Posted on May 24th, 2013 by lskenazy
Hi Readers — I give you today’s “Ask Amy” column titled, “Kids, Like Chicken, Should Be Free-Range.” THANK YOU, AMY! Read her sage advice and then take the Free-Range Kids Challenge of the Weekend:
Dear Amy:My wife and I think it might be a good idea to let our 10-year-old son explore the city in which we live. What do you think of this? Is it even legal? If it is, how far can he stray? — Daring Dad
Dear Dad:It depends on where you live. When you ask how far your son can stray, the answer is, he can stray very, very far.
Many 10-year-olds and their classmates take public transportation to and from school. They confidently ride the subway; walk home from the bus stop; run out to the corner store to get a loaf of bread.
But should you let your 10-year-old “explore the city”?
No, certainly, if he has no experience navigating short distances on his own.
This is best handled in stages. First you send him on a little errand down the block. Tell him you’ll meet him in an hour at a predetermined place.
Run various scenarios with him as you walk with him through town. Let him take you on an exploratory trip during which he makes all of the choices and handles all of the transactions without your help.
When my daughter was young and we lived in Washington, D.C., we got to know many of the shopkeepers on our block. By the time she was 10, she could go on her own down the block. This is a great way to build confidence and problem-solving skills. By age 12, she was riding public transportation on her own.
Raising an adventurous, confident and savvy child can be nerve-wracking at times, but parents should foster independence. I wish more parents would let their children off the leash earlier in life.
I enjoy the writing on the website freerangekids.com, where parents communicate about this sort of issue.
Bravo! And now it’s time to take her/my advice and show ourselves what our kids can do. Here’s an easy and exhilarating way to start:
THINK BACK ON SOMETHING THAT YOU LOVED DOING AS A KID…that, so far, you have not allowed your kids to do at that same age.
Whether it’s ride a bike, toast a marshmallow, go down the street or go downtown, remember how important that activity was to you. Then give your kids some basic tips and training, and LET THEM DO IT!
As for the laws, most states do not have actual ages for when a child is or isn’t allowed to do this or that, except for waiting in a car. It generally depends on whether the child is left in a dangerous situation – for instance, home alone with no food, no phone, and drugs littering the place.
So don’t do that. And do teach them how to be as safe as you were. Which is to say: as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible, because if you aim for that, they’ll never leave the house. And summer is the time to let them go! – L.
P.S. Report back on how it goes!
Think back on all the fun YOU had…and give it to your kids.
Filed under: GOOD News, Helicopter Effect on Kids, Miscellaneous, Zingers and retorts | 29 Comments »
Posted on May 23rd, 2013 by lskenazy
Readers — This is a letter I got from Chris Byrne, who is always deep and wise about childhood. He was responding to the post about a new, less “scary” rhyme kids have picked up from My Little Pony. Instead of the age-old “Cross my heart and hope to die/Stick a needle in my eye,” they’ve learned, “Cross my heart and hope to fly/Stick a cupcake in my eye.” – L.
Dear Free-Range Kids: Like so many things (“Ring Around the Rosie” being related to the Black Death), these were the ways children played with fear. “Cross My Heart…” is an interpretation of the kind of vows that knights would make when taking off for medieval ”Hangover”-like road trip called The Crusades. The intent was to imagine the most horrible thing that could happen as a way of showing the intensity of the pledge.
“You won’t tell mom I put Larry in the dryer, right?”
“Cross my heart…”
In this case what would happen to my brother for ratting us out would had been far worse than a prick in the eye.
This is how children typically have talked for centuries, to mirror in their childish ways what they see as the adult norms. Now, you might think in this world that there is no pledge that has the kind of power this implies, and you might be right. (I have too many friends for whom the marriage vows of fidelity are transitory, sadly.) But still, this is an appropriately childish way of cementing a relationship. What kids learn from the intensity of this language is the making—and keeping—of promises helps define who we are in relationships. Getting a cupcake in one’s eye is just messy, and hoping to fly is a different kind of fantasy. So the question becomes, where do kids practice the intensity of a one-to-one pledge that is character building? No idea.
After I read this, I was thinking about the things we used to do. My brothers and I would end up in protective custody today, I’m sure of it. (Access to explosives alone would have had us tried as adults at age 8 or less.) We would flatten Wonder bread and take “communion” before battles in the backyard. I became “blood brothers” with a couple of friends. You know, that’s when you both cut yourself and press the cuts together. Usually, best accomplished when you’re covered head to toe in dirt from climbing trees and spying on the “witches” who lived down the block. (Adult reality lets one know that these two elderly sisters probably didn’t have the means to keep up their house, but a child’s mind makes peeling paint into a sure sign of demonic presence. We told each other stories about them to scare each other, and we knew a kid who knew a kid who had gone trick-or-treating there and was never seen again! Works like a charm with the little kids — the ability to scare them is a marker of being grown up because you know better and have cast off the power of superstition.)
In any event, this was where play comes in—helping children to interpret and make sense of what they see around them in the adult world as refracted through their present cognitive abilities. It’s like playing church or school, or fireman or policeman, it helps kids locate themselves in a culture at a particular time. Without these ritualistic forms of play (and, no, watching “Dancing with the Stars” is not a ritual, though it may seem to be one), kids can’t be integrated individuals, able to deal with pain, loss, betrayal, death as well as the many joys of life, which one hopes gain in value given their ephemeral nature. (Actually, watching “Dancing with the Stars” does locate you in the culture, but not in any but the most superficial way.)
Anyway, I think there’s something in here that’s bigger than you’ve had a chance to explore. Thanks, as always, for what you’re doing and for making me think. – Chris
Made me blink! Er…think!
Filed under: Guest Post, Miscellaneous | 15 Comments »
Posted on May 22nd, 2013 by lskenazy
Folks, this guest post addresses a sentiment that really disturbs me — the “one child” idea that is used to justify everything from not allowing kids to walk to school to never letting folks who’ve served their time return to the community as anonymous citizens, same as anyone else. “Shelly Stow” is the pseudonym of a member of National Reform Sex Offender Laws, Inc. and of Texas Voices for Reason and Justice. This piece originally appeared in longer form at Corrections.com - L
If It Saves One Child by Shelly Stow
Almost everyone today has some idea of what the sex offender registry is, and most feel it is a good thing. The registry was originally created as a way for law enforcement (and only law enforcement) to help keep track of repeat, sexually violent child predators. But now it has the names of over 700,000 people on it whose “crimes” are as varied as consensual teen sex, taking and sending a photo of one’s own breasts, and rape. And even though experts and studies have denounced the list as ineffective, the battle cry of its supporters is still, “If it saves one child…!”
“If it saves one child….”
There is no evidence that the registry has done that at all. However, many, many thousands of children have had their lives made a living hell because of it. These are the children of parents on the registry. Some of those registered committed violent crimes, but many — even most — did not. And yet, all the people on the registry and their families are subject to the whims of local and state laws, including severe restrictions on where they may live. They can also find themselves not allowed to enter libraries, parks or beaches with their children. Some states will bar the registered parent from even being within a 1000 feet of the school his child attends.
Recently a woman took the picture of a registrant that she printed from the Internet and brought it to the school where the registrant’s 5-year-old son was in kindergarten. She showed it around, warning children about this man. His little boy ended up in tears.
Vigilantes have murdered registrants, leaving their children fatherless. The false perception is that everyone on the registry has committed a serious crime and that most, if not all, molested children. So if they have children of their own who are harmed, so what? It’s just collateral damage because the registry might—MIGHT—”save one child.”
“If it saves one child….” Children themselves are registrants on sex offender registries. Nine years old is apparently the youngest age at which children have been put on the registry (in Delaware and Michigan). Several states register children as sexual criminals at ages 10 and 11. Registered 12-year-olds aren’t even rarities. And a 15-year-old who is the child victim for having consensual sex with an 18-year-old becomes a predator and registered sex offender when his or her partner is 14! In Wisconsin last year a district attorney did everything he could, and bragged about it, to have a 6-year-old prosecuted and targeted for sex offender registration for “playing doctor.” Some of these children find escape only in suicide. The registry didn’t save any of them; it destroyed them.
