TIME Parenting

Katherine Heigl on Being a Working Mom: ‘My Priorities Were Messed Up’

"The Nut Job" - Los Angeles Premiere - Arrivals
Actress Katherine Heigl and daughter Naleigh arrive at the Los Angeles premiere of "The Nut Job" at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on January 11, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Gregg DeGuire—WireImage

The actress explains why she quit Grey's Anatomy to spend time with her family

Katherine Heigl vented some of her frustrations about being a working mom in an interview in the September issue of Good Housekeeping.

“I felt like my priorities were messed up,” Heigl said of the period when she was shooting movies, the ABC show Grey’s Anatomy and trying to raise her young daughter all at once. “I was putting so much time and energy into just my work, but I was raised [to believe] that family comes first.”

Heigl and her husband, musician Josh Kelley, adopted their daughter Naleigh from South Korea in 2009. The adoption process can be long and complicated, and Naleigh arrived earlier than the couple expected, just as Katherine was beginning to shoot a movie for three months in Atlanta.

“I would come home angry and frustrated that I’d missed everything with my kid that day,” she says. “I didn’t get to wake her up from her nap, or do bath time or bedtime. I’d have to sneak into her room and kiss her when she was sleeping, hoping not to wake her up.”

Heigl decided to take a leave from Grey’s and then soon after permanently quit the show. She and her husband adopted another daughter, Adalaide, from Louisiana in 2012, at which point Heigl was staying at home in Utah full-time with the exception of a few short movie shoots.

“We had big dreams of expanding our family, moving to the mountains and having a quieter life,” Heigl says.

Heigl is now back at work: she will return to TV this fall as the star of NBC’s State of Affairs.

[Good Housekeeping]

TIME Parenting

I’m a Male CEO and I Decided to Lean Out

I realized that the only way to balance fatherhood and my job was to step back from the role as head of my company.

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

● I have three wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.

● I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York every two to three weeks. During that travel, I have missed a lot of family fun, perhaps more importantly, I was not with my kids when our puppy was hit by a car, or when my son had (minor and successful, and of course unexpected) emergency surgery.

● I have an amazing wife who also has an important career; she is a doctor and professor at Stanford, where, in addition to her clinical duties, she runs their training program for high-risk obstetricians and conducts research on on prematurity, surgical techniques and other topics. She is a fantastic mom, brilliant, beautiful and infinitely patient with me. I love her; I am forever in her debt for finding a way to keep the family working despite my crazy travel. I should not continue abusing that patience.

Friends and colleagues often ask my wife how she balances her job and motherhood. Somehow, the same people don’t ask me.

A few months ago, I decided the only way to balance was by stepping back from my job. MongoDB is a special company. In my nearly four years at the company, we have raised $220 million, grown the team 15-fold and grown sales 30-fold. We have amazing customers, a great product that gets better with every release, the strongest team I have ever worked with and incredible momentum in the market. The future is bright, and MongoDB deserves a leader who can be “all-in” and make the most of the opportunity.

Unfortunately, I cannot be that leader given that the majority of the company is in New York and my family is in California.

I recognize that by writing this I may be disqualifying myself from some future CEO role. Will that cost me tens of millions of dollars someday? Maybe. Life is about choices. Right now, I choose to spend more time with my family and am confident that I can continue to have a meaningful and rewarding work life while doing so. At first, it seemed like a hard choice, but the more I have sat with the choice, the more certain I am that it is the right choice.

In one month, I will hand the CEO role to an incredibly capable leader, Dev Ittycheria. He will have the task of leading the company through its next phase of growth (though thankfully not of commuting across the country while doing it!). I know the company will be in great hands; his skills fit our next phase of growth better than mine do. And I will be there to help (full time, but “normal full time” and not “crazy full time”) in whatever areas he needs help. More about the announcement can be found in today’s press release.

I hope I will be able to find a way to craft a role at MongoDB that is engaging, impactful and compatible with the most important responsibilities in my life. As great as this job has been, I look forward to creating one that is even better.

Max Schireson is currently CEO of MongoDB, Inc., transitioning into the Vice Chairman role in early September. This piece originally appeared at Max Schireson’s blog.

TIME Television

Watch Jimmy Kimmel Challenge Kim Kardashian to a Diaper-Changing Contest

"Cue the western showdown music"

Keeping up with the Kardashians star Kim Kardashian appeared as a guest Monday on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and revealed an unlikely obsession: changing diapers. The natural response? A diaper changing contest, of course.

Kardashian, the recent mother of the famed baby North West, and Kimmel, a father of three, faced off with diapers and dolls in a race against time to see who could change the most diapers. See who took home the trophy—the results may surprise you.

TIME Opinion

You’ve Come a Long Way Daddy

Girl playing outside in the summer
Brian Braiker

A new book asks whether fathers matter. And this dad wonders why we're still asking that question.

Do fathers matter? On the face of it the question is a preposterous one. You might as well be asking “Are friends important?” or “Who needs trees, anyway?”

But Do Fathers Matter? happens to be the title of a new book by author and award-winning science journalist Paul Raeburn. And while the title seems to indulge in a bit of trolling, it turns out the book does a nice job of filling in a few gaps no one completely realized were gaping.

Science has historically focused only on the mother’s role in child-rearing. Raising children, after all, is women’s work, right? It’s a cliche that has taken root in modern society but biologically, this is simply not the case.

Raeburn points us to the titi monkey as an example: “Titi monkey fathers provide food for their offspring and follow mothers around all day, so that whenever the babies are not nursing the fathers can carry them on their backs,” Raeburn writes. “The father carries his infant 90 percent of the time.”

The baby monkeys, in return, are very attached to their fathers. Human fathers, while maybe not quite as dedicated, remain the most committed mammalian fathers of any species on Earth, Raeburn goes on to tell us (tantalizingly leaving open the prospect of some kind of reptilian Superdad.)

Look no further than the latest ad by Cheerios, which comes with its own hashtag: #HowToDad. In it a father of four gives his only mildly-grating manifesto for manly parenting — which lives in the Venn diagram sweet spot between being “awesome” and “responsible.” We’ve come a long way from Mr. Mom.

But science hasn’t been keeping up. The result is a body of knowledge that fails to take into account half of the child-rearing populace. I personally can’t fault science for spending an inordinate amount of time looking at ladies, but it’s not very scientific at the end of the day: A 2005 survey of 514 studies on adolescent and child psychology, for example, revealed that almost half of the research ignored fathers. Only 11 percent made fathers the exclusive focus, Raeburn tells us.

To be fair, there’s been some progress: Before 1970 less than a fifth of scientific studies about parental bonding took dad’s role into account. And minor though it is, Raeburn mines the progress well. One takeaway is that we dads have an impact on our babies before they’re even born.

A bit of context. Here is what progressive fatherhood looked like in 1986: “We were well prepared for natural childbirth, which means that no drugs can be given to the female during delivery. The father, however, can have all he wants,” joked Bill Cosby in his book “Fatherhood.” If only that were true.

“Research is showing that a father’s environment, his behavior and even his appearance can have a substantial effect on fetal health,” Raeburn writes. “And on the health of his grandchildren.”

Good lord. Even my appearance? Let me now use this public forum to apologize now to my grandkids for last year’s mustache and afro combination that I rocked for a solid six months.

Fortunately for my kids I also do the dishes on the regular. A recent study published in the journal Psychological Science, found that fathers who perform household chores are more likely to bring up daughters who aspire to careers in business, legal and other professions. I am dying for a corollary study to conclude that mothers who shout at the TV during football games and spend a lot of time in the tool shed raise boys that are more likely to go into ballet instruction.

But the research, conducted at the University of British Columbia in Canada, does dovetail with other findings that suggest girls who grow up in the presence of warm, supportive fathers tend to begin puberty later and are less inclined to engage in high-risk sexual behavior than daughters of absentee dads.

This “absentee” word hits home for me. I have been separated from the mother of my kids for nearly five years, a significant chunk of their lives. As a single father with joint custody I see my girls every day, including days when they don’t stay at mine, and am incredibly grateful for it. But I worry all the time about the impact of the breakup on my kids. So I am hyper vigilant.

I take heart in much of Raeburn’s book, not just because I like to cook and find doing dishes therapeutic. He points to one study that found that, while both parents play with children the same amount of time, Dad is — for lack of a better word — the fun parent. Father’s play is “more physical and idiosyncratic,” and babies tend to like it.

“Physical and idiosyncratic” is a diplomatic way, at best, to describe the dance parties I instigate at the breakfast table. Babies (and 6-year-olds) may like it, but the day is coming when my daughters become teenagers and “idiosyncratic” becomes “idiotic.” Oh how I will delight in embarrassing them, though.

It turns out Dad’s play is important when it comes to learning too, providing a critical boost to language development. Premature infants from disadvantaged families had higher IQs if fathers played with them and helped care for them, Raeburn writes. Studies have found that fathers are more likely to stretch their young children’s vocabularies. I can certainly boast that I’ve introduced a few four letter words into my girls’ verbal arsenal.

I’ve interviewed my daughters in this space before, so I thought it might be interesting to see what they had to say about the very question posed in Raeburn’s title: Do fathers matter?

Unfortunately, today got away from us. We woke up early and cuddled while we watched “Little Shop of Horrors” together — not entirely age-appropriate, but hey!, I’m idiosyncratic. Then it was time for breakfast (Waffles! Bacon! Plums! No screens!), then showers. I took them to get a birthday present before a friend’s party. After that it was playground time and swings and a water balloon fight and more swings followed by tears over a lost earring and much consoling and hugs and, finally, dinner.

I guess in the middle of all that I forgot to ask them if their father mattered.

TIME Parenting

If Cars Can Monitor Left-On Headlights and Rear Obstructions, They Should Be Able To Save Trapped Kids’ Lives

Today, technology saves your car battery—tomorrow, it could save your child

Thursday is National Heatstroke Prevention Day, so here is a little fact for your awareness: In the past 20 years more than 670 U.S. children have died of heatstroke in hot cars. To date this year KidsAndCars.org has recorded 18 such fatalities, including the death last week of a 10-month-old girl in Wichita, Kansas, who was unknowingly left in a vehicle on a 90-degree day.

Our national advocacy nonprofit works year-round to educate parents and caregivers about these dangers, including a nationwide “Look before you lock” program. But education is not enough when all it takes is a simple change in a daily routine to cause a parent to drive past their childcare center and forget their child in the back seat. Current state laws require putting your baby in a rear-facing child safety seat, which has saved the lives of thousands of children in car crashes. An unintended consequence of this shift is that when out of sight, quiet little unobtrusive passengers can slip out of mind.

How can we prevent this failure of memory? The auto industry obviously recognizes that we’re human and our memories often fail us: our cars are able to warn us if we leave our headlights on, our keys are in the ignition, a door is open, we’re low on fuel, if our seatbelt isn’t buckled… If we can monitor our headlights or gas levels, we should be able to get a signal that a child has been forgotten.

Some of the technology options currently on the market include car seat monitors and alert systems, key fobs connected to car seats that sound a reminder and weight-sensitive mats. One system activates when the driver has opened the back door to strap in the car seat, and then sounds a reminder chime when the driver leaves the vehicle. Mobile apps have hit the market, such as Cars-n-Kids Carseat Monitor, which connects with the carseat via a sensor, or the Amber Alert GPS, which tracks your child in or out of the car.

These after-market systems may be useful reminders to some people, but they have not all been tested, and they are not the failsafe solution we need in every vehicle. Furthermore, a 2012 study on “Evaluation of Reminder Technology” sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and conducted by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia found that a few of these systems were not always reliable.

Safety is something every family deserves. It shouldn’t be optional, like 4WD or leather seats. And it shouldn’t be political. The federal government and automakers along with safety advocates have the ability to solve this problem.

KidsAndCars.org recently launched a petition to push the Obama Administration to authorize the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide funding for research and development of innovative technologies to detect a child left alone in the rear seat of a vehicle, such as infrared breathing sensors (a technology that already exists in certain baby monitors for the home). We also spearheaded an initiative to adopt federal safety standards that require all vehicles to be equipped with trunk release latches to prevent trunk entrapment, safer power window switches to prevent strangulation, and brake transmission shift interlock systems so children cannot inadvertently knock a vehicle into gear. In March, the DOT issued a rule requiring rear visibility systems, such as cameras, as standard equipment on all new passenger vehicles by May 2018.

Today, technology saves your car battery. Tomorrow, it could save your child.

Susan Pepperdine is the public relations director of KidsAndCars.org, a national nonprofit group dedicated to preventing injuries and deaths of children in and around motor vehicles.

