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All posts in 2011

Hi Readers: Notes from a Culture Gone Crazy, Part 9278:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Tonight we attended our local town holiday parade. What could be better for kids? The kids were all screaming and shouting for beads, candy canes, candy, and random other loot. The first group to pass our spot handed our boys a few candy canes. Beads and Tootsie Rolls were whizzing past our heads. The next group HANDED each kid another candy cane while other candy flew past with amazing speed, tossed by small children up high on the floats. Then more HANDING out of the candy-canes.

Finally, I was told that it was against the parade rules to “throw” candy-canes as someone could get hurt. Beads and packs of M&Ms apparently can not harm a child as much, so they were in the “safe to throw” category.

Another parade member passed by and said,  “Candy-canes could poke out an eye so we have to hand them out.”

This was even worse than the “snowball festival” from last weekend where a mother suggested to me that next year they set up targets for the kids to throw the snowballs at because it was far too dangerous to throw them at each other.  AGHHHHH! – Laurie Reed

Hi Folks! I loved this response to the post a few days ago about strangers helping out with tantruming toddlers! This comes from reader Kristi Blue. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: We were stationed in Germany when I gave birth to my twins in 2002.  I am twin, whose mother is a twin, whose grandmother is a twin and whose great grandmother was a twin.  Five straight generations of twins, and from the moment we found out we were having twins, all I could think about was being able to fly home to my great grandmother and place those precious things in her arms.

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Two weeks after they were born we received the call that she wasn’t doing well, and that if we were coming, it needed to be now.  My husband was training so unable to accompany us.  I boarded a trans-Atlantic flight with two nursing newborns and a heavy heart.  The kids both started crying at the same time and as I was fumbling, trying to comfort two infants in the limited space of coach, I see a pair of hands reach over the seat, take one of my babies, and proceed to walk up and down the aisle singing to her as I feed her sister.  It wasn’t until the third lap of coach that I got a good look at the stranger who had my baby.  He was the oddest little man wearing a wide lapeled suit coat, boots with heels and a pompadour, while singing “You Are My Sunshine.”  To this day, my girls still love to hear the story about the time James Brown sang them lullabies! – K.B.

Hi Folks! Just got this disturbing little note from reader Jeff Johnson who, I am happy to say, is writing a book about the importance of play. — L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wondering how much you’re hearing about the death of games like tag on school playgrounds.

I volunteer in a local kindergarten once a week. Last Thursday I had this exchange with some students during recess:

Me: Let’s play some freeze tag!

Kindergartner #1: We aren’t sposed to play tag.

Kindergartner #2: Yeah, you want to get us in trouble or something?

Me: What The Fu…n-killing kind of rule is that? Why can’t you play tag?

Kindergartner #3: ‘Cus it’s The Rule.

Kindergartner #4 (Whispering, as if the playground is bugged ): We still play sometimes in secret when the teachers are just talking.

I emailed the principal–she says it is just “too dangerous” with so many kids on the playground.

In a year, this school will merge with another into a shiny new building (which looks kind of like a perky prison) with over 700 elementary students. I’m afraid to think about what will classified as too dangerous then. – J.J.

Johnson then wrote another note to report:

UPDATE: Today at recess I learned that the kids are not allowed to play in and/or with snow on the playground. The kids are restricted to the cleared asphalt area of the playground. I also saw two great looking perfect-for-play sticks taken away from children and put in protective custody.

I shudder to think what would happen to a child caught playing tag in the snow while holding a stick. — J.J.

Kids having fun at recess? This must stop!!

Hi Folks — If you ever wonder why parents seem so terrified these days, here’s why: We live in a society filled with more paranoia than a convention of Moon Landing conspiracists.

Below is a prime example of us being told by a trusted “authority” to always conjure up the least likely but most devastating scenario possible and then proceed as if it’s likely to happen.  As a parenting philosophy it’s depressing, delusional, debilitating — and apparently Dear Abby’s modus operandi:

Dear Abby: I know some children who seem to be mature and are able to make logical decisions on a fairly regular basis. Still, making a decision under stress when one has not had a lot of experience can be difficult.

Having said that, at what age do you think it is appropriate to leave a child alone at home? Sometimes it’s difficult to arrange for child care when kids are out of school. Do you have any guidelines as to what to look for that can help make this decision? — BUSY WORKING PARENT IN KANSAS

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Dear Busy Working Parent: I don’t think children should be left alone if there is any other alternative available — after-school programs, YMCA, activities where they will have adult supervision. Too many things can go wrong, and you would never forgive yourself if one of them happened to your child.  
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Hi again, folks: Yes, those italics were mine. But here is a response written by Free-Range Kids reader (slightly edited by me):
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Dear Abby: Your answer is a classic example of what Lenore Skenazy (www.freerangekids.com) refers to as “Worst-First” thinking. If we are encouraged to over-prepare for all the rare, tragic things that could happen, we will end up handicapping  our children’s independence, and our finances, and our  ability to shop alone for brief periods of time.

Can you really not imagine any age when a child is capable of being left alone in their home? Not at 8, 11, 14? Or 17? How is it that these children will ever become capable adults if they don’t get any incremental practice? Is this why, as a professor, I see college students today who are incapable of facing the regular bumps and glitches of daily life without calling on their parents to fix their problems for them?

Perhaps instead of “never” we can look for indicators that a child is capable of spending short time periods home alone: Are they generally responsible? Do they know basic safety measures?

Instead of infantilizing our children for fear of remote risks, we need to empower them. If you will recall, just a few decades ago, we did that very thing. I was a latchkey kid at nine and babysitting at 11. In the 70s, this was regular practice. Before you argue that the world was safer then, note that the crime statistics show that life is safer today than it has been any time since about 1973.

