A Question About Dad Driving the Babysitter

Dear Readers — This letter got me wondering, too. Eagerly awaiting your answers. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids:  I found your blog recently and have been going through all of your past posts (driving my hubby crazy with “listen to this…..!”).  I have been a Free-Range mom for years now (10 years, 5 kids), and I am glad to now realize that I am not as alone as I had previously thought.  My son is 10 going on 30 and organizes his own lemonade stand, bikes to the library by himself, runs into the grocery store for me so I can sit in the van with the kids…. now my 7-year-old daughter is starting to follow in his footsteps.  It’s amazing the confidence that comes with these freedoms.

Now the reason I write is to ask you this:  In my community it is understood that the father NEVER drives the babysitter (typically a girl) home.  I am convinced that this is a conspiracy concocted by men who do not want to be the designated driver.  But, the mothers all say that this is just for the babysitters’ safety, and for the man’s safety because “misunderstandings” and false accusations do happen.  Plus, it’s awkward for a man to be alone in a car with a teenage girl, they say.  My driver’s license is recently suspended due to a seizure and I cannot drive the babysitter home anymore.  My son can’t take the babysitter course for another year, and I know he isn’t ready for these responsibilities just yet.  Is it really unreasonable to have my husband drive the babysitter home? And is this policy a universal one? Just curious! — Courtenay

Only mom can drive the babysitter home?


Readers — This is a re-posting of a post I had to take down because somehow the video was corrupting my site. (It’s fine if you go TO the video.) Anyway, will you please watch this news report and tell me what is going on? A man in a pick-up truck calls out to a girl, “Come here” and this is the BREAKING STORY OF THE DAY? Every single cop car is ON THE CASE? The newsroom is scrambling its reporters to GET THAT STORY? The correspondent “rushed to the scene” of…a vehicle that isn’t there? What is this (media) world coming to? And how can parents NOT go crazy when this kind of story gets this kind of play?  – L

And, on the WordPress going kerflooey angle: Is there someone who can write to me at heylenore3@gmail.com and explain to me how come I suddenly no longer get comments coming directly to my email with a nice return address that I can just click and respond to? Instead, all comments are coming to me as FROM “Free-Range Kids” and when I click “Reply” I am now replying to Free-Range Kids! Argh!! L.

Predators on the Yahoo Home Screen

Hi Folks! This is a great piece in the Atlantic, about how the filters on our computers create a sort of feedback loop that can really distort our perceptions. In this case, the author, Sarah Kendzior, clicked on a single story of a child murder, and from then on she found that her home screen — in this case, Yahoo’s — kept bringing her more of the same. More child murder and really disturbing stuff. The algorithm assumed she just loved this kind of story.

The piece goes on to explain that we FORGET that content is being personalized for us. When we see it, it just looks like an assortment of interesting stories that happen to be “trending.” This gives us a skewed view that we don’t even realize is skewed. And when it skews to the scarier stories, we get….scared!

So it’s a great piece, and with a shout out to Free-Range Kids, what’s not to like?

I commented as much and when I did, I felt compelled to give a shout out of my own to another site,  Mean World Syndrome.  As that site explains:

Mean World Syndrome is a phenomenon where the violence-related content of mass media convinces viewers that the world is more dangerous than it actually is, and prompts a desire for more protection than is warranted by any actual threat.

How I love the guy who came up with that syndrome, the late sociologist George Gerber. When Yahoo and other filters bring us a world of meanness, we really have to come up with some way of reminding ourselves (and everyone else) that what’s happening in real life is different from what we see on the screen, even on our homey home screen. — L.

Gee, there sure are a lot of predators out there!

LOVE This Letter (About “Stranger Danger!”)

Hi Readers: This letter made my day. Might make yours, too. (After your blood stops boiling.)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am 14 years old. I go to a school in small town Kentucky that is extremely over-protective! Rubberbands are consided a weapon and if you are caught with one, you get the same punishment as if you carry a knife or gun! It’s ridiculous! But this is just the beginning.

Every year we have a lady who wears a “National Center for Missing & Exploited Children” t-shirt come and tell us that all people in the world are evil and want to kidnap, rape, and kill you. She tells us that if someone you don’t know walks up to you (no, not to say “excuse me” or “hello”) but WALKS UP TO YOU, you immediately run away and start screaming. Seriously!

After 9 years of school, it has been drilled into my head that all strangers are bad and that every little thing in life is dangerous. But since a year ago, when my father told my family about this website, I’ve been less afraid. It used to be that I wouldn’t go anywhere with out my brother or sister. But thanks to Free-Range Kids, I’ve learned that people in the world are here to help you, and not to kidnap you! Thank you Free-Range Kids!

My gosh, you are welcome. I am overwhelmed. It is great to get a letter like this. — L.

