She Looked Up and Her 2-year-old Wasn’t There

Hi Folks! This is a good one to take to heart…and to the playground. — Lenore

Dear Free-Range Kids: I’ve known for a while that Free-Range is a great way to raise confident, independent, capable kids, but I never knew how much this approach would help me as a parent until last night.

I was at a local park with my boys.  They are ages 2 and 4.  My older son has just recently mastered monkey bars and after his probably 10th or 12th time cruising along them, his hands slipped and he fell down pretty hard.  He’s generally a tough guy when it comes to injuries, but he’d gotten the wind knocked out of him as well as a fat lip and was quite upset.  I was consoling him for a few seconds when my 2-year-old apparently wandered off.

This park is quite large.  It has two separate playground areas, some soccer and baseball fields and a woodsy area with trails to walk through.  I had no idea which direction he’d gone and was pretty panicked.  He was only missing for about 5 minutes, but it felt like days.  Immediately several complete strangers essentially organized a search party and they put one of them in charge of staying with my screaming, injured son so that I could go help look for my younger son without the older in tow.

I found my little one down on the lower playground around the corner out of sight from me.  He was happily talking to a man with a dog.

After I got home last night and was somewhat settled down from what had been an absolutely terrifying ordeal to me, I had this moment of clarity where I was so thankful that I’ve found your blog and have become a proud, self-proclaimed Free-Range mom.  During those scary 5 minutes, at NO time did it even occur to me that my missing son had been abducted.  I instinctively went with the most logical scenario:  He’s 2.  He probably saw something interesting on the other side of the park and had wandered over there (there was a Little League game going on, lots of kids down there and as I mentioned, people with dogs…he LOVES dogs).  It was the most likely scenario and it allowed me to find my son much quicker by following my instinct instead of the standard worst-first thinking.  It also allowed me to feel perfectly comfortable leaving my older son with strangers while I searched for the other.

Thank God for common sense and the kindness of (perfectly safe) strangers!  And thanks for continuing to spread the word about the benefits of raising Free-Range kids.

Fondly,

Karen Miller

A toddler, a dog and a frantic mom (not pictured).

Clown Teaching Kids to be “Berry Berry Safe”…Except from Berry Berry Creepy Clowns

Hi Folks — Let me state upfront that I agree with this, uh, guy: Teach your kids never to go off with   stranger.

But is there anyone stranger than this blue-haired, baby-tawking clown who keeps showing up out of nowhere?  The lesson he seems intent on teaching kids: Never go anywhere without a possibly imaginary, predator-obsessed prig in a blue wig.

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?

Does Teacher’s Pet = Pedophile Alert?

Hi Folks — Here’s another little story that reminds us how  Worst-First thinking has become de rigeur when it comes to kids in the company of adults: A young Teach for America teacher took a student out for a hamburger and was immediately reprimanded by the school.

Yes, rules are rules, and he probably should have signed a lot of forms first, but sometimes — weirdly enough — a moment comes up that is not pre-scheduled and pre-approved and pre-notarized. It’s what we used to call “spontaneity.” (Now we call it “actionable.”) So off he and the kid went, got burgers and came right back.

The child’s mom sounds livid. As reported in the Houston Chronicle, she said, “He walked right out the front door with my child…This was not a role model.”

A better role model would NOT take an interest in her son?

I GET that we are terrified of adults grooming our kids into Sandusky  submission. The Miramonte stories shake me, too. But do we really want to treat every teacher-child interaction as prelude to perversion? My mentor, social studies teacher Genevieve MacDougall, took me out of high school for a few days, with my parents’ permission. She wanted me to drive her from Chicago down to Southern Illinois to check out a one-room school house she was thinking of buying. She paid for my meals and my room at a little hotel, and it is still one of the fondest memories of my life. I dedicated my Free-Range Kids book to her!

I doubt she’d be allowed to do that today. As the teacher in the hamburger story was quoted as saying:

“I care for my students and am trying to make a difference in their lives,” he said. “I try to build positive relationships with my students, and in that effort, I bought a student in my class a hamburger for lunch that we ate back at the school with others. I regret this mistake, but I am proud of YES Prep, and the work that I do there. I am glad that Yes Prep investigated the situation and found no reason that I should not continue to teach my students.”

As parents, we must (I say it every time this topic comes up) teach our kids to recognize, resist and report abuse. But we can NOT treat every teacher who dotes on our darlings as dangerous. Let’s bring that pendulum back to the middle, where it belongs. — 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. 