In that time on my own as a child, I learned how to feed and clean up after myself, how to take care of others, and who to call when I needed help.  I developed the confidence that I could take care of myself. That experience was invaluable and remains with me to this day. — Kari B.

Hi Readers! Often I post Free-Range outrages. Sometimes, this gets depressing. So here’s a Free-Range success story. Enjoy! L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am the mother of two very small children. My daughter is almost two and my son is three months old. I consider myself to be a Free-Range parent, at least in philosophy.  Though the freedom and responsibility my husband and I can give our kids at this age isn’t that much, it’s growing by the day.  But I recently had an experience that gave me another perspective on the Free-Range philosophy.

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I was traveling solo with my kids while my husband traveled for work. The plan was to have my daughter to sit in a seat by herself and to hold my son in my lap. Emphasis on “plan.”  When we got on the plane, my daughter knew exactly what to do. She walked a few steps ahead of me, carrying her book bag, arriving at our row. However, when the time came for her to sit in the seat next to me (instead of on my lap) she proceeded to flip out.

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She threw herself on the floor. She screamed. She exhibited every single behavior that a parent of a toddler dreads. I could feel people glaring at me. I was convinced that I would be thrown off the plane, because I could not get her to sit in the seat on her own.

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I was on the verge of tears when I heard a voice behind me asking if I needed help. The woman who asked was a complete stranger, but offered to sit with my daughter at least until she calmed down. Then she reached her arms out to my daughter, who leaped at the chance to tell this woman about her family, read some books, and share a couple of snacks. The flight was a about two hours long, and my daughter sat on the lap of this total stranger for the entirety. She was safe, content and quiet.

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Being a parent can be incredibly isolating precisely at a time when we need support the most. Being a parent who is afraid of the world and all the people in it (except for those who have had a background check) makes us even more isolated. The gift that I received on that plane when a stranger offered to sit with my daughter on her lap was the gift of not being alone. It was a simple moment, but it was one that I don’t think happens enough. Free-Range Kids means that parents can trust the rest of the world with their children.

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Thank you for the work that you do. You have encouraged me, as a parent of very small children, to realize that I am not alone. Sincerely, Kira Dault

Hi Readers: I really enjoyed this Boston Magazine story, by Katherine Ozment. Here’s a snippet from this mom of 2:

In my nine years as a parent, I’ve followed the rules, protocols, and cultural cues that have promised to churn out well-rounded, happy, successful children. I’ve psychoanalyzed my kids’ behavior, supervised an avalanche of activities, and photo-documented their day-to-day existence as if I were a wildlife photographer on the Serengeti. I do my utmost to develop their minds and build up their confidence, while at the same time living with the constant low-level fear that bad things will happen to them. But lately, I’ve begun to wonder if, by becoming so attuned to their every need and so controlling of their every move, I’ve somehow played a small part in changing the very nature of their childhood.

The rest of the article is her talking to people who believe in the value of independence and play (a lot of the folks I like talking to, too), and realizing that unsupervised time is at least as valuable to kids as the super-saturated parent time she had been bathing them in. Not that the answer is to neglect our kids. (Well, maybe a little.) But anyway: giving them space is not neglect.

My favorite anecdote came from her chat with Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd who –

… tells a story about how, years ago, his 11-year-old daughter and several of her friends were planning an overnight campout with some younger neighborhood kids in his backyard. Before the big night, the parents of the younger kids began scouring his lawn for nails and shards of glass. “It just seemed like, Whoa, what is going on with this anxiety?” Weissbourd recalls. The problem wasn’t just the parental anxiety itself — it was how it was actually reshaping the experience for those kids: “I felt like these 10- and 11-year-old girls were so conscientious and these parents came and undermined them.”

Shards of glass they were looking for? What a perfect example of Worst-First thinking: Gee, it’s a suburban lawn. What terror could lurk there?

Great article, great stories, great revelation. In short: Great reading! — L.

Hi Folks! Just got this note about what happens to be one of my favorite movies of all time. As a kid, I even had the novelization of it! (The movie was so popular, someone wrote it up as a book.) Who knows? Maybe watching it made me Free-Range! Anyway, this little analysis comes to us from Elizabeth, a 29-year-old social worker in Boston. Enjoy! L.

A mom and two potential pervs?

Dear Free-Range Kids: This Thanksgiving, I watched Miracle on 34th St. with my family, which is a tradition for us.  I had never noticed how different the attitudes towards men being around children were in this movie compared to today.
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At the beginning of the movie, the mother meets her later love interest after finding out that this stranger has been babysitting her daughter Susan, age 6,  for the day.  Instead of being horrified and calling the cops and a child psychologist to evaluate her for abuse, the mother is very thankful to the kind man for watching her child.  The only thing that bothers her is that he took Susan to see Santa Claus.
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Later in the movie, Kris Kringle stays at the mother’s apartment and puts the little girl to bed.  It’s a heartwarming scene where she tells him what she really wants for Christmas is a house.  Again, there is no question about why this old man is in a little girl’s room.  The audience doesn’t question it either, after all, he’s Santa Claus!  I should point out that at this point in the movie, the mother is still questioning whether Kris Kringle is clinically insane.
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Now, I’m not saying that we should all behave like we’re in a 1940s movie.  But I was saddened to think how a movie like this would be perceived today.  I’m sure the mother would be reviled for being irresponsible, or it would be considered unrealistic that the little girl was never abducted or molested.  And what about a old guy who dandles moppets on his lap all day? Don’t ask! – E.F.