TIME Parenting

A Tale of Two Summers for Parents

lustration by serge bloch for time
lustration by Serge Bloch for TIME

It’s not just the heat that makes this season frustrating. It’s the scheduling

I am bad at being a summer mom. I’m always the one Googling “help last minute camp” the day after school gets out. One summer, I got my babysitter to take my kids each day to my gym, which had a pool, and pretend she was me. (Finally, an upside to wearing a skintight latex cap and goggles: anonymity.) Another summer, I managed to sign one of my kids up for an advanced-skills soccer camp, even though he didn’t really play soccer. It’s not surprising that the emergency child-care center at my workplace cottoned on fairly quickly to the fact that my emergencies occurred for a week or two every August.

For many parents, summer is oppressive not mostly because of the heat but because of the scheduling. The lengthening days are a hint of the specter of more than 50 million school-age children with six more hours of free time than usual. It’s a child-care chasm that I usually end up crossing by building an emergency bridge made of cash: for more babysitting, more late fees, more hastily put-together sort of fun-ish activities.

But no matter how unprepared I am, I’ll never be arrested for my choices. That’s what happened to Deborah Harrell, who was taken into custody earlier this month, officially for unlawful conduct toward a child, also known as leaving her 9-year-old daughter in a park in North Augusta, S.C., for several hours while she was at work. Her kid had a cell phone, and the McDonald’s Harrell works at was close by, but the girl was there without any adult supervision for much of the day, a witness said.

The mom’s arrest led to a round of national hair pulling (our own and one another’s) about How a Person Could Even Do That or How a Person Could Even Report That. In fact, about 40% of parents leave their kids on their own, at least for a while, estimates the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Three states have even established a minimum age for being home alone, ranging from 8 years old in Maryland to 14 in Illinois.

Kids have raced around outside by themselves since the dawn of time. That’s why those on the free-range end of the child-raising spectrum blamed the busybody who reported Harrell. Yet she was doing exactly what child-protective-service agencies have asked citizens to do, especially since data indicates that child-abuse reports tend to go down over summer but child-abuse incidents do not.

So, once we get past the finger-pointing, it might be worth having a different conversation: one about the gap between what we expect and what we’re willing to pay for. If, by way of analogy, we go to Harrell’s place of work for our luncheon needs, we cannot order McTruffles. McDonald’s can’t make the numbers work on that. Similarly, we cannot expect somebody to fund enriching child-centric summer activities on minimum wage. She can’t make the numbers work on that.

Age is a factor here. More than 45% of hourly workers whose income falls at or below minimum wage are older than 40, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and more than half are women. Harrell is 46. Parents in that type of job are caught in a double bind. The lower their earnings, the more inflexible their job. I could be writing this essay from home, in case my teenage kids suddenly needed help or to accuse someone of ruining their lives. Fast-food workers have to be where the food is. “High-wage jobs are associated with hard-to-replace skills,” says Kenneth Matos, senior director of research at the Families and Work Institute. “[Corporations] need to do something to keep those individuals. Low-wage jobs are generally associated with highly replaceable people, so it’s not worth investing in flexibility.”

Harrell can’t do that job without child care, but at the minimum wage of $7.25 an hour, she can’t get child care doing that job. End result: she cobbles together something ad hoc, just like I do. The difference is that my bad choices are cushioned by cash and society’s false assumption that people who have it don’t abuse their kids. When I make a mistake, my kids don’t get taken away by social services.

Harrell may get lucky. On July 21, child-abuse charges against 35-year-old Shanesha Taylor, who left two toddlers in a hot Arizona car for more than an hour, were dropped. Taylor left the kids there because she had a job interview and nowhere else to take them. Both women’s plights have touched a nerve; Harrell and Taylor have been given support and thousands of dollars in donations via social media.

As for me, I’m not sure where my 13-year-old daughter is at this moment. I left her some money this morning and told her to have a nice day. If anyone wants to arrest me, I’ll probably be at McDonald’s, getting her some dinner.

TIME Parenting

I Left My Kids With a Babysitter to Go to a Job Interview—And Came Home to Find Them Hungry, Naked, and Locked Up

Shadow of child sitting in swing
Getty Images

Unlike the mother who left her daughter in a park, my childcare was legal. But all too often there's no way to win as a low-income mom.

On a beautiful summer’s day last week, a mother was arrested for letting her daughter play at the park, rather than taking her to McDonald’s.