All Men Are Pervs…Until Proven Otherwise

Hey Readers! Here’s my piece in today’s Wall Street Journal:

Eek! A Male! Treating All Men As Potential Predators Doesn’t Make Our Kids Safer

You’ll recognize a lot of the stories from this very blog, so THANK YOU ALL for sending me so many interesting anecdotes and links. Together we are getting the message out: Excess fear does no one any favors — especially kids! — L

The Real Threat Online

Hi Folks! Wow, leave your blog for one little day and the talk turns to porn. I feel like the Free-Range Parent of a blog.

Anyway, I was in D.C. at the Family Online Safety Institute’s annual conference and it was fantastic to be among all sort of bigwigs from places like Yahoo and Disney and BT and TimeWarner, all listening to panelists putting online fear into perspective.

As far as kids go, the biggest danger online is not predators (just like predators aren’t the biggest risk off-line, either, in what we quaintly used to call the “real world”).  No, the thing I realized I have to sit down with my kids and talk about is “reputation management.”

Maybe this is blindingly obvious to everyone else, but it struck home with me: When we were young, the stupid things we did lived on maybe in our diaries. Maybe we’d hear about them again at reunions. But this generation’s stupidities do not die, they pixelate. Post a picture of yourself holding a beer — or anatomical part — and even if you think it is never going to go beyond the friend or two you sent it to, you just never know.

It’s hard to make kids think about the future impact of a dump profanity or pajama party picture.  But if we parents frame it in terms of something they’re really aiming for — a team, a scholarship, a future boyfriend or girlfriend  — they’ll take some note.

As Anne Collier, co-director of ConnectSafely.org, put it: “Kids need to be their own spin doctors now. Even ‘private’ profiles are pretty public. If your children are going to post a lot of photos of themselves and blog about innermost thoughts or gossipy stuff about friends, they need to be aware that ‘privacy’ is highly relative. Friends can copy anything kids post and paste them anywhere they want (and turn into former friends).  That means teaching our kids to do a little critical thinking about what ‘everybody’ — including school administrators, potential employers, and Grandma — would think about what they’re posting.”

…It’s after school now and I just tried doing that with my 13-year-old, by the way. It wasn’t a fun conversation, but I’m glad we had it. Along with the birds and the bees we’ve got a new topic now: Bytes.

For more sane advice about youth and tech, visit Anne’s website, NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org. — Lenore

Has Anyone Seen My Son?! One Mom’s Story

Hi Readers!
Here’s a story most of us can relate to, from mom of two Kelli Oliver George, whose funny, addictive blog is
Rancid Raves.


by Kelli Oliver George

I thought about Free-Range Kids long and hard last night when I lost my 3.5-year-old at a huge, dusty county fair with thousands of folks milling around.

 My baby! Lost! The entire time I hunted for him, I kept repeating to myself what this site has been preaching: the statistics are actually LOW and realistically, he was going to be fine, just fine. Here’s what happened:

 I went to the Leavenworth County Fair in Tonganoxie, Kansas with my sister and her kids. It was the typical fair scene — flashing lights worthy of a seizure, cheap stuffed animals hanging by their necks, chaotic bells, buzzers and carnival music blaring, the smell of grease lingering with the heavy scent of livestock. The fair.

It is a fair that was the highlight of my summers for the seven years I lived in Tonganoxie because everyone was there — even that cute boy you spied from a neighboring town at that track meet last spring. You begged your mom to make sure that your new school clothes were bought before the fair. THE FAIR. Ah, yes! This was a place I knew and loved!

And none of that mattered one damned bit when Arun went missing. He was with my sister and headed towards me, but at some point disappeared. He was gone, it was dark, and the population of folks seemed to be multiplying before my very eyes.

I leapt into action. Handing Anjali over to my sister, I told her to stay put. Then, methodically, I marched back and forth looking for my boy.

The entire time, I was fighting back the rising panic: After all, who has posted endlessly about “letting our children go”? Who has been shamelessly taunting child predators everywhere? Was this the universe’s lame attempt at bitch-slapping me?

I  saw some police officers and told them the situation. Meanwhile,I kept reminding myself of all of the sensible statistics that I have been reading on this site and in Lenore’s book for the past year. I grasped those facts and figures tightly as my talisman while I searched.

And then, after the longest 10 (15?) minutes of my life: there he was. As my sister had stood in place, she told everyone she encountered about Arun being lost. Someone brought him back to us.

Arun was not really aware that he was lost — in his mind, he was just hanging out by the super slide. What’s the problem, yo? I explained to him what happened and told him to thank the police officers for helping. We also had a very long talk about it on the way home.

What would I do differently? Last night, I had dressed Arun in a dark green shirt. I will definitely do brighter colors next time. And I will snap a picture of each kid on my cell phone at the beginning of events like this. And maybe I’ll use a good, old-fashioned Sharpie to write our phone number on their forearms. But that is it.

Afterward, my sister told me she was shocked at how calm I was during and after the whole thing. 

