You Can Be Free-Range and Choose NOT to Trust Your Kid in a Particular Situation

Hi Folks! I liked this letter because it reminds us that Free-Range Kids is not dogmatic and not silly. We don’t say you MUST trust your child in every situation or you are a lily-livered ninny. We don’t reject thinking things over, or even erring on the side of caution. All we DO reject is knee-jerk “worst-first thinking” — immediately assuming the worst in all situations. – L¬†

Dear Free-Range Kids:¬†Parenting Free-Range children does not mean throwing all caution to the wind.¬† While reading through some people’s stories and comments I have commonly seen the inner struggle of ¬†“should I or should I not?” in trying to determine what is best for their children.¬† I consider myself a Free-Range Parent even though my kids are young.¬† I do not let mainstream media or exaggerated emails govern the raising of my kids in a state of fear.¬† However, I was met with a Free-Range struggle last week at the park.

My son and daughter were happily playing soccer with another set of boys, with a total range of age from 3-5.¬† Out of nowhere the dad of the boys appeared and started playing with the four of them.¬† I watched from my bench as everyone was having a great time.¬† I was thankful for this dad entertaining my kids, even though he did not speak English (I’m an ex-pat American living in Europe) and my kids were a little confused regarding his instructions.¬† I did notice he seemed to be slapping my daughter on her skirted rear end quite a bit.¬† At first it was a “good job” sort of thing but still I just didn’t like it, cultural differences or not.

My son ran up to me and said he had to go to the bathroom.¬† The bathroom at the park was a good 5-minute walk away and not that clean.¬† So here I was presented with a choice: ¬†I could leave my 4-year-old daughter with this man I have just met so she can continue playing, and trust that he will look after her.¬† Or deal with the “I don’t want to go” tantrum and take her with me.

My first instinct was to take her with me.¬† But a voice crept up, “Shouldn’t you trust this man you have never met before in your life?¬† Isn’t that what being Free-Range is all about?¬† Aren’t you giving into senseless worry, if you fear leaving her with a stranger?¬† What would Lenore think?”

I ultimately decided, no, leaving my 4-year-old daughter with a man I don’t know is not being Free-Range. ¬†It is taking an unnecessary risk, especially when I live in a country that is notorious for abuse.¬† Lenore would want my little girl safe.¬† Her time to be truly “Free-Range” will come soon enough.¬† As for now, my role is to teach her how to be safe and ready for the world ahead of her.”

I write this in case any other parent who believes in Free-Range philosophies gets struck in this sort of conundrum — the ” I feel like I shouldn’t but maybe Free-Range says I should!” spiral. It is important to believe in your kids and yourself, but don’t throw all instincts out the window.¬† I have faith in people and society but I don’t consider myself blind to it all either. – A Mom Abroad

Re: The Sand Tunnel Tragedy. A Little Perspective, Please?

Readers — Just wanted to weigh in for a sec. Tragically, a boy died on Tuesday in the sand tunnel he dug. The Yahoo story¬†says, “This is not terribly uncommon. According to CBS News, there were at least 16 beach-hole-related deaths between 1990 and 2010.” It says another source reported 31 deaths in 20 years.

Is about one death per year NOT UNCOMMON? In a country of 300+ million? I’d say that is extremely uncommon. In fact, I’d say the writer was talking out of his/her beach towel. ¬†Turning a tragedy into a scare story stinks. – L.

Are Moms So Desperate for Safety That They’ll Buy Anything Marked “Safe”?

Hi Folks! Last year I went to a lecture by Tina Sharkey, the CEO of BabyCenter,  and one point she made that really resonated was this: If you want to sell something to moms, SAFETY is the magic word. That explains why I found it in this ad:

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If you’ve seen any other ads that manage to promise safety in a product that IS and ALWAYS WAS safe already, let me know! – L. (bumbling her way into the world of vlogging and didn’t want to give away the entire idea in the post or the video would be redundant. Please forgive me, those of you who can’t watch the vid at work!)

Have a _______ Summer: What Does it Say on YOUR School’s Billboard?

Hi Folks — This observation struck me as, “Oh my gosh, YES!” It may do the same for you. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: During my daily travels, I pass by several different schools. I’ve noticed a theme when reading their¬†billboards¬†once school is out. Instead of wishing students a fun-filled summer, every single school¬†billboard¬†says, “Have a Safe Summer!”

