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Hi Folks! I’m trying to gather examples of warnings, waivers and official worires that annoy, amuse or outrage you, especially regarding your kids. For instance, over in England  schools are forbidding parents from taking pictures at plays. One sports program requires shutter-happy parents to wear a special ARM BAND if they’re going to snap pix. In this amazing article, Josie Appleton, head of The Manifesto Club, writes that the “Robin Hood primary and nursery school in Nottinghamshire says its photographs are stored in a ‘secure location’ for not more than four years, after which they are ‘privately destroyed.’” Like government secrets!

I’m speaking at a conference about this kind of stuff in November and I’ve got a lot of wonderful examples from you already. But if you’ve got any more — let’s hear! L.   (who can’t quite figure out why, at the end of this video, you go right into my next-to-latest video…but so be it) 

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB22r7uUnvg?rel=0&w=560&h=315]

Hi Readers! Greetings from Bendigo, Australia where I’m here to keynote this conference. (Gorgeous city!) Anyway, apparently I arrived just in the nick of time. Two girls over here were playing tennis at a private school recently when the ball hit and bruised one girl’s eye. Anything having to do with eyes is scary and distressing, but in a move worthy of the best of America’s ambulance chasers, the bruised-eye-girl’s family immediately sued the ball-lobber, and the tennis school, and the college where the incident occurred. According to this report in The Courier Mail:

The claim says the tennis school failed to provide adequate supervision or protective eyewear…

So from now on, should we no longer assume that everyone understands the basic idea that a ball, once set in motion, can hit a person? At the same time, should we start insisting on protective eyewear every time a moving ball is invovled? Goggles?, I guess?

As the daughter of a man who started and ran a tennis club till he died (Max Skenazy, Northbrook Racquet Club in Illinois!) , I’m hoping this suit will be tossed out of both courts — both tennis and legal. – L

Hi Folks! News moves so fast. Here’s a story I was going to post tomorrow, but here it is today — complete with an update that just came in! 

Ricky Sargent, a football and track coach in Hempstead, Texas, was fired last week for leaving two seniors behind at a restaurant for about an hour, at night, after they misbehaved and refused to get back on the team bus.

The young men were acting up on their way back from a meet, and as a punishment they were told they wouldn’t be allowed off the bus to eat. But eventually they DID get off — and then refused to get back on. The adult or adults with the team at the time called Coach Sargent, who okayed the decision to leave the troublemakers behind, saying he’d come by to sit with them himself until their parents came to pick them up.

Which he did.

And for which he was fired.

Now, clearly, this was a breach of conduct on the coach’s part. But it certainly sounds like it was also a breach on the part of the young men who, as seniors, I can’t bring myself to call “kids.” If they are 17, they’re old enough to drive.  If they are 18, they are old enough to go to war. But they’re not old enough to wait for an hour at a restaurant for their parents to come pick them up?

I fear that the reason the coach was fired was not just that his behavior was legally dicey, but that as a culture we believe that anytime minors are not directly supervised by adults, they are in mortal peril. But they’re not. And in this case, the students were at a restaurant, with a coach quickly by their side, and parents headed over to get them.

We’ve bemoaned the death of common sense here before. This is the death of a couple of other things, too. It’s the death of any faith that our kids can be safe on their own. It’s also the death of a certain kind of faith in our kids — faith that they can roll with some punches, and even learn from cold water splashed in their face.  I’m not one for an eye for an eye, but letting young people experience real consequences for their behavior — even slightly improvised, imperfect consequences — does not strike me as evil. It strikes me as wanting our kids to do better, and believing that they can.

What will the young men learn from this experience? Maybe it’s that they can get away with their antics. Maybe it’s that they were injured and aggrieved. But just maybe it will be that they’ve lost a coach who did nothing worse than think that, when forced to handle themselves in an unfamiliar situation, they’d rise to the occasion.

That’s the kind of coach I’d want for my kids. – L.

BUT BUT BUT! — Here’s an update! And I don’t want to spoil the suprise but: Woot!

Is there any way two high school students can survive for an hour on their own at a restaurant?

Hi Readers. Here’s the latest kids-in-car/mom-arrested story.  I know it seems like I’ve posted a flood of these cases lately and I’ll pause for a bit after this one, but this woman is asking for support and I’d like to provide some.

As you’ll see, it’s strange that somehow her 3-year-old got out of the car — that’s certainly something to look out for — but should she have been investigated by Child Protective Services? Should she have to go to court? Is she an irresponsible parent? No way. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: I have found you through researching issues related to child endangerment.  I have been charged with second degree child endangerment, in Arkansas, for leaving a sleeping baby and a three-year-old locked in a warm minivan on a cold day for under five minutes.

This happened in December.  I immediately hired an attorney, who explained that I hadn’t actually violated the statute, and so was not guilty.  Then, in February, I was visited by a child protective services worker.  He toured my home, and asked me questions about the incident.  I figured he was following protocol and that he would close the case.

Today I received a letter stating that I will be placed on a child maltreatment list, and that my employer may be notified, unless I request an administrative hearing, and at that hearing they overrule the family service worker’s opinion. Here is the source of all this mess:

On December 16, a Friday, which is my day off, I was driving with my two youngest children.  Benjamin is my baby, and Aurora is my three-year-old.  We had just met up with May, my six-year-old, for lunch at her elementary school.  I remembered suddenly that this was the last day I could buy a gift for May’s first grade teacher.

We were in a touristy and safe part of town, very close to the math and science school at which I work.  Benjamin had a bronchial cough, and Aurora was eating cookies (messy), and didn’t want to leave the van.

I considered the cold air outside, the baby’s cough, Aurora’s messy face and hands.  I figured that the time it would take to get the children out of the van and back into the van would be nearly twice the time it would take to just run into the shop myself.  They were both locked in their car seats.  I parked as close to the shop as I could get, locked the car from the outside, double checked the lock, literally ran into the store, grabbed two items without checking the price, checked out with no wait, since I was the only customer, and ran out of the store.

There I found two police officers standing with Aurora outside of the van, with the van’s sliding door open.  When they saw me running toward them, one of them shouted to get back, and not to touch my daughter.  He said “Sit your butt down!” so I sat on the pavement.  Aurora, who had been calmly talking to them, was upset by their treatment of me.  Finally, they let her come to me, and I held her.  The officers claimed that they stopped because they saw her standing outside.  This seemed really unlikely to me, but I figure it must be true, because how else would the door have been unlocked?  Inside, the baby still slept.  They cited me but did not call child protective services, and did not arrest me.

At the hearing my lawyer appeared and entered a not guilty plea.  A trial was set for February 4.

At that trial, the judge said immediately, “Didn’t I just see a case like this earlier this morning?”  The “similar” case was one in which a parent left children alone in a Walmart parking lot while he cashed a check inside.  My attorney started explaining that my facts were different, that the time was much less.  Then my attorney mistakenly said I left only one child waiting.  The prosecutor pounced, saying, “No, it was two children, on Central Avenue, and one was only six months old!!”

My attorney asked for a continuance.  The next date is April 5.

Since then, my attorney has changed his strategy from arguing for my innocence to making deals with the prosecutor.  He insists on waiting until the court date to show her my acceptance letter to the University of Texas Law School (I had applied when the incident happened, but I found out I was accepted right after attending that Feb. 4 trial).  He expresses doubt that she will be helpful, and he doesn’t seem to want to argue before the judge.

So I have fired him, and hired one who was recommended to me.  He seems much more willing to fight.  However, I just received a certified letter from child protective services that says they have found me guilty of neglect, based only on this incident, and that I will be placed on a child maltreatment list, unless an administrative hearing determines otherwise.  I have told my attorney.  This afternoon, more people from protective services came to my house while I was working and my husband was babysitting.  He expressed frustration and referred them to our attorney.  We are not going to speak with them.

I’m scared, and confused and angry.  I am afraid that a guilty conviction could compromise my chances of becoming an attorney.  I am afraid of being permanently labeled a bad mother from a judgment call that happened to be out of line with that police officer’s opinion of good parenting, even though my actions didn’t actually violate the Arkansas child endangerment statute, which is quite vague.

I’m just reaching out for support and strength, and maybe some good ideas.  – A Mom Who Feels Thrust Into an Alternate Reality.

Hi Readers — My very own state — New York — just passed an overprotective, unnecessary, parental-decision-damning bill. Here’s the scoop, according to the Queens Chronicle:

In order to better ensure child safety, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill on Feb. 29 that would make it illegal for parents or guardians to leave children under the age of 8 alone in a motor vehicle. Multiple infractions would constitute a misdemeanor.

The bill applies to any person legally charged with care of a child and states that they cannot be left alone or with anyone under the age of 12, “under conditions which would knowingly or recklessly present a significant risk to the health or safety of the child.”

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The problem is that what I consider a “significant risk” may be quite different from what the authorities consider a “significant risk.” So even if I think my 7-year-old can wait in the car, reading a comic book, while I go in to buy stamps, someone else with a badge or gavel might consider that treacherous. After all, what if there’s a carjacking? What if the child is snatched? What if the car overheats in ten minutes and somehow my kid can’t figure out how to open the door? Or (to paraphrase some folks interviewed in the Queens Chronicle article): What if the state needs to make money and penalizing my parenting decisions is an easy way to grab it?
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I understand the actual issue driving this particular law: Trying to save children from being forgotten in the car and left to die a horrible death by hyperthermia. But it’s not as if anyone MEANS to forget their child in the car all day. So saying, “Forget your child and you will get a ticket!” is not likely to have a bigger effect than, “Forget your child and he may DIE.”
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As I’ve said before on this topic, the best way to keep your kids safe is to put your purse, briefcase, phone and/or wallet in the back seat next to the car seat. That way, even if somehow you WERE about to forget your sleeping infant (which is the way most of the deaths happen), now you will open the back door and see him/her there.  My new motto: Make sense, not laws. — L.

Kids! Cars! Are they ever safe while waiting in one?

Hi Readers! This poster comes to us from Ann Sattley, author of  the book and blog Technically, That’s Illegal. In case you can’t read the fine print, it says, “Please remember that the library, though a fun and entertaining place to be, is a busy public facility and all public places do present hazards for unsupervised children.”

Aside from the extraneous “do” (which I thought was confined to stewardess-speak) and referring to the library as a public facility, which somehow makes it sound like a giant john, this is a bald admission of the mainstream outlook today:  Children should never be any place in public unsupervised, as they are at risk — and you’ve been warned.

It might be “fun” and “exciting” to be at the library, but kids should wait until an adult has scads of free time to be there with them, or just live without library time. Who needs all that reading anyway? Kids might get the wrong idea from books like From The Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler and start having “adventures.” I shudder to think. – L.

Hi Readers! Here’s one to get your blood (and water) boiling, direct from The Mirror, in England. – L.

Mums have been told they cannot have a cup of coffee while looking after their toddlers at a children’s centre – because it’s against health and safety rules.

Council officers told the group to change its name from Coffee and Play to Baby Play – and swap biscuits for fruit and breadsticks as snacks – because it’s against health and safety rules.

No children have been hurt in the five years the group has been running but the council said hot drinks were dangerous – even in special safety flasks.

How I remember the months when I was home on maternity leave and our giant Manhattan apartment complex had a community room. What brought many of us down there was the joy of having someplace to hang out with our kids (and by kids I mean “other adults”). What kept us sane was: Free coffee!

I don’t doubt that coffee presents a hazard. I just think that NO coffee presents TWO hazards: 1 – Insane parents. 2 – Insane law creep. When we start taking age-old, pretty darn safe practices and squinting at them them through the danger microscope, we will start outlawing everything normal and good, including moms drinking coffee….

Oh wait. – L.

Arrest this dangerous hussy?