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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 — I find this little report, “Neuroscience Used and Abused in Child Rearing Policy” so interesting, for two reasons.

First, by questioning the common wisdom that kids’ brains”irreversibly ‘sculpted’ by parental care” the first three years , it alleviates some of the incredible pressure put on parents to make sure that every single second they spend with their babies (even prenatally) is optimal: stimulating, educational, enriched. That’s a lot to demand of us.

Second, it echoes a point I make in my book and lectures: That while experts purport to “help” parents by telling us exactly how to interact with our kids, actually that avalanche of advice undermines the idea that maybe, just maybe, we could be decent parents without intensive tutoring. As the authors note:

…Mothers, in particular, are told that if they are stressed while pregnant or suffer postnatal depression, they will harm their baby’s brain.

‘This dubious information is highly unlikely to alleviate stress or depression but rather more likely to increase parental anxiety,’ said Dr Macvarish. ‘Parents are also told they must cuddle, talk and sing to their babies to build better brains. But these are all things parents do, and have always done, because they love their babies.

‘Telling parents these acts of love are important because they are ‘brain-building’ inevitably raises the question of how much cuddling, talking and singing is enough? Such claims also put power in the hands of ‘parenting experts’ and ultimately risk making parenting a biologically important but emotionally joyless experience.’

The way we’re approaching parenting these days is sort of the way we approach so many other worthwhile projects. Instead of saying, “It sure would be nice to set aside some land as a park,” we are forced to do a cost-benefit analysis that shows things like, “Parkland increases the ambient oxygen level by X percent, which in turn increases worker productivity, resulting in a net gain of…blah blah blah.” Not everything needs to be quantified, justified or even examined this way. And that’s not even getting into the whole issue of how many “scientific” studies turn out to be impossible to replicate (and quite possibly wrong). – L.

Hi brain! I'm your mommy! Can I please program you exactly the way I'd like?

Hi brain, I’m your mommy! If I do everything the experts say, will you do everything that Mommy says

 

Readers — Why do I keep blogging? It’s to remind us, literally daily, that there are HUGE CONSEQUENCES when we believe the BIG LIE that our kids are in constant danger. One consequence is that we interpret normal parenting behavior through the lens of both sanctimony and fear, seeing danger where there’s just the usual chaos of raising kids. The consequence of that consequence? Read on:

Dear Free-Range Kids: When my son, now 15, was about a week shy of his fourth birthday, I ran out to pick him up from his preschool, located four short blocks from home, with just my keys and no purse, something I had done many, many times before.  (I know — stupid.  No ID.  REALLY stupid.)  I picked him up, and in the course of walking home, he decided he was going to have a meltdown because he wanted to walk down a street that would have taken us far out of our way, and I was in a hurry to get back, so I said “no, not today.”

Well, he proceeded to try and run down the street he wanted to take, screaming and crying, and almost ran headlong into oncoming traffic because he was so worked up that he wasn’t paying attention to anything.  I grabbed at him to keep him from going into the street and caught the hood of his jacket and yanked him back to me, whereupon he screamed louder.  Out of nowhere, a woman materialized, yelling, “I saw the whole thing!  She’s beating that child!  I was across the street and down the block and I saw the whole thing! Call the cops!” 

A crowd began to gather, screaming at me and telling me what a lousy mother I was, which of course terrified my son, and he clung to me, but he was still sobbing and crying.  I yelled at the crowd to please leave us alone, couldn’t they tell that my son was upset, that I wanted to calm him down and go home, but they kept converging and screaming and flinging invectives at me — it was terrifying.  I sat down on the sidewalk and cuddled my son to me, and he began to calm down…until three police cars and no fewer than TWELVE cops, guns drawn, descended upon us, wrenched my screaming child from my arms (at this point he was struggling to get back to me and yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!  I want Mommy!”), tackled me, HANDCUFFED ME behind my back and forced me to await the arrival of a city ambulance. 

A man in the crowd did take pity on me and let me use his phone to call my husband at work (which HE had to hold up to my ear, since they would not undo the handcuffs), but the cops would barely let me speak to him and it was hardly enough time to let me tell him what was happening.  They would not tell me where my child was, and of course since I had no ID on me (I have NEVER done that again, lemme tell ya! Stupid!), they apparently branded me a crazy woman who was trying to beat and abduct a child. The ambulance came, and they hustled me into the back (all the while refusing to tell me where my son was) and took me to the PSYCH WARD at the hospital, where they kept me for several hours in a room locked from the outside and refused to let my husband (who had arrived by that time) in to see me, though apparently he had gotten enough information to track down our son, who had been taken to the precinct and was being guarded by a detective.  We found out much later that he had been “examined” for physical and sexual abuse PRIOR to my husband’s arrival — which I believe is illegal.  They did let me call my therapist, who, thank God, answered the phone — but it was all she could do to get them to release me to my husband.  Fortunately, they HAD released my son to him instead of slapping him into foster care — I shudder to think what would have happened if not.

We were eventually allowed to go home, but I was contacted several days later by a worker from Child Protective Services, who said he was required to visit us, unannounced, every couple of months for a year to be sure that our son was not being abused. The first night he came to see us, I had a chicken roasting in the oven and even offered to feed him if he wanted. What he WAS required to do was look at our son’s bedroom to be sure he was being cared for (he had a big bed with lots of stuffed animals and shelves full of games and books, which I actually think surprised the guy, given what he was probably used to seeing in his work), examine our son physically to be sure there was no evidence of abuse, and ask him some very pointed questions about whether Mommy or Daddy ever did nasty things to him.  (He was FOUR, for God’s sake!!  Admittedly a precocious and highly intelligent four, but holy crap…the continual insinuations of sexual abuse turned my stomach!)

Anyway, of course no signs of any kind of abuse were ever found — but we lived for SEVEN YEARS with the threat of having him taken away from us, because that is how long these cases stay open on the books.  We worried about every bump, every bruise, every argument we had — because of course he was also smart enough to know that he could hold it over us and threaten to “tell at school” if we had an argument, not understanding what the consequences would be if someone believed that we had hit or abused him, or if someone at school noticed a bruise or scrape on his body and thought we had inflicted it.

I swear to you: all I ever did was grab my kid’s coat and yank him back to prevent him from flinging himself into traffic because he was screaming himself blind.  He was four, he was having a meltdown. But a bunch of total strangers who were “down the block and across the street but who saw the whole thing” and called the cops as a result could have totally and utterly destroyed our family and ruined my son’s future.  He was, and is, a smart, beautiful, charming, talented boy; he has gone to gifted programs throughout school and currently attends a magnet high school, and he has nothing but promise ahead of him. But the actions of one “well-meaning” stranger who thought that a mother struggling with a screeching four-year-old was her business and that she had to “protect” the child, and who was able to draw a crowd around her, could have ripped a family apart and destroyed that child forever.

We are lucky — truly lucky — that eventually cooler heads did prevail and he was allowed to come back to us immediately.  I know that in some cases, this does not happen, and it’s a nightmare for the family to get the child back, sometimes going on for years. But let me tell you that I TOTALLY understand the fear of the mom who wrote to you when she said she was afraid that the woman who yelled at her outside the post office had called the police and that they were going to track her down…because I LIVED something like that.  It is, quite possibly, the most terrifying thing that can happen to a parent. And I must ask when it became everyone ELSE’S business regarding how to be a good parent to one’s own child.  It’s hard to be any kind of a parent these days, especially Free-Range, but we MUST stick to our convictions and raise our kids as we, their parents, see fit.

Thank God for this blog. – Shaken Mom

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then -- the authorities.

A toddler screaming, a busybody assuming the worst, and then — the authorities.

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. 

A Biker mom in Pa writes:

Dear Free-Range Kids? I could have written this letter [about being scared to let a child, 10, walk to school on his own] 4 years ago.  We lost our bus service and most parents opted to drive their kids to school but a small group of students (my son was one) wanted to bike to school. So I let him.

We did practice runs before school started and had lots of conversations about “what ifs”.  Learning together the route and where safe places to go along the way helped a lot. His circle of friends expanded to include his commuting friends.  They are a close knit bunch and great kids. I bet your 10 year-old knows others who walk to school and that’s why he is asking for this independence.  Maybe you can have him meet up with friends (strength in numbers!)to help you with giving him freedom.  

The responsibility of biking to school transferred into other areas of his life.

