Guest Post: The Bucky Balls Ban

Hi Readers! The Buckyballs ban is getting a lot of press. Here’s a piece in today’s NY Times, which references this oped by Michelle Malkin, And here is the official Consumer Product Safety Commission’s complaint. It notes that since 2009, there have been two dozen reports of magnet-induced injuries to children, including “at least one dozen involving Buckyballs. Surgery was required in many of incidents.” (It doesn’t say how many.)

In press coverage of the issue, generally someone whose child was hurt gets interviewed. Here’s a reader whose child was affected another way.  – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: Did you see the news about BuckyBalls being banned? BuckyBalls are little metal balls that look like bb pellets, only they’re magnets. It’s a desktop “toy” meant for adults… which it clearly states on the packaging, the website, their twitter feed… I heard a rumor that the company CEO has it tattooed across his forehead. http://www.wired.com/geekmom/2012/07/buckyballs-banned/

So why does the goverment want them banned? Well, in the past 4 years, and after MILLIONS of sales of these little magnetic balls of joy, 20 kids managed to swallow the magnets, which is a dangerous thing to do. The balls are magnetic and can wreak havoc on a digestive system, especially if they were unfortunate enough to swallow more than one.

This is a bad thing, but I’d like to point out, AGAIN, that it states on the packaging that it is definitely, totally, and 100% not meant for little kids. They even went so far as to give it an age cut off at 13 and up! THIRTEEN! These are magnets! The size of bb’s! I personally find it a little overboard. I mean, hopefully by the time the kid is 12, his parents have broken him of the habit of sticking strange metal objects into his mouth.

So why is the government suing the company that makes BuckyBalls? I mean it’s a U.S. based company that employs lots of people, you’d think that shutting them down would not be in our best interest. But no, the government’s complaint is that the 13+ age limit is not enough. They insist that the the packaging should read 14+. Because, you know, there’s a huge difference between 13 and 14, I guess. [Lenore interjects: I actually think they want them to not be sold to anyone of any age.] And also the government believes that 13 year olds are idiots and can’t be trusted around shiny things.

Disclaimer: I have several packages of these BuckyBalls. AND I have a 13 year old. We bought the BuckyBalls for my husband as a neat thing to fiddle with on his desk at work. But my son was fascinated with them from the get-go. Of course we reminded him that shiny things are not necessarily edible things (for which he stared at us like we had grown two extra heads. I mean, DUH, guys. Parents are so weird.) We also stressed the importance of being careful not to lose the balls as we do have pets, and although neither my dog nor my cats have ever tried to swallow anything that wasn’t made of fish and/ or whatever is in those brown kibble things doggies eat, I didn’t want to take the chance as none of my pets have learned English yet and I was unable to give them the shiny-things-are-not-food talk. Well, I mean, I did give them the talk, but I don’t know if it really sunk in. They just kind of looked at me. Then my cat started to lick herself and my dog got distracted by the squirrels in our front yard.

As I was saying. My 13-year-old son became fascinated with the BuckyBalls and was allowed to play with them in my husband’s office. We noticed that he was going in there to play with them almost daily, making all kinds of intricate shapes with them, picking up paperclips with them, modeling things… all that jazz. We ended up purchasing a larger set of magnets and he’s been constructing and experimenting with them as well. (These new magnets are the size of marbles, and although they’re still not a good thing to swallow, the package for these magnets says they are only made for children over the age of 3. I have no idea why there’s a difference, except that perhaps the BuckyBall magnets are stronger.)

And Caleb’s fascination with magnets hasn’t ended there. It sparked an interest in geology in general, which has recently morphed into an interest in archeology. This week he’s hanging out with his grandfather at the beach where Caleb is taking his new metal detector out for a spin! (A metal detector with an electro-magnetic coil in the head, he tells me. MAGNETS. They are AWESOME, Mom.)

So you might understand why I’d be so baffled about the government deciding that BuckyBalls, or any small magnet, I assume, was too dangerous for kids to experiment with. I thought you might be interested to know about this development as well. I remember that a few years ago you talked about the Kinder Surprise chocolate eggs that Canadian children get to partake in, but U.S. children can only read about online. I have a feeling that if the government has its way, BuckyBalls will go the way of the Kinder Egg. Sorry this was so long! Cheers, Julie

Warnings, Waivers & Wild Worries! Like the Pre-K That Keeps Kids’ Photos in a “Secure Location”

Hi Folks! I’m trying to gather examples of warnings, waivers and official worires that annoy, amuse or outrage you, especially regarding your kids. For instance, over in England  schools are forbidding parents from taking pictures at plays. One sports program requires shutter-happy parents to wear a special ARM BAND if they’re going to snap pix. In this amazing article, Josie Appleton, head of The Manifesto Club, writes that the “Robin Hood primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire says its photographs are stored in a ‘secure location’ for not more than four years, after which they are ‘privately destroyed.'” Like government secrets!

I’m speaking at a conference about this kind of stuff in November and I’ve got a lot of wonderful examples from you already. But if you’ve got any more — let’s hear! L.   (who can’t quite figure out why, at the end of this video, you go right into my next-to-latest video…but so be it) 

Outrage of the Week: No One Under 18 Allowed Outside Unsupervised in Florida Community

Hey Readers — This just in: A community in Florida is prohibiting anyone under age 18 from going outside unchaperoned by an adult. Yep, just like in Taliban-held Afghanistan, except for “women must be accompanied by a male relative” over there, substitute “minors must be accompanied by their caregiver” over here. In Florida, the rule means:

…no bike riding, no walking to the bus stop without an adult. Some parents say their kids are under house arrest.

