. He lost both parents to cholera, and he works 12 hours a day caring for the goats and crops with only the 5-year-old for help.

*And finally, 16-year-old Belahrah, who lost her sight at age 4 because of a infection that would have been cured with a simple penicillian shot, which she didn’t receive because the male doctor refused to treat her because the Taliban demanded that all women must be treated by female doctors. But 12 years ago, women weren’t allowed to attend school, let alone become doctors.   So female doctors are extremely rare.

These are the things that should worry parents, not the petty things we have focused on in the States. We don’t have to worry about our child losing a limb to a mine left behind 25 years ago, or going blind simply because the most basic of medical care is denied on the basis of gender. When you have a mother kissing your hand over and over and crying with gratitude because you showed up in her village with a simple supply of DTP vaccines, you realize the other worries are just silly. Afghanis would laugh at our Free-Range ideas, because here, all the children are Free-Range — and then some! — Kristi

She then added in a follow-up comment:

I didn’t mean to imply that our [American] problems are silly. I was referring to the … attempts to protect our children from all possible risks, and the overreaction to every perceived danger…. I will always be an outspoken proponent of common sense parenting and fight against the helicoptering mentality because I have witnessed what children are capable of in the most horrific of environments and am confident that the average American child can survive and thrive without all of the silly rules and safety regulations authorities seem determined to force upon them.

Kristi has served 18 years’ active duty in the United States Army. She is currently on her third deployment to Afghanistan. She is soldier, wife, and mother to five Free-Range children.

What The “Child Molested at a Library” Incident Teaches Us

Hi Readers — Yesterday, under my post about “Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day,” someone named Upstate Librarian  wrote: “…why dont you call the mother of the 9 year old that was raped today in the library in New York City. I’m sure she would agree with you on your feelings about leaving children for a few minutes in safe public environments.”

Here’s a response to THAT response, from frequent commenter Uly. Take it away, Uly!

“Dear Upstate Librarian. I’m sure you mean well. No, let me start over. I’m sure you do NOT mean well, that you intend only to shame and scare rather than to educate or learn, but I’m going to act like you mean well anyway.

Stranger molestation does happen. It does. Nobody here has ever claimed otherwise.

It happens very *rarely*, though. The vast majority of child molesters – hell, the vast majority of ALL rapists! – target people they know. For children, that’s almost always relatives.

One nine year old getting raped in a library is sad and unfortunate, but it should not affect your behavior unless, perhaps, there’s been a string of these incidents in your own community.

Likewise, many, many children die in car accidents every year, far more than get raped by strangers (and in fact car accidents are THE leading cause of death for Americans 15 and under), but this simple fact will probably not cause you to stop driving your kid around. (Heck, it doesn’t even convince people to use safer carseats!) Why? Because that would be silly.

When I was a kid I saw a kid get her shoelaces sucked into an escalator and my dad had to help cut her loose. My mother once saw a child fall and get her HAIR stuck in an escalator, which was very nearly tragic. Elevator accidents are more common than most people realize, but plenty of people still use elevators and allow their children to do so. Why? Because you can’t live your life scared of things that occasionally happen to some people.

When your child goes to the park with you, NOTHING is stopping them from being struck by lightning out of the clear blue sky (somewhere around 700 people are struck by lightning in the US yearly) or stung to death by a surprise attack of killer bees (moving northward) or randomly hit by an off-kilter bus. Your presence does not make your child safe. But you go ahead and send your child out in the world anyway, right? Because your kid can’t stay home all the time.

Heck, I bet you even send your child to school with other kids. And why not? That’s what most people do, right? Teachers are far, far, FAR more likely to molest their students than strangers are (although they still come in well under “parents”). Why is sending your child to school without you “safe” when sending your child to the park or the library is “unsafe”?

Because one is something you’re used to doing and seeing, and another is something you’re no longer used to doing and seeing. That’s all.

I don’t mean for you to start seeing the world as the terribly unsafe place it really is, of course. But you have GOT to put these things in perspective. I’m very upset for that poor girl, of course, but I don’t see how an isolated event should make me change my behavior and keep me from doing something that is, in fact, relatively safe. — Uly

A Little Perspective on Child Safety

Hi Readers — Here’s a letter from a United Nations worker in Italy. Kinda puts our fears for our kids in perspective:

Hi Lenore! UNICEF just published their 6th report on what the world is like for children. It is a scary one, but I would like to draw attention to what makes it scary for them. It is NOT:

– The male teacher / Sunday school  helper giving them a kiss (most of them
would wish they had one that did give them a kiss)
–  Nor is it the dangerous homemade cupcake (many never even had one)
– Or whether to bike to school or be driven (they don’t go to school, and do
not have a bike, much less car)

Their problems are more simple, but so much harder to solve. Below is an extract from the index of the report. I do not want to belittle anybody’s problems or fears, but sometimes we really do need to see ourselves from another perspective.  I hope you take the time to read it and I hope each one of us does something that will make the next report a bit better.

Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger

Achieve universal primary education

Promote gender equality and empower women

Reduce child mortality 

Immunize against pneumonia

Improve maternal health maternal mortality

Combat HIV, AIDS, malaria and other diseases

Ensure environmental sustainability

Ensure safe drinking water and basic sanitation

Protect against abuse, exploitation and violence

Protect and aid children affected by armed conflict

End child labor, child marriage and female genital mutilation

Whew. Thank you for this list, Lene! And here’s one way we can actually help out, almost immediately. Halloween is just around the corner. Order your UNICEF boxes here and have the kids you know Trick or Treat for the cause!

Which reminds me…I’ve got to order some, too. (If you need 10 boxes or fewer you can pick them up at Hallmark Gold Crown stores, Baskin Robbins or Pier 1 Imports.) —  L.