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Free Range Parenting and Helicopter Children

child_you_have

I’ll admit that the discussion online regarding the parents whose children were taken into custody again because they were playing alone at a park has made me cranky.  Cranky enough to write this.  You may disagree, and I welcome thoughtful disagreement in the comment section.  Though you may also not wish to read this post.  And that’s okay, too.

I’ll start with a story.

There once was a student whose parents asked her to pack her own lunch.  It made sense; the child was 12 years old.

Every day, the girl brought an inadequate amount or type of food to school.  One day she brought a banana.  As in, her entire lunch was a single banana.  On another day, she brought a big bag of cookies and chips.

The child was hungry and would ask other kids for part of their lunch.  And then some of those kids wouldn’t have an adequate amount of food because they or their parents hadn’t packed enough food for both children.

So we talked to the child and asked her some basic nutrition questions: what are foods with protein?  What are some vegetables your parents have in the house that you can bring?  What do you know how to cook?

The child didn’t know.  She didn’t know which foods were a good source of protein.  She didn’t know how to make anything more than a bowl of cereal.  So we spoke to the parents and explained that while they may want her to pack her own lunch — a good independent act — they also needed to prepare her for the task.

The next day, the parents sent her to school again.

With the exact same, child-packed, non-nutritional lunch.

It was neglectful back when the parents were sending the child to school without helping their child meet her nutritional needs (and before you ask, yes, they had the financial means — that wasn’t part of the issue).  But I could give those parents the benefit of the doubt when we raised the issue.  Perhaps they didn’t know that this was a problem.

But once we notified them of the issue, when they continued to perpetuate the same problem, it came down to a much larger issue than the lunch itself.  At that point, they chose to set their child up over and over again to bear the brunt of their poor parenting.  The child was the one hungry.  The child was the one ostracized by the other kids because they were annoyed with her daily requests for their lunch.  She defended her parents even though her needs weren’t being met.

The parents weren’t fight against a suggestion that only affected them; they were protesting a decision by leaving their child to deal with the consequences of their non-parenting.

The first time the Meitiv’s children were taken into custody for walking alone to the park, I was willing to give the parents the benefit of the doubt.  This time, I’m not.  In this case, like the student above, I think the children are being asked to bear the brunt of their parent’s decision.  I think the Meitiv’s are getting a clear message that the community — the very same community who is notifying the police — doesn’t believe that their children are ready to be on their own at the park and they are choosing to ignore that message in order to fit their children into their parenting philosophy.  When they do the same thing a second time — ignoring the message the community asked the police to deliver to the family — I think it speaks volumes.

I don’t have a lot of respect for parenting movements because parenting is actually not about the parents.  It’s about the children.  I have a lot more respect for people who say they don’t have a parenting philosophy but instead look at the children they have and parent them in a way that meets their individual needs.  And that means that every child in the house may be parented differently since they have different needs.

Why are we giving labels to the parents?  Free Range Parents, Helicopter Parents?  When parents label themselves with a parenting philosophy, it tells me that the adults in question are more focused on themselves than the people they have the responsiblity to mold.

You don’t get to choose what sort of kid you have.  Which is why I don’t think people should try to fit their child into their parenting philosophy nor decide upon a parenting philosophy before learning who their children is at each stage of life.  You may want to be the type of parent who gives your child a lot of independence, but you may not have the type of child who benefits from a lot of independence.  You may want to be the type of parent who is super-involved in your child’s life, but you may not have the type of child who wants that level of attention.

There are children who thrive with a lot of independence, who have been taught how to handle various situations and have the maturity to carry out the necessary steps in getting help.  Whose parents adequately prepare them with water and snacks before sending them off on their own.  There are a lot of responsible children out there who are ready to stay alone at home before the law allows them to stay alone at home, or walk to the park, or ride their bike to their friend’s house.

Yes, there are free range kids who should be free range kids because that level of independence fits their personal needs.

But there are also a lot of children who haven’t been adequately prepared for the responsibility of that independence who are being asked to care for themselves before they are ready.  And the point is that they are children and lack the skills to communicate that their needs aren’t being met because they don’t even know their own needs.

And that was always the problem with the parents of the lunch-packing student.  They believed children should be capable of packing their own lunch at the age of 12.  And they are correct — it is completely reasonable to expect your child to be capable of packing their own lunch IF the child has been taught about nutrition, the parents help guide a few example lunches so the child knows what to pack, the parents spot check the lunches from time to time to make sure the child is staying on target, and the child shows sound decision-making skills in other areas of their life, leading the parents to believe that their child is also ready to take on the task of feeding themselves.

But wanting an independent child and dumping them into a situation isn’t sound parenting.  It’s foisting your responsibilities onto your child, or another person’s child, or another parent, or the school.

The comment thread on the article is littered with the refrain, “but I walked to the park when I was that age” and that sums up the problem with the discussion surrounding parenting philosophies.  Kids don’t magically know things when they hit a certain age.  They need to be taught life skills.  And moreover, the commenter is not these kids.  Every human is different and should be evaluated for responsibility by their personal capabilities, what they’ve been prepared to know and do, and their support.  Parenting is not one-size-fits-all, which is why I generally find parenting philosophies more dangerous than helpful.

I wish we could stop talking about situations in terms of the parents — free range parent or helicopter parent — and begin focusing on the children.

44 comments

1 Nicoleandmaggie { 04.15.15 at 7:37 am }

I don’t see how that article indicates the kids were unprepared to play alone. It doesn’t provide any information.

2 Mel { 04.15.15 at 7:41 am }

That article, no. But there were 3 articles about this in WashPo yesterday.

Two small kids came into the ice cream shop alone yesterday that I was sitting in. No one called the police even though they were clearly too young to be there alone. They ordered ice cream, sat and ate it, and left. They seemed mature. They were behaving appropriately. No one got involved.

But their community members call the police.

Is it because they have horrible community members who want to cause trouble? Or is it because there is a need for police involvement?

3 Lisa ZG { 04.15.15 at 8:37 am }

At the library I work for, we have a flyer: Your child needs your attention. The library policy is that children 8 and under must have an adult present for them at the library. Not a slightly older sibling, an adult. So we wouldn’t have a problem with the 10 year old being on his own, but with the 6 year old. 10 is too young to be a babysitter. Also, as I explain to parents, situations do happen where the library has to be locked down or evacuated. Like when the refinery blew, or when the power went out, or when we had to call 911 when 2 patrons were physically fighting over a computer. Stuff like that. Are they comfortable with their child locked out? Does their child know how to get home safely, can they walk home? Do they have a cell phone or money for a (increasingly rare) public phone to alert someone? If someone bothers them, do they have the life skills to deal with it?

4 Persnickety { 04.15.15 at 9:04 am }

I suspect some of this also stems from the fact that we have smaller families now (two generations of this) and often the first time an adult is undertaking parenting duties is with their own kids, whereas previously you might have looked after younger siblings or after the kids of older siblings or cousins. So we don’t have a good grasp on how much a kid should be doing at a certain age.
And as an adult, it is easier to do some of those things for kids, until one day we realise- hey I could tie my shoelaces at seven, why is my ten year old still getting me to do it! Most adults (in my observational view) don’t know how to have the patience to teach kids a skill over time- and don’t realise/remember that that is how it works.

5 Bronwyn { 04.15.15 at 9:12 am }

“Is it because they have horrible community members who want to cause trouble? Or is it because there is a need for police involvement?”

I didn’t read all the articles but I think that is a key question. I’m thinking of a few specific examples of the former.

But that aside, the whole parent movement/parent to the child point is spot on. I so wanted to be go-with-the-flow but apparently one of my children loves routine. So there’s a conundrum right there (haven’t quite worked it out properly yet, either, to be honest). It needs to be hashed out between individuals, not ideologies.

6 Heather { 04.15.15 at 9:29 am }

I agree with you about the kids bearing the brunt of this parenting stand. But how do we know the community members that called the police didn’t do so because *they themselves* wouldn’t allow *their* kids to walk to the park alone? Feeling that if they wouldn’t allow it for their kids then the police should be involved? I have only seen the tv news stories and haven’t read he articles, but was there an indication that these particular kids were acting in a way that lead others to believe they were too young to be at the park alone? FWIW, I was a very independent child and walked into town without adults to buy things at the store at age 10. It was kind of the norm then I guess. In having conversations with other parents I have noticed some seem to judge others for doing things differently than they themselves do things, so I wonder if that might have happened in this case too.

7 Mel { 04.15.15 at 9:41 am }

I think that’s definitely a possibility, but in this case, the kids weren’t actually at the park. They were in a parking garage. And a pretty busy parking garage at that. (http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/free-range-family-again-in-spotlight-after-police-pick-up-kids-6-and-10/2015/04/13/30e2a2f4-e1f1-11e4-81ea-0649268f729e_story.html) Which is different from playing in a park or even walking along a street.

8 nicoleandmaggie { 04.15.15 at 9:44 am }

In addition to not knowing the kids’ behavior or the concerned stranger’s reasoning, there’s also the question of the police’s behavior. They took the kids without contacting the parents first. Is that because they wanted to teach the parents a lesson, because the kids were unable to give information about how to contact their parents, or because the parents were unavailable? I don’t think we can judge who is “in the wrong” in this case.

I do know that I am terrified to leave my extremely responsible 8 year old alone for even a short amount of time even though he’s mature and I’m terrified to allow him to walk to the neighborhood park that’s really close precisely because of stories like these. It’s not that I don’t trust my kid but that I don’t trust my community. All it takes is one stranger and the CPS gets involved. And it’s not like the police have been showing themselves to be trustworthy with people’s best interests at heart either.

9 nicoleandmaggie { 04.15.15 at 9:47 am }

One article says park, the other says parking garage. Which is right?

10 MinnieK { 04.15.15 at 9:49 am }

The story of the 12-year-old making her own lunch makes me so sad. I think as a society, we tend to look for a “standard” approach to everything. But, people (kids, parents) aren’t “standard.” Even within family units, there may not be a standard way to deal with children. I was pretty mature for my age and was given a decent amount of independence as a child. At the time, I actually thought my mom was super paranoid (I dubbed her parent-noid), because she had a great deal of rules about how we could act with our freedom. But we followed the rules and we got to do stuff like walk to the corner store to buy candy, or go swimming at the lake across the street from my grandparent’s house (always swim with a buddy!) in the summer – when we were 6,7,8, etc. Young. But my mom drilled safety tips into our heads. We started swim lessons when we were infants. She tried very hard to prepare us for our independence and the responsibilities that came with it.
I have to note that my mom is a teacher, so she understood that every kid is different and learns differently and is motivated by different things.
However… in a recent conversation with my mom and grandparents, my mom mentioned that people (communities) used to like kids, but now kids are @ssholes and people don’t like them anymore. That’s a pretty broad generalization, and I think it is more complex than that. But, in many places, children are not taught to be respectful of other people (not just respectful of adults – but people in general).
So, maybe that is the difference between the kids who get noticed alone (they are not acting appropriately) and kids who can go to the ice cream store and buy ice cream and eat it and move on without causing a stir.

11 Mel { 04.15.15 at 9:53 am }

According to the police report, the children were in the parking garage.

12 Ann Z { 04.15.15 at 9:58 am }

I absolutely love your point about the problem with parenting movements and labeling parents, when we should be focusing on what individual children need. I’ve always felt uncomfortable with named parenting philosophies, and you summed up my discomfort beautifully.

But I do feel like we don’t have enough information to say that these parents aren’t parenting for their children. They have claimed that their children are ready for short walks home from the park or library. Frankly, I’m more inclined to believe that the parents are the ones best able to make that claim, not the police or neighbors who called.

