Free-Range Children’s Parents in Trouble Again

This morning, I saw in the Washington Post online that the Meitiv couple in Maryland were in trouble with Child Protective Services (CPS) for the third time for letting their children, ages 10 and 6, walk to the park alone. A well-meaning stranger reported the kids being on their own, so the police picked them up and turned them over to CPS. When the children didn’t return home at the designated time – 6 p.m. – the Meitivs began searching and didn’t get a call from CPS until 8 p.m. They were reunited with their children at 10:30 p.m.

The Meitivs contend that allowing their children to walk to alone to and from a park, which is a mile away from their house, is not neglect or endangerment. They say they are responsible parents who feel their children are safe going to the park on their own. They believe that the children are gaining self-confidence, independence and positive experience by being allowed to gradually increase the time and distance they are allowed to be away from home unsupervised. The children carry laminated information cards with the phrase “I am a free-range kid” on them.

First, it struck me as odd that these parents have to label their children in that way. What’s next? Will our children be carrying ID cards: I am a gluten-free kid; I am a vegan kid; I am an attachment-parenting kid; I am a vaccine-free kid (maybe that one would be useful); I am an organic kid?

The Meitivs seem to enjoy a little “in your face” pontificating about their choices in child-rearing. I can’t help but wonder if the “strangers” who are reporting the Meitiv kids being alone are just neighbors who are annoyed by their parents’ attitude.

Annoying or not, are the Meitivs criminals? It brings to mind an article I read about a mom who worked at McDonalds and allowed her 9-year-old daughter to play at a busy park nearby (I believe she also gave her a cell phone) while she was at work. The mom obviously couldn’t afford childcare, and the daughter asked to play at the park. A well-meaning adult reported the child being alone and the mom was arrested.

I wonder if I would have reported the child being alone at the park, or if I had seen the Meitiv children walking, would I have called police? We’re told to be on watch and to report neglected children. Have we become so fearful that we can’t ever let our children out of our sight? We do hear about shocking abductions, murders and anything sensational that happens to children or adults. Instant access to information and the media competition to be read, watched or tweeted is at an all-time high. But are the actual crimes at an all-time high. Are children in constant danger? That sick lump of fear in my stomach is all-too familiar to me. At those times, I have to have a talk with myself. Is this a real and reasonable fear, or just random worry? Statistics at the Free Range Kids website say that crime is down

When I was a kid, my siblings and I were gone all day playing in the neighborhood. By the time we were in junior high, we were riding our bikes all over town, but I would have been so fearful to allow my kids to do that. Why? I’m not sure. I’ve heard many parents my age echo the same sentiment. Are we overprotective, or are we being smart?

Are the Meitiv’s taking too big a risk by letting their children play at the park alone? Would you do this? Do you think the Meitiv’s should be punished for it?

Categories: Editor’s Blog