header image
 

Bad Laws, Rules and Verdicts

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.

Readers — So a 79-year-old sub in New Hampshire (the good ol’ “Live Free or Die” state) was given the choice: De-friend all the students you’ve friended on Facebook or never work in this school system again.

She chose the latter.

This story is dismaying for a bunch of reasons, the first being that Facebook is like the modern-day town center, where people meet and greet — even people of different ages. Seeing it as the Pedophile Pages is like seeing the outside world as Child Snatch-o-Rama.

Also disturbing is the comment one supporter of the rule wrote on Facebook itself (the devil’s tool):  “Rules are rules and while her intentions MIGHT be good, I am sure parents don’t want male teachers friending their 14/15 year old daughters on facebook!”

MIGHT be good? Like there’s a decent chance this lady was really out to lure jail bait back to her lair? And what’s with the demonization of male teachers? Oh right…it’s the demonization of males who are teachers. Because if all teachers are suspect, MALE teachers are simply terrifying. – L.

P.S. Thanks to William Noren for sending and bringing up all these great points!

UPDATE: Reader Crystallee Newton  explains what brought this case to the fore:

This was a new rule in response to a recent scandal where a young male teacher was sexually abusing a female student. This happened about 30 minutes from where I live. Local news stories interviewed current and former students of this teacher (who is a substitute, by the way, not a full time teacher) and by all accounts she is a lovely older woman who uses her FB page to spread inspiration to her friends (yes, including students) and for years has been a positive influence to the students she interacted with. This town is known for it’s crippling poverty and drug abuse. The kids in that district need more people like this woman. After the abuse scandal, the school district made a knee-jerk reaction policy to ban FB friendships between students and teachers in an attempt to look like they were doing something. The student who was assaulted by her teacher (allegedly multiple times) was not assaulted over FB, she was sexually molested in a classroom at her school. The school boa
rd should try figuring out how that happened with no one noticing or being aware of the situation. It certainly had nothing to do with an almost 80 year old substitute teacher passing along inspirational quotes to kids who look up to her. That’s why this is a Free-Range issue. This is just another example of these blanket bans that protect no one, and punish innocent people. – Crystallee 

I do NOT like this school's anti-social paranoia.

I do NOT like this school’s anti-social paranoia.

 

 

Yes, it seems to be true, though the facts are a little confusing (as this TV story suggests):  A man named Richard Wright was giving out money to strangers and telling them to “Thank God!” if they actually needed the cash, or pass it along if they didn’t. For this he seems to have been scooped up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and taken against his will to a psych ward for evaluation:

Even though Wright is being held in the psych ward of Queen Elizabeth’s Hospital, Pierre Bourdages, spokesman for the Halifax Regional Police, confirmed that Wright has not broken any laws. This only adds to the frustration felt by members of the public who want to see Wright released immediately.

Somehow this reminds me of my favorite movie from childhood, Miracle on 34th Street, where Santa is carted away for being…Santa. It also reminds me of a column article I wrote for the NY Sun upon the death of the Larry Stewart, the man who gave strangers $100 bills just for the joy of helping others. I tried the same thing for a day (with twenties) and it was exhilarating. In fact, it was SO fun that I promised myself I’d do it annually and…haven’t.

So “crazy” Richard Wright is reminding me to be crazy, too. – L

What kind of crazy person is NICE to strangers?

What kind of crazy person is NICE to strangers?

Readers — This just in:

Dear Free-Range Kids: Just wanted to bring your attention to this bill proposed in the Rhode Island legislature. Here’s what I posted on my FB wall:

Attention all parents: Here’s a bill proposed by reps Williams, Edwards, O’Brien, Messier, and Slater. They don’t think your children are safe enough and have introduced H-7578 which would “require that for school bus transportation provided to children enrolled in grades kindergarten through six (6), a parent, guardian or authorized person be present at the child’s designated bus stops.”

AND if that’s not enough the bill requires the parent to “notify the school in writing with the name, age and relationship of the person authorized to accept the child at the designated home bound bus stop; provided, no authorization shall be allowed for persons under the age of sixteen (16) years old.”

