On my Yahoo news feed comes this story of a young Michigan woman who found a shirt wrapped around one of her windshield wipers. Admittedly, that is odd. But odder still is how this non-event has gone viral — 100,000+ shares — along with breathless warnings about how we must all be on the lookout for shirt-wrapped wipers, or woe betide us!
Ashley Hardacre, 19, wrote on Facebook earlier this month that after leaving her mall job late one night and getting into her car, she noticed a flannel shirt on her windshield. She tried to get it off with her wipers, but it was wrapped tightly around one of the blades. Sensing something was wrong — and seeing two cars parked nearby, one that was running — she says she drove away with the shirt still attached to her car.
Can we say this for the zillionth time? It is indeed GOOD to be alert, and to trust your instincts — especially if all they have you doing is driving your car where you were going anyway.
But the leap to, “OMG, she was almost kidnapped!” is insane, er, seemingly unwarranted. Even the local police, God bless them, say that they have never heard of this shirt technique before. (Ah ha! Just shows you how nefarious it is!)
Hardacre’s post read:
“Luckily I knew better than to remove the shirt with cars around me, so I drove over to a place where I was safe and quickly rolled down my window and got the shirt off.”
It’s like living in “Taken 4: This Time It’s a Flannel Shirt.”
So remember security guru Bruce Schneier’s “Movie Plot” warning: The more a crime sounds like the plot from a movie, the less likely it is to happen in real life.
He was talking about terrorism, but let’s expand it to include flannel-based felonies. – L
A quick and accurate look at where have all the children gone, from a blog called Fix.com:
Source: Fix.com Blog
If you have any other theories as to why we don’t see as many kids playing outside, on their own — or how to restock the pond, as it were — let us know. And coming soon: An infographic on the benefits of free play. – L.
Here’s a sign from a church in suburban Chicago. The reader who sent it to me wrote:
I’ve shown this sign to quite a number of people expecting them to be as floored as I am. Nearly universally, though, the reaction has been along the lines of “well, you can’t be too safe these days. Things are different than when we were young.” I don’t know whether it’s more frightening that kids are being mandated to be supervised in the bathroom long after they no longer need physical help, or that we as a society seem to be accepting that of course kids need to be supervised in the bathroom long after they no longer need physical help.
Yes, that’s a toss up. Can we vote for both being terrifying? – L.
Woo hoo! Here is the very first official Free-Range Kids video, by yours truly and genius Mike Kraus from MylkMedia. It explains — cheerfully — how we get risk wrong and end up terrified for our kids. Buzzfeed did a wonderful synoposis.
Please, please share this on Facebook and everywhere else! It will help your friends understand how society floods us with fear, how we’re pre-programmed to hold onto the most horrifying images, and how our brains work like Google. When we ask ourselves, “Is X safe?” our brains retrieve the easiest information to find — the scariest possible stories about some kid doing X.
Unfortunately, the higher a story is in our brain’s search results — and the worst stories are always at the top — the more likely we think it is, even though usually just the opposite is true!
This is from the father of Zachary, the young man I wrote about last week, who is about to be required to register as “violent sexual predator” for the rest of his life.
Thank you for your article about Zach. I was particularly interested in the comments. It seemed like an overwhelming majority had sympathy for Zach’s situation. Almost everyone seemed to feel that Zach was innocent in the ordeal. That was comforting, considering that up to this point most had condemned him based entirely on the one-sided portrayal in the newspapers. Those reports are based on court documents and do not indicate his character. Unfortunately, he is not entirely innocent in this drama.
Granted, Zach should not have involved himself in this relationship. He should have known better, but I suspect he enjoyed the attention from a member of the opposite sex. He probably justified it as merely a friendship, and it was at first. The friendship drifted down the wrong path, in part due to some of the dirty talk by the more sexually-aware younger sister of Zach’s female friend.
As stated before, Zach is not innocent in this, but nor is he the monster that is being portrayed. The truth lies somewhere in the middle. If we do a review of his life, he appears to be a model citizen with a great deal of potential, except for this one incident.
