Self-appointed child protectors stalk parents

By Lenore Skenazy

It was the year of Pokemon Panic — any toy that gets kids outside must be stopped! — and the year a Florida school canceled its “Powder Puff” all-girl football game, suggesting the girls bob for apples instead. It was the year that we saw the first academic study of bouncy house temperatures — ”something that no one had really examined in the published literature,” according to one of the researchers. Imagine that.

But in all, it was a particularly great year for busybodies.

A video of a man screaming at a woman who popped into the gas station while her kid waited in the car went viral — who could resist mom-shaming like that? — as did a video of parents getting their food at a buffet while their baby waited at the table. Why that child could have been vaporized while they got their spareribs!

Cops asked one mom to leave a football game because onlookers thought her baby looked cold, while another mom’s kids were ordered to undergo a physical because she let them wait in the minivan while she got a Starbucks drink — an errand that took three whole minutes. And my friend Julie Gunlock, a writer in D.C., got chewed out by an FBI agent for running in to get a rotisserie chicken while her boys, 9, 7 and 5, waited in the car. She certainly is Public Enemy No. 1.

And then there were these stories:

1) The police chief of New Albany, Ohio, helpfully revealed the age that kids are old enough to start going outside on their own: 16. “I think that’s the threshold where you see children getting a little bit more freedom.”

2) Local television news in Fargo, N.D., reported that a mom “felt scared” at the grocery because she kept running into the same couple in several aisles, “And when I went to the checkout, they were right there.” Yep.

3) Kids at the Learning Collaborative, a pre-school in a disadvantaged neighborhood of Charlotte, N.C., were not allowed to play on their new swings because the grass and dirt underneath were “too dangerous.” First the school must raise $1,100 to replace the grass with six-inch-deep mulch.

4) The Beaverton, Ore., library will not allow children under 10 on the premises unless “within sight lines of parents” at all times. If an “adult-responsible caregiver cannot be located within five minutes, library staff will call the Beaverton Police Department.”

5) A 14-year-old Iowa girl, “Nancy Doe,” took two racy pictures of herself — one in a sports bra and boy shorts, one braless, but with her hair covering her breasts — and texted them to a boy. A few weeks later, she was accused of sexual exploitation of a minor: herself.

6) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised all women who are not on birth control not to drink any alcohol until they reach menopause. Explained Princeton sociologist Elizabeth Mitchell Armstrong, “The idea is that any woman of reproductive age should be treated as potentially pregnant at all times.”

7) Rhode Island legislators introduced a bill that would ban recess if temperatures drop below 32 degrees.

8) A dying, wheelchair-bound sex offender with Alzheimer’s must move out of the Boynton Beach, Fla., hospice where he lives because it is too close to a pre-school.

9) Some 900 middle-school students in Grand Island, Neb., were evacuated when a staff member noticed an unfamiliar box in the band room. The state’s bomb squad was summoned to open it, and discovered it held what some would indeed consider a threat to the community’s wellbeing: An accordion.*

10) And just three weeks ago a Long Island mom and dad shopping for Christmas lights at a Valley Stream Home Depot let their 4-year-old nap in the car. When they came out about 20 minutes later, they found firemen had smashed open the back passenger window to extricate the (perfectly fine, if startled) boy after someone had called 911 to report an “unconscious child.” A waiting ambulance then sped the tot and his mom to Cohen’s Children’s Hospital in Queens, while the dad was thrown in jail for five hours. That night when they all finally got home after 10, the doorbell rang at about midnight: Someone from child protective services was there to inspect their home. Now the dad is awaiting trial on charges of child endangerment. His court date is Valentine’s Day. Nice.

May your year be saner and sweeter!

*OK, cheap joke. The accordion is actually my favorite instrument.

Lenore Skenazy is a keynote speaker, author of the book and blog Free-Range Kids, and a contributor at Reason.com.