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Hi Readers! Over in jolly ol’ England,  there’s a man I revere named Tim Gill who runs the blog Rethinking Childhood, and wrote the book No Fear: Growing Up in a Risk Averse Society. This most recent post of his is SO GOOD — and asks such an important question — I asked if i could run part of it here. Replied Tim, “Take the whole thing!” See what I mean? A great guy. – L

WHEN ANXIOUS PARENTS ARE THE PROBLEM, WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? by TIM GILL

How should schools, nurseries, kindergartens and other education, childcare and play services respond to anxious parents? I was asked this question recently by an Australian early years educator who heard me speak a couple of months ago.

She explained that her setting’s outdoor space was very small and sparse, but that it was located in some more extensive school grounds. She was keen to take the children into the grounds, so they could play games that they do not have room for in their own yard. She wanted to do this, not only because of the extra space, but also to prepare the children for the transition to the ‘big school’ that many of them would soon be joining. She continues:

Unfortunately, one parent has refused permission for their child to have anything to do with the school, because “she’s not going to that school next year”. I’ve spoken to my managers, and there’s nothing I can do about one parent preventing all the children from going to the school. I am not able to ask the child to stay home on those days. I am not able to leave her with one staff member at the setting. I am not able to leave her at the school office. And when I appealed to the mother she said that it is my problem.

It is amazing that one parent can determine what all the other children will be able to do! I asked my managers if they could make it a compulsory policy from next year’s enrolments that parents give permission before enrolling to access the school grounds. However, they said no, as I am supposed to engage with our community, according to regulations.

They did say they would look into it, as they hadn’t come across a parent like this before. I said they should, because there’s always one parent! If a parent doesn’t give permission then it’s certainly to their child’s detriment, but to affect everybody else’s rights to go on an excursion or to do an activity that is deemed beneficial and educational is not right.

Note the real problem here. It is not parents as a group. It’s that because of the policies and procedures of the setting, the views of a single parent are enough to derail things.

baby-knee-padsParents, like the rest of us, are on a spectrum when it comes to their attitude to risk. At one end of this spectrum, some parents apparently feel the need to protect their children through against all possible harm, even the harm from crawling on a hardwood floor.

All too often, systems and procedures effectively give risk averse parents a veto. Schools, services and settings feel under pressure to set their benchmark at the level of the most anxious parent. Often, the result is that all children lose out on some vital learning experiences.

My take-home message to services – and especially service managers – is simple. If you want to allow all children the chance to spread their wings a little, you cannot set your bar at the level of the most anxious parent. In the nicest possible way, you need to be assertive with the ones at the fearful end of the spectrum. They should not be allowed to think that they have a veto on what you offer to children.

Readers: How about you? How worried are you about the influence of anxious parents? What messages do parents get about your values – for instance, in your publicity materials, or your mission statement – and how well do these values square up with your practice? Have you succeeded in winning the more risk-averse over to the idea of expanding children’s horizons? Or do your procedures get in the way? I would love to hear your views and ideas. – -T.G.

Me too! – L.S.

P.S. You might want to check out the comments on Tim’s blog. Some good ones! 

 

Hey Readers — This just in: A community in Florida is prohibiting anyone under age 18 from going outside unchaperoned by an adult. Yep, just like in Taliban-held Afghanistan, except for “women must be accompanied by a male relative” over there, substitute “minors must be accompanied by their caregiver” over here. In Florida, the rule means:

…no bike riding, no walking to the bus stop without an adult. Some parents say their kids are under house arrest.

Ten-year-old Yousif Mehyer and his friends have been skateboarding and biking around their neighborhood for years. But for the past few weeks the kids have been stuck indoors.

“They felt like they were on house arrest,” said Nadia Mihyar, Ole resident.

They were scared of security at Ole Village in Lely Resort after being reprimanded for walking outside alone.

This isn’t LIKE house arrest. It IS house arrest. How is this even legal? How is this America? How about a revolution? – L.

As if Florida didn't have enough bad press lately...

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! The other day my brother-in-law asked me if I ever got really “down” about our culture. I told him that usually I don’t — I get so mad about ridiculous rules and outlandish fears that I just blog in a blind fury and feel better.

But this story, sent by the folks at Kaboom, actually feels like lead in my soul. It’s about how yet another long-standing, joyous tradition — 100 unsupervised fifth graders frolicking outside on Friday afternoons — has suddenly been axed. Why? Oh, the usual, spanking new “safety” concerns. Sort of like the coffee ban discussed in the post below this one. Sort of like when Amtrak suddenly upped the age kids can travel solo from 8 to 13, not because of any incidents, but out of an “abudance of concern.”

If this is concern, I’ll take neglect. – L.

Once upon a time, an elementary school in Davidson, N.C. had a lovely tradition. On Friday afternoons, fifth graders with parental permission left the confines of their classroom to play on the Village Green. And the best part? They did it all by themselves!