Zach comes from a solid family of five. My wife and I have been married for nearly 25 years and are hardworking middle class citizens. I am retired enlisted military and my wife is a therapist for a chiropractor. In school, Zach had near perfect attendance for 12 years. He graduated high school with a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) degree and a 3.8 GPA. He was in the 20th percentile of his class, and at various times he was a member of the Latin Club, the Future Business Leaders of America, the Debate Team, and the computer club. He ran cross-country track. He has never smoked a cigarette, tasted alcohol or consumed an illegal drug. His only gang affiliation would be his computer geek friends. Hardly terrifying.
Zach admits that he made a mistake and he is willing to make restitution, but we do not feel that the level of his actions deserves the harsh degree of the punishment. The chat logs reflect his involvement. He asked for pictures, he asked to meet her, and they performed self-gratification. I don’t want your audience to believe that he was unaware of his actions. I don’t want to mislead them. He was a dumb teenager doing dumb teenager stuff with another teenager. The age difference was unacceptable, but there was never any harm intended nor was he grooming her. The computer forensics verify that she was the only girl he talked to and there were no visits to pornography sites.
We live in a county known for its harsh judiciary. The prosecutors loaded the charges against Zach, knowing that being convicted of just one of the more serious allegations would result in mandatory prison time. He was painted into a corner where the best option was to plead out to the lesser of two evils. In this case, that means pleading guilty to two counts of indecent liberties with a minor under the age of 15 and that automatically carries with it the requirement to register as a violent sex offender for life. Makes you wonder if it really is the lesser of two evils. And that is the reason for the request for help.
These laws were not intended to be applied to teenagers. They were originally drafted for adults who prey on youngsters, but somehow, over time, they devolved into their present form. It is an effort to appear tough on crime, but it is directed at the wrong demographic.
If ever there was a case that exemplifies the draconian nature of our sex offender laws as they pertain to teenagers, it is witnessed with Zach’s ordeal. Hence the need to bring this to public attention. It is a certainty that Zach is not an unusual case. This is occurring across the nation in every high school and most likely in many middle schools. Every parent in American needs to be acutely aware of this situation.
That is not an exaggeration. The consequences are too dire. All it takes is an aggressive prosecutor and an allegation of impropriety against an individual and the perfect storm can be unleashed on an unsuspecting family. The outrage here, and what many of your readers have picked up on, is that there was no physical contact between the two teenagers. With that in mind, how can the crime be considered a violent offense? They never even met face-to-face. It is because it is written into law and hence it is so.
I appreciate what you are doing.
You don’t have to love the idea of the relationship between a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old to see there is something wrong with the sentencing. This was not an adult out to create and peddle child porn. This was not an adult deliberately “grooming” a child. This was a relationship.
The predator in this case seems to be the state: It can claim it is keeping children safe from an incorrigible predator. But if you are the parent of a young person, the ability of the state to brand your horny teen a violent monster and ruin his life forever seems truly terrifying.
So far, Zach’s parents have not created a petition or letter-writing campaign, so I’m not sure how we can support them, other than not doing what the prosecutor did: Treating the situation as a violent, unforgivable crime that, if he weren’t branded a “Violent Sex Offender,” Zach would otherwise be likely to repeat in his 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and perhaps 90s. – L.
A life defined, and ruined, by a teen online relationship.
The temporary injury of a girl whose brother hit her in the eye with a foam Nerf gun dart has made the news, at least in the Daily Mail. Love or loathe them, the fact that they ran a large article and four pictures on this one incident (and remember “incident” is the word we use when nothing much really happened), is a perfect example of the way we look at childhood.
It is always through the lens of what could go tragically wrong, and what we can do to prevent that rare problem from ever happening again. Here you go:
Is your child’s Nerf gun safe? Foam dart from the popular toy leaves girl, 9, hospitalised with a bleed in her eye
EXCLUSIVE: Abigail Earnshaw was hit in the eye by a foam dart from a Nerf gun
It immediately caused a dark patch of blood to slowly form across half of her eye
Luckily the youngster recovered fully and has been left with no lasting issues
But experts warn the popular toys could cause someone to go blind in the future
“Experts warn” has got to be one of the main reasons we don’t let our kids do anything these days. What are they saying here? The fact that something hitting someone in the eye COULD cause blindness? Of course it could. But no where does the article mention this fact, which I found on Thrillist:
Over 445,277,777 darts are made per year
Enough NERF darts have been sold in the past five years alone to circle the earth four times. Some complete nut did the math and found the staggering, complete number of darts NERF has ever made. 4,007,500,000 since the dawn of darts. Wow.
