A Maryland family faces a date with Montgomery County Child Protective Services next week, after the parents allowed their children to attempt to walk home from a park, one mile away.
Danielle and Alexander Meitiv say they believe in “free-range parenting” and encourage their children, a 10-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl, to be independent. On Dec. 20, they sent the children home on their own. “We wouldn’t have let them do it if we didn’t think they were ready for it,” their mother says.
But the children ended up getting a ride half of the way home, after they were intercepted by police.
Officers warned their father that the world is a dangerous place. And as if to prove that, representatives from Child Protective Services arrived at the Meitiv home later that same day. That visit didn’t go well.
“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,” The Washington Post explains. “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.”
And they did eventually come back.
CPS workers dropped by the Meitiv home earlier this week, but Danielle wouldn’t let them in. “It seemed such a huge violation of privacy to examine my house because my kids were walking home,” she told the Post. And indeed, such parenting wouldn’t have been unusual within living memory.
“Actions that would have been considered paranoid in the ’70s—walking third-graders to school, forbidding your kid to play ball in the street, going down the slide with your child in your lap—are now routine,” Hanna Rosin wrote in The Atlantic magazine last year. “One very thorough study of ‘children’s independent mobility,’ conducted in urban, suburban, and rural neighborhoods in the U.K., shows that in 1971, 80 percent of third-graders walked to school alone. By 1990, that measure had dropped to 9 percent, and now it’s even lower.”
Rosin ended up concluding that today’s helicopter parenting isn’t protecting children as much as it’s making them fear the world.
School districts don’t help when they do things such as cancel classes because of a dusting of snow, which Fairfax County, Virginia did on Wednesday.
Children need to explore, take risks, and learn on their own. That’s exactly what Danielle Meitiv wants. “I think it’s absolutely critical for their development — to learn responsibility, to experience the world, to gain confidence and competency.”
But, as the family’s run-in with police and CPS workers shows, the state of Maryland may not allow her to make that decision. Instead of a generation of risk-takers, Americans seem to be bringing up a generation that will be frightened to step outdoors. Maybe governments prefer it that way.