The Drop-Off in Drop-Offs

Hi Readers — I thought this was just a great observation of how our kids-in-danger society is changing what it means to be a child — and parent. It’s by Matt Wall, a full-time stay at home dad of two boys, former software geek, part-time baseball umpire and Coast Guardsman — as well as “a recovering hovercraft parent.”


My topic today is the disappearance of the drop-off. As in, you drop your kids off at school, a friend’s house, sports practice, or practically any activity for a child under the age of twelve — and then you leave.

That doesn’t happen any more. Why not?

After all, our coaches are background-checked, we file sports physicals for the kids, and everybody on the planet has a cell phone, so emergencies are already covered. And of course parents are forbidden from interfering with coaching  — rightly so — so they’re not needed that way. I’m searching my memory for a sports practice in my youth when there was a parent present besides the coach, and I’m coming up empty. And yet, parents are required to attend practice these days, or their children are not allowed to participate.

What earthly good are we doing there?  I have never had this explained to me other than, “You need to be there in case something happens.” In case what happens? Nobody knows! It’s a generic fear of a generic something.

Of course, the real message to parents is: You are an adjunct,  parenting by penumbra, “participating” in your children’s sports event by watching them dribble a soccer ball from one end of the field to another. And I say this as someone who actually enjoys sports! What a deadly bore for the parent who does not.

Bear in mind, I’m not even getting into the subject of how kids never get to organize their own time and games. Whatever constraints or inhibitions our kids have in our presence remain.  Their experiences are never fully their own.

And I pity the poor coaches, teachers, and other organizers. It’s hard enough doing these  jobs without having your every move put under the microscope!

My kids have a range of activities, from formal to not so much, where this parental presence requirement is in effect, sometimes subtly, but often legally. My kids’ swimming lessons require us to be present, since who knows what could happen in a pool with six trained lifeguards surrounding it and another four swimming instructors in it.  I also can’t leave my older child alone in the craft section of the local children’s museum while my younger one plays in another area, because my child might go berserk with the glue gun, or fatally cut himself with the blunt scissors were I not there to supervise him.

Even more disturbingly, I have had a real problem getting other parents interested in swapping “drop-off playdates.” (I’ll resist the temptation to get into the very concept of a “playdate,” which did not exist when I was a child.) I offer  to let my sons’ friends stay with just me as supervisor of the kids all the time, but never has another family taken me up on the offer. (Nor have I had it offered in return.) This has extended thus far to birthday parties and “group playdates” (which we used to call, in their parent-free incarnations, “afternoons” when I was a kid).

As for school drop-off: I still have to escort my second-grader right to his classroom door. Really? The child of course can’t be trusted to walk fifty feet by himself? So much danger lurks that a parent can’t be more than an arm’s reach away until the child is safely delivered to the teacher?

So it has gone for Cub Scouts, the library (where I’ve been chastised on two occasions for letting my kids return their own books in my full view while I browse books from thirty feet away), gymnastics, and even giving a neighbor a misdelivered piece of mail.

The net effect is that a large portion of my life is spent being idly present in my sons’ lives, not living a little extra of my own, or letting them live their own lives in tiny, incremental pieces of independence. The subtext is that adults can’t be trusted, unless it’s your own parent.

To paraphrase a slogan of another social revolution: maybe it’s time to drop-off, drive off, and tune your kids in…to their own experiences. – M.W.

This child seems adequately supervised, for sitting on a bench. (He also appears to be the future king of Norway.)

Keeping Score — Literally (And a Song!!!)

Hi Readers! A friend just wrote to tell me he was dismayed to learn that at his local grammar school the kids play soccer but don’t keep score. Why not? Because this way, “Everybody wins.”

Or nobody wins, of course.  If  losing a schoolyard soccer game is too traumatizing for kids, imagine what’ll happenwhen they learn we don’t all have exactly the same amount of talent. Or candy. Or patience for a namby-pambified world wherein we try to obliterate even the most minor of disappointments, lest they crush a kid, when really we should realize that that the way kids end up happier and more resilient is by learning to learn to roll with the punches, not by avoiding them all.

Which reminded me of a song I wrote. Nice thing about a blog, you get to post your own lyrics and no hardboiled editor can say, “Nix!” (Can you tell I, too, have been disappointed at times in my career?) Voila my song:


by Lenore Skenazy

Take me out to the ballgame

For cooperative fun!

Buy me some sunscreen so I won’t burn

I just hope that we all get a turn!

For it’s root, root, root for the two teams

Whoever wins it’s the same, all the same

‘Cause we Don’t! Keep! Score! anymore

At the new ball game.

P.S. If you want, feel free to come up with some titles of classic songs newly retooled for today’s childrearing trends.  Like, “Michael Row Your Boat Near Shore.” Have fun!

Cool Idea: Way to Swap Sports Equipment Kids Outgrow

Hi Readers! Free-Rangers want their kids outside. Sometimes, though, those kids need eqipment for their sports and sometimes they outgrow last year’s  stuff dismayingly fast. Now comes this cool article about a mom in California who set up an on-line swap meet,,  for all that equipment. You swap the stuff your kids have outgrown for the stuff other kids are just growing out of.

It seems pretty local, but if the notion interests you, maybe you could start a web site in your neck of the woods, too. Either way, what a great idea, right? Let’s hear it for ingenuity! (Just don’t bring that new bat on a bus…) — Lenore

Maybe Semi-Organized Recess Isn’t So Bad

Hi Readers — It’s a woman’s prerogative to change her mind (and a man’s, too), and this article from The Boston Globe has me re-thinking my knee-jerk reaction against any attempt to organize and regulate recess.

The article points out that in many schools, kids have almost forgotten HOW to play. Sending in a coach to get kids jumping rope or playing kickball is a sorry thing to need — you wish kids just did this spontaneously. But when they don’t,  sending in someone to teach the basics of fun is sounding good to me. 

Naturally, I don’t love the idea of an adult constantly prodding and organizing and restricting the kids. I want the kids to learn the basics then run the show. It’s their free time. I also want the non-athletic kids (like I was) to still have a chance to sit around and talk, if that’s their inclination. But to sit around because you have no idea how to organize a run-around game and neither do your friends? That is just sad. So here’s to teaching the other three Rs, when necessary: Running, Romping and Recess. — Lenore (who thanks MITBeta for sending along the link)

Kids and Sports and Crazed Parents

This sounds like a good book — “Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports,”  by Mark Hyman(

Apparently Hyman’s 14-year-old son came home with an arm super-sore from playing too much baseball, too hard. Hyman  told the boy to get out there and pitch again — after all, it was the playoffs. Just a few years later, the  kid ended up in surgery. Sports injury. For his part, the dad ended up with an epiphany: There is no reason to push our offspring to this point.

So he examines how sports went from something spontaeous and fun to something organized and grueling. Of course this entails figuring out how we parents got so overinvolved. And he shares some shocking stats, too, like the fact that in 2003 alone, 3.5 million children under age 15 required medical treatment for sports injuries, “nearly half of which were the result of simple overuse. The quest to turn children into tomorrow’s superstar athletes has often led adults to push them beyond physical and emotional limits.” 

Not good!

Free-Range Kids is pro kids sports, but not pro pro-kids sports, if you get my drift. We are not eager to make our kids into pros, or to enroll them  in so many coaching programs so many days a week that that they can outswim Michael Phelps, but have no idea how to organize their own game of tag.

Sounds like this author came to the same conclusion, the hard way.  — Lenore