Play Everywhere

We stumbled upon some interesting places to play on our recent trip to Berlin and Copenhagen. Play everywhere is a good value — these two cities don’t just limit play to little parks.

The German embassy in Copenhagen had these interesting bumps in front of it. At first, I didn’t know what they were — but the kids knew exactly what to do with them.

German embassy play bumps

Next I give you the German “Hof” or yard. Almost all apartment buildings have them in Berlin. Something American cities could use: a little shared green space — of course with a bit of playground. Some friends of ours had a pretty great one, including what our family calls a “spider swing” because it looks like a web. Even older kids like this swing because they can stand up and really make it go!

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Last but not least are the playful fountains I found in both countries. Not sure what the story is here — but it’s a hippo shooting water out its nose and if you look close there are some tourist mice on its back… not sure what the story is there.

Hippo fountain

For more, check back here or check out my “seen in Berlin”  photos, I’ve been posting on Instagram and Facebook. More to come… and some from Copenhagen too.

 

 

 

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Children’s right to be with their parents

I write a lot about children’s rights. My book, Achtung Baby, is an attempt to convince American parents that kids have a right to play, to walk places on their own and to follow their own interests.

Children’s right to be with their parents is such a fundamental right, I didn’t think we had to fight for it. But apparently, we do.

A minority, a powerful minority, of Americans support of the Trump administration’s policy of separating immigrant kids from their parents indefinitely–for the parent’s misdemeanor crime of crossing a border. Thankfully, the majority of Americans, 66% according to a Quinnipiac University poll, object to this practice. Many were so horrified they took action, calling legislators, protesting, and donating to legal aid groups–all of which led to a partial reversal by the administration.

What of the minority–the 27% who support separating kids from their parents? I worry about them. I suspect they think it’s OK to separate families because they are immigrants. They would feel very differently if it were their own kids.  Recently “Fox and Friends” co-host Brian Kilmeade confirmed my suspicion:

“Like it or not, these aren’t our kids,” he said. “Show them compassion, but it’s not like he is doing this to the people of Idaho or Texas. These are people from another country and now people are saying that they’re more important than people in our country who are paying taxes and who have needs as well.”

Here’s the thing about basic human rights: they are supposed to be universal. They don’t apply just to one group of people and not another. 

Some people believe human rights are handed down from a higher power, whether that’s your belief or not, rights are usually something we all agree upon. Children’s right to their parents is not usually contentious. In fact, it’s one all countries of the world, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have agreed upon it when they ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child. All countries, that is, except one: the U.S.

I was in Berlin earlier this month. I am excited to share my photos of all the fun and positive things I saw. I will still do that, but first, I feel compelled to share a few photos taken in the midst of the Holocaust Memorial.

I do not compare our current situation to the Holocaust lightly. The whole point of the Holocaust Memorial is to remind us of what can happen when we decide that one group of people do not have the same rights we hold for ourselves.

It’s well worth remembering that the Holocaust started with separating families and sending them to camps too.

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-30,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-30,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

Maker:L,Date:2017-8-30,Ver:5,Lens:Kan03,Act:Kan02,E-Y

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More evidence that kids are capable

Another great video from German fire educator Kain Karawahn that might shock American parents: pre-school kids making bonfires.

What I love about this video is that the kids are not only lighting fires — they are cutting wood, preparing food, and cooking it on the fires they made and tend together. These kids are ages four to six. It really challenges our notions of what children can do:

 

Read more about this different approach to teaching fire in this Psychology Today  post or this New York Times article. And of course, you can read more about how Germans raise self-reliant kids check out my book Achtung Baby!

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Helicopter parents, race, and class: why the cops were called on two Native American teens on a college tour

Recently, a mother on a campus tour of Colorado State University called the police on two Native American teens because she found their behavior “odd” and their clothing disturbing. They were wearing heavy metal band t-shirts and didn’t answer her questions the way she liked.

The teens’ mother believes they were racially profiled. Would the caller have summoned the authorities if the kids were white? It’s a valid question. But I think there’s something else here at play as well: would she have called the cops if they had a parent with them?

One of the biggest problems with today’s “helicopter” parents is they work not only to control only their own children but everyone else’s as well. They are obsessed with supervising kids. For this kind of parent, seeing two young adults without parents must have seemed immediately like an abnormal, potentially dangerous situation.

Of course, the two young men are also of a different class than their privileged peers who were driven or flown to campus along with their relatively wealthy parents. The Native American teens had saved up their own money for the trip to CSU and drove seven hours in their family car to get there–all of which shows a good deal of motivation and self-reliance, exactly the characteristics you might want in prospective college students.

Many ambitious upper-middle-class American parents spend a huge amount of money and time making sure their kids are prepped for college. They push their children to go to the right schools, take the right classes, and join the right extracurricular activities. They pay for tutors, SAT-prep courses, special sport teams, music and language lessons. And they go with them to visit college campuses — sometimes several of them.

After all that investment, for these intense parents to then see two unaccompanied teens dressed in heavy metal t-shirts on the same campus tour as their carefully curated kid must have hit a nerve. 

I don’t know for sure the caller is a helicopter parent, but some signs are there: the fact both she and her husband were on the tour with their son, her overblown fear, and her need to control behavior. The Native American teens did not look, dress, or act in a way she felt was acceptable. Therefore, they were suspicious, and her first instinct? Call the cops.

Earlier this year, novelist May Cobb wrote about how someone called the cops because her kid’s hair was messy. (My blog post about it is here.)  Her son is autistic and didn’t like his hair combed. The police stop not only ruined the family’s day at the park but weighed heavily on a mother working so hard to help her kid adapt.

Having the police stop you, for whatever reason, is incredibly stressful, but yet many still think that any minor suspicion is enough. (View the video above and imagine for a moment this happening to you or your kid.)

This is the real danger—not just to parenting but to our society. We live in a country that supposedly cherishes freedom and bravery, not one drowning in control and fear like the former GDR where regular citizens would turn each other in to the police.

I wonder what the campus caller thought these two young men might do? In her call, the woman said “I’m probably being completely paranoid, but with everything that’s happened…” Did she think they were going to shoot up the campus? They don’t fit the profile of school shooters, who are overwhelmingly lone, white males. The two also weren’t carrying any weapons or even a backpack to conceal one. With so little evidence, the woman was still extremely afraid, telling the dispatcher that “…they, it actually made me feel, like, sick, and I’ve never felt like that.”

I wonder how she feels now, knowing what she did to those two young men. At the very least, I hope this incident makes her hesitate the next time she has an urge to call the cops. It should give all of us pause, especially those in America’s more privileged classes.

We should have more evidence before calling the cops—and the police should demand more before responding. A piece of clothing, a hair style, or, for goodness sake, someone’s skin color – is not enough to call the police — neither is the simple fact of a young person being out in the world on their own.

We should be encouraging young people to be independent, not criminalizing them for it. The police should not be used to terrorize regular people doing regular things, like taking a walk in the park or visiting a college campus.

Because if we start calling the police every time we see someone who is different, we’re going to need a lot more police. And we can no longer call this country the home of the free.

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Reevaluating Our Prohibition of Fire

“Don’t play with fire!” is such a common warning in the U.S. we take for granted that it is true. We believe that the best way to deal with kids’ fascination with fire is to prohibit it entirely. But this is not universal to all cultures.

I wrote about how Germans teach kids how to use fire rather than forbid it for the New York Times  and in my book Achtung Baby, but it is perhaps more compelling to see it in practice:

Check out my full post on why we might want to reevaluate our prohibition on fire for Psychology Today, including another video of kids making fire from Kain Karawahn’s fire workshops at a Berlin Kita. Check it out!

 

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My son’s sign for the March for Our Lives

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My son’s sign for March for Our Lives got some attention today. He told me after the march that his school does not always tell him when a lockdown is a drill, and it scares him. I wrote about the unnecessary terror of having real lockdown drills in a post for Psychology Today. Read it here.

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Conquering a Dragon in Psychology Today

My first post for Psychology Today is about bringing some reasonable risk and more creativity to American playgrounds — so our children have the chance to learn how to manage risk and face their fears. German kids enjoy playing on structures with greater height, faster speeds, and more risk. Our kids deserve this advantage too.  Read about it here.

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