When kids go alone, a walk to park can end in investigation, arrest
If this spring and summer is anything like 2014, I suspect we'll see more of these incidents where parents are investigated or even arrested for letting their kids just be on their own.Posted — Updated
Here we go again ...
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv are back in the news. They are the Maryland parents who were investigated last year for allowing their 10-year-old and six-year-old children to walk by themselves to a park one mile from their house.
If this spring and summer is anything like 2014, I suspect we'll see more of these incidents where parents are investigated or even arrested for letting their kids just be on their own.
Free-range parents, her website says, are "fighting the belief that our children are in constant danger from creeps, kidnapping, germs, grades, flashers, frustration, failure, baby snatchers, bugs, bullies, men, sleepovers and/or the perils of a non-organic grape."
That pretty much sounds like the ideal way to grow up, doesn't it? Parents raising kids who turn into self reliant, confident people who aren't afraid and worried about everything that might possibly hurt them.
Back in the 1970s, I was a free-range kid.
Between the ages of two and four, I roamed the campus of a small college in upstate New York. I wasn't completely by myself. I was with my friend, who was one year older.
Our father's were professors at the college and we lived on campus where our parents were dorm parents. Today, I have vivid memories of those two years - rolling our dolls down a big hill, swinging on a big rock swing in the student center, getting scolded by the security guard for eating too many crab apples, getting stung by a bee after I stepped on it to see what would happen, peeking in classrooms and dorm rooms.
By the time I reached kindergarten or first grade, I was walking a half mile to my elementary school with another buddy, who was two years older than me.
At age 7, I was riding a public bus in a small town in southern France, where my father was on sabbatical, to and from my school by myself. In the beginning, I didn't speak any French.
By 12, during my first sleepover camp, I was roaming the streets of Paris by myself, eating a lot of chocolate croissants and loving every minute of it.
When my older daughter was age two, I asked my mom how she ever could have let me out of her sight at such a tender age. With my own toddler, I couldn't imagine letting her walk around outside by herself, crossing streets and meeting strangers. In fact, my own mother can't believe she did it either. She shakes her head about it now.
Here's the thing: We were just fine.
I also was just fine walking to school and riding that bus and roaming the streets of a major city. Were there some moments and incidents that were a little scary? Yes, there were a few.
As a grade schooler, tween and teenager, however, I hadn't been coddled by my parents, spending nearly every minute under their watchful eye. I had years of experience on my own, developing my confidence, understanding my instincts and actually using those instincts.
OK ... let's take a moment here to actually consider the dangers out there. There are cars and drivers, who might not stop at a stop sign or red light when our kids are crossing. And drivers today are distracted by their smartphones and other gadgets, which didn't exist decades ago. (I've hammered into my children the importance of looking both ways and being very careful at intersections).
And there are strangers. But, according to countless experts in this area, only a few children are kidnapped every year in stranger abductions. (I've also hammered into my children the need to trust their instincts, never take anything from a stranger, never go near a stranger who is attempting to engage with them and never help a stranger unless a trusted adult is with them).
Each year, a fraction of one percent are kidnapped in the abductions that we see on the news. Of those 100 kids, about half come home, the Foundation says.
Yet, as I write all of this about my gloriously independent childhood, my efforts to teach my kids and the statistics on child abductions, I'm not so sure my kids are having a free-range childhood. They play outside on their own and with friends in the neighborhood, but not much more beyond that.
At Christmas, I let my kids - ages 9 and 5, at the time - walk two to three blocks in my neighborhood by themselves to deliver Christmas cards. As I watched them from a window, crossing the street, I turned to my mother-in-law with a little fear in my voice and said "They'll be OK, right?"
"I think it's great," she replied.
And when we lost our bus stop, I wrote to the school system unsuccessfully to get it back, citing the dangers of the busy traffic on our half-mile walk to school on streets quieter than the ones I crossed as a first grader.
And when a neighbor asked if our fourth graders and good friends could walk home from school together on their own, our answer was no.
And when I talked about it with friends over dinner the other week, one said, half joking: "You can't do that. You might get arrested!"
Indeed. Last summer, a mom was arrested for leaving her nine-year-old to play at a park while she worked at McDonald's in South Carolina. In Florida, another mom was arrested for letting her seven-year-old walk by himself to a park a half mile from their home.
There are two parks a half mile from my house. Should I let my kids walk to them?
This all comes just a generation after a child's ability to walk alone in the neighborhood was considered a sign he was ready for first grade.
I was 5 in 1979 and I could definitely walk that far on my own. Can my 5 1/2-year-old today? I'm not sure. I've never let her. Would I? I don't know. Would somebody report my child to the police? Would I get arrested?
And here's the end. I'm not sure what the fix to all of this is. We need a return to common sense. We need to trust our kids more. We need to be watchful of everybody, all of the time. (Put those phones down!) And maybe, we all just need to relax.
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