So rather than saying, “Parents, relax! This outrageously popular toy gets kids playing, interacting, and running around,” it found the one in a half-billion time a girl got a temporary eye injury.
That is what parents are up against: A reality-warping view that sees any childhood activity as too dangerous to allow. Is your child’s Nerf gun safe? Is your child’s walk to school safe? Is your child’s ___________ safe? I’ve seen articles on everything from sippy cups to stuffed animals: Are they safe enough?
Hell no! Take more elaborate, expensive, time-consuming, childhood-stifling precautions immediately!
We didn’t get our sons Nerf guns until we saw with our own somehow spared-from-foam-dart-blindness eyes how much fun they had playing with them at their friend’s place. After that, our home became an arsenal.
This doesn’t seem to have made our kids any more violent and they still have both eyeballs. Actually, four eyeballs, between the two of them, knock wood (cautiously, after donning a baseball glove,oven mitt or other hand protection).
“Free-Range” can mean many things to many people, which is fair, I guess. It’s not like I have the trademark on “free-range.”
But I actually do have the trademark on “Free-Range Kids” (because my friend is an intellectual property attorney), and the Free-Range Kids book/blog/movement does not believe that serious illnesses can be cured homeopathically, or that kids don’t need any rules whatsoever in their lives.
That being said, I don’t think any of us should care how long this mom, or any mom, does or doesn’t breastfeed her kids, and I am not against giving kids free time and a basket of junk rather than sending them to kindergarten. But I do believe in vaccinations.
There. I said it.
Mom Who Breastfeeds 5-Year-Old Son Raises Her Kids Without Any Discipline Or Rules
Me, I am a big fan of medical intervention and almost everyone in my family is alive because of it at some point or another. But I don’t want to blame or shame this mom, because I don’t want to blame or shame any mom who loves and feeds and cares for her kids, no matter how at odds with social norms — so long as she does get them medical attention if they are seriously ill.
I have also come to believe that a child raised around books or other reading material that is enticing, and who sees other kids reading, will sooner or later want to learn to read, will ask for help in doing so, and will pick it up. I say this, having visited the Sudbury Valley School in Massachusetts where kids are not “taught” to read, and yet no one leaves the school illiterate. Eventually even a kid playing videogames wants to be able to read the rules, and just as kids automatically learn to talk and, now, to type and text because they are so desperate to communicate, it seems that kids start longing to read, rapidly followed by acquisition of that skill.
So there are many, many ways for a child to get an education, just as there are many, many ways to feed and raise them. Free-Range is not really a child-rearing technique, so much as a world outlook that rejects the culture of fear and fragility we are surrounded by.
But anyway, Adele, just don’t call it “Free-Range.” Call it Adele Allan-ism. – L.
Pedro Hernandez, a former bodega stock clerk who confessed to luring 6-year-old Etan Patz into a basement and attacking him, was found guilty on Tuesday of murder and kidnapping, a long-awaited step toward closure in a case that bedeviled investigators for decades and changed forever the way parents watched over their children.
A Manhattan jury convicted Mr. Hernandez on the ninth day of deliberations after the second of two lengthy trials that brought renewed attention to Etan’s disappearance on May 25, 1979, as he walked to his school bus stop alone in SoHo for the first time.
The story of Etan is one that still comes up when parents, especially here in New York, explain why it feels too dangerous to send their kids outside, unsupervised. His death is used to justify not just the fear, but to reinforce the sickening comfort some take in thinking it was the parents’ fault: “THEY were lax, their CHILD paid the price. Anyone could have predicted it.” Which is why, after the hung jury in the Etan murder trial two years, ago I wrote:
A reporter called me for comment after the Patz trial ended in a hung jury asked me the question that I get asked, one way or another, all the time. Sometimes it is by parents trying to feel less anxious. Sometimes it is by the media trying to stir that anxiety up.
Either way, it is this:
“What would you say to parents who are interested in letting their kids walk home from the park but are too nervous that their child might be the next Etan?”
Oh, so much.
Parents afraid that their child might be the “next Etan” are understandably fearful, since we have been hearing about this case for 36 years. It is our New York catechism. We have been trained to reflexively picture the saddest possible fate — basically, Etan’s — before we let our kids do anything on their own. I call this “worst-first thinking” — thinking up the worst case scenario first, and proceeding as if it is likely to happen.
It is depressing. It is paralyzing. But it isn’t really keeping our kids any safer. Too see why, try this:
Imagine if, 36 years ago, a child — call him Frederick — had died falling down the stairs. It is a rare way to die, but it happens. Now imagine that Frederick’s case had received inordinate media attention. Article after article. Television story after television story. “Remembering Frederick” would be the headline on the cover of People magazine, and the name of a docudrama. But would it make sense for parents to feel heart-stopping fear every time their kids wanted to walk down the stairs?
Or to escort the kids down the stairs every time?
Of course not.
One terrible, tragic case that happened when a child was doing something that is generally very safe and normal should not change the way we go about everyday life.
And yet, along with some other high profile cases, it has — even though we are living at a time when the murder rate is back to what it was in 1965, when parents could let their kids go outside without anyone intoning, “But what if they never come home?”
This heart-stopping question does nothing to make kids safer. They are VERY safe walking down the stairs, and VERY safe waiting for the school bus. But they are not TOTALLY safe ever, anyplace.
So we can live in fear of very rare, very random events that we can’t possibly predict in the course of everyday life. Or we can remember the best aphorism anyone ever sent to my blog: “All the worry in the world doesn’t prevent death. It prevents life.”
Zachary X, now 19, is in jail awaiting sentencing for five pictures his teenage girlfriend sent him of herself in her underwear. He faced a choice between a possible (though unlikely) maximum sentence of 350 years in prison, or lifetime on the sex offender registry as a “sexually violent offender”—even though he never met the girl in person. Here’s what happened.
About two years ago, when Zachary was a 17-year-old high school senior in Stafford County, VA, a girl in his computer club invited him over to visit. She introduced him to her younger sister, age 13. This younger sister told Zachary he reminded her of a friend: this friend, also a 13-year-old girl, shared Zachary’s love of dragons and videogames.
The two 13-year-olds started skyping Zachary together. Eventually Zachary and the dragon-lover struck up a online friendship, which developed into a online romance. By the summer, a month after Zachary turned 18, the girl sent him five pictures of herself in her underwear. Her face was not visible, nor were her private parts.
Instead, he took a plea bargain. This is what prosecutors do: scare defendants into a deal. Zachary agreed to plead guilty to two counts of “indecent liberties with a minor.” For this, he will be registered as a violent sex offender for the rest of his life.
Yes, “violent”—even though he never met the girl in person.
Zachary’s dad wrote to the authorities asking about this, and got a letter back from the Virginia State Police reiterating that, “This conviction requires Zachary to register as a sexually violent offender.”
The letter added that in three years, “a violent sex offender or murderer” can petition to register less frequently than every three months.
“How do you like that?” said the dad in a phone conversation with me. “Same category as a murderer.”
As part of the plea, Zachary also agreed never to appeal. He will be sentenced on March 9. Until then, he remains in jail.
If this sounds like a punishment wildly out of whack with the crime, welcome to the world of teens, computers, and prosecutors who want to look tough on sex offenders. The girl did not wish to prosecute Zachary, according to his dad. He told me the pictures came to light because she had been having emotional issues, possibly due to her parents’ impending divorce. Eventually she was admitted to a mental health facility for treatment, and while there she revealed the relationship to a counselor. The counselor reported this to her mother, the police, or both (this part is unclear), leading the cops to execute a search warrant of Zachary’s electronic devices where they found the five photos and the chat logs.
Until that day, Zachary had never been suspected of, or charged with, any criminal activity other than one count of distracted driving, which he paid off with 15 hours of shelving library books. He was, at the time of his arrest, attending community college in computer graphics and delivering Domino’s Pizza. He was also, by his account, a virgin.
