I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Meitiv family in Silver Spring who were reported to Child Protective Services for allowing their two children, 10 and 6, to walk unsupervised to a park one mile from their home. We all have our opinions about these parents. Some of us are saying to ourselves: What were they thinking? How irresponsible! Others are thinking: I was allowed to do the same thing as a kid with my siblings. Our parents weren’t questioned about their parenting decisions or worried about strangers abducting us. T hey certainly weren’t being interrogated by Child Protective Services for their parenting styles, good or bad.
The fear, however, that lurks in many parents’ hearts comes from real life horror stories starting in the 70s with Etan Patz. Closer to home, the Lyon sisters were abducted in the 80s. Now both stories are back in the news. Bad things do happen. How much do we allow that fact to color the freedom we give our kids? My husband’s upbringing in DC was very different from the way we chose to raise our children. There was more nanny and parental supervision in the 80s and 90s, more structured activities and less of the parenting mentality “Go out and play and be back for dinner.” Helicopter parenting is the prevailing wisdom of our time. These Silver Spring parents who chose another path have paid a price. Free range parenting has collided with helicopter parenting.
Social services departments are so inundated with serious cases of abuse and neglect that this intervention seems intrusive and overreaching, not to mention a waste of limited resources. There are far too many cases of children living in abusive homes where outside intervention is essential and in some cases, a matter of life or death. I’m not sure that this family is one of those cases. Most young parents I know in the DC area don’t let their children out of their sight—and make sure their nannies display the same vigilance. That even extends to their backyards.
So, how much freedom is too much? At what age should kids be able to walk what distance without supervision? Should a 10 year old be responsible for the care of a 6 year old? There is no book on any of this. Common sense and good judgment need to prevail.