Free Range Versus Helicopter Parenting: Washington Case Could Define Limits For Parents Wanting Kids To Push Life’s Limits is an interesting case out of Washington that pits the “free range children” movement against child welfare authorities. Danielle and Alexander Meitiv believe in the new movement to reject “helicopter” parenting and allow child to push limit in venturing out on their own and testing self-reliance. For many parents, the specific controversy would seem much too do about nothing” a one-mile walk home for the two Meitiv kids aged 10 and 6. However, the kids were stopped halfway by police who reported the parents to child welfare, which continues to investigate them for endangering their children.

Danielle is a climate-science consultant and Alexander is a physicist at the National Institutes of Health. They say that they have spent a lot of time looking at the issue and believe firmly in the free range concept.

When the police brought their children home, Alexander was given a lecture on proper parenting and then he was visited by child welfare investigators. He was told that he had to sign a pledge not to leave the children alone until the following Monday. When he balked that this was intruding upon his decisions as a father, he was told that the children would be removed from the home unless he signed.

The case turns on a standard that is often honored in the breach. The law states that children may not be left unattended and that children younger than 8 must be left with a reliable person who is at least 13 years old. That applies to dwellings, enclosures and vehicles. Of course, many children play unattended in homes or yards or neighborhoods. However, the law effectively says that these children cannot walk home a mile alone.

For the record, I am closer to a helicopter than a free range parents. I am notoriously risk-adverse with my kids. I would not want them walking in a major city alone for a mile, particularly due to var accidents which remain the leading cause of non-illness deaths. However, this result would presumably be the same if the kids were allowed to walk a quarter of a mile or a couple blocks. I see such kids walking alone often in Virginia. Does it matter that this law appears rarely enforced? At what point does this intrude on parenting decisions?

What do you think?

Source: Washington Post

68 thoughts on “Free Range Versus Helicopter Parenting: Washington Case Could Define Limits For Parents Wanting Kids To Push Life’s Limits”

  1. This is extremely depressing. And part of an overall trend where the state enforces a conception that children must be accompanied by an another adult at all times. Parents are clearly not trusted to know their kids. The parents in this case were lucky they weren’t arrested. Here are some links to other cases in which I believe the state has overreached. In many of these cases, the children are removed from the home (seriously?) and the parents are arrested.

    I have no idea how to make sure these links work.

  2. When I was a first grader I walked to school alone, as a second grader, my first grade brother and I walked together. I was never given a ride to school until high school when neighbors got cars to go to school and I rode along. After a pre-school accident, that stopped as well, so back to walking.

    I think the city/town is over-reacting and the police are Nazis. And I use that in the most offensive way possible.

  3. The parents don’t recognize that we live in a different society than when they themselves were children. As a country, we’ve lost a lot of innocence and have less freedoms for children now as a necessity. You have only to watch an old episode of the tv series “The Fugitive” to understand how much things have changed. Having said that, the Honduran children are a different case as their parents decided it was worth all of the risks along the route to come to the US as they deem the US ultimately a much safer place than Honduras. But I have heard one American mother say to her protesting children who didn’t want to walk home from school, “If children can make it all the way here from Honduras, then you can jolly well walk home!”

  4. Sally, great comment. I learned from both my parents, by their actions, that the most fundamental duty of a parent is to make themselves obsolete. To push their children to be self reliant, to be responsible. I worked delivering papers, caddying, working in the family restaurant biz. I bought my own car. I was not hovered over. My parents had expectations of being law abiding, responsible, good young people. They did not hover over where we went, what we were doing. I was open w/ my parents. When I was a senior in high school I would take trips to NYC. I lived in a blue collar mid sized town in Ct. The friends who went w/ me lied to their parents about where they were going. Two friends were w/ me when we left my house. I told my dad I was driving to NYC and would not be back till probably sunrise. My friends were shocked. My old man trusted me. He knew we were going to NYC to party. NY had an 18 year old drinking age. But, he knew I would be responsible. I would party, but I would stop drinking and eat, making sure I was sober before driving home. We would usually leave NYC ~4-5 in the morning. If I was tired, I would pull over and sleep. My parents had different rules for their 4 kids. There were 2 girls and 2 boys. Obviously, there are different rules for girls vis a vis safety. But, my parents TRUSTED me. I EARNED that trust. I would NEVER betray that trust. They knew that. Other siblings were not as trustworthy, and the rules were adjusted accordingly. There was none of “that’s not fair.” Different rules for different levels of trust. My old man had a rule. If you have had too much to drink, call me and I’ll pick you up, no questions. I had to call my old man to come to Hartford @ 2am once. He was not happy. No words were spoken during the ride, except when he saw me get in the car he said, “You did the right thing calling.”

    The family dynamic in which I was raised does not comport w/ many peoples sensibilities. It is, in some respects, like the family in this post. When I was 12 years old I walked 2 miles to the country club. I caddied double[hard work] and often walked home if my parents were working and no ride was available. To think that this would have been neglect is criminal. Yes Sally, many parents to not understand their most important duty, that being to make themselves obsolete. It’s scary. I was scared when we gave our kids latitude. It was tougher on my wife. We had to hash things out sometimes. But, that is the balance nature gives us, male and female. My wife needed that balance as did I.

  5. I worked in a juvenile court. The unit that handled abuse/neglect was right next to me. I handled criminal juvenile cases as a probation officer. There was crossover as you might imagine. The supervisor of the abuse/neglect unit was a wise, black woman who understood the differing cultures in a large city[KC]. I learned a lot from her, but she was always looking to learn more. She told me her weakness was she was a woman, a mom, and men had different sensibilities. Dads are supposed to be the ones to push their kids, teach them to be independent, to toughen them up. When it came to decide whether to sever parental rights the case would be presented to the entire unit. Sometimes, the supervisor would ask me to sit in. The unit was almost all female. I consider taking someone’s children just a step below capital punishment. Hopefully not confusing the issue, I don’t believe in capital punishment but do believe the govt. has the authority to sever parental rights. But, it MUST be clear.

    This incident is interesting. Clearly the parents are upscale and educated. It’s interesting to me that the court got involved w/ this. Upscale folks usually get a pass. Pogo, always insightful, pointed out the cultural difference between upscale white and inner city black. The great comedian, Dave Chapelle, does a bit about when you know your in the ghetto. He was in a cab @ 2AM stopped @ a corner. There was a 2 year old baby just strolling down the street. I am familiar w/ the laws codifying when children can be left alone. They are simply not applicable to all families, all cultures, and all geographical locales. The govt. needs to leave these parents alone.

  6. The key is to teach them proper safety precautions and then encourage them to be self-reliant. Kids should be gradually growing away from needing constant supervision and to become more self-reliant. Otherwise, they will find themselves unprepared to face the world as an adult. As many have said, I certainly walked that far alone when I was a child, albeit not in a city.

  7. Let the kids walk their dog to and from school, say a Doberman – or worse yet a ChewWaWa.

  8. The circumstances of the story are not exactly clear. Is this in a crowded city, like San Francisco or a rural or suburban neighborhood. Time of day? Walking home from what activity or what location?

    Like slohrss29, we live in a rural area. I was a single mother for some time, and often my child would ride her bike home, about a mile, from baseball practice because I was still at work. Other times she would just get off the bus, walk home about 1/4 mile, let herself into the house, call me at work to report in, make a snack, do her homework in the couple of hours that I was still working. Other times she had a permission slip for the bus driver to get off the bus at a friend’s stop and play at the friends house. She was 8 yrs old. She developed a good sense of responsibility. Latch key kid. I was a latch key kid. We both turned out just fine. Today child protective services would be all over us.

    Pogo is correct. The government owns us. Just today I’m reading that the USDA can tell day care providers…..babysitters…..what food they can serve and how much they can serve to the children. How much water they should have available to the children. Babysitters!!!! So far it is just those providers that accept government subsidies, but soon it will be everyone. The government telling you how much juice your child can have. Micromanaging your life from cradle to grave.

    Of course they won’t put any restrictions on the EBT cards and amount of junk food that the welfare recipients can purchase with their government hand outs. The screaming would be deafening if they did that. The government only wants to micromanage some segments of society.