That said, I do feel like they are treading in to territory of using their children to make a political point. If they know they’re being watched closely, maybe sending them alone to a park isn’t the best idea right now. Though honestly, I’d hate to be in the situation they are in, with kids who are used to being allowed to walk through their neighborhood, and beautiful weather coming when they’d like to be outside, but knowing that at least some neighbors are going to report their children being out and alone.

13 a { 04.15.15 at 10:10 am }

I was discussing this the other day, and I think some of it is regional. Someone was talking about neighbors or other parents not feeling free to correct someone else’s child due to fear of response from the child’s parent. I don’t think that’s true where I live – when we’re at the park and a kid falls, all the closest parents/adults move towards the kid. And when a kid is acting up, I don’t hesitate to ask them to stop. We were at a park the other day outside of our town, and the only kids who had adults nearby were the toddlers. It was a busy park, too – there were at least 2 events going on at the time.

I don’t think it sounds unreasonable to send your 10 year old to the park with his 6 year old sister. From the accounts that I’ve read, they were prepared to answer questions. They were not prepared to be taken into custody for several hours, because that is unexpected treatment. I also have read in multiple sources that they were on their way home, so I’m thinking that perhaps there is some slight hyperbole in the account of finding the children in a parking garage meant to bolster the case against the Meitivs. Regardless, the children seemed perfectly capable of handling themselves, as they complied with the police and refused food because of their food allergies.

But you can look at it from both sides. Maybe the Meitivs are making a point with their children…or maybe they’re staunchly supporting the principle that their children should have independence. And maybe the police and CPS are following the laws…or maybe they’re trying to make an example of the Meitivs to cement their legal authority.

14 ANDMom { 04.15.15 at 10:14 am }

I think there are such mixed messages being given to parents, too.

At school, I’m expected to drop them off to play at the playground in the morning, supervised by only 3 adults (for about 300 kids). I get told (by the administration) to leave when I say I’m staying. I get called a helicopter parent. I get told I’m holding my son back by not letting him be independent in the mornings.

But if I left my kids at a playground alone with barely any adults around, chances are someone would report it. (And really .. should in our case.)

Why is it ok to leave them because it’s school, but not ok at our neighborhood playground? Or for that matter, at the SCHOOL playground not during school hours?

15 jjiraffe { 04.15.15 at 11:18 am }

Love your point about parenting the kids you have, not the ones you want. So true.

16 Meg { 04.15.15 at 11:41 am }

I love this post!

I am struggling to understand as a parent how they continue to risk losing their kids. I know this is judgy, but if CPS was threatening to take my kids, I would stop whether or not I agreed with their ruling, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, worth losing custody of my kids for. Period.

17 Gypsy Mama { 04.15.15 at 11:47 am }

I really love this post and the idea to stop thinking about the kind of parent you want to be so you can be the kind of parent your child needs.

18 Kacey { 04.15.15 at 12:23 pm }

This is exactly my problem with so called “free range” parenting. Independence is wonderful if you have given your child the necessary skills and they are ready, but when you send your feral child to the park alone that isn’t parenting it is expecting the other adults around to raise your kid for you
. And that’s just plain not our job.

19 gwinne { 04.15.15 at 12:39 pm }

A lot here to think about, all around.

I don’t know that I agree that it’s all about the kids that we have vs. the parent you want to be. Isn’t it BOTH? This isn’t about a “philosophy” for me so much as negotiating all human relationships.

I’d like to have a kid who sleeps through the night. I don’t. He would like to have a parent who attends to his desires in the middle of the night. I do, to a point. I’m trying to balance our needs. A different sort of parent would handle this situation differently (i.e. CIO, or co-sleeping) which is not necessarily right or wrong. It’s a strategy for getting through the night.

Now I realize I’ve strayed far from the original context here, but I think the basic premise still applies. Yes, we need to work with the kids we have, but our strategies DO reflect who we are as people, and parents.

Of course, that might just be because I haven’t slept through the night in 3.5 years…

20 StacieT { 04.15.15 at 1:22 pm }

How was it proven that the parents have not given the kids the tools they needed to be safe? (Although giving the kids a cell phone to contact parents at the first sign of trouble would be an excellent idea–but again we don’t know that they haven’t.) Because they did what the police told them? Got in the car? Called attention to themselves in some way? Also, the officer was concerned because a “homeless man” was watching the kids? Was it the fact that the man was homeless or was it that he was watching them, as someone might do if kids are playing nereby, that made that a concern? This couldn’t have been solved simply by telling the kids to be on their way and leaving it at that?

It seems that the parents gave their kids parameters which the kids were following when they were picked up by the police. The kids were three blocks from home within the given time frame…so clearly they were doing as expected. That has to mean something. No explanation as to why authorities felt the kids were not mature enough to handle the walk was given outside of the age, and technically it is not against the law in that state to allow them to walk home. Is it because this was an issue before? Does that now mean the parents can never allow their kids the ability to walk home on their own for the rest of the 5 years of watch time?

I don’t know. This feels a lot like the parents are being told they can parent only how authorities want them to.

“Free range kids” is such an annoying term, by the way.

21 apluseffort { 04.15.15 at 1:57 pm }

I agree that, whatever happened the first time, the fact that it happened a second time is a huge problem. I would say, OK, the police and community aren’t going to accept that I am teaching my children independence this way, so I’m going to have to construct a new way of teaching independence because — bottom line — I’m not willing to risk that my kids be placed in the system just because I want to make an ideological stand.

I also agree wholeheartedly with your “parent the kid you have” viewpoint too. I’d like to be the kind of parent that sits on a park bench reading a book and looking up occasionally to make sure my child is playing safely on the playground equipment. I have a child that requires me within arm’s reach right now, so I am at arm’s reach.

22 Jenn { 04.15.15 at 2:22 pm }

I agree with your take on parenting philosophy vs parenting your individual child/ren. I don’t call myself by any parenting label besides single mom by choice (because that is about me) and cringe when anyone pigeonholes me into a label. I haven’t read up on this particular family/issue but I have an overall beef with the child protective services system and people trying to tell me how to parent or judge me. I have had allegations made against me three times, all unfounded. But it took a toll on me emotionally and in my trust and confidence. It is really scary thinking someone can just waltz in and take your kids. Guilty until proving yourself capable. I think removing the kids for the parents “philosophy” probably isn’t in the best interest of the children. How about fining the parents? A school wide program on community safety and laws? There are other solutions that would actually address the issue.

23 Cristy { 04.15.15 at 2:38 pm }

Completely agree!!! Well said.

24 andy { 04.15.15 at 3:00 pm }

Have I told you recently how much I adore you? You sum up so perfectly what I’m thinking but can’t get out.

We got a lot of flack from a lot of people (especially my mother!) when we started leaving Liam alone when he was 10. It wasn’t like we filled the food bowl and went away for the weekend. We would go to the grocery store for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. This was something he could do. At that same time he couldn’t be trusted to dress himself in the morning without supervision, or some key piece of clothing would never make it on his body (we have since given up this fight and just let him go commando) Kids can do different things at different times and parents need to be there to support and help them.

25 Lindz { 04.15.15 at 3:59 pm }

One of my problems is that it took 2 hours for CPS to get there and the parents weren’t notified that the police had their kids. Also, what does this teach the kids about their relationship with the police? Do what the policeman asks and you get taken from your parents, don’t get dinner and your parents are scared/angry. How is the youngest going to react if she’s in a park by herself in 5 years and something happens where the correct response is to call or go with the police?

26 Ana { 04.15.15 at 4:11 pm }

Like others, I like your point about parenting the kids you have. And like andy says above, the point that independence isn’t a linear skill—a child can be independent in many ways but still not get how to pack a lunch or dress herself. They may be able to go to the park alone but not stay at home alone because they are too energetic.
I don’t know enough to say the parents did WRONG in this case (i.e. that they were negligent and putting their children in harm’s way) but I do agree that using your children to make a statement is gross.

