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kids in danger

Readers — Remember, even a feel-good story could always use a frisson of fear! Marie, author of the blog HandbasketNotes, explains:

Dear Free-Range Kids: I heard a story on NPR tonight about how kids spent the night at school during the recent Atlanta snow and ice storm and I thought of you.

Audie Cornish interviews a teacher who stayed at the school with the kids. The teacher described how the teachers and administrators baked chocolate chip cookies and served them with milk. She told about the kids had a big sleepover, with the girls on gymnastic mats in one area and the boys on wrestling mats in another area. They even had sheets and blankets available at the school.

Audie said, “It sounds fun, frankly, between the cookies and the sleepover and the texting and the movies. At a certain point, did you get the sense from the students about the gravity of the situation?”

Gravity? It was fun! How the heck does the reporter go from “sounds like fun” to “gravity”? If she meant that the parents were in grave danger out on the ice, she doesn’t say that at all.

When she closed the story, the reporter identifies the teacher and says, “She helped to keep more than 250 students safe overnight in Atlanta.”

SAFE??? Of course they were safe! They were inside with movies and cookies and blankets having a blast. An adventure story most of them will enjoy telling for years to come. How many kids in ATLANTA can talk about being snowed in at school? I’d have given my eyeteeth to have something that unexpected happen to me. At school, with friends. Away from parents.

If there were kids who were homesick or worried or not having fun, they got through the night no worse for the wear.

I laughed at Audie Cornish’s attempts to turn an adventure into a grave situation because it was funny…but it also reflects the knee-jerk assumption that anything away from parents is rife with danger. And you know what? I would bet that even Audie Cornish doesn’t think there was any danger in a school sleepover. The habit of associating children-away-from-parents with danger is so ingrained that she couldn’t help herself. Somehow it feels responsible to remind us that there was danger…even if it was only imagined.

Thought you would get a kick out of both sides of the story: the adventure side, and the reporter’s side where she needs to make the story about safety. Too weird.

Lenore here: Most of all, I get a kick when someone documents the way our culture obsesses about children: All danger, all the time.  So this is just a perfect artifact from our twisted society. Many thanks, Marie!

Those poor kids had to eat cookies and milk!

Those poor stranded kids had to eat cookies and milk!

Readers — This powerful comment came in response to my piece about the New Jersey woman who let her toddler sleep in the car for 5-10 minutes while she ran an errand. She was arrested, found guilty of abuse or neglect, and put on the state’s Child Abuse Registry. Two weeks ago, a New Jersey appeals court upheld that conviction. I love this letter:

The Child Abuse and Sex Offender Registries are out to SHAME, not SAVE.  (Prop stockade from BJWinslow)

Often as not, the Child Abuse and Sex Offender Registries are out to SHAME, not SAVE. (Prop stockade from BJWinslow)

Dear Free-Range Kids: I think what we’re really seeing here is just our country’s punitive mindset. It’s like we cannot imagine any way to express to somebody that we don’t like what they are doing except for calling it “abuse” and putting them on a registry.

We should all be wary of slippery-slope reasoning. That is what happened with sex offender registries in many states. Registries originally designed to be lists of people who, if a young child went missing, might [warrant being] investigated because their history made it much more likely that they’d rape and murder a child, became, in many states, lists of young men who had sex we think they shouldn’t have. The rationale for doing things like keeping the 20 year old guy who slept with a willing 15 year old girlfriend on a registry for life is that we don’t want 50 year olds to think it’s okay to sleep with 12 year olds. But that’s not how things work. Harshly punishing people for crimes we don’t really consider particularly heinous or dangerous is NOT the way to prevent people from committing heinous, dangerous crimes.

So if the fear is that people will knowingly leave their kids in the car for hours in the hot sun, for their own convenience, which would be genuine child abuse, we are not going to stop that by creating a registry of people who leave their kids in the car for 10 minutes on a nice, temperate day. What next? Registering people who spank their kids so that people don’t think child beating is okay? Registering people who withhold treats from a child so people won’t think starving a child is okay?


Whether we think she acted wisely or not, this woman was charged with CHILD ABUSE and is now on a registry of child abusers. The child abuse registry should not be a list of people who made parenting decisions we don’t like and who we think should therefore be publicly shamed for it; it should be a list of people who ACTUALLY pose a danger to children. This woman does not.

