Free-range parenting getting costly

Published 10:49 pm Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Ah, summer. We all know what that means for young children.

If your kids are seen walking without adult supervision, somebody will call the cops, Child Protective Services will conduct an investigation and charges will be filed.

That is what happened recently to Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, two Maryland parents who allowed their young children to walk home alone from a park near their home.

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“The Meitivs say they have gradually allowed their son, Rafi, 10, and daughter, Dvora, 6, more freedom to walk on their own in areas they know,” reports The Washington Post. “But police twice picked up the siblings as they made their way home in Silver Spring, and CPS neglect investigations ensued.”

What were these parents thinking, you ask. They were thinking about the well-being of their kids. You see, the Meitivs have embraced the “free-range” kids movement, which encourages childhood independence.

“When you let children out, all the good things happen — the self-confidence, happiness and self-sufficiency that come from letting our kids do some things on their own,” says columnist and blogger Lenore Skenazy, founder of the free-range kids movement. She caused a firestorm in 2008 when she wrote, in the New York Sun, about letting her 9-year-old son ride the New York City subway alone.

Free-range parents are the polar opposite of helicopter parents. According to The Washington Post, helicopter parents have “watched their (child’s) every move, checked their grades online hourly, advocated for them endlessly and kept them busy from event to activity to play date …”

Helicopter parents would never allow their children to walk home from a park alone.

According to The New York Times, it’s routine for such parents to drive their kids to and from school — even if they are 10, 11 or 12 — and even if the school is only a few blocks away.

At some schools, there is a rigorous process for picking children up. Parents display their kids’ names on their dashboards. A school official radios to the building and the kids are escorted, one at a time, to the cars.

Prison inmates receive less monitoring than the kids of helicopter parents. Why are so many parents obsessing over their kids these days?

According to WebMD, “if you grew up in the ‘70s and ‘80s (and earlier, of course), you probably remember going out to play after school and being expected to return home only when the street lights turned on. But as more families had both parents working outside the home, supervised after-school activities became increasingly necessary.”

There is another motivation for today’s obsessive parenting: sensationalistic news stories and 24/7 coverage about children who have been abducted. According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, about 115 children are abducted each year by strangers or acquaintances. Statistically speaking, writes child-safety expert Gavin de Becker, “a child is more likely to have a heart attack than be abducted, and child heart attacks are so rare that most parents (correctly) never even consider the risk.”

The New York Times offers more perspective. Whereas 115 children are abducted each year, more than 250,000 children are in car wrecks.

In any event, parents like the Meitivs deserve praise for trying to give their children the freedom to learn and socialize and make mistakes on their own — that’s the way prior generations got to grow up.

Fortunately for the Meitivs, the authorities dropped neglect charges in both cases against them. But there are increasing stories across the country in which free-range parents are being charged with neglect.

That’s what they get for having the audacity to allow their children to walk alone.

Tom Purcell, author of “Misadventures of a 1970’s Childhood” and “Comical Sense: A Lone Humorist Takes on a World Gone Nutty!” is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist.