Readers — I don’t want Free-Range Kids to simply become a forum for the latest Zero Tolerance insanity (tempting though that is), so I am posting this story with a different aim. It’s to talk about how we create regulations and laws.
Obviously, the drawing of a bomb is NOT a bomb, which is why the suspension is so ridiculous. But according to the boy’s mom, the school explained its reasoning thusly: “Perception is reality.”
That gave me an idea for a Free-Range Kids motto: Perception is NOT Reality.
The perception that anyone could be harmed, physically or mentally, by a pretend bomb (or gun)? NOT REALITY. The perception that our kids are awash in a sea of predators? NOT REALITY. The perception that kids are at high risk if they sit in a Bumbo chair or wear a pair of flowered sandals? NOT REALITY. The perception that any parent who isn’t watching his or her child every single second is putting that child in danger? Not reality.
The problem is when schools and lawmakers use their perception of danger — skewed and twisted by a skewed and twisted media — to make REAL rules. Getting risk wrong has real-world consequences. As Jeff Stier, head of the Risk Analysis Division of the National Center for Public Policy Research, puts it, imaginary risk leads us down “a dangerously slippery slope into a world where imaginary fear dominates. Children stop being children, parents can no longer parent, and almost any special interest group can label almost anything as the next lurking bogeyman.”
That’s how we end up with parents arrested for letting their kids wait in the car during a simple errand. That’s how we end up with the government recalling sandals, or canceling its kids-at-play stamps. The belief is that all those things are putting kids at risk.
Perception of problems as huge when they are small to non-existent changes childhood. Boom! Freedom explodes into a million little laws, each one capable of crippling childhood wherever it lands. – L