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All posts in 2012

Hi Readers! Over at the Huffington Post today you can read about a bunch of 2012 Free-Range Kids FAILS, including the stories of  parents in two different states arrested for letting their kids play outside unsupervised. (Only one did jail time.) Thanks to Lisa Belkin for requesting the round up!

Meantime, a few weeks back I asked you for best and worst Free-Range moments of 2012. Here are a few — and some more are recounted in the HuffPo post. Let’s toast to a 2013 free of unnecessary fears and restrictions for our kids, and a whole lot of joy. – L.

BEST:  Debra, a new mom in Australia, was in the throes of post-partum depression and her son would not stop crying. “On one of his worst evenings,” she writes, “I lost it. He’d been screaming non-stop for about three hours.… I went into the other room to scream and cry desperately myself when I heard a knock on the door.” There stood a new-ish neighbor. “She said, ‘Hi, what’s his name? How about I take him for a little walk, okay?’” Debra handed over her son and 10 minutes later thought: Oh my God — WHAT HAVE I DONE?  “I hadn’t even asked her name!” Reminding herself that most people are NOT kidnappers, she hurried over to the house she guessed was the woman’s. Ushered in, “I found my baby snuggled well and finally sleeping.” A few days later, Debra dropped by with a thank you box of chocolates. Better still: She knows she can drop by again, with her baby.

BEST: “My 7-year-old stays at school for after-care till around 5. We signed him up for soccer at a park one block away at 4:30,” wrote a mom named Amy. She wanted him to be allowed to leave early, on his own, so she began gearing up for a battle with the authorities: “I calculated how long it would take for him to walk and found crime statistics for the neighborhood.” At last she met with the principal who said…great idea! Now the boy walks to soccer and loves his independence.

WORST: “Just received this email from the school district,” announced a mom named Marie, pasting in the letter: “’Dear Parents: We want to make you aware of an incident this morning that occurred in or near your children’s school attendance area.” What incident? A man in a van attempted to ask a high school student a question. That’s it. A guy asked a question – and inspired school-wide panic.

 WORST: “My two not-so-bad ‘worst’ experiences weren’t  so much personal problems as examples of bureaucratic stupidity that I had to put up with. Both involved my then-19-year-old son,” wrote Pentamom.

“The first one was the permission slip for the traditional last day of school ‘Senior Slip ‘n Slide.’ They set up a slip n’ slide in the stadium that adjoins the school, and the seniors get to play on it for a couple of hours. This is a college-prep magnet school with a very low rate of serious disciplinary problems.

“But still, for a kid who is old enough to be in Afghanistan, learning to be a firefighter, or driving a delivery truck, I had to sign a permission slip that contained the sentence, ‘I understand that my student WILL GET WET.’

“A couple of weeks later we dealt with the clearances for his summer job. In order for him to work cleaning and painting an EMPTY elementary school over the summer, he had to get three clearances — at the cost of ~$50 plus a two-week hiring delay until the clearances came through. All because ‘Better safe than sorry!’”

How about a new motto for next year for, readers? If you’ve got one, send it in! – L.  

Just how dangerous is the library when it comes to kids? Apparently too dangerous to have any of them under the age of 12 anywhere on the premises unsupervised — even if their parents are just a room away.

Or so goes the reasoning at the Boulder, CO, public library, which sent this letter, in response to a parent’s dismay at the new rule. The boldface is mine.  - L.

Dear Mr. H:

I am sending this reply to your communication of December 14, 2012, on behalf of the Boulder Public Library Commission.

The Boulder Public Library Commission received your message asking about the new Boulder Public Library rules of conduct regarding children age 11 and under needing to be with an adult while in the library.  The rule reads as follows:

No person may leave children, age 11 and under, or dependent adults unattended.

First we would like to clarify for you that children of all ages are welcome in the Boulder Public Library, and, that children are not banned from the library.  Library staff are happy to assist children with selecting and checking out library materials, and, providing reference and readers’ advisory service.  The reasoning behind instituting this new rule, which is consistent with many other public library systems across the nation, is, to address concerns about children being left alone in the youth area, or in the library in general, while parents or caregivers were either absent or in other sections of the building.

Our library staff values the safety and wellbeing of children, however, our resources do not make it possible for us to provide constant supervision and oversight of children, especially if they were to wander off inside or outside our buildings.

The libraries are public buildings, and, open to everyone.  Because the library is a public place, a child’s safety cannot be guaranteed.  Children may encounter hazards such as stairs, elevators, doors, furniture, electrical equipment, or, other library patrons.  At the Main Boulder Public Library alone, almost one million patrons walk through the doors each year.  The safety of our patrons, especially children and dependent adults, is our highest priority.

We appreciate your family’s enthusiasm for public libraries and we look forward to serving you.  We also appreciate that feedback you have provided on the process of soliciting public feedback and how we can continue to improve upon that.

Lenore here again: The letter was then signed by a librarian who must have forgotten what libraries exist for, which is to educate, enlighten and entertain the entire population of a town. Those activities do not REQUIRE  “constant” supervision. To assume they do is to assume either outrageous danger or incredible incompetence.

In the absence of any true danger, the librarian has decided kids as old as 11 will be stumped, or even mangled, by doors and stairs. In the absence of common sense, she goes on to assume that therefore it is the librarian’s job to  make sure, for instance, that each child adequately grasps the handle on the door, carefully pulls it open and, after somehow making it fully through the dastardly portal, proceeds safely about the room, despite  being surrounded by something surely no child has ever encountered before: furniture.

The kind of bizarre world view required to write this kind of letter makes me think the librarian should quit her job and start writing one of those dystopian middle school novels so popular today. – L.

UPDATE! Here’s an article on the library issue in the local paper, The Daily Camera. Reporter Erica Meltzer interviewed the library spokeswoman, Jennifer Bray:

Bray said the library is a welcoming place for children and families, and no one will be asking the ages of older children who are behaving appropriately.

SO WHY ISN’T THAT THE OFFICIAL RULE? Write it this way: “Any well-behaved child is welcome at the library. And any child behaving badly will be asked to leave.”  THAT would make sense! – L.

Aieee! TWO dangers a child might encounter at the library: A door AND a person!

Hi Readers — I don’t pretend that these parents are anything other than off-the-charts weird. But they do give a glimpse at the furthest reaches of helicopter-dom,  in that they sent their daughter off to college but continued to drop in on her unannounced — despite the 600 miles that should have separated them — even as they monitored her every phone call and email, electronically. It’s as if they were on the trail of a crime, and in a way, they were. She’s guilty of growing up!

In this case, the parents sought to have their seemingly normal, talented daughter declared decadent and mentally ill.  According to Cincinnati.com:

They accused her of using illegal drugs, promiscuity and suffering from mental woes. She insisted none of that was true and asked them to stop, but their accusations escalated. They informed her department head she had mental issues that could force them to go to court to have her treated.

The parents knew about what they saw as their daughter’s problems because, they admit, they installed monitoring software on her laptop and cellphone, allowing them to see her every keystroke and phone number dialed or received. It was “like I was a dog with a collar on,” said the daughter, a dean’s list student every quarter.

The parents became such an issue that the school hired security guards to keep them out of their daughter’s performances. When the parents stopped paying her tuition because she’d cut off all contact with them, the school gave her a full scholarship for her final year.

Some commenters may suggest that as long as a child accepts monetary support from her parents, she still IS their baby, but I disagree. Yes, she should be grateful, but no, she is not her parents’ pet.

In any case, I’m thrilled the college granted the gal her final year’s tuition and I hope that parents everywhere recoil at this near parody of parenting. In fact, I see a major Hollywood movie in the making. – L.

Hi Readers — A few posts back, I asked you to send in the changes, if any, your schools were making in the wake of Sandy Hook. This one is the strangest. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: I heard from a friend today who went to her first grader’s holiday concert. Not only were they required to sign in, but they had to turn in their car keys in the office! What the heck? What on earth did that accomplish except a huge headache for the admins working in the office?

What the heck is all I can say about those administrators, too. Well, also: How dare they? And what’s their point? And I hope they feel a whole lot safer, now that they’ve punished all the parents for attending the holiday concert by CAR, just like a terrorist would! – L.

Children won’t be safe until parents have to ask the principal for their keys back.

Hi Readers! Normally I write about how we should avoid Worst-First Thinking — thinking up the WORST case scenario FIRST and proceeding as if it’s likely to happen, immediately. But in this case, I was wrong! Look at what happened to this reader’s family just last night!

Dear Free-Range Kids: There’s a jolly stranger sneaking in my house tonight… my kids talked to him and now he’s coming here!

I am so sorry I even suggested that it is EVER safe for a child to speak to a stranger. I can only hope the guy leaves quickly and that your kids are snug in their beds (with a pivoting, infra-red baby monitor on, of course), visions of agave plums dancing in their heads. What a close call! – L.

These kids are ASKING for trouble.


Hi Folks! Here are some thoughts, culled from your comments, that resonated for me. – L.

My sympathies go out to the parents and families. I cannot imagine what they must be going through. On the other hand, I have heard as much as I want to hear about it. Evil exists in this world and insensitive as it sounds, talking endlessly about this event is not going to shine any light on why it happened.

Shhh…I feel the same way. I even worry that focusing so much on it does the opposite of shine a light. It creates darkness: a belief that because 20 children died somewhere, suddenly,  then all children are in danger everywhere, always. That belief can lead beyond sensible safety precautions to community-corroding measures, like the school in Anchorage (4,461 miles away from Sandy Hook) that held its annual Christmas concert over the weekend, but this time required all guests to sign in.

Uh – how did that make anyone safer? All it did was add a new layer of bureaucracy, while subtly suggesting that the school considers all visitors at least POSSIBLY mass murderers. (Unless they have proper I.D.s. Then they’re fine.)

Another reader voiced this rather taboo thought:

Why leave teddy bears in shrines when you could send toys to children in need?

And another:

Why don’t we grieve for all murdered children this way, including, for instance, the poor ones killed in housing projects?

This one’s from a teacher:

Many other staff members, besides myself, have pointed out that no matter how many safety procedures we have, if a crazy person with a gun wanted to shoot his way into the school there would be nothing to stop him.  Whenever anyone asks what we’re “doing in response” I always say nothing really, sometimes bad things just happen.

And here’s one more subversive thinker:

I don’t need to watch interviews with 7-year-olds to know that they will need a lot of time to heal. I don’t need to see the pictures of the children and adults who were murdered to know that their families will miss them forever. I don’t need to know what happened at the funerals to know that this is one of the hardest days of these parents’ lives. And I don’t need to talk to my friends about how devastated I am. Because although I feel sad, my life will be the same as it was before, in just a matter of days. The lives of those who were actually there, and who lost loved ones, will never be the same. My wallowing will not do anything for them.

Wallowing is not always voluntary, of course. The sadness hits different people different ways. But to deliberately retreat from the mass misery is not evil or uncaring or even a bad idea.  It’ s just uncommon. – L.

Hi Folks! This cartoon comes to us from Russia, which apparently has some similar issues to the United States, when it comes to authorities deciding whether parents are “good” enough. Small world! – L.

Mary! We have a boy!


Knock knock.

“Freeze! Child Protection Police! Record the gravely unsanitary conditions and prepare to remove the baby!”