OPINION – It was my son David who introduced me to the concept of free-range parenting. Of course, the introduction was also entirely against my wishes.
From the moment he learned to walk, our David was an intensely independent toddler. Because of his independent streak, we had learned to keep our doors dead-bolted in order to prevent him from wandering off.
One night, as I was on the phone with my mother, David was following me from room to room whining about something. Twice I took him to his older siblings and asked them to keep him occupied while I finished my phone call.
But David kept coming to find me and was getting louder and more insistent by the minute. In exasperation, I shut myself in our downstairs bathroom and locked the door. After a few minutes, I heard him wander back up the stairs and I ended the phone conversation.
When I went to find David after hanging up the phone, he was nowhere to be found.
His sisters and his brother were all sitting in our home theater watching a movie, but none of them knew where their little brother had gone. I was starting to get concerned.
As I made another pass through our home looking for him, I noticed that the deadbolt on our back door was not latched although the door was shut. I grabbed a flashlight and headed out the door calling his name.
I was starting to feel a bit of panic as I ran down our street looking for my wayward son. The closer I got to busy Valley View Drive the more concerned I became. Near the entrance to our cul-de-sac, I found three skateboarders standing there trying to figure out what to make of the 17-month-old runaway who was wearing only a diaper.
I felt like the worst parent in the world.
Embarrassed and overwhelmed with relief, I thanked the young men for watching out for him and scooped him up to take him home. I never thought I’d count myself fortunate to be lectured by a group of stoned skaters about my parenting skills.
This experience could have ended badly for our family, though not for the tragic outcome some might imagine. Had David been discovered by a busybody preoccupied with attaching criminal intent to my son’s adventure, my family could have been dragged into a legal nightmare.
Parents are facing legal repercussions for similar incidents with increasing frequency across the nation.
Like, for example, the family in Maryland that found themselves under scrutiny from their state’s Child Protective Services for something far more benign: Alexander and Danielle Meitiv were placed under investigation for allowing their two children, ages 6 and 10, to walk home from a nearby park.
A passing observer noticed the two children walking without adult supervision and notified police when the children were just half a block from their home. The children were taken home by the police and a half dozen police vehicles descended on their home and CPS began an investigation into child neglect.
The Montgomery County Department of Child Protective Services eventually closed the case by informing the Meitivs that they had been found responsible for “unsubstantiated child neglect.” This means that the agency had what it considers credible reports of neglect that were not supported by sufficient evidence to pursue the case further.
The Meitiv family is unapologetic for their free-range parenting approach. They are trying to raise children who are capable of accepting responsibility for their actions with minimal bureaucratic meddling and without having to seek government permission for every move they make.
Equating this parenting style with reckless endangerment makes a mockery of those children who are in obvious and indisputable danger. It also cultivates an environment where the judgment of parents as to what their children are ready for is being supplanted by the dictates of the state.
This presumption that imperfect parents cannot be trusted to do the right thing by their children is being used to reduce all of us to the status of children and to make the state our mommy. This is not compatible with the concept of self government.
The greater the role we allow government to take in how our children are raised, the less of a role we will have as parents.
Today’s helicopter parent who obsessively hovers over his or her child, nagging and directing their every move, is not preparing their child for the challenges of life.
The real world needs decision-makers who can think and act independently. That kind of responsibility and accountability should originate with parents, not from bureaucrats.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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