Ten-year-old Yousif Mehyer and his friends have been skateboarding and biking around their neighborhood for years. But for the past few weeks the kids have been stuck indoors.

“They felt like they were on house arrest,” said Nadia Mihyar, Ole resident.

They were scared of security at Ole Village in Lely Resort after being reprimanded for walking outside alone.

This isn’t LIKE house arrest. It IS house arrest. How is this even legal? How is this America? How about a revolution? – L.

As if Florida didn't have enough bad press lately...

Just Following Orders…At an Afterschool Program

Hi Readers: The letter below brings things full circle for me. While I have been interested in the way we underestimate kids and overestimate danger for a while now, I have been interested for even LONGER in the way decent people become trained not to use their brains or hearts. Eventually they come to think this is the RIGHT way to act. I think it is WRONG WRONG WRONG. And also: WRONG.- L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Today I was at baseball practice with my older sons when my 3-year old said, “I gotta poop!!!” I could tell by the look on his face that it could not wait.  Although the fields are at a school, it was after hours and the restrooms were locked.

We went to the YMCA after-care, located on the school grounds, and asked to use the restroom.  By this time, there were no school kids in the room, just two employees. They looked at me apologetically, but said it was against policy to let a stranger use the facility.  At this point, my son wailed again, “I’m going to poop!”.  The employee went to ask her boss.  The boss returned and apologetically said it was again the rules and that her “hands are tied.”

I then realized that this daycare provider used to work at my son’s school!  I reminded her that she actually knew us.  I told her that my son might actually poop on her steps.  She then replied that if her supervisor found out she let him in, she would get fired.  After all, “What would happen if he slipped and fell in the bathroom? You could sue us,”she said.

I actually feel for the employee.  I do believe that she was following orders. But really, couldn’t a little flexibility have been possible in this case?

And yet…I have another modern day story. Our sons attend a wonderful school that literally is on the other side of the fence from our house.They open the back gate and are on campus. On weekends, they go down by themselves and play in the fields. The after-care program at the school is at the far end of the school, so it is approximately a five minute walk from our back fence.

I am frequently in a hurry, and I don’t want to drag my 3-year-old to the program to pick up his brothers.  I’ve asked if I can call the school and have my boys sent home.  I’ve been told that it is a liability to let my kids walk home by themselves, and that I must sign-in and out everyday.  I even offered to sign a release of liability, but my request was denied.

I understand organizations being afraid of lawsuits. However, I really respect most childcare providers. I would love it if the people caring for my children had the freedom to make exceptions once in a while. — Frustrated Mom

Lenore here: I’m a frustrated mom — and human — too. These rules are just like Zero Tolerance laws. We refuse to let people make sensible, case-by-case decisions because we don’t trust them, we don’t trust the world and we don’t trust each other (not to sue). In the end, we are crippled by the stupidity and cruelty this distrust engenders.

Halt! What toddler goes there?

Victory! 5th Graders Allowed to Enjoy Unsupervised Afternoons Again!

Hey Readers!! Here’s great news! The school in Davidson, N.C., that had suddenly prohibited fifth graders from leaving the school on Fridays to walk down to the village green has reversed itself! On Friday, even as a big bunch of kids and some parents marched to “Occupy the Green,” the new principal (not the one who imagined the kids meeting up with internet predators) declared that parents need only sign a waiver absolving the school of any liability and — they’re off!

If a slightly obsessive, overkill waiver is what it takes to give kids back the best part of being fifth graders, so be it. As one of the kids told David Boraks, the dogged journalist who broke this story and rode it to its fairytale ending, “There’s just a lot of good stores in Davidson and a lot of great people.” The boy added that he likes hanging out at the soda shop.

If that’s not the most wholesome thing in America, I’ll eat my hot fudge sundae. (Actually, I’ll eat it anyway.) Hooray for a halycon childhood…even if, these days, it requires a permission slip. — L.

Now the only jerks in this story are the ice cream soda kind!

More Outrage! 5th Graders Can No Longer Play Outside “Alone”

Hi Readers! The other day my brother-in-law asked me if I ever got really “down” about our culture. I told him that usually I don’t — I get so mad about ridiculous rules and outlandish fears that I just blog in a blind fury and feel better.

But this story, sent by the folks at Kaboom, actually feels like lead in my soul. It’s about how yet another long-standing, joyous tradition — 100 unsupervised fifth graders frolicking outside on Friday afternoons — has suddenly been axed. Why? Oh, the usual, spanking new “safety” concerns. Sort of like the coffee ban discussed in the post below this one. Sort of like when Amtrak suddenly upped the age kids can travel solo from 8 to 13, not because of any incidents, but out of an “abudance of concern.”

If this is concern, I’ll take neglect. – L.

Once upon a time, an elementary school in Davidson, N.C. had a lovely tradition. On Friday afternoons, fifth graders with parental permission left the confines of their classroom to play on the Village Green. And the best part? They did it all by themselves!

But the school has decided to ban on the longtime tradition—even with an OK from mom and dad, students can no longer walk to the Green from school. Instead, they must ride home on the school bus or get picked up by their parents.

Read the rest of it here. And weep wherever you’d like. And then sign this Change.org petition. — L.