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Media Madness

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, you will be SHOCKED to learn that the driver of the car that was “caught on tape” practically abducting a child (or so the media told us) was actually on a nefarious mission to … buy boat parts! So says this Sheriff’s Report, send to us by Mike Smith:

Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office Locates Suspect Vehicle - 04/07/14 

The Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office reports the suspicious vehicle and driver reported on Ballston Road outside of Sheridan has been identified.

The vehicle and driver of the suspicious vehicle reported to the Yamhill County Sheriff’s Office on Monday, March 31st has been located and is of no further interest. The Sheriff’s Office would like to thank everyone for their concern and assistance in locating the suspicious vehicle.

Family members located the vehicle at a McMinnville business on Saturday afternoon, April 5th. The driver and owner of the vehicle was cooperative with Sheriff’s Deputies, and stated he had driven to the Sheridan area to look for and purchase boat parts and became lost while looking for the business. Sheriff’s Deputies were able to confirm the driver and his dog had been to the area on the day of the reported incident looking for the boat shop, and ultimately made a purchase there. 

And to refresh your memory, here’s the original story…caught on tape!

Readers — Here’s an alarming idea with no basis in fact, as far as I can fathom. The idea:

Have a picture of little Bobby in his football gear and a “My Son is an Honor Student at Kelley Middle School” bumper sticker?

Congratulations, you just told the world and anyone who may want to harm your child, where they can find him.

sticker

Because otherwise, no predator could ever find a school football player at…a school? Possibly playing football? This smug reporter is  suggesting that:

1) Someone is out there who wants to harm your child specifically, for some reason, but

2) Simply could not figure out how to find him. Ah, but by reading the hieroglyphics on your bumper, he is set! I especially love the fact that a stick figure dog tells him that he need not worry, because it’s a “non guard dog” — a fact one can easily ascertain, thanks to the incredibly accuracy of stick figures.

“Congratulations” — author. You have just succumbed to Worst-First Thinking: Thinking up the very worst thing that could happen thanks to some dumb little stickers, and are now spreading this bizarre fear around. And what of all those predators who only pounce on honor students of the month? – L

Readers, This is an excerpt from the book, “From Cupcakes to Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes us Afraid of Everything and How to Fight Back,” by Julie Gunlock (her real name — not a political statement!).  I love this book for its smart, funny look at the excessive fears foisted upon parents, forcing us to hover, because it really does feel as if everything — from cupcakes to chemicals — is out to harm our kids:

From Cupcakes to Chemicals, by Julie Gunlock. Excerpt from Chapter 2, “Be Afraid of Everything”

A few years ago, I was watching the news and was shocked to learn that my garden hose was incredibly dangerous. Say what? The newscaster anachoring the program that night seemed really upset about this story. He leaned forward in his seat, stuttered…and…wait…did I see him tear up? Did his voice just crack? Oh my gosh, he’s going to cry!

This.is.a.serious.problem. SOMETHING MUST BE DONE! NOW!

…Yet the facts behind the “killer garden hoses lurking in your backyard” are hardly scary. The news story centered on the fact that most garden hoses are made of polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC. PVC has high levels of lead and other chemicals and, therefore, the claim was that since children and pets sometimes drink from garden hoses, they were getting big doses of toxins when taking the occasional sip.

But before you read any more, just think about it: Do children and pets really drink a lot of water from garden hoses? Is the garden hose a main source of water for children and pets? Are they drinking gallons of water this way?

Sure, during summer months, kids consume some “garden hose water” as they play in the sprinkler or splash in the kiddie pool. They make take a gulp or two when mom’s watering the garden. But in general, kids do not get the bulk of their water in any given day — much less during their lives — from the garden hose.

…I was lucky I had time to look into this story and question its merits. I was able to ignore the hysteria and consider the facts. And those facts are reassuring. Most garden hoses are indeed made of polyvinyl chloride, which is toxic if consumed in large quantities. Yet it is impossible — let me repeat that word, impossible — for a human to consume enough water to reach toxic levels of PVC exposure. Why is this impossible? Because the amount of chemical that leaches into the water is so minuscule that a person would have to consume massive amounts of garden hose water in order for it to be a problem. And if a person attempted to drink the amount of water required to reach PVC toxicity, they’d first die of dilutional hyponatremia — death by water overdose.

…[But] right now there are moms out there who are sitting on patios watching their toddlers run through the sprinkler or jump in the kiddie pool who are filled with fear of their garden hose. You can almost envision the scene: Instead of just enjoying the moment watching their kids play and laugh, these moms are periodically stopping to pester junior not to drink through the hose.

Remember: Nothing is safe and your kids are under constant threat.

Remember: Nothing is safe to eat, do or buy, and your kids are under constant threat.

 

UPDATE! I love this comment so much, I have to highlight it here:

“When I was a little girl, an unarmed adult wandering the halls was likely to be questioned, not presumed to be a psychotic mass murderer.”

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Readers — This  surprising story ran in yesterday’s New York Times about the news media’s new favorite story, finding “breeches” in school security. As reporter John Eligon begins:

The three news reports followed the same format: Television reporters walked into schools with hidden cameras, under the premise of testing the security measures. Each time, the anchors provided a sobering assessment of the findings.

“One of the more depressing reports I’ve seen in a long time,” said Matt Lauer, the “Today” show host, after a report showed unsettling lapses in security.

“What we uncovered may shock you,” Chuck Scarborough warned viewers of WNBC in New York.

Similarly, an anchor with the NBC affiliate in St. Louis prefaced a story by saying, “Some of it will disturb you.”

What disturbed ME — aside from the schools that went on lockdown, the kids made to cower in the classroom, and the not insignificant possibility of someone shooting the reporter — was summed up by Al Tomkins, senior faculty for broadcasting and online at the Poynter Institute, who told Eligon:

“What happens is you’re spending all this energy and time investigating school safety when that’s already the single safest place for your child anyway… [This] sort of reaffirms the false notion that my kids are really in danger at school when they’re not.”

Exactly. Like all the sweeps week stories where reporters go to playgrounds to film how easily kids can be lured away — as if to suggest strangers are doing this all the time — this new generation of reporters would make us believe our kids are in grave danger anytime any adult steps foot in a school.

That outlook reinforces the notion that all strangers are at least somewhat likely to be madmen, and that therefore all schools MUST be hermetically sealed. (See earlier post, “Strangers in the Schools”) The upshot is letters like the one I got a few weeks ago from a mom in an Iowa town of 1000, where students are no longer allowed to hold the door open for ANY adult, even one they know. (Which, in a town of 1000, is probably everyone.)

The media tells itself it does these reports as a public service. It does them for ratings, and the public be damned. – L

School or prison? Does it matter?

School or prison? Fearmongering reporters push to make them the same!

Students abandoned by buses, forced to walk back from field trip

WKRN, Nashville News, Nashville Weather and Sports

Short story short: Nashville, TN, high school students went on a field trip. Afterward, the buses dropped them off at McDonald’s and then had to peel off to go on their normal routes. Hence, the kids had to WALK BACK to the school (with their teachers). Can you imagine???

This is such a classic clip of local reporting. Not only was seeing kids outside as odd as seeing a gaggle of gazelles on Main Street, but the investigative  reporter took it upon himself to re-create this historic hike to make sure it really WAS less than a mile. Ah ha! It was more like four fifths of a mile! Heads will roll!  As he reported: 

A decision was made by teachers and school officials to walk the rest of the way to school. [Let's hope they don't lose their jobs!] 

MNPS officials said the half-mile walk is well within the “walk zone,” as stated in the policy guide. [Sounds like they had to defend this daring decision.] 

But by News 2′s calculations, the walk was closer to 8/10 of a mile [Oh my!] and included crossing a busy intersection to Foster Avenue, where the sidewalk is not complete. [It's like Moses coming to the Red Sea!]  

Sophomore Angela Onan wasn’t thrilled about the walk. “We were walking on the sidewalk, cars were passing us. It was a bit dangerous, but it was okay,” Onan said as her mother picked her up after school Friday. “It was not fun.” [If only she could have been back in class instead of outside on a sunny day!]

I’m just waiting for the follow-up piece when they fire the bus drivers and demand the superintendent resign for endangering the children! – L. 

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

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