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Worst-First Thinking

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. 

Readers — It’s weird enough when we are warned that our bumper stickers are busy attracting predators. Now there is a new line of school bus that videos the cars behind it, on the bizarre assumption that these may be driven by predators so unsure of where else to find a child that they are following the big, yellow kiddie dispenser. And that’s not to mention the thumbprint recognition and tracking of the students, as if THEY were predators: 

A brief glance won’t tell you the new buses are equipped with voice-over-IP communication systems, or that they transmit data on speed, location and acceleration in real-time. The “Thumbs-Up!” thumbprint scanner, which keeps track of which kids are on the bus and whether they’re supposed to be there, is also hard to see unless you’re really pressing your face to the glass, as are the multiple interior security cameras.

Slightly easier to notice is the rear-facing camera, dubbed — no joke — the “Pedophile Finder.” “I wish we could have come up with a better name for it,” says Dallas County Schools spokeswoman Allison Allison. (Yes, that’s the correct name.) The camera, mounted on the top portion of the school bus and positioned to capture the license plate of tailing vehicles, isn’t just to catch pedophiles. It could be a parent who lost custody of their child, or a kidnapper. But “Pedophile Finder” was the name that stuck. “The bus driver can’t tell if somebody’s tailing him but if they recognize a pattern of a car following a bus” based on video, they can take appropriate measures.

I’m really curious what those “appropriate measures” are. Slam on the brakes and wait for the crash? Alert the police, “There’s  a car behind me!”  Get out of the bus and demand to see if the driver is wearing pants? Please, PLEASE protest if your school district even CONSIDERS these add-ons as “necessary for the safety of our children.” – L. 

To catch a predator...while driving a bus.

To catch a bus-tailgating predator.

Folks — Below is a 1-minute taste of the 13-part reality show I host, “World’s Worst Mom.” It’s like The Supernanny, except instead of dealing with out-of-control KIDS I deal with PARENTS and their out-of-control worries — like the mom who would only let her son stand on his skateboard on the lawn and NOT MOVE. Or the mom who’d take the family’s freshly cooked dinner and nuke it for 5 minutes to kill the germs. Or the mom who insisted her 13-year-old son still come with her into the ladies room.

I spent five days with each of these families, and at the end, 12 of the 13 changed to the point where they could barely remember WHY they had been so afraid.

“I’m a mother of four and prior to meeting Lenore I literally did EVERYTHING for them, from cleaning to cooking to laundry, etc. I didn’t allow my children to take part in any type of activities unless I was with them. My eldest child at the time was 16 and I had NEVER allowed him to take the bus. Yes — I was super overprotective with my children and lo and behold, Lenore came into my life and literally helped me with my crazy issues. I have never been happier as my children help me clean, cook and most importantly, I don’t have to drive them everywhere as they take the bus! Woo hoo! Words can’t express how thankful I am to have met Lenore. Miss her so much!” – S.C., Ontario mom of four 

The show airs on Slice TV in Canada and on Discovery/TLC International in a whole lot of the rest of the world (Russia, Australia, Latin America, Poland, Italy, and it is particularly popular in England). But it has yet to find a U.S. home. So, if you know of a TV executive, or if you ARE Ben SherwoodJeff ZuckerJoshua Sapan, or if you happen to be in charge of scouting programs for any TV, cable or web channel,  please take a look. Feel free to drop a private note at heylenore3@gmail.com. Thanks! — Lenore

Readers — This is just a fascinating artifact from the world of Worst-First thinking, where folks believe today’s children are completely besieged by criminal masterminds (or at least the last of the phonebook users)  who are driven in equal measures by rank evil and a love of intensive research. It ran as a letter to the Press Enterprise paper in Bloomsburg, PA (boldface mine):

To the Editor: I am writing this letter as a concerned former resident of the Bloomsburg area, and am a reader of the Press Enterprise. I no longer live in the area but still return to Bloomsburg because of family and friends who live there.