But the school has decided to ban on the longtime tradition—even with an OK from mom and dad, students can no longer walk to the Green from school. Instead, they must ride home on the school bus or get picked up by their parents.

Read the rest of it here. And weep wherever you’d like. And then sign this Change.org petition. — L.

Hi Readers — Here’s lovely news! Remember that third grader who was showing off his pocket knife after school and ended up EXPELLED? We ran the story on Feb. 17, asking for help and media coverage.

Got both — and JUSTICE! It started here, so thank you, readers (and 141 commenters)!! Let’s hear it for creating sanity in the world! Here’s a note from the mom who sent in the original story. — L.

Thank you thank you thank you for your incredible outpouring of support and encouragement!  
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It worked! Multiple blogs, facebook posts, online and news editorials, newsgroups threads, community group emails, a petition that garnered nearly100 supporters in just one day, two new websites urging balance to Zero Tolerance, and a middle school petition at SMS… way to mobilize!!
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The boy’s record has been cleared and his expulsion repealed.  He has been invited back to school and our superintendent will be calling the local police department to urge them to drop the charges.  However, the damage has been done and he’s terrified of Cumberland, so he will remain where he’s at for the time being.
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I think what is in order now is a very heartfelt apology from the administration, the district, and the police, and a complete overhaul of our state and district policy regarding Zero Tolerance, so this does not happen again. Many many thanks! – Julie Colwell
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In a follow-up note, I asked Julie how the story spread and got action. We can all learn some social media/social action lessons from what she wrote back:
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This was a success of social media, actually.  None of the large outlets picked it because the boy’s parents weren’t willing to talk until the criminal charges were dropped.  I didn’t want it to become old news, so I posted your blog and the letter to the editor in the Sunnyvale Sun (which is our tiny local paper — but everybody reads it) on my kids’ school newsgroups and Facebook pages.  And I started a petition on change.org which sends an automatic email to our state reps, state superintendent, district superintendent, principal and several other education officials every time someone signs it.  How annoying is that?
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From there, it spread to more local newsgroups and blogs and other social media.  Someone started a Facebook page on Zero Tolerance for Zero Tolerance.  I must have gotten over a hundred emails in support.
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But Free-Range Kids was first.  Many many thanks!  And also thanks to whomever on Free-Range Kids suggested the petition on change.com.  I’m going to keep pursuing that.  Hopefully we can make this sanity permanent!

Hi Readers — Here’s an incredible report on how the “School to prison pipeline” plays out in Texas, as published in The Guardian:

In 2010, the police gave close to 300,000 “Class C misdemeanour” tickets to children as young as six in Texas for offences in and out of school, which result in fines, community service and even prison time. What was once handled with a telling-off by the teacher or a call to parents can now result in arrest and a record that may cost a young person a place in college or a job years later.

The other appalling fact is that parents who don’t or can’t pay the fine, which can be $500, sometimes ignore it. Which means that when the kid turns 17,he or she can be arrested and go to jail — adult prison — for non-payment.

The draconian nature of this situation has not escaped notice. Reports The Guardian:

 Texas state legislature last year changed the law to stop the issuing of tickets to 10- and 11-year-olds over classroom behaviour. (In the state, the age of criminal responsibility is 10.) But a broader bill to end the practice entirely – championed by a state senator, John Whitmire, who called the system “ridiculous” – failed to pass and cannot be considered again for another two years.

Two more years of criminalizing everything from shenanigans to defiance? All in the name of “safety”? What about keeping kids safe from an unwarranted,  lifelong criminal record?

This is a Free-Range issue because, once again, we see what happens when we lose perspective on crime. Usually I write about how we keep our kids inside because we wildly over-estimate the chance of kidnapping. Now we see what happens when schools, politicians and police wildly over-estimate the chance of “another Columbine.” Either way, childhood is compromised.  Either way, out kids pay the price for our paranoia.  – Lenore

Hi Readers: I was just very impressed by this boy’s sense of sorrow, connectedness and respect. While I don’t recommend kids defying their parents’ rules, sometimes, as they say, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Anyway, here’s what I’m talking about, from the MSNBC website:

Jared Flanders faced a dilemma Wednesday evening: He had heard about the firefighter who was killed while looking for victims inside a burning building last week and he wanted to pay respects, but at only 11 years old, Jared wasn’t allowed to go outside by himself and he had no one to take him.

Jared, who lives in Worcester, Mass., ultimately decided to defy his father’s orders and go to firefighter Jon Davies’ wake. He carefully put on a coat and tie, hopped on his bike and went down to the funeral home, about a mile away, reported NBC affiliate WHDH.com.

Jared didn’t know the fireman, but he knows the pain of losing someone: His older half-brother fought in Iraq and died this summer, said Jared’s dad, Gene Flanders,on his Facebook page.

Jared sounds like a boy any parent would be proud of. (So does his half-brother.) Also sounds like he’s ready for some new rules — like letting him go out of the house on his own. — L.