Debra Harrell’s 9-year-old daughter was tired of waiting around the fast-food restaurant in North Augusta, South Carolina, where her mother worked. The laptop Harrell had purchased to keep her daughter occupied during her shifts had recently been stolen from their home. When Harrell’s daughter asked to be dropped off at a well-populated park instead, Harrell agreed, giving her daughter a cell phone for emergencies. This worked fine for two days, but on the third, a woman asked the girl where her mother was. When the answer was “at work,” the woman called the police. Harrell was jailed and her daughter was put in the custody of the Department of Social Services.

Many people were outraged that a mother would allow her child to go unsupervised for so many hours. The authorities deemed it worthy of an “unlawful conduct towards a child” charge. Obviously, this wasn’t an ideal childcare situation, but Harrell made an educated risk assessment based on the information and resources—not many—at hand. The fact of the matter is that child abductions in a public place by a stranger are incredibly rare. Nationally, 76% of abductions are friend or family related.

People forget, but finding safe, trustworthy, affordable childcare is a luxury many don’t have. Even doing things the “right way” can go terribly awry.

In 2010, my family moved from Connecticut to Florida for my husband’s new job. After he had been unemployed for almost two years, living 18 hours away from our friends, family and support system seemed a small price to pay for full-time work, especially since we had two new children to support.

About three months into our stay, I secured a job interview for a television station in Jacksonville, about two hours from where we lived. While our family of four was finally making $55,000 a year, we had lost all our savings in the economic crash and had accrued some debt. Our credit rating was smashed, and we were hemorrhaging funds into a house back in Connecticut that was worth $100,000 less than what we’d paid for it, on top of paying our new rent. We were no longer on public assistance, but the outflow of money was far greater than the inflow. In fact, during our first months in Florida, we were worse off financially than we had been when I had been working (and making far less) in Connecticut. Accepting the job interview seemed like the only option.

Our regular babysitter, a college student who had trained with me and had stayed with my two young daughters alone a few times, couldn’t make it, but suggested a friend of hers who had met my kids briefly. She seemed good with them based on the few minutes of interaction I’d seen. With only one day’s notice and no family or friends nearby, as is the case with so many people facing poverty, I decided to take a chance on her.

Wrong choice.

I’ll never know what really happened that day because the girls were not quite 2 years old and not vocal yet. But when I returned home nearly eight hours later, the door to their room was shut. Their little fingers were sticking out beneath it, as if reaching for something. I opened it, and found my babies in an exhausted sleep on the floor of their bedroom, naked and diaperless. They hadn’t eaten all day. The sitter said they had refused any food and had cried the whole time I was gone. She locked them in their room because she didn’t know what else to do and couldn’t stand the sound of their crying. They had undressed themselves in despair. She had not once called to tell me about this, and when I phoned her to check in, she had said everything was fine.

While in my case “legitimate” childcare in the eyes of the state turned out to be more harmful to my children’s well being than Harrell’s free-range “choice,” the truth of the matter is that childcare is a struggle for anyone with limited means and options. Coming from a huge family in New England, I had never faced that reality before. There had always been some relative available to help. The crash had changed all that, and it opened my eyes to the reality many mothers face, where trying to carve a better life for their family (or even just putting food on the table) leaves them with little choice or time to find adequate, safe care for their children.

After the incident, I cried for a week straight. My kids, now nearly 6, have never again had a sitter who hasn’t trialed with me for a full week. I also turned down the job, and haven’t been away from my children for eight hours at a time again.

That’s because I decided to be a stay-at-home mom. This wasn’t a choice made out of excess or even desire. It was the most financially stable decision we could make at the time. I had been offered a job as a news anchor at the local station when we first arrived. The pay? $9 an hour (the salary for the job in Jacksonville wasn’t much better). I couldn’t believe it. I also couldn’t afford childcare for one baby off that salary, never mind two. I saved thousands of dollars a year by not working.

But I was lucky. I had that option. I have a husband who is employed full time—though we weren’t always so fortunate. Single mothers like Harrell have no money coming in if they don’t work. When they have no friends or family, and can’t afford a sitter, they have to get creative. If they don’t find fulltime work, some people will judge them, call them lazy, and assume they’re looking for handouts. If they work minimum wage jobs to make ends meet, they’re without health insurance or childcare benefits, and they can’t afford childcare off their meager salaries. And if they then can’t find childcare that fits the subjective level of appropriate supervision, the state takes the children away. At 9 years old, Harrell’s daughter was old enough to go to a park filled with other children and dozens of adults for the day. And a mother sending her there clearly felt she had no other option.

