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Stupid Advice

Folks, Canadian school bus driver Kendra Lindon was about to pick up kids on a freezing cold day when her bus broke down. Other recent times this had happened, she recalled, no replacement bus arrived. And so, with windchill temperatures dipping to -37 C (-34 F),  she took matters into her own hands and picked up the few students along her route in her own SUV.

From there, Lindon planned to keep the kids, including her own son, warm until another bus arrived — no frostbite, no problems.

Or so she thought.

It turns out another parent had watched Lindon picking up the kids, including two boys who had to sit in the rear cargo hold, where there were no seat belts.

Concerned, the parent contacted First Student — and that afternoon, Lindon was fired.

Parents have since been writing letters on Lindon’s behalf, but so far, it seems, there is no chance of an appeal, because rules are rules. 

This is a Free-Range issue because those rules are most likely in place to keep children safe from ALL adults, on the assumption that many are out to hurt them. Forget the fact that there are more good people in the world than bad, and that we are capable of distinguishing the two. No, all adults are treated the same: they’re suspects.

Moreover, even though I am a HUGE fan of safety belts (ask anyone!), having two kids sit belt-less in a cargo hold for a few minutes, or even get driven a short way, does not mean INSTANT DOOM. Yes, it makes sense to buckle up whenever possible. But once in a while circumstance dictates less than optimal accommodations, and that’s okay. It’s not the best. But it’s okay. We are so attuned to “best practices” that we forget that “not quite the best practice” is not the same as, “hideous danger.”

It’s not.  - L

When a school bus doesn't show, is it WRONG to pick kids up in an SUV?

A school bus driver using her heart and head is punished by those unable to use either. 

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.”


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!

Hi Readers — This comes to us from a mom in Georgia who says she is all for her son following the rules, “But  A) He didn’t even know this was a rule he needed to follow. And B) The rules should make sense- shouldn’t they?” Our favorite question! – L
Dear Free-Range Kids: I was working today when I received a call from the assistant principal of discipline at my 3rd grader’s school. Ryan is a pretty good child, we’ve never had any issues, so at first I was a little confused. The assistant (she has an Ed.D!!) explained to me that Ryan got a “red slip” at lunch and would miss break.  Upon further inquiry, I discovered that it was because he was playing thumb war with his best friend. No was was injured, no one had their feelings hurt, nobody was talking out of turn, no one actually did anything wrong.  She even went so far as to tell me there was no actual violation of any policy. But she was concerned that someone had the potential to get hurt in the game of thumb war – and she wanted to talk to the kids – and she wanted me to talk to Ryan at home – about the potential for injury in the game of thumb war!
I am not making this up. My kid was actually called to the principal’s office for a discussion and missed his break time because there was a “potential for injury” in the age-old game of 1-2-3-4 – thumb war!!
I honestly had no choice but to thank her for her time, and get off the phone.  If she’s worried he might get hurt playing thumb war with his lunch neighbor, I guess she would be one to call DFACS on me if she knew I let the same 8 yr old use a steak knife to cut his own meat at dinner tonight. And he still has all his fingers!
Thanks again for keeping it real for (most of) us. – Just Thumb Mom in Georgia
It's a slippery slope to atomic warfare.

It’s a slippery slope to atomic warfare.


Readers — Yesterday I asked you to ponder why the government is (or, apparently, MAY be) destroying its brand-new “Just Move!”  stamps that show kids doing things like skateboarding, jumping into the water and doing headstands. The real reason is that when they were shown to President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, as well as the “Let’s Move” team, they worried that the skateboarder wasn’t wearing knee pads, the swimmer was doing a cannonball (patently unsafe!),  and the headstand girl wasn’t wearing a helmet…which is the weirdest worry of all. Have you EVER seen someone doing a headstand wearing a helmet? It’s like wearing mittens to sew.

“This recall epitomizes the culture of legal fear: no risk too small to regulate, legislate, and sue our way out of,” says Ben Miller at Common Good, the non-profit fighting the good fight against ridiculous regulations. When it comes to pernicious influences in our children’s lives, he adds, “Do postage stamps belong on that list?”

To some bureaucrats, apparently they do. So thank you for all your guesses yesterday as to why the government is so worried about them,  including:

None of the kids are carrying water bottles!

Because they lack mouths and noses and eyes and therefore they should all be intubated and in the ICU?

I think I can see the top of the head belonging to a child sexual predator in the Stretch stamp.

The swimmer has no life jacket.

Juggling choking hazards!

.00000000000000001% of the population might get aroused from seeing these images of cartoon kids wearing shorts and bathing suits which would put ALL kids in danger.

That girl is going to hang herself with the jumprope.

The climber needs a full OSHA-approved high work safety harness and three spotters.

And the idea that I found most disturbingly plausible of all:

It is because their parents aren’t in the picture watching their every move?


 Hi Folks! This post comes to us from Emily Oster, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, and the author oExpecting Better: Why the Conventional Pregnancy Wisdom is Wrong – and What you really Need to Know. She tweets @ProfEmilyOster and she’s a non-alarmist. Woo-hoo! – L.


When you’re pregnant, it can sometimes seem like you should be afraid of everything.  Even some things you may not have thought of.  Last week I saw an article about how you shouldn’t swim (causes asthma in your kid later, I guess).  A few months ago one of my Chinese friends was horrified to learn I hadn’t worn a radiation vest while working at my computer during pregnancy.

I’m an economist – my job is data – and when I was pregnant I spent a lot of time combing through studies and data in the hopes of identifying which risks were real, and which were exaggerated.  The result was my book, Expecting Better, and in it I suggest that a lot of pregnancy risks are exaggerated.  A little bit of coffee?  Fine.  A little bit of deli ham?  Probably also okay.  Sushi?  Yes.

Some of the rules are there for good reason (tobacco is a definite no-no, as are hot tubs) but I make the case that pregnant women should be able to live with a lot less fear.

Since the book has come out I’ve heard from a lot of women who love this message.  But I’ve also heard from some who feel that it’s all well and good to know what the risks are, but they’re still going to avoid everything.  Their reasoning, often, is that if something did go wrong – even if for a reason having nothing to do with their behavior – they would blame themselves unless they did everything perfectly.

A post on the Motherlode blog made this point plainly: the author lost a baby to listeria, and even though she doesn’t know what the source of the infection was, she still blames herself for a few deli sandwiches during the pregnancy.

The possibility that you might feel this way is certainly something women should think about in making these choice, but it is also something I think we should fight against.  Women – mothers – increasingly seem to feel like it is our fault if anything goes wrong with a pregnancy, or with our children.  Forget about going wrong, we blame ourselves if our kid isn’t perfect in every way.

Shortly after my book came out, someone emailed me, distraught, having had a miscarriage.  She wanted to know if she might have caused this by pumping her own gas, or by having a single glass of wine before she knew she was pregnant.  Of course the answer was no, but I felt sad that she even needed to ask.  I am all for the idea of taking appropriate cautions, and of doing what is best for our kids.  But I also think we need to ease up on the guilt.  By doing so, we may dial back the fear, as well. – E.O.

Lenore here: I so agree that we have gone overboard blaming ourselves (or worrying we will be blamed) if anything goes wrong with our kids at any stage of their lives, beginning in the womb. In my lectures I talk about how, for instance, the “What to Expect” book tells readers to consider EACH BITE a chance to give their baby better odds and possibly even a better life. Nine months is a lot of bites to think hard about, and the flip side of trying to be “good” is that any step off that tightrope of perfection feels like YOU are to blame if your child isn’t perfect.

This whole outlook feels less like a new age kind of healthy mama perspective and more like Henry the VIII who blamed Anne Boleyn for having a child with birth defects. I’d really like to move forward, not backward, when it comes to thinking pregnant women can control all outcomes if only they are more strict, vigilant and self-sacrificing. Or, in Anne Boleyn’s case, if they’d only stop consorting with the devil. – L. 


I hope i didn't eat a single bite incorrectly!
I hope she didn’t eat a single less-than-optimal bite!

Folks — If you felt like you were living in a kind of sane country, take a peek at this:


Yes, it’s a terrorist drill on a school bus.

I truly could not understand from this report (or Googling) if the students knew the attack was fake or not. They probably did, or just imagine the lawsuits. Nonetheless, it is nothing less than bizarre that while they were being “hijacked,” school administrators and sundry responsible adults sat in folding chairs in a parking lot across town watching a big-screen live feed of the event.

And then, as the audience watched, into that lot drove — the bus! A waiting SWAT team took over, puncturing the bus tire and “liberating” the hostages.

All this in a town of under 7000, on one of the safest forms of transportation known to man. As one of the students getting off the bus said: “It feels good to know that when this does happen, there are people there to stop it.

When this DOES happen? Please. It’s like preparing for the day a flaming meteor DOES land in the lunch line.  Here’s my guess as to what DID happen. A 2006 CNN story reported:

School bus drivers around the country are being trained to be the eyes and ears on the road and to watch for potential terrorists, in a program financed by the Homeland Security Department. 

Designers of the program, called School Bus Watch, want to turn 600,000 drivers into an army of observers….

The new effort is part of Highway Watch, a safety program run by the American Trucking Association and financed since 2003 with $50 million from Homeland Security.

Fifty million dollars? That’s a lot of ski masks. How can YOU get some of this dough? If you can say, truthfully or not, that you really think your town needs to prepare for the day a terrorist boards a school bus,  I’d guess you’re in the running for a piece of the terrorists-are-everywhere pie.

Terrifying. – L

Hi Readers — Here’s a note from Education.com’s marketing director, Kat Eden, regarding the “Reasons to Say No to Sleepovers” post we have been writing about the last two days (that is now gone from the site). – L 

Dear Free-Range Kids: Thanks so much to you and to your community for sharing your thoughts about this article.

We post hundreds of pieces of content each month with the goal of giving parents the information they need to make the best decisions for their families and the ideas and inspiration they want to make learning with their kids more fun.  While we work hard to make sure every bit of that content is helpful for parents, sometimes, like everyone, we just don’t get it right.

We know that sleepovers are a controversial subject these days and many parents have strong feelings about whether they’re a good thing for kids or not.  While hundreds of parents “Liked” this particular article on Facebook, we also heard from parents like you who felt the article missed the mark.  We reviewed the article yesterday and have decided to remove it from our site.

When we publish articles on controversial topics, we try to avoid telling parents what they should or should not do and instead we try to give them expert or evidence based information on both sides of the issue so they can make the best decision for their children and families.  This article clearly crossed that line a bit by encouraging parents not to allow their kids to go on sleepovers. This article is a better example of how we typically present information on a topic like this: First Sleepover Preparation.

So, as I said, we’ve removed the article.  Please let me know if you have any further questions, ideas or input.

Thanks again for sharing your point of view.

Best,  Kat

To which I responded: 

Dear Kat: I DO like the tone and suggestions of the alternative link you just sent, and I appreciate your — I’m not even sure of the word. Your willingness to give a rational re-look at a post you published. That’s exactly what i’m writing a story on for another publication — the power of apology. That takes guts and usually isn’t easy.

I am grateful and impressed. – Lenore

And now, readers, a note to YOU: Our voice helped shed the world of one bit of the fear-mongering, worst-first thinking parental “advice” out there. That’s some real, if small, good. I’m grateful and impressed by you, too. Onward! – L. 

Pizza for everyone! Popular website decides sleepovers are not a moral peril after all!