The March 3rd newspaper carried a page that is commonly used every month, but disturbs me, and others in the area, very deeply. Yesterday it was page 22, the page featuring pictures of young children in the area who are celebrating their birthdays. I would like to urge the Press Enterprise to please, please stop printing this page. These are beautiful, young children who deserve to have their birthdays made a special day for them, but please don’t make it so obvious and so public.

I caution not only the newspaper, but the parents who send in those pictures and the information accompanying them. It is a practice that puts the lives of these children in jeopardy. If I were someone desiring to do something to a child that is too horrible to imagine, all I have to do is get a copy of the newspaper that features a page 22 with all the pictures and information I would need  in order to carry out my desires. By purchasing that newspaper I would have a current photo of the child; know the names of the parents; know the town they lived in, and get a phone book to look up the address; learn the names and towns of the grandparents; know  how many siblings there are and their ages; and, by putting two and two together, come up with the school they go to.

If I learned their address from the phone book, I could drive to the area where they live, sit in my car and watch for them to walk to school and make my move. This is an extremely dangerous situation and the newspaper and the parents are making it very simple and treacherous for the very children they love so much.

This morning (March 4, 2014) I looked on the Internet and did a search for current registered sex offenders in Bloomsburg, Danville, and Berwick. There were a total of 66 current registered sex offenders. How many others are there in the area who are not current or are considering taking that next step to becoming one? Of course the three towns only skim the surface of the residents Benton, Hazleton, Northumberland, and, of course Sunbury where very recently a teenager was arrested for murder by finding victims on the Internet.

Bloomsburg is not the innocent town it once was when I grew up there (I graduated high school there in the ’60s). I know several residents of the area who have never  traveled over 100 miles from the town and probably never will. If you live in the town, you may never see Interstate 80 except when you drive on it. You may not even have a concept of the amount of traffic that drives on that highway. Do you even realize that I-80 goes from the New York City area all the way to the west coast? The number of people who travel through the Bloomsburg area daily is tremendous. It would be so easy for one of them to buy a newspaper, see the pictures of the children, do a little research, and their day would be planned. I would hate for something horrible to happen in my hometown.

S. H. . Norman, Okla.

Those poor doomed children who live in Bloomsburg, PA.

The doomed town of Bloomsburg, PA.


Readers — This is just a rather perfect illustration of the way our society works now, when it comes to parents, schools,  media, fear, mistakes and, heck, let’s throw in umbrage.

A great-grandpa picked up the wrong kindergartener from school. The two boys had similar hats, and the one gramps took home had his hat pulled all the way over his head. Frankly, I can see how that could happen.

Gramps got home, realized his mistake, alerted the school. The principal called the mom to say her son had been accidentally picked up by the wrong man — someone known to the school — and that the child was not in danger. He was being returned immediately. At which point, the mom insisted that the police and child protective services be notified.


This kind of mistake is not criminal, and it is not harmful to the child. If anything, it could become a family story.

Instead, it became a news story. 

Trained to Overreact

We have been trained, as a culture, to treat every blip in school protocol as an outrage. We have been trained to see every child not directly supervised as in unspeakable danger. We have been trained to imagine what terrible thing COULD happen in any situation involving a child, and to react as if it DID, or almost did. 

So maybe the school should go ahead and make doubly sure the kids are being picked up by the right person. But let’s also remember there was an era not so long ago when no one picked up kids. They just went home on their own. Now the school is establishing pick-up areas for kids through grade 8!

Overreaction breeds overreaction and we are living in Overreaction Nation. – L.  

WFSB 3 Connecticut


Readers — Here’s a public service announcement someone posted on Facebook that has started an interesting discussion:

The problem with this ad is that it reinforces a sickening message about parenting: that if you are not optimizing every choice you make for your child — including choosing the best possible foods, every day at every meal  – you are a negligent no-goodnik who is actively harming your loved one.

Kids and parents deserve a little less pressure all around. Fortunately for our species, not every parenting ANYTHING has to be perfect/brilliant/well-balanced/well-planned/encouraging/psychologically attuned/educational/teachable, etc. Whether you’re an organic mama or a fast food fan (and I’ve been known to swing both ways),  we are all more resilient than that. – L

Hey Readers – Here’s a piece I wrote for the Wall Street Journal a little while back that I can now legally reprint here!

Bringing Up Baby and Fretting About Vital Signs

New gadgets, like diapers that monitor kidney function, are turning baby nurseries into ICUs.


Almost anything you can put on a baby is cute. A hat. Sunglasses. A bib (especially the one that says, “Some moron put my cape on backwards!”). But now comes the Owlet Baby Monitor—a little electronic device strapped to a sock at bedtime.

It measures your baby’s heart rate, blood oxygen levels, skin temperature, sleep quality and sleeping position. Then it streams all this information to your smart phone.Phew! At last you know your baby’s blood oxygen level! Except . . . I don’t even know my own blood oxygen level. Do you know yours? It’s just not something most of us have ever even thought about, because it seems to take care of itself.

So who needs this kind of data about their babies? According to Dr. Kenneth Bromberg, chairman of pediatrics at the Brooklyn Hospital Center, no one. He can’t see any medical or safety reason to get one of these devices. What’s worse, he says, “This is an invitation to craziness. It will make you neurotic and anxious. I don’t see how any new parent with that gadget won’t be driven insane.”

But crazy as it may be, this thing is on the market, and it’s just one beeping bit of a whole culture dedicated to treating normal, healthy kids as if they need constant medical attention.

This explains the “Smart Diaper” already in prototype. Developed by New York-based Pixie Scientific, the diaper has a QR code on the front. When a baby pees, the code turns different colors depending on the chemical content of the, um, liquid. The parent then takes a photo of the diaper with a smart phone, which analyzes the code’s colors to determine if the baby has an infection, or possibly diabetes, or maybe even a kidney malfunction.

God forbid you just use an old-fashioned, dumb diaper and figure that if the kid looks OK, his kidneys probably are too. Big baby data is undermining the belief that any kid is equipped to make it from today till tomorrow without intense technological scrutiny.

This trend began with audio baby monitors, and I bought right into the culture, setting one up next to our son’s crib even though we were living in a one-bedroom apartment. Ack! It was impossible not to hear him crying, even without the monitor. But somehow I thought also hearing a second, staticky version was vitally important.

Then came video monitors, then infra-red video monitors, then pivoting infra-red monitors that sweep the room all night, which always struck me as something Osama bin Laden might have wanted to invest in. But a normal parent of a healthy child? Only if they’re in the witness-protection program.

Anyway, those room monitors seem almost quaint now that we’ve got these wearable ones—with more variations than you can shake a rattle at.

For instance, there’s the SafeToSleep Breathing Monitor, a sheet with sensors built in to monitor every single breath of your baby and alert your smart phone if these stop (which can happen if the kid rolls off the mat). Which sounds exactly like the iBabyGuard, which sounds quite similar to the AngelCare AC1100—all of them are promising parents peace of mind.

But really, this kind of device delivers just the opposite. “While it’s supposed to reassure you, what it is going to do is create more worry,” says David M. Reiss, a San Diego, Calif., psychiatrist who just finished a stint training Harvard medical students. “You’re basically setting up a type of ICU vigilance which isn’t indicated.”

Not to mention all those new arguments: “Honey—it’s your turn to read the smart phone.”

But it is the Owlet baby monitor that seems to have reached the apex of apoplexy. “Although you can see your child’s tummy moving, you have no idea how much oxygen she is really getting!” warns the Owlet website—as if somehow that whole breathing-equals-living thing just can’t be taken for granted.

And, eventually, it may not be. When and if these geegaws become as common as Mozart mobiles, it could be only a matter of time before they are required by law at day care centers, and then schools and then—who knows?—maybe even college.

After all, don’t you want to know your child’s heart rate and sleep positions when he’s in bed far away from you?