Isn’t that a strange phenomenon? The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it seemed. Is summer dangerous? Silly me, I’ve always equated summer with late bedtimes, fireflies, sprinklers, friends and FUN. Never once when returning to school in the fall to regale our teachers with stories of cautious good times: “We never got sunburned once! We were so safe!”

I am curious if this is something your readers have noticed on their school billboards–I live in a suburb of Cleveland and wishing kids a safe summer seems to be par for the course around here. Just once¬† I’d like to drive by a school billboard that says “Have a f**cking awesome summer!” or, more realisitically, “Have an awesome, fun-filled summer!” : ) ¬†— Donna in Ohio

Be Safe!

Outrage of the Season: No Winter Recess, Safety Ground Cushioning “Too Hard”

Hi Readers! We are so concerned for our kids’ safety, the apparently the safety of our safety precautions isn’t safe enough, either. Read on. ¬†– L

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Dear Free-Range Kids: It’s been a beautiful week in upstate New York, with temperatures nearing 60 mid-week. But students in my school district cannot play on their school playgrounds.

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In January, the Saratoga Springs School District announced that all school playgrounds would be closed until sometime in April, since the cushioning material under climbing structures is frozen and therefore deemed unsafe.
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Ironically, the safety material we installed–and I’m sure it wasn’t cheap–is unusable for up to five months of the school year. According to our district safety specialist, there is no approved playground surfacing material that is safe to use during freezing weather. If a school has outdoor space without climbing structures, they can use that for outdoor time (for instance, a basketball blacktop), but my 9-year-old daughter’s school does not. So that means she has “classroom recess” day after day. She’s given up on trying to find some way to play, and she sits at her desk and finishes schoolwork. They have a brief (less than 5 minute) recess in the gym before lunch, and they have gym class twice a week. But otherwise, they have no outlet for their energy.
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After Girl Scouts this week, the adult leaders were exhausted–they couldn’t figure out why the girls were bouncing off the walls, unable to sit still and do an activity. It seems pretty clear to me that the loss of recess is the culprit. I can’t imagine what it’s like in the classrooms day after day, and I feel¬†very sorry for the classroom teachers. If they cannot invent–and supervise–an indoor activity (Zumba videos on the SmartBoard?), their students will be increasingly restless, irritable, and unable to concentrate.
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After a difficult discussion at a PTA meeting, our principal has promised to try to come up with alternatives to playground play. But the district will not budge on re-opening the playgrounds while it is still winter.¬†Keeping students off the playground may prevent one or two falls, and I’m sure it reduces liability. But it creates far more risks than it avoids.
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It’s time to restore balance to our safety policies. Yours — A Saratoga Mom
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Lenore here again: Readers, has anyone out there researched this? Is ¬†standard playground safety cushioning truly ¬†UNsafe in cold weather — like, less safe than blacktop? Or do the manufacturers warn that it is, so no one can sue them if a kid falls down? Anyone familiar with this issue and can give us some insight or solve this district’s problem?¬†

Since when do we let kids play outside in the winter?!?

Why Are Parents So Scared? Ask Barry “Culture of Fear” Glassner

Hi Folks! Just read a wonderful, cogent Q&A with Barry Glassner, the author of The Culture of Fear and now the prez of Lewis & Clark University. He’s been tracking our escalating worries for over a decade and come to the same conclusions as me (he came to them first!!) ¬†about where the fear is coming from and perhaps how to fight it. My favorite part of the interview:

Why are so many people afraid of such extreme possibilities? 

We need to be careful to distinguish how people respond to fear mongering and who is spreading the fears. If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely, it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.

But to understand why we have so many fears, we need to focus on who is promoting the fears.

What’s your advice for someone faced with “fear-filled” news?¬†

If I can point to one thing, it’s this: Ask yourself if an isolated incident is being treated as a trend. Ask if something that has happened once or twice is “out of control” or “an epidemic.” Just asking yourself that question can be very calming. The second (suggestion) is, think about the person who is trying to convey the scary message. How are they trying to benefit, what do they want you to buy, who do they want you to vote for? That (question) can help a lot.