  9. In Wisconsin there are many kids, some as young as 1st grade, that walk a mile or more to school. Buses are often set at the 2 mile mark in locations where there are sidewalks.

    DCFS is a threat to our society. They are even less accountable than police and prosecutors are. The people who work there may be well meaning but clearly have a tendency toward authoritarianism that isn’t being reigned in by politicians or the judicial system.

    If DCFS threatened my kids, the situation would only be resolved by a SWAT team removing me from my house.

  10. The police threatened the parents, that if they did not sign a pledge the kids would be taken from them. Sounds a little like the Stazi, KGB, Gestapo, etc. Something is very very wrong here. Society does have a responsibility to take a part in protecting people and that does include the kids. However, the manner in which this was carried out makes the authorities more scary than anything that could have happened to the kids.

    This is one of those I have to give to the, “Better too much freedom than too much security.” By the way, what would have been wrong for the police to have simply followed the kids home, or given them a ride and let them turn on the siren, or perhaps just a friendly hello and a ‘good day to you’? Didn’t those cops ever watch ‘Leave it to Beaver’?

  11. Kind of important to know the location as surimike said above. In the city I would be more helicopter like, but where I live a mile radius does not pose a lot of danger. Except for bears in the evenings.

  12. I imagine a scene out of the Twilight Zone TV series. “Gosh, where are the kids? There are no kids playing in the streets. Something’s wrong, Marge.”

    I never told my folks where I’d been and what I’d done. They didn’t need to know. It would have only upset them and made them worry. From the third grade, on a Saturday, I would walk out in a direction until I worried that I wouldn’t make it back for hot dogs at five. That did more for me to make sure we knew where our kid was as much of the time as possible. We explained, he understood, called in from homes of friends, and still lets us know from college. Communication is still the best tether.

    As for the police and child services dictating in the above mentioned case, that goes too far. There are enough validly dangerous situations out there. Some advice might have been appropriate if the kids were walking through ‘Cracktown’ but other wise, not their business.

  13. Young children can be quite responsible and self-reliant if you let them or if they have to be.
    Anecdotal evidence: When our children were about 9 and 7, my wife and I both got a bad case of the flu and were basically gorked in bed for about 3 days. Our daughters fed us, fed themselves, got themselves to school (about a half mile walk) and generally managed the house for those three days. They didn’t think of it as a big deal, and now, 20 years later, barely remember it.
    City kids walking a mile? I don’t see the problem. It is probably safer than being driven.

  14. @surimike “Times WERE different, but I know I did at that age.”

    Yeah, times were different. We and our children are much safer now than we were in the sixties and seventies when “freerange” was the norm. Just check the FBI and Justice Department statistics.

    Our society has become so risk averse that we are sending dependent, incompetent eighteen-year-olds with zero life skills off to college, only to fail miserably when mommy and daddy aren’t there to tell them what to do every minute.

  15. I now live in a small city and never see kids walking to and from school. We used to walk a mile or more to school in a big, far more dangerous city. Is the difference because of more danger today? Parents are more protective of kids today? People are more aware of predators? School districts are more fearful of lawsuits? Greater availability of vehicles and school busses? No more stay at home moms without cars?

  16. The problem isn’t this specific law.
    The problem is that the State now can tell you how to order every single moment of your life, from what you can eat or smoke, to how much freedom your kids have, the signs in your yard, how to have sex in college, who you must bake for, etc., etc.

    Face it, we’re owned by the State.
    We are currently permitted the free choice of books, TV programs and movies. I doubt that will last.

    So currently, helicopter parenting is commanded by our betters, if you are among the elites living in a liberal zone.
    The hoi polloi are on their own.

    Heck, you can be a crack-smoking criminal among the unwashed, and the State will make sure you get your kids back, if anyone bothers to take them.

  17. Watch out for those var accidents.
    I walked alone to a room room schoolhouse in first grade. These kids can handle it too it is in a relatively safe area.

  18. Was this in a City, Suburbia, or out in the countryside? Seems to me to be a crucial fact omitted from the story. Little kids unsupervised in the City – maybe not so much. Country kids – I suspect they play further afield than that. Times WERE different, but I know I did at that age.

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