Free-Range Kids

I just read a fascinating article in the Washington Post which will undoubtedly provoke strong debate.

I am cutting and pasting this article in its entirety:

Maryland Couple Want ‘Free-Range’ Kids, But Not All Do

January 14 at 9:28 PM

It was a one-mile walk home from a Silver Spring park on Georgia Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. But what the parents saw as a moment of independence for their 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter, they say authorities viewed much differently.

Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they are being investigated for neglect for the Dec. 20 trek — in a case they say reflects a clash of ideas about how safe the world is and whether parents are free to make their own choices about raising their children.

“We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” Danielle said.

She said her son and daughter have previously paired up for walks around the block, to a nearby 7-Eleven and to a library about three-quarters of a mile away. “They have proven they are responsible,” she said. “They’ve developed these skills.”

The Meitivs say they believe in “free-range” parenting, a movement that has been a counterpoint to the hyper-vigilance of “helicopter” parenting, with the idea that children learn self-reliance by being allowed to progressively test limits, make choices and venture out in the world.

“The world is actually even safer than when I was a child, and I just want to give them the same freedom and independence that I had — basically an old-fashioned childhood,” she said. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”

On Dec. 20, Alexander agreed to let the children, Rafi and Dvora, walk from Woodside Park to their home, a mile south, in an area the family says the children know well.

The children made it about halfway.

Police picked up the children near the Discovery building, the family said, after someone reported seeing them.

Police on Wednesday did not immediately have information on the case. But a spokeswoman said that when concerns are reported, “we have a responsibility as part of our duty to check on people’s welfare.”

The Meitivs say their son told police that he and his sister were not doing anything illegal and are allowed to walk. Usually, their mother said, the children carry a laminated card with parent contact information that says: “I am not lost. I am a free-range kid.” The kids didn’t have the card that day.

Danielle said she and her husband give parenting a lot of thought.

“Parenthood is an exercise in risk management,” she said. “Every day, we decide: Are we going to let our kids play football? Are we going to let them do a sleep­over? Are we going to let them climb a tree? We’re not saying parents should abandon all caution. We’re saying parents should pay attention to risks that are dangerous and likely to happen.”

She added: “Abductions are extremely rare. Car accidents are not. The number one cause of death for children of their age is a car accident.”

Danielle is a climate-science consultant, and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health.

Alexander said he had a tense time with police on Dec. 20 when officers returned his children, asked for his identification and told him about the dangers of the world.

The more lasting issue has been with Montgomery County Child Protective Services, he said, which showed up a couple of hours after the police left.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for CPS, said she could not comment on cases but that neglect investigations typically focus on questions of whether there has been a failure to provide proper care and supervision.

In such investigations, she said, CPS may look for guidance to a state law about leaving children unattended, which says children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. The law covers dwellings, enclosures and vehicles.

The Meitivs say that on Dec. 20, a CPS worker required Alexander to sign a safety plan pledging he would not leave his children unsupervised until the following Monday, when CPS would follow up. At first he refused, saying he needed to talk to a lawyer, his wife said, but changed his mind when he was told his children would be removed if he did not comply.

Following the holidays, the family said, CPS called again, saying the agency needed to inquire further and visit the family’s home. Danielle said she resisted.

“It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she said.

This week, a CPS social worker showed up at her door, she said. She did not let him in. She said she was stunned to later learn from the principal that her children were interviewed at school.

The family has a meeting set for next week at CPS offices in Rockville.

“I think what CPS considered neglect, we felt was an essential part of growing up and maturing,” Alexander said. “We feel we’re being bullied into a point of view about child-rearing that we strongly disagree with.”

Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.

This is yet another example of government intervention, with the government saying that they know better than you do.  Or is it?  Is it safe to let kids walk around Washington DC by themselves?  Perhaps you remember the story of another “free-range kid”, a 9-year-old boy who was allowed to ride the subway in New York City by himself.  And on the flip side, there is the horrific story of Leiby Kletzky and that tragic ending, despite parents who did everything right.

Were Danielle and Alexander Meitiv putting their children in unnecessary danger, or were they teaching them independence and self-sufficiency?  Is there a fine line between risk management and child endangerment?

I cannot comment on the Metivs specific situation because I don’t know their geographic area well.  I know that where I lived in L.A., we would never have let our children walk a mile alone without a parent, because unfortunately there were genuine risks involved.  On two occasions people attempted to kidnap my son when he was small!

Once I was in a market and had him in the cart.  I turned away for a moment and the next thing I knew a woman who looked very sketchy was pushing my cart towards the entrance of the store with my baby! Naturally I charged towards my cart and grabbed it away from the woman, who quickly ran from the store.

Another time – – this goes back to 1980 – –  I was in my own home, and my son was only 21 months old.  He was playing in our fenced backyard while I nursed my newborn daughter in my bedroom.  Our dog, a Doberman Pinscher, was outside with my son.  My bedroom window was next to the gate that led to the backyard.  Suddenly I heard a voice outside the gate:  “Hey little boy, wouldn’t you like to come with me?  I will give you lots of candy . .  .”  But suddenly my dog ran to the gate, and threw her entire body against the gate while barking and snarling furiously.  It looked like the doberman scene from the movie, “Boys from Brazil.”  The next thing I heard was a car’s wheels squealing as it made its getaway from my dog.  My son was safe, thank G-d.  From my position in my bedroom, I simply could not have gotten to my backyard quickly enough to rescue my son from that evil man.  With HaShem’s help, my dog saved my son’s life that day.  I never saw the man nor his car – – it all happened too fast.

Many of my grandchildren live in Baltimore, and there, too, walking alone is not a good idea.  Little kids as young as 8 years old on bikes are surrounded by gangs of children, and their bikes are stolen right out from under them.  If they protest or attempt to defend themselves, they are beaten by these thugs-in-training.

The real question is, why would anyone want to live in a place where kids – – or adults – – cannot feel safe?  I think we get caught up in complacency.  We get used to situations and that becomes the new normal.  We get rooted in our communities due to our jobs, our families, our kids’ schools, our friends, but meanwhile within this so-called comfort zone things are going to hell.  And we put up with it, because we weigh the risks and decide that it’s not so bad.  Of course we are fooling ourselves.  Yes, it is that bad.  We do have choices, and we can live in a community that has a high quality of life where we and our children can feel safe, but that involves change and most of us don’t like change.

I cannot express strongly enough just how basic a right it is for every person on this planet to feel safe in their own environment.  When you get used to living in a place where you are not safe, you are constantly on alert.  Being on alert is exhausting both mentally and physically (and if you’re not on alert, you should be, because perps choose people who look vulnerable and unaware).  You are suspicious of strangers.  You find it difficult to give people unknown to you the benefit of the doubt.  You are uneasy about trusting someone until they’ve earned your trust.

Here in rural Maine kids feel safe.  I feel safe.  For those who live in unsafe areas, I can only say, you don’t have to live this way.  You do have choices.  Your kids can walk to school or to the store or to a neighbor and you can relax.  This is normal.  If you live in an area where you cannot feel this sense of security, then please, get the hell out.  Do it for your kids’ sake.  Let them be free.  Let them be kids.

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: