Thursday, May 27, 2010

Free-Range Crazies?

I'm a talk radio junkie. I admit it, I could listen for hours; local and national politics, news, gardening (it has helped though, I assure you my plants are still pathetic), advice and relationships... if they're talking, I'm listening. But last Saturday Boston talk show host Mel Robbins was discussing "Take Our Children to the Park & Leave Them There Day".

This is part of the free-range parenting movement based on the belief that we are crippling our children with our never-ending fears. This writer, Lenore Skenazy, suggests we need to give our children the opportunity to become self-reliant, responsible and confident - by not being tended to every waking moment by helicoptering parents who are riddled with overprotective thoughts of "what if". Sounds good, right?
But the means in which to accomplish this, by her advise, is to leave your kids in public places. Yes, drop them off, give them a pat on the head and tell them to be home by dinner.

Back the bus up!

But Lenore Skenazy practices what she preaches. You may remember her as the mother who let her 9-year-old son take the New York City subway home alone. Just because he survived, doesn't make it a good idea.

Mel Robbin was going on about what a fabulous idea this was. What the what? Seriously? She asked all her listeners to take their school-age kids (5 years and up? Right?) to their neighborhood park, drop them off and drive away.

Wait, why don't we call this "Pedophile Appreciation Day"?

Usually happy just to listen, I was speed dialing the show.

No way on Earth would I leave my child alone anywhere. Mel and I got into a heated debate. She questioned why I was so irrationally over-protective, that the chances of my child being abducted was something like 1:1.4million. I questioned her about how she would feel if her child was that one. One. That's one too many.

Moreover, it's not so much the abduction scenario that plagues my Mommy-mind, though it does, it's all the other, more likely likelihoods; bullies, accidents, the perv wearing nothing but a trench coat who likes to give a little looky-loo, other a-hole parents, and the one I could probably count on if I ever dumped my kid anywhere - the call to the authorities.

She said I was being delusional, people don't just call the police over nothing.
I replied that I was living in the real world, you know, the real world where my neighbors called the police on me for blindfolding my horses.

Yeah, it's called a fly mask.
And will I be getting conjugal visits?

I wish we lived in the kind of world that I could get rid of allow my kids to adventure off for the day, on their bikes, in the neighborhood. I grew up in that world. It was awesome. I wish my kids could too. But we don't.
Growing up, we knew our neighbors, we knew our whole town. We knew who we could ask if we needed help, and who to cross to the opposite side of the street when spotted.
And despite the fact I still live in a small town, I don't know my neighbors... Well, there's the guy next door, that we call Mountain Man, who throws parties all weekend which always include lots of booze (NTTAWWT), men screaming "NO! You're the needledick!" and something bursting into flames.
Then on the other side of our property we have these people. Well, we don't know them either. But their grounds staff seem very nice.

So despite our small, yet diverse little neighborhood, I've lived here 10 years and I really don't know many of them.

She questioned why I don't make a casserole and go introduce myself. My first thought is; I'd probably be shot just approaching either one of these houses.

But the truth is, in general, people keep to themselves. Our society doesn't want to be bothered. If they want to have a relationship, they'll send a friend request on FB. Sad, but true. I think, in large part, it's due to the "sue-happy" attitude of this country. If you don't know your neighbors, they won't come over and slip on your front step. No lawsuit, no problem. It stinks, but it's the truth.

I continued our little fight discussion by addressing the flip side of the coin; when I take my kids somewhere, say the park, I get annoyed and uncomfortable when there's unsupervised kids, especially when I'm the only adult. I don't know the legalities, but when I'm the only person over 18, I suddenly feel responsible for all the kids. And maybe I'm supposed to feel that way, you know, the whole it takes a village... But it annoys me that I have to feel that way, that the other absentee parents just assume I'll take responsibility. And suddenly, a trip to the park to have fun with my kids has turned into a stress-filled, un-paid babysitting gig.

And what about liability? If little Billy pushes little Susie and breaks her arm, can the parents come back to me and say "why didn't you stop it from happening?". Technically, yes, they can. And as ridiculous as it sounds, then can sue me. They may not win, but I'll still be on the hot seat... and in the hole financially just to defend myself.

That's the world we live in.

And how do I know if that guy dragging the crying child off the playground is a parent of the child who wants to stay and play.... or something else?

At the end of my little on-air chat, my mind had not been changed, and Ms. Robbins was still living in a fantasy world where every adult is trust-worthy and every child is safe and sound.

I'm all for teaching my child how to be confident, self-assured and independent, but my first responsibility is to keep my child safe. How could I live with myself if I actively failed at that.

So what are your thoughts?


onebadmamajama said...