“If it saves one child….” Children do need saving. According to the Justice Dept. and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, many thousands are sexually abused and molested every year. But the registry is not the answer. Most children — about 95% — are abused and molested by their family members and acquaintances, by those they interact with. Keeping the focus on “strangers” on the registry turns us away from the bigger problem, even while taking away the resources to deal with it.
“If it saves one child” isn’t good enough. Thousands — no, hundreds of thousands — need saving from the registry. When and how and with what will we save them? — Shelly
Not all dots = child rapists.
Filed under: Creating Community, Miscellaneous, Sex Offender Issues | 115 Comments »
Posted on May 22nd, 2013 by lskenazy
Readers — I do believe the flyer below is real, from a pre-k in Philadelphia. And, for the record, I love when kids make up their own superheroes, not the ones cadged from the media. BUT even I got my witch persona (uh, that is, my childhood witch persona) from The Wizard of Oz.
I understand the school’s desire to keep kids from actually hurting each other. But why not stop THAT instead of telling kids what they are and aren’t allowed to play? – L.
As always “the safety and well being of your child is our first and foremost concern.” NOT the exuberance and development of your child. Just the safety. – L.
Filed under: Miscellaneous, School and Zero Tolerance and Bullies | 92 Comments »
Posted on May 21st, 2013 by lskenazy
Readers — Is there anyone in any position of authority who EVER says, “Well, the chances are not 100% that your kid will be safe if you do X, but they’re close enough not to worry about them”? If not, maybe that should be my next job: Ask the Free-Ranger. In the meantime, I present what passes for wisdom and rationality in modern day America. Sigh. – L.
P.S. Not even getting INTO the idea that the babysitter is sometimes a college guy and she’s 14…
This might sound like a crazy question, but at what age do you think a 14-year-old student should be allowed to stay home alone? I am an only child who is going into 10th grade (I turn 15 over the summer), and my parents are still married. I know that is a miracle, because at least 60 percent of my friends have divorced parents. One of my parents works outside the house at a regular job, and the other parent has a home business where she makes and sells crafts over the Internet. It is pretty successful and together they make good money.
So at least one of my parents is always home. And even though I am 14, if they do go out, they still get me a baby sitter. They say that it is similar to an insurance policy to have a college student at the house – no need for the student until there’s a huge demand, and then they will be glad he or she is there. For example, if I get really sick and must immediately go to the hospital. If my parents go to the city or to a play, they want someone at the house who has a car and is old enough to drive.
Cherie, I don’t want to do illegal stuff, but it is humiliating when the baby sitter comes and I am almost as tall as he is. Can you convince my parents to stop this stupidity? I am old enough to be home alone. - Home Alone
I owe you one. You gave me a great reminder why it’s important to have a baby sitter with a car when Jeff and I go out at night. We also have a teen who doesn’t drive, and now that I think about it, there are many reasons for him not to be home alone.
You have good parents when they realize that it is not an issue for you to be home by yourself until it becomes a big problem.
It is just better to have an adult who has a car as well as a little bit more of the good judgment that should come with experience. The chances of a catastrophic event occurring are small, but you never know. They are only covering their bases by having a baby sitter there for you, and I think it is smart.
Someday, you may be that baby sitter for someone else. I hope you don’t have to drive a child to the hospital, or call the parent to say the kid broke an arm; however, it could happen.
For now, set up some ground rules about the baby sitter leaving you pretty much alone, and I think you’ll be OK. Thoughtful letter. Thanks!
UPDATE: As some of you have pointed out, it is possible the 14 year old is boy, not a girl. Sorry for jumping to that conclusion. – L.
Advice columnist says no one should stay home alone till driving age!
Filed under: Media Madness, Miscellaneous, Walk to School / Stay Home Alone / Wait in Car | 138 Comments »
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