Perhaps you've heard stories lately about the parents in Maryland investigated (twice!) for letting their kids walk home from the park. Or the mom in North Carolina who let her 9-year-old play at the park while she worked at McDonald's — and spent a night in jail for this act of "negligence." Or the story just a few weeks ago of an 11-year-old in Florida who was playing basketball in his backyard for 90 minutes when his parents were late getting home — and the cops arrested them for negligence and sent both their boys to foster care for a month. Well, you may wonder why you're suddenly so aware of this stuff.
And the answer is... me.
I brought all those stories, and more, to national media attention. Just this week I put a new one on my website, Free-Range Kids. This time a mom was given a misdemeanor for allowing her 10-year-old to wait in the car with her little sister while she ran an errand.
But why would I — the lady who desperately wants to get more kids outside to enjoy an old-fashioned childhood — be scaring parents like this?
The answer is simple. My goal is not to scare — I actually wish I could avoid that. My goal is to shock . I'm trying to shock our country into realizing that at least some of the people in authority now believe that any child not within an arm's reach of his parents is in danger. It is that belief that can turn any parents into criminals for taking their eyes off their kids, however briefly.
The government's underlying premise here is wrong. Our kids are NOT in constant danger. Pointing out that fallacy is, in fact, the mission of my blog and movement. As a Washington Post headline recently pointed out, there's never been a safer time to be a kid in America. But until the authorities stop panicking, all parents who let their kids walk, play or even wait a little while, indoors or out, live under the threat of official intervention.
This must change. And the best way I know to do that is by shining klieg lights on cases where good, loving parents are hounded by overbearing, danger-hallucinating authorities — authorities who insist a child without her mom at the park is automatically "neglected," or that a child calmly waiting alone in the car for a few minutes is in danger of immediate abduction or dehydration. This kind of "tragical thinking" trumps the reality that kids are for the most part fine, and mix-ups are just things that happen sometimes, not evidence of cruelty or abuse.
And — drum roll, please — this klieg light approach is WORKING. Last week, after all the attention it received from the Meitiv "Free-Range" case, Maryland's Child Protective Services department clarified its marching orders, stating, "Children playing outside or walking unsupervised does not meet the criteria for a CPS response, absent specific information supporting the conclusion that the child has been harmed or is at substantial risk of harm if they continue to be unsupervised."
The Washington Post interviewed a Maryland CPS spokeswoman who said, "We are not getting in the business of opining on parenting practices or child-rearing philosophies. ...We see our role as responding when a child is harmed or at a significant risk of harm."
That's what I've been hoping for, working for, scaring for. I don't want parents to feel nervous about Free-Ranging their kids. I want them to be able to send their kids outside without worrying about busybodies, boogeymen or making bail.
Lately it feels like we are getting there. Fear not. ...Even if I scare you.