His grades improved (he was always the first one in class each morning) from B’s to A’s.  He is more confident and independent- he can get his baseball gear together and ready for practice without being asked.  He gets odd jobs (dog walking, shoveling snow,watering plants, babysitting) because neighbors recognize him and know he is a responsible kid and trustworthy.  He biked 5 younger kids (three 1st graders) last year to school and won a citizenship award for community service. He was beaming.

As for cell phones, we didn’t get one until he turned 12 and needed it for middle school.  They can be more of a distraction and crutch for parents. Most of the problems that came up were handled without any adults needed.  Busted bike? He just ran the bike home.  Wipeout and shredded knees?  Bandaids and encouraging words from friends got them home to get cleaned up by a parent.  Kids this age have the capacity to solve most problems without needing to call an adult for every glitch. So go for it!  He sounds like a great kid.

And here’s ANOTHER letter!

When my son was 10, he decided he wanted to bike to school. In lobbying me, he even went on Mapquest to measure the route – 1.61 miles – and show me the path he would take. Since he had to cross a major street (with stoplights but no crossing guard), what I did was ride my bike with him the first week, to make sure that he was indeed paying attention to traffic and crossing with the light (he has ADHD/borderline ASD, so impulse control was a concern), then let him go to it. There were a few times the crossing guard at the school had words with him because he kept “forgetting” to get off and walk his bike once he was on school property, but losing his biking privileges a couple times got the message across.

Benefits – not only did he get extra exercise twice a day, but he also ended up making friends with other walkers/bikers. For a kid who struggled to connect with other kids, this was huge.

The glow on his face when he’d come home and tell me how he and his friends had stopped at the local deli to buy lemonade and cookies on the way home was priceless. And even better, when I would pick up lunch at that same deli, the workers would compliment his behavior and tell me how polite he was. (All this, while the school considered him a behavior problem in the classroom for not being able to sit still and work quietly.)

Three years later, he’s still walking or biking when the weather is good, classroom problems have nearly disappeared (in a new school that understands active boys much better), and still glows when he talks about stopping for a snack at local businesses with his friends. :)

K

Caution: Tasks may be easier than they appear.

Caution: Tasks may be easier than they appear.

 

 

Readers — How I love this piece from DGIwire by Louis M. Profeta, an emergency physician practicing in Indianapolis and author of  The Patient in Room Nine Says He’s GodOnce we accept the good doctor’s words, we can let kids spend at least some time playing on their own again, because Jerry Maguire (most likely) isn’t calling. – L 

Your Kid and My Kid Are Not Playing in the Pros

by Dr. Louis Profet

I don’t care if your eight year old can throw a baseball through six inches of plywood. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your twelve-year-old scored seven touchdowns last week in Pop Warner. He is not going to the pros. I don’t care if your sixteen -year-old made first team all-state in basketball. He is not playing in the pros…. There are far too many variables working against your child. Injury, burnout, others who are better – these things are just a fraction of the barriers preventing your child from becoming “the one.”

So…why are we spending our entire weekends schlepping from county to county, town to town, state to state to play in some bullshit regional, junior, mid-west, southeast, invitational, elite, prep, all- state, conference, blah, blah, blah tourney? We decorate our cars with washable paint, streamers, numbers and names. We roll in little carpool caravans trekking down the interstate honking and waiving at each other like Rev. Jim Jones followers in a Kool-Aide line. Greyhounds, Hawks, Panthers, Eagles, Bobcats, Screaming Devils, Scorching Gonads or whatever other mascot adorns their jerseys….. But why do we do this?….

It’s because, just like everyone else, we’re afraid.

We are afraid that Emma will make the cheerleading squad instead of Suzy and that Mitch will start at first base instead of my Dillon. But it doesn’t stop there. You see, if Mitch starts instead of Dillon then Dillon will feel like a failure, and if Dillon feels like a failure then he will sulk and cower in his room, and he will lose his friends because all his friends are on the baseball team, too, and if he loses his friends then he will start dressing in Goth duds, pierce his testicles, start using drugs and begin listening to headbanging music with his door locked. Then, of course, it’s just a matter of time until he’s surfing the net for neo-Nazi memorabilia, visiting gun shows and then opening fire in the school cafeteria. That is why so many fathers who bring their injured sons to the ER are so afraid that they won’t be able to practice this week, or that he may miss the game this weekend. Miss a game, you become a mass murderer – it’s that simple.

Read the whole wild ride here.

He didn't make the team and it was all downhill...

He didn’t make the team and it was all downhill…

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!