What this family needed was help, not punishment. While Harrell has since been released and reunited with her daughter, the Department of Social services is still obligated to investigate the case. McDonald’s has also terminated Harrell, according to her lawyer, leaving her without an income.

When these incidents arise, we need to stand up for the families, the individuals. We need to educate them about the programs there to assist them in times of need because those programs are not well advertised and the application process is murky and time-consuming. Harrell would have most definitely been eligible for childcare assistance. The guidelines vary by state, but in South Carolina, a parent must be working, in school or training, need a minimum of 15 hours or childcare a week, and–for a family of three, for example–make less than $2,200 a month.

Debra Harrell is trying to get out of the hole so many people rant about others lounging in. So why aren’t we letting her dig?

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly included statistics for a different state. It has been corrected to include those in South Carolina.

Darlena Cunha is a mother of twins and a freelance writer for The Washington Post, Gainesville Sun and Gainesville and Ocala magazines. You can reach her @parentwin on Twitter.

TIME Parenting

Toyota Adds Minivan Feature Designed to Keep Kids Quiet in the Backseat

Just in time for summer road trips

The dawn of the minivan began in those halcyon days when vans were just that: large, unwieldy, and neither fashionable nor practical. They didn’t have the restrained elegance, beauty, or allure of, say, station wagons. Now over the last few decades, minivans have arguably become symbols of stability and family values – plus, the kids love the space for activities!

So if you’re in the market for a new minivan—and if the people you tote around in your backseat are usually unruly—Toyota has just announced a compelling feature for their newest iteration of the venerable Sienna. They call it Driver Easy Speak, and it’s a system intended to amplify the driver’s voice in the backseat via the vehicle’s own audio system “so parents don’t have to shout to passengers in the back,” according to Toyota, the Associated Press reports.

The feature will only appear in vans with Toyota’s premium audio option at the moment. For some parents, however, that might be a small price to pay to get their kids to buckle up and get to soccer practice on time. Plus, think of how much fun those kids will have with the system when they’re teens who let their friends bum rides! That in itself may be priceless.

TIME Parenting

How Overparenting Makes Kids Overweight

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Digital Vision.—Getty Images

A study found that maternal overprotectiveness increased the odds of children being overweight.

Maybe if we stopped calling it The Obesity Epidemic and started calling it The Fear Epidemic we could finally make a dent in the widening waistlines of our country’s kids.

A study just published in the journal PLOS One is the first to prove a link between helicopter parenting and obesity: Between ages 10 to 11, the researchers found, maternal overprotectiveness “was associated with a 13 percent increase in the odds of children being overweight or obese.”

This link makes intuitive sense. The fear of predators is part of what’s making kids fat, by keeping them inside, sedentary, and near the fridge. After all, most of us grew up on cookies and milk every day after school – whole milk! – and no one was worried about the big O. That’s because we’d walk home, eat, then run outside to play some more.

But today, to keep our kids “safe,” we drive them back and forth to school. “Arrival” and “dismissal” have morphed into “drop-off” and “pick-up.” Kids are delivered like FedEx packages. About 1 in 10 use their legs to get to school.

This intense oversight happens not just in neighborhoods riddled by crime and drugs, where a tight leash makes sense, but in areas parents deliberately chose because they wanted to raise their kids someplace nice and safe.

And yet, when are the kids taking advantage of all that nice safety? After school they’re either off to a supervised activity or they’re back home, never to venture out again, in part because of massive homework loads, in part because of endless electronic options, but also in great part because they are not allowed to go outside on their own. Their parents, even if one of them is at home, are afraid they’ll get abducted.

While the overprotectiveness study concentrated only on moms (in Australia, no less), we have become an entire generation afraid for our kids. Predator panic is not a minor part of the culture. ABC appointed Elizabeth Smart its special correspondent for missing children. It seems America’s got four main categories of stories: news, weather, sports — and kidnapping.

No wonder parents are terrified! I heard from one mom who was actually outside with her kids, reading while they played on the lawn, when a woman walked by shouting, “Put down that book! Don’t you realize your children could be snatched at any time?”

That is the exact fear of our era: If we take our eyes off our kids, even for a second, we will never see them again. Another mom wrote to tell me that, despite a twinge of trepidation, she decided to let her six-year-old walk four houses down to his friend. This was in a gated community, during the day.

