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Readers — Sometimes I tweet these smaller stories, which allows me to get them out to the public without writing a whole post. But since I worry not everyone who reads the blog sees my tweets, from time to time I am going to start putting little items here without much comment. I just want them to be seen. I think you can guess how I feel about this crime blotter item from upstate New York. (I have removed the mom’s name):

J. B., 28…was charged with endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, in connection with an alleged incident that occurred outside the Saratoga Springs Public Library shortly before 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon.

Police said the woman left her five-month-old daughter unattended in her vehicle for approximately three minutes. B. had re-entered the library to receive her cell phone, according to court documents. The child was left unsecured in an infant carrier and was completely covered with a light blanket, police said. Members of Saratoga County’s Child Protective Services were contacted and responded to assess the situation. The child was unharmed by the incident. B. was released on her own recognizance. Regulations vary from state-to-state regarding the legality of children being left unattended in a vehicle.  

...and Hysteria!

…and Hysteria!

Readers — A Michigan mom is upset not just that her 8-year-old daughter hopped a public bus without telling her, but that the bus driver didn’t immediately take some kind of unspecified but heroic action to stop this non-catastrophe:

Two things in particular gall me about this story:

1 – The air time afforded to Worst-First thinking. “The mom [is] just grateful that what COULD have happened didn’t,” the dutifully grave reporter intones. Playing her own part, the mom pipes up:

“Oh my goodness, just all kinds of thoughts run through your mind, somebody could’ve taken her, she could’ve just been lost somewhere downtown.I know a lot of kids who leave home don’t make it back.”

Really? Name one.

I wish the reporter had said that!

2 – Also per usual, the mom is demanding a complete overhaul of the way the bus authority does business, based on this one, single, uneventful event. Hooray for CATA (Capital Area Transit Authority) for not immediately groveling, “You’re right! From now on we will stop the bus in its tracks when anyone young and competent tries to ride without a  guardian.”  Amtrak could use balls like these.

Note that while the mom was angry, the kid refused to see her adventure as anything but fun. “I made some friends!”

It sounded like someone off-screen was chuckling at that pluck — the reporter or the mom — but the mom still had to sum it up this way: “If my kid could do it , some other kids could too.”

To me, that’s an endorsement of her child’s independence. But I don’t think that’s how she meant it. – L

Readers — I am honored to present this brilliant piece by Jan Macvarish, a research fellow at the University of Kent and co-author of the book Parenting Culture Studies, which asks how come the way we feed, talk to, and play with our kids has become the stuff of public debate and government policy? (Boldface is mine.) – L

Babies’ Brains and Intensive Parenting by Jan Macvarish

Last week, a Free Range Kids’ post, We Cannot Mold Kids Into Exactly Who We Want Them to Be, kindly drew attention to our latest report. Now I’d like to say a little more about our analysis of the adoption of ‘brain claims’ by British politicians in recent years.

UK parents have become accustomed to hearing that they need to be more involved in their children’s homework, to monitor screen time more closely, to second-guess the school’s latest rules for what constitutes a healthy lunchbox, to ensure that little girls don’t dress in ways which might be construed as ‘sexualised’, not to mention the overwhelming admonition, from conception onwards, that  ‘breast is best’.

From the late 1990s, British politicians of all shades have talked of parenting as a problem.

Amongst other social problems, parents have been blamed for poverty and lack of social mobility, physical and mental health problems, obesity, crime and violence. And so the everyday choices of family life are said to be significant not only for individual children and their families, but to be the very stuff which determines society’s future. A growing feature of policy directed at improving parenting has been the incorporation of ‘brain claims’: citations of neuroscientific studies, dramatic statements from child neuro-psychologists and images of brains, apparently atrophied by parental neglect:

This is your brain on imperfect parenting.

This is your brain on imperfect parenting.

US parents will already be familiar with brain-based parenting expertise, advising parents to maximise their babies’ cognitive development from gestation onwards, to fully exploit the 0-3-year-old window of the ‘amazing’ infant brain. Many UK parents, too, will have bought into the brain-stimulation trend, playing Mozart CDs to their bumps, sitting their babies in front of Baby Einstein DVDs and hanging black and white toys above the crib.