27 loribeth { 04.15.15 at 5:47 pm }

I obviously don’t have a dog in this hunt, as Dr. Phil would say (I think it’s Dr. Phil?). But I’m going to weigh in anyway. 😉 I agree with you about parenting the kids you have, and not to make a point or fit some ideology. Not all kids will be ready to walk to the park by themselves at 6, or make their own lunches at 12, or whatever. And yes, if your kids have already been picked up by the police once and there’s been a lot of media coverage, you must know that people are going to be watching you very closely to see what you’re going to do next. To send them out again not that long afterward, like nothing had happened, seems a bit provocative.

But I do think parents are the best judges of what’s appropriate for their own families — not other parents who might disagree with them and would never let their own kids do the same. We are way, WAY too quick to judge others these days when we don’t think they’re measuring up to our own expectations of appropriate behaviour. I also think the cops should have called the parents a LOT sooner than six hours after they picked up the children. That also seems deliberately provocative to me.

Personally? Stories like these make me glad, sometimes, that I don’t have kids. Because I was raised a “free range kid” (as we all were, back then — recognizing, of course, that 1960s & ’70s rural Prairie Canada is a very different place from 2000s suburban Ontario, and I couldn’t have raised my kids in exactly the same way that I was raised). And while the whole situation is hypothetical, I honestly don’t think I’d have it in me to parent in the hyper-intensive style that seems to be expected these days. Every time I hear about an incident like this, I keep thinking, “That would have been me.” :p I think it’s more likely that other parents would be judging me (& yes, possibly calling the cops) than anything bad happening to my children.

28 Josey { 04.15.15 at 6:01 pm }

So if these kids HAVE been taught the safety rules and ARE acting responsibly when on their own at the park (because their parents have properly prepared them for this responsibility), why should their parents have to change their parenting to fit the idea of some stranger whose opinion doesn’t match their own? The kids were NOT endangering themselves or others in that park, and once again, there is no reason the cops/CPS should have gotten involved in this. It’s ridiculous.

29 Rachel { 04.15.15 at 6:35 pm }

I love your thoughts on parenting and I plan, one day, to raise the child I have not fit my child into my parenting philosophy.

I am frustrated that this couple chose to continue to do something they’d been warned not to. Not because the kids aren’t capable but because – right or wrong – CPS has the power to take your children permanently and that should be terrifying to these parents. It’s not ok for CPS to act as a bully and perhaps that’s something society needs to look at but I know if CPS and the cops told me to stop doing something – I’d listen…there is too much on the line not to. It’s not a big enough thing to make a deal out of it- so you send someone older with them for a while, how hard is that? It’s certainly better than losing your children.

Just my humble, childless opinion.

30 Queenie { 04.15.15 at 6:49 pm }

I think you are totally right. And I agree with your point about parenting the kid you have. But I’m going to disagree with some of your posters. I am from a rural area, and as a kid we played in the woods and fields around our house with no supervision. I would argue that was safer than playing in suburbia. Why? Because of the OTHER people. There is no 6 year old on the planet who is “mature” enough to be playing a mile from home, walking along a road, and playing in a parking garage. You know who lived in the parking garage near my office (in a small town) a few years ago? A pedophile. These parents are irresponsible. They not only don’t get the kids they want, but they also don’t get to choose the world they get.

31 Working mom of two { 04.15.15 at 9:28 pm }

My problem is that it isn’t one or the other. I think the whole free range thing is ridiculous. I can’t imagine taking risks like that. Children are abducted molested etc every day. Yeah, often it’s not a stranger but sometimes it is. But that doesn’t make me a helicopter parent.

32 Kat { 04.15.15 at 10:42 pm }

I’m a longtime fan if yours and have always appreciated the safe, nonjudgmental space you’ve created for women here. I have to say I’m really surprised and disappointed at your willingness to judge these parents. They made a decision to give their children some freedom–yes, they use a silly name for their parenting philosophy, but that doesn’t justify your conclusion that these parents haven’t carefully evaluated what freedom their children are ready for. Obviously some members of their community, who we have no evidence know or have ever met the children, disagree about what is best for these kids. But I’m very disappointed that you seem to be saying that “the community” is a better judge of what these kids are capable of than their own parents. Mel–this doesn’t seem like you–it feels like an alarming lack of understanding and compassion for parents who seem to be sincerely trying to help their children learn some independence, which they again sincerely seem to believe is important for their children’s wellbeing and development. Who are we to substitute our judgment for theirs?