I'm somewhere in the middle, I guess. I believe in the free ranging a point. Like you the safety and security of my kids are my number one priorities. That lady is friggin' delusional and I predict that sometime within the next year she'll be on tv rescinding her point of view because of some completely avoidable tragedy.

I would NEVER leave my kids at the local park alone. Hell, I don't even let my kids go to a public bathroom alone. For the record, I would be one of those parents who would call the police if small (younger than 13) kids were left alone in public like that. I'm pretty sure the local authorities would have plenty to talk to those parents about.

One last thing and I'll get off my soapbox...but it seems that in today's society there is no common sense anymore. That lady is living in a fantasy world and I pray to God that her children don't suffer because of her stupidity.

BigSis said...

The world we live in is very different than the one we grew up in. I think that you are right on. While we might work a bit harder (as a society) to teach our children to be self sufficient, leaving a bunch of kids unsupervised is crazy and irresponsible.

Like you said, just because something bad didn't happen doesn't make it a good idea.

Bev said...

Wow, what a great, well-written post! I agree with you. As you know, I do try to teach my children to be independent, but that does NOT mean they're allowed to wander around in public without any supervision. The independence that I teach is more like, "put your shoes by the back door," "make your bed," "pack up your own lunch bag," etc. There's a huge difference between letting them flex their muscles and learn to be self-sufficient and just letting them out into the world to be preyed upon by the mentally-unstable preditors that we KNOW are out there.

Yes, things were different when we were kids, and things will be different when our kids have kids. Since we strive to change with the times, it would behoove us to recognize that danger does lurk everywhere, whether we acknowledge it or not. We may not be looking for it, but it is looking for us. Leaving your kids to fend for themselves is begging for tragedy.

Good for you for telling off this Mel chick. I'm sure you gave her what-for; too bad she is too opinionated to learn from the conversation.

Samsmama said...

Yeah, Mala, go make a casserole and introduce yourself. To the 1950's. That woman is a nut job. I'm with you, too many things can go wrong in minutes. And abduction is somehow further down on my list, too. But there's a truckload of other shit that can happen.

Hey, did I tell you about Sam's dad letting him *think* he was home alone for awhile? I flipped my shit.

Totally agree with you, all the way! How awesome you spoke up and held your ground.

Frank Irwin said...

Things were much better when we were kids. Even better when our folks were kids. Imagine what it's going to be like a couple of generations down the line.

I make it a point to meet my neighbors, at least two houses down, not because I have kids (which I don't), but so I'll have someone from whom to borrow tools. :-)

Mala said...

OBMJ - I think if society was ruled more by common sense instead of laws, we'd all be much better off.

Big Sis - Thank you. I can't help but think that at least one parent discovered that "dump your kid in public" wasn't as great of an idea as it sounded.

Bev - I agree with you entirely. I teach my kids in ways that they can grow...not be in outright danger.
And I thought I would add, they never had to use the delay with me on air. Go me!

Samsmama - "go make a casserole and introduce yourself. To the 1950's." BWAHAHA That is AWESOME!!!! Damnit! I wish I had said that!
And hang in there...I think there's a Darwin Award in your ex's future!

Frank - I don't dare to think of what the future will be like. Generations from now will be only friends with people they meet online with no real social interaction...oh wait...

JJ said...

I'm not a parent, but I agree with you on this one. If/when I become a parent, there would be no way I'd allow my 5 or 6 year old to be ALONE in a park/public place. I can't imagine that anyone would, or that it's even legal, for that matter. Maybe a 10 or 11 year old with friends, but 5 or year old?

LOL, someone called the cops on you for "blind folding" your horse??? Maybe you posted about this already, but I must hear/read that story.

rockman said...

Having survived the 60's and 70's with BB gun wars, throwing rocks at each other, and generally being a reckless child, I tend to agree that we as a society today are raising a bunch of sissy boy girly men and whiny, cry baby wenches who couldnt find that ass with both hands if they had to and are constantly running home to mommy or daddy to bail them out of a jam.

I do believe there are limits that should be placed on children, and that parents do have a responsiblity to protect those who can not protect themselves.

So that is why I am teaching my 9 y.o. daughter and 11 y.o. son to use firearms to drop any would be predatory POS in their tracks. I will send pictures when they get their first kill mounted.

Lori said...

Ummm, yeah. I agree...pedophiles all over the world are praising this movement and just can't believe their luck that other whackos are not only backing it, but spreading it!!

Absolutely we are raising a generation of children who have few skills in being able to take care of themselves in situations that when we were children would have easily handled.

But like you said--that's the world in which we live. Pervs have always existed, I'm sure, but gang mentality of the good old days wouldn't put up with it.

Now we have people claiming that civil rights of child molesters are being violated because we are discriminating against their sexual desires.


I'm glad you gave that gal hell.

Nuts. Seriously nuts.