But what is noticeable in policy’s use of neuroscience is that it never speaks of maximising chlidren’s intelligence but rather employs the authority of scientific ‘evidence’ to make doom-laden ‘now or never’ pronouncements on the need for ever earlier state intervention into the lives of families. If parents are not trained to attune to their baby’s neurological development, it is argued, their offspring will not develop emotionally and socially, this will, in turn, impede their intellectual development when it is time for formal school. Ultimately this will impede social mobility and reproduce current social inequalities.

Although brain advocates argue that novel insights from neuroscience mean that ‘we now know’ what babies require and what kind of training parents need, in fact, brain claims entered a culture in which there is already a strong presumption that ‘something must be done’ about parenting.

The images and vocabulary of the brain are used to strengthen an imperative for particular interventions with parents assumed to lack the skills or emotional sophistication, to relate to their babies in ways that will secure their development.

As readers of this blog will be well aware, the idea that the early years have lifelong consequences because of their significance to brain development places incredible pressures on parents to get it right. This applies to the twenty-something with a surprise pregnancy, who worries how her partying might have affected the fetal brain, to the thirty-something professional mother worried about achieving a sufficiently strong attachment before the end of her maternity leave, and to the poorer young mother, assigned a specialist nurse practitioner as part of the Nurse Family Partnership, to school her in ways of singing, reading, touching and talking to the baby that will ‘fire up the neurons’.

Concerns are also being raised by scholars of social work that ‘neurotrash’ [shoddy or mis-interpreted brain research] is being used to argue for increasing numbers of forced adoptions, with birth parents prejudged as inadequate, having their babies removed by social services and placed in adoptive families, before irreparable harm can be done to their neurological development.

As respondents to Lenore’s post about our study clearly illustrate, thinking through the prism of the infant brain unhelpfully reinforces parental determinism — the idea that parents are the ultimate ‘architects’ of the grown child’s life — and reinterprets family practices of love and care as socially significant, therefore meriting external evaluation and improvement from experts, whether commercial or state-led.

Further information about the project and its findings can be found here.

Project findings are also discussed in more detail in the book Parenting Culture Studies. – JM

Readers — A few weeks back a mom in Arizona, yes, hot Arizona, left her kids in the car when she went in to a job interview. This was clearly not the greatest thing to do, but for her, at the moment, it seemed like the only option. Without a home to live in or people to help her, she needed a place for her kids to stay while she tried to get a job to lift them all out of that awful situation.

Of course she was arrested for negligence, but instead of public outcry against her, the tide seems to be going the other way, and $60,000 has been raised on her behalf.

This is marvelous news. To repeat: No one thinks leaving kids in a hot car for a long stretch is a good idea. It is a bad idea. But when there seems to be no other option and a mom is clearly trying to climb out of that pit of poverty and hopelessness, shoving her back down is not a “teachable moment,” it’s a terrible one. – L.

easter egg hunt rules

Readers — A friend who’d like to be identified only as Catherine L. posted the  rules from her town’s Easter Egg hunt (above) on Facebook. These include: 

Wristbands indicate the age group of each child and the number on the band matches the number issued to the parent.

After each hunt, children will be released only to the adult with the corresponding number from the wristband.

In her post, Catherine wrote:

“How do you suck the fun out of an Easter Egg hunt? Treat every adult like a potential kidnapper and every child like they are in mortal danger. The sheeple just went along with it. I was the only one who complained. “

Many, many commenters then said that it wasn’t a big deal, and if she didn’t like the set-up, she didn’t have to participate, which is certainly true. But to Catherine —  and me —  the issue wasn’t whether it was BIG deal or not. The issue is how we are gradually accepting the idea that  evil adults are scooping up children from public places often enough that we must constantly be on guard.

I”m sure there were probably some insurance concerns that prompted these rules, as well, and maybe even logistics. But it is all of a piece: At base these slight, “simple” new requirements enshrine a view that kids need constant supervision if they venture out into the public. This dark (and increasingly legally upheld) view of the world is making us less likely to send our kids to the park, less likely to let them walk to school, and less likely to act as a community: “Can you pick up Megan at the end of the hunt? I have to go make lunch. I told her she could go home with you.”