It sure can. That’s why I try to ask it a lot: Are they doing this to get ratings? Are they over-scaring us about some unlikely or minor problem so they can sell us something to assuage the fear they ¬†just created?

The problem, of course, fear also becomes an echo chamber: If TV keeps showing us abductions to garner ratings, those scary stories resonate for the average person who is NOT trying to sell anything, but has been shaken to his shoes. Now he truly believes he’s being helpful warning us, “Don’t let your kids play on the front lawn, they could be snatched!” or, “Don’t let go of your child’s hand at the store, EVER.”

How to leech the fear infection out of those folks is in part what Free-Range is always trying to figure out. Suggestions welcome! — L.

Where Have All The Jungle Gyms Gone? Long Time Passing…

Hi Folks! Here’s a great article from the L.A. Times about one of our recurring themes: The dumbing down of playgrounds to the point where they are, well, pointless. The writer, Gale Holland, reports:

Last fall as state inspector strode into Great Beginnings preschool and declared the tree house and climbing structure too high. They would have to come down or be surrounded by extra padding.

The metal ladder to the playhouse, which had been there 30 years, could pinch the children, said Beverly Wright-Chrystal, a state child care licensing representative. Also, a log worn smooth by generations of boys and girls playing horsy and hide-and-go-seek would have to be sanded and painted because of a potential “splinter hazard,” Wright-Chrystal determined.

How have we evolved to a society that sees splinters, blood and lawsuits every where we turn? Especially in light of my hero Phillip Howard’s contention that (according to the LA Times piece) there is no data showing an increase in playground injuries or lawsuits!

We are drunk on safety and hallucinating pink liability issues. (Elephants are too big to safely be hallucinated anymore.) Time to sober up and let kids have fun. — 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.
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Dear Free-Range Kids: I’m on a couple of e-mail lists for deal-of-the-day promotions. This one showed up today.
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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.)
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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:
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    *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!
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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.
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So just wanted to say: Keep up the good fight. — Dairy State Mom

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

Letter: Amtrak is Right! Kids are Unsafe on Trains

Hi Readers: What generally brings us together here at Free-Range Kids is the belief that today’s children are safer and more competent than our culture gives them credit for. So I thought I’d present a letter I just got from someone who read my Amtrak column in a newspaper, not here at this site:

My question to you, have you ever ridden Amtrak?  My wife and I have once, and cannot believe Al-Qaeda has not struck this target.

There is really no security.  People jump on and off at different train stops.  No one checks luggage.  An adult could easily snatch a youngster.

Unless your sole purpose is to make people angry to talk about you, you need to do your research as to why children should not be allowed to ride unsupervised.  The common sense that is lacking is yours. 

Not a radical – retired high school principal.

Incredible — people get on and off at different stops? What kind of crazy train is that? And how dare anyone be allowed on any conveyance ANYWHERE anymore without undergoing a full body scan, or at least a thorough check of every bag and Baggie? ¬†The American way is to shake in its collective shoes (or, actually, take them off), until some security official¬†wands them up and down and then allows them to mince a few steps forward. That’s the spirit that made this country great!

And then there’s the issue of kids being snatched right and left. Well, potentially, anyway, and that’s good enough for this letter writer: The fact that a child could, in theory, “easily” get grabbed by an adult (with none of the other passengers noticing, I guess), is reason enough not to let even seventh graders ride the train solo. Heck, using that reasoning, why let them do anything where they could be “easily” grabbed? Why let them walk to school, or get an ice cream? Think about the worst thing that could happen and plan accordingly! This is not “radical,” according to the writer, ¬†and as proof he points out that he is a retired principal. (The writer is a male.)

The sad thing is that he IS radical. But he doesn’t feel it, because our whole CULTURE is radical. It has taken the radical new view that children are too vulnerable to do almost anything without adult supervision.

It also has started to believe that nothing is safe without an official safetymeister checking it first. And then, if there is even the smallest possibility that sometime, under some circumstances, it could somehow be UNSAFE, that’s reason enough to declare it verboten.

So now we — the folks who believe in the world — are seen as radicals, while the crazy paranoid nutjobs are becoming our overlords. If that’s the case, well then, okay, redefine me. I’m a raging radical, ready to take them on. — L.S.