The family hired two psychologists to evaluate Zachary, which I read. One psychologist, Mike Fray, found him to be “not a physical threat to this girl or to any other young girls.” The other, Evan S. Nelson, summed up this case and what is wrong with all the cases Zachary’s story represents:
This psychologist cannot count the number of adolescent sex offenders I have met who have a sense that what they are doing is ‘wrong’ but were ignorant that their conduct was criminal, let alone a felony, or actions which could put them on the Sex Offender Registry. In the teenage digital social world, if both parties want to talk about sex, that seems like ‘consent’ to them. Ignorance does not excuse this conduct, but it does help to explain why he did this, and to the degree that ignorance was an underlying cause of his crime, this problem can be easily fixed with education.
Zachary’s not a sexual predator, in the psychologist’s view. He’s a teen who did something stupid—that he quite plausibly didn’t understand was illegal. And yet the state of Virginia, and in particular prosecutor Ryan Frank, has chosen to pretend that the only way to keep Zachary from feverishly preying on young flesh is to destroy his life.
This is so obviously flawed that Virginia Speaker of the House of Delegates William J. Howell has written a letter on Zachary’s behalf:
Based on the information I have, I believe Zachary was unaware of the magnitude of impropriety in his behavior… It is my understanding that the local sheriff’s office performed a forensic analysis on Zachary’s computer and found zero incidents of pornography or trolling for females. While the aforementioned incident was highly inappropriate, it appears that there are no signs of general deviance in his character but rather immaturity and naivete….
As my record indicates, I am certainly not soft on crime and I am not suggesting that Zachary be spared any consequence of his actions. That said, I do believe this may be more of an incident of adolescent immaturity and poor judgment than of inherently deviant behavior and thus may not warrant being placed on the sex offender registry.
Outraged readers should root for two things. First, that this case prompts the Virginia legislature to review the laws that enable draconian persecutions like the one against Zachary.
Second, that Zachary be given a punishment that truly fits the “crime.” If you recall the case of another Zach—Zach Anderson, a 19-year-old who had sex with a girl he honestly believed was 17 (because she said so) but was actually 14—he was originally sentenced to 25 years on the sex offender registry. But after public outcry, he got two years’ probation instead, on a “diversion program.” A program like this is sometimes available for first-time offenders. It sounds far more reasonable. Or maybe Zachary could do some community service—like speaking at high school assemblies to warn students that what seems like consensual teenage shenanigans could land them on the registry for the rest of their lives.
“I know I’d never do it again because I don’t want to go back to jail again in my life,” Zachary told Nelson during his psychological evaluation. “And if nothing else, this has given me a fear of women.”
Lucky these pictures are from a Sears catalog and weren’t sent by a girl to her boyfriend, or the boyfriend could spend the rest of his life in prison.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, I wanted to see if you’d be interested in receiving tips from parenting expert ______ , Psy.D on 3 Foolproof Was to Make Sure Your Child Feels Your Love, even during the chaos of daily life.
A Clinical Psychologist specializing in Neuropsychology, and mom of two, Dr. ________ has great insights on how parents can make sure their child really feels their love, even on the days when they are challenging, frustrating and even obnoxious.
Yep, parental love simply does not get through to kids unless either every moment is perfect OR their parents have been coached by an expert.
This is one of the things that drives me CRAZIEST about our culture: The idea that our kids simply will not “get” that we really love them unless we take extra measures to prove it. An article I once read about why to put little notes in your kid’s lunch box said it was so the kids would know you are thinking about them even when you are not together.
How fragile are they trying to make us believe the parent-child bond is?
There are moms and dads who move away for YEARS to make a living while their kids are back home, and even THOSE kids know how much their parents love them. So I think kids who are separated from their moms for the school day are pretty sure they are still loved at 3 p.m.
The key here is the false assumption fragility. In truth, kids are not fragile. Love is not fragile. Our lives and parenting and afterschool homework sessions do not have to be perfect for love to persist. Enjoy your Valentine’s Day BELIEVING in love. – L.