After reading a lot of commenters poo-pooing her concerns, Catherine wrote:

“I have an issue with me as the parent having my authority taken away. I’m 34 years old. I have been entrusted with 3 children. I think I can handle making sure they don’t get abducted and an egg hunt. I don’t need to be questioned by strangers to check my son’s bracelet against my name tag. The implication that nobody can be trusted made me angry and sad.”

Me too. But don’t let it ruin your Easter! Have a hoppy one. – L.

Readers — Sometimes I hear about stories in an untimely manner — like this one, which happened a year ago but is making my blood reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so I have to write about it even at this late date:

Apparently Homeland Security felt it needed to train officers to shoot with “No More Hesitation.” I.e., it wanted officers trained not to think twice when faced with danger. So to INSTILL  that hair-trigger response, our government purchased target practice posters featuring kids, old ladies in their kitchens, and pregnant women.

What’s so disturbing about this? Don’t we WANT our protectors to develop nerves of steel?

No. We want them to develop quick instincts, critical thinking, and calm. The idea of not distinguishing between a likely and unlikely threat reminds me of Zero Tolerance: every “incident” no matter how small or ridiculous is treated the same as a clear and present danger. Thus a kid with a pen knife is treated as harshly as a kid with an Uzi. Homeland Security seems equally bent on creating a culture of obtuseness: “I don’t care if it’s a guy from Chechnya who bought a one-way ticket with cash or a gray-haired lady eating All-Bran in her kitchen, you never know who could be a terrorist!”

Moreover, when we start viewing absolutely everyone as a possible threat, it is a different world we see: A world filled with evil and disguises, rather than the world we really live in: far from perfect, but hardly Halo 3. Practicing on the target of a granny, or tween girl in her driveway, reinforces the idea that we are under siege by everyone, everywhere. Trust no one, ever. Be on guard at all times.


A couple of years ago I was speaking at a convention of school bus fleet owners. After my talk, which was about how we got so scared for our children, the next speaker came on stage: She was from the FBI and she spent an hour talking about how school bus drivers must always be on the alert for terrorists. She told the owners to tell their drivers to look out for anyone they saw along the bus route who wasn’t normally there. “I don’t care if it’s a mother with her three children. If she wasn’t there yesterday, WHY is she there today?” That’s not an exact quote, but it is the example she gave: Fear for the worst if you suddenly see a mom you don’t know, and her young kids.

The chances that a mom with three young kids was walking near the school bus with the intention of blowing it up — those odds were not discussed. The mere fact that the mom  COULD blow up the bus was enough to merit a warning from this government employee.

It is good to be prepared. It is not good, or even safe, to be paranoid. When we are told that using our own perceptions, knowledge, compassion and humanity is a HINDRANCE to safety, we are being brainwashed into hysteria.

I’d rather have officers hesitate just long enough to figure out what’s actually going on, than have them so scared and suspicious of everyone that they aim, shoot, and then think.  - L

Don't shoot till you see the whites of the eyes of the fetus?

Don’t shoot till you see the whites of the eyes of the fetus?

Readers, Here’s a video that has gotten over 10 million hits so far:

It’s about motherhood being the hardest job at all, requiring 135 hours a week, lots of standing, very little sleeping and zero breaks.

But as “The Evil H.R. Lady” points out in this brilliant post, motherhood is not the utterly difficult, demanding, exhausting job society (and this video) paint it as. It’s only that way if we believe our kids can’t do anything safely or successfully on their own. So, says Evil H.R. Lady:

….You are doing it wrong if you never get to sit down, never get to eat lunch, and never get a break of any kind. You are not teaching your child to become an adult, you are teaching them to remain in perpetual toddler hood. This is bad parenting. I don’t know any mothers — even mothers of special needs kids — that don’t get a break. (And I will concede that some special needs kids require a tremendous amount of care from their parents–dad too!–and that may qualify as the most difficult job. But most moms have just regular kids–with problems here and there, and difficulties in different areas, but nothing requiring 24 hour nursing level care.)

Exaggerating the amount of work and expertise needed to parent not only creates guilt on the part of parents (who can live up to those expectations?). It also makes it seem like the best parents are the ones who treat their kids as helpless and endangered for as long as possible. If you believe parenting involves gradually letting go, well, gradually it gets easier.

This cult of motherhood SEEMS to venerate women, but really it is all about making them feel bad if they actually trust their kids to thrive without constant,  obsessive assistance.  - L