header image


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:


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, 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!

Readers — It’s weird enough when we are warned that our bumper stickers are busy attracting predators. Now there is a new line of school bus that videos the cars behind it, on the bizarre assumption that these may be driven by predators so unsure of where else to find a child that they are following the big, yellow kiddie dispenser. And that’s not to mention the thumbprint recognition and tracking of the students, as if THEY were predators: 

A brief glance won’t tell you the new buses are equipped with voice-over-IP communication systems, or that they transmit data on speed, location and acceleration in real-time. The “Thumbs-Up!” thumbprint scanner, which keeps track of which kids are on the bus and whether they’re supposed to be there, is also hard to see unless you’re really pressing your face to the glass, as are the multiple interior security cameras.

Slightly easier to notice is the rear-facing camera, dubbed — no joke — the “Pedophile Finder.” “I wish we could have come up with a better name for it,” says Dallas County Schools spokeswoman Allison Allison. (Yes, that’s the correct name.) The camera, mounted on the top portion of the school bus and positioned to capture the license plate of tailing vehicles, isn’t just to catch pedophiles. It could be a parent who lost custody of their child, or a kidnapper. But “Pedophile Finder” was the name that stuck. “The bus driver can’t tell if somebody’s tailing him but if they recognize a pattern of a car following a bus” based on video, they can take appropriate measures.

I’m really curious what those “appropriate measures” are. Slam on the brakes and wait for the crash? Alert the police, “There’s  a car behind me!”  Get out of the bus and demand to see if the driver is wearing pants? Please, PLEASE protest if your school district even CONSIDERS these add-ons as “necessary for the safety of our children.” – L. 

To catch a predator...while driving a bus.

To catch a bus-tailgating predator.

Readers — Here’s an alarming idea with no basis in fact, as far as I can fathom. The idea:

Have a picture of little Bobby in his football gear and a “My Son is an Honor Student at Kelley Middle School” bumper sticker?

Congratulations, you just told the world and anyone who may want to harm your child, where they can find him.


Because otherwise, no predator could ever find a school football player at…a school? Possibly playing football? This smug reporter is  suggesting that:

1) Someone is out there who wants to harm your child specifically, for some reason, but

2) Simply could not figure out how to find him. Ah, but by reading the hieroglyphics on your bumper, he is set! I especially love the fact that a stick figure dog tells him that he need not worry, because it’s a “non guard dog” — a fact one can easily ascertain, thanks to the incredibly accuracy of stick figures.

“Congratulations” — author. You have just succumbed to Worst-First Thinking: Thinking up the very worst thing that could happen thanks to some dumb little stickers, and are now spreading this bizarre fear around. And what of all those predators who only pounce on honor students of the month? – L

Readers — This is just a fascinating artifact from the world of Worst-First thinking, where folks believe today’s children are completely besieged by criminal masterminds (or at least the last of the phonebook users)  who are driven in equal measures by rank evil and a love of intensive research. It ran as a letter to the Press Enterprise paper in Bloomsburg, PA (boldface mine):

To the Editor: I am writing this letter as a concerned former resident of the Bloomsburg area, and am a reader of the Press Enterprise. I no longer live in the area but still return to Bloomsburg because of family and friends who live there.

The March 3rd newspaper carried a page that is commonly used every month, but disturbs me, and others in the area, very deeply. Yesterday it was page 22, the page featuring pictures of young children in the area who are celebrating their birthdays. I would like to urge the Press Enterprise to please, please stop printing this page. These are beautiful, young children who deserve to have their birthdays made a special day for them, but please don’t make it so obvious and so public.

I caution not only the newspaper, but the parents who send in those pictures and the information accompanying them. It is a practice that puts the lives of these children in jeopardy. If I were someone desiring to do something to a child that is too horrible to imagine, all I have to do is get a copy of the newspaper that features a page 22 with all the pictures and information I would need  in order to carry out my desires. By purchasing that newspaper I would have a current photo of the child; know the names of the parents; know the town they lived in, and get a phone book to look up the address; learn the names and towns of the grandparents; know  how many siblings there are and their ages; and, by putting two and two together, come up with the school they go to.

If I learned their address from the phone book, I could drive to the area where they live, sit in my car and watch for them to walk to school and make my move. This is an extremely dangerous situation and the newspaper and the parents are making it very simple and treacherous for the very children they love so much.

This morning (March 4, 2014) I looked on the Internet and did a search for current registered sex offenders in Bloomsburg, Danville, and Berwick. There were a total of 66 current registered sex offenders. How many others are there in the area who are not current or are considering taking that next step to becoming one? Of course the three towns only skim the surface of the residents Benton, Hazleton, Northumberland, and, of course Sunbury where very recently a teenager was arrested for murder by finding victims on the Internet.

Bloomsburg is not the innocent town it once was when I grew up there (I graduated high school there in the ’60s). I know several residents of the area who have never  traveled over 100 miles from the town and probably never will. If you live in the town, you may never see Interstate 80 except when you drive on it. You may not even have a concept of the amount of traffic that drives on that highway. Do you even realize that I-80 goes from the New York City area all the way to the west coast? The number of people who travel through the Bloomsburg area daily is tremendous. It would be so easy for one of them to buy a newspaper, see the pictures of the children, do a little research, and their day would be planned. I would hate for something horrible to happen in my hometown.

S. H. . Norman, Okla.

Those poor doomed children who live in Bloomsburg, PA.

The doomed town of Bloomsburg, PA.


Readers — I found this video pathuriating. That’s my new word for pathetic + infuriating. (No, I don’t expect it to catch on.)

I asked my friend Shelly Stow, who works to dispel predator panic, to articulate what’s so bad about this thing. She writes:

I’m not sure what it’s designed to do. Terrify parents? Make them think that children are at significant risk of being taken in public, in broad daylight, with adults there who have been “alerted” to the situation by the child? By a kidnapper who persists in his attempts with adults there with telephones? Has it ever happened?

Ah, I love Shelly. Read more of her response here, at  her blog. And then do not do what so many others seem to be doing, which is to pass along this video as if it just proves our kids are never safe. (Which sometimes seems to be what social media IS all about.) – L


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.