“Children Are Our Most Precious/Valuable/Vulnerable” blah blah blah

Hi Folks! I have  a new theory: Don’t trust anyone who claims that “children are our most valuable/precious/vulnerable…” anything. They are always out to sell. Like this one. —  L.
.
Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m on a couple of e-mail lists for deal-of-the-day promotions. This one showed up today.
.
Truthfully, when I think of Groupon and its brethren, I tend to think of, say, $24 worth of cupcakes for $15,  not $240 worth of  “Be Really Frightened and Overreact!” advice for $25.  (Not to mention that an awful lot of the stuff mentioned in this “deal” seems to be stuff one could get for free with a little quality time with Mr. Google, but that’s another problem for another day.)
.
The deal is brought to us by “Kids Live Safe,” whose website is a shining example of the parent-frightening industry at its best (worst).  Everything we see could be part of a checklist right from the Scare Parents Into Buying Something Unhelpful That Will Make Them Feel Better But Not Help Their Children:
.
    *Photo showing vulnerable child (extra ten points for female child) embraced by loving mommy? Check.
    *Lots of Unnecessary Capital Letters on Frightening Words? Check.
    *Promise of lots of technology to show how up-to-date and cutting edge the service is? Check.
    *Unintentional grammatical errors unwittingly demonstrating how stupid the whole thing really is? Check checkity check!
.
The one item in the package that many people might truly benefit from — the FBI crime statistics — is, I suspect, the one item they’re going to look at the least.  But, as you’ve said repeatedly, if folks DID take the time to look, they’d discover that the rate of truly nasty crimes has been dropping in recent memory.  It’s our culture’s relentless quest to keep children perfectly safe (impossible this side of heaven!) that’s been spiraling out of control, not crime.
.
So just wanted to say: Keep up the good fight. — Dairy State Mom

From My Mailbox: “10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Kids”

Hi Readers — Out of the blue I got this “tip” sheet with a request to post it. As I replied to the sender: “I have a feeling you are not very familiar with my blog.”

Those of you who ARE familiar with the basic Free-Range Kids concept that our kids are less endangered and more capable than pop culture suggests, may be surprised to see just how far the over-protection faction seems willing to go:

10 Ways to Use Technology to Spy on Your Teen

On October 10, 2011, in in my area, by admin

Teens have access to unprecedented amounts of technology, and the problem is, they usually know how to use it better than their parents. With sexting, cyberstalking, cyberbullying and internet predators in abundance, parents need to closely monitor what their teens are doing on the internet and beyond. The best way to do this is to use the newest technology available to spy on their teens. Kids may not appreciate it, but it’s important for parents to know what their teens are up to at this impressionable age when they don’t always make good decisions. Here are 10 ways to use technology to spy on your teen.

  1. Nanny cam – Originally used to monitor in-home caregivers, nanny cams can be used to spy on your teens as well. These hidden cameras can be installed in common household objects and placed strategically throughout your home. Parents of teens may consider putting one in their teen’s bedroom to make sure their child is not engaging in inappropriate behavior when they’re not home.
  2. Facebook – Friend your teens on facebook to monitor what they’re posting on their facebook page. If you suspect they are blocking you from some of their postings, you could get sneaky and pose as someone else, such as another teen, to find out what they’re really up to.
  3. Twitter – It’s also a good idea to follow your kids on Twitter to see what they’re tweeting about. Your teen will be more likely to be careful about what they tweet if they know you’re watching. This can help prevent inappropriate pictures being sent into cyberspace where they will live on forever.
  4. Internet search history – Periodically check your teen’s internet search history on their computer to see what they looking at when they surf the web. Are they doing research for homework or just watching You Tube? Make sure you block any porn sights and check to see if the blocks are still in place. Teens will find ways to get around your parental controls, so hold them accountable if they do.
  5. Email – While you’re at it, check on their email history too. Teens won’t like the fact that you’re doing this and will accuse you of invading their privacy. This is a legitimate concern, but so is your concern for their safety. Unless you know that they’re using the computer responsibly, they shouldn’t be allowed to use it unsupervised.
  6. Computer monitor – If you want to know what your teen is doing on their computer and are concerned they will delete any information they don’t want you to see, you can install a monitor to keep track of their computer activity. These monitors can record every keystroke, websites visited, take screen snapshots and give you detailed reports. This is the best way to monitor chat rooms, email and any social networking your teen is engaging in.
  7. Remote monitoring – The technology is also available to have these monitoring reports sent to your email so you can stay informed of your teen’s activities while you’re away from home. This is a great feature if you travel a lot for business. It’s also a good way for your child to let you know instantly if they’re in trouble.
  8. Cell phone monitor – You can get a similar monitoring system to track your child’s cell phone activity. These devices will send you reports on their calls, texting, location, web history and any pictures taken. Teens with mobile phone technology are more likely to use it than their home computers. This is also a great way to deter teen abductions and know instantly if anything goes wrong.
  9. Car monitor – Teens don’t always use good judgment when they get behind the wheel, so a car monitor is another way to use technology to spy on them. These GPS devices not only track where your kids are going, but what speed they’re driving and if they’re out past their curfew. They can even be set to give your teen an audible warning if they’re driving recklessly and emit an ear piercing sound if they’re driving too fast or staying out too late.
  10. Home security – Many people have security systems installed in their homes that can be used to spy on their teens. Security cameras can be reviewed plus checking the alarm history can let you know the exact time your child enters and leaves the house.

Of course your teen is not going to like all this spying, especially if you are doing it on the sly, so be sure to let them know what you’re doing and why. Be careful not to overreact over every little piece of information you get or your teen will find ways to get around your monitoring. There’s a delicate balance between ensuring your child’s safety and just plain being snoopy. Give them as much privacy as you can, but be ready to broach their boundaries if you think they’re in real danger.

LENORE HERE AGAIN: So let’s get this straight: We should put video cameras in our kids’ bedrooms and GPS devices in their cars, even as we follow them on the web and monitor their emails and phone calls?

Isn’t this what the government does with suspected terrorists?

The jolly publicist who sent me these suggestions concluded her email request for me to post them by saying, “It has been a sincere pleasure to read your great content.”

Something tells me she has not really had that pleasure, ever. But maybe now she’ll read your comments. — L