How to Make Parents Feel Angry & Distrusted

Hi folks! Just a reader’s follow-up note to the post below this one on mandatory fingerprinting for Little League volunteers:

Dear Free-Range Kids: The school district where we live is requiring that all parent volunteers be fingerprinted starting next year.  If you want to help in the classroom at all (which the teachers heavily rely on), you have to pay $20 and be fingerprinted.  Same applies for field trip chaperones or moms and dads wanting to go to the Valentine Party for 15 minutes.  My husband takes work off annually to do a presentation at school for kids about bike safety…he will now have to PAY to do this. I think it’s beyond ridiculous and unfortunately the schools are going to lose a lot of free help, including mine.  As others have said….when there are no longer willing adults to support these activities maybe the rules will change. — A Reader

Students Stop Texting, Save Town

Hey Readers! Here’s a feel-good story:  Students from grade school on up are filling sandbags at a fantastic clip in order to save the town of Fargo, N.D., from flooding. According to A.P. writer James MacPherson:

Thousands of volunteers are lending a hand this week to fill and stack sandbags to place along the river and near endangered homes as Fargo faces the threat of a severe flood after the river’s expected crest Sunday. But the heart of that volunteer corps are the city’s youngest citizens.

It’s a job that elsewhere might be reserved for emergency workers or at least, their parents. But here, students can be excused from class with their parents’ permission and join the hundreds of adults, local workers and others who are taking on the task of filling 1 million sandbags to hold back the impending floodwaters.

“They pretty much have saved our community,” said David Stark, 62, who worked beside hundreds of student volunteers Tuesday. One of the few seniors to join the effort, he had to take a break after hurting his hand and was in awe of the students’ dedication.

Now, I know that many parents are out there thinking (as am I), “Of COURSE they’re volunteering! They get to skip school! My kids would volunteer to sponge-bathe scorpions if it meant a day off school.” But what’s cool is that once those kids are actively doing something big and meaningful, they even stop TEXTING. Yes, Mr. MacPherson interviewed at least one gal who said that normally she’s on her cell all the time but, “Texting would be hard to do [while] sandbagging.” (And besides, she added: all her friends were right there anyway.)

Moral of story?  Mix kids back into the real world of community/responsibility/adulthood and they rise to the occasion. And, just possibly, your phone bills recede. — Lenore

40 Ways for Kids to Volunteer!

Hey Readers! This just came in over the transom (okay, over email):  A lovely list of really great ideas for how to get kids volunteering. For instance: Take shelter dogs for a walk. Babysit to help a single parent.  Form a clean-up crew to go in and help a senior clean her apartment.  And so many more!

This is a subject close to my heart. My son and I help out in a homeless shelter and he’s there sort of sub rosa. Most volunteer jobs — like most other jobs, even newspaper delivery — now insist that participants be at least 18 years old. Yes, for insurance reasons. And also for not-believing-in-kids reasons. Discouraging volunteering is  yet another way to discourage kids from taking responsibility and connecting with their community. So check out the list and be inspired! — Lenore

Trust No One — Especially Not a Parent Volunteering at School

Hi Readers — Here’s a round-up of Providence, Rhode Island-area schools that are making their parent volunteers get background checks, sent in by a gal named Rema. I know a lot of folks will say, “This makes sense! Can’t hurt — can only help!” but let’s consider whether that’s true.

*First of all, if there are any studies that show kids are getting molested right and left by parents who volunteer at recess duty or on field trips, I haven’t seen them. It seems kind of hard to molest a kid in the middle of a trip to the petting zoo. (To read how children are being discouraged from actually petting animals at the petting zoo — for health reasons — click here. But then don’t forget to come back! The bus leaves PROMPTLY at 2:15.)

*Secondly, the idea behind these background checks is that everyone who is innocent should be happy to be checked, so what’s the big deal? The big deal is that now we are treating everyone as GUILTY of unspeakable crimes against children, until proven otherwise. That is a strange view to have of humanity, not to mention a depressing one. It’s also wrong: Most people are not child rapists. (Something tabloid TV forgets.)

*Thirdly, and this is a topic I hope to get deeper into on a later post: even most of the folks who are ON the sex offender lists do not pose a threat to children. I know that sounds shocking, which is why we’ll revisit it. Suffice to say that if you are a 16-year-old who has consensual sex twice with a girl you think is about your age (who turns out to be 13), as was actually the case with a guy named Ricky, you can find yourself registered FOREVER as a “Tier 3 predator.” Your charge will read  “lewd and lacivious acts with a child.”  

Any parent reading that description would think, “Keep him AWAY!” But is a teen who had sex with another teen really a threat to our kids? Those sex offender lists are like bad data: They look like helpful information, but a lot of it is just garbage. I’d let Ricky chaperone my kids.

*Finally, this whole “background check” deal falls into the ever-growing category of trying to make extremely unlikely events extremely unlikely.  Just as a manufacturer will recall a stroller if 1 child in 36,000 gets his fingers pinched in a wheel,  just as a park district will remove all the merry-go-rounds lest some child possibly hurt herself, just as a principal will forbid kids from playing tag because someone could trip,we are now going to excessive lengths to make it harder for helpful parents to help a school,  when we should be doing just the opposite.

Anyone who is willing to volunteer for lunch duty, or recess: God bless ’em. (I tried once, and fled.) –Lenore