If people feel the need to call this woman a bad mom, call her a bad mom. Whatever. But we don’t want or need the state to validate those judgments, for maximum public humiliation. The point of laws should be public safety, not public humiliation, but more and more of our laws and moving in the direction of seeming to be more about shaming and humiliating and branding people who made decisions we don’t like rather than actually protecting the public from truly dangerous people. – Anonymous Mom


Criminalizing behavior we wouldn't do is different from criminalizing behavior that is parenting decisions we don't agree with.

The Child Abuse and Sex Offender Registries are out to SHAME, not SAVE.  (Prop stockade from BJWinslow)

Dear Readers — A very merry to you and yours, and hopes that someday soon a story like the one below will just seem NORMAL again. – L

Dear Free-Range Kids: My sister from New York just sent me some photos of us growing up in the South Bronx in the late ’40s and early ’50s. One is of my sister Helen, me and Santa Claus. The story behind that photo describes perfectly the differences between child rearing 60 years ago and the present bubble wrap age.
Helen and I lived in a tenement building on 141st St. in the Bronx. As a kindness to her kid brother (me!), my then 9-year-old sister took me by the hand and walked me up to 149th St and 3rd Ave, a business hub in the Bronx. We went to Hearn’s Dept. Store to see Santa. She negotiated the purchase of the photo, put us in line, and this lovely 1949/1950 photo emerged, a photo that we both cherish.

We had to cross many busy streets, ride the escalator (! – always an adventure) and wade through Christmas crowds. No one thought it at all odd that a 9-year-old girl could do that safely or competently. You can see in the picture an injury to my face that occurred when I did some stupid unsafe kid thing…that’s why the eight kids in my family always had scars. It was thought to be an integral part of growing up. How times have changed! I live in Australia now and called Helen – she’s 72 and I’m 68 – this morning and thanked her again for her venturesome kindness.

Yours, John McCormick

Scone, NSW, Australia

P.S.  By the way, the Santa in the photo is THE REAL SANTA. All the others are frauds.

A 9-year-old took her kid brother to see Santa. Normal responsibility.

Santa did not report this family to CPS.

Readers — When kids are going through their scared-of-the-dark phase, they see the chair and think it’s a monster. And when adults are going through their “Everyone is out to get our children” phase —  (From The Daily Mirror.)

Children were evacuated from a swimming pool amid fears of a pervert in the changing rooms – only to discover the alarm was caused by a false leg.

Staff spotted a foot sticking out from under a cubicle as primary school pupils got changed after a swimming lesson.

… But when [teachers] opened the changing room door they saw the suspected pervert was a prosthetic leg innocently left by a disabled man while he went for a swim. 

[The head of the school said,] “One of the members of staff had seen it, and we quickly moved the children out, and everything was dealt with in accordance with school policy.”

Best comments (from this site, which picked up the story):

“…everything was dealt with in accordance with school policy.” They have a school policy that says if you find a prosthetic leg you should assume it is really a paedophile and evacuate the pool?!

If I saw someone’s leg sticking out from a cubicle my first thought would be to see if they were alright, they might have collapsed.

Typical “Knee-jerk” (sorry) reaction that is happening too often today. In the past, the pool staff would have checked the foot before getting the kids out!

Not the actual suspicious leg. But you get the idea. (Photo from Clints Work)

Not the suspicious limb in question. But you get the idea. (Photo from Clints Work)

Readers — I got this letter yesterday in my email. Why does it make me SO MAD?


“Children are Unique, Beautiful and Fragile” begins its CRAVEN plea.


I’m losing it! I really feel this is a HORRIBLE thing to say or even IMPLY. I probably sound like I am in FAVOR of child maiming. I’m not! I just HATE this plea to emotion and terror when it comes to KIDS. It is INFECTIOUS!


Here’s the charity’s WHOLE LETTER — it’s just four sentences of SKIN CRAWLING smarm!  (And I’m sorry I keep updating this post — I just keep getting madder!) – L

What Snowflakes and Kids Have in Common

Kids are unique, beautiful and fragile. 

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Just like kids, snowflakes are beautiful and die really fast.

Just like kids, snowflakes are beautiful and doomed. (Caption, Lenore’s.)