Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Friend or Foe? Sending off Kids to Play in Homes of Strangers Is Cause for Concern

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Friend or Foe? Sending off Kids to Play in Homes of Strangers Is Cause for Concern

Article excerpt

ONE AFTERNOON your third-grader comes in from school with a frantic request: One of his classmates has invited him over to watch a video and your youngster just has to go.

You've bumped into the youngster at several school functions and he seemed polite enough. You've even chatted with his parents after PTA meetings and found them to be stand-up people - at least as far as one can judge character based on such brief exchanges.

But what do you really know about them? And would you approve of the kin d of videos they allow their child to watch? Having never set foot inside their home, how can you know whether pit bulls roam the rotunda or if they use loaded assault rifles as paperweights? You ask, right? That is the most direct approach. But voicing such concerns can prove uncomfortable for parents who want to know but don't want to offend. "You are insinuating that you don't trust the other parents, and they might find this offensive," said Lisa Early, director of the Arnold Palmer Hospital Center for Children and Families in Orlando, Fla. "Dealing with such questions requires great skill at being direct, but not confrontational or offensive. Few possess this skill." Even so, before sending your children into the great unknown of other people's houses, parents are obliged to investigate such concerns as: Do they own a pool, and if so is it child-proofed? Do they own firearms or other weapons, and if so are they properly stored? Do they have older siblings in the house who might entertain rowdy friends when your child is there? Do they watch programs or videos that you consider inappropriate? Do they have dangerous animals, and if so are they leashed or otherwise contained? And so on. For many parents such as Katie Gorman of Orlando, the first stab at unearthing that vital information involves a subtle approach. When a pal invites her son over to visit and Gorman does not know the youngster's parents, she deftly deflects the invitation and suggests the families first meet at a neutral location, such as a nearby park. While the children play, Gorman engages the parents in casual conversation about any and everything. Television viewing. Societal problems. Child care. Each topic - however harmless and non-controversial - offers valuable insight into their values, mores and ways and means of parenting. "You can turn it around and tell them the things about you that you really want to know about them," agreed Evelyn Petersen, a child development expert who writes the syndicated column "ParentTalk." Petersen offers this strategy: Tell them that you have no guns in your house or pit bulls or whatever. The idea, she said, is to prompt them to reveal the same to you. When gauging a parent's values, Gorman said she might begin: "You know, I have a thing about cable television. …

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