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Hi Folks! Last week was a double-header media week for Free-Range Kids. First KTRK, the ABC affiliate in Houston, did a story on the movement and  the reporter, Ilona Carson, totally got it: Our goal  is not to put kids in danger, it’s to put danger in perspective. Wait’ll you see how Ilona wraps up the piece by comparing other childhood dangers to the chances of a kid being kidnapped. I never saw that on any news show before! Her piece is right below.

Below that is an interview I did with Sun News TV in Canada about the mom who wants the local school to cut down its oak trees out of consideration to allergic kids. The host, Anthony Furey, really gave me a chance to speak and was also on the side of common sense. What a week!


Hi Folks! Just read a wonderful, cogent Q&A with Barry Glassner, the author of The Culture of Fear and now the prez of Lewis & Clark University. He’s been tracking our escalating worries for over a decade and come to the same conclusions as me (he came to them first!!)  about where the fear is coming from and perhaps how to fight it. My favorite part of the interview:

Why are so many people afraid of such extreme possibilities? 

We need to be careful to distinguish how people respond to fear mongering and who is spreading the fears. If we ask why so many of us are losing sleep over dangers that are very small or unlikely, it’s almost always because someone or some group is profiting or trying to profit by either selling us a product, scaring us into voting for them or against their opponent or enticing us to watch their TV program.

But to understand why we have so many fears, we need to focus on who is promoting the fears.

What’s your advice for someone faced with “fear-filled” news? 

If I can point to one thing, it’s this: Ask yourself if an isolated incident is being treated as a trend. Ask if something that has happened once or twice is “out of control” or “an epidemic.” Just asking yourself that question can be very calming. The second (suggestion) is, think about the person who is trying to convey the scary message. How are they trying to benefit, what do they want you to buy, who do they want you to vote for? That (question) can help a lot.

It sure can. That’s why I try to ask it a lot: Are they doing this to get ratings? Are they over-scaring us about some unlikely or minor problem so they can sell us something to assuage the fear they  just created?

The problem, of course, fear also becomes an echo chamber: If TV keeps showing us abductions to garner ratings, those scary stories resonate for the average person who is NOT trying to sell anything, but has been shaken to his shoes. Now he truly believes he’s being helpful warning us, “Don’t let your kids play on the front lawn, they could be snatched!” or, “Don’t let go of your child’s hand at the store, EVER.”

How to leech the fear infection out of those folks is in part what Free-Range is always trying to figure out. Suggestions welcome! — L.

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.

Readers — Sometimes I need a break, as I’m sure you do too. And what could be better than a snippet from The Onion reminding us just how driven the news media and  ”experts” can be when it comes to whipping up fear? Enjoy!  [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jQdZQjgGT-I]

Readers: This “service” piece on NBC Over-Reaction News — sorry, NBC Action News —  tells us that because there is a GPS locator embedded in the pix we take on our cell phones, “the bad guys” can NOW SEE where our children live, where they “recreate” (such a police verb — it means play), and where they “go to school.” It can even “locate their bedrooms!”

Which means that if you are a predator who could not possibly OTHERWISE ever figure out where there is a park, or a school, or a house with a trike in the front yard, at LAST you can find yourself a child, using sophisticated technology.

SUDDENLY our children are unsafe — and it is all technology’s fault. And how GRATEFUL we must be to the TV reporters who dwell and dwell and dwell on the fact that now we parents must be even MORE vigilant, because so many predators are busy using GPS embeds to “cherry pick” (TV’s word) and track down the ONLY kid worth taking: YOURS. Because her smile is so irresistibly sweet!

Shake, shake, shake. Those are your marching orders for today: SHAKE IN YOUR SHOES. They are watching your every move! If you love your children, be MORE CAREFUL! (And if you DON’T love your children, go ahead and take their pictures, you dreadful parent. You will suffer the consequences!!!!!) — L.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N2vARzvWxwY]

Hi Readers! And now for something completely different: Television! I am about to start filming a reality TV show dedicated to the wild idea that our kids are at LEAST as smart and safe as we were — so why don’t we stop treating them like hand-blown swizzle sticks?

Yes. For real! This is a TV show that is going to try to turn the tide.

The show will feature yours truly going to the homes of parents who are OPEN to the idea of loosening the reins a little (or at least one of the spouses is), but still worry about a lot of What If”s: “What if the kids get hurt?” “What if they get lost?” And, of course, “What if somebody snatches them?”

And who can blame folks for worrying this way? Considering that most media spend the day screaming that our children are in terrible danger from everything you can think of (Germs! Dirt! Branches! Predators! Playing in tree houses! Going on sleepovers! Video Barbie! Valentine’s Day! Halloween!), parents are naturally at their wits’ end. As a result, sometimes even reluctantly, they forbid their kids  the kind of freedom that used to DEFINE childhood. The freedom to ride a bike to the beach, or meet friends at the park, or simply walk to school.

With any luck, the families and I will talk about what’s lost when kids are cocooned and what is gained when we teach them to start making their way in the world — safely! This is not about daredevil parenting. It’s about sort of old-fashioned parenting in modern times. And as somber as this post is starting to sound (somehow I’m hearing a cello solo as I write), the show should be FUNNY too.

So what I’m looking for is families who haven’t taken the Free-Range plunge yet, but are almost ready to try it, with me (and the cello) on their side. The only catch? They have to live in or around New York City or Toronto. I know that means missing a lot of great families, but those are my marching orders.

If you think your family might be interested, or if you know of another family that fits the bill, please drop a note to Sylvia Lee, the casting queen, at Slee@cineflix.com. And also, please feel MORE than free to post this plea on your Facebook page or any social media you’re on. We really want to find some great families and have  a great time and spread the idea that our kids can be safe and sound, even if we are not watching them Every. Single. Second.

That’s it. Thanks for your help! (Don’t I sound calm?)  – L.

Hi Readers — I wholeheartedly endorse this note!

Dear Free-Range Kids: Recently I started watching hours of “Law and Order SVU” (streaming live on Netflix for graduate students wanting to procrastinate!) and it’s really quite absurd to watch after a year of following your blog. The episodes where there is a child abduction or attempted abduction always involve some crazy sicko, and the parents are hysterical messes vowing never to let their child go anywhere alone again, etc.

I have to say that, as I think about it, I cannot off the top of my head think of more the three or four names of children who have been kidnapped by crazy psychos (as opposed to by their own family members in a custody battle or something). But SVU seems to find it a pressing enough problem to make countless episodes about it…I guess my point is just that maybe people are so paranoid because they watch too many TV shows and movies that depict this kind of situation, and we allow fiction to creep into our reality.

Why do we automatically jump to Worst-First thinking? In part, because TV and movies have programmed our brains to think that the worst happens more frequently than it really does. — Emily Tanner

Yup, yup, EXACTLY, yup. And in my Free-Range Kids book I have a whole chapter on how the media chooses its stories, and how the brain stores scary images, and why these influence us even when we KNOW they are rare or even FICTION!

And speaking of my book — here’s a link! It’s $10.17 on Amazon and makes a lovely (non-scary! non-toxic! non-threatening!) present. — Lenore