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Better, Not Bitter:

Free Range, Yay or Nay?


Free range children. Are you for it or not so much? I know you probably thought this was going to be about chicken or something. That’s what I thought the first time I glanced at an article that referenced raising children with a “free range” mentality. The subject has recently been trending because parents of two small children ages 6 and 10, in suburban DC allowed them to walk home alone from a park on a Saturday afternoon. Halfway through the one mile trek someone saw them and called the police.

The parents, Danielle and Alexander Meitiv, are now being investigated by Child Protective Services because the police came and picked the children up. You heard that right, the parents now have a child neglect case with CPS. Their children were interviewed without their knowledge at school. Does this seem crazy and outrageous to you, too? It certainly does to me.

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I can understand the police coming to check on them, but when the kids told them they were OK and just walking home from the park, the issue should have ended right there. This seems particularly outlandish to me because children have to walk to school if they live one mile or less from the school. So it’s OK for my child to walk to and from school Monday through Friday but walking with their sibling on a Saturday afternoon from the park is not?

Of course, most parents don’t allow their 5 or 6 year olds to walk to and from school alone these days. If there is any way possible we make arrangements like before care services at their school or a local day care, if one of the parents or an older sibling aren’t available to escort them to school. But for many parents, they’ve taken it so far to the extreme that they’ve become ‘helicopter parents.’ They hover over them and have to know where their child is every moment.

I believe that emphasis in society is probably what drove some person who thought they were doing the right thing to call the police about two elementary age kids walking together – not alone, mind you, on a Saturday afternoon. And I won’t get into it, but I am also aware that in many low income neighborhoods, seeing two kids of this age walking together won’t necessitate a call to the police. Many parents in those neighborhoods work long hours and multiple jobs, so it’s not unusual to see kids without their parents.

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Obviously I am in the ‘free range parenting’ camp over here, because that’s how I grew up and I think it’s healthy. I walked all over the neighborhood and beyond when I was growing up, and my children do, too. My sons went to sleepover camp for a week when they were in elementary school. I wanted them to know the thrill of being on your own that sleepover camp gives you. And also they needed to feel the responsibility of taking care of yourself and your stuff. As teens they got to go out with their friends and hang out, playing basketball, goofing off at the local McDonalds or just walking to a friend’s house.

I remember those people I met freshman year of college who had never had the opportunity to do anything without the watchful eye of their parent(s). It seemed they were the ones who got in the most trouble. They’d never had that level of responsibility for themselves before and sometimes they made bad decisions. That’s why I appreciate the ‘free range movement,’ that allows kids growing levels of independence as they mature.

So what say you in this case, yay or nay – is a CPS case going too far for two kids walking home alone from the park?