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Readers — Sometimes I hear about stories in an untimely manner — like this one, which happened a year ago but is making my blood reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so I have to write about it even at this late date:

Apparently Homeland Security felt it needed to train officers to shoot with “No More Hesitation.” I.e., it wanted officers trained not to think twice when faced with danger. So to INSTILL  that hair-trigger response, our government purchased target practice posters featuring kids, old ladies in their kitchens, and pregnant women.

What’s so disturbing about this? Don’t we WANT our protectors to develop nerves of steel?

No. We want them to develop quick instincts, critical thinking, and calm. The idea of not distinguishing between a likely and unlikely threat reminds me of Zero Tolerance: every “incident” no matter how small or ridiculous is treated the same as a clear and present danger. Thus a kid with a pen knife is treated as harshly as a kid with an Uzi. Homeland Security seems equally bent on creating a culture of obtuseness: “I don’t care if it’s a guy from Chechnya who bought a one-way ticket with cash or a gray-haired lady eating All-Bran in her kitchen, you never know who could be a terrorist!”

Moreover, when we start viewing absolutely everyone as a possible threat, it is a different world we see: A world filled with evil and disguises, rather than the world we really live in: far from perfect, but hardly Halo 3. Practicing on the target of a granny, or tween girl in her driveway, reinforces the idea that we are under siege by everyone, everywhere. Trust no one, ever. Be on guard at all times.

SCHOOL BUS TERRORISTS? 

A couple of years ago I was speaking at a convention of school bus fleet owners. After my talk, which was about how we got so scared for our children, the next speaker came on stage: She was from the FBI and she spent an hour talking about how school bus drivers must always be on the alert for terrorists. She told the owners to tell their drivers to look out for anyone they saw along the bus route who wasn’t normally there. “I don’t care if it’s a mother with her three children. If she wasn’t there yesterday, WHY is she there today?” That’s not an exact quote, but it is the example she gave: Fear for the worst if you suddenly see a mom you don’t know, and her young kids.

The chances that a mom with three young kids was walking near the school bus with the intention of blowing it up — those odds were not discussed. The mere fact that the mom  COULD blow up the bus was enough to merit a warning from this government employee.

It is good to be prepared. It is not good, or even safe, to be paranoid. When we are told that using our own perceptions, knowledge, compassion and humanity is a HINDRANCE to safety, we are being brainwashed into hysteria.

I’d rather have officers hesitate just long enough to figure out what’s actually going on, than have them so scared and suspicious of everyone that they aim, shoot, and then think.  - L

Don't shoot till you see the whites of the eyes of the fetus?

Don’t shoot till you see the whites of the eyes of the fetus?

Readers, Here’s a video that has gotten over 10 million hits so far:

It’s about motherhood being the hardest job at all, requiring 135 hours a week, lots of standing, very little sleeping and zero breaks.

But as “The Evil H.R. Lady” points out in this brilliant post, motherhood is not the utterly difficult, demanding, exhausting job society (and this video) paint it as. It’s only that way if we believe our kids can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. So, says Evil H.R. Lady:

….You are doing it wrong if you never get to sit down, never get to eat lunch, and never get a break of any kind. You are not teaching your child to become an adult, you are teaching them to remain in perpetual toddler hood. This is bad parenting. I don’t know any mothers — even mothers of special needs kids — that don’t get a break. (And I will concede that some special needs kids require a tremendous amount of care from their parents–dad too!–and that may qualify as the most difficult job. But most moms have just regular kids–with problems here and there, and difficulties in different areas, but nothing requiring 24 hour nursing level care.)

Exaggerating the amount of work and expertise needed to parent not only creates guilt on the part of parents (who can live up to those expectations?). It also makes it seem like the best parents are the ones who treat their kids as helpless and endangered for as long as possible. If you believe parenting involves gradually letting go, well, gradually it gets easier.

This cult of motherhood SEEMS to venerate women, but really it is all about making them feel bad if they actually trust their kids to thrive without constant,  obsessive assistance.  - L

Readers – -This just in. Two masked men grabbed a 4 year old from a playground and threw him in a van. Surprise! It was to make a video about “kidnapping awareness.” Why is this insane?

A – The “perps” could have been shot.

B – It is based on the crazy idea that WITHOUT a video of masked men snatching a child off a playground, no one would be aware that masked men shouldn’t be doing this.

C- It is also based on the crazy idea that this is happening so much, no one should consider the playground a safe place.

D – All of the above and THEN some.

P.S. You KNOW the answer.

Readers — I haven’t signed up for Amber Alerts, so I haven’t experienced this. Have you? How common is it? I realize Amber Alerts CAN save kids, but not if they become the boy who cried wolf. (What a famous boy!) – L. 

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a faithful reader who grew up in the dangerous ’70s and ’80s and was a criminology major. I have a very difficult time explaining to my friends that the world is much, much safer for my children. Part of the perception problem is the insanity of the Amber Alert.