33 Middle Girl { 04.15.15 at 11:47 pm }

The labels are stupid.

There is a lot of thoughtlessness on all sides in this case (again).

34 Chickenpig { 04.16.15 at 8:19 am }

I grew up very poor, and free range childhood is scary. My siblings and I were responsible because we had to be, not because we wanted to be. I remember my sister and I barking like dogs in our apartment because there were men in the building who didn’t live there on the other side of the door. I remember one of them saying “those dogs sound big, I’m not going in there.” I remember my sister and I being chased by teenagers who were up to no good and knowing a safe place to hide until they took off….over an hour later…so we could make it home safely. Good times. If free range parenting was always a walk in the park, all kids would be ok. It’s not. Before the dog barking incident my mother hired a baby sitter for us. She took us to a friend’s house and tossed us outside ALL DAY with no food or bathroom. My sister, who was ten, scrounged berries for us to eat, and then confronted the baby sitter and told her to take us home. We don’t need parenting philosophies in this country, we need reliable, affordable child care. Parenting philosophies are for those who can afford them.
PS I grew up in a peaceful, small town in rural CT. There was plenty of times where we felt perfectly safe and happy walking around and playing by ourselves, but the times where we weren’t ….very bad.

35 SRB { 04.16.15 at 11:51 am }

I think we need to be careful that how we discuss this issue doesn’t amount to shaming, whether it be “too much” or “too little” supervision in general.

This post started with “…parent the child you HAVE.” That is exactly what I do, given each child and situation, and within the law. I don’t really care what my neighbours, my friends, or other bloggers think. I know my children, and I am a good parent. My kids, my rules. OF COURSE things will be different than when I was a kid and what I was allowed to do – that was 30 years. Things are different now, I am different than my parents, my kids are different than I was. Our experiences determine our comfort levels. The “community” will not shame me into parenting my children a certain way.

36 torthuil { 04.16.15 at 4:22 pm }

Lots to think about with regards to the story, your article, and the comments (which bring up a lot of other perspectives). I think parenting philosophies are useful in that they can help you to think about how you want your family to function and also help with self-knowledge and understanding. But like you say, what matters in the end is the kind of child you have.

I agree completely about teaching life skills. I think Persnickety above also has an interesting point with regards to how families and sibling relationships have changed over the past generations. I don’t think anyone can question that times HAVE changed. I have conflicting memories of my childhood. On one hand, I have glorious memories of exploring woods, swimming in rivers and climbing rocks during our summers in rural British Columbia. Parental knowledge/approval of these excursions varied I think. On the other hand, in the city I recall being a very anxious child, although I was taught to walk short distances by myself in certain circumstances at a young age. (No parenting philosophy involved I don’t think; just expediency). But mainly I remember becoming increasingly fearful with age, not less so, so that by the time I was about 13 I had to re-learn how to leave the house without being utterly terrified. I did re-learn it, but still I think something strange happened there. I never got to know any of other kids in our neighbourhood, never went to their houses. (I recall playing on the street ONCE and my mom watched us the whole time. I found that super weird and it was partly why I never did that again.)

In light of my experiences (which I’ve simplified here) my stance right now is that there are worthwhile risks and not-worthwhile risks. If there’s something to be gained by having your child take a risk, such as increased confidence and independence, then teach them at the appropriate age how to handle it. If it’s just dangerous behaviour (e.g. riding a bike without a helmet – concussions are not character building) then teach them not to take that risk.

