Abduction used to be parents' biggest worry about letting their children walk or play alone. Now parents fear something else: being charged with neglect.
There have been more and more news stories of police involvement in parenting practices. Remember the mother who let her 9 year old ride the subway in NYC alone? She started a whole “free-range parenting” movement, arguing her kid was fully capable of this responsibility. And she is urging others to let out some more rope with their youngsters, too.
Last year, a couple from Maryland followed her lead and regularly allowed their 10 and six-year-old children to walk home together from the park.
The children usually carry cards saying they were “free-range” children and had their parents’ permission to be out walking this one-mile stretch. Sadly, they didn’t have the card on them when the police officer stopped them for questioning and the family was investigated.
Now in Winnipeg, another mom was reported by a neighbour for allowing her three children to play independently in her fenced-in backyard while she supervised from a window.
With stories like this, it's no wonder parents are concerned.
"Many parents, and society at large, have lost their confidence in where the line of independence and competency is for kids."
Many parents, and society at large, have lost their confidence in where the line of independence and competency is for kids. The general trend over the past decades has been towards the shrinking of responsibilities given to children, limiting their freedom, reducing their independence and reigning in kids.
Our tendency is towards over-protection and over-supervision. This leads to dependent kids without skills and thus they DO need supervision. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recently, a mom told me that she was trying to be better at giving her kids independence. She decided they were old enough and responsible enough to go together without her to play on the play equipment in the park directly behind their house. Her children are almost nine and seven, meaning they will be going into grades three and four in the fall.
She can see the play structure from her kitchen window, and it’s only about 300 metres way.
Her neighbours saw her waving to her kids from her back deck and they said “are you allowing them to go alone?”
“YES!” she declared.
And so the other parents agreed, it was time they quelled their nerves and allowed their children, too. Now, six kids are playing together in the park, having fun, enjoying their new freedom and feeling very grown up and trusted.
"Our tendency is towards over-protection and over-supervision. This leads to dependent kids without skills and thus they DO need supervision. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy."
Six kids are safer than two. The agreement was that it had to be the buddy system, like swimming. Never leave the park without your buddy and the parents reviewed all the other street safety rules, too.
It took the initiative of one mom to create momentum so that others could feel confident to join in with their children. This group of moms have now set the community standard for age of independence for playing in that park.
Perhaps more kids will join and more families with feel more secure in knowing this is age appropriate. This is how our societal expectations of kids can shift back towards growing their autonomy earlier and overcome our neurosis that is sheltering children from development.
"Don’t let the fear of being investigated prohibit you from allowing your children to flourish."
Don’t let the fear of being investigated prohibit you from allowing your children to flourish. Our protection systems are there to keep kids safe -- not the other way around. Protection services know the best place for children is with their family so long as it’s suitably safe.
If they err on the side of caution and need to check suspicions, that’s okay. It’s sure better than not providing help to a child who needs it.
ALSO ON HUFFPOST: