Help Needed! Your “Kids Outside” Stories for Dr. Drew TONIGHT!

Hi Readers — I’m going to be on Dr. Drew tonight discussing the idea of letting kids play outside on their own, a topic inspired by Saturday’s  “Take Our Children to the Park…and Leave Them There” Day.

If you have allowed your children to play outside, unsupervised, either on the holiday or on any other day, the Dr. Drew folks might want you to call in and talk about it on air. (Or they just might read aloud the story.) So they’d like you to do two things:

1 – Write your story here and indicate YEA or NAY if the producers can contact you. (I will forward them your email address if you say YEA.)

or

2 – Call or write to them directly.  1-855-DRDREW5 or 1-855-373-7395. Or write to them at: http://on.hln.tv/1SZ9PG

While we’re at it, if you have any great ways to open minds when parents worry, “But the risk is just not worth it!” and, “But predators will swarm the park if they know children are coming!” please pass ’em along. Always helpful! – L

2 Child Murders, 2 Different Pages in the Paper: Why?

Hi Readers: Not to sound too cynical, but today’s New York Post  carried a big story about the Etan Patz case — a blonde boy who disappeared 33 years ago, whose case was recently re-opened in the hopes of finally nailing the perp. (Alas, that didn’t happen.) Eleven tabloid pages later, there’s a much smaller story about a 7-year-old boy whose alleged killer is on trial right now.

The 7-year-old boy has an Oscar-winning aunt. He also has an uncle and grandma who were shot dead, most likely by the same killer. But despite three deaths, a famous relative, and a current trial, this story does not rise to the level of the Patz case, at least in The Post. Why not? I believe there are three reasons.

1 – To be fair, the 7-year-old, Julian King, was in Chicago, and Patz was a New Yorker. So for the NY Post, Patz is a local story. But then there are two other facts.

2 – The 7-year-old was not blonde, he was African-American.

3 – He was not abducted by a stranger. He was (again, allegedly) shot by his mom’s ex-boyfriend.

To be really REALLY cynical (and realistic),  I have to add that I don’t think there’s any way the story of the murdered 7-year-old would have made it into the papers beyond Chicago, had it not been for the fact that his aunt is actress Jennifer Hudson.

When the media decide which stories are “big,” they go for the tried-and-true narrative they know the best — the shocker that sells the most papers:  A middle-class child, usually white, abducted by a stranger. Those are the stories that go national, even international That’s what the dramas on TV show, too.

And we wonder why “stranger-danger” is uppermost in parents’ minds. (Or, actually, we don’t.) – L.

In The Kitchen, Talking About Etan, As The Kids Play Outside

Hi Readers — Just got this letter from “Steph in Minneapolis.” Loved it. You will, too.  – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: On Saturday afternoon, the neighbor kids rang the bell and off ran our almost 8-year-old daughter to wander the block, chalking sidewalks and digging worms.  Then we stood in the kitchen and talked about Etan Patz.  The unthinkable happened, for that family lightening did strike and as parents we can’t imagine their pain.

For us though, the solution is not tying our daughter to our apron strings.  It is teaching her to listen to her gut and giving her permission to take any course of action that makes her feel safe.  She asked me once, what if an adult makes me feel uncomfortable and I kick them and run away but it wasn’t the right thing?  I said, taking care of a problem like that is a mom job. You just do what you think is right at the time.  Being confident and empowered is not a guarantee that she will be safe, but on some level you have to count on lightening not striking or you’d never leave your house.

We live on a busy city street with lots of car traffic in a working class urban neighborhood.  There is a lot to look out for, and it means that our daughter’s range is smaller than ours was at her age, but she does spend most of her weekend out of our sight and I am glad for that.  It’s called having a childhood.

After our talk in the kitchen on Saturday, I admit it, I peeked outside to see where DD was, and I called her to come home immediately. Why?

The kids were riding bikes without helmets and I made her come home for hers. The risk of a head injury from biking, while still tiny, is much larger than the risk of being abducted off the street.

Of course, she rolled her eyes at me and declared that I am “overprotective.”  :-). Then she went out to ride some more, and I let her. — Steff

Sad Memories, Overprotective Impulses, and Keeping Things in Perspective

Hi Readers — By now I’m sure you’ve heard of new leads in the Etan Patz case, the missing child case that may have marked the beginning of our obsession with stranger-danger. Now comes this “follow up” in Psychology Today, of all places, reminding parents to be worried all the time about abduction.

As if this fear had slipped most parents’ minds. As if it’s helpful for anyone to focus on the idea of their children being murdered. As if stranger-danger is even a valid concept, considering that the vast majority of crimes against children are committed by people they know.

It is SO EASY to send parents into a tailspin of terror by mentioning the Patz case. I’m one of them. That’s why I try not to think about it too much. Not out of any “denial.” Just out of emotional self-preservation, which in turn allows me to preserve my children’s freedom.

At some point I’ll address the latest iteration of this stranger-danger obsession of ours: A recent magazine show featuring a creepy ice cream man trying to lure children into his clutches. The idea that there are any non-psychopathic ice cream men in America is becoming increasingly hard to grasp.

But that’s for another post. Right now, let’s just take one quick glimpse at the Psychology Today piece, by a woman named Susan Newman, who writes:

“Yes, childhood is supposed to be a period of innocence, but as long as people who prey on children exist, parents must be watchful…. Reopening the public to the Etan Patz case hopefully will caution parents to dangers sadly still present.

Leave it to others to parse why a crime that happened 33 years ago is a good way to remind parents of dangers “still present,” I’m going to go get some ice cream. (If I don’t ever post again, alert the police. And Psychology Today.) — L.

A Child Goes Off with Adult —

Hi Readers: This piece below was originally posted at The Rustic Child, a blog about kids who take risks, do chores and entertain themselves (if you can imagine!). It’s by Jilly O’Brien, a New Zealand mom of 2 who’s a teacher studying to be an educational psychologist. I asked her if I could reprint it here, it’s so inspiring, and she said yes! So — voila! L.

KID GOES OFF WITH AN ADULT — IT’S CALLED A BUDDY

There is a school somewhere in the US (as posted on freerangekids blog), which sent a letter home to all parents warning them to be on the lookout for “stranger danger”. Some bloke who goes to the bakery (every day) had spoken to some kids who go there (every day) and this was therefore a matter of utmost concern. Apparently, the letter said “The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.” What from? Doughnut Man – that dastardly kidnapper of children?

In the South Island of New Zealand where I live, at about the same time, our local newspaper – the CO News – ran a story titled “Buddy fills special place in young boys life”.  This Buddy programme is where a child, who needs a bit of extra time with an adult, is paired up with someone who has the same interests as them, and has a lovely time.

The article was about a10 year old lad who had lost his grandfather, and so his single mum said she “had to reassess how she was going to raise her son”.  She did just that, contacted the buddy programme and now her boy spends all his Saturdays on a retired farmer’s farm, helping with the tractors, making stuff in the shed, sorting out the bees, doing up old machinery. Without her.

Have a go at this multiple choice quiz. The article goes on to say that when Jan Bird, the Buddy co-ordinator is approached about big buddies, she is careful to ………………..

A) Make sure big buddies are police vetted?

Probably, but it’s not the point, it’s not the issue, it’s just something that has to be done.

B) To make sure they are not alone with the child? Er, no.

C) To make sure that the parents are always around? Wrong again.

What Jan Bird is careful about is “putting our young buddy with a big buddy who I know is going to be a good match”. Obvious.

I could list all the positives from this for everyone involved, but I’d hope you could already work them out. There are many children on the list who really want a Buddy and the organisation are always advertising for more possible Buddies to come on board. The kids’ parents, the kids, the community and the Buddies themselves all agree to the value of this initiative.

If the buddy programme ever sent out a letter to parents, it might go:  “Fortunately for us today, all of our children are happy, healthy, free, helpful, safe and learning to be decent citizens.”

Perhaps that’s what needs to be mailed out to parents at the silly school with the bakery concerns, instead of the overwhelming horror of someone trying to make conversation whilst eating a custard slice. — Jilly O’Brien

Boys & Strangers in Public Restrooms: Two Stories

Hi Readers! Here are two recent comments, prompted by the Anderson Cooper post below this one. Which bathroom encounter makes YOU feel queasy? – L.
.
Dear Free-Range Kids; On a long drive, we stopped for gas and for my 8-year-old son to use the restroom.  While in the mens’ room, the lock got stuck on his stall.  He couldn’t get out!  I was wandering a bit in the mini-mart, but a man figured out I was his mom and let me know he was stuck.  Just as I was opening the door a bit to ask my son what he needed, he walked out — a second man had helped him get out of the stall.
.
So not one but *two* strangers in a gas station bathroom helped my son when he needed it. Just another story demonstrating that most people are actually helpful and nice, not menacing.  — Stephanie Ozenne, in California
.
AND
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Dear Free-Range Kids:  Last weekend we went camping in north central Florida.  I was brushing my teeth in the bath house when in walked a mom with her son.  I looked over to see a boy who was at least 8 years old.  I was floored that she’d bring him into the LADIES’ bath house, and judging by the humiliated look on the kid’s face, he wasn’t real keen on it, either.
.
It got worse.  She went on to brush her teeth and then tell her son that she would brush HIS teeth for him because she, “doesn’t trust him to do it right.”  I kid you not, she then brushed the boy’s teeth.  It was all I could do to keep my own mouth shut.

.

And we wonder why boys aren’t growing up to become men? ! — Kelly Down South

Would you let your son go to the gas station bathroom ALONE?

This is NOT a Crime! Cops Charge Dad Who Let Kids Play Alone in Park for 2 Hours

Readers! As we approach our third annual, “Take Our Children to the Park…And Leave Them There Day” (Saturday, May 19), this story is outrageous. Apparently a dad let his two kids, ages 6 and 9, play in a local suburban Pittsburgh park on Saturday morning for not quite two hours while he did some shopping and took a shower. That is, while he went about the tasks of everyday life.

Meantime, a woman noticed this unusual thing: Kids playing without an adult around! That this fact was “disturbing” to an onlooker is what is so disturbing about our culture. For millennia, kids kept themselves occupied while their parents were otherwise engaged. A 9-year-old watching a 6-year-old was NORMAL, not a REASON TO CALL THE COPS.

But call the cops she did. And when they got there, they charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. Meantime, of course, child protective services is investigating, too. Because any time you trust your children or your community, YOU cannot be trusted.

That’s what we’ve come to. You are punished for believing in your kids’ self-reliance and the neighborhood you chose to raise them in. Hence, the Free-Range Kids movement. Hence this Free-Range Kids blog. Hence…I wish I knew. We have GOT to turn our country around or children will be prisoners of their parents, and vice versa, all in the name of “caring.” Ask me, that word is missing an “s” at the beginning. – L.

UPDATE! “Police Chief Defends Charges Against Dad”   

Do you suppose the parents of these kids were charged with endangerment, too? I don’t see them hovering.

School Alerts Parents: Local Man SeenTalking to Kids!

Hi Readers! This is the kind of story that makes me bite off little pieces of my own arm in frustration (almost. Ok, let’s just say it makes me nuts.)

An elementary school in Toledo, Ohio sent home a note that said a stranger had been speaking to some of the students at a popular bakery on their way to school.  According to this story on WTOL:

The letter said, “The situation is now in the hands of the police. Fortunately for us today, all of our children are safe.”

The letter also tells parents to remind their kids to report suspicious people. Parents were shocked.

“That makes me nervous. I want my kids to come to school and be safe,” said Gail Hodson, a Harvard Elementary parent.

Excuse me, m’am, are you shocked by the idea that your kid might someday encounter an adult male you did not personally vet first? Maybe it’s time to move to another planet.

But wait — the story gets a little weirder. Turns out that the man is a regular at the bakery and it was when he was there that he offered some kids some donuts.

Pretty terrifying!

School administrators left those facts out,  and defended themselves later by saying that the alarm was, if nothing else, a “teachable moment,  and they sent the letter home to be proactive, before misinformation spread.”

Um…doesn’t that sound like exactly what they made happen? This letter WAS the misinformation, and the school spread it! As far as teachable moments go, this one taught kids to be suspicious, scared and unfriendly no matter how unwarranted. Worst-first thinking in action!

Then again,  just maybe it taught them that their school has gone absolutely ape with fear and can’t tell the difference between a sweetroll  and Sweeney Todd. If so, that letter has done some good. – L

ADDENDUM: While we’re on the subject of stranger danger, here’s another little tidbit: A man in a van asking a little girl if she’d seen his puppy turns out to have been (sit down) LOOKING FOR HIS PUPPY. Here’s the story. Weird,  right?

Donuts! Men! Arghhh!!!

“Am I Wrong to Let My 6-year-old Walk Around the Corner?”

Hi Readers! Sometimes I think back on the days of the Soviet Union, when the government would put political dissidents into insane asylums. From our side of the world, that seemed twisted: If you are punishing those against the regime, why not put them in a real prison? But over in the Soviet Union the scenario actually made some (twisted) sense, this way: Since the regime was NEVER going to change, anyone who thought it could or would was literally insane. Delusional!  And so to the asylums they were sent.