37 Guera { 04.16.15 at 8:09 pm }

If I have any philosophy it is that I first and foremost have been blessed with this awesome responsibility of raising my child. Secondly, my first responsibility above all others is to keep her safe. “Safety” is central to all the other responsibilities I have. Housing? Yes but safe housing. Food, yes but safe and nutritious food. These parents want to prove a point to the world but at what costs? Are they encouraging and nurturing their kids’ independence and confidence or are they creating insecure kids who think they can’t depend on their parents to parent? My own mother made me do things at a young age that in theory should have given me independence and confidence but only created confusion and anxiety at the time and an obsessiveness later in life.
I loved your perspective and once again you so eloquently put thoughts into print.

38 Alexicographer { 04.16.15 at 10:33 pm }

I don’t have enough information to judge, but based on what I do have I’m very uncomfortable with the idea that there is a “community” there that is making more sensible judgments than these children’s parents. I mean — is it possible that’s happening? Sure. But I’m as or more convinced that the parents are making reasonable and sensible choices that are troubling (for other than sensible and rational reasons) to others and that those others (CPS and so forth) are creatig problems and interfering where they should not.

I’m also really uncomfortable with @Guera’s view, above, that our first responsibility to our kids is to keep them safe. I mean — sure. None of us want to or should endanger our kids. But how do we balance sensible risk-taking and the joys and benefits that such things bring into their lives with sensible safety? I often think many in the US have moved too far in the direction of embracing safety, at the downside of losing other cool things (independence, confidence, learning), but mostly I think that we all struggle with finding the right balance between the two.

39 Lori Lavender Luz { 04.17.15 at 11:35 am }

Such an interesting conversation here. I’m nodding both at your post and at so many of the comments, even ones that are in opposition to each other.

I was speaking to the larger issue in my history class just the other day. Part of being civilized means finding, over and over again and in so many ways, the appropriate balance between the rights of the individual (in this case the parents) and the sensibilities of the group (in this case the community members).

40 Jessica { 04.20.15 at 5:37 am }

Well written post! I think kids would pack instant foods because they don’t cook meat/fish etc, unless there were leftovers in the fridge for packing.

41 Geochick { 04.20.15 at 6:44 pm }

I like Lori’s comment. Stealing it.

What she said.

Also, I’ve been treading the line of not having all the info so I can’t quite make a judgement. Other than, hey, maybe you shouldn’t have done it again after dealing with CPS the first time.

42 fifi { 04.21.15 at 3:17 am }

This case is insane. What next? Prosecuting parents who feed their children soda? Or who take them on unnecessary car trips? Or who remarry, therefore exposing them to stepparents? All of which are, statistically, much more dangerous than allowing them to WALK to the frigging park by themselves.

Time spent on this nonsense is time NOT spent on children who ARE being abused and neglected.

And if you think “neighbours always know best”, go watch The Crucible.

43 Erica { 04.21.15 at 4:55 pm }

I am a bit incredulous that parents who must have known that at least a small part of their community would be watching and waiting for their kids to be out unsupervised again were so willing to court the possibility that this would happen. Maybe they are standing up for what they believe in with resolution and bravery, but the consequences for their kids (consequences that the parents had to have at least some idea were possible) are pretty awful. Sometimes rules and laws are pretty dumb and we follow them anyway. Sometimes rules and laws are really awful and civil disobedience is called for, but involving kids in acts of civil disobedience is something I can’t think of as a valid option in this case.

My perspective is very different than the parents in this case, and part of that (I suspect) is born of the fear that becomes part of your life when you lose a child. If local authorities told me that, if my daughter was seen outside the house without rainbow socks, CPS might be called or that she might be taken away from me for even a couple of hours, she’d be wearing rainbow socks every damned time she left the house. Even if I thought that this was arbitrary and ridiculous and infuriating. I would also talk to her about the rule being arbitrary and ridiculous and I would talk to her about why we were following that stupid rule anyway so that she had a (hopefully) age-appropriate knowledge of what was going on. But I would do what was in my power to keep her from being taken into police or CPS custody and to keep myself from being placed in a position where my ability to take care of her might be compromised.

44 peanutgallery { 08.16.15 at 7:57 pm }

I disagree with this post. Those parents are doing a good job and I have seen no evidence that the children were unprepared. This post is off the mark!

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