Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Letting Your Kids Play Outside Unsupervised Is Now Known As "Free Range Parenting".

I grew up in an outer suburb of a medium-sized city in North Carolina. In the 80's. Our town was safe, meaning random violent crime was basically non-existent. Like most of you, I played around the neighborhood, rode my bike all over town with my friends, went out first thing in the morning and came home when the streetlights came on. And yes, I occasionally got into trouble and did a lot of stuff a preteen probably shouldn't have been allowed to do. In retrospect, I probably had a little too much freedom, but reality is, having few boundaries as a child actually helped me learn to respect them as an adult.

Fast forward 30 some years, and I have 3 kids of my own. I live in the inner suburbs of a very large city. It's every bit as safe as the neighborhood I grew up in. Sometimes I see kids ride their bikes up the street without parental supervision, but most of the kids who are outside tend to congregate in driveways and shoot hoops at most. Our kids are too young to do much of anything outside without us, and I'm not sure they will when they're of age. Not because the world's become more dangerous for kids (it hasn't), but because societal attitudes towards unsupervised play have changed dramatically. In short: if your kids are out on their own, somebody is prolly gonna call CPS on your ass.

Case in point, this story, from my current hometown.
The Maryland parents investigated for letting their young children walk home by themselves from a park were found responsible for “unsubstantiated” child neglect in a decision that has not fully resolved their clash with authorities over questions of parenting and children’s safety.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv hoped the nationally debated case — which has lit up social media and brought a dozen television film crews to their Silver Spring home — would be dismissed after a two-month investigation by Montgomery County Child Protective Services.

But the finding of unsubstantiated child neglect means CPS will keep a file on the family for at least five years and leaves open the question of what would happen if the Meitiv children get reported again for walking without adult supervision.

The parents say they will continue to allow their son, Rafi, 10, and daughter Dvora, 6, to play or walk together, and won’t be swayed by the CPS finding.

The case dates to Dec. 20, when police picked up the two Meitiv children walking in Silver Spring on a Saturday afternoon after someone reported them. The parents said that they gradually let the pair take walks on their own and that their children knew the area, which is along busy Georgia Avenue.

The Meitivs said they would not have allowed the one-mile outing from Woodside Park to their home if they did not feel their children were up to it. The siblings made it halfway before police stopped them.

The Meitivs’ decision letter, dated Feb. 20, said the CPS investigation had been completed and would be closed. It cited a finding of unsubstantiated child neglect and made note of an appeals process.
Since this happened not far from my house, I've probably got a very different take on this than some might. The park that the kids were left in is notorious for having homeless people and random walkers by. Sure, there are lots of parents there usually, but it's a huge, sprawling area with lots of trees. If someone wanted to grab your child and make a run for it, they prolly could and you wouldn't notice it. Likewise, the mile that the kids walked home is through a very busy and congested downtown area. The cops probably should have stopped the kids, and were definitely in the right for considering this a case of possible neglect. Walking back home from your neighborhood playground, this is not.

On the other hand, I sorta get where these parents are coming from. While society's views on this topic have changed, reality is that kids simply don't get abducted by strangers any more now than they did when I was a child. Sure, the omnipresence of shows like "To Catch A Predator" and "20/20" makes it feel that way, but more times than not when kids go missing it's via a parent and part of a custody battle. You've got a better chance of winning the DC Lottery than your kid being snatched off the sliding board.

All that said, while I admire these parents (and really, really hate the term "Free Range Parenting"[1]) they were dead assed wrong here. There are other ways to prove your point. Having your kids play Frogger on Georgia Avenue isn't one of them.

Question: Do you allow your kids to play outside unsupervised? Do you differ from your parents on this issue? Were these "Free Range Parents" dead assed wrong?

[1] "Free Range Parenting" sounds like something you do to livestock.

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