Yesterday, while in a meeting, everyone’s phones went off. At the same time. After determining it was neither a fire, nor an earthquake, we read that there was an Amber Alert for a 12 year old boy. He had been “abducted” on Thursday. The Amber Alert came in on Monday. And the Alert on the phones said nothing about the fact that he had been taken by his mother for her regularly scheduled visitation and not returned on time.

While I do believe this is a serious violation of a custody agreement, I am not sure it rises to the occasion of notifying all of Los Angeles County, Orange County, Riverside County, and San Diego County. He was, of course, found safe with his mother:

http://temecula.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/amber-alert-12yearold-boy-abducted-in-long-beach-police-say

I think the idea that the “news stories” did not include that the child was taken by the mother was to increase the shock/scare value. Stranger danger!

I will remain committed to “Free-Range,” but the State of California is making it hard to convince others!

Yours, Jill Schindler

Amber Alerts seem like they'd lose their effectiveness if used injudiciously.

Amber Alerts seem like they’d lose their effectiveness if used injudiciously.

Readers — I find this little report, “Neuroscience Used and Abused in Child Rearing Policy” so interesting, for two reasons.

First, by questioning the common wisdom that kids’ brains”irreversibly ‘sculpted’ by parental care” the first three years , it alleviates some of the incredible pressure put on parents to make sure that every single second they spend with their babies (even prenatally) is optimal: stimulating, educational, enriched. That’s a lot to demand of us.

Second, it echoes a point I make in my book and lectures: That while experts purport to “help” parents by telling us exactly how to interact with our kids, actually that avalanche of advice undermines the idea that maybe, just maybe, we could be decent parents without intensive tutoring. As the authors note:

…Mothers, in particular, are told that if they are stressed while pregnant or suffer postnatal depression, they will harm their baby’s brain.

‘This dubious information is highly unlikely to alleviate stress or depression but rather more likely to increase parental anxiety,’ said Dr Macvarish. ‘Parents are also told they must cuddle, talk and sing to their babies to build better brains. But these are all things parents do, and have always done, because they love their babies.

‘Telling parents these acts of love are important because they are ‘brain-building’ inevitably raises the question of how much cuddling, talking and singing is enough? Such claims also put power in the hands of ‘parenting experts’ and ultimately risk making parenting a biologically important but emotionally joyless experience.’

The way we’re approaching parenting these days is sort of the way we approach so many other worthwhile projects. Instead of saying, “It sure would be nice to set aside some land as a park,” we are forced to do a cost-benefit analysis that shows things like, “Parkland increases the ambient oxygen level by X percent, which in turn increases worker productivity, resulting in a net gain of…blah blah blah.” Not everything needs to be quantified, justified or even examined this way. And that’s not even getting into the whole issue of how many “scientific” studies turn out to be impossible to replicate (and quite possibly wrong). – L.

Hi brain! I'm your mommy! Can I please program you exactly the way I'd like?

Hi brain, I’m your mommy! If I do everything the experts say, will you do everything that Mommy says

 

Readers — Why do I keep blogging? It’s to remind us, literally daily, that there are HUGE CONSEQUENCES when we believe the BIG LIE that our kids are in constant danger. One consequence is that we interpret normal parenting behavior through the lens of both sanctimony and fear, seeing danger where there’s just the usual chaos of raising kids. The consequence of that consequence? Read on:

Dear Free-Range Kids: When my son, now 15, was about a week shy of his fourth birthday, I ran out to pick him up from his preschool, located four short blocks from home, with just my keys and no purse, something I had done many, many times before.  (I know — stupid.  No ID.  REALLY stupid.)  I picked him up, and in the course of walking home, he decided he was going to have a meltdown because he wanted to walk down a street that would have taken us far out of our way, and I was in a hurry to get back, so I said “no, not today.”

Well, he proceeded to try and run down the street he wanted to take, screaming and crying, and almost ran headlong into oncoming traffic because he was so worked up that he wasn’t paying attention to anything.  I grabbed at him to keep him from going into the street and caught the hood of his jacket and yanked him back to me, whereupon he screamed louder.  Out of nowhere, a woman materialized, yelling, “I saw the whole thing!  She’s beating that child!  I was across the street and down the block and I saw the whole thing! Call the cops!” 

A crowd began to gather, screaming at me and telling me what a lousy mother I was, which of course terrified my son, and he clung to me, but he was still sobbing and crying.  I yelled at the crowd to please leave us alone, couldn’t they tell that my son was upset, that I wanted to calm him down and go home, but they kept converging and screaming and flinging invectives at me — it was terrifying.  I sat down on the sidewalk and cuddled my son to me, and he began to calm down…until three police cars and no fewer than TWELVE cops, guns drawn, descended upon us, wrenched my screaming child from my arms (at this point he was struggling to get back to me and yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!  I want Mommy!”), tackled me, HANDCUFFED ME behind my back and forced me to await the arrival of a city ambulance. 

A man in the crowd did take pity on me and let me use his phone to call my husband at work (which HE had to hold up to my ear, since they would not undo the handcuffs), but the cops would barely let me speak to him and it was hardly enough time to let me tell him what was happening.  They would not tell me where my child was, and of course since I had no ID on me (I have NEVER done that again, lemme tell ya! Stupid!), they apparently branded me a crazy woman who was trying to beat and abduct a child. The ambulance came, and they hustled me into the back (all the while refusing to tell me where my son was) and took me to the PSYCH WARD at the hospital, where they kept me for several hours in a room locked from the outside and refused to let my husband (who had arrived by that time) in to see me, though apparently he had gotten enough information to track down our son, who had been taken to the precinct and was being guarded by a detective.  We found out much later that he had been “examined” for physical and sexual abuse PRIOR to my husband’s arrival — which I believe is illegal.  They did let me call my therapist, who, thank God, answered the phone — but it was all she could do to get them to release me to my husband.  Fortunately, they HAD released my son to him instead of slapping him into foster care — I shudder to think what would have happened if not.

We were eventually allowed to go home, but I was contacted several days later by a worker from Child Protective Services, who said he was required to visit us, unannounced, every couple of months for a year to be sure that our son was not being abused. The first night he came to see us, I had a chicken roasting in the oven and even offered to feed him if he wanted. What he WAS required to do was look at our son’s bedroom to be sure he was being cared for (he had a big bed with lots of stuffed animals and shelves full of games and books, which I actually think surprised the guy, given what he was probably used to seeing in his work), examine our son physically to be sure there was no evidence of abuse, and ask him some very pointed questions about whether Mommy or Daddy ever did nasty things to him.  (He was FOUR, for God’s sake!!  Admittedly a precocious and highly intelligent four, but holy crap…the continual insinuations of sexual abuse turned my stomach!)

Anyway, of course no signs of any kind of abuse were ever found — but we lived for SEVEN YEARS with the threat of having him taken away from us, because that is how long these cases stay open on the books.  We worried about every bump, every bruise, every argument we had — because of course he was also smart enough to know that he could hold it over us and threaten to “tell at school” if we had an argument, not understanding what the consequences would be if someone believed that we had hit or abused him, or if someone at school noticed a bruise or scrape on his body and thought we had inflicted it.

I swear to you: all I ever did was grab my kid’s coat and yank him back to prevent him from flinging himself into traffic because he was screaming himself blind.  He was four, he was having a meltdown. But a bunch of total strangers who were “down the block and across the street but who saw the whole thing” and called the cops as a result could have totally and utterly destroyed our family and ruined my son’s future.  He was, and is, a smart, beautiful, charming, talented boy; he has gone to gifted programs throughout school and currently attends a magnet high school, and he has nothing but promise ahead of him. But the actions of one “well-meaning” stranger who thought that a mother struggling with a screeching four-year-old was her business and that she had to “protect” the child, and who was able to draw a crowd around her, could have ripped a family apart and destroyed that child forever.

We are lucky — truly lucky — that eventually cooler heads did prevail and he was allowed to come back to us immediately.  I know that in some cases, this does not happen, and it’s a nightmare for the family to get the child back, sometimes going on for years. But let me tell you that I TOTALLY understand the fear of the mom who wrote to you when she said she was afraid that the woman who yelled at her outside the post office had called the police and that they were going to track her down…because I LIVED something like that.  It is, quite possibly, the most terrifying thing that can happen to a parent. And I must ask when it became everyone ELSE’S business regarding how to be a good parent to one’s own child.  It’s hard to be any kind of a parent these days, especially Free-Range, but we MUST stick to our convictions and raise our kids as we, their parents, see fit.

Thank God for this blog. – Shaken Mom

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then -- the authorities.

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then — the authorities.

Folks, Canadian school bus driver Kendra Lindon was about to pick up kids on a freezing cold day when her bus broke down. Other recent times this had happened, she recalled, no replacement bus arrived. And so, with windchill temperatures dipping to -37 C (-34 F),  she took matters into her own hands and picked up the few students along her route in her own SUV.

From there, Lindon planned to keep the kids, including her own son, warm until another bus arrived — no frostbite, no problems.

Or so she thought.

It turns out another parent had watched Lindon picking up the kids, including two boys who had to sit in the rear cargo hold, where there were no seat belts.

Concerned, the parent contacted First Student — and that afternoon, Lindon was fired.

Parents have since been writing letters on Lindon’s behalf, but so far, it seems, there is no chance of an appeal, because rules are rules. 

This is a Free-Range issue because those rules are most likely in place to keep children safe from ALL adults, on the assumption that many are out to hurt them. Forget the fact that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that we are capable of distinguishing the two. No, all adults are treated the same: they’re suspects.

Moreover, even though I am a HUGE fan of safety belts (ask anyone!), having two kids sit belt-less in a cargo hold for a few minutes, or even get driven a short way, does not mean INSTANT DOOM. Yes, it makes sense to buckle up whenever possible. But once in a while circumstance dictates less than optimal accommodations, and that’s okay. It’s not the best. But it’s okay. We are so attuned to “best practices” that we forget that “not quite the best practice” is not the same as, “hideous danger.”

It’s not.  - L

When a school bus doesn't show, is it WRONG to pick kids up in an SUV?

A school bus driver using her heart and head is punished by those unable to use either.