A Montgomery County, Maryland?family is in trouble with local authorities after they allowed their two children, ages six and ten, to walk home by themselves from an area playground.
On December 20, 2014 parents Alexander and Danielle Meitiv allowed son Rafi and daughter Dvora to walk from Woodside Park to the family’s home one mile south. The parents claim the children know the area very well, held hands during their trek home, but were stopped halfway through by police officers, after someone reported the children. After having a tense discussion with the police about safety issues, the children were released to their father.
The family then heard from Montgomery County Child Protective Services, which the family has found intrusive. They were forced to sign a safety plan pledging not to leave the children unsupervised. This month an agency social worker arrived at the home for an investigation but the family refused to allow this. The parents also learned that the children were interviewed at their school.
The parents feel they are being bullied for permitting their children a degree of independence. They consider their style of parenting “free range” and find the police and agency actions to be intrusive. Protective Services cited a Maryland law that requires children under the age of eight to be in the care of a reliable person at least 13 years of age, which in this case was not met.
There are other cases around the country of parents getting into trouble with authorities over allowing their children to walk without adult supervision. Florida and South Carolina cases have been reported with similar circumstances.
A writer and advocate for allowing children a modicum of independence is Lenore Skenazy, the leading voice of the “Free Range Kids” movement. “How to raise safe, self-reliant children (without going nuts with worry)” is her slogan. She gained notoriety for allowing her nine-year old son to take the subway train by himself, in New York City. This has been a running discussion in the Five Boroughs for the past few years, debated in the New York Times?and elsewhere.
This Maryland case is part of a greater discussion on parenting, safety perceptions, communal values and standards. A large number of adults today did walk unaccompanied when they were younger. Are children facing more dangers today, and need to be supervised more carefully? Should parents have more leeway when it comes to allowing their children to walk, bike, roller blade or skateboard around their neighborhoods? The film “Boyhood” which just won Golden Globe awards and was nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Academy Awards competition, has scenes of the lead actor, even when he is an elementary school student, riding his bike and walking around without a parent or adult with him.
Another aspect of this is regional: are urban parents, such as New York’s Lenore Skenazy, more likely to allow their children to walk in public by themselves, than suburban parents? In New York City, where I have lived my whole life, it is common practice for elementary school children to walk around by themselves or with peers (family and friends). My younger daughter often walked home herself in 5th grade, although I had to sign a permission slip for this. My concern has been vehicular safety, as more drivers are distracted these days by cell phone calls and texts.
Are liberals more likely to allow their children to walk unsupervised? Are they more likely to be “helicopter parents”? This is another theme to explore.