Oh, and dying to see the pictures from Rockman.

Just saying.

BTW--John and I died laughing at your poor abused blindfolded horses. Honestly, torturous!

Rich Girl Red said...

Excellent post Mala! Kudos for calling in and checking Miss Radio Whackadoodle's deluded opinion. I do not believe in being a "helicopter" parent, hovering over my kids and swooping in to interfere with every challenge. However, that's a far cry from leaving them to practically fend for themselves in the wild. (And trust me, many parks are less safe than ordering chili at the Waffle House.) I have three children of my own (22, 20, 12) and I'm raising my late brother's two girls (10 and 13)--this ain't my first rodeo. I'm a firm believer (and at times downright evangelical) about CONSEQUENCES. Everyone needs to experience the consequences of their behavior. Sometimes they're good, sometimes not so good, but natural consequences are the best way to learn. I don't think abandoning them to teach them self-sufficiency does anything but potentially put them at risk. There are much safer, sensible ways to teach that lesson.

Okay, I'll shut up now. It just gets up my nose when people like Mel Robbin are given a public platform and manage to make parenting an even harder task than it has to be. She is a pig from Hell.

Nancy said...

Excellent post Mala. I'm not even a parent, and i was getting angry at this woman. On another note, tho, you mean the whole time I was boarding Leo at your place, you were keeping him blindfolded???? And i thought he was just clumsy.

BlackLOG said...

Not being a parent it is difficult for me to know the strength and depth of a parents feeling for their children. I agree that dumping a small child in a park and leaving them to it is not the best approach but neither is wrapping them in cotton wool and never exposing them to the real world, there has to be a compromise.

An example is never teaching a child to swim because you are frightened that they will take this new skill and end up getting out of their depth and drowning, Yes that could happen but chances are that being able to swim is more likely to save them as well as enriching their life….

What has changed since we grew up with so much freedom?. As a parent your main responsibility is to equip your child to cope with living and remembering you will not always be there to look after them. So yes educate them about the dangers in life but don’t cripple them with fear of living and when they are ready allow them to make their own choices……..

Kate said...

I wholeheartedly agree with you Mala. My mom was very protective (maybe a little overly so), so that's just the way I think. But, you have to be in today's world. Just go to one of those websites where you can map out where all of the sex-offender's live, and you will be surprised on how many of them there are. An insane amount!!

Just this past weekend, a woman was almost raped by 3 teenage boys a block from my house (luckily a car drove by and scared them away). The even sadder thing is, she knocked on SIX DOORS before someone finally opened it for her to call the police. People are just very distrustful these days.

Our world just isn't as happy-go-lucky as it used to be, so people need to adapt. It sounds like this lady has a good idea - she wants the world to be a better place, but the sad thing is, it really isn't. I think she is a fool for allowing her kid to ride the subway alone ... geez, I got rubbed up on by some old man the first time I rode the subway!!

Anyways, I think that it is important to teach your kids how to act independently, but there are other methods that are less life-threatening than leaving them alone in parks (hello - homeless people LIVE in parks, last weekend a very drunk homeless man approached Shaun's son and wanted to play soccer with him!).

Confessions of a Mother, Lawyer & Crazy Woman said...

Agree, agree, agree, with everything you said. And then agreed some more. Especially about the casserole part. Because my neighbors would shoot me if I tried to show up with a casserole, with my cooking skills and all. And, for real, that is a real fly mask!? That is awesome!

Coffeypot said...

I was also raised in that free to play outside all day and come home at dark era. Now I worry when I send the grandkids to the mailbox. I agree with you. There are some sick fuckers out there and I WILL KILL anyone I see dragging a kid off the playground.

Annie said...

I agree with you! Helicopter parenting is one thing...complete lack of common sense and disregard for our children's safety is quite another. I think this movement falls completely in the later category! Oh, and casseroles suck!

Lili said...

I think the woman is nuts and she will probably be very unhappy very soon. I do not have kids but was a teacher and am an aunt. When that little the kids did not leave my sight. End of story.

I,unfortunately, do not think things have changed at all. You said:"We knew who we could ask if we needed help, and who to cross to the opposite side of the street when spotted".

Those people that you crossed the street to get away from back then are still out but with more options.

I have my late Mom's unfortunate habits. I was a door knocker when my nieces and nephews were little (in the 80's and 90's.) I knew EVERYONE on that street and they knew me.

It was as much for their safety as my little ones because if something happened to my nieces or nephews at their hands my family would be visiting me in a prison cell.

I don't mind teaching self-reliance in the least-but at a point-and with the assurance that not only are they hearing me but they are understanding me. Also, that they capable of acting under duress.

You can teach a little one anything in the world about strangers but a big,scary looking guy or a nice,friendly looking woman can change their lives forever-not in a good way.