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Other Places Other Eras

Readers — You will LOVE this essay, by Bunmi Laditan, author of The Honest Toddler: A Child’s Guide to Parenting. (What a great title!) An excerpt:

…Today, parents are being fed the idea that it benefits children to constantly be hand in hand, face to face, “What do you need my precious darling? How can I make your childhood amazing?” You can’t walk through Pinterest without tripping over 100 Indoor Summer Craft Ideas, 200 Inside Activities for Winter, 600 Things To Do With Your Kids In The Summer. 14 Million Pose Ideas For Elf on The Shelf. 12 Billion Tooth Fairy Strategies. 400 Trillion Birthday Themes.

Parents do not make childhood magical. Abuse and gross neglect can mar it, of course, but for the average child, the magic is something inherent to the age. Seeing the world through innocent eyes is magical. Experiencing winter and playing in the snow as a 5-year-old is magical. Getting lost in your toys on the floor of your family room is magical. Collecting rocks and keeping them in your pockets is magical. Walking with a branch is magical.

It is not our responsibility to manufacture contrived memories on a daily basis.

None of this negates the importance of time spent as a family, but there is a huge difference between focusing on being together and focusing on the construction of an “activity.” One feels forced and is based on a pre-determined goal, while the other is more natural and relaxed. The immense pressure that parents put on themselves to create ethereal experiences is tangible.

Read the whole essay here.

e. In my day, kids got sticks!

In my day, kids got sticks!

Hey Readers — This piece on the Huffington Post  is by a mom, Rebecca Cuneo Keenan, who is rarin’ to let her 8-year-old son Free-Range…but can’t:

I’ve been reading about helicopter versus free range parenting for years now. I’ve been hearing about how our kids are being raised on back-lit screens and shuttled from one scheduled activity to another. They don’t get the time or space to explore their neighbourhoods by themselves and learn independence in the process. They aren’t active enough and, quite frankly, all this tab keeping is exhausting for everyone. If there was ever a question about which side I’d take, helicopter or free-range, I’d already long decided to be free-range.

But it’s not that easy.

She adds:

My generation of parents really is just shy of bubble-wrapping our kids and sending them out into the world with a GPS embedded in their bodies. We keep our kids in five-point-car-seat-harnesses for as long as possible, micromanage every detail of their locally-sourced, organic diet and get them cell phones as soon as they’re likely to be away from us all in the name of health and safety. It goes against every fibre of our collective consciousness to send them out to the woods with pointed sticks and sling shots.

And finally she says there are the added problems of worrying about being blamed if her child gets hurt, as well as convincing her son, 8, that it might actually be fun to walk to the park (at least part way to the park) by himself. So, here are some suggestions I’ve got, and I’d love you, readers, to add on:

*Have him walk with a friend! That way he has someone to play with, too.

*Talk to other parents about your interest in Free-Ranging. When you find someone like-minded (and you will!), agree to give your kids unsupervised time outside together.

*To remember how the world isn’t a cesspool of danger, try a day without preparing. Leave the house without Kleenex, Band-Aids, extra water, wipes or even — as we recently discussed — snacks. Or cash!  You’ll see you can survive, which may remind you that your son can, too.

*Speaking of friends, talk to one who’s from another country about what they let kids do there. Often, the things we’re terrified of are simply routine elsewhere. Instant perspective!

*Have your son actually HELP you by doing something on his own. Have him get an ingredient for dinner, or walk the dog, or go to the post office. Anything that really WOULD make your day a little easier. Kids love to be more than just our precious babies. They long for purpose, especially in the adult world.

*Read “Free to Learn,” by Peter Gray. His subtitle says it all: “Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life.” (And he forgot to add, “Possibly Slimmer, too!”)

And here’s one suggestion lifted straight from my own book:

* Think of one activity you [or your husband] did as a kid that you are unwilling to let your own sweetheart do at the same age (baby-sitting, biking to a friend’s), and make a list of 20 things that could conceivably go wrong. If there are any worries that strike you as realistic, help your child prepare for them. Teach your would-be babysitter first aid. Teach your would-be biker how to signal his turns. You’ll feel better because you’ve helped them and they’ve demonstrated that they’re ready.

Add your ideas here! – L

Mom wonders: "How do I throw this stuff away?"

Mom wonders: “How do I throw this stuff away?”

Dear Free-Range Kids: I am a professional woman who became a stay at home mother to a 10-year-old boy. I would describe him as very bright, highly energetic and reasonable. Here is my dilemma: We live in a city of about 50,000 in North NJ.  He has recently made it very clear that he wants to walk home from school by himself across a number of streets (about 1+ mile).

It has now started to impact his mood and I am worried. I want to give him independence and see him succeed.  Having done it myself (in Brooklyn) when I was his age, I know how exciting it can be to have that adventure, but I am admittedly very anxious and not sure how to take that first step of feeling comfortable enough to let him try.  I honestly need a guide.  I just bought your book and hope to learn what you  have so obviously perfected with your own child.  While I am waiting for it to arrive, what would you say is  the most important thing to think about [other than statistics for non-death are on my side :) ]  as I seek to simultaneously let him grow up and let go.

Thanks for any advice, D.

To which I replied:

Dear D. – It is cool that you are considering both his desires/readiness AND the real stats about safety. Our job as parents is to try to prepare kids for the world (as opposed to trying to childproof the world), so I’m sure you know you have to teach him how to cross the street safely (no texting while on the street!), and not to get into a car with anyone, and the basics like that.

Then I’d do the walk with him once or twice to make sure he knows the route and there’s nothing egregious along the way, like train tracks with a malfunctioning warning light. And then, one nice afternoon, let him do it.

At least, that’s what I’d suggest. Because it will be SO COOL when he comes home. That’s just about the only thing I’ve seen break any parent’s fear/terror/worry — seeing their kid happy and confident after doing something on their own. Then suddenly what was so scary becomes normal.

Better still, your kid sees something really crucial: That you believe in him. That’s the wind beneath ALL our wings — knowing that someone we love thinks we are ready to take on some independence.

I actually have started a biz where I come to people’s homes to help them as they “let go” — freerangehousecalls.com. But it’s costs a fair bit and you really don’t need me. You can do it on your own. Anyone can. The business is just for folks who’d like some hand-holding. (Of the adult — not the kid!)

Just remember two things: 1 – Risk is inherent in ALL life. No activity is completely risk-free, whether it’s being driven somewhere, walking somewhere, or even going down the steps to the basement. Trying to eliminate all risk is impossible.

2 – Until this modern era of 24-hour news, no one thought walking to school was a horribly dangerous undertaking. Most kids in the rest of the world still do begin at age 7. And still in much of the world a 10-year-old child would be tasked with getting water from the well, shepherding the family’s flock, taking care of three or four younger siblings, walking 5 miles to school, defending the family against intruders…all sorts of stuff. So try to keep some perspective. And let me know how it goes!!!

Good luck to you both! – Lenore (who, alas, has not “perfected” anything. But that’s ok. Kids don’t need perfection!)

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.

A 10-year-old delivery boy from another era.


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.


Shoe (danger) fetishists at work. THIS is the nefarious footwear in question.


Readers — Please first take a guess as to why the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalled these shoes last week. Then, read the real rationale. (Boldface mine.) 

Recall Date: February 20, 2014

Eastman Footwear Recalls Coleman Runestone Children’s Shoes Due to Laceration Hazard

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Consumers should stop using this product unless otherwise instructed. It is illegal to resell or attempt to resell a recalled consumer product.

Hazard: The metal rivets surrounding the holes where the shoestring is secured on the shoes can have sharp edges, posing a laceration hazard.

Units: About 12,200

Description: The Runestone children’s shoes are black with gray mesh fabric panels on the side of the shoe with a green “Coleman” logo name and lantern graphic on the tongue. The black shoestrings on the shoes are threaded through green fabric tabs on the top of the shoe. 

Incidents/Injuries: The firm has received one report of an adult who scratched or cut his finger. No medical attention was required.

Lenore here: So, I just got back from Mexico where, one night,  I was on a bus where the bus driver’s 4-year-old son was hanging onto the back of his daddy’s seat. No seatebelt, no carseat — nothing. This is not to recommend unbuckled 4-year-olds. I believe in carseats and seatbelts. It’s just to remind us that our standards for safety are already so above and beyond much of the world’s, it feels like we have no place to go but off into the stratosphere of psychedelic uber-safety, where we hallucinate dangers and then dream up elaborate procedures to defuse them.  

An adult maybe scratched his finger?

If that’s all it takes to turn a shoe into a hazard, what ISN’T hazardous? – L. 

I know some folks may think there’s a good reason Illinois’ Madison County Health Department shut down 11-year-old Chloe Stirling’s cupcake business. But here’s what bugs me: If you are buying cupcakes from a kid, you KNOW they’re not being baked at Entenmann’s headquarters. And that’s a “risk” you are taking.

A society that doesn’t even allow microscopic risks is a society more obsessed with rules and liabilities than gumption and frosting. Me? I’m in the gumption/frosting camp. – L.

(Maybe Chloe can raise enough money for a non-time-delayed headset for the local reporter!)

Readers — I always love Jen Singer‘s funny, thoughtful take on things. It’s nice to see her son appreciate her, too! – L

Mom, You Did Something Right. “Wait, What?”

by Jen Singer, a.k.a., MommaSaid

January 15, 2014

Pudding Hill Mining Company

When your parenting is chronicled for all to see, you run the risk of screwing it up in a big public way. Or you can get something right. As we approach MommaSaid’s 11th birthday, I am pleased to report that my own child told me that I had done something right when it comes to parenting.

He and his buddy Drew were talking in school yesterday about how I had encouraged them to make forts and play outside (by limiting their access to electronics and shooing them out the door.)

“I remember being mad that you wouldn’t let me have a [Nintendo] DS in fourth grade, but now I see how it got me to play outside so much,” my 10th grader declared. He and Drew decided they were the “last generation” to grow up offline, and they were lucky for it.

- Read more here. (Really. Do. You’ll get a kick out of it!) – L