So your 12-year-old child is not old enough to wait at the bus stop alone or get off the bus and walk home by themselves. PLEASE — Emma walked a mile to school in 6th grade and managed to wait for and get home from the bus alone starting in 3rd grade. Can we all say Nanny State? Hopefully this one won’t go anywhere — but really — what are these reps thinking? Here are their emails:

Anastasia P. Williams E-mail: rep-williams@rilin.state.ri.us

John G. Edwards E-mail: rep-edwards@rilin.state.ri.us

William W. O’Brien  E-mail: Rep-obrien@rilin.state.ri.us

Mary Duffy Messier E-mail: rep-messier@rilin.state.ri.us

Scott Slater  E-mail: Rep-slater@rilin.state.ri.us

 Thanks — Beth

Lenore here: Great letter, great cause. And think of the repercussions: How will any parent ever think it’s safe for a kid to walk to school, or play outside, if even taking the bus requires door-to-door adult supervision? 

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

Law would make it illegal for any child under 7th grade to get on or off bus without a guardian present.

UPDATE: Good news! Following talks with the Pennsylvania Council for the Blind, the school district will allow an “orientation and mobility instructor” to appraise Deven’s situation, and possibly allow him to get off the bus on his own (with some caveats). The update is here

Readers — This  story about a blind kid who doesn’t want to be babied by his (lawsuit-fearing) school  is all about making a Free-Range Kid into an invalid:

Born blind, Deven Phillips has been in Nazareth Area schools his entire life. His mother, Paula Smith, has made every effort to raise her 13-year-old son to be independent. But after a year and a half of getting off his school bus unattended, the school district informed his mother that policy must change.

Briefly: Deven had been driven “curb to curb” until sixth grade. Then, at last!, he was ready to join his peers on regular school bus. For the past year and a half now he’d been let off at his bus stop, same as any other kid.  But one day this winter, when snow and ice blocked the regular stop, he got  a little turned around when he got off and the bus driver had to tell him which direction to walk. That was all it took for his school to go nuts with worry, either for his safety, or its own liability. School Superintendent Dennis Riker wrote to the mom:

“The major concern with the bus stop is Deven’s orientation when he exits the bus. … Therefore, it’s my recommendation to our transportation office that an individual be required to be at the bus stop to assist Deven, or our transportation department will provide curb-to-curb service. Both of these options, supported by the (school district’s) attorney, would be in place on a permanent basis, even when the inclement weather season ends.”

Yes, even when it’s nice outside, the proud and independent young man will be treated like he’s helpless.

This story hits close to home for me. My husband’s dad went blind at 16 and his parents fought to have him stay in his mainstream school, where he’d been a failing student. He struggled to finish, and went on to law school where he graduated…valedictorian.

Meantime, Deven’s school is teaching him this life lesson: “You think you can make in the world, but you can’t.” Lovely. – L

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: "Life is a daring adventure...so make sure someone is always taking care of you. Also, avoid lawsuits."

(Mis)remember the words of Helen Keller: “Life is a daring adventure…so avoid it.” 

Readers — While we’re thinking back on news stories that changed childhood (see the post below this one, on Kitty Genovese), take a look at this video just released by the New York Times chronicling the McMartin pre-school Santanic panic. If this intrigues or outrages you (it will), I’d also recommend the incredibly gripping James Woods’ movie about the case, “Indictment,” as well as Debbie Nathan‘s book, Satan’s Silence: Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt. Debbie is in the Times’ video, too.  -  L

\

 

From my piece on Time.com today. (Time writes the headlines, not me):

How Kitty Genovese Destroyed Childhood

We once may have been too slow to call the cops. Now we’ll dial 911 if we see a couple kids walking alone to get pizza.

by Lenore Skenazy

Kitty Genovese was stabbed to death 50 years ago today. She was 28. A tragedy. The press reported 38 onlookers heard her screams and decided not to intervene. That account has since come under fire, but it nonetheless created a perception of ourselves (and certainly New Yorkers) as unconscionably reluctant to get involved.

We’ve been making up for it ever since — and that’s too bad.

We may once have been too slow to call the cops (though that’s still disputed), but today we are definitely too fast. Oh, I don’t mean we shouldn’t dial 911 if we see someone being murdered, or threatened, or hurt. Of course we should! In fact, the simple 911 number to call for emergencies was developed partly in response to the Genovese murder: Now everyone could have a quick, easy way to summon the cops anytime, anyplace. A great leap forward.

The leap sideways, or perhaps downward, came as the general public gradually became convinced that it not only had an obligation to help anyone in danger, it had the obligation to call the cops anytime it noticed people who could be in danger, especially kids, even if they were fine and dandy at the time. This has given rise to a near mania for calling the cops when people spot a child on his or her own anywhere in public.

Read the rest here.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.

Reports of uninvolved bystanders led to hyper-involvement today.