The boy came back from his playdate happy as a clam (who can walk). But when this mom told other friends about her son’s big adventure – or what passes for a big adventure in 21st century America – one of them said, “Oh my goodness! You just kill me! Anything could have happened.”

Anything? That’s true. But the odds of “anything” being terrible are tiny. The U.S. crime rate today is lower than any time since the advent of color TV. That means any parents who grew up in the ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s were playing outside when the crime rate was higher than it is today. Yes, higher! Nobody called their parents negligent for letting them stay out till the streetlights came on. That was just a normal – and incidentally fat-defying – childhood. Today the number of children age 9 to 13 playing outside, unsupervised, in any given week, is 6 percent.

That’s ridiculously close to zero.

“It doesn’t take much to see that this generates a vicious cycle. Captivity breeds inactivity,” says Joshua Gans, a professor at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto and author of Parentonomics. “If you fear letting your kids loose outside, that is when the risk of obesity expands.”

But we can’t just blame fearful parents for keeping the kids cooped up. The government, which should be encouraging outdoor play, is busy doing the opposite. A man in suburban Pittsburgh dropped off his kids, age 6 and 9, at the park while he ran some errands. This sight was so unusual – children playing on their own – that a passerby called 911. The police came and charged the dad with two counts of child endangerment. This happened recently in D.C., too. And again in South Carolina, just last week. In fact, I hear about an incident like that almost weekly now.

Why is it endangerment to let your kids have fun and burn calories, but it’s not endangerment to keep them inside where they run the risk of getting fat and diabetic?

If we are going to be obsessed by a fear for our kids, let’s at least choose the right one.

Because in a panic, it’s impossible to think straight. That’s why I keep getting letters from parents who have been harassed or even ticketed by the authorities for letting their kids play outside, sometimes right next to their house. One mom got a visit from Child Protective Services because her children were playing in the rain! It has become a radical act to let kids play beyond the living room. This results in weird things, like one of the original public service announcements for Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign. It was almost guaranteed to make sure kids move less.

The spot shows a mom in her kitchen chopping healthy veggies (natch’), when her daughter leans over the banister and says, “Mom, can I have a dollar?” The mom sees her wallet right next to her on the counter but then gets a clever idea. “I think my purse is upstairs on the bed!” she tells the girl, who bolts up the stairs. When of course it isn’t there, the mom says to “Try the downstairs closet!” then the upstairs closet, etc., etc., with the girl running up and down until finally she spies the wallet in the kitchen. Then the ad reminds parents it’s our job to find ways to get kids moving.

No, it’s not! It has never been any parent’s job to come up with 365 days’ worth of clever ways to trick our kids into moving their limbs for an hour. It is simply our job to get our kids outside. In turn, it’s the government’s job not to criminalize, demonize or criticize parents who let their children play outside the way our parents did.

Until we all get over the idea that our kids need a security detail every time they leave the house, inside the house they’ll sit, getting older and wider. We are overprotecting them from incredibly unlikely crimes, while making them lots more likely to end up Santa-shaped.

If we are going to be obsessed by a fear for our kids, let’s at least choose the right one.

Lenore Skenazy is a public speaker and founder of the book and blog Free-Range kids. Her show “World’s Worst Mom” airs on Discovery/TLC international. This piece originally appeared at The Weekly Wonk.

TIME Crime

Parents Say Teen Committed Suicide Over Viral Bullying Video

The video posted to social media allegedly showed the boy masturbating

A San Diego couple says their 14-year-old son took his life after a video of him allegedly masturbating in a school bathroom went viral. The parents have filed a $1 million claim against the San Diego Unified School District, arguing that a teacher, an administrator and possibly other faculty members knew the boy was being bullied over the video and did nothing to stop it.

Matthew Burdette committed suicide on Nov. 29 over Thanksgiving break. The wrestler and water polo player left a suicide note that said he could no longer “handle school” and that he had “no friends,” according to the claim, which KGTV-TV Channel 10 in San Diego first acquired.

Burdette was kicked out of class at University City High School on Nov. 15 for eating sunflower seeds. The teacher did not tell him where to wait, so he went to the boys’ bathroom, according to the claim. Another student in the bathroom secretly videotaped Burdette in his stall, allegedly masturbating. The video was then posted to social networks like Snapchat and Vine.

“From the moment the video was posted, Matthew was mercilessly bullied, harassed and teased by students who had seen the video. This continued for the next two weeks,” the claim said. The parents say they did not learn about the video until after their son’s death.

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