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murder

Readers — This McSweeney’s post by  Beth Levine and Liz Dancho is soooo good. It’s called “Parenting Tips I Learned from Law & Order: SVU” and includes such advice as:

Don’t raise your kids in New York City. They will end up running their own adult website and spending all their money on video games.

Don’t raise your kids in Connecticut. They will just steal your car and take joy rides into New York with their friends, who will most likely kill them and leave them in the trunk.

Warn your kids to stay inside on garbage day. Piles of trash almost always have bodies in them.

If your stepson is acting funny, check the cellar for child slaves….

Read more here. And for your viewing pleasure, here is the  star (Cameron Ocasio) of  an SVU episode involving a 9-year-old who wanted to ride the subway alone:

Cameron Ocasio starred in a Law & Order episode about a boy who takes the subway alone.

Cameron Ocasio 

Needless to say, it did not end well. And here is my son who rode the subway alone at 9. He’s fine. – L

And here's Izzy Skenazy, when he took the subway alone. Hmmm.

Izzy Skenazy. 

Hi Folks! This just in: Homicide has dropped off the Top 15 causes of death in America. It’s been replaced by something called, “Pneumonitis,” an illness caused by people accidentally breathing food or liquid into their lungs — a problem most prevalent in folks over 75. In other words, it is one of the panoply of things that can finally kill us if we live a long, un-murdered life.

There’s good news at the other end of the spectrum, too: Infant mortality has dropped to an all-time low of 6.14 deaths per 1000 births. Read that again: all time low.

Even the death rate from accidents has gone down, according to the Centers for Disease Control, which compiled all these stats.

This is the first time in 45 years that homicide is not among that top 15 causes of death in America. Put in Free-Range Kids terms: The murder rate was higher when most of us parents were growing up than it is now, for our kids. And since I know someone will say, “So what? That just means kids are safer because we are keeping them inside, or GPS’ing them, or making sure they are supervised at all times!” let me quickly note that murder is down among adults, too, and it’s not because we are helicoptering them. Moreover, the murder rate is lower than it has been for almost two generations, which means it is lower now than even before parents began hovering. So I don’t see this study as an endorsement of overprotection.

No, I see it as a reality check: Our parents didn’t feel guilty or terrified when they let us play outside and the murder rate was higher. Today’s kids deserve the even-less-risky chance to enjoy a Free-Range childhood. — L.

M'am! Don't you realize the murder rate has gone down?

Hi Folks! This article on tv.msn talks about the trend of using kids in danger — or actually murdered — as the “newest” hook on TV dramas. It lists several of this season’s shows — “The Walking Dead,” “Breaking Bad,” “American Horror Story,” “Dexter” – that feature poisoned, executed and/or potentially eviscerated kids, including baby twins.

I totally agree that these shows are using the ultimate terror as the ultimate hook. But I don’t see this as a spanking new trend. The handful of “Law & Order” episodes I’ve watched  over the years involved kids snatched off the street to their doom. And certainly, in the movies, missing or dead children catapult a legion of righteous cops and crazed parents into action.

So I’m asking you, folks: Do you have any thoughts about how long this trend has been mounting? A professor friend I was talking to the other day, Leonard Cassuto, said that the very SIGHT of a dead child had been taboo on TV until recently. I’d love to hear from some of you who watch and digest TV fare: What are the trends on TV dramas right now, vis a vis kids in peril?  Thanks for cogitating on this with me. — L.

Hello, children! Won't you step into my edgy TV drama?

P.S. And if you need a break from thinking such somber thoughts, you will LOVE this short video.

Hi Readers. Here’s a slightly updated column I wrote for my syndicate, Creators, this week.

What Happens When We Dangerize Childhood

This has been a big week for pointing fingers … including at me.

As the lady who started “Free-Range Kids” after letting my 9-year-old take the subway solo,  I’ve spent a lot of time explaining that crime rate is actually LOWER than it was in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s, which means our kids should be able to enjoy the same kind of childhood WE had — playing outside, riding their bikes, even walking home at age 8.

But then a madman murdered 8-year-old Leiby Kletzky, who was  indeed just walking home from camp in Brooklyn. And suddenly, the idea of Free-Range Kids sounds about as sensible as letting children ride their trikes along the interstate. As the headline on one of the big “mommy blogs” read, “Boy Abducted Walking Home Alone: Is Free-Range Parenting Dangerous?”

To which I would like to pose a different question, based on the fact that 25 times more children die as car passengers than as abduction victims (that is, about 1,300 children younger than 14 die in cars annually, whereas about 50 are murdered by strangers): “Is Putting Your Kid in the Car Dangerous?”

I ask only because, as a society, we have decided to focus on the least likely, most horrific, most TV ratings-garnering child deaths and base a lot of our parenting decisions on them. Gever Tulley, an author and educator in California, coined a term for this: dangerism. (And he wrote a book about it, too.)  We decide, irrationally, which dangers are worth obsessing over and which we will shrug off as small, unavoidable risks.

So when I get a letter such as this one — “That little boy’s parents should have known better than to let him walk alone at such an early age” — I have to stifle a scream.

The parents should have “known better” than to trust their city — my city, too — where we are enjoying the lowest murder rate since 1961? Known better than to trust their neighborhood, which the state assemblyman described as a “no-crime area”? Known better than to trust their 8-year-old when, in most countries of the world, kids start walking to school at age 7? This is like saying the parents of the baby killed by a falling tree branch in Central Park last year should have known better than to stand under a tree.

We have yet to dangerize a walk in the park. But we are in the process of dangerizing any walk by any kid in any neighborhood, no matter how safe.

It is hard to get a grip on how uncommon a crime like the Kletzky murder is, because it is precisely those uncommon crimes that are exceedingly common on TV. They start out on the news and then get recycled in the crime dramas and “special investigations” and, eventually, on the anniversary shows (smarmily marketed as “tributes”), to the point where the story becomes indelible. Then, when we ask ourselves whether it is safe for our kids to walk outside, up pops Lieby Kletzky’s photo, like the top story in a Google search. And just like that top Google item, it seems the most relevant, even though actually it is the least. It is so easily accessible because it is so rare. If it were happening all the time — like kids being killed in car accidents — we’d search for an iconic image and draw a blank.

So the next time someone tells me, “I would NEVER let my child walk outside, because it’s just too dangerous,” here is how I will reply:

“I hope you NEVER put your children in a car. How could you ever forgive yourself if, God forbid, something terrible were to happen? It is YOUR RESPONSIBILITY to keep your children safe! Personally, I would rather have my kids stuck at home, unable to go anywhere, than take the TERRIBLE RISK of putting them in the car. Maybe at 13 or 14 they can start riding in a car, but seven or eight? Too young! Parents should know better! It’s just not worth a lifetime of regret.”

That’s how wacky — and stifling — we can get when we dangerize everyday life, so let’s try not to. (And let’s keep the blame-the-parents impulse in check, too.) — L.

Hello, Readers. It is with an actually, physically aching heart that I report to you the death of an 8-year-old Brooklyn boy, Leiby Kletzky, who disappeared from a short, solo walk yesterday and was later found in a dumpster. Here is the story.

I bring it up because it seems to prove that the incident that kicked off Free-Range Kids — my letting my 9-year-old ride the New York City subway alone — was foolish, or worse. At the time I said that I felt this was a reasonable and safe thing to do, because I believed in my son, my city and my own parenting. Despite the sorrow I feel even in my joints, I still do.

There are horrible people in the world. There always were, always will be. There were horrible people in the world even when we parents were growing up, and our own parents let us play outside and walk to school and visit our friends on our bikes. Our parents weren’t naive. They knew that we live in a fallen world. They also knew that they had a choice: Keep us locked inside for fear of a tragic, rare worst-case-scenario, or teach us the basics — like never go off with a stranger — and then let us out. They let us out.

Today we are faced with a worst-case scenario that could end up re-defining childhood as did the Etan Patz case 30 years ago.  (A case that had no parallel in my city until today. ) That a stranger abduction like Leiby’s is rarer than death-by-lightning just doesn’t seem to matter at a time like this. But it does.

People will blame the parents for letting their son walk even a few blocks on his own. I’ve already read some of those comments. They are like knives. Is it better to have a city — a country, a world — where no child is ever outside again without an adult? Where parents who let their kids to walk to the bus stop are treated like pariahs? Where the parks are empty, the playgrounds are empty, bikes sit in the garage and children hunker inside with their terrified moms and dads?

It is really hard to even suggest that life continue on as normal, but that is what I truly believe is the only response to this crime. Not that we take it in stride — I think it will always hurt. But that we take it in context. Saying that my city’s crime rate is down to the lowest it has been since 1961 seems ridiculous at a time like this. But it is down, and to act as if every block is full of darkness means — to borrow a phrase from terrorism — the darkness has won.

I’m shaken. I’m sad. I’m so sorry for what has happened. And I will send my sons out again. — Lenore

Good Morning, Readers: Wondering what to get those parents on your list?

Dear Free-Range Kids: I thought you might be interested to see this.  A local dentist was advertising this service.

http://www.yoursafechild.com/parents-toothprintsr.html

Now if your child’s body is found but so decomposed that it can’t be
identified visually, you can use “toothprints” to record his/her
dental records so he/she can be identified.  It apparently also helps
scent dogs track your child’s body to find it.

This is really, really morbid.  I can’t believe parents spend money on
this kind of thing.  The local police gave us a kit to fingerprint our
kids and save a DNA sample in case either of them were killed in some
gory way, and I didn’t even save the free kit.  I can’t imagine
spending money to do this. – Nicole

Hi Readers — After the terrible story of Jaycee Dugard’s abduction and 18-year imprisonment came to light a few weeks ago, the media was on fire with reminders that our children are NEVER safe on the streets and anything like this could happen at any time on any unchaperoned trip to school. You’ll recall one bit of advice I questioned was an article that said we should never — that’s right, NEVER — let our children go “anywhere alone.”

Last week, Annie Le, a graduate student, was murdered at Yale.  Shouldn’t the talk show hosts and fearmongers be wringing their hands and tearfully reminding us parents, “Never — NEVER — let your children go to Yale”?

 Why aren’t they?  – Lenore