I wasn’t calm. But I’ll go to the fair with my kids again. I want my  children to grow up with SPIRIT and a love for discovering. I know that means that sometime, I may have to deal with another situation like this. But I refuse to be afraid. I refuse.

No More Sleepovers?!

The latest victim of parental terror? Sleepovers. According to this AP story by Kelli Kennedy, parents are afraid of everything from junk food to “inappropriate” movies, to Internet surfing, to the possibility of  their children being drugged and raped. 

The modern parental thinking method applies: Since a drugging/fondling incident DID happen once, and since it was ON THE NEWS, it must be  happening ALL THE TIME, and it could POSSIBLY, even PROBABLY, happen to MY kid, so in order to avoid this fate, I must PROTECT my child by glue-gunning  her to my side. (Ouch!) 

Now, as I hope you know, Free-Range Kids does not say that horrible things never happen. It does say (I does say?) that basing our parenting decisions on worst-case scenarios does not make us better parents. It makes us the parents of kids who don’t get to do much. Who think the world is crawling with creeps. Who say things like the 9-year-old I just heard of: “I can’t go outside! Someone will kidnap me.”

How can you keep your kids safe on an overnight? The AP article quotes Michele Borba, author of “12 Simple Secrets Moms Know,” who gave pretty simple advice: Get to know the family. If they seem normal, let your kid go. Remind her (or him)  that she can stand up for herself if something gross happens. And that she can always talk to you about anything weird or upsetting that she did and you won’t be mad.

There. Now I, too, am talking as if going on a sleepover at a friend’s house is like spending the night in Attica. From what I remember, there’s a lot less throwing chairs and a lot more throwing pillows. — Lenore

Would You Like Some Cyber-Candy, Little Girl?


I can guarantee you, that is the headline you are about to hear on TV and read in the papers. And, terrified for your children, you will keep watching or reading, which serves the media darn well. They have lured you in and are holding you captive.

Sort of like…online predators!

But the folks who actually DID the study would like to clear things up.

David Finkelhor, director of the Crimes Against Children Research Center and his co-director, Janis Wolak, took a look at the number of arrests of on-line predators from 2000 to 2006. The number of guys caught soliciting undercover cops posing as minors grew from 644 to 3,100 – a big leap indeed, but mostly attributed to more cops assigned to cyber-tart impersonation. Meanwhile, the number of guys soliciting actual youths grew, too.

To 615.

Now, look, no one wants these predators to exist at all. Be gone, you jerks! But we are talking about fewer than 4,000 perps, all told, compared to tens of millions of minors on line. In fact, over the same years studied, Internet use among minors leapt from 73% to 93%. So now all but 7% of off all American “junveniles” are on line, and 615 guys were picked up for propositioning them (odds of 39,000 to 1).

Still, it rankles to think of some creep luring a 10-year-old to the playground with the promise of Hannah Montana tickets, right?

Of course it does. (Especially if you’re Hannah Montana’s publicist.) But that is not what’s happening.

“The facts do not suggest that the Internet is facilitating an epidemic of sex crimes against youth,” said the report, point blank. First of all, the majority of the folks arrested were chasing those cop decoys. And as Finkelhor said in a little e-mail to me, those cops “act far more enthusiastic when the proposition comes down than most teens are likely to act.”

We’re not talking entrapment here – per se. But if a youth isn’t actively appearing psyched for sex with strangers, his/her chances of being stalked are microscopic. Quoth the report: “There was no evidence that online predators were stalking or abducting unsuspecting victims based on information they posted at social networking sites.” So your kids can have a Facebook page and it’s not like hanging a red light over their virtual door. That’s why we’re letting our older son get a Facebook page, in fact.

 Moreover, the creeps thought they were soliciting adolescents, not little kids (and not – duh — cops). Many of the perps were age 18-25. Not to let them off the hook, but a 19-year-old propositioning a 17-year-old just isn’t as disturbing as a middle-aged guy with tuna breath promising some kid a GameBoy in exchange for a “cuddle.”

Finally – and I know it sounds like I’m from the Internet Predator Defense Society, but bear with me – the study also found out that most of the offenders were “open about their sexual motives in their online communications with youth.” So they were upfront about their goals.

 Let me be equally upfront about mine. I am not pro-predator. Hard to find someone who is.  But I am not pro-hysteria, either. And any report about online predator arrests increasing is going to generate even more fear among parents already convinced their children are in mortal peril from the moment they wake up (if they haven’t gotten their head stuck in the crib slats) to the moment they go to bed (if they haven’t been abducted on their way home from Mandarin).

I’m sure soon we’ll be seeing more stuff we can buy to keep our kids “safe” from this newest overblown danger. And more books and articles pleading with parents to “please watch your children at all times!”

Back to that plea for 24/7 parental surveillance.

The fact is: We live in the safest times ever for children. Until we accept that happy fact, we will fret and overspend and drive everyone crazy, including those surprisingly resilient people: our kids.

Yes, the ones barely looking up from their screens.  – Lenore