Several months ago, the question of whether or not a parent should be allowed to let their children walk alone in their neighborhood, much less play alone in the park, hit the national news. Danielle and Sasha Meitiv thought they were teaching their children, ages 10 and 6, to be independent. Apparently at least one of their neighbors thought they were being neglectful, if not abusive. Enter the Maryland police and Children’s Protective Services. And thus a debate was sparked.
The result of the December investigation into whether or not the Meitivs were bad parents for — gasp — teaching their children how to navigate their neighborhood and then letting them actually go to the park on their own, was a finding by CPS of that they were guilty of unsubstantiated child neglect.
The impact of this ruling is that CPS can keep an open file on the family for five years.
Fast forward to this month. Some “concerned” neighbor called 911 to tell the police there were two unsupervised children at the local park (which is approximately a mile from the family home). I put concerned in quotes because I have to wonder if the neighbor was anything but. I don’t know about you, but if I am worried about a couple of kids in this situation, my first response isn’t going to be to dial 911. It would be to go outside and check on the kids. Then, if I had reason to believe there was a problem, I would consider calling 911. Of course, knowing me, I’d probably first call the parents. Instead, this “concerned” neighbor apparently called police without doing any of this and I have to wonder if the neighbor really was worried or if the kids were being loud or somehow bothering the neighbor and that is why the call was made.
The most outrageous part of this latest incident is that the kids were picked up by police and taken to CPS and no one called the parents for at least two hours. In that time, the parents had been frantically trying to find their kids. Can you imagine how they must have felt? Worse, once they did learn where their children were, it took another couple of hours to retrieve them. Now here is the kicker: in order to get their children back, the parents had to sign documentation promising that they would not leave their children unattended.
Now, Maryland law states that it is illegal to leave children unattended in a home or car if the child is under the age of 8. It is also illegal to leave a child under eight with anyone under the age of 13. However, Maryland law does not address children of those ages being outdoors. And that, my friends, is part of the problem. It leaves too much to interpretation.
But the other problem is this attitude so many people seem to have right now that we need to swaddle our kids in bubblewrap and not let them know the world is big and wonderful but that there are bad things out there as well. School districts are letting kids retake tests over and over until the kid gets the grade she — or her parents — want. No consequence for not studying and doing homework. Oh, and then there are the districts that won’t let teachers grade homework. So why should the students do it?
I look at what is happening in Maryland and think how my parents, and so many others, would have been reported to CPS over and over again. Hell, I’d probably have ended up in state custody because my parents let me “free-range”. Oh, don’t get me wrong. They taught me how to take care of myself. They always knew where I was going, what routes I would be taking and I always had to check in. But they gave me the independence to roam the neighborhood. It wasn’t uncommon in the summer for me to leave the house first thing in the morning and not come home until dinner.
That freedom taught me a sense of independence and responsibility. I may be warped in my own way but it isn’t because my parents let me walk to school or ride my bike to the other side of the neighborhood — or further.
Now comes this article in the HuffPo. I know, I know. It’s HuffPo. I should know better than to read it but, well, it’s morning and my resolve was weak. Here is where I started banging my head against the top of my desk:
Little ones aged 4 to 6 always need adult supervision. They are ready to practice the basics of crossing a street, but may still do the unexpected and are easily distracted. Adults need to model safe walking behavior. When your child reaches the 7 to 9 age bracket, they still need supervision, but are ready to learn more complicated skills such as locating and acknowledging traffic, acknowledging the speed at which cars are moving and ignoring distractions such as animals or friends calling their name. By the time children are age 10 and above, they may be ready to practice walking alone.
My son, my wonderful, responsible, confident son, was learning to walk across the street as soon as he was walking. I would take him with me and we would stop and look both ways. I would explain what we were looking for and why. By the time he was 4, he knew not to go into the street if he could see a car coming. Now, that’s not to say I still didn’t hold his hand. Nor did I let him run across the street. But by the time he was six, he could cross the street by himself. I might have watched from the yard or window, but I didn’t feel the need to hang onto his hand and walk him wherever he wanted to go.
You see, I knew my son and I knew my neighborhood. I taught him which corners to cross at and he knew his boundaries for how far he was allowed to go if I wasn’t with him. If he wanted to go to someone’s house, he had to ask first. Then, after I made sure the parents of the other child were there, I’d say okay. See, I knew safety measures were in place and that the other parent(s) would call if he didn’t get to their place within a few minutes. I knew my neighborhood and I knew my son.
What is the most amazing thing about the statement above is the bit about how a child at 10 might be ready to start practicing walking alone. When do these folks start letting their kids spend the night somewhere else?
Children need to have some freedom — within reason — and they need to have responsibilities but they still need to be children. Most of all, they need to learn that actions have consequences, some good and some bad. If we fail to teach them that, then we are failing them.
Now, I am not ready to say the parents shouldn’t have to shoulder some of the responsibility for what happened in Maryland this last time. They knew how their local police and CPS were interpreting the law. They knew someone — maybe several someones — in their neighborhood was calling the police if they saw their children out alone. In their place, I’d be doing two things. First, I’d be dealing with the legal aspect of the situation not only with my own attorneys but with my local and state government officials. Second, I wouldn’t be making it any easier for CPS to make a case against me. CPS has already shown that it has no problem finding the parents guilty of “unsubstantiated” neglect. That shows just what their mindset is. Oh, there is one more thing I’d be doing — looking for a home where the stupid wasn’t so strong.
And, no, I don’t want to hear how the world has changed. Sorry, folks, but there has always been evil out there. There has always been the possibility that an accident might happen. The truth is, we hear about it more now because it makes “good” news for the media. We also hear about it more now because, when it happens, we are more likely to report it to the authorities and that means it will make the news. Now, I’m not saying we shouldn’t be wary but we can’t continue raising our kids to be afraid of their own shadows and without a clue about how the real world operates.
It’s time for the adults to grow up. Let our kids be kids and teach them instead of wrapping them in cotton wool so the big bad world never intrudes.