That gives me some (twisted again) hope for our own culture. Right now, parents who think that their kids can walk a block or two are considered, in many places, INSANE for trusting their kids and community for even five minutes. Some day,though, we will look back and see: Those trusting souls  were the SANE parents living in insanely terrified times. – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am sure you get this kind of question in the subject line all the time, but I am really curious what other Free-Range parents would say.

We live in Brooklyn, NY, in a very residential neighborhood. It’s very
safe, and there’s a lot of the old everyone-looks-out-for-each-other
mindset. It’s much quieter, compared to the hipster parts of the
borough. We live two and a half blocks away from the public school my
older son attends for kindergarten. We cross one street, and then the last
intersection has a school crossing guard. Luckily for us, my younger
son attends day care right across the street from this school. It
makes drop off much more simpler in the mornings.

Now, kindergarteners have to get to school exactly between 8:10 and
8:20, and they have to use the main entrance, which is around the corner of the school. We used to drop the older child off at the main entrance, and then backtrack (and cross the street) to drop the younger one at the day care. But we were always running the risk of getting the older one late, and the little one also keeps wanting to go inside with his brother (his best friend).

So we started taking the younger one to day care first, and then crossing
the street to drop off the older one but the little one kept trying
to convince his brother to stay with him and would occasionally
whine/cry. So I started leaving the older one outside
the day care while I walked up to the door, dropped his brother off,
and came back downstairs. The older one is out of my sight for maybe 2
minutes. Maybe 3. More importantly, he in full sight of the crossing
guard, since that’s the intersection in front of the school. And ALL
the parents dropping off kids, some of whom know him.

Apparently some parents of his friends have walked past him with their
parents, saying “You shouldn’t stand outside like that, a stranger is
gonna grab you.” I can’t figure out if it’s his friends saying this,
or the parents.

Once in a while, if we are really running late, I would cross the
street so he’s on the correct side, and then tell him to go ahead and
run around the corner to the main entrance to get in by himself.
No street crossings, and the only thing on the block is the school, so
he’s basically walking around the school.  He doesn’t mind, and generally runs off when I tell him to do that. I watch until he turns the corner, before I cross thestreet. After the little one has been dropped off, I go back to make
sure he’s not lying on the sidewalk, injured. But he’s long inside and
learning already.

And the number of dirty looks we’ve received from parents for letting
him run off around the corner on his own is mindboggling.

The neighborhood is very safe.  I am not saying there’s no crime.
There’s no such Eden. But it is very close-knit, and I’ve lived here
since I was in elementary school. The neighbors all know each other.
And I am not having a six-year-old cross the street by himself. Just walk down the block, or stand outside a building.

Am I really being unsafe? I told my son today I would never ask him to
do something dangerous, and I realized I needed a gut check. Yes, I
get it that tragedies happen. But weighing the risks, I am not sure I
am doing something completely unfathomable.

But more importantly, what conversation do I have with a six-year-old
about how to deal with people (some he knows) telling him a stranger
is going to grab him? REALLY? — Bewildered Brooklynite

Dear Bewildered: I’m bewildered by the terror that people can conjure up in the most sunny of circumstances. As for what to tell your 6-year-old, tell him he can always TALK to people, he just cannot go OFF with them. Simple, direct, easy for a kid to understand.  And write to let us know if anyone else starts following your lead!  (Actually, his!) – L

“Every Parent’s Nightmare!” Really?

Hi Readers! Just got  this article from a self-described “heathen daddy from Attleboro, Mass.” who summarized the story thusly:

A kindergarten girl gets on wrong bus on her second day of after-school care. Instead of going to the program she gets on the bus for home, gets home, realizes she made a mistake because no one is home, knocks on the neighbor’s door in tears, neighbor takes her in, gives her a snack, calls her mom, grammy comes for the afternoon.

When I grew up that was called “S*** happens, that’s why we live in a neighborhood where we watch each others backs.”  Now it’s called “Parent’s Worst Nightmare” and cause for a one-on-one meeting with the superintendent of schools and a front page article in the paper.

Lenore here again: Yup. Perfect summation of the article and our era.  I agree that it would be miserable if my kid went through this, but a nightmare? A news story? No.  The  article even felt compelled to add that the girl, though upset, was “unharmed.” As if every time anything goes awry in a child’s life and her official caregivers aren’t right by her side we are supposed to assume the very worst, and it’s just remarkable that SOMEHOW, through amazing luck, this one escaped grave danger.  — L

Alone and ALIVE? How can that be?